Saturday, March 13, 2010

The psi circuit: A tentative model (part 3)

This post, the third and last part of the tentative model presentation, describes the key elements of the model. It is in many ways a synthesis of many ideas found in a number of previous posts. The tentative model will be tested in the near future through another case study about the 1966-1967 UFO wave, especially emphasizing the Canadian portion.

Social memory
The concept of social (or collective) memory is not a new one in the social sciences. The French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs was one of the first to use it to study the working class of the 1920s and 1930s. He looked into the shared memories of people in the labor movement, especially about major events such as major strikes, and how such memories were transmitted over time and how certain elements of their collective history are kept while others are forgotten (in other words, collective memory is also selective, and such a selection is also a sociological process in itself). He used multiple methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative to assess the content of memories and evaluate how much they are spread across a given population.

This concept is critical for the proposed model because it offers ways of establishing a baseline to distinguish between the conscious and unconscious elements of social psyche. For instance, the older science fiction stories that Bertrand Méheust[1] identified as providing the basic narrative for UFO reports and experiences were not part of the collective memories anymore in the 1940s and 1950s. Yet, those stories were not so old that no one would be aware of them; they were in the collective unconscious. Methodologically speaking, a number of empirical methods can be used to assess the content of social memory, but the main ones remain focus groups and text analysis.

Social unconscious
As discussed in numerous posts, the content of the social unconscious[2] provides both the content for social psi events (fairies and demons in the past, good and bad aliens today; airships yesterday, spaceships today). But if psychoanalytical parapsychology[3] is right, it is also the source of the tensions or desires leading to a social psi effect. I just found an interesting author that looks into the social dimension of the unconscious, Clotaire Rapaille, who runs a major marketing business build on uncovering collective archetypes. He wrote a book on Culture Code and I will review it in the near future. His methodology is very similar to the one used by Ginach[4] and by those practicing group analytics[5], discussed in previous posts, using focus group to “extract” the content of the commonly shared unconscious, as well as text analysis.

The challenge in investigating spontaneous psi effects, as Batcheldor and other parapsychologists [6] have found, however, is that consciousness needs to be bypassed. Hence, the very fact of studying the unconscious can bring elements to the consciousness and preventing psi effects to occur, or reducing substantially its potency. The outcome of this is that the unconscious in the case of UFO studies might be only researchable post-facto by looking into how new representations are created.

It is interesting to note that those who study collective creativity in business organization underline that creativity is an emergent phenomenon and occurs when people from different parts of an organization meet and discuss. In the normal non-psi realm, the problem becomes part of the collective consciousness of the organization and a creative solution is negotiated.[7] Yet, the seeds of the solution were already present unconsciously, spread across various components of the organization.

In the case of spontaneous psi effects, people do not talk to negotiate a solution so there are no directly observable emergent effects. Yet, a “psi solution” (so to speak) emerges through creating something that will surprise everyone, and yet it is their collective creation. It is in those terms that psi effects can be construed as acts of creation.[8] In the case of UFOs, at least in the early days of the phenomenon, this non-local (in the sense of quantum physics) type of “solution” implies odd symbiotic relationships between various groups like the civil servants and the military in the 1952 Washington case. Similar strange symbiotic relationship seemed to have occurred between the Roswell believers and elements of the national security apparatus, as described at length by Gregg Bishop [9]. The same might have occurred between the Catholic believers and the rationalist republicans of Portugal during the Fatima events of 1917 [10].

Could it be that the decline in the social interest in UFOs, intimately linked to a lack of major UFO events for many years, be symptomatic of a degradation of a basic symbiotic unconscious social relationship at the centre of the UFO phenomenon? To be more specific, on one hand the authorities are more open than ever before about UFOs (France, UK, Canada, Russia and others declassifying and making available lots of UFO documents), and on the other hand the excesses of the Roswell ufological hysteria just turned off so many people interested in UFO and conspiracies theories that the “biggest story of our time” is no more. Could the symbiotic relationship simply collapsed due to the power of indifference? Difficult to say, but it is a hypothesis generated by the model.

Social consciousness
This concept is as old as sociology itself, and has been described extensively by the classical French sociologist Émile Durkheim. The importance of this portion of the model is once again to distinguish what remains below the threshold of the observable. The tension or desires found in the social unconscious should not be found in the discussions and debates of a community in any great extent. The relative absence of a thorny issue in the public realm, but possibly found in the margins, is thus a key indicator for potential social psi effects. It is also important to note that the content of the social unconscious can be about a future event having strong emotional power, like in the case investigated by John Keel in the Mothman Prophecy [11]. In such case, it cannot be known publically as it has not occurred yet.

The key methodological outcomes of this is that once the investigator has found something in the social unconscious that could be at the source of social psi effects, then he or she has to confirm that it is not present in the social consciousness of the concerned community.

Social representations
The concept of social representations has been developed by yet another French social scientist, Serge Moscovici. Social representations are more focused elements of the social unconscious, and are outcomes of social creativity. Moscovici’s main interest was to study how certain views and ideas move from being the purview of a few to be held by the many (for instance the language of psychoanalysis became part of everyday conversations through the 1950s and 1960s), and the associated translation process of jargon becoming everyday concepts (what he calls common sense). One of the key issues is that if some ideas and views resonate with already existing socially shared but unconscious views, they are more likely to be adopted. Moscivici and his followers use both focus group and text analysis as a key method to uncover social representations and the translation processes.

Once again, for spontaneous social psi effects, the new social representation (i.e., the specific solution or creation) remains below the threshold of the unconscious and coagulates in what I call the social psi pathway. The production of psi effects, even in a spontaneous context, remains something rare and probably difficult to do. However, once some forms are created it is easier for psi effects to repeat themselves through the established forms. In other words, once the notion of flying saucers has been established, it provided a common form-pathway that can ease the production of psi effects. The key for the tentative model is that social representations do not get translated into what it is, but it is translated into something else (like a UFO). This notion is very similar to the notion of displacement, so central to understand poltergeists [12].

The same can be said for ghosts, Marian apparitions, but also of the séance setting of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The pathways are collectively shared social representations (or idiosyncracies) that can be used as “platforms” for social as well as individual psi creativity for various types of unconscious tensions or desires. Hence, investigating the internal symbolism of a social psi effect is likely to be only useful at the early stages, when a new form emerges. Once the pathway is established, it can serve a variety of underlying tensions or desire in producing psi effects. The concept of morphic field developed by Rupert Sheldrake [13] is here quite useful to describe the pathway development process, and Sheldrake as shown that psi can behave as a morphic field. The more something is used the stronger and established in its form it will be; hence the enduring forms found in UFO reports.

Social behavior
This is the most ostentatious part of any sociological study. Yet, in the case of studying social psi effects, the behavior that would lead to resolving the unconscious tensions or desires tends to not occur right away. Even if the psi effect has a comprehensible symbolic meaning, it is usually ignored or completely misunderstood. Once a pathway is established, then the symbolic meaning becomes extremely hard to decipher as the form used becomes institutionalized (like Barney Hill’s challenges with racist America being at the source of his experience eventually becomes the prototype of the Greys, which has nothing to do with racism in later psi events).

Should the social behavior resolves, even only partially, the underlying social tensions or desires leading then the psi effect should ceased immediately. This is seen in poltergeist cases when people realize that it is their inter-personal issues that are at the source of the phenomenon. In the 1952 Washington UFO incidents, the military got involved and interested (too much would say some people), and the UFO story was even able to displace from the headlines the coverage of the Democratic Convention for a day; this was the beginning of the end for that UFO wave.

In general, spontaneous social psi event tend to be an alternative channel for social communications that is rather symptomatic of a collective inability to communicate about difficult underlying social issues or tensions.

[1] Méheust, Bertrand. (1978). Science-fiction et soucoupes volantes. Paris: Mercure de France.
[2] Studied by people like Leledakis, Kanakis. (1995). Society and Psyche: Social theory and the unconscious dimension of the social. Oxford: Berg; Main, Roderick. (2006). “The Social Significance of Synchronicity”. Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society 11: 36-53; Machotka, Otakar. (1964). The Unconscious in Social Relations: An analysis of unconscious processes in personality, society, and culture. New York: Philosophical Library.
[3] In particular, Eisenbud, Jule. (1983). Parapsychology and the Unconscious. Berkeley: North Atlantic Book; Fodor, Nandor. (1959). The Haunted Mind: A psychoanalytical look at the supernatural. New York: Garrett.
[4] Ginach, Michal. (2004) “War Against or For Terrorism?: The underlying fantasy behind the Israeli pattern encounter with the Palestinian”. Discourse of Sociological Practice 6: 1-12
[5] For instance, Dalal, Farhad. (2001). “The social unconscious: A post-Foulkesian perspective”. Group Analysis 34(4): 539-555; Powell, Andrew. (1991). “Matrix, mind and matter: From the internal to the eternal”. Group Analysis 24(3): 299-322; Zeddies, Timothy J. (2002). “Unconscious experience in social and historical context”. Group Analysis 35(3): 381-389.
[6] Batcheldor, Kenneth J. (1984). “Contributions to the theory of PK induction from sitter-group work”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 78(2): 105-122; Heath, Pamela Rae. (2003). The PK Zone: A cross-cultural review of psychokinesis. Lincoln: iUniverse; Owen, Iris M. and M. Sparrow. (1976). Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure In Psychokinesis. Harper & Row; Reihart, Philip B. (1994). “PK induction: An extension of Batcheldor approach”. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 88: 137-145.
[7] For a good overview of this literature, please see Watson, Elizabeth. (2007). “Who or What Creates? A conceptual framework for social creativity”. Human Resources Development Review 6(4): 419-441.
[8] See in particular, Favre, François. (1978). “Caractère généraux des apparitions”. Revue de Parapsychologie 6 (July). [Available on Internet at]; (2004). "Psi et intentionalité". Unpublished text available on Internet at; Viéroudy, Pierre. (1978a). “Vagues d'Ovnis et psi collectif”. Revue de Parapsychologie 6 (July). [Available on Internet at]; (1978b). “Les témoins d'Ovnis sont-ils des sujets psi ?” Revue de Parapsychologie 6 (July). [Available on Internet at]; (1983). “Signification archétypique des apparitions OVNI”. Revue de Parapsychologie 15 (August). [Available on Internet at].
[9] Bishop, Greg. (2005). Project Beta: The story of Paul Bennewitz, national security, and the creation of a modern UFO myth. New York: Paraview.
[10] Fernandes, Joaquim and F. D’Armada. (2005). Heavenly Lights: The apparition of Fatima and the UFO phenomenon. San Antonio: Anomalist.
[11] Keel, John. (1975). The Mothman Prophecies. New York: Tor.
[12] Lucadou, Walter von. (1995). “The Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI).” European Journal of Parapsychology 11: 58-75; Lucadou, Walter von and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004.
[13]Sheldrake, Rupert. (1981). A New Science of Life. London: Victoria Works; (1987) The Presence of the Past. New York: Bantam; (1991). The Rebirth of Nature: The greening of science and god. New York: Bantam; (2006). "Morphic Fields". World Futures 62: 31-41.

Eric Ouellet © 2010