Saturday, October 30, 2010

54th Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association

54th Annual Convention
of the Parapsychological Association

Curitiba, Brazil

August 18-21, 2011

Program Chair: Marios Kittenis, Ph.D.

Local Host/Arrangements Chair: Fábio Eduardo da Silva

The Parapsychological Association (PA), will hold its 54th annual convention in Curitiba, Brazil on August, 18-21 2011. PA members, associates, and students from around the world will gather to present and discuss their latest research findings regarding psi (or ‘psychic’) experiences such as extra-sensory perception, psychokinesis, psychic healing and survival of bodily death. The convention, which is open to the public and academia alike, will offer a rare opportunity for attendees interested in that wide range of human functioning popularly known as the ‘psychic’ or ‘paranormal’ to hear the latest and most advanced scientific thinking about parapsychological topics.

Fábio Eduardo da Silva, who is a doctoral student in parapsychology at Universidade de São Paulo with Dr Wellington Zangari, will be the Local Host and the Arrangements Chair of the PA convention. Research Fellow at Aston University, Dr Marios Kittenis, who did his PhD on distant brain correlations under the late Prof. Bob Morris at Edinburgh University, will be the Program Chair for the event. The convention will be held in English, but simultaneous translation will be available for Portuguese-speaking attendees. Attention U.S. attendees: travel from the U.S. to Brazil requires a visa. Information about travel requirements can be found at the Brazilian Consulate.

In addition to holding the largest contingent of PA members outside of the US and Europe, Brazil contains a rich diversity of groups and individuals that engage in a range of paranormal approaches to healing. Curitiba, Brazil is a modern city that has attracted attention around the world for its innovations in sustainability and urban planning. Running alongside the PA convention, visitors to Curitiba may also attend UNIBEM’s 7th Psi Meeting (see last year’s details) and the 6th Journey into Altered States, which will provide attendees an opportunity to explore the experiential dimensions of Brazil's rich pro-paranormal culture in Curitiba.

Additional details about the 2011 PA convention will be released at as they become available.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The collective memory of Maurice Halbwachs

This post is exploring the concept of collective memory proposed by the classical French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs. This concept opens a number of interesting possibilities for the study of the social unconscious and social psi.

Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945) was a sociologist closely associated with the founders of the discipline Émile Durkheim, and especially Marcel Mauss. He was also an activist engaged in defending the rights of the working class and a socialist. Because of his political opinions, he was eventually deported to Buchwald by the Nazis during the occupation of France, where he died in March 1945. He is known for a number of sociological researches on the working classes between the two world wars, but he is also known for his concept of collective memory.

Collective memory

Halbwachs continued the work Émile Durkheim about the notion of collective consciousness. This notion became useful in sociology to describe mass phenomenon such as the transformation of worldviews during the industrial revolution, from a rural and agrarian setup to an urban and industrial context. Changes in collective behaviour are always accompanied by changes in collective thinking (and it is not necessarily useful to determine which one comes first). The same concept has been refined later on by people like Serge Moscovici to study smaller changes in group thinking/group behaviour like the adoption of psychoanalytical ideas by ordinary people in France during the 1950s. Moscovici described these lower level aspects of collective consciousness as social representations, but it is clear that he is continuing the work of Durkheim and Halbwachs.

For Halbwachs, the key question was how can we demonstrate the causal relationship between the collective consciousness, which can be found through relatively straightforward narrative analyses of common texts from a given society (newspapers, novels, speeches of respected people, etc.), and individual consciousnesses. Although people like to think they are free thinkers, their thinking is very much shaped by ways of thinking found in the society in which they live. The obvious example of this sociological phenomenon is strange lights in the sky were only construed as “alien spaceship” when space travel became part of common worldviews in the Western world. (For more on this, please refer to the seminal work of Bertrand Méheust on UFOs and science fiction). It was Durkheim who proposed that there was some sort of unconscious social memory (where the representations of the collective consciousness are “stored”) that influences the thinking and behaviour of individuals. Halbwachs went further in trying to define this concept of social memory and to show empirically that it is useful for understanding social behaviours.

To do so, he first challenged the prevalent ideas about memory in psychology (which was then, in France, very much materialist and much closer to neurology – and curiously this neurologic view of memory is quite dominant today in the English-speaking world). Memory, according to Halbwachs, is necessarily a social construct. When one remembers something it is always in relationship to his/her experience with others and codes of social conducts. The first thing people remember is whether the event X occurred while they were with others or by themselves. Furthermore, individual memory tends to be selective, as certain events are more important than others. But the degree of importance is assigned based on the social context (distinguishing what is exceptional from what is routine is always a matter of social situation). Furthermore, he anticipated the neurological research on memory in that as social beings, our views change as the social context around us changes too (child, young adult, parent, retiree, homeless, wealthy, etc), and our memories are re-constructed based on the present social context. Although Halbwachs lived before the age of ufology, his findings about the social nature of memories should be a reminder to anyone interviewing witnesses many years after an event.

Once again, an event that was construed at first as mysterious and unexplainable shortly after it occurred can become "explained" as an alien encounter or a Marian apparition once this idea becomes a common one in the collective consciousness. The alien or Marian “explanation“ of the event is not an explanation but rather an expression of new collective representations. These explanations are expressions of their time and society. In other words, individual memory is also a social artefact.

The social nature of individual memories helps explaining how social memories are constructed. Collective in various societies also retains only specific social events because they were socially meaningful at the time, but as time passes some events disappear from the common social representations while others have their meaning changed. A clear example is colonialism. Up to the 1950s, the exploits of colonial adventurers where celebrated across the Western world (and in the United States, John Wayne impersonated those adventurers on the silver screen), where now these adventurers are either forgotten, or represented as the bad guys killing innocent people (once again, in the United States the best example is probably George Custer, from falling hero to unsuccessful actor in a genocide campaign). Memories, whether individual or collective, are reconstructions based on present social identity, social conventions, and social values and norms.

Mechanisms of collective memory

Halbwachs looked empirically as to how the actual memory selection within a collective and the transmission from the collective to the individual occur. He focussed on three social institutions: the family, religious communities, and social classes. His work was both quantitative and qualitative, and essentially showed how socialization of collective memory is done through these institutions. The process is very much similar to the one of transmission of myths explored later on by Claude Lévy-Strauss

From the point of view of parasociological research, it is a useful reminder that the social unconscious, (for more see), where it is assumed that social psi could emerge, is constructed through the early phases of a collective memory creation. It would be at this very moment that particular emotional “imprints” occur, while the actual social processes of keeping the memory alive brings an evolution as to how events are perceived and interpreted.

As a short but important digression here, the concept of “imprint” has been developed by the biologist Konrad Lorenz and used by others to assess some deep cultural differences between various countries. Although controversial, Clothaire Rapaille turned this idea into an effective management consulting model for large businesses. Ultimately, this notion of “imprint” is linked to the notion of collective unconscious, as it is a way to describe what remains in terms of affects.

Overtime, the discrepancy between the imprint and the ongoing memory reconstruction might cause a significant gap, leading to either transitional or abrupt “corrections”, which in the latter case (and only in some particular instances) might take the form of a social psi event.

If one looks back at the French 1954 UFO wave, it is possible to see the French defeat of Dien Bien Phu in May and the subsequent peace accord in July as causing a significant social imprint about the “end of colonialism is near”. And it is important to note that colonialism was the key prism used by Europeans to establish their collective identity (linked to the infamous notion of the "white men's burden). Yet, by then the French government started to worry about its most important colony, Algeria, leading to significant increases in social investments in the colony by early November 1954. This led also to the famous quote by François Mitterand “Algeria is France”, and a long protracted conflict to keep the colony, which eventually France lost, not because of military defeat—they actually won on the ground—but because the French society had enough of colonialism. The peak of the UFO wave occurred at the junction of these events, in fact at the very moment when the FLN was created in October 1954—unknown to public—until the FLN insurgents' campaign started in November.

Collective memory, social unconscious and social psi

Halbwachs classical research on collective memory offers an interesting sociological hypothesis to assess the content of the collective consciousness and how imprinting events may cause serious dissonance in the social unconscious. These situations of significant imprint do not occur that often in a society. In other words, not all social events create imprint having a significant impact. As well, not all imprints cause necessarily significant and abrupt social dissonance. This helps to narrow down the number of social events that may be linked to social psi effects like UFO waves, and turn this into researchable hypotheses.

For instance, it is clear that 9/11 was an imprinting event in the American society, but it not was dissonant, and it was not associated with any obvious social psi effect. The events of 9/11 were a reminder that many people in the world have very negative opinions about the United States (something known by many Americans—to the point of putting Canadian flags on their backpack when travelling). Terrorism being the most extreme form of such negative opinion.

And so, the country was at war again. Yet, the United States is at war since WWII. First, it was at war against Germany and Japan, then against communism up to 1990, then against the drug cartels up to 9/11. The so-called “war on terror”, an expression calling upon the collective memory and yet re-interpreted in light of current events, is very much a continuation of “normalcy”. If there is a counter reaction to all this, it is  a conscious one through the so-called “Truthers movement” that sees 9/11 as an American engineered conspiracy to find another war. 9/11, a horrific event with a significant emotional charge, was congruent with the social consciousness, memory and unconscious of the American society. The lack of substantive UFO events before 9/11 is consistent with this lack of dissonance.

Eric Ouellet © 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The 1954 French UFO wave

This post proposes a mini case study of the 1954 French UFO wave. It is in part inspired by the work of Aimé Michel in his book Flying Saucers and the Straight-Line Mystery, published in English version in 1958 [1]. However, instead of analyzing the events as recollected by Michel through his orthoteny hypothesis, the Model of Pragmatic Information (MPI) will be used as a background model [2]. Furthermore, some interesting parallels can be established with the previously posted case studies of the 1952 Washington D.C. events and the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67.

The data

In an online article [3], Donald A. Johnson uses the UFOCAT catalogue and note that the number of UFO sightings for the year 1954 is 3,015, of which about 58% occurred in Europe. The wave was indeed worldwide, but it had a particular peak in October with nearly a third of all sightings (961) in Europe alone. Of those 961 European cases, 750 occurred in the skies of France, with one particular peak on 3 October and another one on 15 October with about 80 sightings for each date. Hence, it is fair to say that the wave was centred over France, although it was not exclusive to France.

If one looks at the report using the Hynek classification, then it is nearly 28% of all sightings for 1954 that can fit the close encounter (CE) category. According to Johnson, the number of CE1 in October for France and Belgium was 96, 53 CE2, and 78 CE3, for a total of 227 CEs. In other words, almost one-third of all French UFO cases for October 1954 were CEs. This proportion is comparable to the one found in the previously posted case study about the Canadian UFO wave of 1966-67 where just above one-third of cases where CEs. However, in the Canadian cases there was more CE2 than CE3.

These numbers are interesting because it is always difficult to identify what constitutes a UFO wave. In both the Canadian and French cases, the number of CE is around 30-35%. This provides an interesting benchmark to assess the intensity of a UFO wave. From that point of view, UFO wave are getting very rare because CEs are almost completely gone from sightings as Chris Rutkowsky noted on his blog recently.

The overall 1954 UFO wave as well as its French portion were following the usual pattern of a slow start ramping up in August and September, peaked in October and steep drop in November. The numbers for Europe and France, based on Johnston’s figures, are as follow:

Month / Europe / France

Jan / 24 / 15
Feb / 9 / 4
Mar / 5 / 1
Apr / 12 / 7
May / 24 / 5
Jun / 22 / 7
Jul / 45 / 12
Aug / 109 / 42
Sep / 305 / 217
Oct / 961 / 750
Nov / 193 / 84
Dec / 47 / 15
Year / 1,756 / 1,159

This distribution is similar to the 1952 wave where in that case the peak was in July. This distribution also replicates von Lucadou’s findings about RSPKs. This general tendency for recurrent anomalistic phenomena can be explained in part by social factors. As a phenomenon is reported in the general press, an accumulation of news clipping can create a sense that there is something going on. Then natural phenomena are reported as UFOs, and hoaxers feel compelled to do their part as well. The mass media can create such snow ball effect, but also can create the demise of a phenomenon by expecting more and more until it cannot “give” anymore, then the press and its readership looses interest. This usually leads to a quick decline in sightings. This effect is well known to those who in communication studies under the name “bandwagon effect” [4].

The key here is to remember that the bandwagon effect can explain the reporting effects and overall distribution, but it cannot explain the relatively high number of CEs. To see a strange light in the night (NL) or a far away object in the sky during the day (DD) has a different qualitative nature than seeing “things” up close. Mistakes are quite possible when it comes to NL and DD, but much less likely for CEs. The only way that the bandwagon effect would extend to CEs is to imply that they are hoaxes and lies. Interviews with multiple witnesses, coming from a wide variety of background and who have no objective reasons to lie, do not warrant such speculations. Hence, a significant number of CEs, assuming they are properly investigated and classified, constitutes a key indicator for the “paranormal” variable in the case of UFOs.

As stated in many previous posts, both Fodor [5]about RSPKs, and Batcheldor [6] for group PK, found that hoaxes and tricks can actually help inducing psi effects by making them unconsciously believable. From a parasociological standpoint, the variations in intensity of paranormal phenomenon and the level of public interest for such phenomenon should be seen as co-variations (or inter-dependent variables) rather than as a zero-sum game. This is where the “true” believers in the psycho-social hypothesis fails to explain anything by speculating that a phenomenon must be either true or false; empirical evidence shows that anomalistic phenomena are mixed realities.

One or two (or more) systems

One of the interesting findings of my analyses of the 1952 events over Washington D.C. and the 1966-67 Canadian UFO wave is that there seems to be more than one system at play when it comes to UFO waves. Given that all these waves, including the one of 1954, are more or less worldwide, it seems that there are global conditions for UFO wave to emerge. These conditions also enable events to occur in sub-systems, like the concentration of sightings in France in October 1954, that develop their own dynamics. It is not possible to determine if the UFO worldwide events are caused by a dynamics of the same nature as the ones more local, nor is it possible to determine if they interact. In other words, the reasons for a concentration of sightings in France can be enabled by the worldwide conditions, while still having its own independent dynamics. In any event, as for the Canadian wave, a multi-system approach appears to be suited for understanding complex phenomena that are both local and global.

The issue of dates

The dates in a UFO wave appear to be even more important in light of the events of October 1954. October 1954 is the month when the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) was created by a group of anti-colonial insurgents in Algeria. As we now know, the FLN waged an extensive political and armed struggle to free Algeria from French colonial rule. This led to a bitter conflict involving more than 500,000 French soldiers, countless victims in Algeria and something that shook deeply the French society. Although the French Army won on the ground, the FLN won the political battle about immorality of colonialism and Algeria gained its independence in 1962. What happen in October 1954 was not known to the French public, and even the FLN actions of November 1954 did not appear to be anything threatening.

Hence, like what was found in the Canadian case studies, intense UFO sightings occurred while key decisions are taken that will have a very significant impact for the collective future but that they are not yet known to the larger public. It is also possible to note that the Global Consciousness Project observed serious deviations in their networked random generators in the hours prior to 9/11. These various cases can be interpreted as the collective unconscious made aware of impeding threat and uses paranormal means to express it.

Some may argue like Kottemeyer [7] that it is the lost of collective self-esteem that is behind major UFO waves. He noted that the French defeat in Indochina was the likely source of the French 1954 UFO wave. But the dates do not add up for Indochina. The battle of Dien Bien Phu was in May 1954, and the war was officially over by July. The war in Indochina was far from the preoccupations of French people, while Algeria was another story. Algeria was administratively part of metropolitan France, and had over 1 million of non-Muslim citizens who eventually became refugees in France. As well, in Indochina the French Army was made of volunteers and colonial troops, while in Algeria it was mostly made of conscripts and reservists. The Algerian conflict was, in many ways, very close to home. Kottemeyer’s hypothesis is interesting but it does not fit the 1954 French wave.

Going beyond RSPKs

If collective precognition of decisions leading to major social and political events is an important condition to have large scale paranormal events, then the analysis of the 1952 wave would require some adjustment. This is one of the implications of the findings from the 1954 and 1966-67 UFO waves. There are, however, no apparent major decisions taken in the United States in July 1952 that would have substantial consequences for the future (and the same can be said about the 1957 American UFO wave). The only significant event in 1952 that is synchronistic to the phenomenon remains the Democratic convention. Maybe a more general condition of “what cannot be said publically” either because it is a premonition or some people are muzzled would be more accurate. It would not contravene with the general principles upon which the MPI is built, but it would require generalizing the findings of the MPI. The implications are that paranormal events remain linked to social dynamics, be it small or large scale, but the dynamic for RSPK is just a particular application of the MPI. The reason as to why pragmatic information cannot be expressed through normal means (e.g. angry and unable to express emotion teenager) should not lead us to create special models for every occasion. Hence, UFO events may not be large scale aerial RSPKs after all, but rather they are non-normal expressions of unconsciously held information.


[1] Michel, Aimé. (1958). Flying Saucer and the Straight-Line Mystery. New York: Criterion Books.

[2] For a good overview of the MPI please see, Lucadou, Walter von and F. Zahradnik. (2004). “Predictions of the Model of Pragmatic Information about RSPK”. Proceedings of the Parapsychological Association Convention 2004.

[3] Johnson, Donald A. (2009). “The Worldwide UFO Wave of 1954”. On Internet at

[4]See the references at the end of this entry on Wikipedia:

[5] Fodor, Nandor. (1958). On the Trail of the Poltergeist. New York: Citadel Press.

[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.

[7] Kottmeyer, Martin. (1996). “UFO Flaps”. The Anomalist 3 (1995-1996): 64-89.

Eric Ouellet © 2010