Thursday, November 24, 2016

Who's Who in the UFO Zoo- Addendum

After receiving a few messages about this series of posts about the various schools of thought found in the UFO study world, I decided to add a short clarification post about all this. This clarification, however, is based on using more technical language about how we think, and how we do research in general.

The fundamental topic behind this three-part post series is ontology, which can be defined as looking more rigorously into how various collection of assumptions about the nature of reality we use are affecting how we look at reality. For many people this may sound as a silly question, but it is indeed an important question when dealing with topics like UFOs, and the paranormal in general. UFO events cannot be studied at will in a laboratory; such events are spontaneous and unexpected. As well, they do not often leave any physical traces, and when they do such traces are ambiguous at best and can be interpreted in many ways. Hence, we have a phenomenon that exists essentially as reports from witnesses, and as evidence open to interpretation. In such circumstances, where there is no real clarity about what we are dealing with, it is even more important to clarify our own assumptions about how we approach an ambiguous topic like UFOs.

All the UFO schools of thought that were briefly presented are in one way or another dualist in their ontological assumptions. This means that, implicitly, either we are dealing with something which would be objective or subjective, but it cannot be both. It is either a "real thing" out there, or it is "all in the head". Hence, the notion of dualism. Anyone familiar with the Kantian epistemology, and phenomenology  in general, can only be skeptical about dualism. We can safely state that the world exists independently from us (the objective side), but yet we can only relate to the world through our subjective mental make-up.

For instance, when someone sees something " weird" in the sky and declare having seen a UFO, it is only a UFO because it considered " weird."  Conversely, if what is seen in the sky is considered as something natural, even if odd and exotic, then it is not construed as "weird," and therefore it is not a UFO. In both cases, however, given that what was seen in the sky is transient and not amenable to further direct study, then we are left only with we have made of this observation: for some it is a UFO, for others it is a an odd and exotic natural event. If fact, in this case, the only thing we know for sure is that we do not know what happened, and that people have put forward different interpretations of what happen. Worse, because it is transient, we will actually never know for sure. Something objective happened in the sky, and yet we only noticed subjectively the phenomenon because it was perceived as "weird". If everybody agreed that it was a plane, then it would have been construed as a non-event. To draw a sharp distinction between the objective and the subjective is quite silly in such circumstance because it depends of what we are making of it.

When I say I propose "new relationships" between the main macroscopic variables found in the UFO world (witnesses, society, and the phenomenon), I mean here new ontological  relationships; how our assumptions about reality are in relationship with reality. My first key point is that the study of UFO, if it is to be successful in moving forward, cannot be entrenched in naïve dualist ontological assumptions. One has to accept that all the variables are interdependent, the subjective and the objective are mutually influencing each other.

In the example given above, we can make all kinds of inference about what  happen, like checking with the airport and finding that there was no plane or helicopter in the sky at the time; or looking for weather patterns that were similar to other occasions when a weird natural phenomena was observed. In all these situations, whatever conclusions we are coming with, these are only reinforced through inferences, but they are no proof. Yet, other explanations that are not dualist are possible. A mundane object like a plane was in the sky, but somehow created a telepathically shared vision of something else. Or, a PK-like apparition occurred, but because of the materialist mental predispositions of the observer, it was constructed as a natural phenomenon. As one can see, a dualist world is very limiting when one tries to research a challenging phenomenon like UFOs.

This bring me to my second key point, which is that if we add psi and social psi to the ontological perspective, then we need to be ready for new assumptions that further undermine naïve dualism. Psi implies that the mind (the subjective) can alter the physical realm (the objective) through PK, and other people's mind (the enlarged subjective world) through ESP, without using physical or direct means. If one accepts this assumption about psi, then insisting on separating the objective and the subjective is not only silly, it is a serious impediment for understanding of the phenomenon.

UFO events, especially the ones that are construed as " high strangeness", involve usually witnesses in altered state of consciousness. The witnesses' perception of reality is oftentimes mix-up with powerful images and impressions coming from their unconscious mind, and yet it is also in such circumstances that psi events are more likely to occur, whether they are of a PK or ESP nature. What is objective and what is subjective in such circumstances are all mixed-up. The common recurrence of paranormal phenomena found in UFO reports makes psi-related ontological assumptions that more important. Having an open-minded attitude towards an ontology that is not only about avoiding a strong distinction between the objective and subjective, but it is also about accepting a " two-way street" where the subjective can also alter the objective. 


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Who's Who in the UFO Zoo? - Part 3

In my book Illuminations, I proposed what I called the Parapsychological Hypothesis. It may constitute a 7th approach, but I think it is more than that. It was not intended to be a declaration of the “Truth” about UFOs, as in the present state of knowledge no one can make such a claim. Rather, it is an attempt to put together a more holistic construct that could integrate the so-called paranormal aspects of the UFO experience, reported by many witnesses over the years.

Another feature of the Parapsychological Hypothesis is that it actually builds on all the previous schools of thought. Like all the other approaches, the Nil hypothesis is integrated in that I am not questioning the issue that many mundane objects and phenomena have been declared unidentified, while in fact they were identifiable. Similarly, I am also supportive of the ETH and sophisticated ETH approaches in that I acknowledge the existence of numerous cases where the phenomenon has a degree of objective reality that cannot be simply dismissed out of hand. As well, I agree that in a number of occasions, UFO observations can lead someone to think that objects appear controlled by some form of intelligence. The real question is whose intelligence? Poltergeist events also appear to be controlled by some form of intelligence, and yet there are every reasons to think that such intelligence is the unconscious one of those involved in the events.


My approach also integrates many elements of the psycho-social hypothesis (PSH). The UFO phenomenon is socially constructed, as the language and the images we use to describe odd events have an impact on our understanding of the phenomenon. Similarly, the psychological conditions of the witnesses will shape their perception (like any of our perceptions about everything else, for that matter). The sophisticated version of the PSH provides interesting additional tools to study UFO events from a psychological perspective, even if the PSH cannot explain any aspects that have a degree of objective reality. Yet, I must also underline that I reject unequivocally and forcefully every aspect of the PSH that builds on condescending assumptions towards the witnesses that they are just ignorant, syndrome suffering or fantasy prone individuals  (especially in the simplistic and improved versions of the PSH). This is certainly a major and completely unacceptable flaw of that hypothesis. In the 21st century, no social scientist worth of that name would accept such implicit assumptions based on crude 1950-style scientism.

Yet, there is still more to the Parapsychological Hypothesis, as it is in many ways “plugging the holes” that exist in the study of UFOs; it opens the way to a truly comprehensive approach for studying UFOs. As noted, in the first post of this series, the UFO phenomenon is based on three fundamental elements:

1.      Witnesses, or experiencers, who report very odd and strange events;

2.      Phenomena that have a degree of external, or objective, reality, as there are physical traces left, multiple witnesses reporting very similar observations at the same time, and a core experience that is relatively invariant across time;

3.      Society, and its cultural dynamics and particular relationships of power, that influence how we understand the world, as well as what is being reported and what is being ignored.

A sound study of the UFO phenomenon cannot be done properly unless all those three elements, or variables, are integrated into the analysis. The problem of all six schools of thought presented earlier is that really only integrate 2 of those elements, never all three at same time.

If we represent graphically the entire literature (that tries to explain the UFO phenomenon, which is by the way a small percentage of the UFO literature), it would look like this.

 Let me explain.
  • The arrow showing relationship 1, between the witnesses and the phenomenon, represents the focus of the Nil Hypothesis, namely how the witnesses are projecting their own assumptions into reality.
  •  Relationship 2, is what the simplistic ETH is emphasizing by looking into how the phenomenon is impacting the witnesses who report odd things.
  • The sophisticated ETH focus also on relationship 2, but implies that there is a relationship 3, where the phenomenon also influences society in subtle ways (notion particularly prevalent in Jacques Vallée’s texts).
  • The simplistic psycho-social hypothesis (PSH), on the other hand, focusses on the relationship 5, where the narrative about aliens and spaceships is the driving force behind any UFO observation. As well, the supporters of the simplistic PSH take for granted that relationship 1 is directly determined by relationship 5. In other words, witnesses are not important for them.
  • The improved PSH adds also a focus on relationship 6, where prominent individuals can also influence society’s narrative about aliens and spaceships. Yet, the improved PSH also assumes a relatively direct relationship between 5 and 1, so for them too the witnesses’ experience is not that important.
  • Finally, the sophisticated PSH still focusses on 5 and 6, but adds a revised version of relationship 1 that is not fully dictated by social narratives about UFOs. In other words, in the sophisticated PSH, what is going on in the life of the witnesses counts, but they still ignore the possibility of a somewhat objective phenomenon.
The Parapsychological Hypothesis introduces, fundamentally, two innovations. The first innovation is done through the notion of social psi being possibly involved in UFO waves, which adds the relationship 4 to the mix, where collective social psi could actually provide shapes, content and behaviour to the phenomenon. In concrete words, if people were actually seeing airship in the late 19th century, ghost planes and ghost rockets in the early and mid 20th century, and a variety of “spaceships” in the 2nd half of the 20th century, then unless one is considering all the witnesses as inept people, then society is influencing the phenomenon directly. By doing so, the Parapsychological Hypothesis actually completes all the six possible ways of looking at the UFO phenomenon. It patches this hole.
The second innovation, by adding the parapsychological concept of psi in the study of UFOs, is that it actually fully embraces the possibility of the inter-dependency between all three variables. In the case of the relationship between the witnesses and the phenomenon (relationships 1 and 2), if a psi effect occurs, then the witnesses can possibly affect the objective reality of the phenomenon (through ESP and Psychokinesis) while being affected by the same phenomenon (altered state of consciousness, traumatic experience, etc.). There is no need to decide if it is a subjective issue (relationship 1) or an objective phenomenon (relationship 2), as it can actually be both at the same time (new relationship “C” on the chart).
Similarly, the Parapsychological Hypothesis is fully embracing the interdependency between social narratives about UFOs and aliens (relationship 5) and the witnesses’ capacity to influence the same social narrative about UFOs and aliens (relationship 6). Yet, by doing so, the Parapsychological Hypothesis does not ignore the existence of the phenomenon like the supporters of the PSH do (in all its three versions). The witnesses and larger society exchange on ideas, images, narratives, and understanding about what is behind the UFO phenomenon (new relationship “B” on the chart), but such information is not translated directly into the content of the phenomenon. Such transfer of information about shape, content and behaviour of the phenomenon can only be understood by a careful analysis of how witnesses interact with the phenomenon (the personal dimension), and how society interacts directly with the phenomenon (what I called the impersonal aspects of the UFO phenomenon in my book Illuminations).
Lastly, as noted above, there is a possible direct interaction between society and the phenomenon (new relationship “A” on the chart) where collective social psi effects can affect the phenomenon and in turn it can shape new ways in society (like the creation of UFO-related cults).
By adding the possibility of the Parapsychological Hypothesis in the study of UFOs, it certainly makes things much more complicated. It forces the researcher to incorporate all three central variables (witnesses, phenomenon, and society) in the analysis, instead of only two as the other schools of thought on UFO do. As well, by accepting that all six possible interactions between those variables can be relevant, instead of just picking a handful of them that fits one’s worldview, we have an approach that requires multiple levels of analysis. This is harder, but this is also more rigorous and it creates better conditions to elucidate what we are dealing with.
The final question is, then, who in the UFO zoo is seriously willing to take a truly comprehensive approach to study UFOs?