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?



Lance Payette said...

As one who has studied all anomalous phenomena for almost six decades and has experienced at least some (including being one of two witnesses to a close-range daylight disk), it has always seemed likely to me that the vast majority of such phenomena are related at some core level - even if, superficially, they are as unrelated as UFOs, Near Death Experiences and hauntings. At the same time, I have increasingly come to believe that whatever is going on at that core level will forever remain a mystery to us, at least this side of the grave. Elaborate hypotheses are, to me, less helpful than the frank admission, "We have no idea what is going on." Limiting the discussion to, say, the best 5,000 UFO reports, the witnesses and the evidence are too disparate to fit into any single theory; at whatever level they represent the "same phenomenon" (if they do), it is something that cannot be grasped from the human perspective. Trying to find an explanation in psychological or social factors is an appealing "out" when the evidence defies explanation, but it just isn't convincing. Stanislaw Lem, the Polish author of the novel Solaris, said the point he was trying to make was that if we ever encounter an alien intelligence, we likely will never have any understanding of why it is doing what it does. Jacques Vallee's "control system" idea has always appealed to me, if you understand it to mean that an alien intelligence ("alien" simply meaning non-human - it could be God for all I know) is attempting to instill a sense of awe, wonder and bafflement and make us think about larger issues than what's for dinner.

tanshihus said...

Eric: While it's not okay to be derogatory to any of the witnesses, it does seem to me that the phenomena that you're discussing is inherently bound up with the mental processes of those same observers. This implies that the terms used to describe an event such as the sighting of a being would vary from things like Elves, Dwarfs, Grays, Aliens, Demons, Angels to the Blessed Virgin Mary simply depending on the education/exposure of the observer. You've also pushed the idea that modern interpretations of the nature of these events might color an observer's language along with his or her expectations. A friend told me of Barney Hill's possible contamination of his sighting by his watching of an episode of the 'Outer Limits' previous to his and Betty's encounter. Which in a previous discussion with you, you were kind enough to remind me of this fact. The point is that just our exposure to societal images, sounds and ideas already alters our perceptions of those events to a certain degree; a witness's limitations have to be accepted and dealt with accordingly by the investigator.