Monday, September 12, 2016

Real Conspiracies and Conspiracy Stories that Sell – Part 1


Finally, I am able to resume the blog. I apologize for my long silence.

I attended a symposium a little while ago on UFOs, parapsychology, and other related topics. The symposium was attended by first class researchers and writers, and it made me think a lot about the notion of conspiracy in the UFO world. The two notions of UFO and conspiracy are inextricably linked to one another, particularly in the United States. One must be aware, however, that it is much less the case outside the U.S., even in neighboring Canada. In Europe and elsewhere, research on UFO tends to focus on the new physical science aspects, the social dynamics, and to a lesser degree on the paranormal dimension.  
 
This post is looking at what we actually know about conspiracies, and how this knowledge could be helpful to make an assessment of UFO conspiracies, which are otherwise opaque in nature, and their place in framing our understanding of the phenomenon.
 
 
A number of authors in the U.S. have studies the belief in conspiracy theories in general, and on UFOs in particular. For instance, one can refer to Michael Barkun’s A Culture of Conspiracy (2013), the edited volume of Debbora Battaglia E.T. Culture (2005), Jodi Dean’s Aliens in America (1998), UFO Crash at Roswell (1997) by Saler, Ziegler and Moore, or the classic book by David Jacobs The UFO Controversy in America (1975). These books and others, in one way or another, look into why people believe in conspiracies, why conspiracies are enduring even if no substantive facts emerge or when counter-proofs are provided, what kind of people believe in conspiracy, and how conspiracies theories evolve and mutate. These questions are certainly legitimate social science research issues to study, and these books provide a very illuminating analysis of the American society, and of the inner social dynamics of the UFO buffs’ world.  

What has been much less done is to study UFO-related conspiracies from the point of view of the sociology of conspiracy; to try understanding whether UFO-related conspiracies make any sense from a sociological perspective. After all, conspiracy is a real social phenomenon with its own dynamics like project management, or bureaucracy. The sociology of conspiracy is in fact quite old and can be traced back to an article from the well-known sociologist Georg Simmel in a 1906 issue of the American Journal of Sociology, entitled “The sociology of secrecy and of secret societies”.


Simmel wrote that: “The keeping of secret is something so unstable, the temptations to betrayal are so manifold, in many cases such a continuous path leads from secretiveness to indiscretion, that unlimited faith in the former contains an incomparable preponderance of the subjective factor. For this reason those secrets societies whose rudimentary forms begin with the secret shared by two, and whose enormous extension through all times and places has not even yet been appreciated, even quantitatively—such societies have exerted efficient disciplinary influence upon moral accountability of men. For there resides in confidence of men towards each other as high moral value in the companion fact that this confidence is justified”. (p. 473)
  
Here are some of the insightful observations from Simmel about how secrecy and conspiracy decorticated. First of all, secrecy is one of the oldest form of social dynamics. As soon as you have three people or more, then we have at least three pairs of people who have their own unique one-on-one relationship, who will inevitably not share 100% of the relationship with the other pairs. Hence, secrets are born. This observation at the micro level also stands at the macro level. People have work and family secrets that do not cross into the other realm. Similarly, large organizations have secrets that are shared only internally to their members, and it can become a key issue of competitiveness between organizations, like between Apple and Samsung. The same can be said of intelligence agencies that have a hard time sharing information with each other because they want to protect their own sources.


The second point is that secret information becomes valuable because only those who are in have access to it. It is true in creating special relationship between individuals. The secret moments are what make their relationship special and valuable. This is also true for large organizations, which compete against each other. Conversely, once the secret is spilled, the information loses its value. Sometime, it is not the content of the information that actually brings value, but simply the existence of a secret. The classic example is Freemasonry, which has it rituals published in many different books over years, while its true value is in “having been there” when the ritual is performed. The real value in this case remains in the common experience rather than in its content.


A third characteristics is that secrets are very hard to keep! Bragging about being part of a secret is a phenomenon that goes back to beginning of time, and it is how the police today very often catches small time criminals. Then, revenge against those who wronged you, or selfish calculations to obtain favors in exchange for information are the story of modern spy recruiting. For instance, Oleg Penkovsky was profoundly disgusted with the actions of the Soviet Union and became a volunteer spy for the West who had a key role during the Cuban missile crisis. Richard Ames simply sold crucial American secrets to the Soviet Union for money.

Large organization based on secrecy are well aware of those problems and try establish various measures to protect their secrets. One of those measures is to ensure that those entrusted with secrets are sharing the values behind the secrets. For instance, the secret of the cryptographic work done against German signals during World War II at Bletchley Park was a very well guarded one, and this many years after the war was over. The people were fully dedicated to protect Britain and the Western world against fascism, raid bombing, and U-boot attacks. They had very strong motivations to keep it secret. The Mafia, on the other hand, tries to keep secrets based on family values, and try to recruit among family members. But their goals are much less noble, and eventually someone talks. That’s what gangsters’ stories are made of. The Watergate scandal was easily uncovered by two journalists because of the immorality of what was done. People were willing to talk and provide proofs.


Another measure is fear and intimidation. This can work up to a point, but eventually people reach a point where they have nothing to lose, and they spread the secret. Once again, organized crime is a classic example of using fear and intimidation, and yet people eventually talk. Witness protection programmes have been created to give these people a second chance after they reveal the secret. State intelligence agencies can use the threat of prosecution and jail time, or even worse, if people reveal their secrets, and yet we have people like Snowden who was willing to risk it all.


Lastly, organizations are using secrets as a way to get people motivated to keep secrets! It is essentially done by getting more secrets over time, and moving one closer to the inner circle. Cults are classic examples of it, but organized crime is the same. Intelligence agencies provide high clearances as people get promoted to upper ranks. Yet, this does not always work. For instance, Oleg Gordievsky, the Soviet resident in London, which was a pretty high position in the KGB, defected to the West when he could.


Ultimately, the morality or immorality of a secret is often a defining characteristic as to whether a secret can last for long, assuming that people in are essentially normal people. A secret that supports a cause that is construed as noble and moral will last long. The exception are immoral secrets that are kept by profoundly depraved people, like in the case of pedophile rings. Such secrets tend to be held closely because of the serious consequences for those in if the secret is revealed. But it also imposes a limitation on the size of the secret group, as when the circle enlarges too much, sooner or later someone will have problems with his/her conscience. Many modern-day terrorist plots were stopped in this manner, as the circle becomes larger.



In light of those sociological characteristics linked to secrets and conspiracies, how well the UFO secrets and conspiracy fare?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Interview with Paracast

Dear all,




I gave another interview, this time with The Paracast. It is available at:

http://www.theparacast.com/podcast/now-playing-february-7-2016-eric-ouelett/


And more to come soon.   




Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Could UFO sightings be considered as apparitions?


Students of the paranormal have spent a lot of energy since the 19th century trying to understand a phenomenon that came to be known as “apparitions”. This words usually evokes images of the Spiritism séances operating in semi-darkness led by a mysterious medium showing ectoplasmic material moving on its own. A classic book on the topic, Phenomena of Materialization, by the Baron Von Schrenck Notzing published in its English version in 1923, is still reprinted today. Similarly, the various research conducted by the Society for Psychical Research on ghosts and haunting were essentially focussed on apparitions. Once again, we can cite the famous study Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore, published in 1886.



Of course, a number of observers have made a connection between some of the UFO experience and the literature on apparitions. Jacques Vallée in Passport to Magonia, published in 1969, established a number of similarities between folkloric apparitions and UFO occupant reports. We can also note that the so-called encounters of the fourth kind (alien abductions) have also a lot in common with more classic apparitional experiences. The famous parapsychologist Scott Rogo wrote UFO Abductions in 1980, concluding along those lines. Taking an even wider perspective, Hilary Evans published in 1984 Vision, Apparitions, Alien Visitors: A contemporary study of the entity enigma, where he shows that UFO occupants, ghosts, religious visions, etc., have also a lot in common once the experience is analyzed outside the beliefs system that surrounds each of them. Finally, Jenny Randles, in Mind Monsters (1990), looking at a variety of odd and unclassifiable stories proposed conclusions quite similar to Evans.



The real question here is whether most UFO events are not in the end apparitional experiences? The Hynek typology of 1st to 3rd kind encounter, which has been quite central to ufology, and the so-called extra-terrestrial hypothesis (ETH) have created a mental construct where the concept of apparition only applies when one sees the UFO “driver”. But this need not to be.
 

The first mental hurdle to deal with is that one does not need to have a non-human entity to see an apparition. Stories of ghost ships, which are normally considered as apparitions, have been around for a long time, and do not necessarily involve any ghost sailors. Ghost airships, and ghost planes were often considered as apparitions, even if no “driver” was seen. More recently, stories of ghost cars without a driver have been part of modern folklore. In effect, an apparition is simply sensing something external that has no known explanations to the witness; it is an anomaly.



The second mental hurdle is linked to the notion of hallucination. If someone sees an apparition and there is no physical object actually present, then one is considered as not mentally well, and hence the experience is declared irrelevant. The fact that there would be no actual physical object does not mean that the person is mentally ill. In fact, the vast majority of apparitional reports (of all kinds) are coming from mentally fit individuals. The lack of physical object does not preclude the possibility that there might be an external input. An apparition might be considered as information (oftentimes visual, but not always) acquired through non-normal means, which is the actual definition of Extra-Sensory Perception (ESP). The role of telepathic hallucinations in ghost and haunting experiences has been suspected for a long time by those who seriously studied such phenomena. Logically, there is no reason why UFO events would not be apparitions as well.



For instance, I was appraised of a very recent case in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada where two groups of people in two separate automobiles made separate UFO reports without being aware of what happen to the other group. They were waiting for a light change at a busy intersection in broad daylight and saw a strange object not far in the horizon, very visible. We have multiple witnesses in two different and unconnected groups. Yet, in spite of the fact that the object was perceived as being quite close, no one else at that busy intersection saw it (otherwise it would have been in the news!). This event has a lot in common with ghost and haunting experiences where not all the witness saw something in spite of looking in the same direction. Like a ghostly apparition it appeared and disappeared suddenly, it left no traces (no reports of anomaly from the nearby international airport). And interestingly, in the traditional ghost literature, road intersections were “hot spots” for ghost sightings. Given the structural similarities of this UFO experience and ghost haunting, there is no good reason not to consider it an apparition. In other words, once one removes the ETH mental blinders, then a different picture emerges.



So, it is possible to construe UFO events, without the presence of non-human entities, as apparitional experiences. Whether the witnesses shared telepathically an input coming from somewhere else is difficult to say. But it is still an anomaly worth investigating, as long as one does not search in vain for the “UFO drivers”. Another line of inquiry is that if the apparitional information has been received through ESP, then it is likely to have a symbolic content that might make sense, but only much later on. This indeed requires a different approach to UFO investigation, as it is about what the witnesses may have in common rather than focussing on an “object” that was likely not there.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Physical Reality of UFOs: How to think about it differently


Dear all,

First, please let me take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

 

It came to my attention that Bill Chalker in his blog Theozfiles   proposed a short review of my book Illuminations. In his review, he states that “Dr. Ouellet argues there is no compelling physical evidence for UFOs”. 

It is actually incorrect, but I also think this assessment is based mostly on a misunderstanding about the physical reality of UFOs. So, I will address this issue more directly here.

In the book, I do a tour of the knowledge that is available about the physical aspects of UFOs. The key word here is “knowledge”; I am not proposing a tour of the physical “evidence” considered as being linked to UFOs. This is an important distinction. I wanted to get the readers up to speed with what we know (and I underlined that our knowledge is still quite limited at this point in time). I was not proposing a perspective based on where we are at with the speculations linked to the physical reality of UFOs.

 

That being said, if there is some knowledge about the physical reality of UFOs, then by definition there is a degree of physical reality to UFOs! As well, the book presents a number of case studies where some physical evidence are presented, and accepted as evidence. What more is needed to say that there are physical evidence linked to UFOs? But maybe this was too implicit.

I realize that when anyone is discussing UFOs, this very very word “UFO” implies dealing with a “foreign object”. The “O” (for object) in UFO is definitely setting the tone, and this is why some are preferring the wording “Unexplained Aerial Phenomena” (UAP), as it is actually less “loaded” because it does not imply necessarily an object being present. Then, of course, decades of ETH nuts-and-bolts ufology has not only set the tone but created an unconscious association between “UFO” and “spaceship” (a hard physical object). In other words, the concept of UFO comes with a lot of cognitive baggage, which railroads the way we think about it. We seriously need to break away from such cognitive mold, if we really want to enlarge our understanding of UFOs.

 


To do so, we need to use different mental categories.

Hynek proposed a useful typology, when it was developed decades ago, covering “Night Lights”, “Day Discs”, “Radar Tracking”, and the “Close Encounters” of the type 1, 2, and 3. Implicit in his typology was, once again, “how close the witness was from the object”. The nuts-and-bolts perspective is actually built-in the typology. Although he added the issue of degree of “strangeness,” it appears to be in the end only a measure of the witnesses’ degree of altered state of consciousness.

 
So, what would look like a different UFO typology consistent with the parapsychological hypothesis?

First, what needs to be measured from a parapsychological perspective is not how close you are, but how anomalistic the event is. This, in turn, would provide a useful tool to assess how rare and unique an event might be, and therefore helping to guide the search for data (and that’s actually the purpose of any typology).

Based on what is emerging from general research in parapsychology, it seems that the most common form of psi events are synchronicities (meaningful coincidences), then comes various forms of Extra Sensory Perceptions (ESP) (telepathy, premonition, clairvoyance, etc.), and finally, more rare are various forms of Psychokinesis (PK) (telekinesis, healings, teleportation, etc.). Hence, a sound typology would be going from common synchronicity to ESP to PK events. So, here is what I propose, and how the physical aspects of UFO events would fit in.

Synchronicity:

S1. UFO-related Synchronicity. For example, a perfectly mundane airplane or helicopter could be mistook for a UFO. Yet, two or more separated observers made the same mistake, reporting a UFO with similar descriptions that would not fit the actual “real” object in the sky. In this case, it seems that we would be dealing with a case of synchronicity, misunderstood by both debunkers and ETHers as a random coincidence, and an illusion, respectively. There might have been an optical illusion involved, and yet there might have been a meaningful coincidence involved too. In such a case, it is by interviewing the witnesses about other things going in their life and surrounding (e.g. both witnesses dreaming of UFOs beforehand, bumping by accident into the other witness, etc.) that one can identify if there is indeed a synchronicity. It was what Jung had, mostly, in mind when discussing UFOs in his famous book Flying Saucers: A modern myth of things seen in the skies.

 


Extra Sensory Perception (ESP):

E2. Shared telepathic hallucination, where there are no object per se in the sky, but two or more witnesses see the same “hallucination”, implying some form of telepathy involved. Berthold Schwartz in UFO Dynamics: Psychiatric and psychic aspects of the UFO syndrome gave interesting examples of such psi-induced shared hallucinations.

E3. Altered states of consciousness and visionary experience, possibly in the context of a shared event with other people or involving some form of ESP experience such as telepathy, premonition, clairvoyance, etc. In such situation, there might be a mundane flying object that gets “mixed up” in the witness’ consciousness. Jenny Randles’ concept of “Oz Factor” covers many of such cases. Some abduction experiences might also be explained in such a way (see Brian Thompson. (1994). “Telepathy: possible telepathic spread of UFO abduction stories”. Paper presented at Alien Discussions: Abduction Study Conference Held at M. I. T. Harvard University).

 

E4. Altered states of consciousness and visionary experience reinforced by a source of electromagnetism, such as an earthlight or ball of plasma. In such a case, there is something physical in the sky or nearby on the ground, even if it is of a short-live duration, involving some form of ESP experience such as telepathy, premonition, clairvoyance, etc. The Betty and Barney Hill story may possibly be explained in part in that way, as noted in my book Illuminations.

 
Psychokinesis (PK):

P5. Witnessing an exotic natural phenomena involving a possible psychokinetic event. Paul Devereux’s personal “encounter” with an earthlight that seemed moving as he was thinking about the object, may be a possible example of such a case, as discussed in his book Earthlights. Pierre Viéroudy’s experiment to create a UFO would be in the same category of experience, as reported in his book Ces OVNIs qui annoncent la venue du surhomme. Similarly, the mysterious healing of Dr. X. reported by Jacques Vallée, might be another example of psychokinetic effect. In all those cases, the “physical object” was perceived as a ball of light of some kind.

 

P6. A much less frequent anomaly would be one involving the psychokinetic movement of an object, or even an apport or teleportation of a physical object behaving like a UFO in the sky or on the ground. These events are very much comparable to some of the most intense poltergeists (or RSPKs), but occurring higher in the sky. Such object could be some form of plasma, but it could be made of other things too. Scott Rogo in The Haunted Universe reported a number of UFO cases that seem to fit this category, including a bunch of planks and other knick-knacks collated out of nowhere to take the shape of a UFO on the ground (again, similar to a bunch of towels and bedsheets taking the shape of a person during a poltergeist event).

It is important to note that these various elements of intensity are not mutually exclusive. For instance, a visionary experience involving a source of electromagnetism could also be involving psychokinetic healing, like in the story of Dr. X. As well, there is no need for a “crescendo” of intensity. UFO experiences can start at the rarest end P6 without “passing through” any other previous stages. And again, this scale is mostly useful in evaluating what would be the rarest form of psi involved in a particular UFO experience. The point here is that the social and psychological intensity required to produce a synchronicity is considered as being less than one causing a psychokinetic effect. Hence, in investigating a case we have a predictive tool to look for data.

 
The issue of physical traces, such as burning on the ground, matter brought from somewhere else, and radar tracking can be now be put in their proper perspective. Burning on the ground are likely to be caused by some form of plasma. Marks on the ground (as noted in some poltergeists event) can be a matter of psychokinesis. Matter from somewhere else can be either brought by a plasma ball or earthlight or a matter of psychokinesis. Radar tracking can be a matter of psychokinesis interfering with electronic equipment, some form of flying plasma, or psychokinesis of an object. Hence, I do not say there is no compelling physical evidence. What I am saying is that physical evidence are important (and do exist), but they are not of a primary importance; they are side effects of more crucial social and psychological psi-related dynamic