Monday, August 16, 2010

TCI – SP4 –Influences – Eric Ouellet

My interest for the paranormal comes from both having a number of paranormal experiences myself (particularly precognition and telepathy) and having seen people around me, while growing up, losing their critical mind when dealing with the paranormal. Out of those two particular influences, I came to the conclusion that there are elements of what we call the paranormal that are actually real, but many other elements are illusions, make-beliefs, and dysfunctional psychological crutches. The authors that had the greatest influence on my thinking all share this attitude: rigorously separating the golden nuggets from the fluff.

I zeroed-in lately on the ufological phenomenon. There are several reasons for this choice. One is that I find it interesting in itself with its mixture of physical, psychological and social realities. As well, of all the paranormal phenomena it is probably the most ostentatious one, making it a true sociological object. Yet, I never saw a UFO myself, although I saw a number of objects in the sky that could be mistaken for a UFO if one does not remain a critical observer. Once again, my attitude is that there are golden nuggets in the UFO world, but also a whole lot of fluff.

In the UFO literature, Jacques Vallée had certainly an important impact on my thinking. Not so much because of his control system and mythical intelligence theses, with which I strongly disagree, but more because of the attitude he brought in researching the phenomenon. Vallée went beyond the phenomenon itself to look into the lives of the people who had such experience, and he looked into several other possible dimensions to the phenomenon (parapsychology, folklore and narrative analysis, social impacts, etc.). For me, this is the real scientific attitude: looking for patterns and underlying dynamics in what we call reality, in spite of all its complexities. In the same vein, John Keel’s attitude of looking at all the paranormal phenomenon described in the Mothman Prophecy and seeing them as part of a holistic event rather than artificially compartmentalizing them into discreet category is also representative of a true scientific mind. Although, I also disagree with Keel’s thesis about the implication of non-human entities in paranormal events, his attitude is what counts for me.

Another important source of influence is the parapsychological literature. But let’s be clear here, I mean the scientific parapsychological literature, not the fluff that is labelled parapsychology by most bookstores. The scientific parapsychological literature, however, is not itself exempt of problems. The founders of the discipline, the Rhine, had to thread on a very narrow path to establish the credibility of their discipline and to do so had a very narrow focus on quantifiable, experimental and repeatable aspects of the paranormal so they can prove its existence. Anyone of had any paranormal experience knows that there is much more to it. The discipline, although still a marginal one, had been able to acquire a fair bit of credibility, but the attitude leading to a narrow focus remains. Only a few dared to venture outside such narrow focus, although there are now some signs of change in the discipline. It is those few who had some serious influence on my thinking. First, there is Scott Rogo who did not hesitate to tackle the so-called macro and spontaneous psi effects. By mixing a sound attitude to research with a true trans-disciplinary mindset, he produced very convincing research on UFOs, poltergeists and hauntings. To understand these phenomena, one needs to be an historian, a psychologist, a parapsychologist, a sociologist, and a folklorist. This is difficult to do, but it is also the attitude that brought us the Renaissance Men (and women) and that really put us on the path of many discoveries later on. In the same vein, I admire Dean Radin’s efforts to push the parapsychological community to move on: the existence of psi effect has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt and it is now time to focus on how it works.

Lastly, I think I also need to describe the philosophical influence on my thinking. I am clearly part of the phenomenological school of thought. The philosophers Immanuel Kant, Wilhelm Dilthey and Edmund Husserl, the social scientists inspired by phenomenology like Max Weber, Alfred Schutz and the inventors of the concept of social construction of reality Peter Burger & Thomas Luckmann left me with a clear understanding that what call reality is pretty much what we are willing to make of it. This is not to say that reality is totally plastic and at our disposal to be modified at will. Instead, a same reality can be construed in many different ways. But, the fact that one particular way of construing reality is popular does not make it truer. The clearest example is the extra-terrestrial hypothesis in ufology. It is the most popular way to look at the phenomenon, yet it has no evidence to support itself. It is all based, in my opinion, on an intellectually lazy attitude: “but what else could it be?” Other approaches, although much less popular, much more complicated to understand and much less romantic, have better evidence at hand. Indeed, what is deemed to be real is a matter of social construction.

From ufology to parapsychology, and from philosophy to social sciences, these are the authors who helped me the most in my quest to separate the golden nuggets from the fluff.

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