UFO Conjecture(s)

Friday, August 23, 2013

Gilles Fernandez addresses Jose Caravaca's "External Agent" concept


I have previously discussed, on Facebook, with José Caravaca his theory of an “external agent” in UFO encounters.

With (friendly) sarcasm, I told him the Sociopsychological Theory/Hypothesis/model of the UFO phenomenon and his Distortion Theory are really similar... except that SPH doesn't need an “external agent.”

The SPH stipulates that when subjects are facing stimuli they don’t recognize, the subjects’ brains are making projective transformations and elaborations of the stimuli.

The subjects are thus using their own mental representations of the UFO phenomenon (to be short about it). 

Particularly, it is interesting to see the drawings of space re-entries.

(I have several of them in order to see how subjects "saucerize" the space re-entry. I could share later if anyone wishes to see them).

German Sociologist Edgar Wunder has done interesting experiments too: he proposed, using a screen, land pictures where a little stimulus without real signification is placed in the sky and asked, after the presentation of the slides, his subjects to draw what they saw.

Again, many drawings show that subjects have "saucerized" the stimulus, adding windows, propulsion, motors, etc.

Very interesting for Cognitive Psychology and a means to help understand the ufo phenomenon better.

I have a video of Wunders experiment if you want to see it; its in German (they are at my blog). 

In other words, SPH is laboratory testable.

Projective transformation? : Witness is seeing elements in line with his own "expectations" and is altering the characteristics of the stimulus during the perception processings themselves. (Such processings are called, in cognitive psychology, "top-down processings" versus bottom-up ones)  or "driven by the concepts processings" (versus driven by data processings). 

Yes, it is well known that our knowledge and our culture influence what we perceive in the environment, and influence the retrieval and the return of the event (by memory processes).

Stored information from different sources can therefore complement, anticipate or replace what we see, mainly when the stimulus is not recognized as a "world element," because it’s too ambiguous, too fast, unknown, etc.

Some witnesses then "saucerize" the stimulus and ufologists jump on these tales.

During an UFO wave, for example, a witness is encouraged to see the sky, and will add a detail or details that create the structure of the observed but not identified stimuli (prosaic/conventional stimuli in reality) as the likeness of a UFO broadcast by the media.

Projective elaboration?: the witness gradually develops a "cultural roman" during perception, adorned with many subjective and false memories. 

A witness will evoke illusory physical interference of the UFO with the environment, providing psychological and/or physiological effects, an amalgamation, of disparate elements close in time and space of the sighting, but having no relation between them in reality.

The memory illusions are usually the result of errors in the reconstruction of the past experience, but "bugs" may occur following the encoding phase during the passage of the sensory information from the working memory or short memory to the long term memory. 

Faced with the same event, an individual is encoding different items depending on his physiological or emotional state.

Thereafter, parasitic information confuses memory, easily slipping into the remembered episode. 

The witness then comes to the intuitive certainty of having seen, heard or done something when he only has "imagined" it.

These errors may have an endogenous -- cultural/mental representations but also be induced by a third party, by mere suggestion; i.e., when interacting with investigators/ufologists who suggest intentionally, inadvertently or not, what they expect.

Yes, the way a question is asked, for example, is likely to blur the memory of the one who responds. That's why ufologists should use standardized interview procedures as those in criminology or psychology which minimize such well-known bias.

A false memory, created from scratch, results generally in a source of confusion: the subject correctly remembers the information, but no longer knows where it comes from. Some false memories and dreams are then remembered as real events.

The practice of regressive hypnosis used by some ufologists to bring to the surface so-called repressed memories has also created amazing confabulations. Hypnosis increases the illusion of remembering and actually makes the hypnotized person more vulnerable to memory distortions.

Some people are described by psychologists as fantasy-prone personalities, convinced of having experienced events that have not actually occurred. Such people are characterized by a singular disposition to fantasize and sometimes find it difficult to distinguish real events from the products of their imagination: dreams, scenes from movies they have seen or events they just heard.

Again, to "test" witnesses by psychometric or personality tests could be interesting for the investigator, to evaluate their social and cultural environment.

The cultural environment provides subjects with images, mental representations that they model their interpretation of experiences with.

 A better understanding of mechanisms of treatment (perception and recognition), storage, organization (memory) and modification of sensory information here should help to refine and complete the SocioPsychological model of the UFO phenomenon.

Again, what it is interesting here is that it is testable in laboratory by psychology experiments. It changes so-called ufology which is often made of non-testable assumptions, hypothesis, etc.

We could add simple perceptual misinterpretations, hoaxes and mystifications (rare), altered states of consciousness (due to fatigue, sleep paralysis, for example), psychopathological experiences (rare too), secret military experiments or objects as source of an UFO sighting (or deliberately provoked "mirage men" approach), and even rare or poorly known geophysical phenomena (sprites, elves, etc.).

This is a non-exhaustive list of all conventional and prosaic causes so I encourage you to read at least sources which inspired my intervention here. They are in French only….sorry:

http://scepticismescientifique.blogspot.fr/2009/08/lhypothese-sociopsychologique-ce-quelle.html by my Belgium friend Jacques Scornaux.

http://www.zetetique.fr/divers/OvniDuCnes_annexe.pdf by our french UFO-skeptic forum members  David Rossoni, Éric Maillot & Éric Déguillaume.

http://www.unice.fr/zetetique/articles/theorie_reduct_ovni.html by Claude Maugé.


Gilles Fernandez


  • Gilles
    Since no one has stepped up to the plate as yet, I have to admire your comments as being both coherent and a form of skepticism I also admire. I suspect you don't paint with a broad brush as to say, these phenomenon do not exist but rather how the questions and analysis are framed, they need to be given a context beyond science fiction cartoons. Another voice, so to speak, crying out in the wilderness
    against the self referential fallacies of a proverbial religion.
    Yours is one of the best comments I have read.

    By Blogger Bruce Duensing, at Friday, August 23, 2013  

  • Greetings,

    Well Bruce, I'm very "touched" by your comment. TY...

    Just little add-ons. In my "article", I stated about Edgar Wunder protocole and a video. The links are the following (jump to part 2, around 3'20'' and part 3 of course).
    Galileo Mystery - Ufos

    Concerning some space re-entry drawings, please read the following pdf (Courtesy to James Oberg), in particulary pp 16/18/21.

    It illustrates imho "my" point about projective elaborations and transformations.
    If José want to invoke "external agent" to explain such drawings, I'm interrested...



    By Blogger Gilles Fernandez, at Friday, August 23, 2013  

  • Gilles,

    Interesting take, as always, from you.

    Bruce's comment sums it up quite nicely. I look forward to more of your thoughts.

    By Blogger Tim Hebert, at Friday, August 23, 2013  

  • We touched on much of what you laid out here in my psychology classes, so there's nothing new or revolutionary about it. It underlies a lot of current thinking about perception and memory.

    Nevertheless, it's good to remind those interested in Ufology that the term "eye witness" often carries little or no weight at all.

    The piece that's missing is the physiological one - we know that some pathophysiological states (even when transitory) negatively affect cognitive function and distort perceptions.

    It has always been my belief that the only thing we can objectively study in any UFO event is the witness, and to date, we've done an amazingly lousy job of doing so (MUFON's approach is ineffective at best and reflects the "technology bias" of Ufology that gets in the way of objective evaluation most of the time).

    Thank you for reminding us that the process of transitioning from initial perception to memory is far more complex and error prone than simply snapping a mental photo of an event.

    By Blogger purrlgurrl, at Friday, August 23, 2013  

  • How can you not love Gilles?

    And Purrlgurrl?


    By Blogger Lance, at Friday, August 23, 2013  

  • "We touched on much of what you laid out here in my psychology classes, so there's nothing new or revolutionary about it. It underlies a lot of current thinking about perception and memory." --PG

    I agree. We have learned quite a bit about the way the brain works in the past half-century.

    You and others may find this video interesting. It's Oliver Sacks talk on TED: 'What hallucination reveals about our minds'


    There's another video from Daniel Dennett on my page as well. He uses the example of Pointillism in painting, and how the mind sees more than is there in the painting. Information is added, in other words...

    By Blogger Parakletos, at Saturday, August 24, 2013  

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