Recently I read a 1977 book by D. Scott Rogo called The Haunted Universe. Rogo, a longtime paranormal writer and researcher, is normally pretty cautious in his assessment of paranormal claims. But in The Haunted Universe he eschews his usual wariness to explore a range of purported phenomena that fall outside the purview of parapsychology. The book covers religious miracles (healings, bleeding statues, Marian apparitions), UFOs, and Forteana - unexplained and bizarre news items, like rains of frogs and monster sightings.
His purpose is to advance a theory, or at least a conjecture, that might tie this ragtag collection of subjects together. Rogo's idea is that many of these phenomena can be explained as psychic projections of the subconscious mind.
Rogo goes to considerable lengths to show that some notable UFO sightings have a "psychic" component. He notes that certain individuals seem prone to seeing UFOs, and that their repeated sightings (in the presence of witnesses) happen far more frequently than chance would allow. Many UFO observers have a premonition immediately before the event; they sometimes go outdoors or turn their eyes to the sky, without knowing why, just before a UFO appears. One celebrated UFO observer had a history of problems with electrical equipment; the man was unable to wear a wristwatch because every watch he ever put on would soon fail. Interference with electrical equipment can be associated with psi.
The Haunted Universe shows many parallels between apparitions of the Virgin Mary and other religious figures on the one hand, and appearances of UFOs on the other. The implication is that, in both cases, witnesses are observing a psychic projection, one that matches their cultural and psychological expectations. A highly religious community is prone to seeing religious imagery, while today's more secular and technologically minded public is more likely to see a spacecraft.
Rogo himself admits that his conjecture cannot cover all the data and that other explanations are possible. But clearly he thinks the hypothesis of psychic projection can potentially explain a great many of these mysteries in a more-or-less scientific fashion.
He may be right. But what struck me while reading the book was an assumption that Rogo makes almost automatically, but which, as far as I know, has never been substantiated. The assumption is that psychic projection from the subconscious mind is the actual mechanism behind phenomena traditionally ascribed to "spirits."
On this view, the impressive feats credited to physical mediums - such as the levitation of a table or of the medium himself, or the playing of musical instruments by invisible hands, or the materialization of spirit forms - are best understood in terms of psychokinesis. The medium is actually producing all these effects himself, by means of psychic power that he himself generates, perhaps with the unwitting assistance of those around him, whose own latent powers can be tapped to provide additional energy.
On this basis Rogo argues that a person or a crowd may generate enough psychic energy to unconsciously project an image into the sky - an image real enough to be photographed. This psychic projection may seem to have a lofty spiritual meaning, as in the case of the Virgin Mary, but it is actually only a figment of the unconscious mind temporarily assuming physical or quasi-physical form thanks to some little-understood psychic mechanism.
I have a couple of problems with this idea. First, it seems unlikely that an individual with the kind of psychic power required to project, say, a UFO into the sky could be entirely unaware of his own abilities. Most physical mediums (the genuine ones, not the numerous frauds) have built up their powers over a long period of training, often sitting in spiritualist circles on an almost daily basis for years. Phenomena associated with physical mediums usually start out on a small scale and become more dramatic only with practice. And to the extent that macro-PK effects manifest spontaneously, they seem to occur under conditions of unusual emotional stress. Most of the UFO observers cited by Rogo do not seem to have been under any particular stress at the time.
Moreover, people who produce macroscopic PK effects usually do so over and over again; it's not just a one-time event or even an event limited to two or three instances over the course of a lifetime. And someone using PK is ordinarily aware of it, although contrary evidence - such as poltergeist phenomena - could be cited.
The issue of poltergeists brings me to my second objection to Rogo's idea. He assumes, in line with his general approach, that poltergeists are manifestations of the subconscious mind - psychic projections. They are not, in his view, real spirits. And as we have seen, he does not credit real spirits with the physical phenomena of the séance room, either. To his way of thinking, spirits - if they exist at all - have nothing to do with physical mediumship or with poltergeists, and presumably are not involved in ghostly apparitions and similar things.
No doubt this approach sounds at least slightly more "scientific" than belief in a spirit world. It is probably the viewpoint adopted by the majority of parapsychologists in recent decades. But is there any actual evidence to support it?
Parapsychologists argue that poltergeists are projections of the unconscious mind because the phenomena often center on an emotionally overwrought teenager, and because the poltergeist activity frequently follows this person from one location to another. But how does this prove that the teenager is generating the phenomena? Couldn't we argue with equal plausibility that a malicious spirit is obsessing this teenager, a spirit that has latched on to this victim and is following him or her around? Could the turmoil of the teenager's emotions serve as a magnet to draw in an unwanted spiritual entity, somewhat in the same way that the Ouija board is said to attract low-level spirits?
As for physical mediums, virtually all of them insist that spirits are working through them to produce the effects. Perhaps they are all mistaken, but one would think that the testimony of the people who actually exhibit these powers might be worth at least as much as the speculation of "experts" who have no such abilities. Ever since the decline of belief in spirits and the rise of the macro-PK explanation, there has been a significant drop-off in physical mediumship around the world. Possibly this is because the spiritualist explanation is a necessary psychological defense mechanism to protect the medium from being intimidated by his own "wild talents." But another possibility is that the spiritualist explanation is actually correct, and that when people lose contact with the spirit world, they are less likely to manifest these phenomena.
Circling back to Rogo's thesis, I think there is undoubtedly a link between the psychic world and many of the bizarre phenomena he discusses. But I'm not so sure that these phenomena are generated entirely or even primarily by the subconscious minds of observers. Perhaps in some cases they are. But in other cases - possibly the large majority of cases - the observer may be no more than a doorway through which the psychic energy of a spiritual entity is projected into our universe. In fact, in his next-to-last chapter, "The Cosmic Invaders," Rogo himself seems to pull back from his own hypothesis and to speculate that unknown spiritual entities may be involved, after all.
The bottom line is that there does seem to be a connection between psychic phenomena and the apparitions, UFOs, and other cases Rogo describes. But the exact nature of this relationship remains mysterious. Maybe the agency responsible for these phenomena does lie within the individual human being, or maybe it lies outside any living person - indeed, outside the space-time universe itself.
I really don't know. Anybody care to offer an opinion?