Monday, April 30, 2012

James E McDonald and the paranormal

Hi all


Some readers of this blog will be aware that I have had a long term interest in the paranormal and associated areas (click here .)  I have long advocated for the study of paranormal phenomenon, e.g. poltergeists, precognition, which crop up in connection with many UFO encounters, particularly abductions (click here.)

There are numerous examples of where this happens (click here) , and my own research regularly turns up such data. However, I was surprised to see mention of James E McDonald and the paranormal, when re-reading Ann Druffel's "Firestorm", her book about McDonald. Due to the fact that I have never come across any other reference to this material before, I suspect very few readers will be aware of it, so I present it below:


McDonald's first public talk on the UFO phenomenon took place in Washington, DC, when he spoke to the local chapter of the American Meteorological Society. In looking for explanations put forward to account for the UFO phenomenon "He presented eight broad categories which various groups - ranging all the way from arch-skeptics to "kooks" - were using to explain the reports.

1. Hoaxes, fabrications and frauds;
2. Hallucinations, mass hysteria and rumours;
3. Misrepresentations of well-known physical phenomena (meteorological, astronomical, optical etc.);
4. Advanced Earth technologies (test vehicles, satellites, re-entry effects);
5. Poorly understood, rare atmospheric and electrical phenomena;
6. Psychic phenomena - psychic projections, archetypal images, (parapsychological phenomena);
7. Extraterrestrial probes;
8. "Messengers of salvation and occult truth." (p.157.)


McDonald himself said "Categories 5 and 6, to the extent that they constitute explanations in terms of the still-unknown, were intrinsically difficult to handle in logical fashion...I would emphasise that I now regard category 6 as the only important alternative to category 7." (Source cited by Druffel as: McDonald, James E. "The Problem of the Unidentified Flying Objects," summary of a talk given October 19, 1966 to the District of Columbia chapter of the American Meteorological Society, Washington, DC, pp1-2.)

As Druffel notes, "This was a most unexpected statement, ...He was saying that if true unknowns (UFOs) are not from an extraterrestrial source, the parapsychological/psychic hypothesis was the next logical choice!" (p.158.)

Druffel continues "Most veteran UFO researchers living today don't even remember that he even referred to the psychic/parapsychological hypothesis." (p.158.)

"One of the very few colleagues in the UFO research field who remember that McDonald initially listed the psychic/parapsychological hypothesis is Dr Berthold Eric Schwarz, a psychiatrist and veteran parapsychologist. He feels that McDonald might have been criticised early on by certain colleagues for his open statement of category 6." (p.159.) Click here for information on Schwarz.


"It has never been clear precisely what McDonald was suggesting in his own "category 6." No know recording of the AMS talk exists. We have only his hand-out summary to guide us...McDonald dropped category 6 from his list immediately after the AMS talk and never referred openly to it again." (p.160.)

"McDonald was fearless in his search for knowledge, and was privately interested in various aspects of parapsychology...He read widely on the subject...He never discussed parapsychology with his colleagues in atmospheric physics...However, a few objective researchers in the UFO field, including some scientists, shared this interest and, with them, he discussed the subject freely...Hall stresses, however that their discussions about parapsychology were never directly related to UFOs, but were treated as  separate subject." (p.160.)


Ten years after Druffel wrote "Firestorm," a copy of the October 19 1966 McDonald paper is now available on the internet (click here.)

On page three of the paper, one can see that there are indeed eight categories of hypotheses shown. However, here in the full paper, category 6 is simply listed as "Poorly understood psychological phenomena" and not Druffel's "6. Psychic phenomena - psychic projections, archetypal images, (parapsychological phenomena);" Why this discrepancy exists is not known to me. Can any readers throw any light on this?


  1. I wonder if he felt such a hypothesis was a step too far? He was attracting flack for suggesting support for the ETH. Might his approach have become excessively ridiculed if he was to even wonder aloud about psychical phenomena? One can imagine 'flying saucers' and 'little green men' being interchangeable with 'demons' and 'ghosts' in the mouths of his detractors.

    There's also the possibility that Ann Druffel has made an error in the reporting of those bullet-points.

    If indeed McDonald considered the idea, he was quite prescient. It's almost impossible not to speculate along similar lines. He also pre-dated Hynek's 'metaterrestrial' argument by almost 10 years! Two scientists considering ideas that are still not acceptable today.

    Hopefully someone else will provide a more accurate answer? You must be tired of the sight of my posts in your blogs!

  2. Hi Kandinsky

    Thanks for your thoughts, which I always look forward to reading, so keep the comments coming! The more I (slowly) read Druffel's book about McDonald, the more a loss his premature death was. His thinking, in many ways, was ahead of his time.



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