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Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities
By RUSSELL TARG, HAROLD E. PUTHOFF
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 1977 Russell Targ and Harold E. Puthoff
All rights reserved.
WHEN PARANORMAL BECOMES NORMAL
WHERE WILL YOU BE STANDING WHEN THE PARADIGM SHIFTS?
Many times in the history of human thought a belief once heretical has become a universally accepted truth ... the history of science is partly the history of paradoxes becoming commonplaces and heresies becoming orthodoxies ...
—Encyclopedia Britannica, 1959 edition, on "Heresy"
A New Concept of Psi
Date: May 29,1973
Time: 4:34 P.M.
Location: Stanford Research Institute, Menlo Park, California
Subject: Ingo Swann
We are about to attempt the first in a long series of experiments which, on the face, seem impossible. The man with whom we are working today is Ingo Swann, a New York artist who came to our laboratory preceded by a reputation for extraordinary psychic ability. We are about to ask him to close his eyes and try to experience and describe a faraway place he has never seen. He will be supplied with only the geographic latitude and longitude by which to guide himself.
Ingo sits comfortably on an orange imitation-leather sofa in our laboratory, puffing on a cigar. The blinds are drawn and the video recorder is running.
"Ingo," we begin, "a skeptical colleague of ours on the East Coast has heard of your ability to close your eyes and observe a scene miles away. He has furnished us with a set of coordinates, latitude and longitude, in degrees, minutes, and seconds, and has challenged us to describe what's there. We ourselves don't know what the answer is. Do you think you can do it, right off the top of your head?"
"I'll try," says Ingo, appearing unperturbed by a request that we, as physicists, can hardly believe we are making. For us, this is a crucial test. We are certain there is no possibility of collusion between the subject and the challenger. The coordinates indicate a site that is roughly 3,000 miles away, and we have been asked to obtain details beyond what would ever be shown on any map, such as small man-made structures, buildings, roads, etc.
Ingo closes his eyes and begins to describe what he is visualizing, opening his eyes from time to time to sketch a map. "This seems to be some sort of mounds or rolling hills. There is a city to the north; I can see taller buildings and some smog. This seems to be a strange place, somewhat like the lawns that one would find around a military base, but I get the impression that there are either some old bunkers around, or maybe this is a covered reservoir. There must be a flagpole, some highways to the west, possibly a river over to the far east, to the south more city."
He appears to zero in for a closer view, rapidly sketching a detailed map (see Figure 1) showing the location of several buildings, together with some roads and trees. He goes on: "Cliffs to the east, fence to the north. There's a circular building, perhaps a tower, buildings to the south. Is this a former Nike base or something like that?" He hands over a detailed map. "This is about as far as I can go without feedback, and perhaps guidance as to what is wanted. There is something strange about this area, but since I don't know what to look for within the scope of the cloudy ability, it is extremely difficult to make decisions on what is there and what is not. Imagination seems to get in the way. For example, I get the impression of something underground, but I'm not sure."
But imagination was not a factor on that decisive day, as we learned a few weeks later when we received a phone call from our challenger. Not only was Swann's description correct in every detail, but even the relative distances on his map were to scale!
A fluke? A fantastic coincidence? Hardly. We had given Swann the coordinates and taken his response. We had transmitted his response to the challenger and received the challenger's confirmation, detail by detail, point by point. If the phenomenon proved to be stable in further controlled experimentation, physics as we knew it would experience its greatest challenge. And this was only the beginning of a new idea of man's psychic potential.
Our Approach to Psychic Research
As physicists researching so-called paranormal phenomena, we are, first of all, scientists. But by necessity we are also facilitators whose field of action is in some sense the politics of consciousness. Therefore, we often function in the laboratory as counselors and confidants in our efforts to convince subjects that it is "safe" to be psychic. In addition to establishing rigorous scientific protocols, our task has been to find a way to provide a supportive environment in which the men and women who work with us feel they have permission to use their latent paranormal abilities.
Creating the proper environment to encourage psychic activity in our several subjects is the major theme of this book. Our laboratory experiments suggest to us that anyone who feels comfortable with the idea of having paranormal ability can have it. At least one hypothesis as to why the country is not filled with people exhibiting a high degree of psychic functioning is that it is frowned upon by society. We share an historical tradition of the stoning of prophets and the burning of witches. In light of what is known in psychology about the impact of negative feedback in extinguishing behavior, there can be little doubt that negative reaction from society is sufficient to discourage many fledgling psychics. In sharing our experiences, our methodologies, and our results, we hope to provide the reader with an opportunity to examine the effects of conditioning, obvious or subtle, which may be limiting his own abilities.
Even worse, psychic functioning has had more than its share of charlatans. As a result, the issue of psychic functioning is avoided by a large segment of society who do not wish to chance being fooled, even at the cost of being wrong. It is acceptable to be wrong if you have company; it is painful to be right when alone.
Nonetheless, throughout history there have been those courageous enough to venture forth into the roughly charted land of the paranormal. The shelves of local bookstores are full of books describing the exploits of reputedly gifted sensitives such as D. D. Home, Eileen Garrett, and Gerald Croiset. Accounts of virtuoso psychic performers have not persuaded the majority that there is such a thing as psychic functioning, however. There are also shelves filled with "how to" books, which have been just as ineffective. Apparently, one reason for this is that those who reveal in good faith their favorite recipes, unfortunately, are describing only what works for them but may not be of help to anyone else. We have seen in our laboratory that psychic functioning is a very personal thing. One subject likes to begin with a few deep breaths, while another desires only a cigar and a cup of coffee. Some prefer lying down, while others prefer sitting up. One individual finds that ignoring the flash images and concentrating on the slower-emerging pictures produces better results, while for another the reverse is true. What works, works.
Another purpose of this book is to share with the reader those observations and experiences that might be useful to him in taking the first steps toward functioning as a psychic individual, should that be his desire. In our experience, anyone who decides for himself that it is safe to experience paranormal functioning can learn to do so. In our experiments, we have never found anyone who could not learn to perceive scenes, including buildings, roads, and people, even those at great distances and blocked from ordinary perception. The basic phenomenon appears to cover a range of subjective experience variously referred to in the literature as astral projection (occult); simple clairvoyance, traveling clairvoyance, or out-of-body experience (parapsychological); exteriorization or disassociation (psychological); or autoscopy (medical). We chose the term "remote viewing" as a neutral, descriptive term free of past prejudice and occult assumptions.
Our observation that apparently everyone can experience remote viewing was a particularly hard-won truth which emerged from our efforts to handle the following problem. A government visitor who heard that we were doing ESP experiments arrived wanting to "see something psychic" by way of a demonstration. Although this sounds like a reasonably simple request, one of the things we learned quickly in our new program was that no matter how miraculous the result of an ESP demonstration, an observer often tries to discount it as a lucky day, or is convinced later by a skeptical colleague that he was mistaken, or deceived, or both. Arthur Koestler considers this to be an important phenomenon in the observation of psychic functioning, and he calls it the Ink Fish (Octopus) Effect—i.e., a paranormal event clearly seen today is seen through ever darkening clouds as time moves on.
Fortunately, we evolved a simple way to remedy the mistake-or-deception problem: by a frontal assault. In a word, the only way to be sure that the observer has seen something psychic is to have him do it himself—close his eyes and describe what he sees. Of course, some people say only "It's dark" when they close their eyes, but with patience and encouragement that first step can lead to others.
Our skeptical government visitor agreed to be a subject in a series of three of our standard remote viewing experiments. A tape recorder was started and the subject and experimenters identified themselves. A couple of sentences giving the time and date were then spoken into the recorder, along with an announcement that the experimenter on whom the subject should target would be at a remote site in a half hour.
Then the outbound experimenter—in this case Hal (Harold Puthoff)—left for the Division Office where an SRI officer not otherwise associated with the experiment selected an envelope at random from a collection stored in his security safe. Each envelope contained a file card on which were traveling orders for a target location within thirty minutes' driving time from SRI. As the experimenter remaining with the subject, I (R.T.) was kept ignorant of the possibilities, so from my point of view, the target team could be going anywhere from the Golden Gate Bridge to the San Jose airport, an area covering several hundred square miles.
These preparations had to be accomplished in less than a half hour, at which time the subject would be asked to describe his impressions of where the target team was and what they were doing.
In the first experiment, Hal was sent to stand on a bridge over a stream in Burgess Park, not far from our laboratory. The subject in the lab described Hal standing on a wooden walkway with a railing in front of him, the ground falling away underneath. When finally taken to the target, the subject felt that there were many similarities between his internal images and the actual site.
He then proposed a second experiment, in which he would be left in the experimental room without an experimenter present. We agreed to this change in protocol and left the room. To prevent him from secretly leaving, we taped the door shut from the outside. (We don't trust them any more than they trust us!) In this case, Hal's sealed instructions took him to the Baylands Nature Preserve in Palo Alto, which consists of a nature museum with walkways over the marsh at the edge of San Francisco Bay. The subject, trying to view Hal and the environment around him, described a "kaleidoscope picture of triangles, squares, and more triangles," and "some kind of electrical shielding." As it turned out, this description was generated during the time that Hal was lying on his back, looking up at the inside of a seventy-five-foot transmission-line tower over a walkway, which corresponded quite well to the subject's description (see photo on page 8). He also described a building with a small movie theater, twenty by thirty feet, which was also correct!
After we played the tape made by the subject, and he learned of his accurate description, he told us why he had wanted us out of the room. In trying to explain the first success to himself, he had decided that perhaps he was being cued either by the body language of the experimenter remaining with him, or by means of subliminal audio coming through a loudspeaker in the wall behind his chair. To guard against these possibilities, he had carried out his second experiment alone, sitting on the floor in the corner of the room with his hands over his ears.
On learning that this experiment also had striking correlations with the target location, he thought for a moment and then offered us another explanation: Perhaps Hal had come back from the target site, listened to the tape recording, and then taken him to a place that matched his description, whether or not it was the place he actually visited.
This was of course an ingenious suggestion, and, from his standpoint, a legitimate possibility. Therefore, for the third experiment, again leaving the subject alone, we both went to the remote site and made a tape recording of our own. Then, when we came back we traded tapes and obtained the subject's drawings (see Figure 2) before anyone said anything. The subject then knew where we had been, and we had his description. Just as his second description was better than his first, his third was even more remarkable than the second.
In this case, the traveling orders had brought us to a merry-go-round at a playground, about four miles south of SRI. We immediately took our subject to the merry-go-round to decide for himself if his drawings bore any resemblance to the target location.
As we crunched across the gravel outside a children's playground, the subject spotted the merry-go-round through the wire fence. "That's it, isn't it?" he asked as we walked into the little enclosed area. "My God, it really works!" was all he could say, as we stood watching children pushing and riding the merry-go-round. He had to admit that remote viewing must signify the existence of an astonishing hidden human potential.
We have carried out more than one hundred experiments of this type, most of them successful, as determined by independent judging. The majority of our subjects have not been "psychics"; at least they didn't think of themselves that way when they started.
The Discovery of Remote Viewing
For us, the discovery of remote viewing began with two men whom we found to have much more than the average ration of psychic ability, and who, furthermore, were extremely articulate about how it functioned. These men were Ingo Swann, a New York artist, and Pat Price, a former police commissioner and recent president of a coal company in West Virginia. They virtually taught us how to research psychic phenomena by giving us the insight to focus on those aspects of psychic functioning that people find natural to use in their daily lives.
This insight contained two important truths. First, we learned that to ask a subject to do our experiment rather than his is analogous to asking a pianist who shows up for an audition to play a piccolo. Second, the more difficult and challenging the task, the more likely the results will be good. Our subjects who can describe remote scenes in extraordinary detail when "the necessity level is up" often can't do better than anyone else in trying to see a picture on the wall in the next room, a task seen by them to be a trivialization of a great ability. If we had begun with targets in the next room yielding little success, it probably wouldn't have occurred to us to try the seemingly more difficult remote viewing.
As we have become known in the public mind as investigators of such phenomena, we have been the recipients of phone calls and letters, the volume of which indicates that the world is filled with individuals, many in high places, who have experienced this phenomenon, but would not readily admit it. This leads us to hypothesize that the ability is natural and innate.
In order to develop this ability in a disciplined fashion, it is useful to arrange for the selection of unknown targets by a second person to maximize the surprise element and to minimize "educated guessing." It is also helpful to arrange for feedback, for example, by a visit to the target site when the experiment is over so that false images of memory and imagination can be separated from the true images of the place or person one has tried to visit. Our contribution in the laboratory has been just this: to set up a random protocol for target selection, and to give our subjects feedback and reinforcement. One result of such a protocol is that, unlike the usual experience in card-guessing experiments, our subjects get better rather than worse as they continue to work.
Excerpted from MIND-REACH by RUSSELL TARG, HAROLD E. PUTHOFF. Copyright © 1977 Russell Targ and Harold E. Puthoff. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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