Down in the basement of a physics building at Stanford University, the tiniest flicker of the tiniest fragments of the world were being captured and measured. The device required to measure the movement of subatomic particles resembled nothing so much as a three-foot hand mixer.
A Stanford physics student named Arthur Hebard had seen the superconducting differential magnetometer as a fitting Programpost-doctoral occupation, applying for grant money to devise an instrument impervious to all but the flux in the electromagnetic field caused by any quark activity.
He called it the SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device. To Hal Puthoff, a laser researcher at Stanford’s Research Institute (SRI), the magnetometer was a quackbuster. He looked upon it as the perfect test of whether there was such a thing as psychic power. He was open-minded enough to test whether clairvoyance worked, but not really convinced. Hal had grown up in Ohio and Florida, but liked to say he was from Missouri – the Show Me state, the ultimate state of the skeptic.
Puthoff was interested in the possibility of interconnection between living things. But at this stage, he didn’t really have a focus, much less a theory. He had long suspected that everything in the universe on its most basic level had quantum properties, which would mean that there ought to be non-local effects between living things.
The overall odds against chance in the PEAR’s complete remote viewing database was one billion to one. Jahn, as well as Puthoff, realized that nothing in the current theories of biology or physics could account for remote viewing.
At that time, in 1972, all he had in mind to test this assumption was a modest study, mainly involving a bit of algae. But the idea took on a life of its own when Ingo Swann, an artist whose fame was mainly due to his gifts as a psychic, heard about Puthoff’s planned experiments. Swann wrote to him, suggesting that if he were interested in common ground between the inanimate and the biological that he start doing some experiments in psychic phenomena.
Puthoff agreed to fly Swann out to California. Two days after Swann arrived, Puthoff took him down to the basement of the Varian Hall physics building and to the magnetometer.
Swann initially was disturbed by the prospect, as he’d never done anything like this before. He said he was first going to psychically peer into the machine to get a better sense of how to affect it. As he did, the S-curve suddenly doubled its frequency for about 45 seconds – the length of his time of concentration. Could he stop the field change on the machine, which is indicated by the S-curve? Puthoff asked him.
Swann closed his eyes and concentrated for 45 seconds. For the same length of time the machine’s output device stopped creating equidistant hills and valleys; Swann then said he was letting go, and the machine returned to its normal S-curve.
Puthoff didn’t know what to make of it. He went home and wrote a guarded paper, and circulated it to his colleagues, asking them to comment on it. What he’d seen usually went by the name of astral projection or out-of-body experiences, or even clairvoyance, but he would eventually settle on a nice neutral non-emotive phrase for it: remote viewing.
Puthoff’s modest experiment launched him on a 15-year project. Inadvertently, he also launched America on the largest spy program ever attempted using clairvoyance. A few weeks after he’d circulated his white paper, two blue-suited members of the Central Intelligence Agency arrived at his door, waving the report in hand. The agency, they told him, was getting increasingly concerned about the amount of experiments the Russians were conducting into parapsychology funded by the Soviet security forces. From the resources they were pouring into it, it seemed as though the Russians were convinced that ESP could unlock all of the West’s secrets. A person who could see and hear things and events separated by time and space represented the perfect spy.
The men asked Puthoff to carry out a few simple experiments – guessing objects hidden in a box. If they were successful, the CIA would agree to fund a pilot program. He agreed, and for several months he carried out trials with Swann, who managed to describe objects hidden in boxes with great precision.
The two men from Washington returned to watch Swann correctly describe a moth hidden in the box. The CIA was impressed enough to throw nearly $50,000 at a pilot project, which was to last for eight months. By that time, Puthoff had been joined by a colleague in laser physics called Russell Targ, who’d also pioneered development of the laser for Lockheed Missile and Space.
It had been Swann’s idea to use geographical coordinates as a quick, clean, non-emotive way to get to the spot. They made a few desultory attempts, and Swann was way off target. But, after 50 attempts, Swann began to improve. By Swann’s hundredth coordinate, Puthoff was impressed enough to get on the phone with Richard Kennett, an analyst in the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence, urging him to allow them to try a real test for the agency. Although Kennett was highly dubious, he agreed to give them a set of map coordinates of a place not even he knew anything about.
But the inescapable conclusion of their experiments was that anyone had the ability to do this, if they were just primed for it.
A few hours later, at Kennett’s request, a colleague named Bill O’Donnell produced a set of numbers on a sheet of paper. These represented extremely precise coordinates, down to the minutes and seconds of latitude and longitude, of a place that only O’Donnell knew. Puthoff gave Swann the coordinates. As he puffed on a cigar, Swann described a burst of images: ‘mounds and rolling hills’, ‘a river to the east’, ‘a city to the north.’ He said it seemed to be a strange place, ‘somewhat like the lawns that one would find around a military base.’ He got the impression that there were ‘old bunkers around’, or it could simply be ‘a covered reservoir.’
A few days later, Puthoff received a phone call from Pat Price, a building contractor from Lake Tahoe, who also raised Christmas trees. Price, who considered himself a psychic, had met Puthoff at a lecture and was calling now to offer his services in their experiments. A florid, wise-cracking Irishman in his mid-fifties, Price said he’d been using his own version of remote viewing successfully for many years, even to catch criminals. He’d served briefly as police commissioner in Burbank, a suburb of Los Angeles.
On a whim, Puthoff gave Price the coordinates given to him by the CIA. Three days later, Price sent in a package he’d posted the day after he’d spoken to Hal, containing pages of descriptions and sketches. It was obvious to Puthoff that Price was describing the same place, but in far more detail.
Kennett brought the information to O’Donnell. O’Donnell read their reports and shook his head. The psychics were totally off beam, he said. All he’d given him were the coordinates of the location of his summer cabin.
It seemed as though the Russians were convinced that ESP could unlock all of the West’s secrets. A person who could see and hear things and events separated by time and space represented the perfect spy.
Kennett went away, puzzled by the fact that both Swann and Price had described so similar a place. That weekend, he drove out to the site with his wife. A few miles from the coordinates, down a dirt road, he found a government ‘No Trespassing’ sign. The site seemed to match the descriptions. Kennett began inquiring about the site. What Swann and Price had correctly described was a vast secret Pentagon underground facility in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, manned by National Security Agency code breakers, whose main job was to intercept international telephone communications and control US spy satellites. It was as though their psychic antennae had picked up nothing of note with the original coordinates and so scanned the area until they got on the wave-length of something more relevant to the military.
Puthoff and Targ then turned to ordinary volunteers. In late 1973 and early 1974, they gathered together nine remote viewers, mostly beginners with no track record as psychics, who performed more than 50 trials. An impartial panel of judges compared targets with transcripts of subject descriptions. The descriptions may have contained some inaccuracies, but they were detailed and accurate enough to enable the judges to directly match description with target roughly half the time – a highly significant result.
By degrees, Puthoff and Targ were turning into believers. Human beings, talented or otherwise, appeared to have a latent ability to see anywhere across any distance. The most talented remote viewers clearly could enter some framework of consciousness, allowing them to observe scenes anywhere in the world. But the inescapable conclusion of their experiments was that anyone had the ability to do this, if they were just primed for it.
Puthoff and Targ had tackled remote viewing as scientists, creating a scientific method for testing it. Brenda Dunne and Robert Jahn, at Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR), refined this science even further. This was a natural progression for them. Jahn and Dunne were mainly worried about the great likelihood that these sorts of studies would be vulnerable to sloppy protocols and data-processing techniques or deliberate or inadvertent ‘sensory cueing’ by either participant.
Determined to avoid any of these weaknesses, they were painstaking in study design. They came up with the latest subjective way of measuring success: a standardized checklist. Besides describing the scene and drawing a picture, the remote viewer would be asked to fill out a form of 30 questions, which attempted to give flesh to the bones of the viewer’s description. Meanwhile, the person at the remote site would also fill out the same form, in addition to taking photos and making drawings.
In total, Jahn and Dunne performed 336 formal trials, involving 48 recipients, and distances between traveller and recipient of between 5 miles and 6000 miles. Nearly two-thirds were more accurate than could be accounted for by chance. The overall odds against chance in the PEAR’s complete remote viewing database was one billion to one. Jahn, as well as Puthoff, realized that nothing in the current theories of biology or physics could account for remote viewing.
Puthoff and Targ did have a few clues. For one thing, each of the SRI remote viewers appeared to have his or her own signature. Orientation appeared to match a person’s tendencies in other regards; a sensory remote viewer would also view with his senses in person. One might be particularly good at mapping out the site and describing the architectural and topographical features; another would concentrate on the sensory ‘feel’ of the target; yet another would focus on the behavior of the target experimenter.
The signals were acting as though they’d been sent through some low-frequency bit channel. The information in their experiments was received in bits and often imperfectly. Although the basic information came through, sometimes the details were a little blurred. Usually, the scene was flip-flopped, so that the subject would see the reverse, as though looking at the scene through a mirror. Puthoff didn’t want to attempt a theory. Like most scientists, he hated woolly speculation. But there was no doubt that at some level of awareness, we had all information about everything in the world. Clearly, human beacons weren’t always necessary. Even a set of coordinates could take us there. If we could see remote places instantaneously, it argued strongly that it was a quantum, non-local effect.
He had long suspected that everything in the universe on its most basic level had quantum properties, which would mean that there ought to be non-local effects between living things.
As every quantum particle is recording the world in waves, carrying images of the world at every moment, at some profoundly deep quantum level, something about the scene – a target individual or map coordinates – is probably acting like a beacon. A remote viewer picks up signals from the target individual and the signal carries an image that is picked up by us at a quantum level. To all but the experienced and the gifted, this information is received imperfectly, in reverse or in incomplete images, as if something were wrong with the transmitter. Because the information is received by our unconscious mind, we often receive it as we would in a dream state.
The SRI remote viewing program (later called the Science Applications International Corp, or SAIC) carried on for 23 years, behind a wall of secrecy that is still erected. It had been funded entirely by the government, first under Puthoff, then Targ and finally Edwin May, a nuclear physicist who’d carried out other intelligence work before. In 1978, the CIA had its own psychic spying intelligence unit in place, codenamed Grill Flame, possibly the most secret program in the Pentagon, manned by enlisted men who’d claimed some talent in psychic phenomena. By the time of Ed May’s tenure, a who’s who of scientists consisting of two Nobel laureates and two chairs of department at universities, sat on a US government Human Use and Procedural Oversight committee. Their task was to review all of the SRI remote viewing research, and to do so they were given unannounced drop-in privileges to SAIC, to guard against fraud. All concluded that the research was impeccable, and half actually felt the research demonstrated something important. Nevertheless, to this day, the American government has released only the Semipalatinsk study, one tiny portion of a mountain of SRI documents, and then only after a relentless campaign by Russell Targ.
At the close of the program in 1995, a government- sponsored review of all the SRI and SAIC data, carried out by Jessica Utts, a statistics professor at the University of California at Davis, and Dr. Ray Hyman, agreed that remote viewing phenomenon had been decisively demonstrated by the data.
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