WHEN I LOOK BACK ON THE LIFE I’VE LIVED SO FAR, I SEE HOW IT could be read as a diminutive metaphor for the course Western civilization has taken through the millennia. That is, my life and the progress of civilization have something of the same shape. In this century progress has been swift and dramatic, and my generation has seen the greater arc of its accelerating trajectory toward a global transition. We may be the last to witness this extraordinary human drama, as such acceleration clearly isn’t sustainable.
When I take into consideration my austere origins on the plains of West Texas in an agrarian family whose sustenance was largely derived from manual labor aided by unpowered tools and domesticated animals, I feel overwhelmed. To have begun in such a simple place and time, and to have seen so much is often incomprehensible to me. Likewise, when I consider the earliest agrarian humans on the planet and the point we have come to today as a civilisation, I find the progress astounding. In 1930 space travel wasn’t yet a significant part of the science-fiction literary genre, but forty years later I would travel in a spacecraft that would take two men to the surface of the moon while its sister ship orbited overhead.
In the largest sense, the evolution of humankind has made similar progress. We’ve evolved from a primitive species with limited knowledge with which to fashion tools to a civilization capable of building machines that can split the atom or fill a magic box with image and sound. Yet our civilization is still in its chronological infancy; in geological time, just a few years out of the trees. As a species we seem yet juvenile, lacking in vision, unprepared for our own evolution, even blind as to the direction in which we are evolving. In this respect we lack any thoughtful, consensual judgment to guide our conscious volition, since we are still uncertain as to whether or not we actually possess volition at all.
Late in 1972 I began taking such thoughts more seriously when a strange series of events occurred in rapid succession. Oddly enough, all this happened just as I was preparing to leave NASA and about to open the doors to the institute. These were not events that l would consider mere serendipity nut rather occurrences governed by the mysterious cadence of synchronicity.
In the fall of that year I traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, to speak to a group at a convention – one of my first engagements of the sort. It promised to be a special occasion, as my mother was going to drive from her residence in Oklahoma to meet me. At the time she was having severe difficulty with her eyesight as a result of glaucoma and, without her glasses, was in fact legally blind. Through the years her glasses had gradually grown thicker as she considered corrective surgery too risky. And now she really could not see at all without them.
During the conference I met several remarkable men and women, one of whom was a man by the name of Norbu Chen. Norbu was an American who had studied the earliest form of Tibetan Buddhism, a form that was liberally infused with ancient Tibetan shamanistic practice. He was a small man of quick movements, graying prematurely, inscrutable, and always in the midst of controversy. He also purported to be a healer. One evening after an entire day of speech making I introduced Norbu to my mother, who was at the time in her early sixties.
My interest was twofold. I wanted to find out whether Norbu Chen was real or just talk and, of course, to help my mother if that were possible, though I was essentially skeptical. My mother, a fundamentalist Christian all her life, had definite and traditional ideas about how the mind was capable of influencing matter through healing – either by the hand of God, or by that of Satan. There was no middle ground. Norbu, of course, did not think of himself as either but was quite convinced he could help. Making no promises, he merely suggested that we try and see what would happen. I was intensely curious, and my mother was at least a good sport about the whole thing. She, too, agreed that something good might come of it.
The following day Norbu and I met my mother in the seclusion of my suite where he asked her to sit in a chair, remove her thick glasses, and relax. I watched from across the room as this strange Asian-trained man did what he had claimed to do for so many years. Then I witnessed my mother settle deeply into a relaxed state. After placing himself in a meditative trance (he claimed) through singing his strange mantra, his hands floated over my mother’s head, pausing over the eyes. There seemed to be an unspoken acceptance on her part, a silent trust in this man she had never met until this weekend.
After a few minutes of this, Norbu gently announced that he was finished and suggested she go to bed, sleep well, and treat herself kindly as though she had been through major surgery. His prescription for nourishment was grape juice and broth. As I sat there in the chair observing, there was the hope that I’d just witnessed the extraordinary. I wanted something to have happened, but at the same time I tried to be the detached, clinical observer and not let my expectations soar. In any case, I didn’t have to wait long for the results. At six o’clock the following morning, my mother came rushing to my room exclaiming “Son, I can see, I can see!”
Without pausing to let me come to my senses, she proceeded to demonstrate her claim by reading from her thumb-worn Bible with glasses in hand. Then once again she said more quietly, “I can see. Praise the Lord, I can see!” Dropping her glasses to the floor, she ground the thick lenses into shards under the heel of her shoe. Needless to say, I was impressed.
I am not by this account, or with any other anecdotal story, attempting to convince the doubtful. That can only happen when the “open-minded” skeptic sets out for himself or herself to view such peculiar phenomena (at least peculiar to the Western mind) and conducts a careful investigation, unbiased by traditional interpretations. This wasn’t science, but as far as I was concerned it indicated where I personally needed to probe more thoroughly. All I can say is that it absolutely did happen in just this way.
Afterward I experienced the deep-down astonishment that arises from witnessing the extraordinary. This was an event I couldn’t explain; but I couldn’t deny it either. I knew my mother’s reaction was authentic and she hadn’t been duped about her own sight. She proceeded to drive home alone several hundred miles, without her glasses.
After this episode I was sufficiently impressed that I invited Chen to Houston for a visit so that I might learn a few things from him myself. He arrived a few weeks later to stay many months, during which time I came to know not only Norbu the healer but also Norbu the man. What I learned was notably unremarkable. He wasn’t especially complex, just a fellow with a peculiar capacity to heal which he couldn’t adequately explain.
A few days after returning home, I learned another lesson that I wouldn’t soon forget. After going about her routine for a several days with nearly perfect vision, unassisted by contact lenses or eyeglasses, my mother called one day to ask whether or not Norbu was a Christian. His name was clearly derived from an Asian culture, which she suspected in all likelihood didn’t coincide with her beloved faith. Though I didn’t want to tell her, she was adamant. She absolutely wanted to know the faith of the man who’d allowed her to see again. Reluctantly, and perhaps ominously, I told her Norbu was in fact not a Christian, and the moment I did so the deep pain of regret was clear m her voice.
Her new sight was not the work of the Lord, she insisted, but that of the darker forces of this world. She was absolutely certain that Norbu, being of another faith, must be an instrument of evil. No matter what I said to her, no matter how I explained my own secular understanding of such phenomena, she would not be convinced. Her vastly improved eyesight was the work of Satan. Hours later, the gift slipped away and thick new glasses were required. (Curiously enough, my mother never underwent corrective surgery, although over the years her eyesight did slowly improve so that she was wearing glasses with less correction just prior to her death than before she met Norbu.)
I was both distressed and intrigued by this incident – distressed that such an incredible healing would be dismissed, and by my mother’s agony in making this personal decision; but the intrigue, the fact that the sequence of events could occur at all, left an overriding impression. How could I have been so ignorant of something so important? It set me on the search for other persons like Norbu and gave me a clear indication that I needed to learn something more about the role and power of belief in our lives. Whatever the clinical implications, it was clear to me that one’s internal life, the subjective life, had fundamental importance. This was something science didn’t address; I had paid little attention myself.
But, at the same time, I recognized a need for caution. Although I subsequently encountered many healers with similar capabilities, I also encountered many frauds. I’ve learned through years of experience that health and well-being are products of a total lifestyle. There is no panacea for illness in healers, allopathic medicine, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic, nutrition, and the like, although all can help. (I’ve come to the realization that one must first cultivate a composed and serene internal state and take responsibility for one’s own well-being. Only then can such external assistance be very effective.)
Looking back on these times, I see how naive I was. For several years I would continue to underestimate the power of belief in our lives because of the pervasiveness of my classical scientific training. It still puzzled me that belief could affect anything at all. But I suppose naivete was also in large measure the impetus behind my founding an institute where research that I thought was important could be carried out. I believed that if other scientists witnessed such legitimate phenomena in controlled environments, they would see that it was at least worthy of further study and become excited by the prospects. But there were invisible veils that such unbridled idealism could not see. As it turned out, disbelief was one of them.
It was my opinion then and it is my opinion today that disbelief prevents one from seeing what one wishes not to. My belief in the rationality of science blinded me to the equally rational consequences of disbelief. At the time I still suspected there might be a nonphysical component to consciousness, capabilities that could not be attributed to physical laws. But more likely there were physical principles yet to be discovered. Whatever the answers, they would surely be revealed one day by a rational, thorough approach to the issues. These were natural, not supernatural events, well within the domain of scientific inquiry, and when validated, the impact on science would be revolutionary. But it should also change the way we addressed religion, philosophy, government, the way we saw ourselves in the universe and the values we adhered to in daily life. Unfortunately, there were precious few who took the field of study seriously, as a number of eminent men of science had blunted their swords on these issues during the past century.
But again synchronicity would arise in my own exploration.
In that same year I was introduced to another psychic, a twenty-five-year-old Israeli by the name of Uri Geller. At the time Uri was unknown, lived in Israel, and had been brought to the attention of Dr. Andrija Puharich, an American physician with a quixotic turn of mind and several medical inventions to his credit. Like me, he was looking for answers to puzzling human phenomena. After months of observing Uri in Israel and witnessing his extraordinary ability in the realms of telepathy and psychokinesis, Puharich called to see if I would be interested in arranging some controlled studies in an American laboratory.(He was also inquiring throughout Europe about interested scientists.)
I told him I was, provided I could personally do some preliminary studies to assure myself it was worthwhile. Here again was my own skepticism asserting itself.
Andrija claimed that he had witnessed some positively amazing demonstrations of telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis – in fact, a very broad range of events labeled parapsychological phenomena. He insisted they were the most convincing he had ever seen and that Uri’s incredible abilities demanded our attention. In later years Geller would work with many scientists and then go on to make a modest fortune working for oil, gas, and mineral companies, successfully dowsing for deposits that lay deep within the earth. The fact that such companies don’t pay good money for failure is strong testimony to Geller’s psychic prowess at least as a dowser. But in 1972 he was just a young, impecunious Israeli, finishing his obligatory service in the army and claiming he had been performing these feats since childhood, not initially recognizing they were bizarre – a characteristic I later encountered frequently. After our first meeting, which lasted several days, I was sufficiently convinced (in fact overwhelmed) that his abilities were real and not simply showmanship or a magician’s tricks that I promptly began to arrange for financial sponsorship through Judith Skutch and Henry Rolfs, who would later serve on the board of directors of the institute, and to arrange for laboratory tests to be conducted. Geller agreed and came to the Stanford Research Institute near San Francisco in the late fall to participate in several experiments that would demonstrate his parapsychological abilities under our auspices. A team of scientists would direct the work and observe the results. This, I thought, would help prompt real interest among established scientists, provided Uri could deliver on his claims. But it wasn’t Uri who would disappoint us.
The key to good science in this field is always to keep the experiment totally under the control of the investigators and to use blind and double-blind testing procedures wherever possible. Since one is dealing basically with subjective events, it’s generally more efficient to let the subject demonstrate what he or she does best, then design rigorous protocols that take advantage of the ability. It was in this spirit of cooperation and open inquiry that Geller and I got down to business. He even agreed to restrain his usual showmanship and flamboyance.
The resident scientists hosting the experiments were Dr. Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, both widely respected physicists at the Stanford Research Institute. The two men had made their reputations in more conventional fields of science, but they too were convinced that this was something that demanded their attention. They designed many of the experiments we would conduct to test Uri’s abilities. On several occasions they were aided by Dr. Wilbur Franklin of Kent State University, a metallurgist who examined many of the materials used in the experiments. They had each been working in parapsychological studies for some time now and were well experienced in this type of research. Targ was also a skilled amateur magician, which blunted the first claim of critics – that “psychic stuff” was just smoke and mirrors.
The first effort of the researcher is always to determine validity of the event. But the important work, once validity is established, begins with the search for clues to the mechanisms permitting these phenomena to occur so that a workable theory can be constructed. One type of experiment Puthoff and Targ created is called remote viewing, in which random “targets” are picked and the subject (Uri, in this case) is to describe the unknown object. (The remote-viewing experiments were conducted independently and the results reported in their book entitled Mind Reach.) Typically, these targets would be chosen by invited outside scientists, sealed in an envelope, then selected at random. Uri, in a room all by himself where he was isolated from receiving any possible information, would describe the setting. We found he could do just that.
Nearly every time Uri was given a target, he would promptly draw – and quite recognisably – what lay there. This type of experiment was usually conducted in a double-blind fashion so that no one knew the correct answer before the tests were complete and checked by impartial observers. In some variations of this experiment a Faraday cage was used, which isolates normal electromagnetic signals. Puthoff and Targ went on to conduct the same experiment with dozens of other people, both those claiming psychic abilities and those not. Eventually they discovered that almost any willing person with a bit of training could get significant results, which supported the idea that this was not only a natural function but a common one as well.
It was also discovered in subsequent tests that the brain waves of two individuals separated and isolated by a Faraday cage could be synchronized. A light pulsed in the eyes of one would cause a certain EEG (electroencephalogram) pattern. The second person, by merely thinking of the first, would suddenly acquire the same EEG pattern. Somehow there seemed to be some sort of communication occurring between the two that we didn’t know was possible.(The results of the test were later verified by a number of scientists in various laboratories around the country.)
Another version of the same experiment was a telepathy test conducted with an EEG connected, which proved statistically significant. The brain waves of the percipients showed a marked change a few hundred milliseconds before the percipients reported an answer. Conscious awareness hadn’t received information until nearly a half second after subconscious processes had received the signal. The result is quite similar to tests of the five normal senses, where conscious awareness lags behind subconscious signal processing.
In our initial plan for Uri, we wanted to test all his special abilities, particularly those that demonstrated a strong component of psychokinesis, because that was the most bizarre and difficult to explain within the existing framework of science. One of his trademark capacities was the ability to bend common metal objects, such as forks and spoons. Of course one of the objectives was to test this while filming with videotape and sixteen-millimeter film. But when we placed a spoon on a table under a glass jar, we found he couldn’t bend it. However, when we allowed him to touch the spoon, he explained to us how it seemed to “turn to plastic” in his hand. But this was generally unconvincing to scientists who speciaised in other realms of study. They claimed Uri merely had extraordinarily strong fingers and possessed the ability to twist the metal under his peculiar grip, or that he had some unknown solvent on his finger that softened the metal. Yet no one was aware of any such solvent that could be used in this way; the physicians in the group couldn’t explain how he could be capable of twisting the metal so adroitly into such a neat little coil by merely touching it with a single finger. But the objections persisted, and at times the explanations were more far-fetched than the event itself and seemed little more than tortured rationalizations.
Most convincing to me, however, were the dozens of children I investigated who had watched Geller bend spoons in this manner on television. Shortly following the tests at SRI, Uri made a series of television appearances during which he did his thing before the cameras. Soon after the broadcasts my phone would ring with calls from frantic parents reporting that their children were bending spoons as well. I could usually sense what part of the world Uri was in by where the parents were calling from to report that their children were mutilating the family silverware.
I went to a number of homes around the country, sometimes with my own spoons in my pocket, or I would select one at random from the family kitchen. Typically it was a boy under ten years of age who would lightly stroke the metal object at the narrow point of the handle while I held it between thumb and forefinger at the end of the handle. The spoon would soon slowly bend, creating two 360-degree twists in the handle, perfectly emulating what Geller demonstrated on television. No tricks, no magic potions, just innocent children (with normal children’s fingers) who had not yet learned that it could not be done. (Professor John Hasted, Chairman of the Department of Physics at Birkbeck College in London, also conducted extensive experiments with children in England, as did physicist Ted Bastin. Both found numerous children who could bend the metal without any physical contact.) The evidence continued to mount in this way, suggesting that these strange capabilities were quite natural and likely common in humans, though latent and seldom manifest. It occurred to me that we were possibly seeing the emergence of an evolutionary attribute, or the residue from an earlier one that was now fading.
During the six weeks when we conducted formal experiments with Uri, there were also an incredible number of equipment failures and downright strange occurrences that no one could readily explain. Video equipment that he had no access to would suddenly lose a pulley, which would later be found in an adjoining room. Jewelry would suddenly be missing, only to be found locked in a safe with a combination Uri could not have known. There were literally dozens of such events. No one could explain what was going on, although we all had our pet theories. The occurrences were reminiscent of “poltergeist” effects reported throughout the ages that many modern investigators have come to associate with emotionally distressed individuals, often adolescents. In spite of the equipment failures, however, we were successful in quite a number of our experiments at SRI.
In one we placed a large ball bearing under a glass bell jar on a table. We wanted to see if Uri was capable of moving the ball without touching either it or the table. And of course we wanted to record the experiment on videotape. When we explained to Uri what we had in mind, he nonchalantly approached the table and placed a hand over the jar, swearing from time to time as the shiny gray orb sat motionless on the table. As the clock on the wall ticked away and the repaired video equipment hummed in the background, the ball bearing refused to budge, until finally, after Uri closed his eyes and raised his face skyward, it began to jiggle, then roll this way and that. As his concentration seemingly waned, it slowed, then stopped. Finally, we had something legitimate on tape.
When we went to review what we had all seen in person, we were relieved to see that the event was caught cleanly within the camera’s field of view. Nothing had gone awry. However, the feat was still greeted with skepticism when our colleagues in science viewed what everyone who had witnessed the event had thought monumental. They became red in the face, and some left, refusing ever to return to the lab. They accused Uri of being a fraud and the rest of us of being chumps in an elaborate charade. But their accusations flew in the face of the solid scientific work that had been done, and I believe they knew it. Even some firemen who happened to be in the building watched positive results directly and in person and angrily rejected what they saw.
With some experience in this business it actually becomes quite easy to detect the charlatans and frauds, and of course there are quite a few. Geller, however, was not one of them, although there were many times when he could not produce positive results within the rigorous controls that we imposed, simply because we forced him out of his comfort zone with our requirements.
BY 1973 I WAS BEGINNING TO UNDERSTAND WHY NORMALLY RATIONAL people reacted as they did when they witnessed some of the experiments and viewed the evidence we had carefully collected. I believed then as I do today that it comes down to an individual’s belief system, which each of us constructs through the course of our lifetime. This psychological construct is really just stored information we gather through the years and weave into a “story” that has both conscious and subconscious components. We use it to represent our reality. At any moment, the sum of the information and the meaning we attach to it are derived from all the experiences, sometimes seemingly insignificant ones, that we have previously accumulated. Our beliefs cause us to see the world in a way that is unique to each one of us, as it is quite impossible to duplicate each step in a life’s journey. This is the source of our “story.”
We often sublimate information and its significance in the subconscious, although it continues to influence our thinking and behaviors. Whatever our beliefs, we are likely to label them as Truth and to consider them permanent and absolute because our internal representation is the only map of reality we can know. When presented with new information that challenges what we currently believe, reflex prompts us to attack the new in order to maintain the integrity of the old. We don’t like to be wrong. Fears are aroused and the primitive flight-or-fight response typically summoned. Whatever our beliefs, they are comfortably familiar to us, like old shoes. I saw how the phenomena Uri demonstrated could be seen by others in the scientific community as a reality at some level of awareness, yet immediately rejected as a threat at another. Similarly, there are several references to a scientist earlier in this century who criticized J. B. Rhine’s work with the statement that he wouldn’t believe it even if it were true.
Before the last century, life moved at a pace measured in lifetimes and centuries. In each culture the fundamental beliefs about the world were instilled in children before puberty, and mostly by family. In a largely illiterate and slowly changing world, the beliefs learned at Mother’s knee served for a lifetime, as there was seldom any need for young people to update the way in which they interpreted the world around them. There was no desire to change because cultural beliefs were considered absolute knowledge; formal education merely added detail and reinforced the basis for the cultural beliefs. But in today’s rapidly changing world, this process isn’t enough. Beliefs of the past, although considered absolute Truth in their time, we now dismiss as ancient myth and medieval superstition. We tend to forget that our forebears were sincere and intelligent folk trying to understand the mysterious world around them. All they lacked were the tools of our time. We also tend to forget that we don’t have all the answers today, as the search is incomplete.
Today we know that one’s belief system begins its development prenatally, albeit unconsciously. Sounds, sensations, and feelings are stored while still in utero. When an infant struggles to find nourishment, and finally does so as it discovers its mother’s nipple, even then the child is developing its belief system. It creates meaning for its mother, as it has found her soft, warm, and nourishing a gestalt of information formed from many small acts, movements, and sensations. As the child grows, it never loses this information about its experiences with Mother. The memories are forever sealed, some albeit in abbreviated form or outline, mostly in the subconscious long after she is capable of fulfilling its needs. And so our beliefs accumulate moment by moment and experience by experience throughout our lifetime. Modern studies indicate that some memories are retained in exquisite detail while others only sketchily, and some are not retained at all. The emotional impact of an experience and the meaning attached to it at the time are factors in the amount of detail submerged in our long-term memories.
This leads back to the point that our beliefs are our map of reality. We do not perceive reality directly but only the information our senses present to the brain at any given moment, which is then compared with the existing remembered experiences to obtain meaning. Because this map is the only reality we humans know, we often make the mistake of thinking that our map is reality itself, when in fact it is just an incomplete portrait painted from memory.
This creates a problem, as all protocols and investigative procedures in science are designed for external measurement and validation. There are no protocols and procedures within the hard sciences for investigation of subjective events. Indeed, science eschews subjective data altogether. The technical term for such protocols is epistemology; yet there isn’t a proper one for studying subjectively generated phenomena, particularly those that challenge long established physical theory.
Dr. Willis Harman, who eventually became president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, accurately put his finger on this aspect of the credibility problem for modern research on psychic events. Science has traditionally dealt with “objective” reality, accepting the Newtonian belief that matter could be studied independently of mind. In recent years Harman has set out to change that by proposing what a proper epistemology needs to include. This is of particular importance because all observations are essentially subjective events. There are no truly objectively observable events in the purest sense of the term. All observations are ultimately subjective information organized in our brains to which we attach a meaning as a result of our accumulated belief system. But repeatable patterns of observations and measurements are deemed “objective,” although they actually represent but a consensus of the observers who are operating from a consensus belief system. If science is ever to have a complete understanding of how the universe is structured, it must include why and how it is that we “know.” And, of course, the subjective experience is at the crux of the issue.
Because of this epistemology problem and the overwhelming disbelief of reviewing scientists, much of the more startling work at SRI was never published. The politics in the peer-review system of contemporary science inhibits work that is very far from mainstream and all but assures that such work will be ignored. (In an excellent book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn discusses precisely how paradigm shifts occur in the face of neglected or denied experimental results.) There were, in fact, some individuals who subsequently made careers out of debunking Geller, although they were, in my opinion, reinforcing their own self-deception. The argument that finding a possible way to simulate an event is proof it could not have occurred as reported is specious. But the heat to which the individual scientists behind our work were subjected was fierce, and even SRI was criticized as an institution for its involvement. Yet a considerable amount of psychic work was subsequently done there covertly under classified programs for various government intelligence agencies. This was in some measure instigated because the Soviet Union had quite an active and effective psychic research program in the 1960s and 1970s directed toward intelligence activities. These were, after all, the Brezhnev years of the Cold War.( After the Geller work, I was asked to brief the then-director of the CIA, Ambassador George Bush, on our activities and the results. In later years, I met with several Russian scientists who not only had documented results similar to ours but also were actively using “psychic” techniques against the U.S. and its allies during the Brezhnev period.)
AMONG THE VERY strange things that happened in this period involving Uri Geller and Norbu Chen were some personal events that made the greatest contribution to my own understanding.
Norbu Chen was still in Houston when I returned from California. When he asked me where I’d been, I told him I’d been with Uri at SRI. He seemed a little put off. Norbu, like all of us, had an ego that did not like to be outdone, so he told me that if I really wanted to see psychokinesis I should take off the heavy gold ring I was wearing and hold it loosely in my hand. When I did so, Norbu appeared to concentrate and passed his hand above my closed fist several times. Then he asked me to look at my ring.
What had been a fine piece of gold jewelry with my birthstone as a setting ten seconds earlier was now bent, twisted, and impossible to wear. He hadn’t touched it, and I had only held it loosely; but now it appeared as though it had been crushed in a vise. Norbu Chen was clearly a very powerful man.
I would have taken Norbu on my next trip to SRI, but funds were short for one set of experiments, not to mention a second, and the tightness of the controls necessary to get publishable results were downright oppressive. This frustrated Geller just as it would have Chen. Moreover, whenever we got good, solid results scientists would not believe them anyway, so taking him to California seemed like a bad idea in any event.
The next time I returned to SRI with Geller, however, I was better prepared. Somehow I could anticipate the moment something important was about to happen. I also learned how to set a less daunting stage so that Geller could feel more at ease. Because he purported to be able to perform not only psychokinesis but telekinesis (the ability to transport a material object by mental means) as well, I challenged him one day to recover a camera that we had jettisoned while on the moon in February nearly two years before. It had a serial number recorded somewhere in NASA files which I didn’t know. Of course were that camera suddenly to appear, it would have been a valid telekinetic event. At least I would know it was valid. Somehow this seemed to spur a flurry of strange happenings.
As we were sitting at a table in the SRI cafeteria a few days after this challenge, Uri asked for a dish of ice cream for dessert, which the waitress brought to him a few minutes later. After the second or third bite, Uri cried out in pain, then blood seeped from his lips. From his mouth he took a blob of ice cream with a tiny metal edge protruding from it. He handed it to me, and I washed it in my water glass in full view of the seven or eight of us at the table. What I discovered was a silver miniature hunting arrow mounted over the silver image of a longhorn sheep, the sort of emblem an archery aficionado might have for a tie clasp or a medallion. I was utterly taken aback, utterly unprepared for what I recognized.
Though I’ve never been an archer, I had been given a tie bar with such an emblem a couple of years earlier when I visited an archery vendor’s booth at a trade show. But I lost it shortly thereafter, along with an entire box of tie pins and cuff links during one of my frequent trips to and from Cape Kennedy in support of Apollo 16 the year before – long before I’d ever heard of Uri Geller.
We all nervously chuckled at what had just happened, then returned to the lab for an afternoon’s work. But the oddities continued. While momentarily alone in the little lab, I heard the strike of metal against the tile floor outside. I turned just in time to see Dr. Puthoff pick up something small and shiny. He didn’t know what it was or where it came from; it just seemed to fall out of nowhere and land at his feet. When he handed it to me, I saw that it was the tie bar that matched the emblem that had appeared in the ice cream. Even the broken solder joint matched, although when I had last seen the two they were one piece. The atmosphere was growing downright eerie.
After some nervous laughter, Puthoff and I walked into the lab and began working with the apparatus for another afternoon’s experiment. As we stood by ourselves at the laboratory table we both caught a glimpse of something as it dropped between us to the floor. After a moment of bewilderment, I reached down to pick it Up. Here was a pearl tie pin my brother had given me as a gift after his military duty in Okinawa, which I’d kept in the same lost jewelry box. Three of Edgar Mitchell’s lost articles recovered telekinetically within the span of thirty minutes. But no camera. Startling phenomena, but accepted science still remained just outside the door.
Such bizarre events were typical of how things occurred during that fall at SRI. These happenings were often deeply significant to a particular individual, since they generally involved something personal, as with my tie pins. Although astounding to those present, these were not replicable events (and thus not good science). It’s important to point out that my tie pins did not seem to come from anywhere but rather just appeared. I groped for something to compare the phenomenon to and finally realised it was not unlike the behavior inherent in the electron that jumps from one level of orbit to another around the nucleus without traversing the space between the two. This was the only analogy I could come up with. In my own scientific studies, I knew how this had created great consternation among the framers of quantum physics in the 1920s. So a question arose: Could it be possible that we were seeing quantum jumping on a macroscale? (In England, professor John Hasted also witnessed children who were capable of this phenomenon, which he likened to “quantum tunnel effects.” The children, he reported, appeared to teleport test objects into and out of sealed laboratory containers under controlled conditions on twelve occasions in one series of experiments.)
In the spring of 1973 I met Uri in New York to accompany him to an appearance on the Jack Paar television talk show. During the broadcast we were both surprised when Paar’s stage assistants unexpectedly handed Paar several large steel nails. Paar enclosed them in his fist with only the tips barely protruding and asked Uri if he could bend them. Without hesitation, and much in the same way that Norbu had passed his hand over mine as it held my ring, Uri placed his over Paar’s and concentrated. A moment later he asked Parr to take a look, and when he opened his hand his face turned ashen. The tip of one of the nails was bent about twenty degrees, whereas all had been perfectly straight just moments before. An awkward silence fell over the set; there was hardly anything left during the remaining minutes to talk about. At least this had been caught cleanly within the crosshairs of a camera. (Noted physicists from the U.S., Britain, Denmark, France, and Germany all successfully tested Geller and/or “Geller children.” They congregated in Iceland in 1977 to report their results and compare theories. Being unable to publish in professional journals, they produced a private volume of their findings entitled The Iceland Papers,with a foreword by Nobel physicist Brian Josephson.)
DURING MY FINAL days in Houston I invited a number of physicians to observe Norbu as he worked his “magic.” Dr. Ed Maxey from Florida and a number of NASA flight surgeons helped with checking records and observing events. One event in particular was especially poignant because it involved Anita Rettig and stimulated her interest in helping me organize the Institute of Noetic Sciences. A few months later we began a marriage that would last for ten wonderfully hectic years, but at the time she was ill with a kidney disease that threatened to require a lengthy series of dialysis treatments. As a last-ditch effort before admitting herself to the hospital, she agreed to have Dr. Maxey fly her to Houston for a session with Norbu.
She was frightened, pale, and very uncomfortable when she arrived but gamely went on Norbu’s diet regimen of grape juice while the doctors assembled, checked her records, and watched Norbu initiate his treatment. He knew nothing of her disease and had no access to her or her medical records, yet after a few moments he gave a correct diagnosis, which the physicians confirmed. He then proceeded to relate to her privately how and when the problem first came about. Only Anita knew the history of her illness, but she later confirmed that the events had in fact taken place as he suggested. After about twenty minutes in his meditative trance, Norbu ordered her to sleep for the night. Tomorrow, he said, she could fly home, but she was to treat herself kindly for a few days and drink more grape juice. Her problem appeared to clear up immediately, and dialysis was never required. Almost two years later she had a thorough checkup by an eminent internist in San Francisco who found no trace of the kidney disease.
Uri Geller and Norbu Chen were the most accomplished psychics I have ever met, but they were only the first to demonstrate for me such powerful effects. In my mind, the evidence of their strength lay in the wide range of strange capabilities they could display upon request with quite consistent results in spite of constraints, sometimes unreasonable ones, that we imposed on them in the name of science. By being in close quarters with both Chen and Geller for weeks at a time, I gained insight into how they functioned as human beings.
What I discovered was that they were neither satanic nor divine, just two regular men with impressive talents that science claimed they could not possess. Each was pleased with his prowess and frustrated by the doubts and public controversy. Yet they helped me reveal what I needed to know and provided a rigorous standard against which to measure these capabilities in humans.
For many years after these initial experiences with Chen and Geller, I continued to find, or to be found by, hundreds of people around the globe who could utiise their strange abilities in powerful ways. And their explanations for the source of their talent generally conformed to their cultural beliefs. Some were in religious orders, some in remote locations, others in more “primitive” cultures. Some were ordinary Western folk previously afraid to talk openly of their experiences for fear of ridicule – or more important, fear of losing their livelihoods. We’ve stopped burning witches, but we haven’t stopped punishing them.
I soon lost all interest in accumulating additional data of this sort, preferring to work in splendid isolation at piecing together some structure for how the mind could produce these effects and still be compatible with the detailed picture of physical reality that science was continuing to unfold. At the same time, I couldn’t ignore the insights of centuries of holy men who had explored the realms of consciousness but without benefit of the marvels of modern science.
As I pondered these events, the puzzling questions that had arisen on the way home from the moon reasserted themselves. I recalled how in space certain truths seemed so brilliantly clear, truths that somehow became obscured within the atmosphere of earth. In space it seemed so obvious that the processes of the universe are innately and harmoniously connected. But with the hubbub of daily life at sea level this wasn’t so apparent. Our understanding and treatment of the psychic event, which exemplified for me a key to the bridge between mind and matter, had never been brought into the larger picture, being deemed either supernatural or phony. I knew the events were real, and yet our two major thought structures, science and religion, were mysteriously incapable of addressing the subject adequately. The flawed conclusions in our cultural beliefs were derived from flawed assumptions and interpretations in both science and theology that sprouted from the dim recesses of history when the knowledge base had been so frail and thin. Both religion and science had bases evolved by our ancestors as they struggled to form a picture of the mysterious world around them, a picture we are still shaping today, making it clearer, broader, more complete. While we are still working at this noble task, we are using many of the same flawed assumptions. This notion only reinforced my decision not to accept at face value any cultural dogma but to re-examine all experience with fresh eyes.
It dawned on me that we were dealing with only two basic categories of events, rather than the long list proposed and used by early parapsychologists (such as those espousing ESP, telepathy, and clairvoyance). Even today I cringe when I hear those terms used to indicate some strange or abnormal capability. The two major categories relate to active and passive uses of energy and are associated with our everyday functions of awareness and intentionality. When an individual is quiet, relaxed, and receptive, he/she can become more sensitive to and aware of energy in the environment. Naturally gifted and/or well-trained people are more aware of energy patterns from both internal and external sources than others. So the categories of telepathy, clairvoyance, and the like just denote a greater awareness of naturally occurring and man-made patterns of energy.
Intentionality is the active process of desiring or intending an action. Action requires the movement, or transformation, of energy – something each of us does every moment of our lives. Psychoactive people, either naturally or through training, have a greater range of actions they can intentionally and directly initiate with their mind. I was coming around to seeing that there is actually nothing more complicated conceptually about these unusual processes than that. Psychoactivity is merely a means of managing energy. However, there are many subtleties involved in training oneself to better employ the process, and considerable complication in explaining how it fits within the theories of physics. There is also still considerable mystery as to how the brain actually accomplishes these feats.
I suspected early on that when these capabilities are utilised, they require no moral no ethical considerations different from those of ordinary awareness and intentionality in daily life. That is, the morality and ethics required are just those contained in the belief system of the practitioner. Psychoactive people can be wonderful and saintly or scurrilous and demonic just like the rest of humanity. The energy involved pertains only to its quantum mechanical properties. Like electricity, it can toast your bread or power an electric chair. It requires no special dispensation from supernatural authority. And it is precisely for this reason that virtually all the world’s established esoteric traditions require practice of self-discipline and acquisition of “spiritual” values first, allowing the psychic capabilities to manifest when and if they naturally emerge. The idea here is to have a more compassionate and wiser individual in possession of such abilities. The more ancient rites, such as the voodoo of Africa and Haiti, and the shamanistic practices of South American tribes, routinely use the capabilities against enemies as well as for friends. The morality is that of personal and tribal survival.
Years ago, Puharich carefully investigated a case of an alleged shamanistic vendetta against a South American tribal woman. She was an outcast, banished because of a family dispute, and had apparently fled her village so that she might escape the shaman’s spell. Apparently her flight was to no avail, as shortly thereafter she was afflicted with dozens of tiny needlelike metal shards deep within the flesh of her entire body. They required surgical removal and left a welter of scars but continued to reappear for a period, seemingly spontaneously.
After having seen what I’d seen and having heard what I had heard from credible scientists, I grew certain that these increased levels of psychoactivity are most likely latent, evolutionary, and emergent in our species. But if our belief system will not accommodate these natural abilities and they are suppressed early, they will not naturally emerge in the individual; there is just too much dogma in the way. The physicist Max Planck nearly a century ago said that new ideas do not prevail by convincing the skeptic, but rather funeral by funeral.
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