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

Project: SCANATE

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 mr1several 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 experimentermr2 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, be 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. mr3We 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.

From the beginning of parapsychological research, the hope has been that a repeatable experiment could be found, one that gave concrete evidence of psychic functioning. Along with this has been a need for psychic subjects who don’t lose their ability as they continue to do experimental work. Charles Tart has written extensively about the so-called “decline effect” in which subjects engaged in repetitious tasks such as card guessing, can be counted on to lose their high-scoring talents. He considers card-guessing experiments to be “a technique for extinguishing psychic functioning in the laboratory,” that is, they bore subjects into a decline effect. Therefore, we avoid repetitious tasks whenever possible.

With regard to physical factors that might play a role in remote viewing, we found out early in our work that electrical shielding did not in any way seem to diminish the quality or accuracy of remote viewing. Our next task was to determine whether distance between the subject and the target site would be a significant factor. Hal Puthoff was to be the target as he traveled through Costa Rica. Two subjects in Los Angeles and Menlo Park who said they had never been to Costa Rica were asked to participate in the series.

Hal was to spend ten days traveling through Costa Rica on a combination business /pleasure trip. This was all the subjects knew about his itinerary. Hal was to keep a detailed record of his location and activities, including photographs, on each of seven target days at 1:30 P.M. California time. A total of twelve daily descriptions were collected before Hal’s return: six responses from one subject, five from another, and one response from an SRI researcher, who filled in on a day when one subject was not available.

The single response submitted by the experimenter filling in as a subject was a drawing submitted for a day in the middle of the series (see Figure 3). Although Costa Rica is a mountainous country, the subject unexpectedly perceived Hal at a beach and ocean setting. With some misgivings, be described an airport on a sandy beach and an airstrip with the ocean at the end (correct). He also drew an airport building with a large rectangular overhang (correct). Hal had taken a one-day, unplanned side trip to an offshore island and at the time of the experiment had just disembarked from a plane at a small island airport as described by the subject. The sole discrepancy was that the subject’s drawing showed a Quonset-hut type of building in place of the rectangular structure.

The above illustrates two major points observed a number of times throughout the program. First, contrary to what mr4might be expected, a subject’s description does not necessarily portray what might reasonably be expected to be correct (an educated or “safe” guess), but often runs counter even to the subject’s own expectations. Second, it is a typical example of an individual with no claim to paranormal ability experiencing remote viewing.

The remaining submissions in the Costa Rica experiment provided further examples of excellent correspondences between target and response. A target period of poolside relaxation was identified; a drive through a tropical forest at the base of a truncated volcano was described as a drive through a jungle below a large bare table mountain; a hotel room target description, including such details as rug color, was correct; and so on. To determine whether such matches were simply fortuitous – that is, could reasonably be the result of chance alone – when Hal returned be was asked to blind match [Blind matching is a procedure whereby an individual is asked to determine which targets go with which responses under conditions where be is ignorant of the true correspondences.] the twelve descriptions to his seven target locations. On the basis of this evaluation procedure, which vastly underestimates the statistical significance of the individual descriptions, five correct matches were obtained, a result significant at odds of 50:1. As encouraging as such a statistic is, it still fails to convey the impact of reading the transcript of an excellent description, as some were.

Just as psychic functioning in general was not invented in the laboratory, but rather had its own existence in the field, so too did remote viewing thrive as an ability decades before we thought to investigate it.

Examples of remote viewing experiments are described in the four-volume 1927 Outline of Science, edited by J. Arthur Thomson. Among its sections on biology, chemistry, and physics is a section entitled “Psychic Science,” nestled between Applied Science (Flying) and Natural History (Botany). The section on Psychic Science is written by Sir Oliver Lodge, who introduces his subject with the following ideas:

The two branches of knowledge, the study of Mind and the study of Matter, have usually been dealt with separately; and the facts have been scrutinized by different investigators – the psychologists and the physicists. The time is coming when the study of these apparently separate entities must be combined. … To ascertain the real nature of the connection – whether those possibilities are generally recognized or not – is the object of Psychic Science.

In a subsection entitled “Telepathy at a Distance,” Lodge describes a series of experiments which sound like our own remote viewing studies. Lodge writes:

In order to ascertain whether distance was any obstacle in telepathy, two ladies, members of the Society for Psychical Research [London] who knew that they were often in telepathic rapport, decided to keep a record of what one perceived, and what the other saw at a certain time each day, when they were hundreds of miles apart, their descriptions being sent to the office of the Society, there to be compared. … The illustrations below must serve here as samples of a large number of recorded observations.

Those figures are reproduced here in Figure 4. These researchers, like us, did not observe any decrease of accuracy with increasing distance.

To return again to the problem of being psychic in an unpsychic world, it is difficult to stress enough the importance

The Problem of Being Psychic
The Problem of Being Psychic

we place on the necessity of providing a climate in which subjects feel safe to use their remote viewing abilities. Our arguments in this direction unfortunately meet resistance from our subjects’ daily interaction with a world that tells them that people shouldn’t be able to do what they are being asked to do in the laboratory. Fortunately, this hostility toward psychic functioning is not worldwide. For example, if a Dutch or Icelandic child appears to have paranormal ability, his parents will usually be happy to help and encourage him, rather than take him in for therapy. This might account for the fact that these countries apparently produce more than their share of psychics.

One of the tactics of those hostile to the concept of paranormal functioning is to generate a polemic about believers and nonbelievers, which we consider a false dichotomy. In 1960 when we were both involved in early laser research, no one ever asked us if we believed in lasers. The closest question to that would be, “Have you ever seen a laser?” When we reported that we had indeed seen one, and could describe its properties, the question of its existence was quickly settled.

There is often a remarkable inversion of this logic when applied to psychical research. An oft-repeated suggestion is that people who have seen examples of psychic functioning are soft on ESP, that is, they are believers, so their observations cannot be trusted. This raises the following paradox: If observing an event disqualifies one as an observer, who then is qualified to observe?

It is the existence of this dilemma that has led us to ask visitors to our laboratory to personally generate a psychic event, rather than observe one. They are then faced with the decision of accepting what they have just done, or denying their own experience. This can often be very stressful because it can force a person to face a contradiction within his own belief structure. An individual likes to feel that all his ideas are logically consistent. If he finds that there is an internal contradiction, he either has to change one of his premises or admit that he is using some criterion other than reason for reaching decisions in this particular area.

By and large, the Western world has a materialistic world view. In its extreme case, this view holds that things that can’t be touched, tasted, seen, smelled, etc., do not exist. Physicists, paradoxically, are in a certain sense not faced with this problem, since almost everything in their world is invisible anyway. The reality with which the contemporary physicist deals is by and large revealed to him by indirect means such as meters, chart recordings, and logical inference. So to physicists, the world is not necessarily shaken by data that indicate that people can learn to “see” locations that are not accessible to ordinary vision. We cannot explain these data at present, but we can suggest coherent models which can be tested.

The emergence of the theory of relativity necessitated new thinking in the scientific community in order to accommodate new data not taken into account by Newton. Likewise, the emergence of paranormal functioning doesn’t require the abandonment of contemporary physics, but rather says that there is more to the world than meets the eye of twentieth-century science; after all, there will be a twenty-first-century science and a twenty-second-century science, and no physicist would presume to say that little change will occur.

The theoretical physicist can offer many ways to extend our conventional four-dimensional space-time model of the universe to accommodate psychic functioning. Many models have been put forward for consideration ranging from ELF (extremely low frequency electromagnetic radiation) theories to multidimensional (additional space-time dimensions) theories. Until these models are tested, they are not worth presenting here, but it is clear that physics is by no means without resources to attempt to describe and predict the phenomena.

The emergence of a new world view compatible with the new physics is going to be a problem only for people who maintain what is called the Naive Realist view. “If I can’t hold it in my hand, it doesn’t exist.” For these people the new data from psychic research may signal the death of Naive Realism.

Kuhn has written about what happens to a society when its commonly held world view, or paradigm, is caused to change as the result of new information.1 The change is not always a harmonious one. It may be time to start thinking where you want to be standing when the paradigm shifts.


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