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Articles in This Issue
The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities
by Russell Targ
As a laser physicist with forty years experience in psychic research, I am convinced that most people can learn to move from their ordinary, ego-based mind-set to a much more interesting perspective—one that is not obstructed by conventional barriers of space and time. Eighth-century Buddhists understood this meditative skill as moving from conditioned awareness to spacious or naked awareness. . . this skill . . . what we in the twenty-first century call remote viewing . . . is about learning how to quiet your mind and to separate the visual images of the psychic signal from the uncontrolled chatter of the mind.
Seeing and Thinking Nonlocally
My firm conclusion from decades of ESP research is that we significantly misapprehend the physical and psychological nature of the interconnected space-time in which we live. As I sit on my deck in Portola Valley looking out across San Francisco Bay, I feel that I can reliably experience the beautiful and spacious scene before me. But on reflection, I realize that this conviction is unfortunately based on neither a complete perception nor a correct understanding of what I am viewing. The internalized perception of nature before me is created, obstructed, and obscured by mental noise.
Mental noise is the ongoing chatter in our mind, together with our desire to name and concretize everything we see or experience. The great psychic Ingo Swann calls this noise analytical overlay (AOL) and says it comprises memory, imagination, and analysis—all of which we use to color and reconfigure our sights and experiences. The idea is that we give everything we experience all the meaning it has for us. Our assumption is that the outer world has no meaning inherent to itself. This illusion is what Buddhists call maya or samsara—and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.
Remote viewing is not a spiritual path. However, living in a spacious and interconnected world such as I’m describing, one tends to be more open and compassionate than in a state of mind that is isolated and insulated. In exploring what physicists call our nonlocal universe, we begin to feel that the Buddhists have it right when they say again and again that “separation is an illusion,” that all is connected.
In this world of entangled or extended minds, compassion seems to me to be a natural conclusion. It’s an idea whose time has come—teaching that when one person suffers, we all suffer—because the data show that our minds are frequently telepathically connected to one another. And today, there are more than two million Google pages devoted to information about “remote viewing,” so at least some people are catching on to the idea that it is not difficult to do.
When I was first working on the development of the laser, about fifty years ago, I read a well-known psychology text that dealt briefly with psychic abilities, which was already a passionate interest of mine. The book was called Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings. With regard to my favorite subject, it said:
The state of research in parapsychology can be summarized as follows: A small number of investigators, roughly thirty or forty, who have done a large number of studies are convinced that there is such a thing as extrasensory perception (telepathy, clairvoyance, etc). Whereas, the majority of psychologists, most of whom have not studied the subject, are not convinced [emphasis mine].1
When I first read this analysis, I thought it was some kind of sardonic joke. But unfortunately, it still pretty well represents the view of much of the contemporary scientific community with regard to psychic abilities . . . Some people like to read about miracles. Others prefer double-blind, published experiments showing at least five standard deviations from chance expectation (meaning that a particular event would happen by chance less often than one time in a million). I am offering here a manifesto from my personal experience with both kinds of evidence for ESP, based on two decades of government-supported investigations at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). I cofounded this program with laser physicist Dr. Harold Puthoff in 1972.
I believe in ESP because I have seen psychic miracles day after day in our government-sponsored investigations. It is clear to me, without any doubt, that many people can learn to look into the distance and into the future with great accuracy and reliability. This is what I call unobstructed awareness or remote viewing (RV). To varying degrees, we all have this spacious ability. I do not believe that ESP has metaphysical origins. I believe that it is just a kind of ability we strengthen by expanding our awareness to think nonlocally. It will become less mysterious as more of us become more skillful.
For example, while working for the CIA program at our lab in Menlo Park, California, our psychic viewers were able to find a downed Russian bomber in Africa, to describe the health of American hostages in Iran, and to locate a kidnapped American general in Italy. We also described Soviet weapons factories in Siberia and a Chinese atomic-bomb test three days before it occurred and performed countless other amazing tasks—all using the ability that our colleague Ingo Swann dubbed remote viewing.
An Accumulation of Evidence
There are presently four classes of published and carefully examined ESP experiments that are independently significant, with a probability of chance occurrence of less than one time in a million.
1. Remote Viewing. Princeton University Professor Robert Jahn (Dean of Engineering) and his associate Brenda Dunn oversaw two decades of remote-viewing experiments with Princeton students as subjects. Students in the laboratory were asked to describe their mental impressions of what they saw at a site where someone was hiding at a randomly chosen distant location. “These remote-viewing students had to fill out a thirty-item questionnaire to quantify their perceptions in this game of psychic hide-and-go-seek. Their findings—spanning several years and comprising a series of 411 trials—showed that it is no harder to remote view hundreds of miles in the distance than it is to describe a person around the corner. Furthermore, it is no harder to describe a randomly chosen hiding place to be selected in the next hour, day, or week than it is to describe a hidden event underway at the same moment. Modern physics would describe these phenomena as nonlocal, in that they are experimentally found to be independent of space and time. Nonlocality and entanglement, which were first described by Erwin Schrödinger in the late 1920s, are now hot research topics in modern physics. This intriguing phenomenon is explained very clearly and amusingly by Anton Zeilinger, one of the world’s leading experimentalists in quantum optics, in his 2010 book Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Teleportation. Zeilinger writes:
Entanglement describes the phenomenon that two particles may be so intimately connected to each other that the measurement of one instantly changes the quantum state of the other, no matter how far away it may be . . . this nonlocality is exactly what Albert Einstein called “spooky”; it seems eerie that the act of measuring one particle could instantly influence the other one.2
Robert Jahn’s highly significant results were published in the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1982 as a replication of our original SRI remote-viewing experiments published in the same journal six years earlier.3 These data show odds greater than a billion to one (1.8 x 10-11) against chance expectation—strong evidence for the existence of nonlocal mind.
2. Distant Mental Influence. In the 1970s and 1980s, William Braud and Marilyn Schlitz carried out nineteen successful experiments in what they called Distant Mental Influence on Living Systems (DMILS).4 In these experiments, a precursor to other distant-healing experiments supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the researchers showed convincingly that the thoughts of one person can affect the physiology (heart rate, skin resistance, etc.) of a distant person in another laboratory. Braud was able psychically to calm or excite the physiology of a person hundreds of feet away. Marilyn Schlitz is now the president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. Braud, who is now teaching at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology (ITP) in Palo Alto, California, has published twelve of his highly significant formal experiments in an excellent book called Distant Mental Influence.5
3. The Ganzfeld. Over a span of thirty years, several researchers at five different laboratories here and abroad carried out telepathy experiments in which one person was in a situation of sensory isolation called ganzfeld, which is German for “whole field isolation.” This person was asked to describe his or her ongoing mental impressions of an interesting video clip being watched by a friend in a separate part of the lab. In a published meta-analysis of seventy-nine studies comprising hundreds of individual trials, the probability that the results of the experiments were chance was almost one in a billion (2 x 10-8), meaning that the isolated receiver was extraordinarily successful in describing what his distant friend was seeing.6
4. Feeling the Future. Recently, Professor Daryl Bem at Cornell University carried out a series of nine precognition experiments. In this remarkable five-year study, he showed that the future can affect the past in surprising ways. That is, the elephant you see on television in the morning can be the cause of your having dreamed about elephants the previous night: Saturday morning’s elephant caused Friday’s dream. We call that phenomenon retrocausality. For example, students in Bem’s experiments reliably favor and choose one of four possible pictures of people, even though they are shown that one only after they have made their conscious choice and even though the one shown has been randomly selected only after the students have chosen.
In 2010, Bem’s sixty-page paper presenting his meta-analysis of these retrocausal experiments was accepted for publication.7 This meta-analysis [which generated a firestorm of debate as reported by IONS’ Dean Radin and Cassandra Vieten] shows a statistical significance of more than six standard deviations from chance expectation (1.3 x 10-11), which equals odds of more than a billion to one against chance. I am entirely convinced by this analysis—and so is distinguished statistics professor Jessica Utts from the University of California–Davis. In all his experiments, Bem’s one thousand Cornell-student participants find themselves making free choices, guided again and again by the material they will see or experience in the future—but only after they have made their selection. Many people believe that precognition is the dominant phenomenon in all psychic functioning. All of Bem’s experiments have been carried out and published since the 1962 publication of the annoying Human Behavior: Inventory of Scientific Findings that I mentioned earlier. From his recent precognition experiments at Cornell and my own successful forecasting of silver commodity markets, it appears that we have the ability to expand our perceived “now” to include as much of the future as we choose to accommodate.
The term psi is derived from the Greek Ψ (psi), the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet, which means “psyche” or “soul.” Psi was coined in a parapsychological sense by biologist Bertold P. Wiesner and first used in print in 1942 by Robert Thouless. Parapsychologists prefer psi to ESP, because the term extrasensory perception implies the use of a sense that we don’t normally have—an extra sense, whereas in actuality there is nothing extra about psi, even though it is often repressed and even though, in fact, it transcends our usual ideas of the limitations posed by time and space. Psi is a gift we all have. It represents an amazing and unique opportunity for spaciousness that I am happy to share with all who will join me in this great adventure.
I had a brilliant friend named Dan Kubert, now deceased, who was a great polymath and a Harvard math professor. He was for some years a shut-in because of his poor physical health, but he would call me several times a week to chat. A year ago, he called to talk about a new proof for Fermat’s Last Theorem—the subject of a book we had both read. I told him I was sorry but I couldn’t talk with him that day because I was finishing a book I was reading for my book club. He immediately said, “That must be Anna Karenina”—a book which we had never discussed. I asked him why he named that particular book. He told me that as soon as I mentioned I was reading a book, he had a clear mental picture of the alluring Vivian Leigh as she appeared in the movie Anna Karenina. That was of course the book I was indeed reading. Dan was often startlingly psychic with regard to events in my life, both public and private. I attribute it to his very quiet lifestyle and his ability to focus his attention.
My point in telling this anecdote is that I believe each of us has the potential for vast psychic awareness that fills all of space-time. Not only do Hindu and Buddhist literature of the past two millennia describe the naturalness and availability of these abilities but also numerous laboratory experiments indicate that we have the opportunity to know anything upon which we fix our attention. In my experience and according to most other researchers, it appears that an experienced psychic can answer any question that has an answer. I cannot wait to see what the future holds when we fully open the doors of our perception!
When I say that I believe in ESP, it’s not as if I am saying that I believe in life on other planets elsewhere in the universe, which, although a statistical probability, remains unproven. Nor is it like saying that I believe in the ideal of social democracy. For in this latter case—while I affirm the desirability of freeing people from fear, poverty, and injustice and of supporting the inalienable right of all people to food, education, and health care—I am aware that many educated people seem to think otherwise. I may believe them to be profoundly mistaken, but it’s very hard to prove. To the contrary, however, when I say that I believe in ESP, it is as if I am saying that I believe in Maxwell’s equations (relating electromagnetism and light), quantum mechanics, or lasers—all of which are surprising and hard to believe but nonetheless absolutely true and scientifically provable. Indeed, the experimental evidence for ESP from a century of research is so strong and overwhelming that reasonable people simply should no longer doubt its reality. That powerful and undeniable evidence for extrasensory perception from laboratories around the world is the subject of this book.
For me, questioning reality and the exploration of psychic abilities are the essential next step in the greatest opportunity we have as a species—the evolution of consciousness.
This material was reproduced by permission of Quest Books, the imprint of the Theosophical Publishing House (www.questbooks.net), from The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities by Russell Targ, © 2012 Russell Targ.
1. Bernard Berelson and Gary Steiner, Human Behavior: An Inventory of Scientific Findings (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964), 126–27.
2. Anton Zeilinger, Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2010).
3. Robert G. Jahn, “The Persistent Paradox of Psychic Phenomena: An Engineering Perspective,” The Proceedings of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers 70, no. 2 (February 1982): 136–68.
4. Marilyn J. Schlitz and William G. Braud, “Distant Intentionality and Healing: Assessing the Evidence,” Alternative Therapies 3, no. 6 (November 1997): 62–72.
5. William G. Braud, Distant Mental Influence: Its Contributions to Science and Healing (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 2003).
6. Lance Storm, Patrizio Tressoldi, and Lorenzo Risio, “Meta-Analysis of Free-Response Studies 1992–2008: Assessing Noise Reduction Model in Parapsychology,” Psychological Bulletin 136, no. 4 (2010): 471–85.
7. Daryl J. Bem, “Feeling the Future: Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 100 (2011): 407–25.