IONSX is the name for the Institute of Noetic Sciences’ “moonshot” research program. Its purpose is to demonstrate practical applications of nonlocal consciousness-related phenomena. The applications fall into two general classes: (1) mental intention directly affecting the physical world, and (2) perceptually transcending the conventional limitations of space and time. In the vernacular, nonlocal consciousness effects are better known as psychic phenomena, or more neutrally as psi.
The motivation for IONSX is that (a) psi experiences have been reported throughout history and across all cultural and educational levels (as reflected by the large proportion of novels, television and movies with psi-related themes), and (b) the relevant scientific literature has provided persuasive evidence indicating that these effects are real, but (c) despite popular interest and scientific evidence, strong skepticism persists within much of the academic world. This is reflected by the observation that fewer than 0.001% of academics worldwide are known for having an active research or scholarly interest in psi phenomena.1
The primary reason for this stubborn disbelief, which significantly constrains further scientific advancements and the ability to raise funds for research, can be traced to the current scientific worldview. That worldview is based on a core set of assumptions about the nature of reality that was developed during the European “Age of Enlightenment” (16th to 19th century). Variously known as materialism or physicalism, this doctrine assumes that everything, including consciousness and all of its associated properties, emerge from matter (and after Einstein, energy). From that perspective, all phenomena associated with consciousness can only be understood and explained in terms of electrochemical activity in the brain. Given that the brain is not thought to be capable of directly influencing the world through intention alone, nor can it transcend space or time, then psi is considered to be impossible, and thus any positive scientific evidence can only be understood in terms of flaws or fraud.
Articles about psi on Wikipedia are written (and secured) by skeptics, thus it is not surprising that parapsychology – the scientific study of psi phenomena – is there described as follows:
[Parapsychology] is considered to be pseudoscience by a vast majority of mainstream scientists, in part because, in addition to a lack of replicable empirical evidence, parapsychological claims simply cannot be true ‘unless the rest of science isn’t.2
This false “cannot be true” meme contributes to academics’ beliefs that widespread popular belief in psi is solely due to psychological or motivational components, like poor reasoning skills or fear of death. The possibility that psi is real is dismissed by citing sham challenges for psychic skills offered by magicians, by selectively mentioning experiments that failed to replicate, by asserting that all existing evidence is flawed, by conflating claims of fraudulent psychics with scientific investigations, or by asserting that the phenomena violate fundamental scientific principles and thus cannot be true.
The oft-cited latter belief is especially ironic, because the philosopher who proposed the “basic limiting principles” of science (Broad, 1953) did so to illustrate that because the evidence for psi was so strong that something about those “limiting principles” must be wrong. This misuse of Broad’s argument provides an excellent illustration of how memes borne on mistaken beliefs can become so infectious that many otherwise critical thinkers do not stop to question whether their beliefs are supported by evidence. As a result, a stubborn stigma persists, and academics who are secretly interested in psi (surveys suggest this is a majority ) learn to remain quiet.
There are signs that the stigma may be softening with the rise of serious academic and commercial interest in meditation and psychedelic research. But old myths die hard. Consider a recent article published in 2017 in The New Republic (2017) magazine, which mentions IONS’ founder and his interest in psi:
Edgar Mitchell, the sixth astronaut to set foot on the moon, a man who saw magisterial vistas the rest of us can only dream of … during his first night aboard Apollo 14, while he was supposed to be getting necessary sleep, he was obsessing about ESP, attempting to transmit Zener card images to a friend in a Chicago apartment. While the Apollo 14 mission was a success, the Zener card experiment was a failure. That didn’t stop Mitchell from choosing ESP over NASA: He quit the agency and set out to prove to the world that ESP was real. Mitchell’s time on the moon is the kind of thing that millions of school kids dream of doing some day; it’s a dream that spurs young men and women to study science and go into STEM careers. That someone with such a rare and fantastic opportunity would walk away from it to promote nonsense of charlatans is staggering. (emphasis added)
The prejudice depicted in the above paragraph (which among other things incorrectly states that Mitchell’s ESP test in space failed) is unfortunately restimulated by occasional reports of fraudulent psychics, mediums, and gurus, which are uncritically linked to legitimate research on psi phenomena.
It is also worth noting that for tens of thousands of years prior to the rise of the scientific age, no one questioned the existence of psi. The only question of interest was how psi could be best applied. The history of shamanism, as well as the core tenets of both Eastern and Western esotericism, are permeated with treatises and descriptions of magical practices, which in today’s terms are precisely what we would call applications of psi.