ESP at Random

My review of Mind-Reach, by Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff—a book on the testing of clairvoyance—appeared in The New York Review of March 17. Shortly thereafter the NYR received an interesting letter from Aaron Goldman, Sherman Stein, and Howard Weiner, three top mathematicians at the University of California, at Davis. Although their letter does not deal with P and T (as Puthoff and Targ are called), it concerns the closely related work of Charles Tart, a colleague of the three mathematicians at Davis.

Tart’s reputation as a parapsychologist is even higher than that of P and T. When his latest book, Learning to Use Extrasensory Perception, was published last year under the imprimatur of the University of Chicago Press, it was widely hailed as a major breakthrough. (See The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town,” December 13, 1976.) Tart shares with P and T the conviction that ESP powers can be markedly strengthened by electronic teaching machines. The major work of P and T in this field, made possible by an $80,000 grant from NASA, was with a four-choice machine designed by Targ. I discussed this test, considered a failure by almost everybody except P and T, in my Scientific American column, October 1975.

Tart’s work is more elaborate. He uses a ten-choice trainer, or TCT as he calls it, of his own invention. He believes it to be superior to the Targ machine. Indeed, his book contains severe criticism both of Targ’s machine and of the protocols of P and T in their NASA experiment.

This is how Tart’s TCT operates. A “sender” sits in one room in front of a console bearing a circle of playing cards from ace through ten. Beside each card is a button and a pilot light. An electronic randomizer selects a digit (zero counting as ten), then the sender pushes the button that turns on the light next to the selected card.

The “receiver” sits in front of a duplicate console in a room across the hall. A “ready” light informs him when a card has been chosen. After moving his hand around the ring of cards, searching for the “hot” one, he pushes a button to register his choice. This procedure is repeated in runs of twenty-five choices each, and twenty runs per test. Hits and misses are automatically recorded. There is no recording of the time at which any button is pressed.

As soon as the choice is made, a light beside the actual target card goes on to provide instant feedback. If the choice is a hit, a “pleasant chime” sounds inside the console. Above the console is a TV camera joined by cable to a TV screen above the sender’s console. On this screen the sender can see the hand of the receiver as he searches for the hot card. This is so the sender can concentrate more intently on where he wants the hand to stop, although Tart concedes there is no way to tell whether the…

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