Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Ability
The Search for Superman
Mind-Reach is the latest and most sensational of a spate of new books by “paraphysicists,” a fast-growing breed of trained physicists who have taken up psychic research. Margaret Mead writes the enthusiastic introduction. Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, provides an equally ecstatic foreword. Eleanor Friede, editor and co-publisher of Mind-Reach, is the former Macmillan editor who launched. Bach’s book.
In case you ever wondered why Bach’s ridiculous story became a best seller, the answer is now clear. It is about a bird who raises his consciousness until he can perform such paranormal feats as flying through solid rock. The supergull caught the fancy of millions of supergullibles of the “me generation,” eager to expand their inner space. Bach was inspired to write his story after hearing a “clear, deep voice” call out the bird’s name when he was alone on a beach. He has since contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, authors of Mind-Reach, and has become one of their most talented psychic subjects.
The fame of P and T, as they are often called, rests mainly on their validation at Stanford Research Institute of Uri Geller’s ESP powers. This dismays them. Their work with Uri, they say several times, was only 3 percent of their psi research. Most of the book is about what they consider far more revolutionary: their experiments on “remote viewing,” the clairvoyant perception of distant targets. They are convinced that everyone has this ability. “So far we have not found a single person who could not do remote viewing to satisfaction.”
The protocols are simple. A subject sits in the laboratory with one experimenter while one or more other experimenters visit a sequence of randomly chosen spots within a half-hour’s drive. The subject and the inside experimenter are kept ignorant of these targets. When the outside experimenters are at spot A, the subject tape records his impressions and makes rough sketches of what he “sees.” These reports, unedited and unlabeled, are shuffled in random order and given to a “judge,” usually an SRI research analyst who is a friend and booster of P and T. The judge is taken to spots A, B, C,… where he does his best to correlate reports with targets. He also weights each match with a number from one through nine to indicate how closely he thinks the report and target correspond. A statistical analysis is then made of the “blind matching.”
P and T say they have tested more than twenty subjects and in every case the judges matched reports and targets to a degree that violated chance. Moreover, when a report is correctly matched, P and T contend that the accuracy of the sketches far exceeds what could be expected from chance. Their book is filled with drawings alongside target photos. The correspondences are indeed striking.
A question at once arises. Were the photos taken before or after the sketches were made? It is typical of the book’s exasperating vagueness that nowhere can you find the answer. Targets are large: “Airport, Palo Alto,” “Miniature golf course, Menlo Park,” “Marina, Redwood City,” and so on. By zeroing in on one aspect of a complicated scene, and photographing it from the best angle, it is possible to obtain photos that are extremely misleading.
Consider the three sketches on page 83 by Duane Elgin, an SRI analyst who strongly believes he has psychic powers. His fifteen-minute taped description of one target makes clear that he thought the outside experimenters were in a museum. His third sketch shows a stick-figure person in a large circular hall surrounded by four blobs that could be exhibit cases. Curved rectangles in the background are labeled “windows.” The actual target, however, was a tennis court. P and T reproduce this sketch below one of the courts, the rectangled fences in back matching Elgin’s windows.
Elgin’s second drawing shows two people labeled H and P (initials, one assumes, of two experimenters) on either side of what was intended to be an exhibit panel. But the panel becomes a net when placed below a photograph of tennis courts. The first sketch shows a figure holding what looks like a gigantic tuning fork. By printing this below a tennis player with upraised racket one’s mind instantly closes the top of the “fork” and interprets the ambiguous object as a racket.
A marvelous example of how easy it is to find something in a wide target area that will match almost any drawing is provided by the top sketch on page 9—a dome with two arches. P and T put it alongside a photograph of a small merry-go-round in a playground, the camera angle such that curved bars on the merry-go-round match the two arches of the sketch. Now turn to pictures of two other targets (pages 49 and 85) and note in each the top of Hoover Tower at Stanford University. It is a much closer match of the sketch. With a magnifying glass you can read what the subject, a visiting scientist, scribbled beside his sketches. His comments fit the tower, not the merry-go-round.
“My God, it really works!” the unnamed scientist exclaimed when taken to the target area. One suspects he would have had the same reaction had he been taken to any spot where there are many kinds of structures (miniature golf course!), but that’s not the sort of experiment P and T like to try.
Perhaps photos were made by experimenters when they first went to the target areas. If so, many pictures would have had to be taken, otherwise a subject might respond to a photograph instead of the entire scene. A selection of which photo to print beside a sketch would then be the same sort of fudging. This does not, of course, explain the non-chance results of blind matching. In one test with Hella Hammid, a psychic friend of Targ’s, the odds against matching are given as 500,000 to 1. The point is that not saying when the photos were made is the kind of omission which, to skeptical psychologists (i.e. most professional psychologists), makes P and T reports seem amateurish.
P and T claim that their work strongly supports the prevailing view that ESP does not decline with distance. One successful test concerned target areas in Costa Rica, visited by Puthoff while three subjects responded in California. Another series of tests, with New York psychic Ingo Swann, involved randomly picking coordinates on a world map and having Swann describe what he “saw” at each location. P and T regard the results as overwhelmingly positive. Moving farther out, P and T monitored a space probe in which Swann (at SRI) and the Arkansas psychic Harold Sherman (in Arkansas) simultaneously viewed Jupiter. Results were disappointing but a later probe of Mercury by the same two men impresses P and T as “intriguing.” Since there is “excellent statistical data” that psychics can remote view any spot on the globe, P and T see no reason why it cannot be applied usefully to space exploration.
Remote viewing is also independent of time. A chapter on this opens with Targ recounting four of his precognitive dreams. “Cheered on by these firsthand experiences,” P and T repeated their remote viewing test four times with Ms. Hammid, using exactly the same protocols except for one change. Ms. Hammid was asked to describe each of the four targets twenty minutes before it was randomly selected. Three judges independently matched all four targets correctly. P and T regard this as “one of the most successful experiments we have done to date.”
If the description by P and T can be trusted, this test is certainly impressive. However, as we have seen and shall see, P and T have a facility for writing elliptical and deceptive accounts. The “professional engineering consultant” brought in to “independently observe and record the events” was David B. Hurt, a true believer who had designed Targ’s first electronic machine for teaching ESP—hardly an unbiased assistant. None of the three judges is identified. Although the experiment, if valid, is one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of the century, it is tossed off so carelessly, and with such scant information, as to be impossible to evaluate.
In a chapter on Geller, P and T regret that they were unable to confirm his metal-bending powers. Contrary to what Uri says, they never saw anything bend except when Uri was allowed to touch it. “We saw many wild and wonderful things. We shot thirty thousand feet of 16 mm film and thirty hours of videotape, although we did not ever photograph what we set out to observe.”
Accounts of the “wild and wonderful things” leave no doubt about the authors’ firm belief in Uri’s psychokinetic powers. “We have seen dozens of objects move, bend and break,” they write, but for some reason they couldn’t capture those miracles on camera. They remind the reader that in quantum mechanics the “observer” affects what is being observed. Could this be responsible for what John Taylor, the eminent British Gellerite, calls the “shyness effect”? Metal bends only when persons (and cameras) are not looking!
The fact that magicians can duplicate a psychic’s tricks (the Amazing Randi now bends keys better than Geller) naturally does not prove that psychics do them the same way. When Margaret Mead repeats this in her introduction, I wonder if she realizes what a bromide it is. Every time Randi bends a key some Gellerite uncorks this stale remark. Every time Houdini exposed a phony medium spiritualists said the same thing. The logic is impeccable and irrelevant. Over and over again history has demonstrated that there is a type of neurotic personality who thrives on being admired for psychic powers and who will go to incredible lengths to perfect methods of deception. (Recommended reading for Ms. Mead: “Alexander the Oracle Monger” by Lucian.) If magicians can reproduce a psychic’s bag of tricks it does not prove him a charlatan, but it enormously increases the probability that he is, and it makes mandatory the presence of a knowledgeable magician in any laboratory test of the psychic that can be taken seriously.
Uri’s precognitive powers fail him at roulette, he says, but Swann and Puthoff have no such blocks. P and T tell us that Swann, using a home roulette wheel, “slowly built up his average scoring rate from 50 percent (chance) to around 80 percent.” Swann and Puthoff then went to Lake Tahoe where Ingo quickly netted several hundred dollars. Puthoff, betting more conservatively, won only about a hundred.
P and T are persuaded that predictions of the future can be amplified by a technique similar to those used for computer enhancement of signals from space probes. The idea is to repeat a signal many times until the “noise washes out and the signal emerges.” Sitting in a hotel room, Puthoff and his wife, and a sponsor and his wife, applied this technique to the hotel’s roulette wheel by precognizing a red-black run that would begin after the first double zero to turn up when they entered the room. The four cast votes, over and over again, until they obtained an amplified prediction of eleven marble falls.
“To the table we went.” All but two of their predicted colors were correct. “The two incorrect ones, the seventh and ninth, straddle a double zero…perhaps a confusion factor?” Such casino exploits, P and T continue, “have in fact stood up to scientific investigation and have resulted in published papers. For those interested, we include here the description of a proven and published strategy.”
Purchasers of Mind-Reach thus obtain a gold mine: a “proven” system of winning at roulette. And these are the two men to whom the Naval Electronics Systems Command recently gave, as reported in Wilhelm’s book, $47,000 for more research on psi! It is not hard to understand why the government is interested. Amplify the powers of a group of psychics and you have an unparalleled espionage technique. And if one psychic can bend a spoon, perhaps a group of psychics could trigger a nuclear explosion in a warhead. Julius Caesar had his oracles. Hitler had his astrologers. Our military complex has SRI
Businessmen, too, can profit from psi training. P and T devote many pages to “executive ESP.” This suggests the “possibility of the prediction of future economic, social and political trends.” Sure enough, Swann and Dr. Willis W. Harmon, of SRI’s Educational Policy Research Center, actually did a pilot study on this in 1973. Ingo and two anonymous psychics put their psi forces together to concoct an oracular forecast that ends with a mysterious cataclysm in 1985 that will “bring current concepts of man to an end.” (The Second Coming?) For details, see Swann’s autobiography, To Kiss Earth Good-bye.
The best documentation yet of the incompetence of P and T is in The Search for Superman. The author, John Wilhelm, is a former science correspondent for Time. He is inclined to believe in psi. After extensive conversations with P and T and several of their associates, he set about to record as objectively as possible what he had learned. His book is extremely valuable for many reasons. It gives details about government funding of P and T projects that had hitherto been hush-hush. It is filled with eye-opening revelations about facts that should have been in Mind-Reach but are not.
Example. Years ago magicians explained how easily Geller’s constant companion, Shipi Shtrang, could have obtained information about targets and communicated, it to Uri. Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who helped finance SRI tests of Geller, once complained that whenever you try to do something with Geller “Shipi is underfoot.” True, admit P and T, but this has no bearing on their tests because Shipi was carefully “excluded from the target area.”
Anyone would take this to mean that Shipi was not in the laboratory when tests were made. But P and T have a special way of using words. They mean that Shipi was kept out of the room in which target pictures were being “sent.” He was very much underfoot. During some tests he was even locked inside the shielded room with Uri. “Part of our secret design,” Puthoff told Wilhelm, “was to see if Geller did better work when Shipi was around. We wanted to know if Shipi worked as a psychotronic amplifier.”
During some tests Shipi was directly outside the room where Targ and his assistant, Jean Mayo, prepared the target drawings. Targ and Mayo often conversed about them. At Uri’s insistence the drawings were taped on a wall. (It is not clear what wall.) “Shipi was just seated at a desk by himself,” Puthoff told Wilhelm. He was not even watched. “When Geller was inside the second-floor Faraday cage,” Wilhelm goes on, “…Shipi was inside with him, guarded by Puthoff. Where, then, was Hannah?”
Hannah? Hannah Shtrang, Shipi’s sister and Uri’s former girl friend, was also at SRI. Later she broke with Uri and told an Israeli journalist how she and Shipi used to aid Uri in Israel by secretly signaling. (A translation of the Hebrew article is in Randi’s Ballantine paperback, The Magic of Uri Geller.)
It is hard to believe, but in the famous Nature report by P and T, on their work with Geller, there is no mention of the many others who participated. Actually, the tests were like stage performances. In Wilhelm’s words: “On many occasions people not associated with the experiments clustered around, kibitzing the procedures. Sometimes members of the SRI management hierarchy were there to observe…. At other times the audience simply was a group of psi boosters.” Swann summed it up: “It was like a monkey cage.”
An astonishing number of lab assistants, Wilhelm reveals, were Scientologists. Puthoff himself is a dedicated follower of L. Ron Hubbard. He first reached the status of “clear”—a person free of all “engrams.” (Engrams are neurosis-causing patterns imprinted on one’s unconscious mind by what one hears as an embryo.) Later he advanced to Class-III Operational Thetan. He wrote the preface to Hubbard’s Scientology: A Religion. He was married in a Scientology church. Eli Primrose, who assisted in the Geller tests, is a Scientologist married to a Scientology minister. George W. Church, Jr., whose Science Unlimited Research Foundation (SURF) provided early financial backing for P and T, is a Scientologist.
These facts are not irrelevant because Scientologists passionately believe in all forms of psi. Puthoff’s work thus strongly supports his and Church’s doctrines. Jean Mayo, who did many of the target drawings, is not a Scientologist but a self-styled psychic and a devout Gellerite. She told Wilhelm her responsibility was to help “send” the targets to Uri.
Ingo Swann, the first superpsychic discovered by P and T, also is an active Scientologist. He’s a Class-VII Operational Thetan. (There are fourteen “clears” working at SRI, Swann told Wilhelm.) The second SRI superstar was Pat Price, a businessman who died in 1975. He, too, was a Scientologist—a Class-IV Operational Thetan.
In Wilhelm’s hilarious book, P and T emerge as a pair of bumbling Keystone cops, fervently believing, proud of their ability to detect any kind of fraud, yet over and over again violating the simplest canons of sound experimental design. Their accounts of remote viewing (on which Wilhelm touches only briefly) raise dozens of questions. Exactly how many people (including typists) knew each target selection? It is not just the superstar who has to be monitored, but also his friends. It is not enough to keep selections in a safe. One must guard against the selection process itself being overheard, against such things as carbon paper being retrieved from wastebaskets. Electrons and rats don’t cheat. Professional psychics do.
The “judges” in the “remote viewing” experiments worked with unedited typescripts. If a typist copied the reports before they were shuffled, decreasing blackness of letters and increasing typing errors could provide cues to the original time sequence. Only short excerpts from a few reports have been published. Can we be sure that the subject, rambling on about each target, did not provide subtle time-ordering clues?
Ray Hyman, a psychologist who along with Randi, me, and others is severely attacked by P and T in a distortion-packed chapter on the “loyal opposition,” has pointed out another possible source of bias. Targets for an experiment are chosen to have minimum scenic overlap. Suppose target A is a tennis court. The subject, usually taken to the site immediately after making his report, to give him immediate reinforcement, now knows that on the remaining targets he can avoid “seeing” a tennis court. Target B is, say, Hoover Tower. He now knows it is a good bet to avoid seeing both tennis and tall towers. After all, the number of basic gestalts in natural scenery is not a large number. To forestall bias from this elimination process, subjects should not have been taken to targets until an entire series of tests was completed.
When a judge was taken to target sites to match reports to targets, were visits made in random order? And did P and T make sure that whoever took him here and there had no knowledge of the time ordering of either targets or reports? Otherwise a judge could unconsciously pick up cues. Can you imagine a believer completely concealing his feelings each time a judge announced a tentative decision? One must assume that P and T took all these precautions into account, but that is not the point. Extraordinary laboratory results demand not only extraordinary controls but also extraordinary care in reporting. To omit such details is inexcusable.
The future of remote viewing is predictable. All over the world true believers will reproduce the experiments with positive results. Skeptical psychologists, if they bother to try, will get negative results. The general public won’t hear the negative side. Too dull a story. P and T will accuse their opponents of stubbornly refusing to make a “paradigm shift” of such magnitude that the Copernican Revolution pales beside it. They may even invoke the old Catch-22 which says that skepticism itself inhibits psi.
At the moment, the two surviving SRI superstars, Swann and Geller, seem to be dimming, not because skeptics are winning (far from it!) but because people are now more intoxicated by angels, the Antichrist, and the return of Jesus. In the words of a born-again Johnny Cash song, and the text of a recent Billy Graham sermon, “Matthew 24 is knocking at the door.” We can be certain, however, that new supergulls (and swans), with new bags of psi tricks under their wings, will soon be flapping out of the firmament.