The Reality of ESP — the American Remote Viewing Programme
This article is on a somewhat different theme from recent ones. The reason is that I’ve been asked to put together a piece on remote viewing by a website for which I write. It therefore makes sense to also publish it on Medium. All the information here can be found in Dean Radin’s book The Conscious Universe: the Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena¹, which is also where the passages in quotation marks are taken from.
Remote viewing studies apparently began in the 19th century, when in 1882 Frederic Myers and Edmund Gurney, founders of the Society for Psychical Research, reported the results of some experiments. A hundred years later similar results were obtained by researchers working for various U.S. Government military and intelligence agencies. The best-known programme began in the early 1970s at the Stanford Research Institute, under the direction of Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ, and later Edwin May, who eventually became the leader. The programme stopped in 1994, having been funded to the tune of about $20 million from these agencies.
The reason that the programmes continued for so long was that they sometimes provided useful, highly detailed information, obtained at virtually no expense, and with no threats to the lives of agents. Also, remote viewing was able to provide information otherwise blocked by shielding or hidden structures, even at great distances.
The results were sometimes striking. In one test “a remote viewer was able to successfully describe a target, having no prior information about the target other than that it was ‘a technical device somewhere in the United States’. The actual target was a high energy microwave generator in the Southwest. Without knowing this, the ‘viewer’ drew and described an object remarkably similar to a microwave generator, including its function, approximate size, and housing, and even correctly noted that it had ‘a beam divergence angle of 30 degrees”.
The ability to remote view psychically is not seriously in doubt. In 1988, a report which analysed all the psi experiments conducted at Stanford Research Institute since 1973 concluded that the statistical results indicated odds against chance of more than a billion billion to one. A separate programme was conducted at Science Applications International Corporation. Their work was reviewed by a highly qualified panel of experts including a Nobel laureate physicist. One author of the review, Jessica Utts, concluded that remote-viewing (“anomalous cognition”) had been demonstrated: “I believe that it would be wasteful of valuable resources to continue to look for proof. No one who has examined all of the data across laboratories, taken as a collective whole, has been able to suggest methodological or statistical problems to explain the ever-increasing and consistent results to date”. Even arch-sceptic Ray Hyman, without actually saying that he believed in the implications of the results, said that the experiments were “well-designed and the investigators have taken pains to eliminate the known weaknesses in previous parapsychological research”, and that he could not identify any flaws in the method.
The reviewing committee came to six general conclusions. The most significant, to my mind, were that “mass screenings to find talented remote viewers revealed that about 1 percent of those tested were consistently successful”, and that “neither practice nor training consistently improved remote-viewing ability”. Both of these suggest that remote viewing is a real phenomenon, a natural talent, but that only relatively rare individuals have it.
At the time these programmes were shrouded in secrecy, unsurprisingly since they were providing information useful for defence and security purposes. Nevertheless, “rumours persisted for decades that military and intelligence agencies were supporting research on psi phenomena… But the rumours were always shrouded in conspiracy theories, plausible denials, and orchestrated disinformation, and very few people knew what was really going on”. Eventually, however, in 1995 most aspects of the programmes were declassified, and various people who had participated were allowed to reveal what had been happening.
Here is one interesting, and entertaining, example:
“In one especially interesting test case in the late 1970s, a remote-viewer given only latitude and longitude coordinates of a location somewhere in the United States successfully described a secret facility in Virginia whose very existence was highly classified. He was able to describe accurately the facility’s interior and was even able to correctly sense the names of secret code words written on folders inside locked file cabinets. A sceptical newspaper reporter later heard this astonishing story and decided to check it out for himself. He drove to the location specified by the map coordinate, some 135 miles west-southwest of Washington D.C., expecting to find ‘the base camp of an extraterrestrial scouting party or, at the very least, the command centre for World War III’. Instead, he found ‘just a spare hillside, a few flocks of sheep, and lots of droppings’. No secret military outpost, nor armed personnel, no buildings.
When informed of this, the Navy project officer in charge of the SRI remote-viewing tests was alarmed. He had assumed the test was successful because of reports he had received from the CIA and National Security Agency. A few days later, the project officer abruptly changed his mind, telling the reporter that the test was valid after all and offering excuses such as that the CIA or NSA man tasked with confirming the accuracy of the remote viewing ‘couldn’t read a map’, or maybe the psychic had accidentally described a nearby space communication centre in West Virginia. What he didn’t say was that the newspaper reporter saw exactly what he was supposed to see — flocks of sheep on a hillside. The secret military facility was indeed at that very spot, hidden deep underground”.
And here is an account of a highly successful attempt at remote viewing for defence purposes:
“In September 1979 the National Security Council asked one of the most consistently accurate army remote viewers, a chief warrant officer named Joe McMoneagle, to ‘see’ inside a large building somewhere in northern Russia. A spy satellite photo had shown some suspicious heavy-construction activity around the building which was about a hundred yards from a large body of water. But the National Security Council had no idea what was going on inside, and it wanted to know. Without showing McMoneagle the photo, and giving him only the map coordinates of the building, the officers in charge of the test asked for his impressions. McMoneagle described a cold location, with large buildings and smokestacks near a large body of water. This was roughly correct, so he was shown the spy photo and asked what was inside the building. McMoneagle sensed that the interior was a very large, noisy, active working area, full of scaffolding, girders, and blue flashes reminiscent of arc welding lights. In a later session, he sensed that a huge submarine was apparently under construction in one part of the building. But it was too big, much larger than any submarine that either the Americans or the Russians had. McMoneagle drew a sketch of what he ‘saw’: a long, flat deck; strangely angled missile tubes with room for eighteen or twenty missiles; a new type of drive mechanism; and a double hull.
When these results were described to members of the National Security Council, they figured that McMoneagle must be wrong, because he would be describing the largest, strangest submarine in existence, and it was supposedly being constructed in a building a hundred yards from the water. Furthermore, other intelligence sources knew absolutely nothing about it. Still, because McMoneagle had gained a reputation for accuracy in previous tasks, they asked him to view the future to find out when this supposed submarine would be launched. McMoneagle scanned the future month by month, ‘watching’ the future construction via remote viewing, and sensed that about four months later the Russians would blast a channel from the building to the water and launch the sub.
Sure enough, about four months later, in January 1980, spy-satellite photos showed that the largest submarine ever observed was travelling through an artificial channel from the building to the body of water. The pictures showed that it had twenty missile tubes and a large, flat deck. It was eventually named a Typhoon class submarine”.
Radin then comments: “Scores of generals, admirals, and political leaders who had been briefed on psi results like this came away with the knowledge that remote-viewing was real. This knowledge remained highly classified because remote viewing provided a strategic advantage for intelligence work… (Therefore) scientists who had worked on these highly classified programs, including myself, were frustrated to know firsthand the reality of high-performance psi phenomena and yet we had no way of publicly responding to sceptics. Nothing could be said about the fact that the U.S. Army had supported a secret team of remote viewers, that those viewers had participated in hundreds of remote-viewing missions, and that the DIA, CIA, Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, and Secret Service had all relied on the remote-viewing team for more than a decade, sometimes with startling results. Now, finally, the history of American and Soviet military and intelligence-sponsored psi research is emerging as participants come forward to document their experiences”.
I hope that all the above will be useful ammunition for you, the next time a badly informed person tells you that ESP is impossible. Get them to read Radin’s book. It contains lots more evidence of psi, and also has a brilliant analysis of the psychology of sceptics.
I hope you have enjoyed this article. I have written in the past about other topics, including spirituality, metaphysics, psychology, science, Christianity, politics and astrology. All these articles are on Medium, but the simplest way to see a guide to them is to visit my website (click here and here).
1. HarperOne, 1997