Scientists tend to have a skeptical view of ESP and parapsychology. If a person were to turn on the television at two o'clock in the morning they would be bombarded by commercials for various psychic hotlines. A celebrity whose career probably isn't going as well as they would like usually hosts the commercials. They introduce some eccentric person who is a psychic to the stars. I recently heard one of the more popular ones the psychic friends network has gone out of business. I guess the psychics they have working for them didn't pick up on the future financial problems. There seems to be a lot of room for fraud when it comes to ESP. Because of this people are naturally skeptical. Does this mean that ESP and the researchers investigating this phenomenon arrant doing valid research? Surprisingly there is research indicating that there is something to ESP.
When most people think of parapsychologists researching ESP they automatically think of ESP testing cards. J.B Rhine who is some times refereed to the father of parapsychology created these cards. His career in parapsychology began at Duke University in the late 1920s. Rhine became interested in ESP after hearing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle speak about ESP and spiritualism in the early 1920s. He began having children guess numbers that were stamped on cards. Not getting the results he wanted Rhine asked a college Karl Zener a specialist in perception to design a set of cards that could be easily remembered. The cards consisted of 5 symbols the subjects were to guess which symbol was on the card. They ran four separate experiments. The results were 558 hits out of 1,850 trails. Chance would account for 370 hits making the odds 22 billion -to- one. (Broughton, 66-70)
ESP research was taken even further at the Maimonides medical center in Brooklyn New York. The studies at Maimonides took place in the mid 1960s. The experiments mainly focused on ESP and dreams. The mainmonides lab discounted Rhine's card guessing tests and started a new approach. They preferred a more free approach compared with the forced guessing method of the cards. What they did was have one person sleeping and one person mentally send a picture that was sealed in an envelope. The two people would be separated in two different rooms. The dreamer was hooked up to a polygraph machine. When the dreamer reached the REM state indicating the dreamer had started to dream. When the dreamer entered this state a buzzer would sound in the room were the sender was in. The sender would look at a picture and try to send it to the dreaming person. When the REM state stopped the person who was dreaming would be woken up, asked what they were dreaming about, and recorded. This routine would go on through out the time. They would usually get around four dreams. The nightly dreams would then be sealed up and sent to be transcribed. The transcriptions would then be sent to outside judges who would rank the nightly transcripts against the possible target pictures. The judges did not know which picture had been used in the session. They would rank each transcript according to the similarity to picture. The best rank a picture would get would be a one, indicating a direct hit. One example of this is the man doing the dreaming was dreaming of New Mexico, mountains, clouds, and Pueblo Indians going down into a Mayan-Aztec civilization. The target picture was Zapatistas by Carlos Oscar Romero. The picture was of Mexican Indians marching. There are mountains and clouds in the background. The judges labeled this as a striking hit. (Broughton 89-92)
The researchers also modified the format of the dreamer and sender experiments. They wanted to test precognition in dreams or the ability to perceive future events. For this type of experiment they still had the dreamer go to sleep, hooked up to the polygraph would wake them up after the REM state occurred, and recorded their dreams. Then the following morning a person who had no knowledge of the dreams that were recorded would randomly select a picture. A dramatic example of this was a person was dreaming of a hospital and Doctors in white coats. The doctors in his dream called him Mr. Van Gogh. The target picture was Vincent Van Gogh's Hospital Corridor at Saint Remy. The judges labeled this as a direct hit. (Broughton 95-96)
The dream lab closed in 1978 due to lack of funding. Most of the original members had moved on prior to this. Despite a shaky start producing evidence proving ESP exists they did get some significant findings. They did a statistical analysis of the labs results in 1988. The findings were out of 379 trails there were 233 hits. This shows an accuracy rate of 83.5 %. Chance would have been 50%, making the odds against chance about a quarter of a million to one. (Broughton 97-98)
Out of the research at the Mainmonides a new method of investigating ESP came about. This new method came to be known as the Ganzfelt technique. Ganzfelt comes from the German word that means whole field. One of the reasons Ganzfelt came about was because the research at Miamonaides required the staff and subjects to stay up all night it was fairly expensive. A parapsychologist named Charles Honorton was its creator. Honorton wondered if ESP was a weak sense and deduced the reason it was so prevalent in dreams was due to the fact that external stimuli it markedly reduced. When persons dreaming there focused internally. He though about some eastern religions that used meditation who often linked meditation with ESP. He devised a technique that was similar to sensory depravation and meditation. What they did was to tape Ping-Pong balls that were cut in half to person's eyes. The Ping-Pong balls are fitted to the person's eyes so it's not uncomfortable. This is done to reduce the persons visually input. Then the person puts headphones on and listens to a hiss that is played through them. This is designed to reduce the audio input of the subject. A red light is shined on the person's face so with the Ping Pong balls they will see a pink glow. Then the subject sits back in a reclining chair to minimize tactile input. The person is to let their mind go blank, let images and sensations flow, and say what ever comes to mind. A computer randomly selects a picture in another room. The target picture is then sealed in an envelope with three other pictures. After the person is finished describing what they see, the sealed envelope is brought out to them. The subject is to rank each picture on how close it is to what they perceived. Although this changed when Honorton headed Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL) at Princeton University's Forrestal Center research campus. At PRL they would have a computer select a target which could be a picture, a film clip, a cartoon, or even a commercial. The sessions would last about a half-hour when they are done the computer turns on a television in the subject's room and shows the person four target pictures. As with the earlier experiments the subjects rates then compared to the images and sensory information they perceived. (Broughton 105-107)
The most recent studies around ESP actually came from interestingly enough the United States government. The United States government became interested in ESP in the early 1960s. An article in a French magazine called Science and Life called "The Secret of the Nautilus" would start a psychic cold war. The article reported that the US government did a secret test that involved using telepathy to communicate with a submarine submerged under an Arctic ice cap. The story turned out not to be true but the soviets took the article very seriously. The soviets began heavily funding research experiments. By the late 1960s the US government saw how much the soviets were spending began looking into researching ESP them selves. This research came to be known as remote viewing. (Schnabel 90-92)
Remote viewing essentially is a scientific term for clairvoyance. It is defined as the ability of experienced or inexperienced to view, by means of mental processes, remote geographical or technical targets such as roads, buildings, and laboratory apparatus. (Targ and Puthoff ix) Put more simply it could be defined as the ability to perceive remote locations while not being there physically. Remote viewing experiments started in early 1970s at Stanford Research Institute. Interestingly enough, the researchers who were doing the experiments weren't parapsychologists they were physicists. The two men responsible for a new direction in the field of parapsychology were Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff.
Harold Puthoff was teaching at Stanford University's electrical engineering department. He received a Ph.D. from Stanford, had a patent on a laser he invented, and co-authored a book called Fundamentals of Quantum Electronics. He was also very bored with his life. He left Stanford University and joined Stanford Research Institute (SRI). He was hired at SRI to work on a laser project for the government. Most of the money SRI received was through government contracts, although it was still related to Stanford University. After the project Puthoff was working on winded down he decided to peruse one of his own interests ESP research. After checking with his boss he began to look for funding. A friend of his named Bill Church who owned a chicken restaurant chain gave him ten thousand dollars. After this remote viewing research was born.(Schnabel 86-87)
Shortly after Puthoff got some funding a man by the name of Ingo Swann contacted him Swann was an artist and also a psychic. He participated in psychic research at City College of New York and American Society for Psychical Research. Swann claimed that he could influence the temperature of a graphite rod and travel out of his body and view objects hidden in a laboratory. Puthoff flew him out to SRI. (Schnabel 87-88)
Two days after Swann arrived at SRI Puthoff did an interesting experiment. He took Ingo to the physics building at Stanford University. Puthoff wanted to see if Swann could influence the output of an experimental magnetometer. This magnetometer was designed to measure very small magnetic field perturbations. Swann had never tried any thing like this before and said he would try clairvoyantly to see inside the magnetometer. As he did this, the magnetometer input suddenly changed as indicated by the printed read out of the meter. Convinced he had found something significant Puthoff wrote up a small report with the output reading of the magnetometer and sent it to a few government offices. A few weeks later the government let Puthoff know they were interested. The government agency that ended up funding the research at SRI began with the CIA. After seeing an experiment where Swann correctly described the contents of a box the CIA was funding ESP research. The target in the box was a moth. (Schnabel 86-89)