Do You Believe in Psychic Abilities? Interview with Russell Targ
By Jair Robles, published on SuperConsciousness
It would probably seem strange for anyone to be asked if he or she believes in gravity for instance. Or if one were talking about sports and suddenly someone would come out and say that he does not believe that anyone could run a hundred meters in less than ten seconds, when many athletes have been doing so consistently for more than forty years. Yet when it comes to what is commonly called as psychic abilities or also known as ESP (Extra Sensory Perception), like remote viewing or telepathy to name the two most common ones, it is perfectly ok for someone to say that they do not believe in such things. Despite the overwhelming evidence accumulated over the past decades that proves such phenomena as real and available to most anyone in the planet, -as long as one follows very specific and relatively simple steps-, the accepted perception by the majority of the people is that such things do not exist. Even within the scientific community such phenomena tends to be disregarded and usually explained away as some kind of trick and certainly not as something worth of “serious scientific inquiry”.
But if as physicist Russell Targ argues in his most recent book The Reality of ESP, that the effect size for ESP is ten times greater than the effect size that aspirin prevents heart attacks. Why do we still think and talk about ESP as a matter of belief and conjecture when it has not only been proven as a fact, but also funded and used by US Government agencies, such as the CIA, the Department of Defense and NASA, for decades and with documented great success.
The following interview with Russell Targ goes into detail as to what motivated him to pursue the investigation of ESP, remote viewing in particular; how he cofounded the remote viewing program at SRI as well as the creation of the Army Psychic Core; and what does it take to become successful remote viewer and what benefits can we get from developing such abilities.
Russell Targ is a physicist and author, a pioneer in the development of the laser and laser applications, and a cofounder of the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) investigation of psychic abilities in the 1970s and 1980s. SRI is a research and development think tank in Menlo Park, California. Called remote viewing, his work in the psychic area has been published in Nature, The Proceedings of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), and the Proceedings of the American Association the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
SuperConsciousness: When and how did your interest in psychic abilities begin?
Russel Targ: I became interested in psychic ability as a teenager when I was doing magic on a stage in New York City. I had been interested in magic from seeing the magic shows on 42nd Street, and I purchased tricks from the magicians in the office building above; and as I would do my tricks I pretended to read the minds of people in the audience. Sometimes I’d get impressions of what they were thinking about, or what their house looks like. So, I would include in my trickery certain parts of the images that actually came to me that pertained to the life stream of the person I was talking to; and oftentimes I was correct. As a young scientist that I was at the time, I became more interested in knowing how this mind-to-mind communication worked than continuing to trick adults in the audience. I began to read the professional parapsychology literature and I met with J.B. Rhine at Duke University and other people who were doing work in the field. I began to work as an amateur all through my graduate school time.
SC: What does modern physics have to say about psychic abilities and remote viewing in particular?
RT: The most exciting topic in modern physics is non-locality, the idea that things that appear separate from one another are connected in surprising ways. The Buddhists say that separation is an illusion, especially for consciousness, and Schrödinger pointed out that elementary particles that are born together remain entangled, so if you grab the particle on the left it affects the twin on the right. Einstein said that he did not approve of this “spooky connection at a distance,” it violates special relativity; and in the 1930s Einstein published a paper with Podolsky and Rosen called, the famous EPR paper, where he said that there is no connection at a distance, and then in the 1970s and ’80s experiments were done by several scientists in America, France, and Switzerland showing that this entanglement really exists exactly the way Schrödinger described it 40 years before. The idea of entanglement is probably the most exciting topic in modern physics, and entanglement is a consequence of the fact that we live in a nonlocal space-time. Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) is not a manifestation of entanglement. ESP is a consequence of the fact that our space-time is nonlocal; that our consciousness is interconnected. The fact that we have psychic abilities to describe objects at a distance and in the future is a result of the fact that we have a complex interconnected space. So, the theoretical basis of modern physics has finally caught up with the 2,000-year evidence of psychic abilities.
SC: From your many years of research with remote viewing, what has been the strongest evidence that you have recorded, and what would be your simplest answer that you would give to someone who remains skeptical of the existence of ESP?
RT: In my new book, “The Reality of ESP,” the subtitle, is “A Physicist Proof of Psychic Ability”; and that’s because the experiments we have done in a laboratory, double-blind, formal experiments published in world prestigious magazines like Nature or Procedures of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, show that we have done things in many experiments where the odds are better than a million to one. So, formal experiments, statistical evidence, is what prove to people it’s real. I’m arguing, for example, that the effect size for ESP is ten times greater than the effect size that aspirin prevents heart attacks. The National Institute of Health stopped the experiments testing aspirin when the effect size got up to .06. It said if the effect size is that high we’ve got to stop withholding aspirin from the controls because it’s proven that aspirin prevents heart attacks. Well, the evidence from our work is more than ten times greater than the evidence that aspirin prevents heart attacks. If the NIH considers that as proof, then our data is proven because it’s ten times greater.
The kind of proof that most of the people like is; that one day the Berkley Police Department came to the Stanford Research Institute and said, “Patricia Hearst has been kidnapped,” the heiress of the William Randolph Hearst Estate, she’d been kidnapped from her Berkeley dormitory room. “Can you help us find her,” and Hal Putoff, my colleague and I, -both laser physicists-, went with our great psychic, Pat Price, who used to be a police commissioner. The three of us went to the Berkeley Police Station and Price a no-nonsense policeman said, “I understand what your problem is. Let me see your mug book,” which is a big loose-leaf binder with pictures of all the usual suspects and criminals in the past few years. He turned the pages of that big book, laid it on a big wooden table, page after page, and finally Price put his finger on the picture of one man named Donald DeFreeze, and said, “That’s the ringleader.” Nobody knew that at the time; but the police said, “Yes. We knew who DeFreeze is, he escaped from Folsom Prison a year ago, and we haven’t seen him since.” A week later DeFreeze surfaced demanding money to feed the poor in the City of Oakland and the City of Berkeley, and they would release the heiress, they’d release Patricia Hearst.
Until a week later we knew DeFreeze really was the ringleader and Price had picked him out of the big book. The police said, “Well, can you help us immediately with this problem,” and Price said, “Well, I can tell you where the kidnap car is,” and they said, “Oh, that would be very interesting”. To the detectives he said, “I see a white station wagon. It’s parked on the right-hand side of Highway 101 going north, and it’s parked in the driveway of a diner on the right, and across from the diner are two large white gas storage tanks, and there’s a pedestrian overpass that goes across the freeway between the diner and the storage tanks, an overhead pedestrian walkway,” and one of the detectives said, “Well, I know where that is. That’s on the way to my home in Vallejo,” north of Berkeley, and within 20 minutes they had dispatched a police car, found the station wagon, and it still had cartridges rolling around on the floorboards and those cartridges matched what they had seen under the bed of Patricia Hearst in her apartment. So we knew it was the right car. That’s as close to magic that I’ve ever seen. That’s the sort of thing the Oracle at Delphi did. “Come to me and I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
SC: Some of your most important work with remote viewing was done for government agencies, such as NASA and the CIA with very practical applications and incredible results. What other areas of government or policymaking benefited from this type of work?
RT: One of the important policy issues that we worked on in the 1970s was the so-called MX missile. The MX missile was going to be moved around in a shell game. The idea that you couldn’t have as many missiles as you would like because there was a missile treaty, which said that you could only have some limited number of missiles. What the government said is that we will move them, for every missile we will have ten silos that it can be in, and then in the night we will secretly move it with a covered truck from one silo to another, so no one could know where it is; and we proposed to the CIA that it would not work because a psychic could tell you much better than chance where the thing would be, and we did experiments where we hid a person at one of ten possible places, and time after time we were able to describe the place where the person was hidden. We showed that the odds were nothing like one in ten, they were more like one in two, or even better than that. We presented this data to the Air Force intelligence and told them the shell game looks like a reasonable thing to do, but it’s not going to work because a psychic can tell you where it’s hidden.
SC: The remote viewing program that you developed at SRI was canceled, or is it just that we don’t know if it’s still going on and what it is being used for?
RT: To the best of my knowledge it was cancelled in 1995. Robert Gates, who was then head of the CIA and later, became the US secretary of defense. When he was head of the CIA he said in ’95 on Nightline to Ted Koppel, “with the end of the Berlin Wall, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union, we don’t have any serious enemies anymore (sic), so we don’t need psychic the operation in California, nor do we need the Army Psychic Corps that we have in Maryland.” This was a reference to a half a dozen people in army intelligence that we taught how to do remote viewing, and they were the beginnings of an army psychic core in Maryland, at Fort Meade. There were 20 or 30 psychics working under the instruction of a commanding general of the intelligence command (INSCOM) doing operational remote viewing. The idea was that there were some operational things that they wanted to do more quickly than they could do, if they had to do it through SRI. So, they created a psychic core in Virginia, which ran for 15 years.
We were asked to chose six people and they came to SRI, one of them each week, and I would then sit in the dark with them and show them how to do remove viewing, and they would have to describe what it looked like where the commanding officer, or a lab director, or somebody was hiding in the San Francisco Bay Area. We would do six trials with each of these people. For these 36 trials you expect to get six first-places matches by chance; and we got 19 first place matches, the significant odds of almost one in a million, and we published that. That’s actually my favorite of our published experiments, because it wasn’t done with famous psychics, it was done with army intelligence officers who just came in with their field boots and leather jackets and said, “Okay, what do I do? What’s this stuff all about,” and I would have to teach these entirely untrained people how to quiet their mind, how to do remote viewing, and they did excellently.
SC: This goes against a common perception that only certain gifted people can do remote viewing and that is not the case. From your experience, what kind of personality traits lead people to be more successful at remote viewing?
RT: The most successful psychics tend to be intelligent, outgoing and self-confident people. You don’t want the introverted hippy girl who says, “I am nothing if not psychic.” That’s not who you want to find your prisoner. You want the guy who is president of the Bank of America and says, “Every day I have to do things where I don’t have enough information, and I’m confident of my decisions. I’m well skilled; I know how to make decisions in the absence of information. What do you want to know?” That’s the kind of person we want, not somebody who is attached to being psychic, somebody who is confident of being successful in their lives, and these army officers often were soldiers with lots of field experience, courageous men/women, which is what we chose for our program, and they did excellently. They were in a sense, ordinary army officers, but the ones we chose were extraordinary people. Now, we believe, as you said, anybody can do remote viewing. Remote viewing is a natural ability, like playing the piano. Anybody can learn to play a little Mozart or a little Bach on the piano, and they can do pretty well if they practice; but most people will not get to Carnegie Hall, no matter how much they practice, because it is a combination of innate talent in addition to practice, and there is a talent threshold to really become a great remote viewer.
SC: After you left SRI you’ve been teaching a lot of people to do remote viewing and in your book you talk about what is called “analytic overlay.” Can you talk a little bit more about what that is and how that gets in the way of our ability to do remote viewing and develop what you call naked awareness.
RT: The idea that you can’t do analysis psychically was described most recently by Ingo Swan, who is the father of remote viewing in the modern age. But the first person that described it in great detail was a Buddhist teacher named Padmasambhava. He wrote a book called “Self Liberation Through Seeing With Naked Awareness,” and what he taught is that everyone is suffering. No one disagrees about that. Suffering is universal, and you are suffering because you spend a lot of time defending your ego, defending what it says on your business card. If you don’t like that suffering, then you should move your awareness from conditioned awareness where you’re paying attention to who you think you are, naming and grasping, and you should move to spacious awareness, or naked awareness, where you give up your desire to grasp things and name things. The Buddhists say that the universe is empty. Now, it’s not empty of things, there is no doubt that there’s chairs, tables and people in the universe; but those things don’t have any meaning apart from the meaning you give them.
When the Buddhist says the universe is empty, the thing is empty of meaning, not empty of stuff; and when you insist on meaning and naming you create suffering for yourself and errors in your decision. So that if you quiet your mind and experience the world as it really is, you have to give up your desire to grasp that and name it. This was understood in the 8th Century, and Padmasambhava describes that decision to move from conditioned awareness to naked awareness is a way to overcome suffering. Ingo Swan described it as a way to do remote viewing and have an out-of-body experience where you give up your desire to name what you’re experiencing. Naming, analysis and grasping are all the enemies of psychic abilities. For example, a skeptic will say, “If you’re so psychic, tell me the serial number to the dollar bill in my pocket,” and the psychic can’t do that. You can describe shapes, forms, feelings, textures, and colors. You can describe things non-analytically; but like a French impressionist painter I can tell you the shape, the form, and the color of the thing I’m looking at. It doesn’t matter what name you ascribe to it. This was also understood by Rene Warcollier, a French engineer who wrote a book in the 1940s called, “Mind to Mind,” and he also says that naming is a problem in psychic functioning. Warcollier was the first one in modern times, and then Ingo brought it to the fore. Ingo is an artist and a great psychic. Ingo taught Hal Putoff and me how to do remote viewing in 1972. He unfortunately passed away in early 2013.
SC: Even though you had had your own experiences.
RT: That’s right; I was not a proficient psychic. I was just doing tricks on the stage. I had had enough psychic experiences so I was willing to bet my career in 1972. I was willing to bet my career that I could teach people how to be psychic, because I had already built an ESP teaching machine in the 1960s, and it was clear from experiments that I could teach people how to do psychic tasks with feedback and reinforcement.
SC: Why should people be interested in remote viewing? How does it change one’s life?
RT: There are many things you can do with remote viewing. You can find your car keys if you lost them, you can find a parking place, which is often very useful. In the 1980s we used remote viewing to forecast changes in the silver commodity market, and we made nine forecasts for the direction and magnitude of the change of silver futures, and we did that once per week for nine weeks and we were right every time, and made $120,000. But I think that the most important thing you can do with psychic ability is to discover who you are. From my experience, sitting in a laboratory for ten years it became clear to me that there was more to people than just the meat and potatoes you see in front of you, and that people were able with quite good reliability to describe and experience what’s happening in the distance and what’s happening in the future.
It was clear that there had to be more to them than just the materiality that you see. And it’s the idea that if you look in the mirror in the morning and you think that what you see in the mirror is who you really are, you’re in for a lot of suffering, or at least that’s my experience. The teaching is that who you are is this timeless awareness, or as Padmasambhava would say, “Who you are is naked awareness.” You manifest as a body, in the ordinary world as conditioned awareness spending time defending what it says on your business card. Somebody says, “I don’t like what you’re wearing. You’re really not what you claim to be,” you can get all wrapped up in defending that story. Now, the story is real, but it’s not really who you are. You really transcend that story, and you can move your awareness into this transcendent space-time of nonlocal awareness, and get a much broader picture of what it’s like to live in this transcendent reality, and greatly diminish your suffering.
SC: Is that the connection between psychic abilities and spirituality?
RT: For me the connection is that it gives you access to nonlocal space-time, that is the corner-stone of Buddhism called Dzogchen Buddhism, and the basic idea is the teaching of timeless awareness. Back in the 8th Century they already knew about timeless awareness, that your awareness transcends space and time, and they taught that that’s a peaceful place to reside free of suffering. So a person in the 20th Century could say, “Well, what makes you believe?” That’s tough. It’s not just religious belief, it’s like a laboratory experiment; if you’ll sit down and be quiet, and I’ll show you how to do it. You don’t have to believe anything, just try and do what I’ll tell you, and then report back and let me know what you experienced. Just sit down and shut up, you don’t have to give me any money, you don’t have to eat porridge at the feet of any Guru, you just have to sit down and be quiet, and you’ll discover that it’s available.”
SC: Besides remote viewing, what other ESP phenomena has been researched with statistically significant results?
RT: There are many kinds of psychic perceptual things that have been very successful. One is the so-called, “Ganzfeld,” where people sit in a shielded enclosure with sensor deprivation, there’s white noise from earphones and ping-pong balls over their eyes, and they’re asked to describe for half an hour the surprising images that come into their awareness, and they are told to, “free associate and tell what comes into your consciousness.” That instruction, in my opinion, is often not given skillfully, but it works nonetheless, and what they’re asked to describe is what their friend is seeing in another room. I say, “Close your eyes and tell me what your friend is seeing in the next room,” and that works very well. That has been done in many, many laboratories, and is widely published for the past 30 years.
SC: Like telepathy?
RT: That’s right; it’s a telepathic connection between you and your friend, and there have been dozens of papers published on that that are highly successful, even published in “The Psychological Bulletin,” which is a prestigious mainline psychology journal.
SC: At some point in your book you mention that this is your last book dedicated to talk about ESP. What is your current focus on? And from doing all this work through the years with ESP how has that evolved you and your understanding of reality?
RT: The thing that I’m most concerned about with regard to psychic ability is precognition. Physics works because we understand that F=ma is law. It says that force equals mass times acceleration, and the assumption in F=ma is that if you push a little wagon, the wagon will accelerate in proportion to how much force you exert, and that’s true; and the assumption is that acceleration takes place after you push it, not before you push it, so there is a kind of implicit causality in the laws of physics, that the force comes before the acceleration. Now, the thing that’s most interesting to me, and it must be researched, is that the accuracy and reliability of remote viewing is independent of distance and independent of time. It’s absolutely no harder to describe something that I will show you next week, than it is for you to describe the object I’ve got in my hand right now. We don’t know about looking years into the future, because years into the future you’ve already forgotten, the feedback becomes irrelevant. If I’m telling you, “Here we are, describe what I’m going to show you in an hour,” that’s an understandable task; but if I say, “Here we are in the middle of May, describe what I’m going to show you next year in the middle of May,” that’s beyond what your ordinary memory can deal with. So, that feedback becomes irrelevant; the causal chain is broken.
In our experience, the data shows that within hours or days, the accuracy is just as good as something being done contemporaneously; no harder to describe something a week in advance than if it was contemporaneous. My main focus to psychic ability right now is describing how to make sense out of precognition in terms of modern physics; and the answer to that, in my opinion, is that we live in a mathematically complex nonlocal space-time, and it’s nonlocal both in space and in time; and Padmasambhava knew that and he called it timeless awareness. That there is no time. That’s how he explained our ability to communicate with dead people. He says their physical body is dead, but since there’s no time you’re still able to communicate with them; and the evidence for some aspect of survival of bodily death, the evidence for survival is really quite good. I think that if you are indeed able to communicate with, or get information from somebody who died, you have to say, “Well, where is that person?” Where is that personality you’re communicating with, and I would say that person obviously is outside of space and time. They’re off the ordinary timeline.
SC: If our reality is timeless, then really one week or three years should not make a difference. Would it be that what makes a difference is our level of acceptance. That for us, it does make a difference just because that’s how we are used to think?
RT: My opinion is that over extended periods of time, it becomes harder to do remote viewing into the future, because your memory does not comprise the events of a whole year. It’s the idea of a psychic causal nexus. I can tell you that here we are at a quarter to 12, in an hour I will give you an interesting object in your hand that has not yet been chosen, but sometime after this conversation I’ll do a random process and choose one of six objects and then show it to you, and so a quarter to one I will show an interesting object; and that is part of a kind of psychic causal nexus, that is the idea that within your mind, and your awareness, and your memory, you can say, “Here we are at a quarter to 12. At a quarter to one I’m going to have some new thing in my hand, and I’ll visualize that.” If I tell you, “Next year at this time -” that becomes kind of ephemeral, its like a psychic uncertainty principle, because there’ll be too many big events between this event and the next one where I give you an object. We were able to do the our highly successful silver forecasting a week in advance, where I would say, “Here we are on Monday morning. Describe what I’m gonna put in your hand next Friday.”
We were doing something called, “associative remote viewing.” It would be very nice if you can read to numbers of the Big Board at the Commodity Exchange, but we’re all psychically illiterate. In our experiments the broker can choose four objects each week, four different objects, and make an association between each object and the market condition. So, you’d have an object for up a little, up a lot, down a little, and down a lot; and I would tell the viewer, “Here we are Monday morning, and I put something in your hand Friday afternoon. Describe what I’m going to put in your hand on Friday. Tell me what you’re experiencing. What’s the surprising thing that appears in your awareness? You don’t have to go anywhere, you don’t have to go to the Commodity Exchange, you don’t have to go to my broker in San Francisco, just tell me what shows up in your awareness with regard to what I’m going to put in your hand on Friday,” and the psychics might say, “I see something round, and this round thing is kinda floppy and it has a bad smell, and it’s actually kind of disgusting.” That’s what I get.
So, I would say, “Well, that’s a wonderful description.” No analysis there. It’s all description of what you’re experiencing. So, I’d say, “Thank you very much, we’re done. I’ll see you next week when I’ll give you the object. I’ll see you on Friday,” and I call the broker and say, “Okay, John, what have you got, what are our four objects?” He’d say, “Well, if the market goes up a lot, I’ll show you a champagne bottle. If it goes up a little, I’ll show you a Dixie cup. If it goes down a little, I’ll show you a book. If it goes down a lot, I’ll show you my leftover pancakes from breakfast.” So, I say, “Well, I think my partner has described your pancake, you got this round floppy, somewhat disgusting thing, and by next Friday it’ll be quite disgusting,” based on the psychic’s description of the pancake we would sell our silver short in the market. And we made a lot of money doing that. And that worked nine times in a row.
SC: Is there something that you would like to add to the interview.
RT: The only thing I would add is that in my new book, “The Reality of ESP,” I have a chapter telling people how they can work together, quiet their mind, and quickly and easily develop their remote viewing ability, and I’ve been teaching remote viewing all over the world now for two decades, and it’s easier than you think; and one of my goals is to help people learn to quiet their mind and incorporate psychic ability into their lives, and learn about the potential that they really have.
For more information about Russell Targ and his work, visit: www.espresearch.com