Readers of this blog will be aware that I consider there to be adequate evidence for extra-sensory perception (ESP), or clairvoyance. So this raises the question – the $64,000 question – which skeptics always introduce: how come these “psychics” never seem to win the lottery? Is there some special dispensation to the rest of us that they are unable to use it for their own advantage? Well, apart from the possibility that some of them might just be doing so, the short answer is: the skeptics are mostly right. 90% – perhaps 99% – of professional psychics are either outright charlatans or self-deluded. But what about the small residue of genuine cases? To answer that, just look at the claims. The most plausible psychic anecdotes – the ones most likely to be true – fall into two categories. The first involves sudden flashes of insight, usually involving danger or disaster. The second involves vague impressions induced by the presence of a person or an object – sufficient to predict being decorated by the King some time in the indefinite future, but not good enough to determine whether you will gain the latest promotion, let alone next week’s winning lottery numbers. To put it bluntly, nobody’s psychic powers are that strong. If you don’t believe me, just ask the U.S. intelligence services
Hearing rumours of Soviet psychic discoveries, and fearing they might be left behind, in 1972 the U.S. started looking at the possibility of ESP, and from 1977 employed a team of “remote viewers”, as they were called, until the program petered out in the early 1990s. You may have heard about them being employed by the CIA, but this is only partly true. The CIA looms high in everybody’s consciousness, but the U.S. has an alphabet soup of spy agencies, and the remote viewers found themselves shunted from one to another as interest and funds fluctuated. Only a minimum screening for psychic abilities was performed – mostly questions about their experiences and beliefs. By and large, they were just ordinary (G.I.) Joes cultivating a potential probably inherent in all of us. An analogy is musical skill; some of us are woeful, a few are naturally gifted, but most people can at least hold a tune. Also, despite what experimental psychic research would lead you to believe, their powers did not wane with time. And, no, the U.S. spymasters were not so stupid as to rely on ESP as such. They treated it as merely another source of data for the big jigsaw puzzle, to confirm or be confirmed by other information, and to suggest leads.
They did have some remarkable successes, and in the process, made a lot of observations – unsystematic, to be true, and therefore not strictly speaking scientific – on the scope and limitations of the phenomenon. Although they did not say so, I would suggest the observations provide an illuminating glimpse at what an advanced technology may be capable of doing, and what, I strongly suspect, otherwordly technologies are already using.
“Once you discover that space doesn’t matter [one of them told a reporter], or that time can be travelled through at will so that time doesn’t matter, and that matter can be moved by consciousness so that matter doesn’t matter . . . well, you can’t go home again.”
The first constraint was the weakness of the “signal” or, more likely, the weakness of our senses to detect it. It was like attempting to piece together a picture from sudden pin-prick glimpses. The signal appeared to be largely subliminal, that is, it came in below the level of the conscious mind to detect. They learned to get around this by seeking to defer interpretation until the latter parts of the observation. Initially, they would concentrate on raw data, such as incoherent drawings of the image accessed, along with general impressions such as “dry”, “steep”, or “sharp”. Only towards the end, when several members of the team had pooled their impressions, would analysis begin.
Equally, some targets were easier to see than others. Anything with religious, supernatural, or paranormal significance tended to stand out to the inner eye. So were visually dramatic objects which were fixed and of long standing. But, of course, what particularly interested the spymasters were new objects, and people moving around.
More to the point, alpahnumeric details, such as the numbers of a lottery ticket or a name on a dossier, were especially difficult to observe. Only one member of the team was in any way proficient at it. The rest couldn’t even count the items they were viewing. One of them, Joseph McMoneagle, was asked to “go into” a huge Soviet building. In a trance, he saw an absolutely gigantic submarine with a very large number of missile tubes. But he was completely unable to count them. Instead, he chose to draw the sub, and came up with a double line of nine or ten tubes: eighteen or twenty missiles in all. His superiors were skeptical, but four months later, more conventional information confirmed that a massive submarine had been launched, and it had twenty missile tubes.
At one point, they performed some tests by using a computer to vary the probability of selecting targets. It might be arranged for a 66% probability of target one being selected, and 34% target two. Or it could be 99% target one, and 1% target two. It turned out that, not only were the remote viewers best able to see objects which were spatially fixed and of long standing, they were more likely to see the most probable of the outcome. No doubt this can tell us something about reality, if we could only work it out. In any case, it explains why extremely improbable events, such as next week’s winning lottery numbers, are almost impossible to predict.
It doesn’t mean that gambling is impossible using ESP. Binary categories, such as red and black, or up and down, are easier to predict. Hal Putoff, the head of the unit, and his wife used to use it at Las Vegas. However, it is clear that they treated gambling the way it should be treated: it was a game, and money was only how they kept score. If they won more than they lost, well and good, but basically, it was entertainment, for which they were prepared to pay a price. The idea was to bet on a sequence of reds and blacks on a roulette wheel after the wheel landed to one of the green ‘00′ markers. But first, up in their room, they would do their remote viewing, and only go down after they had converged on a specific sequence. They didn’t always win, but on many occasions they won back the cost of the trip, plus some.
After leaving the unit, two of the members, Targ and Harary formed a company called Delphi Associates to play the silver futures market. On a Sunday, Targ would pick two targets in the San Francisco area, and decide that, if the market went up on Monday, he would take his associate to (say) the Transamerica skyscraper. If it went down, he would take him to (say) Fisherman’s Wharf. Harary would not be told of these choices; he would just be asked to visualise where he would be on Monday. If, for example, he sensed salt air and seagulls, Targ would conclude it was Fisherman’s Wharf, and advise the client to bet on the market going down. Some clients made real money this way, but pulled out after a couple of false predictions. Just the same, Putoff and his wife tried the same scheme when they needed $25,000 to set up a private school. They trained a number of board members in remote viewing (see, anyone can do it!) and made the $25,000 in a month.
Would you be able to use this method to pick race horses? Who knows? Perhaps it would be best to at first hone down your investigations to the horses must likely to win. And there’s the rub. There are much better ways to predict race results. In fact, some people are so expert at it, they are able to make a living by it. They are called bookmakers.
Take my advice: if you want to get rich gambling, then learn how to read the form guides. Or learn how to count cards at blackjack. But if you consult a psychic about next week’s lottery, you will be wasting your time and money.
At least, that’s my prediction.
Reference: Jim Schabel (1997), Remote Viewers. The secret history of America’s psychic spies. Bantam
PS. While I have your attention, my original scientific research was done on koala behaviour 40 years ago. I have now written up a popular account of it on another blog, so if any of you want to read about Australia’ favourite marsupial, you may do so here.