by Francois Tremblay (e-mail: FTremblay@liberator.net) [July 22nd, 2000]
It may not be a surprise that I do not think very highly of the intelligence of our public officers. However, you would think that the military, of all things, would be the most sane and practical part of it. After all, in war, mistakes have direct consequences (unlike most other offices, in which mistakes can be covered up and are not instantly seen), mainly costing lives and lots of money. We know this from news reports that a missile hit a target that wasn't intended, like, you know, relief hospitals and inconsequential stuff like that.
Well, think again. Did you know the government spends dozens of billions of dollars of your tax money every year to pay people to sit in a chair and pretend they are seeing other places? This practice is called “remote viewing.” For twenty years, the Pentagon has poured 20 million dollars in a project called “Stargate,” whose role was to counter the rise of psychic use by the Russian government during the Cold War by making fools of ourselves even more. Fearing a state of psychic imbalance, where Russian agents could disable American satellites, read minds and even kill politicians at a distance (don't you wish we could really be able to do this?), the Pentagon launched its own group in 1978, which was called Project Stargate. Of course if the Russians could read all of our secrets, why would they need spies? I know, I know, don't try to make sense of it.
“There was an article which praised remote viewing and appeared last month on WorldNetDaily, a news site which I used to respect because of their libertarian coverage, but which now runs stories like 'Students beaten by school ghosts'...”
To spearhead the project, they chose Hal Puthoff, who was a former Scientologist and well-versed in quackery of all sorts. Remote viewing happens to be quite a fool's errand, therefore he was quite suited for the task. Puthoff had made a name for himself previously with another ex-Scientologist called Russell Targ by leading inconclusive experiments in telekinesis and remote viewing of other planets.
There was an article which praised remote viewing and appeared last month on WorldNetDaily, a news site which I used to respect because of their libertarian coverage, but which now runs stories like “Students beaten by school ghosts” (I am not making this up), and has gone down the way of Salon. Project Stargate is said to have met with “vast successes,” but according to a parapsychologist (and therefore someone who would have interest in faking positive results), Stargate was only right 15% of the time. This percentage is actually low considering all the tricks of the trade.
Michelle Heaton, who is an ex-Stargate “viewer,” says that the government spends more than 10 billion dollars every year on New Age-type seminars. That is a frightening thought indeed. It seems that psychics are the newest governmental fad after Reagan and astrology.
Another ex-Stargate “viewer” called Joe McMoneagle, who was the only one to stay for the whole duration of Stargate, claims that the government also has experiments on “remote healing” and “remote influencing.” Thankfully, “viewers” still complain that they are not given enough credibility.
One of the reasons why ideological neutrality is necessary in a government is because of things like this. There is no reason why the government should fund research in any domain -- basically, there is no reason to have the government choose for ourselves what is reasonable or unreasonable to fund. Quite the contrary, in fact, since governments tend to abuse their funds to finance anything they like, like cold fusion, dowsing, or “environmental” studies. We find that non-partisan and commercial studies are much more reliable than anything that the public sector can put out.
Reading Empty Minds
The idea behind remote viewing is to be able to perceive places and objects which are beyond the reaches of the senses. Well of course by that standard a television could be called remote viewing, but we're talking here of using a “psychic sense.” You may notice that this looks suspiciously like the “divine sense” that religionists claim to use to perceive gods.
The method of remote viewing is fairly simple, especially since there is no need to accomplish anything while actually performing, and uses probabilities as well as open-ended concepts or illustrations.
For example, you may have seen the recent show on FOX called “Powers of the Paranormal” where a remote viewer performed. Actually that was John McMoneagle, whom I have already talked about. His task was to “view” where a woman had gone in Los Angeles. Two things were particularly correct in the viewers' predictions, that is, the “water” item and the “well-defined concrete edge.” He also drew a primitive picture of two arches crossing each other. The woman was near a McDonalds at the Los Angeles International Airport (which at that location had blue walls, and of course a sidewalk). Therefore this was seen as a great “viewing.”
“The National Research Council has based its report on remote viewing on these experiments, concluding that '[b]y both scientific and parapsychological standards, then, the case for remote viewing is not just very weak, but virtually nonexistent' (Druckman and Swets, p. 184).”
However, as you can imagine, there is nothing unusual or paranormal with this, because these concepts are all very open-ended, and can be chosen by simple guesswork. As statistics show, most bodies are found near water, and sometimes wooden areas, and the same use of probabilities apply here. What would be the best place to find someone new to San Francisco if not near the water? But even then he failed and his “hit” on “water” was only counted because there were blue walls. The “well-defined concrete edge” could designate pretty much every man-made structure, and in this case a sidewalk was taken to designate this a “hit.” In the same way, the two arches he drew did not look at all like the McDonalds arches and could represent anything : power lines, roads, and such.
If McMoneagle or any paranormalist can “view” anything, they sure are taking the hard way to do it.
We also observe the same phenomenon when we examine reports of remote viewing studies. James Randi, as well as Druckman and Swets, and other commentators, have remarked upon this. When attempting to impose a more reasonable standard of evidence (one less akin to “data-fitting”), the experimenters are unable to replicate the results. The National Research Council has based its report on remote viewing on these experiments, concluding that “[b]y both scientific and parapsychological standards, then, the case for remote viewing is not just very weak, but virtually nonexistent” (Druckman and Swets, p. 184).
Of course that never stopped anyone from making a quick buck. Now “experts” charge three thousand dollars for ten-days courses, and sell books and videos teaching remote viewing.
Note that remote viewing is close but different from other paranormal phenomena, like dowsing on maps, psychic “crime solvers” or talking to the dead. All of these “talents” are often used together. Dowsing on maps to find particular objects is similar to dowsing on fields, except it's done on maps. Psychic “crime solvers” use various methods (like Edgar Cayce, the “sleeping prophet” who gave his prognostics while in a trance). Talking to the dead usually involved... well, people pretending that they are talking to the dead. James Van Praagh has made this practice popular, and there is a new TV show on the Sci-Fi Channel called “Crossing Over with John Edward,” which consists of Edward talking to the dearly departed of people in the audience. Tune in if you're looking for laughs.
CSICOP: A Response to "Powers of the Paranormal" on FOX The Skeptic's Dictionary: James Van Praagh The Skeptic's Dictionary: Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) James Randi Educational Foundation: The Randi Files Psych Infobank: Extrasensory Perception Google Directory: Science:Science in Society:Skeptical Inquiry
[Visit Francois Tremblay's personal pages at http://www.objectivethought.com.]
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