Parapsychology: The name given to the scientific study of paranormal phenomena …. Parapsychology largely replaced the earlier term “psychical research,” the change indicating a significant shift in emphasis and methodology.

Psi: Greek letter used in parapsychology to indicate psychic or paranormal phenomena such as extrasensory perception (ESP) or psychokinesis (PK).

Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology [1]

[This is Fred, and today we’re going to explore subjects that the public generally don’t know about, or forget, or don’t want to remember. You know, like leprosy in the U.S.[2] or the sterilization of undesirables in our glorious country[3], or the disturbing appearance of radiation in our milk supply back in the 1950’s[4]. [Why did we call it the ‘milk supply’? What we really meant was that there was a radioactive element in our cows, which they excreted with their milk so we could drink it down.]  But we all need a little humor now and then, so let’s look for something more cheerful.  Let’s review parapsychology, i.e., mental telepathy, precognition and remote viewing, and how our government experimented with them. It turns out we [the U.S.] did quite a bit of that back in the day. Perhaps we still do? And while we’re at it, let’s revisit Unidentified Flying Objects as well.

There’s a new book, Phenomena[5], that tells us a lot about government’s research in parapsychology up to about 1990. That’s later than I would have expected; frankly I thought the taxpayer had stopped paying for mind benders, etc. around 1970, when the Air Force also gave up chasing flying saucers. I realize the two are different. Flying saucers [i.e., UFOs} are unidentified objects people have reported in the sky. Generally the folks who make the reports are reliable, ordinary citizens but bewildered. They’ve seen something but they can’t say what it is.  The people who say they can read minds, foretell the future, or see things far away are different. You’re more likely to find them in show business, as mentalists [aka mind readers], stage magicians, stage hypnotists and the like. My point is not that you have to ignore such people. It’s just that you have to be very, very careful when you test them and their abilities. After all, another word for a magician is an illusionist.

Of course government research in the paranormal once was classified, but nothing is secret forever, especially today. In fact, if you go to the CIA Library [the electronic one], and ask for a list of things that have been declassified, you’ll probably find a bunch of stuff on all kinds of subjects, including flying saucers, remote action and, of course, remote viewing. I’ve pulled a couple of their documents to illustrate a point or two.]

Flying Saucers

G. Sallust wrote an interesting blog on this not too long ago.[6] His thesis was that the Air Force had burned up a lot of time chasing reported UFO sightings after-the-fact. You remember, probably, that the Air Force discontinued its program, called Project Blue Book, in 1970. Modern technology should allow us to dispense with all that chasing around. Today a better approach would be to go to the places where sightings are reported, mine those areas with sensors, send the reconnaissance drones to loiter there, train the satellite cameras on them as well, and wait to see what shows up. Photograph [excuse me, image] an actual visitor from outer space and the program justifies itself! Now that sounds like a plan!

But something I didn’t know was that the CIA also had a role in tracking and identifying UFOs and it didn’t end until around 1990. The CIA’s activity was outlined in an article written by Gerald Haines, head of the National Reconnaissance Office.[7] So far it’s the best official explanation I’ve found of why and how the UFO controversy became, well, so controversial. Haines said that “over half of all UFO reports from the late 1950s through the 1960s were accounted for by manned reconnaissance flights … over the United States.” [8] Our Government didn’t want to discuss them at the time because the associated programs[9] were highly classified. If you take those flights into account the percentage “of what the Air Force considered to be unexplained UFO sightings fell to 5.9 percent in 1955 and to 4 percent in 1956.”[10]

Of course, the fact that 4% of sightings remained unexplained did not automatically make some of them the work of space aliens. Unexplained events prove nothing except the limits of our knowledge.  Only on TV can a lack of evidence be evidence of, say, a far-reaching conspiracy or cosmic forces arrayed against us. So if we want conspiracy in our lives, why not just blame the Devil for everything we don’t understand? People did that in the Middle Ages, and it worked, sort of, except for the occasional plague, witch hunt, pogrom or whatever. I guess today we’re supposed to know better. Or don’t our schools teach that anymore?

Oops! I got carried away there. That last paragraph was my opinion, not Mr. Haines’. But he did conclude his analysis with some pop psychology.Like the JFK assassination conspiracy theories,” he said, “the UFO issue probably will not go away soon, no matter what the Agency does or says. The belief that we are not alone in the universe is too emotionally appealing and the distrust of our government is too pervasive to make the issue amenable to traditional scientific studies [or] rational explanation and evidence.”[11]

So that’s the Government position as I understand it. If you’re not satisfied, perhaps you might consider G. Sallust’s suggestion that we investigate modern sightings [not the old ones of the 1950s and 1960s] with modern technology. Let’s lay our traps and see what shows up! And if we find drug dealers infiltrating the country, rather than space aliens, that would be good to know.

Parapsychology

So now we get to the area covered by Phenomena, i.e. the use of psi[12] powers to view far-away places or things, or to affect things [or people] at a distance. Need I point out that this was supposed to be done using mental powers rather than physical means? No radio or TV transmissions or missile strikes were permitted! Generally the experiments we know about were conducted jointly with the Stanford Research Institute. SRI would design the experiments – the protocols, as it were – and provide the facilities, and the government would supply the people.

In the case of remote viewing,[13] for example, two researchers would randomly choose a sealed envelope from a group kept in a safe at SRI, leave the SRI office, open the envelope and go to the landmark identified.  Once there, and at a specified time, they would stare at the landmark [“survey the site,” the book says] and attempt to transmit their impressions back to SRI. Transmit to whom? Why, to a “sensitive” employed by the Government and sitting in a Faraday cage at SRI. A Faraday cage, by the way, is “an enclosure used to block electromagnetic fields.”[14] Presumably the Faraday cage was there to prevent anybody from slipping a radio signal to the sensitive who was supposed to be reading minds.[15]

Many thought this and other work at CIA was interesting, and useful, but apparently CIA management didn’t fully agree. There’s an article from 1977 by Kenneth Kress, a CIA physicist[16] that pretty much encapsulates this view:

There is no fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of paranormal functioning, and the reproducibility remains poor. The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible. Past and current support of parapsychology comes from applications-oriented intelligence and military agencies. The people managing such agencies demand quick and relevant results. The intelligence and military agencies, therefore, press for results before there is sufficient experimental reproducibility or understanding of the physical mechanisms[17]

Did you get all of that? Nobody really understands paranormal phenomena. Favorable results, when they appear, can’t be reproduced. “The research and experiments have successfully demonstrated abilities but have not explained them nor made them reproducible.” If results can’t be repeated, then why should other scientists believe them? Also CIA managers, the ones responsible for budgets, want to see results. Otherwise why should they continue to fund projects?

It sounds as though Dr. Kress might have been lobbying for some sort of “blue sky” funding, the kind of pure research that ARPA [now DARPA] finances. I wonder if today anyone over there sponsors parapsychology research? [18]

Nevertheless the work continued. In 1987, for example, SRI and JFK University experimented to see if a human could mentally affect a piezoelectric transducer “to produce an event above a preset feedback threshold.” This wasn’t a test of remote viewing. It was instead an attempt to directly affect the physical world with the mind alone.[19] While preliminary tests were encouraging, i.e., “sufficiently interesting to warrant further investigation,” the final tests produced “no evidence” of the desired effect. [20]

Conclusion

Of course, I haven’t looked at all of the government experiments out there, publically available or still classified, but so far I wouldn’t jump to any positive conclusions. Parapsychology is an area of research that by all appearances has led nowhere.

If any of you want to pursue either of these topics, UFOs or Psi Powers, by all means do so.

  • If you fancy the UFO/ space alien hypothesis, I believe the best new idea out there came from our own G. Sallust. Ask your Congressperson to support a program to provide continuous surveillance of areas that report high incidents of UFO sightings. Do the surveillance in real time, not only after something has happened. If we’re prepared, we can catch UFOs “in the act,” not after the fact.
  • If you want to follow up on parapsychology, then most likely someone – independent of the establishment – will have to do a survey of the science that’s been done so far. A lot of it is out in the public domain, courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act. I would start with the STARGATE files maintained by the CIA, mostly because I know about them.[21] You’ll have to find the rest.

Good luck on all of that!

 

[1] See Melton, Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology (Gale Group, 2001) at Parapsychology, p. 1181, & Psi, p.1246.

[2]  See Health Resources and Services Administration, National Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Program Caring and Curing Since 1894, available at https://www.hrsa.gov/hansensdisease/ .

[3] If you want to research this subject, start with the Wikipedia article on Eugenics in the U.S., at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics_in_the_United_States . That should lead you to lots of additional sources.

[4] I remember well the consternation about Strontium 90 in the 1950s but got lazy when I looked for a reference. The most useful one I could find, for free, is the one in Wikipedia, at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strontium-90 , but it really doesn’t capture the mood of that time.

[5] See Jacobsen, Phenomena (Little Brown, 2017). Henceforth the book will be cited as Phenomena at __.

[6] See the blog of 2017/05/04, UFOs in New York, available at https://opsrus.wordpress.com/2017/05/04/ufos-in-new-york/

[7] See, e.g., Haines, A Die-Hard Issue: CIA’s Role in the Study of UFOs, 1947-90, available at https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/kent-csi/vol40no5/html/v40i5a09p.htm  Page references will be identified as Haines at __.

[8] See Haines at 73.

[9] That is, the U-2 and SR-71 projects.

[10] See Haines at 73

[11] See Haines at 79.

[12] See n. 1.

[13] See Phenomena at Chapter Ten, Remote Viewing.

[14] See the Wikipedia entry on Faraday cages at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage .

[15] A reasonable precaution if you consider the early history of the field. In the 1950s, for example, a machinist who heard voices was found to be sane once the doctors involved discovered that the fillings in his teeth were covered with carborundum, which acted like a crystal receiver in the old crystal radio. Actually he was picking up WOR radio in New York City, not voices from the other side. See Phenomena at p. 35 – 36.

[16] See Phenomena at p. 167 -171.

[17] See Kress, Parapsychology in Intelligence: A Personal Review and Conclusions, appearing in Studies in Intelligence (Winter, 1977). This is a CIA internal publication, classified, but according to the CIA, the classification was lifted in 1996. You can verify that if you go online to the CIA Library, and search the Index of Declassified Articles, By Title. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find the article itself at the CIA [that’s probably my mistake], but there’s a copy of what seems to be the right thing on WordPress, at https://smileyspsispies.wordpress.com/parapsychology-in-intelligence-a-personal-review-conclusions-dr-k-a-kress/.  And finally, if you want to see the blizzard of paperwork released by CIA in recent years under FOIA, go to the CIA Reading Room and search the “STARGATE” Collection. Yes, I said “STARGATE!”

[18] The DARPA website is at www.darpa.mil . Take a look for yourself. They’re quite open about many [most?] of their projects

[19] Whatever that means!

[20] See, e.g., Hubbard, et al., A Remote Action Experiment with a Piezoelectric Transducer (December 1987) (Approved for Release 2002/11/18, CIA-RDP96-00787R000300300001-7) and available from the aforementioned STARGATE file, at pp. 5, 16. “In conclusion, we found no evidence of an RA effect on a PZT.”

[21] See n. 17.

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