Russell Targ has been a key figure in parapsychology ever since his experiments with Hal Puthoff in the early 1970s. Their Mind-Reach was one of the first books I read about remote viewing, and influenced my thinking at a time when I was trying to make up my mind about psi. Targ recently published an autobiography, which I have yet to read, but here he is already with another book, this time a survey of ESP research.
Much of it is his, and familiar from other sources - particularly as regards remote viewing - but it's still a fascinating read. It's important to read what parapsychologists think about the subject, rather than just absorbing it from a distance. The personal impact counts as well, which I think is why he subtitles it 'A physicist's proof of psychic abilities.' Targ is by any standards an outstandingly successful researcher - in fact he's one of these people that seems to arouse suspicions among other parapsychologists who, he says, sometimes can't bring themselves to believe his results.
I hadn't fully grasped that Targ and Puthoff are the reason why the US military got interested in remote viewing. As laser physicists they were always being commissioned to come up with various kinds of exotic hardware, so they had the contacts. It seems rather unlikely that military and intelligence types would have actually initiated the Stargate program if they hadn't happened to have dealings with people who knew all about it, and whom they had confidence in. If Targ is to be believed, once they heard what remote viewing could do, they fairly jumped with excitement. Why waste time viewing churches and swimming pools in Palo Alto, they said, when they could be looking at Soviet sites of operational interest?
It seems this wasn't a completely new idea to them. At a CIA briefing Targ was surprised by how many people stood up to describe psychic intuitions that had come to them over the years, or to their psychic grandmothers. Some had stories of occurrences of ESP in the field that had saved their lives. (Targ doesn't elaborate, but I found a possible example elsewhere, a description of certain successful 'point men', soldiers who led patrols into hostile territory during the Vietnam war and had far fewer casualties from booby traps and ambushes than the average. Naturally they had a loyal following and boosted morale. So much so that the army subsequently carried out tests and could find no other explanation other than psychic intuition.)
The episodes Targ describes are already familiar, for instance Ingo Swann's and Pat Price's exploits, such as the latter's stunningly accurate rendering of a distant gantry crane of unusual size and structure. There's a lot about Hella Hammid, a Life photographer who they brought on board to act as a control, but who then became their most reliable viewer. In fact Targ's account is so emphatically upbeat, I was left wondering why sceptics find it so easy to sweep aside. A common complaint is the 'absence of an evidence base', but the evidence seems rather abundant.
We're in the area of subjective impressions, so we have to step carefully. Targ sticks pretty much to the triumphs and successes, which can mislead one into thinking that remote viewing is all signal and no noise. Various military and intelligence bodies saw the potential, asked for results and often got them. On the other hand these 'customers' may also have been given results that seemed unlikely but which later turned out to be true, by which time however they were of no practical value. In many other cases, doubtless, the results were incorrect, which jolted their confidence. Once one takes the noise into account, one can understand why there was a certain degree of ambivalence. In their accounts, the critics artfully raise the level of noise to the point where the existence of any actual signal becomes impossible to determine. The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in between.
Much is made of the CIA's dismissive conclusion that the programme failed to achieve any intelligence potential, and for that reason it was terminated. The sly insinuation is that there were no useful matches. An alert questioner would ask why on earth these hard-headed agencies would spend $20 million over a period of 25 years investigating something that did not exist. Clearly they were getting results. There are lots of reasons why remote viewing is of uncertain value in a military context; why it would have been abandoned once the Cold War had ended; and why the constant scepticism and disbelief would have helped to shape an essentially political verdict.
One of the remote viewing team's CIA monitors, Kenneth Kress, subsequently wrote a review for an internal CIA newsletter, which is published as an appendix in Joe McMoneagle's The Stargate Chronicles (also my source for the description of 'point men' above). It gives useful insight into the politics of belief and disbelief that occur when these two very different worlds collide. He says the Agency took the initiative by sponsoring serious psi research, but 'circumstances, biases, and fear of ridicule' prevented it from completing a scientific investigation. It was buffeted with investigations concerning illegalities and improprieties of all sorts. There were deep concerns that certain research contracts would be attacked as ill founded. Kress also notes two types of reactions to psi: positive or negative, with little in between.
As an example, Kress describes sceptical opposition to the random number generators that were used as 'ESP teaching machines' for potential viewers in the military. They scored 29% in more than 2500 trials, when 25% is the chance mean. However sceptics argued, in the usual way, that the machines might actually not be random at all, and that the subjects learned the non-random patterns. They resisted further analysis, but Kress insisted, finding no evidence of non-randomness, and further tests produced 28%. The project officers again insisted there must be a flaw, but it was not worth finding. The scepticism infected others, and support waned. The point here is that sceptics did not merely raise objections, they also resisted checking to see whether the objections were valid.
Targ's book is not just about remote viewing. There are sections on presentiment, mental influence and healing; also a bit more background about the famous paper published in the Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in which one of the peer reviewers stated that it ought not to be published, being 'the kind of thing I wouldn't believe in even if it was true'. There are some anecdotes, including a ghost story that happened to a colleague's mother, also a description of Targ's adventures making money on silver futures (there's a DVD that you can buy to train yourself in the technique, and I'd be interested to know if there are any other documented successes of this kind.)
There's also quite a lot about the metaphysical and spiritual implications, with reference to David Bohm's idea of the implicate order, and how Buddhist teachings merge with the quantum physical phenomenon of non-locality.
I believe that our psychic abilities offer us one way of experiencing this world of non-local mind or community of spirit. Remote viewing thus reveals to us a part of our spiritual reality, but it is only a tiny part of the total spiritual spectrum. So a short answer to the question, 'how is it that I can psychically describe a distant object', is that the object is not as distant as it appears. To me, the data suggest that all of space-time is available to your consciousness right where you are; you are always on the edge.
Targ is especially good on what psi feels like from the inside, and what makes for success or failure. He keeps stressing how important it is to get people who are enthusiastic and committed, and argues the reason he was more successful than the norm in parapsychology is that he took the trouble to identify highly gifted individuals instead of using psychology students.
Also, we were asking them to do a task that corresponded to the most readily manifested form of psychic functioning, as compared with card guessing. Finally, we had an excellent rapport with our viewers. They felt that they were part of our research team uncovering the secrets of the universe, rather than being treated as psychic rats running through a maze - as ESP subjects frequently feel when the experiments' clear attitude is, "How are we going to keep these crooks from cheating".
To sum up, this is a lively and readable account, and an ideal introduction to anyone who doesn't know much about parapsychology, but is interested to find out. (As a statement by a veteran researcher I'd recommend it along with Dean Radin's Entangled Minds.) It's not a particularly critical account, and as is often the case of books of this kind, scant attention is paid to the cavils of critics, which might be a bit of a drawback for some. But psi-researchers don't need always to be picking their words and watching their backs; it's good to hear about some of the passion as well.