Psi and Cannabis
Cuddly Humanism

Russell Targ's The Reality of ESP

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.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Good post as usual Robert. Personally I prefer when the parapsychologists takes time to deal with their critics. In this case David Marks is not even mentioned in passing (i.e. his name is not in the index). I also note, concerning predicting the price of silver, that although Targ writes "...I should add that in the following year we were not successful in our silver forecasting..." he does not cite or mention Keith Harary's article "The goose that laid the silver eggs: A criticism of psi and silver futures forecasting" (abstract available online). This in addition to some points highlighted by Chris Batcher in JSPR (oct, 2012) is really an invitation for criticism. By the way, concerning Pat Price there is an interesting note in Elizabeth Mayer's book (chap 7, endnote 9).


Kress' report is freely available:


A couple of months ago I received the Star Gate archive from and even with the extensive indexes supplied by Tamra Temple, it can be difficult to find what you want.

There are hits, of course, but there are also misses. Interestingly, some of these misses have been described as hits in books and articles. Pat Price's remote viewing of URDF-3 is a case in point. He did draw a large gantry crane, but that was after he mentioned a gantry crane in passing and the people who commissioned the remote viewing sessions (ie, the CIA) then asked him for more detail about the crane. That evening Pat Price drew a gantry crane. In other words, he did not produce the drawing spontaneously during a session. Regarding the size, Pat Price described everything as big during his sessions as if he had guessed that they were working from satellite/aerial photographs.

But like I said, I've not had these documents for long, and I feel as if I'm just scratching the surface. Nevertheless, there are plenty of erroneous data, especially with regards to their attempts at remote viewing hostages. Again, some of these sessions have later been written up as successes, which is cause for concern.

By the way, it seems there aren't any massive gaps in the archive. The idea that the best sessions are still classified is possible, but it is probably a handful of sessions rather than a vast number. There are two documents listing operational remote viewing sessions and, although the target has been blanked out on some of them, all of the sessions appear to be present in the archive.

I don't understand what you are trying to say, ersby. Price either remote viewed a gantry crane or not. Why does it matter when he drew what he saw?

Fascinating article and thank you. It's always interesting to see the great David Bohm's name again! He was very well aware of parapsychology as evidenced in this paper, "A New theory of the relationship of mind and matter" and his mention of receiving the Gardner Murphy award.

Interestingly that bit was taken out before getting published in Philosophical Psychology (1990), see here and is a little different,

I was a young physics postgrad. student who wandered onto his quantum theory courses in the early '80s and got taught by him and his colleagues. You never forgot Bohm's brilliance and his kindness and you always felt you knew were with him in his discussions but it was different afterwards! Basil Hiley (his colleague then) is still extensively developing his ideas - another great man.

I think it is important. Commonly, the account given is that Pat Price was given only a set of co-ordinates and then drew a huge crane. But this is wrong.

On the first during during a session lasting two hours, Pat Price started well with describing the first impressions you'd get from looking at URDF-3, but then went on to view nine elements which weren't there. In amongst this, he mentions a gantry crane. Since this was one of the features that the CIA was interested in, they asked for more details. Effectively, they told Price that he was right about there being a crane. It was only after being prompted by someone who was not blind to the target did Price draw the crane and then describe it as being very big.

The impression given by the first version compared to the second is quite different. One is far more impressive than the other.

Above, Robert McLuhan wrote that "critics artfully raise the level of noise to the point where the existence of any actual signal becomes impossible to determine," which I'm sure is what some people think I'm doing now. It may be that, even knowing that the correct data were in a small minority compared erroneous data, you still think that the crane drawing is proof enough of remote viewing. That's fine, but it's a good idea to understand the context in which these hits took place.

The original report of Price's remote viewing is online here

Alan, thanks so much for the links - I skimmed one of the articles, but will need some time to do them justice!

I got interested in Bohm after reading David Lorimer's book Whole in One some years ago - exploring the idea of human interconnectedness through the idea of the implicate order. Targ has reawakened my interest, so I shall have another look.

'He did draw a large gantry crane, but ... did not produce the drawing spontaneously during a session.'

Ersby, this is not at all supported either by Targ's quite detailed description, based (he says) on data recorded in his notebook at the time, or the CIA agent Ken Kress's separately published account (link above).

Targ handed Price a slip of paper with the geographical coordinates he had received from Kress. Price started the session, describing mental images: 'I am in the sunshine lying on top of a three-story building in some kind of R&D complex. The sun feels good . . . some kind of giant gantry craine just rolled over my body. It's going back and forth . . . this is the biggest damn crane I've ever seen . . . It runs on a track, and it has wheels on both sides of the building. It has four wheels on each side of the building. I have to draw this'.

No one else was present (Kress was waiting downstairs) so Price could not have been prompted at this time. The drawing is closely similar to a tracing the CIA had made from a satellite photograph, as I think can be agreed is clear from the published images.

Price's failure to observe four other large structures in the neighbourhood of the crane resembling oil derricks was considered to have weakened the result of what had been, in effect, a test of his abilities. When the installation was again checked it turned out that two of them had been partially disassembled, but basically all four were visible.

This weakened the impact of the successful viewing of the crane. But that success still stands.

Ideally I'd get hold of the archive myself and see if I can clear this up. If these documents give a different impression, it naturally raises big questions about where the truth lies, and which published source is reliable, if any.

The essential point in all of this, and the one that so easily gets lost in these discussions, is whether or not it is possible to psychically 'view' remote locations on the basis only of geographical coordinates. We shouldn't confuse it with the quite separate issue of whether remote viewing provides actionable intelligence. The fascinating thing about this is how the presence of so many failures can weaken the impact of the successes.

Kress writes: 'Two analysts, a photo interpreter at IAS [12] and a nuclear analyst at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratories, agreed that Price's description of the crane was accurate; the nuclear analyst wrote that "one: he, the subject, actually saw it through remote viewing, or two: he was informed what to draw by someone knowledgeable of URDF-3 [13]." But, again, since there was so much bad information mixed in with the good, the overall result was not considered useful. As proof of remote viewing, the data are at best inconclusive.'

I find this extraordinary. The presence of a lot of dross shouldn't blind one to the presence of a little bit of gold. The one doesn't cancel out the other. That's the logic, surely. But this logic gets lost in the miasma of subjective impressions.

Robert, you're welcome and most do (in these areas of consciousness studies) encounter Bohm in some way!

Robert, I put a link to the 1975 report in my second reply, so I hope you get a chance to read it. Obviously, the secret services needed information they could act upon, and having one or two correct pieces of data hidden amongst many mistakes may be evidence of ESP but it's not much use to them. I'm not convinced that it is reasonable to say that one good hit is equally evidential, no matter how many misses accompany it.

If you've read Targ then I'm sure you'll notice, there is one hit in the report that the author misses. At the beginning, Pat Price identifies URDF-3 as being linked to the space program (possibly influenced by news stories about the Soviet space program in the previous few days: a successful docking of the Salyut space station). The author, believing it to be a nuclear testing area says this is wrong, but many years later it was discovered that it was indeed concerned with researching nuclear rockets for space travel.

Mind you, in day four Pat Price said that he realised he was wrong about it being connected with space and retracted it. Still, worth noting.

Ersby, thanks, I missed the link but have checked it out now. The document does give a very detailed picture and is substantially different from Targ's account. Much of this is a matter of impressions, but there is also at least one major discrepancy.

Targ clearly states that Price made the detailed drawing of the crane on the first session, before he had been given any details about the site, whereas this document states he made the drawing on the second day after the existence of the crane he had seen had been confirmed (and potentially had the chance to talk to someone about it - however unlikely this might have been in practice.)

I'd certainly like to get to the bottom of this!

Posting up a storm of late Robert. Yes I have always thought that the Price/crane remote viewing was too ambiguous, and that Targ's account is not definitive. I did recently read this very book of Targ's, fascinating, even if it doesn't take into account all the valid criticisms of SRI's work (and the Harary criticisms of Targ's future silver market trading is too little acknowledged in general as Nemo points out above).

The thing with Price is that he may have been a CIA agent, and could have gotten data from CIA sources, which contaminates much of his remote viewing work. Targ does not mention this, and he ought to have disclosed this. Targ and Puthoff were not aware of Price's CIA work at the time, but there is no excuse for Targ not to acknowledge it in say 'The Reality of ESP'.

As Jim Schnabel, a highly regarded and generally fair-minded writer of these kind of things, who takes remote viewing seriously (author of 'Remote Viewers The secret history of America's Psychic Spies' and the man behind the noted pro-RV documentary The Real X-Files) put it in this must-read article on Pat Price:

"A few years later, the Price story became even more complicated, after the FBI raided the Los Angeles office of the Church of Scientology. Among the documents they found were records of briefings that Price, a Church member, had routinely given to a senior Scientology official about his SRI and CIA activities. These included descriptions of highly classified taskings and the names of covert Agency personnel that Price had agreed, in his CIA and SRI contracts, to keep secret. (Puthoff, who was informed of all this by government officials in the late 1970s, recently described it as “the biggest betrayal I have ever experienced.”)"

The thing is there has been so much solid RV successes coming from so many others, like Hammind, McMoneagle, Swann and others. Price is something of a trickster figure and is fascinating for this reason. And if you think RV is going to be without its tricksters, well that's like having trees without the birds.

I have some doubts on some of those solid RV successes.

Like I said, I've only had the archive a couple of months, and while I've found several good hits these mostly appear to have happened before 1979, which is before the coverage of sessions becomes more complete, or have occurred during a training session. There are undoubtedly more, but bear in mind that during the operational remote viewing sessions, the interviewer is usually not blind to the nature of the target and sometimes neither is the viewer.

I am still to find many of the sessions relating to most of the hits I've seen described in books and articles, but the URDF-3 result is not the only story to have grown in the telling. And the problem is not that session notes are missing but that there are session notes that directly contradict the version of events.

As far as I can tell, the many attempts to remote view hostages were mostly met with negative results. Certainly, the account that states that remote viewers had focused in on Dozier's location but the data had not reached the authorities in time would appear to be wrong. Indeed, quite the opposite. I write about it in more detail in the link below, but in summary: data from remote viewers were passed on and it was acted upon twice with negative results.

It will take a while for me to have a better idea of the quality of data in the archive as a whole. Part of the problem is that evaluations are either still classified or that two different evaluations of the same data come to different conclusions. I shall keep ploughing through to see what I can uncover. But first impressions suggest that, while there are some good hits suggestive of ESP, the final conclusion that the data was not suitable for operational use appears to be reasonable.

Well, come
Good, good move
Learning about
thank you

The comments to this entry are closed.