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True skepticism does not begin by being anti-anything. The processes of open consideration and examination (i.e., research) will ultimately establish whether something exists or not. ~ Ingo Swann

Skepticism's Victory Over Science
Paul H. Smith

Response -- Re: Times Says US ESP Gap

 

Dear Mr. Tierney--

I submitted the following Op-Ed piece to the New York Times on February 13th (and never heard further about it). Given the timing and content of your March 1st blog on ESP. I can't help but wonder if my writing played a role in motivating the subject of your blog entry (There is a striking chronological correlation that on a Humian account of causation might actually stand as causative, Hume's complaints about miracles notwithstanding.)

A couple of years ago, Mr. Ingo Swann, a long-time Manhattan resident and legend in the parapsychology/remote viewing communities, remarked to me that the NYT has an unwritten policy against saying anything positive about ESP. Care to comment on that?

Best regards,
Paul H. Smith

(BTW, if you care to read another essay I wrote on media reception of recent declassified documents showing that Britain's Ministry of Defense conducted a remote viewing pilot study a few years ago, you may go to my website at www.rviewer.com )

Relatively few American's will mourn, nor even note its passing, but the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory will close its doors in a matter of days. Headed by Robert Jahn, former dean of Princeton University's School of Engineering, and one of America's most respected scientists, the lab nevertheless earned a large ration of snickers and little respect from the academic and science communities. Why? Because PEAR existed to study anomalies of consciousness -- ESP, and mind-over-matter, also known as psychokinesis, or "PK." Such things are not just unfashionable in the scientific community; they are anathema, the kiss of death to the career of any scientist or academic who dares to take them seriously. This has nothing to do with science -- hardly anyone knows it, but data produced under scrupulous scientific conditions at the PEAR lab and elsewhere give powerful evidence for both ESP and PK. Instead, widespread ignorance of this data has everything to do with the psychology and sociology of scientists and academics, and a certain subset of them, the career skeptics.

Many scientists are unhappy with the research because, even though it shows that there is a verifiable (and useful) phenomenon, researchers have not been able to find an explanation that doesn't violate the laws of physics. For many scientists, that is enough to justify immediate rejection -- not because the data isn't scientific, but because it threatens long-cherished theories about the nature of the world. (One scientist famously remarked "This is the sort of thing I wouldn't believe even if it were true!") Most people can empathize with such a reaction. What if you were a firm believer in God, and suddenly faced persuasive evidence that He didn't exist -- or were an atheist who suddenly discovered that He did? But to paraphrase Al Gore -- even an inconvenient truth is no less true just because it makes people sweat.

A relatively small but vocal cluster of organized skeptics feeds this ESP angst. As they have done for decades, their well-financed and broadly-supported campaign aims to evangelize against such research where they can, and belittle where they can't persuade. They have been so successful that virtually no serious articles or reports about new discoveries supporting ESP are reported in the news, nor published in main-stream science journals. The few articles that make it into the popular media inevitably keep tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

More troubling, funding and support for basic research in ESP and related "anomalous phenomena" have essentially dried up. The United States once was a world leader in this research, boasting over the years perhaps a dozen serious laboratories with total annual budgets reaching hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. As PEAR closes, only two or three remain, and no new ones have emerged in a decade. It was not that they did not produce credible results. In fact they did. What happened? The skeptics persuaded mainstream America that there was nothing to the research, and gradually supporters either died (in the case of James McDonald of McDonald-Douglas Corporation, Laurance Rockefeller, and Masaru Ibuka,, co-founder of Sony) or went away.

Ironically, this was happening just as revelations emerged that the US military had successfully used a form of ESP known as remote viewing as an intelligence tool for more than 20 years. I have been able to document that when this program's critics couldn't deny its successes, they skewed the final report from the CIA to make it look like ESP was worthless.

But why should we care? The prevailing view in science is that we humans are just very complicated meat machines, an accident of natural selection, and if we knew enough about ourselves we could predict our behavior, and perhaps even program it to suit. Data produced by PEAR and others is a thumb in the eye of that view. While in the end we may yet discover that humans really did start as nothing more than meat machines, still PEAR's research shows that we are much more than that now. This is intolerable to science, as it shows that there are things that it has as yet no idea how to account for, things that threaten its position as the Grand Explainer. The closing of PEAR, and the loss of all those other research efforts, means that there is a profoundly important dimension to human consciousness that is not being examined. Some are happy with that. They don't want to know.

Paul H. Smith, a retired Army intelligence officer and military remote viewer, is a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is president of the International Remote Viewing Association, and author of Reading the Enemy's Mind: Inside Star Gate - America's Psychic Espionage Program.