Content be Damned!

Rob Cowart, Joe McMoneagle, and Tom McNear at a costume party in the early 1980s. Photo courtesy of Tom McNear.

“Structure! Content be damned.”  Remote viewing has relatively few quotable moments—after all, what is there to say when what matters is actually putting the process into practice? But this quote may live on, if only it can escape the corrupting influences of the gossip game. You know what game I mean. At a party you whisper a phrase in the ear of the girl sitting next to you. She whispers it to the boy sitting next to her. He passes along the whisper to the next friend in line, and so on. After it has been whispered sequentially into a dozen or more different ears, the original phrase – say, something like, “Orange marmalade gives me hives”– becomes seriously distorted. . .maybe along the lines of “Beehives made my orange honey.”

I have heard assorted variations on this phrase, and differing attributions. It has been repeated as “Content be damned…structure is everything”— which isn’t overly far from the sense of it, but is still an amended version. More recently I have heard “Site be damned. Structure is everything,” which is further away, and almost in the ballpark. I have heard that it was posted on the wall of the Star Gate headquarters building at Fort Meade, Maryland. I have heard it said that Ingo Swann composed it. Others are sure that it originated with one publicly-known remote viewer or another.

All of these reports are wrong.

The way I wrote it above is exactly how the phrase was originally uttered: “Structure! Content be damned.” And what follows is the way it came to be. In October 1981, Army captains Tom McNear and Rob Cowart joined what was then the US Army’s “Grill Flame” program. In a few short months they were being trained in CRV—controlled remote viewing (at the time called “coordinate remote viewing”)—by its developers Ingo Swann and Hal Puthoff. Swann performed the majority of the training.

Chronic objections to controlled remote viewing are that it seems to be “overly rigid” or that “it is too complicated.” This is due to what Ingo Swann called the “structure” of the CRV process. Some people think that all there is to CRV “structure” is the format one is supposed to follow when performing a session. But that is an incomplete understanding of “structure.”  The format as it appears on the page is merely the observable expression of the structure, and reflects the inner process the viewer goes through. I admit—to an outsider CRV structure comes across as rigid and complex. But there are reasons why the structure is the way it is, and those reasons are actually beneficial to the process. How it is beneficial takes some explaining, so I won’t get into that for now.

In class, Ingo emphasized that remote viewers should focus on “structure,” rather than “content.”
This presented a puzzle for Rob Cowart, who didn’t quite get what Ingo meant by structure versus content. Ingo was usually conscientious about explaining concepts. Yet there were times when he assumed students knew what he meant, while they on the other hand found it obscure. In this case, what Ingo didn’t explain sufficiently was that “content” meant the impressions and data a viewer gets about the target in going through a session. You could think of “content” as a valuable liquid, and “structure” as the system of pipes and pumps through which the liquid flows from its origin to the place where it is to be used.

A viewer who focused on “content” was thinking too much about the perceptions (data) that emerged into his or her mind. Obsessing over the data then lead the viewer to speculate on the target’s nature or identity. This in turn invited the analytic side of the brain to participate, leading to a form of mental “noise” called “analytical overlay” (AOL), a usually false conclusion about the target offered as an “explanation” by the analytical mind.

Since this all happened a year or two before I joined the military remote viewing program, I don’t know all the details. But from what Ingo and Tom later said about it, I surmise that Rob may have struggled with finding the right balance between attending to structure instead of content and, hence, having a struggle with AOL as well.

And then, one day, it happened: Insight struck.

Rob suddenly understood the point that Ingo was making. If one focuses on the process—the “structure”—of doing remote viewing, then you don’t take time to speculate about the content, the analytical mind is quieted, AOLs become less of a distraction, and remote viewing accuracy improves. Rob got it. “Structure! Content be damned!” he blurted out, commemorating his breakthrough. (I know the wording is correct because I wrote it down in my notes the moment Ingo told us, and captured it again the same day in my journal.)

This is a crucial point that every successful remote viewer ultimately has to learn, no matter what remote viewing method he or she practices. Often, viewers don’t even realize they’ve learned it. But the grueling school of trial and error regularly teaches us things we don’t consciously realize we’ve learned, yet use all the time.

Alas, despite the breakthrough, Rob was not fated to complete the training. Before even finishing Stage 2 of the program, he was diagnosed with cancer and medically retired from the Army. Rob was gone from remote viewing and Fort Meade before I ever signed on in 1983. But there was a relatively happy ending to this. Rob’s cancer went into remission, and he joined NASA, rendering valuable service in the space shuttle program. I learned that he passed away in 1997—still young, but reportedly not from cancer.

To me, Rob’s insight is also his epitaph. While it wasn’t his only contribution to remote viewing’s legacy, it is likely his most enduring one. I like to think that “Structure, Content be damned” may  one day be almost as legendary as Admiral David Farragut’s famous line “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” uttered during the battle of Mobile Bay (and a phrase that has apparently suffered its own gossip-game modifications over time).

When I notice people playing the gossip game with Rob’s words, unintentionally shifting and changing them bit by bit as they pass them along—or, worse, attribute his saying to someone else and leave him out entirely—I think you probably understand why I correct them when I can.

(More about the Featured image:  Joe was Poppa Bear, Tom was Momma Bear, and Rob played Baby Bear. Tom’s daughter was Goldilocks.)