What are ideograms? Over the years, Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ had a neat way of dealing with reporters, scientists, and government officials showing up at SRI demanding proof that remote viewing really worked. Instead of trotting out some stellar remote viewing performer whose success would be doubted even if demonstrated under the very nose of the questioner, visitors were challenged to try it themselves. Many of them accepted the challenge, and most of those who did were successful (approximately 80% of the time). All these sessions done by people “right off the street,” amounted to more than 140 remote viewing trials that were useful as scientific data.

In looking over this pile of RV transcripts, remote viewing’s creator, Ingo Swann, noticed something peculiar. Both experienced and inexperienced viewers were encouraged to remote view with pen and paper in hand, to record their impressions in word and sketch during the session. But nearly every time someone launched into remote viewing, he or she seemed to have the urge to make a little scribble on the paper when first contacting the signal line. Ingo found something familiar about the behavior, and the scribbled results it left.

Rudolf Arnheim's book, Art and Visual Perception, that inspired the discovery of ideograms
Rudolf Arnheim’s book, Art and Visual Perception, that inspired the discovery of ideograms

One day it suddenly dawned on Ingo—it reminded him of a chapter in Rudolf Arnheim’s book, Art and Visual Perception, which Ingo had first read when studying art in college. Arnheim had looked at the way in which young children first approached art, and what role their newly developing perceptual abilities played.

When first learning to capture on paper the things around them, young kids made scribbles that were very similar to those of remote viewers. It was as if the children were intuitively trying to grasp the essence of the subject they wanted to draw. Essence is closely akin to—perhaps identical with—the notion of “gestalt,” or the perception of a thing as a whole. Ingo wondered if perhaps these little scribbles were the initial apprehension of the major gestalt of the target.

After experimenting with the concept, Puthoff and Swann decided that indeed the scribble was a primitive representation of the target’s gestalt. Seeking for a word to call it, they happened upon “ideogram,” which means basically a graphic mark or sign of some sort that stands for an object or idea. These ideograms had an involuntary, reflexive quality about them. Given a viewer, a pen, and a piece of paper, an ideogram occurred almost spontaneously as soon as the viewer was read the coordinate and touched her pen to paper, unless she consciously tried not to create one.

Experience showed that these reflexive marks did not necessarily resemble the shape or configuration of a target (though often they did, sometimes with some distortion), but they still had some conceptual and experiential relation to the intended target. No two ideograms were exactly alike. They varied in form and pattern almost as infinitely as the myriad possible targets a remote viewer could be assigned to describe. Later when he began to teach the skill, if Ingo ever noticed that a student was “in a rut” and starting to make ideograms that looked like each other, he made him do ideogram “drills,” a conscious exercise designed to loosen up the production of unconscious creative process of ideograms.

Ideograms have some interesting qualities about them. They have a motion and a feeling. “Motion” means the sense of motion the viewer experiences as he executes the reflexive mark on the paper with his pen. This is a rather subtle point to grasp, since it is not precisely the motion of the pen itself that is meant, but rather a subtle sense of contour, motion, direction that comes through the ideogram from the viewer’s direct kinesthetic experience of the targeted site itself. The motion itself is in some way not immediate—“immediate,” that is, in the sense of being in any way physically present. But it nevertheless is perceivable by the viewer, once he learns to be responsive to it.

Suggestive of ideograms in remote viewing, children's "scribbles," which are meaningful but not literal representations of the "idea" of what each child perceives
Children’s “scribbles,” which are meaningful but not literal representations of the “idea” of what each child perceives, suggestive of ideograms in remote viewing.

The “feeling” has these same qualities. By “feeling” is meant the consistency of the gestalt. In this case we’re not talking about temperature or texture—in other words, not whether something is rough or smooth, warm or cold—but whether it is hard or soft, fluid, airy or gassy, squishy, and so forth. A structure or land-form is usually “hard” or “solid.” Water is “”soft,” liquid,” or “fluid,” in the adjectival, descriptive sense (in other words, “that substance is in its ‘liquid’ or ‘fluid’ state”) rather than as a noun (“this is a ‘liquid,'” or “oil is a ‘fluid'”). Sand dunes might produce a feeling of “semi-soft,” while a swamp might be “semi-hard,” or even “squishy.” Interestingly, some gestalts that might otherwise be described as “solid,” came across as “airy” instead. For instance, long suspension bridges that encompass a large area, most of which is airspace outlined and defined by metallic components often produce “airy” feelings.

The “motion” and “feeling” together compose what Ingo calls the ‘A’ component. Completing Stage 1 is the ‘B’ component. This is the place where the viewer is actually allowed to “name” the gestalt. The ‘B’ component is the “first spontaneous analytic response to the ideogram and A component,” but the reference to analytic is only meant in a limited way. Let’s say the viewer is given a coordinate, gets an ideogram, then describes the motion part of the ‘A’ component as “rising up, angle [meaning a right angle], across, down,” and the feeling to be “hard.” From this she could logically conclude that the gestalt is “structure” or “building,” since only manmade things (in other words, structures in their many forms and sizes) have true right angles in them. This is, of course, an “analytic” conclusion.

In reality, however, the mind forms the impression of the ‘B’ component more rapidly and intuitively than is typical of the usual analytical process—though analysis nevertheless does play a role. If the viewer detects “wavy across” for a motion, and “liquid” for the feeling, it is all but unavoidable that some analysis will play into her declaration of “water” as the ‘B’ component.

An example of one of Ingo Swann's own ideograms--in this case the target was mountains and fjords (water)
An example of one of Ingo Swann’s own ideograms–in this case the target was mountains and fjords (water).

As Ingo’s students, we were taught that this small amount of analysis was permissible in Stage 1 not only because it happened virtually instantaneously and then was over, before the full analytical faculties of the conscious mind could go to work on it. But such analysis was inherent in the human system. You just can’t not do it! Hesitating for a moment or two (or longer) before declaring the ‘B’ component raises the danger that one is “thinking” or “wondering” about what the target might be. Thinking instead of immediately responding almost always results in an AOL instead of a legitimate ‘B’ component.

People experience something like this in everyday life. When we are confronted with a problem or need to make a decision, our first off-the-cuff intuitive response often turns out to be right. If we mull the problem over and come up later with a different decision, it may frequently be wrong, especially in those situations where we must come up with a solution with little information to go on. These everyday intuitive responses may not involve anything “psychic” (though perhaps sometimes they do). But the principle is similar, and both remote viewing and everyday intuition likely make use of many of the same internal human cognitive processes.

In recent years, some remote viewing practitioners have tried to control ideograms by telling fledgling viewers that they should establish ideogram “lexicons,” where each ideogram becomes a fixed symbol of a specific gestalt. Under this system, a structure or building might always produce a certain right-angled mark that tells the viewer the target is a structure. Water would always present in only one way (perhaps a wavy line), as would land (maybe as an even line that slightly curves over). Other types of gestalts would similarly produce some fixed ideogram-shape or another.

This “lexicon” concept is totally contrary to what Ingo taught us about ideograms. Creating a fixed way of representing an ideogram is like putting it in a strait jacket. It destroys its creative content. Like a link on the Internet, true ideograms connect you to the full, deeper meaning and nature of the target. And just like an Internet link, each ideogram must be unique to point you to the right place. This explains the great diversity in appearance that ideograms can take when left to form as they will. Purposely restricting the forms ideograms can take to only a narrow range, and assigning set meanings to them turns them into nothing more than a self-limiting alphabet with impoverished content.

People who insist on this practice are generally impatient to get immediate analytical answers and avoid the chore of properly working through a remote viewing session. They are looking for a shortcut that allows them to identify the gestalt without having to go to the trouble of schooling their intuition in how to distinguish the natures and qualities of various gestalts.

Certainly, at one level it would be nice to be able to have unambiguous, immediate knowledge of the target—the sort of knowledge one gets when one can look with one’s physical eyes upon it. But the full remote viewing process does not work like vision or the other physical senses. By trying to take such shortcuts, one does not enhance, but rather ultimately inhibits the remote viewing process. Like any other skill involving the need to recognize, distinguish, and identify subtle input (the very subtle process of sexing chickens comes to mind!), the only way to actually make it easier and more reliable is to consistently apply the correct skills–in other words, frequent practice, using correct principles. (Copyright 2001, by Paul Hamilton Smith)

To learn more about ideograms, see “Ideograms: Funny Little Squiggles that Cause All the Fuss.”