Why Remote Perception?

Ingo Swann and Paul H. SmithI rarely argued with my mentor, Ingo Swann. When I did, it was sometimes unpleasant, but more often it was educational—even on the few occasions when in the end we still disagreed. A mild one of those arguments happened over the phone in April 2002, while I was working on my first book and trying to make sure I had things straight about how remote viewing got its name.  And we didn’t disagree, exactly. But…well, you’ll see.

There was, and sometimes still is confusion about where the term “remote viewing” came from. Many sources mistakenly credit Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ. The two did, of course have a lot to do with remote viewing’s early development, but they didn’t come up with its name. Others sometimes get the credit instead. But these days most people who know about remote viewing are aware that both the process and the term originated with Ingo Swann.

At the time of our 2002 conversation, though, I wanted to make absolutely sure my facts were straight, since a recent debate in an online forum had sown a bit of confusion about it. After a few preliminaries, I broached the subject, asking exactly where and how the remote viewing term originated. “It originated with me,” Ingo responded emphatically, almost before I could finish.

I explained that it was my understanding from earlier conversations that at the time, back in 1971, when he and his fellow researchers were debating about what to call it, one of them, Janet Mitchell, had suggested “remote viewing.” He quickly set me straight.

The first-ever remote viewing experiments were a series of attempts under double-blind conditions (neither researcher nor viewer knowing what the correct answer was) to describe the current weather in far away cities, and it was this sort of experimental protocol they needed a name for. “I said, this is…this is trying to see what the weather was like in distant cities,” Ingo explained, “and I said, those are remote, so we should call it remote viewing” – remote, “because it’s not the same as doing clairvoyance into the next room or so forth.”

His colleagues weren’t thrilled at first with Ingo’s suggestion, so they explored other options. “We almost went with remote sensing,” he continued. “But I said, well, I get visuals.”

Still reluctant, they considered a few other options before finally admitting defeat and settling for Ingo’s choice, “remote viewing.” To guarantee that I would have it straight, he wrapped it up in his typical colorful style: “It’s my f__ing term, and anybody who tries to wiggle out of it is just a freak!” (To keep this blog family-friendly, in the future I’ll replace such color with “[…].”)

Up to this point, I’ve mostly summarized our conversation. But in what follows I’m going to quote at more length.

Paul:  In [a] previous conversation you said somebody came up with the idea of “remote perception.” And that didn’t fly – I don’t remember why…?

Ingo: Because…perception’s not a thing in itself. Perception is a process. And I already knew that from…studying art. It’s…a process that begins in the subconscious, sends a pulse up through the liminal threshold, and if the pulse is strong enough, then it will turn into a perception. All perceptions are simulations of what the electronic signals are showing. Even our eyesight. We’re not looking “out there,” we’re looking at a simulation in our head – a mental image picture.

I made a few small comments, and then he continued.

Ingo: So I knew that…you can’t call it remote perception. I mean, that’s a…that thing where one word cancels out the other words [Note: I think the word he was looking for in this sentence was “contradiction,” or perhaps “non sequitur”]. People don’t know what words are. That’s why they […] around! I complained about that when you were out at SRI. You’ve got to have the right configuration. And the right configuration, if you have it, has to have the right words.

Ingo was big on the importance of using words precisely, and he went on at length about their importance. By the end of our phone call, I was happy to let the topic of remote viewing versus remote perception go. I had got as definitive a statement as I was going to get on where “remote viewing” had come from, and Ingo was clearly not going to tolerate anything other than that to describe the process he had created. I had no desire to try to persuade him otherwise, anyway. At the time I was still fully satisfied with the terminology.

Of course, both Ingo and I knew that “remote perception” was already being used to label a process similar (or even identical) to remote viewing. Dr. Robert Jahn and Ms. Brenda Dunne were using “precognitive remote perception” (PRP) at their Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory at Princeton University. The only real difference between the Puthoff/Targ/Swann approach was that the targets for PRP were remote-viewed before the target was even selected (more about that as a subject for a later post).

Remote perception was not a term Jahn and Dunne had newly invented, either.  As early as 1975 Dr. Elizabeth Rauscher had used “remote perception” in writing up an experiment that tried to replicate Puthoff & Targ’s work.

If you think about it, it is pretty clear why the “remote perception” would be an attractive alternative name for “remote viewing.” In my lectures and interviews, and even when orienting new students in my courses I encounter folks who misunderstand what a remote viewing experience is like. The misunderstanding comes from the“remote viewing” term itself.  Upon hearing those two words together (and often reinforced by stories of remote viewing experiences from others) novices often think their experience will be fully visual; that they will literally “see” cars or houses or giraffes or volcanos or the Eiffel Tower or whatever they might be targeted at, much (as I often say) “like a video in the mind.”

But that is not how it actually happens. Especially early in any given remote viewing experience, you don’t actually “see” a concrete, definable image in your mind. In fact, if you do see such an image, you will usually discover that it was a mistaken picture, offered up by your analytic mind desperate to give you an answer to what it thinks you were “looking” for. Instead, the “viewing” part of the experience involves impressions of colors, qualities of light (that is, things like “dark,” “shadowy,” “bright,” “sparkling,” etc.), and bits and pieces of shapes and lines.

To be sure, remote viewers can on occasion receive well-formed mental ideas of the target that turn out to be correct. But in the sense that people often understand it,“viewing” might not describe what actually happens at all–and yet accurate perceptions result. This becomes even more of a question when you consider what else accompanies the remote viewing experience. Not only do you have these vision-related tidbits that pop into your mind, but as a remote viewer goes through the process, bits of smell, taste, tactile, and sound experiences also arise. In the explanation of remote viewing I wrote years ago for the International Remote Viewing Association’s website, I used the idea of  “cocktail” to explain this:

…remote viewing is not precisely one thing, but rather an integrated “cocktail” of various phenomena. Despite the “viewing” part of the term, remote viewing is only partly about experiences associated with what might be visible about a target. It also involves mental impressions pertaining to the other senses, such as sounds, tastes, smells, and textures, as well as limited telepathy-like effects, and in some cases just plain intuitive “knowing.”

I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds a lot like perception in general, seeing as how nearly every element of perceptual experience is involved.

But you’re probably asking: What about Ingo Swann’s objection in our telephone conversation to the word “perception”? It’s easy to say this now that he has passed on (I know he won’t call and chew me out over the phone – though I’d welcome even that) – but I think he was simply wrong.

I know that sounds like heresy. Ingo Swann, wrong? But yes, I am saying that. Ingo was right about most things, but he was not God, so he could be (and occasionally was) wrong.
In this case, Ingo wasn’t altogether wrong, but wrong in the following way. In our phone conversation, recall that he says perception is “not a thing in itself. Perception is a process…it’s a process that begins in the subconscious, sends a pulse up through the liminal threshold, and if the pulse is strong enough, then it will turn into a perception.”

He seems to be using “perception” in two different ways without realizing it. First, he talks about perception being a process, and not a “thing,” per se. No question, he is right about that. The way he is using it, perception is a process. But then he goes on to describe the perceptual process as a pulse going up through the limen and turning into – a perception! Which is a thing. So perception is a process, which produces things called perceptions. It’s hard to see how this poses any problem for the usefulness of the term remote perception.

But it goes further than that. Ingo seems to want to reject “perception” as a companion word for “remote” in substitution for “remote viewing” simply because perception is a process rather than a thing. But in so doing he runs into a similar problem with the term “remote viewing.”  After all, “viewing” is just as much of a process as is perception. In fact, it is a lesser process, since vision/viewing is only one component of the overall perceptual process.

As you will see when I return to this topic in a later post, I am not trying to get everyone to replace “remote viewing” with “remote perception.” Given how deeply the latter term is embedded in remote viewers’ psyches, that would be hopeless, anyway. But I think having this discussion is useful to scrape away some cobwebs and cast light into areas many of us think we understand, but don’t. Because there is a third way Ingo is, I think, wrong, the exploration of which will be helpful in sorting out what is going on in the remote viewing/remote perception process.  That will wait until Part Two…

[Listen to the audio excerpt of Ingo’s and my phone conversation about remote perception here.}