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by Mike Mowbray

‘Remote viewing’ (RV) is a term introduced in the context of experiments conducted at the Electronics and Bioengineering laboratory of the Stanford Research Institute (and funded in part, it was later revealed, by the CIA) beginning in the early 1970s by researchers Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ. In the researchers’ own words, these experiments’ results suggest “the existence of one or more sensory modalities through which individuals obtain information about their environment, although this information is not presented to any known sense” (Puthoff and Targ 1974: 602). Puthoff and Targ’s initial experiments involved the testing of pre-selected subjects’ (or percipients’) ability to describe salient features of the geographical surrounds of an ‘agent’ dispatched to a location undisclosed to the percipient and “inaccessible […] by any known sensory means” (Dunne and Jahn 2002: 2). Elsewhere, the term has been defined as “the ability to describe locations one has not visited” (Mumford, Rose and Goselin 1995) or a “a perceptual ability by which individuals are able to describe and experience objects, pictures, and locations which are blocked from ordinary sensory perception” (Lee 2007: 144).

The coining of the term itself may be seen as a move akin to J.B. Rhine’s 1934 introduction of ‘Extra-sensory Perception’ (ESP)1 – another play in the contest against a scientific establishment unwilling to entertain the possibilities seemingly presented by parapsychologists’ and others’ inquiries into ‘psychic’ or unexplained perceptual abilities. The mode or form of (sensory or ‘extra-sensory’) perception involved in remote viewing experiments appears to combine elements of ‘clairvoyance’ (the ability to ‘see at a distance’ beyond the range of typically acknowledged sensory channels)2 and ‘telepathy’ (the ability to pick up on the thoughts or mental impressions of others).3 The fact that subjects’ descriptions of remote locations often exceeded simple visual terms has prompted the suggestion that “remote perception” might be adopted as preferred terminology (Dunne and Jahn 2002: 2-3).

‘Remote viewing,’ however, maintains a popular resonance, with no small help from the publicity generated in the mid-1990s by the wholesale declassification of documents related to US intelligence agencies’ sponsorship of remote viewing research, the deployment of the term by contemporary psychics (including those who profess to be able to assist in locating missing persons alive and dead), and the production of popular cultural texts which take these themes into the universe of books, television and film – including the recent film The men who stare at goats (2009), which follows off-beat US Army ‘psi-ops’ personnel into Iraq, itself based on a book by Jon Ronson (2005), and a spate of memoirs from among the pool of individuals involved in the experimental and/or operational attempts to put a finger on the phenomenon, such as Ly Buchanan’s (2003) The Seventh Sense: the Secrets of Remote Viewing as Told by a ‘Psychic Spy’ for the US Military.

The work at SRI first shot to prominence (and sparked some controversy) in 1974 with the publication of some early results of their ‘psi’ research in the journal Nature, including an account of remote viewing experiments conducted with former Burbank, California police commissioner Pat Price. For this particular series, having selected a dozen suitable target-locations within 30 minutes drive of their Menlo Park, CA facility – an area which contained over 100 similar potential targets – a manager in the Institute prepared and randomized a set of travel directions to be handed over to 2-4 experimenters (the “target demarcation team”) immediately dispatched to follow the directions to one of the pre-selected locations. This was done only after the segregation of the subject and a single questioner (unaware of the specific or possible target-locations) who would encourage clarification of the impressions described by the subject as they were caught on tape, beginning 30 minutes after the departure of the team dispatched to the target location. When the team returned, the taped descriptions would be compared with those of the experimenters who had just returned from the actual location.

As Puthoff and Targ put it in their article for Nature in 1974: “Price’s ability to describe correctly buildings, docks, roads, gardens and so on, including structural materials, color, ambience and activity, sometimes in great detail, indicated the functioning of a remote perceptual ability” Given the presence of inaccuracies alongside what the researchers felt to be remarkable successes, a blind judging process was instituted in which five SRI scientist not otherwise involved were asked to review the typed manuscripts of Price’s descriptions after visiting each location independently; results based on ratings given to each of the nine manuscripts as to their fittingness as descriptions of a given location (a plurality matched description with location in six of nine cases – an exceedingly unlikely correlation by the standards of chance) was presented as a particularly compelling support for the existence of exceptional abilities associated with ‘remote viewing.’

Other experiments included, for example, the placement of various objects in metal canisters, and the subsequent description of their contents by remote viewing subjects. Another of the initial experiments involved Uri Geller, perhaps the most famous SRI subject, seeking to reproduce drawings made outside of a cage designed to mute electromagnetic and radio wave transmission, as well as shielding the subject from outside visual and audio stimuli; while some of Geller’s drawing bore little apparent resemblance to those produced as ‘targets,’ others were near-identical (a line-drawing of a bunch of grapes in virtually the same configuration), or remarkably similar (e.g. Geller drew a horse with a saddle where the original drawing depicted a camel). The SRI experiments (and others conducted at the Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC) with remote viewers such as Price, New York artist Ingo Swan (who, according to Puthoff (1996), had initially suggested the program of parapsychological experiments), and many others continued for twenty years after the initial publication of results in Nature attracted a flurry of detractors, as well as some popular and scientific interest which corresponded with a more general upsurge in paranormal or parapsychological research in the late 1960s and 1970s  (Pinch and Collins 1984: 524).

Beginning in 1976, researchers at the Princeton Engineering Research Anomalies laboratory (PEAR) sought to pursue a similar line of inquiry, focusing especially on following up evidence that some subjects in Puthoff and Targ’s experiments were able to “describe target scenes even before the target had been identified, much less visited” (Dunne & Jahn 2002: 2-3). According to an account by two senior engineers at PEAR, where a significant database of remote viewing research was compiled in experiments from 1976-1999, Puthoff and Targ’s initial trials “included many perceptions that were virtually photographic in their accuracy, and produced a statistical yield well beyond chance expectations” (ibid), and later attempts at replication frequently yielded similarly exceptional results – typically presenting a mixture of apparent failures and (partial, but sometimes astonishing) successes.

The July 1995 declassification of intelligence documents related to the series of studies at Menlo Park and elsewhere (along with the news that over US$20million of government funding had supported such work over the past two decades) brought a burst of publicity to the ‘remote viewing’ phenomenon and some of its key figures  (Strauss 1995; Supplee 1995; Puthoff 1996). In all, by one account, the combined efforts of scientists and the intelligence community gave rise to 154 experiments, involving 227 subjects and 26,000 individual trials (Strauss 1995). Among the revelations was that of a program referred to as ‘Stargate,’ wherein Army personnel with psychic potential were identified, tested and trained (McMoneagle 1997). The roughly concurrent issuance of a report by the American Institutes for Research in September of 1995, which downplayed the possible utility of remote viewing techniques in intelligence operations, in a bid to justify the shutdown of the program, still acknowledged that a long series of experiments had demonstrated a statistically significant (above-chance) incidence of ‘hits’ by remote viewers asked to describe targets (which, in later experiments, were often National Geographic photographs, with one target selected from a pool of 5), but took pains to emphasize that the cause of this ‘anomalous’ tendency could neither be effectively identified, explained, nor the introduction of bias built into experimental procedures definitively ruled out (Mumford, Rose and Goselin 1995).

The publicity generated by the official disclosure of US Federal intelligence involvement in not only funding the SRI, but also seeking to exploit the abilities of those said to possess a facility for remote viewing in operations, drew the notion out in the public imagination. Despite having officially denied any interest or investment in the area a decade earlier (e.g. Broad 1984), some in the intelligence community had apparently sought, amidst Cold War-era jostling for position on all imaginable fronts of the military intelligence battle, to employ the services of remote viewers such as Swann and Price “to obtain information unavailable from other sources” (cited in Supplee 1995). Fearing “an ESP Gap” (ibid) as Soviet military intelligence was rumored to be pouring resources into parapsychological concerns, the CIA became the first sponsor of SRI’s efforts.

For those concerned to mobilize apparently super-normal abilities for intelligence purposes, it was particularly interesting to probe the possibility of ‘coordinate remote viewing’ (viewing based solely on the provision of geographical coordinates or similar data) or other procedures that eliminated the protocol by which experimenters would be present onsite or select an immediate target such an image or object in front of them. Still, Puthoff (1996: 73) suggests that the main focus of research was less bent on operationalizing remote viewing abilities for US purposes than on assessing the potential threat posed by parallel Soviet investigations. An early attempt to gauge the operational potential of remote viewing saw CIA ‘clients’ at the SRI directing Price to record his impressions of an “unidentified research site” (Puthoff 1996: 69) at Semipalatinsk, USSR; Price went on to draw a rough sketch of the site plan, and went into considerable detail in his description of a multi-story crane which appeared very similar to those present on-site. According to Puthoff, a number of salient details regarding the technology operating and other aspects of the facility were corroborated by both existing intelligence from other sources and later confirmations. A similar result without the benefit of an ‘agent’ onsite (marking the ability as more akin to a form of clairvoyance than telepathy) was reported when Ingo Swann sought to describe the planet Jupiter as a remote viewing target immediately prior to the NASA Pioneer 10 flyby in 1973. Surprisingly, given astronomers’ then-current knowledge, Swan pictured the planet surrounded by a ring – a feature that, quite unexpectedly, subsequent observations from the spacecraft discovered…or confirmed (Puthoff 1996: 68).

If only briefly, the remote-viewing program and its Cold War-era intelligence applications were mainstream news in the mid-1990s, and various figures in the community of viewers and interested scientists, such as ex-Army officer Joe McMoneagle (viewer number 001 in what became the Stargate project), came into focus in the media spotlight. Interviewed in the Washington Post, McMoneagle shed some light on what he claims to represent both the day-to-day and the exceptional in life as a remote viewer in the military intelligence establishment:

On a typical workday, McMoneagle said, he reported to an old, leaky wooden barracks at Fort Meade, where he went into a one-person office. He sat at a desk with a typewriter and a mug of coffee. The cup said This End Up and had an arrow pointing the wrong way. He was then presented with sealed envelopes — sometimes large brown ones, sometimes small white ones — and he was asked to supply information about whatever was inside.

There might be a photograph of a person, and he would be asked to describe where the person was located. In that way, he said, he helped the Army locate hostages in Iran. He said he predicted almost precisely where Skylab was going to fall, 11 months before the spacecraft returned to Earth in 1979. He named the city in Italy — Padua — and described the second-floor apartment where Brig. Gen James Dozier was held hostage by the Red Brigades in 1981. The information arrived in Italy on the day Dozier was released.

Over the years, McMoneagle said, he was involved in about 450 missions. One of his favorites was in 1980, when CIA personnel captured a suspected KGB agent in South Africa. They wanted to know how the agent was communicating with the Soviet military. They put an envelope on McMoneagle’s desk, and without knowing anything of the man, McMoneagle told the CIA that the man liked to use a small pocket calculator. The calculator turned out to be a disguised short-wave radio (Weeks 1995).

McMoneagle appeared on US television network ABC at the height of popular interest in November 1995, demonstrating, with moderate success, an SRI-type remote viewing experiment in which he described “a natural river that had been improved by man” and “a bridge with foot traffic” when the actual target selected from among a series of Houston landmarks was the ship channel which runs through the city, with a bridge (albeit not a pedestrian bridge) a moderate distance away (Weeks 1995). As well as publishing regularly on the subject for a popular audience (four books from 1993-2002), McMoneagle runs his own company, Intuitive Intelligence Applications, Inc., and claims to be of help in everything from divining the locations of mineral deposits to locating missing persons – though he acknowledges that the impressions generated by remote viewing vary tremendously in accuracy and utility for such concrete endeavors, noting that it “is very difficult to use for locating things, such as missing persons, lost objects, etc.” (McMoneagle 1997: 98).

Russell Targ has recently sought to theorize the process and conditions of remote viewing and other ‘psychic’ phenomena, publishing Limitless mind: a guide to remote viewing and transformation of consciousness (2004). Aside from some more esoteric New-Age flavoured speculation on the links between religious thought and the implications of remote viewing research (and, presumably far removed from CIA objectives after all these years, the technique and underlying potentialies’ promise for expanding self-knowledge, personal and social development), Targ draws out profound implications for how to conceptualize individual consciousness, perception, and their relationships to space and time in the physical world; for Targ, in light of the evidence garnered by his own and others’ experiments, the conclusion to be drawn is that “we are not a body, but rather limitless, nonlocal awareness animating or residing in a body” (Targ 2004: xii). Remote viewing, he contends, points to “the possibility of our residing in – and as – this state of expanded, timeless, fearless, spacious awareness” (ibid). Remote viewing, Targ writes, is “a process in which you quiet your mind and inflow information from anywhere in the world” (ibid: 4); it cultivates a species of “nonlocal awareness,” or the “ability to focus on distant points in space-time” (ibid: 8).

Targ and Dr. E. Rauscher suggest the model of “complex Minkowski space,” which essentially considers the typical three dimensions of space and one of time as doubled into their ‘real’ and ‘imaginary’ parts for a total of eight dimensions, and allows for the possibility of contiguity or access between points separated in ‘real’ time-space manifest in remote viewing and precognition, as currently best-suited to explaining such ‘psi’ phenomena. They also profess confidence in the assertion that remote viewing and related abilities are 1) “not a result of any energetic transmission,” (they discount the idea that electromagnetic fields, or a ‘signal’ akin to radio or telegraph might be involved) and 2) “are, rather, an interaction of our awareness with a nonlocal, hyperdimensional space-time in which we live” (ibid: 10). Targ makes a point of mobilizing his knowledge of modern physics to undermine a “naïve realist” model of space-time and question the nature of our popular and scientific preconceptions and corollary notions of the discrete subject “sitting on our own well-circumscribed points in space-time” (13).

On the other hand, Targ’s recent book also makes the case that the “lesson that separation is an illusion” is a truth cultivated for millennia by mystics in Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and Jewish tradition – and later, by Spinoza, Berkeley, Emerson and Einstein (who “believed in the God of Spinoza,” that necessarily infinite and indivisible substance) (14-19). Ultimately the New-Age-inflected spiritual turn of Targ’s later writing reflects an inherent difficulty in reconciling commonly-held scientific paradigms with the results of remote viewing research, especially in light of the inherently unstable, elusive, and ultimately inconsistent nature of attempts to produce and reproduce scientific data which nonetheless (though many skeptics point to potential flaws in the research design and hone in on the fact that no strong evidence delineates the workings of the actual process) provides ‘anomalous’ patterns inexplicable by simple chance or other known factors. Others’ efforts at tentative explanations similarly evince a speculative tone, and tend to imply the need for a through re-thinking of the relationships between physical and mental processes across time and space.

Much of the research conducted from the 1970s onwards sought to strip away any ‘interference’ to reveal insights into the specific ‘channels’ or mechanisms by which those with apparent remote viewing abilities received their information. Employing shielding to block all manner of transmission, and deploying monitoring of variables such as the percipient’s brainwaves (EEG), many experiments sought to find out exactly what was going on. At best, after repeated experiments, possibilities such as a human ability to sense conventional electromagnetic or other energetic fields appear to have been eliminated, with little concomitant insight into what would explain the results. These efforts focused on the design of controlled experiments to test both the incidence and mode of functioning of such abilities in subjects of interest.

Interestingly, Dunne and Jahn’s review of 25 years of ‘remote perception’ research concluded that efforts to isolate the ‘anomalous channel of communication’ implicated in remote perception tended to negatively impact the strength of results, implying that a certain level of “noise” is in fact integral to the process by which some individuals appear to manifest their ability to ‘see’ or otherwise perceive distant or otherwise (conventionally) obscured locations and object. Attempts to “clarify” the characteristics of the channel or remove possible sources of bias by implementing progressive layers of experimental controls reduced the apparent “signal” to the point at which the researchers lost most of their purchase on the phenomena they had set out to study (ibid: 39-40). As well as noting the potential relevance of recently-developed engineering concepts such as that of “stochastic noise,” by which “an increase in the overall level of noise in certain kinds of lasers or sensitive electronic circuits can actually enhance the detection of weak, fluctuating signals” (ibid: 40), the authors reference both historical practices of divination such as the I Ching and the thought of the psychiatrist Carl Jung in outlining their own view, one which:

speaks of the emergence of both cognitive experience and physical events from a common underlying substrate associated with the domains of the unconscious mind and the undifferentiated world of physical potentiality, wherein the distinction between mind and matter blurs into uncertainty. Given their common origin, we note that it should thus not be surprising to observe correlations between their manifested expressions in the worlds of mental and physical “reality” (Dunne and Jahn 2002: 42).     


 1.  See ‘Extra-sensory Perception’ in the ABCDERIUM

 2.  See ‘clairvoyance’ in the ABCDERIUM

 3.  See ‘telepathy’ in the ABCDERIUM

Works cited

Broad, William J. 1984. “Pentagon Is Said To Focus on ESP For Wartime Use.” New York Times, 10/1/1984: C1.

Buchanan, Lyn. 2003. The Seventh Sense: The Secrets of Remote Viewing as Told by a “Psychic Spy” for the U.S. Military. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Dunne, Brenda J. and Robert G. Jahn. 2002. “Information and Uncertainty: 25 years of Remote Perception Research.” Princeton, NJ: Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research, Princeton School of Engineering.

Lee, James H. 2008. “From my perspective: Remote viewing as applied to futures studies.” Technological Forecasting & Social Change 75: 142–153

McMoneagle, Joe. 1997. “Perceptions of a paranormal subject.” The Journal of Parapsychology 61: 97-118.

Mumford, Michael D., Andrew M. Rose and David A. Goselin. 1995. An Evaluation of Remote Viewing: Research and Applications. Washington: The American    Institutes for Research.

Pinch, T.J, and H.M. Collins. 1984. “Private Science and Public Knowledge: The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal and Its Use of the Literature.” Social Studies of Science 14(4): 521-546.

Puthoff, Harold. 1996. CIA-Initiated Remote Viewing Program at Stanford Research Institute. Journal of Scientijc Exploration 10(1): 63-76.

Puthoff, Harold and Russel Targ. 1974. “Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding.” Nature 251: 602-607.

Ronson, Jon. 2005. The Men who Stare at Goats. New York: Picador.

Strauss, Stephen. 1995. “Tests support psychic phenomena: New analysis of CIA program Stargate shows consistent results.” Globe and Mail, 02/12/1995.

Supplee, Curt. 1995. “Many Find ‘Remote Viewing’ a Far Fetch From Science.” Washington Post, 02/12/1995: A03.

Targ, Russel. 2004. Limitless mind: a guide to remote viewing and transformation of consciousness. Nomato, CA: New World Library.

Weeks, Linton. 1995. “Up Close & Personal With a Remote Viewer: Joe McMoneagle Defends the Secret Project.” Washington Post, 04/12/1995: B01.