Questioning Reality: A Physicist's View of Psychic Abilities

Printed in the Winter 2012 issue of Quest magazine. 
Citation: Targ, Russell. "Questioning Reality: A Physicist's View of Psychic Abilities
"Quest  100. 1 (Winter 2012): 13-17.

by Russell Targ

If the doors of perception were cleansed,
every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things
through narrow chinks of his cavern.
—William Blake

ITheosophical Society - RUSSELL TARG is a physicist and author, and was a pioneer in the development of the laser. He cofounded and worked for the CIA-sponsored Stanford Research Institute's investigation into psychic abilities. He is coauthor of eight books dealing with the scientific investigation of psychic abilities, including Limitless Mind: A Guide to Remote Viewing; Transformation of Consciousness; and his autobiography, Do You See What I See: Memoirs of a Blind Biker. This article is adapted from his latest book, The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's View of Psychic Abilities,  published  by Quest Books.n this article I will present what I consider to be the  very best evidence for psychic abilities. These abilities—which we all possess—offer a spacious mind that can change your life and your view of reality. Buddhists and Hindus have known this since before the time of Christ. The scientific evidence is now overwhelming, and modern physics has the means and tools to embrace it. Such abilities have many names; ESP (extrasensory perception) is presently the most familiar. Others include clairvoyance and psi. The lat­ter is derived from psi ?, the twenty-third letter of the Greek alphabet, referring to the Greek psych?, meaning "psyche" or "soul."

My background is in experimental physics and perceptual psychology. I have published more than a hundred refereed technical papers dealing with lasers, laser applications, and ESP research in some of the best scientific journals. And I was a senior staff scientist and project manager for more than two decades at Lock­heed Missiles and Space Company and at GTE Sylva­nia, where I specialized in laser communications and atmospheric wind-shear measurements with lasers. As a laser physicist with forty years of experience in psy­chic research, I am convinced from the ever-growing data that most people can learn to quiet their minds and move their awareness from their ordinary ego-based mind-set to a much more spacious and interesting per­spective&mash;one that is not obstructed by conventional barriers of space and time. This meditative skill is what the eighth-century Buddhist master Padmasainbhava called moving from conditioned awareness to spacious or naked awareness.

My firm conclusion from decades of ESP research is that we misapprehend the physical and psychologi­cal nature of the interconnected space-time in which we live. Our internalized perception of nature is often obstructed and obscured by mental noise. This illusion and misperception is what Buddhists call maya or samsara',and it can cause a lot of unnecessary suffering.

 I believe in ESP because I have seen psychic mir­acles day after day in university- and government-sponsored investigations. It is clear to me, without any doubt, that many people can learn to look into remote distances and into the future with great accuracy and reliability. This is what we call unobstructed aware­ness, or more specifically remote viewing. Remote viewing is a psychic ability that involves learning how to quiet your mind and separate the visual images of the psychic signal from the noise of the uncontrolled chatter of the mind. With remote viewing you can describe and experience objects and events that are shielded from ordinary perception by distance or time. To varying degrees, we all have this ability, and I do not believe that it, or any ESP state, has metaphysical origins. I believe it is just a kind of thinking in which we expand our awareness to perceive nonlocally. And it will become less mysterious as more of us become more skillful. Today there are almost a million Google pages devoted to information about "remote viewing." So at least some people are catching on to the idea that this is not difficult to do.

For example, while working for a CIA program at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, Cali­fornia, our psychic viewers were able to find a downed Russian bomber in Africa, describe the health of Amer­ican hostages in Iran, and locate a kidnapped American general in Italy. We also described Soviet weapons fac­tories in Siberia, observed a Chinese atomic bomb test three days before it occurred, and performed countless other amazing tasks.

I was cofounder of the above-mentioned ESP research program at SRI. This twenty-million-dollar, twenty-three-year program, launched during the Cold War, was supported by the CIA, NASA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army and Air Force intelligence, and many other government agencies. We developed the technique of remote viewing, which enabled a per­son to accurately describe and experience places and events blocked from ordinary perception. We published our highly significant findings in Nature, Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and The Proceedings of the American Institute of Phys­ics. Our research has been replicated worldwide, and remote viewing is so easy to do that it has become a cottage industry. Many of those teaching it are from the Army Psychic Corps that we created at Fort Meade, Maryland, in the 1980s.

Two further outstanding events in my psychic career involved, first, my little post-SRI research group called Delphi Associates, where we made $120,000 by psychi­cally forecasting&mash;for nine weeks in a row, the direction and amount of changes in the silver commodity futures market, without error. This successful forecasting of "December silver" made the front page of The Wall Street Journal and led to a film (The Case of ESP) for the PBS series NOVA in 1983. In the other notable suc­cess, our SRI lab was the first to identify and name the kidnapper of heiress Patricia Hearst, who had been abducted from her home in Berkeley in 1974. Our great friend and psychic policeman Pat Price went with us to the Berkeley police station, where I stood with him at a big wooden table as he put his finger on the face of a man his ESP sensed as Hearst's kidnapper. He did this from a police loose-leaf mug book of hundreds of pho­tos (four to a page). He then went on to tell the police where to find the kidnapper's car. When all these facts were confirmed the following day, I knew I had just seen a "miracle." In these cases there is absolutely no chance that it was just our lucky day!

There are presently four classes of published and carefully examined ESP experiments that are indepen­dently significant, at odds much greater than one in a million. All the researchers involved in these pillars of ESP research have been friends and colleagues of mine for decades. I will present the data for these in what follows.

Remote Viewing. At Princeton University, Profes­sor Robert Jahn and his associate Brenda Dunn over­saw two decades of remote viewing experiments with Princeton students as subjects. They asked students in the laboratory to describe their mental impressions of what it looked like where someone else was hiding at a randomly chosen distant location. These students had to fill out a thirty-item checklist to quantify their perceptions in this game of psychic hide-and-seek. Their findings &mash; spanning several years and compris­ing a series of 411 trials &mash; showed that it is no harder to look hundreds of miles in the distance than it to describe a person around the corner. Furthermore, it is no harder to describe a randomly chosen hiding place to be selected in the next hour, day, or week than it to describe a hidden contemporaneous event under way at the moment. Jahn's highly significant results were published in Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1982 as a replication of our original SRI remote viewing experiments, which had been published in the same journal six years earlier.

Modern physics would describe these phenom­ena as nonlocal in that they are experimentally found to be independent of space and time. Nonlocality and entanglement, which were first described by Erwin Schrodinger in the late 1920s, are now among the hot­test research topics in modern physics. This intrigu­ing phenomenon is explained very clearly by Anton Zeilinger, one of the world's leading experimentalists in quantum optics, in his 2010 book Dance of the Pho­tons: From Einstein to Teleportation: "Entanglement describes the phenomenon that two particles may be so intimately connected to each other that the measure­ment of one instantly changes the quantum state of the other, no matter how far away it may be. This nonlo­cality is exactly what Albert Einstein called 'spooky'; it seems eerie that the act of measuring one particle could instantly influence the other one."

Distant Mental Influence. In the 1970s and 1980s William Brand and Marilyn Schlitz carried out nineteen imaginative, success­ful, and published experiments in what they called Distant Mental Influence on Living Systems (DMILS). In these experiments, a precursor to other National Institutes of Health-supported distant healing experi­ments, the researchers showed convincingly that the thoughts of one person, the experi­menter, can affect the physiology (heart rate, skin resistance, etc.) of a distant person in another laboratory. Braud, who is now teach­ing at the Institute for Transpersonal Physiology in Palo Alto, California, was able to psychically calm or excite the physiology of a person hundreds of feet away. He has compiled twelve of his highly significant formal experiments and pub­lished them in an excellent and comprehensive book called Distant Mental Influence. Schlitz is now presi­dent of the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. 

The Ganzfeld. Over a span of thirty years, several researchers at five different labs here and abroad car­ried out telepathy experiments in which one person was in a situation of sensory isolation (called the Ganz­feld, German for "whole field"). This person was asked to describe his or her ongoing mental impressions of a video clip being watched by a friend in a separate part of the lab. In a published meta-analysis of seventy-nine studies, comprising hundreds of individual trials, the significance approached one in a billion, meaning that the isolated receiver was extraordinarily success­ful in describing what his distant friend was seeing and experiencing. 

Feeling the Future. Recently, Professor Daryl Bem at Cornell University has carried out a series of nine precognition experiments. In this remarkable five-year study, he showed that the future can affect the past in surprising subconscious ways. That is, the elephant you see on television in the morning can be the cause of your having dreamed about elephants the previous night: Saturday morning's elephant caused Friday's dream. We call that retrocausality&mash;another hot topic in modern physics today. For example, students in Bem's experiments reliably favor and choose one picture of four possible pictures of people, if they are shown that one after they have made their choice&mash;even though the one they are shown later has been randomly cho­sen after their conscious choice. Bern's sixty-page paper presenting his meta-analysis of these retrocausal experiments was published in 2010. The experiments show a significance of more than six standard deviations, which equals odds of more than a billion to one for this eminent and experienced experimenter. In all his experiments, Bern's one thousand Cornell student par­ticipants find themselves making free choices, guided again and again by the material they see or experience in the future, after their selection. Many people believe that precognition is the dominant phenomenon in all psychic functioning. From Bern's recent precognition experiments at Cornell and my own successful fore­casting of silver commodity markets, it appears that we humans have the ability to expand our perceived "now" to include as much of the future as we choose to experience.

During one experiment at SRI while I was working with psychic Pat Price, Price did not arrive at the lab for the scheduled trial. In this series of ten trials, we were trying to describe the day-to-day activities of Hal Puthoff (co-founder of the SRI program) as he traveled through Colombia, in South America. Price had thus far been describing churches, harbors, markets, and volcanoes. We had not yet received any feedback and wouldn't until Hal returned, so I had no clues at all to what he was doing. Therefore, in Price's absence, and in the spirit of "the show must go on," I spontaneously decided to undertake the remote viewing myself. Previ­ously I had been only an interviewer and facilitator for such trials. So this was in fact my first remote viewing.

Theosophical Society - Sketch produced by physicist Russell Targ as remote viewer. Targ correctly saw and described "sand and grass on the right, an airport building on the left, and ocean at the end of a runway."  
FIGURE 1. Sketch produced by physicist Russell Targ as remote viewer. Targ correctly saw and described "sand and grass on the right, an airport building on the left, and ocean at the end of a runway."  

I closed my eyes and immediately had an image of an island airport. The surprisingly accurate sketch I drew is shown in figure 1. A photo of the airport site is shown in figure 2. From this trial, we learned that even a scientist can be psychic when the need is great enough. I am not making any claims for my own psychic prowess in this demonstration. If I have any ability in that direction, it is the same as anyone else who will sit in a chair and quiet his mind. Artists and musicians generally do much better at remote viewing than physi­cists or engineers, who favor analysis. Artists are accus­tomed to using the nonanalytic right side of the brain, which greatly facilitates psi, itself a nonanalytic.

Hence numerous laboratory experiments indicate that we have the opportunity to know anything upon which we fix our attention. That is what the research data on ESP seem to be saying. In my experience and according to most other researchers, it appears that an experienced psychic can answer any question that has an answer. The Hindu and Buddhist literature of the past two millennia also indicates that these abili­ties are natural and available. I cannot wait to see what the future holds when we fully open the doors of our perception!

  Theosophical Society - this photograph shows the target, which was an airport on an island in San Andreas, Colombia.
  FIGURE 2. This photograph shows the target, which was an airport on an island in San Andreas, Colombia.

When I say I believe in ESP, it's not like saying that I believe in life on other planets somewhere in the uni­verse or in that I believe in democracy. Rather it is like saying that I believe in Maxwell's equations relating electromagnetism and light, quantum mechanics, or lasers&mash;surprising and hard to believe, but nonethe­less true and scientifically provable. The experimen­tal evidence from a century of research in extrasensory perception from laboratories around the world is so strong and overwhelming that reasonable people sim­ply should no longer doubt its reality. That powerful and undeniable evidence is why I believe in ESP, and why I think you should too.

For me, questioning reality and the exploration of psychic abilities are the essential first steps in the greatest opportunity we have as a species, the evolu­tion of consciousness. I believe we have completed our physical evolution. Our brains are big enough. I am proposing that species transcendence is the next evo­lutionary step for us to take: We started first as animals looking for food, then became moderately self-aware humans trying to understand nature, and finally we have reached our destiny as beings aware of our spa­cious and nonlocal consciousness, transcending space and time. In exploring what physicists call our nonlo­cal universe, we begin to feel that the Buddhists had it right when they teach that separation is an illusion and that all consciousness is connected. In this world of entangled or extended minds, compassion seems to me to be a natural conclusion. It's an idea whose time has come&mash;that when one person suffers, we all suffer. 

It is time to accept the gift of psychic abilities. The suffering, wars, and confused search for meaning we are experiencing are all evidence of our inner selves sensing but not yet grasping our true nature. The hard­ware is fine; it's the software that must be upgraded&mash;and quickly.



Bern, Daryl "Feeling the Future: Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect." Journal of Personality and Social Affect 100 (2011), 407-25.

Braud, William. Distant Mental Influence: Its Contributions to Science and Healing. Charlottesville, Va.: Hampton Roads, 2003.

The Case of ESP. BBC Horizon, Tony Edwards, producer, 1983; NOVA, 1983.

Dunne, Brenda, and Robert Jahn. "Information and Uncertainty in Remote Perception Research." Journal of Scientific Exploration, 17:2 (2003), 207-41. (Meta-analysis of two decade's research.)

Jahn, Robert. "The Persistent Paradox of Psychic

Phenomena: An Engineering Perspective." Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 70:2 (Feb. 1982),136-68.

Larson, Erik. "Did Psychic Powers Give Firm a Killing in the

Silver Market?" The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22,1984, Bl. Padmasambhava. Self-Liberation through Seeing with Naked

Awareness. Translated by John Myrdhin Reynolds. Ithaca,

Puthoff, H. E., and Russell Targ. "A Perceptual Channel for Information Transfer over Kilometer Distances: Historical Perspective and Recent Research." Proceedings of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, 64:3 (March 1976), 329-54.

Rauscher, Elizabeth, and Russell Targ. "Investigation of a Complex Space-Time Metric to Describe Precognition of the Future." In Daniel Sheehan, Frontiers of Time: Retrocausation: Experiment and Theory. Melville, N.Y.: American Institute of Physics, 2006,121-46.

Schlitz, Marilyn, and William Braud. "Distant Intentionality and Healing: Assessing the Evidence." Alternative Therapies, 3:6 (Nov. 1997), 62-72.

Storm, Lance, Patrizio Tressoldi, and Lorenzo Risio. "Meta-Analysis of Free-Response Studies, 1992-2008: Assessing Noise Reduction Model in Parapsychology." Psychological Bulletin, 136:4 (2010), 471-85.

Targ, Russell, and H. E. Puthoff. "Information Transmission under Conditions of Sensory Shielding." Nature, 252 (Oct. 1974), 602-607.

Zeilinger, Anton. Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Telepertation. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010.


RUSSELL TARG is a physicist and author, and was a pioneer in the development of the laser. He cofounded and worked for the CIA-sponsored Stanford Research Institute's investigation into psychic abilities. He is coauthor of eight books dealing with the scientific investigation of psychic abilities, including Limitless Mind: A Guide to Remote Viewing; Transformation of Consciousness; and his autobiography, Do You See What I See: Memoirs of a Blind Biker. This article is adapted from his latest book, The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's View of Psychic Abilities published  by Quest Books.