Saturday, 29 April 2017

An accidental logic puzzle

As is usual for me on a weekend morning, I was browsing through an old newspaper that shared the same date as my current self. Today I was reading one from thirty years ago, 29th April 1987, when I noticed that the division for Group Four in the European Under-21 Championship formed a little logic puzzle: it was possible to look at it and work out all of the results of the tournament to date.

It isn't a difficult puzzle nor, I'd imagine, that unique but it kept me entertained for a few minutes. Plus, it reminded me of that example of Accidental Poetry I found several years ago.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Pat Price’s remote viewing of URDF-3, Semipalatinsk, USSR in 1974

One of the biggest successes of the US government-sponsored remote viewing project came very early on in its history. In 1974, in only its second full year of existence, the CIA requested that SRI use Pat Price to remote view a Soviet target: URDF-3 (Unidentified Research and Development Facility No. 3). In popular psi literature, it is usually described in the most dramatic terms possible: that no one knew anything about the site and that on commencing the remote viewing session Pat Price immediately closed his eyes and saw a huge crane passing over his head.

Given its importance as an example of psychic functioning, I thought it was worth looking as this event in some detail, using documents from the declassified archive.

The earliest mention of this experiment I can find is an appendix to a meeting held on 31 May 1974, where basic protocols were laid down: that the sessions would be “guided” by someone knowledgable about the site; but giving as little cueing as possible and then, over a period of a few days, introduce more information about the site to Pat Price “recognizing that the additional information supplied to the viewer at this point is at the cost of calibration within the experiment.” [1]

The initial data given to him at the start of the experiment would be a map with the site marked on it and some drawings to help Price identify the location when he remote views it.

On the 17 June 1974, the NPIC (the National Photographic Intelligence Center, who’d be supplying the data against which Price’s statements would be compared) and the NED (can’t find this acronym!) were both contacted for help in evaluating the data. It seems that the source was to be disguised before judging, and instead of overtly being from a psychic, it was going to be attributed to a janitor: someone with little technical knowledge but open access to URDF-3.

Semipalatinsk URDF-3, from top of gantry crane.

Also at this time, a member of ORD (Office of Research & Development) visited SRI for two days, 17-18 June. During this time it was alluded that the SRI program was in danger of being closed, unless certain targets were met.

This was followed by another visit from the ORD on the 28 June, and the report on this visit stated that “the progress was disappointing” and “it appears that a pot pourri of small experiments were to have been conducted on an ad hoc basis on whatever subjects were around.”

I mention these two visits to put the URDF-3 session into some kind of context: the SRI project was falling behind schedule and Targ and Puthoff must've been keenly aware of the pressure from their sponsors.

On 27 and 28 June two meetings were held, the second one by telephone, to fine tune the experimental methods. The conclusions to this meeting were written up in notes on the appendix from the meeting held in May. [1]

Now the protocol specified that the person who knew about the target would not be physically present during the sessions, nor would Price be given any drawings before the sessions began.

More details regarding the protocol were given in a memo dated 3 July 1974 (ie, five days before the sessions were to begin). This memo stated that there would be three stages to the protocol. It also mentioned that, during stage two, Price would be told that the sponsor for this experiment was a government agency.

The experiment itself ran from 9-12 July 1974. The majority of information about the details of this period of time comes from a report dated 4 December 1975 “An Analysis Of A Remote-Viewing Experiment of URDF-3” by D. Stillman, a nuclear analyst from the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory, working from sketches and tape recordings. [2] It’s worth noting that the plan to disguise the psychic nature of the data had been dropped but Stillman says in his introduction that, if anything, he would like psychic functioning to be true.

At the start of the experiment, Price was given the map co-ordinates (50°09'59"N 78°22'22"E), was shown the site’s position on a number of maps, and told that it was 60 miles WSW of Semipalatinsk and 25 to 30 SW of a river and he was told it is a scientific military research and test area. Once he began remote viewing, he found the river and then the location. Stillman reports:

“He says the area he’s looking at has low one-story buildings that are partially dug into the ground giving the effect (as seen at ground level) of very short, squatty buildings, whereas they are actually fairly roomy on this inside. This description could very well describe a first look at the Operations Area at URDF-3.”

From Google Maps, imagery dated 2005

Price then started describing tests being run that were related to the space program, followed by drawing a map of the research facility and the area which was incorrect, apart from the information already given to him.

Most of the data from Price in day one is wrong, and he shows an inclination to be led by the questioner, such as when the scientist in the room with Price during the session (probably Russell Targ) makes a suggestion as to what something he’s describing might be, Price says “You could be right,” before the scientist quickly reminds Price that he knows nothing about the target.

The famous crane hit did not happen during day one, but in the evening. Midway through the first afternoon session, Price mentioned a crane and some low boy trucks. Later that day, the person knowledgeable about URDF-3 (possibly Ken Kress) must have spoken to SRI because Hal Puthoff called Pat Price with instructions to draw crane and the security fence around the perimeter, which Pat Price had also mentioned in passing on day one.

The drawing of the crane was handed in on the evening of day one, and the tapes from day two (10 July) begin with a discussion of them, mentioning the size of the crane: 150 feet in height. Stillman wrote: “He [Price] said he didn’t realize how large the gantry crane was until he saw a man walking by one of the crane wheels.” And Stillman followed this with the observation “It seems inconceivable to imagine how he could draw such a likeness to the actual crane at URDF-3 unless: 1) he actually saw it through remote viewing, or 2) he was informed of what to draw by someone knowledgeable of URDF-3”

However, Stillman did not seem to have noticed that, until then, Price had frequently described features of a considerable size, such as an array of telegraph poles, a village, an airstrip, etc. It looks as if Price was working from the assumption that his work would be compared to aerial photography and the only data available would be something visible from a distance. As such, when he was given a clue that he had described something US intelligence knew to exist, he changed its description to one of great size.

Price’s sketch of the perimeter fence is only of a small section, and he doesn’t mention that there are actually four fences at URDF-3. However, Stillman drew in a perimeter fence on one of Price’s sketches because he could see that the shape was broadly similar to the fences around URDF-3.

Despite the success of the crane sketch, the rest of Price’s work on day two is largely unremarkable. Since his description of the huge crane did not match his earlier description of the building it interacts with, he spent a lot of time devising a complicated system including a second, smaller gantry crane, as well as drawing a large domed building and cement silo that Stillman says don’t exist at URDF-3.

Apart from the crane, there is another hit often attributed to the session: a large steel sphere under construction. It is not in the report by Stillman, which only covers the first two days in any detail. The third and fourth days supplied a lot of data but nothing that could be checked at that time.

So it must be from these two days, 11 and 12 July, when Pat Price described and drew large steel spheres mid-manufacture, in the form of individual gores, to be welded together. It is claimed that “Pat Price had been right, and he had described the spheres and the special welding techniques before anyone in the United States knew they existed.” [3]

The existence of these spheres was made public in a dramatic fashion in May 1977. Major General George J. Keegan, head of Air Force Intelligence had been trying (unsuccessfully) to convince the US military that the Soviets were building a particle beam weapon at Semipalatinsk for some years. When he retired, he went public with his suspicions and spoke to a writer from Aviation Weekly. [4] This sparked a public debate on the issue, with President Carter, the Defense Secretary, the CIA and the DIA all speaking out against the retired Major General’s conclusions.

While other research (and, eventually, complete disclosure from the Soviets) discredited the particle beam weapon theory, what was important to SRI was the detail about the steel spheres, constructed piece by piece, using a special welding method. Just as Pat Price had described.

It’s a shame that Stillman did not mention this or include any of day three’s six sketches in his report. Regrettably, the other analysis of Price’s work (W.T.Strand, “Memorandum for the Director, Office of Technical Service; Subject: Evaluation of Data on Semipalatinsk Unidentified R&D Facility No. 3, USSR; 20 August 1974”) is unavailable.

This means the earliest mention we have of this success is in Winter 1977, in a paper called “Parapsychology in Intelligence: A Personal Review and Conclusions” by Ken Kress, the CIA agent managing this particular experiment. He only mentions it in passing, though.

“In general, most of Price’s data were wrong or could not be evaluated. He did, nevertheless, produce some amazing description, like buildings then under construction, spherical tank sections, and the crane.” [5]

Price’s sketch of these sphere was published in 1983 in the heavily censored report Grill Flame Operational Tasks. On page seven, there is a sketch of metallic strips in the shape of a sphere segment, labelled “Sphere Fabrication”. [6]

There are a few issues with this as a piece of evidence. The first and most obvious is the date on the sketch. The handwritten date reads “6-18-74” which, if accurate, would mean it was drawn about one month before the URDF-3 work began. The other date, the rubber-stamped one, reads “7-18-74” which places it six days after the URDF-3 sessions were completed. Either way, this drawing does not appear to come from the four-day experiment. Additionally, throughout the sketches reproduced in Stillman’s report, whenever Price makes lengthy notes about a feature he does so in cursive writing, but in this sketch he has switched to writing in upper case.

There are the words “from prior” next to the handwritten date, so it’s possible that this is a redrawing of a sketch that SRI no longer had. This is likely since the session notes and tapes were not kept at SRI but sent off to be analysed. There is a letter from SRI to the CIA in 1986 asking for these to be returned but the reply stated that, apart from Stillman’s report, they couldn’t locate the other material. If this sketch is a reconstruction, one has to wonder how accurate it is and what was it based on.

The final problem with this sketch is related to the one immediately above it. Two sketches are labelled “Cyclinder clusters,” I assume to resemble the cluster of cylindrical tanks seen in photos of Semipalatinsk.

However, in Stillman’s report, this sketch is described as a “cement silo-like building” and not related to a cluster of cylinders at all. The details of Price’s descriptions have been removed in order to emphasise the similarity of the overall shape. If this sketch has been mis-labelled to increase the apparent level of success, has the sketch of the sphere sections also undergone a similar process?

Pat Price’s remote viewing of URDF-3 is frequently cited as a great success of psychic functioning. The dramatic similarity of Price’s drawing of a gantry crane with the sketch based on photographic intel makes it a popular choice when listing evidence for ESP. But this needs to be put into some kind of context: Price generated a great deal of data. Stillman was given about four hours of taped conversation from days one and two, seventy-nine pages of transcripts from days three and four, and a total of thirty sketches.

Furthermore, Price was not completely blind to the nature of the target and also someone knowledgeable about the location specifically asked him to draw the crane. Given this, it is hardly surprising that, on occasion, Price described features that could reasonably be compared to the actual location.

The final word on the issue should go to Stillman who, in his conclusion, wrote:

“In trying to determine the validity of this remote viewing experiment, the worth of the data to the eventual user has to be considered. If the user had no way of checking, how could he differentiate the fact from the fiction? In the case of URDF-3, the only positive evidence of the rail-mounted gantry was far outweighed by the large amount of negative evidence noted in the body of this analysis.”


[1] Appendix I: Suggested Protocol for Operational Remote-Viewing Exercise dated 31 May 1974 with handwritten notes added on or after 28 June

[2] D. Stillman (1975) An Analysis Of A Remote-Viewing Experiment of URDF-3

[3] Schnabel, J. (2011)Remote Viewers: The Secret History of America’s Psychic Spies, Random House Publushing Group

[4] Detailed summary of Aviation Weekly article.

[5] Kress, K.A. (1977) Parapsychology in Intelligence: A personal review and conclusions”

[6] Puthoff, H.E., Lavelle, L.A. (1983) "Project Grill Flame Operational Tasks"

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Ingo Swann’s remote viewing of Jupiter

With Juno in orbit around the planet Jupiter, I felt like going back and looking at another space probe that visited Jupiter, only this time, it was the mind of a psychic that travelled, not a piece of high-tech equipment.

By the Spring of 1973 the SRI research into remote viewing, funded by the CIA and lead by physicists Hal Puthoff and Russell Targ, had been going for around half a year.

Ingo Swann, a psychic who worked extensively on the project, was tired of Earth-bound co-ordinates and wanted to see if it were possible to remote view extra-terrestrial locations. With that in mind, Ingo arranged with another psychic, Harold Sherman, to remote view Jupiter and then compare their findings to the data from the probe Pioneer 10 which would fly by that planet in November/December of that year.

Although it wasn’t part of the CIA-funded work, Targ and Puthoff agreed to carry out the session with Swann according to SRI protocols. Sherman carried out his session in Arkansas, many hundreds of miles from SRI in California. The sessions took place simultaneously at 6.00pm PST on 27 April 1973.

This session has been reported as a great success for Ingo Swann as he saw a rock of rings circling the planet: something that no one had even imagined at that time. As far as astronomy was concerned, Saturn was the only planet with a ring system.

There are many different versions of this story. Most get confused between Pioneer 10 (which did not detect Jupiter's ring in 1973) and Voyager 1 (which was the first to detect them, but that wouldn't happen for another six years, in 1979). Also, some versions of events specifically state that Ingo describes a ring of rocks, and that after the session was over they took this information to astronomers who all dismissed it as nonsense.

The original transcript is available online at this site linked to in this sentence. Although this is dated 1995, the section containing the transcript is very close to the version given in Mind Reach (1977) by Targ and Puthoff, and is also broadly similar to the version as told in Swann's book To Kiss Earth Good-bye (1975), so I think that part is pretty reliable.

EDIT 29/01/17: this contemporary transcript is now available on the CIA site (links to a pdf).

The passage that is usually quoted with reference to rings around Jupiter is:

"Very high in the atmosphere there are crystals... they glitter. Maybe the stripes are like bands of crystals, maybe like rings of Saturn, though not far out like that. Very close within the atmosphere."

This phrase “maybe like rings of Saturn” together with a sketch of a ringed planet, is considered evidence that Ingo Swann saw Jupiter's rings before they were scientifically detected.

However, this is not a “ring of rocks” as some versions state. It's a band of crystals. And this raises the question if this “band of crystals” was actually recognised as a ring of rocks at the time, or if that interpretation was only arrived at after the data from Voyager 1 was known in 1979.

It is instructive to look for reports on Swann's remote viewing session before 1979, to see if it mentions Jupiter's ring system.

The first I found was an article in the National Enquirer, 9 September 1975. In the paragraph where it talks about Swann's findings, it reads:

“Swann said Jupiter possessed a poisonous “bitter cold” atmosphere “of myriad colors – yellow, red, violet, some greens, like a giant fireworks display.” He said that he saw what looked like a “tornado” and also observed “winds of terrific velocity”. He detected “powerful magnetic forces.”

No mention of any rings around Jupiter, even though the story claims that science later confirmed all of his findings.

The next one I found was from the San Fransisco Sunday Examiner and Chronicle for 10 April 1977. It read:

“Each [ie, Swann and Sherman] spoke of glittering ice crystals, winds of terrific velocity, great mountain ranges and powerful magnetic forces.”

Again, no mention of any rings.

Also in 1977, Targ and Puthoof's book “Mind Reach” was published. This described some of their (non-classified) work into remote viewing. One of the episodes they wrote about was Swann's mission to Jupiter, but they don't mention any ring system, either. In fact, quite the opposite. They wrote:

“The descriptions sounded reasonable; nothing was particularly at variance with any known facts.”

I doubt they'd say that if Swann had just told them that Jupiter had a ring system. So this source, too, doesn't include Swann's prediction.

Swann wrote about this session himself in 1975 in his book To Kiss Earth Goodbye. His version of the famous sentence comparing Jupiter to Saturn reads: "maybe the stripes of Jupiter are like bands of crystals, like rings of Saturn" which doesn't sound like a description of a ring system.

It's difficult to find an exact point where the claim begins to be made. The best I can make is in 1982-83. In 1982 James Randi wrote about Swann and Sharmer's session in his book Flim-Flam, but there is no mention of any rings. Meanwhile, in 1984 in the Skeptical Inquirer, we find a quote:

“Earlier, they had discovered the rings around Jupiter years before their existence was scientifically established by satellite photographs.”

This sentence is referenced to the November 1984 issue of a sci-fi magazine named Analog. This appears to be the earliest I can find of the claim. Unfortunately, SI is only in snippet view on Google Books, and I can't find Analog magazine for 1984 at all, so I can't check out their references.

I think this inability at recognising Ingo's “band of crystals” as a “rings of rocks” tells us that this is an example of a bit of creative interpretation. Also, it's worth mentioning that later in the transcript from 1973 Ingo Swann talks about “those cloud layers, those crystal layers” so I think it's safe to assume the “bands of crystals” were referring to the bands of colours already seen across Jupiter's visible surface from Earth and had nothing to do with any as-yet-undiscovered ring system.

Jupiter, from a 1961 illustration (From Astronomy by Patrick Moore)

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Ersby’s Triangle: An Update

A few weeks ago, I decided to revisit my post about Ersby’s Triangle – a semi-serious look at the multiples of square numbers needed to create Pascal’s Triangle.

I wanted to see if there were any formulae to describe the numbers along a particular diagonal. At first, I tried my original method of pen and paper and simply messing around with sequences of different powers of numbers, but nothing seemed to work. I put it to one side and forgot about it.

Then today I discovered The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. So I typed in a few of the diagonals (from top left to bottom right) from Ersby’s Triangle.

I soon came up with some interesting results as the first two diagonals I looked at (after the diagonal with 1, 2, 3...) both linked to the largest number of pieces you could get from a shape with each cut. The first diagonal referred to two-dimensional shapes and the next one referred to three-dimensional shapes.

So I was excited to see if that continued, and if the next diagonal referred to four-dimensional shapes.

It didn’t. But, undeterred, I kept searching.

Then I noticed that a particular paper kept being cited in the search results I was getting. I followed the link to Catalan Triangle Numbers and Binomial Coefficients by Kyu-Hwan Lee and Se-Jin Oh from the University of Connecticut. And there, tucked away on page 14, was the closest I’ve ever come to being referenced in a mathematics paper.

Amazing. If only I knew what the paper actually meant.


Lee, K.H., Oh, S.J., (2016) "Catalan Triangle Numbers and Binomial Coefficients," arXiv:1601.06685v

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Fewer train reservations before disasters

In 1956, E.W. Cox wrote an article for the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in which he looked for evidence of precognition of fatal train crashes (10 fatalities or more) in the numbers of reservations bought for that particular train, with the hypothesis that any form of precognition would be visible in a drop in reservations for that train on that day.

I do not have a copy of the original paper by E.W.Cox, but I did find a page on the internet which had his data, as well as an examination of his methods. The page is currently (25th Aug '15) unavailable, but I have put a link at the bottom of this article.

He examined the data in two ways: one was to look at the data day by day. In this, he compared the reservations for the crash day with the previous seven days. The second way was to compare the crash day reservations with the same day on the previous four weeks.

His measure of success was if the number of reservations was the lowest of all the other days. This he called a hit, and its chances of success are calculated as 1 in 8 for the daily data and 1 in 5 for the weekly data.

He did this for 28 crashes.

For the monthly data, he found ten days when the lowest number of reservations fell on the day of the crash. In other words, ten hits out of twenty-eight trials, with a 1/5 chance of success. This is statistically significant at p=0.04, z=1.76 (one-tailed) or odds of 1 in 25.

For the daily data, there are nine hits for the twenty-eight days, with a 1/8 success rate. This gives use p=0.005, z=2.54 (one-tailed) or odds of 1 in 185.

The data are as follows:

(It's worth noting that Cox could not get all the data he needed, so when he had a gap, he inserted the average number for that set of data. I've highlighted those figures in brown. Figures in yellow are the lowest figures for that particular journey.)

However, as the psuedo-scepticisme article points out, the data sample is too small to support a binomial distribution. Taking the rule of thumb that np>=5 (n=number of trials, p=probability of success) there aren't enough data points to justify a binomial sample. In the case of the daily data np equals 28 * 0.125 = 3.5. Additionally, Cox allowed tied hits to stand, suggesting to me that the binomial method wasn't the right one to use.

I decided to take a look at the data myself, but this time I looked at whether the reservations for a particular day were significantly above or below the average for that set of weeks or days. I thought that this would be a more sensitive measure of success, especially given that some of the hits were by a margin of three or less reservations in difference.

I found that for the daily data, the day of the crash was significantly below the average (ie, fewer sales) seven times. This is the highest figure for this category, which supports the idea that precognition lead people to make fewer reservations on that day. However, there were also three occasions where the sales of reservations was significantly above the average. This makes it comparable to D-4 when there were five below average and one above.

On the weekly data, the day of the crash had seven occasions when it was significantly below average and four times above. This is actually worse than D-28 which also had seven below average but only two occasions when it was above. In fact, using Cox's original method, D-28 has ten hits out of twenty-eight, just like the day of the crash does.

I'm no statistician, so I encourage anyone to look at the spreadsheet I used, and perhaps suggest improvements. This can be downloaded here.


Cox, W. E. (1956). "Precognition: An analysis. II. Subliminal precognition." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 50, 99–109. as cited in the article “Pr├ęcognition subliminale lors d’accidents de train : relecture critique d’une recherche de W.E. Cox”