Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Sunday, 29 March 2015

An older version of the Earth

Today I found this old world map dating from the early 1600s.

See the Wikipedia page for more details, and a far bigger version.

And I decided to see what it would look like mapped onto an actual globe. Since the free astronomy program Celestia allows you to do that quite easily. I spent a little time in photoshop to get the image to the right size and shape, and pasted it in. I was very pleased how well it turned out, even if some of the edges didn't quite match up. I felt like I was seeing the Earth as it would have been imagined by someone in the 1600s.

Europe and Africa...

The USA and Central America...

The Far East...

And India...

The ISS, heading towards the Nile Delta...

An old Earth at night...

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Lawrence Livermore Remote Viewing session

One of the most famous successes of the US government-sponsored remote viewing program was the series of sessions where Joe McMoneagle described first the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and then a wind farm, and finally a series of sketches resembling parts of a particle accelerator.

The remarkable similarities between the sketches and the locations of the target person has been frequently reproduced in parapsychological books and websites. It can be found on Joe McMoneagle’s site (here, here and here), on Russel Targ’s site (here and here) and on Dr Edwin May’s site (here and here).

This fairly typical summary of this remote viewing session comes from the book “The ESP Enigma” by Diane Hennacy Powell, M.D.

“His most amazingly accurate results include the time he drew the locations of a CIA team while the agents were hiding in the San Francisco area. First the agents hid in Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, which is a hundred miles away from SRI. McMoneagle drew many of the laboratory buildings and structures as visible from Lawrence Livermore’s West Gate side, including a T-shaped, six-story building that was covered with glass and adjacent to a line of trees. The team traveled to the Livermore Valley Foothills Windmill Farm as their next target, and McMoneagle drew the windmill structure with almost 100 percent accuracy.”

The report on Dr May’s site is the most detailed, and he has written about it in his book “Anomalous Cognition: Remote Viewing Research and Theory.” As such, his version of events is the one I shall be comparing to the original report, An Application Oriented Remote Viewing Experiment, written by Dr May in 1988.

This remote viewing experiment consisted of four sessions over the course of one day, 7th May. All of these sessions were to be focused on one location, as specified by the presence of a “beacon”

The description from the 1988 report reads:

"Viewer 372 [ie, Joe McMoneagle] and a viewing monitor were aware that the target material was of [redacted] significance and was located within the greater San Francisco Bay area. They were told that an individual [redacted] described by name and Social Security number was in the target area during the viewing sessions, and that two members of the SRI staff (known to V372 and the monitor) would serve as a “beacon” and would be at the specific target of interest between 2200 hours on May 7 and 0800 hours on May 8, 1987."

It is worth noting at this point that McMoneagle and the interviewer were not completely blind to the nature of the target, as described in some versions of these events. Additionally, at the start of the first session, McMoneagle is told by the interviewer that the beacon is a physicist, which is another piece of information that could influence his remote viewing session.

Dr May's website includes a section listing the times and circumstances of each of the four sessions. Dr May quotes the 1988 report almost verbatim, except for a couple of sentences that he has omitted from the website. Below is a quote from Dr May’s site. The sections in bold are those which are in the original 1988 report, but are missing from the version online.

"0800 Hours — Receiver 372 was asked to describe the geographical area and the gestalt of the area of interest. He was also asked to provide as much detail as possible in real-time (i.e., at 0835) and was targeted upon the sponsor's on-site representative. At this time, the representative was sleeping (approximately 2 miles from [redacted: the target location]) after having been awake the entire previous night.

1010 Hours — The receiver was asked to describe the details and activity at the site designated by the sponsor's on-site representative as of 0000 hours 7 May (i.e., the previous night).

1600 Hours — The receiver was asked to describe, in real-time, the details and activity at the site designated by the sponsor's on-site representative. At this time, this individual was eating dinner (approximately 2 miles from [the target location])

2400 Hours — The receiver was asked to describe, in real-time the details and activity at the site designated by two SRI personnel."

These omissions, which pinpoint the target person’s location, become pivotal when trying to properly assess the results of this experiment. Dr May writes “During the 0800h session, the target person was located in building A at LLNL,” although the 1988 report tells us something quite different. The target location, the Advanced Technology Accelerator, is 15km (9 miles) from the Lawrence Livermore Labs and so the two versions of events do not match up.

Similarly, the claim “at 1600h he was driving through the windmill electric power farm at the Altamont pass” does not agree with the original report for two reason. Firstly, as seen above, the target was eating dinner, not driving his car. Secondly, the drawing and description of the wind farm came from the 0800h session, not from the afternoon 1600h session.

Since reading the original report makes it clear that neither the target person nor the other two beacons were ever at the Altamont Wind Farm nor the Lawrence Livermore Labs, where has this reputation for being incredible successes come from?

In the 1988 report, the inclusion of these two locations as targets alongside the inital (primary) target is explained thus:

“We have also identified targets of lesser interest in the [redacted] environment. We have designated a wind-power electric generator farm at Altamont Pass but adjacent to [redacted] as a secondary target, and the [redacted] main complex, which is farther away geographically but is functionally associated with [redacted] as a tertiary target.”

I have emailed Dr May to ask if he recalled exactly when during the experiment the secondary and tertiary targets were defined but have received no reply.

The paper “Anomalous Cognition Technical Trials: Inspiration for the Target Entropy Concept” by May and Lantz (included in the book Anomalous Cognition) tells us

“Three separate targets within this trial were identified depending upon where the beacon person was at the time of the session.”

This does not accord with the original report. Is it possible that the wind farm and the laboratory were added to the session as “targets” after the sessions were complete?

As for the successful viewing of the particle accelerator, this took place on the third and fourth sessions and it is difficult to tell how blind to the target the interviewer is, since he sometimes prompts Joe McMoneagle with technical names for things he is describing.

But one thing is clear, claims that Joe McMoneagle remote viewed to an uncanny accuracy the location of a distant individual is not supported by the original report. The details as to why the secondary and tertiary targets were chosen are very sketchy and the constant inaccuracies in the retelling of this experiment means this cannot be taken seriously as an example of anomalous cognition.

The original 1988 report can be downloaded from here.


Diane Hennacy Powell, M.D., “The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena,” (2009) Walker & Company

Edwin May & Nevin Lantz, “Anomalous Cognition Technical Trials: Inspiration for the Target Entropy Concept” in “Anomalous Cognition: Remote Viewing Research and Theory,”edited by Edwin May & Sonali Bhatt Marwaha, (2014) McFarland

Edwin May, “An Application Oriented Remote Viewing Experiment,” (1988) SRI International

Monday, 10 November 2014

Bridge Jumping

Today, the BBC put an article on its website concerning the first bungee jump from Clifton Suspension Bridge. This reminded me of another attempt to jump from this famous bridge dating from 1887.

Lawrence M. Donovan had reached a certain level of fame in the United States for jumping from famous bridges. In 1886 he’d jumped from Brooklyn Bridge and then in November of the same year, he jumped from the New Suspension Bridge over the Niagara River.

Then, in June 1887, he jumped from Westminster Bridge in London, with rumours that he was planning on jumping from the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

The police were on their guard to prevent this from happening, and so it was that on the 22 June 1887 the Bristol Mercury ran a story about how a man was taken into custody after an attempt to reach the bridge.

The paper informs us that Superintendent Thatcher told Donovan that “any person going to the Clifton bridge with an intention to jump from it would be regarded by all in their rational senses as contemplating suicide, and it was the duty of the police to protect him against himself.” Donovan was refused bail. On his trail the following week, Donovan gave assurances that, we he to be bailed, he would leave Bristol immediately and make no further attempt to jump from the bridge.

No more is reported on the subject until suddenly in the Spring of the following year. Donovan was back in Bristol for a fortnight and had made clear his plans to jump. The six months that he was bound to keep the peace from his previous visit to Bristol was now over, and he was free to return and try again.

First, he said he would jump on Saturday 10 March 1888. He was foiled by the presence of police, and so it was the following day when he tried again.

The Bristol Mercury for Wednesday 14 March reports that “last night, the darkness and the rain being considered favourable to the plan, which was to elude the vigilance of the police [...] Donovan resolved to achieve his object.”

According to the man who drove Donovan to the bridge, at around 8.15pm, “the American then left the wagonette, took off a heavy overcoat, which he threw into the river, climbed the balustrade and having held on for a sufficient time to steady himself, he dropped feet foremost into the water.”

There are two contrasting testimonies about what happened then. The driver said a boat on the river picked Donovan up, while Donovan himself said he swam to shore and received help from someone living in a cottage near the river.

However, the police on duty – both on the bridge and below it – said no one had made a jump from the bridge. On the following day, the Bristol Mercury ran a piece throwing doubt on Donovan’s version of events (which they printed in full) saying that the only witnesses were in the employment of Mr Baker, a local showman who Donovan had been staying with. They were unable to find anyone living by the shore of the Avon who’d seen anything.

Furthermore, the doctor who saw Donovan at the hospital reported no injuries, no bruising or anything of the sort you might expect from a jump like this. Donovan’s claim that the force of landing was absorbed by zinc plates in his boots that had been charged up with electricity was dismissed by a doctor as “simply a superstition.”

Meanwhile, the police officers on duty reported seeing no one jump. One, on duty between eight and nine in the evening, did see Mr Baker drive onto the bridge, but was sure he did not stop halfway since he followed it across. Interestingly, the officer on the shift before this one also saw Mr Baker drive across (going the opposite way) at 7.45pm.

Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, was the witness statement from the cab driver who took Donovan to hospital noticed that the American’s shirt wasn’t wet and said that “he went off the bridge about as much as I did.”

Lawrence Donovan was discharged from hospital the day after his alleged jump, but he was not to be deterred. Barely one month later, he tried again. Seven hundred people had turned up to watch, but the police presence made it impossible.

As far as I can tell, he made no further attempt on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and his career was to come to a sudden and sad ending when, in August 1888, he died jumping from Charing Cross Bridge in London.

The National Police Gazzette: New York, 11 September 1886, p 16
“A Daring Jump,” The Canaseraga Times, Friday, 12 November 1886
“The Projected Dive From The Suspension Bridge,” Bristol Mercury, 22 June 1887
“The Hero of Brooklyn Bridge and Niagara Falls in Prison,” Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 30 June 1887
“Leap from Clifton Bridge,” Bristol Mercury, 14 March 1888
“Another Attempt to Jump from the Clifton Bridge,” Lichfield Mercury, 6 April 1888
“Fatal Dive by Donovan,” Gloucester Citizen, 08 August 1888

British newspaper clippings from The British Newspaper Archive
American newspaper clippings from Fulton History

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Guy Lyon Playfair on Project Stargate

An old website, Skeptical Investigations has recently got a new look, some new content and a new name, “Skeptical About Skeptics.” It aims to demonstrate that high-profile skeptics aren’t necessarily engaging with the data itself but are, in fact, towing a party line to maintain the status quo. It’s a wide-ranging site that covers a lot of topics, many of which I know little about. But there is one topic that I’m fairly well-read on and, in that instance, this website gets it considerably wrong.

The topic in question is the US military investigation into remote viewing as a means of gathering intelligence. During its life it went under a series of names, but is now generally referred to as Project Stargate.

There are two articles on Skeptical about Skeptics about Project Stargate. The first is Military Remote Viewing: The Story, and the other is The Stargate Conspiracy. I’d like to take some time to address the issues Guy Lyon Playfair raises.

The first of these concerns itself mostly with the unfair handling of the RV project by skeptics. Certainly, from the very beginning there have been people in the US government who were aware of the project, were not impressed by its results, and wanted it shut down. That’s not really in any doubt. But Playfair considers this behaviour to be “paradoxical.” He cannot imagine why anyone would want to shut down a program that was getting such good results. One possible explanation escapes him: they were getting such good results.

Guy Lyon Playfair lists a few examples of the remote viewers’ successes, and I think it’s worth looking at these in more detail. But I begin, though, I need to reply to the point that Playfair makes in both articles that only a small percentage of the remote viewing sessions have been declassified. He quotes Hal Puthoff saying “file cabinets full of data that probably won’t be declassified in our lifetime.” But Hal, speaking in 2000, was not to know that four years later the CIA would release four CD-ROMs contained about 17,000 more documents. Of course, there are still some things that remain secret (for example, none of the sessions aimed at China have been declassified) but the idea that only a small percentage has been made available is untenable.

Of the successes that Guy Lyon Playfair writes about, only one seems to be backed up by original documentation. On the “Military Remote Viewing” page, he writes that psychic was able to locate a crashed Soviet aircraft in Zaire. President Carter mentioned this in 1995 and there is a memo from May 1979 which talks about a psychic choosing a location “which appears to be a crash site.”

He mentions the case of Charlie Jordan. In this case, a team of remote viewers were given the task of locating the fugitive Customs Supervisor Charles Jordan, who’d been on the run for some years. While most of the viewers were Mexico or Florida, one remote viewer said he was in Lovell, Wyoming, which is very near where he turned out to be. This session took place on the 10 April 1989, and on the 16 June 1989 Charlie Jordan was arrested.

Playfair implies that the credit should go to the remote viewers for the arrest, but the book “The FBI” by Ronald Kessler says that he “was caught when his case appeared on America’s Most Wanted and tips came in that gave the FBI probable cause to search the home of Jordan’s parents. There, agents found a videotape Jordan had made when his wife gave birth to a baby [...] The videotape showed the couple’s license tag number. It also showed the name of the hospital imprinted on a pillow case at the hospital where Jordan’s wife gave birth.”

So, it seems that the remote viewers were not involved in the capture of Charlie Jordan, and that episode of America’s Most Wanted, aired a few months before this particular project began, could be how one remote viewer (although, to be exact, she was a psychic medium, not a remote viewer) was able to guess so close to his location. It would be useful to see the show to understand the kind of information it contained.

On the “Stargate Conspiracy” page of Skeptical About Skeptics, there are a few more examples. Playfair writes that McMoneagle gives details about projects to find the hostages Dozier, Higgins and Buckley. I’ve already written about the remote viewers’ unsuccessful attempts to remote view Gen. Dozier. As for the other two, the story that the original documentation reveals is, if anything, even worse than that.

LTC Higgins was kidnapped in South Lebanon on 17 February 1989. At first, in that same month, there was a spate of half a dozen remote viewing sessions on him, but it wasn’t until later that year that he was targetted repeatedly. Between September and December 1989 he was the target several times as part of a larger project regarding the Lebanon Hostage Crisis.

A recurring theme of these sessions was that Higgins was about to be released. Throughout these four months, it was reported that his captors would release him in two weeks’ time, or he will be the next to be released.

In the end, he was never released at all. In late August 1989, the US authorities received a video from Hezbollah apparently showing the death of LTC Higgins. On the following days, the remote viewers were asked to view Higgins and determine if he was dead or alive. Of the four remote viewers, two said he was still alive, another couldn’t tell, and the fourth didn’t answer the question.

Finally, William Buckley was kidnapped in Beirut on 16 March 1984. The remote viewing team conducted eleven sessions targeting him and, interestingly, this information was passed onto the CIA.

This positive report was written at the end of April, but it concluded by saying that the remote viewing sessions had stopped since the CIA could no longer supply the remote viewing team with any new leads. I thought the whole point of remote viewing was to avoid the need for intelligence gathered on the ground.

The next attempt at remote viewing Buckley was in July of 1984. One viewer said Buckley was in good health and would be released around the 22 (this was on the 17 July). The other also spoke about Buckley’s release, saying it would take place south of the Commodore Hotel.

Buckley was never released and was never in good health. He was systematically tortured and died in captivity, his death being announced on 4 October 1985.

Next, Guy Lyon Playfair mentions Joe’s claims regarding a Soviet submarine and predicted where Skylab was going to fall. The submarine “hit” was towards the end of six sessions with an interviewer who was not blind to the target. Joe mentioned a submarine in the first session, but it wasn’t until the fifth that he talks about a submarine again. At this point, the interviewer asks him to talk in more detail about the submarine.

Joe’s version of event is that he described a huge submarine of a type never seen before in a land-locked hangar and was ridiculed for it by officials. In the original documents, though, once he finally starts talking about submarines, he describes alterations being made to an existing one, rather than a brand new one. Also, the sketches resemble more the old Delta type of submarine than the new Typhoon class (although it could be argued it resembles neither). Finally, the US officials giving this tasking would’ve already known about a submarine being built there, due to information from satellite photographs in 1977.

Top, Joe's drawing of the submarine he viewed.
Bottom, drawings of a Delta class submarine above a Typhoon. Source.

As for the Skylab prediction, there’s no sign of it in the declassified papers. But since Joe, in his book, describes it as a task he set himself and not an official request, perhaps that’s not surprising.

I’ve written elsewhere in some detail about the US remote viewing program. While I have some admiration for the project and its attempt at trying something new, it seems clear that almost all the claims of success have been exaggerated greatly. And those few that aren't exaggerations and do appear to be accurate, well, isn’t that to be expected in twenty-three years?