Sunday, May 28, 2017

New Documentary on Psychic Spies

Hopefully this new documentary is as good as the trailer makes it look. It covers Project Stargate, the remote viewing program that was operated by the CIA until 1995. The CIA recently declassified a bunch of information about the program, and the makers of this documentary have taken advantage of it to take a look inside what really went on there.

From everything I've studied over the years, Project Stargate did produce some successes. Some of the remote viewers they recruited and trained produced remarkably accurate information. The program was done in by several converging forces. First, the rise of satellite photography made some remote viewing entirely unnecessary. Second, the program became politically unpopular within the Clinton administration, which led to funding cuts. Finally, the CIA was never quite able to put together a protocol by which anyone could be trained as a successful remote viewer.

That last bit shouldn't have been surprising to anybody, but apparently it was. The idea that psychic ability is unlike any other human ability, in that all of us are precisely and equally psychic, is ridiculous. Obviously some people are more talented than others, and it should be recognized that getting accurate information is hard. That is, it requires a high level of natural talent in addition to training. The New Age movement has a lot invested in the "equally psychic" idea, and that's probably where the CIA got it from. Still, it's just wrong.

What you see in the records of Project Stargate is amble proof that ESP exists - that is, proof that at least some individuals can use psychic means to obtain accurate information at much higher rates than chance would predict. However, what you also see is that most of the best hits came from a handful of individuals. Most people can be trained to do remote viewing. Some of those people will get accurate information. And of the people who get accurate information, some of them will be able to do it a significant amount of the time. And the percentage of people who fall into that last group is a pretty small number.

But so what? I've mentioned before that I think the American obsession with creating studies that "prove ESP exists" is kind of silly. We should be investigating these phenomena to see what is happening in each case. For a lot of people, I'm pretty sure the answer is going to come out that they're usually making it up. Others are going to be flat-out frauds running scams. The point, though, is to identify those who are having legitimate experiences. Trying to convince a bunch of skeptics that "it's real" before you even get started on more important work is practically guaranteed to be a losing strategy.

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