Thursday, May 25, 2017

When governments peer down the wishing well

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, esp, research, government programs

Beginning in the 1940's (so far as we know) several U.S. military and government agencies studied phenomena typically called ESP or psychic, and actually made use of "Remote Viewing" and "Map Dowsing", for example. Although most official connection with such "enhanced skills" ended in the 1990's, not all such efforts have ended, and an unknown amount of work has likely "gone dark".

The title of the book introduces the whole subject: Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government's Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis by Annie Jacobsen. A few startling successes have been recorded, and were brought out by FOIA requests by the author:

  • In 1972 Ingo Swann affected the operation of a "quark detector", really an ultra-sensitive superconductive quantum interference device (SQUID). As scientists and graduate students watched, a chart recorder that was just drawing a slowly shifting line suddenly drew a wiggly line. Swann asked if that was "a result." Asked to do it again, he looked thoughtful a moment, and it did it again. The lead scientist concluded that he had influenced the detector, which was located a level below them in a shielded chamber. I consider it equally likely that he influenced the chart recorder itself; this possibility is not mentioned.
  • Beginning in 1973 several kinds of tests were performed with Uri Geller, the "spoon bender", who still entertains folks by bending spoons, tongs, or whatever, including items too strong to be bent sneakily, and by reading minds or putting thoughts into others' minds. He is credited with correctly reading the uppermost face of a die in a closed metal box, at least 8 times in a row. While living in Israel before this, he had been employed by Moshe Dayan as a map dowser, pointing out to Dayan the locations of archaeological sites and artifacts that had not yet been discovered.
  • Also in 1973 Ingo Swann and an even more talented remote viewer, Pat Price, were asked to describe that they "saw" at a set of geographical coordinates, provided by another researcher. They were the coordinates of his mountain cabin. But the two of them, also describing the weather (easy today, using, not so much 40+ years ago), described a large installation, partly underground, with communications and listening equipment and many technicians. Puzzled, the project leader drove to the site, and then around the side of the mountain he came upon a military installation the cabin's owner had not known was there. Swann and Price said, of course they had seen the cabin, but thought the nearby listening post was the real target.
  • Skip a few: In 1981 Gary Langford, who was an active remote viewer, said, "A United States Pentagon official will be kidnapped by terrorists on the evening of 17 December 1981." On that date at 5:30 PM General James L. Dozier was kidnapped, and later killed. Remote viewers called in to locate him and check his welfare were certain he was alive for some time after his death, because, as it turned out, the killers kept his body on ice for months.

There are numerous other events that researchers called "8 martini results", because they'd need to go drink themselves blotto after witnessing such startling successes. These were military and CIA folks, not used to having their exceedingly rational world view challenged. But this last item above emphasizes a weakness of information provided by precognition and remote viewing. You can't do anything about it until it is too late. Had Gary Langford told the location of the kidnapping, perhaps something could have been done to prevent it. But he would likely then have also said it would be an attempted kidnapping that may or may not succeed.

A great many viewings by Angela Dellafiora, "the woman with the third eye", just drove the researchers wild. She was uncannily accurate. For many years the government officials had tried to separate these "extraordinary skills" from occultism. Ms Dellafiora made no bones about coming from a long line of women with "second sight", and she just wouldn't keep with protocol.

What are we to make of all this? The military, in particular, did their best to make remote viewing a trainable skill. All the evidence so far gathered points instead to what one skilled viewer said, "You have to be born. Not many folks will ever be able to do this."

Before going onto another tack altogether, I need to pick a nit or two with the author: On page 104 of the Little, Brown Large Print edition I read, she writes about the U.S. Embassy in Moscow that was constantly bombarded with microwaves in the 1950's and 1960's. She writes that the signal had "a power density between 2.5 and 4.0 Ghz". That describes a frequency, not power. This is nit 1. Also, it is never mentioned that years later this was found to be a bugging scheme, not an attempt to damage American consuls with microwaves: a decoration in a conference room was resonant at the frequency used, and had a thin metallic membrane on its outer surface. It would modulate and re-radiate the microwaves to a receiver outside the building. The Soviets were listening in on whatever went on in that room. Nit 2.

So, are there truly "paranormal" powers that are owned by a few "adepts"? More than half of us think so. This is a good opportunity to present a Christian perspective, or actually two of them. These are unlikely to be what you are thinking right now.

Firstly, some supposedly occult powers may actually be rare powers of the human soul. The premise of a book by Watchman Nee, The Latent Power of the Soul, is that great powers were to be found in Adam before the fall (whether "Adam" refers to one man or is a collective name for a number of humans who may have dwelt in Eden, makes no difference to the argument). Nee thought that Adam's managerial abilities alone might exceed our best executives by a million-fold or more. He also thought that some powers claimed by Yogis and other occult adepts might be soul power, and he considered that part of the curse of the fall was that most such soulish powers became imprisoned in the flesh; that this might be the reason Yogis and others must be such strict ascetics, so that they can subdue the body and release their soul power. Nee writes that this was God's doing, and without such restrictions, we would likely be too dangerous to one another, above and beyond the dangers we pose from physical means! Think of Darth Vader using "the Force" to kill at a distance.

Secondly, necromancy and other "information gathering" occult powers are typically performed with the help of a "familiar spirit." Shamans in many cultures have special spirits they call on. The Bible's point of view is that a familiar spirit is a demon, usually called an evil spirit in the Old Testament, and a demon in the New Testament. According to an analysis by G. H. Pember, there were men or manlike creatures before Adam, who remained loyal to the Archangel ("Lucifer") when that one rebelled against God. God's judgment on them was to be disembodied and sent to dwell in "the abyss", the deepest parts of the oceans. From time to time one or another will escape temporarily, and it wishes to re-enter a body. Susceptible persons, usually those already weakened in will by persistent and promiscuous sin, can thus be "possessed". I have seen a few startling things that convinced me that demons are real, they do possess certain persons, and that they can be expelled by a spiritual Christian. But on a different note, a witch or sorcerer is someone who has formed an allegiance with such a disembodied spirit, which does favors and proffers information in return for part-time possession of the person's body. Channeling is apparently something that takes place during such a temporary possession. Remote viewing and other information gathering activities may be carried out by demons so informing certain "sensitive" persons, for their own purposes. They can apparently, to a limited extent, foretell the future: perhaps Gary Langford was informed by a demon of a plot that was already planned by General Dozier's kidnappers. Pember wrote about these matters in the second part of his book Earth's Earliest Ages, in 1884. The first part of the book is about "the Gap", the eon's-long period between the first and second verses of Genesis.

Can we say for sure if any of these things are so? Not really, Isaiah sang, "Truly, You are a God who hides Himself" (45:15). God apparently actively prevents most demonic activity, preferring people to live earthly lives in which they will suffer enough anyway, from their own foolishness and from various unfortunate natural events. Such matters would be too time- and space-consuming to enter upon here.

The conclusion of Phenomena is that ESP sometimes happens, but is not very useful. There have been a few surprising successes, and far too many things that were shown to be accurate after the fact, but could not be of any help otherwise. And, of course, for every genuine adept who may exist, there are hundreds or thousands of charlatans and illusionists. A fascinating, if rather sad, book.

No comments: