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Remote viewing

Remote viewing (RV) is a form of clairvoyance by which a viewer is said to use his or her clairvoyant abilities to "view", i.e. gather information on a target consisting of an object, place, person, etc., which is hidden from physical view of the viewer and typically separated from the viewer in space by some distance, and sometimes separated in time (future or past) as well.

Remote viewing is distinguished from other forms of clairvoyance in that it follows a specific experimental protocol (or some variant of it). The salient aspect common to these protocols is that the viewer is blind to the target in the sense that he is given no (or negligible) information regarding the target being viewed.

Most of the remote viewing literature was developed as a part of U.S-sponsored research projects, the aim being to develop a reliable "spying system". The ability to remotely view military installations and documents would be invaluable. The official project ended in 1995 after over 20 years of effort, with little to show for the efforts.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Description
3 Applications
4 Criticism
5 Final Reports
6 Names of Note
7 External Links


Humble Beginnings

In 1972, Dr. Hal Puthoff, a researcher at SRI, put forth a series of proposals to study quantum mechanics in life processes. His paper outlining the intended research, Toward a Quantum Theory of Life Process, was not accepted, but was circulated to a number of people involved in similar research, including Clive Backster who was using polygraphs to study electrical processes in plants.

A local artist, Ingo Swann, happened to read the paper while visiting Backster's laboratory, and wrote back suggesting that he should instead study parapsychological effects. He described a number of such studies that he had been involved with at the City College of New York. Puthoff was interested and invited Swann to SRI for a week in 1972. Prior to the meeting Puthoff had set up test equipment below the room in which Swann demonstrated his talents, all of which recorded anomalies. As a result of this meeting, Puthoff became convinced the matter was worth additional study, and published a short report on the meetings.

CIA involvement

A few weeks later several people from the CIA arrived. The U.S., and the CIA in particular, actively read most published research from the USSR in order to keep abreast of their developments. When they learned that the USSR had serious programs pursuing the development and application of PSI abilities, they decided to fund research to evaluate the potential threat from this direction. Puthoff's report came to their attention and they decided that SRI would be a perfect place to carry out a small research project of their own.

Puthoff then arranged a meeting between members of the CIA delegation and Swann. Small objects were placed in boxes and Swann was asked to describe them, with results that were apparently "good enough" to convince the CIA to fund the project. The result was an eight-month pilot study, the Biofield Measurements Program. Joined by another interested SRI researcher, Russell Targ, the project got underway in late 1972.

Early tests

Early tests in the program were similar to those of the demonstrations for the CIA. Documents placed in envelopes or objects in boxes were "viewed" and recorded (either verbally or as a drawing), with the results being judged by a 3rd party who had previously seen neither. By the end of the series they had changed the tests to include "outbound" studies in which the viewers (at this point there were about a dozen involved on and off) were asked to describe locations around the San Francisco, California area (home to SRI).

During this period Swann suggested yet another change to the study, wherein the viewers would view a location given nothing but its geographical coordinates. Puthoff and Targ were sceptical, but developed a series of test procedures to try it out. The CIA sent back the coordinates of a site to be viewed, one in West Virginia and another in the Urals. The results were apparently so startling that further funding was immediately forthcoming.

Operational viewing

Now into the second year, the CIA decided to try to use the viewers on an operational target, the nuclear test facilities at Semipalatinsk, USSR (now Kazakhstan). The viewer, Pat Price, returned a series of drawings, including a building layout "from above", details of several of the buildings, and a drawing of a large gantry crane. The site did indeed contain a gantry crane, and further studies were suggested.

Phase II studies were somewhat more subjective, with members of the CIA "interviewing" the viewers about the Semipalatinsk site. Phase III was a longer series of additional viewings of the site, along with other studies of a more general nature. These studies had all ended by 1975.

At that point a CIA overview of the project concluded that evidence for the workings of remote viewing was shaky at best. For instance, in the original Phase I Semipalatinsk tests were generally negative, with only the gantry crane being anything of an obvious match. The "hit" could have been due to a successful remote viewing, or it could have been plain luck, and the problem was that there was no way to know which was which. They decided to withdraw from further testing.

However additional funding was soon forthcoming from both the DIA and Department of Defense, under the name Project Star Gate. During this period the nature of the studies expanded from remote viewing to just about any PSI phenomenon, including the testing of Uri Geller's abilities to bend spoons. This era continued into the 1980s with additional small-scale funding throughout this period.

Project Star Gate

A number of hints of the project's existence did become public in the 1980s however, when Joe McMoneagle claimed in public to have been employed as a "psychic spy" for some sixteen years before leaving the Army. During this time he claims to have been used to discover the location of the US embassy employees being held in Iran, while a number of other such viewers were used to locate Moammar Gadhafi and various lost military items.

It appears that throughout this period the CIA and DIA had a number of remote viewers on a contract basis under an umbrella funding agreement known as Project Star Gate. The exact details of the arrangements are somewhat unclear, as expected for a project being run by the intelligence community.

SAIC involvement

To say that the SRI experiments were successful would be an overstatement. They continued to generate a number of promising leads, but at the same time external reviews consistently found problems, some of them serious, in the testing methodology. Nevertheless the apparent utility of a working remote viewing system was worth the effort, so the project was moved to Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) in 1992, where it was hoped that better experimental controls would be in place.

SAIC ran the program until 1994, but apparently called for their own review of the work. In 1995 the program was put under review by a small panel appointed by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Conflicting reports were issued by Drs. Jessica Utts (who believed) and Ray Hyman (who didn't), and the decision was made to stop funding the program.

Since this time information about the program has gradually been declassified, and a number of review articles and reports have since been published.


Under the remote viewing family of protocols, the viewer is blind to the target, i.e. is not explicitly told what the target is; rather it is specified in one of several ways. One common method is that the target is described either in writing or by a photograph or by some set of coordinates (e.g. latitude & longitude), the latter of which may be encrypted.

The description is then placed in a double-set of opaque envelopes which may be shown to the viewer or its location described to the viewer, but which the viewer is not allowed to touch or open during the viewing session. The viewer then writes down whatever information he can gather about the target, typically including drawings and gestalt impressions as well as visual details (and sometimes auditory or kinesthetic details as well). The viewing session is often administered or facilitated by a second person called the monitor.

The output of the viewing session is evaluated by a third person, the analyst or evaluator, who matches or ranks the output against a pool consisting of the actual target with some number of decoy or dummy targets. In research scenarios (experiments) the monitor and analyst are also blind to the target along with the viewer until the evaluation is complete. The viewer is typically given information about the target after the evaluation is complete, especially during training sessions.

In the opinion of most of its proponents, remote viewing is a skill that typically improves with training, and certain variations of the protocol are used during training.

Some variations on the remote viewing protocol have names or adjectives:


Remote viewing was originally developed under a US government-sponsored program, with an eye toward intelligence-gathering applications for the CIA and military clients. Some RV proponents state that they suspect that some US government agencies still make ongoing use of RV activities. RV proponents also claim that a number of foreign states engage in RV activities.

RV proponents also claim that RV has found applications outside the government. It has been applied to marine archeology (see links to reports below), though whether RV was of significance in those operations the reader should determine for himself. RV proponents also claim applications to criminal investigations, and commercial information gathering (not to say industrial espionage), but due to privacy concerns it is unlikely that details would be provided in these cases.


Criticisms of the remote viewing projects at SRI center on three primary problems: a continued lack of stringent controls in the experimental procedure, the repeated failure to include negative results, and a lack of verifiable measurements.

The first issue involves the way the experiments themselves were carried out. In one of the early test series a number of random images were selected among as the targets. However it was known to all involved that the images would only be used once, thereby ensuring that the image one day would be different than the last. Of course this skews the results, because the viewer will never describe the same thing twice, one even mentioned this on tape.

Another issue is the extreme subjectivity of the results. A "judge" was asked to compare the descriptions or drawings to the target and decide if they were a match. Of course this is an extremely difficult thing to do, because features of many different articles could be considered a match. Puthoff's historical overview of the project includes one such example, where the viewer drew a picture describing a domed building with a lightning rod on top, and this was considered to be a "hit" on the target image of a merry-go-round – presumably because both were round.

Consider the particular test that convinced the CIA to continue funding, the description of the Semipalatinsk test site. It appears that of all the materials produced, only one was a match. Yet this was considered a success. Successes in testing with rare outcomes are not of themselves problematic (lightning striking a building is a fairly rare occurrence, yet we can develop procedures to demonstrate that lightning rods do indeed protect buildings). Yet in the field of remote viewing, no such objective procedure has ever been developed.

In order to avoid such obvious problems, the judges were presented with a number of "decoy" images as well. However in many cases the decoys were completely different than the target image. Pictures of groups of people would include a single image of a church for instance, thereby skewing the results once again.

Reviewers universally complained about these sorts of problems, at which point Puthoff and Targ would change the test procedures in order to correct for them. The prior "tainted" evidence was then discarded, although it continued to be mentioned as positive in later reviews. This is an important point that is endemic to the entire parapsychology field, and deserves further discussion.

If you were trying to demonstrate that a particular lake averaged 5 degrees, you would do a series of temperature measurements over time. If those results said 10, 11, 11, 10, 8, 11, 12, and then later 5, 4, 5, 7, 4 etc, the only possible conclusion is that the lake does not average 5 degrees.

This was not the case in the remote viewing experiments. When faced with the fact that a particular test series was flawed, or simply returned the null result (i.e. no remote viewing capability), the experimental run was discarded. Worse, the very definition of a success was based on a failure to explain the results in "some other way"; if such an explanation was later offered, the entire run was discarded. This means that the experimental evidence is always, by definition, positive.

Another problem was that Puthoff continually described successful experiments that could not be verified. For instance he initially became interested in the field after measuring Swann with a number of sensitive lab devices, which he claimed all registered anomalous readings. However, these readings were never presented, nor was there any way to verify that similar readings were not being generated all the time.

But considering the potential usefulness of a direct physical measurement of PSI functioning, it seems highly suspicious that the experiment was never carried out again and that the data was never even presented. This was particularly true during the later stages of the program when testing a wide variety of PSI phenomenon, and when pressed to demonstrate the raw data, could not.

The SAIC test series does not fall to the same complaints. All data was available for review, and the test procedures themselves were considerably better designed. To date the only concerns are the limited number of test runs, and that a single judge was used, the project's own director. This later point is a fairly serious concern however, yet further funding to address this issue was not forthcoming.

Within the parapsychology field, success rates for RV experiments, i.e. the strength of the scientific evidence for RV is apparently not viewed as being as strong as that for some other psi phenomena, such as the ganzfeld experiments. However it should be pointed out that the ganzfeld experiments are simply the latest "incontestible proof" in the wider field that has also discarded all previous examples of "incontestible proof". The ganzfeld series developed out of Rhine's forced-choice card experiments, which were likewise offered as incontestible proof, until other experimenters could not repeat the results. Then the results were discarded.

Perhaps the best criticism is that RV is apparently not used by the intelligence community itself. Although proponents claim it is, they can offer no proof, and when pressed for it have always replied that such proof is impossible due to the top-secret nature of the efforts.

Final Reports

In 1995 both Jessica Utts and Ray Hyman wrote reports on the project, both commenting almost entirely on the SAIC experiments.

Utts' report focussed on statistical matches between the SAIC experiments and those of other related PSI experiments. In most cases the magnitude of the effect, that is, the number of "positive" results, is similar. This suggests that there is a real effect underlying the results.

Hyman's report disputes this conclusion, notably because the comparison requires results from experiments that have generally been discarded as being inaccurate. He noted a continued series of experiments that were offered up as "incontestible proof" of PSI, only to be discarded when problems with the experiment were discovered. Although the SAIC experiments may indeed be demonstrating a real effect, they must do so on their own, and it is not clear that they are strong enough to do so.

Names of Note

External Links

Regarding the AIR evaluations:

General links: Of historical interest: Papers on remote viewing applied to marine archeology: