Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
Sooner or later, people ask the question: Is psychic ability like a ham radio? Do we send and receive actual signals like transmitting an episode of A Prairie Home Companion with your mind? Or is it something else?
To me it has always seemed obvious that psi does not involve electromagnetic signals. But in science this is a legitimate question and some have sought to answer it. The first person to tackle this scientifically was Leonid Vasiliev, (1891-1966). According to the psi encyclopedia:
In 1932, his institute received an assignment from the Soviet government ‘to initiate an experimental study of telepathy with the aim of determining as far as possible its physical basis: what is the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation that produces “mental radio”, the transmission of information from one brain to another, if such a transmission exists’.5
Vasiliev conducted experiments in caves and faraday cages (electromagnetically shielded areas.) but found that non local perception worked just fine no matter the location. After attempting shielding for a wide variety of EM frequencies he was down to one that he couldn’t test: Extremely low frequencies or ELF for short.
It is extremely difficult to rule out ELF’s. They can penetrate seawater and significant distances into earth and rock. The waves can diffract around large obstacles, such as mountain ranges and can follow the curve of the earth. They can travel the earth several times before decaying to the point of being unusable.
The reason we don’t use ELF’s for communication is that they can’t carry much information. The waves are 6000 km at 50 Hz and 5000 km at 60 Hz. An ELF antenna needs to be somewhere between 14 and 28 miles long.
The waves are quite big, which means that variations in the signal take a long time to get from one place to another. It takes 15 minutes to send 3 letters. Your high definition screen shot of your best Call of Duty moment would take a few years to send, making you yearn for that 300 baud modem in your attic that used your phone receiver to transmit data.
There is of course the purely mechanical problem of how humans could possibly send and receive a wave that normally requires several miles of antennae.
In other words, ELF is a really bad candidate as the mechanism for telepathy, clairvoyance and remote viewing. Nevertheless, it still needed to be ruled out completely, no matter how improbable it appeared.
Nevertheless, it had been shown that ELF waves could be felt by people.
The ELF hypothesis seemed all the more plausible because research in the early 1960s had demonstrated that human subjects showed measurable physiological responses to ELF exposure (Kronig, 1962; Reiter, 1964), even when shielded by earthen bunkers. (Wever, 1968)
And there was one scientist who was proposing that ELF waves were responsible for telepathy:
Over many years Michael Persinger, a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at Laurentian University in Ontario, Canada, had produced more than 100 peer-reviewed papers looking at how electromagnetic fields affected individuals. He studied the effect of devices that created magnetic fields around people’s heads. He first turned his attention to nonlocal consciousness in 1974, when he proposed that telepathy and clairvoyance could be explained by electromagnetic waves in the extreme low frequency ELF range.10
So it really was necessary to rule this one out. However, there was a catch which Vasiliev recognized. The only way to do this was to conduct a deep water psi experiment. This required a submarine and the associated ship, crew and support that subs come with. It wasn’t something you could just do without some serious help.
Until someone was willing to lend their submarine for an experiment, this was going to have to stay on the shelf.
Enter parapsychologist Stephan Schwartz.
. . . then the Special Assistant for Research and Analysis to the Chief of Naval Operations, became familiar with the Vasiliev, Kronig, Reiter, et al research in 1971 and saw it in the context of the remote viewing research he had done earlier; he decided to do the experiment, and tried to interest the Navy in doing it, but like Vasiliev he was unsuccessful.
But Schwartz persisted.
In 1976, through the auspices of the Institute for Marine and Coastal Studies of the University of Southern California, and the generosity of its directors Don Walsh and Don Keach, retired naval officers and internationally recognized for their deep ocean engineering expertise, Schwartz got the use of a research submersible, Taurus, and created Project Deep Quest. This had three parts:
- ascertain whether the ELF hypothesis was viable
- use the ARV protocol to see if a reliable communications channel could be established
- see if by using remote viewing, a previously unknown wreck on or under the seafloor could be located, described in detail, and its history reconstructed
Because Taurus had a 1,200-foot depth limit, the ELF portion of the experiment could not be definitive; to get sufficient shielding for that would require a submersible with at least a 6,000-foot depth limit. However, by placing the submarine at depth, which highly attenuated the signal, and further reducing the bit rate, along with the viewer being at over 500 miles distance from the outbound target, a functionally definitive experiment could be carried out.
A highly attenuated signal is one which is greatly weakened in intensity. As the ELF waves are assumed to be emanating from humans, they would have to be very low powered to begin with. If you’re familiar with how data transmission works, an attenuated signal typically results in data drop outs or data corruption, which must be re-sent, greatly slowing the whole of the transmission. The remote viewers were 500 miles away so the signal would be entering the ocean at an extreme angle. It’s highly unlikely that a human could generate the power necessary for such a wave to travel where it needed to go without weakening so much that it was effectively blocked.
The experiment itself, named project Deep Quest was held off the coast of Santa Catalina Island in California.
The remote viewers meanwhile, were near or at the SRI Institute in Menlo Park, California. (The red pin. The purple pin is Catalina Island.)
The remote viewer information was gathered in less than 10 minutes, making ELF even more unlikely as an explanation. The experiment was a fantastic success, which you’ll see below is a whole ‘nuther story, but the main point is that the ELF hypothesis was functionally disproven. Psychic ability does not use EM waves for communication.
Now here’s the cool part:
The remote viewers were given the task of finding a previously unknown shipwreck and the whole thing took place over three days in June of 1977 and the entire process was captured on film.
The viewers gave a location off of Santa Catalina island and said that it was the site of a ship that had sunk about 90 years ago, had an early high pressure steam winch that had caught fire and sunk the ship. The viewers said that they would find the winch and the aft helm of the ship. They said that a granite block approx. 6’x4’x4′ would also be found. This information was turned over to an independent observer and notarized. This occurred of course, before the search for the ship’s location took place.
At first they had trouble finding the site, so the ship dropped a buoy to ping the exact location the psychics had specified and a psychic on board the ship (Ingo Swann) gave them minor course corrections once they got there to find the wreck. It really is hard to find something specific on the ocean floor even if you know exactly where it is.
The first thing they found was the winch. (11:25 in the video), then they found the aft helm of the ship. Then they found the granite block. (12:40)
A few questions remained. Could the psychics have read about this shipwreck? Schwartz went to the Federal Bureau of Land Management, which tracks all known shipwrecks to find out. (14:18) They had no record of shipwreck in that spot nor of any wreck of that particular type of ship, which means that no one else would have either. There were over 53 shipwrecks in the Catalina area, so this wasn’t anything unusual.
The thickness of the marine growth matched age of the sinking as predicted by the psychics, they found charred pieces of wood which confirmed the fire. Nautical experts identified the winch as a type that had been discontinued because they had a habit of blowing up and sinking ships. It was a type of coaster ship that was bringing blocks of granite to San Francisco that were meant to be front door steps for row houses.
Just as a remote viewing experiment, this was kind of incredible for the accuracy and amount of detail they were able to get. Even skeptics at the time agreed that it would be impossible to fake it.
It should have been convincing evidence of remote viewing, but it seems to have been totally forgotten.