Remote Influence book chapter

This is the rough draft of a chapter from a book I am writing.   You may copy it for informal use but not for profit.

Unpublished work, © 2010 Chuck Gebhardt, MD

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It was 1972.  Hal Puthoff, a research physicist at Stanford Research Institute, was interested in the possibility that human psychic abilities might be conclusively demonstrated by well designed experiments in the physics laboratory.  He had arranged for Ingo Swann, an artist from New York widely reputed to have remarkable psychic abilities, to fly to California and undergo tests at Stanford University.  Hal would make use of highly sophisticated equipment in the basement of the Varian Physics Building for Ingo’s tests.[i] 

There were two essential attributes of the main piece of equipment Hal had in mind for these tests: first, extreme sensitivity to even the most minute fluctuations of the magnetic field within the device and, second, multiple levels of external shielding to block even traces of magnetic interference from outside the device’s sealed interior.  The apparatus was enclosed in copper shielding, an aluminum casing, a superconducting niobium shield and a mu-metal jacket, specifically designed to be impenetrable to magnetic flux.  Hal knew that the multiple levels of shielding would screen out any physical means anyone might possibly try to use from outside to make changes within the interior of the experimental apparatus.  In the heart of the device was the most sensitive magnetometer ever developed, called a superconducting quantum interference device, or SQUID, for short.

The experimental set-up was designed to look for evidence of free moving versions of subatomic particles called “quarks.”  If such particles did exist in the free moving state, researchers believed that detecting the magnetic signature of the quarks would require enormous sensitivity to capture the slight magnetic fluctuations that would signal their presence, as well as thorough and efficient shielding to block out all potentially interfering magnetic “noise.”  Hal recognized that this experimental arrangement was a perfect opportunity to see if human mental influence from outside the device could penetrate all this shielding and change the magnetic field environment within.  This was to be Ingo’s task.  If he were to somehow succeed, it could not possibly be the result of a physical effect.

The usual output of the device was a graph tracing a slow, monotonous train of rounded peaks and valleys that scientists call a sine wave tracing.  Soon after Ingo and Hal arrived in the basement of the lab near the SQUID device, Hal asked Ingo to concentrate on the device and modify the magnetic field within the shielding.  The sine wave immediately accelerated and doubled its frequency.  When Hal asked Ingo to stop the usual fluctuations in the magnetic background field, the output tracing developed a plateau instead of the usual rounded peaks and valleys, the usual sine wave completely disappeared.  Hal also noted that whenever he and Ingo were involved in chatting about other matters, the slow, monotonous sinusoidal pattern re-established itself. 

Hal had one other test in mind.  Neither Hal nor Ingo had any idea what the SQUID device actually looked like inside its layers of sealed shielding material.  Hal asked Ingo to draw his impression of what the interior mechanism looked like.  Then, when Ingo’s drawings were later shown to Arthur Hebard, the post-doctoral physics student who had designed the device, Arthur reported that the drawings were completely accurate.

Ingo had passed the most rigid tests that Hal Puthoff, the accomplished research physicist, could devise.  It was this test that convinced Hal to spend the next 13 years of his career at SRI exploring the psychic potential of the human mind.

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Uri Geller is another psychic well known for his reported ability to mentally manipulate material objects.  On a number of occasions, he has been reported to have bent metal objects by merely willing them to bend without any physical contact.  I have personally witnessed a small example of his skill.  About six or seven years ago, I happened to see Uri discussing his psychokinetic abilities on a TV special.  During his presentation, he suggested to his television audience that they find a clock or watch that was not working and place it nearby as we were watching his demonstration.

I retrieved a pocket watch that I knew was on my bedroom dresser.  The watch had belonged to my great grandfather, it was the kind railroad conductors once used and had a leather strap attached to allow the conductor to tie it to his vest.  I had never been able to get that watch to work and I had no reason to get it repaired.  It was permanently stopped at 12:05. 

My watch lay on the coffee table before me as Uri continued: “Check the watch or clock now.”  The old pocket watch was ticking!  It continued for about three hours and the hands now permanently reside at 3:16, a graphic reminder.

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On a Sunday evening in 1980, Brenda Dunne and Bob Jahn sat at a table in Bob’s house in Princeton, New Jersey and tabulated data from the first 5,000 trials of a research protocol they had been using in the lab at Princeton University that Bob had formed to conduct these trials.  Starting the lab had been a huge gamble and this night’s tabulations were to be their first indications of how this gamble would fare.[ii]  Bob had become intrigued by reports that human mental influence could alter the output of physically isolated inanimate equipment like the radioisotope-driven random number generators he had read about in reports from other labs.  He started the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research department to replicate this work and to design procedures to take into account and avoid criticisms voiced by reviewers of the earlier study protocols used in these other labs.

Bob was the dean emeritus of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.  His credentials were impressive and he had a track record of success as an applied physicist studying advanced propulsion systems and high temperature plasma dynamics.  He knew how to conduct sophisticated research programs grounded in traditional science.  Brenda was a developmental psychologist from the University of Chicago that Bob had hired to help develop the lab and its scientific protocols.  While most of the published work in this field relied on exceptional subjects believed to possess dramatic paranormal abilities, like Ingo Swann and Uri Geller, Bob and Brenda were using average subjects, with no known psychic abilities, to demonstrate that these skills are an inherent trait for everyone, even if at only rudimentary levels.  To allow for the likelihood that the effects were often subtle in unselected subjects, they were employing techniques designed to rapidly produce a massive amount of precisely controlled data, a strategy that would enable them to effectively and reliably test for small effects that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Bob knew that his new lab was very controversial among his fellow faculty members.  Now he and Brenda were tabulating the first key results.  Their research subjects had been tasked with mentally influencing the output of the random number generators (RNG) that were carefully isolated so that there was no possibility that the subjects could physically affect the random output of ones and zeros in the machine’s output.  One third of the time their subjects were to attempt to produce more ones than zeros (positive intent) from the RNG device, one third of the time to produce more zeros than ones (negative intent) and the other third they were to attend to other tasks unrelated to the RNG machines (neutral).  The data from the neutral task for all 5,000 trials matched the “normal” bell shaped plot statisticians know to expect from a random process.  The graph of the cumulated data from the positive intent, though, was undeniably deviated to the right. The data from the negative intent was clearly deviated to the left.  Brenda summed it up with: “This is absolutely ……. incredible!” 

Bob and Brenda had shown that ordinary people, unselected for any known psychic ability, had been clearly able to modify the functioning of inanimate machines totally isolated from them, just by willing the machines to change their output.  The effects had been relatively small from any single trial, but when summed together, the statistical analysis indicated that the research team would have to run many hundreds of thousands of similar size studies to find a just one with these results by chance alone.   

For the next three decades, the PEAR lab scientists continued to study the effects of human conscious intent, replicating these initial findings as well as building on and expanding these early successes.  One fascinating discovery that further inspires confidence in their work was that each subject imprints a sort of highly individualistic psychic fingerprint in the data output of the RNG they are influencing.  This same tell-tale pattern continues to be characteristic of any given individual over time in multiple trial runs and the typical pattern characteristic of each subject is retained even when completely mechanical devices are the basis of the random process instead of the usual electronic RNG devices.  The scientific rigor and technological sophistication of the PEAR research database proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the human mind can modulate the function of machines with absolutely no physical contact with the machines.  While these researchers were never able to uncover the mechanism by which these effects occurred, they had conclusively demonstrated that non-physical influences were being produced.

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It was 1980.  Daniel Benor was a psychiatrist with a conventional background and traditional medical training who described himself, back then, as being a skeptic about the many alternative healing methods that he had been reading about, particularly in the lay press.  Responding to a challenge by a friend to witness laying-on-of-the-hands healing, he watched as Ethel Lombardi, a Reiki Master, worked on a young man with a painful lump on his chest.  Prior to the procedure, Dr. Benor had examined the lump and found it to be firm, very tender, about two centimeters in length and not very easily movable.  After a half hour treatment by Ethel’s Reiki technique, he was invited to re-examine the lump.  It had shrunk to half its original size, had become soft, completely mobile and was no longer tender.  All of the most worrisome characteristics of the mass had changed![iii] 

This experience prompted a complete change in Dr. Benor’s career.  In his words:  “I knew instantly that this was something I would have to study further.  I have been studying healing in every way I can ever since – interviewing healers, gathering anecdotal reports and research literature, and consulting on setting up studies of healing.”  One of the most significant results of his quest for answers was the publication of a volume that gathers and analyzes many hundreds of scientific healing studies that he titled: Spiritual Healing.

Chapter 4 of Dr. Benor’s book is particularly valuable for our purposes since it is devoted to controlled scientific studies of non-traditional healing methods, many involving distant targets to which the healers directed their intents to heal.  It is the summary at the end of this chapter that is of particular interest.  Not only does Dr. Benor report that many distant healing studies show statistically significant results, he analyses the relationship between the quality of the studies and the likelihood that significant results were found. He ranked each of the 191 studies reviewed in this chapter for their design quality from Rating I: Excellent study, down to Rating V: Poorly designed study.  He then evaluated the percentage reporting significant results within each the 5 quality groups.  If the finding that significant healing changes were the product of poor research design, it would be expected that the poorest designs would be the most likely to show the reported effects, while the best constructed trials would be much less likely to report positive effects.  In complete contrast to this possibility, Dr. Benor found the opposite.  It was the best quality research, given Rating I, that was most likely to show significant results.  The studies of the highest scientific rigor and quality were the most likely to report that healing intent did indeed produce beneficial results, virtually eliminating the possibility that poor research design was the basis for the impressive results.

Many of the research studies he reviewed have been successfully replicated in very similar designs by independent research groups, some numerous times.  Dr. Benor’s book, Spiritual Healing, while being probably the most notable publication reporting on the controlled studies of non-physical healing methods, it is not the only book that includes reports of the controlled scientific study of healing intent.  A survey of other compilations of healing research, in other publications, lends further support to his conclusions.[iv]

The healing trials discussed in these publications often entail healing at a distance, sometimes many miles between the healer and the subject of healing.  When these factors are investigated, it is notable that the effectiveness of the healing intent does not diminish with distance and is also found to be time independent.  Physical mechanisms that might explain these effects, thus, are completely excluded.  Like the reports of remote viewing research and the engineering studies of man-machine interactions, non-physical processes are clearly at work here.

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The stories with which I started off this chapter, of Ingo Swann changing the output of the SQUID device and Uri Geller getting defective timepieces to restart, have a lot more inherent drama than the discussions of the research data, but it is the results of the research that are likely to be a lot more convincing.  It is relatively easy to dismiss any given story as a possible distortion of the facts, or as misleading in either some intentional of inadvertent way.  But with discussions summarizing, comparing and contrasting the research of various research teams, there is much more to base a judgment of the soundness of conclusions.  In addition, research results are much more accessible to the interested reader.  For these reasons, I will focus on the published research reports for the remainder of this chapter.

There are a lot of similarities in the reports of the “Remote Viewing” studies and the studies I have called “Remote Influence.”   As was true in the case of the remote viewing studies, the researchers whose work is discussed in this chapter are well trained, well credentialed and successful scientists.  Sometimes it is the same scientists working with both types of research, but across the board, they are superb research scientists.  They have developed their research skills through productive careers in traditional scientific disciplines.  They have demonstrated the ability to conduct high quality work that has been accepted by their peers.  They have then taken these well honed skills and applied them to topics that are anything but traditional, yet they have done so following well accepted scientific technique.  These researchers, being aware of the criticism their work would be likely to provoke because it questions accepted scientific theories, have taken great pains to develop exemplary research designs and incorporate well established statistical analyses.  As was the case in the Remote Viewing chapter, their findings cannot reasonably be rejected on the basis of poor study design nor on the basis of faulty technique.

The work discussed here is also extensively replicated.  As noted earlier, successful, independent replication by experienced researchers is certainly one of the most important touchstones of reliable research results.  There are many examples where provocative research findings have been replicated by totally independent labs, many times by scientists who were initially skeptical of previous reports and who have become convinced based on the results of their own work.

Perhaps the most remarkable type of confirmation is the striking similarity of the anomalous findings researchers have independently discovered in their respective scientific disciplines.  For example, the kinds of anomalies found in the engineering departments are remarkably similar to those found by the physicists studying remote viewing and both of these are similar to what medical scientists have discovered about the characteristics of remote healing intention.  In all these areas of study, for example, it is reported that the anomalous effects occur with no known physical carriers. In fact, they are still found when all known physical influences are carefully screened out.  In all of the various fields where these anomalous effects are reported, the effects are independent of the distance between the individual intending the effect and the target, not dropping off in the strength with increasing distance as is always found with physical processes.  It is also remarkable that the effects in all these areas of study are initiated and controlled solely by human intent. 

A further similarity is important not only because the presence of the similarity in all these fields of research provides further confirmation that the effects are real, but also because of what it says about who we are as human beings.  While in each of these areas of research there are a few individuals who are dramatically effective with their mental intents, these abilities are present in virtually everyone tested, even if at very low levels of effect.  We are being shown that the ability to non-physically affect our environment is part of what it is to be human.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that I have discussed only research that has been performed relatively recently and I have selected out only a small portion of the recent reports that are available and which might be pertinent.  A much broader and more in depth exposure to the type of research I have presented, a data base that has been growing for well over a century, is readily available in two recently published books.  The End of Materialism is a survey of what is often called “paranormal” research by Charles Tart, a scientist with over thirty years experience in this field.  Dean Radin, another renowned scientist in this field with extensive research experience, in his book Entangled Minds, provides further insightful analysis with a particular emphasis on the results of a technique called “meta-analysis.”  Meta-analysis is the compilation of all the available research reports of a given phenomena, the careful analysis of the quality of each report, and the comparison of the consistency of the results within the data base gathered.  Chapter 4 of Dr. Benor’s book, discussed earlier, also contains a meta-analysis of the healing research.  Meta-analysis has proven to be a powerful means to arrive at reliable conclusions concerning thoroughly tested hypotheses.  Published meta-analyses of the anomalies and of paranormal phenomena evaluated in these two books have shown these phenomena to be consistently demonstrated to a very high degree of confidence.  The interested reader will find extensive scientific confirmation of the conclusions presented here by consulting these two books.

Even after it is accepted that these are real phenomena, confirmed by reliable research techniques, one may be tempted to write off all of the findings from both remote viewing and remote influence by assuming that the demonstrated effects, while achieving clear statistical significance, have no practical value to our individual lives.  It is true that very few people are adept at the types of abilities like those reported of Uri Geller and Joseph McMoneagle.  It is also true that when average, unselected individuals are studied, the abilities demonstrated, while highly significant from a statistical standpoint, are probably not very practical in their day to day lives.  At this point in time, though, the real import of these studies is in what they say about who we are and how our world works.  What we have here are additional reliable, solidly grounded indications that we need to revise our view of the world. 


[i] L. McTaggart, The Field (New York,NY: HarperCollins, 2002): 143-6

[ii] L. McTaggart, The Field (New York,NY: HarperCollins, 2002): 109-15

[iii] D. Benor, Spiritual Healing, (Southfield,MI: Vision Publications, 2001)

[iv] L. Dossey, Healing Words (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993)

  W. Weston, How Prayer Heals (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads, 1998)

  L. Dossey, Be Careful What You Pray For…You Might Just Get It (New York, NY:HarperCollins, 1997)

One Response to Remote Influence book chapter

  1. Pingback: Seeing the World through New Eyes | Dr. Chuck's Chat

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