Interview with Loyd Auerbach on remote-viewing, Project Stargate, and the misunderstood history of psychic spying.

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Join Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with author and parapsychologist Loyd Auerbach. During the interview Auerbach explains the origins of remote viewing programs within US Army Intelligence and Soviet/Russian Intelligence organizations:

Alex Tsakiris: …it was long rumored that the whole impetus for [psychic spying] programs was a catch-up number on the Russians. Someone came back and said “Hey we just heard that the Russians are using psychics for espionage. We better get on this too.”

Loyd Auerbach: Well it is true that we got involved in this partly because of fear that the Russians were getting somewhere. They had been spending effectively billions of dollars from the 60s onward and there’s an indication that…they even got involved in thisESP Wars, interestingly enough, because we released intelligence that we were doing testing which we were actually not doing in the early 60s. That scared the Russians into spending money and going in that direction – the idea being this rumor that we would put out there to the Soviets would actually get them on a path of dead-ends. They’d spend money, time and energy on something that according to our experts probably had no validation whatsoever. Then we started hearing things from the Soviet Union apparently that they’re having success. Of course back in the 70s there was a book called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain…some journalists and other researchers had gone over to visit the Soviet Union and they’d been shown people who could do psycho-kinesis: Mind-over-matter. [They] were talked to about generators, psychotronic generators, mind-based generators, and there was discussion of mind-control and all sorts of research in that area. So I guess you could say that scared the pants off of some people in our government, and this program was set-up partly in response to what the Soviets were doing.

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Alex Tsakiris: Today we welcome Loyd Auerbach to Skeptiko. Loyd is the author of nine books, including several on his work as a parapsychology field investigator exploring reports of ghosts and haunting activities — a topic he’s a recognized expert on. He’s a graduate of Northwestern University and received a Masters in parapsychology from JFK University where he now teaches courses in parapsychology. He’s also a magician, a mentalist, and a chocolateer — all topics I hope we have a chance to talk about. If you are familiar with parapsychology and paranormal investigations, I’m sure you’ve heard of our guest Loyd Auerbach. What I was really hoping we could focus on today though is this new book he’s just co-authored titled ESP Wars: East & West… quite an interesting book, and much to talk about. Loyd welcome to Skeptiko thanks so much for joining me

Loyd Auerbach: Thank you Alex.

Alex Tsakiris: …Like I said in the intro there there’s just a number of strings we could pull and probably go on for quite a long time, but let’s start with a thumbnail sketch of Stargate because I think that’s what people are gonna be familiar with and immediately want to be hooked into given the title of your book. But then from there I want to work backward because I really like how you trace the history of this stuff. But let’s start with Stargate. What was Stargate?

Loyd Auerbach: Stargate…had a couple of different names before it took on that name. Also known as Grill-Flame in the early days, [it] was a project that started in 1972, and ran until 1995 for [the U.S.] government. It was first conducted at SRI International, then called Stanford Research Institute, then moved over to SAIC and it went through a number of different project directors – including…Russel Targ and Hal Puthoff for example. My co-author Ed May…was the project director from 1985-1995, though involved in 1975. It was a project that was really interested in looking at military intelligence gathering using ESP. So the application of ESP was the main goal for that and out of that came what we have called remote viewing — which became popular even in the press with the more public experiments…done by Targ and Puthoff back in the early 70’s. So you might say that there was this program going on in the government through the military defense department, and eventually for CIA, that paralleled…more public research in the same topic: Remote viewing. Methodologies, in terms of how people were doing the remote viewing…were pretty much the same whether it was for military targets or more public viewing through people like Pat Price, who was a retired police commissioner back in the early days of the project. And what our project was really tasked with doing was, typically, not just testing the upper limits of what remote viewing could do, but really applying what the viewers might be able to pick up on for military and other political targets, mostly in the Soviet Union during the Cold War [in an effort] to add to our intelligence gathering process. They were usually given the missions of last resort, where all other intelligence resources had been actually exhausted. Some of those targets are still classified, some of those tasks are still classified, but a number of them are declassified, and of course we talk about a whole bunch of the viewings [done by] Joe McMoneagle…and also Angela Ford who as attached to the project then.

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s talk about some of those, because I think it then brings it down to a more concrete example of what we’re talking about. So Joe McMoneagle, who’s really an interesting guy, he’s been on the show… just a thumbnail sketch of him. You know what I thought was so interesting when we had him on? Here’s a guy who’s in Army Intelligence, has a near-death experience (NDE), [and] was probably poisoned. The best guess he can make is he was probably poisoned by the East Germans in some kind of way…that caused him to have a heart attack. Nonetheless he has this incredible NDE which totally conforms to so many of the other NDE’s you hear about. Years later he winds up in front of Targ and Puthoff doing this Stargate thing. They pull out [from] his file Raymond Moody’s book on NDE, and they say, “You’re the kind of people we want to target for this new thing we have called ESP, espionage you know.” And he [became] remote viewer Number-One. In the book…you document his amazing reading of a Soviet spy-base. So this, I think, lays a perfect example at people’s feet about what we’re talking about. Lock this guy in a room in California, and have him tell us what is in this Soviet spy-base — on the other side of the globe. Tell that story.

 

US Army Intelligence used "remote viewing" to spy on Soviet/Russian submarines.

US Army Intelligence used “remote viewing” to spy on Soviet/Russian submarines.

Loyd Auerbach: Actually the best example, I think it’s in the book, is a submarine which was technically in a spy-base. It was in a huge warehouse over in the Soviet Union inland, inland about a mile or so from any water. And what happened with so many of these tasks, and this was with any sort of location whether it’s a spy base or this warehouse…We had spy satellites taking pictures over there, and…in the case of the submarine situation, there was this huge warehouse inland and there was a lot of activity — military activity and construction activity — going on….the viewings that were given to the remote viewers, we didn’t have any assets on the ground, no way of getting information, we didn’t have x-ray vision for the spy satellites. Consequently what ended up happening was these were situations of last resort, so Joe was tasked with trying to figure out what’s inside this warehouse with all this activity going on. He sits down, and as the remote viewers often do, sort of free associates…he starts drawing a double hauled huge submarine, something bigger than, according to his dimensions, ever had existed before outside of perhaps the Seaview on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, on TV. This was received by our intelligence folks and of course they completely wrote it off as fantasy because there’s no way that the Soviets would have been building a submarine inside the land with no access to water. On top of that Joe described some of the mechanisms and operation of the sub as being silent because of the types of engines it was going to have. Three months later as the Russians are digging a trench outside this big warehouse area…[they] eventually roll out the first of what we call the typhoon-class submarine which you saw in the Hunt for Red October – the largest subs ever built. They came back to them and pretty much verified that he was right on all accounts and we were a little terrified of the submarine because it was not a sub that you could hear coming. Fortunately they’re out of service now and have been for quite some time. There’s only one still in existence at this point over in Russia.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, so, an amazing account of just what we’re talking with this remote viewing idea. One of the angles in the book that’s very interesting is you look at this not only from our perspective, but from the Soviet-Russian perspective as well because it was long rumored that the whole impetus for these programs was a catch-up number on the Russians. You know, someone came back and said “Hey we just heard that through our sources, our intelligence sources, that the Russians are using psychics for espionage. We better get on this too.” So maybe tell us about what you found out in terms of whether or not that’s true, but then more importantly, just a thumbnail sketch if you will of the Russian involvement with psychic espionage.

Loyd Auerbach: Well it is true that we got involved in this partly because of fear that the Russians were getting somewhere. They had been spending effectively billions of dollars from the 60s onward and there’s an indication that…they even got involved in this, interestingly enough, because we released intelligence that we were doing testing which we were actually not doing in the early 60s. That scared the Russians into spending money and going in that direction – the idea being this rumor that we would put out there to the Soviets would actually get them on a path of dead-ends. They’d spend money, time and energy on something that according to our experts probably had no validation whatsoever. Then we started hearing things from the Soviet Union apparently that they’re having success. Of course back in the 70s there was a book called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain…some journalists and other researchers had gone over to visit the Soviet Union and they’d been shown people who could do psycho-kinesis: Mind-over-matter. [They] were talked to about generators, psychotronic generators, mind-based generators, and there was discussion of mind-control and all sorts of research in that area. So I guess you could say that scared the pants off of some people in our government, and this program was set-up partly in response to what the Soviets were doing. But what’s in the book, and this is when I got involved in the project, I was absolutely fascinated to read the Russian accounts. Ed May who’s the lead author on the book, and Joe McMoneagle had gone over to the Soviet Union in…actually it was Russia by the time they went over there, right after the fall, they got to know Alexei Savan who was running the psychic program at that time; the counterpart to Stargate. And because we were no longer enemies in the Cold War, there was a little bit more sharing of information.

So they got through several visits. They got to know Joe’s counterpart, a viewer over on that side of the world, and discussed techniques and such. They learned an awful lot about what had gone on before. There had been 40-plus laboratories that had been set-up to study this all over the Soviet Union. [That’s] pretty much what they were looking at, and we have a lot of that commentary from a variety of Russian sources in the book — including a forward by…General Nikolai Shem who was the #2 in the KGB during the fall, and a few other folks [such as] General Savan [and] Boris Ratnakov, who was a KGB-man who was heavily involved in this as well.

But from a snapshot perspective, what was going on there, it was kind of interesting they had sort of bi-level programs happening. At the political level in the Soviet Union, you know, very materialistic, the government was very materialistic, but they were far from the godless communists that we continually heard about from our government in the 50s and 60s. Ed always talks about having visited the Kremlin. You can’t find a church anywhere within a block of the Kremlin, but you go a couple blocks away and there’s Russian orthodox churches everywhere and even Stalin, apparently, used to go to church at least twice a week, according to the Russians and other people over there. So…they were from that godless image. They had a very different cultural background. A lot of the folklore around psychic ability was still there. So there was a bit of a belief pattern that existed below the official we-are-materialistic, this-does-not-exist, mind-cannot-go-beyond-the-body, that sort of thing. So there’s a sort of a split-level of things happening. Officially the KGB couldn’t do anything. Officially the government didn’t do any research. Unofficially and through various scientific programs they were actually sponsoring research in remote viewing [and] in psychotronic weaponry, which was essentially the idea of using or creating non-lethal weapons using mind-power alone. And they were working on the possibility of mind control, or at least influence.

Soviets/Russians faked "mind control" for Cold War funding.

Soviets/Russians faked “mind control” for Cold War funding.

Alex Tsakiris: Loyd I was hoping you could really spend some time on those last two – that is the weaponizing of this psychic energy and the mind-control because what I found interesting is you kind of paint this picture where [the Russians] went off…in this other direction, that [wasn’t officially/publicly acknowledged], but then…when you watch the movie The Men Who Stare At Goats we had kind of gone down that path too. It just was one of the paths that was maybe pruned off sooner than the others, but they had success…and were pursuing it. Then from their success that paranoia kicked in and they said “We better figure out how to defend against it as well.” So all that becomes an intriguing aspect of this.

Loyd Auerbach: In our case, just to mention the The Men Who Stare At Goats, they were first battalion.  That was kind of an unofficially…it was not a sanctioned group of people; it’s folks in the army who were trying that. I actually knew one of the martial artists who worked with them and there’s a little bit of an exaggeration like we see on both sides in all of this. The Russians…Ed May looked into this, and Joe McMoneagle, and as we’ve heard from the Russians, what they were interested in was several things. They wanted to create devices that they could place or use that could either place in a room or nearby when let’s say there was a conference with…this was going back to Reagan…and the idea was to make Reagan sick or push him in a certain direction for decision-making. It wasn’t strictly the sort of mind-control we think of in science-fiction. It was more like mental influence, or physical influence to make the person, like, back out of something. They tried to create these devices that could generate, activated by psychokinesis, or even work with telepathy.

A Russian scientist by the name of Vasilyov had done some work in telepathic hypnosis, trying to actually do mind-control by telepathy. The big problem with that was that he could actually cause people, or trigger, a post-hypnotic suggestion…in other words he would’ve had to have hypnotized the person first, [induced] a post-hypnotic state, and then trigger that by telepathy, which is kind of useless if you’re trying to affect the other side in those cases. The mind-control didn’t work so well. They didn’t find the mental influence. And what all the researchers that were talked to have reported and what all the evidence shows is that they never did create, or could create, a psychotronic generator or psychotronic weapon. It was all dead-ends for them. But the thing that I learned that was really interesting about the way the Russians were working, when the folks went over for Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, they were told they were having success in these areas. They came back with stories about the Russians getting way ahead of us, which actually spread the program even further here in the states. Problem is they actually weren’t. But what they also were not doing was not telling their government. The Russian scientists were not telling their government or their superiors that they were having no success because they wanted to keep their funding flowing. Consequently when our folks came back, you might say it’s propaganda toward the West, but really it was propaganda internally that we just happened to be involved in picking up on at the time. So just like people in our country cover their asses [laughter] by making up stuff, and continually talking about having success, they were doing the same thing at their forty-plus laboratories in these particular areas, while having success with remote viewing and a couple of other areas.

Alex Tsakiris: You know that’s fascinating. And it’s also fascinating how you have a little bit of insider information on the men-who-stare-at-goats thing. I do really enjoy absorbing all that information. At the same time, as we were chatting a little bit before the show, I always have to sort of catch myself and say, “Wait a minute, we need to put this back into context.” We are living in a science-as-we-know-it materialistic world that insists that even the first most basic element of this stuff doesn’t exist, you know? And we’re so enmeshed in that, that sometimes we can’t, I think, adequately absorb what we’re being told here which is just over the top concrete absolute evidence of the opposite of that. Now one of the things that you do, just a wonderful job in the book, is putting this in a larger historical context which I think really solidifies that understanding that “Of course!” this is going on, it’s always been going on, it’s always been at the forefront of any ruler’s bag of tricks. If there is power out there, how can I use it? Can you maybe take us back, I know it’s a huge step back, but you trace it in the book the whole history of magic and the use of magic as part of warfare.

Genuine psychic abilities may succumb to the pressure to perform.

Genuine psychic abilities may succumb to the pressure to perform.

Loyd Auerbach: Historically, anthropologically, you’ll find – of course with a lot of mythology, let’s consider that – but historically and cross-culturally, anthropologists have found looking in the historical records we do actually have, we find and it’s no surprise to people that Kings and rulers and chieftains had witch doctors, they had Shamans, they had prophets, wizards, people who were advising them that ostensibly had connection to greater sources of information and perhaps even the ability to alter reality. Change the weather, attack people, put curses on people, that’s been part of human belief since the very, very beginning. But what we do in parapsychology, in looking at those things, is trying to see whether or not there’s any examples of actual psychic functioning in some of them. In my anthropological background at Northwestern I was fascinated with everything from how shamans will heal people, but also put curses on people. You hear about death-by-enchantment and that sort of thing. And there’s a huge psychological element to that. But there’s some examples where people were not told they had a curse on them, and they still seemed to succumb to it. Anthropologically you find sometimes it’s because the person who was cursing them actually had introduced poison into their food. So you have the sorcery element of actual physical substances. The other side of it is people sometimes are psychically aware that people are afar them and they may react in a negative way. So we have that kind of thing as well.

There are some great examples in history of people really accessing information. There’s the very famous Oracle of Delphi for example, which many folks know about. The Delphic Oracle spoke with, supposedly, the words of Apollo, and the Pythia was the person who breathed in some unusual fumes – and there’s a big debate about what those fumes actually were and how much of an altered state the person was in. Then there were priests who would interpret what the Pythia actually said, supposedly what Apollo said through the Pythia. One of the first examples of remote viewing in history, and it’s probably one of the most widely known military predictions of the past. It was King Croesus who we hear of as the “rich king”, but there was a real King Croesus of Lydia, who decided to test the Oracle’s powers. Before asking the Oracle questions about some military campaign that he wanted to do against the Persians…the first thing he did was send a runner to the Pythia, and the Pythia was to focus on an unknown target involving the King. That pretty much describes it. In trance the oracle described what she perceived, which was apparently related to the ruler having some turtle soup, and actually described a reptile floating in water, in a liquid, and there was a lot more descriptive elements to it, but as it happens, at that moment in time, the pre-arranged time, King Croesus was having turtle soup. And it just sort of floored the King with the accuracy of the Pythia.

So the military question went out and the question was whether or not he will actually succeed; whether in a military campaign against King Cyrus who had founded the Persian Empire. The Oracle pretty much left him with a statement that if Croesus attacked Persia there would be destruction of a great kingdom. That maybe to do this he had to unite with the Greek states. Of course, destruction of a great kingdom…there’s a problem with that. You have to ask a follow up question: Whose great kingdom is going to be destroyed? And in this case it was King Croesus’. One of the problems we have with psychic information is you can get some information, but it’s very important to ask the next question. Either what does it mean, what is that thing you’ve just drawn; just continue to get further layers. That’s been very clear in the historical record for some of the things that went on. You also look cross-culturally, an back in college I did a project looking at divination techniques of various indigenous peoples around the world, and how they used them psychically, where psychic ability might have fallen in. One of the ones I remember distinctly was the Laplanders going looking for caribou/reindeer.  Their migration patterns would shift according to the food [supply] and the shaman would actually take a caribou bone or reindeer thigh bone, throw it into the fire and then pull it out, and look at the cracks. [He/she] read the cracks like a map and sent the hunters after the herd. And inevitably they would use that as a map and find the herd almost every time. At least those are the reports. Now the bone only cracks so many ways. There are only so many patterns that can actually happen. And that means the shaman was doing something reading into the bone in a way that was not a pattern indicative of the cracking of the bone from the flame. That was a psychic hit.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, we see that over and over again. I mean, whatever vehicle or, I guess, enabling little devices used doesn’t really speak to what’s really happening in terms of accessing that information, which we have no idea how it does. And I think there’s a couple of really interesting interplays that maybe we’ll touch on later as we talk about magic, and mentalist activities and mentalism as well, but one is there’s two ways to look at this: To look back historically and look for evidence of the reality of the phenomenon that we can then project forward and go “See it happened back then, and it happened now.” I actually think it’s better to do go the other way around and say, OK, look at what SRI did in terms of investigating this as thoroughly as they could with the Stargate program. Look at Joe McMoneagle. Look at all these readings that were done that people can attest that there’s no way to account for the amazing information that they were able to glean and let’s kind of nail that down and say, OK, something is happening. People are able to in some anomalistic way that we don’t understand, access information. Then let’s go back and look at the history, and I think we have to look at these questions and say well clearly the history then reads as if there is some reality to it. But as you just pointed out in your story about the Soviets kind of fudging the numbers to get the funding, there’s also the kind of fakery and corruption – the human element of this – that we would have to expect would come with it. I mean, if all of a sudden you’re a guy who’s starving in the forest and the next thing you know you’re eating with the king, and the king is bending down to hear every word from your mouth about what he should do, you don’t want that to stop. So if the information isn’t flowing today baby, you better make it flow one way or another. And really, that to me seems like a much more plausible explanation of the fakery and corruption that we see. Just like your story about the Soviets. Of course I’m going to make sure that my job continues and that my lifestyle continues rather than worry about the big picture in terms of the results that I’m getting from this little experiment and trial that I did. Do you want to speak to that at all in terms of how fakery probably works into this equation, and has always worked its way into this phenomena?

Loyd Auerbach: Well I think it’s worked its way into just about every area of human endeavor, let’s face it. Where parapsychologists are yelled at by the skeptics, the supposed/so-called “skeptics”, is that we’re always dealing with fake psychics and such. They don’t really look at our actual research methodology which is a lot tighter than most science is in general. Especially for the last twenty years because of issues of potential fraud and sensory leakage we have to be careful. But you find fraud in every area of human endeavor and a lot of time it’s just simply to keep their jobs. I mean, it’s not necessarily to…it’s not the kind of fraud we hear with fake psychics who try to take $50,000 from someone by keeping them on the take so to speak. On the hook. But the fakery that the Russians did was kind of understandable also because let’s face it, they were kind of under the pressure of producing something, even though it wasn’t official, without being sent to a Gulag someplace. They had that other kind of political pressure, it wasn’t just producing to keep the money flowing, there’s a little bit more to it.

And one of the Russian researchers actually pointed out, or mentioned that, his lab did occasionally accept supposed inventions of psychotronic generators from people because the word had gone out that people should try to be independent inventors and try to develop their own devices, and they would show up to the lab and hand them over to a receptionist or someone, who would say “Yes, we’ll test them.” Then turn around and just throw the thing in a storeroom without even looking at it. Because by that time they had already figured out these things don’t work. So there’s that going on. Scientifically, you know, you look at the actual data itself, we have to be careful within our field to make sure that the information is correct in controlled experiments. Going to the Russian side of things, as Ed and Joe worked with them, you know, everything was taken probably with a little grain of salt. We had some stories that we didn’t put in the book because they were a little bit wild, and even the Russians said these are wild stories. That kind of indicated that there’s probably, they’re maybe having a little bit of fun with us in some instances. So they focused on the ones that they could verify and [talked] to people were actually directly involved quite a bit. Through history we do have the advisors who used magic tricks and cold reading and any other number of ways to keep themselves going, and some of them probably didn’t do a good job and ended up having their heads cut off along the way. Others may have just simply moved on, but that’s just general human nature and we see that again in almost every endeavor. It’s happened in the healing arts quite a bit, in fact. And, you know, there’s still a little bit of that in the healing arts today, and medicine today quite a bit.

Alex Tsakiris: Well both in our sanctioned established medicine, conventional medicine, as well as the alternative medicine.

Medical breakthrough is 10% better than mystery?

Medical breakthrough is 10% better than mystery?

259-placebo4Loyd Auerbach: Absolutely. You know I find it fascinating that we have a benchmark for medical research/pharmaceutical research called the placebo effect, and yet medicine has no idea how that works. And there’s very little actual research on the placebo effect. So the benchmark for putting drugs out is an effect that no one understands, that is definitely mind-body, and that’s about as far as they’ll go with it. But that’s kind of absurd when you think about it. Even more absurd than the other things that come out of Stargate and the Russian program.

Alex Tsakiris: It’s especially absurd in that the placebo effect itself completely undermines the fundamental principle of our paradigm, and that is there is no mind-body connection, because there is no “mind”. Your mind is solely a product of your brain, it’s purely material, its’ a biological robot kind of thing. Your mind can do no work. If your mind can do work, any work at all, it violates the whole idea of mind-equals-brain, so…yeah it’s a paradox, absurdity inside of absurdity. You know the other interesting thing, as long as we’re on the medical thing, I don’t know if you’ve looked at it, but you also have the “decline effect” you know. Which no one can explain. You obviously know, but…

Loyd Auerbach: Honestly that effect came from JB Rhine. JB Rhine is the first person who actually pointed at any kind of decline effect. Now that was back in the 1930’s…

Alex Tsakiris: Talk a little bit about that and the history of JB Rhine since…are you still on the board of directors of the JB Rhine Research Institute?

Loyd Auerbach: The Rhine Research Center? Yes, I am.

Alex Tsakiris: Tell us a little bit about your involvement there and the history which is amazing, an amazing history, and we’ve touched on it a couple times in this show but probably not thoroughly enough. And then roll that right into the decline effect, it’s amazing, and [Rhine’s] research.

Loyd Auerbach: It’s really interesting. Until probably ten years ago most people, if you mentioned parapsychology research, they would immediately say, “Oh you mean what they’re doing at Duke University.” And that’s because of JB Rhine, that association. He and his wife Louisa and the psychologist William McDougall came to Duke in the early 30s and Rhine had had an interest for a few years, both Rhines, and McDougall, in psychic phenomena. Partly because of the age of spiritualism, spiritualist mediums, which was still happening, even through the 1920s.

Alex Tsakiris: Let me just interject. Correct me if I’m wrong, but McDougall cut his teeth as a debunker, as an exposer of fraud, right?

Loyd Auerbach: Yeah a lot of the researchers actually did that by that time because there were so many frauds out there, that it was hard to even find anybody who might have some genuine ability. They were all definitely doing that. In fact Rhine, the Rhines, looked at the incident with Margery, the medium Margery, who was actually featured on a recent Houdini movie that appeared on History Channel 2 a couple weeks ago. This was Houdini’s arch enemy. This is one of his big cases toward the end of his life, and this was a woman who was convincing a lot of researchers, but there was a lot of hanky-panky going on, kind of a big scandal even within the parapsychological community at the time. And the Rhines didn’t want anything to do with it. JB decided that he’d really want to bring this into the laboratory.

There had been some laboratory research done by a couple of folks, including a guy named John Hoover at Stanford University in the teens, but for the most part most of the research was out in the field — in the séance room, or just astounding people outside. He and McDougall really wanted to bring it in to the laboratory and so they did. They set up a parapsychology laboratory and Rhine rather than work with gifted subjects, although he had a few of those, really wanted to look at the incidents of ESP and eventually PK in average people, and make it numbers, like real psychological research in general look at the statistical possibilities for people doing ESP. Out of that early work came things like the Zener cards, [created by Karl Zener], because they wanted some symbols or images that had very little emotionality to them which also could be scored very easily. Because of a gambler who claimed he was able to influence the roll of dice, they started doing dice rolling, both predictive for pre-cognition, but also for PK, to see if people could influence the dice to come up a certain number every single time. These were done under controlled conditions, meaning somebody observed at least some centric controls and some interactive controls with the PK to make sure that the person wasn’t touching the dice. In all of this work that they did, they found that you could sit somebody down and do a bunch of ESP tests, with the cards, and the more you did that somebody might have started out scoring phenomenally well. By that I mean maybe 15/25 which is really, really amazing considering chance is 4, 5, or 6. But after awhile because you have to do a numbers game you just can’t test them once. Luck says that every once in a while you’re going to get lucky and you’re gonna get a bunch in a row. So you’d have to do hundreds of these trials, and after testing these people Rhine and his other researchers noticed that there was a decline in the results toward chance. So eventually the person’s score went back to chance. They looked at it in a lot of different contexts. We look at it as a potential relationship to being bored. It’s a human performance issue. You can excel at the beginning, but the odds are you’re not going to continue to excel, especially if you’re  on a task that’s extremely boring. And that is something that has jumped into other fields of science as you’ve mentioned.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, and just let me interject because I don’t think we know conclusively that last part. You know, what just caught my…

Loyd Auerbach: No we don’t…

Alex Tsakiris: I mean maybe it’s boredom, maybe it’s something else because whenever we step into this other realm we have to…you know all bets are off, and that’s why science tries to pull us back to materialism because even though it might not be an accurate representation of the world, at least it’s one we can measure (laughter). And that has a certain comfort factor that we all have. You know what I was alluding to and I’m sure you’ve run across too, there’s this article in the New Yorker Magazine; great article about by this guy named…

Loyd Auerbach: Oh yeah, that’s a great article.

259-placebo4Placebo4Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, Jonah Lehrer, and he wrote this article “The Truth Wears Off” and its these bunch of pharmaceutical guys getting together and telling the dirty little secret that these drug studies that they have from ten years ago that shows a certain efficacy of, I think it’s anti-depressant medicine…that wears off over time, and not in a way we can explain. I mean it’s kind of in the Sheldrake morphic-field, 100th monkey kind of way. So even if you take a separate population. Let’s say you have this drug, this anti-depressant drug, and you give to a certain population, and its effective [for a little while]…what they’ve found is ten years down, even if you go to another population that’s never been exposed to this drug, it’s less effective. The bump that you got in kind of torquing the consciousness field, if you will, has kind of worn off and pulled it back to the median. And it’s not like too out there woo-woo guys [like] you and I talking about this; this is Eli Lily sitting around and going don’t let this story get out, but…there’s some inexplicable way that these drugs are less effective over time and it’s just like you were saying Loyd about the placebo effect. We have it down to where people talk about the placebo effect as if it’s a well established principle of science that we can rest on. And all it says is, there’s more mystery than we can even, you know, begin to absorb just even within what we already claim we know.

Loyd Auerbach: Yeah…and it’s just crazy. There’s a placebo effect, a “no-cebo” effect, and there’s negative results as well. Whether it’s mind-body, if it’s psychological, whatever is going on it is…it’s crazy that it’s the benchmark…they’ll do a clinical trial and the drug is 10% more effective than placebo. Consequently they’ll release a drug at a high expense. Well that 10% is not a very big margin, and it declines. Whereas placebo at least, as best we know, doesn’t decline.

Alex Tsakiris: Right, right, so…it’s like we’re going to take our “non-magic”, then factor in the “magic factor” just by putting a little asterisk at the end of our results (laughter)…and then go ahead and push it out there and claim it’s all non-magic. Well wait a minute! What about that asterisk there called placebo that is the magic factor that you don’t want to look at?

Loyd Auerbach: Which typically has fewer side effects than most of the drugs. Yeah. Getting back to the Rhines, one of the other things that came out of the early research at the lab, the Duke parapsychology lab, which by the way existed until 1965, and [then] it closed…and perhaps Duke was happy that it closed because Rhine had [gained] such notoriety to the point where his data was looked at by the American College of Mathematicians in the 50’s. [They] said the statistics are good; ESP exists. That pronouncement was made based on the numbers. Probabilities back then. But when it closed it was because Rhine retired and then he founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man and the Institute for Parapsychology which today is the Rhine Research Center.

But in that process other things were considered. There was something called the experimenter effect that was noted. That’s something we look at quite a bit, and there’s two levels of experimenter effect in parapsychology. One is a more psychological effect which again came out of parapsychology and is regularly accepted in the other fields as well – at least the social sciences – and that is if you’ve got a white lab-coated very unemotional experimenter who takes you through the experiment vs. a very cheerful bubbly happy friendly experimenter, not wearing the white lab coat, even with the rats…humans and rats do better with the happy ones. So there’s this performance issue that happens, and that’s the one level. I’ve talked to people in the physical sciences who say there is an experimenter effect they won’t/don’t talk about the same way. But there are certain things…I knew a guy who was a chemist at one of the national labs who said…he and a few others [were] working with a professor that they had done some chemistry experiments with. They were trying to replicate one of this experiments – and they couldn’t get it to work, at all. It was apparently something about how he poured one chemical into another. It’s something you don’t write down on paper. So there’s that kind of experimenter effect too; sort of like the finesse of things. Parapsychology also has the experimenter effect related to potential PK. That any ESP in general, in that we may be influencing the actual physical experiment so that it comes out successfully in certain aspects when we join with certain subjects, which is why we’re doing triple-blind and even further blind experiments to remove the designer of the experiment and everybody from [it] who knows anything about it, from even the proximity of the subjects that are being worked with…the volunteers.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, yeah. And that’s much needed work and it’s really great work and I commend you for it and the folks who are out there toiling away at it. You got to wonder at the same time exactly what we’re trying to kind of wrestle in there. There’s a certain chaos theory aspect to it, you know, the butterfly wing kind-of-thing (laughter)…the dew drop floats off the butterfly this way or that way and it changes this complex system that we have and…we don’t know so, we’re just kind of fooling with the alligator clips – putting them here and there and trying to measure the best we can. And it’s an admirable effort, but…we have to start with: We don’t really understand the phenomenon of consciousness; we don’t know what end of the telescope we’re looking at, you know? We’re assuming that we’re in here and the worlds out there and we can measure it, and we may just be in this consciousness soup and we don’t totally understand that. Is there a place for parapsychology in there to do this kind of work with statistics? Or is that kind of a fool’s errand?

Loyd Auerbach: Well, you know, frankly…the statistics have been used partly as a tool to understand the effect-size. But also partly for evidence. We’re at a point [where] many of us have concluded this.  Not necessarily everybody in the field agrees, but we’re certainly at a point where we have more than enough evidence and we really need to focus more on finding people who will make better subjects, or better studies. So that we can learn how this all works. We actually figure out what the extent of it is, so we can find out what other ways we can apply different talents of ESP and potentially PK. The statistics frankly to me have always been a little boring. I’ve not really been as interested in that, that’s why I’ve been doing field studies for so long. It’s the success rate; the proof is in the pudding. It’s what you end up with. For example in the remote viewing programs, at least here in the States, they had more than 15% of the viewings providing actionable intelligence. Meaning intelligence or information as good if not better than what they already had and as good as an on-the-ground-asset so they could actually act on it. However the biggest problem is that in the intelligence world they never act…well I can’t say never because we saw this happen in Iraq…normally they wouldn’t act on something from one source, whether it was ESP or an on-the-ground asset. They would have to confirm it some other way. The success rate of 15-20% apparently, with the remote viewing program, considering they were given the tasks of last resort, the ones where they’d exhausted all other intelligence means. That’s a pretty high number especially since the number at the time in 80s and 90s apparently was about the same as [other methods of acquiring/delivering intelligence] – about 15-20%.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah that is amazing. Loyd, this book is really one that anyone who’s looked into this topic is going to find, just fascinating and chocked full of a ton of great anecdotes and stories that fill in a lot of the gaps. Again it’s ESP Wars: East & West. You can find it on Amazon. You know something else you’ve been involved with for a long time Loyd, which I think is another great area of controversy and intrigue, and that’s the whole mentalist/magician thing. And you actually were, let me get this right, the president of the mentalist association, what was that?

Loyd Auerbach: Psychic Entertainers Association.

Alex Tsakiris: So who would be some entertainers that we would know of?

Loyd Auerbach: I’ll mention one that’s not a member of the organization, that would be the Amazing Kreskin. But the folks who are in our group…one of our prominent members here in the States is Mark Salem, who’s had a few TV specials. Glen Nu who’s also had a few TV shows. We’ve had Craig Karges and Chris Carter who are both very active on the college circuit. We’re not…the people who are mentalists tend not to get the kind of TV-shows typically that the big magicians do, because we don’t have as many big shows. The shows are not as big; they’re a little bit different. But in our organization there’s a little over 250 people around the world…Anthony Blake from Spain who is the leading mentalist, and one of the leading celebrities in fact, in Spain. Norman Menore in Israel, one of the major mentalists there. We have folks from Germany, Finland, England…and a few other places as well. We’re a little different than the magic organizations even though people will kind of equate the two because of the nature of what we perform. Which looks a little more real than cutting a woman in half certainly.

Alex Tsakiris: But I know from Penn & Teller that all that mentalist stuff is “fake” it’s an “illusion”, Las Vegas show stuff, right?

Lloyd Auerbach: It’s not that. I mean…that’s the thing you know. Penn & Teller…as you know Penn has a very specific agenda of his own.

Alex Tsakiris: Does he really!? (laughter) What is his agenda?

Loyd Auerbach: Very similar to the Amazing Randi’s. He’s very, very down on anything that smacks of psi-ability. And even though we’re not talking about this being psychic, people believe what we do might be real. And in fact there’s a big backlash amongst many magicians against mentalism because we end up with audiences who don’t walk away…hopefully if they’ve seen a magic show they’ve been entertained. But other than little kids and an occasional adult – it’s pretty rare – nobody in that audience believes that what David Copperfield does is real. It’s all an illusion. Whereas for good or for bad when people see our shows they may think, they may even argue…I’ve had arguments with people telling me what a great psychic I am and I’m telling them “No, it’s not it’s psychological, there’s a lot more to it.” And it’s not stage illusion, or sleight-of-hand the way magicians go into things. We have a lot more going for us in the observational/interactional/psychological area than magicians ever do.

Alex Tsakiris: Aren’t there even, correct me if I’m wrong Loyd, but there are some people among the mentalist community and among the magicians who have reported various times in their career when a truly unexplainable aspect of this played a part in what they did?

Loyd Auerbach: Absolutely. I’ve talked to many magicians over the years. Since the early 80s. Some top people in fact who have had things happen to them in the middle of their acts. When something was clearly broken, to have that still work, is pretty damned amazing. That happens to mentalists certainly. One of my buddies actually does metal-bending, kind of like Geller used to do as part of his act. He does it through manipulation and other ways. But he’ll have a spread of silverware on a table, and ever so often he told me the audience members will point at what’s going on in the table, and there are things bending…and of course he doesn’t know if he’s doing it, if an audience member is doing it, but they’re not being meant by trickery – it’s happening for real, in that circumstance. And he just sort of goes with it. Mentalist tend to know to go with that and…take credit for it even if we might not have actually done it. Mentalists often…there are many people that do mental acts who have said in the middle of their act they’ll get a flash of something in their mind…a phone number, a person’s name, a birth-date, even driver’s license numbers. Just things will pop in, and because of the nature of our acts we can say that stuff, and if it’s wrong it’s wrong. In fact since ESP is 100% it actually looks better if we’re wrong every once in awhile. Whereas magicians can’t be wrong. That’s the biggest difference. They’re doing a trick, and the trick should work. We’re not necessarily doing tricks. Even reading people.

Alex Tsakiris: is that really the history of this schism within the magic community in terms of this. It’s been so pronounced in the last 20 or 30 years. The just hostility towards anything that’s traditionally magic. And to completely replace it with this materialistic…not materialistic…this kind of Randi/Penn & Teller it-can-only-be-this-way sort of magic. What is the history of that?

Loyd Auerbach: It’s a real shame that in the magic world there’s been this push toward calling everything a “trick”…it’s like they’re not appealing to people’s sense of wonder. If you remember Doug Henning he was a great story-teller and really appealed to hitting people’s sense of wonder. To suspending their disbelief for the time so that at least while you’re in his show, he really wanted you to believe that this was real. Whereas we don’t see that necessarily with Penn & Teller. They’re entertainers, and they are entertaining, but a different kind of entertainment than what Henning or even Harry Blackstone Jr. and some of the older magicians might have done in years gone by. Fortunately there a few people who are like that still around, but not a whole lot. And it’s very difficult for us in the mentalism world [to] see magicians trying to do mentalism as if they’re tricks, and not getting the idea that this is…you really have to hit people’s sense of wonder. It’s about the performance; it’s not necessarily about the trick.

Alex Tsakiris: Hey Loyd, where can people learn more about what’s going on with you and keep up with the latest?

Loyd Auerbach: My main website is mindreader.com. That’ll list any events coming up and such. My classes, I teach classes both local and [at] distance – long-distance classes. Both for HCH Institute which is here in the Bay area, and also for the Rhine Research Center. I also have my [chocolateer] website, which is hauntedbychocolate.com, where people can find out about that.

Alex Tsakiris: Great, and as well folks, check out ESP Wars: East & West. You can find it on Amazon. I think you’ll really enjoy it if you’re at all interested in this topic. Loyd it’s been so great having you on. It’s long overdue. You have so much knowledge of this area, we’ll have to have you back on, just let us know when you have a new book or maybe this book on chocolates or something. We can talk about that, but do keep in touch.

Loyd Auerbach: Thank you Alex.

Alex Tsakiris: Thank you.

photo by Jo Christian Oterhals

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