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Dr. Ed May ran the U.S. Stargate psychic spying program for 10 years, but as a materialist, rejects psychic woo.

photo by: Skeptiko

On this episode of Skeptiko…

Alex Tsakiris:  [Dr. Dean Radin] was the first guy to say, “…let’s see if a meditator can affect that photon beam within a double-slit experiment,” and again, an astounding result. I mean, statistically an overwhelming result showing that, yes, human consciousness collapses the wave function.

Dr. Ed May: Dean Radin’s a good friend of mine, he is simply one of the most creative people we have in our field, but I’m sad to report, his idea of consciousness and wave functions are just demonstrably inconsistent with 80 years’ worth of experiment and theory, it’s just simply not the case.


Alex Tsakiris: …but take the near-death experience science, I mean, there it’s kind of game over, because now we have the brain out of the equation, the brain doesn’t…

Dr. Ed May: No, no, no, no, no, no, no absolutely not. I’ve just been engaged in a huge debate over this issue of near-death experiences, arguing with my colleagues that that is hard evidence for survival of bodily death. First off, there’s nobody that has had a near-death experience, who’s in fact dead. It’s a different category…

Alex Tsakiris: Not true… not true, if we were going to answer that question…

Dr. Ed May: I’ve read the literature in detail, just finished reading a book about it by one of the biggest proponents sir… 

Alex Tsakiris: Nope… nope…  


Welcome to Skeptiko, where we explore controversial science and spirituality with leading researchers, thinkers and their critics. Of course, as you know, I always say the same thing at the beginning, I say controversial science, but primarily what this show has dealt with is consciousness science and this battle of the idea of whether consciousness, your minute by minute experience, is more than just your brain, and of course that’s important, because if it is, and it is — because we’ve shown it over and over again — but if it is, then it more or less overturns science in some pretty important ways.

Now, for a long time it was always assumed that psi effects; ESP, telepathy precognition, that kind of stuff, that if that was proven true, then the materialists, the mind=brain folks, would have to admit they’re wrong, because the assumption being made — and I always point to Daniel Dennett, the philosopher who was famous back in the day when the atheists were kind of running the world and saying “consciousness is an illusion” and along with that was this idea that “consciousness can do no work,” consciousness being this non-physical thing that’s going on up there that can’t really “do” anything, that can’t really impact our physical world. So if psi was shown to be happening it was assumed that it would be game over, the non-physical affecting the physical, we can no longer rely on this scientific materialism.  This is why there was this tremendous pushback on psi. For example, the James Randi folks and all the very materialistic people would just rail against parapsychology and all the psi stuff as hard as they could. And of course this led to them making up a bunch of crap that we’ve gone over again and again and again on this show. Their debunking of psi was really a shame.

Now, in that long list of things that got the strong pushback from the “skeptics,” was remote viewing. So, if you go back 20 years ago skeptics were saying, “Oh, that never really happened… it never really worked.” Then you had a bunch of people come out of the Stargate program and say, “Of course it worked.” We even had presidents saying, “Oh yeah, it was unbelievable what they found. They found this missing plane.0” All these stories came out that made it clear to anyone who was paying attention that, yes, something real was happening.

Now, all this is a lead up to how this show came to be, because the other day I was watching this excellent video from a very excellent parapsychologist, Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, who you might recall was on this show a long time ago, probably need to have him back —  need to make a note of that —  but anyway, on his new revamped version of Thinking Allowed, he had today’s guest, Dr. Ed May and I was rather stunned to find that, here is a guy who is a PhD physicist, ran the Stargate Program for 10 years, is absolutely certain from all his scientific training that this is something that really occurred; that is, psychic spying was real, really happened. They sat in this room and they saw stuff that was going on on the other side of the world. He’s saying, operationally, we know it happened, experimentally, we know it happened. It happened, get over it, but at the same time, what he’s saying is that, “You know what, I’m still a physicalist, I’m still a materialist, I’m still holding to the idea that it’s all in the brain; mind=brain. So, of course, that piqued my interest and I reached out to Ed and was able to get him to agree to come on the show.

Now, it turned out to be quite a contentious interview at times. Ed’s got a lot of strong opinions, he’s not afraid to express them and I, as you know, am generally not someone to back down from asking questions… and I know that sometimes pisses people off.

Now, Ed says a bunch of stuff in this interview that, in the final analysis I think is a little bit out there, but we can discuss that later and pull that apart in the forum, but there’s one thing that he said that I really did want to follow up on directly, and that was his comment about Dean Radin, because I’ve always found Dean Radin to be absolutely one of the smartest guys in the room, when it comes to parapsychology; and certainly a topnotch, careful researcher. So when Ed did his little shtick on Dean Radin’s recent double-slit experiment, I really knew I wanted to follow up with that. I was able to have a little email correspondence with Dean and I will update you on what I discovered at the end of this show.


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Read Excerpts:

Alex Tsakiris: Let’s go for it and let’s start with a question that you suggested we might discuss and it is a very interesting question at that. Here is the question you put to me that I might want to ask you, “given that psi phenomena are so weak and difficult to observe, why should anyone care?” And what struck me, rather than ask that question directly is, do you really think psi phenomena are always weak and difficult to observe?

Dr. Ed May: I certainly do and in fact, let me give you a little, sort of a hint. You know, if you have a favorite band you enjoy listening to, the last way you’d ever want to listen to it is through two tin cans and a string connecting them, right? It would sound horrible. So, you switch to AM radio and it sounds better, but you know, it still doesn’t capture the nuances of the music. Then you switch to FM and it gets even better, and finally you might get high definition audio, which is even the best. What characterizes that strange stuff? The answer is bandwidth. How wide the frequency is, that the information can come through.

We have a really good idea now, qualitative for sure, about what the bandwidth of ESP is and to use a highly technical term, which you might have to explain, it sucks, it’s extremely slow. So, the amount of information that’s, even in principle, capable of going from a future or some event in Bombay India tomorrow, to here and now, is extremely limited in terms of the information that you can get that way.

Alex Tsakiris: Okay, but I guess I’d turn that around and suggest that you’re talking about bandwidth, within a realm that we didn’t even think existed and a lot of people still don’t think exists. So weak and difficult maybe not very good compared to this Skype connection, but compared to something we have absolutely… we don’t even know what it is, but given that we’ve established that there is something, it’s the only thing we have.

Let me kind of change the framing of it from a scientific perspective, you know, like Daryl Bem recently published a meta-analysis of his precognition experiments, that you were just kind of referring to, the precognition aspect.

Dr. Ed May: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: He got an overall effect of 6-sigma.

Dr. Ed May: Yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: I mean, that’s off the charts, that’s decisive evidence, the kind that any physicist would die for. That’s not fitting in the weak and difficult to observe category, is it?

Dr. Ed May: Um well, I don’t want to get really geeky on you. I was born a geek so please forgive me here and I’ll try to make this a little simple.

Alex Tsakiris: No, we’re all geeky friends here, there’s no problem.

Dr. Ed May: Are you familiar with Professor Jessica Utts, a statistician?

Alex Tsakiris: Sure.

Dr. Ed May: She’s currently the Chair of the Statistics Department at the University of California at Irvine, and I think she just stepped down from her appointment as President of the American Statistical Association. She’s, at that time, the top statistician in the country. What she points out, that the 6-sigma figure you talk about, that’s related to so called p-values and the main thing that drives those big numbers is how many trials you take.

So what psychologists have been doing lately, instead of being enamored with a big number like 6-sigma, and that’s very impressive for sure, they switch to something called effect size, which pretends, it’s a way of computing how big and important the effect is, given that you only took a single trial, rather than 15 or 100.

Daryl Bem’s work is brilliant, I’m not denigrating his work at all, and 6-sigma is very important, but the overall effect size is pretty weak.

Alex Tsakiris: Right, but what a lot of people would point out is that the only reason these guys switch to looking at, “Oh my gosh, it’s all about effect size,” which really if you look at other areas of science, look in your area of physics, we have all sorts of very, very important phenomena that have extremely small effect sizes. So, what the psychology people seem to have done to me is say, “Gee, we really don’t like those kind of results, that Daryl Bem and some of these other parapsychologists are getting, we need to challenge everything we’re doing in psychology and the social sciences with regards to statistics.”

Dr. Ed May: Well see, you just made my point for me. The fact is, that just because it’s a weak and small effect, doesn’t mean it’s unimportant or not real. I mean, as you just said, some of the most important things in physics and other areas of science have little tiny effect sizes but they are still extremely important and important to figure out how in fact this works. You said, we don’t have any idea how it works, but my colleague and I have published in SAGE Open, which is a respected online journal for human orientated sciences, what we call the multiphasic model of precognition.

Alex Tsakiris: Yes, but it does seem to ultimately come down to a matter of understanding consciousness as best we can, because that’s what keeps creeping into the equation and I don’t know that we’ve really tackled that question at all, in terms of what is consciousness, what is necessary and sufficient to cause consciousness, when does it begin, when does it end, does it collapse the wave function?

You know, our friend Dr. Dean Radin has, at least taken a stab at saying, “Okay, there’s this long standing debate in physics regarding the observer effect and can consciousness collapse the wave function, so let’s do an experiment,” and he’s the first guy to say, “Okay, let’s put a meditator up, we’ll set up the classic double-slit experiment with a little photon beam, let’s see if a meditator can affect that photon beam with a double-slit experiment, and again, an astounding result, I mean, statistically an overwhelming result that yes, human consciousness collapses the wave function.

So, once we factor in consciousness, or what we don’t know about consciousness, I’m just not sure that we can be that sure about what’s going on with ESP, precognition, for example.

Dr. Ed May: This is sounding a bit bragging on my part, but as far as I know right now, I’m the only person in the entire field of parapsychology that’s spent 10 years doing quantum physics, experimentally; and Dean Radin’s a good friend of mine —  he is simply one of the most creative people we have in our field —  but I’m sad to report, his idea of consciousness and wave functions are just demonstrably inconsistent with 80 years’ worth of experiment and theory, it’s just simply not the case.

Now, with his permission, in that double-slit experiment, I said, “Dean, there are no mysteries of a double-slit experiment, do you mind if I model that mathematically?” and he said, “By all means.”

So, I was able to set together a mathematical program using something called Math Lab, but that doesn’t matter, and I was able to reproduce, mathematically, all the figures in his paper, alright? And I had only one what’s called, free parameter. I said, “Okay, if Dean is right and whether it’s consciousness or quantum mechanics, the observable is, he got a really strong effect, no question.” The question then is, how many photons would have to be, and I’m putting in air quotes, “coerced” to go through one, and only one slit, because that’s the only way he can get the effect, and he agrees with that. It turns out, it’s a tad under 90% of the photons and he even he says that’s extremely unlikely.

Now, there’s another explanation for that same data and it comes with, what’s called experimenter effect, or a mathematical model called decision, augmentation theory. Now, when I applied that to his data it fell right in line.

So, there’s at least two competing hypotheses that would explain the same data and in my view of quantum mechanics, it’s not a good way to go.

Alex Tsakiris: The central question that you yourself acknowledge, is still the question, you know, what really is going on and you have one camp in this, and there’s this other camp that says, “No, it really does suggest a different way of thinking about consciousness, a way that kind of shadows the materialistic mind equals brain paradigm that we’re on, and really, I think it’s fundamental to answering the second part of your question, your original question of, why should we care?

I mean, I think that’s why we really care, is because if consciousness really is different than this materialist mind equal brain kind of thing, then we have to really rethink a lot of things in science, and we’ve been down this path Ed, on this show, and that’s why I think the psi stuff is interesting and fun to talk about, up to a point, but where the rubber really meets the road is when you look at some related phenomena. I mean, I take for example, and this is going to relate right back into your work in Stargate, but the near-death experience science. I mean, there it’s kind of game over, because now we have the brain out of the equation, the brain doesn’t…

Dr. Ed May: No, no, no, no, no, no, no absolutely not. I’ve just been engaged in a huge debate over this issue of near-death experiences, arguing with my colleagues that that is hard evidence for survival of bodily death. First off, there’s nobody that has had a near-death experience, who’s in fact dead. It’s a different category…

Alex Tsakiris: Not true, not true, if we were going to answer that question…

Dr. Ed May: I’ve read the literature in detail, just finished reading a book about it by one of the biggest proponents sir, that is simply not the case.

Alex Tsakiris: Just let me point you to the people you’d want to talk to. The people you’d want to talk to, to really get at that question of what is death, is you’d want to talk to people like a cardiologist, like Pim van Lommel, or a radiation oncologist like Jeff Long, but who you’d really want to talk to, is you’d really want to look at somebody who’s an expert in resuscitation, who’s an expert in dying. So if you look at one of the world leading experts, is Dr. Sam Parnia, formerly at Cornell, well-known for his near-death experience research. He has studied this more extensively than anyone else, in terms of, what is really death, what is…

Dr. Ed May: Are you assuming that I’m not familiar with some of this literature?

Alex Tsakiris: Ed, I’m not… I’m speaking to our audience in general, otherwise it sounds like inside baseball. So Sam Parnia has spent 20 years specifically answering that charge and that claim and he, along with every other near-death experience researcher, who’s really published in this field, has come to the same conclusion, that yes, this is highly suggestive that consciousness does survive bodily death.

Dr. Ed May: Okay. Can I express an alternative view?

Alex Tsakiris: Yes, please go ahead.

Dr. Ed May: Thank you. First off, I was, I wouldn’t say close friends with, but I was certainly a welcome colleague and had many in-person conversations with a fellow that spent his entire career looking at survival after bodily death, and that’s Ian Stevenson, a physician from the University of Virginia.

Alex Tsakiris: Sure.

Dr. Ed May: He would not agree that NDE’s survival of that is anything at all what he was concerned about, in terms of survival of bodily death. The question, which I am definitely interested in, and don’t know the answer, in fact worse; I would like Stevenson’s research to be true, it’s much more interesting that my personal view at the moment as a materialist, that is, when you die and I cook you in the crematorium and your brain turns out to be white ash, that’s dead.

Alex Tsakiris: Right, but it takes on a different aspect or a different question, when those events happen after we die, right? So, back to Penny Sartori’s research, if you’re medically dead, that is your brain is out of the equation, and then things continue… you know, we have to say in the NDE literature and that science, there’s a continuity of experience, right? So, I die, I’m outside of my body, I’m seeing everything happen, I’m medically pronounced dead, now they’re doing the resuscitation and I recall all that, there is this continuity of experience. So before you can say, “Okay…”

Dr. Ed May: Wow, wow, slow down. I’m not going to let you get away with that. When you say continuity of experience, you don’t know whether it’s continuous or not because they…

Alex Tsakiris: It’s reported.

Dr. Ed May: No, they cannot report to you while their brain is dysfunctioning. All you know is, beforehand they had some experience, after-hand when they wake up they have some experience, and they report to you afterwards, what they saw while they were “dead”. You don’t know whether they got that after, retro-cognitively by normal ESP way to do it. You can’t do that, you just can’t.

Alex Tsakiris: This is a topic we talk about a lot, now we can move on, but I’ll move on only slightly because you’re friends with Joe McMoneagle, you worked with him for a long time.

Dr. Ed May: 30 years.

Alex Tsakiris: Is known as psychic spy number one, as part of the Stanford…

Dr. Ed May: He’s one of about a dozen people I work that you can quote, yeah.

Alex Tsakiris: So, when I interviewed Joe a couple of years ago, one of the things I found fascinating about his story, and I’m sure you’ll know this, is his own near-death experience.

Dr. Ed May: Yeah, he’s had more than one.

Alex Tsakiris: Well his first one, as I heard it, was, you know, he’s a spy, I mean I real, like in the movies kind of spy and he’s over there in East Germany or right on the border, and he suspects that they tried to kill him, they tried to poison him. So he dies, if you will, medically and he has this out of body experience, he sees himself being wheeled to a hospital and miraculously they bring him back. He comes back and he’s face to face with army intelligence officers saying, “Hey, what happened, where are you?” And he then recounts his whole near-death experience and it’s a classic kind of near-death experience.

Dr. Ed May: Sure.

Alex Tsakiris: The interesting thing I think about that story, or one of the interesting things, is that, as Joe tells it, he shows up at Stanford Research Institute, a few years later, interviewing to be part of the Stargate Program, he’s there with Dr. Harold Puthoff, Russell Targ, really topnotch scientists, a lot of times we throw around those names and think who they are, I mean, these guys are really, really topnotch scientists and he’s talking to them about joining the program and they open up his top-secret personnel file and out of it they pull Raymond Moody’s book, Life After Life and they go, “Okay great. This guy is the kind of guy we need.” That tells me two important things. Number one, near-death experiences have often, for a long time, reported an increased ability to perform psychic feats, this kind of connection with the psychic is enhanced after their near-death experience.

But the other thing that it tells me, is that United States Intelligence was all over this stuff from the beginning and they were very, very…

Dr. Ed May: Wait a minute, wait, wait. I have to stop you there. You know the CIA released about 89,000 pages of the entire Stargate record, dating back to 1972 through 1995, alright? My colleague and I are just close to finishing a series of four lengthy volumes of, what we’re calling The Stargate Archives. We are intimately familiar with all the back and forth, within the agencies, with various agencies, CIA and what have you, as well as all the work that was done at SRI. Of course, I was there from 1976 onward. I was there before Joe McMoneagle was and I guarantee you that the federal government was not in the slightest bit interested, other than the materialist approach and I can demonstrate that via hard memos that go back and forth between the CIA, DIA and us.

So, it’s a wonderful story and another postscript of that is, as I told you…

Alex Tsakiris: It’s a Joe McMoneagle story, I’m not…

Dr. Ed May: Just wait a minute, damn it. You’re really beginning to piss me off. Joe McMoneagle is a damn good psychic and a personal friend of mine, I will travel to the end of the earth, we’re brothers, but he will be the first to tell you that he is only one of about a dozen people with equal kinds of skill and none of the others, zero of the others have near-death experiences. A near-death experience may be a sufficient condition for good psychic functioning, but it is by no means necessary to be top of the line good psychics and that’s a problem.

Alex Tsakiris: Ed, I don’t know why you’re getting pissed off when I’m telling you Joe’s story. This is what Joe says.

Dr. Ed May: I’m familiar with Joe McMoneagle’s story and that was not… we did not do Raymond Moody, anything on our project, we just didn’t.

Alex Tsakiris: I didn’t say that you did, I said that he was surprised that out of his top-secret dossier, they pull Raymond Moody’s book and that was the connection that he made. Because he actually corrected me during the interview, I said, “I bet you were surprised to know they had some knowledge of this,” and he said, “No, it’s much more than that. They were excited and welcoming to the fact that I had an NDE, because they felt that that further qualified me in some way, as being likely to being successful in the program.” That’s Joe’s account, I’m not adding anything to that.

Dr. Ed May: That’s fine, that doesn’t mean that’s what actually happened, but that’s Joe’s account and I know it’s Joe’s account.

Well, I apologize for getting frustrated with you, because you were boring down on something of which I know very little or even care very little about and I know it’s important to you and that doesn’t mean you’re wrong and I’m right, it’s just a difference of view, that’s all.

Alex Tsakiris: No apology needed. I’ve got 50 or 60 shows on it, so I’ve got a lot of stuff there to kind of get out, so it’s all good as they say. Ed again, thank you so much for being on the show.

Dr. Ed May: You’re most welcome Alex, thanks for having me, I appreciate it.

Alex Tsakiris: Well thanks again to Dr. Ed May for joining me today on Skeptiko.

I’m glad we were able to end the interview with such pleasantries and on what seemed like good terms. I have to say, that’s not how it really ended.

The next day Ed sent me an email saying, “You know, gee, I didn’t really think that went very well, why don’t we do a redo… just trash that whole thing and we’ll do it over.” Now, I’ve run into this before from people who say a bunch of stuff and then think about it later and don’t quite like what they’ve said, and my response was my usual response, which is, “I’m happy to have you come back on, I’m happy to have you clarify, elaborate, correct anything you said, but I’m really not inclined to scrap that first interview.”

Well, that really pissed him off again and he started calling me all these names and making all these threats and doing all this other crazy stuff.

Now, one things I mentioned that I wanted to update you on is my conversation with Dr. Dean Radin following this interview. You’ll recall that during the interview, Ed said, “I’m sad to report that Radin’s idea of consciousness and wave functions is demonstrably inconsistent with 80 years’ worth of experiment and theory.” So I asked Dean.

Now Dean, if you don’t know Dean Radin, he’s not only topnotch, really knows his stuff, but he’s one of the kinder and nicer people you’ll meet in this field. So, he’s never going to bash anyone, but what he said in a very polite way is a couple of things that are probably obvious to most of you Skeptiko listeners. First is that Ed presupposes that he knows what consciousness is, which is a dangerous assumption, given that that’s what we’re really trying to answer in the first place. But the other mistake he makes, and it irks me because all these materialists kind of totally distort the history of quantum physics and a lot of times they’re physicists, like Ed May is a physicist or you’ll remember Dr. Sean Carroll was on, Harvard physicist, and they just tell, like history of quantum physics, that’s just demonstrably wrong. I mean, in this case what Dean points out and what many of you will know, is that Dean’s experiment set up to see if an individual, a meditator, can collapse the wave function, is a direct test of the Von Neumann interpretation of quantum physics. John Von Neumann, he counts, he matters, but it’s also consistent with what Niels Bohr and Schrodinger believe, that hey, there’s something mystical going on here, that consciousness is necessary to understand quantum physics.

If I remember correctly Max Planck also has a famous quote out there, that consciousness is at the heart of all this. [Max Planck: ‘Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. … We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind.’]

The point being, not that one of those people are right or wrong, but to suggest that this is case closed and this isn’t even an issue in quantum physics, whether human consciousness collapses the wave function, is just, to borrow Ed’s phrase, demonstrably inconsistent with what’s been going on for 80 years.

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