10 May 2012


Russell Targ. The Reality of ESP: A Physicist’s Proof of Psychic Abilities. Quest Books, 2012.

Russell Targ discusses the work he did on remote viewing for the CIA and other research at the Sandford Research Institute in the 1970s. This might constitute personal proof for Targ but is unlikely to convince sceptics, and the more agnostic may have to settle for “interesting if true”. I suspect that the evidence is actually rather better than presented here, and might constitute a genuine scientific anomaly, but like many such works, this is a largely counter productive book as regards convincing the scientific community.
Much of it is given over to Theosophical speculation, references to ‘Eastern Wisdom’, the “amazing psychic” H. P. Blavatsky, uncritical accounts of Besant and Leadbetter’s ‘Occult Chemistry’, the Chaffin Will case (probably a fraud, but quite explicable in non-paranormal terms even if not), the spirit guide that helped a lost little girl (surely someone must have the film rights for this one), the medium channelling a chess grand master, the ‘persecution’ of Helen Duncan, etc.

Targ claims that on 9/11 each of the planes involved in the attacks only carried a fraction of their total carrying capacity, but to test the significance of that claim one would have to have full statistics on the capacity filled on all these routes over a several year basis to check whether there were significant seasonal, weekly, daily, hourly variations, only if these flights alone had significantly fewer passengers would this become interesting.

Targ evokes quantum physics and non-locality to given credence to psi, but concedes that complementarity cannot be used to transmit information, but surely psi is about exchanging or acquiring information. He evokes David Bohm, but Bohm spent much of his career trying to re-establish localism and determinism through the mechanism of so called ‘hidden variables,. I can’t make much out of his theory of imaginary time and space, perhaps physicists could explain.

You might assume that because Targ had obtained some very strange results in his experiments, he had turned to somewhat occultist viewpoints to explain them, however it is clear that his interest in occultism, theosophy and the stuff that came to be called 'New Age' dates from his youth; long before his work at SRI, and was what drove him to this kind of research. This does not automatically invalidate his research or findings, but does make them much less persuasive to the unconverted. – Peter Rogerson.

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