The Star Gate Archives. Volume 1: Remote Viewing, 1972–1984, compiled and edited by Edwin C. May and Sonali Bhatt Marwaha
Much has now been written about remote viewing and what came to be known as the Star Gate program. That program ran from 1972 to 1995, during that period Americans engaged in remote viewing to spy on sites in the Soviet Union, among other places. This is fact not fiction. Much of the research on remote viewing is now declassified and nowadays numerous documents are freely available on the Internet. A number of books of uneven quality also focus on remote viewing. Researchers may well feel overwhelmed and uncertain about what to make of it all.
Now Edwin May, who directed the remote viewing research from 1985 until the eventual termination of the program, together with Sonali Bhatt Marwaha have assembled useful selections of the declassified documents. McFarland will publish four volumes. The first volume was published earlier this year and concerns research during the 1970s and early 1980s. This is a hefty paperback that consists of 546 pages, including numerous tables and nine informative appendixes. In addition, the anthology includes forewords, an introduction, a glossary and indexes.
The declassified documents are not light reading, but it is certainly interesting to learn what kind of research was done. Many know a bit about the remote viewing research that Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ undertook in the 1970s and described in their popular book Mind-Reach, but the anthology include some surprises. For example, one learns that Nevin Lantz considered whether neurolinguistic programming might be useful in training remote viewers.
It should be admitted that this is a book that will be appreciated mainly by serious researchers rather than by curious laymen. One is reminded of the fact that the documents were never meant to be read by laymen when one encounters documents stamped SECRET and NOT RELEASABLE TO FOREIGN NATIONALS among other things. Nevertheless, the researchers were thankfully allowed to publish some of their research in the open literature and this inspired replication attempts. According to May, many researchers have however not realized the importance of the declassified documents.
In addition to declassified documents some publications from the open literature have been included. However, little is said of the reception of these by the research community. The well-known article in Nature (Targ & Puthoff, 1974) sparked much controversy. The Editors acknowledge that it “... was followed by much criticism in the media and the academic community” but unfairly claim that this was “primarily due to the nature of the work explored” (p. 13). An early report prepared for NASA also provoked a sharp exchange in Scientific American following a critical article (i.e., Gardner, 1975). The Editors’ reluctance to sort out legitimate and illegitimate criticism is understandable, but the lack of commentary is unfortunate because not all the criticism that the research in the open literature provoked seems unjustified.
Reading the overlapping documents is a bit tedious, but it is interesting to learn what really went on at Stanford Research Institute. Rather much of the research appears to have been exploratory followed by few if any replication attempts. The researchers did however continue to struggle with some questions, such as how to find outstanding remote viewers and how to improve remote viewing. Does training really help? Can remote viewers be used to locate objects or persons? Another troublesome question was and still is: how does one separate fact from fiction in remote viewing data? Needless to say, these were important issues for the funding organizations, which included intelligence agencies.
The answers that the documents provide might well seem a bit disappointing and some come with caveats. The final document is a brief review, including meta-analyses, of the research conducted. It seems fair to say that the attempts to figure out how to find outstanding remote viewers by using personality tests did not really result in a clear-cut answer.
Several years of observation by workers in the field has, however, led to an informal guide based on subjective evaluation of the personality traits of successful viewers. This rule-of-thumb guide is based on observation that successful remote viewers tend to be confident, outgoing, adventurous, broadly successful individuals with some artistic bent … (p. 352).
It seems relatively clear that, if the researchers are to be believed, while many (including visiting CIA agents) were able to remote view targets, the really outstanding remote viewers are rare. Instead of using personality tests one way of finding good remote viewers is naturally to simple test them. This approach was also tried, documents concerning this will likely be included in Volume 2. However, the researchers noted that possibly, equally important as the remote viewer is the interviewer, but this was not systematically investigated. Unfortunately, during the 1970s and early 1980s there was little evidence that training really improved remote viewing. Potentially, remote viewing could be used to locate bombs or missing persons. In fact, once remote viewers were asked to try to locate bugs in the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. However:
Search has always been a challenge. On a few occasions, operational use of search has proved extremely useful data but on average, both laboratory experiments and operational use have been disappointing (p. 501)
Given this one might wonder why intelligence agencies continued to task remote viewers and why organizations continued to fund the program. The reason should be self-evident to anyone that reads this anthology – remote viewing worked sometimes. Some results are just impressive. The researchers were however often never provided with the evaluations of operational remote viewing. In addition, for intelligence agencies the remote viewers need to provide not only information that is correct, it should also be useful.
In short, Volume 1 contains a nice mix of documents. Although it is not light reading, the anthology should be considered recommended reading for researchers who desire to carry out research on remote viewing.
Gardner, M. (1975). Mathematical Games: Concerning an effort to demonstrate extrasensory
perception by machine. Scientific American, 233, 114-118.
Targ, R., & Puthoff, H. (1974). Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding.
Nature, 251, 602-607.