5X5 Episode 47

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5X5 Episode 47
Remote Viewing
24th November 2008

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5X5 46 5X5 48
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
E: Evan Bernstein
ML: Mike Lacelle
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Remote Viewing[edit]

You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide 5x5, five minutes with five skeptics, with Steve, Jay, Rebecca, Bob and Evan.

S: This is the SGU 5x5 and tonight we are talking about remote viewing. Remote viewing is a form of extrasensory perception or ESP that involves, as the name implies, imagining or seeing in your mind an image that is remote from your current location. So you are not seeing it with your eyes, you’re seeing it with your mind. The term itself was introduced by two parapsychologists, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff in 1974, who did some of the first research on remote viewing.

B: Also to be a little bit more specific, if a sender or beacon is used to send psychic images, then it's said to be telepathy. If no beacon is used, then the term clairvoyance is more generally used.

E: Except how does that work when there are claims of being able to see things such as mountains on faraway planets and other unverifiable facts by any other—by any other means.

S: Well the entire phenomenon of remote viewing has not been verified. So if we talk about it from the point of view of plausibility—how could it possibly work—well, certainly it lies far, far, far outside the realm of physics and neuroscience, etc. There is no process or property of the brain that could account for it; there is no energy or phenomenon in physics that can account for this phenomenon either. So that gives it an extremely implausible position to be starting from.

E: There is trickery and fakery, though. Which many people over the course of (chuckles) history conducting these tests both subjects and researchers, have been found on many occasions to be cheating.

S: Yeah, certainly magicians can produce the effect of seeming to do remote viewing, and in fact, some of Targ and Puthoff's original research was criticized as them just getting fooled, by trickery.

ML: Would dousing be considered a form of remote viewing?

S: No. Dousing is a form of ESP, but that's more divination. Divination is getting information by using some kind of a yes/no system. Whereas remote viewing is getting an image or picture.

J: The US government actually popularized remote viewing with the Stargate Project, which were active in the 1970s all the way up through 1995. And the psychic research was done at Stanford University and the American Society for Psychical Research.

S: So what was that? About 20 years or so of research, and about 20 million dollars. The government concluded that remote viewing was worthless. That they—you could not use it in order to spy, you know, remotely, on your enemies. Could not use it to transfer information in any, you know, any useful information, even three letters or anything. So essentially, abandoned as worthless after about 20 million of taxpayers money was spent. There's also been a lot of civilian research in the area, and even some overlap, of course. The most famous research into remote viewing was the so-called Ganzfeld experiments. That was a—Ganzfeld is a procedure where you have somebody in a somewhat of a sensory deprivation situation and they have to choose among four images that the sender is sending to them. And proponents or believers, like Dean Radin for example, claimed that they have been able to obtain greater than chance results with the Ganzfeld set-up. However, on careful review of data and the procedures that are being used in specific labs, as the controls are tightened satisfactorily the effect size disappears; it shrinks until it disappears entirely. And once you get to a lab doing really very, very tight protocols—where there is no leaking, for example, of information, and the randomization process is proper, etc, following the so-called Hyman-Honorton criteria for a tight study—then the effects really are just within chance. And there's—they haven't been able to replicate the Ganzfeld experiment to produce an actual effect. And, no—you know, no researchers have been able to produce a consistent, replicable effect, so remote viewing is left as being highly implausible and not validated by any specific research protocol that can consistently or in any replicated fashion produce positive results. So, I think Occam's razor dictates in this case that the phenomenon of remote viewing simply does not exist.

B: Like much of the paranormal, not only is the experimental evidence lacking, the plausibility factor by itself is a complete deal breaker for me. There is no evidence that the brain is a receiver of information, in the way that remote viewing would require. The energy that could carry such information has never been detected and it would be detectable. If a brain could detect it, then so could our instrumentation.

S: And if you even just ask questions like, "what happens with this—if—if there is an alleged signal that cannot be detected by equipment, can it be blocked by shielding? Can it be—will it diminish with distance?" And any way you try to test it, to try to see what characteristics it has, it turns out not to have any characteristics. It doesn't—it can't be blocked by anything; it does not diminish with distance. Again, Occam's razor dictates that that's consistent with there being no effect there. There is no signal.

S: SGU 5x5 is a companion podcast to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast brought to you by the New England Skeptical Society in association with skepchick.org. For more information on this and other episodes, visit our website at www.theskepticsguide.org. Music is provided by Jake Wilson.

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