Learned Psi: Training to Be Psychic
“Learning to become psychic involves a fundamental restructuring of the way we process information both inside and outside ourselves. This can dramatically alter one’s life, and not always in a conventionally positive manner.”
Is it possible to take normal, healthy, emotionally stable people who do not think they are psychic, and who don’t recall having any prior psychic experience, and train them to become functionally reliable psychics?
The answer is both yes and no. That is, it appears that everyone may have some latent psychic potential that can be developed and honed with the right type of positive feedback and reinforcement. However, it’s crucial for such feedback to occur very close in time to when the person makes a correct or incorrect statement during a parapsychological test, because otherwise it will have little, if any, effect. In order for this learning paradigm to function properly, a person must slowly come to recognize which internal feelings and sensations are associated with accessing accurate paranormal information (signal), as opposed to inaccurate information (noise) in the form of primary process distortion and fantasy.
I suspect that only a very small percentage of the population, somewhere between five and ten percent, possesses such inherent faculties that are consistently demonstrable. This is somewhat comparable to the world of sports and athletics, in that most people can occasionally participate in some kind of sport when young, but very few have the strength, stamina, endurance, reflexes, and coordination that are necessary to become a professional athlete. We can still, however, do some basic things to maintain and even enhance our physical health and capabilities.
A direct analog to this can be found in the area of motorsports (of which I happen to be a passionate fan). While almost everyone can drive a car, few could tolerate the extremely high g-loading forces on the neck and arms that occur in Formula 1 and American Le Mans road racing, where the drivers’ bodies feel like they weigh four to five times their normal weight. Even fewer would have the stamina, endurance, depth perception, reflexes, and hand-eye-foot coordination to be competitive in such a grueling physical sport. But this doesn’t mean that all of us cannot learn to improve our driving skills on the road.
Back when I worked in the UCLA parapsychology lab, our psi training groups were held at the university’s Neuropsychiatric Institute (NPI; now renamed the Semel Institute) on Wednesday nights. As a learning paradigm to enhance and train paranormal perception, these training groups, which met from 1971 to 1980, applied positive feedback and reinforcement incorporating a free-verbal response (FVR) as opposed to a forced-choice method. Put more simply, we were attempting to teach people how to differentiate and distinguish between, on the one hand, normal fantasy and cognitively processed thoughts, and on the other hand, informational input from sources that are non-localized from them in space and time, e.g., ESP. (In those halcyon days, these perceptions were referred to as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and retrocognition, as opposed to the all-encompassing “remote viewing” nomenclature in use today. A rose by any other name. . .)
Over the first few years, we had numerous recurring visitors join these training groups from various government offices and agencies as they became very interested in what we were doing and had already achieved. These included the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), the Defense Language Institute (DLI), and the Defense Advanced Research Project’s Agency (DARPA). Their presence actually formed part of the tests and training we were conducting. Initially, we had no knowledge whatsoever of who these recurring visitors were or where they came from until the sessions were completed (a single blind condition).
During one such early session, the visitors provided our training group with the first name of a man, and we tried to divine further information associated with it. We suddenly began describing very specific details of a new nuclear ballistic missile submarine and its highly accurate long-range missiles. When we reached the feedback part of this session and the room lights were turned back on, we were greeted with the sight of several ashen-faced men sitting there with their mouths hanging open. From what little they were at liberty to reveal, we learned that our comments had very accurately described many details of the new Trident ballistic missile submarine (a boomer) and its ten-MIRV’d, D-5 missile. This was all highly classified, sensitive data that we could not have known about or had access to via conventional means.
These men, who were all military intelligence officers, were obviously impressed by what we had done, because they immediately demanded the surrender of the audio tape from that session. Each of us was also required to sign a national security oath. We of course complied.
Representatives from the various U.S. intelligence agencies continued to make repeated visits to our psi training group over time in order to verify (or disconfirm) that our success on that first night had not been the result of coincidence or trickery. When they became convinced by our repeated successes that what we were doing was real, demonstrable, and reproducible, several of them invited us to work with them and for them in a number of capacities. For obvious reasons, this was an interesting and compelling proposition, but we were prevented from taking them up on it by one unanticipated and insurmountable obstacle: UCLA itself.
Apparently, both the university and the NPI were horrified at the thought of being formally, publicly, and professionally linked to parapsychology, which at the time was widely viewed by mainstream science, and especially by behavioral scientists, as pseudoscience and quackery. Such an alliance could have been political suicide for a university dependent on public perception and regular endowments. (And isn’t it interesting to observe that today, four decades later, nothing has really changed?) Perhaps the fact that the NPI was already associated with psycho-surgery and orbital undercutting — two procedures that were likewise viewed with suspicion — gave it all the negative press it could tolerate.
Visions in the dark
In any event, due to our unavailability as dictated by university politics and damage control, the government’s focus shifted away from us, moving northward to Menlo Park, California. When this happened, those of us in the UCLA psi group found that even with the positive results we were achieving, we were growing bored. Having conducted our training sessions for seven years, we were gripped by a “been there, done that” sort of feeling. Unbelievable as it may sound, the abilities to reach into another person’s mind and observe things at a distance had come to seem somewhat commonplace and ordinary. We found that when there is a high degree of success and continuity in such extraordinary research efforts, this is accompanied by a tendency to become jaded. Perhaps a tendency to become desensitized in this way, to the point where you take intrinsically extraordinary phenomena for granted, is just a part of being human.
So in an effort to make things more interesting, we decided to attempt our first precognitive effort. One evening we turned off the lights in the NPI’s C-floor observation/conference room and went through our normal progressive muscular relaxation procedure. Once we had attained the desired hypo-metabolic state, we mentally focused on the “target” person of the next week’s first session. In a way, the verbal reinforcements given during this part of this session were similar to what the actor Christopher Reeve, playing the character of Richard Collier in the movie Somewhere in Time, verbalized when attempting to physically transport himself back through time: “Your mind accepts this absolutely. It is June 27, 1912, and Elise McKenna [the woman from the past with whom he falls in love] is here, now, at this very moment.” Except of course we didn’t expect to travel physically and literally through time, and we weren’t producing a fantasy film but attempting a real act of precognitive knowing.
Our verbalizations, stating the impressions we were receiving, were spoken into a centrally placed microphone within the otherwise sensory-deprived room. We began by describing the target person as a tall, blue-eyed, blond-haired, beautifully statuesque girl dressed in a tan business suit. There were twenty-four chairs in the conference room, each with a number, and as the session unfolded we clearly “saw” the specific number of the chair where this woman was sitting. We also “saw” a huge, mansion-like home located in a hilly countryside, and inside it a large baby grand piano. Many scattered pieces of personal information about this woman continued to flow from our mouths for quite some time. Then there came a moment of silence.
Abruptly, with our voices piercing the darkness of the conference room, we began describing a tall man dressed all in black, with a black hat, a black mask, and a flowing black cape. He also carried an imposing sword. I distinctly remember thinking, “What kind of crap are we uttering here?”
As the session ended, we didn’t devote much thought to the things we had just said, because it all appeared so scattered and inconclusive, and it didn’t appear relevant to anything in particular. Or more accurately, it didn’t appear relevant yet.
“Representatives from the various U.S. intelligence agencies continued to make repeated visits to our psi training group over time in order to verify (or disconfirm) that our success on that first night had not been the result of coincidence or trickery.”
A week later, at our next meeting, no guest member from the prior week was allowed to bring a visitor. Any new participants on that night were only allowed to arrive through the invitation of third parties who had not been in attendance for the previous several weeks. In other words, we constructed a scenario where any new person who arrived at our meeting could only do so through independent means, without being influenced by any knowledge of the previous week’s precognitive effort.
When each new person arrived, he or she was handed a sealed envelope containing a number from one to twelve written on a piece of paper. Once we had all settled in the conference room, we rolled a pair of dice and then asked all new visitors to open their sealed envelopes. Whichever person’s number fit the dice roll was the randomly chosen target person for the first session. We had all pretty much forgotten most of what was said a week earlier, so when a statuesque, blue-eyed, blond girl’s number matched the dice roll, we didn’t draw the connection or take much notice of it at first.
I instructed this stunning 19-year-old woman, whose name was Toni, to replay the audiotape from the week before, and if she heard any statements that directly related to her, to stop the tape and make a comment on them. Otherwise, if the statements were unrelated to her, I said she should just let the tape run without interruption. She didn’t immediately understand what I was asking her to do, so I clarified the protocol by describing it in detail a second time. She got it this time, and we all watched and listened as she started playing the tape.
We all listened in astonishment as our recorded voices from the previous week’s session clearly described her appearance and clothing in detail, as well as the exact number of the chair she was seated in. She appeared astonished as well, and she stopped the tape to say that these points were obviously correct. She started playing it again, and now came our description of the mansion in the hills with the baby grand piano. Her eyes opened even wider, and she stopped the tape and said these data points were correct as well, since they described the house where she lived.
If one were so inclined, one could still of course chalk such things up to “mere coincidence,” although of the most startlingly unlikely sort. But next came what I believe to be one of the most fascinating confirmations of precognized information that has ever been documented.
Toni started playing the tape again, and there were our voices talking about the black costumed man with the mask and sword. At the end of our recorded discourse, Toni turned to me and asked, with obvious hesitation and a bit of alarm, “How do you know who I am?”
I stared at her for a moment in confusion. Then I shrugged and asked, “What do you mean?”
She said her full name was Toni Williams, and her tone implied that this was supposed to mean something to us. When we all looked at her blankly, she proceeded to connect the dots for us.
Apparently, Toni knew all too well who the masked and darkly dressed swordsman was. In fact, she had known him for her entire life. Her father, she told us, was Guy Williams, the actor who had played Zorro in the Disney television series during the late fifties and early sixties. (Some readers of this reminiscence may be more familiar with him from his having played Professor John Robinson in CBS’s Lost in Space.)
We were, of course, as startled as she was. She nervously asked when the tape had been made, and we told that it had been recorded exactly one week earlier. This only increased her wonder and discomfort, because, as she told us, she hadn’t even know that she was going to come and visit our group until just a few hours before her arrival that night.
The basic question this all raises is of course simple and obvious: how could we have so accurately described Toni, and also her physical surroundings, and also her famous father in one of his prominent television roles, seven days before she even became aware of us or our group, and at a time when we had no knowledge of her? What are the odds of our accurately describing such state-specific information about an event (her visit to our group) and its contextual information (the descriptions of her house and father) one hundred and sixty-eight hours before it occurred? What are the odds against our precisely describing the Zorro character as related to Guy Williams’ daughter one week prior to her random appearance and selection as a target at that week’s meeting? A million to one? A billion to one? A trillion to one? Perhaps we should just call them “astronomical” and leave it at that. (Believe it or not, there have been people in the past three decades who, upon being told this story, have tried to believe that we somehow deduced or logically inferred the information about Toni. This strains credulity more than the idea that we were truly receiving the information precognitively.)
It turned out that Toni’s single experience with our psi training group was more than enough for her. She never again returned to participate in any of our research. In a way I can understand this, since I understand how unsettling these unusual experiences can be. But then, I’m also amazed that someone can just turn and walk away after being confronted with evidence of such life-changing realities.
Flames and free will
Needless to say, we were all very impressed with our first foray into the future, and so we attempted to replicate our results several months later, little knowing what the full emotional impact of such accurately precognized information would be on some of us.
During this second attempt, things went very differently. Instead of receiving clear and specific impressions, all that any of us could “sense” in our group session was fire, fire, and more fire. Since we didn’t know what these impressions were pointing toward, we didn’t know what to do with them, nor did we get upset about them.
But on the very next day, when I was up in the lab on 2-South of the NPI, I heard the arrival of many fire engines outside. Racing down to the C-Floor, I discovered that our conference room had apparently caught fire due to a shorting wall socket that sparked the drapes covering the room’s west-facing wall. In relating the whole incident today, I feel it necessary to emphasize that I did not start the fire myself to produce a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fortunately, the conflagration in the conference room was successfully put out, but the incident kindled another kind of blaze among the members of our group. It was like a slow-burning psychological and philosophical wildfire. After mounting two successful treks into the future, several of the regular group members became depressed and starting having anxiety attacks over the possibility that the future is as immutable as the past, and that free will may be little more than an illusion.
My personal response to these speculations was and still is very straightforward: “Who cares! We’re still going to live out our lives making daily judgments and choices without knowing the shape of things to come, regardless of whether the future is predestined or random and open to change.” But this attitude doesn’t appear to be shared by many others.
For some reason, I cannot as yet fathom the belief that reality is random and chaotic. My personal experiences and research strongly suggest to me that reality is finitely ordered and predetermined. Far from causing anxiety or despair, this belief gives me a sense of inner peace. Maybe I just can’t accept the notion that anything as vast and extraordinarily intricate and complex as the universe could be the result of random, chaotic energy. Or perhaps I have had far too many precognitive experiences — while growing up, and then later both in and out of the laboratory environment — to believe otherwise.
Mugging, murder, and manifestations
Another fascinating incident occurred several years earlier when a woman named Janet, who was a semi-regular participant in our group, and who had always refused to act as a target for our efforts, finally accepted the role. The room lights were extinguished, the microphones were turned on, and Janet gave us a target of “a man’s first name.”
In short order, many of us began describing a large, expensive home in a very rustic and seemingly lush, forested area. The home had very large walls made of glass, and they looked out into what appeared like trees and shrubs. The kitchen was lined, quite oddly, with empty jars of Bac-O-Bits. We then began trying to articulate this man’s last name phonetically. While I am presently not at liberty to provide his name due to privacy concerns, since he was and still is quite famous, our vocalizations later turned out to be within about 98% of accuracy, even though his last name is a rather peculiar one.
This vivid opening portion of our weekly session was nothing compared to what was about to come forth from our collective mouths. We all began vividly describing this man being brutally mugged by several people. It was quite horrible in its ferocity, and as we were quite sickened by what we had just seen in our mind’s eye, we decided to stop the session at that point. Turning the lights back on, we handed Janet the recorder controls and told her to play back the tape and respond accordingly.
She ended up telling us that the man was someone she was dating at the time, and that he lived in a house almost identical to what we had just described, even down to the detail of the empty jars of Bac-O-Bits lining the lower, exposed shelves in the kitchen. When she told us his last name, we were truly astounded at how close our pronunciations of it had been. But when Janet came to the part of the recording that described her friend being mugged, she was emphatic that such an event had never occurred either to him or to her.
“After mounting two successful treks into the future, several of the regular group members became depressed and starting having anxiety attacks over the possibility that the future is as immutable as the past, and that free will may be little more than an illusion.”
Several days later, I received a rather frantic call from Janet while I was in the lab. She informed me that on the very night she was participating in our group, her friend was up in the San Francisco Bay area and was viciously mugged at the exact time her session was transpiring in our lab. Janet was of course totally unaware of this in real time, so what was the source of the information? That’s the real question here, as it is with all such non-ordinary knowledge: where does it come from? How is it received?
A few years after that, one of our regulars, a movie director named Steve — who bore a striking resemblance to an older, thicker-featured Christopher Reeve — brought a female friend named Roberta to our group. When she volunteered to be a target, we knew nothing about her besides her first name. Nor did we have any inkling of the unsettling event that was about to occur.
Roberta simply gave us the name “Al,” and nothing more. We had no way to know who Al might be or how he was related to Roberta. In our sensory deprived room, we began describing this man as being around 6 feet, 2 inches in height, rather stocky, with reddish-brown hair and blue eyes. We went on to describe him as having a very unusual voice and being extremely volatile and violent. We saw him repeatedly beating Roberta and eventually killing her. As our comments became more and more disturbing in nature, we thought that it was best to stop the session at that point.
With the lights on, Roberta took the recorder control and started playing the tape back. She was visibly upset, and for good reason. She told us that Al was her husband, the actor Albert Salmi, who was always cast as the heavy or villain. If you’ve watched TV during the last sixty years, you may have seen him in anything from Cheyenne to Bonanza to Alfred Hitchcock Presents to his three appearances on the original Twilight Zone series. Our physical description of him was perfect, as were many other details of his life and living conditions. When Roberta reached the point on the recording where we described Salmi’s violent behavior, she admitted, very reluctantly, that he had been chronically beating her for years, and that she feared that one day he would kill her.
More than twelve years later, in April of 1990, Albert Salmi, then 62, shot his wife Roberta, age 55, and then himself.
(Whenever I recall all of this, I always think of the Twilight Zone episode from 1960 titled “Execution,” in which Salmi plays a man named Joe Caswell, who is about to be hanged for murder in the wild west when he suddenly disappears from the hangman’s noose and appears inside a time machine in the laboratory of a scientist played by Russell Johnson (the Professor from Gilligans Island). Caswell eventually kills Johnson’s character and ends up being strangled with a window-shade line by a modern-day burglar, who then ends up wandering into the time machine and accidentally activates it, thus being sent back to the past, where he materializes in the same hangman’s noose where Caswell started out. When Caswell first shows up inside the time machine, Johnson eyes him and utters one of the all-time great lines: “I know this isn’t very scientific, but I don’t like his looks.”)
Steve brought another guest to our group once. This time it was a well-known character actor who has worked for decades in both movies and television. I’ll call him Robert. He volunteered to be the target, and the protocols were followed, and we began uttering some very strange things in the pitch-black room. While we were clearly given the name of a woman, several of us simultaneously started commenting on the fact that this woman was actually a man, a transsexual. When we finished with the session, Robert began giving his commentary on our words with an attitude and manner that implied nothing we had said was at all relevant. But then he began verifying one thing after another on the tape, and when it finally came to the part where we discussed the altered sexuality of the woman, Robert turned red in the face, stood up from his chair, and abruptly left the room, never to return. Steve later informed us that Robert lived with a transsexual “girlfriend.” This was probably the last thing that Robert had ever expected us to pick up on — which is surely why it occurred.
In a phenomenon that was by then well-known to us, the more deeply buried something was inside a target person’s mind, the more likely it was to show up in our comments. And since the introduction we gave to new group participants included an instruction not to censor oneself when verbalizing thoughts during a session, we freely spoke whatever thoughts entered our heads, and they all too often proved to be quite accurate.
Perhaps the most unexpected and astonishing moment of the psi training program came when a girl by the name of Paula visited our group in late 1979. As discussed in my book Aliens Above, Ghosts Below: Explorations of the Unknown, Paula was a rather intense poltergeist agent, and while her session was unremarkable in terms of its informational content, its visual component was most memorable.
While we were seated in our dark room, a very large, bright red, luminous anomaly was emitted by Paula’s petite form. This amazing visual display was about the size of an average human head and almost perfectly spherical in shape. It rapidly shot across the rather larger room and then simply disappeared, as if someone had switched off a light bulb. Our entire group jumped in almost perfect unison, and several of us responded with loud vocal reactions. We immediately turned the lights on to find Paula crouched down and cowering in her chair, like a terrified eight-year-old child. She got up, ran out of the room and the NPI, and drove herself home. She never returned to the group, and I do not blame her.
Lessons and warnings
Our psi training groups ran from 1971 through 1980 at the NPI. Once the lab closed, we moved the groups to various off-campus office complexes in the Westwood area for several years, and then into the home of one of our regular members. When the program finally ended in 1987, more than 3200 separate sessions had been conducted. The qualitative and quantitative data that we had collected were truly extraordinary, and the evidence was overwhelming in terms of demonstrating a highly reproducible paranormal event on demand.
That, of course, was why all of the various government agencies were so interested in what we were doing. We witnessed meteorological effects, tidal effects, and other effects of a far more subtle yet pronounced emotional nature. I seriously doubt that I will ever again experience such a consistent level of controlled paranormal experimental results. As they say, those were the days.
What was learned from and accomplished by this program is truly amazing. We found that psi is both space-like and time-like, which in layman’s terms means that it is not affected by distance or time, in that it is indeed possible to access information regarding people and events that are not local to oneself in time and space.
We learned that there is really no fundamental difference between telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, and retrocognition. What we call such remotely accessed information depends entirely on where we are at the time when we perceive it and where it appears to come from. That is, if the information comes from our past, we call such perception retrocognition. If it comes from our future, we call it precognition. If it comes from another person’s mind, we call that telepathy. If it originates from a remote spatial location independent of another person’s mind, we define that as clairvoyance. Therefore, this method of accessing remote information is all interconnected, and in order for us to rationalize and make sense of it in the three-dimensional world in which we live, we’ve developed concomitant nomenclature related to such experiences.
Most importantly, we learned that it is indeed possible to “train” some people to become psychic. However, there is a major qualifier when it comes to this. As I mentioned above, very few people can rise to the level of performance displayed by professional golfers or race car drivers, but almost everybody can improve his or her golfing and driving to some degree. Similarly, everyone comes to the psychic party with an inherent or latent degree of innate potential, and while almost everyone can develop and improve his or her ability in this area to some degree, very few will rise to levels of extraordinary performance. On one side of the bell curve are those people who, with some training, can become psychic “superstars” in the real sense of the word. On the other side of the curve are those people who are immune to any type of learning methods, because their psychic potential is extremely low or non-existent. In the middle of the curve are those people who have occasional encounters with paranormal perception, but these occurrences are almost random and mostly dependent on the specific situation, with emotionally stressful events serving as the trigger and mediator.
Additionally, each person who does positively respond to these methods seems to develop along different lines. That is, our psychic perception is attracted to and repelled by certain information just as our conscious mind is. This is a very subjective and need-relevant-based mechanism, which leads us to pay attention to those things that are very important to us and that we are either attracted to or repulsed from. You could almost refer to this process as being related to the approach-avoidance mechanism as defined by psychology.
“I could write an entire separate book about the fallout people encountered due to the lack of any proper mechanism for coping with this alteration of their perceptual abilities, including religious zealotry, the development of a messianic complex, delusions of grandeur, paranoid schizophrenia, dissociative thinking, and borderline personality disorder.”
And finally, a word of caution: In our psi training group at UCLA, we encountered situations in which people whose consciousness had been opened up to this data acquisition method began to experience problems in mediating the process and “turning it off.” Frequently, information was perceived that proved to be very upsetting, unnerving, and anxiety-producing, especially if it dealt with matters that were out of recipient’s control.
When this occurred, individuals experienced severe anxiety or panic attacks that occasionally resulted in serious emotional scarring. I could write an entire separate book about the “fallout” people encountered due to the lack of any proper mechanism for coping with this alteration of their perceptual abilities, including religious zealotry, the development of a messianic complex, delusions of grandeur, paranoid schizophrenia, dissociative thinking, and borderline personality disorder. And the reader should bear in mind that these reactions to the process, far from being rare, were actually quite common.
Thus, it seems necessary to end this account of real experiments in “learned psi” with a direct warning:
The consciousness-altering process briefly described herein is not a joke or to be taken lightly. It is a fundamental restructuring of the way we process information both inside and outside ourselves. This can dramatically alter one’s life, and not always in a conventionally “positive” manner.
In ways too extensive and detailed to be fully explained here, such sudden and perhaps unforeseen developments in consciousness can be a trap, because they can cause one to pay more attention to what is going on inside the mind than to what is transpiring in the surrounding physical world. Additionally, there is always the inherent primary process (noise, as opposed to signal) that will create distortion, as well as an element of refabrication and denial.
In layman’s terms, this means the mechanism does not work perfectly in most cases, because it is flawed with a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio. Factors such as motivation, stimulation, fatigue, boredom, anxiety, and proactive inhibition are all mediating variables generally not under one’s control that will inevitably affect one’s performance in this regard.
Therefore, the reader is advised to enter this realm at his or her own well-informed risk.
Having read and understood all of this, if you wish to investigate these matters further by looking into a similar (but not identical) program, please contact my colleague and associate Jack Rourke at http://www.jackrourke.net and look into his newly formed group “Center for Psychic Living.”
Images: Trident II Missile public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Guy Williams as Zorro via The Guy Williams Webshrine. Albert Salmi via Obits in Orbit.
In that Janet was totally unaware in real time of her friend being
mugged in the San Francisco Bay area, what was the source of that
information? That’s the real question here.
Posted on April 11, 2013, in Aliens Above, Ghosts Below, Paranormal, Psychology & Consciousness and tagged Consciousness, Parapsychology, Psi, remote viewing, ucla parapsychology lab. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.