Russell Targ: CIA Psychic Pioneer Explains His Physics Theory for ESP
"Our answer is a member of the class of things that can explain psychic abilities."
The film The Men Who Stare at Goats had a long laugh at the United States Army’s 20-year-long attempt to use psychic powers to kill animals. Those experiments grew out of the work of physicist Russell Targ, Ph.D., whose studies on psychic “remote viewing” at the Stanford Research Institute in the 1970s drew the attention of the CIA, which later turned it into the goat-felling Stargate Project. That project was abandoned in 1995, and Targ’s work has been panned as pseudoscience ever since. But he stands by what he saw: people who could perceive hidden targets using only their minds.
"Very hard for a skeptic to say that didn’t happen if the president is saying these guys in California found the airplane.
Don’t believe him? He thinks it’s because our understanding of physics is out of date.
Targ is the producer and star of a new documentary, Third Eye Spies, in which he attempts to set the record straight about remote viewing with testimonies from over 30 scientists, former CIA officials, and witnesses. In remote viewing experiments, a “psychic” subject is asked to draw or describe some unseen target that is unknown to them but known by the experimenter. Edited in the shaky-camera style of conspiracy theory docs, the film is a collage of anecdotal and pictorial evidence that remote viewing is real, showing that the psychic’s drawings and descriptions really did match up with the unseen targets.
It opens with a quote from President Jimmy Carter, in which he admits that a CIA-affiliated psychic correctly located a missing plane in 1979.
“Very hard for a skeptic to say that didn’t happen if the president is saying these guys in California found the airplane,” Targ tells Inverse. “We did many things like that.” The accounts he’s collected double down on two points: The data on extrasensory perception are real, and since they’re real, our fundamental understanding of reality needs to change.
Like the CIA’s official debrief of the research, mainstream scientists and communicators have panned his work because it’s been impossible to reproduce to the degree of success that Targ reports. They include renowned skeptic Michael Shermer, the scientists behind a 1988 National Research Council review of his work, and the TEDx organizers who canceled his talk in 2013 because it was “pseudoscience.”
Like many people smacked with that label, Targ says he’s aware of the skepticism — “I’m not silly about it” — and continually returns to his data when the conversation turns to his doubters. In this, he is a scientist through and through. He has so much faith in his data on remote sensing that he has constructed a new theory of physics to accommodate it.
The Theory of Eight-Space
Despite the widespread criticism about his experimental design and data collection — the CIA report says that Targ and his partner, Hal Puthoff, Ph.D., “did not quote their own sources accurately” — Targ, who considers himself a laser scientist, maintains that his data are valid. The psychic Ingo Swann knew Jupiter had ice rings before NASA did, he says, and Stargate alum Joe McMoneagle used ESP to locate secret Chinese and Soviet military facilities. The documentary is full of psychics’ drawings of random objects they were asked to view remotely, side-by-side with actual photos of those objects. Were the experimental design behind them shown to be sound, they would be impressive.
How would we even begin to reconcile the existence of ESP with reality? Unlike conspiracy theorists like flat-Earthers and moon landing truthers, Targ doesn’t turn to explanations of the “they don’t want you to know” variety — at least not entirely. He proposes that the accepted theory of four-dimensional spacetime, consisting of three space dimensions and one time dimension, needs updating.
“I have no doubt that ESP is a non-local ability independent of space and time,” he says. “What that means is that we misapprehend the nature of the spacetime we’re living in.”
For a psychic to, say, know what’s happening 588 million kilometers away on Jupiter, the spacetime distance between them must somehow be zero. That can’t be, since our theory of reality is rooted in the principle of locality, which says an object can only be directly influenced by its immediate surroundings. What if we switched to a non-local theory? Then it would make far more sense that a person could perceive something far away in time and space. Recent observations of quantum entanglement, the idea that any two particles in spacetime are actually connected and can affect each other even when they’re far apart, have forced us to contend with non-local theories. Targ’s is just one of them.
In 2006, Targ co-authored a paper published in AIP Conference Proceedings outlining a new, non-local theory he dubs eight-space, in which each of our four dimensions is broken up into a “real” and mathematically “imaginary” part. “We give a model of one possible non-local space time,” he explains. “We describe an eight-space metric which allows psychic abilities to work.”
Scientists do not appear to have paid Targ’s theory much attention, perhaps because the data on which it is based have been so widely invalidated, and perhaps because psychic research is just too weird to be taken seriously. It doesn’t help that it is of a variety of fringe science that finds fans in alternative communities promoting unscientific, and often dangerous, thinking.
"We may not have done it, but there’s nothing the matter with what we’ve done.
An outlier among scientists is Cambridge’s Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Brian Josephson, Ph.D., who is featured in the film. He has long maintained that the scientific community is too caught up in the idea “that phenomena which are difficult to reproduce are not real,” as Physics World put it previously. Targ calls Josephson a “brave man.”
For those of us who do not grapple with the existence of ESP or the consequences of quantum entanglement every day, the existing theory of four-dimensional spacetime will suffice. But that’s not to say the efforts of theoretical physicists are wasted. They’re continuing to apply the scientific method to make better educated guesses about the nature of the universe based on what they observe. Targ just happens to have observed something that most others have not.
“Einstein came along and said there’s more going on here,” says Targ. “Newton is not wrong; there’s just more going on. Planck came along and said Einstein’s not wrong, but there’s more going on.”
Targ, a self-described “old man” who spends his time “reading Buddhism,” isn’t saying he’s going to start the next physics revolution (though he says Josephson “is thinking about these things”). But he does believe that there’s more going on, as he passionately argues in Third Eye Spies. His eight-space theory could accommodate what he sees — should anyone care to test it — though he humbly admits it’s just one of myriad explanations for observed incongruities in reality. “Our answer is a member of the class of things that can explain psychic abilities,” he says.
“We may not have done it, but there’s nothing the matter with what we’ve done.”
Third Eye Spies is available to own from The Orchard.