Sunday, February 15, 2009

Funding for ‘soft power’ R&D needed now

By Steve Hammons

In a recent open letter to President Obama, an official of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), Pedro L. Rustan, told the president that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) could be helpful in renewing our economy and optimizing “human capital.”

DARPA provides funding for leading-edge research and development of technologies and systems to help the Defense Department. Of course, other federal government and private organizations also provide grants and funding assistance for a wide range of useful R&D activities.

Although the focus is sometimes on devices and technologies, it has also become apparent that “soft power” resources can be as valuable, or sometimes even more valuable, than “hard power” technologies and weapons. User of soft power can also be merged with and enhance hard power elements.

Soft power approaches generally refer to diplomacy (including public diplomacy), persuasion, information and communication, economic pressures and incentives, psychological operations, public relations and similar activities.

These may be overt, covert or some combination of both. They may be geared toward friendly nations or hostile adversaries. They may be aimed at the international community or at the American people.

Research funding geared toward new and advanced understanding of soft power may be helpful.


In international and U.S. defense matters, whether we consider the “winning the hearts and minds” efforts of the Vietnam War era or a newer concept such as optimizing the “human terrain,” there seem to be important factors that can lead to success or failure.

The same could be said about economic issues, social progress, health and medical care, education, cultural affairs and a wide range of other human endeavors. Studying and applying leading-edge aspects of human perception, awareness, understanding and consciousness can be used to make progress in all these areas.

However, we can look at defense matters as an example.

Not to be confused with “mind control,” deceptive propaganda activities or manipulative psychological operations, an emerging concept sometimes referred to as “transcendent warfare” incorporates a new view of soft power.

The idea of transcendent warfare includes the use of knowledge and understanding about leading-edge research into human consciousness. How to best apply this awareness in pursuit of legitimate goals is something that seems worthy of research and funding from federal government-related organizations.

According to a recent Associated Press report, “As it fights two wars, the Pentagon is steadily and dramatically increasing the money it spends to win what it calls ‘the human terrain’ of world public opinion. An Associated Press investigation found that over the past five years, the money the military spends on winning hearts and minds at home and abroad has grown by 63 percent, to at least $4.7 billion this year.”

These expenditures and efforts reflect the recognition that soft power, information operations and communication activities to influence human consciousness can have value.

They can also backfire, or create “blow-back” if people feel they are being lied to or manipulated for questionable purposes.


When trying to understand human behavior and the underlying thoughts, feelings and beliefs that motivate behavior, we might sometimes think in outdated ways. Various conventional theories of psychology indicate that our understanding of the human mind is evolving and that there are many views about what is involved in human consciousness.

The human mind involves a myriad of factors including the conscious and unconscious, thoughts and feelings, dreams and imagination, biological and biochemical aspects, creativity and destructiveness, health and pathologies, cultural and sociological influences, gender, age and maybe even genetics, among other influences.

Some longstanding psychological theories even include the idea of some kind of collective consciousness or group subconscious. Spiritual and philosophical approaches have long proposed that humans can connect to a transcendent consciousness through prayer, meditation or other methods.

Newer research has included indications that the human mind has capabilities and potential to perceive more, and in different ways, than we previously understood. Some of this research was funded by the U.S. Government in recent past decades and it did yield very promising results.

Sometimes called “remote viewing,” sometimes called “anomalous cognition,” these capabilities of the human mind were discovered to be quite useful in our current times. They probably also existed in ancient humans and in other creatures because they can be key to sensing danger and survival.

The ability to perceive may not be limited in space and time in ways we were brought up to understand.


How do we take this new understanding and deploy it for American society, U.S. national interests, our public diplomacy and our international activities?

Can the existing research be leveraged to enhance U.S. prosperity and successes of various kinds? Can the research results be utilized in our economic situation, peace operations, humanitarian operations and other worthwhile efforts?

How do we blend transcendent warfare concepts with constructive engagement in the international community while also making progress at home? How do we apply lessons learned from anomalous cognition research to our own people, our economic engines, our armed forces, our intelligence community, our educational and health care systems?

These questions seem to need answers. Appropriate research funding to examine possible ways forward could be helpful on many fronts.

After all, anomalous cognition may not really be so “anomalous.” It may be quite normal and natural. Learning ways to apply existing research seems like the next logical step – a step that can be applied widely and probably with good results.

Let’s get moving on this aspect of developing human capital and using leading-edge and emerging understanding about human consciousness.