By Steve Hammons
What do a recent Twitter extrasensory perception (ESP) experiment and an upcoming movie starring George Clooney have in common?
Both address the topic of "remote viewing."
Remote viewing refers to a method of using human consciousness to obtain information and understanding about situations, places, things and people that are not known to the remote viewer.
Additionally, the remote viewer has no other means to obtain the information about the "target" other than what is perceived via the mind.
However, there could be significant misperceptions about this topic in the Twitter exercise and the movie, titled The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on the book of the same name.
It may be useful to look at the subject of unconventional human perception, as well as the Twitter project and the "Goats" book and movie, to help obtain a more comprehensive view of this subject.
The Twitter experiment, conducted in early June 2009, was conducted by psychology professor Richard Wiseman from the University of Hertfordshire in the UK in association with New Scientist magazine, a weekly science and technology publication.
Wiseman used more than 7,000 volunteers via Twitter to try to use ESP to determine his location. During the four-day experiment, in each of several exercises, he posted five photographs of locations. Four locations were decoys and one was the actual place where he was located.
According to a subsequent article written by Wiseman, one of his goals was to test "both whether the group as a whole was psychic and whether believers outperformed disbelievers."
Wiseman reportedly has a reputation for debunking phenomena associated with "anomalous cognition," another term referencing unconventional human perception.
Wiseman also asked participants whether they believed in human ESP functioning or did not. Apparently the group was divided into "believers" and "skeptics."
His premise was that if some participants selected the correct target more often than a percentage expected by chance, it would have significance and indicate possible ESP. He also wanted to determine any variation between the believers and the skeptics.
When the project was completed, Wiseman reported that both groups identified the correct targets at a rate no better than random chance guessing. Although believers felt more strongly that they were perceiving the correct targets, this proved to not be the case, Wiseman said.
Some researchers familiar with remote viewing might suggest that certain elements of Wiseman's experiment were problematic.
A significant aspect that stands out is the view that while possibly all humans have perceptual abilities related to intuition, hunches, gut feelings, ESP and anomalous cognition, most people do not have the natural talent, training or skills for statistically successful remote viewing.
As a result, the Twitter experiment may have very little in common with the U.S. military and intelligence programs referred to as Project STAR GATE, conducted during the 1970s, '80s and '90s.
Identifying individuals with natural skills, then creating effective experimental and operational protocols were key factors involved in the successes of the STAR GATE programs.
This brings us to George Clooney and the "Goats" book and movie.
The book was written by UK writer Jon Ronson and published in 2004. Ronson claimed to have interviewed credible sources about operations within the U.S. military and intelligence communities that involved remote viewing and other unusual activities.
Related to the book was a three-part TV show in the UK called "Crazy Rulers of the World." The three parts of the show were titled "The Men Who Stare at Goats," "Funny Torture" and "Psychic Footsoldiers."
The new movie is being produced by Smoke House Pictures starring Clooney, Ewan McGregor, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. Director Grant Heslov and Clooney formed Smoke House Pictures in 2006. The script was written by Peter Straughan and the film is planned for release Feb. 18, 2010.
In a June 15 article in the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, retired Army Col. John Alexander, who worked on unconventional military and intelligence projects, offered the view that the Ronson book is "5 percent true and the rest extrapolated beyond belief."
Alexander, a senior fellow for the Joint Special Operations University, was quoted by Sun reporter Joe Schoenmann as equating remote viewing to athletics. "I can run all I want, but I'm never going to break a 4-minute mile. But some will. I see it as there are superstars in every endeavor, from art to athletics to science, and the same is true of remote viewing.”
Other people have compared remote viewing to musical abilities. It takes training, practice and natural talent to be a great musician, though all of us have some measure of musical ability.
Author Ronson has claimed that he had credible and authentic sources for his book, although we don't know to what degree there were exaggerations, misinterpretations, misconceptions or creative fiction on his part or by his sources.
When we look deeper into the scientific rigor of the STAR GATE-related programs and evaluate the interesting accuracy of many of the remote viewing operations, it seems probable that Ronson's views and presentation about these activities might be open to question.
The Project STAR GATE activities were reportedly shut down in the 1990s because significant success was not demonstrated. However, the scientific committee that evaluated the program for the CIA had differences among themselves as to the reality of remote viewing success.
In addition, some of the most significant evidence of this success was not available to these reviewers because of the sensitive nature of the military and intelligence operations involved. The reviewers did not have the necessary security clearance to see that information.
We can assume that Clooney, Heslov and their Smoke House team are editing and fine-tuning "Goats." What will end up on the cutting room floor and what will we see on the big screen next February? Maybe some qualified remote viewers can tell us.
What can we take away from the recent Twitter experiment and the "Goats" book and movie?
One obvious point is that there is much misinformation in various media about the nature and background of research and activities surrounding human anomalous cognition. This misinformation can take different forms and shapes, either pro- or anti-ESP.
Misrepresentation on these kinds of topics may be intentional, accidental or simply a product of conscious or unconscious bias or belief.
It is a complex issue, full of interesting surprises.
There are many credible and reliable sources of information about these kinds of topics. One of these is a 2001 academic paper researched and written by a Navy SEAL officer as part of studies at the Marine Corps War College, Marine Corps University, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia.
The paper, "Unconventional Human Intelligence Support: Transcendent and Asymmetric Warfare Implications of Remote Viewing," took a deep look at the Project STAR GATE activities from 1972 through 1995.
The author suggested that learning about human anomalous cognition could be part of a unique way of looking at military, intelligence, geopolitical and other situations, resources and assets. He used the term "transcendent warfare" to describe the utilization of updated perspectives about emerging and leading-edge developments such as remote viewing.
A related idea makes that researcher's transcendent warfare concept a component of "hard power," "soft power" and "smart power" by using the phrase "transcendent power." This term, too, reflects the intelligent use of new knowledge and understanding – even about unconventional situations.
While it is highly useful to maintain a healthy skepticism about certain unusual phenomena, it also seems helpful to keep an open mind when we evaluate all evidence and indications about such phenomena.