You don't need psychic powers to know there's a passion for the paranormal these days. CBS News Sunday Morning Correspondent Rita Braver reports.
Just go to the movies, or turn on the TV and you can soon be "Crossing Over With John Edward," who claims to be able to talk to the dead.
Pick up your phone to dial a psychic, walk down any city street, or come with us to a nondescript office building in Carlsbad, Calif., the home of Transdimensional Systems, founded by Prudence Calabrese.
How does she describe the process that they do in her company?
"It's a very intuitive process where you use just your mind to access anything, any time, any place, anywhere."
It is called remote viewing.
Calabrese claims that she and her team of remote viewers can intuit past and future events. They invited us to give them a little test.
The way this works: Braver wrote down a description of an event. The people at Transdimensional Systems had no idea what it was but they had to view the event and then tell Braver what it was. The event Braver chose was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
The men did the remote viewing, listening to special meditation music through their CD headsets. At the end of the session, it was the job of Prudence Calabrese and the other woman to analyze what the men described.
Calabese says Wall Street uses her services to forecast economic trends. She says she has helped police investigate murder cases. And, most astonishing of all, she says that four years ago, one of her remote viewers predicted the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
Sunday Morning could not verify that claim. But Calabrese says she is now helping the FBI by "looking at future terror attacks, on U.S. soil and U.S. interests abroad." She says the call from the Feds came after she and her team predicted Washington's brush with anthrax.
FBI spokesman told Sunday Morning they could find no record of any official contacts with her, but that it is possible that she talked with an agent. And the government has acknowledged using remote viewers, like Calabrese, in the past.
Starting during the Cold War, in the mid-'70s, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA ran a program that came to be known as Stargate. And forget what the movies say about those with a special psychic gift. The government believed anyone could become a remote viewer.
That's how Army Maj. Paul Smith, now retired, ended up spending seven years in Stargate. He says his only qualification was an open mind.
He recalls, "They said, 'Well, basically, we want you to be a psychic spy.' And I said, 'Where do I sign?'"
For his remote viewing, he got medals for distinguished service.
Smith says the U.S. started remote viewing after intelligence reports that the Russians were doing it.
After 20 years and $20 million, the CIA dropped the program in 1995, concluding that Stargate "has not been shown to have any value in intelligence operations." But Smith and other Stargate veterans did have many successes: identifying Russian spies, describing a location where U.S. hostages were being held in the Middle East, and particularly with helping to catch drug dealers.
"About 30 percent of the time," says Smith, "our information was declared to be useful and successful."
Smith says that in 1987, he had a remote viewing experience that, sadly, came true. About 50 hours before it happened, he sketched out the incident when the USS Stark was hit by a missile and the Iraqis said they hit it by accident.
Paul Kurtz, a retired philosophy professor, pooh-poohs all psychic claims. He is so upset by the public's growing belief in psychic powers that he founded the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal (CSICOP). Based in Buffalo, N.Y., the organization includes a roster of top scientists and publishes Skeptical Inquirer Magazine.
And whether you believe in psychic phenomena or not, you might be interested to know that investigation into the paranormal is being conducted at a major university medical school, on the campus of the University of Virginia.
Dr. Bruce Greyson is a psychiatrist and chairman of the Virginia program. Researchers there are studying reports of past lives, near-death experiences, and even ghosts.
Case in point: The ghost of a man and his dog, allegedly seen at a house near the university by a 3-year-old girl, whom Dr. Greyson (for privacy reasons) could not identify.
They carefully took down everything the child said… Some of the neighbors who had lived in that area for generations said it sounded like the man who had built that house more than 100 years ago. At that point, the family came forward.
Says Dr. Greyson, "I think it's a mistake to think of these experiences as being crazy, because they are very common and they're experiences that suggest that the current ways that we think about mind and body are too limited."
But professional skeptic Paul Kurtz says the answers do not lie in the paranormal realm.
"The term 'paranormal'…or 'psychic' [means] that you cannot find a formal scientific explanation," he says. "So I'm unwilling to give up on that. I think you ought to keep looking to find a normal explanation."
And remember our own tests, on whether Calabrese's team could remote view the assassination of Abraham Lincoln without knowing what Braver had written down? Did they have any idea what it was that they were trying to see during the process?
Said one of the men, "I'm gonna have to put my money on that there's at least one subject involved in…in an upsetting place."
And how did Prudence Calabrese interpret it?
"So, I would have to say that there's probably someone here who isn't in the best physical state and perhaps could be dead. Somebody may be trying to run away from something – quick movement." Both men "described the exact same kind of energetics, something hitting, something slamming."
No, they didn't identify the precise scene. But were they close? You'll have to psych that out for yourself.
Copyright 2002 CBS. All rights reserved.