Although often treated with scientific disdain, the concept of extrasensory perception is well known throughout the world. But as 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow reports, a group of researchers in California say they have proof of its existence.
They call it the Ganzfeld experiment, and it works when a classically trained musician is placed in isolation and told to focus on the images another person is viewing in the next room. The phenomena is referred to as "remote viewing."
Physicist Russell Targ has been researching the technique for years. He may not have perfect eyesight, but Targ, author of a book about ESP, The Heart of the Mind, says there are also other ways of seeing. Legally blind in the state of California, he rides a motorcycle all the time.
"Remote viewing is an ability that we all have to describe and experience what's going on a distant place," says Targ.
Targ had been researching ESP at the Stanford Research Institute in California in the early 1970s, and the government wanted to learn more. Only the CIA refused to call it ESP, preferring the phrase remote viewing.
Targ and a remote viewer, named Price, went straight to work. Sitting in a dark room in Menlo Park, Calif., Price had his first vision.
"In his first psychic flash, his first input, he said, 'I'm lying on top of a little building. In my mind's eye, in my body, I feel that I'm lying on top of a building. The sun is shining, and a giant crane is rolling back and forth over my head,'" Targ remembers.
Price proceeded to draw a picture of the crane, atop the building he visualized. Government satellite photographs later confirmed the legitimacy of the drawing.
"The remarkable part is that we then asked Price to look inside the building and describe what people [were] doing. He said, 'They're fabricating a giant steel sphere,'" Targ explans. "The CIA was able to figure out that this was some kind of a containment vessel for a particle beam weapon."
"Three years later the Soviets rolled this giant sphere out of the building," he says. "It is extraordinary....Most of what we have done has not been declassified."
Perhaps even more extraordinary was the case of U.S. General James Dozier, kidnapped in northern Italy by Red brigades in 1981. Remote viewer Joe McMoneagle, a Vietnam veteran, was called in.
"I named the city .I drew a street map that was about as accurate as you can get .I gave them descriptions of the building [where] he was being held," says McMoneagle. "My information didn't get there till he was released, but it probably would have resulted in his release."
Targ says McMoneagle was the most talented of the group, setting a benchmark for how good a psychic could be.
But after nearly 20 years of psychic spying, Congress was still skeptical. Then in 1995, Professor Ray Hymen was commissioned to study the effectiveness of remote viewing.
"I don't think it's a sham in the sense that I think these people believe in what they're doing; I think they're sincere," Hymen explains. "It's easy to believe things you're saying match reality."
"The evidence we have is that they're no better than you or I. I can just talk at random for 15 minutes, and what I say will probably match something," he says.
Based on Hymen's report, the remote viewing program was cancelled. But that hasn't put McMoneagle out of business. He agreed to let 48 Hours test his ESP abilities.
For the experiment, Dow went to Niagara Falls while McMoneagle remained home in North Carolina. With no information, McMoneagle tried to determine Dow's location.
"This structure's very strange," said McMoneagle as he started to sketch. "I get an inside view of a row of windows...with people standing in front of them. It's a raised thing,...something you walk down...a distinctive platform. Three large areas connected with a large arch at one end....Curved windows. Something is framed on two sides...and it's moving."
"There are people getting on and off," McMoneagle continued. "The difficulty is trying to tell exactly what the target is to the person who's standing there. It's all very congested. I'm having this really great overlay, which is the ferry, some kind of boat. The windows are open; they're just open frames."
After a half hour of concentrating, McMoneagle finally conceded defeat. He could not pinpoint Dow's location at Niagra Falls. "Everyone who knows me knows that I don't get waterfalls!"
"He was unlucky this time," said Hymen. "Most places have buildings and stuff like that, and if you were somewhere else, there would have been a lot of things he could have matched. I think he sincerely believes he can do this."
"You coud say this was one of the times he got a partial success," Targ said. "He may have been looking across the falls at you, rather than where you were looking."
48 Hours then met McMoneagle in person and gave him a second chance to prove his abilities. Dow placed two different objects in each of his pant pockets.
"Two objects, one in each pocket,...probably one's metal," McMoneagle said. "I haven't the foggiest idea. I'll take a wild guess. The left pocket is probably metallic, a metallic square of some kind. One's plastic, and one's metal."
He was right.