When I was sixteen, my buddy and I visited a psychic. It was on our way to a tattoo shop and we decided to stop by because the sign said it was five bucks for a palm reading. But, being the skeptic I was, I decided that we would go in separately as if we didn't know each other. I went in first.
The psychic was an older woman in a funky scarf. She was leaning back in a chair, the place decorated to the brim with odd trinkets, old bones, and lighting that made the space appear darker than it needed to be. She took my hand and rubbed it with her gnarled fingers and pronounced my future.
I would be successful in business, married not twice but once, have two children, and a host of about fifteen other predictions. When I left, I waited outside and my buddy went in. He came out about ten minutes later and we compared notes: he would be successful in business, married not twice but once, have two children yada yada.
The psychics were bunk.
When I began researching my newest novel, Blood Dahlia, which you can check out on Amazon here if you're so inclined, I studied psychics in earnest. The novel is about a psychic the FBI use to attempt to capture a serial killer copying the original Black Dahlia murder from 1947.
I went in with a skeptical eye. James Randi has done a great job debunking psychic phenomena and his educational foundation at www.randi.org put up a million dollar challenge: anyone that can show true psychic phenomena in a laboratory setting will be paid $1,000,000. No, ifs, ands, or buts. Million bucks. Of course, in the decade the challenge has been out, no one's been able to claim the million dollars.
Harry Houdini was absolutely obsessed with psychics. Since his mother's death, he wanted desperately to find a real psychic that would allow him to speak to his mother. He flew around the world, visiting exotic hard to reach locations in nearly every continent, looking for anyone that had a grain of psychic power. He then worked hard proving them a fraud, in the hopes that they would pass his tests. Of course, no one ever did. And in his later years, Houdini traveled around the world visiting psychics not with hope, but with the sole purpose of debunking them and have them run out of town.
Michael Crichton on the other hand, one of my favorite authors, believed in psychic phenomena. Not because he was a man prone to believing in the supernatural, he was a doctor and man of science, but because he stated he had witnessed it first hand. Both precognition, and telekinesis in the form of an eight-year-old child bending a spoon with his mind.
One of the main criticisms, according to Crichton, that people have of psychics is that if they were real, they'd be playing the stock markets or gambling. Here's Crichton's response to that:
"I often hear skeptics say that, if psychic behavior was real, the psychics would be playing the stock markets or the ponies. In my experience, many of them do. There is, in fact, a kind of secret level of activity in which psychics consult to major corporations and businesses. People seem embarrassed to admit this activity but it takes place, just as you'd expect it to."
This sparked an interesting idea to me: secret psychics at the CIA and Coca Cola, helping them without public knowledge. I wondered if psychics had ever been studied by the government. I doubted it, but looked into it anyway.
And then I found the Stargate Project.
The Stargate Project, which I discuss briefly in Blood Dahlia simply because it's so interesting, was a study conducted by the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA into psychic phenomena to establish if psychics could be used for the purposes of the Cold War.
I'm not making this up, this is not conspiracy theory stuff, we have the documents through GRAMA requests and there's even a Wikipedia page for Stargate. The study was conducted from the '70s through to 1995 and then terminated because the researchers concluded there was no useful intelligence application of psychic phenomena.
But, did they establish that psychic phenomena was in fact true, even if not useful to the intelligence field? Believe it or not, the answer is both yes and no.
Telekinesis, the ability to move objects with your mind, was found to not exist in a laboratory setting. Basically, the people that claimed they could move objects with their mind could do it outside the laboratory but not in it, i.e. they were frauds.
Most of the other psychic phenomena received the same results: all except one. Remote viewing.
Remote viewing is the ability to describe people, places and things from a distance. For example, what the DIA and CIA were hoping for was a team of psychics describing the manufacturing plants and number of weaponry of the Soviets, or listening in on their plans of attacking the United States.
The study concluded that there was a statistically valid result in remote viewing within laboratory conditions.
Let me repeat that.
The most extensive, objective study ever done on psychical research concluded that there was truth to remote viewing. That a man could sit in a room and think of a room half a world away, and describe what was in it.
Later researchers looked at the report's results and questioned its findings, stating that the subjects must've been given more information than the study let on in order to make their "hits" (a "hit" being the term the researchers used to describe when a subject was correct in their descriptions). But there were parts of the study that have simply not been invalidated. The CIA has recommended more research in the area of remote viewing, but the study was shut down before that occurred.
On an interesting side note, the CIA did keep three psychics from the study and allocated half a million dollars a year in studying and using them. These psychics, last I have been able to gather, were working full time for the government out of Fort Meade, Maryland. The CIA released several statements that the three would be let go and the project terminated completely, but I was not able to confirm that they have actually been let go. So it's possible that the CIA was convinced enough from the results of Stargate to keep three full time psychics on their payroll for decades.
So what does this mean for us, the common public? Should we go out and consult with Sylvia Brown about our futures?
No, it does not.
Whether you believe in psychic phenomena or not, the fact is that the majority of those proclaiming to be psychic are frauds (here's an interesting little piece about "psychics" that swindled a poor lonely man to give them hundreds of thousands of dollars if he wanted to break the curse of his love life).
The sad truth is, they're almost all frauds and hucksters.
But… the interesting question is, what about those three that are working full time for the CIA? The three that, of all the psychics in the world the government recruited, they were deemed the only worthy ones to stay on. What would they tell us if we spoke with them?
Maybe one day, if the government ever becomes as transparent as everyone in government claims they want to be, we can find out. For now, we'll just have to live with the mystery.