What I see when I close my eyes
by Russell Targ

I am a good visualizer. When I close my eyes I usually see reasonably sharp and clear pictures. The bad news is that the images I see with my eyes open are not much sharper or clearer, although they are much more stable. 

As part of this symposium dealing with researchers' psi experiences, I would like to share my thoughts about psi perceptions, from the point of view of a legally blind researcher. What that means in my case is that my corrected visual resolution is 10 percent that of a person with normal vision.

I believe that a number of misconceptions have been formed about psi functioning because of the expectation that psi should be like vision. When I am looking out over an audience, I am absolutely confident that I am talking to people, rather than stuffed animals, for example. But from the stage I cannot identify anyone, unless they have distinctive properties of size, shape or hair. The people are not out of focus, they are just too far away. It is an important distinction, because it appears to pertain to the way that most people perceive psi targets. In the psi perception of visual targets, my personal experience coincides with the fragmentary images that characterize the initial perceptions in the SRI data, and with the ideas of Warcollier in Mind to Mind (1963), and Upton Sinclair in Mental Radio (1971).
These fleeting and fragmentary images are very similar to those from the process called "graphic ideation" described by Robert McKim in his 1972 book, Experiences in Visual Thinking. In that book, he explains how solutions to mechanical engineering problems are extracted from the unconscious through the process of sketching meaningless doodles with the intention that the answer will appear. Even though you may not recognize the early sketches, eventually something will appear that you will be able to identify. Does that sound familiar? McKim's book makes it convincingly clear why artists are often our best psychic subjects. They are not more psychic than the rest of us. However, they have much greater control over their visual imagery processes through which psychic data may be mediated in the case of visual targets. They have experience in stabilizing and examining their visual images. We should learn to teach mental imagery skills as part of our research.

My initial interest in psi came from my college days when I was a performing amateur magician. Every magician has had the experience of doing a mental trick with his eyes closed and becoming aware of the information that has entered his mind, beyond what he already knew from trickery. I had these experiences on stage and in small parties; and as a young scientist, I became interested in the work of J. B. Rhine who seemed to be doing real magic, without sleight of hand.

My clearest psi experiences have been spontaneous. My first clear psi perception came to me in 1956 when I was riding in a car with the sun shining in my eyes. With my eyes closed, I got a mental picture of Hebrew writing (which I don't read under any conditions). There were white characters on a black background, with little flowers by the edge of the page. I saw red flowers with green leaves. Associated with this was an oval table with candles on it. I related this image to my boss who knew of my interest in psi, and who was driving me home from the Long Island laboratory where we both worked. He said that it sounded to him as though I was describing the library of his friend Professor Schriber, a Hebrew scholar in Brooklyn. He called Schriber that night and obtained a copy of the manuscript that Schriber had been working on at that time. It was a white on black photostat of a Hebrew book, and Schriber was putting green checks next to the correct parts and red balls next to the parts that he thought should be changed. There were no red and green flowers, but the elements were there for me to confirm when I finally was able to see the pages a few days later.

A more complete image came to me in a dream at a scientific conference several years later, at which I was to give a technical paper. I had a dream that the person who was going to speak just before me was dressed in a tuxedo with a red carnation in his lapel, and he was going to sing his paper. That was a dream that did not reflect any wish fulfillment or previous day's residue on my part, and it did have the unique clarity and bizarre nature that I have come to associate with precognitive dreams. On my way to breakfast I went to the conference room to see what it looked like, and there at the lectern I found a man in a tuxedo with a red carnation. I went right up to him and asked him if he was going to sing. He said "Yes, but not until later." He was the band leader and would be using our conference room later in the day for a banquet.

I can think of only one psi event in which I clearly recognized someone. About ten years ago I was getting ready for a solstice meditation and decided that it would be a good opportunity to do a precognition experiment at the same time. I purchased a racing form, and I am ashamed to say that I did my meditation on the eighth race at Bay Meadows. Of course, I didn't look at the paper at all before the meditation. I sat down with my candle, and after a few deep breaths, Michael Murphy, the founder of Esalen, appeared to me, head and shoulders, just looking at me! After about twenty minutes, I looked at the paper to see if I could find any correspondence between Mike Murphy and the eight horses running in the eighth race. It turned out that one of the horses was named "Friend Murph." My son went to the track the next day, bet my $5.00 on Friend Murph, and at five to one, he won $25.00. In the dream, Mike was close enough to me so that I did, in fact, recognize him.

These three experiences are all examples of spontaneous psi. The conditions would all be considered psi-conducive. One was a hypnagogic state, one was dreaming, and the last was meditative. These experiences, together with many other precognitive dreams, have not, I am sorry to say, taught me any great lessons. Usually, even the most high-quality precognitive events or dreams in my life are humorous, rather than meaningful. However, they have had a great impact on me, in that, over many years these and many other psi events have served as constant reminders that psi is in my life, and that this is the area in which I should be working. They are also important to me because they have given me first-hand knowledge regarding the form and substance of psychic perception, so that I don't have to rely only upon other people's descriptions of their mental pictures. I have my own personal data with which to work. Psi data are much too important to be left to first-year psychology students.

Three years ago at the Bethesda meeting, I spoke of the importance of the experimenters sharing love, and trust, and grace, in order to achieve reliability in psi functioning. Accuracy will come from time to time without these conditions, but not reliability. What I mean by grace is a feeling of harmony, and unequivocal acceptance of psi among the group doing the experiment. Ken Wilber describes this kind of transparent relationship in his remarkable book No Boundary (1979). Our goal is to get beyond the holistic, gestalt type of perception that characterizes much of psi data. The gestalt is the patterning force that holds the image together. We know that analysis and intrusive memory are the enemies of psi, but we must learn to make use of them constructively if psi is to be brought to consciousness and to volitional use.

A common experience associated with trying to psychically create visual pictures associated with the psi target is that it is like searching for a memory, that is, you will be totally confident of the correctness of the name because of its congruence with your expectation. In the case of searching for psi images, one looks for incongruous and surprising pictures, so that they can be separated from old pictures residing in memory. Physicist Gerald Feinberg thought that precognition was a case of "remembering" your own future mind. Larry Dossey, in his book Recovering the Soul (1989), says that we do this by reaching into our eternal and nonlocal mind. We know from our own parapsychological research that this mind transcends both space and time.

Two thousand years ago Patanjali said that we obtain psi data by accessing the akashic records that contain all information past, present and future. One accesses it, he says, by "becoming it," with a single-pointed focus of attention. These views of the collective unconscious are called by many names, and have been with us for millennia. This picture of psi functioning suggests that the information is always with us and available. It is not a new theory, but it seems to fit the data better than the information transmission model. Can this picture of omnipresent data be tested?

In electrical engineering, one speaks of a matched filter, into which you can put a very noisy signal, but only a prescribed signal can come out. If any of that signal is present in the input noise, you will get a pure representation at the output. It now seems clear that if a target cannot be easily described or conceptualized, it is much more difficult to bring into awareness than is a target than is an archetype resonating with special brain cells or memories.

From our experiments with targets, both large and small, I am now convinced that the reason that targets with low spatial frequency (low-resolution targets) are much easier to describe has nothing to do with ESP. Rather, it is a factor common to all of our ordinary visual, perceptual processing capabilities and habits. One of the keys to separating the psychic signal from the mental noise is that the mental image of the psi target usually has greater surprise value than the noise from memory or imagination. In addition, one is able to move and shift one's point of view for true psi images, especially large outdoor targets.

In sharing these personal experiences, I do not think for a moment that they are a substitute for laboratory research. However, I strongly agree with the organizers of this symposium that researchers have a unique perspective to bring to bear on the interpretation of experiential psi data. Our significant accomplishment as psi researchers over the past two decades is to show that psi is no longer elusive. It is universal and all pervasive. We can demonstrate it when we need it for study and investigation. Our task now is to discover its source.

Reprinted with permission. See Russell Targ's book Miracles of Mind

Selected Publications:

Russell Targ: Mind Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Ability (Delacorte, 1977)

Russell Targ: Mind At Large: IEEE Symposia On The Nature of Extrasensory Perception (Preager, 1979)

Russell Targ & Keith Harary: The Mind Race: Understanding and Using Psychic Abilities (Villard, 1984)

Russell Targ & Jane Katra: Miracles of Mind: Exploring Non-local Consciousness and Spiritual Healing (New World Library, 1998)

Jane Katra & Russell Targ: The Heart of the Mind: How to Experience God Without Belief (New World Library, 1999)