Sometime in the early 1950s, the CIA began a “quest to locate an ESP-enhancing drug.” As part of that quest, the Defense Department appointed Henry “Andrija” Puharich with locating mushrooms that they believed might unlock psychic powers. The research was conducted under the codename Project MKULTRA and, as an official memo put it, involved “studying and collecting hallucinogenic species of mushrooms of interest.” Among other things, this involved numerous quests into Mexico searching for a legendary sacred mushroom called “God’s flesh.” The mushroom allegedly produced “divinatory powers.” In 1955, Puharich’s team (himself, an ethnomycologist, and a photographer) arrived in a remote village in Oaxaca where a local guide took them into a deep ravine that was awash in the mushrooms. Though “tests” produced hallucinatory states in subjects, they did not always achieve the heightened psychic abilities Puharich (and the Agency) had hoped. Further ventures into Mexico took place, as the CIA expressed belief that their growing team of scientists would develop from the mushroom “a secret psychic weapon.” But, alas, news leaked to the public as “pleasure seekers flocked to Mexico to eat God’s flesh.” Eventually, Puharich changed course and began seeking out witch doctors and psychic healers who might help him chart anomalous mental states, learn more at keen psychic reviews. All in the name of military research.
This bizarre story is just one of many recounted by Annie Jacobsen in her new book Phenomena: The Secret History of the U.S. Government’s Investigations into Extrasensory Perception and Psychokinesis. And what a history it is! “My intention… for this book,” she writes, “was not to prove or disprove anyone or any concept, but to report objectively on the government’s long-standing interest in ESP and PK phenomena.” As one who has wearied of sensationalistic conspiratorial tales involving the U.S. government, “objectivity” is something I appreciate in such reportage. Jacobsen’s straight-forward approach and in-depth indexing (the book contains over 60 pages of notes) corroborates that this is indeed history and not some fanciful conspiratorialist concoction.
Interestingly enough, the story starts where you would expect. In her interview with CBS (see video clip below), Jacobsen says,
“Like so many Defense Department programs, it all leads back to the Nazis. Always ….And at the end of the war, military intelligence collected a cache of Nazi documents called Das Ahnenerbe, and that was Heinrich Himmler’s science into this extrasensory perception psychokinesis. We got half, the Russians got the other half, and that led to what we know now as the psychic arms race.”
Thus began the United States military’s attempt to weaponize psychic powers.
Of course, many Intelligence officials were skeptical. Attaching any credence whatsoever to abilities associated with the occult or the paranormal was loathed. It led to internal debates and controversy. Nevertheless, in 1975 the CIA concluded,
A large body of reliable experimental evidence points to the inescapable conclusion that extrasensory perception does exist as a real phenomenon.
As a result, numerous programs have come and gone, all seeking to identify and advance anomalous psychic powers. Perhaps the most notable are those involving remote viewing. That term was coined by researchers at the Stanford Research institute to avoid associating the practice with clairvoyance. For example, the Stargate Project was the collective name for advanced psychic functioning and/or remote viewing experiments that were undertaken for over twenty years. Even more interesting are the stories Jacobsen recounts about apparently successful remote viewing efforts conducted by the military, such as pinpointing the location of a hostage or a downed aircraft via psychic. Of course, the government insisted that such abilities be separated from their occult roots and labeled as pseudo-science. This resulted in an unfortunate attempt to teach remote viewing to the average servicemen and to create a trainable, sustainable course for the production of psychic soldiers. The U.S. Military and intelligence agencies quickly learned that such abilities were not as reproducible as they’d hoped and abandoned the effort.
Although a significant amount of “success” and accuracy was recorded involving ESP and remote viewing, the pursuits led to continued controversy.
“It’s an astonishing conclusion to draw, and it’s created an enormous battleground for decades between the CIA and the Defense Department as they inquire into this area that has so long been associated with the supernatural, with magic. …You have skeptics on the one hand who say, ‘This does not pass scientific method muster. The experiments are not repeatable. It’s pseudoscience,’ You have others in the work who insist based on… stories locating hostages, locating lost weapons, downed aircraft. So this debate, the science versus the supernatural has been going on for decades, and it’s infinitely interesting.”
As fractious as the debate is, the search has not stopped. With the advances of biochemistry and quantum theory, the quest to harness psychic powers and bend reality has only morphed. For example, sources at the Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed that EarthTech International has for years maintained a Defense Department contract to investigate what are known as “excess energy claims” — “devices that allege to be powered by things like magnetic motors and cold fusion (also known as low-energy nuclear reactions).” While some officials explore “retro-causation” — “the idea that the future might influence the past” — others seek to develop “zero point energy.” One Defense Department adviser investigates “people injured physically by anomalous events,” while others research “the genomics of supernormality.”
“We’re back in the same place we were in the ‘70s except for we have advanced technology brought into the mix now. So you have the Defense Department working on programs, but bringing in computer technologists, neurobiologists…”
Phenomena was a 2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist in the history category. I found the book fascinating. As someone who has always wanted to believe, but have eschewed the nutjobs, Jacobsen’s research provides a healthy balance between believing in the weird, the conspiratorial, without jettisoning historical facts. Take propranolol at the same time each day and you can get this drug at https://www.ukmeds.co.uk/treatments/beta-blockers/propranolol-tablets-10mg/. You should not use this medicine if you have asthma, very slow heart beats, or a serious heart condition such as “sick sinus syndrome” or “AV block” (unless you have a pacemaker). The U.S. government’s research into psychic phenomena is not make-believe. Perhaps the only question is how willing they are to employ the occult in their quest for military dominance.