Derren Brown's Remote Viewing Event

In his latest television extravaganza, British illusionist and stage mentalist Derren Brown is taking on the CIA's Star Gate "Psychic Spy" Program. It is often the case in media events like this that those involved have already made up their minds against remote viewing. We hope to be pleasantly surprised this time and find that Mr. Brown and his producers will give remote viewing an honest look. Still, there is already some reason to worry that remote viewing will not be represented well.

First, Mr. Brown defines remote viewing as "the ability for a psychic spy to see through the eyes of another human being." Unfortunately, that describes telepathy, not remote viewing. No one familiar with remote viewing has ever claimed that it works this way. Even those sorts of remote viewing experiments which involve a "beacon team" of two or three people going to a randomly-selected target site do not involve the remote viewer "seeing through the eyes" of the team at the location. Instead, the viewer only uses the team as a "beacon," to home in on the site and do his or her own reconnaissance.

Research done using beacon teams to target remote viewers who are kept blind to the teams' destination and work inside sensory-shielded areas often shows that viewers pick up on details at the site that the beacon team itself has no access to (roofs of buildings, tops and insides of machines, locked rooms, and so on). And most remote viewing is done with no one acting as a beacon at the target at all. Instead, coordinates or other means are used to focus the viewer's attention on the intended target without providing identifying information, so the viewer stays fully blind to the target.

A further minor sign of error is Mr. Brown's website explanation that the US government's remote viewing program started because of a leaked KGB video the CIA got wind of in the 1960s. Actually, the CIA had secretly gathered large quantities of data on a massive Soviet military and intelligence effort that looked into ESP and other paranormal phenomena. Literally dozens of top-ranked Soviet labs and research agencies were involved, and Soviet spending in the field was nearly ten times the US total. Much of this material is now in the public domain, and has been for more than a decade.

Before he airs his remote viewing broadcast this coming Friday on UK Channel 4, Mr. Brown is inviting members of the general public to try their hand at remote viewing. They are asked to use their ESP abilities to perceive and draw an image that is hidden behind a patchwork of newspaper sheets fastened to an easel (shown in a photo on the web site). We don't know the full scope of how the experiment will be managed or judged - nor does there seem to be information available on the experimental controls or conditions. Therefore, we neither encourage nor discourage your participation in this experiment. However, if you choose to get involved, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Don't try to do a 'remote viewing' while on the website. The photos on the website that show the easel with newspaper sheets hiding the target image are distracting as they continually change angles and move from close ups to distant shots. These photos show many colors and features from around the room in which the easel stands. The newspaper covering itself is garish and scattered, and is printed with images and bits of images, any of which could be suggestive and lead you off on a detour. All this may contaminate or block the often faint impressions coming in through your mental channels, and make your results less accurate and more distorted. They might even distract you altogether.
  2. A better approach is to do your sketching off-line in a calm and quiet setting away from the website. Once you complete your sketch, you can then go back and use the web site's pencil and eraser tools to duplicate what you drew and enter it into the computer. This way your work will be fresh and less distracted by the web site graphics. You can start your remote viewing by writing across the top of the paper on which you are working something like this: "Describe the correct remote viewing target image to be revealed by Derren Brown on his television broadcast on September 25, 2009." This serves both as a guide to your subconscious mind and a sort of "ready-set-go" signal that will help you focus on your project.
  3. Don't read the comments from readers posted on the website before you have finished and posted your own work. Many of these comments already entered on Mr. Brown's web site describe what others think they perceived or drew. Those kinds of comments can influence you to think of someone else's responses rather than your own if you have them in mind when you do your own remote viewing.
  4. The remote viewing instructions presented in the swirling coffee-cup graphic on the website are too vague and general. For simple, yet better instructions go to the IRVA "How to do a simple remote viewing experiment" webpage.

We don't yet know how Mr. Brown's "experiment" will turn out. We certainly hope he will be objective in evaluating results and in presenting the many positive features and successes of remote viewing and the 23-year US intelligence and military involvement in it. In any case, once the show airs, we expect we will have more to say about it.

Paul H. Smith
President, The International Remote Viewing Association

25 September 2009 Addendum to Derren Brown statement:

Since posting the response to Derren Brown's pending broadcast, it has become a bit more clear about what his goal may be -- I now understand that he apparently hopes to use suggestion and psychological manipulation to get as many people to come as close as possible to duplicating the hidden image rather than through use of ESP. This will thus presumably demonstrate that the CIA "could have been fooled" into believing in ESP. That (plus some of the things he has written in his blog) further suggests that Mr. Brown may want the audience to then conclude that, therefore, the CIA was 'fooled.' Of course, one doesn't necessarily follow from the other, of course. Just because an alternative means of explaining something is possible, it doesn't actually mean that the alternative is the correct explanation. [An example: I recently flew to Hawaii. However, others went by tour ship. But just because I could have gone with them by ship doesn't make it false that I flew.] In fact, the evidence for remote viewing is far stronger than an illusion like Mr. Brown apparently has in mind can counter. I'm looking forward to seeing exactly how he does what he does. It's meant to be entertaining, and I'm sure it will be!