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CIA Doc on Time Travel, Consciousness, and Existence of the Absolute (1983) [pdf] (cia.gov)
211 points by jules-jules on March 18, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

Any reasonable government needs to have a small outlet for things that seem crazy. In other words, you need X Files.

Not because you believe everything, most things, or even any thing in them, but because having an open mind is important. If you think you know everything, you will miss a lot. Being open minded means spending some time at the tail edges investigating things that look like utter garbage woo, even if the result is that they are invariably utter garbage woo.

Also, it is not complete nonsense.

Altering conscious states is absolutely real and there are many avenues to it. Altered consciousness is also solidly in the interests of an intelligence agency and research is only natural.

There is definitely a flavor of pseudoscientific nonsense that comes along with altered consciousness experiences, but you can look past that.

Reports like this look to me very similar into pre-flight experiments. There were a whole lot of people making patently ridiculous flying contraptions but with hindsight many of them had some important ideas right.

See also: alchemy as a precursor to chemistry

Studying and treating the brain by developing methods to alter conscious states is, I think, going to be a major achievement of the 21st century, and things like this are precursors.

> If you think you know everything, you will miss a lot.

However, searching for low probability events in a large search space is not necessarily going to be a fruitful experience. For example, imagine that there is non-zero probability of a 20 karat diamond being on the beach somewhere, buried in the sand. You can look for it as much as you want, but you will still probably miss it.

Having a small outlet for things that seem crazy because they might turn out to be true is the same kind of logic as buying a lottery ticket because you can't win if you don't play. Yes, you will miss things, but you will almost certainly miss them anyway unless you expend more resources than they are worth -- and then you still aren't guaranteed to make progress.

On the other hand low probability risks that are likely to happen sometime are often worth investigating. For example, if there is a 1 in 1000 year earthquake event, it's highly unlikely to affect you in your life. But it will eventually affect someone so it may be work the effort to study what might happen. To get more esoteric, perhaps we can talk about large meteorites hitting the planet. Do we need a contingency plan for it?

To me, that's the main question you need to ask before you start: are we building up an understanding of something that will almost certainly affect us one day, or are we simply sifting through grains of sand on the beach hoping to find a diamond?

I think the point is you know that beaches don't have diamonds in them in reachable range because people frequent beaches. But it's plausible to me that the CIA is sitting in unique operational territory, and their informational "obviously worthless" periphery is not well frequented.

It's not about finding diamonds on the beach, it's about finding beaches with diamonds.

> However, searching for low probability events in a large search space is not necessarily going to be a fruitful experience.

The same concern can be applied to areas like basic research and founding startups yet there are a lot of resources, success, and overall patience there.

>low probability risks that are likely to happen sometime are often worth investigating.

>buying a lottery ticket because you can't win if you don't play

These are the same situation

What? Expectation or risk-adjusted expectation are specified in neither case, they are the defining characteristics and you can't make statements about either of the cases without knowing or estimating them.

There’s a dimension to this that you’re not considering: what you care about most as a government is that no one else gets a lead on you (that is, relative advantage).

The difficulty you identify isn’t such an issue if you’re just trying the things in the same realm that other people are suggesting/investigating, to make sure that you don’t fall behind.

This is a great point, having an open mind to these sort of things is very important. You never know what sort of things could come of experiments if they aren't done or pushed aside. Especially with the more widespread knowledge of the capability of psychedelics to change your mind. To ignore this avenue of very new and oft-misunderstood science would just be, to put it bluntly, ignorant.

> Studying and treating the brain by developing methods to alter conscious states is, I think, going to be a major achievement of the 21st century

There's a great book called "Stealing Fire" by Steven Kotler & Jamie Wheal about this very subject.

I think the only actionable advice I got from the book was that well meshed teams can deliver an output that exceeds the sum of the individual contributions. Which totally makes sense. My atoms can't write HN comments but when they work as a team they sure can.

Which really shouldn't be news but still it was a fun read.

That's one of the main takeaways from the cellular automata models lecture in Coursera's Model Thinking course (https://www.coursera.org/learn/model-thinking)

"It from bit"

There’s also the issue that a lot of otherwise reasonable, educated people believe in the supernatural and woo science, or at least some of it. That means in a large organisation like the CIA, with dozens of senior officials over many decades, some of them will too and might act on it. Heck even as a doubter,I can accept it might be worthwhile investigating, just to prove it wrong.

French president Mitterrand was known to consult a fortune teller... [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89lizabeth_Teissier

There's something between French leaders and fortune tellers. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Anne_Lenormand

Well, judging from his career, he didn't do bad doing so.

(We don't know whether he would have done just as good without consulting one of course. But it didn't seem to hurt).

The fact is human beings are both rational and emotional beings. It's even possible for someone to 'rationally' know that it's bunk, but still receive and appreciate emotional benefits from something like that. It’s funny how people can profess they believe something, but persist in acting as though they don’t.

Investors are the poster child of that behavior. No one knows the future, no one can really predict the market, particularly short term. So traders follow all sorts of superstitions like chartism, market proverbs and oracles (talking heads in financial news channels).

There are people trading based on lunar and solar cycles, the justification being that they have subtle effects on human behavior that emerge at the scales of large groups.

So did John Lennon.

Apparently oracle's can't really predict the future, eh?

If you go on some of the CIA FOIA tools you can also read about their experiments with astral projection. One of the more famous ones is about some guy astrally projecting on mars, in the past, and seeing aliens and buildings: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP96-00788...

The CIA back then was all kinds of fucked up. Doing illegal experiments on US civilians, installing dictators, and selling drugs. Makes you wonder what terrible shit they're doing now that hasn't come to the surface yet...

> The CIA back then was all kinds of fucked up.

The only thing I've really learned about these types of organizations is that their very nature makes them, as an entity, more like an octopus than a primate. They need to quarantine off information and seed it with falsehood to stop adversaries from making their way off with everything when they breach a system or trusting it all on the off chance they do.

There is no "CIA" in the way that there is a "Denver Broncos" because the CIA has no unity of perspective, purpose, or even vision.

That some of their hippie dippies studied stupid shit and some of their psychos experimented on humans isn't really emblematic of the agency as a whole. Not because they were mere outliers, but because the concept of "the agency as a whole" doesn't really fit.

Probably something with manipulation of large populations using social media or predicting the future using user data and metrics.

It categorically seems much more innocent if that's the case. Effective sure, but it just doesn't feel as advanced as as injecting subjects with brand new chemicals or exploring some advanced technology.

My point is, I am pretty sure that's not the flagship project at the CIA or NSA.

I dunno, social manipulation is a pretty powerful tool. The difference between a peaceful loving society and an aggressive and warlike society is in large part controlled by social pressures and perceptions.

>in large part controlled ompletely controlled.

The intents of Nazis, Imperial Japanese, Crusaders, etc., can only be explained by their social pressures. Same people born in different place and time would have different intents.

Control what people see and hear and you control what they think.

Einstein quote: >Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment. Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions

Well wasn't the goal of their chemical experiments to learn how to control minds? Why do it with chemicals when its much easier to do it at scale with AI driven machine learning algorithms and social media?


> Probably something with manipulation of large populations using social media or predicting the future using user data and metrics.

If they could predict the future, wouldn't they fund their off the books ops by day trading instead of slinging coke? :)

The men who stare at goats!

Watch it, go down that rabbit hole

I was impressed that they managed to get some big-name actors to make that movie. I suspect they had a lot of fun making it as well.

Well, looks like these Monroe Institute activities segued into CIA interest into what was called 'remote viewing' for use as a possible supplemental espionage methodology. Apparently one H. E. Puthoff was one of the primary researchers in this activity and there's an online history of this CIA initiated RV Program at SRI that he authored which may be of some interest:

URL = https://www.aestheticimpact.com/_pdf/AAestheticImpactCIABiof...

> Well, looks like these Monroe Institute activities segued into CIA interest into what was called 'remote viewing'

This document is dated June 9, 1983. Your link says the US intelligence agencies' program started in the early 1970's. It started as a threat analysis [3] of a mistranslation of intelligence [0] on Soviet activities, but developed into something much more than that.

The Gateway program is Robert Monroe's system for helping people develop the ability to have out-of-body experiences. Monroe started spontaneously popping out of body in the 1950's, and thought he was dying. After a few years he decided he wasn't dying, and started to explore the phenomenon. His first book, Journeys Out of the Body [1], was published in 1977, and was essentially just "hey I've decided I'm not dying and our western culture has no context for these experiences but these are my findings." Lots of people wrote to thank him for validating their own experiences.

Robert Monroe's followup book, Far Journeys [2], was much more rigorous. It was published in 1985, about 2 years after this submission's PDF was written.

Your link tells of Ingo Swann's pivotal role in the remote viewing program... My earlier comment [0] tells of the time I met Swann in Las Vegas. (Edit: hah, just noticed your link pdf was generated from content originally hosted at Swann's website, biomindsuperpowers.com)

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17238552

[1] https://books.google.com/books?id=JqNXvQEACAAJ

[2] https://books.google.com/books?isbn=0385231814

edit: [3] Your link uses the terms 'threat potential' and 'threat assessment'. Quote from your link: "In broad terms it can be said that much of the SRI effort was directed not so much toward developing an operational U.S. capability, but rather toward assessing the threat potential of its use against the U.S. by others. The words threat assessment were often used to describe the program's purpose during its development, especially during the early years."

Your link tells of Ingo Swann's pivotal role in the remote viewing program

About 10 years ago came across research papers (not via Blavatsky) on an old mind-altering Buddhist copper wall setup which involved a wooden chair oriented towards magnetic north placed over a thick panel of glass with a sheet of copper suspended vertically in front of a sitter with a 50 gauss magnet (N up) suspended by cord over the sitter's head. Colleagues with an interest in this subject pointed me in the direction of Ingo Swann, Elmer Green, with the Monroe Institute as a possible source of information. Via an email exchange with Ingo Swann and later with his ameneusis Tom Burgin it turned out that Swann had a copper wall setup in his flat which he found useful in meditation. Elmer Green, on the other hand, decided to construct an entire room with copper walls and ceiling emulating the original idea, which Swann (and others) commented drove them into overload. OK, Faraday-cage format out. What about emulating a pair of facing mirrors with two copper sheets, one in front and one behind the sitter? May act as an amplifier. Figuring this was an obvious experimental configuration decided to contact Skip Atwater over at the Monroe Institute:

was planning on experimenting with a classic 'copper wall' setting. If you are not familiar with this set up, essentially an individual is seated upright in a wooden chair placed over a panel of thick glass situated between 2 large vertical facing Cu panels affixed to parallel walls, and a 15 to 150 gauss magnet (North up) is suspended by an insulated cord above the subject and brought to within a centimeter of the crown of the head. (cf Elmer Green's work). I would imagine that you have worked with this configuration and am curious whether you have such a sensory amplification chamber which is available for monitored use.


Yes, I am familiar with Elmer's work and years ago I was in Kansas an actually saw the copper wall setup. His work has never been replicated but as I know of his work for years, I believe it remains as an important finding. He also knew Bob Monroe personally.

We have not experimented with the "copper wall" setup. I would think that such experimentation would be valuable, however. Please keep good record and let us know how things go for your work.

Skip Atwater

results: overload. Stick with the original configuration if you want to experiment. :-(

BUT, this is HN not a Psychic Times :-) so stick to a data suggests motif if you feel like commenting and data-mine away :-)

I have a copy of Elmer Green's report on the Copper Wall research project at the Menninger Institute. Swann's book Psychic Sexuality tells of his experience of being the lab rat in those experiments... This text has been republished by the Estate, and is now available in ebook format.

> BUT, this is HN not a Psychic Times :-) so stick to a data suggests motif if you feel like commenting and data-mine away :-)

Data suggests that good hackers are more "psychic" (intuitive) than less-effective hackers.

Thanks for reminding me about the Copper Wall.

edit (note-to-self): https://www.monroeinstitute.org/blog/copper-wall-project

I suspect that it might have also been considered as a cover up in the style of "carrots improve eyesight" for radar deception. Deliberate vaguely "plausible" bullshit.

Of course given they sent the Loony Toons division after Castro it is possible they are simply a bunch of monsterous incompetents.

While people say the CIA invested in woo woo, I believe science progresses this way. Reported edge cases of established theories need to be checked, validated and proved/disproved before moving on to modifying the theory or dumping the case as woo.

As scientists we should not be pre-disposed to shutdown things we do not understand without putting said phenomena through a testing phase.

>Reported edge cases of established theories need to be checked, validated and proved/disproved before moving on to modifying the theory or dumping the case as woo.

There are literally an infinite number of possible violations of established physics. Momentum is not conserved inside this cubic inch. Momentum is not conserved inside this other cubic inch...

The only reason one might prefer astral projection as a theory over the cubic-inch-ism of any particular volume is that astral projection fits a few preconceived notions about how the universe should conform to our psychological expectations. It might be surprising to hear, but exploding a goat with your mind is actually more psychologically familiar than any particular fact about quantum field theory. It involves explosions, minds, the exertion of will, and goats, while QFT involves unfamiliar components following unfamiliar rules to unfamiliar ends.

In short, if your idea is to test for a violation of the known laws of nature, great. If your idea is to test for a violation of the laws of nature that is only motivated by the predispositions you acquired in the cradle, that's not so good.

I think they were checking culturally popular predispositions. I may claim this one cubic inch is special, but who cares? If 5-10% of the country believes it, it sorta makes sense to look into.

If someone believes something that all people are naturally predisposed to believe (compared at least to other competing beliefs), then within the palette of explanations for why they believe it lies, "just because they're predisposed." As a result paranormal theories are actually less credible than cubic-inch-ism.

Are people also predisposed to believing that people are predisposed to some belief without actually investigating the belief or understanding why people might be predisposed to it?

Most of the things in this paper are pretty good abstractions explaining the truth. Science is moving in this direction, but giving an overview is scary.

That's what tenured professors are for. Compartmentalized intelligence organizations forever torn between the conflicting goals of oversight and secrecy are a terrible way to fund anticonventional research.

It was a Cold War battle between Russia and the US. RAND Corporation found in 1973 that the US was falling behind in paranormal research.

> (1) Soviet research is much more oriented toward biological and physical investigation of paranormal phenomena than is U.S. research, which is dominated by psychologists;

> (2) although visible U.S. and Soviet level of effort appear roughly equal, over forty years of research in the United States have failed to significantly advance our understanding of paranormal phenomena;

> (3) if paranormal phenomena exist, the thrust of Soviet research papers appears more likely to lead to explanation, control and application than is U.S. research;

The paranormal arms race between East and the West may have started with a 1960 French article describing how experiments at Duke University had established telepathic communication with nuclear submarines using Zener cards. The success rate was stated at 75%. The Navy later stated the story was a hoax, but it was likely deliberately planted by Western intelligence agencies to detract from real technological advances in communicating with submarines (such as Very Low Frequency Radio). But the Russians seemed to take the bait, wasting resources, yet later started reporting successes and publishing a wide range of high quality research (of which the CIA became aware). [1]

This in turn scared the USA into keeping up. Meanwhile the Russians promoted their own hoaxes and disinformation, such as Nina Kulagina, who was seemingly capable of telekinesis.

By the way, hypnosis and mass hypnosis are not woo woo, but legit toolsets of the intelligence agencies. Even the Stargate project had its use as a creative tool for scenario development and intuitive thinking. Interesting to note that its participants Harold Puthoff, Edwin May, Ingo Swann, and Pat Price were all involved with Scientology. Even the government may at one time been interested in the supposed powers of the OTO's.

> As scientists we should not be pre-disposed to shutdown things we do not understand without putting said phenomena through a testing phase.

Which is why Dr. Estabrooks (who the Russians knew was funded a big budget by US military to conduct research into the paranormal) wanted to know for sure if it was possible to hypnotize someone into committing murder and forget it ever happened. As real scientists such a test would be quickly shut down on moral grounds, so perhaps it is better to speak of military research when discussing this woo woo.

Given how disinformation and wasting the academic resources of foreign enemies ("eating carrots makes British pilots see at night", or the suggestion to drop the bandit problem over occupied France) is such a common trick, I wonder what current tricks are in use. I suspect that any country which focuses a lot of attention on fairness in AI will be at a disadvantage over a country that does not seem to care about this and just keeps automating no matter privacy or discrimination costs.

[1] https://www.wired.com/images_blogs/dangerroom/files/SovParap...

I'm with you on disinformation around AI—that is surely happening—but I disagree on the target. Intelligible AI does more than merely prevent accidental discrimination, it allows humans to iterate more quickly on their approach then cross train models that lack the intelligibility requirement, thus exposing a closing gap between what is possible without this restraint whilst simultaneously speeding up human understanding of AI approaches and algorithms.

No, with AI the thing that sounds like total bullshit to me is the way that some government officials talk of the risks AI in frenetic terms, while speaking as if the risk will become apparent once AI is capable of contemplating abstract concepts and cognition. The reason I think this is bullshit is that I consider those preconditions 20 years away at the very earliest[0] and the real threat is present: Humans harnessing AI is already powerful enough, especially for state actors.

[0] Likely 100 years away or creating so much thermal waste that their true hazard is mitigated.

They weren't 'taken' by it. It was likely to investigate it on the off chance it was possible. They had to try because if an enemy did and it turned out to be real, the advantages they would have would be huge. It's easy to look back from 2019 and roll our eyes, but I think the truth was less obvious then and it's likely our now easy dismissal of these things came from those very studies.

If you read some of the declassified documents regarding how they set up their experiments it's pretty clear that the studies were not being conducted in a scientifically sound way[1]. The CIA let the studies be performed with questionable methodology for a while, but eventually stopped funding the program. Then the DIA picked it up for a decade or two.

1: https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP96-00791...

Alternatively, it's handy to create and leak documents to get the other guys to waste resources competing with your supposed advances.

That's certainly a possibility. I believe they did something similar with UFO sightings by publicly giving them more credibility to mask testing of experimental aircraft's?

They did some research on "red mercury" and leaked plausible info on it, such that the other side would try it out, sink resources and get themselves killed (in the lab) in the process.

In 1983 the United States was spending 250 billion dollars on defense. Not sure if CIA spending is included in that piece of the spending pie, but regardless.. Lots of money gets dumped into the economy via that route. It's well known that some government agencies have a "spend it or lose it" funding model. If all your main budgetary needs are met and you have a few million dollars at the end of the year, why not throw some at researching wizard shit? No one wants to be the last super power to discover magical brain lasers.

Weird stuff like this doesn't bother me probably as much as it should. Sure, I'd prefer if we spent that money on more reasonable endeavors, but this was probably a cheap waste of time all things considered. And who knows? Maybe the moonshot will pay off, and Americans everywhere will gain powerful psychic shields to reflect communist hexes.

Government spending is a primary vector for new money into the economy. If it passes through a coven real quick, meh. Many think we should be spending more money on the arts, and I think the dark arts should count.

There are a million better long-shot scientific experiments that could be done with better rigor and better theoretical/experimental foundation than what's in that paper. The ideas there are 'not even wrong' in the Wolfgang Pauli sense; it is scientific-sounding words jumbled into a picture that isn't even coherent, let alone in agreement with reality.

Just because you can think of it, or can imagine it being true, or are afraid of it being true, doesn't mean it's worth investigating. Should the CIA engage in leprechaun research?

The IC usually doesn't fall into the bucket of 'defense spending'. And individual agency budgets are considered classified, however the entire bucket is public information. https://www.dni.gov/index.php/what-we-do/ic-budget

I now got stuck in my mind the vision of US vs Soviet secret agent psychic wizardry fights.

some of the document is "out there", but there's one section I've had some experience with: biofeedback.

Many years ago I tried a friend's biofeedback device - it used Galvanic Skin Response.

It seems you can still buy approximately the same device my friend owned on amazon: https://amzn.com/B01IPSUIZ0 (this is not a referral link and I have no association of any kind with them)

So here is the idea: you lay down on the bed, put your fingers across the contacts and move the knob until you get a medium high-pitched tone from the device. If you relax, the tone will decrease in pitch. You cannot cheat. If you think you are relaxing but are not, the tone will not budge (or will rise in pitch). If you continue to decrease the tone you will eventually relax so much you will fall asleep.

The first time I used this (~20 years ago) I learned how to relax in about 30 minutes. I have carried this ability all my life.

The $76 investment is worth it if there is a 50% chance I could gain an ability to relax within 30 minutes.

1. Try and see. 2. Leak program. 3. Get USSR to waste resources trying it themselves, and/or spying on the American program.

I think we woefully underestimate the amount and kinds of absurdity our governments get up to for counterintelligence purposes.

This exactly.

The cold war was ended by the Strategic Defense Initiative - not because it worked but because we forced the USSR to pour resources into matching us and it bankrupted the country.

What an horrid war of attrition. The only winning move is to have deeper pockets.

It was less horrid than the alternative.

Yes it was resources used non productively. But winning a war with metal and bombs and radiation---priceless.

I think it's the other way around. We were anxious to get into this kind of research because we heard the USSR was well on their way.

feedback loop

The author quotes Niels Bohr who says "you are not thinking you are merely being logical." sounds like a nice saying, but what is really the difference between being logical and thinking? What does Bohr do when he thinks? (I was just reading Polya's How to Solve It, maybe Bohr had in mind methods of investigations studied by Polya).

Well this is kind of crazy. I saw the title and instantly thought "oh wow, this is totally in line topically with a recent activity".

Read 1 page in and instantly realized they were going to the Monroe Insititue - where I just was.

Great place TBH.

I get the feeling that the budget for this project was actually spent on something nefarious and they only produced this document to claim they actually spent it on the task.

+Yes. The obvious answer is probably correct: it was just a front to fund more contras.

more likely hookers and blow

That seems likely. These horrible people lie constantly; why wouldn't they lie in this document?

Nazi's certainly had their $0.02 to contribute -


They say Heinrich Himmler was a practitioner of Occultism and had influenced SS to a considerable extent.

Utter garbage woo. I'd say it's indicative of something, but should we be surprised that even large government organizations can be taken in by BS?

I think it's less "taken in by BS" than "eliminating possibilities."

Exactly this. They had to at least say they TRIED knocking goats out by staring at them.

Bingo! And it works two ways.

The far-fetched worst case scenario is that this actually works, and that some enemy figures that out first.

The realistic nightmare scenario goes is a congressman going “DCI Casey, we’ve heard rumors that the Soviets/Qaddafi/Al Qaeda/baddy of your choice have developed methods for controlling minds. Yet we’ve heard little about how you plan to protect the US from such a threat.”

Yep. And once they were fairly sure this was difficult if not impossible, they could stop worrying about THEIR goats being knocked out by the USSR's psy-ops teams.

The Stare Wars program

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