Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cellular Automata Laboratory: Langton's Ant

I have added another new rule to Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab): Langton's Ant. This rule was discovered by Christopher Langton in 1986, and is one of the simplest known moving-head Turing machine rules which exhibits complex behaviour.

It is a two-dimensional Turing machine with a head (ant) that moves on a map of cells which can be in one of two states. In each generation, the head moves to an adjacent cell, inverting the state of the cell it departs. The head can move in one of the four directions in the von Neumann neighborhood; the direction it moves is set by the current state of the head. Upon moving to a new cell, the head adjusts its direction by turning clockwise if the cell's state is zero and counterclockwise if it is one.

When started with an all-zero map, the head starts by tracing out a lacy pattern exhibiting symmetries, but then, as the pattern grows, appears to be following a random walk, occasionally adding to the borders of the pattern. After around 10,000 generations, however, the head will begin to create a “highway” which extends in a diagonal direction in a cycle of 104 generations. This is an example of spontaneous emergence of order after a long period of apparently chaotic behavior. If run on an infinite map, the highway would extend without bound, but on our wrap-around map, it will eventually collide with the original random pattern, producing interesting interactions. All starting configurations which have been tested eventually produce a highway, but it has not been proved that every possible configuration does so. It has, however, been proved that the pattern always grows without bound in some manner. Try starting the rule on the square pattern and watch how it evolves into a lattice of ordered highways and burl-like intersections.

Run the Langton's Ant rule in CelLab

Posted at 23:09 Permalink

Monday, June 19, 2017

Autour de la Lune: Web Edition Updated

I have just posted an updated version of Jules Verne's 1870 novel Autour de la Lune (Around the Moon). This is the sequel to 1865's De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon), which left our intrepid explorers apparently stranded in orbit around the Moon.

The present novel picks up the story from inside the projectile moments before it was fired from the giant cannon toward the Moon and recounts their subsequent adventures. As always, Verne does not stint on details, and readers will learn much of what was known in the mid-19th century about selenography. The story is not the classic the original work was, nor does it have the subtext of technology as a modern sacrament, but it is a worthy sequel.

The original version Web version was posted in 2002. This edition updates all of the documents to contemporary Web standards (XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS3), uses Unicode for text elements such as ellipses and dashes, improves formatting and navigation, and corrects a few typographical errors.

Posted at 20:20 Permalink

Sunday, June 18, 2017

HotBits: New Version with API Keys, Pseudorandom Generation

I have just posted a new version of the HotBits radioactive random number generator Web support software. There are no changes to the actual generation process or hardware, which remain as previously documented. All changes are to the proxy server, which obtains random data from the generators and delivers them to requesters over the Web.

API Keys

The first change is the phased introduction of API Keys, which requesters must use to obtain random data. Since the original introduction of HotBits in 1996, anybody has been able to request random data generated from radioactive decay over the Web, constrained only a quota limiting requests from an IP address to 12,208 bytes or 120 requests, whichever comes first, in any 24-hour period (the quota is applied by an aging algorithm measuring rate, and does not have a hard cutoff on day boundaries). The reason for the imposition of a quota is that the hardware generators produce only around 100 bytes per second, and it would be easy for a user to exhaust this capacity, either inadvertently or in order to wreck the service and deny it to others out of malice.

This policy worked well for more than twenty years, but with increasing blight in the Internet slum, more and more distributed denial of service attacks against HotBits have been mounted over recent months. These are conducted from a multitude of IP addresses, most of which make only one or a few requests, and thereby evade the quota. I do not know the motive for these attacks—probably it's just a nihilistic desire to wreck something provided for free to others; there's plenty of that around on the Internet—no good deed goes unpunished. In any case, this irresponsible behaviour of a few results, as it usually does, in making things inconvenient for the large majority of legitimate users.

Beginning on July 1st, 2017, requests for random data from HotBits will require an API Key, which is either entered in a box in the request page or via an “apikey=key” query field in a direct request URL. Requests without a valid API key will be rejected with an error message. HotBits users can apply for an API Key starting today, by using the:

HotBits API Key Request Form

API Keys are typically issued with two days of being requested. Once you receive your API Key, you can begin to use it immediately with the Request HotBits (API) test page. On July 1st, this will be come the standard request page and an API Key will be required for all requests.

Pseudorandom Data

When you visit the new request page, you'll notice a new option at the bottom: “Pseudorandom data?”. The most common application of genuine random data is to “seed” a pseudorandom number generator which can then produce a large volume of data which passes all of the statistical tests for randomness. HotBits now provides such data without the need for users to set up and validate their own generator. When you check the box, HotBits will return data from its own high quality internal pseudorandom number generator which is seeded from radioactively-generated data from the HotBIts hardware generator. Requests for pseudorandom data do not require an API key and are not subject to quota limitations. You can also request pseudorandom data by specifying “Pseudorandom” as an API Key. Pseudorandom data in the hexadecimal, C, password, and XML formats is identified as such in the result page returned.

The pseudorandom data returned by HotBits are generated with the Mersenne twister algorithm, using the MT19937-64 (64-bit) version. The generator is seeded with 2496 bytes of radioactively-generated random data from the HotBits generators. Because the Mersenne twister algorithm is not cryptographically secure, in that by observing a sufficiently large number of results it is possible to predict subsequent output, the pseudorandom data supplied by HotBits is produced by taking pairs of 64-bit results from Mersenne twister, comprising a 16 byte block, encrypting the block using the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) with a 256 bit secret key also obtained from radioactively-generated HotBits data, then returning encrypted 16 byte blocks to fill the request. (Multiple blocks are generated if the request is more than 16 bytes, and if the request is not a multiple of 16 bytes, excess bytes from the last block are discarded.) A new AES encryption key is generated every 30 minutes, so even were a key to be disclosed, it would only enable decryption of data returned during the half hour window in which it was in use. Fourmilab makes no claim about the suitability of this pseudorandom data for cryptographic or any other use; that is up to you to determine based upon your own testing of the data and auditing of the algorithms and code used to generate it. Complete source code of the HotBits server, including the pseudorandom generator, will be posted when the new version enters production on July 1st, 2017. Statistical testing of the pseudorandom generator, including the downloadable data sets used in the tests, is currently available.

Posted at 11:45 Permalink

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Cellular Automata Laboratory: Bootstrap Percolation

Here's another new rule for Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab): Bootperc. The rule illustrates the process of bootstrap percolation in statistical mechanics. The rule is started with a random pattern in which some fraction of cells are set to 1 with the others zero. On each generation, zero cells look at their neighbours (either 4 for the von Neumann neighbourhood or 8 for the Moore neighbourhood) and, if the number of nonzero neighbours exceeds a threshold (2 for the 4-neighbour case, 4 for 8 neighbours), become ones. A cell, once set to one, remains forever in that state.

When run, one of two things will happen: either the map will evolve into a number of isolated domains separated by gaps, or else it will percolate—end up with all cells set to 1. Whether this happens is highly sensitive to the initial density of one cells. Below a critical density, the map will almost never percolate, while above it the map will almost always end up all ones. Near the critical density, whether or not the map percolates depends upon details of its initial random configuration. The critical density depends upon the neighbourhood size, and is around 4.5% ones for the four neighbour case and 7.5% for eight neighbours.

Colour is used to trace the waves of percolation, but plays no part in the operation of the rule. Initially set cells are displayed in white and do not change. Newly set cells in each generation are in green, and cells age over a colour gradient from red to dark blue. You can see the percolation front proceeding from each nucleation site as a green wave leaving the rainbow behind it, with the oldest cells in dark blue. If the map completely percolates, the end state will be the white initially set cells on a background of dark blue.

When you run the rule, try stopping it after it has reached a steady state and then use the “Random” button in the Pattern section and its Density field to load patterns with different densities and explore how they behave. The rule is initially set for the eight cell Moore neighbourhood. You can change this by editing the rule program, changing the setting of the vonnN variable, then pressing “Generate” to update the rule.

Run the Bootperc rule in CelLab

Posted at 22:27 Permalink

Monday, June 12, 2017

Reading List: Kindling

Shute, Nevil. Kindling. New York: Vintage Books, [1938, 1951] 2010. ISBN 978-0-307-47417-9.
It is the depth of the great depression, and yet business is booming at Warren Sons and Mortimer, merchant bankers, in the City of London. Henry Warren, descendant of the founder of the bank in 1750 and managing director, has never been busier. Despite the general contraction in the economy, firms failing, unemployment hitting record after record, and a collapse in international trade, his bank, which specialises in floating securities in London for foreign governments, has more deals pending than he can handle as those governments seek to raise funds to bolster their tottering economies. A typical week might see him in Holland, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Germany, Holland again, and back to England in time for a Friday entirely on the telephone and in conferences at his office. It is an exhausting routine and, truth be told, he was sufficiently wealthy not to have to work if he didn't wish to, but it was the Warren and Mortimer bank and he was this generation's Warren in charge, and that's what Warrens did.

But in the few moments he had to reflect upon his life, there was little joy in it. He worked so hard he rarely saw others outside work except for his wife Elise's social engagements, which he found tedious and her circle of friends annoying and superficial, but endured out of a sense of duty. He suspected Elise might be cheating on him with the suave but thoroughly distasteful Prince Ali Said, and he wasn't the only one: there were whispers and snickers behind his back in the City. He had no real friends; only business associates, and with no children, no legacy to work for other than the firm. Sleep came only with sleeping pills. He knew his health was declining from stress, sleep deprivation, and lack of exercise.

After confirming his wife's affair, he offers her an ultimatum: move away from London to a quiet life in the country or put an end to the marriage. Independently wealthy, she immediately opts for the latter and leaves him to work out the details. What is he now to do with his life? He informs the servants he is closing the house and offers them generous severance, tells the bank he is taking an indefinite leave to travel and recuperate, and tells his chauffeur to prepare for a long trip, details to come. They depart in the car, northbound. He vows to walk twenty miles a day, every day, until he recovers his health, mental equilibrium, and ability to sleep.

After a few days walking, eating and sleeping at inns and guest houses in the northlands, he collapses in excruciating pain by the side of the road. A passing lorry driver takes him to a small hospital in the town of Sharples. Barely conscious, a surgeon diagnoses him with an intestinal obstruction and says an operation will be necessary. He is wheeled to the operating theatre. The hospital staff speculates on who he might be: he has no wallet or other identification. “Probably one of the men on the road, seeking work in the South”, they guess.

As he begins his recovery in the hospital Warren decides not to complicate matters with regard to his identity: “He had no desire to be a merchant banker in a ward of labourers.” He confirmed their assumption, adding that he was a bank clerk recently returned from America where there was no work at all, in hopes of finding something in the home country. He recalls that Sharples had been known for the Barlow shipyard, once a prosperous enterprise, which closed five years ago, taking down the plate mill and other enterprises it and its workers supported. There was little work in Sharples, and most of the population was on relief. He begins to notice that patients in the ward seem to be dying at an inordinate rate, of maladies not normally thought life-threatening. He asks Miss McMahon, the hospital's Almoner, who tells him it's the poor nutrition affordable on relief, plus the lack of hope and sense of purpose in life due to long unemployment that's responsible. As he recovers and begins to take walks in the vicinity, he sees the boarded up stores, and the derelict shipyard and rolling mill. Curious, he arranges to tour them. When people speak to him of their hope the economy will recover and the yard re-open, he is grimly realistic and candid: with the equipment sold off or in ruins and the skilled workforce dispersed, how would it win an order even if there were any orders to be had?

As he is heading back to London to pick up his old life, feeling better mentally and physically than he had for years, ideas and numbers begin to swim in his mind.

It was impossible. Nobody, in this time of depression, could find an order for a single ship…—let alone a flock of them.

There was the staff. … He could probably get them together again at a twenty per cent rise in salary—if they were any good. But how was he to judge of that?

The whole thing was impossible, sheer madness to attempt. He must be sensible, and put it from his mind.

It would be damn good fun…

Three weeks later, acting through a solicitor to conceal his identity, Mr. Henry Warren, merchant banker of the City, became the owner of Barlows' Yard, purchasing it outright for the sum of £5500. Thus begins one of the most entertaining, realistic, and heartwarming tales of entrepreneurship (or perhaps “rentrepreneurship”) I have ever read. The fact that the author was himself founder and director of an aircraft manufacturing company during the depression, and well aware of the need to make payroll every week, get orders to keep the doors open even if they didn't make much business sense, and do whatever it takes so that the business can survive and meet its obligations to its customers, investors, employees, suppliers, and creditors, contributes to the authenticity of the tale. (See his autobiography, Slide Rule [July 2011], for details of his career.)

Back in his office at the bank, there is the matter of the oil deal in Laevatia. After defaulting on their last loan, the Balkan country is viewed as a laughingstock and pariah in the City, but Warren has an idea. If they are to develop oil in the country, they will need to ship it, and how better to ship it than in their own ships, built in Britain on advantageous terms? Before long, he's off to the Balkans to do a deal in the Balkan manner (involving bejewelled umbrellas, cases of Worcestershire sauce, losing to the Treasury minister in the local card game at a dive in the capital, and working out a deal where the dividends on the joint stock oil company will be secured by profits from the national railway. And, there's the matter of the ships, which will be contracted for by Warren's bank.

Then it's back to London to pitch the deal. Warren's reputation counts for a great deal in the City, and the preference shares are placed. That done, the Hawside Ship and Engineering Company Ltd. is registered with cut-out directors, and the process of awarding the contract for the tankers to it is undertaken. As Warren explains to Miss McMahon, who he has begun to see more frequently, once the order is in hand, it can be used to float shares in the company to fund the equipment and staff to build the ships. At least if the prospectus is sufficiently optimistic—perhaps too optimistic….

Order in hand, life begins to return to Sharples. First a few workers, then dozens, then hundreds. The welcome sound of riveting and welding begins to issue from the yard. A few boarded-up shops re-open, and then more. Then another order for a ship came in, thanks to arm-twisting by one of the yard's directors. With talk of Britain re-arming, there was the prospect of Admiralty business. There was still only one newspaper a week in Sharples, brought in from Newcastle and sold to readers interested in the football news. On one of his more frequent visits to the town, yard, and Miss McMahon, Warren sees the headline: “Revolution in Laevatia”. “This is a very bad one,” Warren says. “I don't know what this is going to mean.”

But, one suspects, he did. As anybody who has been in the senior management of a publicly-traded company is well aware, what happens next is well-scripted: the shareholder suit by a small investor, the press pile-on, the back-turning by the financial community, the securities investigation, the indictment, and, eventually, the slammer. Warren understands this, and works diligently to ensure the Yard survives. There is a deep mine of wisdom here for anybody facing a bad patch.

“You must make this first year's accounts as bad as they ever can be,” he said. “You've got a marvellous opportunity to do so now, one that you'll never have again. You must examine every contract that you've got, with Jennings, and Grierson must tell the auditors that every contract will be carried out at a loss. He'll probably be right, of course—but he must pile it on. You've got to make reserves this year against every possible contingency, probable or improbable.”

“Pile everything into this year's loss, including a lot that really ought not to be there. If you do that, next year you'll be bound to show a profit, and the year after, if you've done it properly this year. Then as soon as you're showing profits and a decent show of orders in hand, get rid of this year's losses by writing down your capital, pay a dividend, and make another issue to replace the capital.”

Sage advice—I've been there. We had cash in the till, so we were able to do a stock buy-back at the bottom, but the principle is the same.

Having been brought back to life by almost dying in small town hospital, Warren is rejuvenated by his time in gaol. In November 1937, he is released and returns to Sharples where, amidst evidence of prosperity everywhere he approaches the Yard, to see a plaque on the wall with his face in profile: “HENRY WARREN — 1934 — HE GAVE US WORK”. Then he was off to see Miss McMahon.

The only print edition currently available new is a very expensive hardcover. Used paperbacks are readily available: check under both Kindling and the original British title, Ruined City. I have linked to the Kindle edition above.

Posted at 00:35 Permalink

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Cellular Automata Laboratory: Forest Fire Model

I have just added a new sample rule to Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab): Forest, a model of forest fire propagation originally published by Drossel and Schwabl in 1992.

Cells in the map represent either a tree or open ground. Lightning strikes cells at random with a probability f (default 0.00002) on each generation. If lightning strikes open ground, nothing happens, but if it strikes a tree, on the next generation the tree will be on fire. A tree on fire becomes open ground in the next generation. A tree catches fire if any of its eight neighbours is on fire. New trees appear in open ground cells with a probability p (default 0.002).

When the density of trees is low, most lightning strikes empty ground or burns only one or a few trees. As the density of fuel grows over time, the forest becomes susceptible to cataclysmic wildfires which burn large regions. Eventually, you will see lots of small fires and a few very large conflagrations.

The behaviour of the model is highly sensitive to the ratio of the parameters f and p, which you can adjust by editing the top of the evaluator function. Counter-intuitively, reducing the number of lightning strikes increases the number of large fires because it allows fuel to build up which permits the rare fire, once started, to propagate widely. This phenomenon is observed in forestry and is managed by controlled burns.

An age counter is used to display trees in sixteen intensities of green based upon their age in generations, and to make flame fronts fade after they have passed. This is simply to make the display easier to understand; it plays no part in the behavior of the rule.

Run the Forest rule in CelLab

Posted at 13:48 Permalink

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Time Machine by H. G. Wells: New Web Edition

I have just posted an updated version of the Web edition of H. G. Wells' classic 1895 novel, The Time Machine. This novel (actually, at around 33,000 words, it would be classed as a long novella by contemporary publishers) was originally posted at Fourmilab in 2002. The new edition updates the document to contemporary Web standards (XHTML 1.0 Strict and CSS 3), and uses Unicode text entities for typographic elements such as quotes, dashes, and ellipses.

As I note in the contents page, there were many editions of this work published between 1895 and the last version revised by Wells in 1935. I have based this edition upon the latter work. If you find any errors, please send feedback, but bear in mind that if it's a quibble with words on which the author signed off, I'll go with the latter. Please don't complain about the quote marks. The 1935 edition was published in Britain. British publishers use ‘single quotes’ for the outer level of quotations and “double quotes” for quotations nested within them, while U.S. publishers use exactly the opposite convention. In this edition, I have used quote marks as the author wrote them and his publisher printed them. Because of the story's unusual narrative structure, the main long quotation is carried over from chapter to chapter without a closing quote until the Time Traveller pauses his story in chapter 7 and concludes it in chapter 12: this is as it was in the original.

This is a fine yarn, easily read in one or two sittings, which has much to say about the consequences of eliminating risk and challenges from the lives of people in developed societies. It is much better than the two Hollywood movies loosely based upon it.

Posted at 23:46 Permalink

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cellular Automata Laboratory: WebCA Released

In the first major update since 1997, a completely new version of Cellular Automata Laboratory (CelLab) is now available. The cellular automata simulators which previously ran under MS-DOS and Microsoft Windows (and which have ceased to work on recent releases of Windows thanks to Microsoft's trademark strategic incompatibility) and been replaced by a new simulator, WebCA, which is written in JavaScript and runs entirely within the user's browser, using the HTML5 canvas element and associated JavaScript support to display the results of the simulation. Rules, which were previously defined by external programs in languages such as Java, Pascal, C, or Basic, are now defined in JavaScript and compiled directly by the simulator: no external programming environment is required. Custom evaluators, formerly written in assembly language or as a Windows DLL, are now also defined in JavaScript

Many new sample rules have been added, illustrating applications such as billiard ball computing, ecological modeling, emulation of Boolean logic elements, simulation of a spin Ising system, Margolus block rule evaluation, and computational fluid dynamics (the latter demonstrating a cellular automaton with continuous-valued cell state). Source code for all rules and evaluators and the pattern and colour palette files they use are available in a new CelLab Development Kit.

The ability to create self-running demos, or “shows” has been added, and used to build the CelLab Demo, which you can also watch (albeit at lower resolution) on YouTube. A number of other demos are included, which are available on a YouTube playlist.

The manual has been extensively revised, removing the information on the MS-DOS and Windows simulators and documenting WebCA and the new rules and evaluators. Instructions for writing rule definitions and custom evaluators in JavaScript are included. The manual has been updated to current Web standards and typography, and should be easier on the eye.

In order to run WebCA, you need a browser which supports HTML5 canvas and the JavaScript features it requires. Browsers differ substantially in the efficiency of their JavaScript implementations. I have found that the Chrome and Brave browsers provide the best performance, with Firefox and Safari substantially slower but sufficient to run all but the most complicated evaluators.

The links below provide access to the new release and its components.

Posted at 21:04 Permalink

Monday, June 5, 2017

New: Terranova Planet Maker

Since 1995, Terranova has been delivering a planet of the day to visitors on the Web. Now, users with a modern Web browser that supports HTML5 canvas and JavaScript can use Terranova Planet Maker to make their own planets, plus images of cloudy skies and star fields, any time they wish, right within the browser (you don't need to be connected to a server—all computation is done locally). The algorithm used to produce the images is identical to that used by Terranova and can either use randomly-selected parameters or be controlled at a fine-grained level by user settings. Images can be saved to your local machine through the right-click menu available on almost all browsers.

Yes. we're really doing a million-point two-dimensional inverse fast Fourier transform in JavaScript running inside the browser. Progress in JavaScript implementations has been such that on a fast machine and modern browser, you'll hardly notice the generation time.

Posted at 20:53 Permalink

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Reading List: Phenomena

Jacobsen, Annie. Phenomena. New York: Little, Brown, 2017. ISBN 978-0-316-34936-9.
At the end of World War II, it was clear that science and technology would be central to competition among nations in the postwar era. The development of nuclear weapons, German deployment of the first operational ballistic missile, and the introduction of jet propelled aircraft pointed the way to a technology-driven arms race, and both the U.S. and the Soviet Union scrambled to lay hands on the secret super-weapon programs of the defeated Nazi regime. On the U.S. side, the Alsos Mission not only sought information on German nuclear and missile programs, but also came across even more bizarre projects, such as those undertaken by Berlin's Ahnenerbe Institute, founded in 1935 by SS leader Heinrich Himmler. Investigating the institute's headquarters in a Berlin suburb, Samuel Goudsmit, chief scientist of Alsos, found what he described as “Remnants of weird Teutonic symbols and rites … a corner with a pit of ashes in which I found the skull of an infant.” What was going on? Had the Nazis attempted to weaponise black magic? And, to the ever-practical military mind, did it work?

In the years after the war, the intelligence community and military services in both the U.S. and Soviet Union would become involved in the realm of the paranormal, funding research and operational programs based upon purported psychic powers for which mainstream science had no explanation. Both superpowers were not only seeking super powers for their spies and soldiers, but also looking over their shoulders afraid the other would steal a jump on them in exploiting these supposed powers of mind. “We can't risk a ‘woo-woo gap’ with the adversary!”

Set aside for a moment (as did most of the agencies funding this research) the question of just how these mental powers were supposed to work. If they did, in fact, exist and if they could be harnessed and reliably employed, they would confer a tremendous strategic advantage on their possessor. Consider: psychic spies could project their consciousness out of body and penetrate the most secure military installations; telepaths could read the minds of diplomats during negotiations or perhaps even plant thoughts and influence their judgement; telekinesis might be able to disrupt the guidance systems of intercontinental missiles or space launchers; and psychic assassins could undetectably kill by stopping the hearts of their victims remotely by projecting malign mental energy in their direction.

All of this may seem absurd on its face, but work on all of these phenomena and more was funded, between 1952 and 1995, by agencies of the U.S. government including the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, the CIA, NSA, DIA, and ARPA/DARPA, expending tens of millions of dollars. Between 1978 and 1995 the Defense Department maintained an operational psychic espionage program under various names, using “remote viewing” to provide information on intelligence targets for clients including the Secret Service, Customs Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Coast Guard.

What is remote viewing? Experiments in parapsychology laboratories usually employ a protocol called “outbounder-beacon”, where a researcher travels to a location selected randomly from a set of targets and observes the locale while a subject in the laboratory, usually isolated from sensory input which might provide clues, attempts to describe, either in words or by a drawing, what the outbounder is observing. At the conclusion of the experiment, the subject's description is compared with pictures of the targets by an independent judge (unaware of which was the outbounder's destination), who selects the one which is the closest match to the subject's description. If each experiment picked the outbounder's destination from a set of five targets, you'd expect from chance alone that in an ensemble of experiments the remote viewer's perception would match the actual target around 20% of the time. Experiments conducted in the 1970s at the Stanford Research Institute (and subsequently the target of intense criticism by skeptics) claimed in excess of 65% accuracy by talented remote viewers.

While outbounder-beacon experiments were used to train and test candidate remote viewers, operational military remote viewing as conducted by the Stargate Project (and under assorted other code names over the years), was quite different. Usually the procedure involved “coordinate remote viewing”. The viewer would simply be handed a slip of paper containing the latitude and longitude of the target and then, relaxing and clearing his or her mind, would attempt to describe what was there. In other sessions, the viewer might be handed a sealed envelope containing a satellite reconnaissance photograph. The results were sometimes stunning. In 1979, a KH-9 spy satellite photographed a huge building which had been constructed at Severodvinsk Naval Base in the Soviet arctic. Analysts thought the Soviets might be building their first aircraft carrier inside the secret facility. Joe McMoneagle, an Army warrant office and Vietnam veteran who was assigned to the Stargate Project as its first remote viewer, was given the target in the form of an envelope with the satellite photo sealed inside. Concentrating on the target, he noted “There's some kind of a ship. Some kind of a vessel. I'm getting a very, very strong impression of props [propellers]”. Then, “I'm seeing fins…. They look like shark fins.” He continued, “I'm seeing what looks like part of a submarine in this building.” The entire transcript was forty-seven pages long.

McMoneagle's report was passed on to the National Security Council, which dismissed it because it didn't make any sense for the Soviets to build a huge submarine in a building located one hundred metres from the water. McMoneagle had described a canal between the building and the shore, but the satellite imagery showed no such structure. Then, four months later, in January 1980, another KH-9 pass showed a large submarine at a dock at Severodvinsk, along with a canal between the mystery building and the sea, which had been constructed in the interim. This was the prototype of the new Typhoon class ballistic missile submarine, which was a complete surprise to Western analysts, but not Joe McMoneagle. This is what was referred to as an “eight martini result”. When McMoneagle retired in 1984, he was awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptionally meritorious service in the field of human intelligence.

A decade later the U.S. Customs Service approached the remote viewing unit for assistance in tracking down a rogue agent accused of taking bribes from cocaine smugglers in Florida. He had been on the run for two years, and appeared on the FBI's Most Wanted List. He was believed to be in Florida or somewhere in the Caribbean. Self-taught remote viewer Angela Dellafiora concentrated on the case and immediately said, “He's in Lowell, Wyoming.” Wyoming? There was no reason for him to be in such a place. Further, there was no town named Lowell in the state. Agents looked through an atlas and found there was, however, a Lovell, Wyoming. Dellafiora said, “Well, that's probably it.” Several weeks later, she was asked to work the case again. Her notes include, “If you don't get him now you'll lose him. He's moving from Lowell.” She added that he was “at or near a campground that had a large boulder at its entrance”, and that she “sensed an old Indian burial ground is located nearby.”. After being spotted by a park ranger, the fugitive was apprehended at a campground next to an Indian burial ground, about fifty miles from Lovell, Wyoming, where he had been a few weeks before. Martinis all around.

A total of 417 operational sessions were run in 1989 and 1990 for the counter-narcotics mission; 52% were judged as producing results of intelligence value while 47% were of no value. Still, what was produced was considered of sufficient value that the customers kept coming back.

Most of this work and its products were classified, in part to protect the program from ridicule by journalists and politicians. Those running the projects were afraid of being accused of dabbling in the occult, so they endorsed an Army doctrine that remote viewing, like any other military occupational specialty, was a normal human facility which could be taught to anybody with a suitable training process, and a curriculum was developed to introduce new people to the program. This was despite abundant evidence that the ability to remote view, if it exists at all, is a rare trait some people acquire at birth, and cannot be taught to randomly selected individuals any more than they can be trained to become musical composers or chess grand masters.

Under a similar shroud of secrecy, paranormal research for military applications appears to have been pursued in the Soviet Union and China. From time to time information would leak out into the open literature, such as the Soviet experiments with Ninel Kulagina. In China, H. S. Tsien (Qian Xuesen), a co-founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States who, after being stripped of his security clearance and moving to mainland China in 1955, led the Chinese nuclear weapons and missile programs, became a vocal and powerful advocate of research into the paranormal which, in accordance with Chinese Communist doctrine, was called “Extraordinary Human Body Functioning” (EHBF), and linked to the concept of qi, an energy field which is one of the foundations of traditional Chinese medicine and martial arts. It is likely this work continues today in China.

The U.S. remote viewing program came to an end in June 1995, when the CIA ordered the Defense Intelligence Agency to shut down the Stargate project. Many documents relating to the project have since been declassified but, oddly for a program which many claimed produced no useful results, others remain secret to this day. The paranormal continues to appeal to some in the military. In 2014, the Office of Naval Research launched a four year project funded with US$ 3.85 million to investigate premonitions, intuition, and hunches—what the press release called “Spidey sense”. In the 1950s, during a conversation between physicist Wolfgang Pauli and psychiatrist Carl Jung about psychic phenomena, Jung remarked, “As is only to be expected, every conceivable kind of attempt has been made to explain away these results, which seem to border on the miraculous and frankly impossible. But all such attempts come to grief on the facts, and the facts refuse so far to be argued out of existence.” A quarter century later in 1975, a CIA report concluded “A large body of reliable experimental evidence points to the inescapable conclusion that extrasensory perception does exist as a real phenomenon.”

To those who have had psychic experiences, there is no doubt of the reality of the phenomena. But research into them or, even more shockingly, attempts to apply them to practical ends, runs squarely into a paradigm of modern science which puts theory ahead of observation and experiment. A 1986 report by the U.S. Army said that its research had “succeeded in documenting general anomalies worthy of scientific interest,“ but that “in the absence of a confirmed paranormal theory…paranormality could be rejected a priori.” When the remote viewing program was cancelled in 1995, a review of its work stated that “a statistically significant effect has been observed in the laboratory…[but] the laboratory studies do not provide evidence regarding the sources or origins of the phenomenon.” In other words, experimental results can be discarded if there isn't a theory upon which to hang them, and there is no general theory of paranormal phenomena. Heck, they could have asked me.

One wonders where many currently mature fields of science would be today had this standard been applied during their formative phases: rejecting experimental results due to lack of a theory to explain them. High-temperature superconductivity was discovered in 1986 and won the Nobel Prize in 1987, and still today there is no theory that explains how it works. Perhaps it is only because it is so easily demonstrated with a desktop experiment that it, too, has not been relegated to the realm of “fringe science”.

This book provides a comprehensive history of the postwar involvement of the military and intelligence communities with the paranormal, focusing on the United States. The author takes a neutral stance: both believers and skeptics are given their say. One notes a consistent tension between scientists who reject the phenomena because “it can't possibly work” and intelligence officers who couldn't care less about how it works as long as it is providing them useful results.

The author has conducted interviews with many of the principals still alive, and documented the programs with original sources, many obtained by her under the Freedom of Information Act. Extensive end notes and source citations are included. I wish I could be more confident in the accuracy of the text, however. Chapter 7 relates astronaut Edgar Mitchell's Apollo 14 mission to the Moon, during which he conducted, on his own initiative, some unauthorised ESP experiments. But most of the chapter is about the mission itself, and it is riddled with errors, all of which could be corrected with no more research than consulting Wikipedia pages about the mission and the Apollo program. When you read something you know about and discover much of it is wrong, you have to guard against what Michael Crichton called the Gell-Mann amnesia effect: turning the page and assuming what you read there, about which you have no personal knowledge, is to be trusted. When dealing with spooky topics and programs conducted in secret, one should be doubly cautious. The copy editing is only of fair quality, and the Kindle edition has no index (the print edition does have an index).

Napoléon Bonaparte said, “There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.” The decades of secret paranormal research were an attempt to apply this statement literally, and provide a fascinating look inside a secret world where nothing was dismissed as absurd if it might provide an edge over the adversary. Almost nobody knew about this work at the time. One wonders what is going on today.

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