Interview with Dr. Edwin C. May of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory
May 12th, 1996
Dr. Edwin C. May is an active psi researcher and is currently the director of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory,
based in Palo Alto, California.
RPKP: How did you originally get involved in psi research, and what was your
attitude towards such things before you started?
May: I did not know anything about psi during my physics education and post doc. Having
become uninterested in experimental, low-energy nuclear physics, I was intellectually
drifting about looking for something interesting.
I ran into Chuck Honorton and some other smart parapsychologists and became mildly
interested. Along the way, I had some experience in physiology and EEG and decided
to return to India to search for evidence of anything out of the ordinary. After
9-months there and with many great contacts I failed at that mission. When I
returned to the US I worked with Honorton at Maimonides Medical Center and saw
more psi than I had ever seen in India.
In 1976 I joined the staff that was conducting psi research at SRI International and became it's
project director in 1985. In 1991, I shifted the project to another
defense contractor, Science Applications International Corporation.
Through the years, I have presided over 70% of the projects's $20M funding
and been responsible for over 85% of the data collected under US
In 1996 we moved the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory from SAIC to the
Laboratories for Fundamental Research (LFR).
RPKP: How did the secret US government work come about? Which agency
what were they interested in particularly, and what type of research was
May: The CIA started the government's secret work at SRI in 1972. Overall they put a total
of approximately $250,000 during the 24-year, $20,000,000+ program. So the CIA were
not major players. It is possible to see what has been declassified and some
details of the Cognitive Sciences Laboratory at http://www.jsasoc.com/~csl/index.html.
RPKP: Why did all this become public last year? What has been the status
of LFR since?
May: All this became public because US Congress directed it to be so. LFR is a formal California Corporation that, among other things, will be conducting
psi research. We are seeking funding and have a number of proposals pending.
RPKP: What were the basic conclusions of this work?
May: ESP, or what we now call anomalous cognition, meets every scientific criteria to
assure that it exists. Our view is that it is mediated through some sensory
system that we guess will be very similar to the five that we currently know about.
We have developed a model that, for the first time, incontrovertably rejects a particular
mechanism for a class of psi experiments called Random Number Generators. The model
is called Decision Augmentation Theory which holds that since ESP is real, that it would
be very unlikely that we would not integrate that additional, albeit weak and unreliable,
into the normal decision processes. When we formulate that idea and apply it to
the vast RNG database, it shows our model to be correct.
Lastly, we have, for the first time, identified a physical variable that correlates with
the quality of the ESP. That is the more of this "stuff" in the target, the better will
be the anomalous cognition of it.
RPKP: How did Decision Augmentation Theory come about, and who else
was involved in its development?
May: DAT resulted from a carefully conducted RNG study we did for the Army in 1979. We spent
over $250,000 on that single experiment so that if we saw an effect we would be
certain from an engineering point of view to learn how it happened. Well we
did see an effect and could prove that the hardware was not changed. The only thing
left was that subjects were being statistical opportunists to capture deviant
subsequences from otherwise unperturbed sequences. Beverly Humphrey and
Utts are my colleagues from the beginning. James Spottiswoode joined much later but
has also contributed.
RPKP: Could you elaborate on the basic hypothesis of DAT?
May: An RNG experiment is like an electronic coin flipper. Imagine
that someone flipped a fair coin 10,000 times and wrote on a very long piece
of paper the results. Might look something like this: htthhthttthhththhhhh....
Suppose I gave you a red pen and asked to walk along this long piece of paper
and mark a spot where the next 10 coin flips had far too many heads in a row.
You would have no problem making such a "decision." In the DAT model, subjects
use psi to make a similar decision.
RPKP: How did you go about gathering evidence for the theory?
May: We looked at the substantial database on RNG experiments dating back to 1969.
RPKP: What's been published thus far?
May: On DAT, the current issue of the Journal of Parapsychology has two major articles.
The first is a definition paper on the model and the second is the application of
the model to many data sets. Both are rather technical. Similarly there is
a technical article in the
Journal for Scientific Exploration.
RPKP: What kind of reactions have you received?
Most everyone now accepts the model in that RNG's do not function because mind
reaches in to "force" binary bits to be different from what they would otherwise be.
Dean Radin of the
Laboratory believes he can build a thought
switch. If DAT is correct, and most think that it is, Dean can't.
RPKP You've stated before that you don't think quantum mechanics can
be used to explain PK.
I assume then that you don't agree with the suggestion of Schmidt,
et. al.that, say,
unobserved binary data on a disk or tape could exist in a superimposed or
May: That is simply bad physics. Large things like transistors at room temp are not
in the QM superimposed state. They are in some unknown eigenstate whose distribution
is the classical one. There is an extensive QM literature on exactly this point.
In fact the QM world is even worse. What Mendel has shown at University of Rochester
is that if a QM system could be measured, but it still has not been, that that circumstance,
alone, is enough to force the system into an eigenstate. Sorry...Schmidt is
simply incorrect on this point.
RPKP: DAT has serious implications for our project, as we're particularly
interested in retroPK and the seeming violations of causality associated
with it. The basic
experiment design we're in the midst of setting up involves a hierarchy
of "levels". Level 0 is a "practice" level, availiable to all via WWW, and
via which we recruit talented subjects into the higher levels for "formal"
experiments. For practical reasons, we'd planned to use quasirandom data
(seeded by the time at which the subject presses a key to start a "run")
on Level 0, and genuinely prerecorded, unobserved true-random data for
the higher levels.
May: You may know there is not one piece of evidence that suggests that pseudo RNG's
do anything different that what their instructions tell them to do. In fact,
in the RNG literature there are some very good experiments (Radin) to show
that the bits do not change under "PK attack."
RPKP: If correct, DAT suggests that certain individuals
will be able to succeed on Level 0, by "augmenting the decision" regarding
the moment at which the key is pressed. But at higher levels, surely there
is no decision for them to augment.
May: Sure there is. You say that the formal levels use true RNG's. So when does a
subject sign onto the WEB? Who and when are these decisions made?
RPKP: But if the times at which people subscribe have no bearing on
the generation times of the data, then the decision would be mine, when I press the
ENTER key to run the RNG software, perhaps weeks before the experiment...
So it would seem that individual subjects shouldn't be able to carry over
any ability from Level 0 to Level 1, and any success at Level 1 would be
due to my own "decision augmentation". Would you comment on this?
May: It might be possible to design a pseudo random generator and protocol such that
no psi would happend. We are looking into it, but it is not a simple task.
In the Journal of Parapsychology theory paper, because we discuss the number of decisions argument
RPKP: In the quasi-random scenario, where the subject can augment a decision,
s/he is presumably attempting to "tune in" to some "inner fluctuation"
which correlates with the success of the experiment which would result
from a keypress at the moment in question. "What" do you believe the
subject is tuning into? You've mentioned that you think humans might
be doing this all the time, that the ability occured through evolution.
Would you care to speculate on what the mechanism might be, and how far
reaching its (subconcious) application could be in everyday life?
May: Simple precognition... :-)
RPKP: Why do you think the parapsychology community, with all its talented
researchers, advanced technology, etc. has never been able to reliably
demonstrate the existence of psi to the "mainstream" science community?
May: For those that look, we have no problem. The problem we have is poor marketing
by most of our research colleagues.
RPKP: Obviously skeptics would argue that the lack of reliable,
high-profile demonstrations of psi was
evidence for its nonexistence, but you've seen it with your own
May: I have successfully "sold" the research to two separate defense contractors,
the government which includes members and staff of Congress, agency officials,
and government scientists and more scientific oversight committees than you would
like to know.
Mostly, it is how the data are presented. They can speak for themselves, but because
most people have an incorrect view of what the claims are, low-key and scientifically
honest presentations have always carried the day for me.
RPKP: What do you believe is the future of PK research? Do you believe such
a "reliable demonstration" will ever be possible?
May: With a slight hesitation with regard to bio-PK, I don't think it exists. There is
a general problem with the definitions we have for psi. PK is what happens when
nothing else should. Boy...it is very expensive and requires considerable knowledge
to assure that nothing else did happen. Most psi researchers, while well-meaning, do
not have the financial resources nor the technical expertise to do either.
RPKP: Thanks for your time.
May: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to present my and our ideas. We have an
excellent team who feel as passionately as I do about the above.