This past week I’ve been staying up in Yorkshire, at a place called Broughton Hall. Situated in rolling dales of Skipton, complete with grazing sheep, this 1000-acre vast and magnificent country estate has been the home of the Tempest family for a thousand years, the film set of innumerable TV shows like Ridley Road and even a top contender for the filming of Downton Abbey.
But its most notable achievement, in my view, is creating a new home for the Princeton PEAR equipment.
I was there to speak at a small Science and Spirituality event, but mostly Bryan and I had traveled up there to see and honor Brenda Dunne.
Brenda and the late former dean of engineering Robert Jahn were two of a small band of scientific renegades at prestigious universities around the globe who had spent many years re-examining quantum physics and its extraordinary implications.
Jahn and Dunne were towering figures in this tiny subgroup, who together created a sophisticated, scholarly research programme grounded in hard science.
Over 30 years, starting in the 1970s, Jahn and Dunne led what became a massive international effort to quantify what is referred to as ‘micro-psychokinesis’, the effect of mind on random-event generators (REGs), which perform the electronic, twenty-first century equivalent of a toss of a coin.
The output of these machines (the computerized equivalent of heads or tails) was controlled by a randomly alternating frequency of positive and negative pulses.
Because their activity was utterly random, they produced ‘heads’ and ‘tails’ each roughly 50 per cent of the time, according to the laws of probability.
The most common configuration of the REG experiments was a computer screen randomly alternating two attractive images – say, of cowboys and Indians. Participants in the studies would be placed in front of the computers and asked to try to influence the machine to produce more of one image – more cowboys, say – then to focus on producing more images of Indians, and then to try not to influence the machine in either direction.
Over the course of more than two and a half million trials Jahn and Dunne decisively demonstrated that human intention can influence these electronic devices in the specified direction, and their results were replicated independently by 68 investigators.
Besides flashing computer images, REG machines took many forms: a set of lights, a fountain, a little frog on top of a small machine, and even portable devices to take measurements on the road. In pride of place at the lab was Murphy, a giant installation of slots with balls that would, at the push of a button, cascade into a normal bell curve – unless willed in a different direction by an observer.
When Bob Jahn was first looking for a partner to help get this program off the ground, he happened to listen to a short talk of Brenda’s about the work she was doing with remote viewing. Immediately he was hooked, and he fought to get Princeton to hire her to work with him.
Besides the REG work, it was Brenda who initiated remote viewing studies at PEAR.
Characteristically, she and Bob set up tightly controlled experiments with pairs of volunteers. One would act as the remote viewer and the other, the traveling partner, would randomly choose among a number of envelopes.
Inside the envelope would be the destination he or she was to travel to – anywhere from around the corner to thousands of miles away. When he got there, the remote viewer’s job was to draw and describe where his traveling partner was.
In a highly significant number of the hundreds of trials conducted, the remote viewer got it right. And, even more extraordinary, in two-thirds of the cases, the trial was run so that the remote viewer had to draw and describe his partner’s destination before the partner had even chosen it.
I visited the PEAR lab and spent time with Bob and Brenda on numerous occasions – sometimes in other countries. It is almost impossible to quantify the effect their work had on me - as well as countless others.
In their mountain of research, they’d shown that our thoughts may not be locked inside our heads but may be trespassers, capable of both traversing other people and things and even actually influencing them.
They’d carried out studies showing that human consciousness is able to access information beyond the conventional bounds of time and space.
In fact, their astonishing discoveries about the subatomic world have done nothing less than to overthrow the current laws of biochemistry and physics.
Bob Jahn always believed that if he put together air-tight and scientifically impeccable experiments, he’d be able to convince the scientific establishment of their extraordinary discoveries.
Every so often he would submit a paper he and Dunne had prepared to a scholarly journal, but it would be rejected out of hand, not because the science was faulty but because it contradicted the accepted world view.
The PEAR lab closed in 2007 and most of the extraordinary equipment Jahn and Dunne had created went into a storage facility or Brenda’s basement. There it stayed until Peter Merry, founder of Ubiquity University, got the idea of resurrecting it and providing a permanent facility where new generations could learn about this work.
He arranged to transplant all the equipment, down to the original sofa from the PEAR lab to an outbuilding at Broughton Hall, and renamed it as the Wyrd Experience, after the beliefs of ancient Anglo-Saxons about mystical occurrences.
The plan is to get the equipment to work again so that subsequent generations have an opportunity to interact with the equipment and learn about this and other scientific work that extends our understanding of ourselves and what it means to be a human being.
In addition to giving the equipment a new home, Peter had the doors painted, with the ‘Robert Jahn room,’ where all the research papers could be accessed, and the ‘Brenda Dunne room,’ housing all the original equipment, including Murphy (seen here with Brenda and me standing in front).
At the event, Brenda was acknowledged and celebrated as the equal partner and intuitive half of this extraordinary partnership. And I paid my respects to someone who had completely exploded my world view.
When the PEAR lab closed, the New York Times marked the occasion with an article essentially concluding that Jahn and Dunne had asked the wrong questions.
It seems to me that what Bob and Brenda did - what their legacy amounts to - was to ask what may well be the most important questions of all.
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