Michael Shermer’s Prison of Belief

Remote viewing (RV) is the practice of seeking impressions about a distant or unseen target using subjective means, in particular, extra-sensory perception (ESP) or “sensing with mind”.

The images and verbiage below are taken from an article written by Aaron Saenz titled,
FMRI Reads The Images In Your Brain – We Know What You’re Looking At:

The images on the left were shown to test subjects at UC Berkeley while their brains were scanned by fMRI. Then a computer program used its understanding of how the brain codes structural and semantic information to guess which image, among thousands best fit the activity it saw in the fMRI (see on the right). While the left and right images aren’t identical, they all agree semantically and structurally. A similar process has been shown to work with video.

The images and verbiage below are taken from remote viewer Russell Targ’s website:

Livermore Valley Foothills Windmill Farm target site photo, with sketch by Viewer a hundred miles away, showing poles, hills, “moving electricity in the form of a grid” and “halo probably not visible to the eye,” at the top of the poles. (Remote Viewer: Joseph McMoneagle. This trial was carried out with Dr. Edwin C. May in 1987.)

The computer’s ability to read thought in the brain and the remote viewer’s to read thought in an envelope are equally impressive. Neither are exact and arguably the remote viewers have a less successful hit ratio. But that they get any target right is amazing enough and calls for study. So why is it that skeptics like Michael Shermer are highly impressed with the computer trick but not the psychic one?

I recently watched a youtube video series produced by Skeptic Magazine and hosted by Shermer. In it, Shermer takes remote viewing classes under Dr. Wayne Carr, a licensed psychologist trained in military remote viewing. One of Shermer’s classmate gets a hit on the first try when he not only draws the correct target, but writes its name, “Stonehenge.” Shermer is unimpressed because Dr. Carr could have told the man the target before class. There were no controls. Of course this wasn’t an issue until Shermer was confronted with the reality that a man produced a psychic hit. Then, suddenly, the very thing Shermer set up for the camera wasn’t enough. He had to conduct a controlled experiment that he would inevitably rig to fail. By that I mean anything less than the man (and woman who also took part) writing the word of the target sealed in an envelope–or drawing it with extreme precision–would be made out as a failure by Shermer.

Presumably, the remote viewer only gets one shot. If more than that, certainly not more than the video shoot schedule allows for. In other words, even a failure during the controlled experiment is meaningless. You need repeated tests. That’s science. But Shermer isn’t interested in science. He’s interested in the appearance of science. He’s interested in rational reductionism; anything that gets in the way of his materialist belief system is to be smirked out of existence.

Sure enough, the teacher, Dr. Carr, saw success where Shermer saw failure in that controlled experiment. Maybe it was a successful hit; maybe it wasn’t. The point is, it’s clear Shermer would keep stacking the deck until he got the failed result he wanted. If that’s untrue, why didn’t he set these tests up beforehand? Why didn’t he tell all involved just what it would take to pass his sniff test? He didn’t because he never expected anyone to be so accurate as to make remote viewing a viable issue. Nor did he expect to successfully remote view Stonehenge himself….

“I, myself, had picked up on a grassy field with a statue or monument near London. Was I remote viewing?” Shermer asks us.

To tell us no, we cut to another psychologist, Ray Hyman, a professor at the University of Oregon. He poo-poos the notion of remote viewing because, “At best these remote viewers get about 15% of what they say correct.” With a laugh he goes on to tell us that this means they get it wrong 85% of the time.

Sorry, guys. Hate to break up the chuckle-fest but I believe the correct scientific response you’re looking for is, HOLY CRAP! WITH THE PROPER TRAINING HUMANS CAN READ WHAT’S IN A SEALED ENVELOPE 15% OF THE TIME!? HOLY CRAP!


Since the computer at Berkley is at least as good as the remote viewers, shouldn’t Shermer demand that he be in the room with the programmers to make sure they aren’t just feeding the correct responses into the system? Why does he take the doctors at Berkley at their word but not the doctor involved in remote viewing? Why does he believe one psychologist over another? Or over his own sketch of the target he was tasked to blindly read?

Does Shermer not see the flaw in assuming that both he and the other man who wrote “Stonehenge” got it right for different reasons, neither of which is that remote viewing works? Did Dr. Carr tell Shermer the target before class, too? If not then one got it right by chance and the other by con. Let’s disregard the rest of the class who also got it right but didn’t jot down the word. They’re all chance, too, because if you drew a circle then Dr. Carr considered it a hit. Therein lies the skeptical argument–you see what you want to see. And that’s not without merit. It’s with quite a bit of merit, actually. But Shermer, by his own admission, did not see and doodle basic shapes.

“I, myself, had picked up on a grassy field with a statue or monument near London.”

I’m sorry, what was that, Michael?

“I, myself, had picked up on a grassy field with a statue or monument near London.”

One more time?

“I, myself, had picked up on a grassy field with a statue or monument near London.”

Are you sure?

“I, myself, had picked up on a grassy field with a statue or monument near London. Was I remote viewing?”


Shermer claims to have experienced alien abduction earlier in his life, but calls it a hallucination attributed to sleep deprivation and physical exhaustion. Dr. Tyler Kokjohn has told me that the type of hallucination he puts together is not attributable to sleep deprivation and exhaustion. (I stand corrected. It could not be attributed to sleep paralysis; it could be attributed to sleep deprivation/exhaustion.) Now, Shermer is claiming that he remote viewed Stonehenge. But he’s attributing that to chance. I suppose. Actually, it’s not clear what he attributes it to because the expert he cut to laughed off remote viewing. Perhaps it’s time Michael Shermer asks himself what he’s so afraid of that he has to make even his own experiences go away.

Whether he was abducted or successfully remote viewed or not, the question remains: What are you afraid of? Parts of the world outside of your understanding and control? Are you afraid of being conned because you don’t want anyone to think you’re gullible? What?

The world has mysteries, folks. Existence IS mystery. Ironically, some people won’t entertain that fact unless a manmade robot tells them it is so. It begs the question: Who is the robot? Rather than see it as a lifestyle choice, “skeptics” like Shermer would answer, “That’s the point! We’re all meatbots!”

But we’re not all. Those of us with free will choose to exercise it and explore. Anything less is a prison. That’s not the world I want to live in. Especially if it doesn’t reflect reality.


Spoiler alert.

It doesn’t.

12 thoughts on “Michael Shermer’s Prison of Belief

  1. That’s precisely it: They can’t claim success, if they don’t know what constitutes success. Ergo, it’s a failure: They haven’t been able to demonstrate remote viewing.

    What do you think would constitute failure? How far away must a drawing be from the target, before it is a miss?

  2. Pingback: The Hero’s Journey of Michael Shermer? | JayVay

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