Bio: I was born on February 29th. For my 13th birthday celebration I rented a roller skating rink for an evening, invited all my friends, and we ate hot dogs, cup cakes, and shared a Spiderman-themed birthday cake. I am looking forward to my 21st birthday in 2036, when I can finally buy a beer.
My first career interest, at chronological age 4, was to be “jet propelled.” It took many years before I could better articulate what I meant by that, but that’s how I responded when adults asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My next career interest was the classical violin, which I started at age 5 and continued to play for the next 20 years, the last five as a professional. Then I switched to fiddle and 5-string banjo and played in bluegrass bands for a number of years. Between gigs, I pursued other interests and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering, magna cum laude with senior honors in physics, from the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), a masters in electrical engineering focusing on cybernetics and control systems from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and then a PhD in psychology, also from UIUC. For my dissertation I developed and tested what may have been the first computer-based, artificial-intelligence enhanced, touch typing training system.
For a decade after my PhD I worked at AT&T Bell Laboratories and later at GTE Laboratories on advanced telecommunications R&D. Projects included designing the human interfaces to network operations centers in the US and Japan, developing a rapid prototyping system for complex human-computer interface designs (before there were personal computers), and studying ways of enhancing brainstorming and creativity in industry. While at Bell Labs, for fun I wrote a series of humorous articles for the science spoof magazine, JOURNAL OF IRREPRODUCIBLE RESULTS. One of those ARTICLES later almost accidentally started World War III in a way that would have appealed to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.
Throughout my formative years and first jobs, I never forgot my original interest in being jet propelled. Ultimately I understood that what I was trying to express as a child was an overriding fascination about the outer limits of inner space — the depths and capacities of the human mind. As a pre-teen I read everything I could find on mythology, fairy tales, folklore, eastern philosophy, western psychology, and lots of science fiction. Around age 12, as my interests in science and engineering grew, I started to conduct experiments on hypnosis and psychic (or “psi”) phenomena. In hindsight, I think these interests were probably encouraged by growing up in an artistic family and bolstered by practicing the violin one to two hours a day for many years.
While at Bell Labs I started to publish some of my psi experiments. Then I attended the annual conferences of thePARAPSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION and the SOCIETY FOR SCIENTIFIC EXPLORATION, and to give presentations at their annual meetings. I was delighted to find groups of scientists who were as interested in these phenomena as I was, and the contacts I made eventually led to my gaining appointments to conduct psi research at Princeton University, University of Edinburgh, University of Nevada, SRI International and Interval Research Corporation. At SRI International I worked on a then secret US government-funded program of psi research. Portions of that program, now known by its last codename,Stargate, have since been declassified and accounts about it (some more accurate than others) can be found in many books. In 2000 I cofounded the Boundary Institute and in 2001 became Senior Scientist at the INSTITUTE OF NOETIC SCIENCES(IONS). I also hold an adjunct appointment in the Psychology Department at Sonoma State University and have served as a member of the Distinguished Consulting Faculty at Saybrook Graduate School.
I’ve now spent the majority of my professional career doing what the 4 year old Dean expressed as being jet propelled — experimentally probing the far reaches of human consciousness, principally psi phenomena. Very few scientists are actively engaged in research on this perennially interesting topic. This is not because of a lack of interest. I’ve found that most scientists I’ve spoken to are very interested in psi phenomena, but science, like any social enterprise, has strictly enforced rules of publicly acceptable beliefs, and so it is not safe for one’s scientific career to pursue highly controversial topics (that goes for many controversial topics, not just psi). In addition, funding and controversy in science are inversely proportional, so even iconoclasts who don’t care much about what other people think are severely resource limited. Perhaps because of my unusual choice of profession, and the risk that that choice entails, I was featured in a New York Times Magazine ARTICLE in 1996.
My interest in psi was originally motivated out of a child’s intuitive sense that the mind is far more mysterious and powerful than we know. Through education and experience I’ve also come to appreciate that these experiences are also responsible for most of the greatest inventions, artistic and scientific achievements, creative insights, and religious epiphanies throughout history. Understanding this realm of human experience thus offers more than mere academic interest — it touches upon the very best that the human intellect and spirit have had to offer. I discovered while working on these topics that I enjoy the challenge of exploring the frontiers of science, and that I am comfortable tolerating the ambiguity of not knowing the “right answer,” which is a constant companion at the frontier.
After studying these phenomena as a scientist for about 30 years, I’ve concluded that some psychic abilities are genuine, and as such, there are important aspects of the prevailing scientific worldview that are seriously incomplete. I’ve also learned that many people who claim to have unfailingly reliable psychic abilities are often delusional or mentally ill, and that there will always be reprehensible con artists who claim to be psychic and charge huge sums for their “services.” These two classes of so-called psychics are the targets of celebrated prizes offered by magicians for demonstrations of psychic abilities. Those prizes are safe because the claimed abilities of these people either do not exist at all, or they’re much weaker than sincere claimants may wish to believe. There is of course a huge anecdotal literature about psychic abilities, but the evidence that convinced me is the accumulated laboratory performance by people who do not claim to possess special abilities, collected under controlled conditions and published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
There is ample room for scholarly debate about these topics, and I know a number of informed scientists whom I respect who have reached different conclusions. But I’ve also learned that those who assert with great confidence that there isn’t any scientifically valid evidence for psychic abilities just don’t know what they’re talking about. In addition, the rants one finds in various online “skeptical” forums appear to be motivated by fundamentalist beliefs of the scientistic or religious kind, and not by a rational assessment of the relevant literature.
You may contact me via email as dean at noetic dot org, but due to the huge volume of emails I receive, I can’t promise to reply.