“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what” — this is how physicist Arthur Eddington described the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal, the vexing fact that science can never pin down the whereabouts of any given electron. The phrase has also become something of a mantra for researchers studying psychic phenomenon and prayer. Larry Dossey, M.D., one of the foremost advocates for prayer research, even has the phrase inscribed on beams that support the ceiling in his house. Now, the phrase has become the title of a fascinating documentary by Renee Scheltema (somethingunknown.com). She took her camera to visit the pioneers in psychic research in an effort to decide whether her own experiences with telepathy and precognition might be real, and she produced a refreshingly honest film that leaves little doubt that something is happening. We just don’t know what it is.
We meet astronaut Edgar Mitchell, who had a numinous experience when returning from the moon that inspired him to create the Institute for Noetic Science (IONS) to study other ways of knowing. We meet Dean Radin, chief scientist at IONS, who has hundreds of experiments that show how our minds affect matter in tiny but significant ways. We meet Hal Putoff, who ran the famous “remote viewing” experiments at the Stanford Research Institute, where psychic viewers in electromagnetically shielded rooms were able to accurately draw a Soviet missile base and found a Russian jet that crashed in the jungle. Rupert Sheldrake shows his video of a dog that senses the instant his owner decides to return home. Gary Schwartz shows his work documenting biophoton emissions of healers, and Roger Nelson demonstrates his random-number generators that are used to check the pulse of the world — a pulse that spiked on 9/11. We also meet psychic detective Nancy Myer, who finds a stolen baby, and Jack Houck, who holds parties in which people come to bend spoons with their minds.
One haunting story that the DVD lacks, however, is about Elisabeth Targ, M.D., who did remarkable research working with psychic healers to fight AIDS. Dr. Targ first did a pilot study when AIDS was a death sentence, and her data suggested that experienced healers who focused diligently for an hour each day could keep patients alive. But when she attempted to reproduce her results in a larger study, protease inhibitors began keeping patients alive — and her data was compromised. For her next study, Targ switched to patients with glioblastomas, a rare and fatal brain cancer. But she herself died of the disease before her experiment could be completed.
The Targ story is important because although the healers seemed effective against AIDS, their accomplishment was overshadowed by Western medicine with protease inhibitors. Targ’s decisions to study the disease that killed her may have been coincidence, or it may have been a form precognition. In any case, her legion of devoted healers could not keep her alive. As Dean Radin reminds us, psychic effects are typically small — barely discernible in the lab. What we really don’t know is whether these small effects are becoming practically irrelevant in our modern world of advanced medicines and instant global communication... or if these illusive connections are that flap of the butterfly wing in China that causes the next Katrina.