For decades now, movies and television shows have portrayed psychics who can reliably solve crimes and figure out the unsolvable. And not having any psychic powers himself, Joe is a skeptic. Somehow they're all like that woman who helped Pee-Wee Herman find his bicycle. In the basement of the Alamo. Frauds, cheats, mountebanks and the like. And so, Joe heads off to find some answers. First stop? A meeting with John Kruth, the Executive Director for the Rhine Research Center for Parapsychology.
John Kruth notes that while there are a lot of, yes, hokey charlatans out there -- some substantial scientific evidence does prove that psychic ability exists. Joe asks for the hard realities, and Kruth takes him away to the bio-energy lab, a room that detects physical energies by measuring UV rays. Apparently, if you're a psychic, you also undetectably glow, just a little bit. And so we meet Ed Edward, a psychic healer who claims to be able to control the flow of energy, and turn it from negative to positive energy. Kruth tells him to go ahead and "do his thing" and Joe doesn't look like he believes it, so Kruth takes him in to the lab. And because the cameras can't go in with him, Kruth shouts to Joe that he is, actually "doing something!" It turns out that Joe's readings are quite high, suggesting that Joe might be generating some energy similar to that of a psychic.
Ed the Healer tries an experiment to knock Joe over, but fails to do so, though he does tell Joe that when he was a child, in church, he could use his psychic abilities to get various churchgoers to fart at the same time. Yes. That.
Back in the podcast cave, Joe describes Ed the Healer to Duncan as the spooky also-psychic friend from a Will Ferrell movie. Close. Actually. There's some speculation that the reading that Joe gave in the ESP quiet room may have come from his microphone pack, even though it had been covered with some tape. Joe also reveals he was doing some stretching in there, so maybe that helped. All in all, despite Joe's spending time in some sensory deprivation chambers and studying martial arts, Joe and Duncan conclude that the readings could have been skewed.
Still a skeptic, Joe meets with Ed Dames, a no-nonsense ex-military type who was a "remote viewer" for the US Military Psychic Spy Program: "Project Stargate." Dames tells Joe that the team of psychics knew where Osama Bin Laden was in 2007, and Dames has some strong views about why the military didn't go after Bin Laden at that time. He goes on to say that the project's aim was to take people who are naturally gifted with psychic ability (intuition, say) and turn that into a skill. Joe is walked through some of the process – that by using the unconscious minds of multiple psychics, patterns are uncovered and discovered and turned into data. Joe is astonished to hear that while the success rate of the program was once 50/50, advances have gotten the accuracy up to 100%.
Deciding that he wants to see if he can learn the art of "remote viewing," Joe goes out to the middle of nowhere with Paul Smith, who once worked on Ed Dames' Project Stargate, in the hopes that he can learn how to "see" some psychic stuff.
Joe also brings along DJ Groethe, who is a "professional skeptic" and the President of the James Randi Foundation, a group that offers $1MM to anyone who can prove they have psychic abilities. Here's the plan: Joe and DJ the Skeptic will both try to figure out a target, using their psychic powers. Joe will have the help of Paul, and DJ is on his own. Joe and DJ are blindfolded and driven to a mysterious second location.
As DJ sits in an isolated room (though, all of the rooms in this house look pretty isolated) listening to whatever a professional skeptic listens to on their iPod, Paul Smith tells Joe about the time he began to perceive a large metal object in a body of water. He later surmised it was a boat, and then he had a vision of two fighter jets dropping bombs on it. 50 hours later, he opened the Washington Post to read that the USS Stark had been bombed. So…that's…kind of a thing?
So here's how it works, the "remote viewers" (In this case Joe and DJ the Skeptic) sit in separate rooms and try to get an image of where the "target" might be. Paul then leads Joe through an "Outbounder" exercise, wherein he is told to focus on a location. (In this case, a gas station). Joe tries to use his consciousness, and when that fails, his imagination. Meanwhile, DJ tries the experiment in another room.
Joe and the gang all head out to the location, bringing along what they've drawn. DJ the Skeptic has written down some notes, including "pastel blue," and lo and behold, they discover a pastel blue oil derrick! Joe, meanwhile, has written down "Red" and a square, and does see a red square sign. Paul Smith warns them not to get too excited – sometimes it's not psychic ability, sometimes we just want to believe it's true. DJ the Skeptic seems a little pleased (smug?) about this. Ultimately, Joe decides to call it a draw. The remote viewing experiment is inconclusive.
Still trying to find out whether or not psychics are living among us, Joe heads back to Los Angeles, CA with Duncan. This time, the guys are meeting with Banachek, a "World Renowned Mentalist," who is going to basically disprove the whole thing. Banachek does a few tricks on stages, much like you'd see in Vegas. Banachek has Joe and Duncan pick words out of a book that he guesses right off the bat. There is a trick with dice, Banacheck twists some metal with his mind, blindfolds himself with duct tape and can accurately tell Joe a serial number, and finally, uses the actual cards we saw at the Rhine Institute earlier.
Banacheck says that while he can't reveal all of his tricks, he can say with great confidence that he finds a lot of what mediums or psychics are doing – totally bunk, and preying on people in weak moments. On the other hand, says Banachek, he is an entertainer. And he uses his five senses to create the illusion of a sixth sense. Thus the term "mentalist" -- someone who uses psychology, reading body language, and some of the tricks that professional illusionists use to make others think they are psychics.
And then, the demonstration: Banachek asks the audience to imagine two shapes, one inside the other. And as he's talking, he makes a triangle with his hands, he also says very quickly, "like a square but something else," and finally, makes large circular motions with his hands. The majority of the audience choose triangles and circles, proving that the power of Banachek's suggestions are controlling how people think, he put the image of a triangle in their mind, he told them not to choose a square, and he conjured a lot of circles by spinning his hands around. Ultimately, Banachek says that while we can't prove that psychics don't exist, he has not seen evidence that would prove that they do.
Back in the podcast cave, Joe and Duncan discuss the amount of information that can be deduced about a person from reading information about them, and in an era when privacy is becoming more and more scarce, Joe checks in with a neuroscientist: Dr. Pamela Douglas. In a big room with brain scans just everywhere, Joe asks how much progress has been made in finding a way to read someone's mind with, say, a machine. Dr. Douglas tells Joe that there is plenty of conclusive research that has been done to actually create images based on activity in the brain. For example, a person thinking of a gorilla running would conjure a computerized image of said gorilla, running. It's not psychic, but it is mind reading nonetheless.
Joe wonders if, through technology, we might be able to read each other's minds in the future. Dr. Douglas says that it's not outside the realm of possibility for the future, but that it's a question for bio-ethicists to consider. After all, she asks, is a world where everyone has the ability to read the mind of another person, the kind of world that people would want to live in?
Joe & Duncan dive deeper into what they uncovered on psychics.
Is the government training psychic warriors for warfare and espionage?
Dr. Pam Douglas talks Joe through the current research being done on the human brain, allowing researchers to extract words and images from subjects.