Printer Friendly


To the Editor:

Robin Taylor (JP 65, 90-96) was upset by my book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, and I am sorry that this is so. The main reason seems to be that he felt I had trespassed on his turf. He said as much himself when he declared a "vested academic interest" in animal psychic abilities. I am afraid there is nothing I can say to assuage Taylor's irritation, but I can respond to the factual and scientific points he raised, and I am glad to have this opportunity to do so.

To start, he gave a one-paragraph "summary" of my book, which concluded as follows:

The world is wide open to all you readers who can go beyond the confines of the rigid mindset of disbelieving reductionistic scientists--and, to help you get started, an appendix is included that explains the theory of morphic resonance. (p. 91)

This is, I am afraid, a misrepresentation of the plan of the book. There is indeed an appendix about my hypothesis of morphic fields, but the reason it is in an appendix and not in the main body of the book is precisely because I offer my own theory as a possible explanation of some of the phenomenal discuss, and not as the only one. I certainly do not regard it as essential for anyone undertaking research in this field. The appendix on morphic fields is Appendix C. Appendix A, which Taylor did not mention, is titled "How to Take Part in Research" and puts forward a variety of practical suggestions for ways in which pet owners and students can contribute to research in this field. Many have already done so.

Taylor discussed at some length my experiments with a return-anticipating dog called Jaytee, who was videotaped continuously during his owner's absences and who usually went to wait at a French window while the owner was on the way home. In fact, Jaytee usually began to wait shortly before his owner, Pam Smart, set off for home from a location more than 5 miles away. He waited there even when she left at randomly chosen times communicated to her by means of beeps on a telephone pager. The dog also reacted when she traveled in taxicabs or other unfamiliar vehicles. The results of these trials were highly statistically significant.

Taylor focused attention on what he called "a slight fly in the ointment in this impressive result that I cannot ignore." He suggested that Jaytee's owner, Pam Smart, and I may have been involved in "unwitting or unconscious cueing," somehow influencing each other to make the decision for Pam to return home at the time that Jaytee would probably move to the French window. Taylor admits that this could not have happened by normal sensory means: Smart was at least 5 miles from the dog, and I beeped her from London, more than 175 miles away.

I suggested that the results would best be explained in terms of telepathy between Smart and Jaytee, who appeared to be responding to her intention to return. Taylor proposed an alternative scenario:

Sheldrake or Smart (or both) are clairvoyantly picking up on when Jaytee is about to move toward the window, and this is their (either of them or both) cue to allow Smart to come home. Sheldrake does not consider this possibility .... (p. 92)

But as Taylor himself pointed out, this possibility could be avoided by the use of "appropriate randomized times."

In fact, Smart and I did use randomized times, which were determined before the experimental period began and therefore incapable of being influenced by Jaytee (unless Taylor postulates retroactive PK by the dog on the die I threw in London).

Taylor rightly remarked that in my book I did not spell out the randomization procedure in detail. (It is described in an article that was still in press when the hardback edition of the book was published. The full reference is given in the paperback edition, and the article can also be read on my Web site: The procedure was as follows:

The beep times were in a prearranged period, between 45 and 90 minutes long. This period commenced 80 to 170 minutes after [Pam Smart] had gone out. The beep window was then divided into 20 equal intervals, and one of these was selected by throwing a die three times, to determine the page, row and column in standard random number tables. Reading downwards from this point looking at the first two digits of each random number, the first pair of digits between 01 and 20 determined the time at which the beep was to be given. (Sheldrake & Smart, 2000, p. 237)

Still on the subject of the Jaytee experiments, Taylor alluded to three experiments carried out by Richard Wiseman and Matthew Smith with this dog, at my invitation (Wiseman, Smith, & Milton, 1998). Their data showed the same pattern as my own experiments, with the dog spending an average of 4% of the time by the window during the main period of Smart's absence and 78% of the time while she was returning (p = .03; Sheldrake & Smart, 2000). In my book I show their findings in graphical form (Figure 2.5). Taylor criticized me for an "economical" writing style because he thought I failed to point out that Wiseman and Smith put forward a different interpretation (which depended on ignoring most of their own data). But in fact I discussed their opinions at such length that my editors persuaded me to put this passage in a note (on pp. 321-322), which Taylor seems to have missed. He asserted that "Wiseman et al. were charitably undecided about the extent to which their results demonstrate psychic abilities in Jaytee " (p. 93). Would that this were true! Wiseman is currently Britain's most tireless professional skeptic and frequently appears on television as a debunker of psychic phenomena. Although his Jaytee experiments closely replicated my own, he claimed in the media to have discredited this dog's abilities, and he helped produce press releases that succeeded in generating headlines such as "Psychic Pets Are Exposed as a Myth" (Irwin, 1998). (For further details of this controversy, see Sheldrake, 1999; Wiseman, Smith, & Milton, 2000; and Sheldrake, 2000).

Taylor disagreed with me that the navigational abilities of animals such as homing pigeons and migrating birds might involve a psi component. However, he admitted that much is still not understood: "... the present state of research into animal navigation has a long way to go before we can decide that it is a phenomenon worthy of a psychic explanation" (p. 94). However, whereas Taylor seems happy to wait until most researchers in the field admit there may be a need to consider other causal factors, which could take decades, I prefer to explore alternative possibilities now.

Most of Taylor's other criticisms related to my terminology, particularly the fact that I usually used the word telepathy "rather than ESP or even clairvoyance." I plead guilty. Telepathy seems to me the most appropriate term to describe the way in which animals react at a distance to people's intentions, feelings, and needs. He objected to the fact that I did not use the word anpsi in the text of my book (although I referred to parapsyhological literature on the subject). I am guilty again: I regard this as an ugly and unhelpful piece of jargon. He also complained that "the first time the term psi-trailing appeared was about two-thirds of the way into the book." This is true but inevitable. The chapter in which I discussed the phenomenon, titled "Pets Finding Their People Far Away," was about two thirds of the way into the book.

Finally, Taylor complained about the incompleteness of my discussion on the dearth of research on animal's psi abilities. I suggested three main reasons for this: (a) the taboo against taking pets seriously, (b) the taboo against the paranormal in general, and (c) the historical human-centeredness of psychical research. He suggested two more reasons that apply specifically to the world of professional parapsychology: "the fraudulent case of Levy....and the difficulty, expense and morality of maintaining healthy animal specimens for psi experimentation" (p. 95).

In the end, the problem comes down to the fact that I am a biologist, not a parapsychologist, and I believe the field of research can move forward much more rapidly if it is not confined to the laboratory but involves pet owners themselves. Taylor is annoyed because he thinks I will "put serious researchers off this topic." However, as he himself admits, they have already been put off for decades without any help from me.


IRWIN, A. (1998, August 27). Psychic pets are exposed as a myth. Daily Telegraph, p. 6.

SHELDRAKE, R. (1999). Commentary on a paper by Wiseman, Smith and Milton on the "psychic pet" phenomenon. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 63, 306-311.

SHELDRAKE, R. (2000). The "psychic pet" phenomenon. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64, 126-128.

SHELDRAKE, R., & SMART, P. (2000). A dog that seems to know when his owner is coming home: Videotaped experiments and observations. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 233-255.

WISEMAN, R., SMITH, M., & MILTON, J. (1998). Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the "psychic pet" phenomenon. British Journal of Psychology, 89, 453-462.

WISEMAN, R., SMITH, M., & MILTON, J. (2000). The "psychic pet" phenomenon: A reply to Rupert Sheldrake. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64, 46-49.


20 Willow Road

London NW3 1TJ


To the Editor:

I am not surprised that Rupert Sheldrake does not appreciate my review of his book (JP, 65, 90-96), because much of my commentary was less than positively glowing. However, I was surprised at the issues he chose to highlight in his rejoinder to my review.

Most of my remarks would not have been necessary if Sheldrake had written a book that clearly stated to readers that he was not writing as a professional scientist in this field and that the ideas he was presenting were in fact speculations. But he did not write this. Instead, he presented his speculations and theories with the literary equivalent of window dressing, to give readers the impression that his account was that of an academic in the field. And, because he wrote this way I, in reviewing the book, made the commentary that I did. Sheldrake feels that the main reason that I was "upset" by this book is that he (Sheldrake) was treading on my "turf."


As a business venture, Sheldrake's book is clearly a "success" if it has been published as a paperback edition, and indeed I wish him continued commercial prosperity. The reason I felt disappointed with his book was because I found it to be without any real scholarly substance, and since I wrote my review for a scholarly journal, I fashioned my commentary accordingly.

As if to back up my assertions in the review of his book, much of Sheldrake's reply is not really accurate in the reporting of my own review. Rather than try to tackle each of the inconsistencies paragraph by paragraph, I urge readers to read my review and Sheldrake's reply, and I feel confident that these inconsistencies will become apparent. However, his reply does, I think, adequately demonstrate that Sheldrake is clever in the use of his words to convey a meaning that is slightly distorted from the original, and because of this I feel compelled to highlight some of Sheldrake's remarks.

I mentioned in my review that Sheldrake had been "economical" with his wording to give the impression that his experiments were highly successful and proved psi abilities between pets and their owners. In fact, an independent replication of one of Sheldrake's own experiments by two parapsychologists found no support for this. Sheldrake's wording (Sheldrake, 1999, p. 63) gives the impression that this replication (Wiseman, Smith, & Milton, 1998) agreed with Sheldrake's own findings. The fact that Sheldrake in his rejoinder pointed out that he did in fact discuss this difference of opinion in an endnote toward the back of the book (Sheldrake, 1999, pp. 321-322) supports my assertion that Sheldrake is being evasive with his presentation of the facts. He claims that his difference of opinion in how to analyse Wiseman, Smith and Milton's (1998) data was moved to the back of the book on persuasion by the book's editors. How convenient. This action serves the purpose of allowing Sheldrake to present his own interpre tation of Wiseman, Smith, and Milton's (1998) study as agreeing with him. Simultaneously he can respond to a critique like my own, that he did indeed present the differences in data analysis. Even when one reads the note (as I did originally), the information he presents is misleading, with no real acknowledgement of a criterion protocol that was agreed to by the researchers with the pet's owner. Sheldrake wrote his endnote in a way as if to suggest that the analysis done by Wiseman, Smith, and Milton (1998) was in fact deliberately chosen to ignore the relevant data that would prove that the participating pet appears to be psychic. But when one reads the original article it is clear that Wiseman, Smith, and Milton (1998) followed a protocol that made logical sense to them at the time, and they defended this in a "reply" article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Wiseman, Smith, & Milton, 2000). Furthermore, one could be justified in making a counterclaim that Sheldrake's own analysis was c onveniently parsed in a way to show a psychic effect.

I have, probably contrary to Sheldrake's belief, no qualms about Sheldrake making extrapolated postulations as to the causes and possible reasons why pets, animals, and humans act in the apparently psychic way that they do. What I do object to, though, is the use of a writing style that suggests that not only is Sheldrake's version "an explanation" but also most likely "the" explanation (or a close variant of it). Furthermore, I object to an author who is just plain wrong in his fact---such as Sheldrake's presented evidence that a Tahitian traveling with Capt. James Cook in 1769 could at all times point accurately to Tahiti. During this voyage, it was impossible to verify the accuracy of the Tahitian's ability to point to his homeland.

Sheldrake also thinks that I am upset by his use (or lack of) parapsychological terminology. I think he has missed the point that he seems content to ignore the work of previous work done by parapsychologists in the field of animal psi and then later criticize the parapsychologists for ignoring animal psi! I feel validated in defending as an accurate criticism this lack of acknowledgement of previous research in parapsychology

Finally, Sheldrake points out that the problem (with his book?) is that he is not a parapsychologist but a biologist. On that we can agree. However, as a biologist he is still just as honor bound to be zealous in the pursuit of excellence in writing about scientific topics. If the likes of Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins can write popular scientific books and articles that are clear and accurate in their presentation of facts, opinions and controversies, then why can't Rupert Sheldrake?


SHELDRAKE, R. (1999). Dogs that know when their owners are coming home: And other unexplained powers of animals. New York: Crown.

WISEMAN, R., SMITH, M., & MILTON, J. (1998). Can animals detect when their owners are returning home? An experimental test of the "psychic pet" phenomenon. British Journal of Psychology, 89, 453-462.

WISEMAN, R., SMITH, M., & MILTON, J. (2000). The "psychic pet" phenomenon: A reply to Rupert Sheldrake. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 64, 46-49.


School of Humanities

Private Mailbag

University of the South Pacific Fiji

To the Editor:

I am writing as an experimenter who, from a life in psi research, is convinced of the reality of psi but is continually troubled by its seeming perverse unreliability. This letter on intentionality and the experimenter effect is stimulated by Fiona Steinkamp's (2001) recent article in which she failed to replicate her earlier experiment showing that precognition does not occur when the experimental targets are chosen by a true random process (Steinkamp, 2000). Her recent article illustrates the major loose screw in psi research, namely, the overriding and powerful effects of experimenter expectation and intention, even in well-controlled double-blind experiments. I give four examples.

Steinkamp, from the University of Edinburgh, has just published a second article investigating whether precognition occurs when the target is selected using a true random number generator (RNG) process. In her first article a year ago, she found significant clairvoyance and no evidence for precognition under these conditions in a postal experiment. I intend no criticism, but I believe this outcome is well in accord with the popular view of precognition as mediated by global clairvoyance rather than true paranormal foreknowledge. In this recent replication, under somewhat different conditions, Steinkamp did find significant precognition in the true precognition case but found no evidence for clairvoyance. What's a poor researcher to do?

I relate three other similar experiences that I have had in formal studies. In a remote viewing experiment in which the target slide was illuminated in a distant room, my colleagues and I investigated the necessity of feedback. In this experiment carried out at Esalen Institute with Marilyn Schlitz and Hella Hammid in the 1980m Elisabeth Targ and I found that significant first-place hitting occurred only in the no-feedback condition (E. Targ, Targ, & Lichtarg, 1985)! Our tried-and-true remote viewing of hidden pictures with feedback failed to materialize.

In a later experiment to investigate the perception of actualized versus nonactualized targets, with Keith Harary and Hella Hammid, we found significant first-place hitting only on the low-probability targets when the RNG chose them. There was no psi evident when the a priori high-probability targets were chosen. We had thought that the presence of high-probability (0.5) targets in the pool would dominate and interfere with the perception of low-probability (0.1) targets (E. Targ & Targ, 1986). A highly significant difference was again found, illuminating the very thing on which we had our attention. But, it was similarly contrary to our expectation.

Finally, I have just conducted a remote viewing workshop (fourth in an ongoing series with Jane Katra). In this California experiment, we had half of the pairs of participants judge their own target mentation against four possible targets in a pool shown at the end of their trial, whereas in the counterbalanced halt, the viewer never saw the three dummy targets, and the judging was done by the interviewer. In our previous three Italian workshops (R. Targ & Katra, 2000), this latter procedure was always followed, because we believe that showing viewers false targets in the judging phase can lead to displacement (although it is standard practice in the ganzfeld). However, in spite of this cherished belief, out of 20 trials, we had 9 first-place matches in a one-in-four experiment. But, 8 of the 9 hits were in the self-judge condition. That is, our usual judging scheme, with which we had significant outcomes in all three Italian experiments, failed in this California experiment, whereas the highly problematic se lf-judge protocol manifested all the psi (8 out of 10 first-place matches).

I believe this loose screw indicates that we significantly fail to understand and dangerously neglect the "causal" elements driving our experiments, as a manifestation of the experimenter's conscious and unconscious intentions and prejudices.


STEINKAMP, F. (2000). Does precognition foresee the future? A postal experiment to assess the possibility of true precognition. Journal of Parapsychology, 64, 3-18.

STEINKAMP, F. (2001). Does precognition see the future? Series 2, a laboratory replication and Series 2, a World Wide Web replication. Journal of Parapsychology, 65, 17-41.

TARG, E., & TARG, R. (1986). Accuracy of paranormal perception as a function of varying target probabilities. Journal of Parapsychology, 50, 17-27.

TARG, E., TARG, R., & LICHTARG, O. (1985). Realtime clairvoyance: A study of remote viewing without feedback. Journal of The American Society for Psychical Research, 79, 494-500.

TARG, R., & KATRA, J. (2000). Remote viewing in a group setting. Journal of Scientific Exploration, 14, 107-114.


1010 Harriet Street

Palo Alto, CA 97301, USA
COPYRIGHT 2001 Parapsychology Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jun 1, 2001

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |