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Harold E. Puthoff

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Harold E. Puthoff
Born1936 (age 87–88)
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Occupation(s)Engineer and parapsychologist
Known forParanormal research

Harold Edward "Hal" Puthoff (born 1936) is an American electrical engineer and parapsychologist.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Puthoff was born in Chicago, Illinois. He received a BA and an MSc in electrical engineering from the University of Florida.[2] In 1967, Puthoff earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University with a thesis, "The stimulated Raman effect and its application as a tunable laser".[3][4][5] Puthoff then worked on tunable lasers and electron beam devices and co-authored (with R. Pantell) Fundamentals of Quantum Electronics (Wiley, 1969). Puthoff also published papers on polarizable vacuum (PV) and stochastic electrodynamics.

He took an interest in the Church of Scientology in the late 1960s and reached what was then the top OT VII level by 1971.[5] Puthoff wrote up his "wins" for a Scientology publication, claiming to have achieved "remote viewing" abilities (called exteriorization in Scientology).[6] In 1974, Puthoff also wrote a piece for Scientology's Celebrity magazine, stating that Scientology had given him "a feeling of absolute fearlessness".[7] Puthoff severed all connection with Scientology in the late 1970s.[8]

Business ventures[edit]

In 1985, Puthoff founded The Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin (IASA), later incorporated under EarthTech International, Inc., in 1991, which pursues energy generation and propulsion research.[9]

Puthoff and EarthTech were granted a US Patent[10] in 1998, with claims that information could be transmitted through a distance using a modulated potential with no electric or magnetic field components. While "the invention does appear to rest on solid, albeit somewhat obscure, physics principles", the case is used for educational purposes in patent law where "the examiner failed to make a prima facie case for inoperability or lack of enablement".[11] According to the Wisconsin Law School case study, "The lesson of the Puthoff patent is that in a world where both types of patents are more and more common, even a competent examiner may fail to distinguish innovation from pseudoscience."

In the 2010s, he co-founded the UFO-dedicated company To the Stars with Tom DeLonge.

Parapsychology and pseudoscience[edit]

In the 1970s and 1980s, Puthoff directed a program at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to investigate paranormal abilities, collaborating with Russell Targ in a study of the purported psychic abilities of Uri Geller, Ingo Swann, Pat Price, Joseph McMoneagle and others, as part of what they called the Stargate Project. Both Geller and Swann convinced Puthoff and Targ that they possessed psychic powers,[12][13] though Geller employed sleight of hand tricks.[14]

Puthoff and Targ studied Uri Geller at SRI, declaring that Geller had psychic powers, though there were flaws with the controls in the experiments, and Geller used sleight of hand on many other occasions.[15][16] According to Terence Hines:

Geller turned out to be nothing more than a magician using sleight of hand and considerable personal charm to fool his admirers. The tests at SRI turned out to have been run under conditions that can best be described as chaotic. Few limits were placed on Geller's behavior, and he was more or less in control of the procedures used to test him. Further, the results of the tests were incorrectly reported in Targ and Puthoff's Nature paper.[17]

Psychologists David Marks and Richard Kammann attempted to replicate Puthoff and Targ's remote viewing experiments. In a series of thirty-five studies, they could not replicate the results. While investigating the procedure of the original experiments, Marks and Kammann discovered that the notes given to the judges in Puthoff and Targ's experiments contained clues as to which order they were carried out. Examples included referring to yesterday's two targets or the inclusion of the date of the session written at the top of the page. They concluded that these clues were the reason for the experiment's high hit rates.[18][19] Terence Hines has written:

Examination of the few actual transcripts published by Targ and Puthoff show that just such clues were present. To find out if the unpublished transcripts contained cues, Marks and Kammann wrote to Targ and Puthoff requesting copies. It is almost unheard of for a scientist to refuse to provide his data for independent examination when asked, but Targ and Puthoff consistently refused to allow Marks and Kammann to see copies of the transcripts. Marks and Kammann were, however, able to obtain copies of the transcripts from the judge who used them. The transcripts were found to contain a wealth of cues.[20]

Marks noted that when the cues were eliminated the results fell to a chance level.[21] James Randi noted that controlled tests by several other researchers, eliminating several sources of cueing and extraneous evidence present in the original tests, produced negative results. Students also solved Puthoff and Targ's locations from the clues that had inadvertently been included in the transcripts.[22] Marks and Kamman concluded: "Until remote viewing can be confirmed in conditions which prevent sensory cueing the conclusions of Targ and Puthoff remain an unsubstantiated hypothesis."[23] According to Martin Gardner, Puthoff (and Targ) "imagined they could do research in parapsychology but instead dealt with 'psychics' who were cleverer than they were".[24]

Zero-point energy[edit]

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Puthoff co-authored papers[25][26] using the model of stochastic electrodynamics that leads to a model of inertia as an electromagnetic drag force on accelerating particles produced by interaction with the zero-point field.[27] This concept built on Andrei Sakharov's proposal in 1968 that the gravitational constant was a consequence of zero-point fluctuations in the vacuum.[28]: 162  Steve Carlip disputed one of Puthoff's 1989 papers for containing a serious computational error which makes the effect negligible;[29] Puthoff responded that a different parameter value in the model would restore its usefulness.[28] The 1994 paper was the subject of a news article in Science.[30] Subsequent analysis by Yefim S. Levin raising numerous questions concerning the mathematical correctness of the formula and the use of non-relativistic treatments of magnetic effects, concluding that model does not show inertia as a result of zero-point-field effects.[31] The cosmological implications of a different 1989 paper by Puthoff[32] on the origin electromagnetic zero point energy was examined by Paul S. Wesson[33] Among numerous difficulties, general relativity requires that such energy not gravitate, so it cannot be similar to electromagnetic radiation.

Building on earlier theoretical work by Robert L. Forward leveraging the Casimir force to extract electrical energy,[34] Daniel Cole and Puthoff analyzed the thermodynamics of a simple hypothetical Casimir force device.[35] The hypothetical devices discussed in these articles are capacitors, multiple layers of charged conductors sufficiently close for the short-range Casimir force to compress the structure. This works against the mutual repulsion of the conductor's electrical energy stores; external electricity would be needed to recharge the device. Other authors have studied mechanical and thermal devices based on Casimir forces.[36]

Massimo Pigliucci called Puthoff's hopes to extract zero-point energy as running contrary to the laws of physics: "a proposition... that violates basic principles of thermodynamics and that is considered pseudoscience by credentialed physicists."[37]


  1. ^ Melton, J. Gordon, ed. (2001). "Puthoff, Harold E.". Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology. Vol. 2 (5th ed.). Gale. p. 1264-5.
  2. ^ McRae, Ronald M (1984). Mind wars : the true story of government research into the military potential of psychic weapons. New York : St. Martin's Press. p. 92.
  3. ^ Puthoff, Harold E. (1967). "The stimulated Raman effect: and its application as a tunable laser". Retrieved May 7, 2024.
  4. ^ Jack David, Michael Park. (1978). Playback: Canadian Selections. McClelland and Stewart. p. 68. "Hal Puthoff, has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He worked for the Naval Security Group in Washington and then for the National Security Agency."
  5. ^ a b Hugh Urban. (2013). The Church of Scientology: A History of a New Religion. Princeton University Press. p. 113. "A physicist with a PhD from Stanford University, Harold Puthoff joined Scientology in the late 1960s and quickly advanced to the OT VII level by 1971."
  6. ^ Puthoff, Hal, Success Story, Scientology Advanced Org Los Angeles (AOLA) special publication, 1971.
  7. ^ Celebrity magazine, Minor Issue 9, February 1974.
  8. ^ Harold Puthoff, "Harold Puthoff Responds on Zero-Point Energy," Skeptical Inquirer, September/October 1998.
  9. ^ No relation to Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study. Harold Puthoff at the Parapsychological Association
  10. ^ US patent 5845220 
  11. ^ Rislove, Daniel C. (2006). "A Case Study of Inoperable Inventions: Why is the USPTO Patenting Pseudoscience" (PDF). Wis. L. Rev. 2006. 1304-1306. Archived from the original on September 25, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2024.
  12. ^ Targ, Russell; Puthoff, Harold (October 1974). "Information transmission under conditions of sensory shielding". Nature. 251 (5476): 602–607. Bibcode:1974Natur.251..602T. doi:10.1038/251602a0. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 4423858. S2CID 4152651.
  13. ^ Russell Targ, Harold Puthoff. (2005). Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Abilities. Hampton Roads Publishing Company.
  14. ^ Ben Harris. (1985). Gellerism Revealed: The Psychology and Methodology Behind the Geller Effect. Calgary: Micky Hades International.
  15. ^ James Randi. (1982). The Truth about Uri Geller. Prometheus Books.
  16. ^ Charles M. Wynn, Arthur W. Wiggins. (2001). Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends... and Pseudoscience Begins. Joseph Henry Press. p. 163. "In reality, however, Geller, an experienced magician and showman, simply bends the objects when no one is watching. But, you may argue, millions of people were watching him on TV! Geller is a master at an essential tool of the magician: misdirection or distracting peoples' attention. He is quite good at projecting an air of innocence that belies his actions. That he can fool so many people is a tribute to slight-of-hand (sic) artistry, not psychic power."
  17. ^ Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 126
  18. ^ David Marks, Richard Kammann. (1978). Information transmission in remote viewing experiments. Nature 274: 680–81.
  19. ^ David Marks. (1981). Sensory cues invalidate remote viewing experiments. Nature 292: 177.
  20. ^ Terence Hines. (2003). Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. p. 135
  21. ^ David Marks, Richard Kammann. (1980). The Psychology of the Psychic. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573927987
  22. ^ James Randi. (1997). "Remote viewing" in An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural. St. Martin's Griffin.
  23. ^ C. E. M. Hansel. (1980). ESP and Parapsychology: A Critical Reevaluation. Prometheus Books. p. 293
  24. ^ Ward, Ray (2017). "The Martin Gardner Correspondence with Marcello Truzzi". Skeptical Inquirer. 41 (6). Committee for Skeptical Inquiry: 57–59.
  25. ^ Harold E. Puthoff (March 1, 1989). "Gravity as a zero-point-fluctuation force". Physical Review A. 39 (5): 2333–2342. Bibcode:1989PhRvA..39.2333P. doi:10.1103/PHYSREVA.39.2333. ISSN 2469-9926. PMID 9901498. Wikidata Q77838067.
  26. ^ Bernhard Haisch; Alfonso Rueda; HE Puthoff (February 1994). "Inertia as a zero-point-field Lorentz force". Physical Review A. 49 (2): 678–694. Bibcode:1994PhRvA..49..678H. doi:10.1103/PHYSREVA.49.678. ISSN 2469-9926. PMID 9910287. Wikidata Q21709034.
  27. ^ Millis, Marc G. (2005). "Assessing potential propulsion breakthroughs" (PDF). Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1065: 441–461. Bibcode:2005NYASA1065..441M. doi:10.1196/annals.1370.023. hdl:2060/20060000022. PMID 16510425. S2CID 41358855. Archived from the original (PDF) on May 9, 2008. Retrieved January 10, 2014.
  28. ^ a b Gillies, George T (February 1, 1997). "The Newtonian gravitational constant: recent measurements and related studies". Reports on Progress in Physics. 60 (2): 151–225. Bibcode:1997RPPh...60..151G. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/60/2/001. ISSN 0034-4885. S2CID 250810284.
  29. ^ Carlip, S. (April 1, 1993). "Comment on Gravity as a zero-point-fluctuation force". Physical Review A. 47 (4): 3452–3453. Bibcode:1993PhRvA..47.3452C. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.47.3452. ISSN 1050-2947. PMID 9909333.
  30. ^ Matthews, Robert (February 4, 1994). "Inertia: Does Empty Space Put Up the Resistance?". Science. 263 (5147): 612–613. Bibcode:1994Sci...263..612M. doi:10.1126/science.263.5147.612. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17747645.
  31. ^ Levin, Yefim S. (January 27, 2009). "Inertia as a zero-point-field force: Critical analysis of the Haisch-Rueda-Puthoff inertia theory". Physical Review A. 79 (1): 012114. Bibcode:2009PhRvA..79a2114L. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.79.012114. ISSN 1050-2947.
  32. ^ Puthoff, H. E. (November 1, 1989). "Source of vacuum electromagnetic zero-point energy". Physical Review A. 40 (9): 4857–4862. Bibcode:1989PhRvA..40.4857P. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.40.4857. ISSN 0556-2791. PMID 9902742.
  33. ^ Wesson, Paul S. "Cosmological constraints on the zero-point electromagnetic field." Astrophysical Journal, Part 1 (ISSN 0004-637X), vol. 378, Sept. 10, 1991, p. 466-470. Research supported by NSERC. 378 (1991): 466-470.
  34. ^ Forward, Robert L. (August 15, 1984). "Extracting electrical energy from the vacuum by cohesion of charged foliated conductors". Physical Review B. 30 (4): 1700–1702. Bibcode:1984PhRvB..30.1700F. doi:10.1103/PhysRevB.30.1700. ISSN 0163-1829.
  35. ^ Cole, Daniel C.; Puthoff, Harold E. (August 1, 1993). "Extracting energy and heat from the vacuum". Physical Review E. 48 (2): 1562–1565. Bibcode:1993PhRvE..48.1562C. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.48.1562. ISSN 1063-651X. PMID 9960749.
  36. ^ See references in: Nie, Wenjie; Lan, Yueheng (July 9, 2012). "Thermally driven Casimir ratchet-oscillator system". Physical Review E. 86 (1): 011110. Bibcode:2012PhRvE..86a1110N. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.86.011110. ISSN 1539-3755. PMID 23005371.Sarabadani, Jalal; Miri, MirFaez (August 2, 2006). "Mechanical response of the quantum vacuum to dynamic deformations of a cavity". Physical Review A. 74 (2): 023801. Bibcode:2006PhRvA..74b3801S. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.74.023801. ISSN 1050-2947.
  37. ^ Massimo Pigliucci. (2010). Nonsense on Stilts: How to Tell Science from Bunk. University of Chicago Press. p. 90.

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