Editor’s Introduction

This anonymous scientist  is an assistant professor at a major American university. She has a Dr.P.H., having trained in cancer epidemiology, and while still early in her career her dissertation research earned an annual prize from her professional association.

Her experiences occurred in New York City in 1965.

Editor’s comment: Although ostensible ESP experiences that happen spontaneously to people are sometimes about apparently trivial matters such as this anonymous scientist reports here, most reported in the extensive literature have strong emotional significance to the experiencer. A typical one would be a dream about a loved one in distress that turns out to coincide with the death or se-rious injury of the loved one. But note that this could be a sampling artifact: we are much more likely to check on a loved one we have disturbing feelings about than on a stranger we have little connection with.

The Banality of ESP

From 1964 to 1966, I worked as an editorial assistant at a midtown Manhattan book publishing house. I took the bus to work every morning, and being a morning person, I liked to get in early. In book publishing in those days, arriving at work by 8:30 a.m. often guaranteed half an hour or more of splendid solitude. My buddy Margaret tended to be the second person in, usually before 9:00, and her boss Walter was the third, at about 9:15. Margaret had many wonderful qualities; she also had, as I later discovered, a bit of a drinking problem.

I have always been hypothermic, and winters are hard on me, so I have always made a point of dressing warmly with layers. On this particularly cold day, I was wearing a woolen sweater, a woolen suit, and a heavy woolen winter coat. On the bus, for the first time in my life, I had an obsessive/compulsive attack; I began to fear that I had failed to put on my skirt. I could feel the bulk of my sweater and jacket inside my coat sleeves, but I couldn’t feel the skirt, and I kept trying to sneak peeks at at to reassure myself that it was there. The bus ride, about 30 minutes, seemed endless. When I finally got to work and took off my coat, sure enough my skirt was there, but a little later the telephone rang. The caller was Margaret, and she asked, “Could you tell Walter I’m going to be a little late?”

Surprised, I replied, “Sure. Everything OK?”

“Yes, but I got all the way to work and then discovered that I had forgotten to put on my dress.”

This experience confirmed my prior belief, on the basis of no evidence, that ESP was real but useless. The connection between Margaret and me had caused me needless anxiety on the bus without benefiting her.

In the past week, I have had another more positive experience. My research assistant was out of town working on a project at another institution. She is very bright and competent but young and somewhat inexperienced, and although she has worked out of town on her own before, this was a bigger assignment, and I decided I should call and touch base with her. I could not reach her directly. So I called the contact person in the department where my RA was working. I got the contact person’s voice mail and left a message asking her to ask my RA to call me. Two minutes later, my RA called me. I asked her if the contact person had given her the message, and she said, “No, I just wanted to give you an update.” This is a common experience, but if one could rely on ESP, one wouldn’t need voice mail or even telephones.