A note on the Sargent affair

I spent nearly 30 years working in parapsychology, initially as a believer in the paranormal but later as a sceptic. I eventually concluded that the experimental evidence does not support the existence of any paranormal phenomena at all. The most crucial experience in my change of opinion was investigating Carl Sargent’s ganzfeld research.

On paper his research looked beautifully designed, and the results were impressive. They certainly convinced many people of the validity of ESP in the ganzfeld. Only by visiting his laboratory and seeing how the experiments were actually carried out did I discover that his published results were worthless.

I have published two accounts of that visit.

The first is an article in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 1987. This explains how the article came to be written, as well as describing the investigation. It was published along with responses from Trevor Harley, Gerald Matthews and Carl Sargent.

The second is an excerpt from my book In Search of the Light. This book was originally published as The Adventures of a Parapsychologist in 1986. I intended to describe the Sargent affair then, but after threats from Sargent I did not. When the book was republished in 1996 I added three more chapters. One of these concerns the visit to Cambridge. It tells the story of the visit and also explains why the Sargent data are still important twenty years on.

Carl Sargent died on 12 September 2018. Trevor Harley wrote his obituary in 2019, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 83:2, 124-127. Trevor Harley and I then corresponded about the obituary and I wrote a response.