Can We Control Computers With Our Minds?

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The sign over the office copier is the kind of Dilbertesque humor one might see anywhere in cubicle land. But in a warren of basement rooms under Princeton University's engineering quad, the meaning is more, well, meaningful. The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory, after all, explores how the human mind affects machines. Anomalies is the key word: something different, abnormal, peculiar or not easily classified. In this case, they are the elusive powers of consciousness. Can the emanations of the brain really make the copier malfunction? Or maybe turn on the lights or even cause airplanes to fall from the sky? And if the mind is capable of affecting sensitive machinery, what benefits--and pitfalls--await when this energy is harnessed to an emerging catalog of new applications and products?

Most of us live in a comfortable duality with the mind/matter problem. We're basically rationalists, believing that the physical world and the images concocted by our subconscious mind are distinct and separate realities. Over the past hundred or so years, from the table-rapping seances of the 1880s to the playing of Mozart to plants in the 1960s to the spoon-bending ESP tricks of the '70s, we've come to consider that most paranormal interactions between these realms are either hoaxes or explainable by known physical factors. And yet we continue to play mind games with the physical world: whispering "Come on, baby" to the '84 Datsun grinding away on a frosty morning or beaming murderous thoughts at a frozen program on the PC. MORE >>