The following excerpts are from: Mind control, levitation and no pain: the race to find a superman in sport published April 18 in The Guardian.
The US and Soviet Union both believed people could develop superpowers. And, reveals The Men on Magic Carpets,
their psychic experiments played out in the sporting arena, by Ed Hawkins.
Baguio City, the Philippines, 14 years later. Mental combat has begun for the World Chess Championship. Anatoly Karpov, the golden boy of the Soviet Union, is playing Viktor Korchnoi, a defector the regime loves to hate. Despite sitting opposite each other for hour after hour, day after day, they have not spoken. But somebody is talking to Korchnoi. There is a voice inside his head. It is incessant. Over and over and over it berates him: “YOU. MUST. LOSE.”
Korchnoi recognises the voice. It’s not his. It belongs to the man sitting in the front row of the audience since the match began. His heart starts to beat a little faster. He begins to sweat.
“YOU. SHOULD. STOP. FIGHT. AGAINST. KARPOV.”
The demands keep coming. Korchnoi is not afraid but he is angry. He understands perfectly what is happening. The man is trying to control his thoughts.
“YOU. ARE. TRAITOR. OF. SOVIET. PEOPLE.”
The man sits cross-legged, dressed immaculately in a white shirt and dark brown suit, reclining with a hint of arrogance. He looks like an accountant, albeit a somewhat demented one. A slight smirk plays across his face. His eyes are terrifying, bearing into Korchnoi. He does not blink until Korchnoi is defeated.
Both of these stories are true. Murphy, the zany hippy in bell-bottom jeans warbling occult orders, would, in time, have the US government dancing to his tune. And Dr Vladimir Zoukhar, the immaculately dressed communist spook, staring demonically for comrade and country, was considered the KGB’s mind control expert. Both men were protagonists in an extraordinarily paranoid chapter of human history: the cold war.
Murphy was no regular football fan. Known as “the godfather of the human potential movement”, he co-founded the Esalen Institute, a famed new age retreat and pillar of the counterculture movement in 60s California. It was a centre for eastern religions, philosophy, alternative medicines, and a fair amount of nude hot-tub bathing. Controversial eroticist Henry Miller swam at the hot springs in the grounds, Beatle George Harrison once landed his helicopter there to jam with Ravi Shankar, and Timothy Leary, whom Richard Nixon called “the most dangerous man in America”, taught regular workshops on the benefits of LSD, claiming that women could orgasm hundreds of times during sex when under the influence. And most recently, in the final frames of Mad Men, advertising executive Don Draper was seen smiling on Esalen’s lawn.
While Murphy was establishing Esalen, if Soviet state security wanted to place a negative or damaging thought in someone’s head, they called Zoukhar. That’s why Zoukhar was at Korchnoi’s match; communism trumped capitalism if it could produce a world chess champion. Korchnoi, hang-dogged and pot-bellied with his mistress in tow, was not the image they were going for. He could not be allowed to win against Karpov, the poster boy for true Soviet values.
Murphy and Zoukhar hailed from opposite cultures teetering on the brink of nuclear Armageddon. But for all their differences, America and the Soviet Union held a common belief: the existence of superhumans. Both world powers believed in a race of cosmic beings who could, just like in the sci-fi movies, slow down time, speed it up, change their body shape, feel no pain, levitate, see into the future, and more. With boggle-eyed mind control and harnessing the occult, both nations believed they could put a thought in someone’s head, or stop a man’s heart at 100 paces. Both nations thought these powers would win them the war. From the west coast of America to the far corners of the Soviet Union, yogis, shamans and psychics were sought out to aid these alternative war efforts, with millions spent on attempts to create a real life Superman or Wonder Woman.
In 1975, the Chicago Tribune reported that the CIA was attempting to develop a new kind of “spook”, after finding a man who could “see” what was going on anywhere in the world. CIA scientists would show the man a picture of a place, and he would then describe any activity going on there at that time.
In fact, there was more than one of these men. Russell Targ, who had taught this psychic power at Esalen, was one; another was Uri Geller. (You might have heard of him and his bendy spoons.) There was a whole team of psychics based at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California, as part of the CIA’s Stargate programme to find psychic warriors. Targ and Geller would sit in that office, close their eyes, breathe deeply and then after a few minutes draw the location of Soviet missiles. Sometimes, they were right.
By contrast to the Soviet plan, Targ and Geller seemed harmless. “They were using it to kill people,” Targ said. The Russian term for superpowers was “Hidden Human Reserves”.
is the brother-in-law of Bobby Fischer.
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