Professor Robert ‘Bob’ G. Jahn, an expert in aerospace engineering who also spent decades investigating anomalous powers of the human mind, has sadly passed away at age 87. Though Jahn was influential in the aerospace community, holding high positions with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and on NASA advisory boards, he will perhaps be most remembered for his work in parapsychology with the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) laboratory.
Prof. Jahn became involved in parapsychology in the late 1970s while working at Princeton University, after one of his undergraduate students created an odd experiment for a class project which tested whether people’s thoughts could influence a computer. Jahn was intrigued by some interesting results to the experiment, and as a true scientist, set up a small research program at Princeton to investigate further, giving birth to the PEAR lab.
“My initial oversight role in this project led to a degree of personal involvement [and] a growing intellectual bemusement,” Jahn later noted of this moment, “to the extent that by the time this student graduated, I was persuaded that this was a legitimate field for a high technologist to study and that I would enjoy continuing to do so.”
The PEAR lab ran two main bodies of experiments over subsequent decades. One was on the topic of ‘remote perception’ (also known as remote viewing), where a ‘viewer’ attempted to describe what another person was seeing at a remote, unknown location using ‘traveling clairvoyance’. The second set of experiments was based around that initial investigation that intrigued Jahn enough to set up the lab: a topic they labeled ‘Human Machine Anomalies’. In this line of research, “people interacted with various devices that were based on a random process, to see if the human operators’ intentions could affect the way the device produced its output”. In practice, this took the form of experiments where subjects were asked to try and ‘push’ a random sequence of numbers being generated by a computer in a certain direction (e.g. higher numbers); or in lower tech situations, the research subject was asked to make balls moving through a “a giant, wall-mounted pachinko-like machine” bounce in certain directions simply by willing it via conscious intent.
Over almost three decades of testing at their lab at Princeton University, Jahn and his colleagues were moved to conclude that there were indeed anomalous powers of human consciousness beyond what orthodox science allowed.
As with all areas of parapsychology, Jahn and the PEAR lab came under regular attack from skeptics, but their long list of academic papers documenting the research certainly provides a substantial body of evidence in favour of psi powers. When the lab shut down in 2007, co-researcher Brenda Dunne was quick to dismiss suggestions that it was because of a lack of positive results:
For 28 years, we’ve done what we wanted to do, and there’s no reason to stay and generate more of the same data. If people don’t believe us after all the results we’ve produced, then they never will… It’s time for a new era; for someone to figure out what the implications of our results are for human culture, for future study, and – if the findings are correct – what they say about our basic scientific attitude.
The Society for Scientific Exploration, of which Jahn was a founder, released a statement confirming his passing, praising him as a “peerless giant” in the field and, more than that, “a magnificent human being”:
Bob Jahn peacefully passed away early Wednesday morning, surrounded by family and friends.
Those of us in the SSE recognize him as one of the principal founders of the society and its longest serving officer. He was, of course, also the founder of the legendary PEAR lab and later ICRL, and over the course of four decades a peerless giant among anomalies researchers.
More than that, Bob was a magnificent human being. He openly mentored, assisted, advised, and served as a role model to countless people over his illustrious career, all with a rare humility oftentimes lacking in those of his stature.
And so we celebrate his life, even as we mourn our loss. It’s hard to imagine there will be another like him.
If the PEAR lab’s positive results in parapsychology are confirmed, Robert Jahn will be remembered as a pioneering, heretical voice who, despite unrelenting pressure from the skeptical community, uncovered a whole new dimension to human consciousness.