I stood observing the building carefully. It was a large two story frame dwelling built in the 1920s or earlier. It was an imposing structure. One of the oldest houses in the neighborhood, it had a feeling of ancestry and history.
The night was pleasant, a clear sky and waxing moon. A slight ocean breeze gently caressed me. I envisioned another night and different weather conditions: dense, wet fog creeping in from the ocean enveloping the houses in ghostly gossamer. An edge of suspense and a sense of danger lurking in the darkness would set the stage for a Dashiell Hammett mystery.
As I walked up the steps to the front stoop, I was ready for the strange and weird, perhaps perils hiding in the shadows, but the night played different music, that of science and the unknown. When the door opened to my bell ring, Jerry Meadows invited me in, and I began an adventure that changed my life.
As Jerry guided me around the first floor offices, I noted a quietness, not only because of the evening hour but of seriousness of purpose and dedication to knowledge. When we entered Philip’s office, he was busy typing on his computer. Looking up at our entrance, he paused in his work.
“Welcome to our Institute where we’re exploring the frontiers of knowledge, ye seeker of the truth.”
Grinning at the levity, I sat down in a bulky, cushioned armchair meant more for a living room than a research office. At that point Jerry left to attend to his own activities.
“The first thing, Ralph, is a tour of the Institute and especially the testing labs. Shall we?” Philip rose and so did I, following him into the hallway.
“Jerry showed you the office layout of the first floor. The second floor is similar. Let’s take a look.”
There were more offices on the second floor. Jerry and Geri had theirs on that level. Philip mentioned the senior members of the Institute chose their office locations and most selected the first floor. Back to the first floor then, Philip lead me to an elevator.
“Now for the most important part. We have the testing labs in the basement area. With the type of experiments we do a quiet and secure environment is required.”
Leaving the elevator, we proceeded along a corridor with labs on both sides. At the end of the corridor was a metal door, like a fire door to protect separate sections of a building. The door had a very special lock. It was a code and hand scan registry system. I was intrigued. What was so important behind the door? When we stepped through, I realized my life had branched into unknown territory. I would never be the same.
“No doubt you’re wondering about the security. The labs in this section have highly sophisticated equipment which is expensive, astronomically so. We are outside of the building and in a subterranean structure in back of the house and adjacent to Sutro Heights Park. Overhead is undeveloped land. The labs are soundproof. Our most controversial experiments are conducted here, and of course the security is impeccable. Otherwise, our critics will complain that the results occurred because of faulty control. Leaks in security caused compromising information to become available to the subjects of the tests–that’s a typical excuse for denying the results.”
Philip showed Ralph several of the labs. “Our labs are equipped with a sound-video monitoring system. All activity is totally recorded from four angles. No part of the lab is hidden from view. When the subject enters the room and closes the door, it is locked automatically, so no one else can enter without unlocking it. The door can be unlocked manually from inside in case of an emergency. After the testing period ends, the door automatically unlocks.”
“Where is the person conducting the test? Where would you be seated?” Ralph asked.
“As the tester I would be in my office working on other matters. I wouldn’t be watching the test nor viewing any results yet.”
Ralph was definitely puzzled. “Not watching? Why?”
“When you begin taking the tests, you’ll understand directly so let me just say my watching might contaminate the results or at least some critics could say so. You’ll be starting with simple ESP sessions, similar to those performed for more than seventy years, beginning at Duke University.”
Philip peered at Ralph with an intensity that shone. “For example, psychic energy crosses many barriers and travels distances. We’re talking about the essence of mind power. What if the tester unintentionally uses mind power to corrupt the results by sending mental content to the subject?”
Ralph was astounded. “You mean the tester telepathically communicates with the subject. Now that is a mind-altering concept. The notion sounds more like science fiction.”
Philip realized Ralph was hooked and now was the time to reel him in. “Yes. In advanced psychic studies we must consider the reality of such power. If we don’t, our critics will fry us.”
“That’s ironic. Critics who don’t believe in psychic power say you mentally fixed the results.”
“Actually, some critics do think such an energy exists, but they won’t tolerate messy experiments. Everything must be neat, clean, and rigorous. Remember, we’re at the frontier of science, and the dominant paradigm will not change easily. Science is still based on nineteenth century philosophy of materialism. Nothing exists except matter which is quantifiable. Many scientists believe psychic energy is only a superstition, a metaphysical hobgoblin.”
Having received his BA in philosophy at San Francisco State University, Ralph felt he was in his own element. Of course, the older philosophy had grounded science, but it no longer provided a conceptual foundation. Findings in many branches of science could no longer be explained by materialism. The exotic, yet real, happenings in quantum physics, cosmology, and biology required a new set of concepts espousing a new paradigm. Two important holes in the traditional philosophy occurred toward the end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth: the Michelson–Morley experiment and the discovery of radioactive decay. Suddenly the basic elements, stable building blocks of matter, were found to be changeable. And light was behaving in peculiar ways.
“Philip, I’m on board for your project. One thing, though–is there a secrecy oath?”
Philip chuckled. “Well, certainly not like national security or anything of such a nature. But we don’t want gossip going around about the project until the results are published. It’s more like being silent until we’re ready to go public. Is that okay?”
“Yes. I was thinking I might be able to use some ideas as thematic material for my new magic show.”
“A new show? How much have you developed?”
“At the moment, I’m working on the basic design. I plan to take my interest in alchemy a step further. I want to explore the psychic level of reality more fully.”
“Sounds great. Only promise you’ll discuss any ideas you might apply to the show before you go too far.”
“Agreed. Now when do we start?”
“No tests today. We’re only at the introductory stage. Let’s go back to my office. You need to fill out some forms, mainly your background including interests and hobbies. Part of the analysis correlates the subject’s background with test results. I’ll give you more details of the work the Institute is doing. And I believe you’ll enjoy viewing our library, which you’ll be able to borrow from.”