Stephen King’s latest release, The Institute, has opened with lauded praise and a nod to his former work, The Shining, Firestarter, and Carrie, suggesting that it’s written in a revivalist vein. I’d argue that these tales of supernatural human phenomena never went away.
The thirst for fiction with a paranormal element has always been impossible to quench; from the fads and trends of vampires and werewolves to ghosts and ghouls. The difference this time is that the story elements we are seeing now, both in fictional writing and on our television streaming services, are closer to reality and therefore more disturbing.
Most of us can see that human beings are evolving away from physical strength to that of intellectual and emotional proficiency. Reaction rates and problem-solving skills are honed on computer simulations, information is no longer retained but stored electronically for easy retrieval, and communication is all-pervasive across the globe in all time zones at once. Navigating this split-second, overwhelming world takes a degree of mental agility not deemed possible just a couple of generations ago.
We are turning up the dial on our levels of perception. Expanding the range of our physical senses is perfectly feasible and, to a certain extent, some of us have already done so. People with synaesthesia, see music in glorious colours, or taste certain spoken words as flavours. Others have extraordinary hearing or an unsurpassed sense of smell.
We are seeing greater numbers of savants in society, whose intellectual abilities are far beyond the average spectrum, such as mathematics geniuses who could outsmart Einstein or those who can draw the exact skyline of a city after just one glance.
The human race is an incredible species with an infinite capacity to adapt to change. It should not be a surprise to find an individual who is able to align brain waves to another, allowing them to read their thoughts.
This is no longer considered fiction.
You only have to read the accounts of Sean Harribance and his time with the CIA, where he was employed to locate the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, or watch the lectures of Dr Michael Persinger who researched his skills, among others, for years.
Annie Jacobsen, author and journalist, has devoted many years of her life scrutinising the declassified documents from US Naval and Defense Intelligence Agencies. She interviewed researchers and their experimental subjects and analysed the validity of the data available for her non-fiction exposés.
She began by tracing the origins of the military’s interest in paranormal phenomenon. She claims that the likely catalyst was the seizure of Himmler’s records and documents of psychic research at the end of WWII.
Jacobsen found that Himler’s trove of evidence and reports were divided into two, with the US receiving half and the Soviets the remainder. This sparked a tranche of funding into new projects stemming from German scientists’ findings. In effect, the psychic arms race began.
The most notable of these US studies were conducted at the Stanford Research Institute, using known psychics working from a Faraday Cage. They began with remote viewing and ‘what’s in the box’ experiments. Those who were most accurate were soon moved into more sensitive divisions, using their skills to survey foreign compounds and military bases abroad.
Despite incredible successes in locating hostages in hostile areas, and also in the seizure of huge quantities of illegal drugs using map dowsing techniques between the 1970s and 1990s, the programmes became the subject of much mockery and derision. The original Stamford studies were eventually shut down and US Intelligence Agencies denied the use of such methods of locating criminals and victims from then on. Through diligent research and interviews, Jacobsen claims that the use of psychics continued, but they were given new names that proved less contentious with the media at large.
An example of this relabelling is a study into ‘Anomalous Mental Cognition’, classified as ‘High Technology’. The Office of Naval Research experiments with ‘Sense-Making’. This reclassification of Psi-studies has enabled the continuation of extrasensory perception research through to the present day.
According to Annie Jacobsen, The Nolan Lab at Stanford Research Institute has received grants from the US Department of Defense, plus the National Institute of Health, to analyse and explore the cell biology of deeply psychic people. They are mapping the DNA of gifted individuals to determine the genomics of supernormality.
When I discovered this, I almost went into shock.
This is the precise theme to my fictional Spy-Psi thriller series that I have been working on since 2015, just a year or so before they received their funding or made their topic of enquiry public. I knew nothing about their studies until I wrote this article. What I considered to be near-future fiction, has already become science reality.
Stephen King is not a trailblazer in this field of writing, but he is respected in popular fiction. Is he ushering in a new wave of supernatural and occult stories? Hardly, from Charles Dickens to Daphne Du Maurier, advanced psychic abilities have fuelled some of the best plot arcs and themes for centuries. What it does demonstrate, is that the hunger for this type of fiction shows no signs of waning.
You only have to look at the top-selling book genres or the viewing statistics of supernatural films and TV series for Netflix and Prime. It’s not that the general public are gullible, or that they can only handle escapist reading and viewing, it’s that most would like to believe that one day, in the not too distant future, these incredible skills will be available to all humankind. We simply need to evolve first.
Sam Nash is the author of The Aurora Conspiracies, combining international espionage with elements of science fiction into a thrilling series. You can find her at the following places: