In Memoriam: Robert G. Jahn, Scientist, Mentor, Friend

By Nelson, Roger | The Journal of Parapsychology, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

In Memoriam: Robert G. Jahn, Scientist, Mentor, Friend


Nelson, Roger, The Journal of Parapsychology


We have lost a major figure in consciousness research with the passing of Professor Robert G. Jahn, the founder and director of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research laboratory (PEAR). PEAR was Bob's longest running research program and capped a career that touched and influenced the farthest reaches of science, from the physics of electric propulsion for spacecraft to the extended capacities of human consciousness. Bob was born April 1 1930. and died Nov 15 2017 at his home in Princeton, surrounded by family and loved ones. He had a broadly influential role in psi research, and the PEAR lab became a home for many and a beacon for yet more people looking for inspiration and models that could help understand the extraordinary capacities of human consciousness. He was known around the world as a seminal figure in consciousness research.

Bob was Dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Princeton University from 1971 to 1986. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and an influential member of numerous other technical organizations. He was a founder and long time Vice President of the Society for Scientific Exploration, and Chairman of the Board of the International Consciousness Research Laboratories consortium. He was a member of the Board of Directors of Hercules, Inc. and Chairman of its Technology Committee, and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Associated Universities. This is a small sample of the long list of Bob's achievements, but it is safe to say that with all his extraordinary contributions in science and technology, his deepest feelings of accomplishment were for the study of consciousness at the frontiers of our understanding.

Bob Jahn, besides being one of the top tier officers of a major ivy league university, was a world class physicist running a NASA-funded plasma propulsion laboratory. But he was also a creative and broad-spectrum thinker who somehow escaped the dogmas of "scientific" education far enough to consider with equanimity the mysteries of mind as a part of the physical world. Bob also had a wicked sense of humor, along with an extraordinary memory, which might help explain why he knew all the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan. He combined high seriousness with unfettered creativity, resulting in sometimes whimsical reflections on the conundrums science is designed to untangle. I recall Bob's charming sketch of two ducks, evidently engaged in a difficult scientific discussion. He labeled it simply "Paradox".

A few far-seeing individuals with impeccable credentials in the sciences make room in their research agenda for questions linking consciousness and physical systems, mind and matter. Precisely these questions led Bob to create the PEAR laboratory in 1979. He was impelled to do so after seeing results from an independent research project he sponsored for a student in electrical engineering and computer science. The student had asked him for help when she found none of her professors would monitor her work attempting to replicate Helmut Schmidt's psychokinesis experiments using an electronic random number generator and experimental protocols she had developed. He encouraged her to study the relevant professional literature and organizations.

Ultimately Bob decided the reports and the serious engagement by a small cadre of dedicated researchers in parapsychology justified a substantial high-technology look at the possibility that consciousness might interact directly with physical systems. Was there some fundamental error in what looked like good, though sparsely supported research? …

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