Sony Funds Controversial ESP Study : Japan: Employee of electronics giant disparages ‘traditional science’ that made firm a fortune as he looks into spoon-bending and ‘seeing’ into closed canisters. Critics are outraged.


Ever had the experience of getting a call from the exact person you were about to dial? If so, Yoichiro Sako has something to tell you: It’s not just a coincidence.

The world according to Sako is full of supernatural phenomena that are ignored by “traditional science.” Some people can bend spoons just by rubbing them between their fingers, he believes. Others can guess the contents of containers, as long as the “atmosphere” is right.

Lots of people believe in the supernatural, and a few even claim to study it. But there’s something unique about Sako: He’s a senior researcher for Sony Corp.--the company that thrives on “traditional science.”

For the last four years, Sako, a 38-year-old graduate of prestigious Tokyo University, has been director of Sony’s ESP laboratory, a special research section directly approved by Sony founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka.


There’s something heartening about the fact that a major Japanese company still has the money to investigate ESP even as the nation goes through its worst recession since World War II and other top companies study layoffs and cutbacks.

But don’t talk about cost-cutting to Sako. He insists he’s onto serious stuff, “a new technological revolution.”

So far, Sako hasn’t come up with any ideas that would lead to actual products Sony could sell. That doesn’t seem to bother company executives. Spokeswoman Mika Ishida says “the fact that it’s being budgeted” indicates Sony believes Sako’s research has potential.

But some outside experts are concerned about the research.

Japan has been shaken by the revelation that some of its brightest young people entered the Aum Shinri Kyo cult, which is accused of the March nerve gas attack on Tokyo’s subways.

Many of the nerve gas scientists were graduates of top universities who believed cult guru Shoko Asahara’s claims of supernatural powers, such as the ability to levitate.

“I’m furious at Sony, absolutely furious,” declares Yoshihiro Otsuki, a professor of physics at Waseda University. By financing an employee who believes in paranormal phenomena, “Sony might as well be denying that its products can be trusted,” Otsuki says.

Sako says modern science, with its insistence on repeatable experiments and so forth, isn’t getting at the things that really matter--such as emotion and “spirit.”

“We need to have a holonic and holographic vision,” he has written. “Our ultimate goal is to discover the ‘mind or consciousness’ that all humanity, and the whole of creation, must possess.”

Confused? Sako has some specific examples. Recently he and his Sony colleagues took two black film canisters and put a bit of platinum in one while leaving the other empty.

Asked which canister contained platinum, normal people guessed correctly half of the time, as one would expect. But a certain “supersensitive person” named “T.I.” guessed right 70% of the time, Sako says.

It sounds persuasive--but Sako’s procedure leaves some doubts. For one thing, he doesn’t think highly of the idea that an experimenter should keep an objective distance from his subjects. His goal is to “become friends” with supersensitive types like “T.I.”

Also, it seems that only people who already believe in paranormal phenomena are qualified to conduct research into them. The problem, says Sako, is that “these phenomena never happen among the deniers no matter how long you wait.”

Then there’s the tricky problem of videotape. Sako would love to capture spoon-bending on video, but he says people who can bend spoons suddenly lose that ability when a camera is pulled out.

Sako blames this on “tension” in the “atmosphere” that comes about when supersensitive people know they’re being filmed.

Otsuki, the physics professor, says no self-respecting scientist would read the “occult journal” in which Sako has published his findings. He’s threatening to organize a protest movement unless Sony explains itself better.