Interview with William Kautz
by David Jay Brown
William Kautz, Sc.D. was one of the principal research coordinators for
"Project Earthquake Watch"-- a four Year USGS-funded SRI study into
whether unusual animal behavior can be used to help predict earthquakes,
which ran from 1978 through 1982. (The Final Report was published in
August, 1985, and is available at the USGS Menlo Park library as an open
file report.) He earned his doctorate in electrical engineering at MIT,
and got involved in computer science soon after that. In 1977 Kautz
founded the Center for Applied Intuition, a research organization
dedicated to studying the intuitive process. He is also the co-author of
Channeling: The Intuitive Connection, and the author of Opening the
Inner Eye. I interviewed Dr. Kautz on May 27, 1997 over the telephone,
while he was in Prague, Czech Republic.
David: Tell me about your educational background.
William: My college degrees are in electrical engineering and
mathematics, all at MIT. And my doctor's degree is from MIT in
electrical engineering- specializing in communications, filter theory
and all of that. But I got into computers within a year after I was out
of MIT, and that was the whole career thing until 1985 when I retired.
David: How did you first became interested in earthquakes, and what
inspired "Project Earthquake Watch"?
William: Well, this is going to be interesting because the most
important thing I think I did with animals and earthquakes is not in the
USGS reports at all. (laughter)
I began to get bored with computer science some time around the
mid-seventies, and started looking out for other things. One thing I did
was to just start snooping into other fields-- medicine, health, and
earthquakes. The other thing I did was I got interested in creativity-
where good ideas and breakthroughs came from-- and that lead me into a
study of intuition. So that was the second career, running from around
the late seventies until I left that in 1992. I formed a Center for
One of the first studies that we did at the center using what I called
"intuitive consensus"-- which is a method of intuitive inquiry--was on
earthquakes. The study indicated that the common understanding from
geophysicists about earthquakes was largely correct, but very
incomplete, and wrong on a few points.
So I got this idea. I gathered a lot of intuitive information about
that, from many intuitive sources, and it all began to fit, together. I
tried to validate some of it, and this is what lead to the earthquake
project with the USGS. I didn't tell them I was working with information
I got from intuitives, but that didn't matter. They didn't need to know
where the ideas came from; they just found the hypothesis attractive. Of
course, the animal behavior part of it had been around a long time, and
nobody had ever done it right. So I teamed up with a biologist at SRI.
We proposed it to them and they bought it.
David: That's extremely interesting. If you had the project to do over
again-- knowing what you know now-- what changes or improvements would
William: Oh, I wouldn't do it. I guess I would work on some other aspect
of the intuitive hypothesis than that one.
David: When you say that you wouldn't do it-- is that because you're no
longer interested in the phenomenon, or because you don't think that
William: It's not workable. It's too slippery an area. The problem is
that the hypothesis is too broad. That's the best way to put it. We're
not talking about a specific animal. We're talking about animals in
general, and they are sensitive to a whole host of factors in their
environment besides any specific thing that we're testing for. And on
top of that, there are all different kinds of earthquakes- deep ones,
medium ones, and shallow ones. All of them seem to have different
characteristics about them--that is, they have different physical
So here you've got three different areas where there's a big range of
variability--the animals, the earthquakes themselves, and the kinds of
behaviors that the animal might exhibit, which is obviously very broad.
So what is the hypothesis that we're testing? It's just all over the
David: But you actually got strong results though.
William: Well, our results were not that strong. If we'd had more
earthquakes we might have gotten some better results. But look at the
effort that we had to go through just to get those little results.
David: I wondered why your conclusion wasn't stronger with those
William: The reason for that is because the statistical model that we
were using was pretty complicated, and statistics simply isn't
believable when you use models which are that complex. After we'd
collected all the data I couldn't see any alternative--we just had to
develop that statistical model in order to work with the data. But if
we'd planned that ahead of time we might have realized that it was going
to be really hard to make a solid case when we had such a mass of data,
that was spread out over forecasting capacity that has a sound
scientific basis, and--even though it's not perfect--here's a way to
work that data into public warning.
So alerts are given out to different kinds of people that are more at
risk, but to try to do that with earthquakes is going to be really
difficult. I don't know really know how you'd do it. First of all,
there's a terrible fear of earthquakes, and this biases people's good
judgment in any kind of a warning possibility. One of the basic public
beliefs is that it's not possible to predict earthquakes, and whether or
not it's true, that's what people believe. So that when somebody comes
out with a prediction, it induces fear but it doesn't help solve the
David: Tell me about the Center for Applied Intuition.
William: I started the center around 1977 with the idea being to try to
learn how intuition works--to try to find people who are highly
intuitive, and to see what we could do with them. What it turned out was
that I discovered that what intuition really is is a form of direct
knowing. In other words, the capacity of the human mind to gain access
to knowledge, without using the rational faculty. And that this is
what's responsible much of scientific breakthroughs, although there's
always a rational component of course.
David: Without the rational mind or the normal five senses.
William: That's right. Intuition is in those terms a sixth sense.
Many--if not most--of the major scientific discoveries (as opposed to
inventions) have been achieved with a heavy reliance on intuition. The
rational mental activity has been mainly to prepare the ground and to
verify the finding once it's found. But there's a step there where
totally new knowledge comes into the mind that could not have been
generated by any rational means from what happened before that. There's
dozens of documented cases that this is what actually takes place.
So that lead me to appreciate the power of the intuitive faculty. I
started looking around for the people that had strong intuitions, and I
found them. I started working with them, mainly in teams, though they
never met each other. I would prepare questions and ask the intuitives
these questions. They would give me answers, and then I would compare
the answers among intuitives. After a year or so of fumbling around in
which I discovered I was asking questions in the wrong way, we started
to get very good cooperation between the different sources. So then I
started working in a number of areas, like the earthquake area, to try
to generate new knowledge that could verified by independent means like
David: What were some of the other scientific questions that you had
posed to these people?
William: You mean in other areas? Well, I looked into the cause of
crib-death, also know as sids, and manic depression.
David: What kind of answers did you get about manic depressive illness?
William: Well, we asked what was the cause of it, what was the mechanism
of its function within the human mind and body, and then what we could
do about it to treat it. I worked on this topic with a psychiatrist from
Canada--a very fine guy and very helpful--who actually ran a clinic for
mood disorders and had a lot of manic depressiveness in it. So he had a
strong motivation. In fact, he's the one that came to me before I even
thought of that area. It turns out that what is called manic-depression
is actually one symptom, but it corresponds to a variety of different
(what we would call) mental diseases.
In other words, the disorders within the mind and brain are very varied
even though it all comes out as either primary depression or the bipolar
type which is manic-depression. So our first round of questions--not
anticipating this---didn't generate an awful lot, because we were
assuming that it was a single disease. But finally we got all that
straightened out. We found out there's a genetic component, a chemical
component that works through neurotransmitters, and diet-- that is, poor
nutrition--is a strong contributing factor.
David: I'm particularly curious about information which you collected
from intuitives about scientific matters that were unknown at the time,
which you later verified.
William: Oh absolutely. This is most evidential in the course of what we
did. The earthquake area was a good example because we had around a
dozen different factors that could be verified, which came out of that
study in addition to a general description. I went back to older
literature of reports of earthquake observations and was able to verify
three or four 'of those right off the bat. For example, the high
electrostatic charges in the atmosphere just over the epicenter. This
had been picked up by a lot of Russians and Japanese, and later the
Chinese. Oddly, it hadn't been reported in this country. Probably nobody
ever noticed it.
And a hole in the ionosphere over the epicenter---at least for medium to
large earthquakes, maybe not for small. Sure enough, there were a couple
of isolated reports from two big earthquakes in the Pacific where there
happened to be radar sounding going on right when the earthquake
happened, and the ionosphere disappeared about ten minutes before the
earthquake and came back about twenty minutes after the earthquake. So
there you got it. You see, weather, earthquake lights--that is, glows in
the sky above the epicenter--and animal behavior. So there were a number
of things that could be verified here by the proper kinds of
experiments. And I wish now we'd done something other than the animal
behavior experiments. But that's what was chosen so we stuck with it.
David: What are you currently working on?
William: Oh, I've left all of that behind. I'm just writing a
book--Opening the Inner Eye--on intuition. I'm up to about the third
draft, and I hope it'll done by the summer.
David: Is there anything you'd like to add?
William: Have you see the report by Buscurt on animal sensitivities?
This was a conference held at the USGS on what animals might be picking
up if they are picking earthquakes. Then there was a big report by
W.H.K. Lee which reviewed all the literature on animal behavior prior to
earthquakes. That's one of those open file reports. I found it when I
was in the USGS library last April.
There was a project on Prairie dogs in Southern California sponsored by
the USGS. I don't remember the names of the people involved but it was
one researcher in Southern California that got some USGS money to study
prairie dogs. Now, that was a case of focusing on one animal, in one
area, you see, instead of all animals in California. So he may have
gotten some decent results, but I don't know. It was down in the
Parkfield somewhere where they were expecting an earthquake.
David: This was done after your study?
William: During. There's a fellow named Jack Evernden at the USGS in
Menlo Park. If he is still there, he would remember probably. You could
just call him and ask him who did that prairie dog story. I don't know
what finally came out of that. I think it continued a little later than
our project did, so maybe he did get something.
I had a thought that if you really wanted to get some interesting
results--and probably have more fun--you should work with people as
predictors rather than animals. You know, there are a lot of people who
are super sensitive.
David: Who get headaches prior to earthquakes you mean?
William: Well, it may or may not show up somatically, but they just
know. With my best intuitves we discovered there's no problem in
predicting earthquakes if you want to do it--just as long as you don't
make them public. Most of the attempts to use intuitives or even
psychics fail because the people are trying to make a name for
themselves, so they want the prediction to be public. And our society
can't really handle that, so somehow the intuitive process is blocked.
But if you want to get them privately then there's no problem. At one
point I was working with a chap at the Geological Survey--I've forgotten
his name and he later left--but he wanted to place instruments, and said
I can help you find good places to place instruments. So I asked one of
my intuitives to tell me where the five next moderate earthquakes in
California and Nevada will be, and she just reeled them right off. Four
of them happened exactly as she said--location, day, magnitude. The
fifth one, she says, I'm not sure about that one. There's something
funny about it. And what happened was a nuclear test. She had the day
right though--she said it might be delayed a day or two-- and she had
the magnitude right, but it wasn't really an earthquake.
What that convinced me of was that predicting earthquakes is no problem
if there's a good reason for doing it, but making public predictions in
the present social environment is not a good reason. So I think that is
where the potential lies. This is one of the ground rules on intuition.
People tend to look at it like seeing a psychic, that you could ask what
you want and you get an answer. But actually it's not that simple, as
you have to take into account the whole situation in which the inquiry
was made and how the information is going to be used. That's what
governs the flow and the clarity of the information that you get.
David: I've always thought that the greatest scientific advances are
made by people who have a good balance of rational and intuitive
William: That's right, the balance is the main thing I think. If a
person's got a good balance it makes up for a lot of missing intellect.
In fact, I've worked in my life with two scientists who were very poor
as scientists, but they had strong intuition operating. They were doing
great stuff, but they couldn't prove it or make it credible to anyone
else. And I often wondered if that was why this information came through
them--because it gave them a boost, but it would never get out into the
public and be misused.