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Achau Nguyen Test

Jim Underdown

September 26, 2005

On July 23, 2005, The Independent Investigations Group (IIG), in conjunction with the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF), conducted a test of alleged telepathic ability. This test was held at the Center for Inquiry-West (CFIW) in Hollywood, CA.

Achau Nguyen of Oahu, Hawaii, flew to Los Angeles for a preliminary test of the JREF $1 Million Paranormal Challenge, and for the demonstration phase of the IIG’s $10,000 Challenge. Achau claimed to be able to mentally send words to a person who would accurately receive them and write them down. During the period when the test protocol was being designed, Achau said he could successfully send 19 or 20 out of 20 words to a receiver.

Achau, his friend E., and E.’s girlfriend J., arrived at CFI-West at a few minutes before 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 23, 2005. Jim Underdown showed them both the upstairs and downstairs tables they would be seated at during the test to make sure all was in order and in harmony with what they thought the test would look like.

The three were then led to an office where Achau signed statements saying that he understood this was only a preliminary test, that he would not employ any means of deception, that he knew he would be photographed and taped during the test, and that he expected to be successful.

Achau and E. were then separated, and each was scanned with a metal detector. Both were asked to remove their shoes during this check for transmitting equipment, and both allowed us to examine their ears and the inside of their mouths. Mercifully, the body cavity search ended there.

Achau was escorted to a table in a small theater upstairs, while E. and J. were taken downstairs to the lobby of the Steve Allen Theater where another table awaited, directly below Achau upstairs. The upstairs theater had no windows to the outside, or open doors to the level below. The table downstairs faced a wall that contained a small, high window facing a hill across the street.

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The audience present was warned — per Achau — that they might experience some of the powerful energy being emitted from Achau during the test, and that they remain at their own risk. All chose to stay.

IIG members filled the following positions: Jim U. conducting, Bernie E. on upstairs radio, Eric E. on upstairs video camera (#1), Brian H. on upstairs video camera (#2), Dave R. and Jerry B. on upstairs close observation, Dennis H. on stairs/entry monitor & radio, Sherri A. on downstairs camera, Matt C. on downstairs radio, Derek B., Myriah D., John S., and Owen H. on downstairs close observation.

Achau was then shown two sealed envelopes, each containing 30 index cards with a word (computer) printed on each card. He chose one envelope, which Jim U. opened, and gave to Achau to choose twenty cards from. He chose twenty without looking at them.

After the twenty cards were chosen and counted, Jim U. removed the discards, and shuffled the twenty cards with his back to Achau. The cards were then placed word-down in a pile on the table in view of a group of ten or twelve guest observers, none of whom would see any of the words until the conclusion of the test.

The items on the upstairs table before Achau included a bowl of ice water, a towel, the twenty word cards, a can of Red Bull, and a tabletop lectern facing away from the audience. On the downstairs table, E. had a pen and two sheets of paper in front of him, with ten blanks each on them, and a cup of water.

As a precaution, IIG member Jerry B. was allowed to see and record the first 3 cards on the pile to be sent. No other IIG member or observer had any way of knowing which words were selected, what order they were in, or what card was currently being transmitted. Only one person — Brian H. — knew what cards were in the pool of sixty potential cards. Brian H. was behind a camera during the test, and was out of Achau’s range of vision during the entire test.

Achau was asked if all conditions were ok and if there was anything present that would prevent him from succeeding. He said everything was all right and said he would be ready to begin after drinking some Red Bull and doing some push-ups. After a couple of rounds of push-ups and Red Bull, we began. Achau’s face was flush, but he seemed upbeat.

When Achau signaled his readiness, Jim U. said, “Sending the first word.” Jim then placed the 1st card (out of the audience’s sight) on the lectern facing Achau for him to see. Bernie radioed to Matt downstairs that Achau was sending.

After E. wrote a word, Matt radioed back upstairs “Word received.” The test followed this sequence throughout with a minor adjustment after the first word or two.

After the first three words had been sent, we requested a brief pause so Jerry could bring them to Dennis on the stairs. Matt C. brought Dennis the first 3 words received by E. Dennis examined both short lists, and sent word upstairs with Jerry that we should proceed. This was our early warning system to alert us in case we were being deceived. None of the first three words matched, so we suspected no cheating at that point, and continued until all twenty words had been transmitted.

Achau paused a number of times during the test in order to do more push-ups. He said the push-ups helped him “feel it” and allowed him to transmit more effectively. About halfway into the test, Achau requested and was given some Coca-Cola to give him more energy and caffeine.

After sending the 20th word, the downstairs crew came upstairs with the results. We asked Achau if everything went well, and he said yes. We asked if he thought he had been successful, and he said yes. E. signed the “received” sheets verifying that they were written by him and accurately received by him.

While the group was making its way upstairs, Achau said he wanted to show Jim U. something. He arranged some of the word cards into a sort of a “Z” shape and said he could put that image into Jim U’s mind. Jim U. didn’t really feel the shape in his mind beyond the fact that he had just seen it on the table. This was unrelated to the test.

To tabulate the results, we brought out a white scoreboard which displayed columns for “Word Sent,” “Word Received,” and “Running Score”. The sequence “sent,” “received,” “score” was read for all 20 words. No “Sent” words were even close to the “Received” words. (e.g. The first word he sent was “ovary”, though E. received “shopping mall.”) The running score became a column of zeros.

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Achau seemed initially surprised, then a bit angry, then disappointed, and a bit humiliated. We tried to soften the blow by explaining that people make these mistakes and that he should use the test he just took to check himself in the future.

He e-mailed us the next day with the following:

Hello Jim and the rest of the IIGWest staff,

I just wanted to thank you guys for everything again, I also wanted to apologize for the way I was after the test. I must admit I was really upset, not of any of you guys though, but at my recipient, (E.) I know he didnt even try to put an effort to help me out, everything he wrote was straight out of his ass, Im sorry to say. I guess you can say that’s sorta my exscuse for failing, but whatevers, I did wanted to mention it when Jim invited us into his office after the test and was asking us if we had any ideas or reasons of the failure, but I didnt wanna make a scene.

I know since it was a failure in the testing, that pretty much says, that I do not possess these powers I claim to have, but within all honesty Jim, Derek, Sherri, Brian, Bernie, and Owen if you guys all can actually look me straight in my face and tell me im just halluscinating about everything, and misbelieved about these powers I possess, I totally respect that, but if you can somehow acknowledge and say that I do possess these powers, (that needs alotta tweaking) even though the test was a failure, that would mean the world to me, I guess what im trying to say is I need your guys stamp of approval, so that maybe I could go to soemone (sic) or they could come to me that'd be willing to help me out, and we could like learn and understand to control these powers together, you knows?

I mean winning the million and shutting down Randi would be great, but what I really need rite now is people who know actually know about these things, and can help me out. I know it was my fault for bringing the wrong recipient, and not actually trying these tests more and what so nots, but i beg you guys PLEASE and try to help me out somehow, like I've mentioned when I first came to Randi, I was asking him to help me out, and all he told me was, something like im not here to back up the paranormal, im here to debunk it, or something in that matter, so I beg you guys PLEASE dont do the same to me. I really do believe I possess alot of potential in this field, and even though I failed the test, I hope atleast finally I got somebody, or a group who are very respected and looked up upon in this field, like you guys to acknowledge that the powers are real, I’ll be more than happy. But if you honestly can say, im delusional and just straight tripping and need to go get some help, I totally respect that, and will take up your guys advice on that.

In closing, thanks again for everyhting, especially sherri, she was like a maid for me, (LOL), and thanks EVERYBODY for all of the help and time you guys tooked out today on helping me out with the testing, especially when all I could produce for you guys was nothing at all, a 0 out of 20 score, and my deepest apologies again for my behavior after the testing, usually I do get like, where I cant breathe and start stuttering and what so nots, its the side affects, but mostly it was because that I was mad at (E.), it was like he just stabbed straight in my back, and apologies again if I took out that anger on you guys. I just hope though, some how you guys can help me out, you guys are pretty much my only hope. Thanks again.

Achau Nguyen

At a post-test discussion, we concluded that Achau had made no effort to deceive us, and was sincere in his belief that he possessed the power of telepathy. We all felt a little bad for him, as his expectations of success were clearly not met.

We all made a concerted effort to be kind to him throughout the testing process, but felt no regret that the test had been conducted. We think the reaffirmation of the laws of physics and the methods of science is more important than the comfort of one individual.

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Jim Underdown's photo

James Underdown has been Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles since 1999. He is also the Founder and Chair of the Independent Investigations Group, a team of inquirers who look into paranormal, pseudo-scientific, and extraordinary claims. He is also the creator of the Steve Allen Theater at CFI-L.A. Jim has appeared on numerous radio and TV shows including Hannity and Colmes, Penn and Teller's Bullshit, History's Mysteries, Proof Positive, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. He is a regular Skeptical Sunday guest on the SETI Institute's Are We Alone? radio show/podcast. His many pre-CFI endeavors include writing and directing short films (A Day in the Life of Frank Sinatra, The Test, Dear Father), and directing his stage play, Party of 13, a secular re-telling of the Last Supper. Jim also toured midwest comedy clubs as the Poet Laureate of Calumet City, IL.