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