How we came to use arbitrary numbers for tasking
by Jana Rogge

This article is based on an interview with Bill Ray and Paul H. Smith, and was first published in IRVA’s Remote Viewing magazine Aperture, vol. 36 (Summer 2023).

Bill Ray (81) spent over three and a half years as a remote viewer at Fort Meade, leading the unit for 23 of those months as its commander. During this time, he unintentionally became a key figure in one of the small but important steps that were made to create the CRV working process as it is used today—steps that he likes to call “The Bread Pudding School of Advancement.”

When developing Coordinate Remote Viewing (CRV) at SRI, Ingo Swann and Hal Puthoff had always used geographical coordinates to task the viewers. 

This remained the standard procedure when the first five Swann-taught military viewers were trained in CRV. Yet in the operational use of the method, it turned out that using geographical coordinates brought up some problems.

Firstly, everyone who is continuously working with a set of latitudes and longitudes will begin to make assumptions about where in the world these coordinates lie.

Bill: If I get a coordinate starting with “04° North,” as I write it down, the first thing that’s going on in my mind is “this is going to be cold, any time of the year this is going to be cold.” And so, as I’m going through, I’m trying to push that away, may call AOL on or whatever…but my first stage 2 instead of red is going to be cold, white … It’s trying to overcome that frontloading—some people say they can do, but I think it’s extremely difficult.

That’s why skeptics complain: “Well, what’s to stop the remote viewers from just memorizing what’s at the end of all the coordinates? Then when they get a coordinate, they just know where it is and then they put that down and pretend to be psychic when they really aren’t.” Considering that there’s perhaps an infinite number but at least billions of possible coordinates, memorizing all those would be more of a miracle than being a remote viewer, which of course skeptics never take into account.

Now, what actually happens is that using geographical coordinates creates more noise, making it harder to remote view accurately, because the viewer starts imagining things about where the coordinate might be. To solve this problem, the RV unit started in late April 1985 to use what they called “encrypted coordinates.”  [1] The idea of gene­rating these encrypted coordinates was that the coordinate was still there, but the viewers wouldn’t get that misleading speculative kind of nonsense that comes into their head when they have a sort of a familiarity with where coordinates point. They used a Hewlett-Packard programmable calculator which could generate random numbers. The viewers were told that the calculator could actually encrypt the coordinates. When they typed in the coordinates, the calculator would spit out an encrypted version of them. It still was the coordinate, it was just encoded. And it worked exceptionally well. They did this for a while, and this is where our story starts.

Scan of a session header using geographical coordinates, Tom McNear 1984
Scan of a session header using encrypted coordinates, Bill Ray 1986

When it comes to progress and development, there is the scientific school in which people come up with a hypothesis, test it, and move forward that way. What Bill calls the “Bread Pudding School of Advancement” is part of his worldview of how the human condition progresses. 

Bill: My mother was the oldest of five kids in an Irish Catholic family. She had seven kids of her own, I was the oldest. Growing up in the Depression, she would never waste anything. When the bread got old and stale, my mother would take it and put milk and raisins in it and make a bread pudding for dessert for the next day.

Back then we were all in California, it was wintertime, and it used to rain in winter. We were seven kids going to school, and my sister, who prepared the lunches, made peanut butter sandwiches for everybody. As we got ready to go to school, this torrent of rain came and they canceled school, and we all went out to play in the rain. My mother ended up with seven lunches full of peanut butter sandwiches. She is torn—she doesn’t want to waste anything, but she’s got all this peanut butter on the bread … So she decides that she will make bread pudding anyhow, using the peanut butter sandwiches as the main ingredient. So, she goes ahead and that night we had bread pudding with peanut butter—it was the best bread pudding anybody ever ate! Since now, all my sisters and brothers, and myself, we all make bread pudding with peanut butter.

So, we had this huge leap forward in the condition of humanity, but it wasn’t planned, it was by accident—and I feel a lot of the greatest advancements have been made that way.

This “Bread Pudding Theory” is about accidental improvement, and that is what happened in the Center Lane Unit. The viewers had already adopted the encrypted coordinates approach, when one day Bill faced a problem that needed a “field expedient infantry style solution,” [2] as Paul describes it.

That day, Bill sat at his desk and had no intention of moving remote viewing a step forward. All he wanted was to be left alone so he could deal with the big stack of admin work piled high before him. One of the viewers came in and brought some latitudes and longitudes, and gave them to him in order to receive the encrypted coordinates for a practice target that he, as a monitor to another viewer, should work this day. Bill tried to use the random generator machine, but this time he failed. He tried several times, including some well-known methods like pressing keys extra hard, turning off and on, and banging the object on the desk in order to shake some sense into it.

Now he was under time pressure, with no success, and with a bunch of admin waiting—it was Friday afternoon, there was nobody available to pass this off on. Again, the viewer came in, saying “I need those coordinates.” Bill also couldn’t ask the viewer for help on the device, because otherwise he would come to know the coordinates.

He decided that just something had to be done, and simply wrote down a bunch of arbitrary numbers. “Use those!” He gave the numbers to the monitor, and went about his business. 

The monitor went across the room, kind of scratching his head and thinking “that’s odd, I mean that’s just an arbitrary set of numbers”—but he did the session, and then somehow it worked perfectly well. When the session was done, Bill checked the feedback with the monitor, and was delighted that the session was a success.

Since the Hewlett-Packard Calculator used a random number generator instead of an encryption algorithm, the so-called “encrypted coordinates” were only a fiction to let the viewers trust the process until they got actual experience that it worked.

Now, all he did was put the target in a manila envelope, along with a pair of random numbers on the outside that he had just made up in his head and that didn’t refer to anything other than the intended target. He was establishing a link of some sort between the manila folder, the coordinates, and the feedback. These were the “coordinates” that were given to the monitor. Bill didn’t believe they were the coordinates, but the viewer did, and so it worked out.

Bill and Paul remember the discussion that went on in the office and between the viewers. “You won’t believe what Bill did! Instead of encrypting the coordinates he just wrote down this arbitrary number and gave it to me,” reported the monitor. What eventually came to light was shocking to them: The Hewlett-Packard calculator had never really encrypted the coordinates; instead, it just generated a random number. They had been working all the time with arbitrary numbers that had no real connection to the coordinates.

Paul: And we have this kind of crisis of faith: “Well, there’s no link to a coordinate at all, there’s no connection to the target, what the heck is going on here? We’re being duped, we’re being misled…” And then it was Skip Atwater who provided an explanation. “Wait a minute … So, what is a coordinate (latitude, longitude)? Is it anything that’s actually real? No. It’s not. All it does is indicate a point on a map where all of us agree that coordinate means something. It’s just a set of arbitrary numbers. So, if we give you a different set of arbitrary numbers that is hooked to the intention of that target, what’s the difference?” And that was a very satisfying answer, actually; and if you think about it, all that’s really going on here is intentionality, and that’s what drives the train in remote viewing—it is intentionality.

As Paul stated, remote viewing and tasking is about intention and intentionality. What is the tasker’s intent, what does the tasker intend? And if a number is linked intentionally to what the target is, like you say the number “stands for” or “is meant to indicate” that particular target, it works just as well as with latitude/longitude.

Ft. Meade T-2560, one of the two buildings
that were home of the remote viewing unit

Now, there was actually another benefit to it: If they were doing a project in which they didn’t know where the target was, for example a hostage situation or searching for a crashed airplane, they didn’t have geographical coordinates to go from. If they didn’t have the latitude/longitude, there would be no way of tasking a remote viewer in that fashion on the target. [3] So they realized that using arbitrary tasking numbers would even solve this problem. From then on, over the course of time the unit started experimenting with “coding“ the coordinates and finally changed their targeting method to this approach that we have used since then.

With the “Bread Pudding” decision to use arbitrary numbers openly as tasking numbers, Bill Ray not only founded today’s model of tasking as it is used almost everywhere in remote viewing. He also proved that the viewer, instead of being oriented to where a particular geocoordinate was on the planet, was picking up on the intention of the tasker. 

What that implies for the tasking process in general should raise a big exclamation mark in our minds. It is not the wording that drives the tasking, but what the tasker intends. What’s on the tasker’s mind about the target—including preconceptions—is what the viewer is going for. 

Lost with technology on a Friday afternoon, Bill had found his bread pudding, and brought one of the essential secrets of remote viewing on the

Paul H. Smith and Bill Ray (2021), around the time we had the interview on which this article is based
Bill Ray & Paul H. Smith (1985)
Bill Ray in Ireland around 1988
Title picture: Portrait photo of Patricia Kelley, mother of Bill Ray (Courtesy of Bill Ray)


[1]  At this time, the remote viewing unit was under the command of LTC Brian Buzby, project manager for the INSCOM Center Lane Program, and his Operations Officer Cpt. Fred Holmes “Skip” Atwater. Bill Ray took over the command after Buzby left, in August 1985.

[2]  Adapt, adjust and overcome.

[3]  Such cases were rarely processed before, and when they were, a picture showing the target was put in the envelope and the viewer was asked to describe the location of the subject shown in the photo in the envelope. This works very similar to the “beacon target” approach that was used at SRI. However, such sessions were not viewed using the CRV method, but with Extended Remote Viewing (ERV).