Born September 14, 1933, at Telluride, Colorado, Swann studied at Westminster College, Salt Lake City, Utah, receiving a double bachelor's degree in biology and art. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and served three years in Korea, after which he worked for twelve years at the United Nations Secretariat while pursuing an independent art career.
Swann's active participation in parapsychology research began in 1969 when he was 36 years old. In 1970-71 Swann experimented with Cleve Backster in attempting to influence plants by mental activity. In 1971-72 psychokinetic experiments involved successfully influencing temperature recorded in a controlled setting devised by parapsychologists Gertrude Schmeidler and Larry Lewis at City College, New York. This research involved PK effects upon target thermistors (temperature measuring devices) in insulted thermos bottles at a distance of 25 feet from Swann.
Swann was also the subject of experiments in out-of-body travel, or psychic perception at a distance. These took place during 1971-73 at the American Society for Psychical Research. They involved Swann sitting in a chair and attempting to project his consciousness into sealed boxes on a small platform several feet above his head, in which there was a target symbol completely shielded from view. Swann was monitored by electrodes that would have recorded any movement from the chair.
Under these difficult laboratory conditions, Swann nevertheless scored significant successes in describing the targets. In one test he was actually able to state correctly that a light that should have illuminated the target was inoperative. There was no normal way of ascertaining this fact without opening the box.
In 1972-73, at the American Society for Psychical Research, Swann began suggesting experimental protocols to test for the existence of mind-dynamic processes that would enhance ESP and Dr. Gertrude Schmeidler, he coined the term "remote viewing" to describe the experiments in which subjects attempted to view targets at a far distance. His original remote-viewing protocols were later utilized and expanded upon in collaboration with the researchers Dr. H.E. Puthoff and Russell Targ. Other laboratories ultimately repeated various kinds of remote-viewing experiments.
With physicist Puthoff, at the Stanford Research Institute, Swann worked principally at SRI's "psychoenergetics project" established by Puthoff from 1973 to 1989.
From the first experiments, Swann was increasingly considered a very unique test subject because, at the command of the experimenters, he could reproduce and sustain the desired effects over time at a significant rate of success. Throughout the history of parapsychology, other test subjects had been temporarily or spontaneously successful. But these subjects typically suffered from the well-known "decline effect" or "psi-missing effect" which statistically erased the successes, and thus permitted skeptics to believe that the successes were due to some outside factor other than claimed human psi abilities.
Most books and articles written after 1973 about parapsychology and psychic matters refer to Swann's work in some way. Many analysts of science and parapsychology generally concede that his work and the high levels of official sponsorship it obtained gradually influenced positive reevaluations of the validity of psi in human experiencing.
- Ingo Swann's website, Biomind Super Powers