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Evidence for ESP

Variables associated with ESP

Psychokinesis (PK)




Survival after death

“Modus operandi” of sensitives

Applications of parapsychology

Theories of parapsychology


Parapsychology, or psychical research, is the area of science which studies such topics as telepathy and clairvoyance, precognition, psychokinesis, and survival after death. Its data seem to show that in some circumstances it is possible for some persons to make direct responses to events not present to their senses as well as to future events, and probably also to influence directly the movement of objects by “willing.”

These abilities have no known physical correlates. The research from which the abilities are inferred must therefore be scrutinized with great care. If we accept the data, we will come to the radical conclusion that there are forces or relations which physics has not yet explored. We will also enlarge our concept of human potentiality (and presumably the potentiality of other animals) to include very broad contacts with other individuals and with the outer world, because information that apparently is not registering upon the normal sensory mechanisms is nevertheless influencing behavior.

Such concepts can be exciting. However, we all know that a high level of excitation does not always lead to adaptive behavior. Psychic research has probably excited more outraged protest than any scientific contention since Darwin’s, but it has also activated such constructive work as critical examination of its data and a search for further information. Perhaps each person’s choice between flat a priori denial (or acceptance) and critical interest reflects the balance between his need for simple, immediate certainty and his tolerance for ambiguity.


Parapsychology has developed a distinctive vocabulary, in part because some of its research problems are unique. For an example of one semantic difficulty, let us compare the paradigm of parapsychological research to the paradigm of research in verbal learning.

To study verbal learning, the experimenter ordinarily designates certain test material as the “stimulus,” presents this material to the subject, records the subject’s responses, and scores these responses by comparing them with the original material. In parapsychology the experimenter similarly designates certain test material, does not present this material to the subject, records the subject’s responses or “calls,” and scores them by comparing them with the original material. If the scores are high, is it semantically correct to call the nonpresented, concealed material a “stimulus” for the subject? The question is debatable. To bypass this issue, the neutral word “target” is substituted for “stimulus”; and when the subject’s response corresponds to the target, this response is called a “hit.”

Some term is needed to designate an extrachance number of hits when subjects call concealed, random targets. ESP, standing for extrasensory perception, is the term most commonly used, and it designates both the putative effect (as, “We must ask whether this is evidence for ESP”) and the putative process which underlies the subject’s behavior (as, “She was showing strong ESP ability”). Some find the term ESP objectionable because it prejudges that the psychological process is perceptual. “Psi” or “psi gamma” is sometimes used instead of ESP.

The three conventional subclasses of ESP are defined by their experimental arrangements. When the target is someone’s thoughts, the ESP is called telepathy. When the target is an object or (nonsubjective) event, the ESP is called clairvoyance. When the target does not exist until after the subject calls it, the ESP is called precognition. There are also various combinations, subclasses, and ambiguous experimental arrangements. For example, an object which is known to someone could be either a clairvoyant or a telepathic target. Success at calling such a target is often designated GESP for (“general” ESP). An object known to no one at the time of the subject’s call, but later known to someone, could be either a target for clairvoyance or a target for precognitive telepathy.

A markedly different experimental arrangement requires the subject to hope or to “will” that a moving object (like a die or a coin) will come to rest in a certain position. The hypothesis examined by this arrangement is that the subject can influence the movement of the object without using any known physical means. The term most commonly used to identify this hypothesized event or ability is PK (“psychokinesis”); “psi kappa” is occasionally used as a more neutral designation.


Two events are landmarks in the history of parapsychology; each marks the onset of a period of increased rigor in investigations. The first occurred in 1882, when a group composed mainly of scholars from Cambridge University founded in London the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Its purpose, printed on the inside cover of its Journal, was “to examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis.”

The SPR followed three major lines of investigation: collection and critical analysis of “spontaneous cases” of telepathy, hauntings, and so on; studies of “sensitives” or mediums to find if they gave veridical information, and if so, what theirmodus operandi was; and experimentation. Critical standards were high, and men distinguished in other areas have been active in the society. Its past presidents include Henry Sidgwick, the earl of Balfour, William James, Sir William Crookes, Sir Oliver Lodge, Charles Richet, Andrew Lang, Henri Bergson, F. C. S. Schiller, Gilbert Murray, Lord Rayleigh, Hans Driesch, C. D. Broad, and Gardner Murphy. It publishes a Journal and Proceedings,and occasional books and pamphlets. Similar groups have been formed in such countries as Holland, Sweden, France, and Greece. In the United States, for example, the American Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1885, with Simon Newcomb as its first president.

What was to prove a second major event occurred in 1927, when J. B. Rhine joined William McDougall at Duke University to work in this field. Rhine’s basic procedure required subjects to guess at the order of concealed, randomized cards; he then evaluated the hits statistically to find if they were extrachance. Rhine performed experiments, trained a cadre of research workers, published books and articles, and stimulated both scientific and popular interest. The parapsychology laboratory which he headed (as of August 1965, the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man) and the Journal of Parapsychology, where most of the laboratory’s research was published, changed the emphasis of research so that variants of the card-calling technique became the method used by most investigators. Rhine introduced a new vocabulary, including the terms parapsychology, extrasensory perception (ESP), psychokinesis (PK), and psi-missing (extrachance low scores). He also introduced the ESP cards: a deck of 25 cards marked with a circle, a cross, a square, a star, or a set of three parallel wavy lines. (For a summary of Rhine’s work, see Rhine & Pratt 1957.)

Evidence for ESP

Unsystematic evidence. Evidence on ESP breaks rather sharply into two categories. One is material that is unsystematically collected, as in a spontaneous case where a mother hears her son’s voice calling her at the time her son is in an accident, miles away. Investigation shows many such reports to be memory distortions or exaggerations but others to be veridical in that the event (e.g., the accident) happened as described and the “percipient” described it before information was available to him normally. Some descriptions include many unusual and accurate details. Any case may be dismissed as coincidence. An accumulation of many authenticated cases may or may not seem intuitively to be stronger than the single case (Tyrrell 1942).

Reports of apparent telepathy during psychoanalysis are frequently published and represent a subclass of the qualitative material. Analysts usually follow Freud (1922) in ascribing the telepathy to strong emotional needs or bonds, such as unconscious identification of percipient and “agent” and use of a repressed, archaic mode of communication, or follow Jung in considering ESP a normal function.

Laboratory evidence

The other category of evidence comes from controlled laboratory work in which evaluations are made through statistical analyses instead of intuition. Routine controls include randomized targets; the absence of sensory cues to guide the subject; a permanent record of the targets that is made without knowledge of the subject’s calls; and a permanent record of the calls that is made without knowledge of the targets. Only two examples will be cited in detail: one of research with a pretested individual, the other of research with groups of unselected fifth-grade and sixthgrade children.

A selected, pretested case. S. G. Soal, a mathematician at the University of London, tested many preliminary subjects in card calling. None scored above the chance level, but at a colleague’s insistent suggestion Soal re-examined the records to see if the calls corresponded to the cards preceding or following the designated target. Two subjects’ calls showed this pattern. Soal called back those two for a formal experimental series, and both made extraordinarily high scores in this later work (Soal & Bateman 1954). We shall describe one: a housewife, Mrs. Stewart. In her 130 formal sessions, over a period of four years, she called the order of 37,100 randomized cards. There was one chance in five of each call’s being right by accident. Mean chance expectation was 7,420 hits; her score was 9,410. The probability of obtaining this score or one more extreme by chance is approximately one in 1070.

For this or any experiment it is proper to inquire how these statistically impressive results compare with similar published experiments with null results and other null data which presumably lie unpublished in file cases. Are the data still significant when corrected for selection? G. E. Hutchinson, a Yale biologist, has worked out an answer. He computed that if Soal’s experiment had been performed once a minute for the number of minutes in the history of the earth (estimated at about a thousand million years, or 1.57 x 1015 minutes) and had yielded chance results every other time, the results of Soal’s work would still be highly significant when pooled with the others.

Unequivocally, then, Mrs. Stewart’s results were extrachance. But can they be explained away as due to sensory cues or other poor experimental conditions? We must next examine the conduct of the experiment.

The targets which Mrs. Stewart tried to call were determined from random numbers, which by an elaborate but clearly stated procedure were translated into randomly ordered letters. Targets were exposed in one room; Mrs. Stewart wrote her calls in another. The room door was usually ajar, but invariably there was a screen between doorway and targets; an observer in Mrs. Stewart’s room watched her, and another person in the other room made sure that agent and target remained behind the screen. Details of procedure varied somewhat over the years. Perhaps the most striking subseries was the 108th through 113th sessions, when Mrs. Stewart was vacationing near Antwerp. Targets and experimenter were in London. At a predetermined time, targets were exposed in London, and Mrs. Stewart made her calls (200 per session) in Belgium. Instead of the 240 hits that represent mean chance expectation, she made 345 hits, an average of 28.75 per cent correct. The probability of at least so many hits being a chance event is one in 1011. Since the average of the other 124 sessions was lower (22.92 per cent correct), the contrast implies that there had been no sensory leakage from room to room during the other sessions. Clearly, in this subseries no sensory cues were available; its extrachance results were obtained from what seems an impeccably controlled procedure.

Unselected subjects. We next turn to an example of work with subjects who had not been selected on the basis of previous testing. J. G. Van Busschbach (1956), an inspector of schools in Amsterdam, conducted a series of experiments on children in the fifth and sixth grades. Targets were randomized lists of five symbols or five colors or five words. Each class’s teacher sat at the back of the room behind a screen and looked at the targets; an observer watched the class and set the timing; the children wrote their guesses. Out of 20,190 calls there were 174 more hits than mean chance expectation. The probability (p) of obtaining this score or one more extreme by chance alone is 5 in 1,000. Van Busschbach subsequently replicated the procedure in Amsterdam and Utrecht, with substantially the same results. He then journeyed to the laboratory at Duke University and conducted a third series in North Carolina, where he again found similar scores for the fifth-grade and sixth-grade children. The grand total for these grades was 83,320 calls with a deviation of 579, significantly above mean chance expectation (p < .001).

Suggestive sidelights are cast on the data, indicating attitudinal factors that were crucial to the above-chance scores, by the consistently lower averages of seventh-grade and eighth-grade students (whose feelings toward their teachers are typically more detached than those of fifth graders and sixth graders); the lower scores when teachers were not adequately informed about the experiment and had less interest in it; and the higher scores on colors than on words.

A great many other experiments, in which targets are concealed from teachers or experimenters as well as from subjects, have yielded extrachance results under well-controlled conditions. The data seem to show that although ESP occurs, it usually operates at a low level; information obtained from ESP is scanty and undependable. Van Busschbach’s results are typical: 5 out of 25 calls would on average be correct by chance; and his obtained average was only 5.17. To examine an ability which is so inefficient, the experimenter must use extreme care in maintaining tightly controlled conditions and must also accumulate a large body of data.

Variables associated with ESP

Physical variables

There is no good evidence of any relation between physical variables and ESP. The following negative findings are of special interest.

Radiation. Vasiliev (1962), in a report of ESP research in several Soviet laboratories, wrote that his subjects responded to telepathic suggestions equally well under normal conditions and in a lead chamber. The chamber shielded them from electromagnetic waves in the range between X rays and waves of one kilometer, and attenuated both longer and shorter waves. [SeeRadiation.]

Distance. Mrs. Stewart’s results, no worse at two hundred miles than at a few feet from the target, are typical of what has been found in other comparisons, with distances varied up to about four thousand miles.

Target size. A corollary of the absence of distance effects (with terrestrial orders of magnitude) is that size of target should be unimportant; this was found by Pratt and Woodruff (1939), who tested the same subjects on targets which were large, medium, and very small. Scores were similar for all target sizes, and for all sizes the subjects made significantly higher scores on the first few calls than on later calls.

Time. No clear relation to time has been found: when random precognition targets were selected either a short or a relatively long time after subjects made their calls, extrachance scores were similar (Anderson 1959a).

Summary. It is of course impossible to prove a negative, but what evidence we have indicates that ESP success is independent of space-time and radiation variables.

Physiological variables

Several types of physiological variables have been investigated. Some of the interesting but fragmentary findings deserve discussion.

Age, sex, race. High ESP scores have been found in children, adolescents, and adults; in both sexes; and in different races. There have been no systematic comparisons, and comparative research would be difficult to perform, since it would be necessary to control attitudes. The incidence of ESP ability in the population is unknown, but inferences may be drawn from the many experiments with unselected subjects that have given extrachance results. Probably the best working hypothesis is that the incidence of ESP ability is like that of visual imagery. Some seems present in almost every normal person; it is markedly stronger in some persons than others; and there are a few (with eidetic imagery, or the special “sensitives”) whose ability is so strong that it seems qualitatively different from the usual one.

Body changes. Research on body changes associated with differences in ESP scores is scanty. There is some evidence (Huby & Wilson 1961) that depressant drugs like sodium amytal lower the scoring rate, and also that scores change when there are differences in general body relaxation (measured by galvanic skin response). A single experiment testing subjects under abnormal conditions of oxygen and temperature showed significantly lower ESP scores than with the same subjects under normal conditions (Woodruff 1943). The abnormal conditions were experienced as disagreeable, and the difference in ESP scores may reflect mood rather than physiological change. A single experiment demonstrated that patients hospitalized for cerebral concussion had significantly higher ESP scores than did accident patients without concussion (see Schmeidler & McConnell 1958); but because interviews and a personality test showed the concussion patients with high scores to be more passively, uncritically acceptant of incoming impressions, it was tentatively concluded that the high scores might result from the mood induced by the concussion and hospitalization rather than from the injury itself.

Body changes as ESP responses. In five carefully conducted experiments with blind scoring, a finger plethysmograph was attached to the subject to compare changes in his vasoconstriction when an agent in another room quietly examined neutral material (such as an unfamiliar name) or material which, if the subject had contemplated it, would probably have markedly changed his vasoconstriction level (such as the name of a close relative or of a political enemy). In four of the experiments there was significant correspondence between vasoconstriction and exposure to the critical targets; in one there was not (see Dean 1966). One of these experiments also reports a significant correspondence between the target and certain electroencephalogram (EEG) changes; but there was none between the target and galvanic skin changes, and only a chance number of hits when the subject tried to call the target (Tart 1963).

Several earlier, less rigorous experiments have also reported ESP changes using plethysmographic or EEG techniques. Additional unreplicated experiments describe significant ESP (or PK) changes in the movement of paramecia, in plant growth, and in the healing of artificially produced wounds in caged mice handled by a man who claimed to be a “healer” (as compared with the wounds of mice in cages handled by nonhealers). These latter claims are so novel and striking that replications with very carefully controlled procedures are required before they can be absorbed into the body of parapsychological findings.

Summary. In short, several experiments report biological changes associated with ESP (or PK). The findings are provocative and seem to demand replication and further investigation.

Psychological variables

Only a few examples can be given here of the many well-conducted experiments showing significant relations between ESP scores and psychological variables. Findings seem to converge on the generalization that extrachance high ESP scores are likely to result from a mood of comfortable, relaxed, friendly interest, while extrachance low ESP scores (psi-missing) are likely to result from a mood of negativism, distrust, resentment, or reserve.

Three difficulties beset research on this topic. One is that moods are almost impossible to measure directly; they must be inferred. A second is that the operative “mood” for ESP seems to be a consequence of the attitude of the experimenter as well as of the subject. Traditionally, experimenters do not report their own feelings; thus, in much research some of the necessary information is lacking. The third is that there seem to be individual differences in optimal mood for psi-hitting: some subjects score higher when challenged, alert, on their mettle; others, when they feel accepted and approved. Experimental designs that are simple may be inadequate.

Teacher-pupil relations. Anderson and White (1957) report a series of classroom experiments. Targets were lists of randomized ESP symbols, each list separately determined from a table of random numbers and stapled into an opaque container with a response sheet on top. The classroom teachers who acted as experimenters never saw the targets. Teachers gave their own pupils instructions for taking the test, then distributed and later collected both the ESP material and a questionnaire assessing the pupil’s attitude toward the teacher. Teachers were not permitted to examine these questionnaires but were asked to state for each pupil whether he would be chosen as a member of an ideal class. In this series, because of the excellent introduction and indoctrination from Anderson and White, we can feel confident of the mood of the experimenter: teachers were cooperative, interested, and willing participants.

Anderson and White provide a summary of results obtained from 18 teachers, 546 students, and 65,275 ESP calls. Its most striking datum is the difference between ESP scores of students who liked their teachers and whom the teachers would include in an ideal class and scores of students who disliked their teachers and whom the teachers would exclude from an ideal class. The former had a mean of 5.31 (out of a possible 25); the latter had a mean of 4.54; and the difference between them was significant (p < .001). Later replications by these and other investigators were sometimes consistent and sometimes inconsistent with this pattern, and ad hoc interpretations are of course available for the inconsistent data.

Intelligence and school grades. A secondary, related finding of the Anderson-White research came from the division of the same ESP scores according to the marks received in schoolwork (Anderson 1959b). Students with grades of A or B had higher mean ESP scores than students with grades of D or E, and the difference between groups was significant (p < .001).

If we tentatively conclude that high classroom morale (inferred from questionnaire answers or from high grades) is associated with above-chance classroom ESP scores and that low morale is associated with below-chance ESP scores, we have a ready explanation for otherwise anomalous data on ESP and intelligence. Repeated studies have shown a low positive correlation between intelligence-test scores and ESP scores when the ESP tests are given in a school or college. This pattern is superficially contradicted by the high ESP scores reported for a class of retarded children. But if we infer that morale in a retarded class may, with the right teacher, in fact be high, the results appear consistent with each other and with the Anderson-White data.

Open-mindedness versus disbelief. Attitude toward the task at hand is one component of morale; and if the task is considered impossible, morale is likely to be low. This factor was examined in a prolonged series of experiments where subjects were categorized (without experimenters’ knowing their ESP scores) as either flatly rejecting all possibility of paranormal success under the conditions of the experiment or as not rejecting it (Schmeidler & McConnell 1958). Results of the 448,575 ESP calls showed that the rejecting group had a mean score of 4.92, while the other had a mean of 5.12. The difference is significant (p < .001). Results in certain subseries were sometimes inconsistent with the general tendency, as were some replications by other investigators; but the majority of replications have reported the same tendency.

Personality traits. Personality tests administered to ESP subjects by Nicol and Humphrey (1955) showed significant positive correlations(p ≤ .03) between ESP scores and happy-go-lucky disposition, emotional stability, calm trustfulness, low irritability level, and freedom from depression or nervous tension. Most investigations have indicated similar relationships. On the basis of administering Rorschach cards to 1,004 subjects (Schmeidler 1960), for example, significant interaction was shown between social adjustment and open-mindedness-disbelief (p < .001). Higher ESP scores were found for those subjects whose Rorschachs had many movement and color responses, i.e., those who (in Rorschach terminology) had a rich inner life and emotional responsiveness. In addition, the data indicated a low level of ESP success for subjects who were overintellectual, extremely reserved, or somewhat overimpulsive. This seems consistent with the general patterns found by Nicol and Humphrey, as does Shields’s finding (1962) of low mean ESP scores for the withdrawn children she tested and high mean ESP scores for the others. [SeeProjective Methods, article onthe rorschach test.]

Target and testing conditions. In many experiments the independent variable has been the nature of the target or such changes in test conditions as illumination versus darkness or knowledge of scores versus no information. Variables denoted objectively, “from the outside,” such as sex of experimenter or target content, have until now given inconsistent results from one research project to the next. It may, however, be premature to draw a negative conclusion about the ineffectiveness of “objective” conditions; recently reported research from Czechoslovakia points in the opposite direction. Ryzl (Ryzl & Pratt 1963) hypnotized a subject and found not only a high rate of ESP success (p < .001) but also (with Pratt, a careful, experienced American visitor, acting as coexperimenter) that the subject’s correct calls came on certain of the sealed cards but not on others (p < .001). There have as yet been no attempts at replication with other subjects and other experimenters.

Where variables are described “from the inside,” in terms of the subject’s feelings about them, higher ESP scores are usually found to be associated with lively, spontaneous interest and feelings of social warmth. Typical are the Pratt and Woodruff data (1939), in which highest ESP scores were obtained on the first calls of each new size of target, while the experimenter’s friendly challenge was still ringing in the subject’s ears. Another example is Scherer’s results (1948) with his “marble machine,” where subjects try to call the next color in a randomized series of marbles. When Scherer placed the machine in the meeting room of the Duke laboratory, instructed the staff and visitors to call only if they felt a strong hunch, and restricted them to a maximum of two calls a day, ESP scores were high. However, when Scherer required repeated calls in the same session, ESP scores were significantly lower (p < .001). High ESP scores apparently were related to the mood evoked by that machine in that situation but did not relate to the machine itself.

Where two types of targets or testing conditions that differ in preferability are used in a single experiment, subjects are likely to score above chance on one and below chance on the other. Rao (1965), summarizing his own research and that of others, cites more than a dozen experiments at a high level of significance in which this preferential effect appears. He follows Rhine in suggesting that dislike of one condition “drains off the psimissing” and focuses psi success on the other condition. As in other research, internal evidence indicates that preferences are determined by subtle motivational factors rather than by the objective nature of the target. In North Carolina, for example, young women scored higher on familiar English words than on synonyms in Telugu, an Indian language unfamiliar to them; but young men scored higher on the exotic Telugu words than on the English ones. This seems consistent with the findings of masculinity-femininity studies in the southeastern United States and with other research on attitudes in this area, which indicate marked conservatism and a shrinking from the unfamiliar as typical of women but a more adventurous attitude as more typical of men.

Summary. In general, it would seem that high ESP scores are associated with the kind of mood and personal interaction which make for high morale and good productivity in other tasks, while low ESP scores are associated with negativism and withdrawal.

Replicability of ESP experiments

There is no ESP experiment that has been replicated frequently and has shown similar results on all replications. This fact has received much attention. Interpretations fall into three main categories. (1) Any apparently significant finding is an accident of malobservation or of coincidence. (2) The subtle variables determining whether ESP ability will result in psi-hitting or psi-missing have been inadequately identified; thus, the key psychological conditions cannot yet be adequately controlled and results therefore vary from one project to the next. (3) The experimenter is an intrinsic part of the ESP situation; spontaneous, lively interest helps ESP success; no experimenter can maintain spontaneous interest indefinitely; therefore, replications eventually fail for the same experimenter (and would not be adequate as replications if a markedly different person substituted for him).

Psychokinesis (PK)

Modern research in PK, initiated by Rhine, examines whether a subject can influence how a moving object comes to rest. In a typical procedure subjects are required to release dice and to hope that a specified die face will turn up. Necessary precautions include a control for instrument bias: with dice, all six faces should be called equal numbers of times; or, with the placement technique introduced by Cox, an equal number of calls should be made for the right and left sides of the surface on which the moving objects fall. It is also necessary to control for motor skill and manipulations: a typical procedure with dice is to use a mechanical release and to arrange that the dice fall through a series of baffles which make them bounce repeatedly.

As in ESP experiments, the pattern of success and failure (i.e., the difference between conditions) rather than the total number of successes is sometimes specified as the dependent variable. In PK it is frequently found that when a subject knows he is to hope for a certain die face 24 times in succession, he will have more success on the first six tries than on the last six (“decline effect”).

Evidence for PK

Although a routine control in ESP research requires that data be recorded by someone who does not know the target (and of course that the target be recorded by someone who does not know the subject’s response to it), in most PK experiments the records are made by the experimenter, who knows what the subject had hoped for. Repeated extrachance data from such experiments can be explained away as recording errors caused by experimenter bias; however, the accuracy of these results can be defended when independent records are made by two individuals. Many such experiments report significant PK effects with p levels ranging to .00005.

In four experiments, data were recorded by a person who did not know the targets (i.e., did not know which position of the die would be scored correct). Two of these studies used the ingenious procedure of randomizing and recording target order but concealing this order from the subject. The subject was instructed to hope while throwing the die that the uppermost face would correspond to the (unknown) targets and to record for each throw which face was up. Records were returned to the experimenter for scoring (see Fisk & West 1958). Results were highly significant (p < .001) and perhaps can best be interpreted as evidence for PK. A strained alternative explanation is that the subject learned clairvoyantly which faces would be correct and made autistic scoring errors. One experiment with photographic recording showed chance results and another showed total successes near chance but a significant predicted decline effect, p = .002 (see McConnell et al. 1955).

Relation to physical variables

No clear relation has been observed between PK success and distance or weight of moving objects. The most recent work on distance was an experiment by Fahler (1959) with nine subjects, each of whom made sixty throws (each throw with six cubes) for a left-right placement test, i.e., subjects were instructed in half the throws to hope that the cubes would roll to the left of the medial line of a table, and in the other half to hope that the cubes would roll to the right. Subject and experimenter were in a room 27 yards from the cubes and the placement table; throws were made by electromagnetic release. Independent records of the cubes were made by Fahler and a coexperimenter, both of whom knew the target; discrepancies were checked by re-examination of the cubes. Results were significantly high (p < .001) and were substantially higher than in another series when the same subjects were in the room with the cubes and table. Various other experiments have compared light with heavy dice and a single die with many dice. Scores are usually lower with a single die, and experimenters usually conclude that conditions which interest the subject are likely to be associated with higher scores.

Relation to psychological variables

Experimenters often comment that excitement and challenge are conducive to PK success and that boredom militates against success. A single exploratory experiment by Van de Castle (1958) suggested that “expansive” subjects scored higher than “compressive” ones (p = .02) and that when these same subjects were separated by Rorschach scores into a spontaneous group and an inhibited group, the spontaneous subjects showed above-chance PK success and the inhibited ones scored below chance. These indications are consistent with the other experimenters’ casual observations. No major research has been performed on psychological variables in PK.


When a percipient tries to call randomized, prerecorded targets which an agent is trying to “send,” extrachance scores may be interpreted as responses either to the agent’s thoughts (telepathy) or to the physical targets (clairvoyance). Several experiments with successful results have examined “pure telepathy.” McMahan (1946), for example, used a private code that was never written or spoken to translate the digits of a random-number table into ESP symbols. Subjects called the symbols with results significantly better than chance (p - .003). Data were checked by an associate to whom Mc-Mahan conveyed the code by allusion (e.g., “The number of us who went swimming last Saturday stands for ’star’”). Even with this procedure, however, the metaphysical criticism was made that clairvoyance could not be excluded; subjects might have been responding “clairvoyantly” to the experimenter’s brain changes rather than “telepathically” to her thoughts. At this level it is clear that pure telepathy is not demonstrable; indeed, by the canons of operationism the distinction between telepathy and clairvoyance is scientifically meaningless.

At a less rigorous level, there is substantial evidence for telepathic interaction. Mrs. Stewart, for example, showed consistently high ESP scores with some agents and chance scores with others, although she had no normal knowledge of who the agent was. Stuart (see Rice & Townsend 1962) found significantly higher GESP scores in twins and in engaged couples than in control pairs; Rice and Townsend discovered significantly higher scores in married couples than in control pairs; Schmeidler (1961) found significantly higher scores in subjects who were predicted (from examination of their paired Rorschachs) to be friendly if they knew each other than in subjects predicted to be hostile or reserved if they knew each other (these latter giving significantly low GESP scores). Such data fit well into the conceptual framework of telepathy; they support the hypothesis although they do not prove it.

Current research on dreams, using quantitative methods, may soon provide a means of manipulating the variables and testing the interpretations of telepathy or GESP, as illustrated by an ongoing series of experiments by Ullman and his co-workers (1966). Targets in these experiments are reproductions of pictures; each reproduction is put into an opaque envelope by someone not otherwise connected with the experiment. The subject is prepared for sleep with apparatus for recording rapid eye movement (REM) and EEG. The agent then retires to a distant room, where he randomly selects from the pile of envelopes the one that will contain the target for the night. The agent opens the envelope and studies the picture; he has no normal means of communicating with the experimenter or subject until the next morning, after all data have been recorded. The experimenter in the meantime wakes the subject when REM and EEG give evidence of dreaming, asks the subject to report his dream, and makes a tape recording of all statements. Further reports and associations are recorded the following morning. A typical experiment consists of 12 such sessions, each with a different picture and a different subject. Judging is blind, and consists of both ranking and rating the correspondence between coded pictures and the coded record of the entire night’s dreams and the subject’s responses in the morning. Each experiment thus serves as its own control.

Data have shown significantly higher scores with an agent who was so interested in the research that he continued with the project than with an agent who resigned as soon as the experiment was completed; and they have demonstrated that an outstandingly successful subject, when called back for an experiment of seven nights’ dreaming, continued to provide significantly high correspondence. Interesting qualitative data, and indications that color reports may be particularly good indicators of telepathy, provide leads which can be pursued further.

Dean (1964) developed a clever technique using REM as the dependent variable in a telepathy or GESP experiment. When REM and EEG records indicated that the subject was beginning to dream, the experimenter looked either at a picture with a horizontal composition or at a blank picture (target order had of course been randomized and predetermined). Subjects’ eye movements were scored blind. Significantly more horizontal eye movements occurred when the experimenter looked at the horizontal pictures than when he looked at the blanks. This tidy procedure has not yet been replicated. [SeeDreams; Nervous System, article onElectroencephalography.]

There are also some scraps of evidence about the dynamics of telepathy. Warcollier (1948) and others, in qualitative research with drawings, describe “contamination”: several individuals tried to draw a target selected by a stranger but instead apparently responded to each other’s ideas. Soal similarly reports that when Mrs. Stewart was consciously trying to respond to an agent with whom she usually failed, the accuracy of her responses was at a chance level; at the same time, she showed extrachance correspondence to the simultaneous messages of a different agent with whom she usually succeeded. Among Schmeidler’s subjects there was a low but significant negative correlation between GESP scores and scores when the agent, ignorant of target content, hoped the percipient would fail. These data imply that the percipient is often unable to shield out telepathic messages. Similar indications come from spontaneous cases, as when leading men in a Dutch town tried to hold a seance where they would receive messages from the dead. A schoolboy across the street yearned to be one of their group but instead occupied himself with an English poem from a school assignment. The planchette under the hands of the leading citizens wrote an excerpt from the boy’s poem (see Murphy 1961, pp. 190 f.).


Extrachance results when a subject calls targets known to no one may be considered evidence for clairvoyance; but if someone later knows the targets, the results can be interpreted as (precognitive) telepathy and, although it seems farfetched, any clairvoyance results can perhaps be interpreted as evidence of PK. One recent experiment which could preclude precognitive telepathy (Schmeidler 1964) required a computer to select random digits as targets, then to record the subjects’ calls, to score the hits, and to print out the total hits but not the targets. With this procedure, no one knew what the targets were, and if the digits had been truly random, no one could ever have known what they were. The digits in fact were part of a pseudorandom series, and the possibility now exists that the series could be reconstituted from the computer tapes. If Schmeidler destroys the tapes and other records before the series is reconstituted, precognitive telepathy is ruled out, but Schmeidler will open herself to allegations of fraud (Price 1955; Hansel 1966). Subjects were college undergraduates. Hits were significantly above chance (p = .001) for those runs where the computer’s program was correct. In a second series where conditions were slightly altered, the total scores were insignificantly below chance, but subjects who had no confidence that any of their calls were correct scored significantly below chance (p = .003), and subjects who thought that a few of their calls were correct scored significantly higher (p = .002). Thus there is some indication that “pure clairvoyance” occurs (if we disregard the counterhypothesis that the computer’s choice of random digits was influenced by PK), but the results have not been replicated.


Extrachance results when subjects call random targets not yet selected may be considered evidence for precognition; but an alternative explanation is that the selection of the targets is influenced by PK. We must therefore examine how precognition targets are chosen. Let us consider nine precognition experiments published in 1959-1964 (seeJournal of Parapsychology). In two of them, targets were selected by a computer programmed to select random (presumably pseudo-random) numbers; in six, by the experimenter’s throwing dice or coins as the directive for entering the random-number table which would designate targets; in one, by using Dow-Jones averages of a specified future date as the directive for entering the random-number table. All experiments yielded significant results (p ranged from .02 to .0001). The most common procedure involved throwing ten-sided dice, performing complicated prespecified computations on the results of the throw, and using the outcome of the computations as the directive for page, column, and row of entering the random number table. For PK to be effective here, it would have to have a pinpoint accuracy far greater than any PK research has indicated. Although in theory PK cannot be ruled out, the more conservative interpretation of the results seems to be that they demonstrate precognition.

Comparisons of psychological variables in precognitive and in simultaneous ESP have been scanty. Experimental evidence gives some indication that similar mood and attitudinal factors affect both (Schmeidler 1964). However, several independent compilations of spontaneous cases indicate that more precognitive impressions come in dreams than while awake, and more telepathic and clairvoyant impressions come while awake than in dreams.

Survival after death

In a recent symposium on survival research (Roll et al. 1965/1966) participants agreed that there is no adequate research design to test the hypothesis of survival after death, but they proposed several research methods which should yield data that could tend to confirm or disconfirm the hypothesis. None of these novel methods has yet been tried. Information which bears on the survival hypothesis comes from five major lines of investigation. Brief summaries and examples follow.

Spontaneous cases

Apparitions of the dead sometimes give information known to no living person which, when checked, is found to be correct (e.g., Tyrrell [1942] 1.953). Many cases have been carefully studied. An example is that of the Chaffin will. Chaffin, a farmer, died in 1921, and his will left the bulk of his property to the third of his four sons. In 1925 one of the disinherited sons dreamed that his father, wearing an old coat, pulled the coat back and said, “You will find my will in my overcoat pocket.” A search located the coat, and stitched into its lining at the pocket was a slip of paper specifying a verse in the Bible. Folded into the family Bible at the designated page was a later will, verified as being in the father’s handwriting and legally valid.

Although there seems no doubt that these events occurred, at least three interpretations of them are available: that the surviving spirit of the father gave a belated message to his son; that the son had repressed memories of the stitching of the will into the coat, which he dramatized in his dream; and that the information came through clairvoyance.

Counterhypotheses of repressed memories or of ESP or PK can similarly be formulated to “explain away” any case which superficially looks as if a surviving spirit had evidenced itself. It is sometimes stated that until we find limits for ESP and PK abilities, no data can preclude ESP or PK as an alternative explanation to messages from the dead.

Mediumistic sittings

Mediums (i.e., “sensitives” who claim to receive messages from the dead) ordinarily hold “sittings” for a person who asks for messages, and it is impossible to estimate what feedback from the sitter guides the medium to give accurate information. “Proxy sittings” are a research technique in which the person who will receive the messages (the “absent sitter”) is in touch with an experimenter. The experimenter transmits minimal information about the absent sitter (e.g., only the given name) to still another person, the “proxy sitter.” Only the proxy sitter sees the medium, asks for a message for the absent sitter, and records the messages. In modern research, the proxy sitter holds successive sittings for several absent sitters. All messages are coded and are scored blind by all absent sitters. It is then easy to evaluate the accuracy of the messages statistically, using the absent sitters’ scores of messages not intended for themselves as a control.

Earlier work with proxy sitters did not employ such elaborate precautions, but some is still impressive. Thomas (1935), for example, received a letter from a stranger, asking that Thomas make contact with the spirit of a grandson, Bobbie, who had recently died. Thomas acted as proxy sitter and held 11 sittings with a medium. Many messages described toys, activities, etc., which the grandfather confirmed. It must be noted that after the first reply from the grandfather, the strict conditions of a true proxy sitting had been violated.

One feature of the case remains interesting, since it gives information known to no living person. In reply to the grandfather’s question of why Bobbie had died, there were frequent references to a hill with pipes where Bobbie had taken poison that caused his death. The grandfather searched in the region indicated by the messages (past a crossroad and bridge, to the right, with cattle, etc.), found a hill which fit the description, and inquired of Bobbie’s friends, who confirmed that Bobbie had played there. Two springs where water issued from pipes were on the hill. At the grandfather’s request a sanitary inspector examined the piped water and found it so contaminated that it was likely to cause infection in a child who drank it. Thus, the information from the sittings was in part known by the grandfather (the absent sitter), in part unknown by him but known by Bobbie’s playmates, and in part unknown by anyone until after the inspector’s examination. The results can be interpreted as telepathic and clairvoyant, or as coincidence. In these and earlier sittings, Thomas’ interpretation is that the surviving spirits of his dead father and sister purportedly spoke to him or to the medium, and drew accurate inferences from information conveyed to them by Bobbie’s spirit, then communicated the inferences to him through the medium.

Cross correspondences

Cross correspondences are considered by many to be the strongest evidence for survival. Shortly after the death of distinguished early members of the SPR, messages purporting to come from them were written or spoken (in trance) by sensitives in India, the United States, and Great Britain. The messages were collated in England, and it was found that classical allusions or similar odd items in one often overlapped with items in another (hence the designation “cross correspondences”). Put together, the fragments conveyed a more complete version of some obscure story or reference than did the messages from a single sensitive. Some messages indicated that two of the deceased scholars were collaborating in the intricate interweaving of the information (see Murphy 1961, chapter 7). Fraud seems ruled out as a counterhypothesis to survival, but coincidence, optimistic scoring, telepathy, and clairvoyance are possibilities.

Modern methods of content analysis have never been applied to this mass of material, so it is impossible to evaluate whether the apparent correspondences were extrachance. [SeeContentanalysis.]

Similarity of apparitions

An ingenious statistic to support the survival hypothesis was adduced by Hart (1956), a sociologist. Apparitions which convey veridical information that is new to the persons who see them are frequently reported, as in the Chaffin will case. Sometimes these are apparitions of living people (who often, when later questioned, say that they had not been thinking of the person who “saw” them); sometimes of the dead. Hart listed 165 cases which seemed “good” on the basis of five criteria: oral or written statement of evidential details before confirmation; later confirmation; investigation by a competent research worker; fully documented record; and short time between the event and its report. From these 165 cases he made a frequency count of 22 characteristics of apparitions (luminosity, attempt to speak, etc.). Frequencies of these characteristics were correlated for apparitions of the living and the dead, and the correlation was significant. Hart takes this to imply that the living and the dead are similar, and therefore that the dead still live. The obvious counterhypothesis is that cultural or personal similarities among those who see apparitions account for similarities among the apparitions that they see.


Evidence is being collected, notably by Stevenson (1966), which shows that a living person, usually a child, has information which would not normally be known to him but which was part of the intimate, daily knowledge of some dead person. The living person sometimes also has special abilities, tastes, habits, or even physical stigmata characteristic of the dead person. This type of material is cautiously interpreted as consistent with a hypothesis of reincarnation. Since the careful research is very recent, there has not yet been time for the legalistic, hypercautious sifting of evidence, the attack and rebuttal, that is characteristic of the authenticated spontaneous cases. All we can do now is to note that for the first time an able investigator is making a serious, continued effort to collect what evidence there is on reincarnation and that on the face of it the evidence looks good enough to deserve critical study rather than casual a priori dismissal.

An earlier claim for reincarnation should perhaps be cited here, since it received wide publicity (see Ducasse 1960). An amateur hypnotist attempted hypnotic regression and suggested to his subject that she would remember details of an earlier life. She accepted the suggestions, and claimed to have lived as Bridey Murphy in Ireland two or three generations ago. She described many details of the Ireland of that period. The later discovery that as a child she had spent many hours in the company of an old Irish woman destroyed general interest in the case. Stevenson’s more sophisticated investigations examine all data carefully for such contamination.

“Modus operandi” of sensitives

Many sensitives produce their messages in a normal state, but more commonly the messages come during dissociation, as in trance or automatic writing. Messages are typically attributed to two sources: “communicators,” i.e., spirits of the dead, who drop in briefly, as it were; and “controls” usually Indian princesses, Arabian physicians, etc., who visit frequently and often act as masters of ceremonies, introducing or transmitting messages from the communicators. Communicators are frequently identifiable from factual details or speech characteristics. No controls have ever been identified, and some research indicates that they represent secondary personalities of the sensitives. Messages not attributed to communicators or controls are usually given as direct telepathic or clairvoyant knowledge, but occasionally a sensitive claims to have traveled “out of the body” to some distant place and to have made observations there. Sometimes the sensitive holds a token object and gives messages about its present owner or its past owners. Such “object reading” is called “psychometry,” a word unfortunately similar to “psychometrics,” which of course has a completely different meaning.

Physical phenomena

Such manifestations as table lifting and the production of ectoplasm were frequently reported in the past. Since the invention of infrared photography, reports have been markedly less frequent, and none have been authenticated with modern research methods. This naturally casts strong, but perhaps unfair, suspicions on the earlier accounts.

Spontaneous cases. Spontaneous physical phenomena, such as the stopping of a clock or the fall of an apparently stable object when a distant person undergoes a crisis or dies, are often reported and seem well substantiated. Physical effects are also often reported at periods of strong emotions, as in Jung’s account of the loud noises he produced psychically in Freud’s office (see Fodor 1963). As with other spontaneous cases, there is no guide except one’s own judgment as to whether the accumulated number of verified cases is or is not too large to dismiss as random coincidences.

Poltergeists. Recurrent spontaneous physical phenomena that occur in the same general location or are associated with one individual are called poltergeists. The effects are various, but most frequently they involve the dropping, breaking, or movement of objects; raps; odors; violent disturbances of beds or bedding. They are often associated with a child or an adolescent. An outbreak usually ceases in a particular house when the occupants leave, although occasionally the disturbances accompany a person to another location. Many reports are clearly fraudulent. Others can be traced to shifts in the underground water level which cause movement of a house. There is a sizable residue of cases which some critics attribute to undetected fraud but which others think are spontaneous phenomena resulting from unconscious hostility (Owen 1964).

Applications of parapsychology

Claims are often made that sensitives have helped police track criminals, or have located lost objects, or have identified underground water or minerals (dowsing). Adequately controlled research on these claims is difficult to perform.

Rose’s investigation (1955) of psychic healing indicates high rates of success for diseases which are often diagnosed incorrectly or for symptoms likely to be psychogenic, but only the rate expected in spontaneous recovery for other diseases. West has come to similar conclusions in an analysis of healing at Lourdes (1957). [See Psychosomaticillness.]

Taetzsch (1962) points out that if ESP gives some information, the techniques of quality control can sort the chaff from the wheat and can produce enough information to be usable. Repeated calls of the same target can be pooled until eventually there is near certainty about the target. The method requires segregating the psi-missing calls from the psi-hitting calls; thus, if a subject shows other evidence of psi-missing and avoids a given target, this would be used to confirm data from another subject who shows evidence of psi-hitting and who calls the same target that the first avoids. At present our identification of the variables which correlate with psi-hitting versus psi-missing is so uncertain that the method seems too risky to use without careful pretesting.

Theories of parapsychology

In general, even “miniature” theories of ESP and PK have not been stated rigorously enough for decisive testing. A notable exception is Scott’s list of several models of how information can be conveyed by psi (1961). Examples are the models “Psi occurs only occasionally, but when it occurs it gives complete information” and “Psi occurs all the time and consists of a multiplication of the percipient’s chance of success by a constant factor.” Scott has developed the mathematical implications of his numerous models and has described experimental methods for testing them. Although the descriptions are clear and the problems important, no research was published dealing with them in the three years after Scott’s article appeared—presumably because parapsychology has more enticing problems than it has experimenters.

The simplest theory to explain parapsychological findings has been put forth by Price (1955) and Hansel (1966), who claim that all extrachance results in well-controlled research are fraudulent: the experimenters either lied about their data or were psychotic and hallucinated the data. As Price and Hansel develop this thesis, both argue that further controls could refute it. Price suggests that a jury of reputable men should certify that the data are correct, but he does not face the possibility of a new critic who could claim that the jury which Price considered reputable was composed of liars or psychotics. Hansel suggests that a computer be programmed to select the targets and to record and score the data, but disregards the possibility that the computer could be programmed to give false results. This theory of parapsychology seems untestable. The contention that a single man was dishonest can perhaps be disconfirmed if he is witnessed by others; the contention that those others were mistaken or dishonest (a contention made by both Price and Hansel in referring to collaborative or witnessed research) would lead to an infinite regress.

The argument is interesting historically, since in 1882 Henry Sidgwick, the philosopher who was first president of the SPR, wrote, “We have done all that we can when the critic has nothing left to allege except that the investigator is in the trick. … We must drive the objector into the position of being forced [to accept the data] or to accuse the investigators of lying or cheating or of a blindness or forgetfulness incompatible with any intellectual condition except absolute idiocy” (1882, p. 12). Sidgwick’s goal has apparently been achieved.

No single theoretical approach is widely accepted. In general, the ones which accept the data may be summarized as (1) those which call for new topological or other mathematical concepts of space-time relations, so that targets which seem distant in a three-dimensional or four-dimensional system may be conceptualized as adjacent; and (2) those which call for laws of psychic events which are separable from laws of physical events. The latter is not necessarily a dualism, since the two sets of laws may eventually be reconciled, but it lends itself most readily to an interactionism. Eccles (1953), among others, has argued that when we “will” to move a part of the body, the mind affects the body by PK. The parallel argument is that we become conscious of our own brain processes by ESP. Interactionism fits easily into a survival hypothesis, because autonomous psychic events could continue after the death of that body with which they have chiefly been interacting.

Theories of survival range from a denial of it, through C. D. Broad’s thesis (1958) that stray memories or similar fragmentary psychic processes continue for at least a short time after bodily death, to concepts held by F. W. H. Myers (1903) and William James (see Murphy & Ballou 1960) of a surviving personality so little altered as still to be recognizable, and to theories of reincarnation.

Theories of precognition are numerous and diverse. They have been characterized as falling into two classes: those which are unbelievable and those which are incomprehensible. None is stated in clearly testable form. This may be remedied by a new approach as yet stated only in general outline (Zink 1965) or circulated in unpublished memoranda. It is based on Feynman’s equations showing that a positron is an electron traveling backward in time. Mathematically trained “paraphysicists” are developing further equations to find if they can both account for previous data and formulate hypotheses to put to experimental test.

Rigorously controlled research shows extrachance relations between random, concealed targets and responses. These relations, designated as ESP, are as yet unexplained by physical theory. Evidence for either telepathy or clairvoyance is excellent; evidence for PK is less strong; evidence for precognition is good unless PK is accepted as a counterhypothesis; evidence for survival after death is inconclusive because it can be “explained away” as due only to ESP.

Gertrude R. Schmeidler


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The name given to the scientific study of psychic or paranormal phenomena. The Parapsychological Association, refers to it as, "The scientific and scholarly study of certain unusual events associated with human experience." The association also pointed out in its Parapsychology FAQs, on its website in 2000, that:

In spite of what the media often imply, parapsychology is not the study of 'anything parnormal' or bizarre. Nor is parapsychology concerned with astrology, UFOs, searching for Bigfoot, paganism, vampires, alchemy, or witchcraft.

Parapsychology largely replaced the earlier term "psychical research," the change indicating a significant shift in emphasis and methodology. The term "parapsychology" is an old one. It appears to have been coined in Germany in or before 1889 by psychologist Max Dessoir (1867-1947). Dessoir first used the term in an article the June 1889 issue of the German periodical Sphinx. Dessoir's use of the term "parapsychology," as also the term "parapsychic," predates the later use of the term by Emile Boirac (1851-1917) in a book in 1908.

The term "parapsychology," as used currently was popularized by J. B. Rhine (1895-1980) and fellow pioneers William McDougall and Louisa E. Rhine to distinguish the laboratory based study, including the use of careful experimental methodology, of psychic phenomena in both its mental (telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition) and physical (psychokinesis) form. In 1927, McDougall and the Rhines began research on mediumship, survival, and telepathy in the Department of Psychology at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina.

Rhine established the now familiar outlines of laboratory method with card-guessing and dice-rolling experiments. Card-guessing had been used already in scientific tests implemented by psychical researchers in Britain. It was Rhine who popularized the use of Zener cards, devised by his colleague psychologist Karl Zener. This experiement of sorts consisted of holding 25 cards bearing simple symbols in groups of five of a kind: star, circle, square, cross and waves. The pack simplified the mathematical calculations involved in evaluating chance factors in guessing.

In addition to this work, Rhine popularized the terms "parapsychology," "extrasensory perception" and "psi." In the 1930s his attempts to find a statistical validation of ESP transformed parapsychology into a legitimate area for scientific research for many who had eschewed psychical research previously.

Assisted by J. Gaither Pratt, who later became a prominent parapsychologist himself, Rhine looked for psychically gifted people to study. One prominent subject was a Duke student, Hubert E. Pearce. In a significant set of 74 runs which Rhine named the Pearce-Pratt Series, the odds against the successful guesses being merely chance were estimated as 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Many variants in experimental setup were developed in card-guessing, and the results were often significantly above chance expectation.

The idea for the classic psychokinetic (PK) experiments developed after a casual visitor to Duke boasted that he could will dice to fall so that he could get the numbers he needed to win. Experimental techniques were devised in which subjects threw dice for the face of their choice The results were analyzed mathematically. The results over several years indicated strong evidence for the reality of PK. Such findings were later confirmed by experimenters elsewhere, using a variety of experimental techniques. Various methods were developed to ensure that PK tests with dice were not influenced by mechanical factors (weight of dice, etc.) or unconscious skills in throwing. Apparatus was designed which threw dice automatically.

Some special terms that have developed in the study of PK are: PK-MT (psychokinetic effect on moving targets such as dice); PK-LT (influence on living matter, such as growth in plants, healing, influencing animals); PK-ST (influence on static targets). Another initialism that grew up in evaluating PK was "QD," which indicated the division of record sheets into four equal quarters. Study of quarter divisions showed a consistent pattern of fall-off in scoring results as between upper left and lower right quarters of the record sheet, with the other two quarters bridging the gap in success fall-off. It became clear that this fall-off in success during the course of a series of tests was a characteristic feature of PK, suggesting the operation of some unknown mental process which affected the continuity of PK achievement.

In 1934, Rhine published his first book, Extrasensory Perception, which caused something of a furor in scientific and academic circles. For a time it was fashionable to attack his preliminary findings favoring ESP. The scientific community especially, and a large portion of the general public, were still much opposed to, and highly suspcious of parapsychology as a study. The identification of Duke University with such controversial and scientifically marginalized research, was also highly criticized; and eventually Rhine was obliged to open a separate Parapsychology Laboratory, seeking outside sponsorship for research. The persistent patient work of Rhine, his associates and other parapsychologists over decades eventually established a place for parapsychology as a proper scientific study, however many skeptics stood by with disbelief.

The early years of parapsychology were chronicled in a book by Rhine and others: Extrasensory Perception after Sixty Years; a Critical Appraisal of the Research in Extrasensory Perception (1940). In it they detailed the ESP research at Duke University from 1927 through 1940 in the context of the former period of psychical research from 1882 to 1927. Valuable scientific investigation of ESP and related phenomena and some laboratory research had been conducted during this earlier period by both the Society for Psychical Research, founded in London in 1882, and the American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1885. For example, from 1921 on, an important series of card tests was conducted by G. N. M. Tyrrell in Britain. The British experimenter W. Whately Carington did important tests on telepathy and PK and developed a stimulating "association theory" of telepathy. Other British experimenters included: G. W. Fisk and Donald J. West working on PK scoring, S. G. Soal, and Kathleen M. H. Goldney.

In the United States, notable ESP pioneers included Gardner Murphy and Gertrude R. Schmeidler. Murphy joined the Society for Psychical Research, London, as early as 1917. He did graduate work at Harvard University in the field as the Richard Hodgson Fellow from 1922 to 1925, and also served as vice-president and president of the American Society (1940-62).

In 1937, Rhine began publication of the Journal of Parapsychology, devoted to original publication of experimental results and other research findings in extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis.

Rhine's early work with Eileen J. Garrett, a notable psychic whom he tested in the early days at Duke, bore fruit in 1951 when she established the Parapsychology Foundation, in New York City, to promote laboratory parapsychology and fund and sponsor research. From 1953 on, the foundation published a bimonthly newsletter, Newsletter of the Parapsychology Foundation, which was superseded in 1970 by the bimonthly journal Parapsychology Review. Between 1959 and 1968 the foundation also published a valuable International Journal of Parapsychology. The Parapsychology Foundation plays an important role in encouraging parapsychological research in universities and among scholars with established scientific reputations.

The Second Generation

A new day arrived for parapsychology with the founding of the Parapsychological Association in 1957 as the professional society for parapsychologists. The association projected a threefold effort to advance parapsychology as a scientific discipline, engage in public education, and integrate the results of their research with the findings of other branches of science.

By 1957 parapsychology and psychical research had developed a working partnership and tolerance of the particular contributions both made. Boundaries were blurred as individuals worked both areas. Researchers saw the need to investigate the claims and phenomena which emerged in the noticeable revival of the occult and occult religion in the 1960s. As psychical researchers examined a broad range of phenomena (Spiritualism, evidence for survival after death, hauntings, poltergeist occurrences, out-of-the-body traveling, reincarnation, psychical healing, and magical practices) parapsychologists expanded the range of topics covered by laboratory experimentation.

Popular interest in psychic and occult phenomena in the 1960s helped create a general climate of belief in the paranormal at both critical and uncritical levels. The most significant sign of the changing climate was the acceptance of the Parapsychological Association into membership of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in December 1969, after three previous rejections. This improved scientific status of parapsychology owed much to the patient laboratory work on ESP by Rhine and others since the 1930s.

Parapsychology and Fraud

Parapsychology, as science in general, is a very competitive field. The sense of urgency to produce results is heightened in this field. Undergirded as it is with the belief that positive results would necessitate a significant revision of currently operative scientific models of the universe the pressure is great. With such high stakes, the field has had to pay constant attention to improving its methodology and tightening its controls. Consequently, it has also had to watch out for the occasional production of fraudulent reports, especially the altering of laboratory statistics, in order to give significance to mundane or negative experimental results. With parapsychology being such a controversial field, it is not unexpected that ideological critics of the field have seized such revelations of fraud and widely publicized them. Many of these critics of parapsychology organized and affiliated with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP).

While parapsychology has some well-publicized cases of fraud, the cases must be understood in the larger context of fraud that afflicts every field of science. Most cases of fraud go undetected as they concern peripheral matters of insignificant technological or philosophical consequence. Yet it only would follow that the temptation to fraud is everywhere. This temptation was vividly illustrated by CSICOP itself in their early investigation of the work of Michel Gauquelin in astrology. When CSICOP results confirmed Guaquelin's results, data was changed to conceal that fact. Even after the fraud was pointed out to the committee, the original papers were republished without any reference to the cheating that had occurred. That refusal to deal with internal fraud has blunted much of the usefulness that the committee might have had as a watchdog in the field.

Two revelations of fraud have had the most effect on parapsychology. The first concerned the experiments in telepathy carried out by S. G. Soal with the percipient Basil Shackleton from 1941-1943. They had been regarded as highly evidential for many years. In 1971, serious doubts were raised about the experiments and Soal's handling of them. An article by R. G. Medhurst in the Journal of the S.P.R. in 1971 questioned the method of constructing quasi-random series in the tests. Med-hurst implied inaccuracy (or worse) in Soal's methods. As early as 1960, Gretl Albert, an agent at some of the sittings, had alleged that she had seen Soal "altering the figures" several times on the score sheets. Thus the Medhurst article opened a controversy within parapsychology which resulted in a 1978 article by Betty Markwick in the Proceedings of the S.P.R. Markwick presented an overwhelming case for conscious or unconscious manipulation of data by Soal, based on computer analysis of his records. (Not all parapsychologists agree that Soal was deliberately fraudulent; but the validity of his telepathy experiments with Basil Shackleton has been shown to be inadmissible.)

In another case, the research of Walter J. Levi, Jr., formerly the director of the Institute for Parapsychology offered a rival for the Soal experiments as an instance of fraud. In 1974 J. B. Rhine reported that Levy had been caught falsifying results in an experiment. Levy was asked to resign and left the field. A re-examination of all his research in the field, including independent replication of his experiments, began. His papers were from that time no longer cited as providing any evidence of psi.

During the 1980s a controversy developed around the ganzfeld psi experiments of Carl Sargent at Cambridge University. An article "A Report of a Visit to Carl Sargent's Laboratory" authored by Susan Blackmore (Journal of the S.P.R., vol. 54, 1987) cast serious doubt on the methods and validity of Sargent's experiments. A defense of Sargent against the implication of fraud, "Cheating, Psi, and the Appliance of Science; A Reply to Blackmore" by Trevor Harley & Gerald Matthews, was published in the same issue of the Journal.

Contemporary Parapsychology

The general openness to psychic and occult phenomena that led to the burgeoning of the New Age movement and the acceptance of the Parapsychological Association into the American Association of the Advancement of Science served to create a decade of heightened parapsychological research in the 1970s. The founding of new research organizations such as the Academy of Parapsychology and Medicine (1970); the Institute of Parascience (1971); the Academy of Religion and Psychical Research; the Institute for Noetic Sciences (1973); and the International Kirlian Research Association (1975) created an optimistic climate. It offered promise that new breakthroughs were imminent. The reports of new work in parapsychology at the Stanford Research Institute further inflated the hope.

Parapsychology had become an international affair before World War II. During the last half of the twentieth century it became even more intricately woven into the everyday lives of people the world over. The decade of the 1970s saw further expansion of parapsychology. By the end of the 1980s the Parapsychological Association reported approximately 300 members working in more than 30 countries. In the United States alone by 1990, the organization listed over 150 members, including many professionals and scientists. Additionally, research not affiliated with the association was being carried out in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, both the scope and methods of parapsychology expanded greatly by the end of the twentieth century. Notable new directions included Kirlian photography, remote viewing, the investigation of altered states of consciousness (including alpha-related states and dream experiences) prompted by the influx of spiritual teachers from the East who made extraordinary claims for the abilities produced by meditation and related disciplines; experiments in the paranormal healing of animals; and, possibly the most controversial of all, the work of Ian Stevenson in the investigation of the evidence for reincarnation. The 1970s and 1980s also saw a significant amount of attention paid to the testing of the claims of paranormal feats by psychic Uri Geller followed by the emergence of a number of others, especially in Japan, who claimed similar abilities.

Parapsychologists still found themselves faced with strong opposition from their academic colleagues. Research and teaching positions were difficult to obtain, and unstable at best. No university seemed willing to establish a parapsychological department. Continued opposition both to parapsychological findings and the lack of any formal acknowledgement to the field remained a constant aggravation and threat to the work. The core of the opposition was focused in the Committee for the Investigation of the Claims of the Paranormal, founded in 1976, (CSICOP) and in its periodical, Skeptical Inquirer.

New lines of hopeful research soon proved to be dead-ends. The effects of Kirlian photography disappeared as more stringent controls were applied, as did most of the effects produced by Geller and his imitators. Stevenson was unable to pass on the enthusiasm he had for his reincarnation research. The Stanford Research Institute abandoned its parapsychological research. The Academy for Parapsychology and Medicine disbanded and the problem of the nonacceptance of parapsychology by the academic world continued to provoke concern and debate in parapsychological circles.

Charles Thomas Cayce, the grandson of Edgar Cayce, and director of the Edgar Cayce Foundation, and the Association for Research and Enlightenment, (ARE) reported in 1995 that the foundation's Atlantic University, was expected offer the first Master's Degree in Transpersonal Studies, much of the program directed to the readings of the elder Cayce and the meaning of his psychic revelations. Much of the research that previously had been conducted at Duke University, was being conducted through Atlantic and the ARE, as well as programs and seminars around the United States, and internationally. ARE's approach to studying paranormal phenomena consisted of understanding the whole person. Through holistic medical clinics, spiritual reflection and meditation the work to develop psychic ability must be a lifelong process. Again, the true believers worked hard to overcome the impression the non-believers had that the entire pursuit of uncovering the complexities of the paranormal world was the domain of the non-thinking person. While the Parapsychological Association wanted to specifically exclude paranormal as a part of their ongoing scientific research, and disassociate from the term, "paranormal," many outside the organization insisted on using both the terms and the phenomena in conjunction with any unexplained occurrence that involved the human mind.

Yet if the experts and scientists were skeptical, in 1991, American Demographics, reported that a Gallup poll indicated that people in the age group of 30 to 49, a generation more educated than any previous one in America, were more likely than any other to believe in paranormal phenomena. According to that poll, between 1978 and 1991, certain statistics emerged: 1), the proportion of people believing in ghosts increased to 25 percent from 11 percent; 2), belief in devils increased to 55 percent from 39 percent; 3), belief in deja vu, the belief that a person holds when a new experience gives the feeling that it has already occured, in this life or another, increased to 55 percent from 30 percent; 4) 18 percent of adults believe in the possibility of communicating with the dead; and, 5), 70 percent believe in an afterlife. That poll also indicated a decline in certain paranormal beliefs, including a drop from 51 percent to 49 percent of the people who claimed to believe in ESP. One person who appeared on television sets at the end of the 1990s was James Van Praagh. Van Praagh, a world-famous medium, wrote books and produced audio tapes, recounting his communication with the spirits of dead people. He received wide acclaim, particularly regarding his spiritual approach.

Popular television shows and movies at the end of the twentieth century belied, too, that skepticism was as rampant as CSICOP claimed. In any case, Hollywood especially took advantage of the interest the average person seemed to have in the area of parapsychologyfrom ghosts to satanic possession. One popular network show, "Unsolved Mysteries," featured at least one piece a week on some paranormal occurrence, right along with their true-crime mysteries of kidnapping, murder, and other crime-related stories. The weekly television series, "The X-Files," had its two fictional heros, FBI agents, experiencing the "out of the ordinary" phenomena as they hunted down mysterious criminals and sometimes supernormal forces. A 1999 hit summer movie, "The Sixth Sense," even won an Academy Award nomination for its 11 year-old star. The line that became most infamous was familiar to those who did not see the movie, as well as those who had. "I see dead people." A line that revealed the perplexed youngster's dilemma, was pronounced on movie trailers for the months surrounding the picture's opening. Indeed, the idea fascinated people enough to give the movie some of the highest ratings and biggest box office sales of the year.

Parapsychological phenomena did not abide by the constraints of time or space, according to those involved in its research. It does not distinguish between mind and matterboth are one, inextricably connected to each other. Still, the majority of parapsychologists believed that all of the unexplained experiences that included, ESP, PK, and the body surviving after death, to name only a few, would eventually be explained scientifically as scientific knowledge expanded.


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Psychical Research

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Psychical Research

Scientific inquiry into the facts surrounding and causes underlying reports of paranormal and mediumistic phenomena. Psychical research's first concern has been to establish the occurrence of the claimed events. If such events are not due to obvious mundane causes, including fraud, observational error, or the laws of chance, the next stage of the inquiry is to establish a reason for their occurrencewhether known natural laws are sufficient to explain them or whether there is reason to assume action by an unknown force.

Determining the nature of such an unknown force and the mode of its manifestation forms a third level of investigation. If it is not a blind force but operated by intelligence, it must be determined whether this intelligence is earthly. Not until every other explanation and test fails can the claim of a paranormal source be accepted.

The Historical Background

The term psychical research covers all scientific investigation into the obscure phenomena traditionally connected with the so-called supernatural, undertaken with a view to their elucidation. Certain of these phenomena are known all over the world and have remained practically unaltered almost since prehistoric times. Such are the phenomena of levitation, fire ordeal, crystal gazing, thought reading, and apparitions. Even though the formal discipline of psychical research rests on the scientific method of the nineteenth century, these phenomena have been investigated throughout the ages.

John Gaule, in his Select Cases of Conscience Touching Witches and Witchcraft (1646), observes:

"But the more prodigious or stupendous [of the feats mentioned in the witches' confessions] are effected meerly by the devil; the witch all the while either in a rapt ecstasie, a charmed sleepe, or a melancholy dreame; and the witches' imagination, phantasie, common sense, only deluded with what is now done, or pretended."

A few other writers of the same period arrived at similar conclusions. The result of many of these medieval records was to confirm the genuineness of some of the phenomena witnessed, but here and there, even in those days, there were skeptics who refused to give them any supernatural significance.

Poltergeist disturbances received a large share of attention and investigation. The case of the Drummer of Tedworth was examined by Joseph Glanvill and the results set forth in his Saducisimus Triumphatus, published in 1668. The Epworth phenomena, which occurred in the house of John Wesley's father, elicited many comments, as did the Cock Lane ghost, the Stockwell poltergeist, and many others.

Those who investigated animal magnetism and mesmerism may be considered psychical researchers, since these forerunners of hypnotism were the fruits of prolonged investigation into the phenomena connected with the trance state.

The writings of Paracelsus and Franz A. Mesmer show that they had glimpses of perspectives that were ahead of their time, foreshadowing the work of psychical researchers. Paracelsus, for example, stated in his writings,

"By the magic power of the will, a person on this side of the ocean may make a person on the other side hear what is said on this side. The ethereal body of a man may know what another man thinks at a distance of 100 miles and more."

This reads like an anticipation of telepathy, which has since attained remarkable prominence, although it is by no means attributed to "the ethereal body of a man." Such writings would seem to entitle many of the mesmerists and the older mystics to the designation of protopsychical researchers. As knowledge increased and systematized methods came into use, such inquiries became more focused and fruitful.

The introduction of modern Spiritualism in 1848 undoubtedly set the stage for psychical research. The movement was so widespread and the reports of its effects so numerous and impressive that it was inevitable that scientists (especially those facing the spiritual questions to which the movement spoke) would be attracted to the movement and then drawn into an examination of the alleged phenomena.

Thus we find engaged in the investigation of Spiritualism such individuals as William Carpenter, Michael Faraday and Augustus De Morgan, and on the Continent, Count de Gasparin, Marc Thury and Johann C. F. Zöllner. One of the most important investigators was undoubtedly Sir William Crookes, who worked independently for some time before the founding of the Society for Psychical Research.

However, although much good work was done by independent students of psychic science, as it came to be called, more systematic investigation was inevitable. The London Dialectical Society was established in 1867, and a resolution was carried out two years later to "investigate the phenomena alleged to be Spiritual Manifestations, and to report thereon." The committee included many distinguished individuals. An initial report was published in 1871.

In 1875 Edward William Cox, also connected with the London Dialectical Society, founded the Psychological Society of Great Britain for similar investigation. Cox included C. C. Massey, Walter H. Coffin, and Spiritualist medium W. Stainton Moses among the members. A single volume of Proceedings of the society's work was published in 1878. The society came to an end the next year, following Cox's death.

From 1878 on, the British National Association of Spiritualists, London (founded in 1873), appointed a research council that carried on significant research work with well-known mediums of the day under test conditions. Their work bore fruit early in 1882 when William F. Barrett presided over several conferences held by the association that resulted in the formation of the Society for Psychical Research.

The Establishment of Psychical Research

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded largely by a group of scientists and philosophers connected with Trinity College, Cambridge. The society was formed to "examine without prejudice or prepossession and in a scientific spirit those faculties of man, real or supposed, which appear to be inexplicable in terms of any generally recognized hypothesis."

The society's prospectus indicates its proposed aim and methods:

"It has been widely felt that the present is an opportune time for making an organised and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and spiritualistic.

"From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations recently made by scientific men of eminence in various countries, there appears to be, amid much delusion and deception, an important body of remarkable phenomena, which are prima facie inexplicable on any generally recognised hypothesis, and which, if incontestably established, would be of the highest possible value.

"The task of examining such residual phenomena has often been undertaken by individual effort, but never hitherto by a scientific society organised on a sufficiently broad basis."

The first president of the society was Henry Sidgwick, and among later presidents were Balfour Stewart, Sir William Crookes, Arthur James Balfour, and Sir Oliver Lodge. William James and Charles Richet were the first American and French researchers to serve as presidents, respectively. Prominent among the original members were Frank Podmore, F. W. H. Myers, Edmund Gurney, William F. Barrett, W. Stainton Moses, and Eleanor Sidgwick (later the first female to become president), Lord Rayleigh, and Andrew Lang. Many of these would eventually be honored with a term in the president's chair.

James initiated work in America that was later carried on by Richard Hodgson and James H. Hyslop.

On the Continent the Italian Cesare Lombroso, and French researchers Joseph Maxwell, Camille Flammarion, and Richetall men of the highest standing in their respective branches of scienceconducted exhaustive research into the phenomena of mediumship, chiefly with the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino as a subject.

At first the members of the Society for Psychical Research found it convenient to work in concert, but as they became more conversant with the broad outlines of the subject, it was necessary to specialize in various branches. The original plan, roughly sketched in 1882, grouped the phenomena to be researched under five different heads, each of which was placed under the direction of a separate committee. The five goals and their committee chairs were as follows:

"1. An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another, apart from any generally recognized mode of perception. (Hon. Secretary of Committee, Professor W. F. Barrett.)

"2. The study of hypnotism, and the forms of so-called mesmeric trance, with its alleged insensibility to pain; clairvoyance, and other allied phenomena. (Hon. Secretary of Committee, Dr. G. Wyld.)

"3. A critical revision of Reichenbach's researches with certain organisations called 'sensitive,' and an inquiry whether such organisations possess any power of perception beyond a highly-exalted sensibility of the recognised sensory organs. (Hon. Secretary of Committee, Walter H. Coffin.)

"4. A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, regarding apparitions at the moment of death, or otherwise, or regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted. (Hon. Secretary of Committee, Hensleigh Wedg-wood.)

"5. An inquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called Spiritualistic; with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws. (Hon. Secretary, Dr. C. Lockhart Robertson.)"

A committee was also appointed to consider the literature of the subject; honorary secretaries were Edmund Gurney and Frederic W. H. Myers, who, with Frank Podmore, collected a number of historic examples.

Of the various goals of the SPR, however, the first is now generally considered the most important, and is certainly the one that has yielded the best results to investigators. In the case of hypnotism, the work of psychical researchers contributed to its admission to the sphere of legitimate physiology. It was formerly classed among doubtful phenomena, even at the time the society was founded.

The examination of Baron von Reichenbach's claims of having discovered a new psychic fluid or force, the " od " (or odyle), which issued like flame from the points of a magnet or the human fingertips, was at length abandoned since nothing was found to verify his conclusions.

The investigations in connection with apparitions, haunted houses, and Spiritualist phenomena continued for many years, although on the whole no definite conclusions were arrived at.

The members of the society attempted to carry out their investigations in an entirely unbiased spirit. Some members who had joined the society originally as avowed Spiritualists soon dropped out. After prolonged and exhaustive research the opinions of the various investigators often changed. Far from being pledged to accept the spirit hypothesisor any other specific hypothesisthe SPR expressly stated that "member-ship of this Society does not imply the acceptance of any particular explanation of the phenomena investigated, nor any belief as to the operation, in the physical world, of forces other than those recognised by Physical Science."

Nevertheless, two prominent researchers, F. W. H. Myers and Sir Oliver Lodge, found evidence sufficient to convince them of the operation in the physical world of disembodied intelligences who manifest themselves through the organisms of special people generally referred to as mediums or sensitives.

Frank Podmore, on the other hand, was the exponent of a telepathic theory. Any phase of the manifestations that could not be explained by means of such known physiological facts as suggestion and hyperesthesia (the so-called subconscious whispering), exaltation of memory and automatism, or the unfamiliar but presumably natural telepathy, according to him, fell under the grave suspicion of fraud. His theory of poltergeists, for example, which he regarded as the work of naughty children, did not admit the intervention of a mischievous dis-embodied spirit. He considered telepathy a suitable explanation for "coincident hallucination" (hallucinatory apparitions that coincide with the death of the person represented or with some other crisis in that person's life), as well as for all cases of "personation" by the medium. His viewone shared by Andrew Lang, several of his contemporaries, and many present-day parapsychologistswas that if telepathy were established the spirit hypothesis would not only be unnecessary, but impossible to prove.

The most important of telepathic experiments were those conducted by Henry and Eleanor Sidgwick (1889-91). The percipients were hypnotized by G. A. Smith, who also acted as agent, and the matter to be transmitted consisted at first of numbers and later of mental pictures. The agent and percipient were generally separated by a screen, or were sometimes in different rooms, although the results in the latter case were perceptibly less satisfactory. On the whole, however, the percentage of correct guesses was far above what could be attributed to chance, and the experiments did much to encourage a belief that some hitherto unknown mode of communication existed.

At a later date, the trance communication of Leonora Piper seemed to point to some such theory, although Myers, Hodgson, and Hyslop, who conducted a thorough investigation into those communications, were inclined to believe that the spirits of the dead were the agencies in this case.

Telepathy was never established in the early experiments of psychical research, yet something similar to telepathy (various names have been suggested) must be working to explain the results attained by the ESP experiments carried out over the last half century by parapsychologists. During the first generations of psychical research, many worked with the idea that the machinery of telepathy existed in the form of ethereal vibrations, or brain waves, acting in accordance with natural laws (al-though Gerald Balfour and others argued that the action did not conform to the law of inverse squares). The remnants of such material notions of telepathy were quickly disposed of by parapsychology.

The subject of hallucinations has also been investigated over the years, and has been found to be closely connected with the question of telepathy. Apparitions were in former times regarded as the double or ethereal body of the persons they represented, but they are now mainly considered to be subjective phenomena.

Nevertheless, the study of coincidental hallucinations, now termed near-death experiences, raises the question as to whether the agent can produce such a hallucination in the mind of the percipient by the exercise of telepathic influence, which may be judged to be more powerful during an emotional crisis.

Hallucinations have been shown to be fairly common among otherwise sane and normal people, about one person in ten having experienced one or more, but the odds that a hallucination will coincide with the death of the person it represents are about one in 19,000.

The SPR undertook a Census of Hallucinations in 1889. Henry Sidgwick and a committee of members of the society conducted the investigations, with Eleanor Sidgwick collating the results and writing the final report. Printed forms were distributed among 410 accredited agents of the society, including many medical men and others belonging to the professional classes, all of whom gave their services without fees in the interest of science.

In all, some 17,000 persons were questioned, and negative as well as affirmative answers were sent in just as they were received, the agents being instructed to make no discrimination between the various replies. Out of 8,372 men, 655 claimed to have had a hallucination, as did 1,029 out of 8,628 women9.9 percent of the total. When ample allowance had been made for defects of memory with regard to early hallucinations by multiplying the 322 recognized and definite cases by 4, it was found that 62 coincided with a death; again making allowances, this number was reduced to 30.

Thus the survey results showed one coincidental hallucination in 43 instead of the expected one in 19,000. Clearly, then, if these figures are accepted, there must be some causal connection between the death and the apparition, whether it be a Spiritualist, telepathic, or other cause.

Apart from telepathy, perhaps the most interesting field of psychical research is automatism. Trance writings and utterances have been known since the earliest times, when they were attributed to demonic possession, or, sometimes, to angelic possession. By means of the planchette, the Ouija board, and other contrivances people were able to write automatically and divulge information they were unaware of possessing.

The phenomena are purely subjective, however, and are the result of cerebral dissociation such as may be induced in hypnosis. In this state, exaltation of the memory may occur, accounting for such phenomena as xenoglossis (speaking in foreign tongues with which the medium is not acquainted). Cerebral dissociation may also produce a sensitiveness to telepathic influences, as would seem apparent in the case of the medium Leonora Piper, whose automatic productions in writing and speaking supplied investigators with plentiful material and did more in the early twentieth century, perhaps, than anything else to stimulate an interest in so-called Spiritualist phenomena.

In connection with the "physical" phenomemaprobably no less the result of automatism than the "subjective"the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino was carefully studied by many eminent investigators, both in Great Britain and on the Continent. Camille Flammarion, Charles Richet, and Sir Oliver Lodge (to mention only a few) satisfied themselves with regard to the genuineness of some of her phenomena (although other equally eminent researchers dissented).

On the whole, even if psychical research has not succeeded in scientifically validating such matters as survival of death or the possibility of communication between the living and the dead, it can be credited with having widened the field of psychology and therapeutics and gaining support from the medical profession for the concept of suggestion.

In the United States, the American Society for Psychical Research, founded in 1885, and the Boston Society for Psychic Research, founded in 1925, were similar to the SPR of London. The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) was founded on the initial suggestion of William F. Barrett with the active cooperation of Richard Hodgson. A number of distinguished scientists were involved, many at the request of William James, and the general attitude was at first somewhat skeptical toward psychical phenomena.

The first period of the old ASPR lasted for four years (1885-89), after which it was absorbed by the Society for Psychical Research, London. It was briefly dissolved following Hodgson's death in 1905, but was reconstituted in 1906 as Section B of the American Institute for Scientific Research, an organization that James H. Hyslop founded at Columbia University, where he taught. Section A was devoted to abnormal psychology. The name American Society for Psychical Research was not readopted until 1922.

After Hyslop's death in 1920, the work of the society was carried on by his assistant Walter Franklin Prince, who became director of research and edited the society's publications. In 1921 William McDougall, a noted psychologist, became president. He was succeeded the following year by Frederick Edwards, a clergyman.

During the 1920s there were strong policy dissensions within the society, sparked by the American tour of Spiritualist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but substantively related to the controversial investigations of the mediumship of Mina S. Crandon, popularly known as "Margery." In 1925, complaining of shoddy work and a lack of professionalism, Prince, McDougall, El-wood Worcester, and Gardner Murphy led a group that split off from the ASPR and formed the Boston Society for Psychical Research, which existed through the 1930s. During this period the most substantive psychical research was carried on by the Boston Society; the ASPR continued to be preoccupied with the problem of the "Margery" mediumship.

From Psychical Research to Parapsychology

Meanwhile, beginning in the 1930s, a new phase in American psychical research was beginning, spearheaded by J. B. Rhine, whose experimental work at Duke University was encouraged by McDougall. This work involved using college students as subjects instead of mediums, with emphasis on statistical and scientific methods in evaluating experiments. Rhine's initial report, Extra-sensory Perception, published by the Boston Society in 1934, described 85,724 card-guessing trials. Rhine's work aroused a storm of controversy, and was attacked from every angle, most severely on methodological grounds. The sting of the controversy was removed in 1938 when the American Psychological Association (APA) upheld Rhine's testing procedures and his statistical method (if not his results). The APA report was confirmed by the American Institute of Mathematical Statistics, which issued this statement: "If the Rhine investigation is to be fairly attacked, it must be on other than mathematical grounds."

It was through the work of Rhine that the terms parapsychology, extrasensory perception, and psychokinesis became widespread. The Journal of Parapsychology was first published in 1937, and the Parapsychological Association was founded in 1957.

The work of Rhine and his associates established parapsychologylaboratory-based research on the paranormalas a reputable field for scientific study. As another generation of researchers appeared, the boundary between parapsychology and the older concerns of psychical research became blurred. In the decades since World War II a new movement, in addition to the purely statistical studies, has embraced all the phenomena formerly associated with Spiritualist mediums, and the spontaneous phenomena of poltergeists and out-of-the-body travel has been reconsidered. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new wave of interest in psychokinesis was stimulated by widely heralded claims of psychic Uri Geller.

(Note: Developments in psychical research and parapsychology and their precursors in Continental Europe are dealt with under the headings of the various countries France, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and Italy. )


Carrington, Hereward. The Story of Psychic Science. London: Rider, 1930.

Coover, J. E. Experiments in Psychical Research at Leland Stanford Junior University. Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University, 1917. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Crookes, William. Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism. London: J. Burns, 1874.

Douglas, Alfred. Extra-sensory Powers: A Century of Psychical Research. Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1977.

Driesch, Hans. Psychical Research: The Science of the Supernormal. London: G. Bell, 1933. Reprint, New York: Arno Press,1975.

Edge, Hoyt L., Robert L. Morris, John Palmer, and Joseph H. Rush. Foundations of Parapsychology: Exploring the Boundaries of Human Capability. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.

Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968.

Grattan-Guinness, Ivor, ed. Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History, Principles and Practices, in Celebration of 100 Years of the Society for Psychical Research. London: Aquarian Press, 1982.

Haynes, Renée. The Society for Psychical Research 1882-1982: A History. London: Macdonald, 1982.

Hyslop, James H. Enigmas of Psychical Research. New York:G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1906.

London Dialectical Society. Report on Spiritualism of the Committee of the London Dialectical Society. London: Longmans, Green, Reader & Dyer, 1971.

Maxwell, Joseph. Metapsychical Phenomena. London: Duck-worth, 1905.

Podmore, Frank. Studies in Psychical Research. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1897. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Price, Harry. Fifty Years of Psychical Research: A Critical Study. London: Longmans, Green, 1939. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

Richet, Charles. Thirty Years of Psychical Research. London: Collins; New York: Macmillan, 1923.

Rhine, J. B. Extra-sensory Perception. Boston: Boston Society for Psychical Research, 1934. Rev. ed. Boston: Branden, 1964.

Rhine, J. B., et al. Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years. New York: Holt, 1940. Reprint, Boston: Branden, 1966.

Rhine, J. B., ed. Progress in Parapsychology. Durham, N.C.: Parapsychology Press, 1971.

Rhine, J. B., and Robert Briwer, eds. Parapsychology Today. New York: Citadel, 1968.

Thouless, Robert H. From Anecdote to Experiment in Psychical Research. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972.

Tyrrell, G. N. M. Science and Psychical Phenomena. New York: Harper, 1938. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1975.

White, Rhea A., and Laura A. Dale. Parapsychology: Sources of Information. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1973.


views updated Jun 27 2018


Parapsychology is the modern name for what used to be called psychical research. The word is usually used in a narrow sense, as scientifically based research, but sometimes it is used more broadly to cover the whole range of the occult. The term psi is often used as a briefer equivalent. Psi phenomena are paranormal, that is, beyond the range of what is considered to be part of the ordinary world.

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was established in England in 1882 and is given credit for organizing systematic research in the English-speaking Western world. Many of its founders were distinguished intellectuals who were themselves spiritualists and interested in immortality. The American Society for Psychical Research was founded soon after. Though some of the earlier researchers did scientific studies, they more often conducted other kinds of investigations of psi, investigating ostensible cases of dramatic psi, and frequently working with mediums.

The Modern Scientific Era

The modern scientific era in parapsychology is usually credited to Joseph Banks Rhine, who established the first university laboratory devoted exclusively to experimental research on psi. In 1957 Rhine and others organized the Parapsychological Association, which twenty years later became, over much opposition, an affiliate member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Some parapsychologists, however, insist that the pursuit of psi by scientific methods is ill advised and advocate a return to the more traditional types of psychical research.

Parapsychologists work primarily on a common core of phenomena that include telepathy (mind-mind), clairvoyance (mind-matter, now called remote viewing), psychokinesis (PK; mental action on matter), precognition and retrocognition (direct awareness of future or past mental or material states), and often survival issues (disembodied existence and reincarnation). More specialized topics might include hauntings and apparitions, séances, poltergeists, dowsing, psychic healing, and near-death and out-of-the-body experiences, but probably not astrology, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, past-life regression, and alien abductions.

Psi research is commonly defined as the study of things and processes that go beyond the commonly accepted ways of interaction in the world. Parapsychology is unusual in that what it studies is defined primarily in negative terms. For example, extrasensory perception (ESP) is defined in terms of gathering information not by sensory means. Moreover, parapsychologists typically admit that they lack agreement on what psi is or how it operates, and some parapsychologists prefer to speak of their field as the study of a limited range of "anomalies," refusing to make positive claims that psi is an actual power of some sort.

Implications of Psi

Clearly, the existence of psi would have enormous implications for Western philosophy, not only by extending the range of commonly accepted ways of interacting with the world but also by reinforcing dualistic and idealistic worldviews that have hitherto supported their critiques of science on non-psi grounds, that is, on the alleged failure of the dominant materialist paradigm to allow proper room for consciousness, including qualia, volitions, intentions, and logical reasoning. If it were shown that psi exists, the foundations of modern Western metaphysics would be shaken, most would say, overthrown.

C. D. Broad (1953) formulated the issue in terms of what he called "the basic limiting principles" of Western thought, which he said were justified either by self-evidence or by overwhelming and uniformly favorable empirical evidence. These principles, abbreviated, are that causation always works forward by acting through a continuous chain of events linking cause and effect, that mind acts on matter only through its own brain, that mental activity is dependent on the brain, and that knowledge is acquired only through present sensations or communications. It is clear that psi would challenge all these principles and thus threaten the Western worldview.

Judged in terms of these limiting principles, psi is not only para normal but anti normal. Telepathy and clairvoyance imply that minds act directly on remote minds or material objects, bypassing the brain and violating the rule of continuous links in causation. PK would also violate that chain, providing mental action directly on remote objects, and both precognition and retrocognition would violate both forward causation and how knowledge is acquired. There is no question that psi is magical, judged by our basic limiting principles.

Some parapsychologists attempt to minimize the conflict between psi and the Western worldview by claiming that psi should be understood in terms of psychological laws rather than laws of physics by assimilating psi to such psychological connections as association or by pointing to altered states such as dream states or hypnosis that seem to facilitate psi production. They point out that psi fits in well with idealism, panpsychism, and typically Eastern philosophies that tend to understand nature in terms of mind rather than by understanding mind in terms of nature as in Western views. Also, some dualists point out that the mind-brain dualism itself violates the modern scientific paradigm and claim that ESP and PK (but not precognition) can be assimilated to mind-brain interaction, as an extended application of the powers that the mind uses to interact with its own brain (Dilley 1988).

Problems in Psi Research

Parapsychologists are hampered in their research by the lack of a common body of theory as well as by not knowing how to produce psi on demand or predict how it will behave once it occurs. Without any firm basis for understanding psi, it is difficult to test alternative hypotheses. Few believe that psi can be controlled consciously, and some believe that psi is actually resistant to demonstration, sometimes called the shyness effect. Moreover, successful psi production seems to be related to belief in psi. Even when psi is produced successfully, investigators do not know for sure whether psi is coming from the subjects of an experiment, from the experimenter, from defects in the experimental design, or even from fraud. Skeptics point to an additional problem about psi that arouses their suspicion, that psi does not seem to affect ordinary experiments in physics laboratories or enable psychics to win steadily at casinos.

Critics of psi research claim that replication requirements demanded by modern science have not yet been met and that experimenters have not yet devised protocols that will guarantee positive results and can be obtained by independent investigators. Defenders of psi sometimes accept this charge, but reply that the unpredictability of psi prevents replication in the strong sense and that multiple demonstrations of psi by well-run experiments should constitute acceptable scientific evidence. Psi researchers continue to try to understand psi in the hopes of learning how to control it but progress has been disappointing, considering that more than a century has passed since the founding of the SPR.

Parapsychologists are unanimous that psi is incompatible with present materialism. They accept a wide range of metaphysical theories. There are a few, a vigorous minority, who think that psi can be reconciled with current science by massive revisions in the concepts of Western science. They point to various modifications proposed by physicists that could result in fitting psi into a revised physics. As has been already mentioned, some parapsychologists have turned to idealism, panpsychism, or various kinds of Eastern philosophy that better accommodate psi.

By far the more prevalent view is that psi should be understood in terms of metaphysical dualism, that ESP and PK are just extraordinary extensions of the powers that the mind uses to interact with its own brain. Opinions are divided whether telepathy is a third power, using unconscious levels of mind to connect conscious minds, or whether so-called telepathic phenomena can be reduced to ordinary mind-brain interactions. Henri Bergson once suggested that minds might be potentially omniscient and able to influence every object in the universe, but that brains limit the activity of psi to what is biologically and socially more useful. Both Broad and H. H. Price have made use of this model to explain why psi occurs only seldom.

Controversies about Psi

Controversies over proper methods to be used in parapsychology also divide parapsychologists. Many parapsychologists believe that stories and anecdotes cannot be trusted and that the only reliable way to establish the existence of psi is by using the scientific method, while others believe that careful examination of anecdotes and other subjective reports can show the existence of psi and worry that the use of the scientific method stifles psi production.

Why cannot anecdotal evidence and the testimony of personal experience or the results of the kinds of investigations of early researchers be trusted? Such evidence has often turned out to be highly unreliable. Standards of evidence were often weak and many of even the strongest apparently evidential cases have been exposed as fraudulent or careless. It is commonly acknowledged that the history of psi research has been troubled by fraud, and some studies thought exceptionally thorough (such as those done by Samuel G. Soal) have been exposed as fraudulent. On the positive side, John Beloff (1993) presents a reasonably cautious survey of the case for psi, covering many important researchers and their subjects.

Those readers interested in the history of fraud should consult Paul Kurtz's A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology (1985), which has ten chapters devoted to fraud, as well as George P. Hansen's "Deception by Subjects in Psi Research" (1990), which offers an extensive analysis of fraud. Faced with the problem of doubts about nonexperimental evidence, many parapsychologists have devoted themselves to gathering evidence for psi that will meet contemporary standards for scientific evidence and much has been accomplished since the 1990s.

The Case for Psi

Does psi exist? Opinions are widely variant. Popular opinion polls indicate widespread belief in psi in the general population. A poll of parapsychologists attending a Parapsychological Association meeting showed more than a 90 percent favorable response to the claim that psi exists, and more than an 80 percent favorable response to precognition. A poll of college faculty in 1979 produced a wide gap between humanities and arts faculty and psychologists. More than two-thirds of arts and humanities faculty answered affirmatively that psi was an established fact, a proportion similar to that of the general population, but only one-third of psychologists held that opinion. A poll of elite scientists in 1984 showed that only 4 percent thought that ESP was an established fact, with 25 percent thinking that ESP was a likely possibility. A large number expressed no opinion, but 10 percent thought that ESP was an impossibility.

There is no consensus on the existence of psi. Even some parapsychologists have become discouraged, either leaving the field or continuing to function as parapsychologists even though they do not believe in psi. Western philosophers and psychologists tend to reject psi, believing that a combination of fraud, careless investigation, gullibility, and wishful thinking (such as the wish for immortality) can account for the continued belief in psi. On the contrary, psi believers sometimes claim that skeptics reject psi because psi powers are intrinsically threatening and that the existence of psi would overthrow the reigning paradigm in Western thought. More cautious people on both sides claim that there are interesting cases that suggest psi and that there is evidence that supports the existence of psi, but that the case for psi is not yet conclusive.

However true it might be that earlier investigations failed to meet modern experimental standards, parapsychologists overwhelmingly claim that the available evidence is virtually conclusive and have claimed to provide evidence that meets even the most scrupulous standards. However, it is fair to say that the best that those recent experimental findings have provided is evidence of a low level of psi, that psi cannot yet be demonstrated on demand, and that psi still cannot be produced reliably or consistently by independent investigators.

However, for the first time in the history of psi research, it is possible that psi researchers can produce the kind of evidence that will be regarded by knowledgeable skeptics as constituting scientific evidence. In particular, there are three major lines of ongoing research efforts that prove interesting and that have been analyzed carefully by skeptics: studies using the Ganzfeld procedure, remote viewing experiments, and experiments involving efforts to affect random number generators. Many of the results of these studies are discussed by K. Ramakrishnan Rao (2001). Some of the skeptics most conversant with psi research have been impressed with these results but still have reservations. Interested persons should consult Ray Hyman and Charles Honorton (1986), Daryl J. Bem and Honorton (1994), and Hyman (1989). James E. Alcock (1990) presents a number of reservations about the scientific case for psi in general, including specific criticisms of remote viewing and random number generation studies. There is agreement on both sides that they need to be at least open to persuasion and that continuing studies are needed, especially studies done in independent laboratories. It should also be pointed out that studies subsequent to those referred to earlier have not been conclusive.

Many parapsychologists would argue that there is convincing evidence for psi in studies that seem to provide evidence for survival of bodily death. The best candidates for evidence are cited in the literature on "cross-correspondences" gathered by members of the SPR almost a century ago, and studies of well over two thousand putative "reincarnation cases." Gardner Murphy (1979) does a careful analysis of cross-correspondences, and Stevenson (1987) cites some of the best cases for reincarnation. Hoyt L Edge et al. (1986) provide a careful presentation of issues related to survival. Paul Edwards (1996) offers one of the most comprehensive general attacks on reincarnation evidence, as well as on the character and competence of reincarnation scholars in general; however, be forewarned that he is known for his ad hominem attacks.

The cross-correspondences involved mediums whose trance writings and utterances were purported to be communicated by Frederic Myers, a classics scholar and one of the founders of the SPR, and by other deceased persons. The material lent itself to the interpretation that Myers was attempting to communicate to researchers, through different mediums who were separated by time and place, using bits of information and images that could be put together to provide a coherent set of references to the same classical myth. The case for survival was weakened by the fact that some of the participants were themselves classicists and might have inadvertently produced the data telepathically, and led some to prefer the "super-psi" hypothesis, so-named because the power of psi required to explain the phenomena surpasses any degree of psi that is reinforced by the experimental literature.

A recent development in survival research since the 1990s is the use of combination locks, set by believers who hope to use mediums to communicate the combinations that will open the locks. In one case so far, a lock has been opened by use of computer techniques, and survival researchers are putting their hopes on more sophisticated encryptions. As of 2005, no lock has been successfully opened by the proposed methods of disclosure.

Sources of Psi

Generally, Western philosophers have been skeptical of psi, but there have been many who have vigorously defended it. Prominent among them are Henri Bergson, Charlie Dunbar Broad, C. J. Ducasse, James Hyslop, William James, C. W. K. Mundle, H. H. Price, Robert Almeder, Robert Brier, Stephen E. Braude, Hoyt L. Edge, and David Ray Griffin. There have also been some defenders among psychologists, prominently John Beloff, Irvin Child, Alan Gauld, Harvey J. Irwin, Gardner Murphy, William McDougall, and Charles Tart. Among the knowledgeable skeptical psychologists are James E. Alcock, Ray Hyman, and Charles E. M. Hansel, as well as Susan Blackmore and Richard Wiseman, who are former pro-psi proponents. The best-known anti-psi philosophers who have worked on the psi literature are Paul Edwards, Antony Flew, and Paul Kurtz. Also, the unclassifiable Martin Gardner is firmly among the unconvinced.

Besides the invaluable Proceedings of the SPR, there are a number of journals devoted entirely to psi phenomena, such as Journal of Psychical Research, Journal of the American Society of Psychical Research, Journal of Parapsychology, European Journal of Parapsychology, and International Journal of Parapsychology, all of which are reliable sources of the best in psi. Of note is the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which sometimes reports on psi topics and is generally pro-psi. The multidisciplinary Journal of Consciousness Studies sometimes gives coverage to psi and related issues. Two other journals deserve special mention: the nicely balanced but short-lived Skeptical Zetetic and the Skeptical Inquirer, which claims to maintain an open mind but is widely regarded as being openly hostile to psi in all of its forms. There are also journals, too numerous to mention, that are devoted to more limited phenomena usually included in parapsychology.

See also Bergson, Henri; Broad, Charlie Dunbar; Consciousness; Dualism in the Philosophy of Mind; Ducasse, Curt John; Idealism; Immortality; James, William; Materialism; Panpsychism; Philosophy of Mind; Precognition; Qualia; Reincarnation; Volition.


books and articles advocating psi

Almeder, Robert. Death and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life after Death. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1992.

Beloff, John. Parapsychology: A Concise History. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Beloff, John. The Relentless Question: Reflections on the Paranormal. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1990.

Bem, Daryl J., and C. Honorton. "Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer." Psychological Bulletin 115 (1) (1994): 418.

Broad, C. D. Religion, Philosophy, and Psychical Research: Selected Essays. London: Routledge, 1953.

Broad, C. D. Lectures on Psychical Research: Incorporating the Perrott Lectures Given in Cambridge University in 1959 and 1960. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962.

Dilley, Frank. "Mind-Brain Interaction and Psi." Southern Journal of Philosophy 26 (4) (January 1988): 469480.

Edge, Hoyt L., et al. Foundations of Parapsychology: Exploring the Boundaries of Human Capability. Boston: Routledge, 1986.

Griffin, David Ray. Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997.

Irwin, H. J. An Introduction to Parapsychology. 2nd ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1994.

Murphy, Gardner. Challenge of Psychical Research: A Primer of Parapsychology. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979.

Rao, K. Ramakrishnan, ed. Basic Research in Parapsychology. 2nd ed. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.

Stevenson, Ian. Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1987.

Wolman, Benjamin E., ed. Handbook of Parapsychology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1986.

books and articles rejecting psi

Alcock, James E. Science and Supernature: A Critical Appraisal of Parapsychology. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1990.

Edwards, Paul. Reincarnation: A Critical Examination. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1996.

Gardner, Martin. Science: Good, Bad, and Bogus. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1981.

Hansel, C. E. M. ESP and Parapsychology: A Critical Reevaluation. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1980.

Hansen, George P. "CSICOP and the Skeptics: An Overview." Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 84 (January 1990): 2580. Originally titled "Deception by Subjects in Psi Research."

Hyman, Ray. The Elusive Quarry: A Scientific Appraisal of Psychical Research. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989.

Hyman, Ray, and Charles Honorton. "A Joint Communiqué: The Psi Ganzfeld Controversy." Journal of Parapsychology 50 (1986): 351364.

Kurtz, Paul, ed. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1985.

collections of philosophical articles on parapsychology

Flew, Antony, ed. Readings in the Philosophical Problems of Parapsychology. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1987.

French, Peter A., ed. Philosophers in Wonderland: Philosophy and Psychical Research. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1975.

Ludwig, Jan, ed. Philosophy and Parapsychology. Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1978.

Thakur, Shivesh C., ed. Philosophy and Psychical Research. London: Allen and Unwin, 1976.

Wheatley, James M. O., and Hoyt L. Edge, eds. Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology. Spring Field, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1976.

Frank B. Dilley (2005)


views updated May 23 2018


Meaning "beside psychology," term used to describe the study of paranormal, or psi, phenomena, the most significant being extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK).

The study of paranormal activities and phenomena has been riddled with controversy since its conception. It is claimed that some people, utilizing senses beyond the ordinary, exhibit powers that cannot be explained by traditional science. Skeptics of the paranormal point to the fact that in over a century since the first serious studies of the paranormal began, usually dated to the opening of the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882, no replicable demonstration of any such powers has ever been conducted. Yet many people continue to believe in the existence of the paranormal.

The most studied and debated paranormal phenomena are ESP and psychokinesis. ESP is an acronym for extra-sensory perception and encompasses clairvoyance, the ability to perceive something without the use of the senses, and telepathy, the ability to communicate with another person without the use of the senses. (Parapsychologists currently refer to telepathy as "anomalous processes of information or energy transfer.")

Clairvoyance was the first paranormal phenomena to be seriously considered by scientists, probably because devising tests to prove or disprove its existence was easy. In the late 1920s, many such tests were devised by J.B. Rhine, a psychology professor who had left Harvard University to help found the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. Rhine's tests often produced positive results for clairvoyance, and at the time his work was seriously regarded. In recent decades, however, much of Rhine's work has been discredited as being biased, careless, and, in some cases, utterly fraudulent.

Recent studies have proven more reputable but far from conclusive. One such study revealed statistically significant telepathic abilities among 100 men and 140 women tested in Scotland over six years in the mid-1980s. In the tests, "senders" focused on images or video clips and attempted to send those impressions to a "receiver" in a sensory-isolated room. The researchers reported that one in three sessions led to a "hit," meaning that the receiver reported visualizing images similar to those being sent. A hit is expected to occur by chance in one in four instances. On the other hand, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States discounted the existence of ESP after conducting its own experiments in "remote viewing." The agency concluded that there were not enough evidence for its existence.

Psychokinesis (PK) is the ability to manipulate physical objects with the mind. Probably the most infamous purveyor of psychokinetic powers was the Israeli psychic and entertainer Uri Geller, who became an international celebrity by bending spoons, supposedly with his mind. During his career, he would never demonstrate his spoon bending ability in a controlled environment , and he was on several occasions shown to be faking. Another form of PK is known as spontaneous PK, in which a physical action occurs in response to psychological trauma. There are personal accounts, for instance, of clocks and watches stopping at the moment of a loved one's death. J.B. Rhine was one of the first to conduct experiments in PK, primarily with the use of dice. He tested a subject's ability to influence the outcome of a toss and found that many people demonstrated a slight ability, beyond chance, of "controlling" the dice.

There are other phenomena studies by parapsychologists, including hauntings, UFOs, near-death and after-death experiences, out-of-body experiences, psychic healing, and many others. All of these share the curious nature of ESP and PK in that, anecdotally speaking, occurrences are widespread, believed by members of many cultures, and discussed throughout history. Yet none have been scientifically demonstrated or reproduced. Despite the lack of proof, many people firmly believe in the paranormal, as evidenced by personal testimony, the popularity of television shows such as "The X-Files," and by the huge profits generated by psychic phone lines and other occult enterprises. One of the reasons the scientific community is skeptical about paranormal phenomena is that there is no apparent basis in physical laws for such phenomena. In every other scientific discipline, it is possible to speculate reasonably that events occur as they do because they follow a recognized natural law, such as gravity or conservation of energy. Parapsychologists have failed to develop adequate theoretical reasons for the existence of the phenomena they purport to demonstrate. Nevertheless, it seems that most people are open to the possibility of the paranormal despite the lack of evidence.

Further Reading

Blackmore, Susan. "Psi in Psychology." Skeptical Inquirer (Summer 1994): 351.

Bower, B. "CIA Studies Fan Debate Over Psi Abilities." Science News (9 December 1995): 390.

. "Scientists Peer into the Mind's Psi." Science News (29 January 1994): 68.

Irwin, H.J. An Introduction to Parapsychology. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 1989.

Jaroff, Leon. "Weird Science: Catering to Viewers' Growing Appetite for Paranormal " Time (15 May 1995): 75.

Yam, Philip. "A Skeptically Inquiring Mind." Scientific American (July 1995): 34.


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PARAPSYCHOLOGY, a term denoting the organized experimental study of purported "psychic" abilities, such as telepathy (the knowledge of human thoughts without sensory communication), clairvoyance (the knowledge of physical objects without sensory aid), psycho-kinesis (the ability to influence an object physically without contact with it), and precognition (the knowledge of future events). The term, originally German, found its way into English in the 1930s and has supplanted the older term "psychical research" in America and to a degree in Great Britain.

Organized psychical research came into being in the United States in 1885, at the height of popular interest in spiritualism, with the founding of the American Society for Psychical Research. The most prominent American supporter of psychical research at this time was William James, although most American psychologists were, and are, hostile to the subject. Many famous mediums were studied, the most noteworthy being Leonora E. Piper, extensively investigated by James himself. The three principal leaders of American psychical research in its early years were Richard Hodgson, James Hervey Hyslop, and Walter Franklin Prince.

Funds and fellowships for the conduct of psychical research were established in three American universities—Harvard, Stanford, and Clark—in the first two decades of the twentieth century, but the work done there was greatly overshadowed by the work done in the early 1930s by Joseph Banks Rhine with associates in the Psychology Department of Duke University. Rhine ran thousands of tests with Duke students, some of whom achieved striking extra-chance results in card guessing. The results were published in 1934 in Extra-Sensory Perception; the methods described there soon became standard experimental procedure, and Rhine's term ESP (extrasensory perception) has become a common label for psychic abilities. Rhine established the Journal of Parapsychology in 1937, and in the 1940s he carried his investigations at his laboratory at Duke into the fields of psychokinesis and precognition.

Parapsychology aroused controversy and hostility in scientific and academic quarters; objections were made both to its experimental and statistical methods and to its philosophical implications. Fifty years after university studies began, the subject was still not yet well established academically and had not yet developed a clear professional structure and status. In the popular mind, and to some degree in the field, the connections with spiritualism and the occult remained close. Scientific clarity seemed an especially distant goal in the 1970s and 1980s, as parapsychology merged with popular curiosity in UFO and alien abduction lore, witchcraft, and New Age alternative religions and concepts of holistic health. But the revival of interest in occultism created a wide information network, and during these decades, research in parapsychology was being pursued at various academic centers, including the University of Virginia, the City University of New York, and Maimonides Hospital in New York City, as well as at the American Society for Psychical Research and at private foundations in Durham, North Carolina, and elsewhere. This later experimental work was broadly diversified, with researchers attempting to bring physiology, psychiatry, and studies of animal behavior to bear on parapsychology.


Beloff, John. Parapsychology: A Concise History. London: Athlone Press, 1993.

Griffin, David R. Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997.

Seymour H.Mauskopf

Michael R.McVaugh/a. r.

See alsoMysticism ; New Age Movement .

Parapsychology Laboratory (Duke University)

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Parapsychology Laboratory (Duke University)

In 1927 J. B. Rhine and his wife, Louisa Rhine, moved to College Station, North Carolina, where they had found the support of William McDougall, chairman of the psychology department, in pursuing parapsychology. By the time McDougall died in 1931 they were settled in and working on the experiments that would lead to J. B. Rhine's early important work, Extra-Sensory Perception (1934). The next year, with the cooperation of McDougall's successor, a separate division of parapsychology was established in the psychology department and designated the Parapsychology Laboratory. Rhine was placed in charge. For the next 30 years, the Parapsychology Laboratory was the primary scene of major experiments in parapsychology. Among them were those of the well-known medium, Eileen J. Garrett. She conducted a series of experiments there, known as the Zner Card Experiements, studying the phenomenon of ESP.

The laboratory's controversial work made ESP a household word. It also met with mixed reactions from the faculty at the university, mostly critical. In 1950 it was made an autonomous unit, and in 1962, when Rhine formerly retired, the laboratory was discontinued altogether and support of this field by Duke came to an end. That same year Rhine created the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man to continue the work of the laboratory and established the Institute for Parapsychology as a new laboratory.


Garrett, Eileen J. Adventures in the Supernormal. New York: Creative Age Press, Inc., 1949.

. Many Voices, The Autobiography of a Medium. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1968.

Rhine, J. B. New World of the Mind. New York: William Sloane, 1953.

Rhine, Louisa E. ESP in Life and Lab: Tracing Hidden Channels. New York: Macmillan, 1967.


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par·a·psy·chol·o·gy / ˌparəsīˈkäləjē/ • n. the study of mental phenomena that are excluded from or inexplicable by orthodox scientific psychology (such as hypnosis, telepathy, etc.).DERIVATIVES: par·a·psy·cho·log·i·cal / -ˌsīkəˈläjikəl/ adj.par·a·psy·chol·o·gist / -jist/ n.

Parapsychology Laboratory (Netherlands)

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Parapsychology Laboratory (Netherlands)

A former Dutch institute founded by W. H. C. Tenhaeff in 1933. The institute was supported by state funds, conducted experimental programs, and published books, periodicals, and reports on parapsychological research. It published the European Journal of Parapsychology, which is now distributed through the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh, 7, George Sq., Edinburg EH8 9JZ, Scotland, UK. Web-site:


views updated Jun 11 2018

Parapsychology. Literally the scientific study of what lies beyond (Gk., para) those properties of the mind which are accepted by current scientific research. However, since there is very considerable debate as to whether or not paranormal (or ‘psi’) phenomena actually exist, it is better defined as the scientific investigation of a possibility. The main psi candidates which have been advanced for research purposes can be classed under two headings: ESP (extrasensory perception) which covers paranormal cognition, as with telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition, and PK (psychokinesis) which covers paranormal action, such as influencing electronic and atomic randomizers.

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