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.")
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.
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
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.
(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.
An event or perception is said
to be paranormal if it involves forces or agencies that are beyond scientific explanation. Many paranormal events are said
to be experienced only by those with psychic powers, such as extrasensory perception or psychokinesis.
Some events are perceived as
paranormal due to ignorance. For example, parapsychologist Charles Tart explains how he first got interested in the paranormal:
There was a time, years ago, when I was highly skeptical
of any paranormal claims of any kind. One of the things that convinced me that there must be something to this is a strange
experience that I personally went through. It was wartime. I was at Berkeley, California, and everybody was working overtime....the
young lady who was my assistant at the time worked with me until very late this one night. She finally went home; I went home.
Then the very next day she came in, all excited....She reported that during this night she had suddenly sat bolt upright in
her bed, convinced that something terrible had happened. "I had a terrible sense of foreboding," she said, but she did not
know what had happened. "I immediately swung out of bed and went over to the window and looked outside to see if I could see
anything that might have happened like an accident. I was just turning away from the window and suddenly the window shook
violently. I couldn't understand that. I went back to bed, woke up the next morning and listened to the radio." A munitions
ship at Port Chicago had exploded. It literally took Port Chicago off the map. It leveled the entire town and over 300 people
were killed....She said she had sensed the moment when all these people were snuffed out in this mighty explosion. How would
she have suddenly become terrified, jumped out of bed, gone to the window, and then - from 35 miles away, the shock wave had
reached Berkeley and shook the window?
There is no need to perceive
this event as paranormal, according to James Randi, who recorded this story. A shock wave travels at different speeds through the ground and through the
air. The difference over 35 miles would be 8 seconds. Most likely the shaking earth woke up the young lady in a fright and
8 seconds later the window shook. She and Tart assumed that the explosion took place when the window shook, making her experience
inexplicable by the known laws of physics. This explanation only makes sense, however, if one is ignorant of the known laws