Asked Questions 1
Below are some common questions asked
regarding parapsychology. If you're new to the topic, this is the
best place to start. The questions are listed under the subcontents
menu at the right.
"Parapsychology is the scientific
and scholarly study of certain unusual events associated with human
Basically, parapsychology is the study
of phenomena that seem to cross the boundaries between mental intention
and physical reality. Such phenomena are termed "anomalous
because they are difficult to explain within current scientific
"These anomalies fall into three
general categories: Extrasensory Perception (ESP), Psychokinesis
(PK), and phenomena suggestive of survival after bodily death,"
such as near-death experiences (NDE), hauntings, and reincarnation.
While most parapsychologists believe
that the current state of scientific knowledge will have to revised
in order to incorporate the workings of psychic phenomena, other
researchers continue to hold that the "existing scientific
models of perception and memory are adequate to explain some or
all parapsychological phenomena."
Despite the popular belief that parapsychology
is the study of "anything paranormal or bizarre," it is
not concerned with such topics as astrology, UFOs, Bigfoot, paganism,
vampires, alchemy, or witchcraft. Parapsychology is also not related
to so-called psychic entertainers or paranormal investigators. Many
scientists have come to distrust parapsychology because of its inaccurate
association with such "fringe topics and pseudosciences."
The basic parapsychological phenomena
are listed below.
- A general term for obtaining information
about events beyond the reach of the normal senses. This term
includes telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition.
- Obtaining information about events
at remote locations, beyond the reach of the normal senses.
- Direct mind-to-mind communication.
- Obtaining information about future
events, where the information could not be inferred through normal
- Direct mental interaction with physical
- Direct mental interactions with
- Large-scale PK phenomena which are
thought to be due to a living person, frequently an adolescent.
- Recurrent phenomena reported to
occur in particular locations that include apparitions, sounds,
movement of objects, and other effects.
- Sometimes referred to as astral
projection; the experience of feeling separated from the body,
often accompanied by visual perceptions as though from above the
Death Experience (NDE):
- An experience reported by those
who were revived from nearly dying. Often refers to a core experience
that includes feelings of peace, out-of-body experiences, seeing
lights, and other phenomena.
- The belief that we live successive
lives, with primary evidence coming from the apparent recollections
of previous lives by very small children.
- A neutral term for parapsychological
phenomena. Psi, psychic, and psychical are synonyms.
Psychic experiences involve the communication
of information through means other than those which science, specifically
biology and psychology, have identified (and which parapsychology
has termed extrasensory perception). Psychic experiences may also
involve events which are brought about by a person's influence (termed
psychokinesis), though not the type "normally associated with
human action." 2
"A genuine psi exchange [cannot]
be based even upon subtle, subliminal forms of perception or action."
Parapsychology is interesting mainly
because what it implies. For example, psi phenomena may indicate
- "What science knows about
the nature of universe is incomplete.
- The presumed capabilities and limitations
of human potential have been underestimated.
- Fundamental assumptions and philosophical
beliefs about the separation of mind and body may be incorrect.
- Religious assumptions about the
divine nature of miracles may have been mistaken."
Those subjects which link intricately
with the topics studied in parapsychology include physics (because
of the possibility "that we have a great misunderstanding about
space and time and the transmission of energy and information"),
biology ("because psi implies the existence of additional,
unexplained methods of sensing the world"), psychology ("because
[of] what psi implies about the nature of perception and memory"),
philosophy ("because psi phenomena specifically address many
age-old philosophical problems, including the role of the mind in
the physical world"), and theology ("because personal
psi experiences are often accompanied by feelings of profound [spiritual]
"Parapsychology has remained controversial,
even with substantial, persuasive, and scientifically palatable
results," for the following reasons:
First, popular notions of parapsychology,
often contributed to by the media and pop culture, associate it
with the "sensational, unscientific beliefs and stories about
the paranormal." This inaccurate association "has led
many scientists to simply dismiss the field as being unworthy of
Secondly, "thoroughly understanding
the nature of the existing evidence in parapsychology is not easy."
Generally, people will tend to look for the glaring scientific evidence
in support of the fantastical claims of psychic phenomena that have
arisen over the centuries, but all they will find are anecdotes.
This inevitably leads many to believe that there is no evidence
in support of psi, but that is not the case.
Third, "even if someone wanted
to study the evidence, much of the persuasive work is published
in limited circulation professional journals. These can be found
in most large university libraries, but in many cases, scholars
must request reprints and technical reports from authors."
And finally, accepting the existence
of psi unleashes common fears and beliefs such as:
- "It is associated with diabolic
forces, magic and witchcraft. "
- People might be able to read my
mind and know that I am secretly or unconsciously harboring sexual
or aggressive thoughts.
- "Thinking about psi leads to
a medieval superstitious mentality, which will in turn support
a rising tide of dangerous, primitive thinking. "
- With ESP, I might learn things that
I do not want to know about myself or other people, such as accidents
that are about to happen.
- If I am telepathic, how will I distinguish
other people's thoughts from my own? Perhaps this will lead to
- "Many people have a self-destructive
streak to their personality. What damage would result if psi were
used in the service of this factor?"
- "If psi exists, how many of
my other cherished beliefs will I have to give up?"
- "If psi exists, does that mean
that a psychic could watch me while I am using bathroom facilities?"
This depends on the attitude of the
person interpreting the experience. Those who believe psi is impossible
will always look for normal explanations, no matter how implausible.
Those who believe in psi will look for mystical explanations when
normal ones typically suffice. Parapsychologists feel that normal
explanations cannot adequately explain all the recorded experiences,
and therefore feel that all the answers regarding this topic are
not in yet. 2
Opinions about the workings of psi
are fairly dispersed.
One belief promoted by "physicalists"
is that "the psi sensing capacity is like any other human sensory
system, and as such it will most likely be explained by known principles
from biophysics, chemistry, and cognitive science. For these theorists,
psi is expected to be accommodated into the existing scientific
structure, with perhaps some modifications or extensions."
Another belief, promoted by the "mentalists,"
states that "reality would not exist if it were not for human
consciousness. For these theorists, the nature of the universe is
much more effervescent, thus accommodating psi into existing scientific
models will require significant modification of science as we know
Some theorists, however, claim that
while some scientific revision will be necessary, the evidence for
psi already exists in some branches of science, such as quantum
The major research
approaches consist of:
- "Scholarly research, including
discussion of philosophical issues and historical surveys.
- Analytical research, including statistical
analysis of large databases.
- Case studies, including in-depth
studies of personal psi experiences, field investigations, and
comparisons of cross-cultural beliefs and practices related to
- Theoretical research, including
mathematical, descriptive and phenomenological models of psi.
- Experimental research, including
laboratory studies of psi effects."
Although all five of these methods
have contributed greatly to psi research, the main avenue of psi
research today lies in controlled laboratory experiments. "By
applying the exacting standards of the scientific method, researchers
over the past six decades have developed an increasingly persuasive
database for certain types of psi phenomena."
Over the years, several experimental
designs have been developed, "and a select few experiments
have now been repeated hundreds of times by dozens of researchers
worldwide. Sometimes these experiments are conducted as strict replications,
but more often they are conceptually similar experiments that add
controls or extend the range of questions addressed."
While many people still assume that
parapsychologists primarily use the well-known ESP
cards, this is not the case. The most highly-used experiments
Technical Note: Methodologies
While parapsychology uses the same
scientific methods as other fields, it differs slightly in that
parapsychologists must pay close attention to conventional explanations,
since psi phenomena has been defined "as exchanges of information
that do not involve currently known processes."
Thus, an integral part of parapsychological
research involves "eliminating known contact methods from laboratory
setups...In ESP research, this requires knowing about the psychology
of sensation, perception, memory, thinking, and communication, and
about the biology and physics of sensation and movement. In PK studies,
it is important to know about the physical characteristics of the
target, how it works, and what might affect it. In field studies,
and in most laboratory studies, it's important to know about the
ways in which people can interact with each other."
Despite the tightest controls on experiments,
there also exists the possibility that what is observed could have
occurred by chance. "That is, a person's apparent ESP knowledge
about some distant event might be a random guess that just happens
to resemble the target. Or, what looks like a PK effect on a physical
system might be a random change in that system that just happens
to occur at the right time." Therefore, parapsychologists must
also be familiar with the field of statistics
in order to tell how likely it is that the results could have occurred
applications of psi include:
- Psychic healing (since studies
in the field of bio-PK suggest that "traditional mental healing
techniques, such as prayer, may be based on genuine psi-mediated
- Improved methods of making decisions
- Being able to locate missing persons
- Describing events at locations
that one cannot go to "because of distance, time, or accessibility"
(which brings up the possibility of psi-based historians and forecasters)
- Assisting in involvement in the
- Assisting in locating archeological
"Constructive criticism is essential
in science and is welcomed by the majority of active psi researchers.
Strong skepticism is expected, and many parapsychologists are far
more skeptical about psi than most scientists realize. However,
it is not generally appreciated that some of the more vocal criticisms
about psi are simply...authoritarian proofs of the impossibility
of psi...[and] disparaging rhetoric and ad hominem attacks."
Some of the more common criticisms
are as follows:
successful experimental results are actually due to sloppy procedures,
poorly trained researchers, methodological flaws, selective reporting,
and statistics problems." Therefore, there is not a shred of
scientific evidence in support of psi phenomena.
"Response: These issues
have been addressed in detail by meta-analytic
reviews of the experimental literature. The results unambiguously
demonstrate that successful experiments cannot be explained away
by these criticisms. In fact, research by Harvard University specialists
in scientific methods showed that the best experimental psi research
today is not only conducted according to proper scientific standards,
but usually adheres to more rigorous protocols than are found in
contemporary research in both the social and physical sciences.
In addition, over the years there have been a number of very effective
rebuttals of criticisms of individual studies, and within the past
decade, experimental procedures have been developed that address
virtually all methodological criticisms, even the possibility of
fraud and collusion, by including skeptics in the experimental procedures."
"Criticism: Psi phenomena
violate basic limiting principles of science, and are therefore
"Response: Twenty years
ago, this criticism was a fairly common retort to claims of psi
phenomena. Today, with advancements in many scientific disciplines,
the scientific worldview is rapidly changing, and the basic limiting
principles are constantly being redefined. In addition, the substantial
empirical database in parapsychology now presents anomalies that
simply won't [disappear,] thus this criticism is no longer persuasive
and is slowly disappearing. Given the rate of change in science
today, assigning psi to the realm of the impossible now seems imprudent
at best, foolish at worst.
does not have a "repeatable" experiment."
"Response: When many people
talk about a repeatable psi experiment, they usually have in mind
an experiment like those conducted in elementary physics classes
to demonstrate the acceleration of gravity, or simple chemical reactions.
In such experiments, where there are relatively few, well-known
and well-controllable variables, the experiments can be performed
by practically anyone, anytime, and they will work. But insisting
on this level of repeatability is inappropriate for parapsychology,
or for that matter, for most social or behavioral science experiments.
Psi experiments usually involve many variables, some of which are
poorly understood and difficult or impossible to directly control.
Under these circumstances, scientists use statistical arguments
to demonstrate repeatability."
Unfortunately, the number of courses
and degrees available in topics such as parapsychology, transpersonal
psychology, or human consciousness are extremely few.
The standard advice for anyone interested
in parapsychology is to first get a degree in any science, then
take up parapsychology, as this will provide a good foundation in
the basic principles of the scientific method, "which underlies
virtually all parapsychological research." 2
"If your interest in consciousness
research can be focused on a relatively accepted aspect of it, [for
example] biofeedback research, you may be able to find a professor
at some mainstream university doing research that you could work
with. If your primary interest is parapsychology, things get much
tougher. You can forget most mainstream academic institutions if
you want to get seriously involved in this topic at the professional
It is important to note that scientific
parapsychology is an extremely small field, with only a few dozen
people in the entire world working in it. "At present, the
chances of landing a decent job are very small indeed...[in fact],
parapsychologists usually make a living teaching or doing another
"Pursuing parapsychology as a
career also requires strong entrepreneurial skills, enormous persistence
and creativity, resourcefulness, solid training in one of more of
the conventional sciences or in a scholarly discipline, and the
ability to withstand the tides of conventional wisdom. The payoff
is that parapsychology, like other scientific frontiers, is an extremely
challenging discipline with plenty of room for exploring creative
ideas and making significant advancements to the state-of-the-art.
If you expect fast solutions to easy problems, or absolute answers
to clear questions, then parapsychology is definitely not for you.
If you enjoy exploring the full range of human potential and challenging
the status quo, then there is no better discipline than parapsychology."
In one word: meditate. Sit down in
a comfortable position, close your eyes, quiet your mind, and try
and free yourself from all sensory stimulation. While there is no
guarantee that if you do this you will have psychic experiences,
there is a significant amount of evidence suggesting that "meditators
perform better in some laboratory psi tests than non-meditators."
Also, while there are a plethora of
books out there that claim to be able to teach people how to use
psychic powers, the majority of these are under strict scrutiny,
as studies have shown that these types of books and programs typically
fail. However, there are cases of a few people (such as Malcolm
Bessent) who have attended "psychic school" and gone
on to perform very well in several parapsychology experiments.
It may be that psychic ability is similar
to an artistic talent: for those who inherently have that ability,
training will help to improve and refine that ability, and for those
who do not, there is little that training will do. 2
What is parapsychology?
What is not parapsychology?
What do parapsychologists study?
What, specifically, constitutes as a psychic
Why is parapsychology interesting?
Why is parapsychology so controversial?
What separates the normal from the paranormal?
What is the state-of-the-theory for psi?
What are the major research approaches?
What are the major psi experiments today?
What are some practical applications
What are some common criticisms about
Where can I get a degree in parapsychology?
How can I develop my psychic abilities?