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Parapsychology

(parapsychology)





Parapsychology is the study of mental phenomena, whether actual or purported, that are not currentlyexplainable within the framework of mainstream, conventional science .

Contents

Types of parapsychology

The phenomena in question fall into two broad groups.

Extra-sensory perception , also known as anomalous cognition , includes telepathy , clairvoyance , clairaudience , clairalience , clairgustance , and precognition .

Anomalous operation includes psychokinesis (in the past referred to as telekinesis ), out-of-bodyexperiences , near-death experiences , mediumship and reincarnation .

The general term "psi phenomena" (or the somewhat older term, "psychic phenomena") covers all of these categories.

Status of the field

The standing of the field of parapsychology has always been controversial within the scientific community.

As its name indicates, parapsychology is sometimes considered a sub-branch of psychology , and this arose historically since it involves the study of apparently mental faculties. In itsmodern form, parapsychology is an interdisciplinary field, which has attracted physicists, engineers, and biologists as well aspsychologists and those from the softer sciences.

Many people are not satisfied with the term, and have proposed alternatives, such as "psi research" (similar to the older term" psychical research "), but parapsychology is the termthat has the greatest acceptance today.

Parapsychology as a Science

A minority of people who view this field with skepticism , and a large numberof believers in the paranormal, believe that it is impossible in principle to approach the study of paranormal phenomenain a scientific manner, much as it would be impossible to scientifically prove or disprove the existence of a deity . The reason is that they define psi as a phenomenon that science can't explain or study.

A majority of people who view this field with skepticism , and a moderatenumber of believers in the paranormal , hold that if any psi phenomena truly exist, they can be studied by science.

How science views the field

Scientists treat all claims with scientificskepticism . After examining psi claims for over a century, there has been significant difficulty in merging the results ofparapsychology studies with other fields of science. As a result, many in the scientific community feel that parapsychology isnot a real science, that psi phenomena do not exist, and that parapsychology is a pseudoscience . Many scientists and skeptical observers of the field believe that some parapsychologistsknowingly commit fraud ; that some are incompetent; and that some are naive and therefore easily deceived byfraudulent subjects; or perhaps some combination of the above.

Parapsychologists disagree with this assessment. Many have been trained in some science, and are familiar to some extent withthe scientific method.

The precise percentage of scientists holding negative views about parapsychology is unclear, since surveys targeting thisgroup are far less common than those targeting the general population. In his article Save Our Science: Paranormal Phenomena and Zetetics , skeptic Henri Broch bemoans,

"These data are based on an investigation on the belief in parasciences among Frenchmen (published in 1986). [...] Contraryto what might have been thought, the level of belief in the paranormal is directly proportional to the level of education,whatever the religious persuasion may be. Those with higher scientific degrees fare slightly better, although their level ofbelief is superior to [greater than] the average!"

Sociologist Andrew Greeley, studying surveys and polls since 1978, found that not only did the percentage of Americansadmitting to psychic experiences increase over a decade, about two thirds of college professors accepted ESP, and more than 25%of "elite scientists" believed in ESP. Other polls have shown that many scientists hold such beliefs privately but do not sharesuch opinions publicly for fear of ridicule

The Parapsychological Association is an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). There arechairs, centers, or research units concerned with parapsychology in whole or in part at many universities around the world, aswell as independent laboratories involved in parapsychology.

A few parapsychologists are skeptics , for example Chris French and hiscolleagues at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths College in London , and Richard Wiseman and his colleagues at the Perrott-Warrick Research Unit in the PsychologyDepartment of the University ofHertfordshire , both of which units are affiliates of the Parapsychological Association. These researchers do not approach thefield with a belief in the paranormal, but are rather interested in the purely psychological aspects of those who reportparanormal experiences, along with the study of the psychology of deception, hallucination, etc. These researchers also haveprovided their own guidelines and input to other parapsychologists for the design of experiments and how to properly test thosewho claim psychic abilities.

Interpretation of the Evidence

Most scientists hold that the entire body of evidence to date is of poor quality and not properly controlled; in their viewthe entire field of parapsychology has produced no results whatsoever.

A small number of scientists hold that there is a small amount of data from properlly controlled experiments that can betrusted for a small number of psi phenomena. They hold that this evidence is not definitive, but suggestive enough to warrantfurther research.

Criticisms of parapsychological research

  • If an experiment is not controlled to prevent fraud, then the results maynot be trusted. This is especially so given the fact that many people who claimed to possess psi abilities were later proven to be frauds.
  • Parapsychology experiments are usually poorly designed. They often lack proper controls, allowing paths of intentional orunintentional information leakage through normal means, etc.
  • Parapsychology experiments are rarely replicated with positive results at independent laboratories.
  • Positive results in psi experiments are so statistically insignificant as to be negligible, i.e. indistinguishable from chance . For example, parapsychology may have a "file drawer" problem where a largepercentage of negative results are never published, making positive results appear more significant than they actually are.
  • Currently unexplainable positive results of apparently sound experiments do not necessarily prove the existence of psiphenomena, i.e. normal explanations may yet be found.
  • Psi phenomena cannot be accepted as explanation of positive results until there is a widely acceptable theory of how theyoperate.
  • Parapsychologists may prefer and write selective history. The whole story may be avoided.


Responses from parapsychologists to some of these criticisms include:

  • The hard evidence for psi phenomena today is founded on repeatable experiments and not anecdotal evidence. Scientists totallydispute such claims as baseless.
  • There is no such thing as a 100% foolproof experiment in any field of science , and it is unreasonable to hold parapsychology to a higher standard of epistemology than the other sciences. Fraud andincompetence in parapsychology is addressed in the same way it is addressed in any other field of science: repeating experimentsat multiple independent laboratories; publishing methods and results in order to receive critical feedback and design betterprotocols, etc. Scientists respond by saying that they are not holding parapsychology to a higher standard, and that they merelyare holding it to the same standard.
  • Experimental protocols have been continually improved over time, sometimes with the direct assistance of noted skeptics . Meta-analyses show that the significance of the positive results have not declinedover time, but instead have remained fairly constant.
  • There are certain phenomena which have been replicated with odds against chance far beyond that required for acceptance in any other science. Meta-analyses show thatthese cannot be accounted for by any file drawer problem.
  • Anomalous phenomena do not disappear for lack of a theory . There have been many instances in the history of science where the observationof an anomalous phenomenon came before an explanatory theory, and some commonly accepted non-psi phenomena today still lack aperfectly satisfactory, undisputed theory. For instance: _____ Fill in the blank, someone!
  • Theories abound in parapsychology for aspects of psi phenomena, though there is not any one that is comprehensive and widelyaccepted within parapsychology.
  • Anomalous phenomena cannot be dismissed until conventional science can provide explanations for them.
  • It is not necessary to be a licensed psychiatrist or acquainted with clinical psychology to test the validity of psi. The field ofparapsychology overlaps many disciplines, including physics and biology , and often physicists, engineers and others trained in the hard sciences , in conjunction with stage magicians and other experts in deception, are in a betterposition to design experiments for certain types of phenomena than are psychiatrists or psychologists.


The opinion of parapsychologists regarding the overall evaluation of the body of evidence to date is divided. As noted above,some parapsychologists are skeptics and do not believe that there is anythingobserved so far which cannot ultimately be explained within the existing framework of known science. Probably a majority ofparapsychologists believe in the likelihood, or at least the possibility, of actual psi phenomena, though there is a range ofattitudes toward the evidence.

Regarding the evidence , the rule of the thumb of the skeptical community is thatextraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Since skeptics may consider paranormal claims extraordinary, they may thinkthat the evidence needs to be better than what normally would be required.

Most people use this approach to evidence in everyday life. For instance, if the news reports that the president of the USA has just arrived in South Korea for a state visit, most people will take this at face value. The news isconsidered a fairly reliable source of information, and the president visiting a country such as South Korea is not anextraordinary claim. However, if the same news broadcast later mentioned that a 92-year-old man has improved the world recordtime on the marathon by half an hour, many reasonable people would require moreevidence, even despite the assumed reliability of the source, since the claim is extraordinary.

Some parapsychologists agree with critics that the field has not yet reached the degree of consistent repeatability ofexperimental results needed for general consensus. John Beloff , in his book Parapsychology: A Concise History, notes the evanescent -- some have said theapparently evasive -- nature of psychic phenomena over time, and that the range of phenomena observable in a given era seems tobe culturally dependent.

For example, in earlier times, psychic research studied macro physical phenomena (Can someone explain what "macro physicalphenomena" are?) demonstrated by spiritualist mediums which, according to the reports passed down to us in the literature,far surpassed anything that any of today's "psychics" can demonstrate. Skeptics consider this more evidence of the non-existenceof psi phenomena.

Yet many people, such as Beloff, cannot easily dismiss the entirety of all the positive accounts - so many of which came fromthe experts of their day (including scientists and conjurors), many of whom began as noted skeptics - and so believe thatcontinued research in the field is justified.

Other parapsychologists, such as Dean Radin and supporters such asstatistician Jessica Utts , takethe stance that the existence of certain psi phenomena has been reasonably well established in recent times through repeatableexperiments that have been replicated dozens to hundreds of times at labs around the world.

They refer to meta-analyses of psi experiments that conclude that the odds against chance ( null hypothesis ) of experimental results far exceeds that commonly required to establish results inother fields, sometimes by orders of magnitude.

Indeed, many parapsychologists have moved on from proof-oriented research, intended primarily to verify the existence of psiphenomena, to "process-oriented" research, intended to explore the parameters and characteristics of psi phenomena. Time willtell whether these results prove to be evanescent as well.

James Randi and The Randi Challenge

Magician James Randi demands that magicians as well as scientists be included as observers of psychic experiments, tohelp detect trickery. Professional magicians such as Randi have claimed that the feats performed by people who claim to bepsychics can also be achieved by concealed and fraudulent physical manipulation; Randi, Penn and Teller , and other stage magicians often perform such tricks in public, and then explain how theyare done.

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers a one million U.S. dollars prize to anyone who candemonstrate any psychic or paranormal phenomenon. The foundation has set up a program wherein it approves the test proposed bythe parapsychologist, but does not itself judge the results. No one has ever collected the prize.

The offering of prizes for demonstrations is not new to the field. Circa 1924, Scientific American magazine offered a$5000 prize to anyone who could produce any "visible psychic manifestation". Medium Mina Crandon, known in the literature as"Margery", made a bid and was tested by a committee set up by the editorial staff. Her performance was such that the committeemembers were split in their opinions. The magazine published the mixed report in its November 1924 issue, no prize was awarded,and the competition was declared closed the following year. In the early 1900s, the then well-known stage magician and skepticHoward Thurston was sufficiently impressed by the demonstrations of medium Eusapia Palladino that headvertised in the New York Times his offer of $1000 to charity in the name of any fellow conjuror who could duplicatethe feats of Ms. Palladino under similar conditions. He had no takers.

Other Objections to Parapsychology

There are a variety of other objections to parapsychology as well.

  • Psi Phenomena as a Violation of the Laws of Physics or Nature
Some critics claim that the existence of psi phenomena would violate "the known laws of physics", and some of these criticsbelieve that this is reason enough that such phenomena should not be studied. Parapsychologists respond that "laws of nature" aresimply summaries of existing scientific knowledge and do get revised from time to time during the course of scientific progress.If the existence of psi phenomenon were ever proven, explaining how they work might require revising or extending the known lawsof physics. Precognition, for example, would challenge commonly held notions about causality and the unidirectional nature oftime. However, these commonly held notions are often not physical laws, and are already being challenged by modern physicaltheories, quite apart from psi phenomena. Skeptics and parapsychologists alikegenerally agree that, as per Occam's Razor , simple explanations shouldbe preferred for any resulting theories of psi.
  • Parapsychology as Taboo
Some believe that paranormal phenomena should not be studied, either because they are forbidden by their religiousorientation, or because they believe that to do so opens the investigators to some sort of "spiritual attack".
  • Parapsychology as a Danger to Society
Some believe that parapsychology should not be pursued because it somehow represents a danger to society. As appears in theY2000 NSF report Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding: Beliefin the Paranormal or Pseudoscience , "Concerns have been raised, especially inthe science community, about widespread belief in paranormal phenomena. Scientists (and others) have observed that people whobelieve in the existence of paranormal phenomena may have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. Their beliefs may indicatean absence of critical thinking skills necessary not only for informed decisionmaking in the voting booth and in other civicvenues (for example, jury duty), but also for making wise choices needed for day-to-day living." Although under the heading'paranormal phenomena' the report lists topics such as astrology, UFOs, and the Loch Ness Monster, it also lumps in belief inESP, and by implication, most parapsychology.
  • Parapsychology as a Waste of Resources
Some believe that parapsychology should not be funded because it is a waste of resources that would be better spent on otheractivities. Some of these critics feel so strongly about this that they engage in activism to try to prevent or remove fundingfrom psi research. Psychic detectives may waste valuable policeresources.

History

See History of Parapsychology

Trivia

  • German psychiatrist Hans Berger originally invented the electroencephalograph (EEG) in 1929 as a tool to study whethertelepathy might be explained by brain waves.
  • The first and only PhD in Parapsychology awarded by the University of California, Berkeley was to Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove in 1980. Subsequentlysome activists unsuccessfully lobbied the Berkeley administration to revoke the degree.
  • Patent #5830064, "Apparatus and method for distinguishing events which collectively exceed chance expectations and therebycontrolling an output", was granted by the US Patent Office on Nov 3rd, 1998 to inventors including several researchers from thePrinceton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) center. The patent in no way relies on the existence of psi phenomena, but in thedescription the inventors do suggest that "One application of the present invention is the investigation of anomalous interactionbetween an operator and random physical systems, whether by serious scientists or curious members of the public who would like toconduct experiments on their own."

External Links

General organizations

  • The Parapsychological Association is the professional association of parapsychologists and isaffiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
  • PsiPog.net  : Psychic Students In Pursuit Of Guidance. Learn to be psychic, andprove ESP to yourself, by reading the articles written by experienced psychics. Non-profit organization.

Independent research organizations

University research organizations

  • Bigelow Chair of Consciousness Studies at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV).

Other links

Famous Parapsychologists

Putative Psychics

Alleged Frauds

  • Mina MargeryCrandon
  • Uri Geller - Israeli telekineticist, famous for "remote bending" of spoonsin television shows
  • Sathya Sai Baba
  • S. G. Soal
  • Jim Jones - performed fake healings. He was the leader of the People's Temple that committed mass suicide in 1978

Psychic Investigations

References

  • The Conscious Universe, by Dean Radin , Harper Collins, 1997, ISBN 0062515020 .
  • Parapsychology: A Concise History, by John Beloff, St. Martin's Press, 1993, ISBN 0312096119 .

See also




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