Parapsychology is the study of mental phenomena, whether actual or purported, that are not currentlyexplainable within the framework of mainstream, conventional science .
Types of parapsychology
The phenomena in question fall into two broad groups.
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.
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,
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
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.
Independent research organizations
University research organizations
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