Compiled by Dean
Radin, PhD of UNLV's Cognitive Research Division
A helpful guide to parapsychology and
the facts regarding
While the Amazing
Randi and other sceptics maintain that there is no concrete evidence to
prove the existence of any paranormal phenomena, groups such as the
CRD are conducting respectable experiments and producing statistically
significant results. What do the
have to say about this? That most of these results are not
is a powerful weapon in the hands of the sceptics. Or is this just an
of our seeming inability to isolate the conditions that produce
phenomena? This FAQ should help you understand the facts as they stand
today and serve as a lesson in clear thinking for anyone.
April 27, 1998
Table of Contents
are some practical applications
What are the
major research approaches?
What are the
major psi experiments today?
What are common
criticisms and responses about parapsychology?
Why is parapsychology
What is the
state-of-the-evidence for psi?
What is the
state-of-the-theory for psi?
Where can I
get more information?
What is the
history of parapsychology?
Are there any
psi research experiments accessible over the Web?
Where are the
active psi research facilities?
to this FAQ
- Who compiled
the intended audience?
This FAQ was compiled
by an ad-hoc
group of scientists and scholars interested in parapsychology, the
of what is popularly called "psychic" phenomena. The disciplines
in this group include physics, psychology, philosophy, statistics,
computer science, chemistry, anthropology, and history. The major
and their affiliations are listed at the end of this document.
The majority of this
group are members
of the Parapsychological
Association (PA). The PA is an international professional society
in 1957 and elected an affiliate of the American Association for the
of Science in 1969. While this FAQ is not an official publication of
PA, the contributors do include several past- Presidents of the PA,
the current (1995) President, and past and present members of the Board
of Directors of the PA. The authors' actual laboratory and field
experience with parapsychology is estimated at over 400 years.
The group aimed for
consensus on each
FAQ item, but as in many intellectual pursuits, especially in young,
domains, there were some sharp disagreements. In spite of these
the authors believe that because of burgeoning public interest in
the relative lack of reliable information, and the many myths and
associated with this field, it was important to put some basic
on the World Wide Web sooner rather than later.
To submit questions
to the FAQ, send
email to Dean Radin (firstname.lastname@example.org
WHO IS THE INTENDED
This was written as a
to parapsychology for individuals ranging from advanced high-school
to professionals with little or no background in parapsychology.
for such a broad audience is a challenge, because gaining an
of parapsychology today requires at least a passing knowledge of a wide
range of topics, including statistics, experimental design, quantum
theory, the sociology and philosophy of science, history of
and the scientific literature on parapsychology.
Because our expected
audience is so
broad, we have touched only briefly on many technical issues that
interesting issues and debates within the field. Therefore, the
in this FAQ is to clarify the complex topic of parapsychology without
over important points and without "dumbing down" the basic content. For
a few particularly tricky issues that we do wish to cover here, we've
sections labelled Technical Note.
We eventually plan to
through links to other sources on the Web) a comprehensive source of
on parapsychology, including details on the major topics of debate, the
prevailing theories, discussions of empirical evidence, links to
papers, reference sources, mission statements and other items from the
major parapsychological research centers, individual researchers' home
pages, and home pages for relevant scientific and scholarly societies.
The content and style
of this FAQ sparked
a vigorous debate among the authors. At least five potential audiences
were identified: physical scientists, social and behavioral scientists,
hardened skeptics, New-Age enthusiasts, and readers with little or no
in any of the conventional sciences or in parapsychology.
scientists, we felt it
was important to discuss methodology and terminology, and comment on
of the usual criticisms of parapsychology. For social and behavioral
we added some implications of the observation that people throughout
and across all cultures have reported psychic experiences.
skeptics, or people whose
knowledge of parapsychology is based solely upon the skeptical
we felt it was important to address the fact that there is substantial,
scientifically persuasive empirical data available. For people with
interests, enthusiasms, or assumptions, we felt that at least part of
purpose here would be to indicate the limits of what claims the
data actually justify.
For readers who know
little or nothing
about the topic, or about science or scientific methods, we've applied
a broad-brush approach to cover as much of the field as possible in a
document. Hyperlinks will be added in future editions to help flesh out
Parapsychology is the
scholarly study of certain unusual events associated with human
is that the worlds of the subjective and objective are completely
with no overlap. Subjective is "here, in the head," and objective is
out in the world." Parapsychology is the study of phenomena suggesting
that the strict subjective/objective dichotomy may instead be part of a
spectrum, with some phenomena occasionally falling between purely
and purely objective. We call such phenomena "anomalous" because they
difficult to explain within current scientific models.
These anomalies fall
into three general
categories: ESP (terms are defined below), PK, and phenomena suggestive
of survival after bodily death, including near-death experiences,
and reincarnation. Most parapsychologists today expect that further
will eventually explain these anomalies in scientific terms, although
is not clear whether they can be fully understood without significant
might say revolutionary) expansions of the current state of scientific
knowledge. Other researchers take the stance that existing scientific
of perception and memory are adequate to explain some or all
In spite of what the
media often imply,
parapsychology is not the study of "anything paranormal" or bizarre.
is parapsychology concerned with astrology, UFOs, searching for
paganism, vampires, alchemy, or witchcraft.
Many scientists view
with great suspicion because the term has come to be associated with a
huge variety of mysterious phenomena, fringe topics, and pseudoscience.
Parapsychology is also often linked, again inappropriately, with a
range of "psychic" entertainers, magicians, and so-called "paranormal
In addition, some self-proclaimed "psychic practitioners" call
parapsychologists, but that is not what we do, as this FAQ will help to
Many feel that the
strangest, and most
interesting, aspect of parapsychological phenomena is that they
do not appear to be limited by the known boundaries of space or time. In
addition, they blur the sharp distinction usually made between mind
and matter. In popular usage, the basic parapsychological phenomena
are categorized as follows:
NOTE: BASIC TERMS
: Direct mind-to-mind communication.
Also called premonition.
Obtaining information about future events, where the information could
not be inferred through normal means. Many people report dreams that
to be precognitive.
: Sometimes called remote
viewing; obtaining information about events at remote
beyond the reach of the normal senses.
a general term for obtaining information about events beyond the reach
of the normal senses. This term subsumes telepathy, clairvoyance, and
: Also called PK; direct mental interaction with physical objects,
: Direct mental interactions with living systems.
: Near death experience; an experience reported by those who were
from nearly dying. Often refers to a core experience that includes
of peace, OBE, seeing lights and other phenomena.
: Out-of-body experience; the experience of feeling separated from the
body, often accompanied by visual perceptions as though from above the
Reports, typically from children, of apparent recollections of previous
reported to occur in particular locations that include apparitions,
movement of objects, and other effects.
Large-scale PK phenomena
often attributed to spirits, but which are now thought to be due to a
person, frequently an adolescent.
- Psi : A
neutral term for parapsychological
phenomena. Psi, psychic, and psychical are synonyms.
The above terms are
of common usage, but parapsychologists usually define psi phenomena in
more neutral or operational terms. This is because labels often carry
but unstated connotations that can lead to misinterpretations.
For example, telepathy
thought of as mind-reading. However, in practice, and certainly in
research, experiences of telepathy rarely involve perception of actual
thoughts, and the experience itself often does not logically require
between two minds, but can also be "explained" as clairvoyance or
Keep in mind that the names and concepts used to describe psi actually
say more about the situations in which the phenomena are observed, than
about any fundamental properties of the phenomena themselves. That two
events are classified the same does not mean they are actually the same.
In addition, in
many of the basic terms used above are accompanied by qualifiers such
"apparent," "putative," and "ostensible." This is because many claims
involving psi may not be due to psi, but to normal psychological or
WHY IS PARAPSYCHOLOGY
because of the implications. To list a few examples, psi phenomena
(a) that what science knows about the nature of universe is incomplete;
(b) that the presumed capabilities and limitations of human potential
been underestimated; (c) that fundamental assumptions and philosophical
beliefs about the separation of mind and body may be incorrect; and (d)
that religious assumptions about the divine nature of "miracles" may
As an aside, we
should note that many
scientific parapsychologists today, including most of the authors of
FAQ, take an empirical, data-oriented approach to psi phenomena, and
avoid discussing speculative implications that are not supported by
However, some researchers regard the current findings of parapsychology
as having a wide variety of important implications, including
about the spiritual nature of humankind. Thus, in deference to the
readership expected of this document, we present in the following Technical
Note some of the possible implications of psi, acknowledging
this section is, of course, speculative.
In general, physicists
to be interested in parapsychology because of the implication that we
a gross misunderstanding about space and time and the transmission of
and information. Biologists are interested because psi implies
existence of additional, unexplained methods of sensing the world. Psychologists
are interested for what psi implies about the nature of perception and
memory. Philosophers are interested because psi phenomena
address many age-old philosophical problems, including the role of the
mind in the physical world, and the nature of the objective vs. the
and the general
public tend to be interested because personal psi experiences are
accompanied by feelings of profound, ineffable meaning. As a result,
is thought by some to have "spiritual" implications.
From the materialistic
perspective, which is one of the foundations of the scientific
human consciousness is nothing but an emergent product of the
of Brain, Body, and Nervous System (BBNS). That is, no matter how
mind may seem from solid stuff like bodies, it is generated solely by
electrochemical functioning of the BBNS, and so it is absolutely
on it. When the BBNS dies, so does consciousness. From this
claims of survival of bodily death, or ghosts, or apparitions, must be
due to wishful thinking. Furthermore, the limits of material
automatically determine the ultimate limits of mental functioning, thus
ESP and PK appear to be impossible, given our current understanding
how the world works.
And yet, psi
phenomena have occurred
in all cultures throughout history, they continue to occur, and some of
the reported phenomena have been persuasively
using scientific methods. Because psi seems to transcend the
limits of material functioning, and therefore the BBNS, some interpret
psi as supporting the idea that there is something more to mind than
the BBNS, that there is some sort of "soul," or the like.
aspect, an aspect
that does not seem to be as tightly bounded by space or time as present
scientific models require, might survive bodily death. If so, there may
be important truths contained in some spiritual ideas and practices. Of
course, parapsychology is a very long way from being able to say that
data shows that X" (insert your favorite religious group here) are
right about religious doctrines A, B, and C but dead wrong about dogmas
P, Q and R.
We must emphasize
is a big difference between simply noting that the findings of
may have implications for spiritual concepts, versus the idea that
are driven by some hidden spiritual agenda. Some critics of
seem to believe that all parapsychologists have hidden religious
and that they are really out to prove the existence of the soul. This
no more true than claiming that all chemists really harbor secret
about alchemy, and thus their real agenda is to transmute mercury into
gold. The reasons why serious investigators are drawn to any discipline
are as diverse as their backgrounds.
SOME PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS OF PSI?
Studies of direct
with living systems suggest that traditional mental healing
such as prayer, may be based on genuine psi-mediated effects. In the
it may be possible to develop enhanced methods of healing based on
Psi may be involved
in Murphy's Law:
"If anything can go wrong, it will." That is, modern machines based
sensitive electronic circuits, such as copiers and computers, may at
directly interact with human intention, and as a result, inexplicably
at inopportune times. Of course, the converse may also be true. That
the possibility exists to repair, or to control sensitive machines
solely by mental means. Such technologies would significantly benefit
improved methods of making decisions, of locating missing
or valuables, and of describing events at locations we cannot
to because of distance, time, or accessibility. This includes the
of psi-based historians and forecasters.
Highly developed psi
benefit psychotherapy and other forms of counseling.
may be used to provide a statistical edge in the financial markets and
in locating archeological treasures.
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Copyright © 1997 Dean Radin