Extrasensory Perception: Science or Pseudo?
By Myranda Grecinger
Is there evidence for ESP (extrasensory perception)? That is a loaded question in the minds of proponents and opponents alike. The traditional scientific community does not recognize the study of ESP as a valid science yet the debate continues as new research reveals intriguing results. There are substantial arguments on both sides that could easily sway either the skeptic to believing or the believer to skepticism. Since the beginnings of recorded history there have been stories of people with strange, unexplainable gifts, these stories often cause us to question what we really know about the abilities of the human mind. For generations and generations science has attempted to discover an explanation behind the apparent phenomenon of E.S.P, but is it possible that in their attempts to argue against it and remain skeptical they have missed something? Perhaps there is something to the notion after all, or is the idea simply a hope among humans that fills the desire to be something greater than what we are and make sense of a senseless world?
Many scientists and researchers claim that the study of ESP is a pseudo-science. According to The Biology Cabinet Organization, “Pseudoscience is any scheme of assertions, beliefs and methods, wrongly considered as scientific, it differs from anti-science in the nonattendance against real science and the scientific method” (2004). However there are also many scientists and researchers who believe ESP is a field which does not get enough recognition and is a major part of the human mind which has yet to be fully explored. Esteemed Dr. Robert G. Jahn of Princeton University among others claims to have during his thirty years of study found indisputable evidence that Extrasensory phenomena and other phenomena do exist. (PEAR staff, 2010) Unfortunately, there are those who would say that this so called “evidence” is certainly not sufficient enough to warrant the continuing study of or belief in Extrasensory Perception and could easily cite the fact that as of this year Princeton University is suspending their research in the matter.
The greater scientific community clearly does not accept the validity of the study of ESP and continue to make claims that any research conducted yields questionable results at best and even go a step further often claiming that research methods in this field and testing are flawed. Proponents state that it is a valid science and that if scientific journals would publish their findings so that their research could be reviewed properly that naysayers may soon be singing a different tune. It is interesting when one realizes the intensity of the debate to consider that there is a long standing tradition in many cultures concerning the belief that the human mind is capable of far more than can be experienced through the five known senses. Even more interesting is that the tradition of belief appears to continue even in modern civilizations, “In Europe the percentage of persons reporting telepathy was 34%, clairvoyance was reported by 21% and 25% reported contact with the dead, reports in the U.S. were considerably higher” (Haraldsson and Houtkooper, 2011). With so many average people believing and reporting experiences it is difficult to ignore, at the very least one must admit there may be something to at least some of these claims.
Science deals with that which can be proven but there is much doubt as to the possibility of ESP ever meeting this requirement, this is because the issue of E.S.P often deals in personal experience and is only relayed after the fact. “Anecdotes are insufficient as scientific evidence of extrasensory perceptions. What is needed are controlled experimental tests that rule out the possibility of coincidence. One of the reasons scientists have difficulty believing that psi effects are real is that there is no known mechanism by which they could occur.”(Wynn and Harris, 2001) The problem with this ideal is that it maintains the notion that a lack of evidence for one theory is proof for another, which simply is not the case. In order to definitively state that something did not occur or did not exist one would need to have proof just as one would need to prove its existence or to support its occurrence. Simply stating that there is not a known mechanism by which something could occur does not mean that there is not one, science is discovering new things even within the human body all the time.
The study of ESP has attracted many highly revered researchers and scientists and they believe that their findings not only prove that it is a valid field of study, but also its factual existence. According to the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research lab, Neil Bohr said “we must indeed remember that the nature of our consciousness brings about a complementary relationship in all domains of knowledge, between the analysis of concept and its immediate application.” He also stated that “in associating the psychic and physical aspects of existence we are concerned with a special relationship of complementarity.” It is often easy to write off ideas such as ESP as a bunch of spiritual nonsense until one considers the fact that what we are discussing is an extension of the human thought process, an extension of emotions and an extension of the physical abilities all balanced together, each of these things already work together to do marvelous things everyday such as staying in shape or playing a game of chess. While it is obvious that there is no end to this debate in the foreseeable future, the facts remain that the arguments on both sides may be valid and most certainly deserve further review at the very least.
Stephen M. Phillips said it best in the introduction to his 1995 article Extrasensory Perception of Subatomic Particles when he asked “What can constitute universally acceptable, scientific proof of paranormal phenomena?” The problem is that often positive results are unable to be replicated which is exactly what science requires. Is this because the phenomenon does not exist? Perhaps it is more indicative of the fact that we simply do not have a grasp of exactly what the phenomenon is. Someone who claims to know about some catastrophe the future holds should be able to pick the winning lottery number right? What if it is not that simple? It may be wiser to look at ESP the same way in which we assess other talents.
The reality is that most people can kick a ball but most people are not necessarily great soccer players. A person who can read musical notes does not necessarily possess the coordination to play the piano professionally. If ESP may simply be something that is an extension of abilities that most of us already possess then it is possible that science may be looking for proof in the wrong place. Of course there is also an idea that ESP is more of an extension of intuition on some level, in which case just because we feel uncomfortable walking down a dark alley alone and fear some impending danger does not mean that we will definitely get mugged. There are those who believe that sometimes it is these very feelings that cause catastrophe to strike.
Perhaps when you feel nervous walking down the dark alley you begin to walk faster hoping to avoid whatever lurks in the shadows when you suddenly trip over something in the path and break your arm. Your mind suddenly jumps to the conclusion that this was the reason you felt uneasy all along. You feel your fears were warranted when in reality it was these ideas and emotions and your bodies reaction to them that caused the issue. If ESP is related to these things then it would stand to reason that they would be improvable but that does not make them any less real. It is something that you had predicted in a sense that did in fact happen. This is a simple example, but similar logic applies on a larger scale.
If a person subconsciously or consciously was stressing over all of the terror threats and tension going on in the world and imagined all a person would have to do to bring down a large portion of this country would be to fly a plane into a nuclear reactor and shut down the power grid to a highly populated and economically important area and they picture how it would happen in their mind, were they just imagining or was it a vision? What is the difference and who determines that? If soon after the realization of that weakness, such an event were to happen would that mean that this person had accurately predicted the event or was it pure coincidence and who decides either way? Why on Earth would this person be expected to be able to correctly identify some wavy lines or shapes on a card to prove he accurately predicted this horrible event? What does one have to do with the other? Another important question is with all of the amazing things that we are already aware of why should it be such a hot debate as to whether or not it is possible that a person could conceive of such a thing prior to its physical occurrence, after all, don’t we all do this to some extent every day? The situation is hypothetical but shows the problem with how ESP is viewed, as though it must be something that can be controlled in order to be real and must be able to be tested in accordance with tests that may actually be outside the realm of the subject’s abilities.
Another problem with the study of or argument against ESP is that it encompasses such a wide range of possible abilities. You would not use the same tests to study performance levels among dancers and hockey players in most cases, yet they are both very skilled physical activities. Similarly the testing of a person claiming to have telekinetic abilities or clairvoyance should not be the same as those given to someone who claims to have the ability to sense illness or see the future. There are many abilities that are said to be part of ESP yet not all people who claim to have one have the others and vice versa. What exactly is ESP? The letters stand for extra sensory perception yet we are talking about things that simply require varying degrees of mental and emotion focus and talent, that is not exactly extra. Maybe the reason it is so scorned by the majority of the scientific community is because we are trying to make it out to be something beyond human capability, when in fact if we can fathom the existence of these “gifts” in humans then we are in effect saying that these things are within human capabilities and they must exist.
According to the Biology Cabinet Organization “Based on pseudoscience, many dishonest beliefs have derived, supposing that the reality relies on one's perception, not on the observation and experimentation matters.” (2004) but in the fact is that reality does rely on one’s perception in many instances during everyday life. Let’s say one child leaves a doll laying on the ground another picks it up, who should have the doll? The first child may say she was not done and only laid it down for a moment so it should still be her turn to play with it while the second child perceives the situation differently deciding it is her turn because she found it on the ground. Both children experienced the same event but both perceive a different reality. It is the same with ESP; let us not forget that every type of science in existence today was once considered a pseudoscience.
Telepathy is communicating without speaking and it is said that the ancient Egyptian Papyrus discusses it in the form of dream sharing. Are we really disputing the existence of something that has written accounts of occurring that long ago and still goes on today? We accept written accounts of history as fact, what makes this any different? Christians have practiced the idea that Moses parted the sea and that several characters heard divine voices, One king even conjured up a spirit of a dead ancestor, While science may not agree it is the most popular religion in the world and that has to say something. Even the American FBI has something to say about ESP and has studied it extensively and is still reviewing cases, their website says “ESP is considered a perception of information about events beyond what may be discerned through the five physical senses or deduced from past experience or knowledge” (USFBI, 2012). It was even studied extensively in Nazi Germany. With this much interest over such a long period of time it is difficult to believe that there is nothing to the claims. Some would say that the fact that it is such a long held belief by so many people is in and of itself a form of proof.
The fact is that there is a lot of information out there on the various types of ESP and arguments for and against, what there isn’t is an abundance of proof either way. Is there evidence for ESP (extrasensory perception)? Realistically the answer to this question would have to be at this time no, but there also is not currently any evidence that definitively debunks it either. Any evidence that currently exists on either side is purely circumstantial at best, whether it be the fact that most positive test results cannot be recreated or the fact that most evidence is hearsay or antidotal in nature. While it is true that the vast majority of the traditional scientific community does not recognize the study of ESP as a valid science continuing research may reveal surprising results in the future. It certainly does not appear that we are in any danger of interest on the subject fading away any time soon. Whether or not something has been missed or important information has fallen by the wayside during the pursuit for the truth remains to be seen, the important thing is that the search for the truth presses forward and that no avenue goes untraveled. ESP may or may not be real, in any number of its forms and truth may be in the eye of the beholder, then again maybe it is nothing special to begin with, just something we do not quite understand yet, but whatever the case it is clear that these are all simply musings and the debate goes on. The only thing continued research can do is provide more knowledge, and that is where the most important power lies in any case.
Biology Cabinet, (2004)PSEUDOSCIENCE, http://www.biocab.org/Pseudoscience.html
-Wynn, Charles M.; Wiggins, Arthur W.; Harris, Sidney (2001) Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends... And Pseudoscience Begins, Joseph Henry Press, 2001. p 160. http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ashford/Doc?id=10039738&ppg=160
Pear Staff (2010) Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research www.Princeton.edu
Haraldsson, Erlender and Houtkooper, J., (2011) Psychic Experiences in the Multinational Human Values Study,
- PHILLIPS,STEPHEN M.(1995) Extrasensory Perception of Subatomic Particles, Journal of Scientific Exploration, Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 489-525,http://www.scientificexploration.org/
-FBI, (2012) Extra-Sensory Perception, http://vault.fbi.gov/Extra-Sensory%20Perception
© 2012 Myranda Grecinger