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Extrasensory Perception: Fact or Fiction
Although popular within the media, a person professing to have extrasensory perception, or ESP, is seen by many in our Western culture to be not mentally fit. The fascination with the paranormal has both pros and cons throughout history, yet it has only been in the middle of the twentieth century that paranormal sciences have been thoroughly researched, documented, and seen as more than a con or a sham. The field is still open to discussion as to whether or not ESP and other paranormal sciences truly exist, and controlled testing is needed to prove to many in the scientific community that paranormal sciences are not the imaginings of crack pots, but a valid science, much like that of Copernicus, Newton, and Darwin.
Dr Joseph B Rhine
Extrasensory perception has had a long history of been seen as a sham by the scientific community, placing the evidence that proves it to be true or false under a biased perception. “However, it is contended that such phenomena have been incorrectly analyzed and grossly misinterpreted.”(Nabours, 1943, pg. 191) Because of this biased outlook the scientific community it makes it hard for those involved in paranormal sciences to present their hypothesis to their peers. “While appellations and implications of these reconditenesses have been generally employed as the specious, ostentatious and arrogant accouterments of hocus pocus, they may incidentally still constitute an admissible masquerade which assuredly dissembles some interesting and perhaps important realities.” (Nabours, 1943, pg.191) This creates an impossible environment for paranormal scientists to prove their findings within the scientific community due to the shadow that has been casted over paranormal sciences since Dr. Joseph B Rhine began his research.
The founder of paranormal sciences research, Dr Joseph B Rhine began experiments at his laboratory at Duke University in 1929 with the help of his wife Louisa. “Rhine, by the way, is the person who coined the terms extrasensory perception and parapsychology.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 154) Rhine used cards to establish psychic ability in test subjects. “Rhine tried to determine whether it was possible for a subject to correctly identify the symbols on the cards without having any sensory contact with them.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 154) Rhine used the following tests on subjects; the single card calling test, the blind matching test, the pack calling test, the general telepathy test, the pure telepathy test, and the precognition test. “The single card calling test: the symbol on the top card is guessed, removed face down, followed by the next card, and so on throughout the deck.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “The blind matching test: one card of each symbol is placed face down. The position of the cards is unknown. The five cards are shuffled and the subject is asked to guess the order of the symbols.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “The pack calling test: the subject makes 25 consecutive calls directed at a shuffled but unbroken deck located in another room. The next two test telepathy.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “The general telepathy test: the sender shuffles the cards, cuts them, and looks at the face of each card, while the receiver attempts to read the mind of the sender and guess the symbol on the card on which the sender is concentrating.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “The pure telepathy test: the sender chooses a random order of cards and memorizes them. The receiver then attempts to guess the symbols. The sixth one tests precognition.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “The precognition test: the subject writes down ahead of time the order the cards will be in after having been shuffled and then guesses the order after they have actually been shuffled.” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 155) “On average, the subjects guessed correctly some 28 percent of the time, significantly better than the 20 percent success rate that would be expected by chance.” (Bhattacharjee, Y, 2012, pg. 2) Although this form of testing was standard for the early twentieth century, the lack of a controlled testing environment allowed for the possibility for coincidences or the ability to manipulate the test to occur.
Science or Sense
The data that has been provided by the paranormal science community, also known as the Parapsychological Association, has not been seen as substantial enough for the for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to deem as sufficient evidence. “Those who have investigated ESP have generally approached the subject on the conceptual basis that the quantity of observations can overcome shortcomings in their quality.”(Land, 1976, pg. 306) What is needed in paranormal sciences are more concise tests that are taken in a controlled environment which create a more reliable result to either confirm or dispute the hypothesis presented by the testers. This would create an atmosphere that would hopefully become unbiased and allow for paranormal sciences to show that extrasensory perception truly does exist. “Another danger encountered in the sciences is the one where experimenters, if they are not very careful, obtain precise data on measuring devices rather than on what the devices are supposed to measure.” (Land, 1976, pg. 307) This can also lead to inaccurate results making it harder for the science of parapsychology to be a proven science amongst the scientific community. “Some believers in ESP when confronted with demands for verification of their claims by well-proven scientific methods, including the application of mathematical procedures, state that ESP is 'beyond' science.” (Land, 1976, pg. 306) Some who believe in ESP profess that it is not a science, but a natural process that can occur to a person who has a heightened sensitivity.
Extrasensory perception is explained as a telepathy or clairvoyance ability that utilized the sixth sense. “Although telepathy and clairvoyance have been thus recognized as distinct conjectures, either or both comprise features of Extra Sensory Perception (ESP).” (Nabours, 1943, pg. 191) There are also other labels or terms for those with heightened sensitivity, these include: precognition, retrocognition, and psychometry. Precognition is the ability of knowing the future of upcoming events, retrocognition is the ability knowing the details of past events and psychometry is the ability to learn the history of events through an object. Some, who profess to have ESP, claim to be able to utilize more than one of these abilities, i.e. a clairvoyant who also uses psychometry when doing a reading. There are also tools that are used by those with ESP to help them with their abilities. These tools include: dowsing rods, pendulums, spirit boards, tarot cards, crystal balls, even the palms of people who would like to have a reading done. All of these tools can help a person with ESP clarify their visions and focus upon what is required of their ability. Many who have ESP refer to their abilities as another sense, much like the theorized sixth sense coined by science.
This additional sense cannot be precisely described and cannot always act upon cue. “They therefore constitute a mysterious, additional sense which as yet cannot be ascribed to material bases or causes.” (Nabours, 1943, pg. 191) Yet some scientists claim that this is not possible. “In the light of what is known about humans, it seems highly unlikely that biological evolution has provided them with more than the recognized five senses, which have been adequate for the evolution and survival of the species.” (Land, 1976, pg. 307) If this is the case, how can we explain tarot readers, psychics, mediums, palm readers, and others who profess to have ESP abilities and have become celebrities within popular media? Scientists also wonder “Why do not those who claim ESP capability bring about the demise of the gambling industry? Why do they not become wealthy through stock exchange operations? Why do they not excel in sports and games that involve the withholding of information from opponents?” (Land, 1976, pg. 307) As someone who is a sensitive, I can tell you that the main reason why those with ESP abilities do not use their gift for personal gain is due to ethics. Many others that I know who have these abilities feel that to use their gifts for personal gain would result in a karmic imbalance in their lives. Some still believe that those with ESP will use it to their own benefit through readings by manipulating the readings. “Readings done in person make it possible for the reader to gather background information from the client’s general appearance (clothing, apparent state of health, etc.).” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 161) This is true, many aspects of the person who requested the reading’s life can be determined through careful observation. What is not true is that every reading is “cookie cutter”; each reading is as different as the person who requested the reading. Wynn and Wiggins, firm disbelievers, state in their text “Under such conditions, there is a willingness to try to make the general and ambiguous disclosures fit her own situation. If, however, the feedback is not accepted by the client, these fortune-tellers have a ready excuse. They inform her at the outset that success depends on her cooperation. If the feedback doesn’t succeed, they tell her that she didn’t cooperate!” (Wynn & Wiggins, 2001, pg 162) This is another untruth. When doing a reading and unable to give sufficient information that is requested by the person being read, I feel an ethical responsibility to be completely honest with them and admit that I cannot answer those questions.
Many, like me who have these abilities, feel responsible for them. Even though we were not given a choice in whether or not we want them, we are responsible for the outcome that our gifts can create. Some who doubt these abilities question “how do you know what the future holds?” The honest truth is that what we see is only one future that can be possible. Due to ever changing circumstances it is hard to accurately predict a detailed future. The future is an ever changing creature that can be like a will-o-wisp, altering with every flutter of a butterfly’s wing. Another aspect of having this ability is the connection with a culture unlike the one that you were raised in. In my process of coming to terms with my ability, it is hard to say to acquaintances “hey, I see dead people”, I have come to associate with a new group of peers who not only accept, but also embrace the fact that I am a bit different. “Sociocultural influences on paranormal belief is a predictor of the likelihood that the person will not abandon their religious beliefs in adulthood.” (Irwin, 2009, pg. 35) These peers give rise to a new subculture that support paranormal beliefs that are not held up by the parents of those with ESP abilities. “Despite the limited documentation, there can be no doubt that some parents are vehemently antagonistic to any beliefs or practices associated with mysticism, superstition, the occult, or the New Age movement.” (Irwin, 2009, pg. 36) There is also a cultural connection with the beliefs in the paranormal. “Indeed, Cohn (1999) reported evidence that among Scottish families the belief that one has psychic ability (‘second sight’) conformed to a genetic model.” (Irwin, 2009, pg. 32) It is because of these cultural beliefs that paranormal beliefs continue to live on.
Are you a Believer?
Do you believe in ESP?
Although modern science still has found fault with paranormal abilities that are connected to extrasensory perception, there is a larger cultural following that allows for such beliefs to remain constant throughout changes in society. “In short, paranormal beliefs may well appeal to people with certain innate needs and personality characteristics but the actual form that paranormal beliefs take is primarily molded by cultural and subcultural processes.”(Irwin, 2009, pg.33) The added benefits of cultural recognition amongst those whom support the paranormal sciences community help to keep the sciences of the paranormal alive and provide those who can help to document the existence of the paranormal. With having a cultural connection behind the paranormal helps those who have experienced the paranormal, or those who have extrasensory perception to adapt within a larger culture that dissuades from the belief in the paranormal. In fact, many American cities have strong cultural ties to the paranormal.
In New Orleans, LA; you will find a city rich with voodoo and hoodoo, two religious practices that are steeped in paranormal beliefs. In Salem, MA; after the tragedies of the Salem Witch Trials, Salem now embraces witches. In Lilydale, NY; the town is filled with psychic and has been since 1897. Cassadaga, FL, is steadily following in Lilydale’s footsteps. In California, Texas, Arizona, and Ohio; many of the residents claim to have a paranormal experience with UFO sightings. It is not just the cities or states that have a strong tie to the paranormal, it is the residents. In many states paranormal research societies and teams are being formed in their major cities.
Although scientists are still claiming that parapsychology and paranormal sciences are the stuff of science fiction, it has not stopped the momentum of the study of paranormal sciences. “In the U.S.A. in 1969, after several years of effort by ESP enthusiasts, the Parapsychological Association (founded in 1957) was granted affiliated status in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).” (Land, 1976, pg. 306) This was just the beginning for parapsychology with becoming a legitimate and fully recognized science. What have helped the advancement of paranormal sciences are the opinions of respected psychologists such as Daryl Bem. “Bem made his mark as a psychologist four decades ago by proposing the then radical idea that people adjust their emotions after observing their own behavior-that we sometimes develop our attitudes about our actions only after the fact.”(Bhattacharjee, 2012, pg.1) Bem was also well known for performing a mentalist show at the end of his courses that he taught at various universities. It was this fondness for mentalism and a show that he performed at a Parapsychological Association convention that led to a friendship with Charles Honorton, Rhine’s former protégé. “Afterward, Bem received a letter from Honorton inviting him to visit Honorton's Princeton lab to scrutinize his experimental protocol. Honorton wanted to make sure his experiments would not be undermined by subjects who were gifted psi fakers like Bem. (Bhattacharjee, 2012, pg. 2) Bem agreed to be a subject in a few of Honorton’s experiments. “Bern wrote up the results with Honorton in a paper they submitted to the peer-reviewed Psychological Bulletin. It was accepted days after Honorton died in 1994 and signaled the beginning of Bern's career as a serious researcher of psi.” (Bhattacharjee, 2012, pg. 3) By the end of the twentieth century, Bem had begun to focus upon precognition and started to study the science behind precognition. The results of his controlled testing changed his viewpoint upon paranormal sciences. “Psychologist Daryl Bem's lifelong interest in the tricks of professional mind readers has recently morphed into a scientific investigation of ESP.” (Bhattacharjee, 2012, pg. 4) This is an achievement for the paranormal scientific community, to have an esteemed scientist, such as Daryl Bem confirm the existence of paranormal abilities.
With the ever changing standard of acceptance in American culture and with the popular media’s fascination the paranormal, soon we shall see Parapsychological sciences acknowledged as a genuine science within the scientific community. Also, with the long standing cultural ties to the paranormal, Americans are coming to terms with what was once considered as a con is a reality. While the field is steadily closing, many who respect the scientists and psychics who are so heavily involved with the paranormal are keeping an open mind with regard to the sub-cultural phenomenon that is the paranormal.
Bhattacharjee, Y (2012). Paranormal Circumstances: One Influential Scientist's Quixotic Mission to Prove ESP Exists. Discover, 33(2), 52-58. Retrieved June 3, 2012 from http://discovermagazine.com/2012/mar/09-paranormal-circumstances-scientist-mission-esp/?searchterm=Paranormal%20psychologist
Irwin, H. J. (2009) Psychology of Paranormal Belief: A Researcher's Handbook. Hertfordshire, GBR: University Of Hertfordshire Press. Retrieved June 3, 2012 from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ashford/Doc?id=10491599
Land, R.I (Autumn, 1976) Comments on Hypothetical Extrasensory Perception (ESP) Leonardo Vol. 9, No. 4, pp. 306-307 Retrieved June 3, 2012 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1573360
Nabours, R.K (Jul., 1943) The Masquerade of ESP Philosophy of Science , Vol. 10, No. 3), pp. 191-203 Retrieved June 3, 2012 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/184906
Wynn, C. M. & Wiggins, And A W. (2001) Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends... And Pseudoscience Begins. Washington, DC, USA: Joseph Henry Press Retrieved June 3, 2012 from http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ashford/Doc?id=10039738&ppg=177