V. George Mathew
Holigrative Psychology Institute – Thiruvananthapuram
– 695 583
Parapsychology is the
branch of Psychology which studies behavior transcending known modes of sensory
cognition and motor activity. Scientific study of the so called supernatural
phenomena can be said to have commenced from 1882 with the founding of the
society for Psychical Research in London.
Similar societies now exist in many countries. The term parapsychology has been
popularized by Dr.J.B.Rhine of the Duke
University in U.S.A. The
Parapsychology Laboratory was established at Duke University
in 1934. There, psi phenomena were studied by means of laboratory experiments
under controlled conditions. Many people therefore relate the term
parapsychology mainly to this type of investigation.
Since the phenomena under
study are rare and often contrary to common sense and the known laws of nature,
most scientists remain skeptical as to the authenticity of the phenomena.
Personal prejudices and beliefs of the investigator can have greater effect on
the study than in other sciences. The possibility of the investigator being
fooled by clever charlatans and of biased observation and reporting make people
hesitate to consider evidence from studies as conclusive. All sorts of
criticisms are made on the study, sometimes even going to the extent of
questioning the personal integrity and honesty of the research worker.
The number of psychologists
believing that the existence of genuine parapsychological phenomena has been
demonstrated scientifically has increased considerably in recent times. Still,
some even now try to explain away the reported occurrences in terms of known
psychological concepts like suggestion, hysteria, hallucination, etc. or in
terms of fraud, trickery, etc. Some accept the genuineness of psi capacities
like extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK), but do not consider
the evidence for survival or for life beyond death or for the existence of
spirits adequate. There are scientists on the other extreme who believe that
enough evidence has been gathered to prove the existence of spirits and think
that it is possible to communicate with the spirits of dead individuals.
Classification of Psi
This term refers to
non-sensory cognition. ESP is of two kinds: matagnomy and precognition.
Metagnomy is cognition of the present obtained through means other than
sensory, while the latter relates to the future. Metagnomy itself is of two
types: clairvoyance and telepathy
This is extrasensory
cognition of events and things of the past or present. To study this phenomenon
in the laboratory, a pack of ESP cards or Zener cards are used. A pack of cards
contains 25 cards, consisting of five sets, each set having one of the five
symbols; cross, circle, star, wavy lines, and square. In a simple experiment to
test clairvoyance, the 25 cards are shuffled and kept face down on the table.
The subject has to guess the order of cards in the pack. The probability of
correct guess by chance alone is 5 out of 25 or 1/5 of the total number of
trials when the experiment is repeated. If chance were the only factor
accounting for the correct guess, the number of correct guesses should come
closer and closer to 1/5 of the total number of trials as the number of trials
increase. In actual experimentation involving large numbers of subjects and
long series of trials extending over several years, deviations significantly
different from chance scores have been obtained (about 7 hits per 25). Many
variations of the experiment have been tried. Special care has been given to
rule out the possibility of sensory cues.
Many spontaneous phenomena
have been recorded relating to persons who seem to possess the faculty of
clairvoyance to a remarkable degree. Cryptoscopy is the ability to see things
enclosed in a box or cover. Divination or dowsing is a commonly heard of form
of clairvoyance where hidden objects, underground minerals, metals, water etc.
are located, often using a divining rod which is a forked twig held in the
hands. Some people are reported to show transposition of the senses like being
able to read with fingertips. In autoscopy, the individual claims to see the
organs inside his body. Some persons when handed over an object like a watch can
sometimes say details regarding the people who have used it. This is referred
to as psychometric.
Telepathy is extrasensory
transfer of emotions and thoughts from one individual to another. For studying
telepathy in the laboratory, two persons are required - an agent or sender and
a percipient or receiver. In what is called the general ESP test, the sender
looks at a card and the subject guesses the symbol and writes it down. After a
large number of trials, the number of correct guesses can be counted. Here it
can be seen that the factor accounting for the more than chance success score
can be either telepathy, or clairvoyance or both. Therefore tests of pure
telepathy were devised where the agent simply thinks of one of the given
symbols and the subject makes a guess. The agent writes down the symbol only
after the subject has done so. Elaborate precautions are reported to have been
used to prevent involuntary subliminal articulation and other means by which
the subject might get cues. In long distance telepathy experiments, the agent
and the receiver were seated miles apart. Consistently high scoring rates have
It is generally believed
that telepathy is greater between persons having a similar mental make-up and
who are in rapport with each other. The phenomenon of one individual's mental
state and feelings influencing another when they have no normal means of
knowing it, is known as sympathism. Many persons are
supposed to have much ability in thought reading. Cumberlandism is a parlor
game where a blindfolded man is told where an object is hidden by simply
touching his hand. The alleged cases of mass hypnotism could be controlling the
minds of others through telepathic suggestion. A Russian Parapsychologist
Vasiliev has succeeded in hypnotizing his subject telepathically.
This term refers to the
direct cognition of the future. This does not of course include rational
inference. In a commonly used version of the experiment, the subject is asked
to guess the future order of a pack of ESP cards. Then the cards are
mechanically shuffled and the number of hits are
counted as before. Once the phenomenon of precognition was proved, it became
theoretically rather impossible to conduct experiments on pure telepathy. Precognitive
clairvoyance can be said to be the operating factor.
Spontaneous cases of
precognition occur most frequently through dreams. Some people experience
duplicative precognition. The person has a dream and later on the same events
unfold just as he had seen them in the dream. Many fortune tellers use
crystals, coffee grounds, candles, etc. as an aid in precognition. It is
possible that precognitive ability plays a role in palmistry, astrology, etc.
However, enquiries with a scientific purpose have shown that most fortune
tellers are quacks who just exploit the credulous people. Modern psychology has
shown that suggestion can have a strong influence on human beings. Even death
can be brought about by mere suggestion. The suggestions made by fortune tellers
are believed and are acted upon in such a manner as to make them come true.
A large number of
spontaneous cases are reported in journals of parapsychology which seem to
indicate that ESP occurs in the case of animals as well.
2. Psychokinesis (PK)
This is the movement or
change of state caused in an object by an individual through non-physical
means. In a typical experiment, the subject attempts to influence the outcome
of a mechanically performed dice throw. Just like ESP, the existence of PK also
has been demonstrated experimentally by testing a large number of subjects. PK
scores are generally smaller than ESP Scores, but almost anybody can get
moderate success. The number of dice used per throw, the size
and shape of the dice etc. have no effect on the scoring rate.
Many of the legendary feats
reported by observers seem possible if we accept PK as a fact. There is
experimental evidence that some people can influence plant growth and healing
of wounds in mice through PK. Many people seem to have witnessed levitation
which is lifting objects without contact. In psychogalvanometry, an individual
sends an electric current through a galvanometer by holding the electrodes in
his hands. Apport is bringing objects through the wall into a closed room. In
psychography, changes are brought about on a photographic plate. Some people
regard faith-healing of diseases as a form of psychokinesis. The ability to
prevent vegetable mater from putrefying has been reported. According to popular
conception, poltergeist, in which disturbances occur in a house in the form of
objects moving about, stones falling, objects catching fire, etc. are due to
the presence of a mischievous ghost. Some Parapsychologists hold the view that
the disturbances are caused unconsciously through PK by an adolescent who is
more or less ignorant of the fact that he or she is responsible for the
occurrence. In the production of organic stigmata (wounds in the form of cross
etc. produced on the skin), some process akin to PK might be operating. Hyloclasty
involves microscopic effects on matter. Objects are broken into pieces by touching, perfume is extracted from flowers, etc.
Some such process is
probably involved in the invulnerability to fire found in fire-walking
ceremonies and the ability to withstand extreme cold. The ability to arrest
vital physiological functions without damage has also been reported by
NATURE OF PSI CAPACITIES
telepathy, clairvoyance, pre-cognition and psychokinesis are often treated as
different, the available evidence indicates that there is just an overall psi
capacity. Persons getting high scores in one type get high scores in the other
types and when an individual's score falls in one, it falls in the others also.
Psi phenomena are the product of the overall psychic field, which is a joint
product of the personality and beliefs of all those
who are involved: the experimenter, subjects and even those who are around as
helpers or even mere observers, and the psychic nature of the place. Some
places and certain periods of time may facilitate the operation of psi.
The `Experimenter effect'
which has been demonstrated in many experiments, indicates that experimenters
psychically (through ESP or PK) influence the outcome of the experiment and
tend to get results in line with their attitudes and expectations. This would
mean that there is no `objective truth' independent of the observer, which can
be discovered through experiment (similar to the concepts of operationism,
uncertainty principle, etc. in modern physics).
Motivational factors have
been found closely related to ESP and PK. Boredom and distraction decrease the
scoring rate. There is a general decline from run to run as the experiment
proceeds as well as a decline within each run. There is an end spurt as the
experiment is drawing to a close. Novelty increases the scoring rates. Children
showed best results under competition. Immediate checking of results on each
trial has a facilitating effect on performance. Subjects perform better on
their own preferred method. Though use of hypnosis has given contrary findings
in different studies, there is some indication that hypnotic training may help
to develop psi ability, perhaps by increasing motivation and removing
Higher scoring rates are
obtained when the experimenters and subjects had mutually positive attitudes.
It was found that when packs prepared by the experimenter were mixed with packs
prepared by another person, subjects were found to respond differentially by getting
higher scores on those prepared by the experimenter. Better scores were
obtained when the agent is a person liked by the subject and also belonging to
the opposite sex. Familiarity with the experimental situation, relaxation and
informality of the situation promote psi. Persons who believed in ESP and those
having religious values got higher scores. Experimenters believing in ESP also
produced higher scores. Many high scoring subjects were artists. High scorers
are generally sociable and extraverted, which perhaps enable them to feel at
ease in the experimental situation.
Caffeine helps and sodium
amytal hinders psi. In PK, a lag effect has been observed when the target
number is changed. In some experiments on precognition a displacement effect
has been noted. Some subjects were found to respond consistently to the second
target ahead, instead of the first, indicating precognitive telepathy.
Some people have been found
consistently to get below chance level scores, indicating that psi is operating
in the opposite direction. Negative attitudes of the subjects or experimenter,
introverted personality of the subjects and frustration resulting from
procedural complications or delaying checking of performance are some of the
factors found associated with psi missing. The preferential effect results when
the subject is presented with two contrasting conditions simultaneously and he
responds differentially by psi-hitting on one and psi missing on the other. For
instance, sometimes positive scores are obtained on high-value faces of dice
and negative deviations are obtained on low faces in PK experiments. Often in
differential response situations, the hit distribution curve of one condition
is of the U shape while the other gives its water reflection image.
Inducing And Developing Psi Capacities
Though hypnosis is
associated with psi in the minds of laymen, actual studies have failed to find
any significant relationships. Hypnosis is artificial semi-sleep. Those with a
hysteric temperament (with lot of Inertia), being very suggestible, easily fall
into this state and readily accept and obey suggestions given by another
person. Those with an Activated or Stable temperament can go to the semi-sleep
condition if they really want to, but they find it difficult to accept and obey
suggestions. Psi continues to work in hypnosis, if the subject is already
psychic in normal waking consciousness; hypnosis does not have much relevance
in increasing psi operation. There are some extra-ordinary reports of psi
phenomena like hypnotic regression to past lives. Attempts at replication have
generally failed. Hysterics give imaginary accounts of past lives which fail to
Some investigators have
reported that hypnosis is to a limited extent helpful in training for psi, by
removing inhibitions in the case of some subjects, though for actual
performance, hypnotic condition is not particularly helpful. A relaxed
meditative state helps psi performance. Psi in general is a function of overall
personality and holistic personal growth which increases flexibility of mind,
have a high degree of psi do not use it because of the feeling that normal life
loses all meaning once you go beyond the regularities which give it any
THE PROBLEM OF
SURVIVAL/EXISTENCE OF SPIRITS
Apart from psi capacities,
there is another field of investigation which is more controversial. This is
about whether the human being has a soul which survives bodily death and if so
whether the spirits can communicate with living persons.
In almost all parts of the
world there are persons who claim to be mediums through whom
dead persons are supposed to communicate with the living. Usually the medium
enters a trance-like state and the spirits talk through the medium. Sometimes
the medium uses an ouija board which contains all the alphabets and a
planchette (a moving handrest on wheels with a pointer or a pencil attached)
using which automatic writing can be produced. Spiritualism has grown into a
cult in many countries where people who believe in the existence of a
non-material spiritual world try to communicate with the spirits of the dead.
The seances are held usually at night in dim light. Ostensible messages are
received from dead persons for relatives and friends and descriptions of
conditions beyond the grave are given. Often the medium will have one or more
`spirit controls' who can speak directly through the
medium, make predictions and convey messages to and from the spirit world.
There are many mediums who produce what is called physical or mediumistic
phenomena. These include transportation of physical objects, levitation of the
medium or surrounding objects, raps and various noises, playing musical
instruments, etc. The strangest occurrence is the supposed appearance of a
filmy substance called ectoplasm. This is supposed to be a semi-material
substance derived from the body of the medium. It is believed that the spirits
are able to materialize at a seance using ectoplam coming from the medium. The
materializations may take the shape of a hand, face or body or any other shape.
This supposed objectivisation of forms is known as teleplasty. Many photographs
are available supposed to be those of materializations.
A scientific investigation
into spiritualism and mediumship has been very difficult. Mediumship is often a
means to earn a livelihood for the medium. Even mediums whom
many researchers have found to be genuine resort to guessing, inference and
trickery. Many use elaborate mechanical devices for
producing physical phenomena. There are cases where living persons mistakenly
believed to be dead have communicated through mediums.
Many psychical researchers
hold the view that genuine mediums have ESP and PK and that in trance, their
unconscious mind, gets the desired information through ESP and gives it out in a dramatic form as though a dead man is
speaking. This type of explanation has to be extended very far to account for
the findings of some cross-correspondence experiments. In these, a spirit gives
parts of a message through different mediums in different countries. The
message makes sense only when all the parts are put together. Some
investigators are more inclined to believe that the unconscious minds of the
mediums are collaborating and influencing each other in producing this or that
telepathy from a living person is causing this rather than to accept the
existence of a spirit.
Apparitions are mainly of
four types: the crisis apparitions, post-mortem apparitions, haunting
apparitions and experimental apparitions.
An apparition of an
individual is considered to be a crisis apparition if it appears within the 12
hour period following his death. Many cases are reported where the apparition
of the dead man appears to his relatives or friends who would not have even
known of the event. One obvious explanation would be telepathy. It has been
suggested that telepathy operates more when an individual is in a crisis
situation. He sends a telepathic message which may be received by his relative
or friend only after some time when his mind is in a receptive state (deferred
telepathy). The message received by the unconscious mind enters the conscious
mind in the form of an apparition of the dying man. Some others present at that
time might through telepathy, share the experience.
Post-mortem apparitions are
apparitions appearing 12 hours after the crisis.
Haunting is an apparition
seen repeatedly at the same place at certain times over a relatively long
period of time. Several explanations other than that of survival have been
suggested to account for the cases investigated. One explanation is based on
ESP. It has been mentioned that what one clairvoyant reads in an object is
likely to be seen by other clairvoyants who later on see the object, even when
the reading is incorrect. It is also believed that objects differ in the
evocatory power or the power to stimulate clairvoyance. Some researchers speak
of psychic impregnation of space by the dying man. The places which become
haunted might be places which stimulate clairvoyance in the sensitives. Such
persons might easily see, through clairvoyance, the image of an individual who
had lived in that place or see an interesting event which had taken place
there. Other clairvoyants coming to the location might have the same vision
again and the place is supposed to the haunted. It is also possible that belief
in the existence of a ghost inhabiting a place in the minds of many people
living in the locality might create a telepathic image in the minds of people
who come to that place. The other explanation is that of teleplasty. A dying
man creates a teleplastic phantom as a medium produces a
materialization in trance. The teleplastic phantom becomes independent,
shows automatic behavior and is seen as a ghost.
The non-physical nature of
apparitions is clear from the studies on apparitions. They do not normally
cause any change in the environment, though it is reported that sometimes the
sensation of coldness is felt at that time.
In Experimental apparition,
one person deliberately produces by volition an apparition of himself or of
another man doing a particular act before a subject who is seated elsewhere.
This process takes place through telepathic suggestion.
L.E. Rhine, on the basis of
her studies of spontaneous cases, comes to the conclusion that there are
several cases where it appears that the deceased personality had induced the
experience and a few cases where the initiative of the deceased person is the
only possible explanation.
Many cases are on record
where an individual, usually a child, claims to remember his past birth and
successfully identifies relatives and articles belonging to the deceased
personality. Another explanation for such cases is that as a result of
similarity of mental make-up, the individual is able to know the experiences of
another individual who lived in the past, through ESP. This is parallel to the
sympathism that occurs between two living individuals. Psychometric ESP,
mediated by some object can also account for such cases. However, cases
collected by Ian Stevenson, where persons have talked languages or performed
skills not learned before and where birth marks have been related to injuries
in the previous life (PK through sympathism?) are suggestive of actual
Most of the reported cases
of possession are clearly a manifestation of hysterical dissociation of
personality. The possession is an unconscious device to dominate over others,
to do something which is normally objectionable or to vent out repressed
emotions. Rarely, schizophrenic disintegration of personality may also lead to
split or multiple personality which can be mistaken for possession by a
Other Phenomena Related
Some psychics claim that
the human being has an astral body which by practice can be projected out of
the physical body. Spontaneous astral projection is supposed to take place
during dreams, acute ill-health, drug experiences, etc. This is often called
OBE (Out of the Body Experience).
In bilocation, where a
person is seen at two places at the time, one could be an apparition. There are
mystics who claim that they can leave their physical body and move about in
their astral body.
In many primitive cultures,
there are people who claim that they have brought spirits under their control
through sorcery or black magic and that with their help they can work wonders.
It is possible that PK is the real operating factor, if any.
The similarity in
descriptions of death-bed experiences (NDE or near death experience) of those
who died on the hospital table and were brought back to life also lend support
to the survival hypothesis. According to spiritists, the experience of passing
through a dark tunnel with light at the other end is passing of the astral body
through the pineal gland in the brain, while to the skeptics it is the
experience of the process of brain gradually stopping to function. The other
experiences of dead relatives appearing and seeing gods are explained as
hallucinations produced by intense expectation.
The evidence for ESP and PK
is considered compelling by most psychologists, but the law of parsimony of
science demands that until more conclusive evidence is obtained, it is safer to
consider survival only as a hypothesis in view of the a priori objections and
complexities involved in effecting a compromise with the known laws of science.
Para Psychology studies
report of extra ordinary and unusual psychological experiences like
Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO). Kirlian photography is photographs taken of objects(of the portion of the object touching the
photographic plate) in a high energy electro-magnetic filed in a dark room.
Some people relate the ‘aura’ seen around the object touching the
photographic plate as related to astral phenomena.
PSI AND THE NATURE OF
Attempts to understand psi
in purely physical terms have become less popular in recent years. For
instance, the theory that telepathy involves transmission of some kind of
electro-magnetic waves has been discredited in experiments in which the agent
and the subject were seated in metal cabins.
All the available evidence
seems to point to the fact that psi operates through the unconscious.
Spontaneous ESP comes as intuitive hunches, strong emotions, hallucinations,
automatic writing or dreams. In a telepathy experiment, where shocks given to
the agent were the stimuli, even when the subject did not consciously succeed
in responding correctly, his physiological measures like brain-wave pattern and
electrical conductivity of the skin indicated that he was responding
unconsciously to the shocks received by the agent. The importance of good
interpersonal relations in effecting psi has led to the concept of a subliminal
or transcendental self or collective unconscious which does not exist in space
or time and which is neither one nor many. Some people speak of a paranormal
reality consisting of the past, present and future which is a substratum and
background for the world of the senses.
In many countries, methods
like yoga are supposed to help an individual in developing psi capacities and
in inducing ecstatic states of consciousness about which little is known.
Certain drugs are believed to help temporarily. Practices associated with
witchcraft also may have such an effect.
Some people think that psi
capacities are developing in man in evolution. Some postulate `collective
psychism' and `ideo-plasty' in evolution. A spider learns to make his web from
the collective spider mind through telepathy. New organs develop in animals
during the course of evolution through ideoplasty.
Our conscious self is
perhaps an adaptation of the total personality for biological survival. There
appears to be a mechanism repressing psi capacities. Perhaps the sense organs
are mechanisms of limitation which limit our perceptions to the immediate
environment. Our motor control similarly limits our control to the physical
body. The evidence for precognition gives support to the theory of determinism
or fate. Perhaps, the past, present, and future exist simultaneously and we are
simply passing through it. We may be able to get glimpses of the future under
certain conditions. At the same time, the phenomenon of PK indicates that our
potentiality to act upon the physical world is not limited to our motor
capabilities. Probably our will and actions are also part of the predetermined
course of events.
Psi capacities are supposed
to be a function of overall integration of personality. Methods like yoga are
supposed to develop psi capacities. Forcing psi capacities without overall
development of personality is supposed to produce imbalance in the person.
PSYCHIC FIELD THEORY
The psychic field existing
at any time and place is a function of the evocatory power depending on the
psychic history of the place, the psychic nature of people present there at
that time, etc. In the case of rigid people, psi operates negatively by
suppression of the paranormal. In the case of people with a high level of Stability,
psi operates positively, if they desire so. Any psychic event takes place as a
function of the psychic field.