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 Phenomena




1. Extrasensory Perception (ESP)

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


A. Clairvoyance

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.

B. Telepathy

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 been reported.

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.



C. Precognition

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 investigators.



Though experimentally, 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 inhibitions.

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 get authenticated.

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, promotes psi.

Those who 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 meaning.



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.


Spiritualism and Mediumship

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 reincarnation.


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 discarnate spirit.


Other Phenomena Related to Survival

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.


Miscellaneous Psi Phenomena

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.



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.


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.