Hit Counter readers since July 1995.

This FAQ was originally written for the web in 1995.  For more detail on all of these topics, see The Conscious Universe (HarperEdge, 1997), or Entangled Minds (April 2006, Simon & Schuster).


Where are your online experiments?
What is this FAQ about?
Who is the intended audience?
Where can I get a degree or a job in parapsychology?
What is parapsychology?
What is not parapsychology?
How can I develop my psychic abilities?
How can I stop the voices in my head?
What do parapsychologists study?
Why is parapsychology interesting?
What are practical applications of psi?
What are the major research approaches?
What are the primary psi experiments today?
PK on random number generators
PK on living systems
ESP in the ganzfeld
Remote viewing
What are common criticisms about parapsychology?
Why is parapsychology controversial?
What is the state-of-the-evidence for psi?
What is the state-of-theory for psi?
Where can I get more information?
Questions about popular phenomena
Are ghosts real?
Are poltergeists real?
If psi is real, why do casinos make so much money?
Is channeling real?
Are large-scale PK effects, like levitation, real?
Where are the active psi research facilities?

PE02086A.gif (1977 bytes)  What is this FAQ about?

This FAQ was first compiled in 1995 by a group of scientists and scholars interested in parapsychology, the study of what is popularly called "psychic" phenomena, or just "psi" for short.  Since then this document has been translated into French, German, Portuguese, Croatian, Spanish and Finnish, reprinted in many magazines around the world and copied to multiple websites. This is the original copy. The authors' professional disciplines include physics, psychology, philosophy, statistics, mathematics, computer science, chemistry, anthropology, and history. The major contributors 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 founded in 1957 and elected an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1969. While this FAQ is not an official publication of the PA, the contributors include several past-Presidents and members of the Board of Directors of the PA. The authors' cumulative laboratory and field research experience with parapsychology is estimated at over 400 years.

The authors aimed for consensus on each FAQ item, but as with many controversial topics, there were some disagreements. In spite of these disagreements, the authors believed that because of broad public interest in parapsychology and the relative lack of informed content on this topic, it was important to put some basic information about parapsychology on the Web.

To submit questions to the FAQ, please send email to deanradin at noetic dot org.

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AN00130A.gif (2335 bytes)  Who is the intended audience?

This FAQ was written as a general introduction to parapsychology for individuals ranging from high-school students to scientists with little or no background in parapsychology. Writing for such a broad audience is a challenge because gaining an appreciation for the science underlying modern parapsychology requires at least a passing knowledge of statistics, experimental design, modern physics, sociology and philosophy of science, history of parapsychology, and the scientific literature on parapsychology. 

Because our expected audience is so broad, we have touched only briefly on many technical issues underlying issues and debates within the field. Therefore, the approach in this FAQ is to clarify the complex topic of parapsychology without glossing 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 included sections labeled Technical Note.

A decade ago, when the web was in its infancy, there was hardly any credible information about parapsychology online. Today (2005), we are deluged with it, from sources ranging from sheer nonsense to the reasonbly credible.  Perhaps the single most important site to visit is that of the Parapsychological Association. Students and professionals seriously interested in psi research are encouraged to join this AAAS-affiliated professional society. Please read the membership requirements carefully -- the PA is a professional group consisting primarily of scientists and scholars with advanced degrees.

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Technical Note: The Audience

At least five potential audiences were identified for this FAQ: physical scientists, social and behavioral scientists, hardened skeptics, New-Age enthusiasts, and readers with little or no background in any of the conventional sciences or in parapsychology.

For physical scientists, we felt it was important to discuss methodology and terminology, and comment on some of the usual criticisms of parapsychology. For social and behavioral scientists, we added some implications of the observation that people throughout history and across all cultures have reported psychic experiences. For hardened skeptics, or people whose knowledge of parapsychology is based solely upon the skeptical literature, we felt it was important to address the fact that despite the wishful thinking of confirmed skeptics, there is in fact substantial, scientifically persuasive empirical data available.  For people with New-Age interests, enthusiasms, or assumptions, we felt that at least part of the purpose here would be to indicate the limits of what claims the scientific data actually justify. For other readers who may 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 single document.

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BS00825A.gif (3117 bytes) What is parapsychology?

Parapsychology is the scientific and scholarly study of certain unusual events associated with human experience. These experiences have been called "psychic" for want of a better term.

A common misconception is that a parapsychologist is a psychic, or someone who hunts for Bigfoot or UFOs, or an enthusiast of New Age thought or paranormal mysteries.  These are incorrect. A parapsychologist is a scientist or scholar who is seriously interested in psychic experiences including telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and mind-matter interactions (and more, as noted in the next FAQ item).  Unfortunately, many telephone books and on-line sites use "parapsychologist" as a synonym for psychic entertainer, mentalist, conjurer, astrologer, or psychic reader.  This is an inaccurate use of the term "parapsychologist." The Parapsychological Association is an elected affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the largest scientific organization in the world.   In contrast, organizations of psychic readers and mentalists are not members of the AAAS because they are entertainers, and not scientists.

What does it mean to study psychic phenomena?  A long-held, common-sense assumption is that the worlds of the subjective and objective are completely distinct, with no overlap. Subjective is "here, in the head," and objective is "there, out in the world." Parapsychology then is the study of phenomena suggesting that the assumption of a strict separation between subjective and objective may be wrong.  Human experience suggests that some phenomena occasionally fall between the cracks, and are not purely subjective nor purely objective.  From a scientific perspective, such phenomena are called "anomalous" because they are difficult to explain within classical physics models. But they do begin to make sense based on modern physical models. (This is discussed in the book Entangled Minds in more detail.)

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, apparitions, and reincarnation. Most parapsychologists today expect that further research will eventually explain these anomalies in scientific terms, although it is not clear whether they can be adequately understood without significant (indeed, probably revolutionary) expansions of the current state of scientific knowledge. Other researchers take the stance that existing scientific models of perception and memory are adequate to explain some or all parapsychological phenomena.

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TN00018A.gif (1390 bytes) What is parapsychology not?

In spite of what the media often imply, parapsychology is not the study of anything considered weird or bizarre. Nor is parapsychology concerned with astrology, UFOs, searching for Bigfoot, paganism, vampires, alchemy, or witchcraft.

Many scientists have viewed parapsychology with 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 broad range of "psychic" entertainers, magicians, and so-called "paranormal investigators."  In addition, some self-proclaimed "psychic practitioners" call themselves parapsychologists, but that is not what we do.

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WB01162_.GIF (871 bytes) What do parapsychologists study?

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:

Psi: A neutral term for parapsychological phenomena. Psi, psychic, and psychical are synonyms. Psi is not an acronym!

Telepathy: Direct mind-to-mind communication.

Precognition: Also called premonition. Obtaining information about future events, where the information could not be inferred through normal means. Many people report dreams that appear to be precognitive.

Clairvoyance: Sometimes called remote viewing; obtaining information about events at remote locations, beyond the reach of the normal senses.

ESP: Extra-sensory perception; a general term for obtaining information about events beyond the reach of the normal senses. This term subsumes telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition.

Psychokinesis: Also called PK; direct mental interaction with physical objects, animate or inanimate.

Bio-PK: Also called Direct mental interactions with living systems or DMILS. PK on living systems.

NDE: Near death experience; an experience reported by those who were revived from nearly dying. Often refers to a core experience that includes feelings of peace, OBE, seeing lights and other phenomena.

OBE: Out-of-body experience; the experience of feeling separated from the body, often accompanied by visual perceptions as though from above the body.

Reincarnation: The belief that we live successive lives, with primarily evidence coming from the apparent recollections of previous lives by very small children.

Haunting: Recurrent phenomena reported to occur in particular locations that include apparitions, sounds, movement of objects, and other effects.

Poltergeist: Large-scale PK phenomena often attributed to spirits, but which are now thought to be due to a living person, frequently an adolescent.

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Technical Note: Terms

The above terms are representative of common usage, but parapsychologists usually define psi phenomena in more neutral or operational terms. This is because labels often carry strong but unstated connotations that can lead to misinterpretations.

For example, telepathy is commonly thought of as mind-reading. However, in practice, and certainly in laboratory research, experiences of telepathy rarely involve perception of actual thoughts, and the experience itself often does not logically require communication between two minds, but can also be "explained" as clairvoyance or precognition. 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 scientific practice many of the basic terms used above are accompanied by qualifiers such as "apparent," "putative," and "ostensible." This is because many claims supposedly involving psi may not be due to psi, but to normal psychological or misinterpreted physical reasons.
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HH01478A.gif (2560 bytes) Why is parapsychology interesting?

Parapsychology is interesting mainly because of the implications. To list a few examples, psi phenomena suggest

(a) that what science knows about the nature of universe is incomplete;

(b) that the capabilities and limitations of human potential have been underestimated;

(c) that fundamental assumptions and philosophical beliefs about the separation of mind and body may be incorrect; and

(d) that assumptions about the divine nature of "miracles" may have been mistaken.

As an aside, we should note that many parapsychologists today, including most of the authors of this FAQ, take an empirical, data-oriented approach to psi phenomena, and specifically avoid discussing speculative implications that are not supported by data. However, some researchers regard the current findings of parapsychology as having a wide variety of important implications, including implications about the spiritual nature of humankind. Thus, in deference to the broad readership expected of this document, we present in the following Technical Note some of the possible implications of psi, acknowledging that this section is, of course, speculative.

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Technical Note: Some Implications of Parapsychology

Physicists tend to be interested in parapsychology because of the implication that we have a gross misunderstanding about space and time and the transmission of energy and information.

Biologists are interested because psi implies the 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 specifically address many age-old philosophical problems, including the role of the mind in the physical world, and the nature of the objective vs. the subjective.

Theologians and the general public tend to be interested because personal psi experiences are often accompanied by feelings of profound, ineffable meaning. As a result, psi is thought by some to have "spiritual" implications.

From the materialistic perspective, one of the foundations of the current scientific worldview, human consciousness is nothing but an emergent product of the functioning of Brain, Body, and Nervous System (BBNS). That is, no matter how different mind may seem from solid stuff like bodies, it is generated solely by the electrochemical functioning of the BBNS, and so it is absolutely dependent on it. When the BBNS dies, so does consciousness. From this perspective, claims of survival of bodily death, or ghosts, or apparitions, must be due to wishful thinking. Furthermore, the limits of material functioning automatically determine the ultimate limits of mental functioning, thus ESP and PK appear to be impossible, given our current understanding about 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 verified using scientific methods. Because psi seems to transcend the assumed limits of material functioning, and therefore the BBNS, some interpret psi as supporting the idea that there is something more to mind than just the BBNS, that there is some sort of "soul," or the like.

This "non-physical" 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 "the data shows that X" (insert your favorite religious group here) are specifically right about religious doctrines A, B, and C but dead wrong about dogmas P, Q and R.

We must emphasize that there is a big difference between simply noting that the findings of parapsychology may have implications for spiritual concepts, versus the idea that parapsychologists are driven by some hidden spiritual agenda. Some critics of parapsychology seem to believe that all parapsychologists have hidden religious motives, and that they are really out to prove the existence of the soul. This is no more true than claiming that all chemists really harbor secret ambitions 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.

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BS00048A.gif (1605 bytes)Practical applications of psi

Studies of direct mental interaction with living systems suggest that traditional mental healing techniques, such as prayer, may be based on genuine psi-mediated effects. In the future it may be possible to develop enhanced methods of healing based on these phenomena.

Psi may be involved in Murphy's Law: "If anything can go wrong, it will." That is, modern machines based upon sensitive electronic circuits, such as copiers and computers, may at times directly interact with human intention, and as a result, inexplicably fail at inopportune times. Of course, the converse may also be true. That is, the possibility exists to repair, or to control sensitive machines solely by mental means. Such technologies would significantly benefit handicapped persons.

Other potential applications include improved methods of making decisions, of locating missing persons or valuables, and of describing events at locations we cannot go to because of distance, time, or accessibility. This includes the possibility of psi-based historians and forecasters.

Psi abilities may be of benefit to psychotherapy and other forms of counseling, as well as for assisting in healing a range of diseases.  Psi may also be used to provide a statistical edge in the financial markets and in locating archeological treasures.

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How can I develop my psychic abilities?

Some research indicates that the ancient yogic lore was correct: Sit down, close your eyes, relax, and quiet your mind.  If you do this, you will have psychic experiences.  Of course, in this increasingly fast-paced, TV- and cell-phone-saturated world, many people have forgotten what it means to quiet the mind.  One of the most effective means of quieting the "chattering monkey mind" is meditation.  There is insufficient research available to know whether any particular meditative method is better than another for generating these experiences, but there is evidence that meditators perform better in some laboratory psi tests than non-meditators. 

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How can I stop the voices in my head?

The vast majority of people who complain that others are listening to their thoughts, or believe that others' thoughts are intruding into their minds, are suffering from mental illness.  This may not be true all of the time, but it is true often enough to provide a very strong recommendation: If the thoughts of other people are disturbing you, please see a psychologist or psychiatrist. The likelihood that the FBI or the CIA are conducting mind-control experiments on you is extremely small.  And if your doctor or psychiatrist has given you medication, you should take it to see if the voices go away.  If they do, then you were probably experiencing a chemical or neurological imbalance, which can be adjusted.  If the voices do not go away, even after taking medications prescribed by a doctor, then you may be acutely sensitive to psychic impressions and may benefit from long-term meditative practice to quiet your mind.  Please note that exceptional levels of natural psychic sensitivity is exceedingly rare, but it is not unknown.  If you are disturbed about your experiences, we strongly recommend that you check first with your doctor on these matters.

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Where are your on-line experiments?

Click here to go to one set of online experiments, or here for another set of experiments.

Go to FAQ Page 2

Go to FAQ Page 3

Last Updated: January 1, 2007

Copyright 1995-2007 by Dean Radin