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Mod 10 » Extrasensory Perception

What is Parapsychology?
This page will define and discuss parapsychology by contrasting parapsychology with psychology, introducing a brief history,
and describing two key experiments, the Pearce-Pratt experiments and the Ganzfeld series, and finally describe an influential
demonstrator of psychic phenomenon, Uri Gellar.

Parapsychology Defined

Psychical research, psi research (or as it is now known, parapsychology), refers to the experimental and quantitative study of
paranormal phenomenon. Paranormal means beside or beyond normal, and is used to describe phenomenon that are not
explicable in terms of our ordinary understanding or current scientific knowledge.

As its name indicates, parapsychology is sometimes considered a sub-branch of psychology since it involves the study of
apparent mental faculties. In its modern form however, parapsychology is an interdisciplinary field, which has attracted
physicists, engineers, biologists, psychologists and those from other sciences. Parapsychology has no formal affiliation with
contemporary psychology nor is it studied in most psychology departments.

Psychology vs. Parapsychology

Psychology Parapsychology

In psychology, the scientific study of human Parapsychology is the study of "paranormal"


behaviour, psychologists carry out research to occurrences, such as the various types of ESP.
understand the nature of and bases for observable Parapsychologists search for evidence for unexplainable
phenomena. phenomena.

Uses systematic scientific methods in combination The evidence for ESP rests on paranormal or statistical
with statistical analysis to describe and explain oddities that cannot be explained by chance or any
"normal" phenomena. known natural cause.

Psychology is a formal academic discipline Although parapsychology is not normally a formal


represented in all major universities, with strong university academic discipline, there are over half a
professional societies and scores of peer-review dozen peer-reviewed journals dedicated to
journals. parapsychology.

Parapsychologists generally accept ESP as proven, and contend that scientific theories
need to be amended to include this phenomenon. Critics disagree with the contention
that ESP is a fact, arguing that the evidence supporting its existence is plagued by
flaws. Historically, much research has been revealed as fraudulent.

J.B. Rhine & The History of Parapsychological Research

Joseph Banks Rhine, initially a botanist by formal training, studied psychology at


Zener Cards (also called ESP Harvard and then Duke with William McDougall. Rhine is generally considered to be the
cards), created by Karl Zener, an founding father of parapsychology (he and McDougall coined the term) as an area of
associate of J.B. Rhine, are often scientific inquiry. Inspired by a lecture by Arthur Conan Doyle on the possibility of
used in parapsychological communicating with the dead, he initiated formal laboratory and field research on
research. While an agent views a paranormal phenomena at Duke University. He also started the Journal of
card, participants are asked to Parapsychology, founded the Parapsychological Association and edited several editions
guess which of the 5 possible of the book "Extra Sensory Perception". His Rhine Research Center and Institute for
cards the agent is viewing. Parapsychology, originally affiliated with Duke University in Durham, North Carolina,
later became a wholly independent entity. Although there is evidence that data
produced by some of his assistants may have been fraudulent, Rhine himself was known for rigorous lab research and
approach to statistical analysis.

The Pearce-Pratt Studies

The Pearce-Pratt studies were the most famous of those emanating from Rhine's lab purporting to provide conclusive evidence
for ESP. They were conducted from October 1933 to March 1934, under the supervision of Rhine's graduate student J.G. Pratt.
Known as the Campus Distance Series, they centered on one of Rhine's most "successful" subjects, Hubert E. Pearce. The
goal of the experiment was to set up experimental conditions to exclude all possible factors other than ESP. Pratt shuffled and
then recorded the order of the Zener cards in the parapsychology lab. Pearce, situated in another building, guessed the order of
the cards. Pearce's performance was generally well above chance and is often cited as proof for the existence of ESP.
Subsequent analysis, however, reveals that the experiments may have been flawed:

1. Reports of the experiments conflict in regards to the procedures and the results, so ascertaining the facts is difficult.
2. Essential features of the experiments were not reported so there is no way of knowing whether the experimental safeguards
were adequate.
3. Known features of the experimental design allowed for the possibility of trickery. For example, Pearce was left unobserved
while he made his predictions and could have watched Pratt unobtrusively as he recorded the card sort order.

Uri Gellar & The Bent Spoons

Uri Gellar is famous for using his mind to bend spoons as well as other metal objects
(e.g., keys), with fixing broken watches and clocks with the stroke of a hand, and finding
precious metals using only his "special powers". He has also received acclaim for his
acts of telepathy and clairvoyance. Gellar became famous in the 1970s when he took
his act on the road. He has performed these impressive phenomena in television and
radio appearances all over the world. Gellar even convinced a team of scientists at the
Stanford Research Institute that his psychic powers were worthy of further scientific
study. To some, he is one of the greatest demonstrators of psychic phenomena of all
time. While supporters insist that he is a psychic marvel, skeptics claim that Gellar's Uri Gellar made a career out of
only powers are those of a master illusionist. Interestingly, Gellar will refuse to perform bending spoons with his mind.
his psychokinetic feats in front of magicians, and has also refused to bend spoons to
which he has not had prior access. While acknowledging that his feats could be
accomplished by trickery, he claims that his own are psychic in nature.

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