: A. Introduction / History of problem
Any act is conditional on underlying processes. Visual identification of an object requires both the use of the eyes and that light is reflected from the object. Parapsychologists claim that some people have the ability to perform such acts as identifying objects when the conditions normally assumed to be necessary for their execution are absent. Such behavior they call extrasensory perception, or ESP ( Kurtz, 1985). The ESP debate is about whether or not different forms of extra sensory perception exist and whether or not ESP should occupy a place in mainstream psychological thinking.
Extrasensory perception is part of a larger area of interest known as parapsychology, the study of psychic phenomena (laube book?). If people can act in this way new processes have to be admitted as underlying brain activity and the manner in which organisms interact with the environment. The existence of ESP would thus be profound significance not only to the understanding of human behavior but also to science in general.
It would signify that there are underlying processes in nature so far undiscovered that permit ESP to occur. ESP is possible or impossible depending on whether or not such processes exist.
Parapsychologists started their inquiries by investigating unusual phenomena reported in everyday life and in the séance room. The general public often confuses parapsychology with spiritualism, ufology, astrological, palm- and tarot-card readings, hypnotic regression to “past lives,” and a host of other occult practices (Rao, 1984). In contradistinction to these practices, however, parapsychology is concerned with “psychic” abilities that can be studied empirically; that is to say, it is concerned with those abilities that can be studied by observation and experimentation under controlled conditions. Parapsychology, then, is the systematic and scientific study of psi. The abilities that lend themselves to this scrutiny are broadly referred to as psi. Basically two forms of psi are distinguished: extrasensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK). ESP is the ability to acquire information that is shielded from the senses. PK is the ability to influence external systems that are outside the sphere of one’s motor activity. ESP is differentiated into telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and retrocognition. Telepathy refers to the gaining of awareness or ESP of someone else’s thoughts or feelings. Clairvoyance refers to gaining information about objects or events without the use of the senses. Precognition and retrocognition refer to ESP of future and past events (Rao, 1984). The above proposed psychic phenomena, violate what is generally known by scientists about the measurable and physical world. Therefore most psychologists are skeptical about the claims of psychics.
Among the first to experimentally study ESP in the United States was J.E. Coover at Stanford University. His studies were followed by studies of Troland (1924) and Estobrooks (1927) at Harvard University. About the same time a group of psychologists in Germany carried out an ESP experiment, reported by H.J.F.W. Brugmans (1922), which is still cited as an evidential experiment (Rao, 1984). Still, it was not until J.B. Rhine’s arrival at Duke University that parapsychology as an experimental science was born. The scientific stage of parapsychology began, as Brian Mackenzie (1977) has noted, with the founding of the Parapsychology laboratory at Duke University in 1927, or perhaps with the first major output of this laboratory, Rhine’s Extrasensory perception (1973/34). By 1940, when another major work entitled Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years was published, 145 experimental studies of ESP had been carried out (Rao, 1984).
With the increase in the number and sophistication of psi experiments has come rigorous and critical scrutiny of them by skeptics. One of the persistant criticisms of parapsychology is that there is no replicable experiment. If by replication one means absolute replication, i.e., the producibility of phenomenon on demand, then of course, there is no replicable experiment in parapsychology. If, however, one understands that replication is not strictly an “either-or” but a continuum ranging from zero to one hundred percent, a good case can be made that psi experiments are replicable to a statistically significant degree. Among process-oriented studies, a strong case has been made for a relatively reliable occurrence of psi under various conditions of reduced sensory input. The number and rate of successful experiments which use procedures for sensory noise reduction (such as relaxation, mediation, hypnosis, and ganzfield stimulation), are indeed sufficiently encouraging us to lead to further work in consolidating the existing methods and concepts (Rao, 1984).
ESP investigations have been of two main types (Kurtz, 1985). In the first type, the performance of a particular individual is studied. Here the subject has developed a procedure, which he claims to be able to demonstrate his psychic ability. He may not agree to modifications or alternative procedures required by the investigators. Any experimentation is then dependent on the extent to which the subject will do as he is asked by the experimenters. The second type of investigation takes the form of an experiment in which the design, method, and procedure are decided by the experimenters while the subject does as he is told to do and takes no other part in the experiment. The experiment may eventually lead to a set of conditions and a procedure with which a particular result is demonstrable. One fact evident in ESP experiments is that subjects are only successful in a fraction of their attempts. A satisfactory demonstration therefore requires a sufficient number of observations to ensure that failure is extremely rare (Kurtz, 1985).
In ESP, incoming information somehow bypasses shielding or distance (Schmeidler, 1988). In PK what we do somehow bypasses the muscles and other effectors. When we use psi we apparently transcend the limitations of the body. With psi we make contact with events that are distant in time and space, and we thus apparently transcend physical limitations. One theory that I am going to discuss addresses this question about what we are, who have these abilities. The theory is that each of us has a spirit or soul or inner self with different properties from the body’s, and the theory is often extended to state that this inner self will continue to exist after the body’s death or has existed before conception. The theory has been indirectly and partially examined by psychologists when they study the self, and its extensions have been examined by parapsychologists (who usually use the term spirit).
If each of us has a soul-one unitary soul-it should show itself in consistent ways during the lifespan. Psychologists have repeatedly looked for the evidence but there is no consensus that it was found. A typical research method is to identify the psychological characteristics of a number of subjects at one age; to make a similar blind attempt when the subjects have reached some later age, then try to match the two sets. But again and again the matching is correct only for some of the subjects or for short time intervals. But, like any other theory this one ca be made so flexible that it is impossible to disprove.
Parapsychology raises further questions. If we take seriously the thesis that a self or soul shows by its use of psi that it transcends body functions, we must ask how psi ability originated ( Schmeidler, 1988). One possible answer is that it was produced by some stage of body development, but this leads to other hard questions. But, if we reject this explanation of how the self began, the alternative is that it had some independent or prior source. This also raises a whole new set off questions( Schmeidler, 1988).
Three different proposals have been examined by parapsychologists about the problems relating the self or soul with psi. First that the self can be at a place distant from the living body, second that the self survives death, and third that the self existed before conception. For each proposal, it has been claimed that research demonstrates it is true. The same issues therefore arise as in any other type of research: whether there are possible sources of error, and whether the results of carefully conducted work can properly be dismissed as due only to chance. But when evidence is well validated and seems extrachance, another issue arises: a new argument based on psi is used to refute the claims. The argument is called the super ESP or super psi hypoythesis. It states that although evidence had been interpreted to mean a spirit or self was independent of the body, the evidence really shows only ESP and PK. It means nothing beyond those abilities.
The general problem boils down to three possibilities. One is that much of the apparent evidence is weak, and that the little that remains can be attributed to chance. Another possibility is that the super-psi hypothesis can account for all the findings. The third is that the evidence is convincing: it goes so far beyond what ESP and PK have been shown to do that the super psi hypothesis demands too many ad hoc assumptions and is implausible. It is a paradoxical situation. The better the evidence for the effectiveness of PK and ESP, the weaker the argument for a spirit that separates from the body (Schmeider, 1988).
Psychologists who study telepathy rejoiced when a 1994 study in a major scientific journal supported the existence of sensory perception. Both believers and skeptics agree that the most stringent method for studying psi is the one dubbed the Ganzfield (german for the whole field) procedure. In this technique researchers remove sensory distractions with the aim of promoting telepathic communication between subjects, called senders and receivers (Carpenter, 1999). Subjects in the Ganzfield experiment are immersed in a uniform sensory field, typically by covering their eyes with Ping-Pong ball halves, directing a red floodlight toward their eyes and pumping white noise into their ears through headphones (Lilienfeld, 1999). Another individual (the “sender”) located in an acoustically shielded room attempts to transmit a specific visual stimulus to the percipient who then is asked to report all mental imagery that comes to mind. Finally the percipient is presented with a set of several, typically four, visual stimuli only one of which is the stimulus viewed by the sender, and asked to rate the extent to which each stimulus matches the mental imagery experienced during the session.
The logic of the Ganzfield technique relies on the concept of the signal-to-noise ratio. The mental information ostensibly detected by ESP percipients is posited to be an extremely weak signal that is typically obscured by a large number of extraneous stimuli. By placing the percipient in a uniform sensory field the Ganzfield technique is hypothesized to decrease the proportion of noise relative to signal and thereby permit investigators to uncover normally weak ESP effects (Lilienfeld, 1999).
In 1994, psychologist Daryl J. Bem of Cornell University and his colleague, the late Charles Horonton of the University of Edinberg in Scotland, described surprising results from Horonton’s series of 11 ganzfield experiments. They found that more often than could be explained by chance, receivers chose the image that matched the one seen by senders.
With the aid of statistical technique termed meta-analysis, which permits researchers to quantitatively pool results across a number of studies, Bem and Horonton reported what appeared to be strong, if not convincing evidence for ESP. The subjects in their meta-analysis obtained overall target “hit” rates of approximately 35 percent, where chance performance would be only 25 percent. Moreover, Bem and Horonton reported several psychologically meaningful predictors of Ganzfield performance. Subjects who 1) were artistically creative (music, drama, and dance students recruited from the Julliard school), 2) extroverted, 3) had previous ESP-like experiences (but were “novices,”i.e., had no previous experience as Ganzfield subjects), and 5) received high scores on self-report indices of emotionality and perceptual orientation to the environment obtained especially high hit rates. In addition, experimental conditions using dynamic visual stimuli yielded higher hit rates than those using static visual stimuli.
Bem and Horonton’s findings, which were widely disseminated in both the popular and academic press have stirred fresh hopes I the parapsychology community that a truly replicable method of eliciting ESP effects may at last e at hand. More over they have been cited in several popular books, including Dea Radin’s The Concscious Universe, and Courtney Brown’s Cosmic Voyage, as providing very promising, if not conclusive, supprt for the existence of ESP. Although some critics, like Ray Hyman, found statistical anomalies in the bem and Horonton data set suggesting the possible existence of subtle but damaging experimental artifacts, Bem and Horonton’s meta-analysis was regarded by many as offering the most compelling laboratory evidence to date for the evidence of ESP ( Lilienfeld, 1999).
Now, psychologists Julie Milton of the University of Edinburgh and Richard Wiseman of the University of Hatfield, England, have pooled the results of 30 ganzfield experiments using an updated statistical method of meta-analysis. In the same journal in which Bem and Horonton presented their results, the researchers report that their analysis shows no consistent evidence for psi. Milton says, “Although the new studies failed to replicate the effects of earlier studies, it is not clear why they did so (Carpenter, 1999).” Specifically, Milton and Wiseman reported a mea effect size across all thirty studies of .013, which corresponds to essentially chance performance and can most charitably be described as negligible. “ This has been the history of parapsychology for about 150 years, “ remarks psychologist Ray Hya of the University of Oregon in Eugene. “Procedures look good at the beginning, and then they fizzle out. Whether or not this is different is hard to say, but this meta-analysis suggests that on the average it doesn’t look like there is much going on.” The meta-analysis has generated heated discussion among psychologists. Some argue that Milton and Wiseman were unjustified in lumping 30 studies together because their results were so desparate. Milton contends that a standard statistical test of variation among the results showed that they could treat the studies as a uniform set. Bem, says however, “The reason the effect isn’t significant is that there are three studies that are pulling down the average, and those studies are very nonstandard.” Further 6 of the 30 studies showed significant psi effects—more than would be expected by chance, he adds (Carpenter, 1999). It seems likely that Milton and Wiseman’s meta-analysis will not be the final word on the Ganzfeld technique, and the question of whether this technique will prove to be the replicable paradigm long sought by parapsychologists or merely another tantalizing will-o’-the-wisp is far from conclusively resolved (Lilienfeld, 1999).
In a hundred years of ESP research, a number of facts emerge: 1) In a small number of reported experiments, above chance scores have been reported that are due either to ESP or to experimental error or trickery (Kurtz, 1985). (2) There has been a high incidence of trickery in parapsychology and a long history of inept experimentation. (3) A repeatable demonstration has not been forthcoming. (4) Results reported at low levels of confidence tend to be confirmed by parapsychologists at low levels of confidence. 123
The main outstanding problem is to understand why experimental results as reported should be in disagreement with one another (Kurtz, 1985). Further understanding on this point is thought to require comparison of the design and procedures of experiments that fail to confirm a particular result with those that confirm it. Also, the comparison’s of those experiments who produce results claimed to be due to ESP with those experiments who fail to do so. Today ESP is no nearer to being established than it was a hundred years ago. The long history of trickery and inept experimentation, and the inability to confirm ambitious claims, serves to confirm the view held at the start by the majority of the scientists that perception is mediated by the senses- that without sensory processes, perception is not possible. The parapsychologist should ensure, before publishing ambitious claims, that he has confirmed his own findings to such an extent that he ca be reasonably certain others will be able to confirm what he as done (Kurtz, 1985).124
C. Dimensions of Human Experience:
A Gallup poll reveals an increase in the proportion of people expressing belief ina wide variety of paranormal phenomena. More than half of American adults believe in the devil and deja-vu. One quarter believe in ghosts, and 18percent believe that it is possible to communicate with the dead, according to the Gallup Poll. Belief in some phenomena is slipping while others are gaining adherents. The share of those who believe in extra sensory perception has slipped from 51 percent of adults to 49 percent since 1978 (Schwartz, 1991).
According to McRae, a former investigative reporter for Columnist Jack Anderson, tells of this type of clandestine assignation and of other operations between the Pentagon and the so-called psychic community in his book Mind Wars (Gale, 1999). According to McRae, who is skeptical of psychic claims, the Department of Defense has spent $6 million annually in recent years to research such phenomena as extrasensory perception and mental telepathy. Mcrae claims the Pentagon financed psychic research to study the “shell game” basing mode for the Mx missile, a system that would attempt to confuse Soviet military strategist by shiftingmissiles among a number of concrete shelters. Other esoteric programs uncovered by McRae include titles like “Novel Biological Information Transfer Systems,” apparently te Pentagon’s way of saying E.S.P.
Back in December 1980, Military Review, a journal of the U.S. Army, carried a cover story titled “The New Mental Battlefield.” In his quirky essay, Lieut. Colonel John B. Alaxander wrote that “there are weapon systems that operate on the power of the mind and whose lethal capacity has already been demonstrated.” He equated the first strategic breakthrough in defense E.S.P. with sole possession of nuclear weapons and urged the U.S. to step up its research in the field. “I know the governments involved,” says Physicist Russell Targ, co-author with Keith Harary of the forthcoming book Mind race. “I did the work,” he contends. Because he was working with special clearances while at SRI International, a California research institute, Targ will not specify whether the Defense Department, the CIA or both funded hi psychic research progras, but he maintains that there was a “multimillion-dollar” project, part of which focused on “remote Viewing” experiments. Representative Charlue Rose, a North Carolina Democrat on the House Select Committee on Intelligence, says it may be worth a look. “Some people think this is the work of the devil,” says he. “Others think it may e the holy spirit. If the Soviets, as is evident, feel it is worthwhile, I am willing to spend a few bucks ( Gale, 1984).”
Here are some examples of human experiences that make some thoughtful
persons accept the super-psi hypothesis and understand the effects of ESP. These samples of experiences include out of body experiences, near death and deathbed experiences, survival after death cases, and reincarnation (Scmeidler, 1988).
The experience that one’s consciousness, one’s self, is located somewhere outside one’s own body is fairly common in some cultures and among some groups, but is rare in others. This implies that the experience is partly dependent on one’s readiness for it. Most psychiatrists consider the experience a symptom of psychosis. Parapsychologists test for evidence that claims are valid, and while some conclude that the self can indeed temporarily separate from the body others explain the difference as a special combination of memory and imagination. The most famous case dates from the days before there was transatlantic cable. It was reported by a woman whose husband had gone overseas. She did not know when he would return home; she worried about his safety. One night she had a vivid experience: that she was in a ships cabin and saw her sleeping husband in a lower bunk and a strange man in the upper one. In fact her husband was on a ship that night, and was in a lower bunk while a man the wife did not know was in the upper bunk. But now comes the striking part of the case. On what seems to have been the same nightthat the woman felt she was in the cabin, the man whose bunk was above her husband’s was shocked to see a woman in her nightdress walk through the cabin, caress the man in the lower bunk, and then disappear. There are other spontaneous cases of this type, some well attested, but any particular case can be attacked on various grounds. Most of the research begins by finding some subject who claims to be able to go out of the body at will, then uses one of three methods, or a combination of them. The most common method is to ask the subject to some distant target’s location and report on the target- this is equivalent to the operation for clairvoyance or GESP. Another is to see if the person can produce an effect at some distant place-this is the operation for PK, and PK can be effective at a distance. A third is to measure the EEG of a person who is succeeding at either of the first two methods.
Some persons in coma, and some who were medically diagnosed as clinically dead, have been restored to life. A large proportion of them report that they had vivid experiences while apparently unconscious. The experiences they describe often include one or more common elements, such as going through a tunnel, hearing a sound, coming to a light, or contact with a glowing, loving powerful presence. Occasionally a report also describes accurately events, which occurred while the person seemed unconscious and which the person could not have normally known even if awake. When such evidence of ESP occurs it is embedded in a description of out of body travel. For deathbed and near deathbed experiences, a psi or super-psi theory can encompass the cases of paranormal information.
Guald in 1982 gives a thorough, thoughtful, critical survey of the traditional lines of research on whether a self or spirit survives death. There are many of these lines. Five of them include sittings with psychics, cross correspondences, spontaneous cases ad hauntings, drop in communicators and codes. Case after case, from all these lines of investigation except codes, has been claimed to give such accurate information as to prove that a dead person’s spirit has survived. Any single case and somesome broad categories of cases, can be explained bymaking enough assumptions about psi ability. To explain all the well attested cases demands many such assumptions. There is no guide except one’s judgment about whether the accumulated weight of all those assumptions about psi is more than the super-psi hypothesis ca tolerate(Scmeidler, 1988).
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