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The Current State of Parapsychology Research

Copyright © 2000 by Scott Teresi



Why Study Psi?
A History of Parapsychology for the T.V. Generation
Dismissal of "Blatant" Psi Phenomenon
A Gray Area: The Case of the Ganzfeld Experiments

Future Research
About this Paper



        It is almost human nature to believe in supernatural forces. As humans we sometimes allow our imagination to bleed into reality–our five senses are ultimately processed by a brain biased by imagination. It is comforting to believe in such things as predestination, benevolent coincidences, or cosmic forces. These tendencies are only further fueled by a media hungry for shocking stories and friends eager to relate anecdotes which can be interpreted too loosely. Still, you might think your mind could separate truth from fantasy when presented with such stories.

        Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case. Even when we are rationally presented with clear evidence to the contrary, a decent conjurer or performer can still cause the members of his or her audience to doubt the facts and believe the performer is blessed with paranormal psychic ability (see Frazier, 1986, page 57; and Skeptical Inquirer Nov./Dec. 1995: "Eyewitness Testimony and the Paranormal"). Somehow, to the audience, special powers are often the most believable explanation for a magical display. I’ve felt the same thing sometimes–it’s a struggle between my gut feeling and my rational mind.

        This paper will attempt to document, with supporting references, what exactly has been revealed by scientists’ latest research into the paranormal. Evidence will be provided both for and against the conclusions of these studies. One hot area of research, the ganzfeld studies, will be targeted specifically. The verdict will be delivered on the existence of some of the more outlandish phenomena you may hear of occasionally in the news. The history and public perception of paranormal studies will be briefly examined, as well as the role of the media, as a reflection of society, in perpetuating certain beliefs. I will close the paper by presenting a comprehensive conclusion which outlines exactly what is known about reproducible paranormal phenomena.


Why Study Psi?

        Scientists specifically label anomalous (unexplained) phenomena as "psi" and those who study such phenomena as "parapsychologists." I’ve always been curious about the existence of psi, taking the occasional anecdote or news report with a dose of wonder and a grain of salt. At times I assumed all psi phenomena must be hoaxes–why else would there be so many knowledgeable skeptics? If something exists as profound as precognition (knowing something will happen before it happens, with no obvious scientific explanation), why exactly hasn’t it been proven by scientific study? And its power harnessed? And furthermore, in our ravenously capitalistic society, why can’t you buy it on every street corner? On the other hand, there were times when I thought psi must be real–how else could there be so many stories and anecdotes? What is the catalyst behind the multitude of stories reported by the media? Why can most people name at least one friend who seems to have had a psi experience?

        After having heard way too many stories, I wanted to get to the bottom of all this. I wanted to discover the truth about the paranormal. One phenomenon providing impetus for my investigation has been one of the largest syndicated talk shows on AM radio, Coast to Coast AM with George Noory (formerly with Art Bell) which often broadcasts sensational stories and interviews with questionable scientific backing. Topics include past lives, extraterrestrials, crop circles, government conspiracies, ghosts and spirits, remote viewing of the past and future, etc., stretching the limits of believability nearly every night of the week on AM radio. Sometimes legitimate research is presented, but normally the guests submit very speculative stories and their claims are left with very little supporting evidence. This show demonstrates that there is a rather large audience open to pondering wild conjecture on these topics. With so much information broadcast every night, and with so many people talking about these unnatural phenomena, I felt I couldn't reject these reports without digging up some facts myself on some of the more flagrant stories, and starting to build my own foundation of what we know to be real. I wanted to make the most informed, rational decision possible.

        I was hoping to quickly uncover a documented consensus among researchers, and have some rational proof on hand to which I could refer anyone else when this somewhat emotional topic might arise. Well, the results of my labor have fallen slightly short of my expectations, but they have still been extremely enlightening. I have found precious little evidence to back up the existence of most psi phenomena, especially the more blatant stories which grab most people’s attention, and, of course, no experiment can ever prove that psi doesn’t exist. However, my beliefs are now more defined, focused, and well-grounded.

        I’ve documented my discoveries here because I will most likely revisit this subject in the future as I find more time and as more research accumulates. I also hope that this informal discussion will pique the interest of others and maybe help direct their own personal research into the subject. Furthermore, I invite anyone with more information to forward it on to me and help uncover any inaccuracies, particularly in my conclusion. All opinions are welcomed, especially those backed by references to a scientific study or a published article or news story.


A History of Parapsychology for the T.V. Generation

        Scientific progress has been slow to reveal anything definite about the reality of psi. Precognition (predicting the future), psychokinesis (controlling an inanimate object with the mind, including poltergeist cases), telepathy (communication between humans at an extrasensory level–not involving the five senses), clairvoyance (telepathic messages from an inanimate object), and remote viewing (clairvoyance without temporal restrictions) have or have not been satisfactorily demonstrated under rigorous conditions, according to what parapsychologist you talk to. Very few in the scientific community, however, have remained all that satisfied with the evidence that exists so far.

        After centuries of the ceaseless advance of mankind’s foundational knowledge in many areas such as biology and physics, in which theory has been built upon theory, each one more or less testable, statistically replicable, and more carefully measured each time, why is parapsychology almost lacking in any foundation whatsoever? Parapsychology can’t be considered a fully-developed science as long as it lacks some agreed upon theories which would provide acceptable explanations for its data. The structure created by a theory is what’s needed to coordinate the research efforts of the psi community. Why is such a foundation lacking? Possibly, the field is too young and the most basic bits of information have yet to be discovered. Psychology is a relatively soft, indefinite field of science itself; parapsychology can only be more indefinite. Psychologists are stigmatized and are often held in low regard among researchers in the harder, more definite sciences. Parapsychologists are held in even lower regard, affecting credibility, funding, resources, and, ultimately, manpower.

        Parapsychology is a much younger field than psychology. Modern psychical research is said to have begun with J. B. Rhine’s research into card-guessing at the Psychology Department of Duke University in 1934. At that time, the Journal of Parapsychology was founded. While much of Rhine’s work has been shown to be quite probably flawed (it has not been reproduced and parapsychologists have now moved on), Rhine’s standardized methods and apparent successes somewhat legitimized the field and attracted outside scientists. By 1983 a dozen or so parapsychology research centers had been established in the U.S. and Europe, staffed by about thirty full-time researchers (McClenon, 1984, p. 10; anyone have more recent data?). Major parapsychological studies hadn’t begun appearing in mainstream scientific journals until the sixties and early seventies.

        Has any hard data been collected after over half a century of study? For one, no single person has been able to demonstrate unique proficiency in psi, and such a person is generally no longer expected to even exist. Still, many parapsychologists assert that the current body of experimental evidence provides statistically significant proof of psi. Others still insist there are too many holes in previous studies to build any real foundation of successes. The extraordinary quality of psi anomalies requires extraordinarily convincing experimental results. Fortunately, to cope with the critics and skeptics, psi researchers today are proceeding with more rigorous quality-assurance standards such as those involved in most of the rest of the scientific community. Furthermore, groups such as the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer, and the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) have been formed to disseminate credible information on the paranormal. Credibility should be less of a problem in the future.


Dismissal of "Blatant" Psi Phenomena

        When I began this project, I wanted to uncover the studies which proved or disproved easily testable (but still widely believed) examples of psi phenomena, such as psychic and astrological readings, spoon bending, remote viewing, predictions made by psychics or Ouija boards (try it yourself), etc. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, most literature has safely dismissed the practitioners of these skills, labeling them as obvious magicians, charlatans, or otherwise non-interesting subjects. Some examples of psi phenomena which have been reasonably disproven beyond most doubt are the case of Tina Resch, the 14-year-old poltergeist in Columbus, Ohio (Frazier, page 145); the clairvoyant named Croiset who tried to work with Dutch police solving murders (Frazier, page 122) as well as other psychic "remote viewers" (Skeptical Inquirer Nov./Dec. 1995); the haunted house in Amityville, New York (Skeptical Inquirer, Winter 1979/80); Uri Geller’s spoon bending ability (discredited by James Randi); a huge sample of dowsers in Germany (Enright, 1999); "psychic networks" you see advertised on television (Skeptical Inquirer, Sept./Oct. 1995 and May/June 1998); psychic forecasts in the tabloids (frequently revisited in the Skeptical Inquirer); and even the astrology section in your daily newspaper (Frazier, page 219)–not surprisingly, the birthdays of people with certain personality dispositions (such as politicians, scientists, etc.) are equally distributed among all the twelve astrological signs. These phenomena inspire awe at first glance, especially when hyped by a somewhat credible media, but as soon as a critical investigator or reporter checks the facts, the stories literally fall apart.

        (Just for fun, here’s how to impress your friends by psychically bending a spoon! Don’t read this if you want to maintain the illusion for yourself. This is how to do it: take an old spoon and bend it back and forth a while until the metal becomes soft but not quite enough so that it breaks. Mark it and place it among a few other similar spoons. Invite your friends over, pick up the spoon, and concentrate hard as you watch it bend.)

        All subjects claiming unique psi abilities so far have failed to satisfactorily duplicate their powers within a carefully controlled environment and between several independent laboratories. Most "successful" studies which have made it through the rigorous stage of attaining publication in scientific journals have been later discredited–too many naïve researchers have been fooled by skilled charlatans (Frazier, 166). Credible psi research has found more success with less exceptional subjects.

        Examine, for instance, the somewhat dubious investigation of a high-profile performer, Uri Geller. After recently becoming famous in the early 1970’s, Geller submitted to scientific study at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) (Hansel, 1980). (Geller would often cite this research as proof of his ability.) Two physicists with strong interests in parapsychology, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, performed an investigation of Geller’s ability to bend spoons, draw concealed target pictures, and guess the uppermost face on a die. The results were reported in Nature (Targ and Puthoff, 1974) and The New Scientist (Hanlon). Geller’s claims of psychokinetic spoon bending apparently could not be proven–Targ and Puthoff did not document their findings or whether Geller submitted to any tests at all. In the interest of investigating Geller’s abilities, details of the failed experiments should have been just as clearly reported whether or not the experiments had succeeded.

        In a second experiment, Targ and Puthoff subjected Geller to thirteen trials of attempting to draw a concealed target to test his remote viewing abilities. Results were somewhat favorable for many of the trials. However, rather questionably excessive and complicated procedures were undergone to isolate Geller from outside stimuli, when a much simpler randomization process could have been applied. In fact, according to Hanlon in The New Scientist, when a pool of drawings were placed in envelopes and the target drawing was chosen completely randomly–completely unknown by anyone–Geller refused to make any drawing at all. Hanlon also documented several examples indicating the SRI experiments were conducted in a lackluster manner, as a result of a rather chaotic environment favorable to Geller to accomplish trickery if he so desired. Targ himself commented, "deliberately or accidentally Geller manipulates the experiments to a degree of chaos where he feels comfortable and where we feel uncomfortable. Then he bends something." A widely used tactic of psi subjects is to induce chaos and hence gain more control over the experimental variables.

        A much simpler experiment carried out over a period of three days tested Geller’s ability to guess the face of a die in a small box. The box was shaken and, presumably, no one present knew the face that was uppermost until Geller made his guess. In ten attempts, Geller refused to guess twice and then was successful on the remaining eight occasions (three 2’s, one 4, two 5’s, and two 6’s). The odds against this happening by chance are better than a million to one. Hansel (1980) expresses my incredulity well on page 288:

        These experiments with the die... were carried out in 1972 at the start of the investigations at SRI. The extremely impressive result was obtained under easily controlled conditions, and the whole experiment comprising eight attempts made by Geller could have taken less than half an hour. What happened next? After eight attempts, why not a few more? Did Geller feel tired and want to go to bed? The experiments were conducted at the start of the eighteen-month period when Geller was at SRI. Is it conceivable that, having obtained such a remarkable result, the investigators should drop this form of experiment completely?

        … If Geller’s performance was genuine, it would be possible to produce overwhelming evidence for clairvoyance very rapidly and thus save large amounts of money.... Two professional magicians–James Randi in the U.S. and David Berglas in the U.K.–have offered large rewards to Geller if he can give them a genuine psychical performance. Why has he not spent half an hour convincing them? If he is not a fraud, all he would require would be a few dice.

        Martin Gardner expresses similar sentiments and uncovers more details of the experiment directly from Targ and Puthoff (Frazier, page 176). More exact records of the test are apparently not available. Without video records, or a knowledgeable magician present, no one will know for sure if Geller used one of any number of possible cheating methods to generate these extraordinary results.

        Thus, psi research repeats the same blunders it has made throughout its short history. More examples of this are the disheartening research methods revealed by James Randi (Frazier, page 158). Where a skilled magician might be able to suggest proper safeguards, experiments are still naïvely carried out with little concern for subjects’ skill at trickery. Subjects with seemingly exceptional abilities do not seem to maintain those abilities when retested under sufficiently strict conditions. Also, apparently gifted subjects have been abandoned for no reason, like Uri Geller and many of J. B. Rhine’s high-scoring subjects in the early days of card-guessing. It is a relatively simple matter to determine whether such gifted subjects really have psi abilities; without exception, it is proven that they do not.

        The James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) challenges anyone to submit to proof that their claims of having repeatable paranormal ability are true. JREF will provide the manpower and assume the financial burden. No one has yet been able to claim the prize currently being offered–one million dollars.

        JREF has also been awarding grants and providing support for basic psi research for some time. It appears that the blame for the lack of evidence of blatant paranormal activity is resting squarely on those individuals who claim to have the ability and want us to believe them. I would expect a reasonable person to rise to the occasion–unless of course they knew they were an imposter. (Not all psi practitioners are conscious of their fraudulence. For example, many dowsers steadfastly believe in their ability, despite being proven wrong.)

        Unfortunately, James Randi, in his zealousness to combat psychic charlatans, has sometimes generalized instances of fraudulent phenomena as being representative of the whole of parapsychology. Indeed, most serious parapsychologists would just as quickly dismiss the same outlandish phenomena as he does. Randi is more concerned with diminishing unwarranted public deception than with advancing research into subtler psi anomalies.

        Another organization working to denounce myths, frauds, and unscientific studies is the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP). They publish the Skeptical Inquirer, an outlet for disseminating information to the media on the weaknesses of many paranormal claims.

        The public and mass media, hungry for a sensational story, most often do not hold claims of the paranormal to the rigors of stringent fact checking. That’s why we need the help of magicians like James Randi and the researchers at CSICOP.


A Gray Area: The Case of the Ganzfeld Experiments

        The card-guessing experiments of J. B. Rhine’s time are no longer considered worthy of further experimentation. Recent development of the ganzfeld procedure in the early 1970’s has given us some stronger guidelines for performing relatively consistent telepathy experiments at independent laboratories. Methodological flaws may account for the statistically significant results of the earliest ganzfeld studies. By 1986, however, a debate culminated between C. Honorton, a supporter of psi, and R. Hyman, a critic of psi, in the Journal of Parapsychology. They ended up collaborating on a historical paper that outlined more stringent standards for future ganzfeld studies. Finally in 1994, an analysis of ten studies carried out by Bem and Honorton (Bem and Honorton, 1994) which conformed to these standards reported that their ganzfeld studies had an overall hit rate of 35%, significantly greater than the 25% which would have been reported had the results been generated by chance!

        The ganzfeld experiment works like this: one person (the sender) in an acoustically shielded room concentrates on a picture, and another person in another room (the receiver) provides a continuous verbal report of his thoughts to the sender via microphone for as long as thirty minutes. The receiver is immersed in a uniform sensory field by listening to white noise in headphones and wearing ping-pong ball halves on their eyes while a red floodlight is directed toward them. Sensory deprivation is supposedly beneficial, as the ESP signal is thought to manifest itself as sort of a weak signal, normally obscured by extraneous stimuli. At the end of the thirty-minute trial, the receiver is presented with four possible images and is asked to rate how similar each one is to his thoughts. If the receiver gives the highest ranking to the correct image, it is recorded as a "hit." The hit rate expected by chance would be 25%. The average hit rate reported by Bem and Honorton in their ten experiments was 35%.

        There might be several reasons for results like this besides the presence of psi. The likelihood for successful ganzfeld studies can partially be attributed to the "file-drawer" problem: the tendency for successful studies to more likely be published than unsuccessful studies, which are more likely to be consigned to the file drawers of their disappointed investigators. Parapsychologists have been aware of this problem for a while, and they try to be unbiased in awarding negative studies for publication. Studies have been made on the effect of the "file-drawer" problem, and Hyman and Honorton did conclude that it can’t account alone for the overall statistical significance of ganzfeld data. Another complication of performing a meta-analysis of past ganzfeld studies is that certain laboratories might be producing above average results or producing a disproportionately large number of studies which might skew results. This, also, was not a problem with Bem and Honorton’s study, as they were all performed at the same laboratory.

        There can be many possible problems with specific ganzfeld experiments themselves. The experimenter who shows the receiver the target images can unconsciously bias the choices toward the correct target. If the sender handled the actual picture as he concentrated on it, there may be visual or other such cues present on it. Many earlier studies were not careful enough to eliminate these variables. Another problem is randomization of the selection and presentation of images to the receiver (Hyman, 1994). Studies have found correlations between flaws in randomization and the outcome of the study. Subjects may be more likely to choose the first or last image shown to them. Target images which were used more than once also had a higher hit rate. Computer controls have helped to minimize the effect of these problems and automate the ganzfeld process, as well as to expand the scope to include other stimuli besides stationary images, such as music or video clips.

        Were the ganzfeld studies performed under conditions which were unfavorable to psi? Generally, experiments were performed in a warm, friendly, social environment. Receivers were often allowed to choose a friend to be the sender. Some studies would perform one trial, and then select the most successful participants for a second trial. One study found great success with twenty volunteers from the Julliard School, though the sample size was too small to draw any specific conclusions. Correlation of success has been reported with traits of the participants such as amount of creativity or artistic ability, training in meditation and attention focus, extroversion, belief in psi, and reported past psi experiences. However, given the complexity of the experiment and number of uncontrolled and undescribed variables, the data cannot be labeled conclusive (Hyman, 1994). The European Journal of Parapsychology, Vol. 13 (1997), addresses the issue of what environments might be psi-conducive (pages 71-82) and what qualities of the experimenter might be psi-conducive (pages 83-94).

        Large sample sizes are extremely important. For instance, the study that linked aspirin to a decrease in the incidence of heart attacks was performed on 22,000 subjects. Had the study only involved 3,000, there would have been less than a 50-50 chance that a statistically significant result would have been found. Because of the small measurable effect, ganzfeld experiments need to be performed with greater numbers of subjects. Of the ten ganzfeld experiments analyzed by Bem and Honorton in 1994, only two yielded results which were individually significant. We are faced with a difficult task. In 1994, Hyman concluded that "we must wait for future attempts at replication" (Hyman, 1994) before we can believe that evidence for psi can consistently be demonstrated.

        A more recent paper by Milton and Wiseman (1999) analyzed those future attempts at replication–about thirty ganzfeld experiments (of approximately forty trials each) which took place between 1987 and 1997 at seven independent laboratories. All these studies were performed after Honorton and Hyman’s guidelines for ganzfeld studies had been published. Wiseman and Milton concluded that these studies have been unable to reproduce almost any statistical evidence of psi. They report an average effect size of 0.013 for the recent studies, vs. approximately 0.238 as reported by Bem and Honorton’s ten studies (Bem and Honorton, 1994, page 8). I can’t explain what the "effect size" measurement means except for the fact that 0.013 signifies an effect which is eighteen times smaller than 0.238–a hit rate much closer to the chance level of 25%. In other words, the 35% hit level has not been observed through independent studies.

        Parapsychologists might explain away these failures by invoking any of several theories. One such explanation, the "experimenter effect," holds that the psychic force resides in the researcher; skeptical researchers may negatively impact the study and prevent the appearance of psi effects. Another possible explanation for the negative results, called "psi missing," occurs when a subject would repeatedly miss the target instead of hitting it. This would appear to happen so often as to become statistically significant–producing results so negative as to be unexplainable by chance alone.

        Anomalous information transfer, if it does exist, might tentatively be described as a sort of "weak signal" which has to compete against other sensory information in an individual. What few foundational theories exist for these phenomena all involve some form of mind-body dualism, suggesting a process whose nature and compatibility with current scientific theory cannot yet be explained. Parapsychology can hardly speculate on the underlying cause for psi phenomena. Right now, research is basically at a very early stage of trying to validate the reality of a nonmaterial aspect of human existence. If this happens, the theoretical implications and practical applications of psi would be very significant, no matter how small the magnitude of psi effects can be observed. Research needs to continue (Glicksohn, Palmer, and Alcock, 1998).



        Two decades ago, Hansel (1980, page 312-3) drew the following logical conclusions about the body of literature on ESP. They also provide an accurate description of psi research today.

1. Subjects, when attempting to guess card symbols [or undergo a ganzfeld test], have obtained scores that cannot be attributed to chance.

2. Some of those taking part in ESP experiments have indulged in trickery.

3. Subjects who obtain high scores cannot do so on all occasions.

4. Subjects tend to lose their ability to obtain high scores. This loss often coincides with publication of an experimental result.

5. A successful subject may be unable to obtain high scores when tested by a critical investigator.

6. Some investigators often observe high scores in the subjects they test; others invariably fail to observe such scores.

7. A subject may obtain high scores under one set of experimental conditions and fail to do so under other experimental conditions.

8. No subject has ever demonstrated an ability to obtain consistently high scores when the test procedure is mechanized to the extent that he or she can repeat the exceptional performance when the experimenter is changed.

        The verdict is still out on whether a reproducible experiment has been designed which will demonstrate psi at independent laboratories. Some say that telepathy (ESP), psychokinesis, and precognition have all been demonstrated under many circumstances. I haven’t read enough successful studies to decide for myself, aside from the ganzfeld research outlined above. The ganzfeld data, however, is central to most of these claims—it is cited as positive proof of psi. If you can point me to some more published studies which you’ve found compelling, I may investigate that area of research further and possibly add a new section to this paper.

        Keep in mind that apparent psi forces have only been observed on a small scale, and in very carefully controlled conditions, generally noticeable only through analyzing the statistics of large numbers of trials. For instance, no one has been able to genuinely induce movement of an object—termed macro-psychokinesis. This is the domain of magicians only.

        Many skeptics maintain that the history of psi experiments continues to repeat itself—one experiment produces successful results and appears to prove psi’s existence, but then replicability becomes a problem as holes are discovered, the method is improved, the experiment is redone, and the traces of psi disappear. It would appear to these critics that the foundation of psi knowledge is just a chronology of apparently successful but nevertheless abandoned experiments, providing no real increase in “knowledge.” Skeptics say we have yet to build a foundation of successes with which to direct and refine future experimentation.

        Parapsychologists themselves are a bit more optimistic. They accept their previous successes at obtaining statistically significant results as validation of their field. They are working on devising better-controlled versions of the same experiments (the development of the ganzfeld is one example) and are devising new and creative ways to test psi, such as testing psychokinetic effects on random number generators. Skepticism remains healthy, though; since ad hoc explanatory theories can rationalize away many of the latest failures, there is as yet no way parapsychologists’ claims that psi exists can be decisively refuted.

        The blatant lack of evidence for the more obvious cases of reproducible paranormal activity such as psychic networks, fortunetellers, poltergeists, spoon benders, remote viewers, diviners, etc. should more accurately suggest that these phenomena are completely false. Scientists have not overlooked them; they have investigated these claims and have found none that will hold up to scrutiny.

        I can’t say much about anecdotes such as those published in Rhine (1981), e.g. sporadic phenomena attributed to ghosts, telepathic communication between twins, a death in the family triggering a sound or object’s movement, or a dream that turns prophetic. Because of their sporadic nature, these events can’t be reproduced under controlled circumstances. Research methods into these events are generally limited to psychological studies of the possible ways and likelihood of the mind being fooled, supported by detailed case studies of such phenomena (Frazier, 43).

        For the remaining class of paranormal phenomena which parapsychologists have staked their livelihood on investigating, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and telekinesis, I draw this final conclusion:

        These phenomena have been shown to exist with such small statistical evidence in research (and appear on such a small scale in society) that they are, as far as most people are concerned, simply a curiosity. Contrary to the somewhat popular belief, no single person can as yet demonstrate a substantial propensity for psi behavior. Possible evidence for psi exists only as part of a large statistical aggregate of data. If the 35% ganzfeld hit rate does in fact demonstrate psi, how can we boost this to 80% or 90%, to where it actually might become useful? As yet no one can. A lot more research is required before the phenomenon of psi can become established and accepted, let alone have any use whatsoever.

        Meanwhile the members of the media—television, radio shows, tabloids, your local paper, and the evening news—will continue to eschew fact-checking in favor of breaking more sensational stories, spreading misinformation to a public that wants to believe in magic, until the scientific facts of the matter become sufficiently incorporated into our culture. Stay informed, and here’s what you can do to help others.


Future Research

        The Skeptical Inquirer has provided me with a wealth of information on blatant psi phenomena. This is a good journal to keep an eye on. A good summary of recent research into psi can periodically be found in the Journal of Parapsychology. (As of this writing, the most recent such articles appeared in the Dec. ’97 and March ’98 issues). Finally, I hope to delve into further reports of psi which come my way, and I will try to address any questions, corrections, opinions, or interesting stories you may be able to provide.

About this paper

© 2000 Scott Teresi. This paper was last updated in Jan. 2000. It's available on my web site:

Notify me before you re-distribute this paper. I would be glad to hear it!



Bem, Daryl J. "Response to Hyman." Psychological Bulletin, 1994, Vol. 115 No. 1, Pages 25-27. Available on the web.

Answer to Ray Hyman’s critical evaluation of Bem and Honorton’s ganzfeld data.

Enright, J. T. "Testing Dowsing: The Failure of the Munich Experiments." Skeptical Inquirer, 1999, Vol. 23, No. 1. Available on the web.

A Munich study provides the most conclusive data yet against the claims of dowsers.

Frazier, Kendrick, ed. Science Confronts the Paranormal. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1986.

Good collection of articles from the Skeptical Inquirer, 1981-1986. Relevant page numbers have been referenced in the essay above.

Glicksohn, Joseph, John Palmer, and James E. Alcock. "Continuing Commentary [on altered states of consciousness, ASCs]." Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 1998, Vol. 21, 301-310.

Discussion of parapsychology’s relevance as a science.

Gollwitzer, Peter M., and John A. Bargh, eds. The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. New York: The Guilford Press, 1996.

Article entitled "The Feeling of Doing" on page 482 by Matthew E. Ansfield and Daniel M. Wegner contains references to studies on topics involving unintentional movement such as automatic writing, Ouija boards, and dowsing.

Hanlon, Joseph. "Uri Geller and Science." The New Scientist, 64, 919: 170-85.

A more critical report of the Stanford Research Institute’s study of Uri Geller. See Hansel (1980).

Hansel, C. E. M. ESP and Parapsychology: A Critical Reevaluation. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1980.

Many studies pertaining to psi phenomena are discredited. In particular, Chapter 23 discusses major problems with the Stanford Research Institute’s studies of Uri Geller by Targ and Puthoff in the early 70’s. Chapter 20 discusses Ullman and Krippner’s dream telepathy experiments.

Honorton, Charles, and Daryl J. Bem. "Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer." Psychological Bulletin, 1994, Vol. 115 No. 1, Pages 4-18. Available on the web.

A meta-analysis of many ganzfeld experiments which demonstrate the replicability of psi phenomena, published in one of psychology’s two most prestigious review journals.

Hyman, Ray. "Anomaly or Artifact? Comments on Bem and Honorton." Psychological Bulletin, 1994, Vol. 115 No. 1, Pages 19-24.

Critical of the replicability of Bem and Honorton’s ganzfeld experiments.

McClenon, James. Deviant Science: The Case of Parapsychology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.

Examination of the sociology of the scientific community and evidence for parapsychology’s status as a deviant science on the margins of legitimacy.

Milton, Julie, and Richard Wiseman. "Does Psi Exist? Lack of Replication of an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer." Psychological Bulletin, 1999, Vol. 125 No. 4, 387-391.

Evidence for lack of ganzfeld experiment replication since the publication of Bem and Honorton. An online review of the article by the Skeptical Inquirer is available on the web.

Ramakrishna Rao, K. and Palmer, J. (1987). "The anomaly called psi: recent research and criticism." Behavioural and Brain Sciences, v.10, pp.553-643. Continuing commentary in BBS v.13, pp. 383-420.

Cited as more proof for psi; I have yet to follow up on this.

Rhine, Louisa E. The Invisible Picture: A Study of Psychic Experiences. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1981.

Case studies and anecdotes of paranormal phenomena–see Chapter 18 for a brief overview.

Targ, Russell, and Harold Puthoff. "Information Transmission under Conditions of Sensory Shielding." Nature, 251, 5476 (October 18, 1974): 602-7.

Documentation of (flawed) experiments with Uri Geller at the Stanford Research Institute. See Hansel (1980).

Ullman, M., S. Krippner, and A. Vaughan. Dream Telepathy. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

A so-called "long awaited breakthrough" in proof of ESP. See Chapter 20 of Hansel (1980) for a critical evaluation.


Links to General Information

The parapsychology FAQ at the Consciousness Research Lab. in Palo Alto, Calif. [no longer online?]
Has answers to a lot of questions I’ve left out of this essay. Maintains that "psi exists." Has links to web sites of the major psi research facilities.

A beautiful but slightly older version of the FAQ above
Seems to contain pretty much all the same information but is dated 1998.

Parapsychology sources on the web
The most comprehensive list of links on parapsychology I’ve seen.

Koestler Parapsychology Unit, University of Edinburg, Scotland
Perhaps the best-known, most actively-funded chair of parapsychology. Provides general info, analysis of research methods.

List of journals and List of books on psi
Tons of stuff here.

The Skeptical Inquirer and Skeptical Briefs
Checks the facts behind the latest media sensations and provides references to scientific studies when possible.

"Retro" psychokinesis studies on random numbers
A hot area of research: subjects are said to be able to influence the distribution of lists of random numbers using psychokinesis.

References to journal articles by skeptics
Huge list spanning many topics, referencing articles in major journals


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