You are here: And So It Begins.... PSI and ESP Psi Phenomena
The term 'psi' was introduced by Thouless and Wiesner (1948) to be a neutral
term for a variety of 'paranormal' phenomena, free of the implicit
assumptions that are contained within labels such as psychokinesis
('movement by mind') or telepathy ('feeling or perception at a distance'),
and of the whole assumption of paranormality. It was originally split into
two categories of psi-kappa and psi-gamma, denoting active and passive psi,
the first subsuming those phenomena such as psychokinesis which appeared to
involve an effect upon another system, the second covering phenomena such as
extrasensory perception, which showed a more receptive aspect. The main
problem with the terms is that they do not have a precise definition,
indicating which phenomena may be counted as psi and which are excluded. Psi
has been defined as the 'unknown factor' in psychic experiences, and often
this is modified as being a factor which is not reliant on the conventional
sensorimotor channels. Any psi experience has essentially two components -
the event which is thought to involve psi, and person who experiences it.
Most parapsychological research thus concentrates either on the
characteristics of the experiencer, or of the event, or a combination of the
two. Some examples of possible characteristics of the psi experiencer
PK studies have looked at variables such as anxiety, field-independence and
sex-typing, and general changes in states of attention. ESP studies have
looked at many measures including extroversion and defensiveness, hypnotic
susceptibility, psychotic symptomatology, and general measures of cognitive
style. Findings have been somewhat mixed, possibly due to the lack of
repeated testing of the same participants, and have not yet led to any
generally accepted measures that should be taken in psi studies. The one
exception to this is in the area of belief in psi, generally referred to as
the sheep-goat effect (SGE). The name was first used by Gertrude Schmeidler,
who metaphorically separated her participants in the believing ‘sheep’ and
the doubting goats. Her study, and several since, found that belief was an
important factor in predicting success in psi, both under ESP and PK
protocols, although whether belief begets psi or vice versa is debatable.
While it is generally agreed that psi success depends rather heavily on
psychological factors, it is as yet unclear whether this indicates some
absolute distinction based on biological differences, or is an indicator
that psi is simply a human ability like any other, success depending on how
the psi agent feels at the time of the experiment.
Extrasensory Perception (ESP) is the general term, introduced by the German
researcher, Dr. Rudolf Tischner [in his book "Telepathy and Clairvoyance" -
originally published (in German) in 1920, and republished in English in
1925] and made popular by J.B. Rhine, used to denote any manifestations of
psi that appear to be analogous to sensory functions. It covers the
Telepathy - lit. remote feeling/perception - where information perceived by
one person is gained by another person when the currently recognised sensory
channels are unavailable.
Clairvoyance - lit. clear seeing - where a person appears to gain
information about their environment when the currently recognised sensory
channels are unavailable.
Precognition - lit. pre-knowing - where nondeductible information about a
future event is acquired.
Basically, the term used to describe the phenomenon is dependent on the
situation in which it occurs or on the viewpoint of the observer - they are
not necessarily seperate phenomena. Other terms used in place of ESP are
anomalous cognition, anomalous information transfer, second sight, tele- or
para-gnosis, fortune telling, prophecy, scrying and divination. Today, many
labs use the Ganzfeld ESP experimental technique.
Psychokinesis (PK) - lit. mind movement - is the term, introduced by J.B.
Rhine, used for psi phenomena wherein a person appears to directly affect
their environment simply by intending to do so. As ESP was thought to be
analogous to sensory functioning, PK was the psi equivalent to motor
functioning. PK is traditionally split into two categories:
Micro PK - applied to cases where instrumentation and/or statistical
analysis is needed to determine if there is an effect (e.g. influence of
Macro PK - applied to cases where naked-eye observation suggests there is an
effect (e.g. poltergeist, table tipping).
Bio PK - has been used in cases where the target system to be influenced is
a living system. However, this has been largely replaced by the DMILS
(Direct Mental Influence of Living Systems) acronym.
Currently, most experiments use a desktop computer to collect data from the
target system and to display some form of feedback (usually a colourful
graphic display) to the participant, although some also use dedicated
electronic devices for this purpose (such as Schmidt's famous 'circle of
lights' - a ring of bulbs set up so that the lit bulb appeared to move
around the circle. A random source controlled the direction and
characteristics of movement). Data collection tends to be fully automatic
and often has security measures designed to detect unauthorised access to
Typically, the target system in a micro-psychokinesis (as opposed to the
macro-psychokinesis often reported in poltergeist cases) experiment consists
of a truly random (as opposed to pseudo-random) physical system, usually
referred to as a random number/event generator (RNG/REG). Such systems are
thought to be completely unpredictable, with the randomness being due to
nondeterministic quantum processes. Examples include an electronic
noise-based device or a geiger counter that detects radioactive decay. As
the magnitude of any PK effect seen in the laboratory tends to be very
small, some form of statistical analysis is necessary to detect whether an
effect is present. REGs are useful as the statistical distribution of their
output is well known. A deviation from this distribution, once any possible
artefacts have been allowed for, is taken to be evidence for some form of
It has long been thought anecdotally that psychic abilities were in some way
linked to the environment - Magic works better at certain sites, at
different moon-phases and at night rather than day; Sensitives talk about
good and bad atmospheres; hauntings are associated with cold spots and
mysterious breezes - but, until relatively recently, the role of the
environment had not been considered in parapsychology.
One aspect of the environment - the geomagnetic field (GMF) - has recently
been the focus of several studies around the world (including some at
Edinburgh), looking at a possible relationship between the activity of the
field and psi. Although the actual relationship remains unclear, and may not
be a direct causal link, studies have consistently shown that extrasensory
perception (ESP) seems to be more effective at times when the GMF is
relatively quiet. There have been fewer and less consistent studies looking
at a PK relationship, but some authors seem to show that that an active GMF
is associated with good PK performance.
Some researchers are considering other environmental variables, ranging from
the ion concentration in the air to the current lunar phase.
One of the problems with studies looking at this topic is that there is no
clear idea as to what mechanism(s) could account for a psi-environment
relationship. Broadly speaking, the possibilities are:
That the physical characteristic being studied somehow interacts with, or
composes, the mechanism underlying psi.
That the environment has some direct effect on human psychology that
directly or indirectly affects psi functioning.
And of course, as real life situations are rarely simple, all three
possibilities may occur simultaneously!
Participants in psychokinesis experiments tend to be people who have been
kind enough to volunteer to help with an experiment. The majority do not
claim to have any amazing psychic abilities or experiences, nor do they
necessarily subscribe to any particular belief system - some even have an
active disbelief in the possibilty of psi ! As with much university-based
research, there is a high proportion of student volunteers, although we do
have volunteers of all ages.
Typically, participants will be asked to watch some form of feedback display
which represents the target system's activity. Depending on the format of
the experiment, they may be told details about the target system itself, or
they may simply be asked to try to affect the feedback display (this is one
of the peculiarities about PK research: that success seems independent of
task complexity. That is, even though the target system may be extremely
complex, the participant needs only to try to affect the feedback display to
achieve a successful outcome). What strategy the participant employs in
their attempt to be successful also depends on the particular experiment. In
some cases, they may be asked to go through some relaxation exercises and
then to passively imagine the display changing as they wish. In others, they
may be asked to get as excited as possible, often telling the display how it
should be acting! (Incidentally, this latter approach is not often used as
studies seem to show that, at least in the laboratory environment, the
former strategy - called passive striving - is most effective.)
Participants are asked to attempt to influence the fall of a small physical
object, either a die, a coin or similar, with the intention of getting a
pre-specified outcome (e.g. a particular number on a die, heads or tails,
Bias due to physical construction of object, bias in throwing technique if
participant were allowed to handle object.
Mitchell, A.M.J. & Fisk, G.W. (1953). The application of differential
scoring methods to PK tests, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research,
37, pp. 45-60.
Targets at rest or in motion:
Participants are asked to attempt to perturb the target object from it's
equilibrium state (e.g. move a compass needle, stop residual oscillations in
a torsional pendulum). One of the most famous recent ostensible
psychokinetics was the Soviet Woman Nina Kulagina.
Need to disallow possibility of 'normal' influences (hidden magnets,
draughts, vibrations, etc).
Puthoff, H.E. & Targ, R. (1975). Physics, entropy and psychokinesis. In L.
Oteri (ed.), Quantum Physics and Parapsychology pp. 129-144, New York:
Parapsychology Foundation. Brought to the public's attention by Uri Geller,
such PK tasks ask the participant to attempt to deform the target object
(usually some sort of metallic object) without using their physical
strength. Participants often have some sort of physical contact with the
object, although in controlled experiments this is minimised.
Need to prevent participant from physically bending the object, or
substituting a pre-stressed or pretreated object. Possibility of
sleight-of-hand techniques being employed.
Hasted, J.B. & Robertson, D. (1980). Paranormal action on metal and its
surroundings, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 50 (784), pp.
Also known as 'thoughtography', this phenomenon was made famous by
experiments conducted with Ted Serios. The participant attempts to cause an
image, or at least some form of anomalous exposure, to appear on an
unexposed film emulsion once it is developed.
Need to avoid fraudulent exposures due to chemical contamination or hidden
light sources. Care must be taken during developing to avoid accidental
light sources. Possibility of electrostatic or ionising radiation effects.
Watkins, G.K & Watkins, A.M. (1974). Apparent psychokinesis on static
objects by a 'gifted' subject: a laboratory investigation, Research in
Parapsychologyc 1973, pp. 132-134.
Direct Mental Interaction with Living Systems:
Direct Mental Interaction with Living Systems, or DMILS is another area of
ongoing research at the Koestler Chair, and in other parts of the world. In
recent years, a large body of evidence has been accumulated suggesting that
physiological processes can be influenced by remote individuals with no
obvious means of communication. Physiological measures have been used in ESP
research almost since the equipment has been available, however, the current
methodology used in DMILS arises primarily from the work of William Braud,
Marylin Schlitz, and others.
For simplicity I will refer to the Agent as the person who attempts to alter
the distant system, and Participant as the system being acted upon. It is
unclear who is really doing the 'influencing' or who is being influenced and
the number of different descriptors used in the literature reflects this
(i.e. 'influencer - influencee', 'sender-receiver' etc.). The acronym DMILS
itself is relatively new, arising from Bio-PK, remote staring, distant
influence, and others. Direct Mental Interaction allows for contributions
from both agent and participant, while Living Systems includes organisms in
general (even cellular systems). Throughout this page certain references are
highlighted, simply click on them to see the full citation, and then click
again on the citation to return.
Remote Staring Studies:
The typical remote staring experiment involves situating the participant
comfortably in a sound attenuated, shielded chamber while the Agent either
stares at the participant via a closed circuit video, or looks away
according to a random sequence previously unknown to the Agent. The
participant can be asked to guess when they think staring is occurring, or
may be monitored physiologically as an unconscious measure of staring
detection. The agent may try several mental strategies during staring in an
attempt to gain the attention of the participant. Physiological measures of
detection have proved to be more robust than conscious guessing thus far,
with physiological arousal being generally higher during staring periods
than for non staring periods. Distances between Agent and Participant vary
due to laboratory architecture, but most studies occur over at least 20
meters, and with several closed doors between the two.
Remote Influence (interaction) Studies:
Remote influence studies are vary similar to remote staring, in that
physiological responses are recorded and the Participant and Agent are
separated by sound proofing, shielding, and distance. However, rather than
staring or not staring, the Agent uses one or more of several influencing
strategies to either calm or activate the remote participant. Influence
periods (calm or activate) are broken up by a control periods, where the
Agent attempts no influence. These are counter balanced and randomly
assigned by computer or by other procedures such that the Agent and
Participant are unaware of the sequence of influence period. In many cases,
computers are used to prompt the Agent and for physiological feedback from
the Participant. Several influencing strategies have been developed for use
in remote interaction:
Self-initiation of the desired physiological state
Imagine the distant participant in a situation likely to produce the
intended physiological reaction Direct attention on physiological feedback
and imagine that it matches the assigned instructions. Use feedback to
experiment with different mental strategies. Use previously identified
personally relevant emotional memories or situations from either the Agent
or Participant that fits the desired reaction in the Agent.
Studies using other biological systems:
Other biological systems have been used as Participants in DMILS studies.
Blood cell deterioration rate was measured as a dependent variable in a
study by Braud & Dennis, (1989) . Braud has also done some other experiments
using fish orientation in a tank and mammal locomotion. I'll build more into
this section later, perhaps reviewing more general animal experiments.
Theories of Psi:
There have been many requests for information on theories used in psi
research. While a full review of all the theoretical approaches is beyond
the scope of this website, there follows a brief introduction to some of the
more popular theories which have been put forward in an attempt to further
our understanding of psi. Please note that these summaries are only meant to
give an idea of each of the approaches and should not be taken as being
authoritative. You are urged to look up the references if you have more than
a passing interest. If anyone feels their ideas have been misrepresented,
please contact us - it wasn't intentional!
Teleological Model of Psi (TM):
Helmudt Schmidt proposed a teleological (goal-seeking) model that postulated
psi as representing a ‘modification of the probabilities for different world
histories’. That is, the psi agent need concentrate only on the desired
outcome of an event. Psi would act to skew the probability of that event
happening, or having happened in the case of retrospective psychokinesis
(retro-PK). As such, this theory was not a theory of a psi mechanism but
rather one which looked at the way psi was experienced by the psi agent. It
was one of the first parapsychological theories to include a unified psi:
PK, ESP, precognition - all were aspects of one common psi principle wherein
reality was altered to match expectation. This theory also meant that psi
would be independent of space and time as when and where in the world
history psi occurred would be irrelevant, and that psi is independent of
task complexity as the psi agent aims only for the desired end-point. As
most human actions are essentially teleological - when we want to pick
something up, we do not consider in detail which muscles we wish to move,
and so on - this brought psi more into the realms of human experience.
Feedback was considered to be vital: the psi agent can have an effect only
if it is coupled to its environment in such a way that it may receive a
stimulus. There was also what was called a ‘divergence problem’. That is,
all future psi agents could also have an effect on the present world
history. In effect, this meant that for any experiment, the psi agent was
not only the experimental participant but all future readers of the
Quantum Mechanical Theory of Psi (QMTP):
Evan Harris Walker identified consciousness with quantum-mechanical hidden
variables. In quantum theory, any system may be described in terms a
wave-function - a complex superposition of waves, the squared amplitude of
each being related to the probability of an individual event occurring. The
complete wave-function describes all possible outcomes of that system. Thus
the wave-function of a coin-toss will describe the outcomes of heads or
tails, with the amplitude of each being equal to the square-root of the 50%
probability of getting a head or a tail. The problem is that this
wave-function describes all the outcomes at once, whereas conscious
experience tells us that we will observe only one outcome. This naturally
led to the idea that conscious observation somehow affects the system,
causing the wave-function to ‘collapse’ into one specific state - the one we
experience. If this is indeed the case, then perhaps the consciousness can
actually choose, to some extent, which outcome actually occurs - a process
which sounds very much like the concept of psychokinesis.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION : VISIT THE KOESTLER PARAPSYCHOLOGY UNIT SITE AT :
Our thanks to the author. Republished here with permission.
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