There’s a scene in the original 1984 Ghostbusters movie when Bill Murray’s character Dr Peter Venkman, a parapsychology researcher, is in his office with a young attractive female student and a male student, attempting to test their extra sensory perception (ESP) abilities by holding up cards and asking them to state what the image on the other side of the card might be. The female student gets all of them wrong and the male gets them all right but Peter Venkman dismisses the male student and tells the female student she’s reading every one of them correctly in a sleazy attempt to get her to go out with him. The situation sums up the perception in the wider public has about parapsychology and paranormal phenomena, that is, it’s proponents have dubious character and poor moral fibre.
The Ghostbusters, of course, save the day in the end because of their belief in the paranormal. However, psi phenomena, or mystical and transcendental experiences, in parapsychology don’t have many true believers within the scientific community. That’s probably because psi phenomena can’t be explained using conventional rules of science. That hasn’t stopped some researchers from trying. Some of these researchers even work at some of the most powerful and hallowed institutions in existence. Take, for example, the CIA and Cornell University.
The CIA’s Project Stargate
From 1978 to 1995 the CIA ran Project Stargate which was the codename for the government project intended to use psychic and supernatural phenomena for spying and military purposes. They used so-called ‘remote viewers’ and telekinesis amongst other methods. Remote viewers can see things in another place; telekinesis is the process where a person can move an object that they’re not touching.
Research shows that remote viewing works about 15% of the time. The information gleaned by the CIA was only ever used in corroboration with other intelligence, however it was used to locate scud missiles in the Persian Gulf War and help locate Army hostages in Iran, amongst other information. The CIA uploaded 12 million pages about the Stargate Project online in January 2017.
Cornell Professor Daryl Bem’s study of PSI
Cornell Psychology professor Daryl Bem published an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2011 about PSI phenomena. He carried out 9 experiments using over 1,000 participants testing for retroactive influences of a future event on the individual’s current responses. He found statistically significant results in all but one of the experiments, and designed the experiments so that they would be replicable, an important aspect of research that gives it credence amongst the scientific community. Nevertheless, the science community has little time for notions of psi phenomena such as precognition and premonition, two aspects of retroactive influences. This is despite opening up to theories of quantum physics. Bem quotes Radin’s (2006) Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, “most of the fundamental assumptions about the fabric of physical reality have been revised in the direction predicted by genuine psi. This is why I propose that psi is the human experience of the (quantum) entangled universe”.
Is it just the Rosenthal Effect?
Research into psi phenomena has also been criticised as nothing more than the result of the Rosenthal Effect. This effect describes the influence a researcher can have on the outcome of research. Rosenthal studied the so-called experimenter expectancy effects on outcomes on children’s IQ, not on any research into psi phenomena. No doubt psi studies carried out by the Peter Venkman’s out there would be full of Rosenthal effects!
As with most research, the concluding paragraph here calls for the need for further research into parapsychology and psi phenomena. It just needs to be taken seriously by the scientific community.