Everyone who believes in telekinesis, raise my hand. — origin unknown
There is hardly an area of study in psychology which attracts more ridicule than the study of parapsychology. J.B. Rhine (photo) was the first parapsychologist to attract attention of a different kind – his research was even quoted by C.G. Jung when asked about the possibility of the existence of paranormal phenomena. In the Rhine’s Classic ESP Experiment, H.E. Pearce was found to have some psychic ability when from 1850 trials he picked the right ESP card out of a selection of 5 with 30% accuracy. All other subjects averaged the standard 20%. Pearce was tested in a variety of surrounding (including a successful test where he was in a different building than the researcher showing the cards), using a variety of methods – always scoring above average. Read here for more details.
Rhine believed that the defining factor in parapsychological experiments was the belief of subjects in their abilities and the ‘boredom’ factor – all tests were less successful the longer they were carried on for – as subjects were losing interest, patience and focus. This is not to be mistaken with statistical error – it was understood that it takes a number of tests before a sufficient number is arrived at that does not allow for chance in the result, and therefore gives a fair average.
So what of it? Sadly enough there is no actual or scientific proof for the existence of paranormal phenomena or psychic powers. There are those such as James Randi who spend all their time disproving the existence of such phenomena (the 1.000.000 dollar challenge for psychics – believed to be seriously unfair), there are those such as Banachek who managed to fool the scientific community for months, and even Rhine himself identified a lot of his co-workers as cheats who consciously changed data to give proof for the existence of psychic phenomena. There are also those such as Derren Brown who spend their time achieving feats that resemble psychic powers through trickery and misdirection.
Wikipedia states 4 distinctive reasons for the lack of research on parapsychology:
- Psi Phenomena as a Violation of the Laws of Physics or Nature
- Parapsychology as Taboo
- Parapsychology as a Waste of Resources
- Parapsychology as a Danger to Society
The last point deserves a closer look: ‘Some believe that parapsychology should not be pursued because it somehow represents a danger to society. As is stated in the Y2000 NSF report Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Public Understanding: Belief in the Paranormal or Pseudoscience‘