Simply put, parapsychology is the study of mental phenomena that scientific research has not yet been able to explain. Branches that stem from the term ‘parapsychology’ include telepathy, precognition, psychokinesis, reincarnation and clairvoyance. Founded by American botanist J.B. Rhine in the 1930s, this form of paranormal scientific research aims to provide evidence that cannot be explained, to answers that cannot be answered. Parapsychology was a term given to the study of paranormal experiences when Rhine and his wife tried to develop psychical research into an experimental science. To try to avoid the connotations of exorcism and séances, the term parapsychology was created in order to bring much-needed validity to an otherwise trivial subject.
Many reported Extrasensory Perception (ESP) cases are said to occur spontaneously in conditions, which are not scientifically controlled. Such experiences have often been described to be much stronger and more obvious that those observed in laboratory experiments. These reports, rather than laboratory evidence, have historically, been the basis for the widespread belief in the authenticity of these phenomena. However, it has proven extremely difficult, nigh impossible, to replicate such extraordinary experiences under controlled scientific conditions. This, naturally, forms the whole argument for scientists outside the field of parapsychology. Evidence inside a laboratory, facts and statistics that point clearly to one answer, is what validates a scientific branch or study. Without it, the specific field of science is brought into question having had to base their formation on personal experiences outside of the laboratory.
One of the main methods, for example, of trying to provide laboratory evidence for ESP (also referred to as the ‘sixth sense’), is using Zener, or now ESP cards. A pack of twenty-five cards with five different patterns including a circle, a cross, three wavy lines, a square and a star. In this experiment, the ‘sender’ looks at a series of cards whilst the ‘receiver’ guesses the symbols. To try to observe clairvoyance, the pack of cards is hidden from everyone while the receiver guesses. To try to observe precognition, the order of the cards is determined after the guesses are made. In all experiments, the order of the cards must be random so that hits are not obtained through systematic biases or prior knowledge. The cards were first shuffled by hand and then by machine. An advantage of using ESP cards is that statistics can easily be applied to determine whether the number of hits obtained is higher than would be expected by chance. Rhine used ordinary people as subjects, and claimed that, on average, they did significantly better than chance expectation. Later he used dice to test for psychokinesis and also claimed results that were better than chance.
Like all scientific research, parapsychology has received criticism. Among scientists in the National Academy of Sciences, 96% described themselves as sceptical of ESP; 4% believes in parapsychology. Among all scientists surveyed, 10% felt that parapsychological research should be encouraged. Sceptics claim that there is a lack of viable theory of the mechanism behind ESP, and there are historical cases in which flaws have been discovered in the experimental design of parapsychological studies. Critics of experimental parapsychology hold that there are no consistent and agreed-upon standards by which ESP powers may be tested. It is argued that when psychics are challenged and fail to prove their alleged powers, they assign blame to negative energy from the sceptic or mobile phone interference.
After researching this topic, it is hard to see parapsychology as anything but a charlatan attempt to try and fail to scientifically prove the existence of ESP. Why does this topic of interest have to be scientifically proven or validated, drawing attention to this very controversial subject for the wrong reasons, enforcing the argument of the sceptics. A comparison can be made to religion. We all have the right to believe what we want, whether or not it has been scientifically proven. We believe in what we want to believe in, whether through personal experience or preference and by trying to bring this field into a science laboratory, J.B. Rhine has undoubtedly proved his sceptics correct.