Main parapsychological experiments in modern world

Through popular books and portrayals of parapsychology in movies like Ghostbusters, many people assume that psi experimenters today primarily use the well-known ESP cards. This is a deck of 25 cards, with five repetitions of five cards showing symbols of a square, circle, wavy line, cross, or star. Such cards were developed and used extensively in early psi experiments primarily by J. B. Rhine and his colleagues from the 1930′s through the 1960′s. ESP cards provided persuasive evidence for ESP, but today they are rarely used by professionals. Five of the most prolific and persuasive of the current experiments are listed in the five items below.

1. PK on random number generators

The advent of electronic and computer technologies has allowed researchers to develop highly automated experiments studying the interaction between mind and matter. In one such experiment, a Random Number Generator (RNG) based on electronic or radioactive noise produces a data stream that is recorded and analyzed by computer software.

In the typical RNG experiment, a subject attempts to mentally change the distribution of the random numbers, usually in an experimental design that is functionally equivalent to getting more “heads” than “tails” while flipping a coin. Of course the electronic, computerized experiment has many advantages over earlier research using, e.g., tossed coins or dice. In the RNG experiment, great flexibility is combined with careful scientific control and a high rate of data acquisition.

A meta-analysis of the database, published in 1989, examined 800 experiments by more than 60 researchers over the preceding 30 years. The effect size was found to be very small, but remarkably consistent, resulting in an overall statistical deviation of approximately 15 standard errors from a chance effect. The probability that the observed effect was actually zero (i.e., no psi) was less than one part in a trillion, verifying that human consciousness can indeed affect the behavior of a random physical system. Furthermore, while experimental quality had significantly increased over time, this was uncorrelated with the effect size, in contradiction to a frequent, but unfounded skeptical criticism.

Some parapsychologists believe that these results can be accounted for by ESP if the experimenter (or their participants) intuitively know the right moment to start their studies to get significant results. This is known as Decision Augmentation Theory. However, the apparent effect of focused mass consciousness on a world-wide network of RNGs (see the Global Consciousness Project) suggest that at least some of the time, there is an element of mind-matter interaction.

2. PK on living systems

This has also been called biological system mind-matter interaction or bio-PK, and more recently some researchers refer to it as Direct Mental Interactions with Living Systems (DMILS). The ability to monitor internal functions of the body, including nervous system activity using EEG and biofeedback technologies, has provided an opportunity to ask whether biological systems may also be affected by intention in a manner similar to mind-matter interaction on RNGs.

A DMILS experiment that has been particularly successful is one that looks at the commonly reported “feeling of being stared at.” The “starer” and the “staree” are isolated in different locations, and the starer is periodically asked to simply gaze at the staree via closed circuit video links. Meanwhile the staree’s nervous system activity is automatically and continuously monitored. The cumulative database on this and similar DMILS experiments provides strong evidence that one person’s attention directed towards a remote, isolated person, can significantly activate or calm that person’s nervous system, according to the instructions given to the starer.

3. ESP in the ganzfeld

Ganzfeld (“whole field”) technique was developed to quiet this external noise by providing a mild, unpatterned sensory field to mask the noise of the outside world. In the typical ganzfeld experiment, the telepathic “sender” and “receiver” are isolated, the receiver is put into the ganzfeld state, and the sender is shown a video clip or still picture and asked to mentally send that image to the receiver.

The receiver, while in the ganzfeld, is asked to continuously report aloud all mental processes, including images, thoughts, feelings. At the end of the sending period, typically about 20 to 40 minutes in length, the receiver is taken out of the ganzfeld, and shown four images or videos, one of which is the true target and three are non-target decoys. The receiver attempts to select the true target, using perceptions experienced during the ganzfeld state as clues to what the mentally “sent” image might have been. With no telepathy, chance expectation allows us to predict that the correct target would be selected about 1 in 4 times, for a 25% “hit rate.” After scores of such experiments, presently totaling about 700 individual sessions conducted by about two dozen investigators, world-wide, the results show that the target image is selected on average 34% of the time. This is a highly significant result, suggesting that telepathy, at least as operationally defined in this experiment, exists.

4. Remote Viewing

The ganzfeld technique indicates that information can be exchanged mentally after the receiver is placed in an altered state of consciousness (the ganzfeld). The remote viewing experiment, in one of its many forms, investigates whether information can be gained without requiring a special altered state, and without a sender. For example, in one type of remote viewing experiment, a pool of several hundred photographs are created. One of these is randomly selected by a third party to be the target, and it is set aside in a remote location. The experimental participant then attempts to sketch or otherwise describe that remote target photo. This is repeated for a total of say, 7 different targets. Many ways of evaluating the results of this test have been developed, including some highly sophisticated methods. One common (and easy) method is to take the group of seven target photos and responses, randomly shuffle the targets and responses, and then ask independent judges to rank order or match the correct targets with the participant’s actual responses. If there was real transfer of information, the responses should correspond more closely to the correct targets than to the mismatched targets.

Several thousand such trials have been conducted by dozens of investigators over the past 25 years, involving hundreds of participants. The cumulative database strongly indicates that information about remote photos, actual scenes, and events can be perceived. Some of these experiments have also been used to successfully study precognition by having a participant describe a photo that would be randomly selected in the future.

5. Presentiment Studies

These studies measure physiological parameters, such as skin resistance, heart rate, pupil size, EEG, fMRI results, and other variables to look at unconscious precognition. Typically, they involve the randomized application of stimuli, which may involve sounds or images while an individual is hooked up to monitoring equipment. Although neither the experimenter nor the participant knows which stimulus is coming up next (whether neutral, erotic, violent, or something else), their physiological parameters show a change 1-3 seconds before the actual stimulus occurs, and, perhaps even more interestingly, before it has even been randomly chosen by the computer. This finding has been independently replicated by a variety of experimenters and laboratories around the world, whether one looks at reactions in the autonomic nervous system or central nervous system.

© The Parapsychological Association. All rights reserved. Original: http://parapsych.org/section/36/frequently_asked_questions.aspx

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