Mind Over Science: An Exploration into the World of Psi
Caroline RidgwayThat our perception of the world is predominantly governed by the senses of sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell is not disputed. However, scientists and amateur academics alike have historically disagreed about the existence of any additional senses, with the most contentious debate surrounding the phenomenon generally referred to as ESP, or "psi." Despite the vast number of people who claim to have or to have witnessed psychic abilities, the corresponding research has found little that is empirically valid or significant to corroborate the wealth of more anecdotal evidence. To establish their validity, it would be necessary to show how they occur in the sensory system - how the input is received and how the subsequent outputs are generated - and so far there is no evidence for the presence of a mechanism specified for this task. Regardless of the extent to which skeptics can take their argument, that so many people over time have reported some degree of extrasensory perception somewhat justifies an inquiry into its history as a cultural and scientific phenomenon as well as any potential empirical proof.
The very definition of that which is generally thought of in popular culture as a "sixth sense" is worth noting, given that its name - extrasensory perception - implies a capability of receiving external information through pathways that are not explicitly sensory. However, our understanding of sensation as it stands now depends on the existence of receptors within the nervous system that are specified for the respective types of sensation (1,2) . An input can only be received and integrated if there exists within a system the proper kind of receptor, be it mechano- or thermo- or any other acknowledged sort. That the scientific literature does not support the existence of any receptors capable of picking up thought patterns does not preclude the acceptance of other kinds of sensation than is observable in humans. Various forms of communication have been identified in bats (3)  and dolphins (4) , for example, but have been recognized as nonexistent in humans. This suggests that the scientific community might, in time, be able to accept the existence of the paranormal if any legitimate evidence were provided. However, it must be recognized that the dubitable position maintained by psychic phenomena within academia has not diminished its visibility in today's strikingly modern and generally discriminating society. That the study of psychic phenomena is so prevalent among respected members of our society is a testament to its durability despite continued attacks by skeptics.
David Myers, a professor of Psychology at Hope College in Michigan, considers on his website three of the most common and, he suggests, reputable varieties of what is more broadly referred to as ESP: telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition (5) . Telepathy is the communication between two or more people via thought processes. Clairvoyance, which is what is most customarily thought of as being representative of psychic ability, is the perception of remote events. Finally, precognition, which is also frequently thought of in conjunction with psychic phenomena, is the perception of future events. Myers also makes note of psychokinesis, or the ability to influence physical movement with the mind. A quote by Carl Sagan included by Myers sums up the point he wishes to emphasize: "At the heart of science is an essential tension between two seemingly contradictory attitudes - an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive they may be, and the most ruthless skeptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new." While scientific experimentation has consistently failed to provide concrete evidence for the existence of psychic ability, a vocal minority of people maintains the conviction that it is indeed valid. Even beyond numerical proof, a justifiable theory and further replication of results is needed to lend any credibility. However, whatever our stance, Myers invites us to continue thinking critically in the event that any significant results are ever uncovered.
One aspect of psi that has more successfully infiltrated society is what is referred to as remote viewing (6,7) . The International Remote Viewing Association defines it as: a "perceptual discipline for gaining information not available to the ordinary physical senses" (7) . This method theoretically allows users to detect stimuli that are not in close spatial or temporal proximity. Studies have attempted to show that subjects are able to perceive a scene in their minds that they have not previously experienced and record it on paper or dictate their sensation verbally; only later does that situation actually occur (8) . The IRVA proposes that its discipline is unique among psi phenomena because it is generally tested using more rigorous scientific standards, and further argues that its credibility has been substantiated by its past use in governmental and other investigative circumstances (8,9,10,11,12) . Moreover, the IRVA suggests that the ability is one that resides untapped in each of us, and therefore represents a viable if not widely practiced or accepted form of perception (10) . That the results obtained have not been perfectly replicable should not be taken as proof of nonexistence, suggests Jessica Utts, a professor of Statistics at UC Davis (13) . She writes in support: "Even if there truly is an effect, it may never be replicable on demand in the short run even if we understand how it works. However, over the long run in well-controlled laboratory experiments we should see a consistent level of functioning, above that expected by chance." She proposes that it is not significant that we have not achieved absolute accuracy in testing psi phenomena; what is significant is that we have achieved some degree of accuracy. That so much research continues to be done in this area indicates at least some agreement with this position (14,15) .
However, despite some acceptance, a vast number of people are of the opinion that psychic ability amounts to no more than glorified magic tricks (16) . James Randi, who claims to be a foremost paranormal investigator, has taken his challenge so far as to offer one million dollars to any person who can conclusively prove the existence of extrasensory perception (17) . One writer, a man named Ray Hyman, suggests, "The proponents of the paranormal have seized an opportunity to achieve by propaganda what they have failed to achieved through science" (18) . Hyman directly opposes the claims made by Jessica Utts, asserting that fundamental flaws in experimental design and subsequent statistical analysis quash the validity of the results. He conducted a meta-analysis on the available research and determined that any significant results obtained using that measurement did not necessarily accurately reflect the results of the individual studies; smaller data sets that are individually non-significant may all of a sudden appear phenomenally significant when pooled. Furthermore, depending on how the numbers are manipulated, the resultant data can be made to fit any desired hypothesis. A lack of replication of data corroborating the existence of psi is crucial in undermining the myth; any other scientific research would never be accepted into popular science without proper replication.
To declare any extrasensory perception to be valid would effectively blur the lines between science and mysticism. But, honestly, how many of us can report having that feeling of deja vu after experiencing something you thought had never happened before, or maybe only in a dream. Or maybe remembering the hairs on the back of the neck prickling in response to finding out some piece of news that seems just too coincidental somehow. Perhaps the proponents of psi who suggest these abilities exist, dormant but potentially powerful in all of us, are right. Perhaps the strength of the myth is that, to an extent, it does exist, but science has not yet been able to conclusively prove it either way, thus relegating psi as a whole to some empirical pergatory. Or maybe it is all a hoax, and any research suggesting otherwise should be discounted. But to the extent that the true potential of the brain and (or) the mind is not fully understood, it cannot be said conclusively that any one mental capacity does not exist; it is more valid to tentatively suggest that it doesn't not exist. Until proof can be offered, the argument will likely continue on both sides.
WWW Sources1) Sensing the Environment 
3) The Bat Conservation Trust 
4) Discovery: Dolphins 
6) Remote Viewing: What is it? 
8) IRVA: What is Remote Viewing 
9) IRVA: A Scientist's Overview 
10) IRVA: The History of Remote Viewing 
14) Boundary Institute 
16) The Skeptic's Dictionary: Psi 
Comments made prior to 2007
hi I was writing to see if you guys have noticed yet, birds are psychic and can hear you, they will respond to you and will repeat what you think.most people just pass them off as tweeting nonsense but if you take the time to listen and respond to them in thought, it is possible to have a really long back and forth with a bird with a big clear voice.normal everyday birds that land in trees, they really hear you, they have learnt alot from living so close to us and hearing so much,you can overcome the language barrier together,they will make yeas, their voice is limited but if you think they do respond out loud in logical undeniable ways. they really hear you they will respond. It must be a frequency thing,I haven't noticed any other animal with this characteristic. I hope you try this so you can see for yourself, .you never really believe it untill you see it or hear it for yourself ... Dianne, 14 May 2006