ESP - Is there really any evidence?

Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) is a blanket term used to denote a number of psychic abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance and clairaudience. While there has been plenty of anecdotal evidence to support the existence of ESP, the scientific community has been loath to commit to an opinion either way. However, one of the psychology world’s most respected journals, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has put its head above the parapets and cast its vote.

Experiments in ESP

Most of us have, at one time or another, had an experience that could be classed as extra-sensory. Knowing who is on the phone ‘before you answer’, experiencing déjà vu and dreaming a real-life event that then happens are just a few examples. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology decided to investigate phenomena such as these and base an opinion on the results.

The paper describes nine experiments conducted by Professor Daryl J Bem, involving over 1,000 people. The experiments, conducted under laboratory conditions, included Precognitive Detection of Erotic Stimuli, Precognitive Avoidance of Negative Stimuli and Retroactive Facilitation of Recall; all experiments designed to test levels of extra-sensory abilities.

Significant Results

In virtually each case, the results were higher than expected. In most experiments, there was a 50/50 chance for participants to arrive at or guess the ‘correct’ response. However, the results showed that, in each case, participants were able to discern the required result at a rate higher than the odds given by the ‘laws of chance’. All but one of the experiments yielded “statistically significant results.”

While the scientific community has thrown its arms in the air and demanded further investigation, Professor Bem states that “the experiments in this article provide evidence for the existence of precognition or retroactive influence.” He finishes by quoting from Alice in Wonderland: “Near the end of her encounter with the White Queen, Alice protests that “one can’t believe impossible things,” a sentiment with which the 34% of academic psychologists who believe psi to be impossible would surely agree. The White Queen famously retorted, “I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

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