Tag Archives: ESP

There’s a brain quirk that could explain why some people think they are psychic

By Mike McRae via ScienceAlert

Throughout history, there have been individuals who believe they’ve caught a sense of events yet to come.

True clairvoyance is unsupported by scientific evidence, but a subtle difference in how some people perceive the timing of events could help explain why many remain convinced of their psychic abilities.

Why don’t you remember this headline?

A study by researchers from Yale University has provided some insight into why people think they have supernatural foresight, hinting at a physiological basis behind certain delusions.

Clairvoyance – or an ability to picture or predict future events with uncanny accuracy – has been held accountable to the scrutiny of scientists and skeptics since the 19th century.

The weight of evidence makes it fairly clear the human brain is not influenced by future events.

In many cases, proposed psychic abilities are the result of intentional fraud, with charlatans employing the same kinds of tricks mentalist magicians have used for centuries to feign mind reading and fortune telling.

But not all people who claim extraordinary abilities of future-sight are out to make a quick buck or two. Dismissing it as a sign of mental illness also tells us little about how such beliefs develop in otherwise healthy brains.

To gain an understanding of the neurological underpinnings of psychic prediction, the researchers made use of a test that had previously demonstrated a link between the timing of a colour changing shape, and the subject’s judgement of their ability to predict its transformation.

Only this time the researchers also evaluated the volunteers’ beliefs.

Continue Reading @ ScienceAlert – – –

Why do so many people believe in psychic powers?

Source: BPS Research Digest


Researchers say belief in psychic powers is not related to general IQ, memory bias or education, but to a lack of analytical skills

A large proportion of the public – over a quarter according to a Gallup survey in the US – believe that humans have psychic abilities such as telepathy and clairvoyance, even though mainstream science says there is no evidence that these powers exist. It might be tempting for sceptics to put this down to a lack of general intelligence or education on the part of the believers, but in fact past research has failed to support this interpretation.

Now a paper in Memory and Cognition has looked for differences between believers and sceptics in specific mental abilities, rather than in overall intelligence or education. Across three studies – this was one of the most comprehensive investigations of its kind – the researchers at the University of Chicago found that believers in psychic powers had memory abilities equal to the sceptics, but they underperformed on tests of their analytical thinking skills.

Stephen Gray and David Gallo surveyed the psychic beliefs, “need for cognition” (how much people enjoy mental effort) and life satisfaction of over two thousand people online. For example, regarding psychic beliefs, one survey item asked participants whether they agreed or disagreed that “it is possible to gain information about the future before it happens, in ways that do not depend on rational prediction or normal sensory channels”. The strongest psychic believers and sceptics matched for years in education or academic performance (around 50 people in each group, in each of the three studies; aged 18 to 35) were then invited to complete a range of tests of their memory and analytical skills, either online or in person at the psych lab.

Continue Reading @ BPS Research Digest – – –

Are psychic powers real?

By Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know via YouTube

60% of Americans believe in psychic powers. What about you?

Dowsing (a.k.a. water witching)

Via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

dowsing1Dowsing is the action of a person–called the dowser–using a rod, stick or other device–called a dowsing rod, dowsing stick, doodlebug (when used to locate oil), or divining rod–to locate such things as underground water, hidden metal, buried treasure, oil, lost persons or golf balls, etc. Since dowsing is not based upon any known scientific or empirical laws or forces of nature, it should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking. The dowser tries to locate objects by occult means.

Map dowsers use a dowsing device, usually a pendulum, over maps to locate oil, minerals, persons, water, etc. However, the prototype of a dowser is the field dowser who walks around an area using a forked stick to locate underground water. When above water, the rod points downward. (Some dowsers use two rods. The rods cross when above water.) Various theories have been given as to what causes the rods to move: electromagnetic or other subtle geological forces, suggestion from others or from geophysical observations, ESP and other paranormal explanations, etc. Most skeptics accept the explanation of William Carpenter (1852). The rod moves due to involuntary motor behavior, which Carpenter dubbed ideomotor action.

In the 16th century, Agricola described mining dowsers using a forked twig to find metals (De re metallica). He didn’t think much of the practice. A miner, he wrote:

should not make us of an enchanted twig, because if he is prudent and skilled in the natural signs, he understands that a forked stick is of no use to him, for … there are natural indications of the veins which he can see for himself without the help of twigs. (Quoted in Zusne and Jones 1989: 106)

Despite this sage advice, dowsers continue to dowse, claiming that they have a special power and that what they are dowsing for emanates energy, rays, radiations, vibrations, and the like.

Does dowsing work?

Some people are less interested in why the rods move than in whether dowsing works. Obviously, many people believe it does. Dowsing and other forms of divination have been around for thousands of years. There are large societies of dowsers in America and Europe and dowsers practice their art every day in all parts of the world. There have even been scientists in recent years who have offered proof that dowsing works. There must be something to it, then, or so it seems.

MORE – – –


The Pineal Gland: Mysticism and Neuroscience

Via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know

Researchers dismiss sixth sense – and put their faith in common sense

Australian survey finds people can reliably detect a change in surroundings, even if they cannot accurately describe it

Oliver Milman via theguardian.com

"I don't really see dead people."

“I don’t really see dead people.”

If you can eerily detect the presence of unseen people or have prescient knowledge of danger, it may be disappointing to learn that scientists have ruled out the existence of a “sixth sense”.

A year-long University of Melbourne study, published in the journal Plos One, found that people could reliably detect a change in their surroundings, even if they could not accurately describe what that change was.

However, the research concluded that this was not due to any kind of supernatural ability, but rather from cues picked up from more conventional senses such as sight.

Researchers presented pairs of photos of a woman to 48 different people. In some cases, the appearance of the woman in one of the pictures would be different – such as a different hairstyle or the presence of glasses.

The pictures were shown to the subjects for 1.5 seconds with a one-second break between them. The people were then asked whether a change had occurred and, if so, to pick the change from a list of nine possibilities.

psychicFair_210pxThe results showed that while the subjects could “sense” a change had occurred, they could not verbalise what it was. While this confirmed to some subjects that they possessed a sixth sense, or extrasensory perception, researchers said it showed there was no such ability.

“What people were doing was processing information that they couldn’t verbalise but were picking up on, often subconsciously,” Dr Piers Howe from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences told Guardian Australia. “It’s a bit like an abstract painting – it doesn’t depict anything you can label, such as a sea or mountain, but you can still get a lot of information on what’s going on.

“The information was enough to tell them that a change had occurred, because they could tell the picture was more crowded, but not enough to say what that change was. Many believed they had a quasi-magical ability even though we had set them up.”

MORE – – –

(Psychic) Staring Effect

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: The psychic staring effect is the idea that people can tell by ESP when somebody is staring at them.

Can anyone really tell when someone else is staring at them? Sure, especially if the one doing the staring is standing right in front of you. But what about someone staring at you from behind? looking-back-over-my-shoulder_300pxNine out of ten people say they can “sense” when they are being stared at even when they can’t see the person who is doing the staring. What does science have to say about this ability to sense being stared at?

There have been several scientific studies on staring and all but one of them has found that people are fooling themselves if they think they can tell when they’re being stared at. The one scientist who found that some people can tell when someone else is staring at them is Rupert Sheldrake, the same scientist who found that a parrot and a dog can read the minds of people. If you think about it, you would have to be psychic to be able to “feel” somebody staring at you rather than see them with your own two eyes. That’s why this ability to tell when you’re being stared at is called psychic staring effect (PSE).

The first scientific studies of PSE were done in 1898 by Edward B. Titchener. He wanted to prove once and for all that PSE was a superstition. He did prove PSE is a superstition, but most people didn’t believe him anyway.

After Sheldrake did some tests that showed PSE is real, several other scientists tried to duplicate his work. No one else could find evidence for PSE. It looks like Sheldrake made a mistake or two. Right now it does not look like there is any logical reason to believe that some people can psychically tell when someone else is staring at them.

For more information on the study of psychic powers see A Short History of Psi Research by Robert T. Carroll (psi is what parapsychologists call perceiving or moving things with the mind only).

[END] The Skeptic’s Dictionary


via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: ESP stands for extrasensory perception. If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. There are some scientists who say they have proof of ESP, but most scientists think the proof is weak and does not support a belief in ESP.

ESP stands for extrasensory perception.

mindcontrol_640px_200pxSensory perception is seeing, hearing, smelling, feeling, or tasting. Extrasensory perception is when you see or hear something that can’t be seen or heard with your eyes and ears. Such experiences happen outside the normal range of the senses and are said to be paranormal or psychic. Most scientists don’t think paranormal events actually happen or that anyone is actually psychic.

If you had ESP, you could see, feel, or hear things without using your eyes, hands, or ears. Somehow your brain would get messages and images from distant places and distant times. If your brain confused you with perceptions from the past and from places far away while you were trying to get dressed, eat breakfast, get on the school bus, pay attention in class, or do your homework, you would have a very hard time making it through the day. As far as we know, this has never happened to anybody.

mind reading or telepathy

Mind reading is a type of ESP where a person “sees” what is in another person’s mind. Mind reading is also called telepathy. The scientific study of telepathy began over one hundred twenty years ago when it was called psychical research. Today, scientists who study ESP are called parapsychologists and their science is called parapsychology. (Psychical comes from the Greek word for spirit. Many parapsychologists say the mind is a spirit.)

rsz_museumesptestThe first scientific test of telepathy was done in England in 1882. Scientists at the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) tested several young girls who said that they could tell what each other was thinking. The scientists put the girls in different rooms and asked those in one room about a card or name of a person that a girl in the other room was thinking of. Many tests were given over a period of six years. The scientists said there was no way the girls could have got as many right answers as they did just by guessing. The scientists also said they were sure the girls weren’t cheating. The scientists agreed that the girls were reading each other’s minds. The scientists were right about one thing. The girls couldn’t have gotten as many right answers as they did just by guessing. But the scientists were wrong about the cheating. The girls—the Creery sisters and their servant Jane Dean—admitted they cheated by using secret signals. This wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time, that children would fool scientists.

In 1848 two sisters, Kate Fox (age 12) and Margaretta Fox (15), said they heard strange rapping noises in their bedroom. They got people to believe that they were getting messages from spirits. Soon they went on tour with their big sister Leah who was in her mid-30s. They did séances, which became the rage in both the U.S. and Europe. In 1871, the Fox sisters fooled Sir William Crookes (1832-1919), an important scientist who attended a Fox-girls séance in London. Sir William said he tested the girls “in every way that I could devise” and was sure they were not producing the rapping noises “by trickery or mechanical means.” In 1888 the sisters confessed that they made the raps by cracking their toe-joints. They made bumping noises by fastening an apple to a string under their petticoats and bouncing it off the floor.

q461-2From 1979-1983, two teenagers tricked scientist Peter Phillips into thinking they were able to move and bend objects by their thoughts, a power known as psychokinesis. (Psychokinesis comes from two Greek words meaning mind or spirit and movement. Psychokinesis, when it involves moving an object with mental power alone, is called telekinesis, literally distant-movement.) Steve Shaw (18) and Mike Edwards (17) fooled the scientist for four years through more than 160 hours of tests. One of their favorite tricks was to pretend to bend a spoon or fork with thoughts, a trick made popular by Uri Geller. Geller, however, claimed that he had psychokinetic powers. At one time, he claimed he got his powers from the planet “Hoova” in another star system and a UFO called “IS” or “Intelligence in the Sky.”

Skeptics don’t think there is good evidence that anyone has moved even a pencil across a table using only the power of thought. Psychokinesis nearly always involves trickery, though we might occasionally think we caused something to happen when it happens right after we thought about it happening. If you point to the sky during a rain storm and say “let there be lightning” and then a lightning bolt shoots across the sky, you might think you caused it. You’d probably be wrong.

MORE . . .

James Alan Hydrick claimed to be able to perform acts of telekinesis, such as his trademark trick involving the movement of a pencil resting at the edge of a table.

Here he is exposed as a fraud by none other than James Randi:

It was soon after this appearance on That’s My Line Hydrick confessed the fraud to an investigative reporter.

Uri Geller’s Tonight Show failure (courtesy of James Randi):

Also see: Top 10 Psychic Debunkings

Understanding Coincidence

By Kyle Hill via randi.org

Many people have a legitimate fear of numbers, equations, and probability. This “math anxiety” keeps much of the lay public from ever willfully learning about mathematics; indeed, ignorance in this regard is often touted. Commonly used phrases like “I’m not a numbers person” and “I hate math” betray that fact that a good portion of society does not understand math and consciously avoids it.

Comprehending this deficit and doing something about it should be taken up within our school system; we should engage students with math early, often, and more rigorously.

23 peopleBut mathematical illiteracy plays a role in perpetuating not just equation ignorance, but pseudoscience. Not understanding just how much of your life is governed by randomness generates many a fallacious belief about the way that the world works. It should be clearly understood that randomness creates coincidence. That is to say, if there were no coincidences in life, we could speculate that some outside force is controlling the events in our lives. However, with true randomness comes the expectation that coincidences will happen: there will be cancer clusters, your friend will call you just when you were thinking about them, and last night’s dream will have somehow “predicted” the events of the following day. It is with the last example, predictive dreams, which I would like to press on with. With a short lesson in randomness and probability, we can see that so-called predictive dreams (and any other event “too amazing to be a coincidence”) are nothing more than random happenings. You don’t have ESP, it’s not fate, and it’s not magic.

“I Dreamt This Would Happen!”

The purpose of this example is to show that many pseudoscientific ideas about the way the universe works are driven by a misunderstanding of randomness and probability. While predictive dreams are harmless, I would suspect that this belief characterizes the kind of thinking that underlies pseudosciences like astrology, ESP, and parapsychology.

coincidence invented

Let’s overcome our math anxiety with a dreaded word problem. Let’s stipulate that the chance of a dream to some extent matching the events of the following day is 1 in 10,000. This means that out of 10,000 dreams, the vast majority, 9,999, will not match any future events. Let’s also assume that having a non-matching dream one night will not affect the dream of the next night, so each night is independent from one another. So given these stipulations, the odds of having a dream that does not match any real life event is 9,999/10,000. When people speak about predictive dreams, it is not as though they have them every night. If this were happening, we might consider it to be more than coincidence. However, anyone who has experienced this phenomenon (myself included) will probably tell you that they do not hit a homerun every night. It is this fact, that an amazingly serendipitous event only happens once in a while, that alludes to chance as the rational explanation.

Remembering the odds above, the chance of having a dream that does not match any real life event for two nights in a row will follow the multiplication principle of probabilities, meaning that the probability is (9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000). Likewise, the probability that you will have a dream that does not predict anything for three nights in a row is (9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000)*(9,999/10,000). Following this principle, the chance that you will have successive dreams that do not match reality can be expressed as (9,999/10,000)N, where N is the number of nights. As I said above, I don’t think that anyone would say that these predictions are a common occurrence, so let’s consider a time period of one year. The probability that you will have successive dreams every night for a year that do not predict anything would be (9,999/10,0009)365, with N equal to the number of days in a year. This results in a 96.4 percent chance that people who dream every night of a year with not have any predictive dreams. 57 peopleThis of course means that over a period of one year, 3.6% of people who dream every night will have at least one dream that matches reality in some way. Consider that for a moment. Even though coincidences like these can drive people to believe in fate, precognition, ESP, etc., using our definition here we can say that these probabilities in large population would produce literally millions of predictive dreams each year! Even if we relax our standards and make a predictive dream a one-in-a-million event, it would still produce thousands upon thousands of predictive dreams each year by chance alone.

It’s not magic, it’s not fate, it’s not a spiritual connection with someone else; if there’s a likelihood that something will happen, however small, it is explained by chance alone that it is bound to happen to some people at some time. Look at what happened with the supposedly prophetic Nostradamus. He threw out a claim that had to do with two towers coming down and . . .

MORE . . .

Remote Viewing

via The Skeptic’s Dictionary

In a nutshell: Remote viewing is a kind of ESP where a person in one place “sees” what another person in another place is looking at. Remote viewing is another name for clairvoyance or telepathy.

remote viewing_250pxRemote viewing (also called clairvoyance or telepathy) is seeing things at a distance using the mind alone. A remote viewer may claim to read the mind of a person in a distant place to see what that person is looking at (telepathy). A remote viewer may claim to somehow directly see the place where another person is located (clairvoyance). Or, a remote viewer may claim to see a distant place even if nobody else is looking at it (clairvoyance).

Skeptics doubt that it is possible to see places, persons, and actions that are not within the range of the senses or such things as telescopes and binoculars. ESP scientists (parapsychologists) claim that they have proof of remote viewing.

Tests of remote viewing often involve having one person go to a remote site while another in a different location tries to get impressions of the site by reading the mind of the person at the remote site. There has never been such a test where one person looks at, say, the Golden Gate Bridge while another person across town says “she’s looking at the Golden Gate Bridge.” In one test, a person went to the Dumbarton Bridge (pictured below) and the remote viewer reported that he was getting “impressions” of


  • half arch
  • something dark about it
  • darkness
  • a feeling she had to park somewhere and had to go through a tunnel or something, a walkway of some kind, an overpass
  • there’s an abutment way up over her head
  • we have a garden, it’s a formal garden
  • formal gardens get passed
  • open area in the center
  • trees
  • some kind of art work in the center
  • this art work is very bizarre, set in gravel, stone.

If you try hard enough, you can match some of the impressions of the remote viewer with the Dumbarton Bridge, but if you only had this list to go by, I don’t think you’d ever figure out what he was talking about.

ESP & Psychic Powers: Claims Inconclusive

By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience

The idea of special — apparently paranormal — mental abilities such as psychic powers or extrasensory perception (ESP) has intrigued people for centuries. There are several claimed varieties of psychic powers, including telekinesis (or psychokinesis, the ability to move objects through mind power); precognition (knowing future events before they happen); and telepathy or clairvoyance (French for “clear sight” — describing things at a remote location). It’s the stuff of fiction and movies — but is it real?

Many Americans believe in psychic ability (about 15 percent of the country, according to a 2005 Baylor Religion Survey; and 41 percent in another survey), but scientific evidence for its existence remains elusive. And it’s not for lack of trying; people — and the U.S. government — have spent decades searching for ESP.

Government ESP research

During the Cold War, rumors circulated that the Russians were developing an army of psychic spies; in response, the U.S. military created a program to examine whether psychics could be useful in military applications. The program, called Stargate, tested “remote viewers” to see if their feelings and visions were accurate. The research continued for about two decades, ending in the mid-1990s with little apparent success. Finally the CIA took over the program and asked scientists to review the results. They concluded that the psychics did no better than chance, and that the psychic information was neither validated nor useful. Project Stargate failed and was shut down.

Some suggest that the fact that Stargate program even existed is evidence that there must be some validity to psychic powers (otherwise it would not have been created and funded for years). Yet countless programs have been funded despite never having been proven valid or effective; the U.S. government spending money on fruitless programs is hardly novel. Some believe that top-secret government programs still use psychics today, though high-profile intelligence failures (i.e., if accurate psychics are employed by the government, why did it take a decade to find Osama bin Laden?) cast doubt on such conspiracy claims.

ESP in the laboratory

Though the government concluded that psychic power doesn’t exist (or, if it does, the information it provides is no more accurate than random chance guesses), ESP research has continued. Unfortunately, ESP has not fared well under scientific conditions, whether in the private or public sector.

Early experiments used “Zener cards” with common symbols such as circles, squares, and wavy lines selected at random and which a psychic would try to guess. In the 1930s and 1940s a researcher at Duke University named J.B. Rhine became interested in the idea that people could affect the outcome of random events using their minds. Rhine began with tests of dice rolls, asking subjects to try and influence the outcome through concentration. Though his results were mixed and hardly robust, they were enough to convince …

MORE . . .

%d bloggers like this: