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Extrasensory Perception: Is It Real?

The novel Sian by A. E. van Vogt has become a science-fiction classic. First serialized in the magazine Astounding Science Fiction in 1940, the story relates the adventures of a boy with telepathic powers and his conflicts with nontelepathic adversaries. Telepathy has become a staple of science fiction and is taken for granted as a power of the mind in many novels and films. But is it real?

Before we address the fact or fiction of telepathy, let’s explore the phenomenon as if it were real. This will permit us to understand more accurately what people mean when they use words such as telepathy.

Telepathy belongs to a larger category of phenomena called extrasensory perception. Extrasensory perception, or ESP, is the capacity to be aware of external events without the use of one of the conventional senses such as vision or hearing.

ESP is referred to as the sixth sense, but there are at least seven readily identified senses. ESP should more accurately be called the eighth sense.

There are three kinds of extrasensory perception: (1) precognition, (2) telepathy, and (3) clairvoyance. Precognition is the power to know what will happen in the future. Living almost five hundred years ago. the French physician and astrologer Nostradamus is one of the more famous individuals in history purported to have had precognitive powers.

Telepathy is the power to send and receive mental messages. The ability to read the minds of people who can’t read yours is also considered to be a telepathic power. A spy with this ability would have a useful psychological tool. In the first half of the twentieth century Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle and a defeated candidate for governor of California, conducted telepathic experiments with his wife and published a book called Menial Radio.

Clairvoyance is the power to have visions and “see"''' something out of the range of normal vision. (The word clairvoyance has French roots meaning “dear seeing.''! Some clairvoyants are asserted to be able to give medical readings and visualize an illness in another person in the same way that an X-ray machine can.

A person who can combine the two powers of precognition and clairvoyance is thought to be able to both predict and visualize future events. The term seer implies an ability to combine these powers.

Although not a form of ESP. there is another power often assodated with it.

This is psychokinesis or PK. Psychokinesis is the power to move objects using only energy transmitted by the mind. In the movie The Empire Strikes Back, the hero Luke Skywalker lifts a small spaceship out of the muck of a bog with PK. A gambler who believes in PK believes he can give the dice a mental nudge as they're rolling and influence the numbers that come up.

All four of the phenomena mentioned above are combined into a general class of mental abilities called psi powers, powers of the mind that are thought to transcend the conventional laws of physics and our ordinary understanding of natural science. Psi powers are sometimes also called ‘‘'wild talents.”

Do psi powers. ESP and PIC. actually exist? If one were to make a decision on anecdotal evidence alone, then one would accept the reality of these powers.

There are many stories and personal experiences that relate vivid and seemingly convincing events that tempt skeptical observers to become believers.

However, anecdotes and personal experiences are hardly the stuff of science.

They can’t be verified. They are difficult or impossible to replicate. Often the only witness is one individual. When the number of subjects in a study is only one. the study has no reliability and can’t be generalized. Consequently, wonderful stories aren’t sufficient evidence in favor of the hypothesis that ESP and PK are real.

On the other hand, experimental science has explored psi powers. Joseph Б.

Rhine (1895—1980), working at Duke University, conducted many experiments on ESP and PK. He called the study of such phenomena parapsychology. Telepathy experiments were conducted with the aid of a set of twenty-five cards called Zener cards. There are five symbols and these are each repeated five times. PK experiments often involved the tossing of dice because probable outcomes could be accurately stated. Rhine’s research favors accepting the hypothesis that psi powers are real. Others such as Charles T. Tart, using the experimental method, have obtained results that are similar to Rhine’s.

On the other hand, many psychologists remain unconvinced. They point out that there are flaws in the methodology of the various parapsychological experiments.

Also, it should be noted that such experiments do not consistently support

the reality of psi powers. Skeptics assert that when parapsychological experiments are well

designed and tightly controlled, many of the positive results

fade away.

It is not possible at this time to make a simple statement saying that psychology either accepts psi abilities as real or rejects them as false. It сан be asserted that many psychologists—perhaps most—are unwilling to accept the reality of these phenomena. They don’t believe that the data are sufficiently convincing.

TEST

1. According to Koffka. the actual world “out there."' the world as defined by physics is

a. the phenomenal world

b. the geographical world

c. the psychological world

d. the subjective world

2. The capacity to see a bird in the sky is an example of

a. the Ponzo illusion

b. a cell assembly working

c. a monocular cue

d. figure-ground perception

3. One of the following is ног a Gestalt law.

a. Proximity

b. Similarity

c. The cognitive hypothesis

d. Closure

4. What hypothesis states that we not only perceive, but also know what we are perceiving?

a. The cognitive hypothesis

b. The sensory hypothesis

c. The motor-neuron hypothesis

d. The Wertheimer-Koffka hypothesis

5. An illusion is

a. a false belief

b. a kind of hallucination

c. the same thing as a delusion

d. a false perception

6. The vase-faces drawing is said to be ambiguous, meaning that

a. its borders are fuzzy

b. it can be perceived in more than one way

c. it can be perceived in one way only

d. it does not meet the criterion of subjectivity

7. The Moon illusion

a. is caused by large changes in the Moon’s distance from the Earth

b. provides a good example of size constancy

c. provides a case in which size constancy breaks down

d. violates figure-ground perception

S. The principal depth perception cue associated with binocular vision is

a. linear perspective

b. texture gradient

c. motion parallax

d. retinal disparity

9. One of the following is ног a kind of extrasensory perception.

a. Psychokinesis

b. Precognition

c. Telepathy

d. Clairvoyance

10. What is the status of psi powers in psychology as a science?

a. Psi powers are proven facts

b. No one has done experiments on psi powers

c. The reality of psi powers is still open to question

d. Telepathy is real, but clairvoyance is not

True or False

1. T F In the study of perception, a distinction can be made between the geographical world and the psychological world.

2. T F Figure-ground perception is always stable and never reversible.

3. T F Research suggests that there are innate, or inborn, organizing tendencies in perception.

4. T F Learning appears to play no part in perception.

5. T F Clairvoyance is another name for psychokinesis.

Self-check

8. state the Gestalt laws of perception;

9. describe the role that learning plays in perception;

10. explain what illusions teach us about perception;

11. explain how both binocular vision and monocular cues play a role in depth perception;

12. discuss some of issues associated with the topic of extrasensory perception.

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