Parapsychology: Why is it a controversial topic?


When we hear the term Parapsychology, a bunch of curiosity leaves us bewildered. In contrast to widely held beliefs, Parapsychology does not include the study of anything bizarre. Many of us hold the misconception that parapsychology is the study of something “paranormal”, but parapsychology is not about witchcraft, nor anything about phantasm.

What is Parapsychology?

Parapsychology reflects the study of various psychic or unusual phenomena by a scientific and scholarly investigation. It deals with events related to Extrasensory Perception and other enigmatic phenomena. Psychic phenomena, which is the center of parapsychology refers to the ability to transcend into the depth of the human psyche and be enriched with spiritual experiences.

These phenomena include

1) Intuition & Precognition:

Intuition refers to an inner voice that alerts the person to the impending occurrence of anything out of the ordinary. This phenomenon is generally transient, if one starts to rationalize it or ignore its presence, the feeling of awareness goes away. It is a phenomenon that involves the perplexing ability to predict future events. People with this ability often claim to foresee forthcoming events through the usual sensory channels.

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2) Extrasensory perception & Telepathy:

ESP often known as sixth sense, is the capacity to be able to gather knowledge about other person’s thoughts or to be able to read their minds. Although this phenomenon has been investigated by parapsychologists, it is a controversial theme and has not been explained by science yet. This is also an interesting event experienced by some individuals, where they are believed to communicate through their minds without using any conventional methods of transmitting information.

3) Psychokinesis & Out-of-body experience:

Individuals who claim to possess such phenomenon, are supposed to manipulate or move objects such as bending any wooden spoon or lifting any heavy furniture. This has no empirical evidence in the realm of science, however, parapsychology is concerned with the existence of this phenomenon, and in modern parapsychology, it has been termed a Mind-matter interaction. This experience often leaves the individual with a sense of separation from their own physical body and enables them to view the surroundings from an external point of view. These are frequently linked to altered consciousness that may occur during a dream or a near-death experience.

History of Parapsychology

The origin of parapsychology has had its roots in the 19th century, when some of the western countries started studying Extra-sensory perception and explored the various psi-phenomena; such as precognition, Clairvoyance, and telepathy. Max Dessoir, a philosopher, first employed the term ‘parapsychology’. Nevertheless, until 1882, the field of parapsychology did not start to sprout among the researchers to examine various aspects of it.

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J.B. Rhine is known as the father of modern parapsychology, who contributed to developing this branch as a scientific field. He conducted an experiment with dice and cards which had five distinct types of signs on them. Participants were asked to sit behind the screen and asked to gaze at three photographs, As they were not able to see which photograph they were focusing on, they made numerous wrong guesses after, several trials, they made more accurate guesses than what would be anticipated by guessing. This experiment gave rise to the empirical and scientific study in the field of parapsychology.

Experimental methods and equipment used in parapsychology:

Parapsychologists utilize various equipment to investigate psychic phenomena, which are involved in interaction between the living things and their surroundings.

  • Zener Cards: This was first used by Rhine in his experiment. Zener card is used to study telepathy and clairvoyance; this usually helps in studying extra sensory perception (ESP) by guessing target cards and gaining a score above the mean chance expectation.
  • Electroencephalogram: After establishing the Parapsychological Association, USA, in 1957, the approach of research shifted from traditional methods to electronic equipment for the understanding of the electrical activity of the brain during ESP. The use of Movement and Electroencephalogram is a widely used technique in the modern parapsychology field.

One of the most well-known topics for studying ESP is the “Sheep-goat” technique, the association between attitude and ESP performance. The differentiation between ‘Sheep’, the believers, and ‘Goats’, skeptics, helps to examine whether belief or skepticism controls the subject’s psychic experience.

Also Read: Emoji Psychology: Decoding Digital Emotions

Difference between psychology and parapsychology

  • Psychology is considered as a scientific domain that explores multiple aspects of human behaviour. Parapsychology unveils the inexplicable aspects of the human mind.
  • As the branch of psychology has a proper scientific theoretical background to rely on, the studies are replicable and systematic; wherein in the discipline of parapsychology the replication is not achievable, making it questionable to science.
  • Psychologists have developed theories that address universally experienced problems such as anxiety, depression, or various other behavioral difficulties, harmoniously depicting the emotional, social, and behavioral aspects of human beings in psychology. On the other hand, parapsychology is mostly concerned with the psychic oddities, including telepathy, ESP, precognition etc, which is not universal.
  • Psychology primarily focuses on explaining cognition and predicting and controlling disruptions in behavior that result in significant distress in daily life. Parapsychology subsides into the realm of unconventional aspects of the human psyche.

People often misunderstand parapsychology as a part of psychology, but it is important to consider the differences in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of human awareness.

Controversies around Parapsychology And Its Futur

Critics have scrutinized parapsychology for its lack of rigorous experiments, and scientific explanations still elude the enigmatic experiences. Many critics argue that confirmation bias, the tendency to seek those events that confirm our existing beliefs, may act as a barrier in the experiments of parapsychology also, Researchers often label this field as pseudoscience due to its consistent struggle in replicating previous findings and establishing reliability and validity. The major controversy surrounds the misinterpretation of this field and the practice of various non-acceptable bizarre socio-cultural rituals using the name of Parapsychology.

Also Read: The Psychology Behind Standard

Despite all the challenges, because Parapsychology is one of the well-cultivated areas in the scientific realm as, it has a potential connection with neuroscience, this field can evolve into a new way of exploring human consciousness and related themes.


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