More than half of Americans believe in psychic abilities, and as many as 20% of women report having a telepathic or extrasensory perception (ESP) experience. While the term “psychic” often conjures up images of sleazy locations and con artists, the concept of looking into the past and future is as old as mankind itself. Is our fascination wishful or imaginative thinking or can psychic abilities be empirically verified?
Government tests of psychic abilities are the stuff of legend. Recently released classified documents about famous psychic Uri Geller, however, reveal that the CIA believed Geller was able to prove his psychic capabilities. According to documents, British, Israeli, and American intelligence all had significant interest in Geller, and Geller was able to exhibit his proficiency in a wide variety of tests.
The James Randi Educational Foundation famously offered a huge monetary reward to anyone who could demonstrate paranormal powers under controlled conditions. Challengers cited the mysterious nature of the psychic world, and in 2015 the challenge was terminated. It did not have a winner.
In 2011, Daryl Bem, respected psychologist and Cornell University professor, conducted nine separate experiences that ultimately offered support for the existence of psychic abilities. In a paper titled “Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect,” Bem stated that eight of his nine experiments yielded statistically significant results. Despite the study’s scientific rigor, it became a lightning rod for controversy.
Controversy, however, does not mean that progress hasn’t been made. Former Harvard professor Diane Hennacy Powell’s book The ESP Enigma make a scientific case for psychic phenomena. In it, Hennacy Powell uses philosophy, physics, and empirical scientific data to examine the following traits:
Powell explains that scientific rigor is needed for all parties, even those who are predisposed to “believe” in psychic abilities. Theories are manmade and fallible, she explains, and must fit the data–not the other way around.
Our fascination with seeing into the future and the past isn’t new–and it’s not going anywhere. As our scientific knowledge grows and expands, science will continue to grapple with the tantalizing promise of psychic abilities, pushing new boundaries and finding new ways to understand what we can’t see.