Study of paranormal phenomena, which are generally subdivided into two types: extrasensory perception (ESP), or the paracognitive; and psychokinesis (PK), telekinesis, or the paraphysical – movement of an object without the use of physical force or energy.
Most research into parapsychology has been experimental. The first Society for Psychical Research was established in London in 1882 by scientists, philosophers, classical scholars, and spiritualists. Despite continued scepticism within the scientific establishment, a chair of parapsychology was established in in 1984 at Edinburgh University, endowed by the Hungarian author Arthur Koestler.
Other societies with similar aims include the American Society of Psychical Research and the Institut Metapsychique in Paris, France. The Parapsychological Association (1957) is a professional association of research workers in this field. In 1927 a parapsychological laboratory was set up under J B Rhine at Duke University, North Carolina, which became an active centre for experimental research. In 1953, the first European professorial chair of parapsychology was founded at the University of Utrecht, the Netherlands. There are studentships in psychical research at Trinity College, Cambridge, and at New College, Oxford. In New York, the Parapsychology Foundation is a centre for publication and for the award of grants for research.
In a typical ESP experiment, subjects are divided into two groups: senders and receivers. Randomly ordered symbols on cards, drawings, or other images are presented one at a time to a sender, and a receiver tries to guess them.
In a PK experiment, the subject tries to cause or influence a physical event, such as the fall of a mechanically released die (making it come up six, for example) or a particular movement of a light appearing in a ring of lamps in a random-event generator (apparatus in which lamps are lit at random by, for example, the emission of electrons from a radioactive source).
Many ingeniously devised experiments have been carried out to demonstrate the existence of psi, the faculty allegedly responsible for such phenomena, but the data are disputable and the evidence, therefore, remains inconclusive. There have also been investigations of recurrent paranormal phenomena such as alleged hauntings, poltergeist manifestations, and mental and physical mediumship.
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