QUESTION: What is parapsychology and what does it study?

ANSWER: A lot of people think that the parapsychology investigates anything that is unusual, anomalous, or just plain weird. This is untrue. Parapsychologists do not research UFOs, crop circles, Bigfoot, the Lock Ness monster, vampires, werewolves, or astrology. In fact, the field of  parapsychology, which began in the late 1800s, is limited to just three areas of study. These are: extrasensory perception (ESP); mind-matter interaction (MMI, sometimes called psychokinesis or PK), and the survival of bodily death. They use the word "psi" to refer to all forms of psychic abilities or functioning, and includes both the different types of extrasensory perception (ESP) and mind-matter interaction. They picked the Greek letter psi as a neutral shorthand term, and it is gradually gaining in popularity and recognition. Psi may be the best way to think of these things, since some parapsychologists believe that ESP and mind-matter interaction cannot truly be separated or thought of as "different." Let's look at each of the fields parapsychology studies.

Extrasensory perception
ESP is the ability to acquire information through non-ordinary sensory channels. Sometimes it is referred to as "gut instinct," "intuition," a vague "knowing," the kind of ESP one is able to do is often a reflection of need (i.e. what's important to you). ESP appears to be a universal, if often weak, ability. Some factors seem to promote it, such as feelings of close emotional connection to another person, place or thing.

Mind-Matter Interaction
MMI is the ability of the mind to influence matter through nonordinary means. Examples include metal-bending, poltergeist phenomena, teleportation, psychic photography, and anomalous healing. Rhine did the original studies on PK with dice after a gambler claimed he had the ability to control which face landed up. RNGs (random number generators) and REGs (random event generators) improved the true randomness of events -- a crucial factor since the only way to determine whether anything had occurred was by comparing it to random chance. Any result away from random chance was considered normal -- whether something occurred far too often or not nearly often enough.

Mind-matter interaction is typically subdivided into one of two rather fuzzy categories: macro-PK or micro-MMI. Micro-MMI targets that require statistics to know whether you have been successful or not. Typically things that occur on an atomic or sub-atomic scale, such as random number generators, but can also include things like dice. Macro-PK involves targets that are big enough to see with the naked eye and do not require statistics to know whether mind-matter interaction has happened. What makes these categories problematic, is that some targets, like dice or some instances of metal bending, can be considered both macro and micro-MMI. This can be rather confusing. Likewise, random number generator and random event generator research, which are very popular as they are easy to do with computers, could represent ESP or mind-matter interaction--and it may be impossible to tell which, if not both, is/are responsible for the results.

The Survival of Bodily Death
Since the late 1800s, parapsychologists have used a number of methods to try to determine whether or not human personality survives the death of the body. Much of this has involved research with mediums, reincarnation research, and instrumental transcommunication.

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