This is part of Mindstream’s editorial package on Parapsychology Research, highlighting findings and discussion from the Parapsychological Association’s 2023 convention.
By Liza Horan
Have you ever experienced déjà vu or ESP? Or had a night-time dream that played out? Or thought of someone moments before they called you? Or, perhaps, you’ve gotten a distinct feeling about a place when you stepped inside of it, or you had a visceral sensation about a person or situation that led you to follow a “gut feeling”?
If so, you’re not alone.
Most Americans (75%) believe in paranormal phenomena and more than half (53%) have communicated with or been visited by a dead relative, according to Gallup and Pew Research, respectively. In the U.K., up to two-thirds of adults accept the paranormal, according to Ipsos MORI (1998, 2003). Among 4,096 Britons who report having had psi experiences, 24.1% experienced precognition; 12.8% ESP; 12.4% mystical experiences; 11.5% telepathy; and 10.4% After-Death Communications (ADCs), according to a 2014 study. In all cases, the biggest influencer to accepting the phenomenon of psi as real, is having had direct experience. However, you don’t have to believe in the paranormal in order to have an experience.
“These experiences are very human,” University of West Georgia (U.S.) Psychology Professor Dr. Christine Simmonds-Moore said in an interview. “Psi is an anomalous process of information transfer. There are lots of (theoretical) models that say it’s happening all the time, but we might not notice it. I think we might notice it more when we are more connected to our unconscious and our bodies. Some people are naturally more connected to their unconscious and their bodies, and those people have more of these experiences. And other people might have these experiences only, perhaps, in certain states. I think psi definitely occurs more in altered states of consciousness, but some people are dipping into those states more than others.”
Dr. Chris A. Roe of the University of Northampton’s (U.K.) Exceptional Experiences & Consciousness Studies Research Group concurs: “Paranormal experiences are normal. They occur to very many people — maybe not very often in any individual’s life — but across the population as a whole, they’re virtually ubiquitous. And so we have to accept that that’s an aspect of who we are as human beings,” he said in an interview. His research focuses largely on beliefs and behaviours around such phenomena.
Despite the pervasiveness of psi experiences, mainstream materialist science is slow to acknowledge the evidence and fund the research of parapsychology.
Dr. Roe attributes this to a very basic issue: Psi experiences contradict the tenets of conventional scientific principles. For example, Out-of-Body Experiences (OBEs) pose an exception to the rule that a “mental event” happens in the brain of a living body. Both telepathy (knowing directly what’s in someone else’s mind) and clairvoyance (acquiring information from the environment that is not known by anyone) up-end the principle that all knowledge comes to use through our conventional senses or by inference from known facts. And evidence demonstrating psychokinesis and healing discounts the principle that the mind cannot influence matter.
Scientific investigation of such experiences is a relatively new pursuit (~150 years), but paranormal phenomena has been recorded throughout history, and it continues to be relevant in today’s religion and culture.
Accounts of spirits, poltergeists, angels, ESP, mediumship and After-Death Communications (ADCs) have been recorded in oral and written history and sacred writings. Even current religious practices — such as Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism — include these, healing and other miracles. Spiritualism, a religion founded in New York State in the 1800s, holds that the spirits of those who have passed can communicate with the living (mediumship).
“In the British-African religions — such as Spiritism Umbanda, Candomblé and Santo Daime — children participate in rituals and practices that involve mediumship,” Dr. Martinez Mateus of the University of Sao Paulo’s InterPsi Lab shared at the PA convention.
This work challenges Western societal norms, particularly in the case of spiritual possession, which is multiple identities living within a single person. University of West Georgia’s Taylor N. Robinson reports that psychiatrists are quick to diagnose someone with Dissociate Identity Disorder for an experience that would be considered within indigenous communities as “an honorable” gift. He said many people suffer with this “life-limiting and lifelong diagnosis who, without holistic intervention, fear they may never be able to integrate back into society.”
This is merely one example of paranormal phenomena being pathologized in psychiatry.
Where is the line between mental health and disorder?
Dr. Helané Wahbeh and Dr. Dean Radin, both of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, found in 2017 that, “People reporting experiences of mediumship have higher dissociation symptom scores than non-mediums, but below thresholds for pathological dissociation.”
Annette Zwickel of the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Germany, is also on this trail. “In clinical psychology, ‘exceptional experiences’ (ExE) often are considered symptoms of mental disorders and, especially in psychiatry, as part of the psychosis continuum … However, several studies show the ExE cannot simply by subsumed under clinical symptoms.” Zwickel’s research shows, “…that even if ExE and diverse mental disorders are present at the same time, the two domains interact very differently. We continue to take a non-pathological approach to better understand ExE.”
So, there is a line between normal psi and psychotic experiences. Parapsychology is further defining that line, as are other disciplines within psychology. Transpersonal Psychology, which focuses more on the spiritual side, is one.
View the Parapsychology Research package main page