Psi as a Spontaneous Phenomenon

Originally published by leading parapsychologist ADRIAN PARKER as ‘Informal Psi Tests’ in the Paranormal Review. Adrian is President of the Society of Psychical Research, London, and Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

The veteran psi-critic David Marks has recently published a book Psychology and the Paranormal in which he has taken a softer position concerning the paranormal. He argues that the phenomena may occur, but that they are inherently spontaneous and elusive, and because of this they cannot be captured in the lab. According to Marks, parapsychologists and their critics should resolve their differences and accept this. Such a challenge obviously goes against all the ethos and efforts of academic parapsychology at UK Universities, such as Northampton. which follow the basic belief of Rhine that by piecing together numerous factors and personality- traits, a degree of control over psi can eventually be achieved. This is the successful working model used throughout applied psychology where psvchological testing predicts job performance and is used even to some extent for diagnostics in clinical psychology. Marks’s challenge also goes against my own efforts to show that altered states of consciousness are the royal road to reliably reproducing lifting psi-in-the-wild to psi-in- the-lab. In particular, we developed a version of the ganzfeld using real-time recordings that could actually catch the sender’s experiences of target film clips in the form of the receiver’s imagery, since these ganzfeld images are often shown to follow in real time the changing scenes being watched in the target clip.

Nevertheless, there may be some truth in Marks’s assertion. Some of the best cases of ESP seem to occur before controls can be brought in, only to disappear when they are brought in. The critic would of course say that this is because ESP is ‘error some place’, but those directly involved are left with some scepticism as to the plausibility of normal explanations. The late Donald West experienced exactly this when he tested what seemed to be his own ESP ability in 1941 (as reported in the JSPE of that year). The same thing occurred when he tested groups of others two years later. Such was also the case of what I witnessed during an informal demonstration by a six-year-old Chinese girl at our conference hotel in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. This was the second conference organized by Bingo Wu whom those attending our recent SPR conferences will recall is a teacher of blind children and who claims to have taught them to use their ESP ability to reach such a high level where they can use this to negotiate their environment. We were never able to access these claims directly because the Chinese government had prohibited access to the school. This year the conference
could not be held in Hong Konq because of the political situation.

[Section here has been cut]

…In our hotel room, our translator showed how she could reproduce the number he had written and hidden in folded paper. She succeeded with this, but the symbols in this case were a triangle and a square, which are those most commonly thought of in such tasks, so this was not so impressive. When I took over, I drew the number 9 (7 or 5 had been commonly guessed at), while apparently obscured from her normal field of vision even given the blindfold, which she then correctly reproducFor the next attempt, I drew an S and then as an afterthought added a line like a dollar sign to make the design more specific. She succeeded even with this as is shown in the photograph. It was late in the evening, our translator had her ‘on loan’ from her mother for this demonstration and I thought that there would be plenty of opportunity to work with her later. It was not to be. Wu involved the children in a long series of competitive tests that were intended to show their psi-ability. These took place in a group situation and although all the children received certificates celebrating their successes, it appeared to be highly demanding and stressful for those taking part. I was told that the six- year-old girl was disappointed with her performance and would not agree to be tested further. In the photograph, the target symbols are on the folded paper on the right and the child’s attempts are on the left.

Naturally, normal explanations abound: the child might have had hypersensitive hearing and followed the sound of the drawing, or maybe she was able to peek through the mask. However, in my opinion these are, not only unconstructive speculations, but are wrong questions.

As with spontaneous phenomena, one turns first to the lab and if one is satisfied that the basic phenomena have been established there, then the most useful question is: does this case
tell us anything that can be learned about the phenomena? In this case, it may be a confirmation of David Marks’s contribution in emphasizing the roles of spontaneity and elusiveness.

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