A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology

By Paul Kurtz | Go to book overview

2
The Search for a Demonstration of ESP
C. E. M. HANSEL

Any act is conditional on underlying processes. Visual identification of an object requires both the use of the eyes and that light is reflected from the object. Parapsychologists claim that some people have the ability to perform such acts as identifying objects when the conditions normally assumed to be necessary for their execution are absent. Such behavior they call extrasensory perception, or ESP.

If people can act in this way new processes have to be admitted as underlying brain activity and the manner in which organisms interact with the environment. The existence of ESP would thus be of profound significance not only to the understanding of human behavior but also to science in general. It would signify that there are underlying processes in nature so far undiscovered that permit ESP to occur. ESP is possible or impossible depending on whether or not such processes exist.

Parapsychologists—or psychical researchers, as they were formerly called- started their inquiries by investigating unusual phenomena reported in everyday life and in the séance room. An early investigation of this nature was carried out by Michael Faraday in 1852.

Faraday was concerned with the supposed ability of people sitting around a table with their fingertips resting on it to receive messages from departed spirits. He accepted the fact that the table moved and created the taps, but he was suspicious of the theory advanced by the proponents of table tapping that the movements were due to the receipt of messages from the spirit world. He thought it more likely that those around the table caused the movement by exerting pressure with their fingertips.

Having ascertained that taps were produced when an acquaintance of his was sitting alone at the table, Faraday devised a method of detecting any force imparted by his friend's fingers to the table. He constructed a measuring device consisting of layers of wax between small pieces of card to indicate when pressure was exerted by the sideways displacement of one card on the other. When these were placed between the fingers and the table he found that pressure had

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