Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

The Capricious, Actively Evasive, Unsustainable Nature of Psi: A Summary and Hypotheses

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

The Capricious, Actively Evasive, Unsustainable Nature of Psi: A Summary and Hypotheses

Article excerpt


Many parapsychological writers have suggested that psi may be capricious or actively evasive. The evidence for this includes the unpredictable, significant reversal of direction for psi effects, the loss of intended psi effects while unintended secondary or internal effects occur, and the pervasive declines in effect for participants, experimenters, and lines of research. Also, attempts to apply psi typically result in a few very impressive cases among a much larger number of unsuccessful results. The term unsustainable is applicable because psi is sometimes impressive and reliable, but then becomes actively evasive. One of the most testable models for this property is that psi effects occur against a background of supporting and opposing motivation and psi influence due to the extreme polarization of attitudes toward psi in the population. These attitudes may have genetic and gender associated components. Another possible explanation is that the primary function of psi is to induce a sense of myste ry and wonder. Other possible functions of psi also need to be investigated. For example, psi could contribute to evolution by briefly influencing random processes to enhance diversity, without specifically guiding evolution or having sustained effects. Some type of higher consciousness may influence or control psi effects.


It appears to be relatively common for researchers who have spent 2 or 3 decades pursuing research on psychic phenomena to suggest that psi may be capricious or actively evasive. William James summarized the situation in his "Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher":

For twenty-five years I have been in touch with the literature on psychical research, and have had acquaintance with numerous "researchers." I have also spent a good many hours in witnessing... phenomena. Yet I am theoretically no "further" than I was at the beginning; and I ... have been tempted to believe that the Creator has eternally intended this department to remain baffling, to prompt our hopes and suspicions all in equal measure, so that, although ghosts and clairvoyances, and raps and messages from spirits, are always seeming to exist and can never be fully explained away, they also can never be susceptible to full corroboration. (James, 1909/1960, p. 310)

About 8 decades later, Beloff (1994) reiterated this same theme and proposed that "paranormal phenomena may be not just elusive, but actively evasive" (p. 7). Braud (1985) described the "self-obscuring" characteristics of psi, and Eisenbud (1963/1992b) and Batcheldor (1994) discussed very similar ideas. Hansen (2001) recently published a book devoted to the concept that paranormal phenomena adhere to the archetype of a "trickster." Various other writers have also mentioned the possibility that psi is capricious. In addition, those who suggest that psi may exist, but reasonably repeatable experiments may not be attainable (e.g., Lucadou, 2001, 2002; White, 1994), are taking a similar position.

The present article describes key categories of evidence that suggest that psi is actively evasive and then discusses hypotheses for why this occurs. A previous article discussed the elusive or unreliable nature of psi more generally and mentioned, but did not delve into, the topic of the actively evasive nature of psi (Kennedy, 2001). The present article characterizes the key evidence for the various topics to provide an overview for integration. An exhaustive review of each

topic is beyond the scope of this article.

This article focuses on the characteristics of psi that appear to indicate something like an intent or mechanism that actively prevents reliable psi manifestations. Terms such as actively evasive and self-obscuring emphasize the suppression of psi effects with little attention to the possibility that periods of impressive, reliable psi can occur. The term capricious implies that impressive psi effects can sometimes occur, but such effects are unpredictable. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.