Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Methods for Investigating Goal-Oriented PSI

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Methods for Investigating Goal-Oriented PSI

Article excerpt

The traditional experimental approach in parapsychology may provide little scientific progress if the hypothesis of goal-oriented psi is true in an extreme form. The basic goal-oriented psi hypothesis assumes that psi phenomena (a) depend on a person's motivation for or benefit from the outcome of a random event, and (b) do not depend on the complexity or information-processing aspects of the random process. In essence, goal-oriented psi bypasses normal information-processing steps to achieve a goal. However, if the information-processing steps that are bypassed include steps that are important assumptions for statistically based research, then experimental research is undermined.

In one problematic form, goal-oriented psi could operate as a psi-mediated experimenter effect. The entire experiment would be influenced as one complex random event with an a priori probability of a successful outcome (significant result) by chance of .05. In this situation, experimental efforts to identify optimum conditions for psi and to study the relationship between psi and other variables would be misleading and basically meaningless because an experimenter with psi ability could produce whatever experimental outcome he or she wanted (Kennedy, 1979, 1994).

However, goal-oriented psi could take a variety of less extreme forms that would be more amenable to experimental methods. In fact, most writers on the topic of goal-oriented psi have assumed that it could be meaningfully investigated with experimental methods (e.g., Schmidt, 1974; Stanford, 1977). Of course, the degree to which psi is a goal-oriented process that is intractable to experimental methods must be answered empirically. Unfortunately, most previous writings on goal-oriented psi, including mine, have not clearly distinguished the different degrees or forms of goal-oriented psi.

The purpose of this paper is to describe (a) different forms or degrees of goal-oriented psi, and (b) research strategies for determining which ones apply and under what conditions. First, key evidence that psi is goal-oriented to some degree is noted. Then research strategies based on a hierarchy of goals are described, followed by discussion of research strategies based on the apparent efficient operation of psi. The appendix to this paper summarizes several aspects of information-processing that are relevant to the concept of goal-oriented psi and then discusses how these various concepts relate to research on precognitive timing (May, Radin, Hubbard, & Utts, 1985; Vassy, 1985, 1986) and lability of systems (Braud, 1981).


Reviews of the literature have indicated that the data as a whole support the goal-oriented psi hypothesis for the trials in psi experiments (Kennedy, 1978, 1979; Stanford, 1977). Similar conclusions have appeared throughout the history of parapsychology. Early experimental researchers described psi as "unitary" or "diametric" because success on psi tasks seemed to be achieved directly, without adhering to the usual properties of information-processing (Foster, 1940; Pratt et al., 1940). For example, comparisons of the scoring rates on blind matching ESP tasks (in which the subject matched two unknown cards) with normal clairvoyance (in which the subject guessed one unknown card) suggested that blind matching was a unitary or one-step process rather than a two-step process of first identifying each card as in normal information-processing. The results of blind PK tasks (in which the identity of the target for a PK trial must be obtained by paranormal means) compared with normal PK also supported the unitary or goal-oriented nature of psi (Kennedy, 1978; Stanford, 1977). More generally, Stanford (1977) pointed out that success on PK tasks does not depend on the degree to which the subject understands the workings of the random process that must be influenced. Thus, psi appears to bypass many normal information-processing steps and limitations. …

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.