Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Why Is PSI So Elusive? A Review and Proposed Model

Academic journal article The Journal of Parapsychology

Why Is PSI So Elusive? A Review and Proposed Model

Article excerpt


One of the most important and perplexing questions in parapsychology is why psi phenomena are so weak, unreliable, and/or rare. The usual working assumptions in parapsychological research appear to be that (a) many people have the ability to demonstrate psi (Pratt, 1978; J. B. Rhine, 1966) and (b) psi is guided by human motivation (J. B. Rhine, 1964; Stanford, 1993; Weiner & Geller, 1984). These assumptions lead to the prediction that psi effects would be much more widespread and consistent than they are. The gap between these assumptions and reality is the central challenge of parapsychology.

Parapsychology may benefit from adapting the "correspondence principle" from quantum physics. The correspondence principle had an important role in guiding the development of quantum physics. Several concepts from quantum physics already have been incorporated into parapsychological thought, including "nonlocality" and the possible role of the "observer."

The correspondence principle states that the predictions from quantum physics must agree with classical physics in those areas in which classical physics was developed and works well. Quantum physics did not overturn classical physics, rather it supplemented it and made physics more complete. This principle prevented inconsistencies between the quantum predictions and established reality as we know it. In a sense, it defined the natural niche for quantum physics. After this initial understanding of quantum physics was achieved, practical applications were developed.

A correspondence principle for parapsychology would suggest that psi phenomena would be expected to be weak, unreliable, and/or rare. If this were not true, physics would never have developed as it did. Eisenbud (1992) devoted the greatest effort to exploring the implications of this basic concept.

Rather than viewing the elusive nature of psi as a temporary obstacle that needs to be overcome, this approach embraces it as a valuable guiding principle for learning about psi. In practical terms, the correspondence principle shifts or expands the strategies for research. For example, most meta-analyses in parapsychology have not included relatively straightforward analyses that might offer important insight into why 70% or more of the studies in most lines of research are not significant. Specific examples are discussed later in the section on suggestions for further research.

Whether or not the correspondence principle is useful for parapsychology, the question of why psi phenomena have historically been so elusive is a fundamental issue. Answers or assumptions for this question are a necessary step for developing realistic models of psi phenomena and for developing more reliable manifestations of psi.

The present article reviews and evaluates 11 hypotheses that may explain the elusive nature of psi phenomena. For each of the hypotheses, supporting and opposing positions are summarized and a conclusion presented. The supporting and opposing positions are presented for the sake of discussion and do not necessarily represent my actual opinions. Finally, a model is proposed that integrates several of the topics.


This is the skeptical hypothesis that psi does not exist. Most criticisms of psi research can be put into one of three categories: (a) supported criticisms that identify methodological weaknesses and discuss empirical evidence for the occurrence and impact of the weaknesses, (b) unsupported criticisms that speculate that certain methodological problems may have occurred even though the proponents have no evidence for the occurrence, and (c) wayward results criticisms that argue that certain research findings are more consistent with methodological artifacts than with the parapsychological assumptions or conclusions. The unsupported criticisms generally contribute little to scientific inquiry. …

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