Since time immemorial people from all over the world have reported extraordinary experiences such as apparitions, visions, telepathy, hauntings, divination, healing, out-of-body, near-death and abduction experiences. In addition miraculous and supernatural phenomena are central to most traditions of religious belief. Traditionally many apparently paranormal experiences were assumed to involve communication with an unseen spirit world. The modern interpretation tends to assume that tricks of the mind such as hallucinations, mistaken perception, errors of judgement, deception and fraud often offer the more obvious explanation. However, interest in phenomena such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and contact with the dead, collectively known as psychic or paranormal experiences, remains high among the lay public. About three-quarters of the general public believe in psychic phenomena and somewhere between a half and two-thirds claim to have had a psychic experience such as telepathy or communication with the dead.
This book documents scientists' attempts to investigate and understand these paranormal experiences. Paranormal is the term ascribed to experiences that suggest an interaction, information transfer or communication between a being and the environment or another being that cannot yet be explained by normal means. Many of those studying these phenomena are termed parapsychologists. Currently this is a select profession with perhaps fifty professionals world-wide (largely because the area has not been especially well-funded to date rather than for want of interest). Many are psychologists but, since this is an interdisciplinary field, physicists, engineers, statisticians, social anthropologists and psychiatrists are also involved. In addition some psychologists with an interest in anomalous experience study the part played by anomalies of attention, imagery, perception, recall, recognition, identity, judgement, belief and consciousness. There is also a long-standing tradition of lay psychical research. Psychical researchers have traditionally concentrated more on phenomena that occur spontaneously such as apparitions, haunting and poltergeists, as well as mediumship.