ESP or Extrasensory Perception Introduction and History Part 1

History and information about ESP or extrasensory perception, introduction to the field of mind reading and other psychic phenomena.


Extrasensory perception can be defined as having knowledge of something without using the 5 "normal" senses or using logical deduction. In other words, when you "just know" something and there is no way for you to have obtained that information, ESP is one explanation.

The startling dream that turns out to be true; the feeling of "I am sure something is wrong," and it is; the time you put your hand on the phone to call someone, and it rings because that person unexpectedly decided to call you--all these things lead to the feeling that there must be some explanation beyond coincidence. Furthermore, there must be some aspect of human beings which we have not yet identified, some link between us and our universe which remains a question mark. The attempt to clarify the how and the why of these unknowns is a major part of the psychical researcher's work.

In earlier, more superstitious days it was not deemed prudent to ask too many questions about such "supernatural" gifts as the sooth-sayers seemed to have, but in the 18th century, when mesmerism was all the rage, it was discovered that mesmerized subjects could sometimes describe a distant scene or answer questions before they were spoken aloud. Interest in ESP grew throughout the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, but the man who really brought the subject to the attention of the American public was J. B. Rhine, then of Duke University. Dr. Rhine started work at Duke in 1927 and published his 1st book on the parapsychological work done there in 1934. Statistics and specially designed cards had been used previously in psychical research, but Rhine and his associates brought the statistical approach to ESP to a level that was pronounced acceptable by the American Institute of Mathematical Statistics (See: Dr. Rhine, Famous and Infamous Scientists, Chap. 17). In spite of a storm of controversy, more and more reputable scientists have been attracted to the study of ESP over the years, and parapsychology is now taught for credit in a number of American colleges.

ESP is a complicated subject for a number of reasons. It is usually considered to divide itself into 3 types, each of which will be discussed in more detail later. One is telepathy, or the perception of what is in the mind of someone else; another is clairvoyance, the perception of objects or events currently happening; and the 3rd is precognition, the perception of future events. This classification leaves out retrocognition, or awareness of past events. Psychic sensitives are frequently unable to tell whether their impressions relate to the past or the future, so perhaps retrocognition and precognition should be categorized together as "out-of-time-cognition," but since retrocognition is not commonly investigated, for the moment the term precognition continues to stand.

It is not easy to differentiate between telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. A famous example of ESP is that of Emanuel Swedenborg, a brilliant Swedish scientist of the 18th century who, while in Gothenburg, described the course of a fire near his home in Stockholm, 300 mi. away. This is generally accepted as a case of clairvoyance, but it is equally possible that he was getting the information from the mind of someone who was watching the fire, perhaps a relative or neighbor. Or he could have been using precognition by "reading" the message that was to be delivered to him later; this described the course of the fire. The same problem in parapsychology causes many experiments to be grouped together as "general ESP" rather than being put in a specific category. For this type of test, the term GESP is used.

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