How to Do Paranormal Research

Parapsychology as an independent science: a definition, introduction and presentation of previous research

Ronald Weigl, University of Klagenfurt


An overview of the historical development of parapsychology as an independent science is presented. The subject area and the methods of research then and now are explained and for each area the most important experiments and their results, which were examined with the help of the meta-analysis by Radin in 1997 in his book "The Conscious Universe", are briefly explained. Almost all experiments carried out so far show significant deviations from the expected values, so that further investigations are also necessary on the part of the classical sciences. Finally, the current prevailing theory in parapsychology is briefly presented.

Extra-sensory perception - telepathy - clairvoyance - precognition - psychokinesis - pragmatic information


historical overview
To the method
The phenomena: telepathy - clairvoyance - precognition - psychokinesis - psychokinesis in non-human systems


The words "parapsychology", "paranormal" and "psi" are unfortunately all too often used nowadays for any situation that people see outside of what they consider to be a "normal" scientific context, e.g. UFOs, Kirlian photography, astrology, fortune telling, alleged otherworldly contacts, etc. In fact, the word “parapsychology” is a made-up word that was invented in 1889 by the philosopher and psychologist Max Dessoir by adding the Greek prefix “para” (which in German means “next to” or “ beyond ") set. He wanted to create a value-free, emotion-free and scientifically neutral term for "paranormal" experiences and phenomena. The psychologists Thouless and Wiesner had a similar intention when they proposed in 1946 to subsume these phenomena under the 23rd letter of the Greek alphabet, the "Psi". But, as described above, this freedom from values ​​is history, because so much rubbish has been done with these words that e.g. the Swedish parapsychologist Martin Johnson already speaks of "parapornography". (cf. von Lucadou, 1997)
So what exactly is parapsychology about? Primarily it is about the scientific research based on empirical data and often decades of observations of two groups of phenomena: extrasensory perception (in English "extrasensory perception", short ESP) and psychokinesis (in English also often "telekinesis" or "telekinesis" in German) . Lucadou (1997) gives the following definition:
Extra-sensory perception - abbreviated ASW - is understood to be the knowledge of or the reaction to an external event that is not conveyed via the known sensory paths. ASW is divided into three forms: "Telepathy" - the "direct" psychic transfer of information between people -, "Clairvoyance" - the "direct" perception of an objective process or fact that is unknown to anyone - and finally "Precognition" - the foreknowledge future events without sufficient rational reasons and without them being brought about by prediction. "Psychokinesis" - abbreviated to PK - is defined as: the influence of a person's psyche on external objects or processes, without the mediation of previously known physical energies and forces (p. 12).

historical overview

People have been dealing with paranormal phenomena for thousands of years, mostly in connection with shamans, spiritual healers, fortune tellers, ghosts, demons, etc., but the historical development of parapsychological research in a narrower framework can be narrowed down to four phases, starting with mesmerism from the late 18th to the middle of the 19th century, which goes back to the German doctor Franz Anton Mesmer, who designed a model of an invisible fluid that could change from person to person and to animal. Then came spiritualism at the end of the 19th century, in which so-called "séances", i.e. group evocations of spirits - guided by a medium, that is a person who should mediate between the visible and the invisible world - extremely popular with a broad mass of the the population at that time. This phase was followed by the founding of the "Society for Psychical Research" in London in 1882, which still exists today and which had set itself the task of critically examining paranormal phenomena without prejudice and emotionlessly. The last chapter in the history of parapsychological research was the beginning of a scientific investigation of psi phenomena at some universities around 1930 under the influence of the experiments of J.B. and Louisa Rhine, who had made it their business to bring the ghost into the laboratory. The establishment of the "Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Hygiene (IGPP)" in Freiburg i.Br. in 1950 was important for Europe. under Dr. Hans Bender and the Arthur Koestler Chair for Parapsychology at the University of Edinburgh, founded in 1985 under the leadership of Prof. R.L. Morris. (cf. von Lucadou, 1997)

To the method

The methodical approach in parapsychological research is based on three pillars: 1. the collection, documentation and classification of paranormal spontaneous reports; 2. Field research, i.e. the most objective possible collection of data from suitable researchers; and 3. the laboratory tests, which provide the most important part of the data, since psi phenomena can be observed and recorded under controlled conditions. From the experiments carried out so far, one can conclude that the so-called "psi effects" are weak, sometimes very elusive, but quite reproducible and therefore statistically "robust" effects, as will be made clear in the following chapters should. The most important means of doing this is meta-analysis, i.e. the analysis of many experiments that have dealt with the same question over a longer period of time. (cf. von Lucadou & Bauer, 2001)

The phenomena

In order not to go beyond the scope of this work, only a few selected experiments are described here in order to clarify the respective phenomenon and to offer the chance for interpretations in relation to consciousness research. This does not mean, however, that the many, archived and excellently documented spontaneous reports and individual cases that have been collected over decades do not play an important role in the research and theory formation of the parapsychological question.
Starting with telepathy, the most important experiments prepared in Dean I. Radin's book "The Conscious Universe" (1997) for all areas of psi phenomena are briefly explained and meta-analyzes of some of the results summarized up to 1997 are presented.


Telepathy experiments began with the so-called map experiments, in which a test person, as the sender, should mentally transmit the map symbol he was looking at (mostly square, circle, wavy lines, star or triangle) to another test person as the recipient. These experiments were improved in such a way that, on the one hand, an attempt was made to exclude the possibility that the recipient could not see the symbols “directly” because of telepathic transmission but rather because of his clairvoyance, i.e. without an intermediary transmitter. Unfortunately, it has not yet been possible to completely exclude this possibility, as there has not yet been or is no experimental setting that can test “pure” telepathy. However, this distinction is only important in experimental design, since both telepathy and clairvoyance are classic psi phenomena, and the evidence of a mixed form is meaningful enough.
On the other hand, they wanted to make the setting less error-prone overall in order to do justice to critics.
Due to the frequent occurrence of spontaneous psi phenomena during sleep, the idea was to instruct the transmitter in such a way that it should transmit randomly selected images to the receiver under controlled conditions during an REM phase. The transmitter and receiver stayed in separate rooms during the experiment, which could be several meters to a few kilometers away. The meta-analysis of the dream telepathy experiments carried out in the period from 1966 to 1973 showed that a hit rate of 63% was achieved in a total of 450 sessions compared to the random expectation of 50%, so the results are statistically highly significant (50% was the chance expectation due to the methodical approach).
The so-called "Ganzfeld" method was a further development of the dream telepathy experiments. Here, images are also transmitted from a spatially separate transmitter to the recipient, who is exposed to an artificial, slight sensory deprivation. For the sender, the image to be transmitted was selected by a random generator or by computer. After the "send-receive phase", the recipient had to choose from four images that which in his opinion had been transmitted by the sender, so the random expectation was included 25%. The ongoing automation of the experiment eliminated almost all sources of error, which makes the Ganzfeld method a very meaningful experimental design, not least because this method has been replicated very often. The hit rate for a total of 762 sessions was 37% (compared to the above-mentioned random expectation of 25%), so again a highly significant result could be achieved.


The possibility of clairvoyance was tested again and again over decades, not least by the two superpowers USA and the (then) USSR, since the possibilities of espionage with the help of clairvoyance were very promising, especially in times of the Cold War. Last but not least, the “Stanford Research Institute (SRI)”, later the “Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)” and the “Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) Laboratory” at Princeton University participated in a number of experiments in which the most varied of experimental designs have been tested. The aim of all experiments was that the test subject should describe a place, a person or an object with mere mental power, without being able to perceive or know it in any other way. These descriptions were then evaluated by uninvolved third parties in comparison with four possible other target objects in order to be able to measure the accuracy with which the actual target was described. The test persons were happy to be told, for example, degrees of latitude and longitude in order to then describe to the experimenter what he or she could see there. All in all, in these experiments in normal states of consciousness, a hit rate of 54% was achieved compared to a random expectation of 50%. The fact that this rate is significantly lower than, for example, the results of the Ganzfeld method or the ASW studies under hypnosis is apparently due to the fact that we humans "filter out" psi impressions in normal mental states, as they are superimposed by other sensory stimuli.


Probably the most impressive are the experiments on unconscious precognition to prove the possibility of a priori knowledge. A setting is used here, which uses the "orientation reaction" described by Pavlov in the 1920s to prove psi. This reaction of the body to a prominent and unexpected cognitive stimulus changes, among other things, the galvanic skin resistance, the pulse rate and the amount of blood in the outer extremities. In the experimental setting, these three factors are measured, while the test person is shown a sequence of emotional and neutrally charged images. Emotional images are e.g. images with erotic or violent content, neutral e.g. landscapes and paintings. The fact that orientation responses take place shortly after an emotional image is presented is not surprising. The theory that there would be an orientation reaction very shortly before the actual presentation of the picture with emotional content (as it was known that these trigger such a reaction more than neutral pictures) had to be proven. This proof came from experiments at the University of Nevada. All three values ​​measured in the test persons showed clear changes compared to the values ​​in a neutral picture. These results were successfully reproduced in 1996 by Prof. Dick Bierman at the University of Amsterdam.


Probably the most interesting psi phenomena for the questions of consciousness research are those of psychokinesis, since these represent nothing other than an out-of-body "body-soul problem", in which the principle of "mind over matter" applies. In physics, these phenomena are often known under the "Pauli principle", named after the Swiss physicist and friend of C.G. Jung, Wolfgang Pauli. He was notorious that his mere presence could cause machines to malfunction.
The experiments on psychokinesis began with very simple set-ups, in which the test subjects were asked to influence one or more dice in such a way that a certain number of pips could be seen after a throw. The meta-analysis of all these experiments showed that after a statistical transformation in which the random expectation would be 50%, the hit rate is 51.2%. This may not seem like much, but due to the amount of experiments (a total of 2,569 subjects influenced 2.6 million dice attempts between 1935 and 1987) it is highly significant, as the probability that this is a random deviation is
1: 1,000,000,000.
A refinement of the experimental setting for psychokinesis measurement is the introduction of random number generators (RNGs) in order to make a deliberate deviation from a random process measurable. These RNGs randomly produce a sequence of 0 and 1 (or +1 and -1), so that at the end of a normal test run, without consciously influencing the random generator, approximately the same number of 0 and 1 should have been produced, i.e. a 50 / 50 ratio of “heads” and “tails” should give. It was therefore the task of the test subjects to influence the random number generator in such a way that it should produce more or less 0 or 1 than one would “normally” expect.
The best known of these RNG's is the so-called "Schmidt machine", named after its inventor, the physicist Helmut Schmidt. This random number generator is largely automated and, in its current form, is very well protected against external influences, which the experimenters are so often accused of. In all these experiments together, carried out over a period from 1959 to 1987, a slight but clear effect in the sense of a deviation from the random prediction could be measured, similar to the cube experiments.
Another interesting experiment was based on the theory that a random number generator can be influenced if many people concentrate on one and the same thing at the same time without having to be that random number generator. The aim was to get on the track of so-called "field consciousness" (or "collective consciousness"), based on transpersonal, spiritual and Jungian psychology. And indeed, deviations from the random sequence were observed during the broadcast of two Oscar awards and the "Superbowl" when the tension on the screen increased, e.g. before the award winner was announced or during a daring play. On the other hand, test runs of the RNG's before and after the said broadcasts remained in the random area.
It is also interesting that people apparently sense when someone is staring at them (in a more refined experimental setup via a video system) without being able to cognitively perceive it, as has been proven in over four hundred such experiments. The meta-analysis showed a hit rate 13% above the random expectation of 50% (because it is a simple YES / NO decision), with a random probability of 1: 3 800 000 (cf. Radin, 1997)

Psychokinesis in non-human systems

All of the experiments mentioned so far were set up on a human-machine or human-human level, but the question soon arose as to how much animals would be able to produce psychokinesis. For example, Hans Schmidt (1970) had the idea of ​​experimenting with a cat that was kept in a shed during the experiments that was equipped with a 200-watt lamp, the on and off phases of which were in turn controlled by a random generator. Since the inside temperature of the crate without the lamp switched on is approx.0 degrees Celcius, the theory was that the cat would influence the random number generator in such a way that it would produce more switch-on phases. This could be confirmed very well for the first test runs. Schmidt carried out further experiments with cockroaches, which received light electrical surges from a random generator. Although the sequence of numbers produced showed deviations from the random expectation, these deviations were, interestingly, to the detriment of the cockroaches, as they received an unplanned amount of power surges. (see Schmidt, 1970)
Another interesting experiment was started by René Peoc'h (1995) in which he placed 80 groups of 15 chicks each in a cage in a dark room, where there was also a robot with a light source, whose movements in the room were in turn caused by one Random generator were controlled. Based on the assumption that the chicks would prefer light, Peoc’h believed that if the chicks were present, the robot would stay longer in the part of the room in which they were kept. And in fact the robot showed an over-random "preference" for the part of the room occupied by the chicks when they were in the room (in 57 of 80 passages, i.e. in 71% of the cases), otherwise it behaved according to chance. (see Peoc’h, 1995)
Building on these findings and the experiments of Marcel and Monique Odier, who found out during experiments with a hibiscus that it could control the lighting cycle of a lamp that illuminates it, the Austrian physicist Prof. Dr. Johannes Hagel (2001) from the "Institute for Psycho-Physics (IPP)" in Geneva-Cologne soon asked whether psi or psychokinesis is not also possible in inanimate systems. In order to answer this question, he designed a first experimental set-up in which he let a toy train run in a circle, with the circle dividing into an inner track and an outer track at one point. The turnout was in turn controlled by a random generator, which was queried by the railroad via a light barrier. If nothing happens inside, if it drives on the outside, the polarity is abruptly reversed, a “traumatic” event for the railroad if you want. In the first attempts and replications with the 100,000 circular railroad, it became clear that it “preferred” the inner lane, where it was not threatened with “punishment”. In further refinements of the experimental set-up, in which there was only a circular path to exclude centrifugal forces or influences from the switch, results that differed from the random expectation were also achieved; the RNG behaved differently when a railway was on the rails than it did did in control runs without a railroad.
In order to also exclude other external influences, such as the "observer effect" known from quantum physics, in which a conscious observer of a system changes its properties through mere observation (comparable to the "Heisenberg uncertainty principle"), or to exclude mechanical quantities as far as possible, the experiment repeatedly modified in several replications, so that in some cases one also worked with mutually influencing oscillators instead of a train. These oscillators could give themselves an electric shock after querying a random generator, depending on whether it produced a 0 or 1. All of these experiments again showed a clear, not random, effect. It seems as if the tested systems avoid destructive influences in order to keep themselves stable. (see Hagel, 2001, 2002)


So what can one conclude from all these experiments? First of all, based on the current state of parapsychological research, it can be said with reasonable certainty that the "old" models of ASW as a real signal transmission and of PK as a real, whatever kind of energetic transmission of force, are no longer tenable. At the moment it looks much more like psi as a fluctuation in systems, as so-called non-local, acausal correlations. With this special type of correlation, two variables influence each other without being causally, spatially or temporally related; the influencing takes place in all probability via another variable. This view bears strong resemblance to the concept of meaningful coincidences, the "synchronistic events" of C.G. Young. The current model of this third dimension is the so-called “pragmatic information”, a term that was first put up for discussion by Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker in 1974. He tried to make meaning and meaningfulness theoretically comprehensible and thus also measurable. The amount of pragmatic information depends on the two components “first time” and “confirmation”, which must be in a balanced relationship to each other in order to enable maximum significance. If there is only a lot of first time and little confirmation, or if the situation is exactly the opposite, little meaning is created in the system. Here is a simple example: For someone who does not speak the Chinese language, it makes little sense to read a Chinese daily newspaper, it would be full of “first-time”, but it would offer next to no “confirmation” because that someone not read the characters and thus could not make out any meaning in the newspaper, even though the amount of characters, classically measured in bits and bytes, would be very large. The situation would be similar for someone who, for example, only took a German-language newspaper with them to China on vacation, and since he only speaks German, he reads this newspaper over and over to drive away the boredom. He will increasingly lose interest in the news in this newspaper, since it could no longer offer him “first time”, but all the more “confirmation” (cf. von Lucadou, 1998).
The disadvantage of this current view of paranormal phenomena lies in the possible usability and trainability of psi powers. Due to the above-mentioned model properties, it seems extremely questionable whether one can improve one's parapsychological abilities or perhaps even make them economically useful, since the moment of meaning cannot be (re) produced at will. This fact seems to explain the so-called "decline effect", an effect that can be observed again and again in almost all parapsychology experiments. The characteristic of this effect is that test subjects achieve very good hit rates in their first attempts, if it is still important for them. The more often you repeat these attempts and experiments, the worse your hit performance becomes, so the ability to deliver good, lasting results as a “psi spy” or fortune teller seems to be very questionable.
Final remark
Looking at the history of parapsychological research, the thousands of case studies and experiments, the many well-known scientists and researchers who have turned to this field, it seems to me absolutely essential that “mainstream” science should finally get serious about that over the centuries Mountain of data that parapsychology has to offer. Science doesn't get anywhere with ignorance.
At the end of this work I would like to quote Charles Darwin: “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge; it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science. " (Radin, 1997, p. 213)


by Lucadou & W., Bauer, E. (2001). Parapsychology. In Wenninger G. (Red.), Lexicon of Psychology: in five volumes. Vol. 3. (pp. 213-216). Heidelberg; Berlin: Spectrum Akad. Verl.
by Lucadou, W. (1997). Psi phenomena. New results from psychokinesis research. Frankfurt am Main and Leipzig: Insel Verlag.
by Lucadou, W. (1998). Can you explain paranormal experiences? In: Voices from the afterlife? Therapeutic help for those affected with extraordinary experiences. Documentation of a symposium on September 23, 1998 in Hamburg. Organized by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Kinder- und Jugendschutz Hamburg e.V.
Radin, D. I. (1997). The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. New York: HarperCollins.
Schmidt, H. (1970). PK Experiments with Animals as Subjects. The Journal of Parapsychology, Volume 34, Number 4, 255-261.
Peoc’h, R. (1995). Psychokinetic Action of Young Chicks on the Path of An Illuminated Source. Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 9, Number 2, 223-230
Hagel, J. (2001, October). New experimental approaches and developments in the railway experiment. Lecture at the Scientific Society for the Promotion of Parapsychology (WGFP). Conference in Offenburg on October 26, 2001
Hagel, J. (2002). Homepage of the Institute for Psychophysics (IPP). Reports.
Can psi exist in non-living systems? Offenburg, October 21, 2000 [WWW document]
Available: URL [2002, May 09]