A BRIEF REVIEW OF THE PARAPSYCHOLOGICAL PHENOMENON OF PSYCHOKINESIS

Abstract

This article was completed as part of the requirements for the Rhine Education Center’s Theories of Psi course. It provides a brief historical background for the parapsychological phenomenon of psychokinesis (PK), explores the current theoretical and mechanical components of PK, discusses measurement and observational techniques used by parapsychologists, and suggests areas in which further study is required.

Keywords: parapsychology, psychokinesis, micro-psychokinesis, macro-psychokinesis, bio-psychokinesis, recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis, poltergeist

A Brief Review of the Parapsychological Phenomenon of Psychokinesis

Historical Background

The social science discipline of parapsychology consists of the study of extrasensory perception (ESP), mind-matter interaction, and survival after bodily death. This paper focuses on the phenomenon known as psychokinesis (PK) which is classified as a mind-matter interaction component of psi.

PK originated from the “Greek word psyche, “mind, soul,” and kinesis, “a moving, disturbance,” derived from kinein, “to set in motion” and is classified as psi-kappa or paranormal action (Parapsychological Association, 2015). Simply stated, PK is the ability of consciousness to affect the physical environment (Wahbeh, 2021, p. 1).

PK is sub-categorized into marco-pk, micro-pk, and bio-pk. Macro-pk is when the action of consciousness on the physical environment can be detected by one or more of our five senses, whereas micro-pk can only be detected through statistical means. Bio-pk, also referred to as psychokinesis on living targets (pk-lt), and direct mental influence on living systems (DMILS), is the effect that consciousness can have on biological systems (Wahbeh, 2021, p. 1; Parapsychological Association, 2015).

Theoretical Mechanism of Psychokinesis

The concept of PK, that human consciousness can directly influence the physical environment, dates back to ancient times (Jahn & Dunne, 1986, p. 722). The term itself was coined by Henry Holt in 1914 and later endorsed by parapsychologist Joseph Banks Rhine (Parapsychological Association, 2015).

Disappointingly, after a century of study, parapsychologists remain divided on the theoretic and mechanism of PK. Physicist John Taylor concluded that PK contains no possible physical mechanism and is a complete contradiction to established science (Taylor, 1980, pp. 27-30). Although PK does not follow any known form of physical energy presently known, it does result in some form of energy. The human mind or consciousness transfers energy of thought, into the goal of one’s intention. PK that occurs in a living human being is the result of energy in the form of thought transference and mind-moving matter (Brucker, 2001, p. 102).

One issue according to Irwin and Watt (2007), is the difficulty in discerning between normal operations of cause and effect, and the factor of chance involving PK events, which requires a strictly controlled observational environment (p. 98).

PK has been theorized to be “a displaced expression of extrasensorially acquired information” (Irwin & Watt, 2007, p. 97). Otherwise stated, subconscious psychological tension is released from a person resulting in PK effects on the environment. The theory stipulates that one or more individuals, referred to as living agents, are causing the PK activity as a way of relieving one’s stress through the physical expression of unconscious feelings. The activity usually ceases if the living agent(s) are not present. This type of PK activity is commonly seen in cases of recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis (RSPK), generally accepted amongst parapsychologists to be the root cause of poltergeist activity.

Poltergeist cases seemingly tend to produce macro-pk effects. This can include levitation, materialization and dematerialization, and the movement of objects with an unusual trajectory. The St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada poltergeist incident is a case in point. On February 7, 1970 the Niagara Regional Police attended 237 Church Street in response to a disturbance. Upon attendance, one of the police officers had witnessed a bed levitating approximately two feet off of the floor. Bewildered, he left the room momentarily to get his partner, and upon return two chairs had materialized in the room which were now seemingly supporting the bed. There was no known trickery or witness credibility issues of any kind in this case. However, even if one excludes the materialization of the chairs as potential trickery perpetuated by the two occupants present in the residence at the time of the incident, it still does not explain the police officer’s initial observation of levitation (Van Dusen, 2020, p. 39).

Another theory of mechanism for PK is the belief that it can affect the radioactive decay of materials. This theory stems from the use of electronic laboratory devices such as random event generators (REGs) in which an individual can impose their will upon the REG causing a signal to emit a particle (assisted by PK), from the radioactive source ultimately ceasing the spinning of the indicator on the counter (Irwin & Watt, 2007, p. 100). Metal or spoon bending has been associated to the vibration of molecules caused by one’s mind which in turn generates heat, which is a form of energy, that causes the metal to lose its structure (Brucker, 2001, p. 103). Hasted (1981), Randall, and Davis (1982) noted that certain PK subjects were able to destroy a type of wire known as nitinol, which contains shape memory and is designed to return to its original shape when bent by normal physical means (Irwin & Watt, 2007, p. 120). Metallurgical analysis of items exposed to PK have “suggested that macro-pk produces changes in the crystalline structure of the metal in many respects unlike that associated with deformation by normal means” (Irwin & Watt, 2007, p. 120).

Bio-pk, is also referred to as bio-energy therapy, Reiki, qigong therapy, laying-on-of-hands, spiritual healing and psychic healing. With respect to bio-pk, its physical mechanism remains unknown (Kokubo et al., 2012, p. 1). There are too many variables that exist when trying to rule out alternative explanations for the spontaneous healing and recovery from illnesses (Iwrin & Watt, 2007, p. 113). 

Measurement and Observation of the Phenomenon

Micro-pk is only observable through statistical methodology. In 1627, Sir Francis Bacon conceived the idea of PK effecting the casting of dice, but it wasn’t until 1935 during the J. B. Rhine era, that dice and dice rolling machines were utilized to test micro-pk (Kauffman & Radin, 2021, p. 12). The application of REGs in parapsychological studies have improved the methodology of testing PK significantly by eliminating human error and documenting runs automatically, although contemporary REG-PK studies still produce very weak results (Irwin & Watt, 2007, pp. 101-102). Random number generators (RNGs) are also “used to evaluate micro-pk or our ability to affect the physical world with our consciousness” (Wahbeh, 2021, p. 1). Alpha and theta brain waves have also been examined in human participants during PK experiments. Their brain waves were shown to have “more energy, broader awareness and focus abilities” (Brucker, 2001, p. 102).

In 2018, Etzel Cardeña conducted a meta-analysis of 1,700 psi experiments conducted at 40 universities on an international level. The meta-analysis involved cases of PK in which she divided into anomalous perturbation (micro-pk with unobservable events measured through statistical means) and anomalous force (marco-pk events with observable measures) (Cardeña, 2018, n.p.). She concluded that “The evidence provides cumulative support for the reality of psi, which cannot be readily explained away by the quality of the studies, fraud, selective reporting, experimental or analytical incompetence, or other frequent criticisms” (Kauffman & Radin, 2021, p. 6). Cardeña’s statistical meta-analysis produced significant results for all reported forms of psi, however, the significance was lower with anomalous perturbation when compared to ESP experiments.

The latest technology used to measure PK in parapsychological laboratories involves the use of optical double-slit interferometers. Participants are given instructions to “focus their attention toward or away from the double-slit apparatus to try to mentally gain information about the photons’ path (which cannot be seen with the naked eye), or alternatively, to intentionally alter their paths” (Kauffman & Radin, 2021, p. 15). There have been 28 PK studies using this technology with 11 experiments reporting statistically significant results (Kauffman & Radin, 2021, p. 15).

Macro-pk is much more difficult to observe because it tends to be more spontaneous in nature (Irwin & Watt, 2007, p. 98). Fortunately, some individuals experiencing macro-pk will contact reputable investigators who can properly document the incident. The late neuroscientist and parapsychologist Dr. Michael Persinger had a female student who possessed the ability to move a pen with her mind in front of him. Dr. Persinger believed that psi phenomena occurs, however, he believed it was the result of physical mechanisms explained through modern science and not paranormal means (Walsh, 2005).

A well-documented case of macro-pk was the 1977 poltergeist investigation involving Society for Psychical Research investigators Maurice Grosse and Guy Lyon Playfair. During their investigation, they recorded a video of a slipper being thrown by an unknown force at Grosse’s head. Even more compelling, they recorded the knocking sounds on walls and furniture believed to be originating from poltergeist activity.

In 2010, Dr. Barrie Colvin converted the original Enfield poltergeist recordings from a reel-to-reel tape recorder to a wav sound file and analyzed it with Adobe Audition software (Colvin, 2010, pp. 17-18). Upon analyzation, he discovered that the poltergeist raps provided a different low frequency sound wave pattern and abnormal acoustic properties when compared to normal man-made raps recorded under scientific conditions (Smith, 2010, n.p.). With the advancement of science and technology, the future analyzation of spontaneous macro-pk evidence collected by professional parapsychological investigators may help demystify the PK phenomenon.

Bio-pk experiments have successfully used devices to record the electrodermal activity of recipients during studies in which the sender makes “direct willful attempts to induce momentary change in a labile autonomic physiological process” (Krippner et al., 2021, p. 21; Braud & Schlitz, 1983, p. 95). During another particular study, participants that were believed to possess laying-on-of-hands healing powers were asked to focus their energy on healing a cucumber which had been purposely given a cut. The bio-pk effects were successfully detected through fluorescence measurement of wavelengths, especially during the Spring season (Kokubo et al., 2012, p. 7).

Summary

Although the vast majority of modern parapsychological literature argues that there is weak to no scientific evidence of PK, the studies highlighted in this paper subtly indicate otherwise. Parapsychologists can no longer accept criticism that “Each and every claim made by psi researchers violates fundamental principles of science, and, hence, can have no ontological status” (as cited in Krippner, et al., 2021, p. 16). As technology advances, parapsychologists will perhaps find other ways of scientifically recording evidence of the PK phenomenon in their laboratories. PK experimentation has advanced from the manual dice throwing days of J. B. Rhine to the contemporary use of optical double-slit interferometers.

Parapsychology is not the only science struggling to find evidence of a theorized phenomenon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration currently has three theories pertaining to dark energy, none of which have yet to be proven. “We know how much dark energy there is because we know how it affects the universe’s expansion. Other than that, it is a complete mystery. But it is an important mystery” (Nagaraja, 2021).

The same argument can be made for PK. We know that PK exists, but it is still shrouded in theoretical and mechanical mystery which requires future exploration in order to disrobe its scientific secrets.

For Further Study

Irwin and Watt (2007) highlight the fact that very few parapsychologists have studied macro-pk events such as metal bending in their laboratories which limits the parapsychological literature on the phenomenon (p. 120). Clearly this requires further study. As previously discussed, spontaneous macro-pk events can be difficult to scientifically examine, especially where it occurs outside of a laboratory setting. Although the stringent conditions and control methods of a laboratory will be lacking, it may still be advantageous for parapsychologists to develop an easily portable technological kit to take with them while on scene with individuals who are experiencing spontaneous macro-pk events.

With respect to micro-pk experiments, Wahbeh (2021) discusses other models of explanation when utilizing RNGs, rather than PK, which require further evaluation such as; “goal-oriented effects of the investigation, methodological errors or leaks which bias the formal replications; conventional perturbations of RNG due to ambient electromagnetic fields; a fortuitous selection of events and parameters through experimenter intuition and retroactive information” (p. 4).

Kokubo et al. (2012) suggest further study around the use of gas and the 562nm band length which could have the potential to detect bio-pk year round, but experimentation during the summer months is needed (p. 7).

Lastly,  Kauffman and Radin (2021) discussed the need for further experimentation in order to determine whether PK has a genetic component which would contribute to the debate about the evolution of one’s mind and what the role it plays in the modern world (p. 17).

References

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Biases Continue to Haunt Parapsychological Research

By Elliott K. Van Dusen

December 26, 2020

A recent study published in the November-December 2020 issue of Explore (Volume 16, Issue 6) highlights one of the many contemporary challenges faced by parapsychological researchers. Dr. Bethany Butzer’s study “Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience”, explores how confirmation bias can easily undermine and discredit parapsychological research. Confirmation bias is the “tendency to seek and pay special attention to information that supports one’s beliefs, while ignoring information that contradicts a belief” (as cited in Goodwin & Goodwin, 2017, p. 6).

In her experiment, 100 participants with a background in psychology were presented with two virtually identical abstracts and asked to read and evaluate the article. 50 participants were provided with an abstract which discussed findings from a parapsychological aspect, whereas the other 50 participants were presented with abstract findings from a neuroscience aspect. Not surprisingly, participants came to the determination that the neuroscience abstract had stronger findings and were more valid and reliable compared to the parapsychological abstract. 

Dr. Butzer discovered a correlation between belief in transcendentalism and the rating of the abstracts. Those who had a higher belief or experience in parapsychology, consciousness, and reality, provided a more favourable rating toward the parapsychological abstract.

Although parapsychology research remains to be haunted by the misconception that it is a pseudo-science, this is simply not true. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has recognized parapsychology as a social science since 1969. There are many great examples of respectable scientists conducting and contributing valuable work in the field of parapsychology. A Canadian example is demonstrated through the work of the late Laurentian University neuroscientist, Dr. Michael Persinger. His research led to the discovery of the impact Earth’s geomagnetic activity can have on precognitive experiences. 

Dr. Butzer’s study is important because it remains a stark reminder to all that well educated and respectable researchers can consciously or unconsciously impose potential biases during their review and evaluation of parapsychological research based on personal belief and experiences. 

Anyone researching or investigating paranormal phenomena must strive to maintain an open and unbiased mind. After all, the very area you are working in appears to transcend the laws of nature as we presently understand them and operate outside the realm of human capability.


References:

Butzer, B. (2019). Bias in the evaluation of psychology studies: A comparison of parapsychology versus neuroscience. Explore, 16(6). doi:10.1016/j.explore.2019.12.010

Goodwin, K. A., & Goodwin, C. J. (2017). Research in psychology: Methods and designs (8th ed.) Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.