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Many famous scientists – among them several Nobel laureates – have had a serious interest in paranormal phenomena, e.g. Sigmund Freud, C. G. Jung, Albert Einstein, Pierre and Marie Curie, Henri Bergson, Charles Richet, C. D. Broad, Cyril Burt, William James, Calvin S. Hall, Gardner Murphy, John Eccles, Oliver Lodge, Hans Berger, A. R. Luria, A. N. Leontiev. The British prime minister William Gladstone became honorary member of the Society for Psychical Research in 1887 and he stated that psychical research "is the most important work in the world - by far the most important." However, the most famous profile within psychical research is the American biologist J. B. Rhine (1895-1980).

Extra-sensory perception

At an early stage in his research Dr. Rhine realized that it was very difficult to differentiate between for example telepathy and clairvoyance. Therefore, he coined the word ESP (extra-sensory perception) which included such psychical phenomena as telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition. He also introduced the term psychokinesis or PK instead of the old term telekinesis. Later ESP and PK was named psi-phenomena. Psi is not only the first letter in the Greek word psyche, but it is also used as a name for an unknown parameter or function within mathematics and physics. He called the study of these phenomena parapsychology. The word “para” means “beside” or "alongside" in Greek; in Latin it means "counter" or “outside”, i.e. a psychology which from the beginning was different from mainstream psychology. It can be debated whether this term was more suitable than the old term “psychical research” because in the study of these phenomena researchers have to use the same scientific methods as are used in conventional psychology. Thus in many cases the scientific method can prove that there is a normal explanation for many so-called supernatural phenomena, and that no parapsychological powers need to be involved at all. Our two sister organizations, i.e. the Society for Psychical Research in England and the American Society for Psychical Research have also chosen to retain their original names.

When Rhine later became professor at Duke University he also introduced his own symbols for a systematic testing of ESP, i.e. the so-called Zener-cards. A deck of Zener-cards consisted of 25 cards with five different symbols (i.e. five of each symbol). The symbols were: A circle, a cross, a square, a star and wave lines. Before each experiment the cards were shuffled meticulously and the task of the subject was then to guess the correct sequence of the cards in the deck. By pure chance it would be possible to get five cards right at every test. For a number of years Rhine carried out extensive ESP-tests at Duke University. The odds against his overall results arising purely by chance were astronomical. However, Rhine was attacked for not having taken adequate precautions against small sensory cues from the experimenter (during the earliest experiments the subject and the experimenter often sat opposite each other). Thus in his later studies the controls were tightened considerably. You can test your own ESP on http://www.psychicscience.org/esp1.aspx

The most famous ESP experiment at Duke University was made by one of Rhine’s closest associates, Dr. J. G. Pratt. He tested H. E. Pearce, an especially gifted subject. During the experiment Pratt and Pearce sat in separate rooms in the university building more than hundred yards away from each other. Pratt shuffled the deck of 25 cards meticulously and cut it, one after one, precisely at one minute’s interval. However, he never turned the cards and looked at them. Afterwards he placed them in a separate deck. Sitting more than a hundred yards away, Pearce’s task was now to guess the sequence of the cards and note his guesses. After the experiment Rhine compared Pearce’s and Pratt’s notes to see if they matched. By chance Pearce should have gotten about 370 correct guesses (i.e. 1/5) of a total of 1.850 guesses, but he got 558 hits, i.e. a deviation of +188. Chances of this result arising solely by chance are less than one in 10²².
Until the end of the 1960th the Zener cards were mostly used in ESP-experiments and dices were used to test for PK, but in 1969 Helmut Schmidt, an American physicist, published an article describing ESP-experiments with a quantum mechanical random number generator. During these experiments the subject sat in front of a machine with four buttons and four corresponding coloured lamps. During the tests a quantum mechanical random number generator selected which of the lamps that would lit. The subject’s task was to guess which of the four lamps that would lit the next time. Schmidt tested precognition, clairvoyance and later psychokinesis and obtained statistically extremely significant results. Today, his studies are still considered as being amongst the best designed experiments in parapsychology.

During the 1970th two American physicists, Puthoff and Targ, discovered that natural geographical locations apparently were better targets to work with than artificial targets prepared in the laboratory (such as for example the Zener cards). During their telepathy or “remote viewing” experiments they drove out to a randomly selected location and the receiver, who sat in the laboratory, should then try to describe or draw the place they visited. Independent judges were then asked to match the subject’s description of buildings, harbours, streets, gardens, etc. with the actual targets. The results turned out to be extremely significant.

In 1981 one of the Danish SPR’s board members, engineer Niels Jensen, succesfully replicated Puthoff and Targ’s remote viewing experiments. In one case the agent or sender was standing at Amalienborg’s Palace Square opposite the equestrian statue of King Frederick V and the receiver (who was sitting several miles away) described his impressions of the place like this: “I see a blue sky. Could it be a horse? I think that it is something close to Amalienborg, I see people going around and looking at something. Perhaps it is a figure; it seems to be encircled by a fence.” The result of these experiments gave an overall statistically significant result, but not as highly significant as in the American studies.


Can the human mind influence matter? That is a question which has occupied the mind of psychical researchers since the end of the 19th century. At that time fantastic stories about tables levitating at spiritualistic séances or objects moving - apparently without anybody touching them (i.e. telekinesis) - were told. The researchers uncovered many outright hoaxes done by the mediums, but in some cases it was a matter of self-deception. During a séance the participants often held their hands simultaneously at the table and this could make the table to move or shake. However, such movements of the table are usually not caused by “spirits” or psychokinesis, but simply by involuntary movements of the participants’ hands. The Danish psychologist Alfred Lehman proved in his book “Superstition and Sorcery” that such movements often are caused by breathing or by exhaustion of the muscles and nerves or simply by focusing one’s mind on specific movements. Only on very rare occasions full table levitation were observed, but since the séances usually were held in semi-darkness or even in total darkness it was difficult to monitor what actually was going on.

In the end of the 1930th J. B. Rhine meticulously began to examine whether the human mind really could influence matter, i.e. without any use of conventional physical forces. He called the phenomena psychokinesis (PK) and he tested it in a very systematic way. He told his subjects to throw a dice and at the same time concentrate about making it fall in a specific way. The experiments gave overall statistically significant results, but sceptics criticized that the subjects threw the dices with their hands, so Rhine used instead a dice cup and later an electromechanical device was applied. The results were still significantly above chance level. Control tests did not deviate significantly from chance. One of Rhine’s associates Dr. Forwald found that the psychokinetic force apparently influenced the dices with a strength of about ten percent of the gravitation force. But the psychokinetic force did not have the same characteristics of a normal physical force and – above all – it was not constant.

 Around 1970 the American physicist Helmut Schmidt carried out experiments with psychokinesis and he was the first scientist to use quantum mechanical random number generators in PK-tests. The subject should concentrate on making one of four lamps (which randomly would lit) to lit more often than should be expected by chance and his results were striking. In Denmark the physicist R. D. Mattuck in 1975 tested a young woman who claimed to have psychokinetic powers. She could raise the mercury column in a thermometer about four degrees just by holding it in the opposite end and thinking about raising the column. But the most remarkable was that the mercury column continued to rise even after she had put it away. That would have been impossible if she just had warmed it up in a normal fashion. You can test your possible PK powers at http://www.psychicscience.org/pk1.aspx

Has the existence of paranormal phenomena been proven?

Outside of mathematics there is no proof in science; scientists make judgments about probabilities, but they rarely express themselves in statements of certainty.
Beyond this, one of the crucial differences between psi research and conventional research is that psi phenomena generally are defined negatively, i.e. psi is the effect that can be measured, when all known alternative explanations can be ruled out. This means that extraordinary precautions must be observed in parapsychological studies to avoid any kind of experimental errors.

One of the most important principles in modern science is the ability of a test or experiment to be accurately reproduced or replicated. That means that several scientists independently of each other should be able to reproduce psi experiments with positive results. This requirement is already to a certain extent met within mainstream parapsychological research, but far from 100 %. But there are many phenomena in nature, which cannot be replicated just like that, for example earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and supernova explosions. In spite of this probably nobody would deny the existence of these phenomena.

The famous Harvard psychologist and professor in philosophy William James once said that “If you wish to upset the law that all crows are black…you mustn’t seek to prove that no crows are; it is enough to prove one single crow to be white.” After more than one hundred years of research we can with some right say this:  Some parapsychological experiments definitely show an inexplicable effect. However, this does not necessarily mean that the results are caused by ESP or PK, but only that we have not yet been able to come up with a better explanation.

Then another question will inevitable be raised: If these phenomena really exist, can we explain them? Many theoretical models have been put forward, but the most interesting are probably the theories which involve quantum physics. Experiments by the French physicist Alain Aspect in 1982 indicate that in spite of the local appearances of phenomena, our world is actually supported by an invisible reality which is unmediated and allows communication faster than light. This interaction 1) does not diminish with distance, 2) it can act instantaneously and even faster than the speed of light and 3) it links up locations without crossing space. The only popular example of non-locality one can think of is extra-sensory perception (ESP).

A former member of the Danish SPR, the late Danish-American physicist R. D. Mattuck, who was associate professor at the H. C. Ørsted Institute in Copenhagen, worked for several years to evolve a quantum mechanical theory to explain psi phenomena. Dr. Mattuck experimented with both ESP and PK and he achieved dramatic results.

Even though most paranormal phenomena apparently lies in the borderland between science and religion we in the Danish SPR are convinced that we have to use the scientific method to prove the existence (or non-existence) of psi. That does not in any way mean that we are negative towards psi, but we are of the opinion that it is important that we don’t get confused with the so-called New Age movement, which is so popular at the moment. We want to find the truth behind psychic phenomena.

The Society for Psychical Research is today the only organization in Denmark, which is providing its members with serious information about the recent developments in parapsychological research.