Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
In the most robust test of psychic ability, the autoganzfeld, it is typical to get a right answer approximately 32-33% of the time when chance is 25%. So around 8% of the time, something interesting is happening. Only 8%? Why so little? In the psychokinesis experiments, psychic ability manifests about 1% of the time. It’s a miniscule number. Yet I doubt that many psychics would attribute such low numbers to their own abilities. Are they wrong? Are these experiments representing the reality of the situation, or is there something about scientific testing that lowers the effectiveness of psychic ability?
I am going to make the argument that yes, scientific testing lowers the effectiveness of psychic ability.
In order to understand psychic ability, you have to understand the role that it was meant to play. For that we need to see people from a tribal perspective where we can see that nature imposes limits on this ability for very practical reasons. In a previous article, I looked at the breakdown of different personality types in tribal society, which comprises of about 100 to 250 people. (It Takes All Kinds: The Tribe Constellation) I showed that psychic people, who typically fall into the INFJ category, comprise about 1% of the tribal society. The small but persistent number says two things: 1. A tribe needs at least one psychic person. 2. A tribe does not want MORE than one psychic person.
In this situation what we have is a trait that is both highly desirable and highly undesirable at the same time. This is not unusual in nature; the same problem exists for a far more common trait: aggression. Aggression is an important trait related to survival, and certainly a tribe needs aggressive individuals to survive, but it comes with a high price. Aggression is destructive to group unity. (aggressive people will fight among themselves) Extreme aggressiveness can have deadly consequences within a tribe.
In much the same way, psychic ability is desirable to a tribe, but too much psychic ability becomes undesirable. (Another unpleasant aspect of nature creating psychic people is that a few of them will be schizophrenic instead.) Psychic ability is tied to high sensitivity, both emotionally and environmentally. This creates a person that is somewhat high maintenance for the rest of the tribe and because they get stressed in group settings and are strongly focused internally, they do not contribute much to tribal cohesiveness. But on the other hand, they provide a valuable service for the rest of the tribe by being able to warn of approaching danger and solutions to important problems for which insufficient data is available. In addition, their environmental sensitivity can help the tribe to quickly ascertain subtle environmental dangers as well.
Ordinary, non psychic abilities are sufficient for the rest of tribal functions, so there is normally no need for psychic abilities to be extraordinary. In fact, having extraordinary psychic ability can be a liability because a psychic can lose sight of which information is important and drift into a kind of psychosis. This has happened in Russian and American experiments into the use of psi for intelligence gathering. (i.e. The Stargate Project) Some remote viewers have had psychotic episodes as a result of overuse of their psi functioning. Psi not only ceases to be useful if it is turned up too high, but the person themselves become a liability to their tribe.
Because people must be aware of their physical surroundings to survive and not lose sight of day to day concerns, it is not practical to have psychic ability set on “high” all the time. Most psychic information is useless in everyday life. (Seeing ghosts, etc.) Therefore, psychic ability seems to have been fine tuned to increase in direct proportion to its importance to the psychic. What’s particularly interesting here is that a characteristic of psychic people is incorruptibility, (David Ritchey, The HISS of the ASP) and a protective instinct for those close to them. In other words, the person whose job it is to warn the tribe of danger has a personality designed to make this task of high personal importance to them and therefore the psychic person is far more amenable to receiving information psychically on their behalf.
Getting back to the original question, you can see how psi in an organic environment is set up to maximize its usefulness while minimizing its downsides, which are considerable. While psi ability will diminish in a person if it is not required, psychic ability is at its strongest when it’s needed. Certainly an indication of this is the tendency of large numbers of people to unconsciously avoid dying in disasters. (W.E. Cox, 1956).
If you look at how psi fits in from a tribal perspective, you can see that psi would be most useful in personal and social environments. That is to say, psi is strongly related to the interactions between people and between people and living creatures because this is what is important in a tribe. Because of this, emotion is an important aspect of psychic ability. In fact, one of the markers that psychic people use to distinguish a psychic experience from an ordinary thought is the emotional component it carries. Sudden strong feelings of emotion, whether it be sadness or joy or misery, are clues that psychics use to identify information as being psychic of origin.
When you take psi into the lab you are removing all of the elements which typically elicit strong psi. In a lab, from the perspective of the test subject, there is no need for psi. Whether psi is demonstrated or not, the outcome is pretty much the same for the test subject. His/her life does not change at all regardless of the outcome. Nor does the test subject’s family (tribe) benefit or stand to lose from success or failure. It is neutral. In a lab environment, there is also no emotional content to the psi experience; in fact, the tests are typically done by logically minded people performing non emotional tests in a non emotional way. That’s how it’s supposed to be done. But without an emotional component, psychic people lack the clues that they need to identify when information is psychic and when it isn’t. That makes it much harder to recognize the correct information.
Most psychic testing is done on the ordinary population, which further reduces the opportunity for psi to present itself, so overall, it’s not surprising that psi testing is not a straightforward enterprise.