The Weiler Psi

Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics

Why Is Psi so Elusive in Scientific Testing?

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.

12 comments on “Why Is Psi so Elusive in Scientific Testing?

  1. zebzaman
    April 8, 2014

    Hi Craig, I like your image of a radio receiver – and this would also be a nice “explanation” while sensitive people get different “stations”, i.e. contact the the departed, instant diagnosis of illness, lurking danger, finding water, or connection to some other realms, angelic or earth-spirit. Or whatever. Or little bits of most of the above. I think Don has a point ( gosh, two years ago!) ; reading the many comments all over this site from young anxious people, one wonders, if in other times and other societies, these sensitives would have been found by the Shaman or who-ever was the one responsible for that side of things. And been taken into the appropriate training for such things. I’m convinced of that. There would hardly ever have been any society as hostile to psychics as ours. Possibly times like witch-hunting time, where only church dogma was permitted. Well, better to be around now than then! But It seems a crying shame that many of these youngsters have nowhere to turn to. When I was that age, I just was desperately anxious to avoid coming into contact with psychiatry (hence I kept it as secret as I could how distraught I was) , as I thought I might disappear down the rabbit hole of psycho-pharmaca. It was most helpful to me to meet one like me, 20 years my senior, who had just learned to live with it. We had virtually identical weird states of nightmare. He said: just observe it and don’t be afraid of it. Just accept that it is happening;

  2. realpc
    January 12, 2014

    I agree that only 1% or so of people are extremely psychic. However, lots of experiments have been done on this type of person. Haven’t those results been reliable? For example, Gary Schwartz’s research on mediums.

    I also think that everyone has some psychic ability, but it’s mostly unconscious. I think that experiments should be designed so the subjects don’t know their psychic ability is being tested.

  3. alex @ skeptiko
    June 23, 2012

    Hi Craig… thx for a great post. while I felt my head nodding as I read your post I also heard a little skeptical voice in my head saying, “yea, but how do we really know that.”… e.g.

    – In order to understand psychic ability, you have to understand the role that it was meant to play

    – psychic ability is desirable to a tribe, but too much psychic ability becomes undesirable.

    – psi is strongly related to the interactions between people and between people and living creatures because this is what is important in a tribe

    Again, not saying you’re wrong… just not sure you’re right 🙂


    • craigweiler
      June 23, 2012

      Hi Alex,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      I’m basing this on both my personal experience and my research into the characteristics of psychic people. The most psychic types are, according to the Meyers Briggs Type Index, (MBTI) are the INFJ, which is the most psychic, and the INFP. It’s notable that the INFJ is listed as The Protector. That is to say, the most psychic personality is almost fanatically dedicated to caring for others. (I am an INFJ and this is true for me as well.) It’s likely then, that psi will be strongest when someone needs protecting or being cared for.

      I also use as my reference the book The HISS of the ASP by David Ritchey. The link between highly sensitive people and psychic ability has also been noticed by other health professionals. It follows, I think, that there is a link between a person’s ability to express emotion freely, and their ability to access psychic ability. As people have stronger emotions, they generally become more highly strung, which makes their lives difficult. There is certainly a point where this becomes counterproductive.

      The trouble for the average person, particularly with INFJ personality types, is that we tend to internalize this strong emotion in order to blend into society. It becomes difficult to tell at a glance just how much we are feeling.

      Thanks again,

      • alex @ skeptiko
        June 23, 2012

        I get your points… and given your experience I suspect you’re right… but again, these general guidelines/tendencies don’t provide much insight as to what’s going on here regarding the nature of psychic abilities… back to the lab I guess 🙂

        • craigweiler
          June 23, 2012

          You’ve got me curious Alex. When you mention “the nature of psychic abilities” are you talking about it as some sort of process that psychic people have that other people don’t? Like shooting a basketball? As far as I can tell it doesn’t work that way.

          Rather, it seems to me as if psychic ability is like fiddling with a finicky receiver, trying to get a station in clearly. People with a lot of psychic ability tend to have high sensitivity . . . to everything. The signal is amplified, but so is the static. You’re getting in the psychic station, but you’re also getting everyone else’s emotions, geomagnetic disturbances, environmental sensitivities etc.

          My experience as well is that psychic ability works with the subconscious first and the waking mind second so that any subconscious agenda the psychic person might have will take precedent over their ordinary waking intentions. It’s quite frustrating.

          • alex @ skeptiko
            June 24, 2012

            I’m just saying that we don’t know enough about the psychic phenomea to be very sure about some of these conclusions.

            • craigweiler
              June 25, 2012

              Thank you for continuing to engage me on this topic. You’re giving me a point of view, true skepticism, that I don’t often see and it’s very helpful for me to understand your point of view.

              When you say that we don’t know enough about psychic phenomena, I would assume that you’re talking about scientific studies and such. That is to say, you reject knowledge in this area that doesn’t come from scientific methods. Is that correct?

              If that is the case, you will be waiting a very, very long time. Most psi testing is done without testing people who have a special aptitude for psychic ability and I have only been able to find the barest scraps of information on psychics themselves. The research just isn’t headed in this direction.

              I, on the other hand, have direct experience with psychic phenonmena, being a psychic person and having that kind of personality as well as years of interactions with other people like me. Does this count as knowledge to you? Do I have any sort of expertise in your opinion?

              • alex @ skeptiko
                June 25, 2012

                I’m not saying you don’t have valuable personal experience/knowledge about this stuff… but in order to sort thru all the opinions about psychic phenomena (some contradictory) we need something like the methods of science.

                For example, many NDErs report periods of super-psychic abilities immediately after their NDE — what’s up with that? others report inheriting psychic abilities… is there a genetic link? of course there are dozens of other questions we could ask. this field is very under-researched. your personal experience may help guide us toward these answers, but we’re gonna have to be rigorous if we want answers we can rely on.

              • craigweiler
                June 26, 2012

                My opinion is that in the absence of rigorous scientific study, it’s better to push forward with an idea and see how far you can get with it. (And you have to commit to an idea completely in order to do this.) That’s mostly what I am doing here. It does no one any good to constantly leave the questions open because no knowledge can be built that way. If I’m wrong, it will only be discovered by pursuing it until a dead end is discovered.

                The fact is that psychic people are effectively persona non grata. Our opinions and ideas are almost always dismissed out of hand. I’m not saying that you’re doing this, I’m saying that this is the norm. We are weird and it can be tough for an outsider to sort through our thought processes. This is particularly true for scientifically minded people. What might seem contradictory to you might be another aspect of the same thing to me.

  4. Don Salmon
    February 23, 2012

    Hi Craig: Brilliant, spot on. I agree with all your comments. Just one thought, since as far as I could see from a quick skim, you didn’t mention the disciplined, yogic development of psi abilities. Wouldn’t this be an exception, for an individual who has attained an unusual degree of emotional balance, and is exceptionally developed ethically as well, along with refined concentration – to the extent they are “attuned to” – may I call it the Divine? – might not their “psychic” abilities be more readily and predictably accessible? (I put quotes around “psychic” because it would be part of their normal functioning, I imagine).

    Just a thought. Thanks for this quite thoughtful column.

    • craigweiler
      February 23, 2012

      Hi Don,
      I have no idea. One would certainly expect psychic ability to improve with practice, but it’s hard to say what’s going to happen in testing. Personally, I’ve done it on line and I suck at it. Too anxious. It’s one thing to do psi in a natural setting and another to perform like a trained seal in front of guys in lab coats.

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