The word "psychic" is synonymous with "mental" and is also used to refer to a person who is apparently sensitive to nonphysical forces. Psychic science is a broad subject that includes occultism, mysticism, metaphysics, parapsychology, and consciousness. It is not considered a "hard science" and sometimes not even a "science" by many scientists because almost nothing that it covers is verifiable, observable, or reproducible. Yet there are many believers and practitioners in these subjects. Are they all wrong or is this something beyond the reach of our technology?
It is certainly true, that as science has advanced, old beliefs have fallen by the wayside. Even though the earth looks flat, we no longer think of it as flat. We may verify this in a couple of days by flying eastward around the globe to get to our original destination. In the last 500 years, science has systematically expanded its frontiers into the furthest reaches of the universe to offer reproducible and verifiable answers to many of mankind's questions. Yet many questions remain. It is only within the last few years that methods have been devised for visualizing the functions of the brain at work. These studies have already had a significant impact in determining the locations in the brain where specific functions are carried out. But this knowledge is at a very general level. Although we may know that a specific portion on the left side of the brain is associated with language processing, it is still not known what happens within this part of the brain in detail. We may never be able to completely determine this because like every fingerprint, each brain is unique, and what is true for one person may not be so for another. The technology used to study the brain is sometimes used to make life or death decisions. Doctors use electroencephalograms, for example, to determine whether a person in a coma is "brain dead" before turning off life support systems.
It is no secret that modern society thinks of psychics as slightly crazy or less than normal. Reputable scientists have expressed dismay at the growing trend in pseudo-science, mysticism and magic. Scientists deride accounts of astrological predictions, extraterrestrial UFOs, remote cutlery warping, spiritualism, and the doctrine of special creation of man by God because of the lack of any credible objective or experimental evidence. Neither scientists not the general public are ready to accept the hearing of voices or the seeing of visions as a desirable skill comparable to the ability to solve mathematical problems. Carl Jung, who was one of the fathers of analytical psychology and who had great interest in the paranormal, wrote his doctoral thesis "On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena". In general, people who claim to have paranormal powers are treated not as prophets or seers, but as deranged individuals in need of psychotherapy or medical treatment. Many of these individuals, when given medication, change and become "normal". Drug therapy has become a way of dealing with bipolar disorder, depression, and many other mental problems or discomforts.
The fact that science and scientific philosophy have had great impact on our society fails to explain why psychic hot lines have become so popular in the United States and in many other countries. Obviously, there are a lot of people who would like to believe that someone else can look into their future and give them worthwhile advice. Are these psychics only interested in exploiting gullible individuals, or do they have any genuine insights to offer? The problem that psychics have always had is one of communication and credibility. Since psychic experiences occur within the mind of the psychic, other people have to rely on the psychic's own statements for the revelations, insights, predictions, etc. Nothing can be verified. Believing anything that a psychic predicts is an act of faith. But what if a psychic's predictions come true? Is this proof? Some researchers in parapsychology are making an honest effort to find out if there is any verifiable evidence. They have the gruesome task of screening the crazies and charlatans from the "normal" people who report psychic experiences or psychic "powers". One account indicates that 60% of psychic experiences occur in dreams, 30% are waking impressions and a portion of the remainder appear as hallucinations such as seeing visions or hearing voices that appear to be real.
What is a psychic? Traditionally, a psychic is a person who has extraordinary extrasensory and nonphysical mental processes. These mental processes may include clairvoyance, synchrony, dreams, déjà vu, healing, empathy, telekinesis, telepathy, and spiritualism.
What is a scientific psychic? A scientific psychic would be a person who explores psychic phenomena using scientific methodology to discard the verifiably false and explore the potentially possible. A scientific psychic would seek to use the laws of science as an explanation for any phenomena that fall within the scope of the scientific method and to critically study phenomena beyond those boundaries using subjective criteria. This would require the systematic application of perception, logic, imagination, intuition, an incorruptible standard of honesty, and proofs than that can be independently verified by documentary evidence.
How many times have you heard the claim "I predicted that." and wondered whether it was true or not? Was a prediction done really ahead of the event, or was the claim of the correct prediction only stated after the event? Ex post facto revelations are not predictions. Texts on social psychology define "hindsight bias" as a common mental error that many individuals make when they think that they could have predicted something after it has already happened.
There are also trivial predictions. "Sales in your store will increase dramatically" is a trivial prediction just ahead of the Christmas season. It is common knowledge that the Christmas season accounts for almost 25% of sales of many businesses. "You will hear from an old friend", is almost guaranteed to happen just before your birthday. "You will overcome a conflict with your boss" could almost be a routine prediction for anybody who is not self-employed. In any conflict with the boss, you will think of your mortgage, of your children, of your debts, and if you are not antagonistic enough, you will not get fired and the conflict will be resolved; you will yield. "An earthquake will shake San Francisco this year", is also a very safe prediction, knowing that San Francisco is along the very active San Andrea's Fault and not stating the magnitude of the earthquake. Trivial predictions are those that have a large probability of happening or those that list all possible outcomes. "When I flip this coin, it will either show heads or tails" covers all the possible outcomes, except for the very small possibility of the coin landing on its edge.
Any parlor tricks involving manipulation of objects, use of assistants, concealed magnets, cameras, strings, microphones, loudspeakers, etc. do not validate psychic abilities. Time and time again, so-called "psychics" have resorted to the use of these methods for bending keys, guessing cards, eavesdropping on conversations, or gathering information that is very impressive when presented to unsuspecting persons, but none of these techniques remotely qualify as "psychic". The use of instrumentation to gather data is valid, but to claim that the knowledge is from "psychic" abilities is false. Telekinesis falls into this category. In a later chapter we will examine the amount of energy that can be generated by the human brain and show that it is not enough to physically move anything of substance. Some individuals sometimes think that they have control over events when coincidence is interpreted as correlation, which is in reality an illusory correlation. Telepathy is doubly suspect. Not only is the energy generated by the brain minuscule, but also, any "thought waves", whose existence has never been demonstrated, would have to be decoded by another person with completely different brain structure. Spiritualism and communication with the dead are even more incredible than telepathy. At least in telepathy there are two live persons with working brains trying to send messages to each other, but how can a cadaver that has decomposed and has no functioning structures send or receive a message? Spiritualism requires the belief in "spirits" which exist independently of the physical body and whose existence cannot be proved objectively. Even though the dead may not be able to send messages, it does not mean that we are not influenced by people who have been dead for a long time. Our society and technology is built upon the ideas of our ancestors, and the ideas and philosophies of people such as Moses, Aristotle, Euclid, and Jesus are a part of our daily lives today. You can talk to the dead, but the dead cannot talk back.
Along with these three rules we need a system for keeping score. We need to come back after some time to each prediction and evaluate to see if it was fulfilled. Here is where Rule Number 2 is very useful. If the prediction was very vague, it may be possible to say that it was fulfilled, when indeed it was not. A prediction that does not specify time limits or quantitative detail has a greater chance of being fulfilled. Vague predictions generally need to be interpreted, and the interpretations may be influenced by events that happened after the predictions. Nostradamus in the 16th century was very clever at making very enigmatic predictions that a lot of people have interpreted as having come true. However, Nostradamus wrote figuratively, so it has never been clear what he was predicting. It has always been necessary to "interpret" what he wrote, but it will never be clear whether the interpretations associated by other people with Nostradamus' predictions really coincide or are ex post facto adaptations.