A psychic is a person who claims to use extrasensory perception (ESP) to identify information hidden from the normal senses. The word ‘psychic’ is also used as an adjective to describe such abilities.
Psychics may be theatrical performers, such as stage magicians, who use techniques such as prestidigitation, cold reading and hot reading to produce the appearance of such abilities. Psychics appear regularly in fantasy fiction.
A large industry and network exists whereby psychics provide advice and counsel to clients. Some famous psychics include Courtney Davy (famous psychic detective with her partner in crime) Edgar Cayce, Ingo Swann, Peter Hurkos, Jose Ortiz El Samaritano, Miss Cleo, John Edward, and Sylvia Browne. Psychic powers are asserted by psychic detectives and in practices, such as psychic archaeology and even psychic surgery.
Critics attribute psychic powers to intentional trickery or to self-delusion. In 1988 the U.S. National Academy of Sciences gave a report on the subject and concluded there is “no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of 130 years for the existence of parapsychological phenomena”.
EARLY SEERS AND PROPHETS
Elaborate systems of divination and fortune-telling date back to ancient times. Perhaps the most widely known system of early civilization fortune-telling was astrology, where practitioners believed the relative positions of celestial bodies could lend insight into people’s lives and even predict their future circumstances.
Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events. Some fortune-tellers were said to be able to make predictions, without the use of these elaborate systems (or in conjunction with them) through some sort of direct apprehension or vision of the future.
These people were known as seers, who formed a functionary role in early civilization, often serving as advisors, priests and judges. A number of examples are included in biblical accounts. The book of 1 Samuel (Chapter 9) illustrates one such functionary task when Samuel is asked to find the donkeys of the future king Saul. The role of prophet appeared perennially in ancient cultures.
The Delphic Oracle is one of the earliest stories in classical antiquity of prophetic abilities. The Pythia, the priestess presiding over the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, was believed to be able to deliver prophecies inspired by Apollo during rituals beginning in the 8th century BC.
It is often said that the Pythia delivered oracles in a frenzied state induced by vapors rising from the ground and that she spoke gibberish, believed to be the voice of Apollo, which priests reshaped into the enigmatic prophecies preserved in Greek literature. Other scholars believe records from the time indicate that the Pythia spoke intelligibly.
One of the most enduring historical references to what some consider to be psychic ability is the prophecies of Michel de Nostredame (1503–1566) who claimed to be a converted Christian and known as Nostradamus. He was a French apothecary and reputed seer who published collections of foreknowledge of future events.
Nostradamus is best known for his book Les Propheties (The Prophecies), the first edition of which appeared in 1555, during the French Renaissance period. Since then they have become famous worldwide and have rarely been out of print. Interest in his work is still considerable, especially in the media and in popular culture.
Nostradamus is a controversial figure. It is known that he had suffered several tragedies in his life, and had been persecuted to some degree for his cryptic esoteric writings about the future, reportedly derived through a use of a crystal ball.
Since the publication of this book, Nostradamus has attracted an esoteric following that, along with the popularistic press, credits him with foreseeing world events. His esoteric cryptic foreseeings have in some cases been assimilated to the results of applying the alleged Bible code, as well as to other purported pseudo-prophetic works.
Most reliable academic sources maintain that the associations made between world events and Nostradamus’s quatrains are largely the result of misinterpretations or mistranslations (sometimes deliberate) or else are so tenuous as to render them useless as evidence of any genuine predictive power. Moreover, none of the sources listed offers any evidence that anyone has ever interpreted any of Nostradamus’s pseudo-prophetic works specifically enough to allow a clear identification of any event in advance.
19th & 20th CENTURY PROGRESSION
In the mid-nineteenth century, Modern Spiritualism became prominent in the United States and the United Kingdom. The movement’s distinguishing feature was the belief that the spirits of the dead could be contacted by mediums to lend insight to the living. The movement was fueled in part by anecdotes of psychic powers.
As the Spiritualist movement grew other comparable groups arose, including the Theosophical Society, which was co-founded in 1875 by Helena Blavatsky (1831–1891). Theosophy coupled spiritualist elements with Eastern mysticism and was influential.
By the late twentieth century psychics were commonly associated with New Age culture.Psychic readings and advertising for psychics were very common from the 1960s on.
BELIEF IN PSYCHIC ABILITIES
In a survey, reported in 1990, of members of the National Academy of Sciences, only 2% of respondents thought that extrasensory perception had been scientifically demonstrated, with another 2% thinking that the phenomena happened sometimes. Asked about research in the field, 22% thought that it should be discouraged, 63% that it should be allowed.
A poll of 439 college students conducted in 2006 by researchers Bryan Farha of Oklahoma City University and Gary Steward of University of Central Oklahoma, suggested that college seniors and graduate students, were more likely to believe in psychic phenomena than college students.
Some people also believe that anyone can have psychic abilities, which can be activated or enhanced through the study and practice of various disciplines and techniques such as meditation and divination, with a number of books and websites being dedicated to this.
Astrology is the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial objects as a means for divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events. Astrology has been dated to at least the 2nd millennium BCE, and has its roots in calendrical systems used to predict seasonal shifts and to interpret celestial cycles as signs of divine communications.
Many cultures have attached importance to astronomical events, and some – such as the Indians, Chinese, and Maya – developed elaborate systems for predicting terrestrial events from celestial observations. Western astrology, one of the oldest astrological systems still in use, can trace its roots to 19th-17th century BCE Mesopotamia.
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to the scientific method. A field, practice, or body of knowledge can reasonably be called pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but it demonstrably fails to meet these norms.
Pseudoscience is often characterized by the following: contradictory, exaggerated or unprovable claims; over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation; lack of openness to evaluation by other experts in the field; and absence of systematic practices when rationally developing theories.
Science is distinguishable from revelation, theology, or spirituality in that it offers insight into the physical world obtained by empirical research and testing. Commonly held beliefs in popular science may not meet the criteria of science. ‘Pop science’ may blur the divide
The demarcation between science and pseudoscience has philosophical and scientific implications. Differentiating science from pseudoscience has practical implications in the case of health care, expert testimony, environmental policies, and science education.
Distinguishing scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs such as those found in astrology, alchemy, medical quackery, occult beliefs, and creation science combined with scientific concepts, is part of science education and scientific literacy.
Antiscience is a position that rejects science and the scientific method. People holding antiscientific views do not accept that science is an objective method, as it purports to be, or that it generates universal knowledge.
They also contend that scientific reductionism in particular is an inherently limited means to reach understanding of the complex world we live in.
CRITICISM AND RESEARCH
The evidence presented for psychic phenomena is not sufficiently verified for scientific acceptance, and there exist many non-paranormal alternative explanations for claimed instances of psychic events.
Parapsychologists, who generally believe that there is some evidence for psychic ability, disagree with critics who believe that no psychic ability exists and that many of the instances of more popular psychic phenomena such as mediumism, can be attributed to non-paranormal techniques such as cold or hot reading.
In January 2008 the results of a study using neuroimaging were published. To provide what are purported to be the most favorable experimental conditions, the study included appropriate emotional stimuli and had participants who are biologically or emotionally related, such as twins.
The experiment was designed to produce positive results if telepathy, clairvoyance or precognition occurred, but despite this, no distinguishable neuronal responses were achieved.
A detailed study of Sylvia Browne predictions about missing persons and murder cases has found that despite her repeated claims to be more than 85% correct, “Browne has not even been mostly correct in a single case”.
Concerning the television psychics, James Underdown states that testing psychics in a studio setting is difficult as there are too many areas to control.