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This is part of the background information by Sylvia Engdahl for her science fiction novel Stewards of the Flame. If you don't see a menu on the left, please click here and then on "ESP and other psi powers."

ESP and Other Psi Powers Are Real

There is no doubt whatsoever that so-called "paranormal" abilities such as ESP exist. This has been proven over and over again by responsible scientific investigation, as explained in the books listed below, quite apart from the extensive evidence from human history. But the issue is generally confused by all the other things, often silly things, associated in the popular mind with the terms "paranormal," "psychic," and "parapsychology," and by the use of the word "supernatural" in connection with psi phenomena. Those that are real aren't in any sense supernatural; they are simply human (and in some cases animal) capabilities that we don't yet understand.

Properly speaking, parapsychology is the scientific, usually academic, study of psi: that is, extrasensory perception (ESP) -- telepathy, clairvoyance (now often called remote viewing), and precognition -- and psychokinesis (PK). It generally does not involve investigation of ghosts, although some scientists do include the question of survival after death, which I personally consider a separate issue, within its purview.

Skeptics are fond of pointing out that many people who claim to be psychics are frauds. Of course they are; but there is, after all, plenty of fraud in other areas. This does not mean that no one has real psi abilities. We do not stop buying cars because some used car salesmen are crooks, nor do we distrust stockbrokers in general because some of them sell phony stocks. Genuine psychics with conscious control of their powers are rare, to be sure; most psi occurs unconsciously. In my opinion unconscious psi has been, and still is, vastly more prevalent than anyone imagines and has had a major impact on human history. Why isn't this recognized? Why do so many otherwise open-minded people, scientists in particular, vehemently reject evidence that in any other context would be indisputable? Kira's explanation on page 201-202 (2009 edition) of Stewards of the Flame, now elaborated throughout Defender of the Flame and Herald of the Flame, seems to me the most likely one.

As I've said, I believe the question of survival after death, and of alleged communication with departed spirits, is an entirely separate one from the existence of psi capabilities in the living, and should not be confused with it. I have not seen any evidence for communication with the dead that cannot be explained by telepathy. One highly-regarded book on this subject claims that the evidence cited could not have been obtained via telepathy because the only person alive who had the information wasn't thinking about it, which completely ignores the fact that most telepathy occurs on an unconscious level. Be that as it may, however, I think it's a mistake to tie the two issues together because neither is dependent on the other. There is plenty of evidence for psi having nothing to do with survival after death; moreover it is quite possible that if spirits do survive death, they don't hang around long enough to communicate with anybody. The universe is vast, and personally I can't conceive of spirits no longer associated with physical bodies remaining associated with the affairs of one small planet in a particular physical location. I certainly do not believe they'd return as ghosts. In any case, the assumption that acceptance of psi implies acceptance of life after death, or vice versa, interferes with progress in the understanding of what abilities living human beings possess.

I believe the conscious development of human psi abilities lies in the future -- that it will be an evolutionary advance, not, as some people think, a return to something lost in the past. My original idea for Stewards of the Flame was to explore how, and why, a civilization might begin to move from the present level of ours to the level of Elana's people in my novel Enchantress from the Stars, who had very advanced psi powers. It would be a long process, taking place over many generations, but it would have to start somewhere. And I believe, as I said in the book, that it would not be adaptive in the evolutionary sense for it to start (except on an individual level) before a civilization had developed the technology necessary for expansion to many worlds. To turn to "inner space" before spreading into outer space, as some people advocate, would be self-defeating, since colonization of space is essential to a species' long-term survival. So though Stewards f the Flame is about psi and other issues rather than about space, it is not really a departure from what I've been saying all along.

Links to websites with good material on psi:

Psi Explorer, a site intended for the general public offering detailed information about psi.

Parapsychological Association, an affiliate of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the international professional organization of scientists and scholars engaged in the study of psi.

Parapsychology Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation which provides a worldwide forum supporting the scientific investigation of psychic phenomena.

Parapsychology Foundation Lyceum, educational arm of the Parapsychology Foundation; has a blog that includes many fine articles.

The Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), a nonprofit membership organization that conducts and sponsors leading-edge research into the potentials and powers of consciousness.

The Rhine Research Center, an institute for the study of consciousness that furthers the work of Joseph B. and Louisa Rhine, who pioneered the scientific study of ESP beginning in the 1930s.

Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR), well known for its statistical studies of the influence of human minds on physical reality.

Society for Scientific Exploration, a multi-disciplinary professional organization of scientists and other scholars committed to the rigorous study of unusual and unexplained phenomena that cross traditional scientific boundaries.

Society for Psychical Research (SPR), a British society, established in 1882, which was the first organization to examine allegedly paranormal phenomena using scientific principles.

American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR), the oldest psychical research organization in the United States, founded in 1885, which supports scientific investigation of extraordinary or as yet unexplained phenomena that have been called psychic or paranormal.

Public Parapsychology, a blog dedicated to advancing public scholarship in the fields of parapsychology and anomalistic psychology; it has news, articles and book reviews.

The Global Consciousness Project, an international, multidisciplinary collaboration of scientists, engineers, artists and others who have been collecting data from a global network of random event generators reflecting patterns that are not random and may be attributable to human consciousness.

Books on psi I especially recommend to general readers:

Parapsychology: The Controversial Science, Richard S. Broughton, Ballantine Books, 1991, 0345356381.

Parapsychology and the Skeptics: A Scientific Argument for the Existence of ESP, Chris Carter, SterlingHouse Books, 2007, 1585011088.

Consciousness and the Source of Reality: The PEAR Odyssey, Robert G. Jahn and Brenda J. Dunne, ICRL Press, 2011, 1936033038.

The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena, Diane Hennacy Powell, Walker, 2009, 0802716067.

The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena, Dean Radin, HarperOne, 2009 (1997), 0061778990.

Reading the Enemy's Mind: Inside Star Gate--America's Psychic Espionage Program, Paul H. Smith, Forge Books, 2006, 0812578554.

The Reality of ESP: A Physicist's Proof of Psychic Abilities, Russell Targ, Quest, 2012, 0835608840.

The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together, Charles T. Tart, Noetic Books, 2009, 1572246456.

Books that explore further details about psi:

Captain of My Ship Master of My Soul: Living With Guidance, F. Holmes Atwater, Hampton Roads, 2001, 1571742476.

Distant Mental Influence: Its Contributions to Science, Healing and Human Interactions, William Braud, Hampton Roads, 2003, 1571743545.

The Limits of Influence: Psychokinesis and the Philosophy of Science, Stephen E. Braude, University Press of America, 1997, 0761806245.

The Gold Leaf Lady and Other Parapsychological Investigations, Stephen E. Braude, University of Chicago Press, 2007, 0226071529.

Outside the Gates of Science: Why It's Time for the Paranormal to Come in from the Cold, Damien Broderick, Thunder's Mouth Press, 2007, 1560259868.

Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence, Etzel Cardena et al., eds., American Psychological Association, 2000, 1557986258.

First Sight: ESP and Parapsychology in Everyday Life. James C. Carpenter, Rowman & Littlefield, 2012, 1442213906.

Suddenly Psychic: A Skeptic's Journey, Maureen Caudill, Hampton Roads, 2006, 1571745017.

The Gift: ESP the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People, Sally Rhine Feather, St. Martin's Press, 2005, 0312329199.

The Power of Premonitions: How Knowing the Future Can Shape Our Lives, Larry Dossey, Dutton, 2009, 0525951164.

River Dreams: The Case of the Missing General and Other Adventures in Psychic Research, Dale E. Graff, Element Books, 2000, 1862047162.

Tracks in the Psychic Wilderness: An Exploration of Remote Viewing ESP Precognitive Dreaming and Synchronicity, Dale E. Graff, Element Books, 1998, 1862042039.

Frontiers of the Soul: Exploring Psychic Evolution, Michael Grosso, Quest Books, 1992, 0835606767.

The Psychic Wars: Parapsychology in Espionage--And Beyond, R. Elmer Gruber, Blandford, 1999, 0713727624.

The PK Zone: A Cross-Cultural Review of Psychokinesis PK, Pamela Rae Heath, iUniverse, 2003, 059527658X.

Margins of Reality: The Role of Consciousness in the Physical World, Robert G. Jahn and Brenda Dunne, Harcourt, 1987, 0151571481.

Jung on Synchronicity and the Paranormal, C. G. Jung, Princeton University Press, 1997, 0691058377.

Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, Edward Kelly and Emily Williams Kelly, Rowman & Littlefield, 2009, 1442202068.

Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion?, Stanley C. Krippner and Harris L. Friedman, eds., Praeger, 2010, 0313392617.

A New Science of the Paranormal: The Promise of Psychical Research, Lawrence LeShan, Quest Books, 2009, 0835608778.

World of the Paranormal: The Next Frontier, Lawrence LeShan, Helios Press, 2004 (1984), 1581153600.

Extraordinary Knowing: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind., Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, Bantam, 2007, 0553803352.

Mind Trek: Exploring Consciousness Time and Space Through Remote Viewing, Joseph McMoneagle, Hampton Roads, 1997, 1878901729.

The Stargate Chronicles: Memoirs of a Psychic Spy, Joseph McMoneagle, Hampton Roads, 2000, 1571742255.

Remote Viewing Secrets, Joseph McMoneagle, Hampton Roads, 2000, 1571741593.

The Field: The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe, Lynne McTaggart, Quill, 2003, 0060931175.

The Intention Experiment: Using Your Thoughts to Change Your Life and the World, Lynne McTaggart, Free Press, 2008, 0743276965.

The Roots of Consciousness: Psychic Liberation Through History Science and Experience, Jeffrey Mishlove, Random House, 1975, 0394733158.

Psychic Exploration: A Challenge for Science, Edgar D. Mitchell, Cosimo Books, 2011 (1976), 1616405473.

The Future of the Body, Michael Murphy, Tarcher, 1993, 0874777305.

Synchronicity: The Bridge Between Matter and Mind, F. David Peat, Bantam, 1987, 0553343211.

Twin Telepathy: The Psychic Connection, Guy Lyon Playfair, Vega, 2002, 1843336863.

Entangled Minds: Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality, Dean Radin, Paraview Pocket Books, 2006, 1416516778.

Best Evidence: An Investigative Reporter's Three-Year Quest to Uncover the Best Scientific Evidence for ESP... , Michael Schmicker, Writers Club Press, 2002, 0595219063.

Remote Viewers: The Secret history of America's Psychic Spies, Jim Schnabel, Dell, 1997, 0440614058.

The Parapsycholgy Revolution, Robert M. Schoch and Logan Yonavjak, eds., Tarcher, 2008, 1585426164.

Opening to the Infinite, Stephan A. Schwartz, Nemoseen Media, 2007, 0976853612.

Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home: And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals, Rupert Sheldrake, Three Rivers Press, 2011, 0307885968.

The Sense of Being Stared At: And Other Aspects of the Extended Mind, Rupert Sheldrake, Crown, 2003, 060960807X.

The Synchronized Universe: New Science of the Paranormal, Claude Swanson, Poseidia Press, 2003, 097452610X.

The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality , Michael Talbot, Harper Perennial, 2011 (1991), 0062014102.

Mind-Reach: Scientists Look at Psychic Ability, Russell Targ and Harold Pithoff, Delta, 1978, 0440556651.

Miracles of Mind: Exploring Nonlocal Consciousness and Spiritual Healing, Russell Targ and Jane Katra, New World Library, 1999, 1577310977.

The Mind Race: Understanding and Using Psychic Abilities, Russell Targ and Keith Harary, Villard Books, 1984, 0394533569.

Limitless Mind: A Guide to Remote Viewing and Transformation of Consciousness, Russell Targ, New World Library, 2004, 1577314131.

Mind at Large: Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Symposia on the Nature of Extrasensory Perception, Charles T. Tart, Harold E. Puthoff, and Russell Targ, eds., Hampton Roads, 2002 (1979), 1571743200.

Body Mind Spirit: Exploring the Parapsychology of Spirituality, Charles T. Tart, ed., Hampton Roads, 1997, 1571740732.

Fits, Trances and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experiences from Wesley to James, Ann Taves, Princeton University Press, 1999, 0691010242.

Parapsychology In The Twenty-First Century: Essays On The Future Of Psychical Research, Michael A. Thalbourne and Lance Storm, eds., McFarland, 2004, 0786419385.

Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal Extrasensory Perception, Montague Ullman and Stanley Krippner, Hampton Roads, 2003 (1973), 1571743219.

Incredible Coincidence: The Baffling World of Synchronicity, Alan Vaughan, Signet, 1980, 0451093496.

Transcendent Sex: When Lovemaking Opens the Veil, Jenny Wade, Paraview Pocket Books, 2004, 0743482174.

Mind to Mind: Studies in Consciousness, Rene Warcollier, Hampton Roads, 2001 (1948), 1571743111.

Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain, Alison Winter, University Of Chicago Press, 1998, 0226902234.

Last updated in 2014