Psychokinesis

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"Telekinesis" redirects here. For other uses, see Telekinesis (disambiguation).
Artist conception of alleged spontaneous psychokinesis from 1911 French magazine La Vie Mysterieuse.

Psychokinesis (Greek ψυχή κίνησις, "mind movement"),[1][2] or telekinesis[3] (τῆλε κίνησις, "distance movement"),[4] is an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to influence a physical system without physical interaction.[5][6][7] Psychokinesis and telekinesis are sometimes abbreviated as PK and TK respectively.[8] Examples of psychokinesis could include moving an object and levitation.[9][10] There is no conclusive evidence that psychokinesis is a real phenomenon.[11][12][13][14]

PK experiments have historically been criticized for lack of proper controls and repeatability.[13][15][16][17] Furthermore, some experiments have created illusions of PK where none exists, and these illusions depend to an extent on the subject's prior belief in PK.[18][19]

Etymology[edit]

The word psychokinesis, a portmanteau of the Greek language words ψυχή ("psyche"), meaning mind, soul, spirit, or breath; and κίνησις ("kinesis"), meaning motion, movement,[1][2] was coined in 1914 by American author Henry Holt in his book On the Cosmic Relations.[20][21][22] The term was later adopted by American parapsychologist J. B. Rhine in 1934 in connection with experiments that were conducted to determine if a person could influence the outcome of falling dice.[8][23]

The word telekinesis, a portmanteau of the Greek language words τῆλε ("tēle"), meaning distance, and κίνησις ("kinesis"), meaning motion,[4] was coined in 1890 by Russian psychical researcher Alexander N. Aksakof.[24][25]

In current usage, psychokinesis is a term that is used within parapsychology, fictional universes, and New Age beliefs to describe the mental influence of physical systems and objects[5][6][7] while telekinesis is used to refer only to the mental movement and levitation of physical objects.[26][27] Subsets of psychokinesis include telekinesis,[26] psychic healing,[7][28] influencing events,[28] and the transmutation of matter.[29]

Parapsychologists divide psychokinetic phenomenon into two categories: Macro-PK, which are large-scale psychokinetic effects that can be seen with the naked eye, (such as the levitation of objects and metal bending), and Micro-PK, which are small-scale psychokinetic effects that involve the movement of molecules and atoms and require the use of statistics to detect them, (such as influencing the output of a random number generator).[7][28]

Belief[edit]

In September 2006, a survey about belief in various religious and paranormal topics conducted by phone and mail-in questionnaire polled 1,721 Americans on their belief in telekinesis. Of these participants, 28% of male participants and 31% of female participants selected "agree" or "strongly agree" with the statement "It is possible to influence the world through the mind alone".[30]

In April 2008, British psychologist and skeptic Richard Wiseman published the results of an online survey he conducted entitled "Magicians and the Paranormal: A Survey", in which 400 magicians worldwide participated. For the question Do you believe that psychokinesis exists (i.e., that some people can, by paranormal means, apply a noticeable force to an object or alter its physical characteristics)?, the results were as follows: No 83.5%, Yes 9%, Uncertain 7.5%.[31]

Notable claimants of psychokinetic ability[edit]

Eusapia Palladino "levitates" a table while researcher Alexander Aksakof (right) monitors for fraud, Milan, 1892.
Spirit photography hoaxer Édouard Isidore Buguet[32] (1840-1901) of France fakes telekinesis in this 1875 cabinet card photograph titled Fluidic Effect.

There have been claimants of psychokinetic ability throughout history. Angelique Cottin (ca. 1846) known as the "Electric Girl" of France was an alleged generator of PK activity. It was claimed by Cottin and her family that she produced electric emanations and from her presence pieces of furniture and scissors moved across the room.[33] Frank Podmore wrote there were many observations which were "suggestive of fraud" such as the contact of the girl's garments to produce any of the alleged phenomena and the observations from several witnesses that noticed there was a double movement on the part of Cottin, a movement in the direction of the object thrown and afterwards away from it but the movements being so rapid they were not usually detected.[33]

Spiritualist mediums have also claimed psychokinetic abilities. Eusapia Palladino an Italian medium could allegedly cause objects to move during séances. However, she was caught levitating a table with her foot by the magician Joseph Rinn and using tricks to move objects by the psychologist Hugo Münsterberg.[34][35]

The Polish medium Stanisława Tomczyk active in the early 20th century claimed to be able to perform various acts of telekinesis, such as levitating objects, by way of an entity she called "Little Stasia".[36] A photograph of her taken in 1909 which shows a pair of scissors "floating" in between her hands is often found in books and other publications as an example of telekinesis.[37][38] Scientists suspected Tomczyk performed her feats by the use of a fine thread or hair, running between her hands to lift and suspend the objects in the air. This was confirmed when psychical researchers who tested Tomczyk occasionally observed the thread.[38][39][40]

Many of India's "godmen" have claimed macro-PK abilities and demonstrated apparently miraculous phenomena in public, although as more controls are put in place to prevent trickery, fewer phenomena are produced.[41]

Magician William Marriott reveals the trick of the medium Stanisława Tomczyk's levitation of a glass tumbler. Pearson's Magazine, June 1910

Annemarie Schaberl a 19-year old secretary was said to have telekinetic powers by the parapsychologist Hans Bender in the Rosenheim Poltergeist case in the 1960s. Magicians and scientists who investigated the case suspected the phenomena were produced by trickery.[42][43]

Swami Rama, a yogi skilled in controlling his heart functions, was studied at the Menninger Foundation in the spring and fall of 1970, and was alleged by some observers at the foundation to have telekinetically moved a knitting needle twice from a distance of five feet.[44] Although Swami Rama wore a face-mask and gown to prevent allegations that he moved the needle with his breath or body movements, and air vents in the room had been covered, at least one physician observer who was present at the time was not convinced and expressed the opinion that air movement was somehow the cause.[45]

Psychics[edit]

The Russian psychic Nina Kulagina came to wide public attention following the publication of Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder's best seller, Psychic Discoveries Behind The Iron Curtain. The alleged Soviet psychic of the late 1960s and early 1970s was filmed apparently performing telekinesis while seated in numerous black-and-white short films.[46] She was also mentioned in the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report from 1978.[47] Magicians and skeptics have argued that Kulagina's feats could easily be performed by one practiced in sleight of hand, through means such as cleverly concealed or disguised threads, small pieces of magnetic metal, or mirrors.[48][49][50][51]

James Hydrick, an American martial arts expert and psychic, was famous for his alleged psychokinetic ability to turn the pages of books and make pencils spin around while placed on the edge of a desk. It was later revealed by magicians that he achieved his feats by air currents.[52] The psychologist Richard Wiseman has written Hydrick learnt to move objects by blowing in a "highly deceptive" and skillful way.[53] Hydrick confessed to Dan Korem that all of his feats were tricks "My whole idea behind this in the first place was to see how dumb America was. How dumb the world is."[54] The British psychic Matthew Manning was the subject of laboratory research in the United States and England involving PK in the late 1970s and today claims healing powers.[46][55] Magicians John Booth and Henry Gordon have suspected Manning used trickery to perform his feats.[56][57]

In 1971, an American psychic named Felicia Parise allegedly moved a pill bottle across a kitchen counter by psychokinesis. Her feats were endorsed by the parapsychologist Charles Honorton. Science writer Martin Gardner wrote Parise had "bamboozled" Honorton by moving the bottle by an invisible thread stretched between her hands.[51][58]

Boris Ermolaev a Russian psychic was known for levitating small objects. His methods were exposed on the World of Discovery documentary Secrets of the Russian Psychics (1992). Ermolaev would sit on a chair and allegedly move the objects between his knees but due to the lighting conditions a fine thread fixed between his knees suspending the objects was observed by the camera crew.[49]

The Russian psychic Alla Vinogradova was said to be able to move objects without touching them on transparent acrylic plastic or a plexiglass sheet. The parapsychologist Stanley Krippner had observed Vinogradova rub an aluminum tube before moving it allegedly by psychokinesis. Krippner suggested no psychokinesis was involved; the effect was produced by an electrostatic charge. Vinogradova was featured in the Nova documentary Secrets of the Psychics (1993) which followed James Randi's work.[49] Vinogradova demonstrated her alleged psychokinetic abilities on camera for Randi and other investigators. Before the experiments she was observed combing her hair and rubbing the surface of the acrylic plastic. Massimo Polidoro has replicated the feats of Vinogradova by using an acrylic plastic surface and showing how easy it is to move any kind of object on top of it due to the charges of static electricity. The effect is easily achieved if the surface is electrically charged by rubbing a towel or a hand on it.[49] The physicist John Taylor has written "It is very likely that electrostatics is all that is needed to explain Alla Vinogradova's apparently paranormal feats."[59]

Metal bending[edit]

See also: Spoon bending
Uri Geller was famous for his spoon bending demonstrations.

Psychics have also claimed the psychokinetic ability to bend metal. Uri Geller was famous for his spoon bending demonstrations, allegedly by PK.[46] Geller has been caught many times using sleight of hand and according to science writer Terence Hines, all his effects have been recreated using conjuring tricks.[60][61]

Jean-Pierre Girard a French psychic has claimed he can bend metal bars by PK. Girard was tested in the 1970s but failed to produce any paranormal effects in scientifically controlled conditions.[62] He was tested on January 19, 1977 during a two-hour experiment in a Paris laboratory. The experiment was directed by the physicist Yves Farge with a magician also present. All of the experiments were negative as Girard failed to make any of the objects move paranormally. He failed two tests in Grenoble in June 1977 with the magician James Randi.[62] He was also tested on September 24, 1977 at a laboratory at the Nuclear Research Centre. Girard failed to bend any bars or change the structure of the metals. Other experiments into spoon bending were also negative and witnesses described his feats as fraudulent. Girard later admitted that he would sometimes cheat to avoid disappointing the public but insisted he still had genuine psychic power.[62] Magicians and scientists have written that he produced all his alleged psychokinetic feats through fraudulent means.[60][63]

Stephen North, a British psychic in the late 1970s, was known for his alleged psychokinetic ability to bend spoons and teleport objects in and out of sealed containers. The British physicist John Hasted tested North in a series of experiments which he claimed had demonstrated psychokinesis, though his experiments were criticized for lack of scientific controls.[64][65] North was tested in Grenoble on 19 December 1977 in scientific conditions and the results were negative.[62] According to James Randi during a test at Birkbeck College North was observed to have bent a metal sample with his bare hands. Randi wrote "I find it unfortunate that [Hasted] never had an epiphany in which he was able to recognize just how thoughtless, cruel, and predatory were the acts perpetrated on him by fakers who took advantage of his naivety and trust."[66]

"PK Parties" were a cultural fad in the 1980s, begun by Jack Houck,[67] where groups of people were guided through rituals and chants to awaken metal-bending powers. They were encouraged to shout at the items of cutlery they had brought and to jump and scream to create an atmosphere of pandemonium (or what scientific investigators called heightened suggestibility). Critics were excluded and participants were told to avoid looking at their hands. Thousands of people attended these emotionally charged parties, and many became convinced that they had bent silverware by paranormal means.[68]

PK parties have been described as a campaign from paranormal believers to convince people through the basis of nonscientific data that psychokinesis exists from personal experience and testimony. The United States National Academy of Sciences has criticized PK parties as the conditions are not reliable for obtaining scientific results and "are just those which psychologists and others have described as creating states of heightened suggestibility."[68]

Ronnie Marcus, an Israeli psychic and claimant of psychokinetic metal bending, was tested in 1994 in scientifically controlled conditions, he failed to produce any paranormal phenomena.[69] According to magicians his alleged psychokinetic feats were sleight of hand tricks. Marcus bent a letter opener by the concealed application of force and a frame-by-frame analysis from the camera showed that he bent a spoon from pressure from his thumb by ordinary, physical means.[70][71]

In religion, mythology and popular culture[edit]

There are written accounts and oral legends of events fitting the concept of psychokinesis dating back to early history, most notably in the stories found in various religions and mythology.

In the Bible, Jesus is described as performing various miracles, such as healing the sick, multiplying bread and fish, walking on water, and turning water into wine, that have been described by parapsychologists as forms of psychokinesis[72][29] while Moses parting of the Red Sea has also been interpreted by parapsychologists as psychokinetic phenomena.[29]

Psychokinesis has been commonly used as a superpower in movies, television, computer games, literature, and other forms of popular culture.[73][74][75] An early example is the 1952 novella Telek by Jack Vance.[76] Notable portrayals of psychokinetic characters include Sissy Spacek as the titular character in the 1976 film Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel of the same name;[77] Ellen Burstyn in the healer-themed film Resurrection (1980);[78] the Jedi[79] and Sith[79] in Star Wars; the Scanners in the film Scanners;[80] and three high school seniors in the 2012 film Chronicle.[81]

Reception[edit]

Evaluation[edit]

There is a broad scientific consensus that PK research, and parapsychology more generally, have not produced a reliable, repeatable demonstration.[12][17][68][16][82][83]

A panel commissioned by the United States National Research Council to study paranormal claims concluded that "despite a 130-year record of scientific research on such matters, our committee could find no scientific justification for the existence of phenomena such as extrasensory perception, mental telepathy or ‘mind over matter’ exercises... Evaluation of a large body of the best available evidence simply does not support the contention that these phenomena exist."[82]

In 1984, the United States National Academy of Sciences, at the request of the US Army Research Institute, formed a scientific panel to assess the best evidence from 130 years of parapsychology. Part of its purpose was to investigate military applications of PK, for example to remotely jam or disrupt enemy weaponry. The panel heard from a variety of military staff who believed in PK and made visits to the PEAR laboratory and two other laboratories that had claimed positive results from micro-PK experiments. The panel criticized macro-PK experiments for being open to deception by conjurors, and said that virtually all micro-PK experiments "depart from good scientific practice in a variety of ways". Their conclusion, published in a 1987 report, was that there was no scientific evidence for the existence of psychokinesis.[68]

Carl Sagan included telekinesis in a long list of "offerings of pseudoscience and superstition" which "it would be foolish to accept (...) without solid scientific data".[84] Nobel Prize laureate Richard Feynman advocated a similar position.[85]

Felix Planer a Professor of electrical engineering has written that if psychokinesis was real then it would be easy to demonstrate by getting subjects to depress a scale on a sensitive balance, raise the temperature of a waterbath which could be measured with an accuracy of a hundredth of a degree centigrade or affect an element in an electrical circuit such as a resistor which could be monitored to better than a millionth of an ampere.[86] Planer writes that such experiments are extremely sensitive and easy to monitor but are not utilized by parapsychologists as they "do not hold out the remotest hope of demonstrating even a minute trace of PK" because the alleged phenomenon is non-existent. Planer has written parapsychologists have to fall back on studies that involve only statistics that are unrepeatable, owing their results to poor experimental methods, recording mistakes and faulty statistical mathematics.[86]

According to Planer "All research in medicine and other sciences would become illusionary, if the existence of PK had to be taken seriously; for no experiment could be relied upon to furnish objective results, since all measurements would become falsified to a greater or lesser degree, according to his PK ability, by the experimenter's wishes." Planer concluded the concept of psychokinesis is absurd and has no scientific basis.[87]

PK hypotheses have also been considered in a number of contexts outside parapsychological experiments. C. E. M. Hansel has written a general objection against the claim for the existence of psychokinesis is that, if it were a real process, its effects would be expected to manifest in situations in everyday life but no such effects have been observed.[88]

Martin Gardner has written that if psychokinesis existed then one would expect players to be able to influence the outcome of gambling games.[89] He gives the example of the "26" dice game played in bars and cabarets in Chicago but year after year the house takings are exactly those predicted by chance.[90] Casino owners have not noted any decrease in profits.[91] Science writer Terence Hines and the philosopher Theodore Schick have written if psychokinesis was possible, then surely one would expect casino incomes to be affected but the earnings are exactly as the laws of chance predict.[92][93]

Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey argues that many experiments in psychology, biology or physics assume that the intentions of the subjects or experimenter do not physically distort the apparatus. Humphrey counts them as implicit replications of PK experiments in which PK fails to appear.[17]

Physics[edit]

The ideas of psychokinesis and telekinesis violate several well-established laws of physics, including the inverse square law, the second law of thermodynamics, and the conservation of momentum;[94][82] because of this, scientists have demanded a high standard of evidence for PK, in line with Marcello Truzzi's dictum "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof".[17][95] When apparent PK can be produced in ordinary ways — by trickery, special effects or by poor experimental design — scientists accept that explanation as more parsimonious than to accept that the laws of physics should be rewritten.[14][16]

Philosopher and physicist Mario Bunge has written that "psychokinesis, or PK, violates the principle that mind cannot act directly on matter. (If it did, no experimenter could trust his readings of measuring instruments.) It also violates the principles of conservation of energy and momentum. The claim that quantum mechanics allows for the possibility of mental power influencing randomizers — an alleged case of micro-PK — is ludicrous since that theory respects the said conservation principles, and it deals exclusively with physical things."[96]

Physicist John Taylor who has investigated parapsychological claims has written an unknown fifth force causing psychokinesis would have to transmit a great deal of energy. The energy would have to overcome the electromagnetic forces binding the atoms together. The atoms would need to respond more strongly to the fifth force while it is operative than to electric forces. Such an additional force between atoms should therefore exist all the time and not during only alleged paranormal occurrences. Taylor wrote there is no scientific trace of such a force in physics, down to many orders of magnitude; thus if a scientific viewpoint is to be preserved the idea of any fifth force must be discarded. Taylor concluded there is no possible physical mechanism for psychokinesis and it is in complete contradiction to established science.[97]

Physicist Sean M. Carroll has written that spoons, like all matter, are made up of atoms and that any movement of a spoon with the mind would involve the manipulation of those atoms through the four forces of nature: strong nuclear force, weak nuclear force, electromagnetic, and gravitational; which would make psychokinesis either some form of one of the aforementioned four forces or a new force that has a billionth the strength of gravity, otherwise it would have been captured in experiments already done, thus leaving no physical force that could possibly account for psychokinesis.[98]

Physicist Robert L. Park has found it suspicious that a phenomenon should only ever appear at the limits of detectability of questionable statistical techniques. He cites this feature as one of Irving Langmuir's indicators of pathological science.[83] Park questioned if mind really could influence matter then it would be easy for parapsychologists to measure such a phenomenon by using the alleged psychokinetic power to deflect a microbalance which would not require any dubious statistics but "the reason, of course, is that the microbalance stubbornly refuses to budge." Park has suggested the reason statistical studies are so popular in parapsychology is because they introduce opportunities for uncertainty and error which are used to support the biases of the experimenter.[83]

Explanations in terms of bias[edit]

Cognitive bias research has suggested that people are susceptible to illusions of PK. These include both the illusion that they themselves have the power, and that events they witness are real demonstrations of PK.[99] For example, Illusion of control is an illusory correlation between intention and external events, and believers in the paranormal have been shown to be more susceptible to this illusion than others.[18][100] Psychologist Thomas Gilovich explains this as a biased interpretation of personal experience. For example, to someone in a dice game willing for a high score, high numbers can be interpreted as "success" and low numbers as "not enough concentration."[82] Bias towards belief in PK may be an example of the human tendency to see patterns where none exist, called the Clustering illusion, which believers are also more susceptible to.[99]

A 1952 study tested for experimenter's bias with respect to psychokinesis. Richard Kaufman of Yale University gave subjects the task of trying to influence eight dice and allowed them to record their own scores. They were secretly filmed, so their records could be checked for errors. Believers in psychokinesis made errors that favored its existence, while disbelievers made opposite errors. A similar pattern of errors was found in J. B. Rhine's dice experiments, which at that time were considered the strongest evidence for PK.[101]

In 1995, Wiseman and Morris showed subjects an unedited videotape of a magician's performance in which a fork bent and eventually broke. Believers in the paranormal were significantly more likely to misinterpret the tape as a demonstration of PK, and were more likely to misremember crucial details of the presentation. This suggests that confirmation bias affects people's interpretation of PK demonstrations.[19] Psychologist Robert Sternberg cites confirmation bias as an explanation of why belief in psychic phenomena persists, despite the lack of evidence:

"Some of the worst examples of confirmation bias are in research on parapsychology (...) Arguably, there is a whole field here with no powerful confirming data at all. But people want to believe, and so they find ways to believe."[102]

Psychologist Daniel Wegner has argued that an introspection illusion contributes to belief in psychokinesis.[103] He observes that in everyday experience, intention (such as wanting to turn on a light) is followed by action (such as flicking a light switch) in a reliable way, but the underlying neural mechanisms are outside awareness. Hence, though subjects may feel that they directly introspect their own free will, the experience of control is actually inferred from relations between the thought and the action. This theory of apparent mental causation acknowledges the influence of David Hume's view of the mind.[103] This process for detecting when one is responsible for an action is not totally reliable, and when it goes wrong there can be an illusion of control. This could happen when an external event follows, and is congruent with, a thought in someone's mind, without an actual causal link.[103]

As evidence, Wegner cites a series of experiments on magical thinking in which subjects were induced to think they had influenced external events. In one experiment, subjects watched a basketball player taking a series of free throws. When they were instructed to visualize him making his shots, they felt that they had contributed to his success.[104]

A 2006 meta-analysis of 380 studies found a small positive effect that can be explained by publication bias.[105]

Magic and special effects[edit]

An advertising poster depicting magician Harry Kellar performing the "Levitation of Princess Karnac" illusion, 1894, U.S. Library of Congress.
See also: Mentalism

Magicians have successfully simulated some of the specialized abilities of psychokinesis, such as object movement, spoon bending, levitation and teleportation.[106] According to Robert Todd Carroll, there are many impressive magic tricks available to amateurs and professionals to simulate psychokinetic powers.[107] Metal objects such as keys or cutlery can be bent using a number of different techniques, even if the performer has not had access to the items beforehand.[108]

According to Richard Wiseman there are a number of ways for faking psychokinetic metal bending (PKMB). These include switching straight objects for pre-bent duplicates, the concealed application of force, and secretly inducing metallic fractures.[109] Research has also suggested that (PKMB) effects can be created by verbal suggestion. On this subject the magician Ben Harris wrote:

"If you are doing a really convincing job, then you should be able to put a bent key on the table and comment, ‘Look, it is still bending’, and have your spectators really believe that it is. This may sound the height of boldness; however, the effect is astounding – and combined with suggestion, it does work."[110]

Between 1979 and 1981, the McDonnell Laboratory for Psychical Research at Washington University reported a series of experiments they named Project Alpha, in which two teenaged male subjects had demonstrated PK phenomena (including metal-bending and causing images to appear on film) under less than stringent laboratory conditions. James Randi eventually revealed that the subjects were two of his associates, amateur conjurers Steve Shaw and Michael Edwards. The pair had created the effects by standard trickery, but the researchers, being unfamiliar with magic techniques, interpreted them as proof of PK.[111]

Prize money for proof of psychokinesis[edit]

Internationally there are individual skeptics of the paranormal and skeptics' organizations who offer cash prize money for demonstration of the existence of an extraordinary psychic power, such as psychokinesis.[112] Prizes have been offered specifically for PK demonstrations, for example businessman Gerald Fleming's offer of £250,000 to Uri Geller if he can bend a spoon under controlled conditions.[113] These prizes remain uncollected by people claiming to possess paranormal abilities.

The James Randi Educational Foundation offers the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge to anyone who claims to be able to produce a paranormal event in a controlled, mutually agreed upon experiment.[114] To date no one has been able to demonstrate their claimed abilities under the testing conditions.[115]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]