When Haley Osment whispered the now famous line "I see dead people"
in M. Night Shyamalan's movie Sixth Sense, it sent a shiver down the spine of an audience that was held spellbound in a willing suspension of disbelief. There are however, many who seriously believe that it is quite possible for human beings to exercise the psychic sense and delve into hitherto unknown realms such as the superconsciousness involving soul, subliminal self and transcendent ego.
The "Sixth Sense" is a colloquial term that denotes the ability to receive or send information outside the realm of the five senses of touch, sight, sound, smell and taste. It is a blanket term that covers a whole gamut of experiences of Extra Sensory Perception
(ESP) ranging from intuition and communing with God (deemed a supernatural being by many), to the netherworld of dark secrets like voodoo and black magic. In between the two extremes are interspersed other versions of ESP like psychokinesis, remote viewing, telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance and déjà vu
, to mention a few.
The German researcher Dr. Rudolf Tischner used the term "sixth sense" in his book "Telepathy and Clairvoyance" written in German in 1920. It was later published in English in 1925. Intuition "It is a knowing, a sensing that is beyond the conscious understanding—a gut feeling. It is not a pseudo science." -
In everyday life our intuition leads us to believe certain things without being able to give proof or reasons for such belief. Extensive research in intuition supports the theory that everyone is born with a certain ESP capability, and that some may possess it more than others. Recent studies have recommended that honing intuitive skills will help people make snap judgments.
Owing to the fact that we cannot always justify such beliefs, the study of intuition, touching upon the supernatural and the paranormal, generates great interest.
Parapsychology and Psi
Parapsychology is a branch of psychology that attempts to demonstrate ESP using scientific methods. Parapsychologists use the collective term Psi (pronounced sigh
) to refer to both ESP and psychokinesis (the ability to move objects by psychic power).
The term was coined by B.P. Weisner and used by R.H. Thouless to describe the ESP phenomenon in his article written in 1942 titled, "The Present Position of Experimental Research into Telepathy and Related Phenomena," (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
, 47, part 166, pp. 1-19) and later by Dr. J. B Rhine (1948 Reach of the Mind)
, Professor of Parapsychology at Duke University, North Carolina, who is credited with the first serious paranormal research which he has painstakingly recorded.
According to Dr. Rhine ESP experiments were beginning to change the way people thought the mind perceived information. Early experiments in ESP by Dr.Rhine and several others were critized for "unsound statistics" and the probability of sensory cues influencing the subject during the experiments. Fact vs Fiction "For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don't believe, no proof is possible." Stuart Chase
Most of the Psi experiences have only anecdotal evidences, which make the claims highly subjective. Parapsychologists have attempted to demonstrate Psi, especially telepathy, in controlled settings with mixed results. The Ganzfeld ("total field" in German) experiments conducted between 1974 and 1981 and the subsequently improved autoGanzfeld experiments conducted between 1983 and 1989 tried to show evidence of energy transfer, telepathy or mind-to-mind communication
and similar ESP experiences that defy known physical or biological mechanisms.
The experiments involved removing sensory distractions in order to promote telepathic communication between subjects, called senders and receivers, who were kept isolated from each other. The 55% positive result was good news to believers while skeptics found serious flaws in the methodology of the experiments.
Likewise, the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR
) lab, started in the US in 1979 to find evidence for psychokinesis,
closed down in February 2007 in the face of a "yawning" scientific community that demanded rock solid proof of Psi. Those who claimed to move or bend objects with mind power were found indulging in tricks like blowing on the objects, using static charges and threads to move the same.
The ESP Challenge to Neurological Science
Though recent studies are gathering increasing evidence to demonstrate the existence of ESP, the nature of evidence makes it difficult to explain or quantify an ESP phenomenon by existing physical laws. ESP requires a reading into the mind (consciousness) and the brain as two separate entities. Concurrently, recent research in quantum physics points to the existence of a "parallel, nonmaterial universe." So some parapsychologists look forward to a time when scientists in the West may have to acknowledge the Oriental mystic concept "that an extrasensory force exists in another realty, and intersects and integrates with the physical world."
Prophecy and the God Factor
Sixth Sense goes beyond factors like time, space, history, geography, intelligence, education or age. It is best exemplified in prophesy which is an important demonstration of ESP. Prophesy is an integral part of major religions - Biblical texts and Vedic verses bear witness to seers who foretold of spiritual changes that would make serious impact on the times and lives of humankind all over the world.
On the secular arena, although Nostradamus' predictions about Napoleon, Hitler, nuclear submarines and World War II have proved astonishingly true, prophesying is yet to be ratified by Science.
From time immemorial, religions have attempted to streamline human behavior and aspirations claiming directions from a Supernatural Being called God. It is true that the world has seen some great spiritual leaders who have left immortal messages to guide us into becoming better human beings. But of late, in societies where religious practices are a way of life, some practitioners of religion who claim to speak for God and commune with "their God" have sparked off communal tensions—even religious wars, fought to defend "Gods", to such an extent that someone exasperatedly exclaimed, "Will the real God please stand up? Enough is enough." Voodoo, Black Magic and the "Dark Powers"
Prophecy, clairvoyance, pre-cognition and 'hauntings' continue to fascinate people.
In ancient cultures it was believed there were people who could invoke spirits of "another world" to direct the lives of people in this world especially during disastrous times of Nature's fury, drought, famine or sickness.
Voodoo (derived from the African 'Vodou' meaning spirit or divine creature) is a tribal religious tradition similar to that of the Native American culture that involved simple honoring of "nature spirits", spirits of their ancestors, using herbal medicine and faith healing
that is passed on down generations from time immemorial. Voodoo as we understand it today has been largely sensationalized by books and movies as black magic involving animal and human sacrifices to activate zombies and evil spirits.
Even to this day there are people in-not-so-primitive societies, known as "mediums
", who claim to communicate or facilitate communication with spirits of the dead or other non-human, non-corporeal entities. The mediums claim to either go into a trance
to communicate with a spirit or allow a spirit to use their body to achieve the spirit's desired purpose.
Psychic Surgery and ESP SpoofsThe elusive, mystic nature of ESP lends itself to be misused by unscrupulous people
who make sham claims of psychic powers to fool the gullible public. Psychic surgery—a type of make-believe surgery performed by a non-medical healer, is a money-spinner all over the world, especially in countries like Brazil and the Philippines. Despite debunking proof exposing animal blood squirts from hand-held balloons, chicken livers and hearts passed off as parts of human organs to gullible patients, and even if patients go home to die at a later date without proper medical attention, psychic surgery continues to be big business to this day.
James Randi and Harry Houdini, both brilliant stage magicians and skeptics and a few others like them made it their mission to challenge anyone who claimed to perform a paranormal feat that defied scientific knowledge. James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) offers a prize of US $ 1 million to anyone who can successfully demonstrate evidence of any supernatural, paranormal, occult or any other psychic power under previously agreed-upon scientific testing criteria. The search goes on...
Though doctors declare certain recoveries and healings as medical marvels or "miraculous", beyond the purview of existing knowledge of medical science, the direct operation of a supernatural force in healing a person is yet to be ratified by Science. To this day privately funded laboratories in the US and the UK continue to explore the transcendental or "spiritual" aspects of human beings. Scientists who criticize parapsychology argue that "extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence
" and challenge believers to reproduce ESP and other psychic experiences under specified conditions. Until that happens the search to establish the operation of the sixth sense goes on...