Extrasensory perception (ESP)

Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment.
Example of a subject in a Ganzfeld experiment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Extrasensory perception (ESP) is a type of alleged psi phenomena. ESP is sometimes used as an umbrella term for many types of alleged paranormal phenomena but it properly refers to the ideas of telepathy (reading another’s thoughts) and clairvoyance (‘seeing’ without the eyes).

Some Fundamentalist, Protestant and Catholic Christians have a knee-jerk reaction to this idea, saying ESP is the workings of Satan, a delusion or evidence of mental illness. However, in Catholicism some of the more advanced saints claim to have been given similar gifts, usually called the reading of hearts. Indeed, some Catholic mystics claim to know another’s thoughts and/or feel their emotions near or at a distance with no observable cues.

Reading of Hearts. The knowledge of the secret thoughts of others or of their internal state without communication is known as reading of hearts. The certain knowledge of the secret thoughts of others is truly super-natural, since the devil has no access to the spiritual faculties of men and no human being can know the mind of another unless it is in some way communicated. But knowledge of the secrets of another’s heart may be conjectured by the devil and transmitted to a person, or they may be surmised by a deluded individual who takes his conjectures to be supernatural illuminations.¹

From the above it should be clear that Catholics – or, at least, sane Catholics – are cautious when it comes to mysticism. Central to Catholic mysticism is the idea of discernment or “the discernment of spirits.” Discernment is said to be a gift and acquired ability that enables one to differentiate supernatural experiences and abilities that come from God from those that do not.

¹ AUMANN, J. “Mystical Phenomena.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 10. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 105-109. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Apr. 2012.

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