Psi (Ψ, ψ) is a Greek letter that today names frat houses and also denotes the idea of paranormal phenomena.
Coined by Bertold P. Wiesner, “psi” was appropriated in 1942 by Drs. Robert Thouless to indicate ESP.¹
Psi later became an umbrella term for a range of alleged abilities. These include telepathy, precognition, clairvoyance, psychokinesis, near-death experiences, reincarnation, apparitions and other unconventional phenomena involving subtle sensing, near and at a distance.
Around the turn of the century, psi was popularized by the TV program Psi Factor, hosted by Dan Aykroyd. The show dramatized the pros and cons of purported psi abilities. Several other popular TV shows about psi have come and gone. The idea has become more mainstream in sci-fi and fantasy, along with the notion of psychological time travel.
George Noory hosts a popular radio show, Coast to Coast AM, where fringe and more credible callers phone in to talk about psi experiences, insights and most other things paranormal.
Psi remains controversial. Skeptics say no reliable scientific evidence supports it. Believers argue that psi is not amenable to science as we know it. The psychologist Carl Jung claimed that some scientific studies gave significant results. But Jung’s claim is debatable.²
More recently, a new breed of thinkers are calling for a reworked science that would
- assess spiritual and paranormal reports as potentially legitimate data for scientific study
- develop a holistic approach that would extend our understanding of science but not lapse into scientism
Many religious people question the ethics of psi. Psi may exist, they argue, but we need to ask if enhanced abilities are in line with God’s will. This question implies its opposite; namely, that evil may endow – or seem to endow – individuals with psi.
Psychiatry views psi in terms of mental health and illness. While not absolutely negating the possibility of psi, most psychiatrists would probably say the brain creates some kind of hallucination, giving rise to the false belief that psychic abilities exist.
Catholicism’s take on psi reveals a curious mix of traditional religion and 21st century psychiatry. Exorcism prayers may be recited over those deemed possessed or obsessed by an evil spirit. Alternately, afflicted individuals may be advised to consult a psychiatrist.
Instead of resorting to a black and white scenario like satanic influence vs. mental illness, psi errors and questionable beliefs about psi could be explained by a combination of psychological, social and spiritual factors.
Effective treatments could best involve spirituality, psychiatry, along with the humanities and arts to sort through cultural prejudices – and lies – that could contribute to personal issues.
Lasting solutions to psychological unsoundness would ideally involve a multi-disciplinary approach. But this is rare in most corners of the world. Maybe we’re just not “there” as a species. I’m not sure. But it seems that many religious people, especially fundamentalists, come down heavily on psi. They are convinced psi is of the devil. Meanwhile, the psychiatrist balks if we suggest an angel, demon or dead person might influence us from the other side.
However, psi need not be contrary to religion or psychological therapy. Catholic saints, for instance, reportedly have a gift for “reading hearts”—that is, intuitively knowing what others are thinking, feeling or experiencing.
And belief in organized religious teachings is “sane” according to psychiatry (which some say is a politically charged and culturally relative outlook).
So saying that psi is always of the devil or, on the other hand, a mere psychological fantasy seems a superficial reaction to countless reports that just might be pointing toward the next step in human evolution.
¹ Thouless, R. H. (1942) cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psi_%28parapsychology%29, “Experiments on paranormal guessing”. British Journal of Psychology, 33, 15-27.
² Clark, Michael. Synchronicity and poststructuralism: C. G. Jung’s secularization of the supramundane, 1997: pp. 72, 119-122, 130, 156-157, 177-179.
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