“Extrasensory deception” (ESP)


On March 12, 1951, Dennis the Menace made its first appearance in U.S. newspapers. The same day, another comic named Dennis the Menace ran for the first time in U.K. newspapers. The comics were unrelated, and the artists were strangers to each other. Few people would ascribe any psychic meaning to this Double Dennis Debut, but it’s another matter when a stunning coincidence is personal.

In high school, I had a dream that our girls’ basketball team lost its sub-state final by a point. The next month, it happened. Another time, I dreamt an out-of-town acquaintance came into my place of work wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt. This occurred later in the week. These were interesting experiences, but claiming psychic ability would require me ignoring the thousands of dreams that haven’t come true. In the case of the nocturnal vision about being chased by a spiked ball-wielding Mr. Clean, I’m most grateful.

Extrasensory Perception is an umbrella term, but it most commonly refers to telepathy (being able to read minds), and precognition (seeing the future), especially when it’s personal. For instance, the blue-and-white shirt episode would be characterized as precognition, while foreseeing an avalanche halfway around the world would be dubbed clairvoyance.

Someone may be daydreaming about a college friend they haven’t seen for a while when that friend calls. The tendency for some is to ascribe a higher meaning to this, or to think you two share a special connection. But this overlooks all the times you’ve thought about the friend when they didn’t call, or the calls you got when you weren’t thinking about them.

There are six billion people doing hundreds of things and having hundreds of thoughts every day. So there are untold chances that stunning coincidences will occur, and this requires no supernatural explanation.

Still, the urge to believe can be strong and some have attempted to put a scientific spin on it. Different ESP tests have been devised, with the Ganzfeld experiments being the most well-known. Here, the subject lies in a room with dim red light, white noise, and halved ping pong balls over their eyes. This comes in handy when needing to make a cosmic connection while playing table sports by strobe light.

In these experiments, a sender attempts to telepathically send messages to the subject, who speaks about what he or she is envisioning. There are major issues with how these tests are conducted. They are scheduled for 30 minutes, but the subjects are allowed to start or stop whenever they want. They can start over or stop if it’s going poorly and can stop after a run of “hits.” This takes the idea of experiment, drops it on its head, spins it around, and tosses it in the dumpster, halved ping pong balls and all. In legitimate studies, scientists conduct structured laboratory experiments under tightly-controlled, specified conditions.

Even more egregious is the selective recording of only desirable results. The justification given is that ESP abilities ebb and flow. This would be like a biologist on the Savannah only counting nocturnal animals during the day, then declaring them to be endangered.

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