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The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks

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The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks

The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks

Does ESP exist? Are some people telepathic? Can your mind by read by someone else? These are all interesting questions, and many would be inclined to answer “yes” to them. But why? David Marks is a professional psychologist at Middlesex University and the head of the Health Research Centre in London. In 1980, he joined Richard Kammann to publish a book exploring parapsychological beliefs and experiments — a book which has become a classic.


Title: The Psychology of the Psychic
Author: David Marks
Publisher: Prometheus Books
ISBN: 1573927988

• Extensive analysis of important parapsychological experiments
• Exploration of why people believe parapsychology claims
• Discussion of why skepticism can be hard to maintain

• Focus on detailed experiments may turn off some readers

• Examines seven distinct types of paranormal claims, with examples from major experiments
• Detailed analysis of why people find some paranormal claims believable
• Explanation of why paranormal ideas seem appealing

Book Review

Kammann died not long after the original edition was published, and Marks has updated their work, adding a wealth of new material. According to Marks, he has always been open to the possibility that paranormal claims like ESP and telekenisis might be genuine. Indeed, he would have been thrilled to discover solid evidence in favor of any of them. Thus this book is designed to explore seven distinct types of paranormal claims, each on the example of some specific research project or self-professed psychic.

These claims include: remote viewing, based upon the experiments performed by Targ and Putoff at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and by the government in their “Star Gate” project between 1985 and 1995; ESP in humans as studied in the ganzfeld experiments performed by Honorton, Harper and Bem; ESP in animals in experiments performed by Sheldrake; people’s ability to detect others staring at them, also in experiments performed by Sheldrake; and ESP, psychokinesis and clairvoyance in Uri Geller in experiments performed by Targ and Putoff.

Just what is the field of parapsychology all about, anyway? Parapsychological phenomena can generally be broken down into four general categories: Telepathy, Clairvoyance Precognition, and Telekinesis. What is interesting, and what makes parapsychology so difficult, is that each of these is essentially defined in a negative fashion. Each is defined as the ability to perform some act or acquire some knowledge in the absence of any known scientific laws or means.

So long as the possibility of some known scientific or normal means exists, parapsychological phenomena have not been proven. Unfortunately, Marks was to become very disappointed in his quest for evidence of such paranormal phenomena. He may have been willing to believe, but his interest led him to becoming a skeptic and eventually a disbeliever. As he describes it:

    No matter how long and hard you look, ESP is always lurking just around the next corner. When you get there, it is just around the next corner. Some things never change. So elusive, evanescent, and evasive is ESP that you never quite find it.

This has been the experience of a great many researchers — they are sure that positive results are possible and they are sure that these paranormal abilities really must exist. It may be unfortunate that the relevant evidence never quite appears, but that is no deterrent to continued belief and continued study.

The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks

The Psychology of the Psychic, by David Marks

Most books on parapsychology focus primarily on specific experiments and specific people who claim to have unusual powers. This is only to be expected — because parapsychology lacks any theoretical basis from which the alleged events can be explained, all that is left is explanations of various research projects. The hope is that, by showing material which indicates events happening more than would be statistically expected by chance, persuasive arguments can be created (or, with skeptical books, critiques of these experiments are designed to show why they should not be persuasive).

Marks certainly follows in this tradition, but the title is after all about the psychology of the psychic, leading the reader to believe that the psychological processes behind belief will get center stage. This is not quite true, but there is a decent amount of such material, and it constitutes some of the most interesting portions of the book.

» Next: Why Do People Believe in the Paranormal?...

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