science

Surveys of Psi Experiences

What proportion of the population would you guess has had at least one real telepathic experience? Or a premonition of an event which could not have been anticipated rationally? What percentage of people, in our highly rational societies, accept the reality of psi, as opposed to rejecting it?

Since the beginning of the century, scientists in different countries have used questionnaires and surveys to assess a variety of questions about the everyday experience of psi. This is the "wide-angle" view of real-life psi. It involves quantitative analyses of large populations, broad regions, numerous events; it provides an overview of general tendencies and global patterns.

The first and perhaps most extensive of surveys was undertaken in the 1890s by Henry Sidgwick, a founding member of the [British] Society for Psychical Research (SPR), along with a number of its other key members. Sidgwick hoped to respond to a criticism which had been made of "Phantasms of the Living.” Critics claimed that "seeing" someone else in a hallucinatory vision was a fairly common experience, and that deaths, obviously, occur all the time- so cases in which people saw someone's "phantasm" at the time of that person's death were simply chance coincidences, and not triggered by a telepathic contact.

The SPR’s "Census of Hallucinations" essentially sought to respond to this using statistical techniques. Their questionnaire asked people whether they had ever had the impression of seeing, hearing, or being touched by someone who was not, in fact, there - in other words, whether they had ever had an " apparitional hallucination." Based on the first 17,000 responses received, Sidgwick - aided by about 400 helpers - found nearly 2300 respondents who reported having had some such form of "hallucinatory" experience (typically, visual).

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