Is ESP Real? Harvard Scientists Say They Have Settled The Debate
    By News Staff | January 3rd 2008 06:22 PM | 32 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Psychologists at Harvard University using neuroimaging say they have resolved the century-old debate over the existence of Extra-Sensory Perception(ESP) - and it doesn't exist.

    The research was led by Samuel Moulton, a graduate student in the department of psychology in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University with Stephen Kosslyn, John Lindsley Professor of Psychology at Harvard and was published in the Jan. 2008 issue of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. The scientists used brain scanning to test whether individuals have knowledge that cannot be explained through normal perceptual processing.

    "If any ESP processes exist, then participants' brains should respond differently to ESP and non-ESP stimuli," explains Moulton. “Instead, results showed that participants’ brains responded identically to ESP and non-ESP stimuli, despite reacting strongly to differences in how emotional the stimuli were and showing subtle, stimulus-related effects.”

    Nearly half of the adults in the United States believe in the existence of ESP, which includes telepathy (direct knowledge of another person's thoughts), clairvoyance (direct knowledge of remote events), and precognition (direct knowledge of the future). People commonly report unexplained knowledge of a loved one's death or a telephone caller's identity, for example, and attribute this knowledge to paranormal mental processing.

    The U.S. government lent credence to such claims when it revealed that it had spent millions of dollars recruiting and training psychic spies during the Cold War. Furthermore, research studies have been reported that appear to support the existence of ESP, including an influential series of experiments analyzed by psychologist Daryl Bem of Cornell University. These studies, however, gave little insight into the mechanisms -- normal or paranormal -- that produced the anomalous results. Perhaps more telling, others failed to replicate these results.

    To develop a better test of ESP, the authors decided to develop a new method, which directly addressed the presumed source of ESP: namely, the brain. They argue that because the brain enables perception and stores information -- even events people don't consciously perceive or information they can't consciously remember -- it can offer a much more comprehensive test for ESP than self-report or behavior.

    "The brain shows a suppressed response to stimuli that a person has seen before, even when those stimuli were presented subliminally, so the person wasn't consciously aware of having seen them; furthermore, it shows an enhanced response to stimuli that a person is expecting," says Moulton. "Because knowledge and expectation bias brain activation, neuroimaging offers us a uniquely powerful test of subtle perceptual or cognitive processes."

    To study whether or not ESP exists, Moulton and Kosslyn presented participants with two types of visual stimuli: ESP stimuli and non-ESP stimuli. These two types of stimuli were identical with one exception: ESP stimuli were not only presented visually, but also were presented telepathically, clairvoyantly, and precognitively to participants.

    To present stimuli telepathically, the researchers showed the photographs to the participants' identical twin, relative, romantic partner, or friend, who was seated in another room. To present stimuli clairvoyantly, the researchers displayed the photographs on a distant computer screen. And to present stimuli precognitively, the researchers showed participants the photographs again in the future.

    Does this conclusively prove that ESP does not exist" "No," says Moulton. "You cannot affirm the null hypothesis. But at the same time, some null results are stronger than others. This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP. Perhaps most important, this study offers scientists a new way to study ESP that avoids the pitfalls of past approaches."

    This research was supported by the Bial Foundation and the Richard Hodgson Memorial Fund.


    Harry Dale Huffman
    This article tells how they presented "ESP stimuli" telepathically, clairvoyantly, and precognitively, but it doesn't tell how they presented them visually.  Indeed, it seems an oxymoron to even talk about visually presenting "ESP stimuli".  Until they define what they mean by "ESP stimuli", that allows them to be presented visually as well as by extrasensory means, this report is useless.
    It does tell how they were presented visually and it would not make a difference anyway. I have been in studies like this and the results were the same. Visual stimuli is visual stimuli. Once the brain has a picture of something there it can recall in much detail the object. Therefore, nearly any visual presentation would sufice.

    Harvard is full of nothing but idiots who cannot think their way out of a paper bag; I would disregard this whole article,and tell the writers they are full of shit. You're right,it's not only an oxymoron,they cannot prove a damn thing; forget them!

    Of course the results would prove that esp is not real. These senses don't come up everyday, they wouldn't pertain to anything shown on a monitor. For instance when it comes to telepathy no one is going to think "Oh, even though I was not with my spouse this morning I know he had 2 bowls of cereal and half a banana for breakfast, I just know." These things happen when the body is able to feel emotions more than usual such as a death or a wonderful memory, and it happens when one person is thinking of that emotional thing and the other person is open to perceiving it. Sometimes things can't be explained by science and diagrams and experiments, but that certainly does not mean it does not exist.

    Perhaps ESP is related to someone's intuition and emotional connections to others. How do you measure that? I think they missed the boat on this one and definately have not had personal experiences with ESP. Good or excellent intuition is a highly developed and still an unexplained 'gift' or skill. It runs it my family between all family members. Some of us have chosen to develop it, some have not. This includes deaths, illnesses, births, and other dramatic events that happen to one person and another knows immediately....hours before we get the phone call. Details of the event are also clear such as what exactly caused the incident. So, perhaps it is something that may also be passed on, like instinct. Good luck trying to put that in a box or on a graph! perhaps it is a part of human evolution that doesn't involve changes in the brain chemistry or waves?

    Gerhard Adam
    Unfortunately even when ESP is supposed to have worked, it results in fairly mundane sorts of information.  While it is certainly important to know if a family member is ill, or someone dies, it is the kind of information that doesn't actually make any difference in the knowing.

    Even the idea that animals possess these abilities is unsubstantiated, because we're so prone to recognizing coincidences, it's difficult to assess how such data would be transmitted.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Actually it makes a great difference to know especially when time is of the essence or that person that is in need of help is not able to get to the phone. Perhaps it required also imagination to see the application of this development of the human evolution. Obviously, the military is interested in its use for their own reasons. My point is, assuming that so many people that have these experiences are not crazy and it not irrelevant, that the scientists are approaching it from the wrong perspective. It is, I believe, something more closely related to a highly developed sense of emotional intelligence, intuition, instinct, and empathy. There is research suggesting that some people, like CEOs are able to quickly absorb a lot of information and come to a succinct conclusion to determine their actions and this is related to intuition and perhaps their reasoning which may be related to a particular type of brain activity. Just like when artists work and their alpha brain waves change. Perhaps it is temporary and fleeting and that is not a parameter of the research that was taken into consideration, or the right conditions were not provided, or they were looking in the wrong place! To be truly scientific, Gerhard, you have to have an open mind and not assume that your point of view is everyone elses.

    Gerhard Adam

    It's not a question of having an open mind, it's a question of whether there is any evidence to suggest that some people have some intrinsic advantage by having access to information that isn't available to anyone else.  I have never seen anything that suggests such a thing and while I can't claim to have witnessed every possible circumstance, I think that the general rule at this point is skepticism rather than embracing unsubstantiated claims.

    Your point about looking in the wrong place, or not the right circumstances begs the question.  If there is something there, then it must manifest in some fashion.  If there is nothing different or unique about the brain activities then, the only reasonable conclusion is that nothing has taken place.

    Mundus vult decipi
    if an idea, especially one that concerns the existence or non existence of another idea, exists for a large group of people- half of them, if idiot white coat man is right- then that idea does exist it.
    our thoughts form the world
    and if just one more than half the people in the world believe in their idea then that is reality by majority verdict science proves that esp does exist because scientists are part of the "i dont believe in it" control group, science is about "esp" in a way and these "scientists" are out to prove instinct and intuition and the more ethereal aspects of the human character dont exist, they are there own proof of idiocy, theres something divine and otherworldly about the big movements in their own discipline- an intangible beauty in e=mc2 and if more than half of them agree with this then ive proven the existence of esp",hey heres an idea mr "science" and i use the term loosely here, maybe you cant prove the unprovable or disprove people who believe in something esoteric. to try to answer something like this using a brain scanner is a waste of this sad unfeeling humans time not to mention all the folk with the brain tumours cos they couldnt get a scan.
    some scientists are cracked thats all this proves.
    heres tomorrows headline
    if we let them carry on feeding us this crap they may well be right!
    oh im off to look for a wooden stick using a metal detector later anyone want to join me when we dont find it we can prove it didnt exist! thatll make sense.
    i love science but these medical fuckwits are crazy,

    Haha I love the analogy of trying to find a wooden stick with a metal detector, funny and very true... clever way to explain.

    Hi I agree this is an exciting topic. Jessie, Nadine and Harry Huffmann please contact me or anyone else with more info on the subject or to discuss it. my email is

    The research makes an assumption that is probably not true, in the claim that ESP experiences should express a different type of brain activity than non ESP experiences.

    Related science was discussed in Gerhard's series on free will and determinism.

    The inescapable facts are that our brains produce radio waves of length about equal to the distance between our ears (micro waves), and those waves go every where in space with a very small intensity. Also inescapable is the fact that brain waves from other people are continually passing through our brains and interacting with our thoughts. All of these things can be measured.

    Scientific research into the brain wave interactions and interferences first came to my attention more than 20 years ago. Cray super computers were used with 200 germanium processors running 30 gigahertz on faint signals from super cooled phased array antennas, to measure and map brain waves and reactions to brain waves.

    I don't know how far that research progressed, but the research center that was doing the work now offers a commercial line of products from it's Department Of Human Behavior Modification.

    There is a sport of sharing brain waves (privately with close friends) using commercial hardware and software for recreational use, and a religion of sharing brain waves with software that does not require additional hardware.

    The conclusion I got from the earlier research program, was that our brain waves are unique to the shapes of the convolutes in our brains, and everyone has a different geometry. So for the most part our brains automatically ignore the interference. Also our brains operate at a lower efficiency when there is interference, but they automatically compensate by changing frequencies.

    The fact that a brain is being monitored causes it to operate differently.

    When there are no clear microwave channels available, the non essential parts of our thinking shuts down, leaving the resources to concentrate on essential items. Our essential thoughts appear to be more firmly established in biology and electro chemistry, and less susceptible to radio interference.

    By comparison the recent results from Harvard appear to be far behind the times, in the design of experiments, and the assumptions upon which they depend.

    Now everyone should realize that we continually cope with a lot of input from Extra Sensory sources, and our response to it is a normal brain function that every one uses routinely, without thinking about it.

    The quantum mechanical effect from a Sum Of Paths calculation predicts a low level of continual Extra Sensory input from past and future events. Our brains ignore all of this by averaging a number of cycles where the quantum effects cancel out.

    There is a well established conventional science to explain ESP in theory, and some experimental evidence for and against a physical significance. The recent Harvard report doesn't really add any thing useful to the discussion, because it depended on a wrong assumption.

    Metal hats were offered for sale about 5 years ago, to protect against brain wave interference.

    A marketing manager asked the technical staff for advice in the place I was working. The scientific response was that the metal hat would act as an antennae unless it was grounded.

    If the hat was grounded it would act as a lightning rod.

    Marketing decided not to invest. in metal hats.

    Fred Phillips
    "If any ESP processes exist, then participants' brains should respond
    differently to ESP and non-ESP stimuli," explains Moulton. “Instead,
    results showed that participants’ brains responded identically to ESP
    and non-ESP stimuli, despite reacting strongly to differences in how
    emotional the stimuli were and showing subtle, stimulus-related
    Can you make any sense out of that? Neither can I, and no pun intended.

    1. "Brains should respond." Two paragraphs later, the article notes the brain is only the "presumed" locus of ESP.

    2. "Participants' brains responded identically to ESP and non-ESP stimuli..." Duh, if there's no effect, their brains should respond not at all to the ESP stimulus. Whatever an ESP stimulus is.

    3. And without knowing what an ESP stimulus is, as other commenters have noted, how can one do an experiment?

    4. "showing subtle, stimulus-related effects." That seems to say the brain showed an effect in response the the "ESP stimulus," contrary to the researcher's main claim.

    I'm not arguing for ESP here, just for clear statement of experimental protocol, and for rigor in stating results. This claim is so murky, the researcher might just as well have said, "I'm from Harvard, so I must be right."
    in 2002 experimenting with mushroom and psylocibin, its psychedelic chemical that sends your brain into a "third eye" state of mind i experienced telepathy, the transfer of mental thoughts to another person. to top off this event , he was not under the influence of said drug , i was communicating through thoughts, this in turn scared him, and he explained this to be a paranormal event, having to do with spirits having malevolent forces and meddling between a drugged person and a true believer of such activities.. to this day i believe this to have happened , do not believe i can do it without being drugged induced, or am rather compelled to try it with someone else, as this event caused distance between us, we no longer communicate and know of eachothers life and events. bottom line, i believe esp is real , just not harnessed by our brains , we can push our brain to inmeasureable boundaries when our brains are exposed to different chemicals that activate or disactivate parts of our brains , probably a combination of both.

    In the first paragraph it says that the debate is settled and ESP doesn't exist. But, in the last paragraph Moulton answers, "No" when asked if this conclusively proves the nonexistence of ESP. This article just goes back and forth on itself. Pick a side and stick to it!!

    How does one prove a negative?   That's exactly what he says - "You cannot affirm the null hypothesis."    
    Great....if ESP doesn't exist then it must be ordinary sensory perception I'm glad that's cleared up Aitch
    I talked to a very noted anthropologist,who has lived with primitive people,who do not have our type of science; she said(and she has a very good reputation for science,and research)that these primitive tribes often have a type of ESP,and they use it in their ordinary life.They do use emotions,intuition,and she says,they are not crazy,hallucinating,or imagine it. What she says it is,as far as her studies can tell, are very basic intutitions and emotional perceptions that we all have.Ancient man had all these emotions and powers of intution,and he did not ignore them.However,she says, in modern life,we dismiss them all,and supress them. We purposefully supress all our instincts that we used to use,to keep us safe,and tell us things. However, primitive man does not do that; he needs all his instincts to be sharp,and useful,and they still are,for them.

    The problem with white people, in very civilized conditions,is that we've been taught to ignore all our old,basic instincts,and these tribal people have not. And,they still use them. She also says,in her books,that we have science and "witch doctors"(scientists) who's job it is,to deny all other types of "science" that do not fit the mold of white, civilized western man. She is right. As long as our "witch doctors" are determined that THEIR SCIENCE IS THE ONLY SCIENCE, of course our "witch doctors" are going to disbelieve any other type of phenomenon. Like the tribal "witch doctors", who refuse to believe our western science and medicine, our "witch doctors " have closed their minds to anything else but western science,and decided that nothing else exsists,and anything else except that, is heresy. They are exactly like the "witch doctors" of tribes, who refuse to believe in photography, atom bombs,or electricity; because it is not in their "science," it is against the rules,and does not exist.

    So it is with western science; it is dead set against finding anything else that exists, except for the strict rules of our science. Anything else is forbidden. There is no way you will ever get scientists or stupid Harvard idiots to ever get real tests,or ever have open minds; they have already decided none of that stuff, esp, exists,so it does not. Like the people who believe that the world is flat,and rides on the back of a huge turtle, our western scientists refuse to believe in anything else,but their own rules and laws. Even if bats and witches flew our of their butts,they would say that nothing happened,and they did not see or hear a thing. these are the same people who believed that if a ship sailed far enough on the ocean,it would come to the end of the world,and fall off. Harvard idiots are not any smarter than the dumb idiots who believe that "Wall St. is magical",and that "The Dow Jones is inspired by God,and is the height of civilization".

    Do not pay attention to them; if they are so smart,why do we still have all the problems in the US,and a bad economy,and war,and homelessness,poverty,and insanity? If they are so smart,why have they not solved any basic problems of mankind? These are the same idiots who believe that the earth is the center of the universe,and their science is the ONLY SCIENCE. And, as far as Harvard knowing what they are talking about, consider that the leaders of the US usually attend that school,and they are tremendous dolts. The only thing that "Harvard" can assure us,is that they have lots of money,and nothing to show for it.

    Though I would love to see some substanital evidence for or against ESP, (other than my own experiences) I must deem this study completely useless. ESP is not something that can be quantified, studied, etc. Personally, I only have vague theories on the subject, but I think I believe in ESP. How else could I explain writing an identical character sketch of someone I would not meet for months? (And by identical, I mean that his build, personality traits, etc. were exactly the same. He even had the same name...) And just knowing what was going to happen, even if that event were completely random?

    "but I think I believe in ESP."

    Well, you can believe in the Tooth Fairy if all the evidence you need is 'not something that can be quantified, studied, etc.'   So the explaination is that the character sketch was done by the Tooth Fairy controlling your actions.   Fine by me.  ESP still doesn't exist, though, just because you believe in it, or I would believe I had a billion dollars and buy a big trampoline for my office.
    Gerhard Adam
    How else could I explain writing an identical character sketch of someone I would not meet for months? (And by identical, I mean that his build, personality traits, etc. were exactly the same. He even had the same name...)
    There lies the problem.  Would an independent observer conclude that these character sketches were actually identical?  The problem with your scenario is that it creates far more questions/problems than it solves.  For your example of ESP to be true, it would require that everything in the world is pre-ordained and we are simply hapless victims that can't do anything to affect outcomes. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    They said "This is the best evidence to date against the existence of ESP."
    If this is the best, then in my humble opinion it is weak.
    Thomas Edison found 10,000 ways that a light bulb will not work.
    Imagine if he had stopped at 9,999 and said the "..the evidence shows that a light bulb cannot exists..." ?!!

    Gerhard Adam
    Thomas Edison found 10,000 ways that a light bulb will not work.
    Bad example.  Edison was working on fact that electricity existed, so it was a matter of coming up with the proper engineering to exploit it.  Using your logic there is no basis for ever stopping a query simply because the answer today happens to be no.

    There is not now, nor has there ever been a theory that suggests that ESP exists, and there is no evidence to suggest that there is a principle that can be exploited to achieve it.  Therefore you're comparing apples to oranges and have missed the point.
    Mundus vult decipi
    My family member was admitted to the hospital. I was called that day to expect her death to be near. I was up late the next night and it's a quick feeling - I knew she was passing. I stayed awake until the middle of the night thinking about it and the exact time I felt it. My mother called the next am to tell me she had died - I almost spoke up and told her the time it happened. Her recorded death was 35 min. later than the feeling I received. This was the 3rd occasion I felt this with a family member. Another was exact time and the last was 20 min. after recorded time of death. It's like 'getting hit over the head' with a thought that wasn't there a moment before. The two others were years ago. I can tell you with the last one that it was a one time event since it was so current. I don't know what it is or why it happens. I am well educated and do not believe in 'new age' stuff & have never even spent a dime on it. All I can say is there seems to be something happening when it's a very emotional event. I am not surprised this study came up empty handed. Seems like they expected people to react to ordinary things. It might be more like a switch where it's either on or off and it takes quite a bit of force to turn it on. Expecting the death of a loved one might be enough to cause it to turn on.

    Sure, it just can't be science, though.   You have a story similar to plenty of other people but the plural of anecdote is still not data.   If such a thing exists we are a long way from finding it and the results so far are well below a placebo effect, making it unlikely to be a real thing.
    I will agree, we are a long way from finding out what it is. But look at the oddness of Quantum Physics & how light and time can be manipulated. One would think all of that is crazy science and never possible.
    If the results are below a placebo effect maybe it's not because it doesn't exist, it might be the researchers are not looking in the right place. Even in medicine, you have to be looking in the right place for correct diagnosis or else you can come up with a wrong diagnosis or none at all. Thus leaving the patient to think they are well when in fact they are not.

    Also adding...I don't know how to state this exactly but after it happens I have a feeling of disbelief and a desire/wish not to know.

    I should add... The sudden thought is a unique feeling and I suspect many people have had it happen to them for various reasons.
    Yes, I knew to expect her death but only once did I get that feeling during the whole time frame between being told to expect her death and being told she had died (approx 40 hours). I don't believe in what most think ESP is. I'll restate, I don't know why it happens but it does happen.
    When it happened years ago at the exact time of recorded death, I spent the whole minute looking at the digital clock thinking about that time on the clock and what happened. I turned away after the minute changed.


    Fred Phillips
    Yes you can prove it. By making a big donation to Science2.0.
    Gerhard Adam
    Besides the fact that you haven't found the Shift key on your keyboard, this is evidence that you're completely wrong.  At it's very best, ESP is supposed to provide a means by which you can see/read/experience something that isn't immediately available to the senses, and consequently requires an "extra-sensory perception".

    However, the events you're describing don't have any data until after they occur.  There isn't anything in the universe that has the knowledge of such outcomes, therefore there is nothing for your ESP to pick up on.  Basically the point is that there can be no indications of what the outcome might be, before it occurs.  If there are, then one doesn't require ESP, but only enough information about the initial conditions to make a prediction.

    Like it or not, even if you've won a significant amount of money [which I seriously doubt], then you've demonstrated little more than normal probabilities in your results.

    Next time, try mixed case letters.  It makes you look a bit less crazy.
    Mundus vult decipi