Hypnosis and ESP

There are a number of articles discussing a purported relationship betweenhypnosis and ESP phenomena thai are cited here because they raise issues that require comment (Eisenberg, 1978, Fourie. 1981; Nash, 1982: Sargent, 1978; Shaposhnikov. 19S2). The author is not unprejudiced concerning the ESP literature- He tends to have a mechanistic view of the world and psychological phenomena. Thus, when someone talks about clairvoyance (communication from inanimate ob- jects to people), telepathy (communication between people via non-sensory means) or psychokineiics (the influence of thoughts on inanimate objects), he would ask what is the medium of communication and upon what receptor it acts. This is not !Q soi-1 iha: research in ESP canr'.o; be v-i-'l: designed and scientifically valid Such research is respectable and II should be conducted, bui it seems thai if there were any basis for ihe belief that ESP phenomena are real, then the amount of such rf^tirrli conducted since ihe 1920'- ought to have produced more coni.lnciny evidence than is currently available as well as some reasonable theory ot the mechanisms involved. Tests of statistical significance can never establish that a difference between an experimental and control group is not due to chance, only that the prob- ability of it being so is at some given level Tims, if there is only one chance in 100 that this difference occurred by chance, and the null hypothesis is rejecied cil the 0.01 level, ihii particular result may still be due to chance. If enuugli le-iiiaich is done, such spuriously significant reiuli-i '-'.'ili occur.

Most [ournals are reluctant 10 publish nonsignificant findings unless they contradict previously published results (although it is |ust as much an incre- ment oi knowledge to learn lhal an Independent variable does no; produce an effect as it is to learn thai it does). Thus. mosi rese^rrh r tested at the 0.05 level of significance to make ii easier to gel il publi^li^d It therefore follows that fully 5% of the psychological and other scientific literature is Spu- rious, reporting as real results lhal are actually due to chance.

Such spurious results are usually noi repiicable, but many journals will not publisli replicaiion studies, ihereby preventing the necessary verification of results. To evaluate whether a particular experimental result found to be si9- nificant is in fact real, it would be helpful to know how many times this ex- periment was run without finding significance. This information is not gen- erally available.

If a researcher proposes a view that is intrinsically reasonable, it is generally accepted in scientific circles that he or she has the burden of establishing this view by a certain amount of evidence. If the view advocated is contrary to all prior human experience and intrinsically unreasonable, then its propo- nents ought to have an even greater burden of proof imposed on them.

There may be a certain amount of heuristic value in much ESP research. For example, the author would be inclined to attribute Sargent's (1978) find- ing that a hypnosis group performed better than a waking control group in a clairvoyance task with ESP cards either to a greater sensitivity on the part of hypnotic subjects to subtle, unintended cues (which are not apparent in the report of the study) or to hypnotic relaxation and concentration facilitating the subjects "playing bridge" or counting the cards correctly guessed.

The problem with ESP research involving hypnosis is basically a public relations one. Most people regard ESP phenomena as having a supernatural basis, with the ordinary laws of the universe not applying. Hypnosis has suf- fered much in the past from its association with magic, mysticism, and the like, and even today many professional people have misgivings about its sci- entific validity because of these past associations. Hence, claims that hypnosis can enhance ESP abilities, like some extravagant claims for its clinical effec- tiveness, are likely to make many professionals leery of its use in situations where it may be quite appropriate and helpful.