No. Extra-sensory perception – or ESP – has never been scientifically substantiated, but not for lack of trying!
ESP, also referred to as a “sixth sense” is defined as the ability to acquire information with the mind or some other mechanism rather than through the senses.
The term ESP was adopted by a Duke University psychologist named Joseph Banks Rhine who attended a séance in Boston in the early part of the 20th century which was conducted by a famous medium named Mina Crandon. Crandon claimed to be able to channel the thoughts of the dead and to move objects with her mind. Rhine, a botanist, who believed in psychic powers but was skeptical of several aspects of Crandon’s performance that night, determined to use science to prove the existence of ESP.
According to this article which recently appeared in The Scientist, “The most famous of these experiments involved guessing the symbol on a card concealed by an experimenter. Thousands of subjects were tested to see if they could ‘receive’ symbols through ESP, and Rhine soon reported astonishing successes. From a deck containing five different symbols, one of Rhine’s assistants, Hubert Pearce, apparently received the correct symbol 40 percent of the time—double what would be expected by chance.”
The only problem was that Rhine’s experiments were not very well conducted. For instance, his lab conditions were loosely controlled; he allowed the receiver to shuffle the cards; and some trials were conducted in Rhine’s car. In addition, some of the cards used were thin enough that a bit of the design showed through. When the symbols were printed on thicker stock, the readings were less accurate.
In spite of this criticism, Rhine published Extra Sensory Perception in 1934 wherein he declared that ESP was “an actual and demonstrable occurrence.”
Rhine was not the last to test ESP. Even though the ability to read minds or predict future events is considered by some to be a spiritual power, researchers can use the tools of science to study it because it impacts on actual world events.
As a result, experiments conducted over the years have explored all kinds of ESP but most have been focused on mind reading, something that is easy to study in a laboratory setting. For example, a person known as a “sender” goes through a deck of cards and selects one while another person, the “receiver” is charged with determining what the sender is holding. The sender is often shielded from the view of the receiver, thus eliminating any chance that the sender could be signaling the receiver in some way. If the receiver guesses the card correctly at a rate that is higher than what would occur by chance, then ESP would be determined to exist.
Thus far, this has never happened – even in tests that were much better conducted than those of J. B. Rhine.
“ . . . [N]o evidence of mind reading or any other sort of ESP has been found,” The Scientist states. “Since science hasn’t uncovered any evidence that ESP even exists, no scientific investigations of its potential mechanisms have been undertaken.”
In other words, there’s no reason to investigate how something works until we first determine if it exists in the first place.
“ESP itself is neither scientific nor unscientific — but it can be studied scientifically or unscientifically, and scientific studies find no support for the hypothesis that ESP exists. Those who ignore the evidence and insist that ESP is a real, natural phenomenon fail to meet one of the key aspects of scientific behavior: assimilating the evidence.”
Therefore, ESP remains in the realm of pseudoscience and is not considered to be a proven science.