The term Clairvoyance (from 17th century French with clair meaning “clear” and voyance meaning “vision”) is used to refer to the ability to gain information about an object, person, location or physical event through means other than the known human senses,12 a form of extrasensory perception. A person said to have the ability of clairvoyance is referred to as a clairvoyant (“one who sees clearly”).
Claims for the existence of paranormal and psychic abilities such as clairvoyance are highly controversial. Parapsychology explores this possibility, but the existence of the paranormal is not accepted by the scientific community.
Within parapsychology, clairvoyance is used exclusively to refer to the transfer of information that is both contemporary to, and hidden from, the clairvoyant. It is very different from telepathy in that the information is said to be gained directly from an external physical source, rather than being transferred from the mind of one individual to another.
Outside of parapsychology, clairvoyance is often used to refer to other forms of anomalous cognition, most commonly the perception of events that have occurred in the past, or which will occur in the future (known as retrocognition andprecognition respectively),45 or to refer to communications with the dead (see Mediumship).
Clairvoyance is related to remote viewing, although the term “remote viewing” itself is not as widely applicable to clairvoyance because it refers to a specific controlled process.
Status of Clairvoyance
Within the field of parapsychology, there is a consensus that some instances of clairvoyance are verifiable. There is also a measured level of belief from amongst the general public, with the portion of the US population who believe in clairvoyance varying between 1/4 and 1/3 over the 15 year period from 1990 to 2005.
The concept of clairvoyance gained some support from the US and Russian governments both during and after the Cold War, and both governments made several attempts to harness it as an intelligence gathering tool.
According to skeptics, clairvoyance is the result of fraud, self-delusion, Barnum effects, confirmatory biases, or failures to appreciate the base rate of chance occurrences. For example, in a scientific experiment of clairvoyance, a purported clairvoyant participant will inevitably make correct guesses some of the time (i.e., during some of the trials within the same experiment), simply because of chance. Furthermore, because of the nature of the statistical tests used by experimenters, a very small proportion of all experiments conducted will yield an overall statistically significant result (suggesting that clairvoyance took place at above-chance levels), again simply because of chance. A proper summary of the experimental evidence on clairvoyance should include a summary of all experiments that were conducted, taking into account their probabilities of turning out false positive and false negative results, and making sure that studies are not included in the review selectively. Some researchers on clairvoyance have tended to purposefully exclude negative findings from their reviews, thus biasing their own conclusions.
Clairvoyance and Related Phenomena throughout History
There have been anecdotal reports of clairvoyance and ‘clear’ abilities throughout history in most cultures. Often clairvoyance has been associated with religious or shamanic figures, offices and practices. For example, ancient Hindu religious texts list clairvoyance amongst other forms of ‘clear’ experiencing, as siddhis, or ‘perfections’, skills that are yielded through appropriate meditation and personal discipline. But a large number of anecdotal accounts of clairvoyance are of the spontaneous variety among the general populace. For example, many people report seeing a loved one who has recently died before they have learned by other means that their loved one is deceased. While anecdotal accounts do not provide scientific proof of clairvoyance, such common experiences continue to motivate research into such phenomena.
The earliest record of somnambulistic clairvoyance is credited to the Marquis de Puységur, a follower of Mesmer, who in 1784 was treating a local dull-witted peasant named Victor Race. During treatment, Race reportedly would go into trance and undergo a personality change, becoming fluent and articulate, and giving diagnosis and prescription for his own disease as well as those of others. When he came out of the trance state he would be unaware of anything he had said or done. This behavior is somewhat reminiscent of the reported behaviors of the 20th century medical clairvoyant and psychic Edgar Cayce. It is reported that although Puységur used the term ‘clairvoyance’, he did not think of these phenomena as “paranormal”, since he accepted mesmerism as one of the natural sciences.
Clairvoyance was a reported ability of some mediums during the spiritualist period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries and was one of the phenomena studied by members of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Psychics of many descriptions have claimed clairvoyant ability up to the present day.
While experimental research into clairvoyance began with SPR researchers, experimental studies became more systematic with the efforts of J B Rhine and his associates at Duke University, and such research efforts continue to the present day. Perhaps the best-known study of clairvoyance in recent times was the US government-funded remote viewing project at SRI/SAIC during the 1970s through the mid-1990s.
Some parapsychologists have proposed that our different functional labels (clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, etc.) all refer to one basic underlying mechanism, although there is not yet any satisfactory theory for what that mechanism may be.
Parapsychological research studies of remote viewing and clairvoyance have produced favorable results significantly above chance, and meta-analysis of these studies increases the significance. For instance, at the Stanford Research Institute, in1972, Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ initiated a series of human subject studies to determine whether participants (the viewers or percipients) could reliably identify and accurately describe salient features of remote locations or targets. In the early studies, a human sender was typically present at the remote location, as part of the experiment protocol. A three-step process was used, the first step being to randomly select the target conditions to be experienced by the senders. Secondly, in the viewing step, participants were asked to verbally express or sketch their impressions of the remote scene. Thirdly, in the judging step, these descriptions were matched by separate judges, as closely as possible, with the intended targets. The term remote viewing was coined to describe this overall process.
In order to explore the nature of remote viewing channel, the viewer in some experiments was secured in a double-walled copper-screened Faraday cage. Although this provided attenuation of radio signals over a broad range of frequencies, the researchers found that it did not alter the subject’s remote viewing capability. They postulated that extremely low frequency (ELF) propagation might be involved, since Faraday cage screening is less effective in the ELF range. Such a hypothesis had previously been put forward by telepathy researchers in the Soviet Union.
The first paper by Puthoff and Targ on psychic research to appear in a mainstream peer-reviewed scientific journal was published in Nature in March 1974; in it, the team reported some degree of remote viewing success. One of the individuals involved in these initial studies at SRI was Uri Geller, a well-known celebrity psychic at the time. The research team reported witnessing some of Geller’s trademark metal spoon-bending performances, but admitted that they were unable to conduct adequately controlled experiments to confirm any paranormal hypothesis about them.
Electroencephalography (EEG) techniques were also used by team to examine ESP phenomena. In these investigations, a sender, who was isolated in a visually opaque, electrically and acoustically shielded chamber, was stimulated at random by bursts of strobe-light flickers The experimenters reported that, for one receiver, differential alpha block on control and stimulus trials were observed, which showed that some information transfer had occurred. In contrast, this person’s expressed statements of when the stimulus occurred were no different than that which would be expected by chance. The researches were unable to identify the physical parameters by which the EEG effect was mediated.
After the publication of these findings, various attempts to replicate the remote viewing findings were quickly carried out. Several of these follow-up studies, which involved viewing in group settings, reported some limited success. They included the use of face-to-face groups, 1516 and remotely-linked groups using computer conferencing.
The various debates in the mainstream scientific literature prompted the editors of ‘Proceedings of the IEEE’ to invite Robert G Jahn, then Dean of the School of Engineering at Princeton University, to write a comprehensive review of psychic phenomena from an engineering perspective. His paper, published in February 1982, includes numerous references to remote viewing replication studies at the time.
Clairvoyance experiments involving Zener cards currently exist on the internet. One such online system, the Anima Project19, gathers user results into a master database which is then analysed using a variety of statistical techniques.
Parapsychological research is regarded by critics as a pseudoscience. In 1988, the US National Research Council concluded that it “…finds no scientific justification from research conducted over a period of 130 years, for the existence of parapsychological phenomena.”
Skeptics say that if clairvoyance were a reality it would have become abundantly clear. They also contend that those who believe in paranormal phenomena do so for merely psychological reasons. According to David G Myers (Psychology, 8th ed.)
The search for a valid and reliable test of clairvoyance has resulted in thousands of experiments. One controlled procedure has invited ‘senders’ to telepathically transmit one of four visual images to ‘receivers’ deprived of sensation in a nearby chamber (Bem & Honorton, 1994). The result? A reported 32 percent accurate response rate, surpassing the chance rate of 25 percent. But follow-up studies have (depending on who was summarizing the results) failed to replicate the phenomenon or produced mixed results (Bem & others, 2001; Milton & Wiseman, 2002; Storm, 2000, 2003).
One skeptic, magician James Randi, has a longstanding offer—now US $1 million—“to anyone who proves a genuine psychic power under proper observing conditions” (Randi, 1999). French, Australian, and Indian groups have parallel offers of up to 200,000 euros to anyone with demonstrable paranormal abilities (CFI, 2003). Large as these sums are, the scientific seal of approval would be worth far more to anyone whose claims could be authenticated. To refute those who say there is no ESP, one need only produce a single person who can demonstrate a single, reproducible ESP phenomenon. So far, no such person has emerged. Randi’s offer has been publicized for three decades and dozens of people have been tested, sometimes under the scrutiny of an independent panel of judges. Still, nothing. “People’s desire to believe in the paranormal is stronger than all the evidence that it does not exist.” Susan Blackmore, Blackmore’s first law, 2004.
Other Related Terms
The words “clairvoyance” and “psychic” are often used to refer to many different kinds of paranormal sensory experiences, but there are more specific names:
In the field of parapsychology, clairsentience is a form of extrasensory perception wherein a person acquires psychic knowledge primarily by means of feeling. The word is from the French clair, “clear,” + sentience, “feeling,” and is ultimately derived from the Latin clarus, “clear,” + sentiens, derived from sentire, “to feel”.
In addition to parapsychology, the term also plays a role in some religions. For example: clairsentience is one of the six human special functions mentioned or recorded in Buddhism. It is an ability that can be obtained at advanced meditation level. Generally the term refers to a person who can feel the vibration of other people. There are many different degrees of clairsentience ranging from the perception of diseases of other people to the thoughts or emotions of other people. The ability differs from third eye in that this kind of ability cannot have a vivid picture in the mind. Instead, a very vivid feeling can form.
Psychometry is related to clairsentience. The word stems from psyche and metric, which means “to measure with the mind”.
In the field of parapsychology, clairaudience [from late 17th century French clair (clear) & audience (hearing)] is a form of extrasensory perception wherein a person acquires information by paranormal auditory means. It is often considered to be a form of clairvoyance.23 Clairaudience is essentially the ability to hear in a paranormal manner, as opposed to paranormal seeing (clairvoyance) and feeling (clairsentience). Clairaudient people have psi-mediated hearing. Clairaudience may refer not to actual perception of sound, but may instead indicate impressions of the “inner mental ear” similar to the way many people think words without having auditory impressions. But it may also refer to actual perception of sounds such as voices, tones, or noises which are not apparent to other humans or to recording equipment. For instance, a clairaudient person might claim to hear the voices or thoughts of the spirits of persons who are deceased. Clairaudience may be positively distinguished from the voices heard by the mentally ill when it reveals information unavailable to the clairaudient person by normal means (including cold reading or other magic tricks), and thus may be termed “psychic” or paranormal.
Also known as Clairescence. In the field of parapsychology, clairalience, presumably from late 17th century French clair(clear) & alience (smelling), is a form of extrasensory perception wherein a person acquires psychic knowledge primarily by means of smelling.24
In the field of parapsychology, claircognizance, presumably from late 17th century French clair (clear) & cognizance (< MEcognisaunce < OFr conoissance, knowledge), is a form of extrasensory perception wherein a person acquires psychic knowledge primarily by means of intrinsic knowledge. It is the ability to know something without a physical explanation why you know it, like the concept of mediumship.
In the field of parapsychology, clairgustance is defined as a form of extrasensory perception that allegedly allows one to taste a substance without putting anything in one’s mouth. It is claimed that those who possess this ability are able to perceive the essence of a substance from the spiritual or ethereal realms through taste.