Extrasensory Perception (ESP)

Extrasensory perception (ESP) is the paranormal sensing of sight, sound, taste, SMELL and touch. Extrasensory perception (ESP) is divided into three categories, telepathy, clairvoyance and precognition, which deliver information relevant to the present, past or future that cannot be obtained through normal senses. ESP occurs in Mediumship, Possession, cases of Apparitions, some cases of Poltergeists, Hauntings, Near-Death-Experiences, and Out-of-Body Experiences.

Though called an extra sense, ESP does not function like normal senses. Research into its nature shows that it cannot be explained or quantifi ed by physical laws; it seems to operate in an alternate reality (see Eileen J. Garrett). Hypotheses have proposed that an individual experiences ESP when information in the subconscious, the collective unconscious or the superconscious (the soul) is somehow accessed.

The term “ESP” was used in the late 19th century by researchers of mesmerism to describe a subject’s ability to externally sense without using the known senses. Other researchers called it by other names, including “hidden sense” and “telesthesia.” The latter was coined by Frederic W.H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR), and eventually gave way to “Clairvoyance.” Early psychical researchers believed that ESP required a receiver and a sender; this assumption was disproved later.

In the 1930s, American parapsychologist J.B. Rhine used the term “ESP” to refer to paranormal phenomena analogous to sensory functions. Rhine also coined the term “general extrasensory perception” (GESP) to include both telepathy and clairvoyance, but GESP never caught on in popular usage. Modern parapsychologists refer to ESP as “psi,” a term that also includes psychokinesis (PK).

According to research by Louisa E. Rhine, wife of J. B. Rhine, ESP occurs most often in realistic dreams, followed by intuition, unrealistic or surreal dreams and hallucinations. Hallucinations include the seeing of apparitions and visions of distant places in geography or time. Most episodes of ESP are spontaneous and involve trauma or crisis, such as premonitions of death, or crisis apparitions in which a person appears to another at the approximate moment of death.

Information that comes through ESP is not always accurate, perhaps because it is affected by the thoughts and biases of the waking consciousness.

Everyone experiences ESP, but certain individuals, such as Mediums, seem to possess unusual ESP ability. Persons who are sensitive to ESP may be more likely to experience paranormal phenomena at a haunted site than those who are not so sensitive. This may explain why some individuals are bothered at haunted sites and others claim those same sites are not haunted at all.


  • Edge, Hoyt L., Robert L. Morris, John Palmer, and Joseph H. Rush. Foundations of Parapsychology. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.
  • LeShan, Lawrence. Alternate Realities. New York: M. Evans & Co., 1967.
  • Murphy, Gardner. “Direct Contacts with Past and Future: Retrocognition and Precognition.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)61 (1967): 3–23.
  • Rhine, J. B. New Frontiers of the Mind. New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1937.
  • Rhine, Louisa. ESP in Life and Lab: Tracing Hidden Channels. New York: Collier Books, 1967.
  • Swann, Ingo. Natural ESP. New York: Bantam Books, 1987.


The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – September 1, 2007