Extrasensory Perception (ESP) and Psychokinesis (PK) are collectively known as “psi”; super-psi is a theoretical limitless extension of these abilities that would accommodate all the best evidence for Survival After Death, such as that from mediumistic communications, apparitions and children’s memories of previous lives.

Super-psi was formerly called “super-ESP.” The latter term was coined in the late 1950s by Hornell Hart, an American sociologist and psychical researcher, but the possibility of limitless ESP was considered by the earliest workers in the field, including French physiologist Charles Richet and the founders of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR).

In investigating Mediums, researchers found evidence that Clairvoyance and telepathy could sometimes account for information unknown to the medium but allegedly produced by spirits of the dead. Some researchers, such as Edmund Gurney, also argued that apparitions could be explained as a projection of telepathy from the living.

Support for the super-ESP hypothesis came in the famous Gordon Davis case of 1925. Dr. S.G. Soal participated in sittings with Blanche Cooper, a London medium. Cooper claimed to have contacted Gordon Davis, a friend of Soal’s whom Soal believed had been killed in World War I. Davis chatted about personal subjects, his wife and child, and used idiosyncratic speech that Soal identified with his friend. Later, Soal discovered that Davis was still alive and residing in London. He theorized that Cooper had clairvoyantly picked up the evidential material from Davis and used this to personate him.

In the 1940s, psychologist Gardner Murphy elaborated on the idea of super-ESP, suggesting that it might create pseudo-spirit personalities, as well as Apparitions of the dead, that seem real. More recently, philosopher Stephen Braude has become the leading proponent of the concept. Braude prefers to use the term “super-psi,” which allows for boundless PK as well as ESP.

Opponents of the super-psi hypothesis contend that it assumes abilities far more extensive and efficient than any that have been shown to exist in the laboratory or are known from spontaneous cases. Mediums who have provided personal information to dozens of sitters would have to perform seemingly phenomenal feats of clairvoyance and telepathy. The super-psi hypothesis has trouble also with Drop-in CommunicatorS, who are unknown to medium and sitters, and with apparitions of persons long dead. The latter would be nothing more than projections from the thoughts of a living person. If seen simultaneously by more than one person, such an apparition would have to be created and passed on through telepathy.

Cases of children who claim previous life memories (see Reincarnation) provide a special challenge to superpsi, because such cases involve not only statements of fact, but also behaviours consistent with the person talked about and even—in many instances—physical traits such as birthmarks or birth defects consistent with that person’s death. An explanation in terms of super-psi would assume that a young child scanned his or her environment for information relating to a deceased person who died in a way consistent with his or her marks and then wove this information into fantasies expressed not only verbally but in behaviour.

Nonetheless, it is virtually impossible to rule out super-psi as a possibility. Too little is known about the limits of psi, and of the bounds and functions of human consciousness.

Further Reading:

  • Braude, Stephen E. “Evaluating the Super-Psi Hypothesis.” In G. K. Zollschan, J. F. Schumacker, and G. F. Walsh, eds., Exploring the Paranormal. Bridport, England: Prism Press, 1989, pp. 25–38.
  • ———. “Survival or Super-Psi?” Journal of Scientific Exploration 6 (1992): 127–144.
  • Gauld, Alan. “The ‘Super-ESP’ Hypothesis.” Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR)53 (1961): 226–246.
  • ———. Mediumship and Survival. London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1982.
  • Hart, Hornell. The Enigma of Survival. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, 1959.
  • Murphy, Gardner. “Difficulties Confronting the Survival Problem.” Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research (SPR)39 (1945): 67–94.


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