Resources: Terminology



Below you will find an explanation of some terms that are commonly encountered in parapsychology.


Psi (pronounced 'sigh') is the neutral umbrella term that is used to refer to the capacity attributed to some individuals to interact with their environment by means other than the recognised sensorimotor channels, including ESP, PK and DMILS (see below).


Pseudo-Psi refers to 'what's not psychic but looks like it', that is, phenomena and experiences that individuals attribute to paranormal processes, but which actually have normal explanations.

Extrasensory Perception (ESP)

ESP is a general term used to denote any manifestations of psi that appear to be analogous to sensory functions. It covers the phenomena of:

Telepathy: (lit. remote feeling/perception) information perceived by one person is gained by another person when the currently recognised sensory channels are unavailable.

Clairvoyance: (lit. clear seeing) where a person appears to gain information about their environment when the currently recognised sensory channels are unavailable.

Precognition: (lit. pre-knowing) where information about a future event is acquired without the use of inference.

Which of these terms (if any) is used is dependent on the context in which it occurs or on the viewpoint of the observer - they are not necessarily separate phenomena.

Related terms: anomalous cognition, anomalous information transfer, second sight, tele- or para-gnosis, divination.

Psychokinesis (PK)

PK (literally mind movement) is a term used for psi phenomena wherein a person appears to directly affect their environment through mental intention or even by their mere presence. As ESP has been considered to be analogous to sensory functioning, PK would be the psi equivalent to motor functioning. Traditionally, PK has been split into two categories:

Micro PK: applies to cases where instrumentation and/or statistical analysis is needed to determine if there is an effect (e.g. influence of microelectronic devices).

Macro PK: applies to cases where naked-eye observation suggests there is an effect (e.g. poltergeist, table tipping).

Bio PK, an older term, has been used in cases where the target system to be influenced is a living system. However, this has been largely replaced by the DMILS (Direct Mental Interaction between Living Systems) acronym - see following section.

Related terms: Telekinesis, mind-over-matter

Direct Mental Interaction between Living Systems (DMILS)

DMILS research arose from past work on bio-PK, remote staring and distant healing. Currently, it covers a range of phenomena wherein an organism appears to elicit a physiological or behavioural response in a remote organism, without any apparent channel of communication or influence. The term 'Direct Mental Interaction' is used as it allows for contributions from both the response-initiating organism and the responder, while 'Living Systems' includes a range of organisms from human beings to simple cellular systems

Related terms: Bio-PK, Healing, Remote staring


Traditionally regarded as one of the three types of ESP, the term precognition refers to the apparent ability to obtain information about future events without the use of inference.

Remote Viewing

This is a form of ESP methodology in which the target is typically a randomly-chosen geographical location that is physically distant from the 'viewer' or percipient (the person who is attempting to obtain information about that location without the use of the known senses or inferential processes). In some designs, another individual physically visits the randomly-chosen site, ostensibly to act as a 'beacon' for the viewer. In other designs, the site is represented by photographs or other descriptors of the location.

Theoretical Work

Theoretical approaches to parapsychology attempt to propose explanatory systems for reported psi phenomena. Parapsychology does not presently have a single well-accepted theoretical framework. Proposed theories address different levels of explanation. Most fundamental are the Physical Theories. The best-known of these are perhaps the so-called Observational Theories which draw on developments in quantum physics and, broadly speaking, postulate that the consciousness of the observer plays a key role in 'collapsing' an observed system into a desired component state. A key feature of the quantum-based theories of psi is that it is claimed psi phenomena do not require transfer of energy, only of information. Related, and formulated in terms of systems theory, is the Model of Pragmatic Information. The MPI states that psi effects represent meaningful non-local correlations between a person and a target system. Such non-local correlations cannot be used for information transfer, and thus the MPI predicts difficulty in obtaining replicable evidence for psi under the methods usually used by experimental parapsychologists.

More Conventional Explanations

Aside from the topics above, which consider explanations for ostensibly paranormal experiences in terms of mechanisms that are not currently understood by science, many researchers have approached these experiences essentially from a skeptical standpoint. These approaches consider that paranormal interpretations are erroneous due to: misperception, misrecollection, cognitive deficits, irrationality, poor probabilistic reasoning, etc. Indeed there is a wealth of evidence from mainstream psychology demonstrating that humans are inaccurate witnesses of external events, and unreliable observers of their own experiences and motivations, so these conventional approaches must be given some weight and can often undermine so-called 'spontaneous' (i.e., 'real world') accounts of paranormal experiences. However, most of these conventional explanations can either be ruled out or quantified using controlled laboratory methods, therefore most parapsychologists turn to laboratory psi research when formally testing the psi hypothesis.


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