Doug Bonderud

May 16th 2023

Are Psychic Abilities Real? Exploring the Science of Superpowers


Who wouldn’t want psychic powers? From moving objects with your mind and reading people’s thoughts to even taking flight, psychic abilities have long fascinated human beings.

But are psychic abilities real? Let’s dive into the showmanship, sensation — and possibly science — behind these mental marvels.

Fake It to Make It: The Power Paradox

Psychic powers don’t just offer a new way to interact with the world around you; if you’re smart and savvy, they make it possible to move massive amounts of money from other people’s pockets into your own. Just ask Uri Geller, who spent decades convincing people he could bend spoons with his mind — and happily taking their money to watch him do it.

Or look at supposed psychics, such as the infamous Miss Cleo, who claimed to be a Jamaican shaman and advised viewers to, “Call me, now.” Not only were calls answered by actors rather than mind-readers, but customers were also charged significant amounts of money for calls that were advertised as free. In 2002, the company responsible for the service was charged by the Federal Trade Commission.

In some cases, it’s our own bias that leads us to believe in extraordinary abilities, and this is especially true when it comes to psychics. It works like this: A psychic says something vague enough to apply to a client’s life and circumstance. The more the psychic talks, the more accurate they seem to be, and clients come to believe they have special knowledge. In actuality, this is the Forer Effect, also called the Barnum Effect. As human beings, we naturally see the world through the lens of our own experience. When supposed psychics offer generalized descriptions of personality traits or human experiences, we often believe they apply specifically to us.

Psychic projects, like MKUltra and Star Gate, both involved giving participants — sometimes without their knowledge or consent — doses of LSD to see what would happen. In the case of MKUltra, the goal was to develop mind-control techniques. For Star Gate, psychic powers were the priority. Both efforts came to naught, however, and as noted by Science Focus, the project records have been destroyed.

Put simply, people want powers. Whether to generate cash flow, supposedly help people or gain a tactical advantage, there’s always interest in expanding our mental roadmap.

Are Psychic Abilities Real? What the Science Says

In short, no, at least not based on the data available.

For many of us, this isn’t the answer we want: Who among us hasn’t had the fleeting thought that if we concentrate hard enough we could move objects with our minds or figure out what someone was thinking?

Genetic testing, however, has shown no evidence of psychic abilities. A 2021 study of more than 3,000 global participants “did not yield significant results when probing coding sequences in DNA.” Or consider the case of a famous 2011 experiment by Dr. Daryl Bem of Cornell University, which seemed to suggest that participants in a word memorization test were better at remembering words they would be told to recall in the future. It was a compelling, groundbreaking result — that was never effectively replicated.

This isn’t to say there aren’t scientists working on psychic research. Dr. Dean Radin, currently the Chief Scientist at the Institute of Noetic Science, has argued that, instead of everything in the universe being made of matter or energy, including the mind, everything is made of mind, including matter. He’s claimed that experiments with a random number generator have showed the human ability to influence the outcome and that psychic ability is distributed on a normal population curve, with some people having extraordinary talents, some having none and most of the population landing in the middle.

Mind Your Business

While scientific study hasn’t turned up any evidence of psychic abilities, that doesn’t make their discovery impossible. Consider the ongoing identification of smaller particle types, with each new layer seemingly the last until a new one was uncovered. While it’s unlikely, new testing methods may pinpoint the origin and mechanisms of psychic powers.

Worth remembering, however, are the words of Carl Sagan: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” While one-off studies may show some indication that mental magic is real, the lack of research repeatability suggests that either we’re not capable of measuring the right data — or the data doesn’t exist.

Ultimately, the human fascination with psychic powers isn’t going anywhere. From TV shows and movies that depict superpowered people to entrepreneurs who use their “powers” to move money from people’s wallets into their pockets, we’re endlessly fascinated with what our brains may hold beneath the surface.

Are you interested in science and innovation? We are, too. Learn more about our people and life at Northrop Grumman, or check out our career opportunities to see how you can be a part of defining possible.