The notion of ESP, or extrasensory perception, has been around for thousands of years. However, systematic laboratory studies on the paranormal only formally started in the 1930s, with the first card-guessing experiements conducted by J.B. Rhine and his wife at Duke university. There is some ambiguity on who used the term first. In some accounts, “ESP” was first used by Sir Richard Burton in 1870 and again by a French researcher named Paul Joire in 1892. In another account, it was J.B. Rhine who coined the term “extrasensory perception” to denote psychic and paranormal abilities such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition. This was also an attempt by Rhine to avoid using such terms as “hauntings” and “séance” rooms, which had deep connections to the psychic world but was a source of ridicule in scientific circles.
The first systematic experiments on ESP were conducted in London in 1882. The studies consisted of self-proclaimed “psychics” largely dealt with spontaneous occurrences that were then reported. The subjects were not studied under strict laboratory conditions, but were rather placed through a series of rigorous interrogations. Those who gave the most consistent and believable answers were judged to be credible.
The first laboratory experiments on ESP and card reading were conducted by Rhine and his wife at Duke niversity. The Rhine’s used 25-deck “ESP cards,” which contained a circle, a square, a plus sign, a set of wavy lines, and a five-pointed star. The subject had a one in five likelihood of calling out the correct order of the symbols by chance. These tests, however, faced stiff criticism from the scientific community.
Today, scieintific experiments using computers are commonly used to test ESP abilities.