Parapsychology is the study of behaviors, events or perceptions that are outside of what most would traditionally accept a human can perceive. In other words, it evaluates such things that may be considered sixth sense abilities, like mental telepathy, medium abilities, psychometry, and telekinesis. These abilities taken together are called psi or paranormal abilities. Para is a prefix that translates to "above and beyond," and thus paranormal can be described as things above and beyond what is considered normal in mainstream scientific thought.
Most of parapsychology can be viewed as an attempt to study paranormal events or abilities. Some feel this is not true science, since it is seldom possible to practice parapsychology adhering to regular scientific methods. Others complain that work in parapsychology is simply too subjective, and there are few ways to make it objective and truly scientific. No studies based in parapsychology have been considered verifiable, since the results of most studies cannot be duplicated, which is considered a hallmark of scientific testing.
Parapsychology does not tend to concern itself with things like aliens, the verity of astrology or whether or not witchcraft works. It is an attempt to find and describe things that are unusual and outside the realm of traditional experience. There are many subjects which a parapsychologist might undertake to study. Some of the more publicly accepted studies have evaluated things like out of body or near death experience.
Many associate parapsychology with the idea of hauntings and poltergeists. It is true that some parapsychologists may attempt to investigate allegations of such, but not every person studying parapsychology is a potential “ghostbuster.” Others are more interested in evaluating human abilities that are outside the normal range, and might evaluate or attempt to test a person’s ability to read minds, to communicate mind to mind (telepathy) without speech, to predict the future, or to move objects with their minds. There are a vast range of supposed human abilities which have never been scientifically proven to exist, and yet are of extensive interest in parapsychology.
Parapsychology emerged as a field of interest in the late 19th century, and was normally called psychical research. The 19th century had brought excessive interest in the paranormal and the Spiritualism movement. Many people in the mainstream, including several sects of Christianity began to believe that communication with the dead was possible. Though some in the Spiritualism movement were exposed as fraudulent, many still believed that paranormal events were possible, even when they could not be scientifically proven. Parapsychology arose about 40 years after spiritualists had begun to try to study and account for the paranormal.
Paranormal phenomenon remains of intense interest to the general public. There is a fascination with what might be possible. This is evidenced in the numerous books, films and television shows that deal with one or more aspects of the paranormal. In the 2000s, there have been as many as 7-8 television series running at the same time which concern themselves with main characters who have paranormal abilities.
This interest has led to the support and formation of parapsychology departments at some universities, and several large parapsychology organizations. Organizations like the Institute for Psychical Research, the Parapsychology Foundation, and the International Association for Near Death Studies are proliferate. Additionally, numerous journals publish results of parapsychology research, including, the Journal of Parapsychology and the International Journal of Parapsychology.