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European Journal of Parapsychology, 2-3 (1978), pp.304-332.
Psi effects are distinctive because they are anomalous in terms of known physics; nonetheless until recently testable theories in parapsychology were largely restricted to those dealing with the psychology of the phenomena. However some recent attempts have been made to attack the central mysteries with the conceptual tools of theoretical physics. A number of the theories which have aroused interest share certain common features and they have been collectively dubbed "observational theories" (Schouten, 1977). The psychological theories deal primarily with such questions as whether personality differences or the induction of altered states of consciousness have an effect on the results of psi tests. The observational theories, primarily, attempt to answer such queries as: "How (if at all) does psi depend on space and time?"; How are ESP and PK related?"; "Can large-scale psi effects be produced by adding together many little psi efforts?". The observational theories have been expressed in technical mathematical form. An unfortunate consequence is that the theories have remained largely inaccessible. The primary function of this paper is to render the ideas of the observational theories more accessible to the experimental workers, who alone can put them to empirical test. While the observational theories share common features, the differences between them are quite as striking as the similarities, thus it will be necessary, even in this introductory sketch, to examine them to some extent separately. Of the several I discuss primarily the principal two, Evan Harris Walker's theory (1974, 1975, 1976, 1977a) and Helmut Schmidt's mathematical model (1975a, 1975b). Mentioned in less detail is Donald and Martin's thermodynamic theory (1976): some of the ideas of Von Lucadou and Kornwachs (1977a, 1977b) are also briefly described. While not discussed here, Hasted's (1977) use of a modified version of the "many worlds" interpretation of quantum mechanics and Mattuck's (1976) theory are also of interest. Stanford's (1978) "conformance behaviour" model shares virtually all the features of the observational theories. However, it differs in one crucial respect (Stanford, personal communication), namely in his model observation of the result by the subject is not necessary for psi to occur, in contrast to the observational theories (see later). The observational theories range all the way from purely phenomenological description up to fully-fledged theory. In this paper the theories will be examined under three headings: (a) the theoretical background (b) the model which prescribes how to apply (c) the mathematical formalism. It is at the level of the model that the main similarities lie; so I shall deal with this first in a general way.