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Glossary of Terms



Neutral term applied to a phenomenon, thereby implying that the phenomenon is unexpected according to conventional scientific knowledge. This term does not commit the user to any particular type of explanation.


An experience usually visual but sometimes in other sense-modalities in which there appears to be present a person or animal (deceased or living) or inanimate objects, who/which is out of the sensory range of the experient; often associated with spontaneous extrasensory perception, for example, in connection with an agent who is dying or undergoing some other crisis (in which case, it is likely to be termed a "crisis apparition," or in connection with haunting


An entity said to be an exact, quasi-physical replica of the individual physical body, which can separate itself from the physical body, either temporarily, as in dreaming or in the out-of-the-body experience, or permanently, at the moment of death. Also known as the “etheric” body.


Any complex sensory or motor activity carried out by a person without their conscious awareness or volition, thus constituting incidences of dissociation. Sensory automatism includes certain visual, audio, or tactile hallucinations. Motor automatism includes automatic writing and sleep walking.


A technique which enables a person to monitor on-going changes in one of their own physiological processes; as a result of such information, the individual may be able to acquire some degree of control in regulating internal processes normally outside the range of voluntary influence. This technique is of parapsychological interest in terms of altered states of consciousness and with the possibility of controlling the incidence of the alpha brain-rhythm.


In scientific research, “chance” refers to undefined causal factors which are considered to be irrelevant to the causal relationship under investigation.


A disembodied being, as opposed to an incarnate one; the surviving personality of a deceased individual or non-human entity; a spirit.


A process in which a body of awareness (perceptual, memory, physical) becomes separated or blocked from the main center of consciousness. In abnormal psychology, this term refers to multiple personality. From a parapsychological standpoint, dissociation also includes trance and automatic writing.


An apparently paranormal dream, inasmuch as some of the dream details give information about events normally unknowable to the experient.


Phenomena whereby spirit voices may be heard via audio recordings. The first instances of EVP used magnetic tape.


An experimental outcome which results not from manipulation of the variable of interest per se, but rather from some aspect of the particular experimenter’s behavior, such as unconscious communication to the subjects, or experimenter bias.


Speaking in “tongues,” that is, in a language which is either unknown to linguistic science, or completely fabricated; it usually occurs in a religious context or is attributed to religious inspiration.


An experience having the same phenomenological characteristics as a sense-perception, and which may lead the experient to suppose the presence of an external physical object as the cause of that experience, but in which, in fact, there is no such object present.


The more or less regular occurrence of paranormal phenomena associated with a particular locality and usually attributed to the activities of a discarnate entity; the phenomena may include apparitions or poltergeist disturbances.


Term referring to the transitional state of consciousness experienced while falling asleep, sometimes characterized by vivid hallucinations or imagery of varying degrees of bizarreness; sometimes used to refer also to the similar state of awareness experienced during the process of waking up.


A dream in which the dreamer is conscious of the fact that they are dreaming.


A phenomenon in which entities or inanimate objects are caused to take form. The form can range from an amorphous mass to semi-transparancy.


Term applied to experiences undergone by persons who either seem to be at the point of death (or who are even formally declared dead) but then recover, or who narrowly escape death (as in a motor car accident) without being seriously injured; it has been suggested that there is, upon coming close to death, a “core” NDE made up of certain common elements, such as a feeling of indescribable peace, a sense of being out of one’ s body, a movement into a dark void or down a tunnel, seeing a brilliant light, and entering that light; there may also be reported the experience of so-called “panoramic memory” (the “life review”), the encountering of an “unseen presence,” or being greeted by deceased relatives.


Term applied to any phenomenon which in one or more respects exceeds the limits of what is deemed physically possible on current scientific assumptions.


Involving or pertaining to parapsychology or paranormal processes.


Term coined in German by Max Dessoir (1889) and adopted by J. B. Rhine in English to refer to the scientific study of paranormal or ostensibly paranormal phenomena. The term is used by some to refer to the experimental approach to the field.


A disturbance characterized by bizarre physical effects of paranormal origin, suggesting mischievous or destructive intent: these phenomena include the unexplained movement or breakage of objects, loud raps, the lighting of fires, and occasionally personal injury to people; in contrast to a haunting, the phenomena often seem to depend upon the presence of a particular living individual, called the “focus,” frequently an adolescent or child; and apparitions are rarely seen.


The complete control, by an ostensible discarnate entity, of the body of a living person.


Percussive sounds, often tapping out an intelligible message, sometimes said to be produced by paranormal means.


A person who frequently experiences extrasensory perception and who can sometimes induce it at will.


A discarnate entity.


The theory that individual consciousness survives the death of the body in the form of a spirit, and that it may be communicated with by living persons.


The photographing of supposed self-portraits of discarnate entities upon film or photographic plates.


Quasi-religious cult based upon the belief that survival of death is a reality, and upon the practice of communicating with deceased persons.


Continued existence of the consciousness of the individual person in some form and for at least some time after the destruction of their physical body; life-after-death; not to be considered synonymous with “immortality,” which implies unending existence.


Term introduced by Michael A. Thalbourne (1991a), meaning literally “the tendency to cross the threshold into awareness.” Persons exhibiting a high degree of transliminality are more likely to believe in, and claim experience of, paranormal phenomena, as well as to report more magical ideation, a more creative personality, more mystical experience, greater religiosity and more fantasy-proneness, as well as a history of experience resembling clinical depression and mania. Therefore, transliminality is defined as “susceptibility to, and awareness of, large volumes of imagery, ideation and emotion — these phenomena being stimulated by subliminal, supraliminal and/or external inputs.”


Truthful; corresponding to, or conveying fact


Dessoir, M. (1889). Die Parapsychologie, Sphinx, 7, 341-344.

Thalbourne, M. A. (1991a). The psychology of mystical experience. Exceptional Human Experience, 9, 168-186

Thalbourne, M. A. (2003). Glossary of Terms Used in Parapsychology.

Wilson, S. C., & Barber, T. X. (1983). The fantasy-prone personality: Implications for understanding imagery, hypnosis, and parapsychological phenomena. In A. A. Sheikh (Ed.), Imagery: Current theory, research, and application (pp. 340-387). New York: Wiley.