When people use the phrase, "mind over matter," the context of the phrase can refer to different things. In sports, the phrase might refer to athletes (or anyone doing something athletic) overcoming the seeming physical limits by using the mind to push the body. In health, it might refer to the mind's influence on the body, including the (still to be explained) placebo effect. In pop culture, most people go to the ideal of someone doing telekinesis, moving/levitating objects with the mind alone or even bending spoons and keys.
For me, and many of my parapsychologist colleagues (and predecessors), the phrase covers all of the above and more, though we use the term psychokinesis (PK), or the more recent mind matter interaction (MMI). Before I get into the forms of PK that people would consider more psychic, let me give you the rationale behind including human performance and mind-body effects under the PK banner.
Science has learned much about the brain, especially in the last decade. However, there is far from consensus in science as to what consciousness is, or where it resides, and indeed much more that we need to know about the brain, let alone consciousness. More materialist perspectives put consciousness solely in the workings of the brain, yet some who approach consciousness from the neuroscience perspective still lean towards consciousness being more than the brain, or at least having some features that allow it to extend beyond the brain. Other perspectives have consciousness generated by the brain but capable of extending way past, even to surviving the death of the body. Still others have consciousness existing outside the brain, either being born into beings (reincarnation) or even existing outside the brain through working through it while our bodies exist.
The connection between consciousness—mind—and the body is acknowledged even by Western medicine, though clearly minimized by approaches to our health and human performance. Yet it is also clear that the psychology of an individual affects what an individual does, physically. When a particular thought happens, we can understand what neurons fire in order to make the body do whatever it needs to do (and even track the signal to the right muscles). What we don't know is where and how the thought happens to begin with. We know that an individual's psychology—including their belief, doubt, or disbelief—can affect physical performance and one's health, positively or negatively.
This is clearly mind over matter—thought, whether conscious or unconscious, affecting physical matter, in this case the body itself. It's psychokinesis.
Move your hand. That's PK!
Cases of extraordinary human performance, or extraordinary self-healing, show that our minds can surpass the limits we're told exist for us physiologically.
It's only a short step to the concept of others affecting our health and healing. There are many practices and forms of healing that practitioners tout, whether hands-on healing, manipulating the energy of the body, bringing in external energy, or even praying for divine intervention. It's important to note that parapsychologists consider PK to cover manipulation of energy and systems to fall under the label as well.
In the more clearly "psychic" arena, PK relates to a wide range of phenomena: levitation and movements of objects (as in poltergeist cases), interference in and creation of energy systems, materialization and dematerialization (and maybe teleportation), metal-bending, psychic healing, effects on photographs and audio and video (including electronic voice phenomena), and effects on electronics and related devices, such as those in random event generators, computers, appliances, smartphones, and other technology (and even more mechanical devices).
Most people can accept that the mind affects the body, but most of these psychic effects or activities are often mind-bogglers outside of TV, movies, and comic books. Yet our unconscious minds seem to have no problem with occasionally moving things or, especially, screwing around with our electronics.
Ever been in a really stressed-out condition, or in a real rush, only to have your computer, printer, smartphone, malfunction or just act plain weird? Granted, you could be hitting the wrong keys/commands, but these things often happen without any physical touching at all.
Those rare cases in which larger scale things move, and/or there are continual effects with electronics, lights, and other appliances, or even objects breaking fall under the poltergeist banner. We generally find a living person ("agent") whose subconscious is moving things about or affecting electrical devices or materializing water or fire from nowhere. The poltergeist agent is generally unaware of his or her connection to the phenomena being witnessed, and there is often some kind of psychological or physical stress related to the poltergeist "attack." In fact, if we can get the agent to accept that he or she is the source of the activity, it generally stops—as if the conscious acceptance overrules the unconsciously caused PK.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the late British researcher Kenneth Batcheldor came up with a model of the psychology of PK that explains this, and also explains why most of us would (and do) have a hard time doing PK consciously. He referred to two issues that prevent us from doing PK, which we may be able to overcome in certain circumstances.
Some people who experienced PK or displayed those abilities from a young age may have been in family or other situations where the abilities were either accepted or even encouraged. Most of us have to work a bit harder to get past our programming to overcome both witness inhibition and ownership resistance.
People in and around parapsychology have figured out a few scenarios to do this. The famed "Philip experiment" in 1970s Canada involved a group of researchers creating a fictional "spirit" so as to defer responsibility for any PK activity that was to happen (thereby overcoming ownership resistance). They then attempted to contact "Philip" in a séance-like scenario. You can Google "Philip experiment" and come up with some very interesting information on their successes.
Aerospace engineer Jack Houck had his own take on overcoming the two blocks to PK when he started the popular "spoon bending parties" in the late 1970s. These involve groups of people having a somewhat goofy time yelling "bend" at utensils (after a visualization process) that does overcome both blocks—though even with spoons and forks that sometimes flop over on their own (or are bent in ways that strength alone cannot account for), attendees still may explain away what happens. I've run a number of successful metal bending "parties" based on Houck's work. Find his instructions for your own spoon-bending party at www.jackhouck.com.
One of the best ways to get past witness inhibition is to watch someone doing PK—even if they are faking it! It's our belief that it is possible for someone to use their mind alone to move something or affect technology that helps us get past this barrier, even if that belief is momentary and just for the situation. Better still our belief that it is probable, and still better to believe that what we observe is really happening. Science fiction writers speak of "the willing suspension of disbelief," which is definitely what happens in the spoon-bending parties.
For myself, having grown up on comic books and science fiction, witnessing PK has never been at all disturbing. My own interest in psychic phenomena and abilities came out of my love for both science and folklore (including fiction). For whatever reason, I never thought real ESP and PK were "impossible," even as I learned about psychic fraud. As a result, I have always reacted more with a sense of wonder than any sort of fear of psychic functioning, PK included.
Consequently, when I met science fiction and science writer Martin Caidin in 1992, the man responsible for The Six Million Dollar Man TV series, and he claimed to be able to both do PK and teach people to do it, I was more than a little interested. Over the next few years, I tested him under controlled (and uncontrolled) conditions, learned his methods and thoughts behind doing PK, and co-taught a couple of workshops teaching people the basics of simple PK target movements. Sadly, Caidin passed away in 1997.
DOING PK YOURSELF, a la Martin Caidin
Making the Targets: you should determine what your target is going to be. Caidin used various kinds of paper and cardboard (including candy wrappers), cut in squares (3 inch squares are easy to work with, for example), and folded corner to corner so as to create a pyramid shape. The pyramid is then balanced on some kind of spindle. At a crafts store, I found some not so sharp craft needles and stuck one end in either clay or through a piece of paraffin wax, to create a spindle I could balance the pyramid on.
Blow on it lightly. The target should spin.
Find a spot in a room where there is little or no airflow, place the target on a table or shelf there, and observe the target while seated in front of it. You may want to observe it for some time, making sure it does not spin at all. Better still, put a glass jar or bowl over it to minimize air movement around it, or wear a painter's mask to block your breath.
You want to make sure you "know" that if it turns, it's not simply air currents or your breathing doing it.
You might also mark or decorate each side of the pyramid differently, since the target might do a quarter or half turn in a moment when you looked away. Doing this will allow you to keep better track of movements.
Next, you'll need to get those weird pop culture images out of your mind. You know, the ones where the psychic sits in front of something to try to move it, concentrates…concentrates harder…face turning red…vein throbbing in the forehead. Nope. Not how people who really do this work or look.
We have found that some people have immediate results, and then, because it surprises them (there's that witness inhibition and ownership resistance again), the target stops and resists moving again, sometimes for days.
Some people take to this like they've always been able to do it. Some may take many sessions to get it going, unless they see other people doing it first.
Along with the spoon-bending parties, we've run other group PK events using the targets and Caidin's method, with success. Generally, at least half the people can get things going, especially once they've seen someone else at the event do it.
Human performance, whether doing something athletic, intellectual, or artistic, so often involves believing in oneself. PK goes further.
Let's remember the lessons from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. When Luke Skywalker is unable to levitate his fighter out of the swamp on Dagobah because it is too big, that it is impossible, Yoda does it anyway.
Luke says, "I don't believe it."
Yoda's response is, "That is why you fail." Our belief, doubt, or disbelief affect our performance in all areas of our lives, but especially with psychic abilities.
To quote Martin Caidin: "The key is this: If you think it's impossible, you're not going to turn a damned thing. If you believe it's possible, you're on your way."
For much more on psychokinesis, including quite a bit from the late Martin Caidin to help you do it yourself, read my book Mind Over Matter, now available.