I had a discussion with a student today about religion and spirituality. Based on having seen someone who claimed to communicate with the dead some time back on Larry King and the book Hello From Heaven, I asked my student if she believed such a thing was possible. She said she did not. Then I asked her how she'd convince a blind person that such a thing as sight was real. For this, she had no answer.
This raises an interesting question about psychic abilities. How can anyone, who possesses a sense that others do not, prove that sense exists? A person born blind from birth has to take your word for it that sight actually exists and only does so because so many people say it is so. Does a sense, such as the ability to communicate with the dead, not exist because only a small minority possesses it?
We all rely on our senses almost exclusively when estimating the nature of our world. Part of the purpose of meditation is to turn ourselves off from the senses for awhile in order to experience something else. Unfortunately, most people are never able to disengage their sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste enough to find out if our other senses are covering up our ability to perceive another sense.
It's not so outrageous a possibility that the blaring stimulation one's nervous system receives could be making it hard to sense something else. After all, people who are inundated with sounds often say it is "too loud to think." If loud sounds, extreme temperatures, or bright light can impede your mental clarity, isn't it possible that the cacophony of sensory input in daily life is blotting out other more subtle sensations?
Our senses are also highly fallible. How often do you see something out of the corner of your eye yet upon closer inspection see nothing there. How common is it to be with someone and say, "Did you say something?" when nothing has been uttered. It's also not uncommon to have non-psychotic olfactory mini-hallucinations, though most people do not recognize them as hallucinations. They just think they smell something from a source they cannot locate.