Human beings have evolved a remarkable capacity to gather information from their environment. Sight, taste, smell, sound and touch- these traditional senses provide a concrete way to define the space in which we live. Individuals can develop these senses, some to a level of proficiency beyond that of the average human being. Consider the visual acuity involved in military marksmanship, the discriminating palate of a gourmet cook, a wine taster’s sensitivity to the bouquet of a bottle of wine, or a trained musician’s ability to identify perfect pitch. Despite the fact that people like these have honed their sensory abilities to an advanced degree, however, their talents would not be called paranormal. However, there is the belief that an extrasensory capacity for touch exists within the repertoire of human abilities.
The term psychometry was first coined by Joseph Buchanan in 1842, and its meaning has evolved since then to refer to the ability to “read” an object’s history through touch. As fantastic as this is perceived to be, like many paranormal abilities, it has been met with warranted skepticism. Attempts to explain how psychometry is possible have suggested that an object’s history is embedded within its “aura”, a type of (spiritual) energy field that some individuals can detect and even measure the quality of, in such a manner that allows information about where the object has been and who has handled it to be gathered. In fact, a photographic technique, called Kirlian photography, is supposedly capable of detecting these energy fields and capturing them on film, though modern physics relates this phenomenon to coronal discharge effects that affect the film used in this type of photography.
Though psychometric reading has been met with scientific criticism, significant belief exists in the legitimacy of individuals who claim to have this ability, enough so that some police and detective agencies have employed psychic detectives to help solve crimes. In such cases, items belonging to the victim are provided to psychics or mediums who “read” the object to gain information on details surrounding the crime in question. The development of modern forensic techniques has largely obviated the need for such alternative means of crime scene investigation, but even so, some have not discounted the use of psychometry as a valid forensic tool.
Human genetics offers a possible explanation for a phenomenon with characteristics that could be misinterpreted by some as a paranormal ability to gain information about an object through touch. Synesthesia describes a type of cognitive processing where input from one of the senses is interpreted by the brain in a manner that provides feedback and output in another sense. Simply put, individuals born with this sensory re-wiring will, for example, see words and numbers as colors, or taste specific flavors for different sounds that they hear. Fascinating and intricate, this ability would theoretically allow a person to quantify tactile experiences in such a way that would yield qualities of information that regular non-synesthetic means cannot.
So perhaps “psychometry” exists within human potential, but simply needs a re-definition to de-mystify its paranormal origins. In the meantime, the range of senses that we can engage and enhance provides us with a very real context in which we can develop highly trained, if not superhuman abilities. That said, if a person can hit a target the size of a quarter from a hundred yards with pinpoint accuracy, identify a millionth of a change in the chemical composition of any food or drink, or detect a minute fluctuation in air pressure created by changing sound frequencies, who’s to say that those abilities aren’t superhuman?