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Psi Explorer (CD-ROM), by Mario Varvoglis, Ph.D. UGM-IGK Multimedia (1996); United States distribution by Innovative Product Marketing, P.O. Box 380711, San Antonio, TX 78268; PC CD-ROM $44.95 + $5 s/h (discounts available for larger orders; Macintosh version available shortly); 1-888-PSI-EXPL. Reviewed by Jordan S. Gruber.
Overall Rating: 10 (out of 10)
Difficulty Level: 7 (out of 10)
Recommendation: Buy it; give it to your friends as presents; a breakthrough work
To Purchase: Go to www.psiexplorer.com, or call 1-888-PSI-EXPL
"Psi" (rhymes with "sigh") is the scientist's (more specifically, the parapsychologist's) term for ESP and related phenomena: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, premonitory dreams, psychokinesis (telekenisis), hauntings and poltergeists, etc. Twenty years ago, an open-minded person desiring a state-of-the-art scientific introduction into psi would have done well to read Charles Tart's excellent 1977 volume Psi: Scientific Studies of the Psychic Realm (Dutton). As marvelous as books such as Tart's might be, these days the earnest, wired student might find far greater value by first looking elsewhere.
Psi Explorer, an interactive CD-ROM by Mario Varvoglis, is an exceptional, even extraordinary, product. Subtitled "A Voyage into the universe of Psychic Phenomena," this CD-ROM would have stood out if only for its comprehensive, state-of-the-art, multimedia summary of psi, parapsychology, and psychic phenomena. But as indicated by a second subtitle -- "Unfolding the powers of the Mind" - this CD-ROM's interactivity goes far beyond the simple hyperlinking of text, images, and animations.
Augmenting these now common multimedia elements are actual, well-thought out, and well-executed ESP self-tests. Even better, Psi Explorer features a riveting psi "game" ("The Gate") that is spiritually provocative and exhilarating while simultaneously training the user and recording and analyzing her scores. These interactive features, combined with the exemplary production values found throughout, arguably make Psi Explorer the finest example to date of interactive consciousness-raising multimedia, for two reasons.
First, its multimedia elements -- the CD-ROM contains over an hour of videos and multimedia animations, and dozens of photos, graphs, and historical documents -- lend a three-dimensional this-worldliness to the study of a subject that is all too easily marginalized. It's much more difficult to dismiss psi and especially parapsychology out-of-hand when presented with the faces and efforts of the men and women who have been seriously applying themselves to this scientific field for nearly 70 years. Moreover, a new type of graphically based, hyperlinked, literacy is stealthily descending upon nearly all fields of study and endeavor, and a product such as Psi Explorer beautifully exemplifies the power of the new media.
Second, Psi Explorer, through its tests, Gate "game," and guided meditation (which I found not quite as useful as the other elements), gives the student of psi an actual, unmistakable, real-time (as it were), experience of the subject matter being considered. No longer do we just read about psi; now we can scientifically test it, on ourselves and others, without moving away from our computer. (For the truly skeptical, there are even plans to enhance the program's reliance on an ordinary computer's pseudo-random number generating capabilities with a hardware-based, add-on, true random number generator.)
Although some nice ESP-testing and oracular software programs exist, none of them come close to affording Psi-Explorer's rich, CD-ROM based, multi-dimensional, comprehensively data-dense and interactive experience. It may not be the third-generation product that consistently transforms the hearts and minds of its users, but it is the first truly second-generation product that tackles as difficult and fascinating subject as Psi.
Importantly, While Psi Explorer rests on three pillars -- (1) gorgeous, even breathtaking, graphics and animations synchronized with galvanizing, penetrating sound; (2) a comprehensive, up-to-date, compendium of modern parapsychological knowledge; and (3) actual experimental exercises and trainings that can be used to self-test and improve psi abilities - its true genius is the way in which it seamlessly blends these three. The user is thereby given a choice: she can approach it as pure entertainment, as pure education, or as a serious training and testing tool.
As a CD-ROM per se, Psi Explorer is fairly easy to navigate but not entirely intuitively obvious. In part, the problem is that the "virtual space" contained in the program is so large that it is easy to miss parts of it; the user is well-advised to take some time to read either the accompanying hard-copy guide or the online guide. After entering the Crytal, the central space, there is a choice of 6 "rooms" that can be moved into via Myst-like graphics and movement conventions:
- the Lab, which gives multimedia reviews of the most important psi experiments, and the TestRoom, which can only be accessed via the Lab, containing a battery of ESP self-tests;
- the Forum, which contains a scintillating, futuristic, multimedia discussion of theories and models of psi (including such topics as the relationship between physics and mysticism);
- the Sphere, which contains the guided meditation;
- the Gate, a psi test in the form of a multimedia game, which by itself is worth the price of admission; and finally,
- the Library, which contains real life case studies, resources, and various other types of information.
Another small criticism flowing from the sheer quantity of material on the CD-ROM: there is no CD-ROM wide search engine. Perhaps in future editions, when the product is ported from CD-ROM to the much greater capacity DVD, this lack will be addressed.
In the end, the success of Psi Explorer can be mostly ascribed to the core competence of its creator, Mario Varvoglis, an American psi researcher who worked in two of the United States' most important parapsychology laboratories. According to the provided materials, "After moving to France, Dr. Varvoglis oriented his research toward the development of 'psi-optimization' procedures: experimental protocols and multimedia, gamelike psi-tests which could enhance intentional psi performance." Not surprisingly, the interactive "games" found in Psi Explorer contains many subtle and even brilliant touches distilled from Dr. Varvoglis's years of experience and research.
In short, what we have here is an actual psi testing and enhancement tool designed by a serious parapsychologist. And it's enormously entertaining and informative as well! Ultimately, Psi Explorer is as extraordinary as the subject matter upon which it focuses, an artistic and scientific triumph which deserves to be widely purchased, studied, used, admired, and emulated. (Quick question: use your own psychic abilities to discern whether or not I really liked Psi Explorer.)
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