The use of the services of psychics in regard to personal problems or to wider issues of concern is a widespread feature of societies throughout the world. The concept of a psychic has been felt by some to be essentially anachronistic in a modern day world where scientific research and methodology had produced a valuable body of knowledge that provides the basis for activities and technology employed to better the quality of human life. In contrast to the mindset of a scientifically driven world the function of psychics has been consistently criticized by the advocates of scientifically based knowledge, who argue that rigorous statistical testing and the application of existing resources for information has never been able to prove reliably that psychics exist as a physical reality. Despite these critiques, belief in the existence of psychic powers have been found by studies to be common in highly industrialized and educated nations such as the United States, where unsympathetic observers expect people to form conclusions based on the judgments of science. The fact that many people do not while continuing to act in accordance with many other theories and practices suggested by the results of scientific research is a common subject for psychologists and sociologists attempting to understand the basic foundations for the operation of people’s functions of belief.
The categorization of powers of perception regarding private thoughts or the definitive knowledge of events still to unfold as being psychic is itself a result of the modern, scientifically based world. In previous epochs and cultures based on models other than the current form of the Western prototype concerned with scientific rigor and political liberty, the people known as psychics in industrialized societies performed other roles, such as that of a seer, oracle or shaman. Such individuals often held a highly respected role within a community. In the case of shamans, they often occupied a dominant position in a social group, and were counted on for the display of leadership and guidance in part through their psychic abilities. Cultures considered to be hewing to tribal models often showed this characteristic. In other cultures, people exhibiting psychic powers had more marginal roles which seldom accorded them the ability to graduate to leadership positions but might still provide them with a vital decision-making role in the times of crises, as is indicated in an episode of Herodotus’s Histories of Greek culture.
In the 19th century, traditionally based beliefs in individuals who would now be considered psychics were downgraded by the development of scientific methods for collecting information and arriving at conclusions, which also enabled a rapid rise in the rates of economic activity and technological innovation. The less pleasant aspects of living in a heavily industrialized society prompted new interest in older forms of knowledge, such as those based on the insights of psychics. This new expression of long held beliefs motivated scientific endeavor to turn its attention in the 20th century to people who were now referred to as psychics.