The field of para science is generally defined by participants and members in the scientific community to embrace the study of the possible existence of psychic and extrasensory powers in people and the existence of life after death and physical manifestations of such metaphysical matters in the physical realm, such as in the form of ghosts. In the academic community of theorizing and research the idea of pursuing para science is still a contentious and not particularly popular one, as the general consensus among scientists and researchers is that the practices associated with para science have failed to produce any tangible methods according to the widely adhered-to standards of the scientific method. Practitioners of para science in part must face the difficulty of synthesizing beliefs in entities and occurrences that arose from an intellectual moment apart from the modern day emphasis in science on provability and data gathering, and in many cases arise from folk culture or its modern equivalent in urban myth. Para science presents the challenges and opportunities of dealing with beliefs usually perceived as non- and even anti-scientific in a scientific setting and attempted to understand the subjects of para science in the context of a physically manifest and observable world.
The 19th century saw a large increase in the growth of interest among educated and socially well connected people in beliefs that would now fall under the heading of para science, including the exhibition of supernatural powers in contexts such as the observation of the ritual known as a seance or in the investigation into the existence of ghosts which were believed to haunt certain houses or places. This upward trend in the practice of para science, though it was not yet referred to as such, is speculated by historians and sociologists to be a reaction to the corresponding rise in the sophistication and uses of science then being offered and the corresponding growth in technology and industry. The belief in psychic abilities and supernatural entities was viewed as being somewhat separate from the world dominated by scientifically based methods and thus possessed an emotional attraction for many people. The academic research that was conducted into the existence of such para science phenomena was then known as psychical research. In the nineteen-thirties the term para science was adopted to indicate that research in the field would from that point on be adhering more to experimental procedures for gathering and testing data. Another large step for the study of para science, specifically within the area of the United States, took place in 1957 with the establishment of the Para psychological Association, which in 1969 became attached to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, largely through the efforts of the famed researcher in anthropology Margaret Mead. With this firm basis of professional support established for research into para science, the nineteen-seventies proved to be a high point for the academic study of para science, in part due to widespread interest throughout popular culture in occult phenomena. By the 1980s, however, para science was experiencing a downward shift.