HALF OF my friends accuse me of an excess of scientific pedantry; the other half of unscientific leanings towards preposterous subjects such as extra-sensory perception (ESP), which they include in the domain of the supernatural. However, it is comforting to know that the same accusations are levelled at an elite of scientists, who make excellent company in the dock.
The accusations are based partly on a legitimate revulsion from superstition and "dabbling with the occult", but mainly on a failure to keep up with recent developments in the exact sciences on the one hand and in parapsychology on the other. Over the last few decades the climate in both camps has significantly changed: parapsychological research has become more rigorous, statistical and computerised, while theoretical physics has become more and more "occult", cheerfully breaking practically every previously sacrosanct "law of nature". Thus to some extent the accusation could even be reversed: parapsychology has laid itself open to the charge of scientific pedantry, quantum physics to the charge of leaning towards such "supernatural" concepts as negative mass and time flowing backwards.
One might call this a negative sort of rapprochement - negative in the sense that the unthinkable phenomena of ESP appear somewhat less preposterous in the light of the unthinkable propositions of physics. I must elaborate a little on these reciprocal developments, starting with the ascent of parapsychology towards scientific respectability.
In 1960 I wrote a series of articles for the London Observer on frontiers of research at American universities. Among others, I visited Professor Rhine at Duke University, North Carolina. The passage that follows is the (abbreviated) description of that visit; the reader familiar with developments in ESP research will realise how far things have moved in the ten years that have passed
In 1932, Dr. J. B. Rhine, Associate Professor of Psychology, and his wife, Dr. Louisa Rhine, were permitted to establish officially their Parapsychological Laboratory in the Psychology Department headed by Professor William McDougall. It was an event of great symbolic importance: research into the dubious subjects of telepathy and clairvoyance had for the first time been recognised as academically respectable.
Rhine and his collaborators introduced rigorous scientific methods into the investigation of these elusive phenomena. The popular image of the psychic investigator as an uncritical believer and willing prey to fraudulent mediums has become an anachronism. The new school of parapsychology, which Rhine inaugurated, has carried matters to the opposite extreme in its almost fanatical devotion to statistical method, mathematical analysis, mechanised controls. The card-guessing and dice-throwing experiments, repeated over millions of experimental runs with thousands of random experimental subjects - often whole classes of schoolboys who have no idea what the experiment is about; the increasingly elaborate machinery for mechanical card-shuffling, dice-throwing, randomising, recording, and what-have-you, have turned the study of extra-sensory perception into an empirical science as sober, down-to-earth
- and all too often as dreary - as training rats to run a maze, or slicing up generations of flatworms. Even the terminology coined by Rhine: ESP, Psi effect, decline effect, reinforcement, BM (blind matching), BT (basic theory), SO (stimulus object), STM (screen touch match), and so forth, is characteristic of the antiseptic atmosphere in modern ESP labs. This New Look in parapsychology is partly a reflection of the prevailing fashion in research in general, but there is also an element in it of bending over backwards to disarm suspicions and to meet the sceptic on his own empirical-statistical ground.
On the whole this sober, functional approach proved effective. Not only several universities, but such conservative bodies as the Royal Society of Medicine, the American Philosophical Association, the Rockefeller, Fulbright and Ciba Foundations, have organised lectures and symposia on parapsychology. The majority of academic psychologists remained hostile, although the giants had always taken telepathy and allied phenomena for granted
- from Charcot and Richet through William James to Freud and Jung. Freud thought that telepathy entered into the relations between analyst and patient, and Jung has coined a new name for that old phenomenon: Synchronicity. However, these men belonged to a mellower generation, 'and formed their conclusions before Rhine put parapsychology "on the map"; among the younger lights, the attitude of H. J. Eysenck is significant. Professor Eysenck occupies the Chair in Psychology at the University of London, and is Director of the Psychological Department at the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals. Those acquainted with his work will hardly accuse him of a lack of scepticism or an excess of humility. His summing up of the problem of telepathy commands some interest:
"Unless there is a gigantic conspiracy involving some thirty University departments all over the world, and several hundred highly respected scientists in various fields, many of them originally hostile to the claims of the psychical researchers, the only conclusion the unbiased observer can come to must be that there does exist a small number of people who obtain knowledge existing either in other people's minds, or in the outer world, by means as yet unknown to science. This should not be interpreted as giving any support to such notions as survival after death, philosophical idealism, or anything else..."(1)
In one sense, therefore, it can be said that the Rhines' pioneering work has succeeded. But there is another side to the picture: they are resigned to the periodic storms of defamation that break over their heads every two or three years. The critics fall into two main categories: the first one might call the "insatiable perfectionists" who attack mainly the earlier work on ESP when experimental controls were not as rigorous as they are today; and the
a priorists, who argue that ESP is a highly improbable hypothesis; that the hypothesis of fraud is easier to fit into the accepted framework of science; and that accordingly, by applying Occam's razor, one must accept the hypothesis of fraud. To this they usually add: "No personal offence meant, we are merely engaged in an exercise in logic." To quote Professor Eysenck again:
"Scientists, especially when they leave the particular field in which they have specialised, are just as ordinary, pig-headed and unreasonable as anybody else, and their unusually high intelligence only makes their prejudices all the more
The above was written in 1960. In the decade that has passed since, the situation has changed. Rhine is looked upon as a patriarch; although the "insatiable perfectionists" did succeed in detecting flaws in his early experiments, his integrity is beyond dispute. Instead of "some thirty University departments" at the time when Eysenck wrote, there is now hardly a country in the world which does not have one or several university departments engaged in parapsychological research - with Russia leading the field; and the hypothesis of a "gigantic conspiracy" would have to involve not several hundred but thousands of respectable scientists. In 1967 the New York Academy of Science held a symposium on parapsychology. In 1969 the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the equivalent of the British Association) approved the application of the Parapsychology Association to become an affiliate of that august body. Two previous applications had been rejected; the approval of the third was a sign of the times, and for parapsychology the final seal of respectability.
But the most surprising developments took place in the Soviet Union. One would have thought that parapsychology would be regarded there as a mortal heresy and betrayal of the materialist creed. However, as early as 1916 the great Bechterev, associate of Pavlov, started experiments in ESP; he called it "biological radio", which partly explains how he got away with it. Still, he and his colleagues had to keep pretty quiet about what they were doing. But in the early sixties a sudden change occurred. Leonid Vassiliev, Professor of Physiology at Leningrad University, a student of Bechterev's, published reports of some remarkable experiments in tele-hypnosis. He claimed that hypnotised subjects had been made to awaken from trance by a telepathically transmitted command from a distance; and that hypnotised subjects standing upright were made to fall down by the same means. This was followed by other experiments in telepathic communication between distant towns, such as Moscow and Leningrad, carried out
en masse with thousands of subjects. The number of scientific publications on parapsychology in Soviet Russia, which in 1958 had amounted to two, had by 1967 increased to thirty-five per year, and in 1969 to seventy; while the number of publications
against parapsychology in 1958 had been one, and in 1969 four(3). Since in the USSR all publications are state-controlled, the sudden boom in parapsychology was obviously supported, or inspired, from higher quarters. The motives for it can be guessed from Vassiliev quoting in one of his first publications "an eminent Soviet rocket pioneer" to the effect that "the phenomena of telepathy can no longer be called into question". This conveyed to any Soviet scientist trained to read between the lines that ESP, once its technique has been mastered and made to function reliably, might have important strategic uses as a method of direct communication. This seemingly fantastic idea was confirmed as far back as 1963 by a high official of NASA, the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration:*
* Dr. Eugene B. Konecci, Director, Biotechnology and Human Research, Office of Advanced Research and Technology, in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, speaking at the Fourteenth International Astronautics Federation meeting (Paris, September 26 to October
A concentrated effort towards a highly interesting problem in modern science - the nature and essence of certain phenomena of electro-magnetic
[sic] communication between living organisms - is reportedly being pursued with top priority under the Soviet-manned space programme. Until recently these phenomena have in general been ignored by Western scientists; however, the many hypotheses involved are now receiving attention in world literature.
Specific US experiments in energy transfer phenomena, or the relationship between the physical fields of particles and the non-demonstrable "personal" psi-plasma field [sic], are being carried out or planned under various advanced concepts.
... To Western scientists and engineers the results of valid experimentation in energy transfer could lead to new communications media and advanced emergency techniques, as well as to biocybernetical aids for integrating with a conceptual design of an ultimate operational flight system.
Such a design could result from a present NASA study on data subsystems and certain astronaut self-contained sensor
Dr. Konecci then confirmed that both NASA and the Soviet Academy of Sciences were actively engaged in the study of telepathic phenomena (to which he coyly referred as "energy transfer" or "psycho-physiological information transfer"). He
This vitally important OART [Office of Advanced Research and Technology] study involves the function of the psycho-physiological information acquisition, processing and control
That ESP should be transmitted by electro-magnetic waves is, as we shall see, a most unlikely hypothesis; and what a "personal psi-plasma field" means is anybody's guess. However, there can be little doubt that certain NASA agencies are taking the possibilities of telepathic communication as seriously as their opposite numbers in the Soviet Union. But they are understandably reluctant to talk about it - perhaps for fear of ridicule, perhaps for "security reasons" - and thus the public was rather startled to learn, a few months after the Apollo 14 mission to the moon in February 1971, that astronaut Mitchell had attempted during the flight to establish telepathic contact with four selected subjects on earth. The experiments followed Professor Rhine's classic procedures in card-guessing, and Captain Mitchell then visited Rhine at Duke University to analyse the results. At the time of writing the results have not been published, but Press reports* quoted Captain Mitchell's statement that they were "far exceeding anything expected".
* E.g., in the International Herald
Tribune, June 23, 1971.
The father of cybernetics, Norbert Wiener, also employed a discreet terminology when he prophesied that the study of telepathy would become an integral part of psychology in the
Many other considerations which up to the present have been situated in a somewhat shameful background, such as the study of direct communication at a distance, possibly by some sort of radiative phenomenon, are going to be subjected to a real trend in scientific examination, which will not be corrupted by the unscientific assumption that we are dealing with phenomena with no physical
Needless to say, a number of scientists maintain a hostile attitude, though they admit being impressed by the evidence. Perhaps the most bellicose among them is Professor Hansel who recently made a sort of last-ditch stand on the conspiracy of fraud theory*. Another psychologist wrote in the American journal
Science that "not a thousand experiments with ten million trials and by a hundred separate investigators" could make him accept extra-sensory perception. In a similar vein the Professor of Psychology at McGill University, D. O. Hebb, a leading behaviourist, frankly declared that he rejected the evidence for telepathy, strong though it was, "because the idea does not make sense" - admitting that this rejection was "in the literal sense just prejudice"(6). The mathematician Warren Weaver, one of the founders of modern communication theory, was equally sincere: "I find this [ESP] a subject that is so intellectually uncomfortable as to be almost painful. I end by concluding that I cannot explain away Professor Rhine's evidence, and that I also cannot accept his interpretation"(7).
* C. E. M. Hansel, ESP: A Scientific Evaluation, London, 1966. Regarding the "Hansel controversy", see for instance, Professor C. D. Broad's Lectures on Psychical Research (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1962), Appendix to Chapter III; Gertrude Schmeidler, Extra-Sensory Perception (Atherton Press, 1969), and Sir Cyril Burt in Science and ESP, ed. J. R. Smythies (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1967).
Yet on the whole the opposition is diminishing, and one can detect a subtle change in these negative utterances from the aggressive and cock-sure to the almost apologetic. At the same time, the number of those who consider ESP to quote the conservative
New Scientist - "as a speculative but potentially important area of investigation"(8) is steadily growing and includes an impressive list of Nobel laureates in physics and medicine, professors of philosophy, fellows of the Royal Society and the Soviet Academy of Science. One can almost foresee the time when ESP will be the fashionable craze in science, and the latest ESP recording gadgets will replace the rat-conditioning boxes in the laboratories. To return to an earlier metaphor, the dock for the accused might be changing into a bandwagon.
And yet in Warren Weaver's words the "almost painful intellectual discomfort" about telepathy and kindred phenomena persists not only in the minds of the sceptical opposition but also of those who were reluctantly brought to recognise the reality of these phenomena - either by the experimental evidence or under the direct impact of some personal experiences, or both. The emphasis is on "reluctantly", and the remarks that follow apply to this category only; the "born believer" does not feel that intellectual discomfort and takes the phenomena for granted, whether they can be rationally explained or not. But for the reluctant converts - to which category I also belong - it is harder. As a friend of mine, a science editor, remarked: "ESP is a pain in the neck. I would be happier without it; but it is there."
I shall try to enumerate briefly some of the irritants which seem to cause, or contribute to, that painful discomfort. First, vaguely remembered tales of fraudulent mediums who disgorge ectoplasmic phantoms made of cheesecloth, and speak in the voices of the departed or convey their messages by automatic writing. However, parapsychology is quite a different matter from spiritualism, and the latter is beyond the scope of this essay. But it is only fair to point out that while many professional mediums were fraudulent, there have been a few cases of "automatic scripts", written by non-professionals of undoubted integrity, which are something of a puzzle and have been the subject of protracted academic controversies.* The most comfortable explanation appears to be that the writers were victims of self-deception, mistaking the productions of their subconscious minds for messages from the beyond.
* The most celebrated case is perhaps that of Mrs. Winifred Coombe Tennant, the first woman appointed by the British Government as a delegate to the Assembly of the United Nations, who acted as a medium and produced automatic scripts under the pen name of Mrs. Willett. This was a closely guarded secret, unknown even to her family. Readers interested in this story, with many ramifications involving the former Prime Minister, Lord Balfour, and other eminent personalities, are referred to
The Palm Sunday Case: New Light on an Old Love Story by the Countess of Balfour (Proceedings, SPR, Vol 52, Part 189, February 1960);
The Sixth Sense by Rosalind Heywood (London, 1959); and Swan on a Black Sea by Geraldine Cummings (London, 1st Edition, 1965, revised Edition 1970).
The whole subject of mediumship was bedevilled by the extreme difficulty of drawing a neat line between deliberate swindle, unconscious self-deception, and sporadic cheating on bad days. However, the controlled laboratory experiments of modern ESP research are designed to exclude deception - conscious or unconscious - as far as humanly possible; and the controls are as rigorous, sometimes even more so, as in any other field of research. But the lore of the past, of funny goings-on in the darkened Victorian parlour, is still a contributory factor to intellectual discomfort. It is aggravated by the fact that "sensitives" are by definition sensitive - more emotional than rational, often unpredictable, sometimes of hysterical disposition*.
* Professor Burt, in his 1968 Myers Memorial Lecture(9), has an illuminating footnote on this:
"A number of investigations have shown that the analytic, intellectual mind of the civilised adult seems peculiarly resistant to all types of paranormal cognition. One of the most recent researches is that of Robert and Henie Brier, who tested several samples of people belonging to a society known as Mensa: here the sole qualification for membership is an IQ within the top two per cent of the population. In all the tests of ESP their average score was significantly less than that expected by chance. Incidentally this type of research emphasises the fact that the absence of successful guesses is not necessarily just a negative result: it is always important to note the occurrence of a disproportionate number not only of 'psi-hits', but also of 'psi-misses'" (R. and H. Brier, "ESP Experiments with High IQ Subjects", ap. J. B. Rhine and R. Brier,
Parapsychology Today, 1968).
The next factor of discomfort is a rather sad paradox: I have already hinted at it. A century ago, enlightened people were repelled by the occult melodrama of spiritualistic
sťances; today one is put off by the sterilised atmosphere in the parapsychological laboratory, with its forbidding gadgets, the monotonous series of mechanised card-guessing experiments, and the complex mathematics involved in the evaluation of the results. The statistical methods of modern parapsychology reflect the statistical orientation in the other sciences, but that does not make them more palatable to ordinary mortals.
Nor are the results very convincing, except to the mathematically minded. The first approach to telepathy of Rhine and his school was through card-guessing experiments. They used specially manufactured cards, so-called Zener cards, which had only five markings: circle, square, cross, star, waves. The "sender" or "agent" turned up card after card screened from view, and the "percipient" or "receiver" tried to guess telepathically which of the five cards the agent was looking at. The guesses were recorded, and after a suitable number of tries (which might go on for an hour or two), the results were evaluated. The probability of a correct guess made by pure chance was obviously one in five, i.e. twenty hits in a hundred tries. Now one of the cornerstones of the theory of probability, and of modern physics in general, is the "law of large numbers" which states, in simplified form, that the larger the number of tries the closer the ratio of hits to misses will approach chance expectation - and, conversely, the larger the number of tries, the greater the odds against persistent deviations from that ratio. If significant deviations from chance expectation nevertheless do persist in a series of, say, several thousand tries, then the only reasonable - and scientific - conclusion is that some factor other than chance must be operating to account for the result. And since the experimental set-up excludes any sensory perception of the "target card" by the guessing subject, one must conclude that his persistent high scoring is due to some form of extra-sensory perception. This, from the point of view of scientific methodology, is strictly orthodox, inductive reasoning; and this is what convinced so many sceptics, particularly physicists, that ESP is a hard reality.
The odds against chance, which the experiments by Rhine and his English followers demonstrated, were indeed astronomical - of the order of millions, and even higher*. Thus, according to the rules of the game in the exact sciences, the question "Does ESP exist?" should have been regarded as settled, and the controversy should have shifted to the next problem, "How does it work?"
* Among English experimenters the most impressive results were achieved by the eminent Cambridge psychologist Thouless, and the mathematician Dr. Soal.
And yet the malaise persisted. For one thing, guessing card after card a hundred, a thousand times is a very monotonous and boring exercise; even the most enthusiastic experimental subjects showed a marked decline in hits towards the end of each session, and after some weeks or months of intense experimenting most of them lost altogether their special gifts. Incidentally, this "decline effect" (from the beginning to the end of a session) was considered as additional proof that there was some human factor at work influencing the scores, and not just chance.
Nevertheless there was, as already said, something profoundly unsatisfactory in the experimental design to all but the mathematically minded. An example will illustrate this. A subject in an ESP test makes a series of a hundred successive guesses at a hundred consecutive cards (which the experimenter turns up one by one in a different room or a different building). Since there are five types of cards, his chance expectation is one correct guess in five or twenty correct guesses in a hundred tries. Assuming he has made twenty-two, instead of twenty correct guesses - nobody will turn a hair. The experiment continues until the subject has made a thousand guesses and he again does ten per cent better than chance expectation: two hundred and twenty hits instead of two hundred. Here, as the universally accepted probability calculus (based on the so-called binomial formula) shows, the odds against such a result occurring by pure chance are six to one. The subject carries on to five thousand guesses, and continues to score ten per cent over average: eleven hundred hits instead of a thousand. The odds against chance are now two thousand against one. Relentlessly he carries on until he has made ten thousand guesses - and lo, he scored two thousand two hundred instead of two thousand hits. The odds for this being the work of pure chance are now one in two million.
Such is the "law of great numbers". To the mathematician and physicist it is an elementary tool; to the non-mathematician the steep rise of the odds against chance is a paradox and an added source of intellectual discomfort. The nearest one can get to an intuitive grasp of the paradox is by reflecting that if that ten per cent deviation from average, however trivial in itself, keeps stubbornly persisting on and on to a thousand, five thousand, ten thousand tries, then it stands to reason that there must be a reason for it. And that is all that the probability calculus is meant to prove. The first published results by Rhine in 1934 contained the complete record of eighty-five thousand card-calling tries, conducted with a number of selected subjects*. The overall score averaged twenty-eight hits instead of twenty in a hundred guesses. The odds against this are, as already said, astronomical, and this was in fact the first important break-through of ESP into respectability.
* The record included the scores of subjects who had been rejected after a preliminary try because their scores were average or below.
And yet there is to the non-mathematician something profoundly disturbing in the idea that an average of twenty-eight correct guesses instead of twenty should have such momentous results, even when very large numbers are involved. The mathematically naive person seems to have a more acute awareness than the specialist of the basic paradox of probability theory, over which philosophers have puzzled ever since Pascal initiated that branch of science (for the purpose of improving the gambling prospects of a philosopher friend, the Chevalier de Mere). The paradox consists, loosely speaking, in the fact that probability theory is able to predict with uncanny precision the overall outcome of processes made up out of a large number of individual happenings, each of which in itself is unpredictable. In other words, we observe a large number of uncertainties producing a certainty, a large number of chance events creating a lawful total outcome.
But, paradoxical or not, it works. In thermodynamics we can predict exactly the temperature of a gas under a given pressure, although the gas molecules, whose speed determines the temperature, all fly about, collide and rebound in their crazy ways like a swarm of gnats on an LSD trip. The archaeologist who determines the age of a fossil by the radio-carbon test relies on the fact that radioactive substances decompose at a rigorously fixed rate (their so-called "half-life"*), although the disintegration of their individual atoms is spontaneous and unpredictable even in theory. In sub-atomic physics in general, Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and the laws of quantum mechanics have replaced causality by probability. In genetics, ever since Abbot Mendel started counting his dwarf peas, the statistical approach reigns supreme. And so it does in the more mundane spheres of the insurance business and gambling casinos. None of them could survive if the laws of chance were not so paradoxically reliable.
* i.e. the time it takes for half of the atoms of a given radio-active substance to decay.
A classical example of statistical wizardry concerns the death of soldiers kicked by cavalry horses in the German Army from 1875 to 1894. The total number of deaths in fourteen army corps over these twenty years was 196. A German mathematician undertook to calculate from these data alone the theoretical frequency of zero, one, two or more deaths per army corps per year*. The comparison between theoretical and actual figures reads:
of deaths per army corps per year
number of instances
number of instances
After Warren Weaver(10)
* He used the so-called Poisson distribution derived from the more widely used Gaussian curve.
To make this somewhat involved table clearer: how often in these twenty years would any of the fourteen army corps suffer two casualties in a single year? The theory says that this should occur 34.1 times. In fact it occurred thirty-two times. All the mathematician had to go on for his calculations was the total number of casualties in 14 x 20 = 280 "army corps years". From this single datum he was able to deduce with the aid of Poisson's equation the relative frequency of 0, 1, 2, 3 or 4 casualties suffered by a single army corps in a single year.
Another mystery of the theory of chance is reflected in the following quotation from Warren
The circumstances which result in a dog biting a person seriously enough so that the matter gets reported to the health authorities would seem to be complex and unpredictable indeed. In New York City, in the year 1955, there were, on the average, 75.3 reports per day to the Department of Health of bitings of people. In 1956 the corresponding number was 73.6. In 1957 it was 73.2. In 1957 and 1958 the figures were 74.5 and
One of the most striking and fundamental things about probability theory is that it leads to an understanding [sic] of the otherwise strange fact that events which are individually capricious and unpredictable can, when treated en masse, lead to very stable
But does it really lead to an
understanding? How do those German Army horses adjust the frequency of their lethal kicks to the requirements of the Poisson equation? How do the dogs in New York know that their daily ration of biting is exhausted? How does the roulette ball know that in the long run zero must come up once in thirty-seven times, if the casino is to be kept going? The soothing explanation that the countless minute influences on horses, dogs or roulette balls must in the long run "cancel out", is in fact begging the question. It cannot answer the hoary paradox resulting from the fact that the outcome of the croupier's throw is not causally related to the outcome of previous throws: that if red came up twenty-eight times in a row (which, I believe, is the longest series ever recorded), the chances of it coming up yet once more are still fifty-fifty.
Probability theory is the offspring of paradox wedded to mathematics. But it works. The whole edifice of modern physics relies on it, the geneticist relies on it, the archaeologist relies on it, business relies on it. And it works, to say it once more, with uncanny accuracy where large numbers of events are considered,
en masse. That precisely is the reason why, when a large series of events persistently deviates from chance expectation, we are driven to the conclusion that some factor other than chance is involved.
We are driven to it, but we are not happy about it. If card-guessing were all there is to parapsychology, it would hardly be worth while to bother about it. At the same time, however, the statistical results obtained in the experiments by Rhine, Soal, Thouless and so on, constitute the strongest evidence to confound the sceptical scientist. One way of convincing a deaf person that a gramophone emits music is to show him the grooves on the record through a magnifying glass.
Another intuitive objection to card-guessing, and statistical experiments in general, could be expressed as follows: "All right, your telepathic subject scores on the average eight hits out of twenty-five guesses, instead of the chance expectation of five hits. This is very impressive, but it still leaves him with seventeen misses out of twenty-five. Assuming that the persistent excess is due to ESP, it must be a very erratic faculty if it just goes on and off - and mostly off."
This is certainly true. One could object that the single molecules of the vapour in a steam engine, or the particles in an atomic pile, behave just as erratically; only the total outcome is guaranteed, as it were. But the analogy is only partly valid because in ESP experiments not even the total outcome is assured. However promising the subject, however impressive his past scoring record, there is no certainty that at the next experimental session his ESP faculty will work. And this, in fact, is one of the main arguments of the sceptic. One of the fundamental requirements in the exact sciences is that an experiment should be
repeatable and its outcome predictable (within certain statistical limits). But it is in the very nature of parapsychological phenomena that they are not repeatable at will, and that they operate unpredictably. This is the issue which has bedevilled the controversy from its very beginnings.
A moment's reflection will show, however, that the sceptic's criticism is unfair. Repeatability and predictability are valid criteria in the physical sciences, but less so on the frontiers of medicine, and even less in those branches of psychology which involve unconscious processes and the autonomic nervous system. Erection of the penis of the human male is, alas, rather unpredictable, and so is the female orgasm. The type of stringent controls applied to ESP experiments, and the presence of sceptical observers, would certainly not facilitate their occurrence. This is not a whimsical analogy, because sex and ESP are both governed by unconscious processes which are not under voluntary control; moreover, attempts to produce them by conscious effort may prove to be self-defeating. For nearly half a century parapsychologists of the statistical school have been hankering after the ideal experiment which would satisfy the strictest criteria of repeatability and predictability. This might turn out to be a will-o'-the-wisp until psychologists discover a technique to induce extra-sensory perceptions at will.
A less grueling approach to parapsychology than card-guessing statistics is indicated by what one might call the "classical" type of experiments carried out in the early days of the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR).
In the 1880's two Liverpool notables, Malcolm Guthrie, a justice of the Peace and Governor of University College, and James Birchall, a headmaster, carried out a series of 246 experiments in the telepathic transmission of drawings to specially gifted subjects. After publishing their early results in the Proceedings of the Society, they approached Sir Oliver Lodge, one of the outstanding physicists of his time, who was in turn President of the Physical Society, of the British Association, the Radio Society, the Rontgen Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society, and so on. Lodge was persuaded to take charge of the experiments; the following extract from his account may convey something of the atmosphere in which they were carried
If I had merely witnessed facts as a passive spectator I should most certainly not publicly report upon them. So long as one is bound to accept imposed conditions and merely witness what goes on, I have no confidence in my own penetration, and am perfectly sure that a conjuror could impose on me, possibly even to the extent of making me think that he was not imposing on me; but when one has control of the circumstances, can change them at will and arrange one's own experiments, one gradually acquires a belief in the phenomena observed quite comparable to that induced by the repetition of ordinary physical
The diagram below shows in the top row six drawings, freely improvised by Guthrie and "transmitted" to the percipient "Miss E."; the row below shows her reproductions of them. They are the complete record of a consecutive series of telepathic transmissions during a single experimental session:
In the same volume of the Proceedings ten more completely successful transmissions of drawings were published. The number of partial successes cannot be expressed in precise figures; by a conservative standard of judging similarities they amount to more than a half out of 246 tries. But in this type of experiment statistics hardly matter. To hit on one card among five possibles is one thing; to reproduce a design out of an infinite number of possible designs is quite another. And Guthrie's experiments were by no means unique; a number of equally impressive results were reported in the early volumes of the
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.
This may be the place to say a few words about the British Society for Psychical Research. Its character, as well as its academic and social standing, can perhaps be conveyed in the simplest way by the following list of its past presidents, all of whom took an active part in ESP research; they include three Nobel laureates, ten Fellows of the Royal Society, one Prime Minister and a galaxy of professors, mostly physicists and
1882-4 Henry Sidgwick, Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, Cambridge.
1885-7 Balfour Stewart, F.R.S., Professor of Physics, University of Manchester.
1888-92 Henry Sidgwick q.v.
1893 Arthur Earl of Balfour, K.G., O.M. Philosopher. Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary. President of the British Association, etc.
1894-5 William James, Harvard Professor of Psychology and Philosophy.
1896-7 Sir William Crookes, O.M., F.R.S. Discoverer of thallium, inventor of the radiometer, etc.
1900 Frederic W. H. Myers. Classical scholar. Originated concept of subliminal self, coined terms telepathy, supernormal, veridical.
1901-3 Sir Oliver Lodge, F.R.S. (see above).
1904 Sir William Barrett, F.R.S., Professor of Physics, Dublin. In 1876 read a paper on telepathy in hypnotised subjects to the anthropological section of the British Association, which refused either to appoint a Committee of Investigation or to publish the paper.
1905 Charles Richet, Professor of Medicine. French physiologist, discovered principle of scrum therapy. Nobel Prize (1913) for work on anaphylaxis.
1906-7 Rt. Hon. Gerald Balfour (younger brother of Arthur Balfour q.v.). Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. Chief Secretary for Ireland 1895-6. President Board of Trade 1900-5.
1908-9 Mrs. Henry Sidgwick (nee Eleanor Balfour). First Principal Newnham College, Cambridge 1892-1910.
1910 H. Arthur Smith, M.A., L.LB. Barrister at law.
1911 Andrew Lang. First Gifford lecturer. Authority on mythology and folklore.
1912 Bishop W. Boyd Carpenter, D.D., K.C.V.O., Bishop of Ripon, Canon of Westminster.
1913 Henri Bergson. Philosopher. Professor at the Sorbonne Academicien. Nobel. Prize 1927.
1914 F. C. S. Schiller. British pragmatist philosopher, Oxford. Professor, University of Los Angeles.
1915-16 Gilbert Murray, LL.D., LITT.D., O.M. Regius Professor of Greek at Oxford.
1917-18 L. P. Jacks, LL.D., D.D. Editor Hibbert Journal. Professor of Philosophy, Manchester College, Oxford.
1919 Lord Rayleigh, O.M., F.R.S. Nobel Prize 1904. Cambridge Professor of Experimental Physics 1879-84. President of the Royal Society. Discovered argon (with Sir William Ramsey).
1920-1 William McDougall, M.SC., M.B., F.R.S. Medical psychologist. Professor of Psychology at Harvard, and later at Duke University, N. Carolina.
1922 T. W. Mitchell, M.D. Editor British Journal of Medical Psychology.
1923 Camille Flammarion. French astronomer. Founder and director Juvisy Observatory.
1924-5 J. G. Piddington. Businessman, administrator of the Society's finances.
1926-7 Hans Driesch, Professor of Philosophy, University of Heidelberg. Pioneer of experimental biology.
1928-9 Sir Lawrence Jones Bt., B.A. (Oxon), F.R.S.L.
1930-1 Walter Franklin Prince, PH.D. American lawyer, student of multiple personality.
1932 Mrs. Henry Sidgwick (President of Honour) q.v. jointly with Sir Oliver Lodge q.v.
1933-4 The Hon. Mrs. Alfred Lyttelton (nee Edith Balfour), D.B.E., G.B.E. Delegate to League of Nations Assembly.
1935-6 C. D. Broad, LITT.D., F.B.A. Knightbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, University of Cambridge. President Aristotelian Society 1927-8.
1937-8 Lord Rayleigh, F.R.S. Physicist. President of the British Association, son of the third Lord Rayleigh q.v.
1939-41 H. H. Price, F.B.A. Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford. (Not to be confused with the controversial spiritualist Harry Price.)
1942-4 R. H. Thouless, PH.D. Psychologist, University of Cambridge.
1945-6 G. N. M. Tyrrell, B.A. London, Physics and Mathematics. Worked with Marconi on the development of radio.
1947-8 W. H. Salter, LL.B. Classical Scholar.
1949 Gardner Murphy, Professor of Psychology, Harvard.
1950-1 S. G. Soal, M.A., D.SC. Mathematician.
1952 Gilbert Murray, O.M. q.v.
1953-5 F. J. M. Stratton, D.S.O., F.R.S. President Royal Astronomical Association; Professor of Astrophysics, University of Cambridge; Director Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge.
1956-8 G. W. Lambert, C.B. Assistant Secretary of State., War Office. Originator of the geophysical theory of poltergeists.
1958-60 C. D. Broad q.v.
1960-1 H. H. Price q.v.
1961-3 E. R. Dodds, F.B.A., M.A., D.LITT. Regius Professor of Greek, University of Oxford.
1963-5 D. J. West, M.D., CH.B., D.P.M. Psychiatrist and criminologist.
1965-9 Sir Alister Hardy, F.R.S. Linacre Professor of Zoology, Oxford.
1970 W. A. H. Rushton, F.R.S. Director of Medical Studies, Trinity College, Cambridge. Professor of Visual Physiology, Cambridge University.
1971 C. W. K. Mundle, B.A. (Oxon), M.A. Director, Department of Philosophy, University College of North Wales,
If one included the Vice-Presidents and officers of the Society's Council, the list would become even more formidable (e.g. Sir J. J. Thomson, discoverer of the electron). But even in this sketchy form, it ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that ESP research is not a playground for superstitious cranks, and that the idea of a fraudulent conspiracy is absurd.
Among the most successful experimenters of the "prestatistical" days before the advent of Rhine was Professor Gilbert Murray. For many years he and his circle of distinguished friends played "thought transference" as a kind of parlour game. Murray first reported briefly on these experiments in his Presidential Address to the SPR in 1915, and the last time in his Address of 1952 when he was re-elected as President. Thus the experiments must have continued for at least twenty years. More detailed analyses of them were given by Mrs. A. Verrall (Lecturer in Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge)(14), and by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick in 1924(15). Throughout the experiments Murray himself acted as percipient, but different members of the group as agents. The opening sentence of Mrs. Sidgwick's report
Professor Gilbert Murray's experiments in thought-transference are perhaps the most important ever brought to the notice of the Society... It is
surprising, I think, that they have not attracted more general attention than,
so far as I know, they have.
It is indeed. After all, Gilbert Murray was not only the most prominent classical scholar of his time, but a public figure comparable to Bertrand Russell; he drafted the Covenant of the League of Nations, and was showered with honours by learned societies from all over the world Yet his experiments in telepathy remain practically unknown to this day, and are thus worth a few paragraphs - the more so as they convey a quite different atmosphere from the card-guessing ESP factories. Here are some extracts from his 1952
Let me say at once that my experiments belong to the pre-statistical stage of psychical research... Still I do not see how there can have been any significant failure of control... Fraud, I think, is out of the question; however slippery the behaviour of my subconscious, too many respectable people would have had to be its accomplices.
... The method was always the same. I was sent out of the drawing-room either to the dining-room or to the end of the hall, the door or doors, of course, being shut. The others remained in the drawing-room: someone chose a subject which was hastily written down, word for word. Then I was called in and my words written
Out of the first five hundred and five experiments, some sixty per cent were considered by the group as evidential, forty per cent as failures. Here are a few examples of "evidential" cases (the protocol indicates first the name of the agent; then the subject which Murray was to guess as it was written down; then Murray's words on being called back to the
COUNTESS OF CARLISLE (agent): "The Crimean soldiers after their return receiving their medals from Queen Victoria at [the] Horse Guards."
PROFESSOR MURRAY: "Is it the King giving V.C.s and things to people? Yes [I] think it's an investiture of some sort."
COUNTESS OF CARLISLE (agent): "Thinking of the Lusitania."
PROFESSOR MURRAY: "I have got this violently. I have got an awful impression of naval disaster. I should think it was the torpedoing of the
MURRAY'S DAUGHTER, ROSALIND: "I think of dancing with the Head of the Dutch Foreign Office at a
cafe chantant at The Hague."
PROFESSOR MURRAY: "A faint impression of your journey abroad. I should say something official; sort of official soiree or dancing or something. Feel as if it was in Holland."
Sometimes the experiments classified as failures are as revealing as the successes:
MARGARET DAVIS (agent): "Medici Chapel and tombs; sudden chill; absolute stillness. Marble figures who seem to have been there all night."
PROFESSOR MURRAY: "I wonder if this is right. I have got a feeling of a scene in my
Nefrekepta, where the man goes in, passage after passage, to an inner chamber where
Nefrekepta is lying dead with the shadows of his wife and child sitting beside him. But I think it's Indian."
Murray comments: "My poem was translated from an Egyptian story; I suppose I felt the subject was not Egyptian."
Earlier in his address he wrote:
Of course, the personal impression of the percipient himself is by no means conclusive evidence, but 1 do feel there is one almost universal quality in these guesses of mine which does suit telepathy and does not suit any other explanation. They always begin with a vague emotional quality or atmosphere ... Even in the failures this feeling of atmosphere often gets through. That is, it was not so much an act of cognition, or a piece of information that was transferred to me, but rather a feeling or an emotion; and it is notable that I never had any success in guessing mere cards or numbers, or any subject that was not in some way interesting or amusing.
Let us consider what we mean by telepathy. I believe most of us in this Society are inclined to agree with Bergson that it is probably a common unnoticed phenomenon in ordinary life, especially between intimates. We all know how often two friends get the same thought at the same moment. Tolstoy, the most acute of observers, speaks of "the instinctive feeling with which one human being guesses another's
Returning to recent developments in parapsychological research - perhaps the most frequent reports on ESP type phenomena concern telepathic dreams. In the 1960's an enterprising team at the Maimonides Medical Centre in New York (Drs. Stanley Krippner, Montague Ullman and their associates) founded a "dream laboratory" designed to induce telepathic dreams in controlled experiments. The experimental subjects sleep in single rooms at the Centre; before they go to bed they are wired up to a brain-wave recorder (electro-encephalograph, EEG). The agent, in another room, concentrates on some famous picture in front of him, and waits until the EEG record indicates that the sleeping subject has reached the REM ("rapid eye movements") stage, which indicates that he is dreaming; then the agent awakens him and the subject reports his dream - or as much as he can remember of it.
Later on, more elaborate experimental procedures were used: but the paragraph above conveys the gist of them. Unfortunately the similarities between the picture and the reported dream can, once more, only be evaluated by statistical methods; and, however significant the results, they do not carry the same intuitive conviction as, for instance, the Guthrie experiments in which, when the agent drew a cross the subject drew a cross, and when the agent drew a fish the subject drew a fish. But if the picture shows a lake and the subject dreams of a boat or a bath-tub or a fish, the evaluation of "similarity" becomes more complex and less satisfactory, although associative images evoked by telepathy might be considered as remarkable as literal transmissions.
The most important source of intellectual discomfort is the argument that ESP cannot exist because it contradicts the laws of physics. If parapsychological phenomena were restricted to telepathy alone, one could probably get around this objection by some sophisticated radiation theory - several of which have actually been proposed by various physicists both in Russia and in the West (see below). But telepathy is not the most puzzling of these phenomena. A number of researchers, starting with Rhine himself, were reluctantly made to realise that some of their star subjects produced results showing more or less the same odds against chance if the target cards to be guessed had
not been previously seen by the agent. Apparently they did not "read" the agent's thoughts; they seemed to read directly the symbols printed on the
cards - including unopened packs fresh from the factory - without the intermediary of another human mind. This phenomenon was labelled "clairvoyance" and defined as "extra-sensory perception of objective events as distinguished from telepathic perception of the mental state of another person". Some form of "mental radio" had always been intuitively acceptable to open-minded persons, trusting that science would sooner or later discover how it worked; the perception-at-a-distance of inanimate objects was much harder to swallow, even with an unprejudiced palate. Gilbert Murray rejected the possibility of clairvoyance; other ESP researchers - for instance Sir Alister Hardy - accepted the evidence for it under protest, as it were. We shall see, however, that other eminent physiologists, such as Sir John Eccles, or psychologists such as Sir Cyril Burt, do not feel the same mental revulsion.
But even worse was to come. In 1934 Dr. Soal, then a lecturer in mathematics at University College, London, read about Rhine's experiments and tried to repeat them. From 1934 to 1939 he experimented with 160 persons who made altogether 128,350 guesses with Zener cards. The result was nil - no significant deviation from chance expectation was found.
"He was about to conclude," Louisa Rhine remarked, "either that the reports from the United States were phoney or else that Englishmen do not have ESP." She went on to suggest that the reason for Soal's failure was lack of emotional involvement on the part of his subjects: 'Soal's subjects came to him mainly in response to advertisements. They were strangers to him, but willing to take the tests that were given in orderly, routine fashion by a careful and earnest experimenter who was doggedly trying to repeat someone else's [i.e. Rhine's] tests. After all, he was not carrying his own torch into the exploration of the unknown. His attempt accordingly was like a car without a sparking
Soal was on the point of giving up in disgust when a fellow researcher, Whately Carington, suggested to him that he check his reports for "displaced"
guesses - that is, for hits not on the target card, but on the card which was turned up before
it - or after it (Carington, who experimented with the telepathic transmission of drawings, thought that he had noticed such displacement effects in some of his subjects). Soal reluctantly undertook the tedious labour of analysing his thousands of columns of experimental protocols, and was both rewarded and disconcerted to find that one of his subjects, Basil Shackleton, had scored consistently on the next card ahead - i.e. precognitively - with results so high that chance had to be ruled out.*
* S. G. Soal and F. Bateman, Modern Experiments in Telepathy. Faber & Faber, London, 1954.
Soal now set out on a new series of experiments with Basil Shackleton, supervised by other experienced researchers from the SPR (so that fraud would have had to involve the collusion of four or more people). The results were statistically so significant that the Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge, C. D. Broad, felt moved to
In my opinion psychical research is highly relevant to philosophy ... It will be enough at present to refer to a single instance, viz. Dr. Soal's experiments on card-guessing with Mr. Shackleton as subject, of which I gave a full account in
Philosophy in 1944. There can be no doubt that the events described happened and were correctly reported; that the odds against chance coincidence piled up to billions to one; and that the nature of the events which involved both telepathy and precognition, conflicts with one or more of the basic limiting principles [of physical
One particularly revealing feature transpired during these experiments. The time interval between two guesses which Shackleton found most congenial was 2.6 seconds. At this rate lie consistently guessed at the next card to be turned up. If, however, the rate of turning up cards was speeded up to about half that time (an average of 1.4 seconds between guesses), then he guessed just as consistently the card which would turn up
two ahead. In other words, he was somehow fixated on the event which would occur about two and a half seconds in the future. It should be added that the experiment was so designed that the agent who turned up the cards (in a different room from Shackleton's) could himself not know what the next card or the one after would be; if the agent wished to cheat, he would have to do precognitive cheating. Nor did the order of the cards depend on shuffling the pack. The order was determined by so-called "random number tables" - tables with columns of numbers arranged in a deliberately haphazard order or, rather, lack of order which are prepared by mathematicians for special purposes.
But still worse was to come. From the early days at Duke University, in the 1930's, Rhine and his collaborators had experimented with throwing dice and "willing" a certain face to come uppermost. As Louisa Rhine relates, by 1934, after four years of successful experiments with card-guessing, "J. B. Rhine was asking himself, If the mind can know without ordinary means of knowing, can it perhaps also move objects without the ordinary means of moving? In other words, can mind move matter directly" [i.e. without apparent transfer of energy]? Certain experiences people occasionally reported suggested that such an effect had occurred. Although such experiences are deeply tinged with the aura of superstition - even more in fact than those that seem to involve ESP - they are occasionally reported in circumstances that raise the question, Could an unknown force have been involved here?"(19a)
She was referring of course to the folklore concerning Poltergeists, pictures that fall off the wall, watches that stop at the time of a relative's death, and so on. But the, decision to embark on serious research in a territory where angels fear to tread was triggered off by a chance remark one day by a young gambler, "who said that upon occasion when he was properly keyed up, he could make dice fall as he
The dice used in the Duke experiments were either thrown singly or in lots of six; at first by hand from containers, later by electrically-driven rotating cages. The effects of possibly faulty dice were eliminated by concentrating in successive runs of twenty-four throws on each face in turn, so that the effects of bias would cancel out: if a die had a tendency to come to a halt with six uppermost, this had a positive effect when six was the willed target, and an equal negative effect on other runs.
Once more the results seemed to indicate that the dice were influenced by some factor besides chance; but Rhine wisely did not publish them until ten years later, in 1943-4: "it had seemed best to wait a while before throwing a second bombshell"(21). In more than half a million throws the "willed" face came up significantly more often than chance expectation; but there is no point in going into the statistics, which can be found in the original publications(22). Rhine's experiments were repeated by Haakon Forwald at Duke University, Dr. R. A. McConnell at Pittsburgh University, Dr. R. H. Thouless at Cambridge and G. W. Fisk, a member of the SPR Council, and they all gave positive results (Fisk's subject, in protracted experiments over a period of six years, scored anti-chance odds of fifty thousand to one). This type of effect was labelled PK (psychokinesis) as distinct from ESP (extra-sensory perception); both together are referred to by the blanket name psi: a nice neutral word, signifying the twenty-third letter in the Greek alphabet. To paraphrase
When the mind is at sea
A new word provides a raft.*
* Denn da wo die Begriffe fehlen
Stellt ein Wort zur rechten Zeit sich ein.
Dice-throwing, even by machines, was a primitive procedure which has been replaced by electronic equipment of incomparably greater sophistication. The pioneer of this type of ultra-modern research is Helmut
Schmidt*, a brilliant physicist formerly working for the Boeing Scientific Research Laboratories, who became director of the Institute for Parapsychology at Duke University, in succession to Rhine. His original idea was to let subjects predict events on the elementary quantum level initiated by radioactive decay - events which, according to modern physics, are theoretically unpredictable. Since an understanding of the apparatus and procedure requires familiarity with quantum theory, I must confine myself to quoting the Abstract of his first paper(23), which attracted considerable attention among physicists not otherwise interested in parapsychology.
* His precursors in this field were Beloff and Evans (JSPR 1961, 41, and Chauvin and Genthon,
Zeitschrift fur Parapsychologie und Grenzgebiete der Psychologie, 1965,
of a Quantum Process
Abstract: In two precognition experiments, the subjects were faced with four coloured lamps which were lit in random sequence. Their objective was to guess which of the four lamps would light up next and to press the corresponding button. In the first experiment, there were three subjects, who carried out a total of 63,066 trials. Their combined results were highly significant (p < 2 X
10-9) [odds against chance two thousand million to one]
In the second experiment, two of the same subjects plus a third had their choice of trying to predict, as before, which lamp would light next (to try for high score) or to choose one which would not light next (low score). In a total of 20,000 trials, the subjects were again successful in achieving their aim to a highly significant extent (p <
For providing the random target sequence, use was made of single quantum processes which may represent nature's most elementary source of randomness [the arrival and registration of an electron from a radioactive strontium go source]. A practical advantage of the device is that it works fast and that the randomness can be easily
The result can be summarised by saying that the subjects made correct predictive guesses at the outcome of theoretically unpredictable sub-atomic processes with a probability against chance of ten thousand million against one.
The next experiment was intended to test whether the subjects could influence random events on the sub-atomic level by a voluntary effort - i.e. by psychokinesis. Again, I must confine myself to Schmidt's
Test with Electronic Equipment
Abstract: The subjects in this research were tested for their psychokinetic ability by means of an electronic apparatus made up of a random number generator (RNG) connected with a display panel. The RNG produced random sequences of two numbers which were determined by a simple quantum process (the decay of radioactive strontium-90 nuclei). The essential aspect of the display panel was a circle of nine lamps which lighted one at a time in the clockwise (+1) direction or the counterclockwise (-1) direction depending on which of the two numbers the RNG produced. The subject's task was to choose either the clockwise or counterclockwise motion and try by PK to make the light proceed in that direction.
One run was made up of 128 "jumps" of the light, and there were four runs per session. In a preliminary series of 216 runs, the 18 subjects had a negative deviation of 129 hits. Accordingly, the main series was expected to give negative scores, and a negative attitude was encouraged among the subjects. Fifteen subjects carried out 256 runs, with a significant negative deviation of 302 hits (P=.001) [odds against chance 1 in 1,000] ... (24)
The result of the experiment shows that the binary random number generator had no bias for generation of + 1's or - 1's as long as it was left unattended (in the randomness tests) but that it displayed a significant bias when the test subjects concentrated on the display panel, wishing for an increased generation rate of one number.
The experiment had been discussed in terms of PK, but in principle the result could certainly also be ascribed to precognition on the part of the experimenter or the subject. Since the sequence of generated numbers depended critically on the time when the test run began, and since the experimenter, in consensus with the subject, decided when to flip the start switch, precognition might have prompted experimenter and subject to start the run at a time which favoured scoring in a certain
The same ambiguity - precognition or psychokinesisis
- also present in the first experiment. These phenomena may involve levels where the two become indistinguishable. Our understanding of them is still in the pre-Copernican stage.
In spite of this, the experiments of the new Director of the Duke University Institute seem to have made an even stronger impression on the scientific community than the pioneer work of his predecessor, Professor Rhine
- although psychokinesis and precognition are harder to swallow than card-guessing by common or garden telepathy. The impact of Schmidt's work may partly be due to the electronic apparatus he uses, and its completely automated recording devices, which exclude the possibility of human error; but also perhaps to the fact that the experiments operated on the subatomic level, where events are unpredictable in the physicist's own terms, where causal determinism breaks down and 'God plays dice with the universe'. However that may be, Schmidt's experimental reports were published in the most conservative scientific journals, and led to protracted theoretical controversies which are still being pursued as these lines go to the printers.* There has been scepticism, as would be expected, but no open or veiled hints at cheating or 'recording errors'. These have vanished from the controversy - as if an ugly fog had lifted from the landscape.
* Cf., e.g., New Scientist and Science
Journal, London, June 24, 1971 (article by H. Schmidt on "Mental Influence on Random Events") and subsequent letters in the correspondence columns on July 15, July 29, and August 5, 1971.
Research in 'classical' telepathy too has at long last moved beyond the card-guessing stage. The most recent experiments, at the time of writing, were undertaken by a group of scientists led by Professor William MacBain at the University of Hawaii. Once more, the London
New Scientist, though generally opposed to ESP, reported the results in a prominent feature. The following is an extract from its report, dated
To make a fresh start (and perhaps to confuse the opposition) they [MacBain and his group] have abandoned the term ESP, with its rather negative connotations, and coined the new term quasi-sensory communication or QSC for short. They also formulated a simple basic hypothesis: "If one individual has access to information not available to another, then under certain circumstances and with known sensory channels rigidly controlled, the second individual can demonstrate knowledge of this information at a higher level than that compatible with the alternative explanation of chance guessing." And then they set out to test it - with most intriguing results.
For their subjects they used 22 volunteer psychology students, who operated in pairs ... The information to be communicated consisted of a set of 23 concepts which seemed likely to evoke a wide range of emotional reactions, and which could be symbolised by simple line drawings (including, for example, home, sleep, sorrow, sunshine, and the Pill). Each pair of students used just five of these concepts. The sender in each pair sat at a row of five display panels, one of which was illuminated for 25 seconds. The receiver faced a similar row of the five symbols, all illuminated, with a button below each. He used the appropriate button to signal the concept he thought had been "transmitted" by the sender. The sender had to concentrate on the illuminated symbol for 25 seconds, and then relax for 5 seconds while the receiver made a choice. Receiver and sender were in separate rooms over 30 feet apart ...
The actual results ... were significantly different from ... random distribution ... This means that chance guessing alone is not enough to explain the results - a conclusion which receives further support from the finding that certain psychological features of the students correlated with their degree of success as senders or
To conclude this embarrassingly sketchy survey of contemporary parapsychology, it should be pointed out that the quasi-artificial phenomena induced in the laboratory are not necessarily typical of spontaneous ESP experiences encountered in everyday life. Although these do not qualify as scientific evidence - except in well-authenticated cases which are rare - the sheer weight of the material cannot fail to impress. One can classify this so-called "anecdotal material" into several categories, such as first-hand experiences which, evidence or no evidence carry the strongest conviction; next, experiences told by other people whose sincerity and critical faculties one trusts, but for which there is no hard proof; third, autobiographical reports which are open to the same objection; and lastly, the hard core of solidly documented cases, investigated by competent researchers.
An early classic example of such a collection is Phantasms of the Living, published in 1886, edited by Myers, Gurney and Podmore; among contemporary compilations the most impressive are those of Professor Rhine's wife, Dr. Louisa Rhine,
Hidden Channels of the Mind (1961) and ESP in Life and Lab (1957).
Eysenck, (1957), p. 131 f.
Ibid., p. 108.
Naumov (1970), p. 54.
Quoted by Newsletter of the Parapsychology Foundation, Inc., Vol. 10, No. 6,
November-December, 1963, and by Heywood (1967), pp. 57-8.
Quoted by Heywood (1967), p. 58.
Quoted by Burt (1967), p. 75 n.
Weaver (1963), p. 361.
20. VIII. 1970, p. 367.
Burt (1968), p. 59.
Weaver (1963), p. 267.
Ibid., pp. 361-2.
Ibid., p. 361.
Proc. SPR, Vol. II, pp. 189-200.
Proc. SPR, Vol. XXIX, Part LXXII, 23.11.1916, p.64.
Proc. SPR, Vol. XXXIV, Part XCII, December 1924, p. 212.
L. Rhine (1957), pp. 131-2.
Broad (1949), pp. 291-309.
L. rhine (1957), p. 19.
Ibid., p. 17.
Ibid., p. 19.
Ibid., p. 166.
Ibid., p. 166.
Schmidt (1969), p. 99.
Schmidt (1970), p. 175.
Ibid., p. 181.
"ESP by any Other Name Would Smell", New Scientist, 20. VIII. 1970,
article above was taken from Arthur Koestler's 1972 book "The Roots of
Coincidence" published by Hutchinson & Co.