J. G. Pratt

J Gaither Pratt

Brought to prominence in 1958 through his investigation of the Seaford case. Originally trained for the ministry, but in his first year of graduate study at Duke University he began to do research work with Professor William McDougall and his young colleague, Dr Joseph Rhine. Except for a brief period at Columbia and three years in the Navy during World War II, Dr Pratt was responsible for some of the most exciting experiments at Duke University.

Mind over Matter: Psychokinesis in the Laboratory

- J G Pratt -

          QUESTION: When a free afternoon has been provided in the middle of a four-day biological convention to give some relief from listening to technical papers, what would be better than a picnic or a sight-seeing tour?

Answer: Another scientific meeting to hear two more technical papers - by two parapsychologists invited especially for the occasion!

This, at least, was the answer the Canadian Physiological Society gave to the question when it met in Winnipeg in June 1960. Those responsible for planning the activities for the free Thursday afternoon boldly decided to schedule more of the serious business of science while the other organizations were interrupting their conventions to relax and play. The physiologists asked Dr. Gardner Murphy of the Menninger Foundation to talk on the investigation of ESP, and they invited me to speak on the laboratory research on PK (psychokinesis: the direct influence of mind upon matter). The members of the arrangements committee warned us before the meeting that we might be speaking largely to empty seats. To their surprise and delight, the large lecture hall was filled, and the meeting time was extended for a second hour until the chairman had to call a halt because of other scheduled activities. Those who were too interested to heed the closing gavel took Dr. Murphy and me to dinner, and about thirty of them asked us to continue the discussion, which we did until about ten o'clock in the evening.

What did we say that so captured and held their attention? Dr. Murphy's topic dealt, of course, with matters such as those already covered in Chapters 2 and 3 of this book*. My own paper dealt with the research developments that will be described in the next several pages.

* ISS note: Chapter 2 - "Puzzling Experiences"; Chapter 3 - "The Breakthrough in ESP: Telepathy and Clairvoyance Differentiated".

Can wishing for something help to make it happen? I do not mean can it help anyone work harder to get what he wants, but can the mind somehow act to influence directly, even if to only the slightest degree, the course of physical events? This idea is not a stranger to any of us, for we all went through the period of childhood when the heroes of fairy tales and mythology were our daily companions. We admired them when they triumphed through their good wishes, and most of us have thought of what we could do if only we were granted our three wishes.

Yes, you may say, but surely we left this all behind us, even long before we became adults.

But do we really outgrow this fanciful way of thinking? Must we accept as final truth the teachings of modem scientists who would sentence the mind to life imprisonment in the physical brain and who would deny it not only any wishing power but all other powers as well? If they are right, yes, of course we must. But, if they are not right in wanting to banish the power of thought from the universe, what could be more important than using the methods of science to keep man from literally losing his mind?

The discovery that we have abilities which allow us to know about things happening at a distance, beyond the reach of our senses - that is, the discovery of even the simplest forms of ESP - may by itself be enough to prove that mind exists. At least, no one has yet developed a theory that succeeds in explaining telepathy and clairvoyance in purely physical terms. But scientists should not be satisfied simply because they have demonstrated experimentally some of the unique actions of mind. If there are ways other than ESP by which its existence may be known and its nature investigated, we must explore and attempt to explain these other psi mysteries as well.

In daily life, the use of the senses is closely linked with things that we do. I see the open box of candy and I reach for a piece and plop it into my mouth. You hear your name, and you turn your head to see who is calling you. In fact, almost every instance of sensory perception leads to some action or muscular response.

Does not this close linkage of sensing and doing in ordinary experience justify our wondering whether the same is not true in the realm of psi phenomena? Does not ESP, in which the mind is directly influenced by events in the outside world, lead us to expect that PK should also occur? If you think, for example, of clairvoyance as the influence of matter upon mind, should we not find that the same general psi capacity works in the opposite direction - an effect of mind over matter?

If you feel that this line of reasoning is too far removed from daily life to be taken seriously, pay a visit to the nearest bowling alley. There you will see husky youths, hard-headed men from the workaday world of industry and finance, and practical housewives all demonstrating that they do not stop trying to influence the ball after they have released it. The bowler sways and strains to guide the ball as it moves toward the pins at the far end of the alley. True, if you ask him whether his efforts are doing any good, he is likely to say no. But the fact remains that he acts, under the stress of the moment, as if he is guiding the ball after it has been sent on its way. If the very idea of mind over matter is so foreign to our vaunted scientific culture, why should we all so openly fall uncritically into superstition under stress, when we forget about our inhibitions?

May the truth not be that we really know, in spite of all the efforts to educate us to the contrary, that the mind has a force of its own that may at times be called upon to influence a physical situation, such as a faulty bowling effort?

As long as we remember that this question will not answer itself, but that it must be decided by careful, objective, experimental research, what do we have to lose by raising the issue? For science and for mankind generally, the irreparable loss would come from mistakenly closing our eyes to the possibility that there may be something to the old and familiar idea of mind over matter, something just waiting for the right scientific method and the right moment in the advancing tide of research to be discovered.

Thomas Huxley said: "It is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions." But the old adage of mind over matter has long been so very prominently labeled as superstition without ever having been credited as truth that it is doubtful if it could be brought into the arena of scientific investigation through purely logical considerations alone. Fortunately, Nature herself occasionally gives us some encouragement to think that there is something to PK. Mysterious physical effects in the realm of experience, spontaneous unexplained objective events that appear to have some personal significance, do take place. These PK experiences are not so frequent as those in the area of ESP, but they are sufficiently numerous to raise the question for the psi research worker. Some of these cases from daily life were cited in Chapter 2 - the stopping of a person's clock or watch or the unexplained falling of his picture from the wall at the time of his death - and they also include the examples of persistent household disturbances, the so-called poltergeist cases, with which we will be concerned in the next chapter.

Interest in PK is not new in parapsychology. Not only has the spontaneous PK occurrence long been the object of serious study, but there were decades both before and during the first fifty years when investigators seriously attempted to test the claims of individuals who were reputed to possess remarkable powers of mind over matter. Some of these studies, such as those Sir William Crookes carried out with the famous D. D. Home*, were reported in the scientific literature with startling findings, and they remain even today as a challenge to the open-minded explorer. But others of these earlier efforts at PK investigation became hopelessly lost in the darkness of the mediumistic séance room. Clearly, the study of PK was stalled unless and until someone could find a suitable method of tackling the problem, a method similar to the one by which ESP had been successfully brought into the laboratory.

* ISS note: See Experimental Investigation of a New Force.

After the first publication on the ESP research at Duke in 1934, Dr. [J. B.] Rhine thought that the time had come for making a new attack upon the PK problem. But how was this to be done? The answer came from a casual visitor to the Duke laboratory. He claimed that he could successfully will dice to fall so that they would give the numbers he needed in order to win. His confident boast reminded Dr. Rhine that many experienced players of the game of craps believe that they are able to control the dice.

The visitor went on his way, but he left his beautifully simple idea behind. Dr. Rhine had his method for testing PK. Both he and Mrs. [Louisa] Rhine, using themselves and a few friends and students as subjects, set out to see if this was the answer. The first tests were made by throwing two dice for high dice (a total of 8 or more on both faces), low dice (6 or fewer), or sevens. The first work naturally was exploratory, and the dice were thrown under a variety of circumstances. Some of the trials were made as in ordinary dice games: the cubes were shaken in cupped hands and rolled upon a blanketed surface or bounced off a "wall" before they stopped rolling. For other tests, the dice were shaken in a cup and immediately thrown blindly from it. In still others, the dice were rolled down an inclined chute onto a table or the floor.

These first PK tests yielded results that were consistently beyond the average expected by chance coincidence. The subjects maintained their success over a large number of throws and the odds against chance were very great. The experimenters, of course, had confidence in their own results, but they wanted confirmation by others before publishing such startling findings. Dr. Rhine therefore quietly informed a few people about the work and encouraged them to undertake PK tests. Several of them did so.

This stage of quiet research on the PK hypothesis lasted from 1934 through 1942. Very early during this period, variations in testing procedure were made. For example, some subjects preferred to try for a designated target face instead of the sum of the faces on a pair of dice. This kind of test was more adaptable since it allowed the subject to throw any number of dice at the same time. Tests were made with from 1 to 96 or more dice per throw. As the experiments advanced beyond the exploratory stage, adequate safeguards were introduced to control against physical bias of the dice by throwing equally for every face, and machines were made to throw the dice for trial after trial. Once the dice were put into the machine, no one touched them again until the experiment was finished.

Most of these series, like the first tests made at Duke by the Rhines, gave highly significant results. As each experiment was finished, the results were noted in terms of the over-all scores, and the records were sent to the Parapsychology Laboratory to be added to the PK file. This process continued over the eight-year period before the Duke experimenters felt that the degree of confirmation justified publication.

Then, in the course of re-examining the data before reporting the findings, the investigators discovered a new type of internal evidence. This discovery provided a clear-cut basis for excluding the counter-hypotheses to PK even in the more exploratory series. The evidence was the observation of the fact that highly significant rhythmic changes had occurred in the level of the subject's success in relation to his progress through the PK test. By chance, of course, there is no reason to expect that one section of the record page should consistently do better than another. As the subjects worked their way through the trials that the procedure required to complete a particular unit of the test, their success had gone up and down in a remarkably regular and lawful way.

No one had anticipated or noticed this variation in performance while the tests were being conducted. Consequently no one gave any thought to such position effects. Therefore neither the experimenters nor the subjects were consciously motivated in one part of the record page more than in another. This discovery made it possible to consider as evidence for PK the results of exploratory experiments in which subjects threw for the face of their choice instead of trying equally for all faces to guard against any effect of physical bias in the dice. If the 6-face, say, was used as target throughout an experiment, a high total score might be due to the fact that the larger number of spots (holes) on that face made it lighter and this caused it to turn up more often. But a statistical test based upon the difference between the numbers of 6-faces found in two different sections of the record page could not be interpreted as something that happened because of physical bias in the dice. The 6-face would not be favored because it is lighter during the throws made at one particular moment and the 6-face on the same dice then be disfavored because it is heavier in the throws made at the next moment.

What were the unexpected position effects found in the PK records? When the first series was being reanalyzed, the investigators observed that there was a general decline of success between the top half and the bottom half of the record page. Similarly, they noticed that there was a decline of success between the data recorded in the left-hand and right-hand columns. As a means of getting, a standard and optimal test of these two trends, they divided the page into four equal quarters by means of horizontal and vertical lines. Then they made a statistical evaluation of the difference in the hits scored in the upper left and the lower right quarters of the page, a test they named the "quarter distribution" or QD analysis.

Having discovered a decline effect in the first records examined, the experimenters went on to apply the QD analysis to all of the other records already in the files. A total of eighteen separate experimental series were found to be suitable for evaluation by this method.

In twelve of these series the subjects had been throwing for a designated face of the die as target. In all but one of these the QD analysis showed a higher rate of scoring in the upper left quarter than in the lower right quarter of the page. Statistically, a difference as large as that observed for all twelve series between the total score of the upper left and the lower right quarters would be expected by chance one time in more than 30,000,000 such sets of data.

The other six series were experiments in which the subjects threw a pair of dice for a target sum of the two faces. The QD results once again showed that in all but one series the upper left quarter had given a higher score than the lower right. Here the difference between the total scores would be expected by chance one time in more than 150 such sets of records. Even this result has better than 1 in 100 chance odds, and so it is statistically significant.

The QD results for the PK record page were discovered and reported by Dr. Rhine and Miss Betty Humphrey of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory. Seeing this new evidence as solid proof of the PK hypothesis, they issued an invitation for any qualified scientists to come and recheck the results for themselves. When no one else accepted the invitation, I took the opportunity. Although I was a member of the staff, I was away from the laboratory when their analyses were made, and thus I was qualified to make a completely separate recheck. I rechecked the ten out of the eighteen series which contributed most of the PK evidence from the QD analysis. A few minor errors of tabulation were found, but these did not make any real difference in the results. Thus my own findings verified the discovery of a lawful grouping of hits in the data that could not be written off as chance and for which there was no explanation except that of mind working with spontaneous bursts of force at the start of a new page.

The QD analysis was carried through two further stages to see if the decline effect was present in units of the records smaller than the page. The final stage was one that I suggested as a check that was completely independent statistically of the page QD that had already been found. The results of this analysis carried as much weight as they would have if a totally different set of records were being analyzed. This was a study involving the quartering of record units lying wholly within the four quarters of the page, a sort of quarter distribution analysis of the original page quarters.

I had originally urged that this study should be made before I had seen any of the PK data. Thus there could be no question regarding whether I had simply looked over the old records until I found something that seemed good and then had planned an analysis to take advantage of a lucky hindsight. This would not have done at all, of course. It would be like betting on a horse race after it has been run and the results were known! We were never so foolish in any of the QD analyses, but it was nice to have the results of this third study to prove the findings to the hilt.

Out of the original eighteen series, only eight were suitable for this third QD study. These showed the predicted decline effect with the odds for chance occurrence of 1 in 200,000 This study by itself was strong evidence of PK, especially for the reason that it confirmed the results previously found in the study of the QD of the page.

This is how the case for PK stood in 1945, eleven years after the first dice tests were started and three years after the publication of the first results. The case was conclusive - as conclusive, at least, as it could be on the basis of work largely centered in or directed from one laboratory. From that time, the hypothesis had scientific status, commanding the close attention of research workers in parapsychology. The question was: Could the evidence be confirmed by investigators in other research centers?

Since 1945 there have been many confirmatory PK experiments, but I will present the basic details regarding only three of them here and a fourth one involving a new type of test a bit later.

In 1946, Mrs. Laura A. Dale reported a PK experiment which she had conducted at the American Society for Psychical Research in New York. The experiment was planned from the outset to guard against every imaginable way in which non-PK factors might influence the results. Fifty-four college students were used as subjects, each one taking part in a single session. Two dice at a time were shaken in a cup and poured into the top end of a chute. They tumbled about three feet down an incline and came to rest in an enclosed area at the bottom. Both the experimenter and the subject silently recorded the faces of the dice after each throw. The score of the entire experiment of more than 31,000 die-throws was above chance to the degree represented by odds of 1 in 200.

Another effort to repeat the PK work was made at the University of Pittsburgh. This experiment by Dr. R. A. McConnell and two associates used 393 subjects and involved about 170,000 die releases. A special feature of this experiment was the use during two thirds of the trials of an automatically operating electrical apparatus for throwing the dice. The dice, as they lay, were photographed by a camera attached to the machine and they were also recorded by the experimenter. The photographic record made it possible to recheck the scores from the films and thus to find any errors in the experimenters' records. The total score of the experiment was not significantly different from chance, but the decline effect on the record page showed a drop in scoring with chance odds of 1 in 500.

A third effort to confirm the PK work done at Duke was an experiment conducted by Mr. G. W. Fisk and Dr. D. J. West in England with a selected high-scoring PK subject. An unusual feature about this work was the fact that the subject was not informed which face of the die was the target for any given set of trials. Thus the subject had to use ESP to get the target and PK to make the dice fall to match it. The subject worked in her own home where she simply threw the dice to match the unknown targets as they were set up a number of miles away. The first series of 10,000 trials gave results above chance with odds of 1 in 625. In three further series this subject also obtained consistently positive scores under the conditions that required the use of both ESP and PK. These further results had chance odds of 1 in 5880.

The above three examples of independent confirmations of the early Duke PK results are offered here both because of the experimental conditions and because of the results. I could have chosen a number of other series with comparably well-controlled conditions that did not yield as striking results and others that did not measure up to these in safeguards but gave better scores. The PK research has not proved to be any royal road to discovery for the investigators, for in several instances they have met with success in their first experiments only to find that efforts to repeat their work were fruitless. These unsuccessful tests have been cited by some critics as grounds for discounting or rejecting the positive cases. But the real lesson they teach us is that the essential psychological conditions for getting PK to work in a test situation are difficult to provide and even harder to keep. The case for PK needs to be considered on the basis of the total evidence, not on that of one worker or one group or one period. But it is interesting to observe the extent to which the results of the second period of the research confirmed the findings of the first phase as done in or directed from the Duke laboratory. This is why I have called attention to the outstanding experiments of the period after the first announcement of the PK evidence and when the problem had been taken up in other centers. On the basis of both the safeguards and the results, the three studies described above should provide the answer to the question of any open-minded person who might wonder whether the case for PK depends entirely on work done in the Parapsychology Laboratory.

In all the work described so far the target was the face of a die or a combination of two faces. We come now to PK work that introduced a radically new departure in method - efforts to influence the placement of falling objects by PK.

In 1951, Mr. W. E. Cox reported an experiment in which subjects attempted to use PK on a tumbling die in two ways at the same time: one, to get target faces; and the other, to make the dice stop on those squares on a checkerboard surface which were marked with the target-face number. Both the target-face data and the placement data were statistically significant.

This beginning on the study of PK placement was followed up by other investigators, chiefly by Mr. Haakon Forwald, an engineer in Sweden.

Since 1951, Mr. Forwald has been the most active investigator of PK placement. By the end of 1957 he had published eight reports on his research. In this work the investigator, serving as his own subject, mechanically released cubes to roll down an inclined plane and spread out on a horizontal throwing surface. A center line divided the horizontal surface into equal right- and left-hand areas. The subject's aim was to influence the falling objects to stop on the side chosen as the target. The two sides were used as target the same number of times, and thus any physical bias in the apparatus was controlled.

During the first series, the results were scored only in terms of the division of objects between the target and non-target sides. Nevertheless, the number of objects falling within the target area was highly significant.

Mr. Forwald then introduced a simple change in his apparatus with the purpose of achieving a more sensitive measure of the PK placement effect. He drew lines parallel to the center line of the table at one-centimeter intervals and numbered them to provide a "scale." Thereafter the cubes were scored on each throw to show the actual degree of displacement.

The experimenter released six cubes on each trial and ten releases were recorded together as a set, the first five for the right-hand or A-side of the table as target and then five for the left-hand or B-side. The data were evaluated in terms of the difference between the cube distribution when A was target and that for B as target.

As Mr. Forwald continued his research, two general facts became clear. One was that he was getting, with almost marvelous regularity, an effect upon the placement of the dice in the direction of his wishes. The second was that this effect was not uniformly distributed throughout the set, but was more concentrated in the first throw of the set for each target side. As evidence that something more than chance was operating, his data were conclusive. Because the placement effect was found in the first throw of the set, it became standard procedure in the evaluation of his data to select these results for separate analysis.

Parapsychologists have long been subjected to criticisms of a kind that scientists in other fields do not need to worry about. When any psi investigator working alone has obtained significant results, it has been commonplace to hear that he could have made errors of observation and recording and thus have deceived himself. To forestall such criticism, it was necessary for Mr. Forwald to repeat his tests in the presence of a witness and independent recorder.

This need was met in the fall of 1957 during a visit by Mr. Forwald to the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory. The purpose of the visit was tacitly understood but not overtly stressed. We recognized that any PK subject would be placed at a psychological disadvantage if he felt "put on the spot." Consequently we were interested in approaching the crucial stage of his visit by slow degrees. Dr. Rhine asked me to supervise Mr. Forwald's work at Duke, and in the end I joined Mr. Forwald in reporting the research.

As a starting point Mr. Forwald worked through two series entirely alone as he had done in Sweden. These series give significant results for the first throw of the set (the basis of the statistical test, selected in advance on the strength of his previous work), with odds of 1 in 140 and 1 in 58, respectively.

He then tried repeating this success when a member of the laboratory staff was assigned as an independent observer and recorder. Two series done under this condition were totally without statistical significance.

In the next stage, three different members of the laboratory staff in separate series participated as co-subject as well as independent observer and recorder. With one of these laboratory members, Mr. Forwald's results were significant, with odds of 1 in 166. So far the results were merely exploratory as far as the real purpose of the visit was concerned.

Finally plans were made for a confirmatory test set up on the basis of the work done up to that point. In this test Mr. Forwald had as his co-subject Mrs. Peggy Murphy, the member of the laboratory with whom he had previously worked most successfully in exploratory series. This member of the laboratory also made an independent record of the cubes. The two observers compared their records on the spot and reached agreement before the cubes were disturbed. The results showed a high level of significance, with odds of 1 in 5000. Thus, in spite of the psychological difficulties which had to be overcome, the Duke series confirmed this subject's abilities under conditions excluding subjective errors of observation and recording.

But Mr. Forwald's objective in his work as a whole has not been limited to piling up more and more evidence for a PK placement effect. Almost from the beginning of his research he has been trying to gain some insight into the dynamics of the PK process. He has, for example, compared cubes of different kinds of materials, weights, roughness, and surface coatings. At the same time he has worked out mathematical formulas for converting the effect obtained (taking into account the relevant aspects both of the cube movements and of the cubes themselves) into the physical energy equivalents for bringing about the result. It is too soon to attempt to make any general scientific evaluation of these research efforts, since they are still at an early stage of development. I mention them only as an indication of the fact that the investigators of the PK effect are aware of the need to find ways of relating this function to more familiar scientific principles. Parapsychologists not only want to know whether PK occurs; as soon as this conclusion is reached, they turn to the much more difficult task of trying to learn something about the nature of the effect.

Other investigators have also continued to contribute to the study of the PK placement effect during the past decade. There has been further research from Mr. Cox, who was the originator of this type of test, as well as by others. But thus far it is the work of Mr. Forwald which stands out in this area, and it is work which presents some very challenging questions for future investigators of PK.

The emphasis in this chapter has been put largely on the question of evidence for the occurrence of PK. This is appropriate, because the establishment of a direct, extra-muscular influence of thought upon physical systems has even greater revolutionary implications for psychology and biology than does the discovery of ESP. The general acceptance of the PK effect would require a reorientation of scientific thinking regarding the nature of the living organism - a reorientation in which the influence of mental factors would be recognized in fact and not in name only. But I need not dwell on the importance of the discovery that thought processes have real force!

But something should be said regarding the secondary problems - questions about the nature of PK - which have received some attention in the research. We have made a start toward finding out whether the PK effect is limited by the space and mass aspects of the physical situation. Thus far we have found no differences in relation to the number, mass, shape, and distance of the objects the subject was attempting to influence. Also, subjects have tried to influence a range of types of objects with apparent success, including dice and cubes, coins and other discs, spheres, roulette, a spinning pointer, the swimming of paramecia, and the growth of plants and molds. On these points the present results are inadequate for final conclusions, but the findings encourage further explorations in search of the scope and limits of PK in relation to the physical world.

Investigations bearing upon the psychology of PK have also shown some progress. Motivation appears to be a factor of paramount importance. Subjects who succeeded in their first series of tests have often failed in later efforts to demonstrate their PK abilities: the excitement and eager curiosity which marked their first experience could not be recaptured. Thus investigators have learned that success in a test for PK, as with ESP, is not to be taken for granted. In general, exact duplication of the results of experiments has been as difficult for PK as for ESP.

The findings of parapsychology form but a beachhead on a new continent of the world of science. The facts I have been presenting show that PK, like ESP, is a part of that beachhead. There are uncertainties in the situation but they are not concerned with the evidence for the occurrence of the phenomena. They relate, rather, to what we will find as we move on beyond the perimeter of our small beachhead of unshakable evidence and extend our lines of exploration and discovery. The uncertainties are merely the challenge to further research.


The article above was taken from J G Pratt's "Parapsychology: An Insider's View of ESP" (1964, Doubleday & Co, Inc).

More articles by J. G. Pratt

Does Mind Survive Death?
The Seaford Poltergeist

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