Harry Price

Harry Price

Highly charismatic personality whose energy and enthusiasm for the paranormal made him the first celebrity ghost hunter. A skilled magician and an expert at detecting fraud. Because of his flamboyant manner and continuous self-promotion, Price made a number of enemies within the psychical research field, especially within the Society of Psychical Research. Founder of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research, which later became the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation.

The Story of ESP

The Clever Creery Children | The Blackburn-Smith Fiasco | Telepathic Powers of a Classicist | The Upton Sinclair Tests | Card Guessing | Dr. Rhine's Bombshell | University College Experiments | Psychological Factors in ESP | Criticisms of ESP | Mechanical ESP | The Zener Cards | A National Test | Price's 'Telepatha' Cards, with Dazzle Backs | Conjuring and Collusion

 - Harry Price -

           'EXTRASENSORY PERCEPTION' (ESP) is merely the latest and now fashionable term for telepathy, clairvoyance, thought-transference and allied alleged faculties. I must qualify the word 'latest' as in the 'First Report on Thought-Reading,'(1) by Barrett, Gurney and Myers, the term supersensuous perception was employed. This was in July, 1882.

(1) Proc., SPR, Vol. 1, 1882-3, pp. 13-34.

Though the SPR was founded in 1882, Professor (later Sir William) Barrett and his friends had been conducting experiments in 'thought-reading' for many months previously - probably the first serious experiments in mental phenomena organized in any country(2). Among his subjects were five young girls, between the ages of ten and seventeen, all thoroughly healthy ... and perfectly simple and childlike'(3). These were the Misses Creery, four of whom, with a young maidservant, 'were frequently able to designate correctly, without contact or sign, a card or other object fixed on' in their absence.

(2) Sir William Barrett tells us (Proc., SPR, Vol. XXXIV, p. 275) that he 'began a serious and systematic investigation of psychical phenomena' in June, 1874.
(3) 'First Report,' op. cit., p. 20.

The Clever Creery Children

The Creery girls were the daughters of a clergyman, the Rev. A. M. Creery, of Buxton. During Easter, 1881, Sir William conducted a series of experiments with the girls, one of whom was sent out of the room. On a piece of paper Sir William then wrote, successively, the names of a number of common household objects, which he showed to the other members of the family, who were present. Such words as hair-brush, wine-glass, etc., were recorded. Then the girl was called in and proceeded to 'guess' - correctly - the names of the various articles, with few errors(4). At a second series of experiments, conducted by Myers and Gurney, held on April 13, 1882, playing-cards were employed. By this time, it had apparently dawned on the investigators that a code or collusion might have been used by these clever children. We are told that 'the experimenters took every precaution [not recorded] in order that no indication, however slight, should reach the child' percipient. And yet this girl 'with downcast eyes' guessed many of the playing-cards first time; guessed the names of objects such as 'box of almonds,' 'white penknife,' etc. Gurney and Myers were impressed.

(4) Proc., SPR, Vol. 1, 1882.

In a leading article in Nature(5) it was once emphasized that 'the first necessity [for the investigation of alleged abnormal phenomena] is a thorough knowledge of the art of mystification.' Messrs. Barrett, Myers and Gurney did not possess such knowledge and, for years, the Creery children - and the serving maid! - appear to have fooled them by codes to be found in any shilling conjuring book. At some sittings in Cambridge, in 1887, attended by Professor and Mrs. Sidgwick, two of the children were detected(6) signalling the suits of the cards by slight head movements, scraping of the feet, coughing, etc. One of the girls finally confessed to 'a certain amount of signalling in earlier experiments'(7). And yet these simple tricks had deceived such men as Barrett, Myers, Gurney, Professor Balfour Stewart, Professor Alfred Hopkinson, etc. A good account of the Creery experiments is to be found in Phantasms of the Living(8), but as this was written before the exposure, its only value is to show how easily scientists can be hoodwinked.

(5) For February 9, 1929.
(6) Proc., SPR, Vol. V, 1888-9, p. 269.
(7) Journal, SPR, Vol. Ill, October, 1887, P. 164.
(8) By Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, London, 1886. Vol. 1, pp. 20-31. See also Proc., SPR, Vol. 1, pp. 70-8.

The Blackburn-Smith Fiasco

Another thought-reading investigation which ended in a fiasco was the Blackburn-Smith partnership. These two young Brighton men, Douglas Blackburn and G. A. Smith, semi-professional 'telepathists,' submitted their powers to a number of psychical researchers, including Myers and Gurney. They worked together, just as the Zancigs, the Trees, the Zomahs, and other vaudeville thought-readers did in later years. Smith, blindfolded, would seat himself at a table, while Blackburn, outside the room, would be shown some geometrical design drawn on a sheet of paper. Blackburn would then enter the room and stand behind Smith, who proceeded to trace on a piece of paper the 'impressions' of the drawing which, he said, he received from Blackburn's mind(9). When the control conditions were really tightened up (as for example in an experiment described by Sir James Crichton-Browne)(10) the 'telepathists' failed. Blackburn finally confessed(11) that the good results were obtained by codes and other trickery. He writes: 'I am the sole survivor of that group of experimenters and no harm can be done to anyone... I, with mingled feelings of regret and satisfaction, now declare that the whole of the alleged experiments were bogus, and originated in the honest desire of two youths to show how easily men of scientific mind and training could be deceived when seeking for evidence in support of a theory they were wishful to establish.' A full description of all the tricks and codes was given. Smith denied Blackburn's allegations. He could hardly do otherwise considering that during the interval between the original experiments and the 'confession' Smith had closely collaborated with the SPR as hypnotist in some telepathic experiments(12) conducted by the Sidgwicks, using various subjects. In these experiments at guessing numbers, and visualizing scenes, the subjects were, apparently, very successful. But Mr. S. G. Soal, in a brilliant analysis(13) of this case, proves that it would have been as easy for Smith to have used a code during the Sidgwick experiments as it was for Blackburn when he deceived Myers and Gurney. Here we have two professional entertainers, one of whom eventually revealed his complete bag of tricks. His partner continues in the business. Is it not reasonable to suppose that his 'miracles,' too, can also be explained in terms of normality? I doubt if any of those who experimented with Blackburn and Smith knew that as early as 1884 the former showman had written an illuminating work(14) on 'thought reading.'

(9) For details and drawings, see Proc., SPR, Vol. I, 1883, pp. 161-215.
(10) In the Westminster Gazette, January 29, 1908.
(11) John Bull, December 5 to January 9, 1909; Daily News, September 1, 1911; 'Confessions of a "Telepathist",' Journal, SPR, Vol. XV, pp. 115-32.
(12) 'Experiments in Thought Transference' by Prof. and Mrs. H. Sidgwick, and Mr. G. A. Smith, Proc., SPR, Vol. VI, pp. 128-70.
(13) Experimental Telepathy and Clairvoyance in England, 1881-1933, London, 1933, in the 'Harry Price Library' in the University of London.
(14) Thought Reading; or, Modern Mysteries Explained. Being Chapters on Thought-Reading, Occultism, Mesmerism, etc.; forming a key to the Psychological Puzzles of the Day, by Douglas Blackburn, London [1884].

The pages of the SPR publications are full of papers on telepathy - theoretical, experimental, spontaneous. Convenient lists of the principal papers have been published(15). Some of the experimental tests appear - on the surface - to be impressive, but few will bear scientific analysis (as for example the Guthrie series(16)) and not one is capable of being duplicated successfully in a laboratory under properly controlled conditions. There is much food for thought in this fact when we consider that the SPR has been functioning for more than fifty years.

(15) Proc., SPR, Vol. XLI, pp. 40-3.
(16) Proc., SPR, Vol. I, pp. 263-83.

Telepathic Powers of a Classicist

Perhaps the most interesting story of thought-transference is the account so dramatically interpolated by Professor Gilbert Murray in his Presidential Address(17) to the SPR on July 9, 1915. He had been discussing Bergson's philosophy in regard to telepathy, when he remarked: 'What makes me incline to a belief in the transmission of thoughts or impressions by some method different from our normal five senses is chiefly my own experience in telepathy... The method followed is this: I go out of the room and of course out of earshot. Someone in the room, generally my eldest daughter, thinks of a scene or an incident or anything she likes, and says it aloud. It is written down, and I am called. I come in, usually take my daughter's hand, and then, if I have luck, describe in detail what she has thought of. The least disturbance of our customary method, change of time or place, presence of strangers, controversy, and especially noise, is apt to make things go wrong. I become myself somewhat over-sensitive and irritable, though not, I believe, to a noticeable degree.'(18)

(17) Proc., SPR, Vol. XXIX, pp. 46-63.
(18) Proc., SPR, Vol. XXIX, p. 58.

Professor Murray then proceeded to detail some experiments, 'where the subconscious impression chose some sense-channel by which to reach me.' His daughter thought of Savonarola at Florence and the people burning their clothes and pictures and valuables in the square. The professor at once thought of 'Italy.' Then he said: 'This is not modern.' At this point he hesitated until a small tarry bit of coal happened to fall out of the fire. This 'clue' made him smell oil or paint burning, and so he got the rest of the scene. In this experiment, the information came through the channel of the sense of smell.

Sometimes the visualization of the thought-of scene came through the sense of sight. Subject set: his daughter's grandfather at the Harrow and Winchester match 'dropping hot cigar-ash on Miss Thompson's parasol.' Professor Murray's verbatim answer: 'Why, this is grandfather. He's at a cricket match - why it's absurd: he seems to be dropping ashes on a lady's parasol.'

Similar successes were achieved many times, and the full and detailed report(19) by Mrs. Verrall, of 504 experiments, should be read, together with the 'Appendix'(20) to the same report. A further 259 experiments are later detailed by Mrs. Henry Sidgwick(21), who described the experiments as 'perhaps the most important ever brought to the notice of the Society'(22).

(19) Report on a Series of Experiments in "Guessing", Proc., SPR, Vol. XXlX, pp. 64-87.
(20) Appendix, ibid., pp. 87-110.
(21) 'Report on Further Experiments in Thought-Transference carried out by Professor Gilbert Murray,' Proc., Vol. XXXIV, pp. 212-74.
(22) Ibid., p. 212..

Of course, hand-in-hand with Professor Murray's claims, went a good deal of criticism. It was suggested that, perhaps unconsciously, he saw his daughter's written description of the scene which, it will be remembered, was recorded on paper. Not only was it written, but the scene or object had first to be spoken aloud. Was it possible that Professor Murray possessed - or possesses - super-sensitive ears - i.e. hyperaesthesia of the sense of hearing? The Professor does not claim that his feats are performed by pure telepathy, and he does admit the possibility of hyperaesthesia. But, as Soal points out(23), if this is the case, it is really incomprehensible 'that the experimenters should never have taken the trouble to test the theory in any way. It might be supposed that the obvious thing to do was to place Professor Murray at varying distances from the person who uttered the message and to have tried the effect of several intervening walls, etc. Yet apparently, no one even accompanied Professor Murray outside the room to see that he "played fair ... The records published by the SPR are merely the records of a parlour game, and not of a serious investigation.' Professor R. H. Thouless, the psychologist, in a letter (dated December 17, 1924) to the Manchester Guardian(24) also hopes 'that these experiments will not stop at the point of demonstrating that communication of some sort exists. By the ordinary methods of scientific research-isolation and independent variation of all the conditions under which communication takes place - it should not be difficult to settle conclusively all the questions that are still in dispute. Such a research should show whether the results are to be explained by telepathy or by hyperaesthesia.' But this apparently has never been done.

(23) Experimental Telepathy and Clairvoyance in England.
(24) Reprinted in Journal, SPR, Vol. XXII, pp. 51-4.

I could cite many more similar experiments to those described above, but there is a sameness about them which becomes almost monotonous. They can be studied in detail in the pages of the SPR publications. Most of the extrasensory research work has been done in England, though certain foreigners have experimented in the field. Among these are Max Dessoir of Berlin, who sent his results to the compilers of Phantasms of the Living, where they are illustrated and discussed(25); Rene Warcollier(26) of Paris; John Edgar Coover(27) of Stanford University, who obtained 10,000 guesses with 100 students using playing cards; Naum Kotik(28), the Russian, and many others. The reader can conveniently study the work of all these experimenters in the Journal and Proceedings of the SPR The brilliant results with Ossowiecki have already been mentioned in these pages(29). The most impressive experiments, in the opinion of Mr. S. G. Soal, who is the greatest authority on everything pertaining to ESP, were those conducted by Professor H. J. F. W. Brugmans, the late Professor G. Heymans, and Dr. A. A. Weinberg with the subject van Dam in the Department of Psychology at Groningen University. In these experiments, the subject was seated behind a curtain, blindfolded, and was only able to push his hand under the curtain to move a piece on a chessboard that was numbered and lettered in the Continental fashion. Brugmans and his assistants sat in a darkened room above and watched van Dam through a glass pane in the ceiling. The experimenters 'willed' van Dam to move the piece to a certain square determined by a random draw of a letter and number from two sets of cards. Nothing of van Dam could be seen except his hand. In 187 trials the subject obtained 60 successes as against 4 that chance would suggest. It was found that alcohol increased the percentage of successes. In the oft-quoted Experimental Telepathy and Clairvoyance in England, Soal remarks that 'the English experimenters in telepathy have produced no positive investigations which ate at all comparable in scientific precision' with the experiments carried out by Professor Brugmans and his colleagues(30).

(25) Vol. II, pp. 642-53.
(26) La Telepathie: Recherches Experimentales, Paris, 1921.
(27) Experiments in Psychical Research, Stanford Univ., Cal., 1917.
(28) Die Emanation der psycho-physischen Energie, Wiesbaden, 1908.
(29) Page 41. See also 'An Experiment in "Clairvoyance" with M. Stefan Ossowiecki,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XLI, pp. 345-51. For a criticism, see Soal's Experimental Telepathy and Clairvoyance.
(30) For a rιsume of these experiments, see Journal, SPR, December, 1938, pp. 299-302.

The Upton Sinclair Tests

The experiments of Upton Sinclair (b. 1878), the famous writer and sociologist deserve special notice. In 1930 he issued a report(31) on these experiments, and it makes astonishing reading. Mrs. Sinclair discovered that she could 'transfer' her thoughts to others and a long series of tests was staged. Mrs. Sinclair was always the 'percipient,' and her husband and other persons acted as 'agents.' The lines of the experiments followed more or less those of the Guthrie, Dessoir and Blackburn-Smith tests, which I have already mentioned. Mr. Sinclair, or another agent, would gaze at and think of a crude drawing of something. Mrs. Sinclair, without seeing it, would, in an adjoining room, attempt to visualize the drawing and reproduce it on paper. Considerable concentration was necessary. Apparently distance was no obstacle, as experiments with her brother-in-law, forty miles away, were also successful. An analysis of the results obtained through the whole series shows a high average of successes. Out of 290 experiments, Mr. Sinclair considers that 23 per cent were successful, 53 per cent were fairly successful, while the remaining 24 per cent were definite failures. It is probable that some of the successes were due to a clairvoyant faculty in addition to a telepathic one. It is to be hoped that the experiments will some day be repeated in the presence of other observers. Other tests carried out in the United States were those staged by the Scientific American in 1933 and 1934, with readers as percipients. Results were negative(32).

(31) Mental Radio: Does it Work, and How? London and Los Angeles, 1930.
(32) See Scientific American, New York, July, 1933; February, 1934.

Card Guessing

The easiest, most simple, and cheapest way to test whether a person has ESP is by means of cards - especially playing cards - and for this reason they have been used by experimenters from the very earliest days. Very many tests have been staged by various people, some with striking results, some with poor results. For example, Professor Richet, as early as 1884, made nearly 3,000 tests with people 'guessing' the suits of playing cards. He got poor results(33.) On the other hand, Miss Ina Jephson, forty years later, staged a very comprehensive test with about 240 people, with most remarkable results - and an equally remarkable sequel.

(33) See M Richet's Recent Researches in Thought-Transference,' by Edmund Gurney, Proc., SPR, Vol. II, pp. 239-57.

The persons selected for the experiment were requested to 'guess' twenty-five cards, in their own homes, using their own cards. Miss Jephson thus obtained 6,000 guesses. For her analysis of these guesses, she used the numerical scoring system for playing-cards computed by Dr. R. A. Fisher, FRS This system allows for successes in colour, suit, number and rank of a card, combined into a single average score. When the guesses were analysed, it was found that forty-six people had sent in results far and away above what chance could account for: in other words, if the guesses were honest ones, they must have been due to clairvoyance on the part of the successful percipients. Mr. Soal was not satisfied with this report(34) and insisted that the experiments should be repeated with cards enclosed in light-proof envelopes, and so scaled that fraud, if not impossible, would be difficult. The results of this test, statistically analysed by Mr. Soal himself, were remarkable. The 9,000 guesses recorded by more than 300 persons showed not the slightest sign of clairvoyance either on the part of individuals or in the mass; the laws of chance operated in every respect(35). It was evident that careless recording, experimental error, or conscious or unconscious faking on the part of the subjects or the sending in of only their best results, were responsible for so many 'good' guesses being sent to Miss Jephson.

(34) 'Evidence for Clairvoyance in Card-Guessing,' by Ina Jephson, Proc., SPR, Vol, XXXVIII, pp. 223-71.
(35) See 'Report of a Series of Experiments in Clairvoyance Conducted at a Distance under Approximately Fraud-Proof Conditions,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XXXlX, pp. 375-414.

Dr. Rhine's Bombshell

In 1934 a bombshell was dropped into the camp of the sceptics by Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine when the Boston SPR published his Extra-sensory Perception(36), a report on his experiments in card guessing carried out at Duke University in the Department of Psychology, of which he is an associate professor. An account of these experiments has been recorded in Chapter III. A further report by Dr. Rhine, New Frontiers of the Mind(37) is a sequel to Extra-sensory Perception and the former book records the progress made since the earlier work was written.

(36) Republished in London in 1935.
(37) London, 1938.

I must here say a few words about ESP technique, and the special Zener cards used in the experiments. In a shuffled pack of twenty-five cards are five sets of five different symbols, and the person to be tested for ESP is invited to 'call' or 'guess' the symbols on the cards which, one by one, are placed before him, backs upwards(38). If he does not possess ESP, the mean chance expectation of 'good' guesses will, of course, be five. Anything significantly above that average, in a long series of properly conducted tests, will be something more than chance: it will indicate a paranormal faculty - i.e. extra-sensory perception.

(38) The clairvoyance test. If telepathy is being tried, the experimenter looks at the card, the subject then guessing what the symbol is.

The successes with Rhine and his colleagues were phenomenal. For example, a student named Linzmayer, at the first attempt, correctly guessed nine cards in succession out of the shuffled pack of twenty-five - a 2,000,000 to 1 chance. The next day he did the same thing! The odds against a person performing such a feat twice in succession are astronomical. Later, a child of twelve made a 'perfect' score, that is, a run of twenty-five correct guesses. The odds against this last miracle being due to chance are 623,360,743,125,120 to 1! Rhine, in his book(39), may well raise the query as to whether he and his colleagues at Duke 'have been completely and continuously self-deluded or incompetent' in failing to discover if there is a snag in the wonders they are witnessing. I have already mentioned the fact that in London Mr. S. G. Seal has been trying to repeat Rhine's good results, without success, except that in the clairvoyance tests, some people appear to be slightly subnormal - i.e. they score fewer than the average five correct guesses (out of the twenty-five cards) which chance should reveal.

(39) New Frontiers of the Mind, p. 290.

Even Rhine's own subjects appear to lose their faculty when they cross the Atlantic. With Mrs. Eileen Garrett at Duke University, Dr. Rhine has recorded(40) some extraordinary results. In the 625 trials at Pure Telepathy she scored 336 correct hits, an average of 131 per twenty-five Zener cards. In a series of more than 100,000 guesses (using a random sequence of cards) Mr. Seal 'obtained only a single set of twenty-five with as many as thirteen guesses correct, and no set with more than thirteen correct - a result which is in accordance with chance expectation'(41). In the same way with the clairvoyant tests, out of 3,525 calls, the successful ones in America numbered 888; that is, 183 more correct guesses than chance would account for. In many of these tests with Mrs. Garrett cards with unscreened backs were used.

(40) Character and Personality, London, 1934, Vol. III, No. 2
(41) Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, p. 69.

University College Experiments

Mr. Soal was so struck with these results that when Mrs. Garrett, who is British, arrived in London, he arranged (May, 1937) some further tests with her. Most of these were carried out in the Psychological Laboratory at University College with advanced students in the Departments of Psychology and Philosophy as assistants. In all, 12,425 guesses were recorded and nothing paranormal was witnessed. In the concluding remarks of his preliminary report(42), Mr. Soal, in describing the results of his experiments, says: 'In the case of Mrs. Eileen Garrett we fail to find the slightest confirmation of Dr. J. B. Rhine's remarkable claims relating to her alleged powers of extra-sensory perception. Not only did she fail when I took charge of the experiments, but she failed equally when four other carefully trained experimenters took my place... The more serious question will doubtless arise as to whether Dr. Rhine's other major subjects would fare any better if they crossed the Atlantic.'

(42) 'A Repetition of Dr. J. B. Rhine's work with Mrs. Eileen Garrett,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, pp. 69-87. A detailed report of these experiments will be published by Mr. Soal in due course.

Mrs. Garrett also fared badly in the investigation into the physiological changes that were alleged to take place during the trance state of this medium. The psychic Press had been full of stories, emanating from America, that Mrs. Garrett's trance 'controls,' 'Uvani' and 'Abdul Latif' reacted differently, physiologically, from the normal Mrs. Garrett. The implication was, of course, that the medium's controls were separate entities or personalities. Blood counts, coagulation times, respiration, pulse rate, etc., were all stated to be different in the 'controlled' medium from what they were when Mrs. Garrett was out of trance. It was even alleged(43) that the blood of 'Abdul Latif' was the blood of a man in the last stages of diabetes! As Mrs. Garrett happened to be in London, Mrs. K. M. Goldney decided, with the medium's willing co-operation, to test these remarkable statements, and a complete investigation was carried out with the assistance of the following medical specialists: Dr. Geoffrey Bourne, Dr. Cuthbert Dukes, Dr. William Nunan, Dr. V. J. Woolley, and Dr. Helena Wright. The report(44) of this careful inquiry into the alleged paranormal physiological conditions during the trance state of Mrs. Garrett showed that the results were entirely negative. As in the case of the American ESP experiments, there were no miracles in London.

(43) Light, London, May 20, 1937.
(44) 'An Examination into Physiological Changes Alleged to Take Place During the Trance State,' by K. M. Goldney, Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, pp. 43-68.

Psychological Factors in ESP

Why is it that Dr. Rhine at Duke, and a few other investigators (principally in America) are obtaining such amazing results in ESP, while we, in England, seem quite unable to find subjects with a paranormal faculty? It is true that one or two people in Great Britain claim successes in this field, but their work has yet to be repeated independently by scientific workers. Mr. G. N. M. Tyrrell, for instance, has been for many years experimenting in ESP and is one of the very few persons in this country who claim to have obtained positive results in telepathic and clairvoyant experiments on quantitative lines. His principal subject is Miss Gertrude Johnson, an intimate friend. As far back as 1921 Miss Johnson was able, according to Tyrrell, to 'guess' the denominations of the first six or eight cards in a shuffled pack placed face downwards on the table. This feat she repeated many times. Later, Mr. Tyrrell devised a piece of apparatus consisting of five small boxes, padded on the inside, into which, at random, he inserted the end of a pointer, the idea being that the medium should guess in which box the pointer was placed. A screen was between the medium and the experimenter. Out of 30,000 trials, the medium was successful 9,364 times (30.2 per cent) against a chance expectation of 20 per cent. These results have been published in a recent work(45) by Mr. Tyrrell, and his apparatus has also been described and illustrated(46).

(45) Science and Psychical Phenomena, London, 1938.
(46) 'The Tyrrell Apparatus for Testing Extra-Sensory Perception,' by G. N. M. Tyrrell, in the Journal of Parapsychology, Durham, N.C., June, 1938, Vol. II, No. 2, pp. 107-18. See also Journal, SPR, January, 1939, pp. 6-8.

Unfortunately, most of the work with the pointer apparatus may be vitiated by the fact that it is possible for an agent to make his pointer selections accord with the general habits of the guesser, perhaps unconsciously. Indeed, Mr. George W. Fisk has recently demonstrated(47) that using this apparatus he was able to cause almost anybody to score either above or below chance at will by merely watching the way the guesser made his choices and then dodging these position preferences adroitly with the pointer.

(47) Journal, SPR, May, 1938, pp. 2 1923.

If Rhine and Tyrrell can get these - apparently paranormal - results, how is it that Soal has failed to detect any trace of ESP in more than 140 subjects (Indians, Chinese, Egyptians, Greeks, mediums entranced and normal, etc.) doing 120,000 guesses? The Americans say that we Britishers do not possess the requisite 'psychological make-up' for success. It is alleged that we are either too sceptical, too critical, or too academic; or our approach to the subject is 'unfriendly,' or that we have 'unsuitable personalities.' That the psychological factor in ESP experiments is important is obvious; but seriously to suggest - as has been done - that 140 persons failed to show a trace of ESP because the experimenter (Soal) had an unsuitable personality, is nonsense. Soal has purposely handed over his subjects - and experiments - to others, not all of the academic type, but employing his technique, with identical results: not a trace of ESP.

As a proof that Mr. Soal's methods on this side of the Atlantic are acceptable to at least one person who has experimented with Rhine I can quote Mrs. Garrett's statement(48) to Mrs. Goldney that Soal's conditions are actually preferable. Mrs. Garrett says: 'The conditions at Duke are tense and emotional in comparison with those with Mr. Soal in London. I, personally, prefer the quieter methods, divorced from constant urging and suggestion, that pertain in London with Mr. Soal.' But in spite of these better conditions, Mrs. Garrett failed to get any extra-chance results.

(48) Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, pp. 86-7.

The reason why we fail to get paranormal results in card calling in this country is because, I think, our technique is so much better than the Americans'. Mr. Soal's methods exclude the probability of spurious high scores by making it impossible for normal sensory cues to play any part in the experiments, but I will refer to this question later.

Criticisms of ESP

Mr. Soal is not the only person who has criticized the American ESP technique and results. But he is the person most competent to criticize, as, individually, it is probable that he has made more ESP experiments than any other person, and knows much more about the subject. He is also by profession a mathematician, and the proper evaluation of ESP results is largely a question of mathematics and statistical method.

When Extra-sensory Perception was published in this country in 1935 several scientists and pseudo-scientific journalists accepted the book at its face value and, with uninformed enthusiasm, wrote glowing accounts of the new psychic miracles. The same thing happened in America. But with the realization that the Duke successes could not be repeated in other quarters, notably in London, some of these scientific writers repented of their early enthusiasm and wished they had kept silent.

It would be impossible in this chapter to give a full list of critical articles pointing out the fallacy of the Duke results and criticizing the American technique. The most convincing criticism will come when Soal publishes his important report on his many years' repetition of Rhine's experiments. But in order that the reader can realize the nature of the scientific hostility to the American tests, I will cite a few examples.

At a convention of the American Psychological Association in New York in April, 1938, Dr. Steuart Henderson Britt, of George Washington University, stated that the official ESP cards as sold to the public in America could be read from the backs, either by sight or touch, owing to too heavy printing or other defects. He proceeded to 'read' correctly twenty-four cards out of a pack of twenty-five, with faces unseen. At the same meeting Dr. F. H. Lund stated that he had tested 596 students with ESP cards and had found no paranormality among them. 'L.A.E.,' who cites these facts, remarks in a letter to the Two Worlds(49) that he had experimented with more than 200 subjects, making more than 500,000 calls, and not one 'can even remotely compare with Dr. Rhine's amazing results.'

(49) Manchester, April 29, 1938.

Professor Chester E. Kellogg of McGill University wrote a scathing article(50), on the Duke tests and attacks them from a new angle: 'Since Dr. Rhine's reports have led to investigations in many other institutions, it might seem unnecessary to prick the bubble, as the truth eventually will out and the craze subside. But meanwhile the public is being misled, the energies of young men and women in their most vital years of professional training are being diverted into a side issue, and funds expended that might instead support research into problems of real importance for human welfare.'

(50) 'New Evidence (?) for "Extra-Sensory Perception",' in the Scientific Monthly, New York City, October, 1937, pp. 331-41. See also 'A Critical Analysis of Experiments in Extra-Sensory Perception,' by Max Hertzman; and 'Some Implications of Extra-Sensory Perception,' by H. Rogosin, both in The Psychologists' League Journal, New York, May-June, 1938.

Again, Dr. Eugene Adams, of Colgate University, says(51): 'I have completed a series of more than 20,000 individual card-guessing tests of the sort that Dr. Rhine has conducted at Duke University.... My tests involved thirty different persons and were designed to test clairvoyance, telepathy and the two in combination. I used the same cards that Rhine did.... My results were negative. No individual scored beyond chance expectation, nor did the average combined scores exceed normal expectancy.' Professor Kennedy, of Stanford University, reports similar failures, after testing 100 students(52). Professor Henlein, of Florida State College for Women, carried out 125,000 guesses with only chance results; while James C. Crumbaugh, of Dallas University, made 75,000 tests without success. The chief critic of Rhine's methods in this country, apart from Soal, is Professor R. H. Thouless, of Cambridge University. In a long review(53) of Extra-sensory Perception he remarks: 'It will be gathered that Dr. Rhine's procedure is by no means free from objection, and that his presentation [of results] is open to the much graver objection that the experimental methods are quite inadequately reported.' Dr. Thouless himself has carried out between 6,000 and 7,000 experiments in Glasgow, without success paranormally. To sum up, in no country has official scientific opinion yet accepted Dr. Rhine's results(54).

(51) New York Times, March, 1938.
(52) Genii, Pasadena, Calif., Feb., 1938.
(53) Proc., SPR, Vol. XLIII, pp. 24-37.
(54) For criticisms voiced at the convention of the Am. Psychol. Ass., held at Columbus, Ohio, on September 9, 1938, see the 'ESP Symposium at the APA,' Journal of Parapsychology, Durham, N.C., December, 1938. For Professor Thouless's report on his experiments, see 'Report on Glasgow Repetition of Dr. Rhine's Experiments on Extra-Sensory Perception,' Proc., SPR, Vol. XLV, Part 159, July, 1939, pp. 252-6.

Mechanical ESP

Among the critics of the Rhine technique in America are Professor Walter G. Pitkin and Mr. John Mulholland. They contend that the extraordinary runs of 'good' guesses achieved by some of Dr. Rhine's subjects need not necessarily be 'extra-sensory' at all, but due to pure chance. They consider that the number of trials made by Rhine and his friends is not yet great enough to determine whether chance does, or does not, account for the many 'good' runs.

Professor Pitkin and Mr. Mulholland decided to see what pure chance would bring by eliminating the human factor and invited the International Business Machines Corporation, of New York, to assist them in determining whether 'the right answers recorded by the parapsychologists' subjects relate to the total answers in a manner significantly different from similar coincidences of events mechanically produced.' They wished 'to see a full intercorrelation worked out between total guesses, right and wrong, in the Rhine experiments, and a large series made mechanically.'

So the Corporation ran 200,000 numbered cards through their machines. The first 100,000 were white, 'and each card carried digits from one through five. There was an even distribution of those digits. 20,000 cards carried one; 20,000 two, and so on. The white cards were mechanically shuffled and run through a machine which printed the numbers on paper in the order in which they happened to come. The second 100,000 cards were red, and these also had an equal distribution of the first five digits. These, too, were mechanically shuffled, and their numbers were printed on the paper.'

When the experiment was finished, the two printed columns of numbers, one column from the white and one column from the red, were compared. 'Just as with Dr. Rhine's test, there was one chance in five of the pair of digits in any given line being the same - that is, matching. But, with our test, there was no possible chance of mind-reading or clairvoyance as a factor.'

Professor Pitkin and his colleague got some amazing results. 'For instance, there were as many as thirty-two lines of figures in sequence without one matching pair. Of course, by chance we might expect to get six matching pairs. Again, there would be runs of matching pairs. Professor Pitkin made a most astonishing discovery about these runs. Runs of five matching pairs in sequence fell 25 per cent below theoretical frequency, while runs of six rose to 25 per cent above theoretical frequency. Runs of seven jumped still higher to 59 per cent above chance expectancy, and with runs of eight we went to 780 per cent above theoretical frequency.... Another amusing freak deviation from theoretical distribution was that in the first 40,000 pairs there were almost three times as many runs of five as there were in the next 60,000 while with the runs of six it was just the reverse. And neither of these series of runs was to be expected... Totalling the number of "correct guesses" in each thousand of our pure-chance run, we found that 24,000 came within 2 per cent of mathematical expectancy; 30,000 went above and 46,000 went below theoretical chance. The total number of pairs in the entire 100,000 was less than 2 per cent away from what was to be expected. The total, by the way, was under mathematical expectancy.' I am indebted to Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons (the publishers) and to Mr. John Mulholland for permission to cite this most interesting test, which is recorded in full in the latter's Beware Familiar Spirits (1938).

The Zener Cards

The early ESP cards as used by Rhine and his colleagues at Duke were originally hand-made. As even playing-cards when made commercially are never mechanically perfect, it is obvious that the early home-made ones were unsuitable for critical work.

The first commercially printed E. S. P. cards were, I think, those which I had made for me by Messrs. Plafair of London in November, 1934, for the Soal experiments in the laboratory of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, and which are still in use. They have on their faces the Zener symbols: rectangle, star, plus sign, circle, and wavy lines. The backs are of a uniform 'playing-card' design.

In 1937 the official Duke University Zener cards were put on the American market. They were of two kinds, plain and coloured symbols. The backs of both kinds were similar in design, but different in colour (blue and brown respectively). These cards, complete with instructions, were issued commercially and could be purchased at any news stand at 10 cents per pack. Later, a boxed 'set' of two packs of cards, instruction book(55), and scoring pad, were offered to the public for $1.75 complete.

(55) A Handbook for Testing Extra-Sensory Perception, by C. E. Stuart and J. G. Pratt, New York, 1937.

When I received a pack of the commercial ESP 'official' cards I had a shock. I found that through employing an unsuitable design on the reverse of the cards, the stamping die had so cut the pattern (lines and circles) that some of the cards could be recognized from the backs. In other words, parts of the pattern varied on some cards. I found that, in five minutes, I could recognize ten of the cards from the backs, just as Dr. Britt demonstrated in New York. Another fault with these cards is that the pattern is not a symmetrical one (i.e. uniform either end) on account of the photograph and lettering in the centre. This lends itself to manipulation on the part of unscrupulous subjects(56).

(56) The American Zener cards are now being used for conjuring tricks. See 'ESP Miracle,' by Royal V. Heath, Sphinx, New York, January, 1938.

The outcry against being able to read the Duke cards from the backs was met by Rhine advising experimenters to cover them over with something when being used - a vital precaution that Soal had been taking with my Plafair cards in every experiment he had ever made. But in the directions sold with the Duke cards, or in the Stuart and Pratt handbook(57) issued with them, not a word of warning is given about screening the backs of the cards when testing for ESP On the contrary, on page 12 of the handbook(57) permission is given to look at the backs: 'Sit where you cannot see the faces of the cards. You may close your eyes or look off into space, or even look at the backs of the cards'(58). It is obvious that some results obtained with these unscreened cards may be valueless. To my knowledge, neither cards nor handbook have yet been withdrawn. In fact there is a sort of defence of the cards in the Journal of Parapsychology(59), of which Professor McDougall(60) and Dr. Rhine are editors(61), Under the heading 'ESP Card Imperfections' it is stated that 'since it is much easier to set up simple experimental precautions than to attempt to produce a "perfect" commercial ESP card, it is doubtful whether improvements are at present feasible.'

(57) op. cit.
(58) My italics.
(59) Vol. II, No. 1, March, 1938, p. 72.
(60) Prof. McDougall died on November 28, 1938, aged 67.
(61) Beginning with the May, 1939, issue, the editorship will be transferred to Gardner Murphy (Columbia University) and Bernard F. Riess (Hunter College), and the Journal will be published half-yearly instead of quarterly.

A National Test

When I read the above curious statement, I determined to produce a card which could not easily be read from the back except by a hyperaesthete, and the back of which was the same whichever way one held it. The result is illustrated on page 186. I named them the 'Telepatha' cards, and they are made by Messrs. Waddington and marketed by Messrs. George Newnes, Ltd., London. The pattern of the backs was specially designed to dazzle the eyes of any subject who attempted to obtain visual clues or indicia from the backs of the cards. The symbols on the faces of the cards are X-sign, = sign, triangle, spot, and crescent. The 'Telepatha' card set comprises two packs each of twenty-five cards, with both plain and coloured symbols, an instruction book, and scoring pad.

In an article in John o' London's Weekly(62) I suggested that a national test should be held in Great Britain in an effort to ascertain if good telepathic subjects could be found in this country. Mr. Frank Whitaker, the editor of John o' London's Weekly, thought well of the idea and in the next issue(63) of his journal, a great national competition was launched. Professor J. C. Flugel,(64) Mr. S. G. Soal(64) and I were asked to supervise the arrangements, my 'Telepatha' cards being chosen for the tests. The most stringent laboratory conditions were imposed on the competitors. The competition is in full swing as I write these lines.(65)

(62) 'Can Telepathy be Proved?' March 10, 1939.
(63) March 17, 1939.
(64) Who also contributed articles on telepathy to John o' London's in the issues February 24 and March 3, 1939.
(65) The result was negative. About four hundred persons entered the competition and those results sent in 'lend little or no support to Dr. Rhine's theories.' (For details, see John o' London's Weekly, May 12, 1939.)

Price's 'Telepatha' Cards, with Dazzle Backs

To the uninitiated, testing subjects for ESP may sound a simple job; in reality it is a most difficult and complicated one. To be an efficient experimenter, one should be a conjurer, psychologist, and mathematician rolled into one. The pitfalls are many.

To begin with, there may be collusion between experimenter and subject. Or the latter may be able to exchange his own prepared pack ('stacked' cards) for those of the person testing, or see the reflection of card faces in mirror, pictures, or shiny table-top. Codes, visual or aural, might be used between the subject and any person in the room able to see either backs or faces of the cards. Marked, dirty, stained, cracked, or used cards would provide the subject with clues, if they were not screened. Bad shuffling of cards on the part of the tester would increase the 'good' guesses if the subject - consciously or unconsciously - remembered their order. In addition, there is always the possibility of experimental error, faulty recording, mal-observation, faked records, or sheer lying on the part of the experimenter or his assistants.

Mr. S. G. Soal, in an illuminating address to the Ghost Club(66) on March 15, 1938, related many of the snags in ESP work. He pointed out that even in the most perfect commercial cards there is always some small speck or irregularity, made either mechanically or in printing, visible to good normal eyesight. And many more markings, etc., would be visible to a person like Marion, whose feats due to hyperaesthesia of the various senses (especially that of touch) have to be seen to be believed(67). A person has only to see or recognize one card in a pack of twenty-five to send up his average from a chance score of five to an extra-chance score of six. Marion was able to pick out in the light a card that he had never seen, but had touched only once in the dark.

(66) A social 'psychic' club, founded in 1862, revived in 1881 and again in 1938 (by Harry Price).
(67) See: 'Preliminary Studies of a Vaudeville Telepathist,' by S. G. Soal, Bulletin IV, Univ. of London Council for Psychical Investigation, London, 1937.

Another source of error is the careless handling of a pack of cards so that the subject sees the bottom one. There again his average would rise to six. It is also possible for a perfectly honest experimenter, by unconscious whispering, slight bodily movements, change in breathing rate, or other indicia, unconsciously to convey to the equally honest subject when a card is called correctly. The subject might then be aware, subconsciously, when five of one symbol (the full set) had been called, and would refrain - also subconsciously from calling that symbol again. This would send up his average score above chance. That is why a screen between experimenter and subject is necessary. Preferential mental associations (and 'pattern habits') must also be taken into account. All these 'snags' and many others are detailed in Mr. Soal's paper(68), which should be read by those wishing to conduct experiments in ESP

(68) Snags in ESP, Univ. of London Library ('Harry Price Library'), 1938.

Before I conclude this story of ESP and its recent dramatic developments, I must reiterate that the successes of Dr. Rhine and his colleagues at Duke University have not yet been accepted by official science in any country. Dr. Rhine himself has published two highly provocative works in which he claims to have demonstrated scientifically that clairvoyance and telepathy are faculties possessed by many people in America. All that is now needed to complete the trilogy is a volume telling us how we can reproduce the Duke 'miracles' on this side of the Atlantic.

Conjuring and Collusion

I have said little in this chapter about the possibilities of conjuring and collusion in obtaining high ESP scores. Many methods will suggest themselves to the reader. But one system, not so well known, is published by Mr. Theo Annemann in an article 'Was Professor J. B. Rhine Hoodwinked?'(69) This is called the 'mental count' and has been used in various conjuring tricks for many years.

(69) See The Jinx, Waverly, New York, August, 1938, pp. 329, 333.

In some ESP telepathic experiments, the 'percipient' (receiver) is in one room, and the 'agent' (sender) is in another. By means of a telegraph key and sounder, the agent signals to the percipient when he is thinking of a symbol.

Collusion could be accomplished in the following way, even when the shuffling of the cards and the conditions of the test were under the control of the investigators:

Previous to the experiment, both sender and receiver practise counting mentally and in unison by means of a metronome or loud-ticking clock. With very little practice, their mental counts absolutely synchronize. The counting is always from one to five.

By pre-arrangement between sender and receiver, each symbol is allotted a certain number: e.g. a circle would be one, a cross two, a star three, and so on. The first card turned up by the agent is a five to one chance against the symbol being guessed correctly by the percipient. But immediately after the agent presses the telegraph key for the first time, both agent and percipient begin counting mentally 1-2-3-4-5-1-2-3-4-5-1-2-3- etc. If the agent's next card is, say, a star (three), he stops mentally counting at this number and taps the telegraph key. The percipient also stops counting mentally when he hears the sounder, and he, like the agent, has also arrived at three; and of course, as three is a star he calls 'star' - which is correct. Then they start counting again with the next card. With a little practice, twenty-four out of the twenty-five newly shuffled cards could be called correctly. It is obvious that the principle of the 'mental count' could be applied to other phases of ESP technique.


The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)


More articles by Harry Price

• 'A Fit Subject of University Study and Research'
• The First Psychic Laboratory
• Broadcasting the Occult
• The Law and the Medium
• Psychic Practitioners (Regulation) Bill
• The Mechanics of Spiritualism
• Poltergeist Mediums
• Can we Explain the Poltergeist?

• Margery' - The Psychic Riddle of the Twentieth Century
• Stella C
• The Materialisation of 'Rosalie'

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