'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,
(3) 'First Report,' op. cit., p. 20.
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.
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 .
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.
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)
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,
(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
(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.
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.
The easiest, most simple, and cheapest way to test whether a person has
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,
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.
(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
(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
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
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
(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
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.
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).
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
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.
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.)
'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
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
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical
Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)