J. B. Rhine

Joseph Banks Rhine

Widely considered to be the "Father of Modern Parapsychology." Along with his wife Dr Louisa E. Rhine, Dr J. B. Rhine studied the phenomena now known as parapsychology at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He coined the term "extrasensory perception" (ESP) to describe the apparent ability of some people to acquire information without the use of the known (five) senses. The Rhine Research Center in Durham still continues to be a thriving center for parapsychological research.

ESP from the Viewpoint of General Parapsychology

- J. B. Rhine -

          NO BRANCH of science can have a central and stable body of knowledge until it has established inner relationships between its own phenomena. There have been frequent and persistent attempts among scientific students of parapsychology to do this, yet, so far as I know the literature, never experimentally[1]. Telepathy (or telepathy and clairvoyance) has been offered by students of the subject in England as a hypothetical explanation for phenomena representing themselves as of incorporeal origin; clairvoyance, expanded to include telepathy and named metagnomy, cryptaesthesia, etc., has been offered among the French in a similar way for the same purpose. There have been those (notably Prof. James Hyslop) who reverse the matter and suggest the 'spirit' hypothesis as a possible explanatory principle for telepathic and clairvoyant phenomena. The principal French students of parapsychology (métapsychique) have favoured clairvoyance (lucidity, etc.), although they recognize telepathy and make a branch of it. The English students of the subject, while recognizing clairvoyance (telaesthesia), have given emphasis and attention almost entirely to telepathy, with comparatively little work on clairvoyance. And on neither side of the Channel has work been done with a view to finding out the relations assumed to exist between the two. In fact, as we saw in Chapter II, most of the work done on the subject has been under conditions that would allow both telepathy and clairvoyance. This was pardonable, perhaps, at a stage where proof of a new mode of perception was the major point.

[1] Prof. Hans Driesch, in a recent book, Psychical Research, transl. by Theodore Besterman (Bell, London, 1933), in which he gives a very interesting discussion of methods, problems and theories in the field, comes to the conclusion that clairvoyance and telepathy are fundamental phenomena; that is, fundamentally different phenomena. Not only are these fundamentally different, but prophecy and psychometry also are added to the list of fundamentals. These questions, however, of what is ultimate and fundamental must surely be settled rather by the results of experimental exploration, just as the questions of what are the fundamentals in physics can be settled only in the light of experimental evidence.

The plan of this research undertaking is, first, to interrelate the simpler phenomena (simple from the point of view of production) of telepathy and clairvoyance, and to relate these, as far as may be, with physiological conditions and with other mental processes. Along with the interrelating of telepathy and clairvoyance will go an attempt to relate these to dowsing, parapsychic cognition of remote past events and the prevision of future events. Next it is hoped to invade the incorporeal parapsychical branch; i.e., into the so-called 'mediumistic' phenomena. The plan will be to try to work with the same subjects, in part; subjects, that is, who are capable in the simpler capacities. The objective is to discover the basic laws underlying the whole; and to go on to find, by similarities and differences, what the general character of the greater phenomena of the parapsychological field can be analysed into.

It may be said now, I think, on good experimental evidence, that in clairvoyance and telepathy we are dealing with the same basic process. They have been carefully separated under the conditions of these experiments and found to exist in clearly demonstrable capacity in seven of eight major subjects, as well as in some of the minor ones. Both capacities have been independently demonstrated in seven of the eight and, since less than two months have elapsed since the discovery of the only subject (Zirkle) who cannot do both Pure Telepathy (P.T.) and Pure Clairvoyance (P.C.), we are not sure that he will not yet discover that he can do P.C. work also.[2]

[2] Two months later Zirkle was encouraged to try B.T. again and with a somewhat different approach. He succeeded very definitely in the 1,150 trials made during this later period. These yielded 368 successes or an average of 8.0 per 25. There was a positive deviation 15.2 times the p.e (i.e., Probable Error of np. This is the deviation from np at which the odds are even that it was or was not due to mere chance.). It is most important to add, too, that Zirkle's P.T. for this period was 8.8, which is very close to the B.T.* average.

Not only do the subjects possess both clairvoyant and telepathic capacity, but, what is more meaningful still, they score in both conditions at about the same rate. Our use of the figures from the cards as the basis for thought images in P.T. work makes comparison easy. The averages per 25 for all subjects are remarkably close when we compare the P. C. and P.T. from the same periods of time (when that is possible).

These score averages are assembled for comparison in Table XLI. In all cases where we have the data on both P.T. and P.C. for the same period, these alone are given. P.C. is made up of B.T.* in these data; no D.T.** results are used.

* B.T.: Clairvoyance card calling, with shuffled and cut pack of 25 cards placed face down before the percipient. He calls the top card and the call is recorded and the card removed. After 5 calls, or after the entire 25, the calls are checked against the inverted pile of called cards. B.T.-5 represent the condition of checking after every 5 calls; B.T.-25, after the whole pack.
** D.T.: Clairvoyance card calling, with the cut pack of cards remaining unopened until after the 25 calls are made. Calling 'down through', without removing the card called until the end of the run of 25.

Comparison of P.T. and P.C.

Subject P. Clairvoyance P. Telepathy Results
Trials Av. per 25 Trials Av. per 25
Same period only
Same period only
Same period only
Same period only
Totals 11,700 8.1 7.975 7.9  

The results summarized in this table are most impressive; all the more so, when we remember that the subjects were not themselves aware of the averages they were making. To produce such regularity as this in such large numbers is indeed to reveal what can hardly seem other than a fundamental law - that P.C. and P.T. are similar phenomena and that, like the blind brothers who went to 'see' the elephant, we have long had in these different 'limbs' a hold on the same 'body'. ESP, then, can work as well under P.T. or P.C. conditions; i.e., telepathically or clairvoyantly. But, as referring to distinct processes, there is probably no clairvoyance and no telepathy. There is just this mode of perceiving extra-sensorially. The averages per 25 for the large totals in Table XLI should especially be noted. Back in Table XXIX, where the P.C. and P.T. comparisons were given for four major subjects, the averages per 25 for the four were 8.9 and 8.6 respectively. As the totals expand here to large figures and include all seven subjects, the difference is cut still smaller, 8.1 and 7.9.

The results cited under P.C. for the first three subjects, Linzmayer, Pearce and Stuart, are low for them. It just so happened that we had them begin their P.T. work during their low period, and of course, the P.C. offered as a basis of comparison must be taken under the same conditions as nearly as possible. The P.C. and P.T. work here given was done on the same days.

Not only do individuals score at roughly similar rates under both P.C. and P.T. conditions, but, in the fluctuations occurring from day to day, success under the two conditions, P.T. and P.C., go up and down together (so far as we have data for these conditions), with only a few exceptions - and these are clearly understandable as due to special discriminating factors in three out of the four instances. In the 8 days in which we have comparisons of P.C. and P.T. with Pearce, and in the 8 days of the same sort with Cooper, there are altogether 14 such fluctuations, and of these only four are exceptions to the rule that P.T. and P.C. go up and down together. This is all the better in view of the fact that the P.C. and P.T. were often hours apart on the same day. In one of these, the 4th day for Pearce, we have only one run of 25 and it went unusually high, upsetting the balance. There were also only two runs of P.C. This day's work could well be omitted as not being represented by enough trials. On the 3rd day for Cooper, there was an important difference in conditions between P.T. and P.C. The P.C. was run in a comfortably cool room, the P.T. in our warm laboratory where we almost always use an electric fan in summer and on this one day the fan could not be found. It was, too, one of the hottest days of the season. Cooper dropped flatly to chance, the only time he ever did this in P.T. work at close range. Obviously, this too should be ruled out of this special consideration. On one other day, the 5th, he could not, for some reason, get started for the first 75 trials. The last 75 of the 150 were therefore taken as his level for the day, since the merely 'chance' scores of the first 75 simply meant nothing to the particular comparison value sought here. On one occasion, the last day for Pearce, he, too, dropped to chance (5.2), but for no known adequate reason. It was his only day of this sort on the series and, so far as can be recalled, in the whole of his experience. With these exceptions, explained so that the reader may use his own judgment in excluding or retaining them, the 14 daily fluctuations stand as a fairly clear picture of similar changes in both P.T. and P.C. scoring under roughly similar conditions. These joint fluctuations of both types of ESP under the influence of the factors affecting the work from day to day add further weight to the evidence of Table XL, all urging that we have here but two applications of the same perceptual function; that 'telepathy' and 'clairvoyance' are not merely separate processes changing together; that seven of our eight subjects did not just happen to score alike in P.T. and in P.C., and have almost exactly similar averages (P.C. and P.T.), all together. Rather, it is likely that the extrasensory mode of perception fluctuates daily and its results under both conditions must be similarly affected.

There are other special experiments and observations that have given similar results in both P.T. and P. C. For instance, the sodium amytal tests reduced alike the P.C. capacity and the P.T. It will be recalled that a large dose completely reduced Linzmayer to chance scoring in P.C., while a dose of 6 grains lowered Pearce from 10.0 to 6.1 in 25. Now, a similar dose reduced Zirkle on P.T. work from 14.7 to 7.0 (in all 600 trials combined). On the other hand, caffeine affected Pearce on P.C. and Zirkle on P.T. in the same way, raising the scoring in the direction of the normal in both cases but not above it. Illness (tonsillitis) lowered P.T. with Zirkle and P.C. with Pearce. Fatigue affects both adversely and alertness helps both. All the dissociative and reintegrative factors affect both sets of results in the same direction.

What, then, about the effect of screens and other possible obstructions? Both P.C. and P.T. can be done with a heavy cardboard screen concealing the cards or agent. Both P.T. and P.C. work through walls of construction blocks made of tiling. Both are disturbed by new changes with certain subjects; e.g., Pearce on P.C. and P.T. Both can be done at the same rates of speed in general, if the agent is not a limiting factor. Both show about the same range of fluctuation from day to day. Both require about the same mental conditions, of 'concentration', effort, interest, absence of conflict, integration, etc., so far as the data go to show. In a word, there has not been found a single difference, as yet, in any phase of the experiments; everything pointed to a single general process of ESP, divided here merely by the class of 'objects' perceived; i.e., figures in ink or in the thought process.

The most crucial point in the examination of the two conditions, P.C. and P.T., was on the question of effect of distance on the two. On several different hypotheses of the nature of P.C. and P.T., distance might distinguish between the two. Distance data eventually came in strikingly with P.T., which was taken up first. The evidence was highly satisfactory, when there was scoring above chance at all. For some time then the P.C. at a distance was an unsettled point. But as I write this chapter the data are rolling in magnificently from the dependable work of Pearce on B.T.- 25 at 100 yards distance from the cards. He began low, as is his wont in new conditions. Then he rose above his old level and held it until we changed him to a longer distance, where he is now beginning. His results at 100 yards, from one building to another, were, in hits per 25 trials, 3, 8, 5, 9, 10, 12, 11, 12, 11, 13, 13, 12, which is an average of about ten; but, after the adjustment period, the average is 11.4, which is higher than Pearce's B.T. average at close range (which is 9.4). (In fact, his average for 300 trials made at close range with the observer handling the cards, as in the distance P.C., which is really the comparable condition, is rather low - approximately 7.) Here again is a similarity which is peculiarly significant, I think. Not only do both P.T. and P.C. succeed at a distance, but they both seem to succeed, when the conditions are favourable, definitely better than at close range. It will be recalled that Miss Turner, Zirkle and Miss Bailey all improved their P.T. with distance; Pearce improved his P.C. with distance, after the initial adjustment period, in a brilliant series that gives a deviation of 12.6 times the probable error.

The cumulative effect of these uniformly favourable comparisons of P.T. and P.C. results under various conditions has been to convince me of their being a single function, simply with two conditions of application - to two types of perceptual 'object', card figures and thought images. It will be of interest for the future to explore and measure the extent of this ESP, carrying the search into all branches of the field. It seems plausible to hope to be able to follow the ESP thread throughout the more typical parapsychical phenomena, since it would appear to be necessarily basic to them, if not indeed to all parapsychological phenomena.

If the percipient's mind is, as hypothetically suggested in Chapter XII, a relatively free agent that can, under certain conditions, go out space free, escaping material limitations, it might well be expected to be able to find in this spaceless order of reality whatever (if any) strange forces or entities there may be. If there are incorporeal personalities, it could 'contact' them. If there are reservoirs of knowledge, it might tap them, by a more transcendent clairvoyance. The active agency of the percipient's mind and the non-spatiality of the ESP phase of mental life would, if established, make much more plausible the complex mental phenomena of this field, as they are reported and accepted by many. At least, the track of ESP research leads us straight towards all the higher phenomena, not regarding it as a necessarily all-explanatory hypothesis but as a basic fact of the natural capacity of mind that may serve as a guiding principle in the necessary stages of hypothesizing and reorganizing in the general parapsychological field.

By way of a minor suggestion, I have said earlier that the fact that alertness and integration seem to favour ESP, while dissociation hinders it, seems to me to make a point of difference between the spontaneous parapsychic phenomena (often explained as telepathic, such as premonitory dreams), on the one hand, and ESP on the other. Such spontaneous instances seem to be largely either dreams or experiences occurring in a sleepy or relaxed condition, when ESP, as measured by our tests, would be at a low ebb. It would appear, then, that there must be a different process involved in these spontaneous cases - perhaps an agency from without, that may, as in our P.T. work in which two good ESP subjects co-operate as agent and percipient, augment the percipient's ESP capacity by its own. In other words, it may intrude largely in its own capacity. This possibility needs to be tested by ascertaining by careful experiment whether a good ESP subject can intrude or force his thoughts upon a sleep-dissociated or relaxed individual who is not attending or expecting this to happen. Cases are reported of such occurrences, but we need repetition under good conditions, with 'chance' expectation clearly measurable. The difference here suggested between the majority of the spontaneous cases that are called 'spontaneous telepathy' or 'spontaneous clairvoyance' instances and our ESP phenomena may be a very fundamental one, I think, in our future parapsychological theory; on the other hand, it may be entirely superficial and misleading.

Two great sub-headings of parapsychology, then, have been clearly separated experimentally, independently established, each in its own conditions, and then, by experimental evidence, pretty closely identified as the same fundamental principle, merely with two different applications. This has something of the synthetic value that the discovery of the basic interrelationship of sound and wave mechanics, for example, had in the early history of physics, constituting much more elaborate experimentation but, no doubt, much more modest reflection. It was just such progress in the unification of its branches that gave to physics its great central system of laws. I think we may hope for the same ultimate effect in parapsychology, if the work of synthetic reorganization can be pursued with vigour and persistence.

There is a basis of encouragement for the hope of the last paragraph, which is little more, perhaps, than a 'clinical impression' and which I mention in that spirit. I have come to think it a very reasonable hypothesis that all the truly parapsychological phenomena for which there is fairly general acceptance among the more critical investigators may well be but various manifestations of the same function we have here in ESP, most probably in combination with other special factors, in the more peculiar types. That is, ESP may be the general fundamental capacity, possibly an essential one for any parapsychological occurrence. The ground for this 'clinical impression' is this: among these 8 major subjects and their very close blood relatives (I omit names here by request of some and out of consideration for all) there have occurred almost all the usual run of psychic phenomena that are at all commonly accepted by the critical. I might mention the general clairvoyant 'hunches' or impressions, monitory dreams, premonitory 'intuitions' and visions, several varieties of phantasms of the dead, two haunted house cases with several hallucinated witnesses, a number of mediumistic phenomena, including violent physical manifestations with the table and other furniture, and the like. None of the individuals involved has been a professional clairvoyant or medium. None of the subjects has taken the phenomena reported over-seriously; e.g., they have not fully accepted the common spiritualistic beliefs regarding them. Without at all judging the reality of these instances reported, except that I know of no reason to question the veracity of any of the subjects who reported them - indeed, I even feel certain of their utter honesty - I wish to say that, should such phenomena actually occur, it would appear somewhat probable, then, that our own subjects might be led to go on to produce them 'in the laboratory'. That is, if they or their close relatives have done these things (or something, even less spectacularly, like them), and the subjects are known to be parapsychic by their 'telepathic' and 'clairvoyant' capacity, may we not with some justice hope to go on to a development of other parapsychological phenomena and to a laboratory study of them through known subjects of known powers? Of course, it is as yet an hypothesis but not, I am sure, a wholly irrational one. And I repeat, first, that this is not to assume that the reported occurrences are proved to be genuine but merely that they are justly regarded as problems worthy of serious study; and, second, that this is not an attempt to make ESP a simple explanation for everything parapsychological. It is an attempt to follow it as far as it goes, and to recognize, by methods of difference, other factors, if and when they come in, and to establish the facts we work with, as we proceed.


The article above was taken from J. B. Rhine's "Extra-Sensory Perception" (London: Faber & Faber, 1935).

Other articles by J. B. Rhine

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