The Enduring Legacy of Parapsychologist J.B. Rhine

Skeptics deem Rhine's famous ESP trials a bust. The record says otherwise.

One of my intellectual heroes is parapsychologist J.B. Rhine (1895-1980), who pioneered ESP card experiments at Duke University in the early 1930s. One evening, one of my kids went online to test my judgment—and found it wanting.

The references that he and millions of others encounter today call Rhine's trials polluted and unreliable. "Rhine's results have never been duplicated by the scientific community," Wikipedia reports, "…It was revealed that Rhine's experiments into extrasensory perception (ESP) contained methodological flaws." References to "flaws" or "errors" appear eight times in the article.

Red pill takers, choke it up.

But the data tell a different story, one that polemical skeptics have rendered difficult to discern. To find it, and Rhine's real legacy, requires dialing back the clock for a moment before returning to the researcher's efforts—and extraordinary evidence.

The Dawn of Parapsychology

"Organized psychical research can be dated, symbolically, from a conversation between Henry Sidgwick and his student F.W.H. Myers, one moonlit night in Cambridge about 1870, over the need to validate religious belief through the methods of empirical science," wrote historians Seymour H. Mauskopf and Michael R. McVaugh in their study of psi research, The Elusive Science.

The more formal scientific scrutiny of anomalous phenomena marked its starting point in 1882 when the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded in London by scientists including Myers and pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James—and included a remarkable array of clinical luminaries, such as physicist Oliver Lodge, Sigmund Freud (a member of both the British and American chapters), economist and ethical philosopher Henry Sidgwick, and Arthur Balfour, Britain's prime minister from 1902 to 1905.

At its inception, parapsychology sought to test mediumistic phenomena under controlled conditions. The early SPR worked with rigor to hold spirit mediums to proof. Researchers such as the strong-willed Richard Hodgson and James himself ventured to the séance table intent on safeguarding against fraud and documenting claimed phenomena, including physical mediumship, after-death communication, and clairvoyance. They probed unexplained cases, exposed frauds, and created historical controversies that have lingered until today. But they were functioning largely within the lace-curtained settings of Victorian parlors. On the whole, SPR researchers were not operating in clinical environments, so-called white coat lab settings where an atmosphere of experimenter control abetted seeking evidence for extra-physical phenomena, whether in statistical patterns or recording of events.

I do not intend to leave the impression that lab-based study of psychical phenomena was absent. In the 1880s, Nobel laureate and SPR president Charles Richet, one of France's most highly regarded biologists, studied telepathy with subjects under hypnosis. Richet also introduced the use of statistical analysis in ESP card tests, presaging today's near-universal use of statistics throughout the psychological and social sciences.[1] In the early 1920s, French engineer René Warcollier conducted a series of experiments on long-distance telepathy.

Another decade passed before study of the paranormal burgeoned into an acknowledged, if hotly debated, academic field. This was due largely to Rhine and his wife and intellectual partner Louisa Rhine (1891–1983). In the late 1920s and early 30s, the Rhines established the research program that became the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, which made paradigmatic advances in the scientific study of ESP. A generation on, ardent skeptics rolled back the Rhines' progress in the public and academic mind.

J.B. and Louisa trained as statisticians and botanists at the University of Chicago, where both received doctorates, a considerable rarity for a woman then. In the 1920s, botanists were considered at the forefront of statistical theory. While at Chicago in 1922, they were inspired by a talk on Spiritualism by English author Arthur Conan Doyle. Although taken by Doyle's "utter sincerity," J.B. later feuded with the writer over the deceptions of one of Doyle's favored mediums.[2] With J.B.'s eyes on greater horizons, he soon grew restless in his chosen career.

"It would be unpardonable for the scientific world today to overlook evidences of the supernormal in our world," J.B. told what must have been a mildly surprised audience of scientific agriculturalists in spring of 1926 at the University of West Virginia, where he held a teaching position.[3] 

The Rhines began casting around, venturing to Columbia University and Harvard, seeking opportunities to combine their scientific training with the metaphysical interests that had ignited their relationship as adolescents. J.B. and Louisa met with some attention and encouragement but progress proved fitful. Odd jobs were necessary to stay afloat. Children were soon on the horizon, with the first of four, a boy, adopted in early 1929 after the death of a premature newborn, and three daughters born through 1934.[4] 

"I think, too, we are tiring of chasing the Psychic rainbow or the Philosophic pot of gold," J.B. wrote in his notes in January of 1927. As often occurs in life, just prior to resignation following immense effort, an extraordinary— and in this case, historic—opportunity appeared. The new chairman of Duke's psychology department, William McDougall—a past president of both the American and British SPR who favored scientifically driven research of mental phenomena—encouraged the Rhines in their work, bringing the couple to Durham that fall. In 1930, with the support of Duke's first president, William Preston Few, McDougall made J.B. Rhine a formal part of the campus. Although the founding of Duke's Parapsychology Laboratory is often dated to that year, J.B.'s program was not christened the Parapsychology Laboratory until 1935 (in 1929 he called his prototype the "Institute for Experimental Religion"), where it remained until 1965. Today, the Rhine Research Center continues as an independent lab off campus. In all, it proved a watershed episode in which parapsychology was formally folded into an academic structure and study of the psychical became a profession.

At Duke, J.B. did not quite originate but popularized the phrase extrasensory perception, or ESP, which soon became a household term. The work begun at Duke's Parapsychology Lab in the early 1930s—which I will soon revisit—has continued among different researchers, labs, and universities to the present day. The effort is to provide documented evidence that human beings participate in some form of existence that exceeds cognition, motor skill, and commonly observed biological functions—that we participate in trackable, replicable patterns of extra-physicality that permit us, at least sometimes, to communicate and receive information in a manner that surpasses generally acknowledged sensory experience and means of data conveyance. This field of exchange occurs independently of time, space, or mass.

As will be seen, researchers following Rhine have accumulated a body of  recent statistical evidence for telepathy, psychokinesis (i.e., mind over matter), and precognition or what is sometimes called retrocausality, in which events in the future affect the present. An example of the latter may involve cases in which present activities, such as memorization of a word list, are positively and measurably impacted—in a replicable manner using widely accepted statistical models—based on actions that have not yet occurred, such as near-future study of that list.[5] For several years, Dean Radin, chief scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) in Northern California, and colleagues have performed and replicated experiments in precognition in which subjects display bodily stressors, such as pupil dilation or increased heart rate, seconds before being shown distressing or emotionally triggering imagery.[6] I explore related efforts and replications by Cornell psychologist Daryl J. Bem in my 2022 Boing Boing article, "Is Precognition Real?"

These are fleeting references to a handful of recent findings from modern parapsychology. I am going to make a statement and I am then going to argue for it. Thanks to Rhine's inceptive efforts, we possess heavily scrutinized, replicable statistical evidence for an extra-physical component of the human psyche. For decades, this evidence has appeared in—and been reproduced for—traditional, academically based journals, often juried by scientists without sympathy in the direction of its findings.[7] 

What Evidence?

Now that I have made my big-picture contention, it behooves me to support my points. What evidence exists for my chin-out claims of science affirming the extra-physical? Here I return to Duke's Parapsychology Laboratory in the early 1930s. J.B. Rhine's innovation as a researcher is that he wanted to develop clear, repeatable, and unimpeachable methods, with rigor and without drama or speculation, for testing and statistically mapping evidence for anomalous communication and conveyance. To attempt this, Rhine initially created a series of card-guessing tests that involved a deck called Zener cards designed by psychologist Karl E. Zener (1903–1964). You may recall seeing Zener card tests affectionately lampooned in the opening scene of Ghostbusters. Zener cards are a five-suit deck, generally with 25 cards in a pack, with symbols that are easily and immediately recognizable: circle, square, cross, wavy lines, and five-pointed star. After a deck is shuffled, subjects are asked to attempt blind hits on what symbol will turn up.

Over time, and across tens of thousands of trials, guesswork will produce a one-in-five or 20 percent hit rate. At a certain point, these odds are lawful. We no longer speak in terms of a "law of statistics" or "law of averages;" those concepts are considered colloquial, and understandably so because they are often misunderstood and misapplied in gambling situations. But across the span of extremely large numbers that colloquialism holds true. Probability dictates that over large spreads you are going to hit 20 percent, or one out of five, if you are operating from random chance. But Rhine discovered, across literally tens and eventually hundreds of thousands of rigorously safeguarded trials (by 1940, the database included nearly a million trials[8]) that certain individuals, rather than scoring 20 percent would score 25 percent, 26 percent, 27 percent, sometimes 28 percent (and in select cases a great deal higher).[9] All of the data were reported. Nothing was withheld in the "file drawer," so to speak. No negative sets were excluded. At the time, social scientists across the field commonly withheld negative sets on the questionable grounds that something was flawed with the methodology. Rhine reversed this practice early on at his lab and helped lead the overall social sciences to do so.[10] 

Hence, the pooled data displayed inexplicable deviations of sometimes just a few percentage points, but repeatedly and demonstrably above chance possibility. In a related landmark, the first modern meta-analysis, in which data from varied experiments are analyzed, validated (or identified as flawed), and statistically mapped, appeared in Rhine's 1940 monograph, Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, a topic to which I return. The term "meta-analysis" itself was not coined until 1976.

In the footsteps of his establishment of transparent protocols and pooled data, Rhine also included an estimate of how unpublished papers would impact overall effects—this relates to the so-called file drawer problem or "publication bias" in favor of results, a common procedural and ethical lapse in the social sciences. "Such private information as can be assembled regarding unpublished work," Rhine and his collaborators wrote in Extra-Sensory Perception after Sixty Years, "…shows that by a large majority, the unpublished reports are favorable to ESP rather than nonconfirmatory." For many academic researchers, claims of ESP were more daunting than the opposite.

In Rhine's work, every precaution was taken against corruption, withholding, or pollution of data, which was also opened to other researchers (and non-research-based critics) for replication, vetting, and review. In a letter of March 15, 1960, to mathematician and foundation executive Warren Weaver, Rhine referenced the extra lengths to which the parapsychologist ought to go: "Even though the methodology and standards of evidence may compare favorably with other advances of natural science, they have to be superior in parapsychology because of its novelty; and conceivably, too, by making them still better, everything may be gained in overcoming the natural resistance involved."[11] 

The "natural resistance" or partisanship around such findings can be so intense—and sometimes purposefully obfuscating or confusing—that even well-intentioned lay seekers come away with the impression that Rhine's work, or that of more recent parapsychologists, has proven unrepeatable or compromised. The parapsychologist Charles Honorton, about whom more will be heard, sought to analyze critical challenges to Rhine's figures in the years following their publication. In his 1975 presidential address to the Parapsychological Association, a professional society for parapsychologists, Honorton said:

Even among parapsychologists there is a rather widespread belief that most of the independent replication of the early Duke work were non-confirmatory and I suspect this may be especially true among those of us who were not around in the 1930's (which, incidentally, accounts for about three-fourths of the participants at this convention). In fact, I was surprised myself to find that this wasn't so when I undertook a review of all the English-language ESP experiments reported during the period between 1934 and 1939.[12] 

Honorton's effort involved a database of about 3.3 million individual trials. He described further:

During the five-year period following publication of J.B. Rhine's Extra-Sensory Perception in 1934, the scientific community responded as it should to any claim of new discovery, by disseminating both positive and negative research findings, by careful scrutiny of the experimental and evaluative techniques, and by encouraging fresh replication efforts. During this period there were approximately 60 critical articles by 40 authors, published primarily in the American psychological literature. Fifty experimental studies were reported during this period, two-thirds of which represented independent replication efforts by other laboratories of the Duke University work.

Honorton found that "61 percent of the independent replications of the Duke work were statistically significant. This is 60 times the proportion of significant studies we would expect if the significant results were due to chance or error." In 2020, parapsychologist Rick Berger, Ph.D., broke down the figures further for the Parapsychological Association: "In the five years following Rhine's first publication of his results, 33 independent replication experiments were conducted at different laboratories. Twenty (20) of these (or 61%) were statistically significant (where 5% would be expected by chance alone)."[13] 

Rhine's experiments have proven sufficiently bulletproof so that even close to fifty years later his most resistant critics were still attempting to explain them by fantastical (and often feckless) fraud theories, including a prominent English skeptic's nearly vaudevillian supposition that one of the test subjects repeatedly crawled through a ceiling space to peek at cards through a trapdoor over the lab.[14] At such excesses, rationalists fail the test that Enlightenment philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) set for validation of miracles: counterclaims must be less likely than reported phenomena. In any case, Rhine's methods and results have never been upended.

For all that, Rhine may have proven too idealistic regarding what it took to overcome "natural resistance." A prime example appears in how polemical skeptics today ride herd over  articles on parapsychology on the most-read reference source in history, Wikipedia. As of this writing, Wikipedia's article on Zener cards states in its opening, "The original series of experiments have been discredited and replication has proven elusive." This statement is unsourced, something that would get red-flagged on most of the encyclopedia's articles.

Rhine himself has fared little better on Wikipedia. As of this writing, the aforementioned biographical article on him is rife with sui generis statements and a plurality of references to books published by Prometheus Books, a Buffalo, New York, press aligned with professional skepticism. The article's declarations are often worded evasively and referenced tautologically, e.g., "It was revealed that Rhine's experiments into extrasensory perception (ESP) contained methodological flaws"—this is footnoted to a book called Quantum Leaps in the Wrong Direction: Where Real Science Ends…and Pseudoscience Begins by Charles M. Wynn and Arthur W. Wiggins (Joseph Henry Press, 2001), a slender volume with cartoons that lampoons psychical research (and oddly groups Holocaust denial among its topics). Wiki's footnote is keyed to this passage: "[Rhine] suggested that something more than mere guess work was involved in his experiments. He was right! It is now known that the experiments conducted in his laboratory contained serious methodological flaws…," which then misstates Rhine's testing methods from which the authors speculate over frauds, such as "subjects could see card faces reflected in the tester's eyeglasses or cornea." In its review, Publisher's Weekly called the sourcebook "lightweight" and concluded, "It won't be long before this title takes a quantum leap into the remainder bins." In another almost humorous passage of the article, professional skeptic Martin Gardner is quoted criticizing Rhine for insufficient disclosure regarding fraud, followed by Gardner's suggestion of his own secret knowledge of compromising files hidden in the Rhine labs. This reflects the present state of crowdsourcing that Wikipedia permits to define Rhine's career.

How does this occur on the world's go-to reference source? Radin, chief scientist at IONS, described to me the problem of an ad hoc group calling itself "Guerrilla Skeptics" policing Wiki entries on parapsychology: "While there are lots of anonymous trolls that have worked hard to trash any Wikipedia pages related to psi, including bios of parapsychologists, this group of extreme skeptics is proudly open that they are rewriting history…any attempt to edit those pages, even fixing individual words, is blocked or reverted almost instantly."[15] 

I must sometimes smile at the excess of rhetorical brinkmanship in such cases. In the same article in which I quoted Radin, I wrote that the Guerrilla Skeptics "wage a kind of freewheeling digital jihad on Wikipedia." A supporter of the group expressed outrage on Twitter that I would metaphorically call them "jihadists." I pointed out that they call themselves "guerrillas." He insisted that was of no relevance because they were being ironic.

After Rhine

Even if parapsychology as a field had ended with Rhine's initial Duke trials—if no further experiments occurred—we would possess evidence of some sort of paranormal mechanics in human existence. Those basic (though painstakingly structured) card experiments, those few percentage points of deviation tracked across tens of thousands of trials (90,000 in the database by the 1934 publication of Extra-Sensory Perception), demonstrate an anomalous transfer of information in a laboratory setting and an extra-physical, call it metaphysical, non-Newtonian exchange of information.

But things did not end there. In the decades ahead, extraordinary waves of diversified experiments occurred in the U.S. and other nations growing from the efforts of the scientists at Duke's Parapsychology Laboratory. These efforts demonstrated, again and again, anomalous mental phenomena, including precognition, retrocausality, telepathy, and psychokinesis (PK). Regarding the last, Rhine's lab began studying PK in 1934, an effort that continued until 1941, after which many lab members were summoned to the war effort. During about nine years of investigation, researchers conducted tens of thousands of runs in which individuals would attempt to affect throws of random sets of dice. Devices were soon employed to toss the dice in such a way that ensured randomness, which ought to demonstrate no pattern whatsoever. Again, similar statistical results to the Zener card experiments appeared: among certain individuals, across hundreds of thousands of throws, with every conceivable safeguard, peer review, methodological transparency, and reportage of every set, there appeared a deviation of several percentage points suggesting a physical effect arising from mental intention.[16] 

We have now logged generations of experiments designed to test the effects to which I am referring.[17] Today's cohort of parapsychologists believes, I think with justification, that the basic, foundational science for psychical ability has already been laid. Although parapsychology remains controversial—about which I will say more—the field has already moved on from basic testing for ESP, a matter that was more or less settled in the 1940s.

More recent to our era, researchers are concerned with questions including telepathy, i.e., mind to mind communication; precognition, i.e., the ability to foresee or be affected by things that, within our model of the mind, have not yet occurred; retrocausality, a question related to precognition that hinges on future events affecting current perceptions or abilities; a biological basis for psi (including biologist Rupert Sheldrake's "morphic field" theories); spontaneous psi events, such as premonitions or crisis realizations; dream telepathy; a "global consciousness" effect during periods of mass emotional reaction; and the practice of remote viewing or clairvoyance.[18] Another critical question is how psychical ability relates to quantum mechanics and whether the latter provides an overall theory of ESP, a topic to which we return.

The Ganzfeld Experiments

One of the most important figures in psychical research died of heart failure in 1992 at the tragically young age of 46. I referenced him earlier. His name is Charles Honorton, known to friends as Chuck. He had struggled with lifelong health issues. Honorton's passing was a tremendous loss for the field. It was the near-equivalent to losing Einstein at the dawn of his relativity theories. It is critical to understand what Honorton accomplished. The self-taught researcher began corresponding with J.B. Rhine from his St. Paul, Minnesota, home at age 13 after he had consumed all of the books on parapsychology at his local library. The prodigy ventured on an internship to the Parapsychology Laboratory in Durham at age 15. Precocious, dogged, idealistic, and possessed of a razor-sharp intellect, Honorton began studying at the University of Minnesota but returned to Duke to work with Rhine. He never completed his degree, a point of contention between the newcomer and his mentor.[19] Indeed, J.B. seemed not to have fully recognized Honorton's virtuosity at the time. Honorton was interested in studying psi under conditions of hypnosis, an area that did not specifically interest J.B., and the younger man often felt put off from his planned experiments.

In the late 1960s and 70s, Honorton moved on to direct research into dreams and ESP at the innovative Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York.[20] Stemming from that period, Honorton proceeded to assemble possibly the most significant body of data we possess in the parapsychology field. It was through a long-running series of experiments designed with colleagues in the 1970s and 80s known as the ganzfeld experiments. Ganzfeld is German for whole or open field. Honorton had an instinct for the conditions under which ESP or telepathy—mind- to-mind communication—might be heightened, which formed the basis of his studies.

Honorton noted that the classic Rhine experiments were largely focused on subjects believed to have a predilection for ESP. This highlights a subtle divide within the culture of parapsychology. J.B. believed that ESP may be detectable throughout the human population but was readily testable through figures who possess innate abilities. He did not consider ESP something for which you could train or that was necessarily intrinsic to everyone. Rather, J.B. focused on what he considered naturally gifted individuals who made prime subjects. "What we were interested in," he wrote in his 1937 book New Frontiers of the Mind, "was not finding out whether everyone possesses extra-sensory perceptive powers, but first whether anybody does." J.B. estimated that about one in five subjects had it. His assignation with gifted individuals might be called the X-Men approach in tribute to Rice University historian of religions Jeffrey J. Kripal who has probed the connections between the superhero mythos and modern metaphysics.

Honorton took a different tack. He wondered if perhaps we do not need X-Men to test for ESP. He pondered whether psychical abilities are, in fact, general throughout the population—but perhaps the psychical signal, so to speak, gets jammed or the psyche's circuitry gets overloaded due to excessive stimuli in daily life. (And this was, of course, in the predigital era before handheld devices overwhelmed our attention.) Maybe our ancient ancestors were better able to "tune in" because there is so much frenetic activity and sensory overload in the modern era. Honorton pondered what it might reveal to test for ESP among subjects who are placed into conditions of relaxed, comfortable sensory deprivation. He ventured that you may be able to spike the ESP effect if you place a subject into sensory-deprived conditions without noise or bright light, e.g., seating the person in a comfortable recliner in a noise-proof, dimly lit room or chamber, fitted with eyeshades, and wearing headphones that emit white noise. These conditions induce the state called hypnagogia, a kind of waking hypnosis. You enter into the hypnagogic state twice daily: just before you drift to sleep at night and just as you are coming to in the morning. It is a deeply relaxed, motionless state in which you might experience hallucinatory or morphing images, like the bending-clocks in a Salvador Dalí landscape, or you might experience aural hallucinations or tactile sensations of weightlessness or heavy limbs. You may experience bodily paralysis. Yet you remain functionally awake insofar as you are self-aware and are able to direct cognition.

Early twentieth-century French mind theorist Emile Coué, without the benefit of modern neuroscience and sleep studies (which have affirmed his instincts[21]) reasoned that this "in-between" state is prime time for reprogramming your subconscious through self-suggestion. He called the practice "conscious autosuggestion," which is basically self-hypnosis. For this, Coué prescribed his all-purpose mantra: Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better. He said that you should gently whisper the mantra to yourself 20 times just before you drift to sleep at night and another 20 as you wake in the morning. The morning state is sometimes called hypnopompia. Hypnagogia and hypnopompia are similar with some differences, such as hallucinations occurring somewhat more commonly during the nighttime state.

Since hypnagogia is an apparently inviting period for self-suggestion—the mind is supple, the body relaxed, and the psyche unclouded by stimuli—Honorton pondered whether these conditions might facilitate heightened psychical activity. To test for telepathy, he placed one subject—called the receiver—into the relaxed conditions of sensory deprivation I have described, while a second subject—called the sender—is seated outside the sensory deprivation tank or in another space. In the classical ganzfeld experiments, the sender attempts to "transmit" a pre-selected image to the receiver. After the sending period ends, the receiver then chooses among four different images (one target image and three decoys) to identify what was sent.

Like the Zener cards, there is a randomly selected target on each successive trial and, in this case, a one-in-four or 25 percent chance of guessing right. In meta-analyzed data, subjects on average surpassed the 25 percent guess rate. Depending on the analytic model, the most stringently produced experiments demonstrated an overall hit rate of between 32 percent and 35 percent as examined in a 1994 meta-analysis.[22] Since the mid-1970s, this data has, in varying forms, been replicated by dozens of scientists across different labs in different nations, often under increasingly refined conditions. The ganzfeld experiments not only documented a significant psi effect but also suggested that a detectable ESP or telepathic effect may be more generally distributed among the population. The protocols themselves suggested conditions under which psi phenomena is most likely to appear.

Given its significance, the ganzfeld database attracted intense scrutiny. In a historic first, which has never really been repeated, Honorton in 1986 collaborated on a paper with a prominent psi skeptic, Ray Hyman, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. After trading written disputes over the validity of various parapsychological experiments and ganzfeld in particular, the interlocutors decided to collaborate on a joint study for the Journal of Parapsychology, analyzing the data, highlighting areas of agreement and dispute, and recommending protocols for future experiments. In an arena where arguments often devolve into ad infinitum rhetoric, it proved a signature moment.

"Instead of continuing with another round of our debate on the psi ganzfeld experiments," they wrote, "we decided to collaborate on a joint communiqué. The Honorton-Hyman debate emphasized the differences in our positions, many of these being technical in nature. But during a recent discussion, we realized that we possessed similar viewpoints on many issues concerning parapsychological research. This communiqué, then, emphasizes these points of agreement."[23] 

Importantly—and in a statement that ought to serve as a general guardrail in our era of digital attack speech— they wrote: "Both critics and parapsychologists want parapsychological research to be conducted according to the best possible standards. The critic can contribute to this need only if his criticisms are informed, relevant, and responsible."

Beyond laying down general principles and research protocols, the collaborators conducted a joint meta-analysis of key ganzfeld experiments up to that moment. "The data base analyzed by Hyman and Honorton," wrote UC Irvine statistician Jessica Utts, "consisted of results taken from 34 reports written by a total of 47 authors. Honorton counted 42 separate experiments described in the reports, of which 28 reported enough information to determine the number of direct hits achieved. Twenty-three of the studies (55%) were classified by Honorton as having achieved statistical significance at 0.05."[24] This figure, P ≤ 0.05 (P=probability) is the commonly acknowledged bar of statistical significance within academic literature: your null hypothesis, or a lack of ESP effect in this case, has a less than 5 percent chance of being right. This success rate is similar to Honorton's findings in his 1978 meta-analysis.[25] 

Notably, the psychical researcher and the skeptic wrote in their abstract: "We agree that there is an overall significant effect in this data base that cannot be reasonably explained by selective reporting or multiple analysis." And further within their paper: "Although we probably still differ on the magnitude of the biases contributed by multiple testing, retrospective experiments, and the file-drawer problem, we agree that the overall significance observed in these studies cannot reasonably be explained by these selective factors. Something beyond selective reporting or inflated significance levels seems to be producing the nonchance outcomes. Moreover, we agree that the significant outcomes have been produced by a number of different investigators." They went on:

If a variety of parapsychologists and other investigators continue to obtain significant results under these conditions, then the existence of a genuine communications anomaly will have been demonstrated. [emphasis mine] The demonstration of an anomaly, of course does not explain it. Such a demonstration would, however, be very important because it would require acknowledgment that there is, indeed, something to be explained, and the debate would then shift toward such efforts. Whether the anomaly is ultimately to be considered "paranormal" will…depend on further developments such as the extent to which the findings can be brought under lawful control and the construction of a positive theory of the paranormal.

Hyman insisted that none of this was proof of psi, although he later allowed that "contemporary ganzfeld experiments display methodological and statistical sophistication well above previous parapsychological research. Despite better controls and careful use of statistical inference, the investigators seem to be getting significant results that do not appear to derive from the more obvious flaws of previous research."[26] 

In sum, here was a key psychical researcher and a leading skeptic (Hyman was among the few skeptics who conducted his own research) disagreeing over the general nature of the ESP thesis—a reasonable disagreement—but affirming that the most important psychical data of the period proved unpolluted and that the methodology of the studies in their sample reflected significant improvement from the dawn of the experiments in the early to mid 1970s (and warranted further refinement to which their paper was also dedicated). But the key data, they wrote, was free from substantial error, flaw, corruption, fraud, misinterpretation, mishap, or selective reporting. Hyman agreed that a statistically significant effect appeared in the data and justified further research. That's all. No concession of belief in ESP. Nor was any needed. Just an informed critique by a parapsychologist and a career-long skeptic, both with significant credentials, concluding that the data and practices were normative and a statistically significant anomaly appeared.

"To the best of our knowledge," Hyman and Honorton wrote, "this is the first time a parapsychologist and a critic have collaborated on a joint statement of this type." And further: "These propositions relate in general to how psi researchers and critics can work together toward the resolution of their differences."

It is tragic, both in terms of human pathos and intellectual advancement, that Honorton died six years after that paper was published. He was one of the only parapsychologists able to reach across the nearly unbridgeable partisan divide to a professional skeptic and create actual progress in terms of dialogue and research.[27] That process has never been repeated. Indeed, almost to the point of self-parody, as of this writing Wikipedia's article on the ganzfeld experiments introduced them as a "pseudoscientific technique," without sourcing.

Most of the ESP debates are more a reflection of human nature than of actual intellectual dispute. But, still, it is worth asking why this chasm has remained so wide—and I will provide a recent case in point, if not to argue for my position, which is obviously favorable toward the ESP thesis, but to try and surmise, perhaps for myself personally, the facet of human nature that leads one to "flip over the chessboard" when a debate is not going your way.

"Stop Wasting Money!"

Now, let me note that remarkable strides have occurred in parapsychology. In fact, given the funding atmosphere, the advances are all the more impressive—but they are not what they could be. In referencing the 1995 cutoff of government funding for the Stargate Project—the CIA's "psychic spying" program got axed during post-Cold War budget cuts—a social sciences professor told me he was glad and that it was high time to "stop wasting the taxpayers' money."[28] During our debate, my interlocutor conceded the significance of the ganzfeld experiments but the following day reversed himself, leaving little point in further contention.

His comment referenced a popular misconception. In terms of calculable social factors, the call to arms—stop wasting money!—belies the reality of ESP research. In the same year as the Stargate cuts (the 20-year program cost about $20 million), statistician Jessica Utts, citing the work of psychologist Sybo Schouten, noted that during the more than 110 years since the founding of the Society for Psychical Research, "the total human and financial resources devoted to parapsychology since 1882 is at best equivalent to the expenditures devoted to fewer than two months of research in conventional psychology in the United States."[29] For comparison, the American Psychological Association reports that in 2017, $2 billion of the United States' $66.5 billion in federal research funding went to psychological research.[30] Think of it: the field of parapsychology has since its inception worldwide been funded in adjusted dollars at less than two months of traditional psychological experiments in the U.S. (experiments which, like much of the work in the social sciences, are overturned in routine cycles to reflect changes or corrections in methodology). That is less than $333,500,000, or a little more than the cost of four fighter jets. This figure compares with literally tens of trillions in adjusted dollars that have been spent worldwide during the same period on physics or medical research.

This funding situation reflects, in part, the success of the most vociferous skeptics in disabling the legitimacy of parapsychological data, the capacity for serious dialogue between advocates and skeptics, and the professional and intellectual latitude granted researchers within the social and clinical sciences to work on questions of parapsychology. Most academic researchers steer clear, fearing damage to their reputation and ability to get other projects funded.

The Crisis of Skepticism

I will offer a final illustration and then return to an important point about scientific understanding clashing with polemic. October of 2020 marked the death of the best-known critic of parapsychology, James Randi, a stage magician who had dedicated his career to exposing psychic fakery and what he considered the fallacies of parapsychology. Some of what Randi did was worthwhile. But my chief interest is in evaluating parapsychology as fairly as I am able—I am obviously favorable—and defending its findings where they deserve defending. In that vein, I published an article about Randi's career upon his death called "The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism." I was extremely critical. I had my reasons and I will reference just one.

During Randi's career, he maintained an educational foundation whose activities, as noted in my piece, were not always clear. But the James Randi Educational Foundation did issue a short guidebook for schoolteachers to teach students in grades 9 through 12 about ESP research and parapsychology, including the work of J.B. Rhine. As of this writing, it remains available online. Do You Have ESP?: Teacher Edition (which is copyrighted 2010 and 2012) states without sourcing: "It is now well established that Rhine and his colleagues had been allowing themselves to ignore much of the data they had collected and reported only those with positive results. Negative data were set aside."

I made the point earlier in this article that Rhine not only reported all results but, at a time when it was common practice among social scientists to report selectively, he took the lead in reversing that convention and elevating the general standards of the field. In the 1940 book Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, Rhine and his collaborators assembled all data, including that which remained unpublished. "From what is known at this stage of the research," they wrote, "odds appear to favor a tendency to suppress confirmatory results and to hasten to publish those which fail to confirm."

As noted, they meta-analyzed everything before that practice was common or the term coined. In a nearly remarkable exception, even Wikipedia, as of this writing, states in its article on "Meta-analysis:"

The first meta-analysis of all conceptually identical experiments concerning a particular research issue, and conducted by independent researchers, has been identified as the 1940 book-length publication Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years, authored by Duke University psychologists J. G. Pratt, J. B. Rhine, and associates. This encompassed a review of 145 reports on ESP experiments published from 1882 to 1939, and included an estimate of the influence of unpublished papers on the overall effect (the file-drawer problem).

Whatever one's perspective on the ESP thesis, this is the record.[31] Yet in a free guide, Randi overtly misled grade-school teachers into telling students that the problem with Rhine's research is he hid bad results. After decades in the media, the leading skeptic knew the facts.

As I have sought to demonstrate in this article, this kind of practice—in which self-perceived rationalists do injustice to truth in pursuit of what they consider a defense of rationalism—has run riot throughout the professional skeptics' field. I do not know where he finds the energy, but Cambridge biologist Rupert Sheldrake, in addition to his own research into psi phenomena, has proven determined and, in my estimate, intrepid in responding to serial problems among professional skeptics and the toll they have taken in reference media and journalism. I encourage exploration of his efforts.[32] Indeed, the level of invective currently directed against Sheldrake on Wikipedia is, in my view, warranting of that source's editorial supervision. In 2013, Sheldrake was named one of the top 100 Global Thought Leaders of the year by Switzerland's prestigious Duttweiler Institute. Today, on Wikipedia he is called a purveyor of "pseudoscience" for his theories of biological resonance and psi. Anyone who believes that researchers enter parapsychology with anything less than intellectual and personal fibrousness is unaware of the nature of the field.

The Question of Fraud

I am dogged in criticizing the critics—what about the parapsychologists themselves? Is there fraud today in parapsychology, as in other sciences? And might that cancel out its statistical effects? This is, I believe, the line of reasoning that responsible skeptics ought to be pursuing rather than cherry-picking data or the historical record to suit their tastes or engaging in the absurd denialism that exceptions to common observation are nullifying (which would have stopped the field of quantum physics in its tracks in the 1930s).

In 2015, Douglas M. Stokes, a mathematical psychologist and former associate editor of the Journal of Parapsychology, laid out the case that the statistical significance for psi phenomena could be wiped out by levels of fraud in the field commensurate to or lower than those found in other branches of the sciences.[33] Indeed, many of the social and natural sciences are experiencing a credibility gap, which may be a longstanding issue now coming to light due to increased scrutiny. Based on current analysis and surveys, Stokes wrote that fraud rates in biomedical and psychology research are probably at a respective 9 percent and 10 percent. As a result, additional studies suggest that "the use of the traditional 0.05 level of statistical significance as the criterion for the admission of a research finding into the academic literature will result in a majority of the published findings being false, once false positives are taken into account." Based on Stokes's modeling, if overall fraud rates in parapsychology are just under half of those in other sciences, the deception would prove significant enough to eliminate statistical proof in favor of the null hypothesis.

It is easy to assume the persistence of fraud in parapsychology. After all, the Society for Psychical Research began in 1882 with the express purpose of rooting out fraud among mediums (who should not, of course, be conflated with parapsychologists) and bringing greater standards to assertions of extra-physicality. In the early 1970s, J.B. Rhine's then-independent lab (faced with declining institutional support his center had migrated off campus) was itself rocked by a fraud scandal. A charismatic and driven medical student handpicked by Rhine as his institutional successor was caught faking results. Rhine was resolute and transparent in rooting out and exposing the fraud and laying groundwork for improvements.[34] 

But Rhine cannot wholly be spared blame. He handpicked his own Judas. "He had barely been there three years," wrote authorized biographer Denis Brian, "when, in 1973, Rhine appointed this man in his early twenties director of the institute."[35] It is possible that Rhine, a former Marine with square-jawed good looks and poised manners, saw in this "bright young dynamo" a formidable newcomer who could take parapsychology to its next stage of public acceptance. From my perspective, it would have been wiser for Rhine to place his stock in the less-Olympian looking but more integral and erudite Charles Honorton with whom Rhine never seemed to personally connect. Although Honorton's career was cut short by ill-health, the scientist proved the field's natural intellectual heir, but without the garland of institutional inheritance.

For all that, I consider it fair to state that parapsychology today may be among the few exceptions to common fraud in the social sciences. When I posted about the matter in late 2021 on social media, parapsychology journalist Craig Weiler put it this way:

Because parapsychology doesn't convey any honors from successful research, either through social acknowledgment or an improvement in professional status, there is little motivation for cheating. Successful studies also have to run the skeptical gauntlet. So, little incentive…Just a personal observation, the field seems to attract uncorruptible people. The people who take it seriously and publicly, have to have a generally reduced fear level and be willing to fight for the importance of truth. That doesn't describe your average cheater.[36] 

In any case, I celebrate Stokes as an informed parapsychological researcher (he spent twenty years reviewing results for the Journal of Parapsychology) to take a position of tough-minded heterodoxy. Indeed, it is infinitely more important to me as an advocate of parapsychology research—and it would epitomize the worst kind of intellectual politics to try to conceal that—that we get it right versus win a debate. I would rather lose ground a hundred times over than proffer an argument that is strictly rhetorical or tactical in nature or that misrepresents key findings when a debate goes against me. That is why I am so flummoxed, perhaps naively, when I encounter skeptics—and skeptic is a noble title that any of us should be glad to claim—who use deceptive or slippery methods in the interest of promulgating intellectual soundness.[37] 

Toward a Theory

My contention is that seriousness derives not from the nature of your query or associations but from your demonstrable tools and excellence. This does not devolve into license to "ask anything." Queries intended to deny the humanity of another or that fly in the face of well-documented public safety (such as the benefits of vaccines and seatbelts) or overwhelming soundness of record (like the moon landing or election results) corrode our culture and common wellbeing. My wish is simply to see parapsychological inquiry carried out unhindered by false criticism and untethered from polemically driven funding droughts.

The issues I am describing have easily cost us more than a generation of progress in parapsychology. We are at least 30 or 40 years behind where we ought to be, dated from when the professional skeptical apparatus began to ramp-up in the mid-1970s. One of the real challenges for parapsychology—and addressing this is, I think, necessary to the field's next leap forward—is to arrive at a theory of conveyance. I believe the field needs a persuasive theoretical model that pulls together the effects and posits how information is transferred in a manner unbound by time, space, distance, linearity, and common sensory experience. Researchers have made preliminary steps in this direction.[38] Advances are overdue.[39] 

Earlier I mentioned J.B. Rhine's exchange of letters with mathematician Warren Weaver, a highly regarded mathematical engineer and grant-making science foundation executive. Speaking of Rhine's methodology, which he had studied, Weaver in 1960 uttered a semi-famous lament about ESP research at a panel discussion at Dartmouth College: "I find this whole field [parapsychology] intellectually a very painful one. And I find it painful essentially for the following reasons: I cannot reject the evidence and I cannot accept the conclusions."[40] Weaver caught hell for his statement; some colleagues questioned whether his judgment had slipped; a few others (including Dartmouth's president) privately thanked him for broaching the topic.

Weaver had toured Rhine's labs in early 1960. On February 22, he privately wrote Rhine to raise several issues. Near the top of his seven-page, singled-spaced letter, Weaver made this point: "For if you could make substantial progress in analyzing, explaining, and controlling, then the problem of acceptance would be largely solved."[41] Rhine had long labored to demonstrate effect, Weaver wrote, but he now needed to describe mechanics. His letter continued:

But for three main reasons—or at least so it seems to me—the problem of acceptance remains. First, these phenomena are so strange, so outside the normal framework of scientific understanding, that they are inherently very difficult to accept. Second, the attempts to analyze, understand, and control have not been, as yet, very successful or convincing. And third, unreasonable and stubborn as it doubtless appears to you, very many scientists are not convinced by the evidence which you consider is more than sufficient to establish the reality of the psi phenomena.

Rhine replied on March 15 in general agreement with Weaver's framing:

…the three main reasons you give in your analysis are recognizably correct. Had you been inclined at this point to go a step further into the intellectual background for these reasons, this might have been the point to draw upon the judgments of some of the philosophers and other commentators who have dealt with the problem of acceptance. There is an increasingly candid recognition of the difficulty as an essentially metaphysical one. Psi phenomena appear to challenge the assumption of a physicalistic universe.

I have already stated that Rhine is an intellectual hero to me. Yet I detect in his response an effort to sidestep Weaver's challenge. Rhine acknowledges the difficulty of acceptance; but rather than take up the question of mechanics, he ascribes Weaver's concern to the field of social or metaphysical philosophy. That, at least, is my reading. I talked this over with Rhine's eldest daughter, Sally Rhine Feather, a clinical psychologist who past the age of 90 remains active with the center her parents founded.

On September 20, 2021, I wrote Sally: "I am wondering whether J.B. ever privately pondered, or wrote down, a theorized delivery mechanism for ESP?" She graciously replied the same day:

I have never known him to have gone very far in this direction—sadly, J.B. never got to the memoirs he should have written before his health declined in his last year. But he was always so cautious at going beyond the data and had this aversion to philosophers who did so—except for the implications of the non-physical nature of psi on which he actually speculated extremely broadly at times. Best I have are some general clues. When I asked him about being a dualist or a monist, when I was a young person he gave me the analogy of looking at a pair of trousers from the bottom up, and somehow there would be a common force or energy, that would make him only a relative dualist…And there are many quotes of a grander nature (in New World of the Mind) that suggest—"It will be the task of biophysics and psychophysics to find out if there are unknown, imperceptible, extraphysical influences in nature that function in life and mind, influences which can interact with detectable physical processes…"

Hence, Rhine saw his research mission as shaping protocols to obtain and analyze reliable evidence—not venturing a theory of mechanics. (Rhine also noted that evidence for ESP—for the mind liberated from "the cardinal properties of matter, space, and time"—was a necessary prerequisite to considering the after-death survival thesis.[42]) In his response to Weaver, Rhine was, of course, referencing commonly accepted physical laws at the time. For psychical researchers today, studies in quantum theory, retrocausality, extra-dimensionality, neuroplasticity, string theory, and "morphic fields" that enable communication at the cellular level (the innovation of Rupert Sheldrake) suggest a set of physical laws that surpass the known and that may serve as a kind of "macroverse" within which familiar mechanics are experienced. It was already clear in Rhine's era that extra-sensory transmission could not be explained through the "mental radio" model, since, according to Rhine's tests and those of others, ESP is unaffected by time, distance, or physical barriers. This rebounds the question: If the psi effect is real, how does it work? How does mentality exceed the obvious boundaries of sensory transmission?

Perhaps science overvalues theory. In a talk that novelist Michael Crichton had hoped to deliver to ESP rejectionists at Caltech (but he got ghosted after a preliminary invitation was floated), the writer observed:

The problem of data in conflict with existing theory cannot be overstated. Arthur Eddington once said you should never believe any experiment until it has been confirmed by theory, but this humorous view has a reality that cannot be discounted…data to support the idea of evolution—such as the fossil record—were long known; but a convincing theory to explain the data was lacking. Once Darwin provided the theory, the data were accepted.[43] 

Crichton compared this to the common skeptics' claim that there exists no evidence at all for ESP. I have personally encountered mentalists (magicians who perform as psychics), social scientists, physicians, editors, novelists, and journalists—some thoughtful and gifted, others churlish and lazy—who state confidently that there is not a "shred of evidence" for ESP (a stock phrase that psi researchers sometimes joke over). Is the absence of theory blinding our intellectual culture to the evidence? And does this blinkered vision finally matter? The public tends toward sympathy of ESP—not something I consider a valid measure of truth, but worth noting. Crichton further quoted Nobel Prize winner in physics Max Planck: "A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." This may be the position in which orthodox materialists find themselves today.

Nonetheless, I believe that it falls to each generational cohort to venture a theory of phenomena in which it professes deep interest. That theory can ignite a debate—it can be thrown out and replaced, it can be modified—but I do not believe that researchers and motivated lay inquirers (like me) can eschew the task.

Perhaps an individual, either because he or she is uniquely sensitive at a given moment or experiences a reduction of sensory data while retaining awareness, as in the ganzfeld experiments, is capable of accessing information—or taking sensory measurement—from other states or dimensions that exist along the conceptualized bands of string theory. We call these measurements precognition, telepathy, ESP, or psychokinesis, the last of which may be a form of pre-awareness or movement or both.[44] But perhaps that is simply what finer measurement looks like. It is possible that measurement—and what else is sensory data?—not only informs but also, or at least in certain cases, crosses intersections of spacetime.

A law in order to be such, must be consistent. If there is a law of extrasensory perception, that law may be constant but also experienced unevenly based on surrounding circumstances, as with other natural laws. We may get distracted, overloaded, fatigued, and attenuated to experiencing reality. This may be our general state. ESP is bound up with other factors. "And so ESP, whatever it may be," J.B. Rhine wrote in New Frontiers of the Mind, "is at any rate a part of the general complex process-system that we call the mind, or to be still more inclusive, of the personality as a whole." Perhaps if we gleaned more of what was actually going on, or exercised fuller capacities of sensation, the experience would prove overwhelming. We would be overcome with data. Hence, we may need a linear sense of time and a limited field of information in order to navigate experience.

And yet: given that we understand spacetime as flexible, is it really so strange, so violative of our current body of knowledge, that there exist quantifiable exceptions to ordinary sensory experience? Although it goes beyond the breadth of this article, most of the founders of quantum theory were philosophical idealists, i.e., they interpreted and documented a naturalistic universe that includes, and is affected by, laws of perception. "This demonstrates that world-class science—science that created the modern world—was actually performed on an entirely different set of worldview assumptions," Radin remarked to me on December 31, 2021. Indeed, the "father of quantum physics" Max Planck observed: "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force which brings the particle of an atom to vibration and holds this most minute solar system of the atom together. We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter." And elsewhere: "I regard matter as derived from consciousness."[45] 

Recent to this writing, cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, responding to my 2022 lecture "Case Closed: ESP Is Real," wrote:

It's also true that many phenomena in physics challenge common sense, so our intuitions about what is physically possible can't be taken at face value to set a Bayesian prior on ESP. But that doesn't mean we can point to some counterintuitive physical phenomenon from quantum mechanics or relativity and conclude that any weird thing is possible. This is what Horowitz did at the end of his talk when he invoked time dilation near the speed of light in special relativity to explain how a student might effectively study for an exam after it's over. To call this "physics for poets" would be a disservice to poets.[46] 

But would it? As we document these exceptions, trace their arc, and replicate the conditions under which they occur, perhaps we approach what William Blake foresaw in 1790 in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: "If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite." And thus ineffable. Raising this question, and evidence supporting the validity of its asking, are the legacy of J.B. Rhine.

* * *

Mitch Horowitz is a PEN Award-winning historian and writer-in-residence at the New York Public Library whose books include Occult America, One Simple Idea, Uncertain Places, and Daydream Believer (July 26, 2022), from which this article is adapted. 

[1] See "Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design" by Ian Hacking, Isis, Sept 1988, Vol. 79, No. 3; "J. B. Rhine's Extra-Sensory Perception and Its Background in Psychical Research" by Michael McVaugh and Seymour H. Mauskopf, Isis, June 1976, Vol. 67, No. 2; and "Charles Richet" by C.S. Alvarado, Psi Encyclopedia, London: The Society for Psychical Research, 2015.

[2] Something Hidden by Louisa E. Rhine (McFarland, 1983)

[3] For this quote and the next see The Elusive Science: Origins of Experimental Psychical Research by Seymour H. Mauskopf and Michael R. McVaugh with an afterword by J.B. and L.E. Rhine (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980). This seminal historical text—the finest of its kind in my reading—is unfortunately out of print and of limited availability of as this writing: it is a situation that I hope a scholarly or trade press remedies.

[4] See J.B. Rhine, Letters 1923-1939 edited by Barbara Ensrud and Sally Rhine Feather (McFarland, 2021) and J.B. Rhine: On the Frontiers of Science edited by K. Ramakrishna Rao (McFarland, 1982).

[5] A recent precognition study appears in "Feeling the Future: Experimental Evidence for Anomalous Retroactive Influences on Cognition and Affect" by Daryl J. Bem, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011, Vol. 100, No. 3. For a meta-analysis of related experiments, see "REVISED: Feeling the future: A meta-analysis of 90 experiments on the anomalous anticipation of random future events" [version 2; peer review: 2 approved] by Daryl Bem, Patrizio E. Tressoldi, Thomas Rabeyron, Michael Duggan, first published: 30 Oct 2015, latest published: 29 Jan 2016, last updated: 23 Jul 2020, F1000Research.

[6] See: "Time-reversed human experience: Experimental evidence and implications" by Dean Radin, Esalen Draft, 7/31/00, https://www.researchgate. net/publication/239611072_Time-reversed_human_experience_Experimental_evidence_and_implications and "Intuition Through Time: What Does the Seer See?" by Dean Radin, Ph.D., and Ana Borges, J.D., Explore, 2009; Vol 5, No. 4. For a meta-analysis of recent precognition experiments see "Precognition as a form of prospection: A review of the evidence" by Julia A. Mossbridge and Dean Radin, Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, March 2018, Vol 5, No. 1.

[7] E.g., a meta-analysis of psychical research data appeared in the flagship journal of the American Psychological Association: "The Experimental Evidence for Parapsychological Phenomena: A Review" by Etzel Cardeña, American Psychologist, 2018, Vol. 73, No. 5, 663–677.

[8] "Who Was J.B. Rhine?" by Rick Berger, Ph.D., February 14, 2020, at, website of the Parapsychological Association.

[9] E.g., see Extra-Sensory Perception by J.B. Rhine (1934, Boston Society for Psychic Research).

[10] E.g., see "Editorial" by Gardner Murphy and Bernard F. Riess, The Journal of Parapsychology, June 1939, Vol 3, No. 1, in which the authors review Rhine's protocols. In an age of "anything goes" verbiage online, few of us realize the sacrifices entailed in meaningfully heterodox expression. The co-writer of this editorial, Bernard F. Riess was, with Gardner Murphy, not only co-editor of The Journal of Parapsychology from 1939 to 1941, but a respected psychologist who in 1952 lost his teaching position at Hunter College in New York City for refusing to answer questions about his political beliefs and affiliations in front of a Senate committee during the McCarthy Era.

[11] Rhine's letter is from the Parapsychology Laboratory Records, 1893–1984, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, NC.

[12] "Has Science Developed the Competence to Confront the Paranormal?" by Charles Honorton, Extrasensory Perception, Vol. 2, edited by Edwin C. May and Sonali Bhatt Marwaha (Praeger, 2015)

[13]  "Who Was J.B .Rhine?," February 14, 2020, at, website of the Parapsychological Association. Additional replication and detailed examination of every contemporaneous criticism appears in Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years by J.G. Pratt, J.B. Rhine, Burke M. Smith, Charles E. Stuart, and Joseph A. Greenwood (Henry Holt, 1940).

[14] See ESP and Parapsychology: A Critical Reevaluation by C.E.M. Hansel (Prometheus Books, 1980); "Rhetoric over substance: the impoverished state of skepticism" by Charles Honorton, Journal of Parapsychology, June 1993; and Stacy Horn's invaluable study of the Rhine labs, Unbelievable (HarperCollins/ Ecco, 2009).

[15] See my article "The Man Who Destroyed Skepticism," Boing Boing, October 26, 2020.

[16] See "Chapter 6: Psychokinesis," An Introduction to Parapsychology, fifth edition, by Harvey J. Irwin and Caroline A. Watt (McFarland, 2007). Also see "By the end of 1941, a total of 651,216 experimental die throws had been conducted. The combined results of these experiments pointed to a phenomenon with 10,115 to 1 odds against chance occurrence." The Rhines published their initial results in 1943: "The psychokinetic effect: I. The first experiment" by J.B. Rhine and Louisa Rhine, Journal of Parapsychology 7.

[17] See my earlier reference to Cardeña (2018).   

[18] Although it exceeds the scope of this article, there is a great deal of controversy over the CIA-funded remote viewing or "psychic spying" program popularly dubbed the Stargate Project, which in various forms ran from 1972 to 1995. UC Irvine statistician Jessica Utts, who uses statistical analysis and meta-analysis to study psi, and University of Oregon psychologist Ray Hyman, a noted psi skeptic, were commissioned by Congress and the CIA to evaluate the results of Stargate. They produced counterpoint reports in 1995: "An Assessment of the Evidence for Psychic Functioning" by Jessica Utts, "Evaluation of a Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena" by Ray Hyman, and "Response to Ray Hyman's Report of September 11, 1995" by Jessica Utts, which appear in full in both Journal of Parapsychology, 1995, Vol. 59, No. 4 and Journal of Scientific Exploration, 1996, Vol. 10, No. 1. The reports are further reprinted in Journal of Parapsychology, 2018, Vol. 82, Suppl. Utts' original report is rebutted by Hyman and she, in turn, responds to his rebuttal. For anyone interested in Stargate, I recommend this material as the "signal in the noise" amid a great deal of writing and debate on the matter.

[19] The Enchanted Voyager: The Life of J.B. Rhine by Denis Brian (Prentice-Hall, 1982)

[20] "Federal Grant Supports ESP Dream Research at Maimonides" by Gordon T. Thompson, New York Times, November 25, 1973

[21] E.g., see "What Is the Link Between Hallucinations, Dreams, and Hypnagogic-Hypnopompic Experiences?" by Flavie Waters, et al., Schizophrenia Bulletin, 2016 Sept, 42(5), and "Neuro-hypnotism: prospects for hypnosis and neuroscience" by John F. Kihlstrom, Cortex, vol. 49, 2, 2013.

[22] "Does Psi Exist? Replicable Evidence for an Anomalous Process of Information Transfer" by Daryl J. Bem and Charles Honorton, Psychological Bulletin, 1994, Vol. 115, No. 1. Also see "Chapter 4: Experimental Research on Extrasensory Perception," An Introduction to Parapsychology, fifth edition by Irwin and Watt (McFarland, 2007): "In an assessment of the literature by Honorton (1978), 23 of 42 experiments conducted in ten different laboratories had yielded significant ESP performance under ganzfeld conditions; this success rate of 55% was far beyond that expected by chance."

[23] "A Joint Communiqué: The Psi Ganzfeld Controversy" by Ray Hyman and Charles Honorton, Journal of Parapsychology, vol. 50, December 1986

[24] "Replication and Meta-Analysis in Parapsychology" by Jessica Utts, Statistical Science, Vol. 6, No. 4, 1991

[25]  See previous footnote of Irwin and Watt (McFarland, 2007).

[26] From Hyman's "Evaluation of a Program on Anomalous Mental Phenomena" (1995/1996) cited earlier.

[27] J.B. Rhine and his colleagues repeatedly made such efforts, even collaborating with overtly hostile critics, such as the originator of the aforementioned "trapdoor" thesis. More recently, parapsychologists including statistician Jessica Utts, biologist Rupert Sheldrake, and clinical psychologist Daryl J. Bem have also made such efforts with slender reciprocity.

[28] The rejectionist view is more widespread in the social sciences than in the natural sciences. As Cornell's Daryl J. Bem wrote in 2011 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: "Psi is a controversial subject, and most academic psychologists do not believe that psi phenomena are likely to exist. A survey of 1,100 college professors in the United States found that psychologists were much more skeptical about the existence of psi than were their colleagues in the natural sciences, the other social sciences, or the humanities (Wagner & Monnet, 1979). In fact, 34% of the psychologists in the sample declared psi to be impossible, a view expressed by only 2% of all other respondents."

[29] From Utts' "Response to Ray Hyman's Report of September 11, 1995" cited earlier.

[30] "Federal research funding for psychology has not kept up with inflation" by Luona Lin, MPP, Peggy Christidis, PhD, and Jessica Conroy, BA,

[31] Rhine privately augmented this record when he wrote to mathematician Warren Weaver on March 15, 1960, in his aforementioned letter: "It is the rule, and it has always been the rule, to report every single test carried out with a subject for the experiment set up for his participation. By this I mean every single test carried out in the Laboratory under the conditions designed for the experiment."

[32] See, which explores a variety of issues and offers resources that exceed my scope in this chapter. See also "Rationalists are wrong about telepathy" by Rupert Sheldrake, Unherd, Nov 22, 2021, and "Heads I Win, Tails You Lose" by Chris Carter, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research 74, 2010.

[33] "The Case Against Psi" by Douglas M. Stokes, Parapsychology: A Hand- book for the 21st Century edited by Etzel Cardeña, John Palmer and David Marcusson-Clavertz (McFarland, 2015)

[34] See "A new case of experimenter unreliability" by J.B. Rhine, Journal of Parapsychology, 38, 1974, and "Comments: A second report on a case of experimenter fraud," Journal of Parapsychology, 39, 1975.

[35] The Enchanted Voyager: The Life of J.B. Rhine (Prentice-Hall, 1982)

[36] Weiler's book Psi Wars (White Crow Books, 2013/2020) is an important (and unsettling) overview of the current crisis of skepticism, including how the tech-boosterish TED Talks have silenced parapsychologists.

[37] I explore this issue more extensively in my previously referenced article on Bem's precognition experiments.

[38] E.g., a partial overview appears at the Global Consciousness Project: https:// For a fuller perspective on theories of psi and related issues, the motivated student will feast upon the two-volume set, Extrasensory Perception: Support, Skepticism, and Science edited by Edwin C. May and Sonali Bhatt Marwaha (Praeger, 2015).

[39] It is also worth noting the social barriers to this undertaking. Scientist Dean Radin remarked to me on December 29, 2021, that arriving at a theory of psi "will almost certainly require a radical change to the current mainstream worldview, and pushing against the inertia of that status quo is, to put it mildly, not so simple because of the sociopolitical reasons you've already alluded to. Prominent people's careers and legacies are at stake."

[40] For Weaver's statement and its background, see Unbelievable by Stacy Horn (HarperCollins/Ecco, 2009).

[41] Weaver's letter and Rhine's reply are from the Parapsychology Laboratory Records, 1893–1984, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Durham, NC.

[42] Mauskopf and McVaugh (1980)

[43] "Postscript: Skeptics at Cal Tech," Travels by Michael Crichton (Knopf, 1988)

[44] "A definite relation between ESP and PK is suggested," the Rhines wrote in their 1943 paper on psychokinesis, "one in which each complements the other much as in the analogous relation between sensory perception and motor abilities…" Indeed, this highlights the difficulty of arriving at a theory: "Not only is a persuasive theoretical explanation for precognition unavailable at this point," wrote Julia A. Mossbridge and Dean Radin in their previously cited 2018 paper, "but we do not even know whether we should be attempting to identify one mechanism or many."

[45] See "Quantum mechanics and the consciousness connection" by Susan Borowski, Scientia blog, 7/16/2012, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

[46] "ESP Debate: Is Belief in ESP Irrational?" by Steven Pinker vs. Brian D. Josephson, Skeptic Magazine, Reading Room, July 26, 2022