Skeptics of the paranormal have argued, time and again, that there is no regularly
reproducible scientific evidence for such extrasensory phenomena as telekinesis
(the ability to move objects with the mind), precognition (being able to predict
future events), and telepathy (the transference of information from one mind
to another without recourse to standard methods of communication). However,
many conventionally trained researchers have devoted time and resources to trying
to provide such evidence, sometimes with startling results. One of the most
famous of those researchers was the Dr. J. B. Rhine, whose long toil in the
area made him a pioneer in the subject and one whose research forces reconsideration
of many of the objections of the mainstream.
Joseph Banks Rhine was born in 1895 in Waterloo, PA. The family moved to Ohio
when Rhine was in his early teens. After receiving his education, Rhine joined
the Marines and became a crack sharpshooter stationed in Santiago, Chile. Upon
his discharge from the Marines, Rhine returned to the US and received his Masters
and Doctorates in botany from the University of Chicago.
Rhine taught for a year, and then went to Harvard University to study psychology
under William MacDougall. When MacDougall moved to Duke University a year later,
Rhine followed to work for him.
It was in 1927 at Duke that Rhine and his wife (and research partner) first
became interested in what Rhine himself would name parapsychology,
or the study of paranormal phenomena. A lecture on communication with the dead
by Sherlock Holmes author and séance enthusiast Arthur Conan Doyle fired
his imagination and led him to his lifes work.
Rhines primary experiments were simple. They involved the use of the
Zener cards, a set of five cards with symbols on them. A subject would concentrate
on one of the cards, and another subject some distance away and with no contact
would attempt to pick the card that the other had chosen. The process would
be repeated over and over, and the number of successful results would be measured
against the amount that would be expected to chosen by chance. A 20% success
rate would be the expected chance result.
Over the years, Rhine and his assistants encountered a number of subjects who
seemed to be able to pick the selected card at rates much higher than the chance
result. His first exceptional subject was a student named Adam Linzmeyer, who
in 1931 scored an incredible 100% success rate in the first short battery of
tests he confronted. Over time, Linzmeyers success rate did fall, but
remained at close to 40%, twice the expected rate of success attributable to
chance guessing alone.
Other exceptional subjects over the years included Hubert Pearce, who matched
and occasionally bested Linzmeyers record, and J. G. Pratt. In one of
the most famous experiments, Pratt and Pearce were separated by 100 yards. Pratt
shuffled and reshuffled the cards, and Pearce attempted to guess the order.
Again, his success rate of 40% was well above the expected rate.
In 1940, Rhine published a book on his research called Extra Sensory
Perception which brought that term into the popular consciousness. He
is considered the father of the field of parapsychology as a serious scientific
discipline, and his careful research methods have provided some of the strongest
evidence for the existence of the phenomenon to this day.
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