Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Is There Anything Non-physical About Man?" : J.B.Rhine.

{ This is little bit more an "intellectual" blogpost than most, and I am temporarily blogged out on the UFO subject, so off I go into other regions of the Mystery Land of Out Proctor..... }

This entry is about J B Rhine, who most readers rightly know as the founder of Parapsychology as an academic field. {It is occasioned by my non-profound need to get rid of excess materials prior to the "October" transition to the new house [rising as we speak]. One action, which will elicit horror from some readers, is the elimination of certain copies of FATE magazine which were unproductively eating linear shelf space. Before people go bananas, these were excess copies in the SITU archives [which has a complete set up till its demise], and I also have a complete set personally --- so triplicates were not needed. I came across the FATE article by Rhine [July 1963] and got a bit inspired.}


Stage One: c. 1917-1918. J.B. Rhine is a conservative young man, studying for the ministry at a college in northern Ohio. He, therefore, had the sense of spirituality lain into the foundations of his being, and, because he was never one to go at things half-way, he was going for the Gold Ring of learning to be a minister of spiritual matters for his good and that of others.

BUT, something happened to burst this happy state.

Rhine had a class in Psychology which contained a serious look at the writings/ideas of the great philosopher/ psychologist William James. James among many other things had focussed upon the conundrum placed before many current intellectuals concerning the Freedom of the Will. James, no opponent of spiritual concepts, admitted that the concept of "freedom" of the Will was posing a serious difficulty for scientists, and that some were saying that the claim was a "quite unsupported and even mistaken notion."

Rhine took this as a hammerblow to the foundation of his spiritual view of the world. Always the bright fellow, he realized that unless there was freedom of the Will, there was no means whereby "science", or any form of exploration, could see evidence of anything associated with human nature which went beyond mere materialist reductionism, to say nothing of voiding any profound meaning which might be attached to the existence of any individual human's life. {some person's might wish to claim that some case might be made for "meaning" at the Darwinist or Survival/Thrival of Species level --- a claim quite disputable as to its profundity itself, but in a materialistic non-free Darwinist world, little can be said to attempt to maintain that individual species' "units" [i.e. persons] have importance.}

Rhine was so disturbed by this that he gave up the ministry.

Stage 2: c. 1922-1923. Rhine tries to make the best of it. He shifts his exploratory mind to Biology, hoping to learn as much as possible about what makes up living things [he is studying Plant Physiology, and picking up general information about "Life", doubtless edging him along paths to try to understand the brain better as he went]. He is now a graduate student at the University of Chicago, where he meets his to-be-wife, Louisa.

Once again his "complacent" intellectual world went "boom."

Rhine had, probably while not even noticing it, begun to be mentally programmed by the "Commandments of The Tribe" [in this case academic Biology] to not only reject the sorts of things that Religion stood for, but things such as those which interested A Conan Doyle as well. In short he was becoming one of the vast tribal sheepdom of academic reductionists from which come debunkers and CSICOPians. {Since the middle of the 1800s they have always been with us.}  But into town came A Conan Doyle and Rhine Mental Sea changed again.

I don't know where Doyle spoke but it could easily have been on campus [I am almost sure that this is where I had the privilege in the 70s of listening to Rhine, ironically, give a lecture on the Duke Parapsychology Lab statistical work.] Wherever it was, Rhine attended Doyle's talk. His feelings during the talk were ridicule, outrage, and scorn. What Doyle said could not be true --- a priori --- it violated everything in the Tribal Reductionist Creed. But something stuck in his craw.

Doyle had spoken of the researches/ explorations of William Crookes [to our left] and Oliver Lodge. Both were elite, capital E elite, physicists, and both "Sir-ed" by the British Crown. They were heavyweights of Science, but they claimed "outrageous" "ridiculous" observations.

Lodge was particularly interested in testing and collecting information about telepathy, but Crookes' claims were FAR more mind-boggling. Crookes had gotten deeply intrigued by the claims of "apport" trance mediums, and their assertions that material objects could be transported from place to place and that even "physical" or at least apparently physical things could be materialized at the trance site. This would, of course, not only violate all of the reductionist "laws of Nature" as currently understood, but, because they seemed to require a "ghostly" agent, pointed to something spiritual ignored by the scientific cant.

Crookes' most astounding claims, perhaps, came from his sitting in [sometimes even under the sitting seance table] for mediumistic sessions, of which he was particularly impressed by the phenomena presented by Florence Cook. Frankly, I'm similarly boggled, and wish I'd made a deep study of the Florence Cook/ "Katie King" mediumship so I could speak about where the flaws might lie, but I can't so I won't. Crookes required Florence Cook to come alone to his own home and "sit" for just himself and his close personally-chosen friends. The sitting environment was also of his own choosing. There [he reported] was manifested an apparently substantial physical form of the "person"/Wraith? "Katie King." She materialized to Crookes complete satisfaction as a true observable fact. If true, of course, Rhine's new scientific world was again in need of housekeeping.

These pictures were allegedly taken of Katie King at a William Crookes seance/sitting.

Interlude: 1923-1927. Rhine can't get the Doyle talk out of his head and raids the library for writings by Crookes, Lodge, Alfred Russell Wallace. He also discovers the writings of American psychologist William McDougall, sympathetic to the study of these paranormal claims.

Rhine wanted more, of course, than sitting in a prof-like easy chair reading claims. He begin attempting to sit in on medium sessions himself. Hardly convinced of any veridicality in them, he entered into this phase with hostility.

In 1926 or 1927 Rhine attended a seance/sitting by the famous medium Mina Crandon, who is known in the paranormal literature as "Marjery." Hardly impressed, Rhine ripped Marjery apart in an article in the press. The previous year, A Conan Doyle and his colleagues had presented Marjery with an honorarium [a cup] in recognition of her courage in braving bigots in her study to aid the pursuit of the truth. Doyle was not happy with JB.

Doyle, with his recognition, was able to publish a scathing rebuttal in the New York Times. Characterizing the Rhines as stone-cold assassins, he accused them of "colossal impertinence" to believe that as a result of a single sitting they could describe Marjery and her husband as senseless fraudsters, and their audiences as "incompetent dupes." Doyle lauded Marjery and her husband's efforts to continually adapt the conditions of the sittings to deal with the stream of objections which skeptics tossed at them.

Whoever is right about Marjery, this press cannot have comforted the Rhines. It is possible that their experiences with these grosser spontaneous paranormal claims drove them to avoid such person-specific situations in their later work, and concentrate on testing controls wherein the producing agent played as small a part as possible.

Stage 3: c. 1928-1932.

The Rhines took their leave of Chicago and went hunting for William McDougall [here looking a bit like a gray-headed "Professor Snape" without the Hogwarts cape.] McDougall had formed a psychology department at Duke. The Rhines were there to spend a half-year/semester's sabbatical --- a sabbatical which grew into a lifetime's work.

McDougall was a prominent rejector of reductionist mechanistic behaviorism. He defined himself as NOT being a Dualist, but because he viewed the Mind and the Brain as separate entities with a non-physical means of interacting [involving some vision of a "life" principle inherent in matter] it was difficult to clearly see his view as not allowing some type of dual make-up of humanity. More importantly for Rhine, he was already convinced that the phenomenon of telepathy not only existed but had strong scientific evidence.

The Rhines began their association with McDougall as students during this semester sabbatical, and stayed on as instructors in his psychology department thereafter. Five years later, they had decided that parapsychology was clearly a field which could be studied in the laboratory.

Stage 4: 1933-1938.

These were the years that the Duke parapsychology laboratory began to function intensely, and with greater and greater methodological precision. They were also [partly] years when Rhine and the others were blessed with the best volunteer test subject anyone could hope for: Eileen Garrett. {I have written about Eileen Garrett elsewhere on this blog, and will risk the statement that through all the reading that I've done about her, I believe that she is one of the rare people who really had "The Gift".}

Rhine, along with J Gaither Pratt, were the privileged lead researchers with Mrs. Garrett. She was reported by Rhine to be completely cooperative about all laboratory requirements, and in fact had no demands at all which would in any way complicate the testing. It was Rhine's tests with Garrett which convinced him finally that ESP existed and was testable in the lab. These tests were both of Telepathy and Clairvoyance, although Rhine already realized that it was extremely difficult to totally distinguish the two.

Testing occurred while Mrs. Garrett was in normal consciousness, and while she was in her trance state, and the acting agent allegedly her "trance control" Uvani at the time. Rhine wasn't sure what to make of Uvani, but since "he" scored very much like Eileen herself, Rhine tended to regard Uvani as some state of consciousness [I'm not sure of the term he would have used back then] of Mrs Garrett herself, but one "honestly" projected by her --- i.e. she wasn't shamming it, and in fact she didn't know what to make of that part of the phenomenon herself.

Stage 5: 1939 onwards.

These years saw the Rhine group become more famous among the general public and more infamous among academics. Whereas intense amounts of efforts were made to eliminate a never-ending stream of objections by debunkers, the testing became tighter but more statistical-analysis driven in time. Thus it, and parapsychology altogether, began to lose touch with the spectacular "personal" elements which actually fascinated people, and required a reader to be a sophisticated statistician to understand any significance in the results, if they any longer cared.

Rhine and his group of course understood and cared a great deal. His "colleagues" in the psych department [above right] understood something different. He was a threat to them. They feared what he was doing to their reputations among the Tribe. The majority of the five colleagues pictured about [Rhine himself is in near "psychological isolation" on the left] undertook a stealth action to get him fired and/or his lab disbanded. Oh Great Is The Desire In The Academic Mind For Truth!!

Rhine's Reflections on Human Nature:

The Rhines survived it, ultimately moving the lab to a semi-formal relationship with the University, and continuing their studies. In the FATE article of 1963, what did Rhine think that he had learned?

He felt that the work of the lab had delved deeply into "thought<=>brain" interactions, but that unless pretty substantial breakthroughs occurred in areas of neurological science, pursuit of the physical side of these mechanisms would remain obscure. Nevertheless, it felt that he had firmly shown that mind-to-mind content transfer was a reality. This seemed to lead nowhere but the idea that some sort of transfer occurred "non-physically" as we currently understand Physics.

He went on to state that further assurance that the ESP process is not bounded by current understanding of material laws, was seen in that the ESP effect was not hindered by spatial distances --- i.e. there was no fall-off of ESP scoring due to distance, as is true of all the famous "one over R-squared laws" in the textbooks.

"The outstanding characteristic of ESP phenomena is their failure to conform to the type of lawfulness expected of physical processes. There appear to be no physical media of stimulation that can account for them. The conditions seem to defy the space-time properties on which the science of physics is based. In other words, here in the counterhypothesis itself is the kind of evidence that mankind has been seeking in the investigation of spirit communications --- evidence of another order of causality but one that is none-the-less real for all its defiance of physical explanation." 

J B Rhine had begun this long odyssey because his ministerial psychology class had challenged his basic visions of duality and freewill to the point of casting him into anger and a bit of despair. [as it should all of us if we decide to follow that dead-end reductionist path, and as it has several elite scientists once they became "thoughtful" about their reductionist world late in life.] But Rhine, by a wavy path uncharted towards any such goal, ended up finding the missing piece of the Universe and humanity in the "forbidden" laboratory.

"If there is a spiritual function in man, and if it does in some way transcend the physical system of his body and the environment, it could very well give him certain free leverage by means of its transcendence of space-time. Moreover, this other side of man has its own natural, lawful system, and therefore it can be studied, understood, influenced, and educated. So the idea of a validated morality is possible and even makes sense. The government of men is, as our heritage testifies, verifiably more than the engineering of material robots; life and personality are more than elaborate mechanics." 

Rhine was on the right path to a 21st century expanded image of human nature. His intuition about the possibility that the transcendence of these ESP effects might give us "a certain free leverage" is astoundingly intuitive. He was feeling for the connection between the mind and the physical world through "intention" operating at the level of Quantum. That we might intend that something at that level [say electrons in our brains] might "do" one choice of things rather than another.

What a joy for him it would have been to see Robert Jahn and the Princeton PEAR lab group prove exactly that in the 1980s and 1990s. Rhine ploughed a difficult path out of reductionism and towards a "spiritual" willful means of transferring content. Bob Jahn showed that any of us can demonstrate that free-willfulness in the lab.

And Academe officially hates and ignores them for it.


  1. Thanks, Professor. A very interesting overview on a name I'd heard, but knew little of.

  2. In the end, after what I read on spiritualist books I like to try to imagine the throne of the soul in the body. Because unlike a simple comparison such as bird in a cage, or a cage that generates an appendix that simulates a soul, it's more likely that the spiritual form should be surrounded by a wall of noise, like a person standing in the eye of a hurricane. From there the soul has little room to manifest its natural telepathic skills because it would be separated from the rest of the environment by a furious wall of dark wind and clouds.
    For this reason the body would act by repressing any contact with the outside to a minimum and after death the storm would disappear, leaving the eyes of the mind open to a better contact with nature beyond. And as a "plus" the wind (old shape) wouldn't manipulate the ways of the person anymore.
    Concerning the part of official science, also I think that too many scientists in Academia are too ignorant about the power of politics in order to defend themselves against being victims of bad policy in science which tends to elect a favorite view while crushing the realistic view.



Blog Archive