In the words of is a series where I delve into some of the writings of notable paranormal and psychical researchers to dissect their view, create discussion, inspire and maybe even challenge the way we think. You may not agree with everything they say, however many of their writings have formed the very way paranormal investigators approach their research or even the language they use.
In previous editions, we have heard from
Today we will be looking at some of the writings of Joseph Banks Rhine. In the 1930's J.B Rhine adopted the word parapsychology to replace the phrase: physical research. He was thought to have founded parapsychology as we know it today as a branch of psychology. He focused his research on experimenting with test subjects. Rhine himself is well known for establishing Parapsychology institutes. First was the Parapsychology lab at Duke University, founding the Journal of Parapsychology and the Parapsychology Institute and what is now known as today as the Rhine Research Center.
Here are some quotes from his book Extra Sensory Perception published in 1935 (which you can also read online via public domain for free!). The book detail work he had been undertaking in studying ESP through various experiments. One of the more famous experiences was that of Zener Cards.
It is to be expected, I suppose, that these experiments, will meet with a considerable measure of incredulity and, perhaps, even hostility from those who presume to know without experiment, that such things as they indicate simply cannot be! But this inevitable reactionary response to all things new and strange, which is as old as the history of science, already shows many signs of decline, as the scientific world adopts a 'scientific attitude', one of open-minded but cautious inquiry, toward the facts.
Noting the research of his peers before him, Rhine felt that the results of previous experiments studying areas like telepathy were not published in any peer-reviewed psychological journals. They were only published in psychical research journals. It meant that the results while impressive to psychical researchers were not taken seriously by the scientific community. Rhine felt that without this scientific accreditation of endorsement, the work itself was largely lost because it failed to convince both Scientists and the World in general. This was something Rhine was passionate about changing. Remember this was written in 1935. We were just coming out of the deception of the spiritualist era, so it would have been an incredibly challenging time to have this kind of work taken seriously. By using the Scientific Method and opening work up to peer review, you are doing two things. Firstly, it was one of the first big steps to have this field taken seriously. Secondly, you are opening up to a lot of criticism. Today parapsychology is still referred to as a pseudoscience, however, it is more accepted today thanks to the world of people like JB Rhine. His work helped to remove some of the stigmas related to psychic abilities which were tarnished during the fraudulent activity of the spiritualist era. From another perspective, I think we can all relate to this quote in that there are people that will automatically dismiss what you are presenting just because they think it is impossible (and this was long before social media!)
It may well be that some readers will not agree , with the outline drawn or with the statement of the problem given; at any rate, it is hoped they ,will understand the objective and orientation of the work after following the clarification, and be better able to clarify it.
Following on from the above, this is an important statement I really resonated with because it is something I say all the time. We don't have to agree on everything. In fact, I feel if we agreed on everything the World would be boring and we wouldn't get anywhere with our research. Intelligent and thoughtful discussion is what progresses our field and our research. A dismissive and even aggressive attitude does not. Rhine is saying that he expects not all to agree with his work, but he hopes that you will see what the overall picture of what he is trying to achieve is. Instead of automatically jumping on the defence or just dismissing something because like Rhine said above you feel it just cannot be, try to take the time to listen to what someone is saying and to try and understand it. This approach means you may change your mind or you may even be able to offer another perspective that the writer did not think of in the first place!
The book then goes on to detail Rhine's experiments and findings in detail. In 1957, Rhine released Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind (which you can also read online for free).
What kind of methods, then, are needed for the crucial task of verifying an hypothesis in parapsychology?
A. Statistical Evaluation
First, there is the requirement of sound measurement. In parapsychology this has to do with the estimation of significance with
respect to chance. So long as psi capacity is in need of investigation, there will always have to be provision to deal with chance as a possible explanation of results. In a word, statistics is needed in any branch of science for the investigation of functions not yet fully understood and controllable at will.
B Experimental Precautions
The second basic requirement of a definitive research in parapsychology brings us to the aspect of experimental safeguards, and to the most important of these, the insurance that, in a crucial ESP test, there be absolutely no possibility of sensory communication. If a test is to be at all crucial, there is no excuse for using conditions that leave the question of sensory cues as one to be answered by judgment or interpretation.
C Care in Recording
A third general requirement for a proper experimental verification in parapsychology concerns the making of adequate records of the results. All the data of an experiment must be recorded in such a way as to eliminate any possibility of error that could produce spurious results. For this purpose, the ideally careful experiment needs to be set up in such a way that the responsibility is shared between two persons qualified by training and selection to produce a faithful record, shared in such a way that no error made by either one could go undetected. This is referred to as the two-experimenter plan and its application
to the various types of experiment might briefly be reviewed.
D. Precautions Against Deception
A fourth type of requirement for sound verification might be found in the consideration of precaution against deliberate error. This is an unusual addition to scientific method, but it is called for largely because of the exceptional character of the hypotheses being tested. Also, some of the associations psi capacities have had with practices in which deception was common make it easier than in most researches to suspect that the subject might have deceived the experimenter. Accordingly, it is advantageous, if not necessary, to give special attention to this requirement
As I mentioned above, Rhine was quite passionate about having this field of research to be taken seriously. Many of us involved with paranormal research would tend to agree, however we may not necessarily play our part in doing things in a way that allow it to be taken seriously. While the above is a guideline for parapsychology experiments, you could argue it is also relevant for a regular paranormal investigation. There is more to an investigation than just going in and trying to talk to ghosts. We need to record results, collect data and do so in a meaningful way.
Some of the early nineteenth century observers who gave attention to psi phenomena associated them with mental abnormality. The phenomena first came under professional study in connection with hypnotism or its forerunner, mesmerism. Thus psychiatry in its beginnings was linked with the odd occurrences that have come to be known as ESP. Just as hypnosis was for a time erroneously attributed to the neurotic condition known as hysteria, so capacities such as clairvoyance and thought-transference were attributed to the mesmeric or hypnotic state as artificial products induced in minds that were something less than normal and healthy.
Psi Is Not Abnormal
Hypnosis became in time more or less clearly distinguished from its early association with the abnormal, and ESP phenomena, too, came to be recognized apart from the hypnotic state. However, there still remained the question whether it is perfectly healthy or normal to have spontaneous psi experiences or to be able to demonstrate psi under experimental conditions. But the answer has developed fairly clearly in recent years that psi is a normal process and is no more closely related to psychopathology than is any other mental function.
There is an article I wrote a while ago called What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly. It was discussing the point that the paranormal or in Rhine's case PSI seems to be a regular if not everyday occurrence for some so it has really become a normal part of our lives.
If the paranormal is such a huge part of our lives and something that has essentially become normal for a person in different ways, is it still paranormal?
Philosophy should probably be considered as bordering on all branches of the domain of science. Its relation to a new science, however, is likely to be especially close and involved. Fortunately for parapsychology, some of the leading philosophers of the western world have taken an active interest in its problems from the very beginning of psi investigations in the days of Henry Sidgwick and William James, Where the actual investigations of parapsychology have most definitely crossed the borders of academic philosophy is in the investigation of the psychophysical problem. This is an issue of long standing in the field of philosophy, variously characterized as the mind-body problem or the question of the place of man in nature. As we have indicated, the focus of parapsychology, too, is on this question although it is not usually stated in that way.
In the investigation of phenomena of human personality that challenge physical explanation the inquiry is naturally at the outset one of whether any sort of nonphysical operations may be actually and adequately demonstrated. If so, a scientific solution can be found to the mind-body problem of philosophy.
I know that I often look back to the theories and thoughts of the philosophers that came before us. In fact, a lot of what we believe about the paranormal seems to come from a lot of their writings. I have explored this further in the article Philosophy and the afterlife where I looked at Descartes thoughts on the mind-body problem and even that of dreams. In modern-day paranormal research, it is easy to look to popular figures with large followings or even those who are on TV. Much like Rhine, I think it is very important to look at the thoughts and work of the philosophers like Descartes and Aristotle because it can make you look at the paranormal in a whole new way.
Remember the paranormal is far beyond a ghost haunting a building. If you want to try something new or expand your research, look into parapsychology and if you do, check out work by Joseph Banks Rhine. You won't look at the paranormal the same again!
*Above is my own thoughts and interpretations of Rhine's words. Do you resonate or do you interpret them differently? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.
Extra Sensory Perception 1935 J B Rhine
Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind 1957 J B Rhine
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