In the late 1800’s, researchers would use regular playing cards to test telepathy. In the 1930’s, famous parapsychologist J.B Rhine and his colleague Dr Karl Zener wanted to expand this research by creating their own format. Working together, initially Rhine used cards with letters from the alphabet or numbers. They eventually evolved over time to consist of 5 cards of 5 distinct symbols (making a deck of 25). The symbols themselves are very distinct, so that they could not be confused. The aim of the cards was to test a person’s mental telepathy abilities. Rhine dubbed these as Zener cards named after his colleague, however eventually went on to refer to them as ESP cards.
There are 5 cards of each symbol. The deck is shuffled. There are 2 people which participate in the experiment and a third who acts as a moderator. The participants are the sender and a receiver. The aim is quite simple. The sender picks a card from the deck. They then try to mentally send the image to the receiver. The receiver then concentrates and says the first image which comes to mind. This continues over a certain amount of time and then an overall success rate is calculated.
The experiment is not without its flaws. As there are 25 cards in the deck with 5 cards of each symbol, there is a 20 percent chance that someone would correctly guess the symbol at random. It was also acknowledged by Rhine that his experiment could not determine if the receiver was guessing randomly, if they were receiving the image telepathically or if they were receiving the image through clairvoyance (such a medium receiving the message). This meant that even if there was a high percentage of the cards being guessed correctly, there was no way to prove it was through ESP.
Rhine himself claimed to have tested over 90,000 subjects with this experiment and came to the conclusion that ESP had been demonstrated and existed. Those who have tried to recreate his experiments found that the circumstances were not as controlled as they perhaps should have been such as how the cards are shuffled. It was also found that under the right lighting, the outline of the image could be seen through the back of a card. This was rectified by blacking out the back of the card. However for this and many other reasons, Rhine copped quite a lot of criticism for making such a bold claim and some even claimed that there was some cheating involved with sitters taking visual cues from the tester. Over time his methods of controlling the experiment improved, but like anything in the paranormal, people were skeptical, and the scientific and skeptic community were not convinced that it was anything more than a random game of odds.
“It is to be expected that these experiments will meet with a considerable measure of incredulity… but this reaction is as old as this history of Science:’ J B Rhine
The results themselves indicated that certain people were capable of getting results well above the baseline which a lot of researchers believe is an indication of ESP ability being present.
Haunted Magazine Issue 32
Of course not everyone has 3 people available to sit through a Zener card test. The good news is that it is something you try for yourself. Remember above I said there was no way to tell if a person was able to guess the symbol by using telepathy or clairvoyance? Some people do solo Zener card tests to hone in on their abilities.
Sit in a quiet place where you can concentrate. Shuffle the cards quite extensively. Select one card and put it face down. Focus your thoughts and see if you can determine what the image is on the reverse of the card. Write down your answer. Now turn the card over. Write down the result. Reshuffle and start again. This is to stop a person unknowingly ‘counting cards’. After guessing 25 cards, from your results, you will be able to work out your percentage! If you don't have Zener cards, make your own!
To play my online Zener Card test click here
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