Extra-Sensory Perception, by J. B. Rhine, , at sacred-texts.com
THE work reported in this volume is the first fruit of the policy of naturalization of "psychical research" within the universities. It goes far to justify that policy; to show, first, that a university may provide conditions that will greatly facilitate and promote this most difficult branch of science; secondly, that the university may benefit from such liberal extension of its field of studies. On the former head I will say nothing; it is for the instructed public to judge of the value of this work. On the second head, I may properly testify here that to the best of my judgment, the group of students who have taken part in this work have reaped in a high degree the chief benefits which scientific research has to offer, namely, discipline in careful experiment and observation, and in logical thinking, practice in faithful cooperation, and the gratification of pushing back the bounds of knowledge, in this case in a field of peculiar difficulty and significance. There has been no hysteria, no undue excitement, among this group of students, nor has this work unduly pre-occupied their minds to the detriment of other activities.
Though it would be unseemly for me to pronounce upon the value of this work, I may properly say a few words to help the reader to form his estimate of it. On reading any report of observations in the field of psychic research, invariably there rises in my mind the questionWhat manner of man is this who so reports? And I find that my estimate of the validity and value of the report depends very largely upon the answer to that question. A report may appear to be above serious criticism; and yet a brief acquaintance with its author may suffice to deprive it (for me, at least) of all claim to serious consideration or, on the other hand, may convince me that its statements must (provisionally at least) be accepted at their full face value. I do not stop to explain or to justify this attitude of mine. I believe it is well justified and to be very general among all who are interested in this field. Therefore I may assume that readers of this report who have no personal acquaintance with the author will welcome a few words from me about him and some of his collaborators, while the author, recognizing the purity of my motive, will pardon my intrusion on his privacy.
In introducing Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine to the reader, I must premise that almost all I have to say of him is true also of Dr. Louisa E. Rhine, his wife. Both have taken their doctorates in biology at the University of Chicago, both had begun promising careers as university teachers of
biology, and both have resigned these. When Dr. J. B. Rhine burnt his boats, gave up his career in biology and came over to psychology and psychical research, it was with the full consent, endorsement, and parallel action of his wifea unique and remarkable event in the history of this subject. For the Rhines are no monied amateurs. They are working scientists without worldly resources other than their earnings. When the facts become known to me I was filled with admiration and misgiving. Their action seemed to me magnificently rash. I had always plumed myself on indifference to worldly considerations; but here was a young couple who made me seem small, made me seem to myself a cautious, nay, a timid worldling. Nor was this action prompted by some overwhelming emotional and personal interest, such as the desire to make contact with some lost loved one. The motivation was, so far as I could and still can judge, the desire to work in the field that seemed to contain most promise of discoveries conducive to human welfare. Indeed in this age when we erect monuments to the boll-weevil, send up prayers for drought, pest and plague, and are chiefly concerned to make one ear of wheat grow where two grew before, it is difficult to retain enthusiasm for botanical research, unless one is a scientist of the peculiarly inhuman type.
The action filled me, I say, not only with admiration but also with misgiving; for it appeared that I was in some measure unwittingly responsible. The Rhines, in pondering the questionWhat is most worth doing? To what cause can we give ourselves?had come upon my Body and Mind and upon others of my writings, especially my plea for Psychical Research as a University Study; * and had determined to join forces with me at Harvard. Accordingly, Dr. Rhine arrived on my doorstep in Cambridge, Mass. one morning in June 1926, at the moment when I had completed the bestowal of my family and worldly possessions in two taxi cabs, with a view to begin a journey round the world, a journey which, owing to unforeseen alteration of my course, terminated in North Carolina. Nothing daunted, the Rhines spent the year at Harvard studying psychology and philosophy and in making acquaintance with Dr. W. F. Prince and the Boston S. P. R. And in the fall of 1927 they turned up at Duke University, as determined as ever to work in the field of psychic research, and, if possible, within the walls of a university. It was then I began to realize what manner of man I had to deal with. I found J. B. Rhine to be a ruthless seeker after truth, almost, I may say, a fanatical devotee of science, a radical believer in the adequacy of its methods and in their unlimited possibilities. He is one of those whole-hearted scientists for whom philosophy and theology are but preliminary skirmishings beyond the frontiers of scientific knowledge; one of those who will not admit a
sphere of valuation in which philosophy must always retain her relative independence and prerogatives and responsibilities, no matter how greatly the province of science may be extended. When he comes into my room and finds me reading a book on metaphysics or religion, he scratches his head and (though he is too polite to utter his misgivings) wonders whether, after all, I, in my latter years, am becoming a renegade.
He has devoted much thought and study to the history of science and to the problem of scientific method. And he manifests in every relation the scrupulous honesty and regard for truth that befit such a student. Yet, though a fanatic devotee of science, he is very human in the best sense. He has again and again shown that he is ever ready to share his resources of every kind with those who are in need; a multitude of students, both men and women, bring their troubles to him, knowing that they will receive tactful sympathy and sound advice. And this power to inspire and attract the confidence of young people has been of no little value from the point of view of the researches reported in this volume. For it has overcome the initial difficulty of inducing students to participate in and to give time and effort to research of a kind which is looked at askance by the world in general and by the scientific world especially. The manifest sincerity and integrity of Dr. Rhine's personality, his striking combination of humane sympathy with the most single-minded devotion to truth have induced in his collaborators a serene confidence in the worthwhileness of the effort, and have set a tone which, to the best of my judgment, pervades the group and contributes an important, perhaps an indispensable condition, of the striking successes here reported.
I cannot pretend to be intimately acquainted with all of those who have participated in the experiments. But I have some acquaintance with all of them and my impressions are entirely favorable. Four of those who have taken a prominent part have worked for some years in our department as senior and graduate students, and of them I can speak, with entire confidence, as students of the highest class, in respect of general training and ability, of scientific devotion and of personal integrity.
A question that must rise in the mind of many a reader of this report may be formulated as follows:Granting that Dr. Rhine is all that is here claimed for him, is it not possible that his collaborators have deceived or tricked him, perhaps with the benevolent desire to reward with positive results so earnest a seeker? My reply is that, if the experiments involved only some two or three collaborators and that during a brief period only, neither Dr. Rhine nor I could perhaps adduce any completely convincing objection to such interpretation; but in view of the considerable number of participants, often unknown to each other, and of the prolonged period of participation (extending in some cases through several years) it becomes wildly improbable that any such conspiracy of deception can have been
successfully maintained throughout and under the constant variation of conditions, without any trace or indication of it coming to light. To which it may be added that the experimenters have been at special pains from the beginning to exclude by the conditions maintained, any possibility of deception, conscious or unconscious.
Finally, I would testify that I have "sat in" at the experimentation on a number of occasions, and have in some instances personally conducted the experiments, and have failed to discover either any indication of lack of good faith or any serious flaw in the procedures followed.
vi:* A lecture included in the Symposium published by the Clark University Press in 1926, The Case for and Against Psychical Research, and reprinted in the recently published volume, Religion and the Science of Life.