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Extra-Sensory Perception, by J. B. Rhine, [1934], at

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Clarification of the Problem

It is logically the first duty in making this report to bring into clear outline at once the particular field of study in which the work reported here has been performed, and to clarify at the start the special problem from this field which we are attempting to help to solve. 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 evaluate it.

But, in outlining the field in which we are finding our problem, we are regarding it very tentatively. Since many claims in that field do not at present warrant great confidence, we are giving a minimum of credence at every point and are proceeding with extreme caution. The outline itself will be of use only as a reminder of what we may need to be kept aware of. It is a background of suggested possibility—so far as this work is concerned—just impressive enough at most points to justify inquiry; and conviction, which is quite a separate question, will depend upon the slow accumulations of inquiry.

We are concerned, of course, with the field of Psychical Research ("Parapsychologie" in Germany and "Métapsychique" among the French). The general boundary-line that marks it off from other fields of problems for scientific study is that its phenomena seem, superficially at least, to escape in a significant way certain laws of the natural world as we know it through our sciences—laws that we have all come to regard with relative certainty as holding for all such conditions. Because we tend to think of our views of nature as complete, we think of any such apparent exception as almost a direct conflict. It becomes a conflict, then, in our system of beliefs. However, this does not mean necessarily a conflict in nature—a fact that is always hard to remember.

The phenomena of this field are not only radical in their aspect of escaping some acceptedly basic law of our science of nature, but this evasion or circumvention is always a purposive and intelligent activity, as of the nature of personality in function; i.e., the "psychic phenomenon" is characterized by the suggestion of personal agency in some form. The field of Psychical Research may not be limited otherwise, I think; and it is, therefore, none too definitely bounded, like most other fields of (problems for) Science. This personal and purposive characteristic of "psychic

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phenomena" would, on the basis of any definition extant—even a Behaviorist's—bring it clearly within the field of Psychology and, of course, full into the midst of Experimental Psychology.

Like any other branch of Experimental Psychology, Psychical Research naturally involves other fields of problems and laws—other Sciences, as they are artificially divided for the academics. If it is a common physical law that seems to be evaded, an accepted physiological principle that seems to be outdone or a well-known pathological law that seems not to hold—these Sciences are challenged and eventually must reply. And in their reply they will need to co-operate with Psychical Research in the inter-relating of their fields for the solution of the common problem.

At this point it is urgently necessary to insert the statement again, that the concepts we are dealing with are not necessarily accepted ones. This outlining involves no expression of conviction of reality behind any claims for the branches outlined. The recognition accorded is merely that occurrences reported seriously by intelligent people offer problems for study. In outlining the field of these problems, we are as careful to protect against unguarded conviction as a good pathologist is careful with his deadly test tubes. For a slip in the one case could scarcely be less terrible to contemplate than in the other.

One naturally outlines the field of Psychical Research on the basis of the neighboring fields which are most involved; that is, on the basis the nature of the laws seemingly most clearly evaded in the phenomena. We find wide over-lapping of these fields very often (since the universe failed to develop along college-curriculum outlines) and there is consequent difficulty in any ideally clear-cut division. But at the present state of research only very broad lines are needed.

It has been customary to lump together the phenomena of the field under the headings of "Physical" and "Mental", with perhaps "Psychic Healing" in addition. Under the "physical phenomena", however, are included not only the seemingly more clear-cut exceptions of accepted physical law, such as "levitations", "psychic lights", etc., but also what are only secondarily exceptions to physical law (as this is academically distinguished), and are primarily physiological law, as for example," elongations", "extrusions", "stigmatization" and the like. As the subject becomes more refined by advance in knowledge there will be pressing need to clarify these problem-fields. The branch generally known as "Psychic Healing" would belong in the pathological subdivision because of its seeming escape from the laws of that science.

Under the "mental" sub-heading of psychic phenomena are some that quite overlap with the " physical", as in the case of "thought-transference" at great distances with seeming evasion of the radiation laws covering the

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decline of intensity with distance. But there are the somewhat purer cases of the "mental" type, as in perception of objects without sensory stimulation; i.e., clairvoyance. But even this has its physical side too, in the fact that apparently all the known ways of making contact with the object, all the sensorially intercepted energies, are excluded. Our tacit law that these are essential to perception is evaded. We may go on to other and still more purely "mental" phenomena. The phenomena effected through sensitives and purported to have been caused by extra-somatic agencies, in most of which evidence of the survival of personality after death is claimed, would, in the feature of survival, seem to be exceptions to the laws of psycho-physiology covering the role of the nervous system in mental life.

To designate these branches by acceptable names we will have to wait for more agreement on the outline and this must await agreement as to observation of the facts. Tentatively, however, it seems reasonable to accept some terminology less confused and ambiguous than we are now accustomed to. The German usage of "parapsychology" for the general field seems a little more generally appropriate than the others, if we do not use the prefix as implying that psychical research is outside the field of psychology—but simply that it is "beside" psychology in the older and narrower conception. But the German usage of "paraphysical" for the "physical" and "paraphysiological" for the "physiological" phenomena of Psychical Research are, I think, not at all consistent with this use of "parapsychology". They have no reference to the essentially "psychical" characteristic of all such phenomena. (We could as well call the psycho-physical phenomena of psychology "physical" instead of "psycho-physical".) Rather, I think, should we use a term that clearly implies the fact of their being first of all parapsychological phenomena and indicate by adding to this term whatever other branch is involved. With this in view I propose to use the expressions "parapsycho-physical", "parapsycho-physiological", "parapsycho-pathological" for these branches and to add on the same principle any others that are necessary. The "parapsycho—" indicates the general connection with the field of parapsychology and the rest specifies the other field jointly concerned. The "psycho" portion of every term used recalls constantly the connection with psychology, the fact that a phenomenon of personality is being dealt with. For the more purely and simply "mental" phenomena of the field, the adjective "para-psychical" is sufficiently distinguishing; quite as much so, indeed, as it is to say "psychical" for the less "physical" (i.e., less "psycho-physical") of the phenomena of present academic psychology. The viewpoint is that all the phenomena of the field are "psychical" in some degree. When there is another scientific field very obviously involved by the apparent

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evasion of a law of its domain, there is ground then for making a hyphenated name, as "Parapsycho-physical". Those phenomena not thus described and given a hyphenated name are the more purely psychical ones and would be called "parapsychical". We have the following outline, then, as a tentative working adaptation of the more systematic German terminology:

Outline of Parapsychology (i.e., Psychical Research) on the basis of the other fields most involved in the laws seemingly evaded or transcended.

Parapsychological Phenomena:

A. Parapsychical: Telepathy and clairvoyance, experimental and spontaneous; dowsing; previsionary and monitory dreams or hallucinations; "psychometry", veridical "spirit" communication, etc.

B. Parapsycho-physical: Telekinesis, levitation, "psychic lights", temperature changes, "apports", etc.

C. Parapsycho-physiological: "Materializations", "extrusions", elongations, stigmatization, extreme body-temperature changes, etc.

D. Parapsycho-pathological: "Possession-pathology"; 1 "psychic healing" of organic disease, beyond effect of suggestion.

E. [Parapsycho-literary (and other parapsycho-artistic): Creative writing or other art, clearly "impossible" as result of natural training; e.g., Patience Worth, as reported. 2 (This may properly be regarded as a sub-heading of A, also.)]

The outline, as thus far developed, deals only with the branching of the subject on the basis of the types of laws seemingly transcended, and consequently of the other subject or science involved. When we consider the other major features of the so-called "psychic phenomena"—namely, their "psychic" or personality aspect—we find that further outlining is required to express this feature and that the added lines cut horizontally across those already indicated. Among the phenomena reported, corporeality and incorporeality is the principal feature of personality condition that stands out. That is, the occurrences reported are purported to be due to incorporeal agencies, called "controls", "spirits", etc., or else are supposed to be produced by certain corporeal (or, as we say, "living") agents who are specially sensitive and capable of these unusual performances. There seem to be four general cases possible on this principle: one corporeal agent may influence another, as in telepathy, or the one corporeal may be the only personality concerned, as in clairvoyance. The incorporeal agency (claiming to be a disembodied personality surviving

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death) may influence a corporeal one, as in the so-called "mediumistic" experiences. Or, fourth, the incorporeal personality may seem to produce phenomena without the aid of a corporeal one with parapsychological capacities, as in the seeming "invasions" called "hauntings". This gives us a small and simple working chart of the field, as it seems to lie in its more natural outline, from the viewpoints of the two main general characteristics of the phenomena as a whole. It is, I think, logically systematized on what seem to be consistent lines, and is capable of much extension and refinement along the same lines. There is no original element in it, of course, and the slight reconstruction is not a conspicuous feature. It is, rather, a restatement of established general usage that seems convenient. See the diagram below:


Subdivision on basis of fields involved, judged by type of laws "evaded".








Subdivision on basis of the state of the
personalities supposed to be involved—
chiefly as to corporeality.























If it is remembered that we are merely dividing up a field of problems on the basis of reports of indeterminate value, and not a field of known facts or laws, the natural hesitation of many readers to accept such a working scheme will, I think, be much lessened. At least, this outline gives some system to the reported occurrences and enables us to hold them in mind as a whole, as the careful worker in the field needs to do. And it gives this simply on the basis of the two general lines of reference most characteristic. Such a general view of the field is essential, I believe, to

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the full evaluation of the work such as is reported here. In so far as the phenomena, mentioned here in connection with the outline, have been erroneously reported, the scheme will, of course, have later to be modified. But there is no reason to object to this or to expect it to be otherwise, in view of the way it is laid down.

The task of placing the occurrences and evidence types into the diagram just given is, however, one that I shrink from—since this would be to discriminate more than I can now do, especially on the question of how much of a role the supposed incorporeal personality plays in the reported occurrences, if (of course, we must say) any. Each reader or student who finds the diagram of help in the direction suggested, can well place any phenomenon, according to its apparent features as it occurs or is reported to him. But even though the outline is recognizedly referring only to apparent phenomenal characteristics, one hesitates at this stage to do this fitting in of special cases for others—all the more so since it is so unnecessary. The framework is there ready for one to use as one will.

We are principally concerned in this report with that part of the parapsychological field that would be called corporeal parapsychical phenomena (Areas 1 and 5, in the above diagram). Only indirectly, and perhaps doubtfully, are the parapsycho-physical and the parapsycho-physiological divisions invaded. These possible invasions may have to be regarded when they are more clear; at present the problem setting, then, is only the parapsychical department, in its definitely corporeal branch. That is, we are dealing with the occurrences of parapsychological phenomena that apparently are more purely mental and, as reported and described, involve only living individuals. This excludes those phenomena that clearly seem to involve incorporeal, i.e., "spirit" connections, either as "communicators" or as "controls" or intermediaries. Accordingly, all mediumistic activities are outside; "psychometric" work 1 also, insofar as it is described as the work of controls. But if it is not thus supposedly spiritistic, it becomes clairvoyance which belongs, then, in the designated branch. The spontaneous parapsychological occurrences such as hallucinations, dreams, etc., that are veridical and are purely psychical (not more obviously parapsycho-physical, etc.), belong here, too, if not plainly purporting to imply agency of incorporeal personalities. Automatic expression of extra-normal knowledge (through ouija-board, planchette, common script, etc.) is regarded in the same way; i.e., without the appearance of incorporeal personalities involved, the phenomena belong in the corporeal parapsychical department.

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If there be any need to justify this laying out of the field at the beginning, it should be recalled that (assuming for the moment that these divisions are represented by actual phenomena) the subdivisions concerned here may be involved in part with all the others. It is almost certain that, if there be any foundation for this department, its basic principles penetrate more or less prominently down through the whole parapsychic column, perhaps to the very bottom. Some lateral spread, too, may be reasonably expected, one would suppose. A second point is also strongly urgent; namely, no single problem department can properly be dealt with in any field—unless not only its boundaries are known, but—since no boundary really absolutely bounds—what it is that lies beyond the boundaries. He who studies, then, only one selected subdivision could not dependably study that in ignorance of what the field as a whole may be like. For these and other reasons, the place of the subdivision in the field as a whole has been worked out in this tentative fashion.

The central and primary problem of the subdivision of the parapsychological field indicated as Corporeal Parapsychical is: Are there really dependable evasions of psychological laws (as they are regarded today) by corporeal personalities? In other words, can we find persons able to demonstrate the more commonly reported sort of apparent exception to psychological laws—mainly, cognition of events without the usual sensory or rational experience required by our habitual concepts for the knowing act? Is this an actual principle of nature that such extra-sensory cognition can be done by normal individuals, as is so often reported?

The question or problem is a rather broad one, not limited to the perception, extra-sensorially, of mere objects or states, but is unlimited. It includes the perception of the mental states of other individuals, the facts of the past and of distant scenes, of sealed questions or of the "waters under the earth". The future, too, and its scrutability are within the scope of the general problems; (unless previsionary parapsychics are cosmological enough in their evasion of time "laws" to justify a separate branch of "parapsycho-cosmology". At present, however, the greater economy the better, or our big words will seem to mean more than the facts they cover.) The manner of the operation of such parapsychic perception, too, must be broadly viewed in clarifying the problem; it might be in hypnotic trance or under the influence of a drug, with the aid of an "object of reference" (associated in some way with the facts to be perceived), by the use of a crystal ball, a cup of tea-leaves, the ouija-board or a divining-rod. So far as the generalized problem goes, these are all included in the broad question, Is there a human function of extra-sensory perception?

This is the primary question, and once it is answered affirmatively (and the next chapter will show that there has long been a very considerable

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amount of valuable evidence available for so answering it), there comes next the task of exploring for its extent, its natural history, its duration and intensity in the individual, its racial and biological origins, history, and value. But central among these, and basic to any scientific advance in the understanding and application of the principle concerned, is the logically next problem, What is the nature or more fundamental explanatory principle of this extra-sensory mode of perception? All the surveying of small facts will truly help in the solution of this problem, but without continuous and clear realization of this major problem itself, the investigator will never get beyond the mere surveying of small facts.

The problem of the explanation of the simplest parapsychic principle calls first for a study of inter-relationships within the corporeal para-psychic branch itself. What relationships can be found between, for example: clairvoyance, telepathy, dowsing, prevision, etc.? It is through the development of these inter-phenomenal studies made with different experimental conditions and correspondingly varying phenomena that progress in their explanation will be made.

Then, too, the expansion of relationships out into the more reliable neighboring subdivisions of the field of parapsychology may be very enlightening as a procedure, at least, whenever there seems to be an interplay of the extra-sensory perception principle present. The variation it may undergo in these more foreign applications may be expected to help to reveal its own peculiarities and properties the better.

Outward, then, will the course of investigation go to the finding of still more general relationships of the parapsychic principle to be explained, to the more common psychological processes—to sensory perception, to higher cognitive processes, to motivation, integration, attention. The prevailing uncertainty among psychologists on these, their own supposedly "known grounds", is, of course, no small handicap, and we shall have to avoid the peculiar dangers of "school-affinities", and not map out our own uncertainties by lines that are themselves hypothetical and in danger of eventual obliteration.

Into the realm of physiology, too, the question must be taken if we hope to explain perception without the senses. Is the nervous system involved and, if so, in what way differently from the case of sensory perception? Do the usual nervous reactions from drugs that affect mental life affect E.S.P. in a like manner and degree? Is it a dissociation phenomenon or not? What part of the nervous system is receptive in E.S.P., if any?

Nor may we stop here. Physics has to give answer to several questions that an understanding of this process requires that we ask. Is the E.S.P. function an energetic process, as is sensory perception? If not,

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how can we have causation that does work without energy (i.e., "does work" in evoking responses; it always requires energy to direct energy, so far as energetics knows)? And, if so, what energy can satisfy the conditions under which we find that E.S.P. can function, the distance conditions, time conditions, the material relationships? Do the laws of radiation mechanics apply, with their distance-intensity formulation? Can the facts we have of penetration and differential absorption in connection with E.S.P. be explained by such mechanics? Does the purposive characteristic of E.S.P. clearly evade or transcend any mechanics conceivable for radiant energy, or can increased complexity along with the configurational view construct an energy mechanics hypothetically able to explain the facts? If forced to concede a new energy, what can physics do—deny it as a "physical" energy, or more wisely concede that there is still possibility for growth in the basic concepts of the field? But now we approach philosophy—i.e., scientific questions too broad for one academic branch.

Yet need we stop short of philosophy? Certainly the general biology and evolutionary history, social implications, and general cosmology of E.S.P. are in line for being ransacked in the pursuit of interesting co-relationships. Anthropology and comparative religion have suggestive facts, possibly of considerable interest, if not of value. To say where the study of the problem will or will not eventually lead us to would be to anticipate rashly the results of a life-time's research.

It will next be in order to survey the historical background for the special area we are engaged in investigating, the corporeal parapsychical; of this, only the experimental work will be dealt with at any length, since to do this very fully would be to fill a volume in itself. The objectives in the literature survey are, first, to draw before the reader at the start some of the better evidence for E.S.P., along with the criticisms, and some of the failures, in order to permit a tentative solution of the first problem; does E.S.P occur? The second objective of this survey is to sift out the points of value in past work that will help in solving the second problem of our special branch; what is the real principle underlying E.S.P.? At the close of the survey there will be reviewed the hypotheses that have been offered in explanation of E.S.P. phenomena.

It is the task of the investigation, after contributing independent proof of E.S.P. as a primary objective and justifying an interest in the problem of its nature, to go on to discriminate between the different hypotheses by testing them, and to add to the general factual accumulation that permits a logical evaluation of them and final choice among them. In a general way we have gone through this work along those lines. And it makes some definitely progressive steps, too, toward the second problem's solution,

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the explanation, although we can make no very positive general conclusions as yet. There is need, I think, at this stage to have a more exhaustive range of hypotheses for the explanation of E.S.P. and also, of course, practical proposals for testing them out.

From this discussion, it is clear that, briefly stated, we are seeking to answer the following questions in this order: Is there E.S.P. and—What is E.S.P.? The first must obviously first be answered.


8:1 For instances of cures. using "possession" as a working theory, see Dr. W. F. Prince's report on page 36 of B.S.P.R. Bulletin VI, and Mrs. Lambert's on page 5, Bulletin IX, as well as the work of Dr. Titus Bull of New York.

8:2 Dr. W. F. Prince, The Case of Patience Worth, B.S.P.R., 2nd Ed., 1929, Boston.

10:1 That is, work done by a parapsychic sensitive in which, seemingly with the aid of a "token" or "object of fixation", facts not normally or explainably knowable to the sensitive are expressed concerning the person, living or dead, to whom the object belongs—facts unlimited in range and nature. It is a sort of parapsychic "free association" process. Wherever the term "psychometry" is applied it has, rather commonly, though not necessarily, a connotation of "spirit" agency in the process. Otherwise it would be simple unrestricted parapsychic perception with a "parapsychogenetic" object present.

Next: Chapter 2. Historical Background