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

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Some Physiological Conditions Affecting E.S.P.

If it is correct to assume some energetic causal relationship between the percipient and the agent or card, as, I think, our scientific logic requires, then the percipient is somehow intercepting energy of some kind in E.S.P., clear as we may feel that E.S.P. is not simply a phenomenon of shortwave transmission. But what is the receptor system by which this is done? Is it an organ of the body or a non-material system? Is the nervous system definitely involved in the primary act of reception? Is E.S.P. a function of the integrated organism or a passive reception depending upon dissociation? Does it require physical orientation (i.e., any turning toward) of any sort? Is the reception-system given or developed? Can it be injured or destroyed? These are some of the questions one wishes to have answered in terms that are physiological in some measure. The work so far has not gone far to answer them but it does offer something.

There is nothing to indicate that any special organ of the body is involved in E.S.P. in the mere reception. There may be, of course, since there is no way as yet of telling in a conclusive way. But the circumstances are against it. First, no subject has ever had any definite feeling of getting reception localized in any special organ or tissue of his body. The process has been as unlocalizable as mind itself. Sensory reception is, of course, easily localizable in the sense organs. Second, there seems to be such a variety of angles and directions, as well as distances, which the recipient may take with respect to the source (agent or card) that it is quite clear no special orientation is of importance. It may seem to be so to the subject at first. He may feel that he can do best with the card in a certain place but we are now certain that such inhibiting notions are grounded only in his own misconceptions. They may continue to inhibit as long as he actively expects them to and then cease. (Nothing may be treated with more scepticism than the subject's explanations of limitations; yet they are, as effective factors, to be taken seriously, however delusional they may be.) Stuart after a time found he could work as well with the cards behind his back. Linzmayer has worked well at nearly all angles—with the card behind him, beside him, in front, on his stomach, forehead, etc. Others, too, have had varied conditions with no important difference in results. There is no evidence whatever for a reception center recognizably more sensitive than any other part of the organism and the facts just given are against it. This Extra-Sensory reception of energy would seem to be a general, rather than a local, function. Is, then, the organism as a whole involved?

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One conclusion that seems fairly clear is that E.S.P. depends upon the higher functions of the nervous system. It requires a degree of control by the higher functions that permits a certain amount of "concentration"; i.e., attention to one thing and exclusion of others. This depends upon a certain degree of integration of the nervous system. Dissociative drugs, 1 sleepiness and certain illnesses work to lower this integration and self-control; whereas drugs that antagonize dissociative drugs help to recover normal control. And in our results the data show plainly that dissociative factors likewise lower E.S.P. ability, while counteractive factors help to restore it. 2

The effect of sodium amytal has been rather strikingly destructive to E.S.P. in all three experiments, with Linzmayer and Pearce in P.C., and with Zirkle in P.T. The results are significant beyond question. (See Table XXXVIII).


Summary of Data from Sodium Amytal Experiments



Before and After

During Drug Treatment

Name of Percipient



per 25


per 25

Drop in
Av. p. 25






















There was here no serious interference with perceptual capacity itself, since sensory perception was clearly possible. In all the common mental processes, especially with Pearce and Zirkle, there was no serious impairment. In ordinary conversation, attention was not lacking. Rational responses were made to questions. In all the external features of the experiment, there was no marked difficulty. Only the higher and more complex features of nervous organization were altered. Does it mean, therefore, that E.S.P. involves a higher and more complex nervous process? I think it does suggest just that; though there may be a relatively simpler and lower phase to the actual reception itself. Perception, however, in requiring a recognition of the reception phase, may involve the higher organization. Yet, I think it is fully possible also, and a little more probable, that we are dealing with a phenomenon of the super-organization of the brain process-system, one that in itself may function only at a certain level of organization, yet not involve specialized structure necessarily. This cannot be decided now, however, and is not of importance here.

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Sleepiness, whether from fatigue or from sodium amytal, has the same effect of lowering the scoring. With Zirkle, too, in P.T. the effect of caffeine was equally striking. The first treatment brought his average up from 12.8 to 14.7 in 300 trials. The latter average is approximately his average under normal conditions of health, rest, etc. But the best test for caffeine came 5 hours after taking the sodium amytal. Under the influence of the amytal he had dropped to an average of 6.2 in the last 300 trials. One hour 1 after the 5 gr. dose of caffeine, he rose to an average of 9.5, which is a rise of 3.3, a marked and significant advance.

It is, then, only with the best functioning of the higher processes of the mind that E.S.P. of either type succeeds well. It is, in this, like creative thinking and higher mental skills. The composer, the inventor, the poet, the reflective scientist needs this condition for his constructive work. He requires the highest integration of the nervous system for his best creation. He may, then, like some of these subjects in E.S.P., go off into abstraction from the surroundings, amounting almost to a trance. But this is an intensification of attention in one direction by withdrawal from others. It is " concentration".

Not that E.S.P. is comparable in other respects to higher creative mental work. It is not, as we shall see in the next two chapters. But it does require, as they do, the highest integration of the nervous system. The data on illness support this view, though it is amply established, I think, anyhow. The following data, in Table XXXIX, are to this point. The illnesses in the four cases were tonsilitis, colds or flu, all very dissociative and depressing to most people, and destructive to higher mental functioning.


Effect of Illness on E.S.P.



Before and After Illness

During Illness



Name of Subject



per 25


per 25

Drop in
p. 25










Cold with headache.
"Before" and "after"
are of equal numbers.











Miss Turner







Fever following flu.
No data "after".










There is another important bearing of the data reviewed here on the connection between integration and E.S.P. It appears to favor the point

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of the agency of the percipient himself in the process and to count against the theories of passive percipience which we shall take up later on—for example, the "spirit" hypothesis, which has been suggested to explain telepathy and clairvoyance. My point is that, if a dream state, with a light sleep, had been found favorable to E.S.P., we might have a favoring circumstance for the theories of outside agencies. But, since alertness is favorable and drowsiness is unfavorable, we must interpret this as negative to the hypotheses which suppose outside agencies. It will be recalled that many of the reported spontaneous para-psychological experiences (of apparitions, voices, premonitions, etc.) come during sleep, as veridical dreams, or during a time when sleep is expected. The dissociation is then such that, according to our results, E.S.P. would not be expected to succeed well, if at all. All such spontaneous phenomena do, of course, as a rule, take on the appearance of being activated by an outside agency, while in no case of this E.S.P. work of ours is there any suggestion of that. I think, then, that the facts reported here of the relations between dissociated conditions and E.S.P. ability favor pretty strongly that hypothesis which stresses the active agency of the percipient subject himself, for the conditions of these experiments, rather than of the superior order of agencies sometimes proposed. This would hypothetically separate this experimental work from the spontaneous occurrences. If correct, this is the most important point in the physiological data.

It has already been pointed out that, when sufficient amytal has been administered to prevent or nearly prevent E.S.P., sensory perception is still possible. Such a ranking in stability and complexity suggests that the sensory antedates the extra-sensory in the evolutionary development of mental processes. This is counter to some of the speculative hypotheses which attribute telepathy to the amoeba, the ant and other lower animals, as a pre-sensory and a pre-language mode of communication. There has been no favoring fact for this hypothesis, to my knowledge, except the mere convenience of closing two gaps in our knowledge by one theory. Telepathy or clairvoyance in birds, if any exists, as is believed by many from the general facts of homing, migration and simultaneous group responses (and I am not convinced), or in dogs and horses, of which instances have been reported in the scientific literature 1, is a quite different matter. For here we have sensory perception already developed to a very high degree. I venture to suggest, therefore (and merely to suggest), that sensory may be evolutionarily prior to extra-sensory perception. I propose this because nervous dissociation more quickly affects the extra-sensory capacity, and that, in general, this would mean greater specialization and complexity, as well as less stability and basic biological survival value.

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The general effect of the physiological observations of the effect of fatigue, of amytal, caffeine, illness and sleepiness has been to "naturalize" fully the whole function of E.S.P., making it as clearly natural a process as any other physiological or psychological phenomenon. For in these drug tests we have been arbitrarily controlling the phenomenon in question, lowering and raising it at will, according to an already established principle of the effect of the drugs on the nervous system, and assuming that E.S.P. is a phenomenon of that system. The assumption has been borne out very satisfactorily in every test, and we may now without hesitation invite the attention of physiologists to another mode of energy reception and to another function of the nervous system.

But does the fact of the causal connection established between cards and percipient or between agent and percipient, apparently involving a work-producing or energetic sequence, necessitate our calling the process "sensation" and designating the unknown receptive system a "sense", as Frederic Myers and Charles Richet have done (in Myers’ case by implication in his proposed term telethesia for clairvoyant perception and in Richet's case by definite statement; see his book, Notre Sixième Sens, Paris, 1928)? I think not, indeed. None of the features of E.S.P. have indicated or suggested sensation or sense organs. First, the E.S.P. experience seems rather to be that of a more complex level, one that is readily broken up by sodium amytal and fatigue while the senses are still functioning. Second, the experience of the percipient is one of cognition or "knowing", not a "sensing" in the strict psychological meaning of the word. That is, he knows but cannot tell "how he knows"; there is no analysis possible apparently, as there is for sensory perception. Third, there is no consciousness of localization of the basis of the cognition, as is possible in sensory perception. Fourth, and objectively, there seems to be no special orientation required for success. Fifth, as shown in the last chapter, there is the further basic difference also that the known energy forms seemed inadequate as a physical basis for E.S.P., yet they are the known basis of all known sensory perception. This is at least a very great difference between them, if not a conclusive one.

It is a given fact, obvious in the experience of the percipient, that there is cognition. And cognition of an object outside of the organism would be perception. Future discoveries may reveal something comparable to sense structures and functions, but thus far they have not. Instead, the facts of the last paragraph above lead us strongly toward the opposite conclusion, that this mode of perception is above and outside the sensory sphere, and is likely to be more of a total response, undifferentiable and unanalyzable—a reception on the complex level of knowing. Hence I call it "Extra-Sensory Perception". But to avoid spending my time in

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disputing a mere name, I agree to mean by this merely "Perception by a means or way that is outside the now recognized sensory modes."

The expression "Supersensuous Perception" has been used by certain English writers on the subject and, personally, I think "super" probably indicates hypothetically the right relation E.S.P. has with the sensory mode; but it is an unnecessary additional hypothesis; also "super" often simply means "highly" or "overly", as in "supersensitive", and this would be ambiguous; and, finally, it suggests to some the undesirable connotation of "supernatural".

It is probable that someone has already used the expression "Extra-Sensory Perception"; and I should like to regard its use here as a choice rather than an attempted innovation. Mr. Harvey L. Frick entitled his M.A. Thesis submitted to this Department in 1931 "Extra-Sensory Cognition". But this is not specific enough; rational and mnemonic cognition would also be "extra-sensory". Perception is cognition of outer objects or relations, and is therefore, the proper word here. Extra-Sensory, then, limits it in the necessary way.


127:1 I am drawing the general principles stated here largely from Prof. McDougall's discussion of "Fatigue Drugs, and Sleep", Chapter III of Outline of Abnormal Psychology, Scribners, 1926, and from his earlier work on the mutual antagonism of certain drugs in their influence on certain mental processes.

127:2 Brugmann's results of increased "telepathy" with 30 grams of alcohol (See Chapter 2) are not contradictory. So small an amount would not for many individuals be noticeably dissociative. In small amounts this drug gives the effects of stimulation through the removal of inhibitions and the vasomotor changes. But a certain dulling of sensory acuity would probably add to ease of abstraction, too. These considerations are adequate to account for Brugmann's results.

128:1 After discussing these results with Prof. McDougall in the light of his researches on drug-antagonisms, I see that one hour was not long enough after the drug ingestion for the maximum effect. In fact, the subjective report of Zirkle confirmed this point. He was more alert several hours later. Prof. McDougall found five hours after ingestion to be the time of greatest effect for caffeine.

129:1 See Chapter 2.

Next: Chapter 12. The Psychological Conditions and Bearings of the Results