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


Physical Conditions in the Functioning of E.S.P.

If one is reasonably sure that he is dealing with a process of reality that is not explainable by the commoner hypotheses of chance, fraud or error, he naturally must seek the explanation in some newer direction.

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[paragraph continues] It may be that the route to explanation will lead in a round-about way to old and known principles, as is the more common type of scientific advance, i.e., explaining the new in terms of the old. On the other hand, it may be that quite new principles of reality will have to be found before these new phenomena can be explained. In any case one must be guided by the new facts, of course, and not by the present limits of knowledge. Some of these new facts have already appeared and are still appearing in these data, and many more will have to be sought through longer periods of study.

The facts of interest in the explanation of E.S.P. may roughly be grouped as: physical, physiological, psychological, "psychical" (parapsychological) and, more generally, biological. On some of these I have but few facts to offer but it is better, even so, thus to keep them clearly separate. Because of their relative simplicity I will first discuss the physical aspects.

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It is so customary to think of physics as the best developed of the natural sciences that one is prone to use it as an ideal and standard background for his psychological thinking. It is difficult therefore, to think of physics as probably very far from complete in its grasp of world processes. Yet that is the very point that is indicated or strongly suggested by the facts of this chapter. What are the facts and the logic behind such a statement?

By "physical", here, is meant the "demonstrably energetic" (though not necessarily demonstrable on a particular instrument of measurement); and by " energetic", that which "does work" or "effects changes". Again, the changes need not yet have been measured in ergs or in any other official unit. If they systematically and demonstrably lead up to the vocal behavior producing given, experimentally selected sound vibration patterns we call words, such as "circle, rectangle, star, etc.", in a pre-arranged order, we infer, as is done in all physics, a chain of energetic causation extending back through the prior history of the event to any arbitrary point one may choose. This causal capacity to "do work" (to effect changes) is " physical" in the professional use of the term, even though the profession has as yet no theory of the nature of the particular kind of energy process at certain points in the causal chain.

Of first importance, perhaps, are the facts pointing to the absence of any yet known energy principle in E.S.P. All the senses in sensory perception function by the interception of some appropriate form of energy by the sense organ concerned—light rays, molecular vibration, chemical energy, etc. This interception of energy by the sensory endings is a

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necessary link between the nervous system and the outer world, for all perception occurring through sensation. The energetic causation involved is seen clearly when one looks at the face of a card and perceives it to be a "circle". Between the card and the eye there have been light-energy connections. Human experience and science expect, therefore, some energetic causal connection between the card and the act of perception. When, in E.S.P., the subject perceives the card, what energy is involved? Sound waves are barred out; it cannot be pressure or contact; the chemical energies are inapplicable. Visible light energy is excluded by the screen, by the D.T. conditions, by distance and even by the B.T. condition. No light gets in to the face of the card and the cards are of heavy opaque cardboard, somewhat opaque even to X-rays. Of the possible forms of energy known only extremely short rays would be capable of penetrating such cardboard, especially in D.T., when they are 25 cards deep.

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The only hypothesis that modern physical theory could at present offer, so far as I can judge, would be a wave theory, a radiation of extremely short and very penetrative waves. The radiation theory is an old one and has been frequently discussed in connection with telepathy and clairvoyance, particularly with the former. Even the mediumistic jargon often includes "getting into the vibration". This hypothesis was set forth by William Crookes and may possibly have antedated him. (See Chapter 2.) Brain waves were supposed to be emitted by the agent and intercepted by the brain of the percipient. But, to cover our phenomena of P.C. and P.T., both in the same subjects, in like degree, roughly speaking, there would have to be rays originating not only in the agent's brain but in the cards used in P.C. work as well; either that, or else originating outside them and selectively absorbed by them.

Now, the cardboard is slightly opaque to X-rays but the ink-figures on it are not. An X-ray photograph of the card shows only a dim outline of the card after a 10-second exposure. When a pack of the cards used is photographed with X-rays, it shows only a more clear rectangle. There is no difference made by the figures printed on the cards—no differential absorption. If these rays are not obstructed by the ink-figures, it is surely not to be expected that shorter ones would be. And if longer waves were in question, the cardboard would interfere. And even if these difficulties were not in the way and there were a suitable ray penetrating the pack of cards, giving differential absorption on every card, the impression given on a receptive plate or organ would be one big blur in the center

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of the card. For the effect would presumably be additive, and one figure indistinguishable from another on the analogy of sensory perception and mechanical reception. So I see no way to use the radiation theory unless the ink-figures themselves give off the special radiation, and that its waves are short enough to penetrate cardboard even when piled up 25 cards deep and about ¾ inch thick.

Such radiation, supposed, then, to come from the ink-figures on the cards, would have to be (1) continuously emitted (old cards, a year old, are as good as new), (2) would have to penetrate 25 cards with undiminished force, (3) would have to be incapable of affecting an X-ray sensitive plate after ½ hour exposure (actually tested), and (4) would have to be as detectable at 250 yards as at one yard. This takes it out of the range of present physical knowledge. And when it is recalled that such radiation, in order to make possible the D.T. results, would have to permit of 25 figures being distinguishable in a pack, at one time,—that is, with continuous radiation striking the receptive organ (perhaps the brain),—the discrimination between the 25 figures on the cards in the pack would presumably have to be based upon relative intensity. But the cards themselves are stamped with rubber stamps with varying pressure and ink supply, and individual differences are so large that this could not be relied upon. There would be a situation too baffling even for sense perception, which is manifestly more certain and dependable. Suppose one were to try to distinguish visually 25 luminous figures set one behind the other, all 25 in % inch space, when he was seated from 2 to 5 feet away from them. The impression would be much like the differential absorption case pictured above in which an incoming ray was assumed, one that was more absorbed by the ink-figure than by the cards. One great un-analyzable splotch! Furthermore, in the D.T. work the card-pack may be perceived from any angle: from above, from the side, or from an intermediate angle. Whether the supposed rays came from the figures or came from without, the angle would be important on any radiation theory —as much in fact as it is to a photographer or a reader. But, actually, the angle is not seriously regarded by the percipient.

On these many scores the facts are against the Radiation Hypothesis and there are none at all to favor it, except that it is familiar.

Now, if we are dealing with the same general function in P.C. and P.T. work as the evidence (see Chapter 13) would seem to indicate, we have to suppose either that the human nervous system radiates "thought-waves" or that it selectively absorbs some outside radiation. The former seems to be the only one of the two worthy of attention. The general electro-dynamics of the nerve cell is not well known but it has been likened to a small dynamo. And the trend of neural physiology is strongly toward

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more electro-magnetic interpretation of nerve functions. To suppose some electric radiation here would not be a large leap at all. But what are the requirements for this?

First, for an adequate E.S.P. hypothesis we must have something that can hypothetically cover both the P.C. and the P.T. conditions. The radiation coming from a card or coming from a brain probably will need to be quite similar in view of the many facts that tie the P.C. and P.T. processes up together. It is difficult, as already stated, in physical theorizing to think of wave emanations coming from a brain and an ink-figure. In doing this electro-physiology cannot help us, for we have to go down to a level of the card and ink, since they serve quite as well as the brain (or "thinking organ") as a source of E.S.P. stimulation.

But, assuming, even, that the two sources have different wave characteristics and dealing alone with the wave-features under P.T. conditions, the radiation hypothesis is rendered pretty thoroughly inapplicable by the distance data. All radiant energy declines in intensity with the square of the distance from the source. We should then find that other things being equal, distance would bring about a sharp decline in P.T. scoring. Turning to Tables XXXVI and XXXVII in Chapter 8, we see that this is not the case with P.T. In fact, it is just the opposite, distance-P.T. giving higher scores than did P.T. in the same room with the agent. In view of the large number of trials, 3,300 in the same room and 2,100 with some distance, the difference in average scores per 25 of 1.2 is quite significant, being 5.8 times the probable error for the difference. Most of the distances are short, 30 feet and under; but even a distance of 8 to 30 feet is a prodigious distance for the detection of patterns in short-wave radiation that will penetrate flesh, tiled walls, heavy doors, etc. Declining with the square of the distance would give great fall in intensity. But when we extend the distance to over 250 miles, and have Miss Turner jump from her "close-up" average of 7.7 in 25 to 19 hits in 25 at the long distance in the first run, any radiation hypothesis depending on the inverse square law can hardly be regarded as plausible, in my judgment. And if it be a radiation hypothesis without the inverse square law, what would it be?

Shall Herzian or "radio" waves of short cycle be considered? They are at once thrown out by the distance data. One needs only to remember the tremendous difference in radio reception between being within a mile of a powerful broadcasting station and being over 250 miles away. In Miss Turner's case that is reversed. And the data are independent. Even though she never gets so high again, the point is amply established, unless the standard mathematics for the evaluation of such data is in grievous error; for her first 75 trials gave a gain over chance average that

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is 15.7 times the probable error. And when one reflects upon the high intensities required for radiation from the agent's mind in order to reach out over 250 miles, allowing for a decline proportional to the square of the distance—even if the results were to grade down with distance—the agent would have to be an incredibly powerful broadcasting station.

In view of the E.S.P. at a distance and the D.T. work there is little chance for a radiation theory, along lines of present physical theory, intellectually delightful though it would be to bring these results into more easy explanation and acceptance by finding such a connection between new facts and old laws. There are general considerations, too, that are against the radiation theory. One of these is the problem of explaining orientation and focussing on radiational lines. I refer now not to the problem of localizing a card in the middle of the pack by E.S.P. but of keeping the right pack in mind. I have, for instance, worked with Pearce with the table literally covered with cards, with sixteen packs and some odds and ends strewn about. I pick up one pack and start him at calling it B.T. or D.T. Now, if all the figures on all the cards are broadcasting more messages, there are perhaps 75 to 100 vibrating "circle", "circle", "circle", while simultaneously (mark!) are 400 others discordantly chiming in with "wavy lines", "star" and the rest. If we use a wave-hypothesis, we have to play it throughout, and on this problem of localization or focussing, it seems preferable to wait rather than accept the confusion attending the wave-hypothesis that makes every figure a broadcasting unit. In P.T. it is even worse! What percipient could, even if he were a "sort of radio receiving set", possibly distinguish his agent's messages in spite of the fact that there are many millions of other "stations" sending in the same cycle? Or can we suppose that every mind if not every card, has its own cycle? This is probably implied in the medium's remark that she is "trying to get into your vibration". But what a range would be required for the race and what a task "receiving" would be! A few dozen stations are a trial to keep from overlapping; what about the millions, with no Federal supervision! It is just one more little point of difficulty for a Radiation Hypothesis.

The hardest fact for the Radiation Hypothesis to face is that in Pearce-Pratt distance P.C. series not only does Pearce select the right card from 25 lying on the table 100 to 250 yards away, with hundreds of similar cards (radiating?) in adjoining rooms even nearer the percipient than the one to be called, but the cards to be called all lie flat on the table. That means that a radiation picture would show only a straight line, alike for a circle, a star or any of the card figures. I can see no hope for a radiation theory of E.S.P.

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And now we turn to the point of the need for a larger concept of physics, if physics is to follow the phenomena of the energetic world. In these tests from Durham to Lake Junaluska, Miss Ownbey regulated—controlled to a degree—the organism of Miss Turner, guiding her to make a certain set of marks. Had this been done by wireless telegraphy, we would not think of it as anything but physical. It is a physical axiom obviously deducible from the Law of the Conservation of Energy that energetic processes cannot be guided or regulated, except by the expenditure of energy; however little it may require, it takes energy to change the direction of energy. Hence, we may say, it is a clear-cut problem for physics to explain through what energetic means Miss Ownbey changed the organism of Miss Turner from its "chance" or unregulated behavior to that designed by Miss Ownbey in Durham. What is the connecting energetic link between these cards and the E.S.P. subject's energetic responses? If he sees the card-faces, we say it is light energy that connects. If he does not, cannot, see the faces—if all known sensory reception of energy is excluded—what energetic link is still there, for nothing yet known can guide his energy system but energy itself? That is, if anything were known that could change one's responses that was not one of the known energies, it would promptly be declared another kind of energy, because it "does work" and "effects change". This would have to be done to save the coherence, unity and comprehensibility of our basic physics. At this point we are, then, it seems, faced with the need of another order of energy, not radiant.

If this seems especially bold as a conclusion, it is quickly, I think, reduced to modesty by the reminder that all conscious process is in pretty much the same need, though possibly this comes closer to the range of present working theories. Yet whatever is found out in either field, in E.S.P. or mind in general, as to ultimate energetic nature, will probably help us to understand the other. It seems quite possible that the long untouched mystery of the physics of conscious process may yet be first peeped into from the odd corners of these more bizarre mental phenomena. Pierre Janet has very well said: "Attention is first drawn to a particular force by its exceptional manifestation."

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As an appendix to this chapter, it seems worth while to give some data on D.T. curves that looked for a time very much as if we were to have an interesting physical law revealed in them. The facts that this first appearance was misleading and that the results are more psychologically interpretable as "effects of anticipation" do not rob the point of interest. The negative effect is itself of value.

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The D.T. data of Pearce, Stuart, Cooper and Linzmayer had all strongly favored the hypothesis that it was "physically" harder to get at the center of the solid pack. Their data showed more hits by percentage in the first five cards of the pack and in the last five at the bottom, with the lowest rate of scoring in the central fifteen. This fact, combined with the fact that their D.T. scores were, on the whole, lower than B.T. scores (cards taken off the pack as called), made it appear that there was some difficulty in penetration (or in radiation) as the center was approached. Of course, there is no known basis for such a principle. On any kind of radiation theory it would not be that way. The deeper down the card, presumably the more difficult, if there were any difference at all. But in an unknown field it is well to regard even poor hypotheses. On the other hand, it seemed somewhat probable that mere convenience in keeping the order straight might be a determining factor, perhaps. On this hypothesis, the percipient might be abler to keep the two ends of the series of 25 calls more correctly in order, because he could work in from either end as a guide-point. In the center he was farthest away from the easier measuring points and might be more easily lost. Also he might merely expect this to be true and he might not try so hard in calling the central 15. There were, then, one physical and two psychological hypotheses.

But Miss Ownbey put an end to the physical speculation on this point by giving us a D.T. curve that goes very definitely in the opposite direction. Her scoring is highest for the central five and lowest for the top and bottom fives. The curve obtained by plotting scoring against order of fives down through the pack in D.T. gives an inverted U-shaped even more regular than the upright U-shaped curve given by the four others. This work was done by Miss Ownbey without, of course, any notion of how the other work came out and free from any knowledge of my interest in the curves produced. The importance of these curves to psychological relations will be taken up in Chapter 12; it is clear that no conclusion could be drawn favorable to a difference in penetrability with position of the card on the pack. Rather does the evidence add strength to the non-radiation side of the theorizing on the nature of E.S.P. It will be recalled that we found there were no radiation effects from the cards on the sensitive plate and no differential absorption by them with X-rays. Now we go right to the sensitive organisms themselves, the only system receptive to the causal energetic principle involved in E.S.P. And these sensitives in one case get more in the first five, in others most in the last five at the bottom. In the one case of Miss Ownbey, most in the central five. These differences are striking evidence of the physical non-essentiality of position in the pack, quite as the long-distance P.T. and P.C. evidence the non-essentiality of position in space in general.

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Logically, then, need we not say that, if space is not important or essential in these processes, its absence of function means, for these functions, non-existence, since it is "function" that makes "existence"? If so, then, E.S.P. is a spaceless function and its relationships must be sought in terms of such a physics. Of course, such hypotheses must be regarded conservatively but the facts seem to compel us rather in that direction.

The D.T. curves under discussion may be seen in Graph No. 1.

Graph No. 1. This shows the success in scoring in D.T. as distributed over the average run (of 25), indicated for each 5 cards down through the pack. Curve A represents 3,350 trials in D.T. by Miss Ownbey. Curve B represents 4,225 trials in D.T. by Pearce, Stuart, Cooper, and Linzmayer.
Click to enlarge

Graph No. 1. This shows the success in scoring in D.T. as distributed over the average run (of 25), indicated for each 5 cards down through the pack. Curve A represents 3,350 trials in D.T. by Miss Ownbey. Curve B represents 4,225 trials in D.T. by Pearce, Stuart, Cooper, and Linzmayer.

[paragraph continues] Curve B is that obtained by combining the scores for the D.T. work of Pearce, Cooper, Linzmayer and Stuart, and taking the joint results in scoring for each five cards down through the pack, giving the scores in 5 divisions. These are then divided by the mean chance expectation (rip) to put all on a relative basis, and plotted as the ratio of success to mean chance expectation for each 5 cards in the pack (of 25). The curve is a pretty fair U-shape. Curve A is the expression of Miss Ownbey's D.T. work

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given in the same way. Her curve is obviously of the opposite type. This curve is typical for her, as is shown by the fact that if her work is divided and plotted, it gives two curves of this form, almost identical. The individuals whose results are drawn up in Curve A do not all have the same rate of scoring. They differ quite widely. Also they have different low points. But they all agree in being higher in the top and bottom fives, and lowest in the middle fifteen. Graph No. 2 will show their individual curves.

Graph No. 2. Same as Graph No. 1 in principle, with curves as follows: Curve 1 represents 1,500 trials by Pearce; Curve 2, 1,200 by Cooper; Curve 3, 1,000 by Linzmayer; Curve 4, 1,000 by Stuart.
Click to enlarge

Graph No. 2. Same as Graph No. 1 in principle, with curves as follows: Curve 1 represents 1,500 trials by Pearce; Curve 2, 1,200 by Cooper; Curve 3, 1,000 by Linzmayer; Curve 4, 1,000 by Stuart.

Next: Chapter 11. Some Physiological Conditions Affecting E.S.P.