THE AIM of a revolutionary development in thought is to extend its influence.
Axiomatically, the main concern of those who are committed to existing modes of
thought is to resist the threat to their ways of thinking. A struggle inevitably
ensues - a fight to the death of one or the other of the two contending ways of
thinking. Nor dare we assume that just because a new idea deserves the label of
Truth it will be welcomed upon its first application for admission to the
fraternity of science. Can we yet say with assurance that parapsychology will
succeed in winning acceptance on this try?
Any revolutionist worth his salt must, it goes without saying, believe in his
cause and in its ultimate success. If this book has in any degree served its
purpose, it should at least have engendered the feeling that the author is
deeply involved as a parapsychologist. But the foregoing series of close-ups of
developments in the field, described by one who has participated in or witnessed
many of these events, may not by itself form a finished, unified picture of the
movement. I feel an obligation, therefore, to attempt in a few final pages to
tie together the threads of thought that the preceding chapters have in common.
Parapsychology is here to stay. This is not to say that its job is finished.
Indeed, it has only been well started! But the time of testing by ordeal in the
fire of scientific scorn has passed. No longer need a research worker fear the
kind of scathing denunciation that Sir
William Crookes and Sir
encountered when they ventured to present papers on their psi investigations to
meetings of British scientists a few years before the Society for Psychical
Research was founded. I am not implying that papers on parapsychology are
received with rejoicing by those in charge of the programs of scientific
conventions or by the editors of the psychological journals. But there is today
a momentum, a forward thrust to psi research. This may be seen in the
developments within the field as well as in the reactions to psi by those
outside of parapsychology. Especially is it apparent from the way the field has
put down new roots in different parts of the world. Some of these developments
have been surprising even to the research workers.
A full account of the spread of the research and of the status that
parapsychology has attained today as a world-wide branch of science is reserved
(as I have said elsewhere) for a later book. But some hints regarding the
magnitude of the developments that have already occurred and are still taking
place may properly be revealed here.
Only within the past three years have scientists working in parapsychology in
the West become aware of a parallel growth of research interest and activity in
Russia. Since this significant fact first came to our attention we have made
considerable progress in establishing close and cordial scientific relations
with the Soviet scientists concerned. These relationships have been fostered by
correspondence, by translation of relevant Russian publications, and by visits
of parapsychologists to Russia to consult with the U.S.S.R. scientists who are
taking the lead in this bold venture. In June 1962, I went as a representative
of the Parapsychology Laboratory of Duke University to visit the newly
established, state-supported laboratory for research on ESP at the University of
Leningrad. I also talked with scientists in Moscow who are no less actively
interested in the field though they were at that time less well organized.
These Russian parapsychologists are waging a successful campaign to gain the
support of their fellow scientists and the educated public in Russia for
research in this new area. As evidence of their success, we may note that three
popular books on the subject by Soviet scientists have appeared recently. Two of
these have been by Professor L. L. Vasiliev of Leningrad University, and his
more recent one, published in 1962, had a first printing of 120,000 copies. It
is said that when the Russians go in for any new interest in science or
technology they do it with single-minded thoroughness. From the facts as they
have been gradually emerging, it seems that their approach to parapsychology is
going to be typical of their efforts in science.
Outside of the developments in Russia, new psi research centers are springing up
at other places around the world. Some of these have already become productive,
others are in an early or even formative stage. Altogether, however, they
represent such a great research potential that even the fact of their existence
makes exciting scientific news. Certainly the significance of these new
developments is not escaping the psi research workers in the older centers. For
example, by the fall of 1962 the Duke laboratory felt that its active
relationship with the research in various places would benefit from the kind of
attention that it is possible to give only after firsthand observation and
exchanges of views. Accordingly, the laboratory asked me to go on a second trip.
This one covered two months, from December 8, 1962, through February 8, 1963,
and it took me westward across the U.S.A. and then on around the world to visit
research centers in Japan, India, and Czechoslovakia.
So widespread is this new growth of interest in parapsychology that even the
journey across the United States involved public lecturing and consulting with
research workers in Texas and California, two states crossed on the journey in
which newly organized efforts to initiate long-range programs of research in
parapsychology are now taking shape.
The situation in Japan may properly be characterized as one of great promise.
The most significant development there has been the establishment of the
Institute for Religious Psychology under the direction of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama.
The objectives of this institute are concerned with the promotion of research on
problems that are of concern to both psychology and religion, and Dr. Motoyama
envisions parapsychology as comprising an important half of their program.
(There can be no doubt of the historically close connection between spontaneous
psi occurrences and the development of the great systems of religious thought.)
One might illustrate the present prospects for parapsychology in Japan by
commenting that what I learned there about the interest in this field would, by
itself, have made my trip worth while.
The situation in India, however, presents an equally great challenge for
parapsychology and also holds promise of major developments in the field over
the next few years. In fact, so rapidly are things advancing in our field in
India that the Duke laboratory sent a second representative, Dr. K. Ramakrishna
Rao, to meet me there. Our joint mission was to discuss plans for a new
parapsychological research center proposed by the University Grants Commission,
the agency of the Union Government having general responsibility for the
universities throughout that country. After our talks with the commission in New
Delhi, Dr. Rao and I went our separate ways for two weeks. He visited
universities throughout India to discuss the new center and to find the best
location for it. I, in turn, worked in two of the states of northern India where
ESP research projects were already under way with the support of the state
governments. Everywhere we found enthusiastic interest in parapsychology and
unreserved recognition that this is a branch of science for which India, because
of her historical background of religious and philosophical thought and by
virtue of her culture, should be eminently suited.
Since Dr. Rao and I returned to Duke, the plan which we submitted at the end of
our visit has been officially approved by the University Grants Commission. The
location for the new parapsychological research center will be Andhra
University. Dr. Rao, even before our visit, had been selected as the director.
He is now picking the Indian scientists who will comprise the permanent staff of
the center and making plans to bring some of them to Duke for training.
The third place I visited abroad on this last trip was Prague, Czechoslovakia.
Actually this was a second visit to Prague; my trip to Russia the preceding
summer had included a five-day stay in that city. The purpose both times was to
collaborate with Dr. Milan Ryzl, a young scientist who is doing ESP experiments
there with an outstanding subject, Mr. Pavel Stepanek.
The distinctive thing about Dr. Ryzl's work is that he has apparently discovered
a way to develop a subject's ability for good ESP test performance by a special
method of training through hypnosis. Some questions remain to be answered by
further research before it will be possible to state with the finality of a
scientific conclusion just what the secret of Dr. Ryzl's success is. The
combination of highly significant results obtained in his own experiments plus
confirmation of this success in the joint work done with visiting scientists
makes his contribution a unique one in parapsychology. In addition to our
collaboration, three Dutch scientists on a more recent visit carried through a
highly successful experiment with Mr. Stepanek. It is not surprising that, in
the judgment of an increasing number of workers in the field, Prague is the most
productive ESP research spot in the world at the present moment.
Every psychological struggle - and the psi revolution certainly can be so
characterized - is a situation involving give and take. In this book we have
naturally been concerned primarily with the giving: the efforts of a relatively
few people to present the challenge of the field and its findings. What about
the taking of what has been offered? How have the scientists and the educated,
thinking non-scientists who have not been actively engaged in parapsychology
reacted to what the psi research workers have been presenting to them? What has
happened over the years to show that the parapsychologists are not simply
wasting their efforts?
To the psi research workers themselves, the most highly prized signs of progress
are those that show that other scientists are taking up the problems. These
indications we have already touched upon in pointing out the spread of active
interest and the emergence of new research centers around the world. These give
the very best kind of assurance to the psi revolutionist that his labors are
But not everyone who notices and reacts to the goings on in parapsychology can
become an active participant in the research. Some, indeed, have been stirred to
exert themselves in the opposite direction and have become outspokenly and
aggressively critical. How have the critics of psi research made out in their
efforts to discredit the subject?
Henry Sidgwick, in the first presidential address to the Society for Psychical
Research in 1882, predicted that the critics would stop at nothing to upset the
findings of the parapsychologists. He said that therefore the investigators
should strive to make their experimental safeguards so strong that the critic
would be compelled to attack the good faith of the research workers themselves.
This would be, in effect, a sign that the investigators had achieved the highest
possible experimental standards.
Developments have proved that Professor Sidgwick was a sagacious prognosticator.
It was many years before the critics gave up on the experimental procedures and
mathematical methods. There were scattered criticisms during the first fifty
years of experimental efforts. But when the evidence began to come in a great
wave in the thirties in a way that threatened to take by storm the scientific
bastion of the university laboratory itself, there was a corresponding increase
in the ferocity of the critical attack.
Charges were first brought against the statistical methods, but these were soon
cleared of the accusation of containing major flaws. The use of the balanced,
"five-times-five" ESP pack gave results that did not fit precisely into the
formulas that were applied, but these discrepancies were shown to be only minor
errors of no practical consequence.
Then the critics tore into what they supposed were flaws in the experimental
procedures: faulty shuffling and cutting of the cards; carelessness in guarding
against sensory cues; errors in the recording and checking of the data; mistakes
in checking the hits or in making the calculations; and so on and so on. This
was the period when the experimenters knew that they were in a fight for their
scientific lives. Therefore we answered each critical article as soon as it
appeared. In view of the number of attacks and the consequent number of replies,
it is no wonder that the decade of the thirties became known as the period of
"The ESP Controversy." It came to an end with the symposium that the American
Psychological Association organized for its annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, in
1938. The book, Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years, published in 1940 by
five members of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory research staff, was a fitting
epitaph for the critics of that time. The ultimate critics whom Sidgwick foresaw
had not yet appeared on the scene.
Before we give them their cue to come on stage for a brief re-enactment of their
part in the drama, let me mention one Johnny-come-lately critic of the older
style. This is Dr. B. F. Skinner, who waited ten years before breaking the pact
of silence by which the psychologists attempted to quarantine the
parapsychologists after 1938.
In the spring number of the 1948 American Scientist, Dr. Evelyn Hutchinson of
Yale University devoted his regular feature column, "Marginalia," to a
discussion of the ESP experiments which Dr.
S. G. Soal and Mrs. Goldney had done with
their outstanding subject, Mr. Basil Shackleton. Dr. Hutchinson chided the
scientists, especially the psychologists, for their neglect of the evidence for
ESP and challenged them to point out what was wrong with the experiments. In the
summer issue of the periodical the editor turned the correspondence column over
to Dr. Hutchinson to report the sequel to his challenge. He published one
critical letter from a Harvard psychologist, Dr. Skinner, and a reply from Dr.
Soal which gave him a reputation among the readers of the American Scientist as
"the man who skinned Skinner." Even though Dr. Skinner's letter was selected as
the most worthy of the criticisms received, it was apparent that what he wrote
in his attack did not have even a kissin'-cousin relationship to what Dr. Soal
and Mrs. Goldney had actually done in their experiments. For example, Dr.
Skinner criticized Dr. Soal for depending upon cards shuffled by hand for his
random order of target events. Dr. Soal replied that in his experiments cards
were not used and no shuffling of any kind was involved.
If his was the best of the criticisms, one can only guess at the level of
irrelevance of the others. Dr. Hutchinson's closing remarks are silent on this
point, but they do speak eloquently regarding critics of parapsychology in
general, as follows:
The communication received from Professor Skinner was the only one casting doubt
on the Soal and Goldney experiments that deserved any serious attention. Some
other communications were received which give the impression that scientific
opinion in this country is about equally divided on the validity of
parapsychological research in general. It has also become very clear that the
wishful thinking, which is often attributed to the proponents of this research,
is equally attributable to the antagonists. Some critical articles, published in
reputable journals, to which my attention has been drawn, seem to me to
transgress limits of fairness and good taste. If the parapsychologists are
rightly required by their critics to maintain the highest possible standards of
objectivity, it is only proper that their critics maintain an equal degree of
objectivity, and that, in particular, they at least pay the parapsychologists
the compliment of studying the original literature before criticizing it.
The next voice to be raised in opposition was heard in 1955, seven years later.
(Now, at last, we encounter the sort of critic whom Sidgwick foresaw.) This was
the attack on parapsychology by Dr. George R. Price, then of the University of
Minnesota Medical School, the first critic openly to look for an escape from the
findings in the suggestion that the parapsychologists themselves might have been
grossly incompetent or that they could even consciously have resorted to
trickery. Dr. Price, in his attack upon parapsychology in Science, in August
1955, showed that he had studied the evidence and had a profound respect for it.
In fact, he started his critical article by admitting that he had been won over
by the findings. But he had reconsidered his earlier conversion, and his article
is mainly an explanation of how he could justify his rejection of the
parapsychological evidence. Dr. Price said that the results of parapsychology,
chiefly those dealing with extrasensory perception, cannot be reconciled with
the current scientific concepts of mechanism and materialism. He had come to
see, therefore, that the conclusions of the parapsychologists must be accepted
only if there is no alternative explanation. Since the better experiments as
described make it impossible to reject the results on the basis of the usual
kind of criticism, he points out that it is still conceivable that the
scientists and academic people who took part in these key experiments could have
participated in a deliberate fraud. "... it should be clearly understood that I
am not here stating that Soal or any of his associates was guilty of deliberate
fraud. All that I want to do is show that fraud was easily possible."
Thus the readers of Science were shown how they might escape from having to
accept a universe in which ESP and similar phenomena are among the facts of
nature. If this required making the assumption that scientists in many parts of
the world, some of them with established reputations for scholarly work or
research in other fields, might have connived to play parlor games with the
purpose of fooling the human race into an acceptance of telepathy and
clairvoyance, why hesitate to do so when the matter at issue is so great? Dr.
Price appears to think that any alternative, even if it meant making scientific
pariahs of the parapsychologists, is preferable to surrendering the cherished
beliefs in a totally mechanistic, materialistic universe!
I do not intend in what I say here to be either adding to or taking away from
the tone or import of Dr. Price's argument. If the position seems to be an
extreme one, that is, I think, the position he chose. Consider, for example, how
easily any finding in science that is not to one's liking could be brushed aside
on the same basis. The point is that issues in science cannot be settled by
raising a question of the lack of good faith on the part of the investigators.
They must be settled, instead, by the patient, oftentimes plodding efforts of
research and more research. And the directions the research takes must grow out
of the phenomena Nature provides under her own conditions or they must come from
the findings of earlier experiments. We cannot be guided by some arbitrary
conception of what the effects claimed should be like and how we should be able
to bring them to crucial test.
In his article, for example, Dr. Price proposed an experiment for the
parapsychologists to perform as a crucial, do-or-die test of ESP. Perhaps such
"command" performances will one day be possible - let us hope they will - but
there is nothing to be gained by attempting to dictate our terms to Nature. As
scientists, we have joined her game, and it is up to us to induce her to reveal
the rules by which the game is played.
Another critic who showed that he would go to extremes in his efforts to remove
the threat of psi from the scientific scene was Mr. H. E. M. Hansel, of
Manchester University in England. He indicated to Dr. Rhine in correspondence
that he was a serious student of the research who would especially like an
opportunity to study the evidence for clairvoyance. In so doing, he made no
mention of the fact that he had already written a critical book, then in
manuscript form, on the subject.
His correspondence with Dr. Rhine brought him the offer of expense money for a
visit to the Parapsychology Laboratory, and this enabled him later to launch
critical attacks on two of the earlier experiments. One was the Pearce-Pratt
Series, and the other an investigation known as the Pratt-Woodruff Series. Mr.
Hansel's articles were published in the June 1961 number of the Journal of
Parapsychology, and the answers that were published in the same issue appear to
have satisfied even the critic himself, if his silence during the two years
since that time may be taken as any indication. Rumor has it that he is still
seeking to publish his book, but he was already more than twenty years behind
the times in his previous criticism since he failed to take into account the
crucial evidence for psi that has been published since 1939. He will never, at
this rate, overtake the advancing research frontier!
But let us get off these trails through the sloughs of unsound and unsavory
criticism and back onto higher ground. Over the years there have been those
refreshing instants when the research workers in parapsychology have learned
that the findings have won the favorable attention of some leader of scientific
or intellectual thought. A few of these times mentioned by way of illustration
must suffice here.
After the mid-century point Dr. Julian Huxley was asked in England to nominate
his choices for the great discoveries of the first half of the twentieth
century. Among those he mentioned was the establishment of ESP.
The favorable attention of such men as Professor P. A. Sorokin of Harvard and
Professor E. P. Sinnott of Yale testifies to the willingness of eminent
scientists in other areas to entertain the findings and acknowledge their claim
to serious consideration even though these scholars are not themselves drawn
into an active participation in parapsychology.
Similarly, scientific groups have increasingly in recent years taken the
initiative in planning meetings for the purpose of hearing positive
presentations of parapsychology (unlike those earlier occasions that were
designed to be purely destructive). These occasions at least betoken a readiness
to listen and learn.
One particularly noteworthy instance of public attention to parapsychology
happened without deliberate planning. Dartmouth College held a symposium in 1961
on the general topic of the mind-body relationship. The last meeting was a panel
discussion in which one of the participants was Dr. Warren Weaver,
vice-president of the Sloan Foundation. Dr. Weaver sat in silence until near the
end of the program, when he spoke up to say that it had been a matter of some
amazement to him that a symposium on the mind-body problem could have gone on
for so long without anyone once mentioning the topic of ESP. He thought that
this was a revealing commentary upon the state of American science. Whatever
each one might personally think of the evidence for ESP, it was not justifiable
simply to ignore it. Therefore he proposed that Dartmouth College should devote
its next symposium to parapsychology. Those who witnessed the occasion said that
the chairman was banging his gavel and calling for adjournment while President
Dickey of Dartmouth was nodding his head in approval!
Many more names and incidents could be added to lengthen this list. These are
enough, however, to show that parapsychology has at least created a slight
intellectual ferment in the minds of some scientists. At the same time it is
obvious that the spread of the psi revolution has not been a wind which has
engulfed everyone in its path. Its advance is more selective: some people are
affected while others seem immune.
In all modesty, I share the opinion that I heard my friend Milan RyzI express:
from now on, the progress of parapsychology cannot be stopped if man and his
civilization survive. He was thinking of the scientific findings; but I would
add that, even aside from these, the critics' self-appointed task of trying to
obliterate the serious public interest in psi was hopeless from the start. This
is due to the fact that millions of people know on the basis of their own psi
experiences that there is something to it. Judge for yourself in case you are
among this select number: Can you be told that something is superstitious
nonsense when you already know that it is a basic facet of your own world of
experience? You are only one member of a minority, but in total numbers you make
up a multitude of people! You comprise the unshakable supporters of the psi
revolution - those more fortunate ones who know at first hand what
parapsychology is all about.
But the investigation of psi phenomena is not merely a holding action. Instead,
it is very urgent business: we are engaged in a race for control over these
unusual powers of the mind. It is not a race between Russia and the West to see
which will be first with the great discovery about man's unique nature. This may
develop in time, but what I have in mind is not a contest between two political
camps. Rather, the race in parapsychology is a race of scientists against time.
It is a race to extend scientific knowledge and understanding in a frontier zone
regarding which man has been all too obviously and woefully ignorant until now.
This is the frontier of human nature itself, of the meaning and nature of
The race is concerned with discovering, on the sure basis of objective,
experimental science, man's real place in the universe. The fact that there is a
dangerous gap in scientific knowledge regarding the essential nature of man
himself has been apparent for many years. My own inspired and inspiring teacher
in psychology, Professor
William McDougall, wrote in eloquent terms regarding
the existence of this gap during the first third of this century. Even then he
saw the imbalance between our highly advanced scientific knowledge of the
physical world (giving us our dangerous technology of armaments and instruments
of destruction) and our lack of knowledge regarding some of the most fundamental
questions about mind as the root cause of the threat of annihilation that
mankind faced between the two world wars.
The danger then was mild compared with the threat that hangs over all of us
today! Confronted as we are with such unprecedented peril growing out of the
triumphs of the physical sciences, we cannot escape by going back to the
relative safety of an earlier era. The remedy needed is not less science but
more. Man desperately needs an advance of knowledge which will bring him a real
understanding of his own nature. For can we imagine that men who adequately
understood themselves would be in constant danger of blasting one another from
the face of the earth or that they would long preserve the instruments for doing
McDougall also most clearly recognized that what was required for closing this
gap in scientific knowledge was a fresh approach. Even in his day he saw the
research into psi phenomena as the means of lifting the load of prejudice which
has, during the last few centuries, so fully occupied the minds of the
scientists. This has led them to think in terms of the conception of materialism
which sees man as being essentially a freakish combination of atoms.
The message of this book is that parapsychology represents a new starting point
in man's long and unending struggle to wrest from nature a fuller knowledge of
our universe. This start is different from earlier ones in the simple but
significant fact that the focus of scientific attention is upon mind instead of
matter. What, if anything, about man makes him unique? This question which has
for so long been of concern to philosophers and religious thinkers as well as to
poets and other writers has at last, in parapsychology, begun to receive
attention from scientists. The importance of this new branch of inquiry needs to
be recognized and appreciated not only by scientists but also by all
intelligent, educated people.
Even though time is at a premium, gaining the widespread acceptance that the
field needs and deserves will not be easy. The difficulty is not one that is
peculiar to this research. It is always true of any really new and revolutionary
development in science that recognition and acceptance come slowly. This is easy
to understand. The pioneer scientist has hold of certain limited phenomena. He
is impelled to pursue his observations of them only because he has an unshakable
conviction of the importance of doing so. But for a long time he is not able to
give an adequate picture of what his findings mean.
I could illustrate this difficulty by reference to any number of developments
from the pages of the history of science. Imagine, for example, what Benjamin
Franklin might have said if his contemporaries had asked him - as Franklin
complained in fact they were doing! - what all the playing around with
electrical sparks and flying kites into thunderclouds would ever amount to.
Could we expect Franklin to describe a modern satellite hurtling through space
millions of miles past the planet Venus and sending back electrical messages to
tell us for the first time about actual conditions there? Or could anyone
reasonably expect that Galileo, when he was begging his scientific colleagues
merely to take a look through his telescope at the moons around the planet
Jupiter, should have been able to persuade them by describing the universe known
to modern astronomy as it extends for billions of light-years? The pioneer
scientist is faced with an almost impossible task. This is to make sense out of
what is necessarily still nonsense. Yet this is the task which must be faced if
a new scientific venture is to succeed.
This book has tried to convey, as far as possible, a sense of the importance of
parapsychology even at this early stage in its development. Its importance at
this juncture in history is such that the spread of knowledge about the field
cannot be put off until a later stage when it would undoubtedly be easier to
understand its significance. When the very existence of mankind is staked on an
"eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation" between our President and Khrushchev and the
outcome (as someone so aptly said) may depend upon which is the first to blink,
then not only the whole human race but even life itself as it exists on this
planet is in a desperate race for survival.
ESP and the other simple, elusive phenomena studied by parapsychologists are to
the further advance of scientific knowledge regarding human nature as Franklin's
sparks were to the advance of knowledge in the area of electrical science and as
Galileo's moons around Jupiter were to the advance of knowledge in the field of
astronomy. These psi phenomena, defying as they do explanation in terms of
purely mechanistic and physical principles, represent the exception to the
prevailing scientific conceptions of man.
In science the exception disproves the rule. That is to say, scientific concepts
cannot tolerate any exceptions. A fact which stubbornly refuses to be fitted
into present theories must ultimately transform those theories. The facts of
parapsychology have for more than eighty years refused to conform to conceptions
of man that have led to the de-emphasizing, if not the outright denial, of the
role of mind. Psi phenomena thus hold the promise of a revolutionary advance in
man's understanding of himself. This is the psi revolution now in the making.
"Parapsychology: An Insider's View of ESP" by J. G. Pratt (1964, Doubleday & Co,