EXTRA SENSORY PERCEPTION
(Investigator 130, 2010
ESP is the apparently inexplicable communication
between two minds
without verbal or visual clues. The phrase was coined in 1930 by Dr
Joseph B. Rhine, a biology professor and parapsychologist in the
Department of Sociology at Duke University, North Carolina, USA.
Dr. Rhine and his wife Louisa, became interested in psychical research,
as they believed that any demonstration of psychic phenomena supported
by scientific evidence, would be a tentative step towards confirming
mediumistic communications with the dead, and the possibility of an
afterlife. In 1929, he founded the parapsychology laboratory at Duke
University and he and his wife devoted the rest of their lives to
In 1930, cards containing five different symbols, a star, a cross, a
circle, a square and one with wavy lines, were designed by a
psychologist, K.E. Zener, and a pack consisting of twenty five of these
cards was then used in a card guessing experiment. This established the
paradigm which endured until the 1970s, when remote viewing, random
number generators and other techniques superseded it.
Dr. Rhine was perhaps the foremost researcher in this field and found a
number of subjects who demonstrated above average ability during his
experiments. Rhine's method of testing for ESP was to use the Zener
cards in various types of tests, among them:
There were also
two tests designed specifically to confirm the
phenomenon of telepathy:
Calling Test, where the symbol on the top card is guessed, removed
face down, and followed by the next card and so on throughout the pack.
Test, in which the key cards are face down and their positions
unknown, the five cards are shuffled and the subject asked to guess the
order of the symbols.
- The Pack
Test, where the subject makes twenty-five consecutive calls
directed at a shuffled but unbroken pack of ESP cards located in
of correctly guessing a card is one in five or a probability
of 0.2. Any subject consistently doing better is considered to have
some ESP ability. Rhine's most successful subject scored 0.32 over
Test, in which the sender shuffles the cards, cuts them and looks
at the face of each card while the reader attempts to read the mind of
the sender, and guess the symbol on the card on which the sender is
- The Pure
Method, where the sender chooses a random order of cards, memorizes
them and the percipient makes his choice. Success in this test
allegedly depends entirely on the sender's thoughts.
Following Rhine's experiments, consistent successes were reported by
Scherdler and Murphy from the parapsychology laboratory at Harvard
University, and others who replicated Rhine's tests also obtained
results significantly different from those expected by mere chance. In
England, Dr. S.G. Soal, a mathematician at London University, also
conducted tests over a period of five years with 150 subjects recording
120,000 guesses — with some impressive results. Soal's best was with
psychic Gloria Stewart who scored a hit rate of 0.29 — well above
Over the years there have been reports of truly amazing claims made by
those allegedly possessing ESP ability and some equally remarkable
results reported by researchers into this phenomenon.
A scientific paper entitled Information Transmission Under
Conditions of Sensory Shielding by two Stanford Research Institute
scientists, Russell Targ and Harold Puthoff, was published in the
British magazine Nature in October 1974, and detailed experiments
conducted with a gifted subject, Mr Ingo Swann, who claimed to have
made an "astral trip" to Jupiter. (See Astral Travel in Investigator
123) In the experiment described, Targ and Puthoff related how Mr Swann
had been able to paranormally affect the magnetic field of a huge
magnetometer using only his mind. In another experiment in New York,
the American Society for Psychical Research tested Swann for an
out-of-body experience. The test was to look into a small box
psychically (without physically looking) and describe the contents. He
was correct eight times out of eight.
In another experiment known as "remote viewing" performed by Targ and
Puthoff, this time with Uri Geller, the subject was required to make a
drawing corresponding with a target randomly taken from a dictionary.
Geller identified seven of the thirteen targets, a 54% success, with
odds of a million to one.
Another psychic, ex-policeman Pat Price, was reported by Targ and
Puthoff to be able, in remote viewing tests, to project his mind to far
off cities, detail the objects in an office that he had not previously
seen, and detect flashing lights in a sealed room.
One of the most air tight cases of ESP ability reported this [20th]
century was that of Basil Shackleton, who seemed to prove conclusively
after being the subject of over half a million tests, that he had
genuine ESP powers. The tests were conducted by a respected scientist,
Dr S.G. Soal, receiving accolades from Professor G. E. Hutchinson of
Yale who declared the system "the most carefully conducted
investigations of the kind ever to have been made." Professor R.A.
McConnell of the University of Pittsburg, said of Soal's work, "As a
report to scientists, this is the most important book on parapsychology
since 1940. If scientists will read it carefully, the ESP controversy
will be ended."
Others, equally impressed, were philosopher C.D. Broadbent who said the
work was "outstanding...the precautions taken to prevent fraud were
watertight", and Sir Cyril Burt, (1959), a British scientist who
considered Soal's experiments to be "unrivaled in the whole corpus of
By 1934, Rhine was convinced that he had overwhelming evidence of ESP,
but although a number of psychology departments repeated his
experiments in an attempt to confirm his results, none were successful.
In 1940, Rhine co-authored a book, Extra-Sensory Perception After
Sixty Years, in which the results of experiments were listed as
leaving no doubt that something other than guesswork was involved. Some
of them resulted in above-chance scores having odds of a million or
more to one. It is now known that these experiments contained serious
methodological flaws or were perhaps falsified, thus nullifying the
One example of falsified reports is attributed to Walter J. Levy, the
director of the Institute of Parapsychology and Rhine's heir
apparent, who was discovered to be producing significant results in
experiments through the manipulation of data-recording equipment.
Another was Dr S.G. Soal, whose replication of Rhine's experiments was
considered above reproach and definitive by both parapsychologists and
the scientific community until Mrs Gretl Albert, an agent who had
assisted with the experiments, made some serious allegations. Mrs
Albert informed Mrs Goldney (a joint initiator with Soal in one of the
experiments), that she had observed Soal altering numbers on the record
sheets during the check up. Later she specifically indicated that she
had seen him changing 1s into 4s and 5s during the Shackleton studies.
When Soal was informed he became indignant and discharged Mrs Albert,
but the discoveries of how he had faked his results destroyed the
credibility of his work. He died in 1975.
Since the 1960s, Zenner cards have played a lesser role in ESP
experiments, being replaced with more complex and meaningful targets,
such as paintings, locations and photographs.
The results remain the same however — no evidence of extrasensory
What of the findings of Targ and Puthoff and the accolades heaped on Dr
Soal by the eminent scientists mentioned above? Targ and Puthoff's
controls were badly flawed leaving the experiments wide open to
cheating. Failed tests were never reported and their conclusions were
biased in the extreme. When one of Geller's remote viewing tests was
replicated by Charles Rebert, an EEG expert and psychologist, and Dr
Leon Otis, also a psychologist, Geller failed to identify one target in
the whole series. Ex-policeman Pat Price had also failed completely in
both his tests, the non-results being omitted from the Targ and
Although there is some recent evidence to suggest that Sir Cyril Burt
was framed, he was alleged at the time to have faked extensive data in
research on heredity and even to have invented witnesses and
authorities for his reports. In an article on the front page of the Sunday
Times of October 24, 1976, the newspaper's medical correspondent
began: "The most sensational charge of scientific fraud this century is
being levelled against the late Sir Cyril Burt, father of British
educational psychology", and in Cyril Burt, Psychologist
(Hodder, 1979), Professor Leslie Hearnshaw writes, "Gradually, as
evidence accumulated…I became convinced that the charges...were, in
their essentials, valid…”
Experiments to test the widely held belief in ESP on a nationwide
basis, have been conducted on radio in the United States in 1924, and
in the United Kingdom in 1927. In May, 1992, a test was conducted on
ABC Radio National Science Show with devastating results for believers.
Dr Ken White, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland and his
graduate student, Rebecca Storey, received over 5,000 written responses
to so-called "thought transferences" broadcast on the program. During
the program, Ms Storey concentrated hard on numbers, a letter, a
playing card, a colour and two geometric shapes. Listeners were invited
to write down what they thought she was seeing.
They were also asked to rate the strength of their belief in ESP. The
results were remarkable. Only five respondents (or 0.1 per cent), got
two answers correct and none scored more than two. Dr White said the
information "transmitted" was selected by first avoiding well known
stereotypes or those popular with stage magicians such as Uri Geller.
In the first test ("I am looking at a number in the range 1 to 10''),
the correct answer (number 1) was obtained by 42 respondents (1.2 per
cent of the total). The most common answer was 7, nominated by nearly a
quarter of the respondents.
The other number test ("I am looking at a card with a number between 10
and 50 with two odd digits which are not the same'') produced a 5 per
cent success rate for the number 13. Nearly one-third nominated 37.
In the alphabet test, only 17 people chose correctly the letter "Y",
the letter "L" was the most common choice.
One third of the respondents chose red as the colour of a car, whereas
Ms Storey was visualising a purple car.
As an aside, Simon Turnbull, the president of the Australian Psychics'
Association who also took part in the test, failed on all four counts.
Dr White concluded that testing such preferences illustrates the
serious psychological reasons for the study and that "Nobody has ever
managed to replicate an ESP experiment…these results are no exception."
After nearly a century of investigation, replete with trickery, fraud,
deception and inept experimentation, the scientific consensus confirms
the skeptical view that without the use of normal sensory processes
there is no reliable evidence that communication between two minds is
Agee, D. 1974. Edgar Cayce on ESP. Warner Paperback. NY.
Burt, Sir Cyril. 1959. "Experiments on Telepathy in Children." British
Journal of Statistical Psychology, 12 (1):721.
Fitzherbert, A. 1986. Psychic Sense. Angus & Robertson.
Frazier, K. 1981. Paranormal Borderlands of Science. Prometheus Books,
Buffalo, New York.
Gardner, M. 1981. Science, Good, Bad and Bogus. Prometheus
Gordon, H. 1987. Extrasensory Deception. Prometheus Books.
Hansel, C.E.M. 1980. ESP and Parapsychology. A Critical
Re-Evaluation. Prometheus Books.
Harris, M. 1986. Investigating the Unexplained.
Hinds, T. 1988. Pseudoscience and the Paranormal. Prometheus
Holzer, H. 1975. The Truth of ESP. Manor Books. NY.
Inglis, B. 1984. Science and Parascience. Hodder &
Kaye, M. 1975. The Handbook of Mental Magic. Stein & Day.
Kreskin. 1973. The Amazing World of Kreskin. Coronet Books.
Kurtz, P. (Ed.) 1985. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology.
Prometheus Books. Bufalo, NY.
Pockley, P. 1992. "ESP Fails Its Big Test on Radio." Sydney
Sun-Herald. June 21, 1992.
Randall, J. 1977. Parapsychology and the Nature of Life. Abacus
Randi, J. 1986. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books,
Targ, R. & Harary, K.1985. The Mind Race. New English
Targ, R. & Puthoff. H.E. 1977. Mind Reach. Delecorte Press.
[From: Edwards, H. A Skeptic’s Guide to the New Age, Australian