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J.B. Rhine's Contribution to Psychic Study

By: Chris Welsh - Updated: 3 Sep 2010 | comments*Discuss
J.b. Rhine Psychic Clairvoyant

The term parapsychology was coined by J.B. Rhine, one of many contributions this scholar and researcher made to the study and observation of the psychic and clairvoyant. His work on the subject spanned many years and spawned quite a few books and to this day those who take a scholarly approach to the subject of parapsychology build their work on the foundation laid by J.B. Rhine.

Who is J.B. Rhine?

J.B. Rhine is considered by many to be the “Father of Parapsychology”, the man that not only coined the term but established much of the groundwork for empirical testing of ESP (Extra Sensory Perception). His work at Duke University became the focal point for both sceptics and believers and those who were unsure, but very much wanted to know, if psychic phenomenon were possible.

Rhine was born the second of four children in Waterloo, Pennsylvania. His love of the outdoors served him well as a Marine, where he earned the rank of sharpshooter and he followed his father’s example by becoming a teacher. His early and progressive education was in Botany, in which he earned a doctorate and it wasn’t until he and his wife heard a speech given by Arthur Conan Doyle that his thoughts turned to the psychic realm.

Doyle’s speech was on the topic of scientific proof that the dead could be communicated with by the living and the idea lit a fire in Rhine. He began to learn what he could on the subject and it wasn’t long before he had students using Zerner Cards in his own attempts at scientifically proving the existence of ESP. His research found a few remarkable examples of possible ESP activity, as far as the Zerner Cards were concerned. The series of five cards offer a 20% accuracy rate if the subject uses pure guess work and over all Rhine found students who consistently scored higher than that- some at 40% and in one example, 100%.

Rhine’s Contributions

Rhine spent decades chasing the elusive proof of ESP and along the way made significant contributions to the cause. He established the Journal of Parapsychology as well as the Parapsychological Association. His FRNM, the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, was the precursor to what is today known as the Rhine Research Centre. While these organisations were established at and affiliated with, Duke University, they now operate independently of that institution.

Rhine’s Failures

While Rhine seemed to have extraordinary success in producing Zerner Card research results that were well above the 20% of random chance, his record was not without its blemishes. More than one student was caught red handed cheating, going back and erasing results in order to produce a higher score. Rhine was steadfast in his refusal to name the offending students, although he did cite those instances when a student was caught cheating.

In addition Rhine himself was known to discard data that did not support his belief in ESP. Calling such data “wrong”, Rhine was proud of the fact that he discounted it and mentioned such to physicist Irving Langmuir, who visited Rhine at his laboratory.

Final Thoughts

Belief in ESP is not required to admire the steadfast and empirical approach that J.B. Rhine took to researching the paranormal. His efforts are a matter of record and while there are plenty of questions that remain to be answered about his results, his methods seemed to be above reproach.

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