J. B. Rhine

From New World Encyclopedia

Joseph Banks Rhine (September 29, 1895 – February 20, 1980) was a pioneer in parapsychological research. Often referred to as the "father of modern parapsychology," Rhine founded the parapsychology laboratory at Duke University, the Journal of Parapsychology, and the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, and is primarily known for his research into extra sensory perception (ESP), as well as the coining of the term "ESP" itself.

Rhine was trained in the scientific method and applied this to what was until then an area closer to mysticism than psychology, let alone a "hard science." Although his work did not convince the skeptics, he succeeded in establishing research programs in parapsychology that not only continued after his death but have expanded worldwide. Rhine's work, however, only scratched the surface, since he could not advance beyond the stage of observing phenomena to developing explanations of the abilities that he believed all human beings possess, involving senses that go beyond the physical.


Rhine was born on September 29, 1895, in Waterloo, Pennsylvania. He attended Ohio Northern University and the College of Wooster, after which he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. In 1919 Rhine was discharged, and the next year he married Louisa Ella Weckesser, who dissuaded him from his earlier plans to enter the ministry. Along with his wife, Rhine earned his bachelor's degree, master's degree, and, in 1925, his Ph.D. in botany from the University of Chicago. He taught for a year at Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, in Yonkers, New York, and also taught plant physiology at West Virginia University.

In the 1920s, Rhine and his wife became fascinated with the writings and lectures of figures like Oliver Lodge, Arthur Conan Doyle, and William McDougall, and wondered if their metaphysical and religious doubts about the nature of man and the existence of the soul could be resolved by conducting psychical research.[1]

After working with Franklin Prince at the Boston Society for Psychical Research from 1926–1927, Rhine went to Duke University to work with William McDougall, who had just been named head of the psychology department. In 1928 Rhine was offered an instructorship in philosophy and psychology with the understanding that he would be able to also perform psychical research. Shortly thereafter, in 1930, under the sponsorship of McDougall, Rhine founded the Parapsychology Laboratory, which originally was part of Duke's psychology department.

At Duke, Rhine began the studies that helped develop parapsychology into a branch of science, and in 1934, he published his well-known book Extra Sensory Perception. A year later, the Parapsychology Laboratory was given financial support and was set apart from the Department of Psychology. In 1937, Rhine launched the Journal of Parapsychology, giving parapsychological researchers a forum to publish their findings. In 1962, Rhine helped found the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (later known as the "Rhine Research Center"), where he continued his research into the paranormal.[2] Rhine died on February 20, 1980.


Duke University

Beginning in 1930, Rhine's early research at Duke included the testing of hypnotized subjects for telepathic abilities. Based on the reports of early mesmerists, where a number of psi, or psychic abilities were manifested during a trance state, it was thought that the trance state might create a more conducive environment to observe psi effects. Subjects were put into a trance, and assured that they would be able to telepathically respond to what was in the experimenter's mind upon being awakened. They were then awakened and put through a series of tests, the results of which were very similar to the results of experiments conducted without hypnotism, and the time-consuming hypnotic technique was abandoned.[3]

Zener cards

Around the same time, Rhine became interested in the work being done with card guessing by Ina Jephson, a member of the British Society for Psychical Research. When a colleague, Karl Zener, suggested replicating the card guessing experiment, Rhine agreed. A set of five cards was developed to replace the standard playing cards that Jephson had used. Called Zener cards, or ESP cards, the pack of twenty five cards contained five simple symbols: a star, a circle, a cross, a set of wavy lines, and a rectangle (which would later be changed to a square). A number of tests were done to test for clairvoyance and telepathy, and Rhine reported what he considered clearly significant results.

One of Rhine's students, Hubert Pearce, averaged 9.6 hits (correct guesses) out of 25 over his first thousand trials. The laws of chance predict that five hits would occur from chance alone, and tests Rhine did to create solely chance results approximated this very closely at 5.1. Additionally, Pearce was consistently able to score few, if any, hits at all when requested to do so.[4] In testing seven students, one of whom was Pearce, Rhine found averages ranging from 5.8 hits out of 25 to 11.2 hits for both clairvoyance and telepathy. Observing that the two abilities seemed to fluctuate up and down together, he determined that neither existed as a distinct process; both were just means of perceiving extra-sensorially.[5]

The most famous series of experiments from Rhine's laboratory is arguably the 1933–1934 ESP tests involving Hubert Pearce and Rhine's research assistant, J. G. Pratt. Consisting of a series of four sets of tests, Pearce was tested with Zener cards by Pratt, who shuffled and recorded the order of the cards in the parapsychology lab 100–250 yards from where Pearce was sitting in a campus library cubicle. The order of the cards, as well as Pearce's guesses, were then turned in to Rhine in sealed envelopes. Pearce's overall accuracy in guessing the order of the unseen cards was 30 percent, compared to the 20 percent expected by chance.[6] In 1934 Rhine published the results of his research in the first edition of a book titled Extra Sensory Perception, which was widely read over the following decades, and helped legitimize parapsychology.

In the later 1930s, Rhine investigated psychokinesis, the psychic ability to influence a physical outcome, but testing whether a subject could influence the outcome of tossed dice. Initially hand-thrown dice were used, later dice thrown from a cup, and finally machine-thrown dice. In 1940 Rhine published another book, Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, that summarized his own work as well as that of earlier researchers who had attempted to be methodical, painstaking, and scientific in their own approaches. Rhine invited his critics to contribute chapters to the book; only three did, and only one maintained an adamant criticism.


In addition to his work in the Duke laboratories, Rhine also looked closely at reports of spontaneous, sometimes sensational or bizarre paranormal cases. His wife, Louisa Rhine, gathered information on spontaneous ESP reports (experiences people had outside of a laboratory setting). Rhine investigated one such sensational case: a horse named "Lady Wonder" that apparently possessed psychic abilities. The horse would knock over toy alphabet blocks to spell out words thought of by the spectators. Rhine declared the horse to have telepathic powers, believing he had eliminated all possibility of fraud and error. Later, the magician Milbourne Christopher examined the horse's alleged abilities, and determined that Lady Wonder was being cued by movements of her owner's whip. When better designed tests proved negative, Rhine stated that the horse had indeed possessed psychic abilities, but had subsequently lost them.[7]

In 1965, Rhine retired from Duke, and founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, where he continued his psychical research.


Rhine's impressive pioneering results, often regarded by parapsychologists as the foundation of parapsychology, have been criticized by skeptics. In the March 1974 issue of the Journal of Parapsychology, Rhine revealed that he had found twelve cases of "experimenter unreliability" in his laboratory. Eight of the twelve were detected before publication, and Rhine suggested ways of guarding against future fraud. Not more than three months later, though, Rhine discovered that his own assistant, Walter Levy, was caught manipulating an experiment, and was immediately fired by Rhine.[8] In all but two cases, including that of Levy, Rhine did not disclose the names of those involved with fraud.

Others claim that few have been able to replicate Rhine's results. One exception to this is the mathematician Samuel Soal. After numerous failures in the early 1950s, he finally obtained results of statistical significance, supporting Rhine's research. Many were convinced by Soal's research, until it was proven in 1978 that Soal had cheated, and the results that supported Rhine's findings were worthless.[9]


Rhine established coined the term "parapsychology" (translating a German term) as the name of his research field. It is sometimes said that Rhine almost single-handedly developed a methodology and concepts for parapsychology as a form of experimental psychology.

Rhine founded some of the institutions necessary for parapsychology's continuing professionalization in the U.S., including the establishment of the Journal of Parapsychology, the formation of the Parapsychological Association, and the founding of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), which has been renamed the Rhine Research Center in his honor. His eldest daughter, Sally Rhine Feather, has carried on his work at the center, serving as director.

Major Works

In addition to his published books, Rhine also wrote a number of journal articles, many of which appeared in the Journal of Parapsychology.

  • Rhine, J. B. and William McDougall. [1934] 2003. Extra-sensory perception. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 076613962X
  • Rhine, J. B. [1937] 1972. New Frontiers of the Mind. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press Reprint. ISBN 0837162793
  • Rhine, J. B. and J. G. Pratt. [1957] 2006. Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 142548462X
  • Rhine, J. B. and Robert Brier. 1968. Parapsychology Today. Lyle Stuart Hardcover. ISBN 0806503440
  • Rhine, J. B. 1979. Reach of the Mind. William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0688310141


  1. Brian Mackenzie, "Joseph Banks Rhine: 1885-1980," The American Journal of Psychology 94 (4) (1981): 649.
  2. "Guide to the Louisa E. Rhine Papers, 1890-1983," Duke University Libraries. Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  3. J. B. Rhine, "The Start of the Duke Experiments" (1937). Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  4. J. B. Rhine, "The First Serious Criticism (of the Duke Experiments)" (1937). Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  5. J. B. Rhine, "ESP from the Viewpoint of General Parapsychology" (1935). Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  6. J. B. Rhine and J. G. Pratt, "Review of the Pearce-Pratt Distance Series of ESP Tests." Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  7. James Randi, "Clever Hans Phenomenon," An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural (James Randi Educational Foundation). Retrieved January 6, 2008.
  8. Guy Lyon Playfair, "The Skeptical Observer: PSI and Fraud," The Association for Skeptical Investigations.
  9. "Extra Sensory Perception," The Book of Thoth. Retrieved January 6, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Brian, Denis. 1982. The enchanted voyager. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. ISBN 0132751070
  • Gardner, Martin. 1957. Fads and fallacies: In the name of science. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0486203948
  • Gardner, Martin. 1988. "The obligation to disclose fraud." Skeptical Inquirer 7(3).
  • Rogo, D. Scott. 1975. Parapsychology: A century of enquiry. New York:Taplinger/Dell.

External links

All links retrieved March 11, 2018.


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