Rhine's experiments (ESP)

Rhine's experiments [ESP] confront us with the fact that there are events which are related to one another experimentally, and in this case meaningfully, without there being any possibility of proving that this relation is a causal one, since the “transmission” exhibits none of the known properties of energy:


Rhine's experiments show that in relation to the psyche, space and time are, so to speak, “elastic” and can apparently be reduced almost to vanishing point, as though they were dependent on psychic conditions and did not exist in themselves but were only “postulated” by the conscious mind

CW8 ¶ 840




The experiment consists, in principle, in an experimenter turning up, one after another, a series of numbered cards bearing simple geometric patterns. At the same time the subject, separated by a screen from the experimenter, is given the task of guessing the signs as they are turned up

CW8 ¶ 833

A pack of twenty-five cards is used, each five of which carry the same sign. Five cards are marked with a star, five with a square, five with a circle, five with wavy lines, and five with a cross. The experimenter naturally does not know the order in which the pack is arranged, nor has the subject any opportunity of seeing the cards

CW8 ¶ 833

Many of the experiments were negative, since the result did not exceed the probability of five chance hits. In the case of certain subjects, however, some results were distinctly above probability

CW8 ¶ 833

The first series of experiments consisted in each subject trying to guess the cards 800 times. The average result showed 6.5 hits for 25 cards, which is 1.5 more than the chance probability of 5 hits. The probability of there being a chance deviation of 1.5 from the number 5 works out at 1 : 250,000. This proportion shows that the probability of a chance deviation is not exactly high, since it is to be expected only once in 250,000 cases

CW8 ¶ 833

The results vary according to the specific gift of the individual subject

CW8 ¶ 833

After the first series of experiments the spatial distance between the experimenter and the subject was increased, in one case to 250 miles

CW8 ¶ 834

The fact that distance has no effect in principle shows that the thing in question cannot be a phenomenon of force or energy, for otherwise the distance to be overcome and the diffusion in space would cause a diminution of the effect, and it is more than probable that the score would fall proportionately to the square of the distance

CW8 ¶ 835

Time does not appear in principle to be a prohibitive factora fact which points to a psychic relativity of time, since the experiments were concerned with perceptions of events which had not yet occurred

CW8 ¶ 836

One consistent experience in all these experiments is the fact that the number of hits scored tends to sink after the first attempt, and the results then become negative. But if, for some inner or outer reason, there is a freshening of interest on the subject's part, the score rises again

CW8 ¶ 838

Lack of interest and boredom are negative factors; enthusiasm, positive expectation, hope, and belief in the possibility of ESP make for good results and seem to be the real conditions which determine whether there are going to be any results at all

CW8 ¶ 838

The subject's answer is not the result of his observing the physical cards, it is a product of pure imagination, of “chance” ideas which reveal the structure of that which produces them, namely the unconscious

CW8 ¶ 840

In Rhine's experiment it is the “impossibility” of the task that ultimately fixes the subject's attention on the processes going on inside him, and thus give the unconscious a chance to manifest itself. The questions set by the ESP experiment have an emotional effect right from the start, since they postulate something unknowable as being potentially knowable and in that way take the possibility of a miracle seriously into account

CW8 ¶ 848

This, regardless of the subject's skepticism, immediately appeals to his unconscious readiness to witness a miracle, and to the hope, latent in all men, that such a thing may yet be possible

CW8 ¶ 848

When therefore a serious experiment with all the authority of science behind it touches this readiness, it will inevitably give rise to an emotion which either accepts or rejects it with a good deal of affectivity. At all events an affective expectation is present in one form or another even though it may be denied