Harry Houdini

April 13th, 2010 Posted in People in Parapsychology

houdini
This is just a snippet from a 1954 letter from J. B. Rhine to his daughter Sally, where he briefly mentions a meeting with Houdini. His letter seems to indicate that the encounter was completely friendly, respectful and civil. Since Houdini died in 1926, this meeting would have taken place when Rhine was just starting out in parapsychology.

“I do not think Houdini ever claimed he was doing anything but magic. When Mother and I had our talk with him he showed a serious attitude toward the scientific investigation of psychical matters. That might have been because our sponsor, Dr. Walter Franklin Prince, was with us and he and Houdini were old friends. Dr. Prince claimed that Houdini was really quite open-minded on telepathy and was not sure had had not had some such experiences himself.”

In 1926, Houdini and William McDougall (Rhine’s soon to be mentor) had arranged for a psychical research symposium at Clark University. So that would have taken place just before Houdini died. I remember reading the address McDougall made at Clark. It included this:

“ … it [parapsychological research] runs the risk of leading its students into a slough of despair, or entangling them in a quagmire where no sure footing is found, where will o’ the wisps gleam fitfully on every hand, provoking hopes that are destined to disappointment and emotions that blind us to the dangers of this obscure region … Let it be admitted then that this is no field for the causal amateur … It is a field of research which at every step demands in the highest degree the scientific spirit and all around scientific training and knowledge.”

Not very hopeful! 1926 was also the same year that the Rhines had attended a seance conducted by medium Margery. Shortly after they would publish a paper declaring her a fraud. Houdini had come to the same conclusion two years before. So they had that in common.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Harry Houdini”

  2. By alanborky on Apr 16, 2010

    McDougall “[parapsychological research] runs the risk of leading its students into a slough of despair, or entangling them in a quagmire where no sure footing is found, where will o’ the wisps gleam fitfully on every hand, provoking hopes that are destined to disappointment and emotions that blind us to the dangers”.

    The same could be said for becoming leader of your nation, raising kids – everything – because for every success you have, there’ll be a whole trail of failures; for every predictable occurrence, a whole trail of things forseeable only with hindsight; for every victory, endless defeats; for all the envy and adulation of others, the bathroom cabinet choked with prescription drugs for anxiety, depression, pain, etc., etc. For all the approval ratings of others, there’s the fact you yourself’re not sure you’re doing the right thing.

    My point being: a Stacy or an Alan’s got’o do what a Stacy or an Alan’s got’o do – the moment the Stacys and Alans of the world start living their lives according to how others think they should’s the moment they may as well get in their graves.

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