Louisa Rhine

April 27th, 2009 Posted in People in Parapsychology


People often had mixed feelings about J. B. Rhine, but as far as I could tell everyone loved Louisa, or Louie, as she was called.  I think I failed Louie in my book.  She doesn’t loom large enough.  She was a key figure in the struggle for parapsychology and frequently ahead of her time.  I point out several times in the book where some ideas generally accepted today actually originated with her (and I’m not just talking about ideas in the field of parapsychology).

This one always intrigued me:  “I thought that mind should be supreme in the universe and matter somehow an attribute or expression of it.”  She wrote that in the early 1980’s about her thinking before 1920.  I don’t know when this idea was first proposed, but I hear people say this more and more now, and always with the sense that they are saying something radical.

It seemed everything about her was brave and intellectually independent.  She got her Ph.D in 1923, which was extremely unusual for a woman at the time, and I gotta believe especially unusual for someone from her relatively rural background.

I always loved what Louie wrote her mother when her parents expressed their displeasure about her investigations into parapsychology.  

“You or Dad didn’t mind if I found sufficient proof to allow me to believe the electron theory of matter … if the same cold judgment of fact leads me to believe there is a possibility of definitely proving there is life beyond, instead of piously believing it all my life, or infidel-like disbelieving it, I should think you’d grant that it is at least a worthy task …” 

Look at what she said.  She’s pointing out that both sides were operating more on faith than fact.  But Louie always remained objective.  About seances, she wrote that “in them we found no evidence on which to feed our interest and only what seemed to us to be gullibility, suggestion, wishful thinking. We soon gave up the effort as unprofitable and a waste of time.”

Louie was a product of her time in that she always stood a little behind J. B.  Perhaps her accomplishments wouldn’t be all that different, I really don’t see much evidence that she was intellectually repressed either by J.B. or her time, but still I wonder how much further she might have gone if she had lived, well, now.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Louisa Rhine”

  2. By Nancy Zingrone on Jun 10, 2009

    This is my absolute favorite photo of Louie. When I first got to the Rhine in December of 1982, she was still there. (She died in 1983 shortly after finishing her biography of herself and J. B., Something Hidden.) She would come in on a cane, I think, sit down in the last spot by the door at the conference table in the old library on Buchanan. She didn’t say much but when she did comment, most of her comments centered on methodology and statistics and the experiments they had done in the old days that were relevant to what we were doing then. (This in her 90s.) We had our meetings on Thursday and I think she died on a Tuesday. (I went to a memorial for J.B. in 1980 and it was held in the Duke Chapel and very very few people came: lots came to the conference on his work the next Fall, but they stayed away from his memorial service. Louie’s service was in the chapel in the Div School at Duke and it was full, the corridor outside was full, the stairwell was full down to the first floor, the windows were open for all the people standing on the lawn. Louie was LOVED, by her family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. J. B. was a very mixed bag for everybody who knew him, I think.) The next Thursday meeting at the Rhine that we had after the funeral, nobody wanted to go into the library, and once in nobody wanted to sit down. We were all standing there, the lab staff, unable to move, thinking about Louie when Sally Feather, Louie and J.B.’s daughter came in. She hesitated and good psychologist that she is, she stepped forward and sat down in her mother’s chair. Then everybody breathed a sigh of relief and took their seats. Sorely missed! And still …

  3. By Martin Potter on Jan 12, 2013

    I have a signed First Edition of Mind Over Matter Psychokinesis by Louisa E Rhine Published by The Macmillan Co in 1970 regrettably without dust jacket. Inerested then please contact me.

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