Helmut Schmidt, Rest in Peace.

I only just learned that Helmut Schmidt, a German parapsychologist I’d researched, died on August 18, 2011. How sad that I heard about this two years after the fact. From my book:

Many years later [I was writing about the 1940’s] Helmut Schmidt, a German physicist who worked at Boeing’s research laboratory, and later for Rhine, would develop a PK experiment involving a device called a random number generator. Using the process of radioactive decay to randomly illuminate a circle of lights, subjects were asked to influence which direction the lights lit. The results were so impressive that when referring to later versions of this test, scientist and skeptic Carl Sagan would grudgingly concede that “by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers,” unable to resist pointing out that modern PK tests, like the telepathy tests, indicated a weak effect, as if weak effects are trivial or unimportant. The effect of aspirin in reducing hearts attacks is even weaker, but nonetheless life-saving. The fact that the effect of PK is weak does not in itself diminish its significance.

Schmidt’s time working for J. B. Rhine was not a happy one alas, and when I tried to talk to him about it he told me he found the memories so hurtful he didn’t want to discuss it. I do know that he later reconnected with one of Rhine’s daughters. I believe through her the wounds were healed.

That is Helmut Schmidt in the photograph below. From the caption that came with the photograph:

A recent development in the testing of precognition is the electronic machine shown.  It emphasizes elements of fun and challenge to prevent build-up of emotional blocking mechanisms in the subject.  The four lamps of different colors light up in different sequence: The subjects task is to predict which one will light next and push the corresponding button.  The machine uses single quantum processes which may form nature’s most elementary source of randomness.  And electronic counter that counts (at a rate of 10 to the 6th power per second) in the sequence 1,2,3,4  1…is stopped at the random time when an electron emitted by a radioactive source (strontium 90).

This machine and others is on display at the Museum at the Rhine Research Center.
Helmut Schmidt, Random Number Generator

EVP Experiment at the Rhine Research Center

This call for volunteers came in my email:

“The Rhine Research Center is looking for a number of participants to take part in a study on “electronic voice phenomena” (voice-like sounds that can be heard on audio recordings (such as recordings made on tape-recorders or digital voice recorders) that were not heard at the time that the recording was made). The study is taking place at the Rhine Research Center in Durham and will run for the next few weeks. The study comprises filling out a questionnaire and listening to a series of examples of EVPs and noting down what you hear (this part takes approximately 30 minutes). If you take part, you would also receive a small payment ($6) to thank you for your time.”

“The study takes place at the Rhine, on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons, and last about 1 hour. If you would like to participate in this study, please contact Susan@rhine.org for more information.”

The picture is of Attila von Szalay, an early EVP investigator.

Jessica Utts Lecture

I came across this lecture given last year by statistician Jessica Utts (Department of Statistics, University of California, Irvine) titled: The strength of evidence versus the power of belief: Are we all Bayesians?

From the description on the page for this lecture:

“Although statisticians have the job of making conclusions based on data, for many questions in science and society prior beliefs are strong and may take precedence over data when people make decisions. For other questions, there are experts who could shed light on the situation that may not be captured with available data. One of the appealing aspects of Bayesian statistics is that the methods allow prior beliefs and expert knowledge to be incorporated into the analysis along with the data.

“One domain where beliefs are almost sure to have a role is in the evaluation of scientific data for extrasensory perception (ESP). Experiments to test ESP often are binomial, and they have a clear null hypothesis, so they are an excellent way to illustrate hypothesis testing. Incorporating beliefs makes them an excellent example for the use of Bayesian analysis as well. In this paper, data from one type of ESP study are analyzed using both frequentist and Bayesian methods.”

From that description it sounded kinda scary and that the lecture would go over my head, but I’m listening to it now and I’m able to follow it. Utts is explaining everything very simply and clearly—I have to believe she’s speaking with the idea that people like myself might be in the audience.

Ted Serios

I don’t really know a lot about Ted Serios. He was said to be able make images appear on Polaroid film by using his mind. He called them “thoughtographs.” Gaither Pratt, a scientist formerly associated with the Duke Parapsychology Lab, tried to replicate the phenomenon under controlled conditions at the University of Virginia, but ultimately was unable to do so (Exploratory Investigations of the Psychic Ted Serios, 1967).

Serios had to get a little drunk in order to function and it was funny to read Gaither write about something like this in a sober, serious and professional manner. “A session would begin with Ted imbibing a portion of alcohol in the form of a beer or dry martinis until he felt he was ready to begin ‘shooting’ … Sessions usually continued until about fifty or more trials had been made. A session ended when we felt that Ted was too intoxicated to continue …”

Serios and Pratt couldn’t be more different but they liked each other. Ian Stevenson, the co-author of the paper, described Serios as “the most lovable subject with whom we had ever worked …” and when Gaither died, “Ted wrote me a touching letter about him.” I’d love to see this letter.

There’s a wonderful video of an experiment with Ted Serios on YouTube.  The picture is a screen grab from this video.  For more information, Michael Prescott has an informative post here.

Td Serios

The Medium Who Committed Suicide

I had intended to write about Ted Serios, the man who was said to be able to take pictures with his mind. But while reading through some 1962 letters about Serios between Dr. J. B. Rhine and Pauline Oehler, who had written an article about Serios for Fate Magazine that year, I got side-tracked by a reference to a medium who killed herself in 1911, and the man who had conducted experiments with her the year before, Dr. Tomokichi Fukurai.

Thank heaven for Google and the internet! The medium was a young woman named Chizuko Mifune and Fukurai wrote about the experiments (and others) in a 1931 book titled Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. I didn’t read the whole book, but they were basically ESP card experiments. Could Chizuko tell what characters were on the cards without seeing them? Fukurai reported that she could at first, but then her abilities declined. There was talk of cheating and scientists became skeptical about all her results. At around this time her sister developed abilities. On January 18th Chizuko killed by taking poison. She was only 24 years old.

Kyohei Iseri, her former school principle and the one who introduced Chizuko to Dr. Fukurai, wrote to Fukurai afterwards. He mentioned that Chizuko’s sister had become clairvoyant, hinting that this was an issue, and that Chizuko’s reaction was, ‘I have now become of no use of the world.’

“She looked very pitiful and I solaced her with all my heart. She confessed: ‘I feel it already hard to read a card in a single envelope …’”


Fukurai talks about her death in the book, and says it could be due in part to “family affairs,” without explaining what those were, and the fact that she was losing her abilities. He also writes a little about her psychological history, saying she was sensitive and temperamental, had trouble sleeping, and perhaps she had an eating disorder, but he downplays one symptom that I found very interesting.

“She began to hear singing in the ears since about twelve years of age, and this became continuous.  She was, however, fond of music by nature, and, especially after the clairvoyant force appeared, she began to enjoy herself by playing the koto, a Japanese instrument.  She did not find it so difficult to hear music as to hear others talking.”

I’m currently researching a book about singing and the composer Robert Schumann had a similar disorder and it worsened. It drove him crazy and he ultimately tried to kill himself as well, but he didn’t succeed and he was committed voluntarily to an asylum which he never left.


Chizuko Mifune’s story is a sad one. But apparently she has captured the imagination of the Japanese public. According to Wikipedia, “Chizuko Mifune has recently grabbed the attention of Japanese horror filmmakers and has in some way been acknowledged in such films as Yogen and Ringu.” She has also been the inspiration for various Japanese novels and anime, I’ve read.

In 1919, as a result of his work, Fukurai was forced to resign from the Imperial University of Tokyo, but he continued to study psychic phenomena, and he died in 1953.

“Yes, it is too bad about Professor Fukurai,” Rhine wrote in one of the letters to Oehler. “The poor man was not very careful. I have had several inquiries made about him and what he left. Friends have visited his institute. Had he been more of a scientist he might have made great headway for parapsychology in the Japanese culture, which is much more favorable than ours. But then, too, he might not have found what he claims to have found had he been more careful. Who can tell?”

Dr. Michael Persinger

There’s a relatively recent interview at the Scientific Paranormal Investigative Research Information website with Dr. Michael Persinger, a cognitive neuroscience researcher at Laurentian University.

Persinger has been doing some interesting work over the years. There’s a series of lectures of his on the topic of Psychotropic Drugs and the Nature of Consciousness on YouTube, beginning here [the video has since been removed].

I wish I could have taken his class!

Persinger appears briefly in my book. At one point Persinger noticed that areas associated with hauntings tended to be “electromagnetically noisy,” and he did some research in this area. From my book:

When asked if there was any possibility that the EMF fluctuations in the field might represent an intelligent presence, Persinger answered, “Stan Koren and I wrote a chapter for Houran and Lange (Hauntings and Poltergeists, 2001) where we discuss the possibility that configured magnetic flux lines within a small space (such as the luminosities seen in haunt and in ghost light areas) might have the energy density, intraspatial complexity (e.g., similar to trillions of synapses in the human brain) and timing to allow “intelligence” to emerge, at least transiently. Of course this intelligence could be suspended, just like ours when we enter deep sleep at night, only to return when the functional reconfiguration occurs again. This is a hypothesis well worth pursuing.” In an earlier paper he wrote, “there is some evidence that some paranormal experiences may be transformations of information not normally accessible.” The answer appears to be “maybe.” A fleeting apparition might simply be an intermittent signal or information, available only to those with the proper tuning or filtering mechanism.