ESP Cards – A Great Stocking Stuffer

I was browsing the Rhine Research Center website and I noticed again that they have ESP Cards for sale. “The set includes a box of 25 cards, a manual written by Dr. Louisa E. Rhine and a packet of standard ESP record sheets. Cost is $25.00/set includes shipping & handling. International orders please contact us first.

“Zener cards is the original name given to the ESP cards, named after the perceptual psychologist Karl Zener, a colleague of JB Rhine’s who suggested the five symbols to be used on the cards.”

If you haven’t been to the Rhine website in a while, it’s worth revisiting. The latest Rhine Newsletter is available for download, and I also learned that they plan to start live streaming their lectures and presentations.

Here is a picture from the Rhine Research Center archives of Gaither Pratt with ESP cards. I don’t know who the woman is, but if someone can identify her I will update this post.

Gaither Pratt, ESP CArds

IBM and ESP Part Two

J. B. Rhine always dreamed of building an ESP machine. In an earlier post I talked about how he first wrote IBM about it all the way back in 1938, and they were excited. “There is no question in my mind,” IBM staffer (and well-known inventor) Reynold Johnson wrote back enthusiastically, that “it would be possible to develop a machine along the lines that you outline.” Nothing ever came of it that I could find.

But in 1961, with Rhine’s help, IBM in Canada conducted an ESP test with Maclean’s, a weekly magazine, and a Canadian Broadcasting Company radio series called ESP.


A card was inserted in the July 29, 1961 issue of Maclean’s and readers were given instructions. According to letters I found between Rhine and IBM in Canada, the results were inconclusive, and the experiment was not refined or repeated. I tried to find records for the experiment. I contacted Macleans and IBM archivists, and they did their best to locate them, but it looks like nothing from this test has survived.

(You can read IBM and ESP Part One here.)


IBM and ESP Part One

One of the most fun finds I made while going through the Parapsychology Laboratory’s correspondence was a 1938 exchange between J. B. Rhine and IBM.

Rhine contacted them first. “I am writing you concerning the possibility of adapting the Test Scoring Machine which you have invented, to the purpose of research we are conducting at the Parapsychology Laboratory here in extra-sensory perception.” Rhine was always trying to refine their experiments and tighten the controls, and part of that quest was the creation of an ESP machine.

The best part in this exchange however, was the response from IBM. “There is no question in my mind,” Reynold Johnson wrote back enthusiastically, that “it would be possible to develop a machine along the lines that you outline.” Again, this was 1938.

Reynold Johnson wasn’t just any IBM employee. He had designed the test scoring machine Rhine mentioned while working as a high school science teacher, and his design was bought by IBM, who then hired him as an engineer. Johnson went on to have an amazing career, with 90 patents to his name and he has been called the “father of the disk drive. (His Wikipedia entry is worth reading, he was an interesting guy.)

“I have given some thought to the application of the Test Scoring Machine to the problem you describe,” Johnson went on, “and have made out several forms which might possibly work out for the purposes you have in mind.” A detail from one of the forms he sent is shown above.

Johnson wasn’t sure if his machine could do the trick and said, “Undoubtedly a special machine more along the lines you outlined could be developed, but a good deal more information would have to be made available to us,” and then they talked about where the funds would come from in order to pay for the development of such a machine.

In the last letter I found Johnson said he was going to take up the matter with their Engineering Department and get back to him, but I couldn’t find any more letters after that. That isn’t to say they aren’t in there. There are over 700 boxes in the Parapsychology Laboratory archives at Dukes and I didn’t go through them all.

I keep meaning to post about how much else is in there to explore. I just scratched the surface. There are still countless discoveries like this one to be made.

News and Articles

I think I have The Daily Grail to thank for bringing my attention to a British Journal of Psychiatry report that auditory hallucinations in children may be common and not a sign of mental illness.

I’ve said this before, but had science paid attention to the discoveries of Dr. Louisa Rhine we’d be fifty years ahead of where we are now on this subject! (That is Louisa Rhine in the photograph.)

I also want to link to a couple of interesting pieces. I’d love to get some feedback to this first one from some parapsychologists.

It’s an interview with Dr. Michael Persinger, and the headline reads: Neuroscience Researcher and Laurentian University professor, Dr. Michael Persinger, demonstrates telepathy under laboratory conditions.

The second is an interesting article called, Not Your Daddy’s Team: The Queer Side of the Paranormal.

The Dangers of Live TV

On Friday night, July 11, 1958, a new tv show debuted on ABC called E.S.P. The reviews were absolutely scathing. “Whatever dignity this ‘phenomenon’ has enjoyed in the past was quite brutally destroyed on the opening session of the new network show,” a Variety reviewer wrote. The New York Herald said, “It took no sixth sense to figure out that ‘ESP’ is fairly dull viewing.”

Who thought two people trying to guess the symbols on a deck of ESP cards would make exciting tv? Everyone involved, except host Vincent Price, had very limited careers after this fiasco.

Poor Vincent Price. First he took 10 minutes to laboriously explain and demonstrate everything that had been done to prevent fraud. I can’t tell what sort of deck they used exactly, because the cards were described as five sets of three cards each, and that’s not the deck designed and in use by the Parapsychology Laboratory. The contestants would then get $100 for every correct guess.

The guests were screened beforehand for ability, and Price hailed them all as has having amazing talents. According to Variety however, the contestants looked embarrassed to be there. Worse, when the game began—airing live from NYC—they failed to deliver. (Not surprising actually.) I’m don’t know how many long television minutes went by before one contestant, a 25 year old ex-Marine boxing champion named Gerald Argento, finally managed to guess three cards correctly, defeating the other contestant, Mrs. Rasie Basu, a Delhi born lawyer who worked at the United Nations, and winning the right to come back the following Friday to face another contestant.

According to an ABC press release, Argento was going to face a Manhattan secretary named Kathryn Papaelion, but I can’t find any confirmation that a second show ever aired.

ESP Games and Academic Politics

In 1939, Rhine learned that the toy company Cadaco-Ellis was planning to come out with a game called Telepathy. The creator was said to be a psychologist named Dr. Ogden Reed.

J. B. Rhine suspected and confirmed that Reed was really Dr. Louis D. Goodfellow, a Northwestern University psychologist who had been hired by the Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937 to conduct ESP tests on the radio. Rhine had been hired as a consultant for that same program, and he had had no end of trouble with Goodfellow. Rhine felt Goodfellow had not inserted sufficient controls into the experiment and had made mistakes with the math. Goodfellow was eventually let go.

Goodfellow apparently had hard feelings toward Rhine because in the pamphlet that came with the game he wrote, “Dr. Rhine’s first experiments were full of loopholes. For example, it was found that the ink with which the cards were printed caused the paper to shrink, etc.”  As far as I know, the example Goodfellow gave was untrue, and while like any experiment, problems with Rhine’s initial experiments had to be identified and addressed, Goodfellow’s bringing it up in this way does feel a little like payback.

Commander Eugene F. McDonald, the head of Zenith, was so incensed by what Goodfellow had written that he told Rhine that he should bring action against Cadaco-Ellis and that he, McDonald, would foot the bill.

Rhine, meanwhile, had written Goodfellow and asked, “Is it proper for an academic man to use a surreptitious approach (in this case, an assumed name) to avoid having to meet the responsibility for the things he is expressing?”

Goodfellow answered that the company did use “a number of my own expressions,” however the creation of a Dr. Ogden Reed was the toy company’s idea, not his. Rhine answered that he had two signed statements from people in a position to know that Goodfellow was the sole author of the statement penned by “Dr. Ogden Reed.” If they removed the controversial matter, Rhine told him, they’d have no problem, “poor as its design really is” for telepathy. But if they released the game as is, they’d “take steps to bring you out in full light as author of an underhand attack and as party to setting up a fake “authority” as a psychologist.”

I found one funny letter referencing this incident from Robert H. Gault, a colleague of Goodfellow’s at Northwestern. Gault wrote McDonald: “Rhine and Goodfellow keep me supplied with carbon copies of their love letters. I’m not surprised that R. is up on his ear. Between you and me and the gate post, I don’t care what kind of spanking he administers to G. The latter is an excellent technical man in the laboratory and in that capacity he is useful to me. But in some other respects he is a damn fool … I’m telling him after today that hereafter I want to know what he is about, provided it is something that by any chance could affect relations outside the laboratory.” Gault went on to write books about criminology.

I found the picture of the Telepathy game on The picture to the left is Zenith president Eugene McDonald.

While I was looking for the picture of the Cadaco-Ellis game I came across this modern telepathy game. And this one pictured below from Milton Bradley.

And speaking of telepathy games, I happened to be researching patents a few weeks ago (about something unrelated to anything paranormal) and came across a 1984 patent for a “psychic connection game.” It was developed by Laurie G. Larwood, who, if I’m googling properly, was an organizational psychologist.

From the abstract:

A game for evaluation and development of various psychic abilities between its participants. Objects are furnished which include bi-valued dimensional attributes, such as rough-smooth, solid-hollow, or heads-tails. A player concentrates on a chosen attribute and attempts to either transmit, receive, block, predict, or influence a given valued condition.

A gameboard is provided on which a player’s successes are marked by position of his player-piece or counter on the board. Counter positions are marked with the chance probability of reaching a given position from a start position in a given number of moves. Board layout is such that if the incidence of successes is greater than that expected by random chance alone, counters are moved toward another player, thereby establishing a higher degree of psychic connectivity.

This is one of the drawings that was filed with the patent.


The Sacred Mushroom

On January 24, 1961, the TV show One Step Beyond aired an episode about ESP and psychedelics which is available on YouTube. I loved hearing the One Step Beyond theme music, and host John Newland using his Ooh-I-Am-Saying-Something-Scary-voice to speak about an area that is actually pretty straightforward and not particularly spooky as unexplored (by science, then).

I referred to this episode in Unbelievable because the lab experimented briefly with synthetic hallucinogens and because two of the people who appear on the show are also part of the story I tell. They are Dr. Barbara B. Brown from the University of California and Riker Laboratories (who would become famous in the 1970’s for her research in biofeedback) and Andrija Puharich, a scientist Rhine never warmed up to.

On the show they conducted a couple experiments with hallucinogenic mushrooms. First a small group of subjects ate the mushrooms and they reported what happened, and later host John Newland took mushrooms and Puharich administered ESP tests.

It’s pretty astounding to watch, considering how things have tightened up since!