The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff

I wanted to post about this book even though I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I just know that I’m not going to be able to get to it for a while and I wanted to let people know about it in the meantime because it sounds really clever to me.

It’s a work of fiction that uses the former Duke Parapsychology Lab as a jumping off point. Interesting, right? Here is what Publisher’s Weekly said:

“Sokoloff keeps her story enticingly ambiguous, never clarifying until the climax whether the unfolding weirdness might be the result of the investigators’ psychic sensitivities or the mischievous handiwork of a human villain.”

The book is centered around a fictional poltergeist case from 1965. If you go to her website here you can read an excerpt.

Dr. Arthur Holly Compton

On June 21, 1937, J. B. Rhine wrote Dr. William McDougall, the head of the Duke Psychology Department: “I had a talk yesterday with Arthur Compton, the Nobel physicist from the University of Chicago. He is agreed that no physical theory is applicable, and he is frankly inclined toward a non-physical mode of causation. The friend I have made at Princeton who knows Einstein asked him if he had any theory or way of approach which would make clairvoyance reasonable. He replied in the negative.”

So I knew that Compton was a Nobel Laureate, but there are actually a number of letters to and from Nobel Laureates in the Parapsychology Lab archives at Duke. I guess I was spoiled! I made a note to myself to keep a look-out for letters to and from him and found and copied a few, but I didn’t look as hard as I should have.

Rhine wrote the following about Compton on April 16, 1947. “My only fear about him is that he has too far compartmentalized his thinking so as to be uncritical in dealing with problems that border on religious thinking. From what Eddy tells me he must be pretty uncritical in his deals with mediumship. [Eddy was Sherwood Eddy, the Protestant missionary and author, and someone who Rhine thought of as far too credulous] I have heard other reports leading to the same conclusion. Nevertheless, I think it would certainly be worthwhile to approach him and find out just what his attitude is. I have met him a couple of times …”

They met again in May, 1947 and Rhine’s fears were put to rest. Rhine had heard that Compton had been sitting with mediums, but Compton told him that he’d been asked to take part in a few sittings, and he had, but it wasn’t something he planned to pursue. Rhine happily (and a little triumphantly) wrote Eddy that Compton’s interest in mediums was incidental. “I found that he has a broad-minded and generous scholarly interest in parapsychological investigation. It is an interest that goes back to his undergraduate days. I was greatly pleased to know that this firmly entrenched interest exists in the mind of a man of such high scientific attainment.”

And Compton wrote about Rhine on August 9, 1947. “Altogether, it is my impression that Rhine is the most able investigator of parapsychological phenomena in this country. As you are well aware, it is difficult for an investigator of this field to retain the scientific support of his colleagues. On inquiry within our own Department of Psychology at Washington University, [where Compton was the Chancellor of the University] I find that Rhine, although he has had some difficulties, has been able to maintain the respect of other psychologists for the work he is doing.”

To Rhine he wrote on the same day, “I find great interest in your article on The Relation Between Psychology and Religion [referring to an article Rhine wrote with that title]. I hope to discuss some of the points with you if opportunity arises.” (Compton was a very religious man.)

Here is a Compton bio from the NASA website (where I got the picture of him above):

American physicist Arthur Holly Compton was one of the pioneers of high-energy physics. In 1927 he received the Nobel prize in physics for his definitive study of the scattering of high-energy photons by electrons which became known as the Compton Effect. This work was recognized as an experimental proof that electromagnetic radiation possessed both wave-like and particle-like properties and laid a foundation for the new “quantum” physics. All the experiments onboard the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory rely on the detailed knowledge of the interaction of high-energy gamma-rays with matter that Compton first described.

Pat Marquis, J. B. Rhine and Charlie Chaplin

In July, 1936 Rhine went to California to investigate Pat Marquis, a 12-year-old boy who had been wowing everyone with his ESP abilities. Two years before the boy had gone into a trance and Napeji, an 11th century Persian, emerged. This was very reminiscent of Abdul Latif, the spirit of a seventeenth century Persian physician who sometimes appeared when medium Eileen Garrett went into a trance. Rhine had begun testing with Eileen Garrett in 1934.

So whenever Pat went into a trance, Napeji would take over, and while blindfolded, the boy/Napeji could supposedly tell you which cards had been picked from a deck, walk around, play pool and so on. Rhine traveled 3,000 miles only to show them that the boy had actually been peaking down his nose through the blindfold. “… I had the physicians blindfold me in the various ways the boy had been blindfolded,” Rhine wrote Mrs. Bolton, one of their contributors, “and I showed them to their satisfaction that I too could find my way about pretty well and could tell them how many fingers they held up, etc.“ (More below.)


Rhine had a talk with Dr. Cecil Reynolds, the physician who had been managing the boy, and as far as Rhine was concerned, it all ended well. “… we managed to settle the whole thing in the most friendly and non-incriminating fashion,” he wrote Bolton, “and I left with the understanding that the Napeji personality (an ancient Persian) was not to be evoked again and the lad was to discontinue his pranks.”

I like that Rhine was never out to embarrass or humiliate anyone and always gave them the opportunity to just quietly stop and go away. He didn’t like to play the part of the debunker. Nevermind all the people already providing that service, he also wrote later, “I found that exposing these people did not put them out of business …” And that is just what happened here. Reynolds and the boy continued to put on performances and in April, 1937 Life Magazine did an article about Marquis.

Rhine wrote Bolton again. She must have asked why he didn’t go public with what he had found and Rhine had to explain. “It is not my policy to call anyone a fake,” he wrote, “and above all I regard it as bad taste to make such statements in public. The old physician in charge of the boy [Reynolds], when he saw through the whole case with me, agreed that it should not go on any longer, as did the boy himself. On my part I assured them that I had no intention of publishing anything on the case. I never have and do not intend to. Mr. Lewis Browne’s letter to the magazine LIFE, which was written after Dr. Reynold’s broke his agreement with me and published more claims for the boy (perhaps under the influence of the boy’s mother, who, a divorcee, was living in the same house as the divorced doctor at the time), was written without any knowledge or consent on my part …”
Lewis Browne must have made erroneous claims about either Rhine’s connection to the case, or his assessment. I still have to look up that letter to the editor. But I started looking into Dr. Reynolds. It turns out Reynolds was well known in the Los Angeles area. For almost two decades he regularly testified at some of the biggest criminal cases in California. Typically big murder cases that are forgotten now, but were front page news for months at the time. Like Marion Parker, the 12 year old daughter of a Los Angeles Banker who was abducted and dismembered in 1927 by William Hickman. Reynolds was usually called to testify about whether or not an alleged murderer was sane. Reynolds also had a history of being interested in the paranormal.

From here I found lots of interesting connections.

Reynolds was a close friend of Charlie Chaplin and he was also Chaplin’s personal physician. The doctor even had a bit part in Modern Times playing a minister. I think Reynolds must have been a bit stage-struck—he once worked as an un-credited medical consultant for the movie Frankenstein. Another interesting connection: apparently Chaplin invited Reynolds to be there when Einstein came to Chaplin’s house in 1931. Einstein was out West visiting the Mount Wilson Observatory where scientists had found evidence of cosmic background radiation, the first real proof that the universe was expanding. During this same visit out West Einstein attended a seance at Upton Sinclair’s house (I wrote about this in Unbelievable).

J. B. Rhine, who was a good friend of Upton Sinclair’s, had been introduced to Charlie Chaplin by Sinclair and had visited with Chaplain a number of times when he was out West. (Rhine also corresponded with Einstein.) On one occasion Chaplin showed Rhine a film he had of Pat Marquis.

Rhine’s description of another visit with Chaplin made me smile when I tried to imagine it. “When I was in Hollywood,” Rhine wrote, “Charlie Chaplin showed me a picture which he had taken in Bali and told me of another much better one which he offered to obtain for me from Singapore, picturing some of the religious ceremonial phenomena of self-torturing and allied behavior.” I could just see Rhine doing his best to say in the politest way possible, “no thank you.” (Rhine was on the conservative/straight-laced side, although I found exceptions to this which perhaps should be another post!)

Lewis Browne, who was mentioned in Rhine’s letter to Bolton, was a writer and part of Chaplin’s circle of friends, along with Hamlin Garland, another writer who was also very seriously interested in paranormal phenomena and who had met with Eileen Garrett during her first visit to the states in 1931. Rhine was introduced to Garland by Charlie Chaplin and Garland was the only one Rhine really kept in touch with out of this crew. I found a numbers of letters to and from Garland in the Special Collections Library at Duke.

Finally, I found out that Dr. Reynolds also met with Eileen Garrett during her 1931 visit. So Reynolds knew all about Eileen’s trances and her Persian spirit guide and could have either told those stories to Marquis or worse, coached him with them.

The first picture is of Pat Marquis from the April 19, 1937 issue of Life. The second picture is of Dr. Reynolds and I got it from Notables of the West, Press Reference Library (Western edition). I don’t think I need to identify the last picture!

Photographs from the Cat Experiments

In the early 1950’s, while he was working at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory, Dr. Karlis Osis conducted two experiments with cats.  I didn’t study these experiments, and what I know of them I got from Gaither Pratt’s book, Parapsychology: An Insider’s View of ESP. In the first experiment, the cat was offered two “equally attractive food pans,” while the experimenter, “screened from the cat’s sight, decided on some random basis which should be the ‘correct’ pan for each trial.”  (More below.)


The experimenter (Osis) “concentrated upon having the cat make the same choice.” The results were “not spectacular,” but still better than chance. The problem was Osis couldn’t say whether it was ESP in the cats or “some essential psi element which the experimenter was contributing to the man-cat relationship.”

So they (Osis and Esther Bond) set up a second experiment, and this time neither experimenter knew the correct choice. One pan had food and one didn’t. A fan was installed to blow the scent of the food away. This experiment didn’t provide striking results either, in fact even less than the first experiment, but there was some evidence of ESP.

Not to be critical, but these experiments sound pretty crude today. I imagine better experiments could be conducted now. Rupert Sheldrake has done a lot of work with animals, which he has written about in his book, Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, And Other Unexplained Powers of Animals (1999).

Charles Ozanne, the Parapsychology Lab and the Psychical Research Foundation

I originally had a lot more in the book about one of the lab’s contributors, a retired history teacher from Cleveland, Ohio, named Charles Ozanne.

For a long time Ozanne was glad to give money to the lab. He was looking for a purpose in life and he was drawn to parapsychology and the survival question. Like Rhine and John Thomas before him, Ozanne had sittings with the medium Mrs. Soule. Ozanne had been close with his mother and the sittings with Mrs. Soule were in order to communicate with her. But he often wrote Rhine about how the medium only got in the way of his connection to her. “Those who communicate, communicate enveloped, as it were, in the atmosphere of the medium’s personality.” How frustrated the dead must feel, Ozanne believed, at not being able to communicate more directly. One day, however, when Mrs. Soule was coming out of her trance, “there burst through with almost explosive emotion, the words, ‘My boy!’” Ozanne wrote Rhine. It was because his mother’s need to speak to him directly was so strong, he believed, that for a second she came through. “… just as when electric voltage gets high enough the electric spark leaps over the intervening distance, so the direct emotion broke through the usual mechanisms and expressed itself in that outburst.”

Ozanne was excited by the papers they’d started publishing in the forties about psychokinesis (aka PK). His mother had once communicated to him through a medium that it was “easy to influence the mind, but hard to move the hand.” In other words, PK was hard. Ozanne thought Thomas Edison’s attempt at building a machine to communicate with the dead indicated that Edison agreed with his dead mother. According to Ozanne, Edison thought that if spirits existed, they “could exercise some slight power over matter, but very slight indeed; so he devoted himself to construction of a machine that could be moved with an almost incredibly small expenditure of energy. That is exactly in line with your PK effect.”

Then, in 1952 Charles Ozanne moved to Durham to be closer to their work. The last remaining relative that he was close to had died, and he was now 85 years old. At loose ends at the twilight of his life, Ozanne came to live out his last years where he felt his contributions were making a difference. “The giving that you make possible for me I consider and opportunity and a privilege,” he wrote. The problem was he wanted that contribution applied much more directly to finding proof of life after death. Moving to Durham only brought nearer the conflict that had always dogged his relationship with Rhine.  (More below …)


Two years after moving to Durham Ozanne made a list of every contribution he had ever made to the Lab since 1936 and confronted J. B. Rhine. He’d given them just under $47,000.00, which would be worth $324,000.00 in 2005. And for what, he asked. Survival “is the very core of my life and the one supreme thing that I am working on with every power of my being,” he wrote. “Yet so far as I can see, at no time did you make any serious effort to understand it.”

All Ozanne wanted was some shred of proof that the messages he believed were from his dead mother were, in fact, real. “You want science to come to the aid of this belief,” Rhine responded, arguing that Ozanne’s difference was not “with me, but with the scientific standards to which I, along with thousands of others, are devoted.” But Ozanne became convinced that only Rhine’s stubbornness stood between him and his ability to fully embrace immortality. He wrote back in anguish, “You stand with your armed guard beside the Pearly Gates to see that nobody gets in without the proper scientific uniform on!”

Rhine invited him and anyone else to “go over the record of the past twenty-five years and see what great thing there was which we ought to have seen how to do and ought to have done which we did not do.” And “to come forth with a just appraisal of our efforts to find evidence of the spirit world you firmly believe exists and show wherein we have been neglecting our opportunities to discover and record important evidence.” On another occasion he said, “We are not addicted or limited to experiment, or statistics, we are searching for new ways, or old ones we had forgotten,” but they weren’t having much luck. Rhine repeatedly suggested that Ozanne might be happier if he contributed his money elsewhere, but as frustrated as Ozanne was with Rhine he had the most faith and trust in him and the Parapsychology Lab.

But the complaints continued and eventually Rhine just couldn’t continue to take Ozanne’s money when he wanted it spent so differently. He wrote Ozanne and listed a half a dozen capable people Ozanne could give his money to instead. He also suggested setting up an endowed survival research project within the university, and recognizing Ozanne’s disappointment with him over the survival issue, Rhine said it was best to leave him out of it.

On New Year’s Eve, 1959, Ozanne arranged to have the funds he had given to Duke moved into the newly established Psychical Research Foundation, Inc. in order to support the Survival Research Project (the Foundation would be formally established the following summer). Duke University was now disinclined to be involved with a project that was so unambiguously about life after death, and so the Foundation and the project were run independently of the university. (Although later they became “a sponsored program” within the Duke Department of Electrical Engineering, because of their work with Electrical Engineering professors John Artley and William Joines, and the interest in psi by the Electrical Engineering Dean at the time, Dr. Alexander Vesic.) Bill Roll was made the project director, and Gaither Pratt was appointed as the head the board of directors.

Ozanne, who would be turning 95 in 1960, finally had what he always wanted. Every last cent of his money would be devoted to research on post-mortem survival and nothing else. They’d investigate mediums, families of mediums, hypnotism, reincarnation, and poltergeists. The pearly gates between life and death were open to everything he always thought was possible. Ozanne was exhilarated and Rhine was relieved. “If any more potential donors appear over the horizon, I’m about ready to pop them off with a shotgun before they get near the Lab,” Louie wrote that year.

Charles Ozanne died on April, 5, at 95 years old, just a few months after establishing the Psychical Research Foundation. He must have felt that his dreams of answering the survival question were finally within reach, and then he was gone.

(The first picture is of Charles Ozanne, the second is Rhine conducting a PK test with dice.)

Dr. Charles Tart is Blogging!

Obviously I’m a fan of blogs, they’re just more dynamic than websites and I love to reading what’s on the minds of people I admire and enjoy and, hopefully, getting an occasional personal glimpse into their lives. From Dr. Tart:

“Too many people in modern life suffer uselessly by denying and repressing their spiritual desires and experiences because they think science has proven that all spirituality is nonsense or crazy.  This book is intended to help them by showing that, using the best kind of science in the field of parapsychology, this materialistic denial of the spiritual is not actually scientific, it’s a dogmatic denial that’s factually wrong, based on a rigid, dismissive philosophy of materialism.  People sometimes show the kinds of qualities we would expect a spiritual being to have when tested in the best kinds of scientific studies.”


He’s talking about his new book, The End of Materialism: How Evidence of the Paranormal Is Bringing Science and Spirit Together.

And, he just started a new blog. For those of you who are not familiar with Dr. Tart, he is “known for his psychological work on the nature of consciousness, particularly altered states of consciousness, as one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology, and for his research in parapsychology. His two classic books, Altered States of Consciousness (1969) and Transpersonal Psychologies (1975), were widely used texts that were instrumental in allowing these areas to become part of modern psychology.

He is a Core Faculty Member at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology … and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the Davis campus of the University of California. He consulted on the original remote viewing research at SRI, where some of his work was important in influencing government policy makers against the deployment of the multi-billion dollar MX missile system.” (I edited that from his online bio.)

Win a Copy of Unbelievable

I took some pictures of the ESP machines at the Rhine ESP/Parapsychology Museum at the Rhine Research Center and I can’t find all my notes!  So I was thinking, that would be a little embarrassing, not being able to properly identify what they are.  And that’s when I decided to make a contest out of it.

I will send a signed copy of my book to the first person who can explain what one or both of these machines are testing exactly and how!  (If one person explains Machine 1 and a different person explains Machine 2, I will send a copy to each.)

Machine 1


Machine 2