Shirley Jackson and J. B. Rhine

March 5th, 2009 Posted in Parapsychology and Popular Culture

The end of this passage from my book sounds very melodramatic, I know, but if you read the book and see what happens next, I think you’ll agree that I did not over-state it.  I’m describing an example of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory work filtering out into art and popular culture:

A main character in Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House, Theodora, is portrayed as a Hubert Pearce ESP card-guessing star [Hubert Pearce was one of the lab’s star subjects]. “The name of Theodora shone in the records of the laboratory,” one passage reads.  But in the next sentence Jackson writes, “perhaps the wakened knowledge in Theodora which told her the names of symbols on cards held out of sight urged her on her way toward Hill House …” implying greater ESP abilities than had been so far demonstrated.  It was a leap into magical ESP territory, indicating that Shirley Jackson and the general public didn’t really understand what ESP was or what it could do, a misunderstanding that would soon have tragic consequences.

By the way, I learned that Rhine was offered a huge amount of money from the people promoting the 1963 movie version of the book, if they could film him saying at the beginning of the movie that these were like the kinds of things they studied at the Duke Laboratory.  Rhine refused. 

I found this clip from the movie on YouTube.  The main character, a scientist named Dr. John Markway, is explaining psychokinesis.  I wonder how many time paranormal investigators were portrayed as scientists before Rhine and the Duke Parapsychology Lab?

[Video removed because the link no longer works.]

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