Extrasensory Perception

Well, there's Rhine. I spent a day with Rhine at Duke University at the meeting of the American Chemical Society, probably about 1934. Rhine had published a book and I'll just tell you a few things. First of all, I went in and told Rhine these things. I told him the whole story. I said these things (Table I) are the characteristics of those things that are’t so. They are all characteristics of your thing too. (Laughter) He said, ”I wish you'd publish that. I'd love to have you publish it. That would stir up an awful lot of interest." He said, "I'd have more graduate students. We ought to have more graduate students. This thing is so important that we should have more people realize its importance. This should be one of the biggest departments in the university."

Well, I won't tell you the whole story with Rhine, because I talked with him all day. He uses cards which you guess at by turning over. You have extra-sensory perception. You have 25 cards and you deal them out face down, or one person looks at them, and the other person on the other side of the screen looks at them and you read his mind. The other thing is for nobody to know what the cards are, in which case they are turned over without anybody looking at them. You record them and then you look them up and see if they check and that's telepathy, or clairvoyance rather. Telepathy is when you can read another person's mind.

Now a later form of the thing would be for you to decide now and write down what the cards are going (p.9) to be when they are shuffled tomorrow. That works too. (Laughter)

All of these things are nice examples where the magnitude of the effect is entirely independent of magnitude of the cause. That is, the experiments worked just as well where the shuffling is to be done tomorrow as when it was done some time ago. It doesn't make any difference in the results. There is no appreciable difference between clairvoyance and telepathy. Although, if you try to think of the mechanisms of the two, it should be quite different. In order to get the cards to telegraph you all the infor-mation that's in them as to how they are arranged, and so on, when they are stacked up on top of each other and to have it given in the right sequence, it is rather difficult to think of a mechanism. On the other hand, it is conceivable that there may be some sort of mechanism in the brain that might send out some sort of unknown messages that could be picked up by some other brain. That's a different order of magnitude. A different order of difficulty. But they were all the same from Rhine's point of view.

Well, now, the little things that I have are these. There are many more I could give you. Rhine said being in quite a philosophical mood, "It's funny how the mind tries to trick you." He said, "People don't like these experiments. I've had millions of these cases where the average is about 7 out of 25." You'd expect 5 out of 25 to come right by chance and on the grand average they come out, oh, out of millions, or hundreds of millions of cases, they average around 7. Well, to get 7 out of 25 would be a common enough occurrence but if you take a large number and you get 7, well you doubt the statistics or the statistical application or, above all, what I think of and I want to give you reasons for thinking, is the rejection of a small percentage of the data.

I'll go first, before I get into what Rhine said, and say this: David Langmuir, a nephew of mine, who was in the Atomic Energy Commission, when he was with the Radio Corporation of America a few years ago, he and a group of other young men thought they would like to check up Rhine's work so they got some cards and they spent many evenings together finding how these cards turned up and they got well above 5. They began to get quite excited about it and they kept on, and they kept on, and they were right on the point of writing Rhine about the thing. And they kept on a little longer and things began to fall off, and fall off a little more, and they fell off a little more. And after many, many, many days, they fell down to an average of five--grand average--so they didn't write to Rhine. Now if Rhine had received that information, that this reputable body of men had gone ahead and gotten a value of 8 or 9 or 10 after so many trials, why he would have put it in his book How much of that sort of thing, when you are fed information of that sort by people who are interested--how are you going to weigh the things that are published in the book?

Now an illustration of how it works is this. He told me that, "People don't like me,” he said "I took a lot of cards and sealed them up in envelopes and I put a code number on the outside, and I didn't trust anybody to know that code. Nobody!"

(A section of the speech is missing at this point. It evidently described some tests that gave scores below 5. ) "... the idea of having this thing sealed up in the cards as though I didn’t trust them, and therefore to spite me they made it purposely low."

"Well," I said, "that's interesting--interesting a lot, because you said that you'd published a summary of all of the data that you had. And it comes out to be 7. It is now within your power to take a larger percentage including those cards that are sealed up in those envelopes which could bring the whole thing back down to five. Would you do that?

"Of course not,” he said. "That would be dishonest. "

"Why would it be dishonest?"

"The low scores are just as significant as the high ones, aren't they? They proved that there's something there just as much, and therefore it wouldn't be fair. "

I said, "Are you going to count them, are you going to reverse the sign and count them, or count them as credits?"

"No, No," he said.

I said, "What have you done with them? Are they in your book?"


"Why, I thought you said that all your values were in your book. Why haven't you put those in?"

"Well," he said, "I haven't had time to work them up."

"Well, you know all the results, you told me the results. "

"Well," he said, "I don't give the results out until I've had time to digest them."

I said, "How many of these things have you?” He showed me filing cabinets--a whole row of them. Maybe hundreds of thousands of cards. He has a filing cabinet that contained nothing but these things that were done in sealed up envelopes. And they were the ones that gave the average of five.

Well, we'll let it stand at that. A year or so later, he published a new volume of his book. In that, there's a chapter on the sealed up cards in the (p.10) envelopes and they all come up to around seven. And nothing is said about the fact that for a long time they came down below five. You see, he knows if they come below five, he knows that isn’t fair to the public to misrepresent this thing by including those things that prove just as much a positive result as though they came above. It’s just a trick of the mind that these people do to try to spite you and of course it wouldn't be fair to publish.(12)

Flying Saucers

I'm not going to talk about flying saucers very much except just this. A flying saucer is not exactly science, although some scientific people have written things about them. I was a member of General Schwartz's (?) Advisory Committee after the war, and we held some very secret meetings in Washington in which there was a thing called project SIGN. I think it's s-i-g- n. Anyway, it was hushed up. It was hardly even talked about and it was the flying saucer stuff, gathering the evidence, and weighing and evaluating the data on flying saucers. And he said, "You know, it's very serious, it really looks as though there is something there." Well, I told him afterwards--I told him this story here. I said that it seems to me from what I know about flying saucers they look like this sort af thing. Well, any-way, it ended up by two men being brought to Schenectady with a boiled down group of about twenty or thirty best cases from hundreds and hundreds that they knew all about. I didn't want them all, I said to pick out about thirty or forty of the best cases, and bring them to Schenectady, and we’ll spend a couple of days going over them, and he did.

Most of them were Venus seen in the evening through a murky atmosphere. Venus can be seen in the middle of the day if you know where to look for it. Almost any clear bright day especially when Venus is at its brightest, and sometimes it's caused almost panic. It has caused traffic congestion in New York City when Venus is seen in the evening near some of the buildings around Times Square and people thought it was a comet about to collide with the earth, or somebody from Mars, or something of that sort. That was a long time ago. That was thirty or forty years ago. Venue still causes flying saucers.

Well, they only had one photograph or two photo-graphs taken by one man. It looked to me like a piece of tar paper when I first saw it and the two photographs showed the thing in entirely different shapes. I asked for more details about it. What was the weather at the time? Well, they didn’t know but they'd look it up. And they got out some papers and there it was. It was taken about 'fifteen or twenty minutes after a violent thunderstorm out in Ohio. Well, what' s more natural than some piece of tar paper picked up by a little miniature twister and being carried a few thousand feet up into the clouds and it was coming down, that's all. So what could it be? " But it was going at an enormous speed." Of course the man who saw it didn't have the vaguest idea of how far away it was. That's the trouble. If you see something that's up in the sky, a light or any kind of an object, you haven't the vaguest idea of how big it is. You can guess anything you like about the speed. You ask people how big the moon is. Some say it is as big as your fist, or as big as a baseball Some say as big as a house. Well, how big is it really”. You can't tell by looking at it. How can you tell how big a flying saucer is? Well, anyway, after I went through these things I didn't find a single one that made any sense at all. There was nothing consistent about them. They were all things that suffered from these facts. They were all subjective. They were all near a threshold. You don't know what the threshold is exactly in detecting the velocity of an object that you see up in the sky, where you don't know whether it's a thousand feet or ten thousand feet or a hundred thousand feet up. But they all fitted in with this general pattern, namely, that there doesn't seem to be any evidence that there is anything in them. And, anyway, these men were convinced and they ended project SIGN. And later the whole thing was de-classified and the thing was written up by the Saturday Evening Post about four or five years ago. At any rate, that seemed to be the end of it. But, of course. the newspapers wouldn’t let a thing like that die. (Laughter) It keeps coming up again, and again, and again, and the old story keeps coming back again. It always has. It's probably hundreds of years old anyway.

Well, I think that's about all. If there are any questions, I’d be happy to say more.

Question Period

W. C. White: People may want to go now because it's quarter after five though I'm sure Dr. Langmuir would be glad to discuss this some more.

I was going to add another one to these characteristics. Isn't the desire for publicity another of the characteristics?

A. Well, it is in Rhine's case. There is no question about that. Rhine, I think, ........................... thinks he's honest, but I know perfectly well that he--everything he says, he talks about the importance of getting more students, and the importance of having the people in his own university understand the importance of this thing and so oa And then the fact that no man in his senses could discard data the way he did those things sealed up in the cards. So I don't hold a very high value on his work. Now the other people, I don’t have the slightest doubt but what these men are really honest. They are sincere. They loved publicity; Allison, of course, loved to publish about new elements one after the other. These were published by the American Chemical Society; and Latimer liked to publish his little article on tritium, the first (p.11) discovery of tritium. So I think that has something to do with it, but I don't think that that’s the driving force. I think the driving force is quite a normal scientific desire to make discoveries and to understand things. Davis and Barnes were finding things and it was wonderful while it lasted.

Q (Liebhafsky): I just wanted to point out that perhaps the neatest comment on item four was made at the University of California when this business was discussed at the Research Conference there in about 1930 or 32. Professor Birge said that this effect was just Allison wonderland. (Laughter)

(Langmuir): Did you ever hear Latimer talk about it?

(Liebhafsky): Well, Latimer was pushing it and you've got to allow for Latimer’s persuasiveness. There were people on the faculty that I'm sure never believed it.

(Langmuir): But it was funny that G. N. Lewis would believe it.

(Liebhafsky): Well, you know that there is a very close personal relationship between Latimer and Lewis.

(Langmuir): I understand that Lewis got back his ten dollars. (Laughter)

Q. How would an analysis like this apply to religious experiences?

A. Well, the method of approach to religious questions--a lot of people think you don't want to have any evidence, you want faith; and if that’s your attitude why I don't think this thing applies. But if some religious performer of a certain belief tries to argue with me, my reactions would be very much like this.

Q. In setting up these criteria, you may in a way limit the possibilities of scientific investigation. It occurred to me that suppose something happened in the heavens--some astronomical event--that nobody had ever seen before. Something that happens once in a million years. Really, I mean, supposing that you could tell. It would fit the same criterion, wouldn’t it?

A. No, I don't want to depend on any one of these. I've been reading the life of Pasteur. Pasteur had the idea of germs. Everybody thought that he was a fool -- thought there couldn't be any sense to the subject. It took a long time before germs were believed. People believed in spontaneous generation of new forms of life. They happened spontaneously not by the introduction of spares from the outside but spontaneously -- and Pasteur had to fight that. The test of time is the thing that ultimately checks this thing. In the end, something is salvaged. You can't do that while the thing is growing, while the thing is being discussed, but in the end you do know that the Allison effect is gone. It never would be anything. And that's what I mean about these other things. We've waited long enough now. This whole pattern of things fits together with the idea that you're at a threshold. You're right at the point where things are very difficult to see--that’s what I want to bring out. Now, in Pasteur's experiments, when he killed anthrax in animals, he got 25 right out of 25. The sheep all died or they didn't die. There was no threshold value about it. People who didn't know anything about it might have thought so, but when they saw one experiment they were convinced.

One more question -

Q. These criteria that you put down would apply very well to the theory of relativity with measurements of very small fractions of a degree of arc in the neighborhood of a bright disk of the sun.

A. Yes, well now take an example I've often thought of. There are lots of scientific instances. They go through the same sort of stage. For instance, in Laue and Bragg's theory of x-rays being electromagnetic waves. When the first reports came out you had to keep an absolutely open mind about them. You didn't know but what this was just another case of wishful thinking. But how long did it take? Within three or four years they were making precision measurements of the wavelengths of x-rays--very, very few years. Now, that's just what doesn't happen in these things. So you have to wait a little time for these things to prove themselves but I don't think that you will find that there's anything more than a superficial resemblance. Take the first experiments of the wave theory of electrons. The first evidence was very poor, and more people had to be brought in, but to me the important thing was not how it looked at the time but the quickness with which those results were resolved as contrasted to these things that hang fire and hang fire. Now the Davis-Barnes effect and the N-rays were quenched suddenly; but most of these other things go on, and on, and on, and on.

(White): I believe that this is the latest lasting colloquium we’ve ever had that I remember. It was a great privilege to have such a speaker. We thank you, Dr. Langmuir.

EPILOGUE ( R. N. Hall) (presumably written in 1968)

Pathological science is by no means a thing of the past. In fact, a number of examples can be found among current literature, and it is reasonable to suppose that the incidence of this kind of "science" will increase at least linearly with the increase in (p.12) scientific activity.

Professor Allison has retired, but in a recent letter he wrote that his investigations of the Allison Effect have suffered long interruptions but were never abandoned, and he spends summers and occasional weekends working on it with students at Auburn University. The effect is also being investigated under a contract with the Air Force Aero Propulsion Laboratory at the University of Dayton.(9e)

Flying Saucers are still very much with us. As Langmuir said, "Of course, the newspapers wouldn’t let a thing like that die." How right he was!


1. Eight months after the visit of Langmuir and Hewlett to Columbia and this exchange of letters, Barnes submitted a paper on the Davis-Barnes effect and it was published as "The Capture of Electrons by Alpha-Particles," Phys. Rev., 35, 217 (1930).

2. H. C. Webster, Nature, 126, 352 (1930).

3. B. Davis and A. H. Barnes, Phys. Rev., 37, 1368 (1931).

4. K Blandlot, The N-Rays, Longmans, Green and Co., London 1905 .

5. J. G. McKendrick, Nature, 72, 195 (1905).

6. R. W. Wood, Nature, 70 (1904); R. W. Wood, Physik. Z., 5, 789 (1904).

7. W. Seabrook, Doctor Wood, Harcourt, Brace, and Co. (1941), Chap. 17.

8. For a review and bibliography, see Hollander and Claus, J. Opt. Soc. Am., 25, 270-286 (1935).

9. The following references on the Allison Effect make interesting reading (a) F. Allison and E.S. Murphy, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 52, 3796 (1930). (b) F. Allison, Ind. Eng. Chem., 4, 9 (1932). (c) S. S. Cooper and T. R. Ball, J. Chem Ed., 13, 210 (1936), also pp. 278 and 326. (d) M. A. Jeppesen and R. M. Bell, Phys. Rev., 47, 546 (1935). (e) H. F. Mildrum and B. M. Schmidt, Air Force Aero Prop. Lab. AFAPL-TR-66-52 (May 1966).

10. W. M. Latimer and H. A. Young, Phys. Rev. 44, 690 (1933).

11. This may have referred to the paper by J. I McGhee and M. Lawrenz, J. Am. Chem. Soc., 54, 405 (1932), which contains the statement, "In December 1930 one of us (McGhee) handed out by number to Prof. Allison twelve (to him) unknowns which were tested by him and checked by two assistants 100 percent correctly in three hours." See also, T. K Ball, Phys. Rev., 47, 548 (1935), who describe additional tests in which unknowns were identified.

12. Some more recent discussion of Rhine's work is ’to be found in: (a) G. R. Price, Sci, 122, 359 (1955), and replies on January 6, 1956. (b) M. Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science, Dover (1957) . (p.13)