Back in the 1950s, when I worked at the Parapsychology Laboratory
University, I steeped myself in J. B. Rhine’s writings. What I valued most were
his more personal statements, which he often expressed in the editorials
he wrote for almost every issue of the Journal of Parapsychology.
In the December 1954 issue he wrote one titled “The Research is the
, 1954). In it he urged parapsychologists not to get sidetracked by
conference attendance, philosophical discussions, and writing
theoretical articles but to concentrate on experiments. Experiments
formed the basis of the field itself; without which there wasn’t much
to be delivered and discussed at conferences. He was not against
conferences and discussions, as such, but he felt that in such a small
field they could usurp a disproportionate amount of a researcher’s
time unless he or she used self-discipline and set priorities.
I valued editorials such as this one and also the “purple
patches” in his books, which were aimed at the general reader, because
in this medium he revealed himself, his motivation for being a
parapsychologist, and the meaning of psi for him personally. Looking
back on it from the viewpoint of what I have learned from studying
exceptional human experience (EHE), I would say that the early ESP and
PK experiments themselves served as EHEs for J. B. Rhine. An EHE
begins as an anomalous experience that may or may not be capable of
being submitted to the objective truth-testing methods of physicalistic
empirical science. Even if it is not, sometimes the experience will not
go away even though a scientist points out a plausible
counterexplanation or the experiencer is not actively thinking about it
or may even forget it for a time, until it comes to mind again, never
staying away for long. Somehow it has touched something deeply personal
and/or transpersonal in the experiencer. Often it hints that something
“more” is involved, something hidden yet subtly sensed, though there
may be periods when the experiencer is unaware of it and may even forget
it. The hidden meaning is only a possibility. This second stage, in
which the person is drawn, and in some cases even guided, by his or her
experience, often unaccountably, is what I call an exceptional
experience (EE). This is because it usually is an
experience the person has not previously had so it stands out from all
others, and the hint of personal/transpersonal meaning makes the
experiencer him- or herself also feel singled out. Or, it may remind the
experiencer of a similar experience, which is now enhanced by the
subsequent one, and vice versa.
By personal I mean that what appears to be
involved, after it becomes conscious, is the more individual aspects of
the person—those that make him or her unique. By transpersonal I
mean the deepest layers of the human being where we are connected, and
beyond that, one with all aspects of our individual selves; other
humans, up to and including the human species as a whole, other life
forms, Earth, the cosmos, and beyond and within all, the divine. The
initiating experience becomes an EHE when the experiencer becomes aware
of one or more of these forms of connectedness and is changed by the
process of integrating and living from it (or them). The experiencer’s
consciousness is raised and deepened in the course of heeding, working
on, and potentiating the meaning of the experience. Sometimes it happens
almost immediately, as with conversion or some NDEs, but usually it
transpires only often after long and arduous work in which the
experiencer learns many new things about him- or herself and about the
nature of “reality.” Initially, some time may pass before the
process, which Suzanne Brown and I call the EHE process, begins. Some
only begin in earnest after they realize the experience won’t go away
but keeps prompting him or her to do something about it.
I add human to exceptional experience at this point
because the experience reveals some aspect of the experiencer’s human
nature that until that experience was not even guessed, or if known, the
person was unable to give it much credence, and thus it is an EHE.
A hallmark of an EHE is that the meaning revealed is an aspect of
a new paradigm or worldview that the experiencer glimpses while immersed
in his or her experience or recollections and extensions of it or when
it combines in some way with one or more other experiences. I call it
the experiential paradigm (White, 1998b) because it has to be
experienced to be known, unless one has already become aware of aspects
of it based on earlier experiences.
The early experiments in which Rhine and others working with him
“discovered” high-scoring subjects, including Hubert Pearce, who
obtained 25 correct calls in a single run, or 100% accuracy, as well as
several others, were reported in Rhine’s first book, Extra-Sensory
Perception (1934). I believe these striking results were not simply
empirical anomalies for J. B. Rhine. They functioned as EEs because what
they revealed to him was that human nature contains an element that
transcends space (in ESP), time (in precognition), matter (in PK), and
possibly even death (in survival-type experience). Moreover, he was
personally involved, because he had
“been there” and observed what happened with his own eyes. He
had designed the experiments originally, with the help of others. He was
not the first to use cards as targets, but he made significant
innovations in the technique, even though Karl Zener, a Duke
psychologist, suggested the five symbols that were later to become known
as “ESP symbols.” Most importantly,
was the major experimenter in the early research, so he was intimately
involved in the testing process, sometimes also serving as subject. With
the development of the ESP test Rhine believed he had found a way to
capture in the laboratory the essence of the psychical experiences
people have in daily life, but under conditions he could control and
with results to which a specific p value could be assigned, which
made comparisons between conditions and results of other experiments
possible. Finally, as he was later to realize (to be explained), he
himself, without any sensory or rational contrivance, played a primary
role in actively producing the results in a way that did not vitiate
With the ESP and PK tests, he thought he held the keys to
changing the human world for the better. The degree of his caring for
humankind and his desire for the betterment of all appeared to be
endless and relentless. I know this not only from his writings but from
many talks we had during the four years I worked at the Duke Lab. The
experimental results moved him and spoke to him the way dreams and
visions speak to others. In the ESP and PK tests he had found what I
call his Project of Transcendence—one that was both the
outgrowth and capstone of his background in religious studies, biology,
psychology, and his research with mediums, high-scoring subjects,
college students, and his own children. ESP and PK testing provided his
pioneer spirit with an immense space in which to move and grow. Perhaps
he had even found the skeleton key that would open all other doors, as
he tried to show in a later book, New World of the Mind (
The “new world” of the title underlines the large scope and
grand reach of his motivation and desire, which was surely the equal to
any of the great physical explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries.
It also confirms my guess that he had glimpsed the Experiential
Paradigm, because in this book he tried to determine whether what he and
others had discovered about psi might provide an outlook that “changes
distinctly and profoundly the way we look at the world we already know;
when it exerts a permanent influence on our way of life” (p. x).
This sentence is certainly in line with what I have written about
EHEs (as data) and the Experiential Paradigm (as the new outlook),
including the element of life change.
I know I owe a great debt to J. B. Rhine, who was a seminal
teacher in my mid-20s and figured often in inner dialogues for many
years after I left the Parapsychology Laboratory in December 1958, but I
did not realize how much until I wrote this chapter and for the first
time in many years looked at his New World of the Mind, which
came out the year before I went to the Parapsychology Laboratory. During
my interview with Rhine in
in June 1954, I had lunch with J. B. and Louisa Rhine. J. B. peppered me
with questions about what I thought of his new book. The aim of the book
was to show how the data of experimental parapsychology had a bearing on
each of the natural sciences, medicine, religion, and the conduct of
life. In looking at it after all these years, I see it is very similar
to what I have been saying about exceptional human experience, except I
have been most interested in the subjective aspects, and he was mostly
concerned with objectively verifiable data.
Many of J. B.’s more empirically inclined colleagues did not
think much of his highly speculative book, and I have invited similar
criticisms of my own speculations. It
is nice to discover at this late date that I have such distinguished
company, right at the heart of parapsychology, from the man who gave
this English major a chance to become a scientist. I do not think the J.
B. Rhine I knew would think unkindly of my current efforts, even though,
as I hope to show, I no longer think the typical parapsychological
experiment is “the thing.” I also hope to show there is still plenty
of room in parapsychology for research, but with a new twist.
As to the psi testing situation serving as a project of
transcendence for J. B. Rhine, I define a project of transcendence
(PT) as a long-term repetitive activity that provides a
person with frequent opportunities to experience EEs. This is because
within PTs, experiences are more likely to be experienced as exceptional
rather than simply anomalous from the beginning because they occur in a
context that is already personally and transpersonally meaningful, which
is why the person engaged in the project to begin with (White, 1997b).
Examples of PTs are serious participation in a specific sport; teaching;
meditation; working in a hospice; volunteering to help others in a
project extending over a long time, such as cleaning up a stretch of
road or river; taking up an art or craft; going on a pilgrimage to a
distant place; a daily running regimen; taking part in an Outward Bound
program; or climbing high mountains. The meaning of an EE that occurs in
such contexts is much more quickly potentiated, again because it takes
place within a framework that usually has a history of people having had
EHEs, which the neophyte learns as he or she becomes familiar with the
history and lore of the specific project.
In my own case, as a reference librarian, which I was for 30
years in addition to being a parapsychologist, I remember my excitement
in graduate library school when I read in the practical handbook
on doing reference work that answers to reference questions may be
expected to turn up anywhere, even in dreams.
That Rhine viewed the various forms of psi tests as projects of
transcendence is clear from the following passage from the same
editorial: “Each worker has to identify himself with a project and
make it more or less his own creation if he is to generate the conative
force required to carry it through to completion” (Rhine, 1954, p.
From those humble beginnings, experimental types and formats
proliferated as the years passed, and J. B. was witness to them, and to
some extent, a primary agent of their growth for nearly 50 years. He saw
the basic ESP test go from crude cards whose symbols even when face down
could be read sensorially under certain conditions to
computer-randomized targets not susceptible to sensory cues or rational
’s vision. In a sense, it was a vicarious EHE for me, because I was
convinced of the reality of which he wrote and spoke, even though I had
not personally experienced it. Nonetheless, it influenced my worldview
and my personal and professional motivation. He and I had several long,
intense conversations about the importance of the meaning of
which I believe for both of us was that it revealed a corner of a new
world, that of the Experiential
Paradigm, in which time, space,
matter, and perhaps even death are not barriers to human beings.
Today these features are often referred to in contexts outside of
parapsychology as “nonlocal” and/or “transpersonal.”
Late in 1958, when I told J. B. I felt the time had come for me
to leave the Parapsychology Laboratory, he appealed to me to stay
because the search for psi was so vitally important and parapsychology
needed people like me. I tried to tell him the reason I was leaving was
not to abandon the search but to continue it in another direction (I had
in mind getting into Jungian psychology in
New York City
, the heart of analytical psychology in the U.S.
at that time). He saw this as coming at psi from the wrong
direction—one that did not involve experiments, thus what I proposed
to do flew in the face of his dictum that
“the research is the thing!” I replied that my search
might lead me back to doing experiments from a new, more productive
angle. He was skeptical, having corresponded with Jung; but I felt his
knowledge of Jung was superficial. He had not really read Jung, whereas
I had read him for years, owned most of his works, and was a charter
subscriber to the Journal of Analytical Psychology. I was then
deep in Jung’s volumes describing his alchemical research, in which
the experimenter’s own self was not only intimately involved in the
alchemical process but could even be said to be its object. I felt then
and still do now that somehow parapsychology is akin to the alchemical
opus, or the great work, which involves self-transformation as an
integral part of the outer alchemical process. I think parapsychology is
the science with the best chance to make the human turn from purely
empirical objectivity to a way of learning and knowing that is an
amalgam of individual uniqueness and something generalizable that is
simultaneously “out there” and “in here.” In this new view of
science the individual scientist knowingly delves into both
“objective” reality and his or her subjectivity, and what he or she
hopes to learn is something as yet unknown that enhances the collective
consciousness of human beings with the scientist as the first person to
become aware of it, at least within the then current, or more likely,
still forthcoming, worldview. At the same time, it moves a specific
discipline forward, and beyond that, the human species as a whole. Many
parapsychologists still wish to rule out the experimenter effect in
parapsychology, even though they might grant it exists, one of the most
eloquent being Rex Stanford (1981), himself a very successful
experimenter. I think it and the related sheep-goat effect are
parapsychology’s most significant findings (White, 1976a, 1976b,
1977). If developed fully, I think that clarifying the ramifications of
both would compel the attention of other scientists and the general
However, it appears that quantum physics, both humanistic and
transpersonal psychology, alternative medicine, holistic nursing, as
well as transpersonal anthropology and near-death studies may already
have captured that beachhead and are now making inroads on the mainland
of science and the broader culture, so that parapsychology may have lost
its chance to make a significant impact.
These other disciplines have
already glimpsed and sometimes work within the experiential paradigm in
which parapsychological phenomena are accepted as a matter of course,
without demanding “hard” evidence, though some may cite the
contribution of parapsychology in a footnote. The point is that in the
new paradigm that is already forming, starting with quantum physics, psi
phenomena will not be viewed as anomalous but will be expected to occur
as a matter of course: not anomalously but integrally, as part of the
EHE process, which is a series of stages Brown and I have observed that
experiencers go through, often over a period of years, as they change
their identities and worldviews so that they are in line with what their
EHE(s) have taught them (Brown, 1997; 1998; 2001; White, 1997d).
I believed then, and I am more convinced now, that in his early
was unconsciously not only personally but transpersonally involved as if
his work were a modern-day counterpart of the alchemical opus. I think
it is this that may have contributed to his notably high success
as an experimenter. Gardner Murphy, who knew him at that time, recalled
"the year 1934, in which I first visited
…and saw the rugged force of the demands which he made upon his
co-workers and subjects. In the light of his glowing intensity, it
became possible to begin to understand the accounts given in his book of
the way in which he had driven some of his subjects in the demand to get
extrasensory phenomena. It may well have been this intensity which
produced the results—including some of the best-authenticated long
distance results which we have in all this field." (1949/1950, p. 18)
Perhaps this intensity came into
’s motivation was rooted not only in his forceful individuality but
even deeper, where mind and matter may meet inwardly as well as outwardly.
Maybe that was why he was such a superb experimenter and why to him
“the research” meant mainly “the experiment” and it, above all,
was “the thing.” As I have pointed out, an experiment in itself was
a project of transcendence for
, which people usually get into as a result of spontaneous EEs or EHEs.
these early experiments were spontaneous and unanticipated. It is
similar to the first time I hit a golf ball squarely with a 5-iron and
saw it sail toward the green. I was hooked on golf on the spot. Until
then I had played “at” golf desultorily, but that shot was an
exceptional experience for me in that it was a “first,” and I can
still recall how it felt to strike the ball squarely and the wonder I
experienced as it went high and straight and right where I wanted it to
go! (This was not an anomalous experience in terms of going against the
tenets of the reigning paradigm, but it was what I call an anomaly of
personal experience because it was the first time I had experienced
it, and I wanted very much to experience it again. Anomalies of personal
experience are often also potential EHEs.)
After that, golf became my project of transcendence for many
years, from 1945 to 1967 or so. During those years I felt consciously
that the act of hitting the ball correctly required me to change my life
and to achieve a more collected state of consciousness. I saw it as a
physical manifestation of my inner state. My most memorable round was 9
holes in which I played in a state of no mind. I was unconscious,
whether I was driving the ball from the tee, hitting it off the fairway,
or putting on the green. Everything “happened” in superb fashion
without my “doing” anything. I was never to match this exceptional
experience again, except for single shots widely separated in time. But
I will never forget that day. It, too, was an EHE for me. As in Zen
in the Art of Archery (Herrigel, 1954), I had the experience
of not “doing” it; rather, “it” did it. I imagine that Rhine and
his early high-scoring subjects experienced something similar during
their ESP testing sessions.
After writing the past few pages about
as an experimenter, I checked his long-time personal secretary Farilla
David’s bibliography of his writings in the memorial volume to J. B.
edited by K. R. Rao (1982), looking for relevant material I may have
forgotten. I checked the index under experimenter effect, and the
only contribution on this topic so important to J. B. himself was 2
pages in an article written, as one might guess, by his wife and fellow
researcher, Dr. Louisa E. Rhine, who knew him best. What she says is
interesting in the light of Gardner
Murphy’s and my observations, and I quote her description of his
dogged resolve in the face of adversity. In the course of doing so, she
highlights the crux of the success of the early Duke experiments, even
after making allowances for the legitimacy of some of the criticisms
that were leveled at it (see Pratt, Rhine, Smith, & Stuart,
1940/1966). She observed:
not know then…that those same characteristics that kept him
from being diverted when the obstacles were greater than he had
foreseen, could also account for his success in eliciting from
his subjects, even in the unpracticed beginning of his research,
the evidence that would lead to the answer of his basic question
[i.e., could the recipe be found for demonstrating ESP under
The very seriousness and intensity with which he asked
the question of his student subjects affected them with
something like contagion so that they took the task he set for
them in the same way. Neither teacher nor student knew that such
an attitude was necessary; but once they caught the spirit and
became involved, the proper attitude resulted and together they
got what was then at least the promise of an answer. And as it
seems now, they got it because the spirit which they brought to
it supplied what one could call the “yeast,” the ferment
necessary in this recipe for a psi experiment.
Later when other experimenters often failed to duplicate
the results, even though they followed carefully all the points
of technique J. B. had described, they were baffled; and for a
time and to an extent, J. B. was too. But the fact was that in
this recipe the “yeast,” the necessary spirit, was not
mentioned. I went back then to the account of the tests reported
in that first book and found not the slightest mention of it.
(L. E. Rhine, 1982, pp. 5-6)
The reason it wasn’t mentioned is that J. B. himself, as L. E. Rhine
points out, was not conscious of it. In a sense, her observations
confirm my hypothesis that his motivation was far deeper than his
conscious mind was aware. Partly, this chapter is about the motive
generally known as vocation or calling, in which the
person involved is aware of moving toward his or her destination as if
on a wave, but the depths from which that wave springs are unknown. EHEs
could be considered as uprushes from those depths, which if consciously
surrendered to and ridden, can carry a person farther than those not so
caught up can even dream. I think this was the case with J. B. Rhine,
and I agree with Louisa Rhine that only someone with the drive and
degree of caring of a J. B. Rhine could have put parapsychology on the
world map. We are indebted to her for telling the full story for
posterity, once she herself became aware of it.
Parapsychology today is built on a post-Rhinean base thought to be more
objective and purely scientific than in the past. But I think the field
is in danger of playing in the shoals and shallows, blissfully unaware
of or else doggedly ignoring the depths required to really get inside
our data at “the only places in the world in which we can catch real
fact in the making” (see the context of this partial quote from
William James (1902/1978, p. 492) in a passage given in full at the
close of this article).
I am suggesting here that all of us have vocations, but only a few of us
are consciously aware of them, and some of the latter deny them. EHEs
are the royal road to a sense of vocation, but some people choose not to
or are afraid to potentiate the meaning of their EEs.
was no longer conducting experiments when I arrived at the Duke Lab. He
was busy administering the lab, directing the research, raising funds,
and taking his message to the public and scholars in other fields. As
new researchers came to the lab to conduct the actual experiments, they
did not have Rhine’s EHE of pioneering the psi test. By the mid-1950s, experiments were
primarily done with groups in contrast to Rhine’s intensive work with individuals. Score levels dropped to just above
or below mean chance expectation, but if they were contributed by enough
people, they could still be statistically highly significant. Mainly
psychologists joined the staff, and they were used to “running”
human subjects the way they had run rats. Their motivation was to
connect ESP and PK to mainline psychology by studying personality
correlates and finding connections between various attitudes and psi
test results. If anything, they wanted to reduce the possibility of an
experimenter effect (Stanford, 1981), but it still cropped up
unexpectedly in the results of many experiments (Kennedy & Taddonio,
Palmer, 1997; 1978; White, 1976a, 1976b, 1977).
For most, this type of research question did not call upon what
L. E. Rhine refers to as “the necessary spirit.”
, however, remained interested in the role of the experimenter, and I
believe he began to elaborate on his own EHE, which is what every EHEer
must do to keep it alive and growing. He began to realize that
high-scoring subjects were “made,” not simply born, and that the way
the experimenter treated the subject was all important. I shared this
view, intellectually and intuitively at first, and then at first hand
from exceptional experiences I had in working with Margaret Anderson.
She had excelled as a high school teacher, and she came to the lab with
a strong motivation to demonstrate that in teaching “more is caught
than taught.” She felt psi was involved in the act of teaching, and
from the student’s viewpoint, in learning. She had been a dynamic high
school teacher. She was also a psi-conducive experimenter. Like
Rhine, by her sheer being she provided the conditions for individuals to
score when she worked with single subjects, but she also worked her
magic with groups, and sometimes at a distance.
When J. G. Van Busschbach, a Superintendent of Schools in Holland
who had conducted experiments in several Dutch schools where
teacher-student GESP tests yielded a statistically significant positive
result (a group CR of 2.7) J. B. Rhine invited him to come to the Duke
Lab to oversee an attempted replication of his research in American
classrooms. In Holland, Van Busschbach oversaw GESP tests administered to fifth and sixth
grade administered classes by test leaders (i.e., experimenters) in
Amsterdam. There were 20,190 trials with a positive deviation of chance of 174.
This deviation yielded a CR = 2.79, P = 006. The Parapsychology
Institute of the
repeated the Amsterdam
methodology in with the fifth and sixth graders in Utrecht. In 26,880 trials, there were 179 hits, which yielded a CR = 2.73, P
= 006. In the North Carolina
35,160 trials were carried out in schools in Burlington
and Durham. Out of a total of 36,160 trials, there were 226 hits with a CR = 2.49
and P = 2.70. All of the above CRs were calculated by the
of the interest at Duke in the effect on the scores of the person who
administered the test, we asked Van Busschbach if he had calculated the
results for individual test leaders, but he had not. Because the
American series was an attempted replication of the Dutch work, only the
overall results were considered.
interest in the role of the experimenter continued after I left the lab.
With the help of my college friend Jean Angstadt who was a teacher in a
school, we conducted more experiments but did not obtain significant
results. (I was never a psi-conducive experimenter.)
Van Busschbach’s (1956) report in the American repetition concluded
that because of the consistent scoring rate in the Amsterdam, Utrecht,
and North Carolina tests, “it seems safe to suggest … that the
teacher-pupil relation in the fifth and sixth grades provides a
ready-made relationship for the exercise and demonstration of ESP” (p.
Van Busschbach was the test administrator. In Untrecht the test
administrators were one of Van Busschbach’s colleagues and two
graduate assistants, but the results of all three were lumped together.
Here is the breakdown for the American experiments Angstadt and I
The work of Mrs. Tillitt and Miss White was not significant (Tillitt’s
CR was 1 plus and White’s less than 1), and the bulk of the
significant deviation was contributed by Anderson
working alone or when she administered the test to the children
while White instructed the teacher-agent.
Anderson’s CR was 3 plus which was diminished to 2.70 when added to
the results of the other two administrators. (White &
Angstadt, 1965, p. 78)
get actual results JP Dec 1959] [=R. White's note to herself!]
When Van Busschbach returned to
Holland, he conducted an experiment using the same protocol with first and
second grade classes in schools in
(Van Busschbach, 1959). A different test administrator was used in each
city and although the
results were not statistically significant the
results were. These results increase the likelihood that a difference in
the results obtained by different test leaders may have obtained in the
earlier Amsterdam-Utrecht series. Margaret Anderson and I were assigned
to work with him. We worked with the school principals in
North Carolina, then prepared the teachers, and then individually presented the
experiment to a class at a time. A Durham
school superintendent also did the same. It became apparent that only
Margaret Anderson’s classes were independently significant. The school
superintendent’s were suggestively positive. Mine were at chance or
We then brought in two other lab members to join us, and worked as two
teams. I was paired with Anderson, but I took care of the details and teacher preparation, leaving her
free to present the experiment to the students. Again, only
Anderson’s classes scored significantly, with a CR of 3.1, the only
independently significant score among the test leaders.
When we added all the results, which we had to do in our
attempted repetition of Van Busschbach’s work, the CR was 2.7—so
considered it a successful repetition. To me, it clearly demonstrated
the importance of the experimenter effect.
never handled the targets; only the teacher did. I told the teacher what
to do but I never saw the targets either. Only the teacher (and a
randomizer at the laboratory who had prepared them working from a random
number table) saw them. Anderson’s role was to introduce the subject of ESP to the class and explain
to the students what they were to do during the test. But she had the
kind of personality that made you believe you could succeed on the test,
and in the case of the Van Busschbach repetition, she carried the total
experiment to its successful conclusion. More importantly, she had
the “necessary spirit” for demonstrating the great importance of the
teacher-pupil relationship to psi research as well as in teaching. That
was why she became a parapsychologist. Without her, it would not have
been significant. (For fuller accounts of Anderson’s role in this
series of experiments and others, see
White, 1987; White & Angstadt, 1965.)
Much later, in an invited address at the 1993 convention of the
Parapsychological Association, I suggested that parapsychologists should
stop experimenting and get more intimately acquainted with psi as a
potential EHE before designing any more experiments (White, 1998a). For
one thing, I pleaded with them to go back to whatever experiences had
motivated them to enter the field. This was because I hoped there were
some exceptional experiences involved that could be potentiated as EHEs
in their work. Doing so consciously in the context of parapsychology
research as a project of transcendence not only would spontaneously
bring the experimenter closer to “the necessary spirit” that may be
psi conducive, but it would be meaningful to many people who normally do
not care about dry experimental reports. Everyone is interested in
projects of transcendence, which may well account for the importance of
sports today. A personal best or a new record for the human species or a
performance that is so great it is “incredible” are all exceptional
experiences, not only for the athletes involved but for the spectators
who are present and even those who simply read about it or see it on TV
or hear about it from friends or even strangers. All glory in the
knowledge that the envelope for exceptional human performance has been
pushed further back.
If beyond the experience or experiment itself the research report
contained a description of the investigator’s personal and possibly
even spiritual and vocational motivation that initiated the research,
provided descriptions of intuitive hunches and subtle feelings as well
as reasons for doing the experiment, including the period during and
after its completion might result in unanticipated benefits. Letting
others, especially outsiders, in on the whole story could have a
vivifying effect on parapsychology as a whole. Ideally, the
experimenter’s motivation would be associated with an EE or EHE and
the experimental design would provide an opportunity to shed light on
it. The experiment would then be functioning as a project of
transcendence. I think this might be interesting to many people outside
parapsychology because any question rooted deeply in another human
being’s motivation is intrinsically of interest to others.
In the same 1993 address to the Parapsychological Association, I
described the only conditions under which I thought an experimental
approach was justified as follows:
Psi experiments themselves [should be] viewed as exceptional human experiences [,] in which case the experimenter cannot remain detached from the experiment but must existentially engage in it, and this engagement is what the experiment is really about, and so it must be made explicit in any report of the experiment. Like EHEs, such experiments should be woven into the life stories of the experiencer. At least one parapsychologist [in addition to J. B. Rhine] tried to do this: Margaret Anderson. And she was an exceptionally
psi-conducive experimenter. (White, 1998c, p. 138)
I also suggested that parapsychologists would be joined to mainstream
scholarship if experimenters would find a way for the experiment
to capture their own personal meaning and motivation. And if, in their
reports, they included accounts of their originating motivation, this
would set the context for the research and so it should not be left out
of the record. After all, it spearheaded the research. It is important
to share all parts of the experimental “recipe,” such as how they
came to design the experiment as they did, or how, in J. B. Rhine’s
words, they made the experiment “their own.” (We no longer have J.
B. Rhine’s legitimate reason for not initially giving his entire
“recipe” immediately, although it is true that like him we may not
yet be consciously aware of it. But especially if that is the case, we
should expend every effort to discover and describe what we can.) Our
present experimental reports, like those in most sciences, tell only the
objective details. By including the personal, the subjective, and
especially the feelings associated with a given experiment, we
could greatly broaden and deepen the appeal of our work, not simply for
purposes of gaining funds, but to utilize a deeply authentic way that
would be highly educational and should help to broaden our public
appeal. Our progress then might be lauded by many, and our failures draw
as much commiseration as criticism. Even the latter would perhaps not be
occasioned so much by animosity, as is often the case now, but offered
constructively in the hope of enabling us to succeed in our endeavors.
Thus, the experimental report would take on many qualities of both the
personal narrative and a public relations document without doing
anything more than telling the full truth of what the experiment is/was
about, not only objectively but subjectively. It would serve to humanize
parapsychology and banish the stereotyped image of “ghostbusters”
(for a fuller discussion, see White, 1997a, 1997c).
The importance of this should not be underestimated. The genuine
narratives that parapsychology could produce almost routinely would
themselves be capable of changing lives and worldviews. To my mind, only
quantum physics, humanistic psychology, transpersonal psychology, and
transpersonal anthropology can begin to match parapsychology for
narrative possibilities of knowledge. What parapsychology as a field
lacks is recognition of the importance of the role that narrative,
rhetoric, metaphor, and symbol can play in science. There is a
burgeoning literature on narrative techniques in the social sciences,
humanities, and even the helping professions. There are many in
psychology who recognize it, one of the major ones being Jerome Bruner
(1990; see also White, 1993). Sage Publications, which specializes in
methodology books and periodicals for psychology and the social
sciences, has a new series entitled “The Narrative Study of Lives”
co-edited by Ruthellen Josselson and Amia Lieblich. Many new research
methods for psychology are described in a pair of complementary books
edited by Jonathan A. Smith, Rom Harré, and Luk Van Langenhove (1995a,
1995b), a theoretical one titled Rethinking Psychology,
with a section on “The Turn to Discourse,” and the other titled Rethinking
Methods in Psychology, half of which is devoted to narrative
approaches. There is also the ground-breaking book by
editors/contributors W. G. Braud and R. Anderson (1997) that emphasizes
qualitative research techniques, many of them concerned with ways of
dealing with personal narratives and EHEs. In my own case, I could not
begin to glimpse the long-range influence that anomalous experiences of
the parapsychological type had on people’s lives until I took the
longitudinal narrative approach I called for in my first paper on EHEs
(White, 1990), especially by asking people to try the EHE autobiography
technique (White, 1998d).
This is not to say that the literature of parapsychology is entirely
lacking in reference to narrative approaches.
Montague Ullman (1984) pointed out the importance of metaphor in
the context of psi. Carl Williams (1996) examined metaphors related to
paranormal experience and psi research.
David Hess (1988) offered what in effect was a narrative
interpretation of the underlying assumptions of Rhinean parapsychology.
Mary S. Stowell (1997a, 1997b), in a two-part report, presented “A
Phenomenological Study of the Reported Experience of Presumed
Precognitive Dreams and About the Meaning of the Experience” (1997a,
p. 163). Stanley Krippner (1995) pointed out
that parapsychology has embraced the excesses of modernism “such as
scientific dogmatism and spiritual demoralization” even though
postmodern theorists have pointed out that the dismissal of the findings
of parapsychology by mainline scientists may be due to the very same
qualities they themselves espouse. He proposed that parapsychology
should stop identifying with its oppressors and “forge alliances with
organizations and movements that share awareness of the dominant
paradigm’s shortcomings and inequities” (p. 1). In a similar vein,
Charles Tart (1997) has expressed fear that the future of parapsychology
may be jeopardized “because of some psychological and sociological
factors that affect our professional actions and beliefs in a way that
tends to cut us off from what is important about
parapsychology” (p. 77).
Finally, W. G. Braud (1995), in a landmark paper, argued on behalf of
methodologies that recognize (a) the “inseparability of the knower and
the known, (b) recognized and maximized involvement of the investigator;
(c) subjective, experiential factors; (d) description, understanding,
and meaning; (e) emergence and downward causation; (f) naturalistic and
qualitative approaches; and (g)
idiographic as well as nomothetic aims” (p. 293). He also suggested
that recognizing, owning, honoring, and sharing by psi investigators of
their own psychic and other exceptional experiences (a) is very much in
line with the growing new paradigm, (b) may be beneficial to physical
and psychological health, (c) may actually enhance the reality of psi,
and (d) may ultimately be more convincing than laboratory data to other
scientists. (p. 293)
In a certain sense, all of the above shortcomings of parapsychology
could be called variants of settling for too small a story. At least
when it was known as psychical research, parapsychology covered a broad
range of subject matter and methodologies. One could say that today what
once was an interesting book has been shortened to an abstract. (I hope
one day it will not fit on a pin.)
J. B. Rhine, who honored quantitative research above all things,
nonetheless in his writings about parapsychology told a bigger story. So
Murphy, even though at base he was a dedicated empiricist. Both men were
not afraid to project beyond their data. I believe the major need of
parapsychology today is to find ways to write our own stories to form
the larger story of parapsychology as a whole. We need to find the areas
where our seemingly dry experiments (to others, at least, perhaps partly
because of the limited and spartan way they are packaged and presented)
are actually streams of meaning that plunge into the headwaters of
evolutionary growth and change. Only through harnessing narrative, from
the story of parapsychology we present to our participants to those we
use to inform the public and other scientists, will our findings move us
into the vanguard of science where any parapsychologist worth his or her
salt justly feels it belongs. So I urge you, all parapsychologists who
have read this far, to listen to the story your heart sings about your
work and shout it loudly and clearly. Don’t just hum it when no one
else is around. Let the lyrics and music unfold from the depths of your
being outward. I will quote William James (1902/1978) in this context,
even as I did in the 1993 address:
It is absurd for science to say that the egotistic elements of
experience should be suppressed. The axis of reality runs solely
through the egotistic places—they are strung upon it like so
many beads…. Individuality is founded in feeling; and the
recesses of feeling; the darker, blinder strata of character,
are the only places in the world in which we can catch real fact
in the making, and directly perceive how events happen, and how
work is actually done (pp. 491, 492)
By describing how, in what context, and with what motivation psi occurs
when we report our quantitative results, and by weaving our personal
narratives into the larger narratives of the field, both stories, large
and small, would be enriched. This is the way of the EHE process. This
would also entail the existential act of forsaking the ivory tower and
surrendering to the pulsation of the heart of life itself as human
consciousness, spearheaded by “necessary spirit” filtered through
the uniqueness of many individual searchers/researchers, extends further
within and without. Parapsychology
could then move forward with the gradient of life itself. For from the
late 20th century into the third millennium, it is the narrative that
is, and will be, the thing!
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