The Haunting and the paranormal

Parapsychology (study of)


EPS? Poltergeist? Haunted house?

John: — You are here, Theo... because of your remarkable powers of extrasensory perception
Luke: — ESP? Don't believe in it
John: — Theo's a champ(ion)! Her name shines in the annals of Duke University Psychic Lab... where she identified 19 out of 20 cards held up out of sight and hearing

The Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory really existed and really conducted those kinds of 'experiments'...


Derived from the term 'paranormal', parapsychology is the science that lies beside or beyond psychology; the field of psychology which studies those unique experiences and unknown capabilities of the human mind that suggest consciousness is capable of interacting with the physical world in ways not yet recognized by science, but not beyond science's ability to investigate.

Two types of parapsychological phenomena have been described. The first and less common is 'psychokinesis' (PK) which is the direct influence of the human mind on the environment. In rare cases, this may involve obvious movement of objects, however most contemporary research studies PK influences on atomic or electronic processes.

More commonly known is the second type of parapsychological phenomena, called 'extrasensory perception' (ESP), which is the ability to acquire information without using the known senses. In cases when another person is involved, then it may be considered telepathy, or mind-to-mind communication. This is often common in twins, as many instances have been reported in which one twin can sense the other's thoughts or pain. When it is knowledge of just a distant place or event, then the term 'clairvoyance' is often used. It is mainly this type of ESP which leads people to feel strongly about the existence of past lives, due to experience of 'déjà vu'. In practice, it is often difficult to distinguish among types of ESP, thus investigators generally refer to all instances as ESP. When the information seems to be of some future event, it is called 'precognition'. This category of ESP is also what makes fortune tellers so popular, as they claim to be able to see your future. Real life experiences that appear to involve ESP are commonly termed 'psychic experiences'. Taken together, all of these phenomena are often called 'psi phenomena'.

Zener cards

Zener cards are cards used to conduct experiments for extrasensory perception (ESP), most often clairvoyance. Perceptual psychologist Karl Zener (1903—1964) designed the cards in the early 1930s for experiments conducted with his colleague, parapsychologist J.B. Rhine (1895—1980).

The Zener cards were a deck made up of five simple symbols. The five different Zener cards are: a hollow circle (one curve), a Greek cross (two lines), three vertical wavy lines (or "waves"), a hollow square (four lines), and a hollow five-pointed star. There are 25 cards in a pack, five of each design.

Zener cards

In a test for ESP, the person conducting the test (the experimenter) picks up a card in a shuffled pack, observes the symbol on the card, and records the answer of the person being tested for extrasensory perception, who would guess which of the five designs is on the card in question. The experimenter continues until all the cards in the pack have been tested. Poor shuffling methods can make the order of cards in the deck easier to predict. The cards could have been marked and manipulated. In his experiments, J.B. Rhine first shuffled the cards by hand but later decided to use a machine for shuffling.

Once J.B. Rhine (see below) took precautions in response to criticisms of his methods, he was unable to find any high-scoring subjects. Due to the methodological problems, parapsychologists no longer utilize card-guessing studies. ~ Wikipedia

Prominent people > (Nicolas) Camille Flammarion

Introducing Camille Flammarion

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925; Wikipedia Articles: FR, EN) was a (male) French astronomer and author. He was the brother of Ernest Flammarion (1846-1936), the founder of the "Groupe Flammarion" publishing house.

Camille Flammarion was a very active member of numerous scientific societies and associations for the popularisation of positive sciences. His scientific discoveries placed him, and still do in the 21st century, at the forefront of French popularisation, bringing the problems of astronomy, the earth's atmosphere and climate within reach of the general public. The mystical and spiritualist aspect of some of his works has added to the fame of his name.

In 1861, Camille Flammarion discovered "Le Livre des Esprits" ("The Spirits Book") by Allan Kardec, who founded Spiritism. He made contact with Kardec and attended numerous spiritualist séances, where he met Victor Hugo. From 1862 onwards, he wrote numerous works on communications with the dead and haunted houses.

Camille Flammarion frequented European spiritualist circles, including the "British National Association of Spiritualists" and the "American Brench for Psychical Research" in the USA. In 1869, he wrote and delivered Allan Kardec's eulogy and declared:

For, gentlemen, Spiritism is not a religion, but a science of which we hardly know the background. By what link is the soul attached to the body? By what means does it escape from it? In what form and under what conditions does it exist after death? What memories, what affections does it retain? These, gentlemen, are problems which are far from being solved, and which together will constitute the psychological science of the future.

Camille Flammarion approached spiritism, psychical research and reincarnation from the viewpoint of the scientific method, writing:

It is by the scientific method alone that we may make progress in the search for truth. Religious belief must not take the place of impartial analysis. We must be constantly on our guard against illusions.

Numerous books

Among all the works of Camille Flammarion, I was mainly interested in the following volumes:

  • La Mort et son mystère ("Death and its mystery — proofs of the existence of the soul"):
    1. Volume I : Avant la mort ("Before death"), 1920
    2. Volume II : Autour de la mort ("At the moment of death"), 1921
    3. Volume III : Après la mort ("After death"), 1922
  • Les Maisons hantées ("Haunted houses"), 1923
  • Fantômes et sciences d'observation, 1925, which was unreleased until 2015 because death surprised him when the work was only in the proof stage.

My reading notes and conclusions

I read those books several years ago, with delight, but without taking the time to take notes, or to draw lessons or conclusions. I was so fascinated that I couldn't stop reading.

I am currently busy rereading everything, not necessarily in the right order (the order in which they were written). I wanted to share my discoveries with you, because some of the comments and observations really resonate with Robert Wise's film (and the original book, of course).

What makes these books so interesting is the author's personality. Camille Flammarion is a scientist, recognized worldwide. He does not seek sensationalism. He does not try to shock. He does not try to terrify his readers. He makes observations. He delivers reliable, cross-checked and verified testimonies. He is a scientist, in search of the truth. He is aware that it is necessary to flush out impostors at all costs, to maintain credibility in this very particular field, so often rejected "on principle" by other scientists.

He questions but accepts that not everything can be understood and explained by the current state of scientific knowledge. He takes issue with those who deny everything, on the pretext that events are incomprehensible, unexplainable and non-reproducible.

No apparent meaning, and no higher intelligence

Camille Flammarion is intrigued by the childish, stupid, idiotic, playful, provocative, meaningless, immature, even vulgar character of certain psychic manifestations. Instead of overturning tables and breaking dishes, why not deliver an unknown physical or mathematical law on a blackboard or pad of paper? Instead of scribbling on the walls and making violent incongruous noises, why not share a new medical knowledge or deliver a musical, pictorial or artistic work of some kind? Instead of creating a penetrating cold, or terrorising victims who feel a presence, why not share information about this other world, and try to give a meaning or explanation to all this?

No intention to kill or even injure

Amazingly, Camille Flammarion finds that thrown stones, objects that fall from nowhere and various projectiles do not seem to follow the laws of physics and statistics that we know. Trajectories that should be perfectly straight are sometimes curved or even slowed down (!), for objects that seem to fall from the ceiling for example. The weight and speed of falling objects should inflict severe injuries on humans, but those who are hit report a touch, a sensation unrelated to what we would expect from the laws of physics and medicine. Thrown pebbles thoroughly break all the china in the room — even the smallest objects — but strangely avoid the huge human being in the middle, who should be stoned like everything else in the room. An object that leaves a shelf and heads straight for its victim seems to avoid them at the very last moment. Everything happens "as if" an entity wanted to scare, break everything, play a bad trick, make a bad joke but carefully avoid hurting its victim.

From this perspective, Robert Wise's film is truly an exception. Phenomena do not usually kill their victims so conspicuously.

John: — No ghost in all the long history of ghosts ever hurt anyone physically.
Eleanor: — We weren't in any actual danger, isn't that right?
John: — No, not entirely. Fear alone can do the damage to the victim. Prehistoric man, for instance, could die of fright during an eclipse.

No desire to be observed or understood

Camille Flammarion is intrigued by the scarcity of these phenomena. This rarity has unfortunate consequences for a scientist.

First of all, paranormal phenomena are both difficult to observe and, for the most part, impossible to reproduce "on demand" in a laboratory. It is difficult for a scientist to be "in the right place at the right time" with his equipment. A clairvoyant can try to make predictions in a laboratory, surrounded by scientists and measuring tools. A specialist in automatic writing may also try some experiments. On the other hand, a poltergeist who breaks everything in a house will very rarely have the opportunity to move to a laboratory to be filmed when the scientists are ready, "Action!"

Secondly, given the infrequency of the phenomena, the credibility of witnesses is often questioned, almost suspect. If the "spirits" that surround us are so numerous, why aren't the phenomena more frequent? Why are these witnesses "the elected ones", "those who have been chosen"? Do they have something in common, something special that connects them? It is difficult for the rest of the population to "believe" in the materiality of the improbable facts described by those who witness them. Why does this almost never happen to disbelieving scientists?

Finally, another consequence of the rarity of the phenomena is that the "message" — if there really is one — remains incomprehensible. Studied scientifically, statistically, it is difficult to draw from these events the slightest hypothesis on "what they are trying to tell us?". One wonders if there is really anything to understand, any conclusion to be drawn from the jumble of disparate, absurd and yet traumatic testimonies of the witnesses, the victims.

From this point of view, Robert Wise's film is really an exception. Phenomena do not usually kill their victims so conspicuously.

Where do these "limitations" come from?

  • Is it a limitation due to the means of communication, the phenomenon itself: impossible to do better, more sophisticated, more elaborate, more frequent, more intelligent?
  • Is it a limitation of the person or entity that causes this phenomenon: only the boorish, uneducated or stupid beings, stuck "somewhere", would have this faculty. The others would have "passed" into another dimension, into another space, with no way of returning, preventing this elite from interacting with us.
  • Is this a deliberate attempt to plant clues while remaining deliberately incomprehensible, unpredictable and inaccessible?
  • Is it our ubiquitous means of recent audio and video recordings — the smartphone, which can be pulled out in 5 seconds — that explains the scarcity of well-documented testimony?


From: Les Maisons hantées ("Haunted houses"), 1923

It is only natural — and our duty — to doubt the manifestations of the dead until they are proved. We are inclined to take all accounts of manifestations of the dead with suspicion, and we are justified in doing so by their apparent improbability and the scarcity of positive evidence given.
Firstly, the sincerity of the narrators can be questioned; there are liars and pranksters.
Secondly, in the case of complete sincerity, memory is not always accurate, arrangements and exaggerations are possible.
Finally, the problem is, in itself, so serious that we can and must only accept the observations reported if they are absolutely indisputable.
Moreover, it is important to know how to interpret these observations, to be convinced that they cannot be explained by human faculties, and to admit the action of disappeared beings only if there is no other admissible hypothesis.
All these elements of study are only available to the observer on condition that he himself is personally instructed in these orders of facts and that he can speak with knowledge of the facts.
What do these observations demonstrate?
They prove, like the previous ones, that there are haunted houses, and that those who deny them are either ignorant of these facts or are acting in bad faith. To take the observers for hallucinated is not admissible.
I am not arguing with the explanation. I am stating the reality. The explanation to be found is not as simple as this observation.
The rarity of these authentic observations does not prove anything against their reality, whatever some bizarre reasoners think.
In an excellent article on haunted houses, Professor William Barrett summarised his impression as follows:
-1- Fraud and hallucination are not sufficient to explain all the phenomena;
-2- Noises, movements of objects and other physical phenomena seem to have some connection with an invisible intelligence which, in spite of its imperfection, has some resemblance to our human intelligence;
-3- These phenomena are most often associated with a person or a locality, so that a point of support seems necessary for their production;
-4- These phenomena are sporadic and temporary, lasting from a few days to several months, appearing and disappearing suddenly, without any known cause.

After the report of two young women, terrorised by events they do not understand:

The essential character of this manifestation is that it gave the two observers a real sensation of horror and anguish, which is the case with similar manifestations, because those who have felt them do not wish to see them repeated at any price. It is like a bad joke, extremely unpleasant and incomprehensible.
This penetrating and distressing emotion had never been felt by either of the two observers.
A vulgar and bizarre manifestation, with no practical result.
It is also fair to say that its continuation was not desirable and could have been very harmful to the nervous system of both young women. Experience shows that human beings are not always strong enough to bear these otherworldly intrusions in a healthy way, whatever their nature.
No explanatory hypothesis seems applicable.


Prominent people > Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine (J.B. Rhine)

The Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory, introducing Dr. Rhine

Scientific interest in the subject is of relatively recent origin, beginning in 1927 when the Duke University Parapsychology Laboratory was set up under Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine (J.B. Rhine), an important figure in the advancement of parapsychology, particularly ESP. Dr. J.B. Rhine and his wife, Dr. Louisa E. Rhine, came to Duke University in 1927 to pursue studies of psychic phenomena with Professor William McDougall, chairman of the new Psychology Department. Within a few years, Dr. Rhine was conducting the groundbreaking research that demonstrated certain people had the ability to acquire information without the use of the known senses. He introduced the term 'extrasensory perception', described this ability and adopted the word 'parapsychology' to distinguish his experimental approach from earlier methods of psychical research.

The Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man

As his work continued at Duke, Rhine and his team found experimental evidence for psychokinesis. They devised procedures for closer examination of both ESP and PK, trained many leading parapsychologists, and established channels of communication that enabled standardization of basic research methods for the new science. In 1962, as Dr. Rhine's career at Duke drew to a close, he saw the need to secure for the still controversial science an independence of the pressures of academic politics and a freedom to follow the scientific quest wherever it led. Thus, with the support of old benefactors who had assisted the Duke efforts and new benefactors who believed in the need for an independently functioning organization, Rhine founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. Rhine envisioned FRNM as a parent organization to a variety of research institutes and publishing and educational activities, and for 30 years it consisted of a major research and educational institute, the Institute for Parapsychology, and a publishing branch, the Parapsychology Press.

The Rhine Research Center

In 1995, the FRNM was renamed the Rhine Research Center to honour the Rhines and their unique contributions to this field of science.

The "Extrasensory Perception" (1934) book by J.B. Rhine

The book has its own Wikipedia Article.

Table of Contents

  1. Part I: General Introduction
    • Clarification of the problem
    • Historical background
    • Mathematics of probality used in evaluation
  2. Part II: Experimental Results
    • General survey
    • Earlier and minor experiments
    • A.J. Linzmayer
    • Charles E. Stuart
    • Hubert E. Pearce, Jr.
    • Five other major subjects
  3. Part III: Explanation and Discussion
    • Elimination of negative hypotheses
    • Physical conditions in functioning of E.S.P.
    • Some physiological conditions affecting E.S.P.
    • Psychological conditions and bearings of the results
    • E.S.P. from the viewpoint of general parapsychology
    • Some general biological considerations
    • Summary and concluding remarks
    • Suggestions for those who repeat these experiments
    • Higher anti-chance values, with table of probablity
  4. Appendix to the English edition


Excerpt about the book from another book, titled "Mystery of the unknown"

In 1932, a young divinity student named Hubert Pearce fidgeted nervously as he listened to a lecture by J.B. Rhine, the director of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory in Durham, North Carolina. Rhine had been searching for scientific evidence of what he called extrasensory perception (ESP), the ability of the mind to gain information from something other than the five senses.

When Rhine finished speaking, Pearce approached him and said that his mother had had psychic abilities. Rhine asked if Pearce suspected that he had inherited her talents, and Pearce acknowledged that he did and that the thought frightened him.

Rhine persuaded Pearce to undergo a series of experiments in the year that followed, almost 2,000 controlled laboratory tests in total. The sessions were organized around a pack of 25 cards, each of which was marked with one of five symbols. Rhine would place the cards face down on a table, one by one, and ask Pearce to guess the symbols on them. He repeated the exercise under different conditions and from different distances. Pearce's overall success rate was impressive: Sometimes his performance was on par with the 20 percent accuracy rate of pure chance. But for stretches of time, he correctly guessed 10 cards out of 25, averaging a 40 percent accuracy rate. In one impromptu instance (not recorded in the laboratory but while horsing around with Rhine), Pearce got every single one right.

Pearce became the star subject in Rhine's Extrasensory Perception (1934), a book detailing and analyzing his experiments—some 90,000 ESP trials in all. Rhine claimed he had scientifically proved that some people possessed ESP. Extrasensory Perception became an immediate best seller, and magazines from Reader's Digest to The New Yorker offered glowing accounts of Rhine's work. Pearce's celebrity status was sealed when some of the best-known personalities of the era—including activist Helen Keller, author Aldous Huxley, future president Richard Nixon, and psychologist Carl Jung—visited his laboratory at Duke University. The workshop received tens of thousands of letters from people recounting their own experiences with ESP and other unexplained phenomena.

Rhine's discoveries were hailed as great scientific advances, but soon his work drew the attention of skeptics who insisted that parapsychology was a pseudoscience, similar to fortune-telling and faith healing. Mathematicians criticized Rhine's statistical analysis, and scientists attacked his methodology. Researchers who tried to duplicate his experiments found no evidence to support his conclusions, accusing Rhine of fixing his results.

When Rhine retired in 1965, his research had fallen into such disrepute that Duke ended its affiliation with the lab. He died in 1980. In recent years, there has been increased interest in parapsychology as part of the study of consciousness. At facilities in Europe and the United States, including the privately funded Rhine Research Center in Durham, researchers are reexamining Rhine's experiments and reassessing what they might reveal about the human mind.

Past and present

However, though it was indeed the Rhines who established parapsychology as a scientific field, interest in the existence of parapsychological phenomena has been around for centuries. As far back as the ancient Greeks' oracle of Delphi, the early Christian beliefs in the revival of the dead, and the medieval stories of ghosts, sorcerers, and mythological beings, it has been a subject of dispute. One of the reasons for interest in psychical research in the last half of the 19th century was the rise of the spiritualist movement that grew out of the acceptance of spirit communication as real and the use of this as the basis of a new religion.

In the present period, along with the decline of behaviourism, psychologists have begun to take a fresh interest in subjective experiences and in altered states of consciousness, such as hypnosis, out of body experiences, and dreams. These interests have been further stimulated by the spread of psychedelic or hallucinogenic drug use among the student population of the U.S. Thus many new experiments have been invented to test whether or not a person had ESP. Instead of Rhine's old method of card-guessing test of ESP, and dice throwing test for PK, electronic random number generators select the target, and the subject registers his/her guess by pressing the appropriate button. The scores are recorded onto punched tape, to be fed later to a computer for storing analysis.

However, the spreading interest in ESP phenomena has also brought about crime. Con-artists claiming to be fortune tellers and psychic hotlines which will tell you your future for half your life savings have taken advantage of the believers. It is this type of behaviour, as well as thousands of unsubstantiated claims which causes official science to look upon parapsychology with scepticism, if not downright hostility. Journals of the scientific establishment, such as Science in the U.S. or Nature in Great Britain are still extremely reluctant to publish articles on the paranormal in fear of loosing credibility. Moreover, critics of paranormal psychology still strive to dispose of all paranormal claims as being either the result of faulty methodology or else products of self-deception or deliberate fraud.

Any summary of what has been achieved so far is bound to appear inconclusive and disappointing. The negative features of psi are the ones that stand out most clearly: the way in which the phenomena appear to defy space time and material boundaries, as well as all known forms of communication, the lack of evidence, the amount of unsubstantiated claims, the inability to obtain consistent results, the list continues. Thus, until greater progress can be made and psi phenomena can be made more stable and reproducible, parapsychology is unlikely to be accepted within the scientific community. However, it is likely to remain an important challenge and an enigma with exciting implications about the power of the human mind.

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