Synchronicity, luck and chance .




Joseph Banks Rhine (September 29, 1895February 20, 1980) (usually known as J. B. Rhine) was a pioneer of parapsychology. Rhine founded the parapsychology lab at Duke University, the Journal of Parapsychology, and the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. He also initiated the Parapsychological Association.


Joseph (J.B.) Rhine was the second of four children born to Samuel Ellis Rhine and Elizabeth Vaughan Rhine in Waterloo, Pennsylvania. Samuel Rhine had been educated in a Harrisburg business college, had taught school and later been a farmer and merchant. The family moved to Marshallville, Ohio when Joseph was in his early teens. A bright and strong-willed boy, Rhine grew up with a love of the outdoors.

He was educated at Ohio Northern University and the College of Wooster, after which he enlisted in the Marine Corps, being stationed in Santiago where he became a sharpshooting champion. Afterwards, he enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he received his master's degree in botany 1923 and Ph.D. in botany in 1925. He taught for a year at Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, in Yonkers, N.Y. Afterwards, he enrolled in the psychology department at Harvard University, to study for a year with Professor William McDougall. In 1927 he moved to Duke University to work under Professor McDougall. There, after he and his wife were impressed by a lecture given by Arthur Conan Doyle exulting the scientific proof of communication with the dead. Rhine later wrote, "This mere possibility was the most exhilarating thought I had had in years." Rhine began the studies that helped develop parapsychology into a branch of science, looking upon it primarily as a branch of "abnormal psychology".

Rhine tested many students as volunteer subjects in his research project. His first exceptional subject in this ESP research was Adam Linzmayer, an economics undergraduate at Duke. In the spring of 1931, Linzmayer scored incredibly high in preliminary Zener-card tests that Rhine ran him through; initially, he scored 100% correct on two short (nine-card series) tests that Rhine gave him. Even in his first long test (a 300-card series), Linzmayer scored 39.6% correct scores, when chance would have been only 20%. He consecutively scored 36% each time on three 25-card series (chance being 20%). However, over time, Linzmayer's scores began to drop down much closer to (but still above) chance averages. Boredom, distraction, and competing obligations, on Linzmayer’s part, were conjectured as possible factors bearing on the declining test results. Linzmayer's epic run of naming 21 out of 25 took place in Rhine's car.

The following year, Rhine tested another promising individual, Hubert Pearce, who managed to surpass Linzmayer’s overall 1931 performance. (Pearce’s average during the period he was tested in 1932 was 40%, whereas chance would have been 20%). Pearce was actually allowed to handle the cards most of the time. He shuffled and cut them.

The most famous series of experiments from Rhine's laboratory is arguably the ESP tests involving Hubert Pearce and J. G. Pratt, a research assistant. Pearce was tested (using Zener cards) by Pratt, who shuffled and recorded the order of the cards in the parapsychology lab 100 yards from where Pearce was sitting in a campus library cubicle. The series was comprised of 37 25-trial runs, conducted between August 1933 and March 1934. From run to run, the number of matches between Pratt's cards and Pearce's guesses was highly variable, generally deviating significantly above-chance, but also falling dramatically below-chance. These scores were obtained irrespective of the distance between Pratt and Pearce, which was arranged as either 100 or 250 yards.

In 1934, drawing upon several years of cautious and rigorous lab research and statistical analysis, Rhine published the first edition of a book titled Extra Sensory Perception, which in various editions was widely read over the next decades.

In the later 1930s, Rhine investigated “psychokinesis” – again reducing the subject to simple terms so that it could be tested, with controls, in a laboratory setting. Rhine relied on testing whether a subject could influence the outcome of tossed dice – initially with hand-thrown dice, later with dice thrown from a cup, and finally with machine-thrown dice.

In 1940 Rhine published a book, Extra-Sensory Perception After Sixty Years, that summarized his own work and the work of earlier “psychic researchers” who had attempted to be methodical, painstaking, and scientific in their (very different from Rhine’s) approach, one emphasizing field work. Rhine invited his critics – scientists and academics who had debated or criticized his work, or even criticized Rhine himself – to contribute chapters to the book; only three did, and only one maintained an adamant criticism. During the War years, Rhine lost most of his male staff members to war work or the military. He carried on, though, and after the War he had occasion to study some dramatic cases outside the lab.

Rhine’s wife, Dr. Louisa Rhine, pursued work that complemented her husband’s in the later 1940s, gathering information on spontaneous ESP reports (experiences people had, outside of a laboratory setting). Yet J. B. Rhine believed that a good groundwork should be laid in the lab, so that the scientific community might take parapsychology seriously.

In the early 1960s, Rhine founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, at Duke. In the 1970s, several high-scoring subjects – Sean Harribance, M.B. Dykshoorn, and Bill Delmore – were tested in the lab, shortly before Rhine’s retirement.


Rhine, along with William McDougall, coined the term "parapsychology" (translating a German term introduced by Max Dessoir). It is sometimes said that Rhine almost single-handedly developed a methodology and concepts for parapsychology as a form of experimental psychology; however great his contributions, some earlier work along similar — analytical and statistical — lines had been undertaken sporadically in Europe, notably the experimental work of Sir Oliver Lodge.

Rhine founded the institutions necessary for parapsychology's continuing professionalization in the U.S. — including the establishment of the Journal of Parapsychology and the formation of the Parapsychological Association, and also the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), a precursor to what is today known as the Rhine Research Center. His parapsychology research organization was originally affiliated with Duke University, but is now separate.


According to Martin Gardner, Rhine's results have never been duplicated. Gardner did not rule out paranormal phenomena, but felt that in some cases it amounted to tempting God. Rhine repeatedly tried, but with failures he never reported.

Gardner criticized Rhine for not disclosing the names of assistants he caught cheating:

His paper "Security Versus Deception in Parapsychology" published in his journal (vol. 38, 1974), runs to 23 pages. [..] Rhine selects twelve sample cases of dishonest experimenters that came to his attention from 1940 to 1950, four of whom were caught "red-handed". Not a single name is mentioned. What papers did they publish, one wonders.

Assistants whose cheating has been made public in spite of Rhine's secrecy policy are James D. MacFarland and Walter Levy. Gardner claims to have inside information that Rhine's files contain "material suggesting fraud on the part of Hubert Pearce".

In 1983 his wife Louisa Rhine (whom he had married during their university years) wrote a book Something Hidden. She wrote (Gardner 1988:240-43)

Jim [James D. MacFarland] had actually consistently falsified his records. ... To produce extra hits Jim had to resort to erasures and transpositions in his records of his call series.