An Article from the Journal of
the American Society for Psychical Research

A Comparison of Old and New Methods of Response
to Targets in ESP ExperimentsFootnote.1

RHEA A. WHITEFootnote.2


History of the Problem

Since 1882, with the founding of the (British) Society for Psychical Research, organized and systematic attempts have been made to investigate and demonstrate the existence of ESP; and some attempts have also been made to study the way in which the percipient responds to the target. However, a review of the literature of these eighty-odd years reveals some rather striking differences in both the kind and the number of observations concerning this important problem of method of response. This period can be roughly divided into two parts: the first falls between 1882 and 1940 and the second between 1940 and 1962. The differences in these two periods in regard to the attention given to the percipient's subjective method for making the test response will be reviewed in this paper in the hope that some insights may emerge which will shed light on how to further current investigations.

One notes that in the earlier period the percipient's method of response was frequently mentioned, whereas in the more recent experimental reports it is seldom considered. This may be due in part to the fact that most of the work in recent years has been done with groups of subjects working together; under such conditions, it is obvious that very little attention can be given to each individual subject's method of response. The general practice in these group experiments is simply to instruct the subjects to write down or otherwise indicate whatever comes into their minds as to the identity of the target. While the general question of the percipient's state of mind, particularly in regard to concentration and relaxation, has been discussed in the more recent literatureFootnote.3 to the best of my knowledge no definite hypothesis has been put forward concerning a "correct" method of responding in the ESP test situation, in the sense of proposing a specific series of steps to be taken by the percipient in order to obtain significant results.

Certain assumptions are implicit in this approach, or "lack of approach." The first is that there is no "correct" way of making a response; that is, that there is probably a different kind of response for every person, or at least for certain personality types. This being the case, the experimenter does not presume to dictate the method to the subject. Rather than force the subject's response into a mold that it does not fit, he is permitted to drift into his own method and respond in whatever manner seems most spontaneous and natural to him.

Secondly, some experimenters have felt that the more introspective a subject becomes about his response, the more that response will tend to be inhibited, sometimes even leading to psi-missing (obtaining a significant negative deviation by means of ESP).Footnote.4 Here the implicit assumption seems to be that the less attention paid to the nature of the task, the better it will be carried out.

The final assumption is that if positive psychological relations between subject and experimenter and optimum working conditions are established, the way in which the subject makes his response, as such, does not really matter. This implies that under circumstances of psychological freedom and spontaneity, the subject's response, no matter how it is made, is likely to be free and spontaneous. There is some doubt whether this is true; and even if it is, one wonders how effective such "spontaneity" can be.

Apparently some very different assumptions were in the minds of the earlier psychical researchers. It seems clear from their reports that they assumed there was much the percipient had to do before he could expect to attain a state of mind in which it would be possible for him to obtain paranormal knowledge of the target; that if he could attain this state of mind, then he would be far more likely to get a correct impression than if he simply grasped the first thing that presented itself to consciousness. Therefore these pioneer investigators encouraged their subjects not only to respond to the target, but to attain the proper state of mind for doing so.

Perhaps this approach evolved out of the nature of the target materials used: pictures, diagrams, objects, or other items with a much smaller probability of success than that associated with the five standard ESP symbols used in modern experiments. A subject is perhaps more likely merely to "guess" at the target when he knows it is one of five definite possibilities. On the other hand, he may be dismayed by the task if he is confronted with a whole universe of items from which to choose. And yet, perhaps this in itself can serve the purpose of subduing the conscious mind, thus throwing the percipient back upon deeper levels of himself.

In the 1930's and early years of the 1940's, when individual high-scoring subjects were sought and took part in quantitative experiments extending over long periods of time, techniques very similar to those discussed in this paper may have been used (although the reports are not explicit on this point). To cite an example from J. B. Rhine's first monograph:

Even here, however, the emphasis is not on the introspective reports of the subjects themselves,although they are considered individually. But in many of the more recent experimental reports, even if the subject's mental state is considered at all, it is presented in the form of generalizations based on the observation of a number of subjects. Until we know much more about what inner states, if any, are associated with the successful demonstration of ESP, speculation in this manner without first presenting the observations from which the generalizations are derived is an instance of incomplete scientific reporting.

As we have already pointed out, the percipient's mental state is described in many of the early reports and these descriptions indicate that a more or less definite ritual was encouraged by the investigators. Thus the vestiges of a method that can be traced in the older literature may be the remains of the baby that was thrown out with the bath water when the strictly quantitative experiments took over the field.

The Basis of the Present Investigation

This paper is based on the assumption that the best way to discover the manner of response most likely to succeed in ESP experiments is to learn how it "feels" from the percipient's point of view. In doing this, of course, we will encounter the same problem of dealing with subjective reports as did psychology many years ago. One way in which psychology met this problem was to recognize only "objective" observations of behavior as being within the purview of its science. Must parapsychology do the same?

Even in psychology the question remains as to how "objective" we can be. To be objective may be equivalent to wearing blinders. This is fine if we merely wish to see straight ahead, but perhaps what we most want to know is off to one side. In any case, we should try to give some idea of our subjective bias (as far as we can be aware of it) in our reports. We all have such a bias, whether we admit it or not, and simply to ignore it and present our reports as if we stood completely outside our subject is ostrich-like behavior not befitting the truly objective scientist. Perhaps the most objective thing we can do is to try to understand our own subjectivity. A similar approach has been adopted by many psychologists, e.g., Hall and Lindzey, who wrote in their book on personality theories: "There is no such thing as 'no theory'; consequently, the moment we attempt to forget about theory 'for the present' we are really using implicit, personally determined, and perhaps inconsistent assumptions concerning behavior and these unidentified assumptions will determine what will be studied and how" (3, pp. 16-17).

As stated above, it is in the earlier published accounts that we find attempts to develop a mental technique for making correct responses in ESP tests.Footnote.5 Save for a few scattered experiments which we will review here, apparently no one in recent years has tried this kind of approach. But perhaps today we are in a better position to take up this thread which runs through the earlier work and which had to be abandoned for the time being when the more urgent problems of ruling out all objections to the ESP hypothesis became the main concern of experimenters in this field.

It is true that most of the work to be reviewed here was carried out before experimenters became preoccupied with problems of careful controls and correct experimental designs. Not only were some of the experimental conditions very poor, but the nature of the target material used made a statistical evaluation of the results difficult or impossible. This is unfortunate, not only because we do not know to what extent chance may have been responsible for the seemingly striking results obtained, but also because we have no consistent basis for comparing the results obtained under various conditions or in different experiments.Footnote.6 However, we are not trying to rest the case for the existence of ESP on these early experiments; the later, better-controlled experiments have since done that. We are merely turning to the task of finding reliable techniques of response to the target. And it is in respect to thisproblem that modern experimental reports are lacking.

In the reports to be presented here, the experimenters were convinced-and also convinced others-that they had demonstrated ESP. At any rate, an apparent psi factor was thought to be present.Footnote.7 Let us assume that there was and, on this basis, go on to a consideration of the material in order to look for clues to a method for encouraging ESP which can be tested by further experiments. As reports of such experiments become available, a clearer picture will emerge of the characteristics of the right method of response, if such there be. But until this work is done, we should not neglect the rich sources of information the older material provides concerning the percipient's awareness of what happens when he responds to the target in the ESP test situation.


The Experimental Conditions

Only a brief and very general description of the experimental conditions need be given here. Those interested in examining the detailed conditions and results of each experiment may consult the original reports.Footnote.8 References are given in all cases. This paper attempts to deal only with the subjective aspects of the psi response as recorded by the percipient or the experimenter.

For the most part, drawings and actual objects were used as targets in these experiments. However, in many cases cards (usually ordinary playing cards) were used, as in some of the work of Dessoir, Lodge, Rawson, Richet, and Thaw.

As a rule, the tests were for telepathy; i.e., an agent was looking at the target and attempting (usually) to "send" it to the percipient. Usually agent and percipient were in the same room during the experiment; however, in the case of Rush and Warcollier, agent and percipient were sometimes separated by many hundreds of miles. In most of the remaining cases, a "two-room" situation was provided when the agent was actually drawing or otherwise determining the target, but since the percipient was brought back into the agent's room in order to make his response, this cannot be considered equivalent to the standard modern requirement for a two-room procedure. Often, however, the percipient was blindfolded or ostensibly kept his eyes shut.

Occasionally, the tests were for clairvoyance; i.e., no agent was concentrating on the target and, supposedly, no one knew what the target was until after the percipient had made his response. (Tyrrell's subject, Miss Johnson, and Richet's subject, Léonie, did some clairvoyance tests.) The possibility exists, of course, that even in the "telepathy" tests the percipients gained their knowledge clairvoyantly from the target without the mediation of the agent.

The Participants

The names of the percipients are listed below in alphabetical order. When the percipient does not give his own introspections directly, the experimenter's name is listed (within the same alphabetical order), followed by an asterisk. The percipients are Dorris Carlson, Max Dessoir, Mlle. Eugénie and Mlle. Jane (subjects of Schmoll and Mabire), Gertrude M. Johnson, Oliver Lodge* (subjects were Miss E. and Miss R.), J. E. Mabire, Gilbert Murray, Henry G. Rawson, Charles Richet* (subject was Léonie), J. H. Rush (with Ann Jensen), Anton Schmoll, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick* (subject was Gilbert Murray), Craig Sinclair, A. Blair Thaw, G. N. M. Tyrrell* (subject was Gertrude M. Johnson), and René Warcollier.

Among these the following acted both as subject and as experimenter: Carlson, Dessoir, Mabire, Murray, Rawson, Rush, Schmoll, Sinclair, Thaw, and Warcollier.

Description of the Method

It has already been stressed that in the earlier period of investigation a good deal of attention was paid to the way in which the percipient responded to the target. A major development growing out of this emphasis is the somewhat ritualistic technique used for obtaining the correct response. Most of the remainder of this paper will be devoted to a detailed study of this method and a consideration of the advisability of using it, or an adaptation of it, in future experiments.

This method is divided into several steps, each of which is described together with relevant passages from the original reports. The steps are (1) Relaxation, (2) Engaging the Conscious Mind, (2A) The Demand, (3) The Waiting, the Tension, and the Release, and (4) The Way the Response Enters Consciousness.

This separation into steps has been made mainly for convenience in presenting the material and to facilitate discussion. As nearly as possible, the separation was made along the lines suggested by the material itself. Other separations may be possible. In any case, it would be unwise to consider any division as hard and fast, for the essence of the method being considered (paradoxically enough, since it is quite deliberate) is to allow the freest response possible to well up in some form of spontaneous expression from the deeper levels of the percipient's mind.

It may be well to mention here that although the steps in this method are conscious,i.e., deliberate, the aim is to produce a spontaneous and unconsciousresponse, i.e., one not initiated by the conscious mind. By the very nature of the situation, the percipient begins with conscious knowledge of his aim, which is to discern the target by nonsensory and (apparently) unconscious means. In addition to remembering his aim, the percipient is forced by the situation to remind himself that at the moment he does not know what the target is, nor will he be able to discover it by any "normal" (sensory and rational) means. This throws him back upon the deeper, non-rational resources of his being.

With the information available to consciousness at that moment, then, the percipient is aware that the only course open to him is pure guessing. Thus far, this approach corresponds to what takes place both in the more recent experiments and the older ones. But in both cases there must be something more than mere guessinginvolved, since the results obtained are not of a chance nature. In much of the modern ESP testing, however, the subject is, so far as he knows, merely "guessing." But the earlier work may have carried the process a step or two further, at least in regard to the percipient's conscious awareness of what was happening. (The actual dynamics at an unconscious level may be the same in both cases.)

As will be seen in the pages to come, one of the purposes of this method is to take the "guesswork" out of the ESP response at the conscious level. Apparently the correct response exists at an unconscious level. By making the contents of the unconscious conscious, much of the guesswork can be eliminated. The main task confronting the conscious mind, then, is to recognizethe correct response if and when it comes to the conscious level; a second task may be to school itself to waitfor this response. (It is at this point that many of the modern "guessers" respond, willy-nilly, by indicating the first thing that comes to mind.) There follows a detailed account of the four steps into which the method is divided.

Step One: Relaxation

The early reports place a great deal of emphasis on achieving a state of deep mental and physical relaxation. Deliberate attempts are made to still the body and mind, and these techniques are, in most cases, incorporated in a kind of ritual. This is in marked contrast to more recent methods where directions (if any) merely consist of telling the subject to "relax." (Actually, relaxation is not easily attained and may even require some degree of training. Footnote.9) In most of the cases reviewed here, specific techniques are made an integral part of the method for achieving a relaxed state. The subjects of this study say the following about relaxation:


SINCLAIR: It appears, then, that the first general requirement is to achieve a state of complete relaxation. The induction of this state requires a considerable length of time, especially in the beginning, and it is not unusual to spend from five to ten minutes on this step alone. Variations of some of the classical techniques for inducing relaxation are used by many of the percipients; for example, relaxing the toes of one foot, then the ankle, and so on up one side of the torso, and then beginning all over again with the other side. Others suggest beginning with the head and working downwards. Some percipients advocate sitting on a stiff-backed chair, while others consider that it is best to lie flat on one's back. It would seem that here (as well as in all the other steps in this method) it is necessary for the individual to make pilot experiments of his own to discover what works best for him.

At the same time that one is relaxing the physical body, mental suggestion may be employed. In this connection, it appears that Step One cannot be properly carried out without introducing Step Two. Although the whole person is involved, it is the conscious ego, at least in the beginning, that must initiate and guide the work.

It might be well for anyone attempting this method to adopt Mrs. Sinclair's technique of working out a system of checks in order to tell when a step has been properly accomplished and one is ready to progress to the next. She found, it will be recalled, that if her mind was not a blank, she had not properly carried out Step One.

Some percipients stress the importance of doing these exercises "religiously" at a specified time each day, and if possible in the same place, allowing no interference with this schedule. If the conscious mind demonstrates, so to speak, the sincerity of its intention by developing and adheringto a regular daily regimen, the unconscious mind may then fall in line with that intention.

Step Two: Engaging the Conscious Mind

When the percipient has achieved the proper degree of relaxation, the second step in the process begins in earnest (although, as we have pointed out, it was also present in the first step). Here the goal is to engage the attention of the conscious mind, which will wander. The ways in which some of the percipients tried to do this are as follows:


DESSOIR: LODGE: * MURRAY: RAWSON: RUSH: SCHMOLL: SINCLAIR: WARCOLLIER: The main features of Step Two seem to be lack of strain, passivity, a blank mental screen, persistence, and-paradoxically-concentration in one form or another. As Gardner Murphy and Laura A. Dale have pointed out: Most of the individuals we are considering here were able to "hold their conscious processes in leash." The aim of this aspect of the method is to prevent the conscious mind from interfering with the unconscious paranormal process. Attention is withdrawn from the normal sensory and rational channels and the mind is curbed from all imaginative excursions. It appears that this is accomplished by concentrating the total conscious attention upon one specific thing. In so doing, interference of the conscious mind is eliminated or diminished, not by suppressing it, but by deploying it elsewhere. The concentration is directed, not to an object in the external environment, nor to the inner depths of one's mind, but to a mental image that one deliberately sets oneself to keep in the center of attention. The ability to carry out this task should be within the conscious control of all of us to the degree that we possess the necessary qualifications of persistence and the desire to succeed.

It may seem paradoxical that some of our percipients aim at achieving a state of inner blankness or emptiness, while others, as we have indicated above, emphasize the need to concentrate exclusively on one object-what René Warcollier calls "monoideism." It seems certain, however, that each of these approaches is used to accomplish the same purpose: to engage or distract the full attention of the conscious mind. In fact, it can be argued that the two approaches are the same in essence, although appearing at first glance to be opposites. In order to achieve "blankness," one must concentrate on the imageof blankness, or on the act of emptying the mind, just as one must when one chooses, on the other hand, to attend to the seemingly more concrete image of a flower. One mental content is no more solid than another; in this sense, the mind is a great equalizer. In either case, it seems to be a mental imagethat one concentrates upon. Footnote.11

If one chooses to follow the technique of concentrating upon a specific image, there will probably be difficulties at first in keeping that image, and onlythat image, constantly in mind. A more or less long period of practice and discipline is called for in which intruding thoughts and images must be systematically rejected, while the intention to adhere to the chosen image is continually renewed. The goal is to reach a stage of proficiency in which one can, in the words of Mrs. Carlson, "hold the image forever[italics, mine] if need be." A stage must be reached where the image takes on a life of its own and can be held effortlessly in a consciousness where all intruding influences have been successfully eliminated. As Warcollier put it, "It is not a question of merely thinking of a certain flower, but of seeing it appear inwardly as a hypnagogic image" (31, p. 223). Only when this trance-like state has been achieved and held effortlessly is one ready for the next step.

If one does not have the ability to produce vivid visual imagery, then one may decide to use the technique of concentrating upon an emotion or feeling, or of making one's mind a blank. But whichever technique is selected (and here again, we would do well to experiment to find out which one is best suited to our needs), the great importance of patience and persistence cannot be overemphasized.

Step Two-A: The Demand

This is designated as a sub-step because it is peculiar to only two of our percipients, Carlson and Sinclair. Footnote.12 The fact that they followed the same method is probably because, as mentioned earlier, Mrs. Carlson was inspired to take up her experiments by reading Upton Sinclair's book, Mental Radio (24), in which the method of his wife, Craig, is set forth in great detail. Their technique differs from that of the other percipients considered here in that, at a certain point in the process, a conscious demandis made for the correct response to the drawing. They describe it as follows:


SINCLAIR: Again, although this technique superficially seems to differ markedly from that of the other percipients, in essence it may be accomplishing the same purpose. This method of concentrating on one image to the exclusion of all others, and then breaking the tension thus produced by a demand for an answer, may actually be the step by which Carlson and Sinclair achieved the "blankness" which the others aimed for initially. This emptiness seems to provide a favorable backdrop for the correct image when it enters consciousness, but it is very difficult to achieve. In regard to this, Gardner Murphy has written: Perhaps this "letting go" would not be so difficult if it were preceded by the necessary steps of relaxation and then concentration of attention. As long as we are conscious, we cannot get rid of conscious attention; but we canget it off the desired target and employ it elsewhere so that the target image is free to come of itself. Instead of going at this blankness directly, the Sinclair-Carlson method appears to be an ingenious way of "taking the mind by surprise." This is indicated by Mrs. Carlson when she says it is like "... leaning against a door with all your might-and suddenly the door opens unexpectedly!" Perhaps there could be no better way to carry out Warcollier's dictum that "One must create in oneself a void of thought."

On the other hand, for those who strive initially to attain the state of inward blankness, there appears to be an equivalent to the Sinclair- Carlson "demand." Warcollier, for example, emphasizes that one must, even while making the mind a blank, keep in consciousness the idea of the agent and the fact that one wants to know the answer. But in attending in this way to the answer, one must apparently safeguard the operation of the process by holding also to the image of the blank screen.

Perhaps the purpose of both these methods is to create a state of inner tension. It is this tension which makes the whole process so difficult, but it may also be the factor which provides enough momentum to result in the correct response becoming conscious without directly and deliberately aiming at it. There is a line from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince (20) which may be very apt in this connection: "Straight ahead of him, nobody can go very far ... "

Whether we begin with the image or the blankness, we must next follow the road which leads to the third step. Having removed all awareness of the body, having successfully involved the attention of the conscious mind (producing a condition of dissociation), we are in a position to receive the impression which will, it is hoped, rise spontaneously into consciousness. By definition, however, this is not something that we can "do" by conscious means. There is only one course open to us, and that is simply to wait. (As with the "grace of God," or the mystical ecstasy, the answer cannot be compelled; one can only remove whatever stands in the way of its coming, and then hope and wait.)

Step Three: The Waiting, the Tension, and the Release

There may be a kernel of psychological truth in the saying that "Everything comes to him who waits." In patience, that quiet unprepossessing virtue, perhaps one of the least appreciated in our modern Western culture, may lie the key to parapsychological dreams. In any case, the material we are considering here seems to indicate that by virtue of being willing to wait, the percipient is not only more likely to receive the sought-for impression, but to recognize it when it comes.

But before the consciousness can brighten in this way, a period of darkness fraught with all the anxiety which is the natural accompaniment of such a state of "not-knowing" is experienced. This period can seem quite long, especially to the habitual pushing pulling "let's-get-on-with-it" set of the conscious mind. And as if this were not enough, to the extent that this waiting is persisted in, more and more tension is produced. In fact, the main characteristic of this step is the waiting, and its apparent purpose is to let the tension mount, even as the winding of a top is a necessary preliminary to its spinning. Our percipients have this to say about Step Three:


RiCHET: * SCHMOLL: SCHMOLL-MABIRE: SINCLAIR: TYRRELL: * WARCOLLIER: From these accounts, it appears that there is a definite reason for the tension so characteristic of this step. (It can be said that unless one experiences this tension, Step Three has not been mastered.) The tension is produced because the percipient is trying to straddle two opposites: consciously, he is concentrating exclusively on an image which he knows is notwhat he seeks, while simultaneously he is entertaining an awareness of a void wherein lies the sought-for answer! But perhaps, as we have said before, it is this very tension which makes it possible for the correct image to burst into consciousness.

Step Four: The Way the Response Enters Consciousness

If the percipient can withstand the tension and refrain from a deliberate attempt to break it by mere guessing, he is in an optimum condition for allowing the correct impression to enter consciousness. Sometimes this impression appears spontaneously; at these moments the percipients almost universally report a strong feeling of conviction that the impression is the correct one. But very often, on the other hand, the impressions are neither so "single nor as singular." When this is the case, there are certain tasks the conscious mind may carry out in order to recognize the image most likely to be correct.



One of the most tantalizing hints in these reports is the almost "too-good-to-be-true" one that, at times, particularly when the point of highest tension has been reached and held until spontaneously released, an image pops into consciousness accompanied by a sense of conviction that it is the sought-for answer. It does this in such a way that the percipient can say of it, "I know, and knowthat I know this is correct." This imagery seems to come of itself, rising spontaneously from the void, perhaps sucked in via the vacuum created by the single-pointed attention of the conscious mind. Is this an indication of another level of the self, one seldom tapped in the general run of parapsychological experiments, to which the word "guess" can no longer be applied?Footnote.13 Simply hypothesizing the existence of such a level may perhaps open new vistas by shifting the emphasis of our research.

In the reports cited here, a continuum is indicated ranging from completely correct images to completely incorrect ones; and the percipient's feeling of conviction may also range from "absolute" to "non-existent." The problem is, of course, that the correlation existing between the degree of conviction and the correctness of the image is not always reliable; however, the method described in this paper apparently resulted in a higher correlation between conviction and correctness than is generally found in modern quantitative work in which the subject is merely "guessing." Footnote.14

Signs of Correctness

There is another feature of some of these reports which may furnish clues for future experiments. In addition to the purely intuitive "hunch" commented upon in particular by Sinclair and Thaw, many percipients report additional characteristics or "signs" that seem to accompany correct impressions. Some of these are: (1) Feeling of joy (Carlson, Mlle. Eugénie, Johnson, Schmoll, Sinclair); (2) The first impression (Carlson, Mlle. Jane, Murray); (3) A quality of light, brightness(Carlson, Mlle. Eugénie, Johnson, Schmoll); (4) Colors,or black on white,or white on black(Carlson, Mlle. Jane); (5) Vividness(Dessoir, Murray, Rawson, Rush, Schmoll, Warcollier); (6) A recurrent image(Miss E., Sinclair), and (7) Compulsion(Carlson, Mlle. Jane, Sinclair).

What kind of mental content seems to be associated with conviction when the percipient's response is correct? How many other "signs" of success (or failure) may we be able to discover?Footnote.15 Are they associated with particular persons or personality types? The answers to questions such as these await further research.

The Importance of Details

There is an aspect of the method which we have not as yet specifically emphasized, but which is present at every step. Many of the percipients stress the importance-even the psychological necessity- of giving careful and painstaking attention to the detailsof the method. Perhaps motivation and interest are kept alive by a strict adherence to the details of the individual rituals and techniques. Gilbert Murray, for example, states that "the least disturbance of our customary method ... is apt to make things go wrong" (10, p. 58). And Mrs. Sinclair admonishes:

Mrs. Carlson says: "... I believe that the hard work required to mentally visualize an object is what contributes to the success of the experiment. One must hold the image as long as possible. When it slips away, bring it back again and again" (1).

It is possible that success in perceiving extrasensorily does not depend on concentration, or relaxation, or setting aside a special time and place, or any other methodological restriction; however, an underlying motivation or sense of purpose strong enough to enablea person to go to the trouble involved in carrying out such restrictions may well be indispensable. Without the method and its painstaking details, would it be possible for the percipient to sustain his motivation? Whatever it is in his method that the percipient feels he must emphasize and adhere to seems to serve the all-important task of carrying his motivation along at a high pitch and over a long period of time.

In this connection, Walter Franklin Prince made an interesting comment on the Schmoll, and the Schmoll-Mabire experiments. He was casting about for an explanation of the fact that all eight of the percipients in these two series were successful, yet apparently they were selected more or less fortuitously, and not on the basis of having any special psychic sensitivity. Prince therefore concluded that there must have been something different in the conditionsof the procedure: "The one outstanding peculiarity of the Schmoll series of 1886 and the Schmoll-Mabire series of 1887 is the length of time, occupied by the percipients [in making their responses] and the principles[italics mine] on which the period was determined" (11, p. 124). By "principles" Prince apparently meant that the percipients were instructed to wait (1) "if need be, half an hour," and (2) until such a time as an image appeared "of an intensity approaching visual hallucination ..." (11, p. 125). That there were principles involved may be an important clue: a lack of just such attention to the detailsand the principlesof a technique for readying the mind to receive psi impressions may be one reason why some percipients who have attempted to use the method (in whole or in part) discussed in this paper have reported that their results were no more successful than those they had achieved by sheer "guessing."


Underlying Assumptions

Why have we consistently emphasized the importance of this method and stressed the fact that it differs from the methods used in current parapsychological experiments? The answer may become clear if we consider the contrasting assumptions inherent in the two approaches. In the earlier work it was assumed that the percipient had to "do" something before results could be expected, whereas in more recent experiments the assumption seems to be that the subject (even the change in terminology from "percipient" to "subject" may be significant) does not have to do anything more than rattle off whatever comes into his head. It is the hypothesis of this paper, based on some assumptions to follow, that the earlier method was more deliberate, but, at the same time, led to results which were more spontaneous than those of present-day experiments.

It appears that the earlier workers were trying to develop a method of response as an integral part of their attempts to demonstrate ESP. Recent experiments have concentrated almost exclusively on obtaining evidence of ESP from subjects who respond in whatever way comes naturally (and usually unconsciously) to them. The difference lies not so much in the nature of the results as in the degree of subjective awareness of how these results were obtained. If we could be conscious of our inner states while producing significant results in an ESP test, this would indeed seem to be a step toward gaining control over the elusiveness of psi. We would then know from introspection when the necessary conditions for producing results had been achieved. The unselfconscious way of responding in modern ESP tests in a catch-as-catch-can manner has achieved results and established the reality of psi to the satisfaction of many. But the time may now be ripe to go a step further in seeking for conscious awareness of the subjective events that go into the making of a correct ESP response. This approach might even enable us to gain new vistas from which we are barred when we proceed only by the newer, but less deliberate methods. It is not unlikely that a different door will open if we ask a different question; if instead of "score" we concentrate on "method."

It has been argued that deliberately stressing introspection could be fatal to the production of a correct psi response, which by its very nature is a spontaneous phenomenon. But let us assume that a seemingly deliberate approach is not inhibitory to a correct psi response. As evidence for this, we have the testimony of the subjects of this report; they were apparently able to distinguish several stages in the process of making their responses. One of the reasons why the modern ESP subject is thought to be more spontaneous in his approach to the task is because he makes his guesses quickly. But it may be a mistake to equate spontaneity with speed; perhaps the slower method is even more spontaneous. When the subject rushes along, responding with whatever comes into his mind, he tends to fall into guessing habits and his call patterns become more and more mechanical. It is true that the preparatory steps in the older approach are far from spontaneous; in fact, they are quite deliberate and conscious. Nevertheless, the response that finally comes at the point of highest tension may be far more spontaneous than that achieved by mere "guessing." It is possible that in the latter case the response is a product of both conscious and unconscious processes, and the uncertainty in the results and the large margin of error is due to contamination by the conscious mind. If we know we are merely guessing, it might be wise to withhold the response. As we have seen, it is this very act of withholding that allows the necessary tension to build. As Mrs. Carlson remarks, "The conscious mind is not in on the know-how of the process."

Why a Method Seems Necessary

The purpose of introducing a deliberate method is to discipline and train the conscious mind so that it will no longer inhibit the spontaneous emergence of the answer. (Perhaps this would not be necessary if we were not in the habit of trying to keep the reins of our mental life in the hands of consciousness; although useful in our extraverted adjustment to life, it defeats our purpose when exploring the inner world.) When this disciplinary process has been accomplished, the percipient's success may no longer depend on mere guessing, but rather on voluntary factors such as how much he is able to persevere, the extent to which he is willing and able to pay attention to the details of the method, and the amount of self-respect that is bound up with the task. All these factors are, to some extent, subject to the control of the conscious ego, which has had experience of them in daily life, and so may bring them to bear upon the method of making the correct ESP response.

Because of the deliberate attempt to adhere to a method, the percipient no longer needs-nor is as likely-to fall back upon mere "guessing" for lack of anything else to satisfy his need to "do" something. In fact, if he follows closely each specific step in the method discussed here, then to slip back into unconscious (or consciously "random") guessing is to misapply the method. This change of perspective delivers the percipient from a senseless guessing procedure and immerses him in a task which demands full use of all his conscious faculties. Perhaps we shall never be able to produce ESP at will, but by means of the "will" we can put ourselves in the proper frame of mind to receive psi impressions. It then remains for us to stay there, at the point of highest tension, until the spontaneous image arises. This method offers a challenge to the conscious mind and gives it a task which it is able to grasp and upon which it can take hold.

Repeatability of Results in ESP Experiments

Parapsychologists are often reminded that the most important criterion of scientific validity is repeatability. Perhaps we have been hindered in achieving this goal because of our predilection for mimicking the kinds of experiments that are done in the physical sciences. In doing so, we may have concentrated too intently on the externalconditions necessary for success in our field; yet it is certain that the conditions which are at least partly essential for repeatability in parapsychological experiments are internal,i.e., states of mind.

Many will disagree with this on the grounds that to attempt to base experiments on descriptions of states of mind-mere subjective vagaries-is to lose oneself in countless and unaccountable unknowns. But it is a mistake to assume that subjective states are necessarily vagrant or incapable of repetition. In time we may be able to control states of mind which, in turn, can be correlated with ESP. But we must make a start, even if at present these states of mind appear to be nebulous and uncontrollable. Even in the physical world, an unexplored wilderness cannot be mapped, let alone civilized, until someone grants it enough reality to set foot upon it. Certainly many persons in religion, the arts, education, and many other professions live and move-more or less consciously -in the inner regions of the mind. (In private life probably many parapsychologists do, too!) By means of ESP tests we may eventually be able to grasp objectively and quantitatively that which hitherto has only been accessible to introspection. But the Columbus of parapsychology has yet to appear.

The persons reported on in this paper were explorers: they were not afraid to begin. Their preliminary explorations indicate that a method capable of leading to repeatability of psi results may lie just over the horizon. In the physical sciences, if certain objective conditions are fulfilled, a predicted result will follow; similarly, this early ESP work indicates that in parapsychology prediction of results may also be possible with but one difference-the conditions to be fulfilled are subjective.

To those who argue that the evidence for ESP presented by much of this material is not of high enough caliber to warrant such an assumption, I would reply that just as these reports do not establish the case for ESP, neither do they refute it. That is not the question here. They doindicate the possibility of an investigative approach very different from that currently in use-an approach which gives promise of yielding repeatable results and which, rather than being a stab in the dark, is a continuation of a tradition already well-established in the history of our subject.

Replication of This Method

For those persons wishing to carry out their own experiments using this method, there follow some practical suggestions.

Tests for telepathy, clairvoyance, or precognition may be carried out. Whichever type of test is decided upon, the collaboration of another person will be necessary. It will be the task of the collaborator to select the targets by a properly random method, ensure that sensory or other normal sources of information are ruled out, and check the results. The collaborator may be present when carrying out these tasks, or they can be handled by mail. In tests for telepathy, the collaborator will act as "agent."

Various types of target material can be used. If easily quantifiable results are desired, one may choose as targets the five standard ESP symbols or any specified number of anything one wishes: names, places, colors, etc. Playing cards, or other targets combining two aspects, such as color and symbol, can add complexity to the task. Free drawings and other similar targets can be used, but the statistical evaluation of results is rather complicated; in any case, if the method proposed here has merit, it should work equally well with fixed targets as with so-called "free" targets.

The number of trials to be made, which should always be specified in advance, will depend on the nature of the target material selected. For example, more trials will be necessary with ESP cards, where the probability of success is one in five, than with, say, playing cards, where the probability of making a direct hit is only one in 52.

For detailed information regarding types of tests, experimental conditions, probability-values, number of trials, and statistical analyses of results, the reader is referred to Betty M. Humphrey's handbook (4) published in 1948 or to the more recent Rhine-Pratt textbook on parapsychology (16).

Turning now to more general suggestions for use of the method, it is important to stress that all four steps in the process must be fully and faithfully taken if successful results are to be obtained. A frequent source of error is that instead of waiting at the point of highest tension for the spontaneous explosion of the image into consciousness, the conscious mind becomes impatient and decides to take over. (just a little of this "waiting" can make one tired and bored and prone to wonder whether it is really worth while.) It is important to believe that the method will work; there must be a willingness to make and take enough time, an ability to persist and, most of all, the capacity to say "no" to the impatient conscious mind in order to let the correct response come of itself, i.e., without conscious volition. All incoming images, and especially all reflections and interpretations, should be inhibited. Reject everything you can; what you cannotreject is more likely to be the correct response than one arrived at by mere guessing. It is also likely that the "irresistible" image will differ in various respects from one's normal imagery. (It might be wise at this point in the process to compare the quality of the image with the "signs" of correctness discussed above.) If the image is similar to one's ordinary ones and does not stand out in any way, it too should probably be rejected.

Until the knack is acquired, there is one safeguard against the improper application of the method. This concerns the intention with which one begins: to wait, no matter how long, until an image which differs from one's customary imagery bursts forth of itself. Since indefinite waiting could be impracticable, however, more workable plan would be to set aside (at stipulated intervals) certain period of time-probably not less than fifteen minutes nor more than an hour-in which an attempt will be made to discern the target. One need not limit the number of trials per session, but if nothing "comes" for a given target during a session, then no response should be recorded for that target. Instead, begin again with that same target at the next session. To allow for this, the total number of trials to be completed for the experiment and the minimum amount of time per session should be decided upon in advance, but the total number of sessions required to complete the trials should be left undetermined.

So far there is no problem. If an image does come of itself, forcing itself upon consciousness in such a manner that consciousness, using all of its resources, is nevertheless unable to reject it,then this image should be recorded. Conversely, if nothing comes, or if only "ordinary" thoughts and associations arise, nothing should be recorded for that session.Footnote.16 However, at least in the beginning, many of the images that arise will probably do so because the conscious mind, not being able to stand the tension, falls back on the easier method of guessing. But this need not jeopardize the significance of the results if a secondary line of defense is incorporated into the design of the experiment: thus, it can be decided in advance that when the percipient records his impressions he will also record whether the image exploded into consciousness, whether he had a sense of conviction, or whether he experienced any of the other "signs" of correctness already mentioned. If he did not, and yet feels compelled to put somethingdown, such responses will not be included in the statistical tabulation of the main results. Neither, of course, should such responses be discarded, for it would be of interest to see what percentage of them are correct. They may be included in a secondary analysis if the necessary statistical correction is applied.

This precautionary measure may also be of value as a part of the disciplinary process which the percipient must undergo before the knack is perfected. If breaking the tension and making a guess is not going to "count," he may be better able to resist the temptation to guess and resign himself to wait for the response to come spontaneously. It is true that by discounting many of the images that appear in consciousness as no more than guesses, we may lose some potential hits, but let this sacrifice be made in order to give the method a fair trial.

The Experimenter

If this method is to be fruitful as an investigative approach, it suggests the advisability-perhaps even the necessity-of involving the experimenter himself. (It is interesting to note that of the 16 percipients covered in this report, ten acted as both percipient and experimenter.) In fact, it may be impossible for the experimenter to remain "outside" the experiment in this kind of approach. There must be detachment and objectivity when formulating the experimental plan and assessing the results, but need this apply to the actof obtaining the results ? The fact that as experimenters we try to be detached may be one reason why significant results are so seldom forthcoming. If we wish to investigate, perhaps we should first participate; otherwise our position is like that of the astronomer who turns his back upon the stars.

Since this method deals with inner states for which at present only subjective impressions exist, verbal communication must be supplemented largely by intuitive factors. In order to guide his subjects, the experimenter must have firsthand knowledge of what he is asking them to do. Without personal experience of these states of mind and the particular impact they have upon consciousness, he is not in a position to take seriously the reality of the phenomenon he is trying to investigate. The first step, therefore, is for the experimenter himself to try to develop a method along the lines suggested in this paper.

We know, of course, that nearly every active parapsychologist has tried to guess ESP targets, many persisting over long periods of time. But persistence in the sense of repeated blind guessing is not the same as the persistence required to wait for the tension to build and the response to explode into consciousness. Several experimenters have published statistically significant results of their own, e.g., J. B. and L. E. Rhine, J. G. Pratt, C. E. Stuart, and others, but it is doubtful if they knew how or when the correct responses were made. It is hoped that this method will provide better opportunities for introspection than the blind guessing procedure, thus enabling experimenters to grasp and understand the process so that it can be taught to others.

If the experimenter has never shown a capacity for ESP, all the better, for one aim of our research should be to work with ordinary persons who have never demonstrated any psi sensitivity to see if they can consciously and deliberately develop a method enabling them to obtain evidential results.

The Experimental Report

In present-day experimental reports, mention is rarely made of the subject's subjective, introspective reactions during the test. It is said that such clinical and intuitive impressions should be suppressed until such a time as their validity and relevance can be empirically demonstrated. But would not the first step in this direction be to take note of and study them? If such subjective data are not on record, how can we establish anything about them, one way or the other? One case alone, of course, would mean very little, but if we had the subjective reports of all the successful ESP subjects to date, along with the objective data already published, we would be in a far better position than we now are to formulate hypotheses for further empirical verification; in fact, by now they might have led us to new lines of investigation.

One wonders whether, in our zeal for being "objective," we have not forgotten the most important first step in any scientific endeavor: systematic observation and classification of anything and everything that may conceivably be relevant to the problem at hand. Our personal assumptions as to what is "relevant" will vary, of course; apparently in the recent past the subject's introspections have not been so considered. But failure to include them in the experimental reportFootnote.17 gives an incomplete picture of what actually happened during the test.

Granted that in physics, for example, it is "poor science" to include such subjective vagaries and to the extent that one does, one is thought to be "unscientific." But does this hold true for parapsychology? Do we not purport to study the mind? If so, then failing to record our subjective impressions is what should be labeled "unscientific" in ourfield, because in so doing we are neglecting to report all the facts that may be pertinent. We would be unscientific only if, in so reporting, we tried to interpretour impressions in such a way that they could not be verified by further experiment, or if we made the error of taking them at their face value. If a person feels, for example, that his success is due to cosmic radiations or his recent operation, we know, of course, that this is probably not so; but the factthat these impressions occurred in that particular situation should nevertheless be recorded, for these are the data that nature presents to us and with which we must work.


This comparison of old and new methods of response by the percipient yields several suggestions for future research. First, it suggests that the older method of attending more consciously to the way of responding to the target should be resurrected, revised where necessary, and given a fair trial, at the same time maintaining the careful standards and controls which have been such an important contribution to our subject in recent years. It also suggests that, because of the method involved, the experimenter himself should become proficient in it before attempting to instruct others. A plea is also made that the percipient's subjective impressions be recorded during the experiment, or shortly thereafter, but before the nature of the target is disclosed, and that these observations should be made available to interested persons if it is not practicable to include them in the published report.

It is hoped that this paper will stimulate others to try this method, with or without variations of their own. The author would appreciate being informed of the results of such attempts, whether or not they appear to be successful, the results being recorded, if possible, in the manner suggested above.



1 Most of the work on this paper was carried out while the author was Editorial and Research Associate at the A.S.P.R.-Ed.   [Return to the text]

2 I would like to thank Mrs. Dorris Carlson (whose experiences first kindled my interest in the method described in this paper) and Dr. J. H. Rush, two of the percipients whose work is discussed herein, for reading the manuscript and making valuable suggestions. Thanks are also due to Professor C. J. Ducasse, Professor Gardner Murphy, Dr. Karlis Osis, Mrs. E. de P. Matthews, and Mrs. Laura A. Dale for their helpful comments and criticisms of the manuscript. Finally, I am greatly indebted to Mrs. Jean Angstadt for the encouragement, typing assistance, help in checking notes and details, and discussion of the manuscript which she provided at every stage of its preparation.   [Return to the text]

3 Some excellent reviews of this topic can be found in Rhine (14), especially in the chapter entitled "Psychological Conditions"; Taves (26); Smith and Gibson (25); Murphy and Dale (9); Murphy (8); and Rhine and Pratt (16), in particular in the chapter "Psychological Recommendations for Psi Testing." On the whole, however, these authors deal with the question of the state of mind that seems most characteristic when successful psi responses are made rather than with the question of whether the percipient may deliberately develop a subjective methodfor making successful responses.  [Return to the text]

4 For a survey of the literature on psi-missing, see J. B. Rhine (15).   [Return to the text]

5 Although the material reviewed in this paper has been restricted to that which deals with ESP experiments, there are several other areas which are relevant to our topic. I refer to mediumship and spontaneous cases, to studies of creativity, mystical and religious practices, and even techniques used in certain sports and other skilled motor activities. It is hoped that these areas, and perhaps others, may be dealt with in later reports.   [Return to the text]

6 Methods have now been developed for measuring the probability of success in ESP experiments using free materials as targets. In one of the experiments with drawings cited in this paper (18), the results were evaluated by the "preferential matching" method, which has been described by Betty M. Humphrey (4, pp. 62-69). See also Rhine and Pratt (16, pp. 182-183).   [Return to the text]

7 The reader may be interested in consulting Walter Franklin Prince's (11) careful analysis of the quality of the evidence for ESP in the case of Sinclair (pp. 1-86), as well as Dessoir (pp. 102-114), Rawson (pp. 130-133), Schmoll (pp. 114-117), and Schmoll and Mabire (pp. 120-126).   [Return to the text]

8 The only exception is Mrs. Dorris Carlson, whose experiments never reached the stage of publication. In 1949 she determined to attempt a repetition of Craig Sinclair's technique as described in Mental Radio (24). On and off, for about a year, Mrs. Carlson had her husband or a friend draw pictures or write words or phrases on slips of paper or cardboard which were then enclosed in envelopes (sometimes wrapped in brown paper first). She then lay down, closed her eyes, and held a target envelope in her hand, or on her diaphragm or forehead, and tried to get impressions of what was inside by the method to be discussed in this paper. She then drew or described what she saw. Five to ten drawings were usually done per session. Although she was alone during the experiments, she sometimes waited for Mr. Carlson before opening the envelope and comparing the target with her response.

Although many of the records were not kept, a representative sample of 56 pairs of targets and responses was loaned to me. From inspection, there are seven cases in which the response can be considered a direct hit. About 11 instances appear to be total failures. The remaining 38 are partial hits in which fragments or significant aspects of the target were recorded correctly, but some parts were either not received or were represented incorrectly. For example, one target was drawn with a green pencil. The response did not correspond to the target, but Mrs. Carlson wrote "green" on her response sheet. (This was the only time Mr. Carlson used a green pencil and Mrs. Carlson did not know beforehand that he had done so.) In another case, the target was a pyramid and she drew a classical picture of a pyramid, but then mislabeled it "Dutch bonnet or cap." Another target was a drawing of a jack-in-the-box. She recorded the words "jumping jack" for she had "seen" one in full color. (The actual target was drawn with black pencil on white paper.) On the whole, the samples Mrs. Carlson sent me are very similar to the published results of Mrs. Sinclair, René Warcollier, and others.   [Return to the text]

9 Much has been written on this subject, one of the classics in the field being the book by E. Jacobsen (6).   [Return to the text]

10 The value of this quotation is in the suggestion Rawson makes that the percipient must keep his mind a blank; needless to say, it is not permissible in a well-controlled telepathy test to have subject and agent in the same room, and under no circumstances should the agent speak to the subject.   [Return to the text]

11 J. H. Rush, after reading this paper in manuscript, wrote: "I question whether the mental blankness we are talking about is the same thing as concentrating on a specific image . . . [it] is an absence rather than an object. I have never been able to concentrate effectively on a specific image ... [as do] the yogis and some of the people you quote, but the blank state usually comes fairly easily. Concentration, in this sense, seems to me to be a rather negative, passive state, an absence of distraction, rather than a positive, directed effort."   [Return to the text]

12 Rush, e.g., commented, "I have not made the demand a separate phase (but] have approached the whole exercise with mental focus on the desire for getting the target image. Once the mind is cleared, my attitude is best described as anticipation."  [Return to the text]

13 See Margaret Pegram Reeves' (13) discussion of "peripheral" and "deep level" motivation in spontaneous and experimental ESP.   [Return to the text]

14 See, however, the pioneer work of Betty M. Humphrey and J. Fraser Nicol (5) on the "feeling of success" in ESP experiments.   [Return to the text]

15 In connection with the subjective states open to the percipient's introspection and ways of distinguishing correct images from false ones, the following remarks of Milan Ryzl (19), who works with subjects under hypnosis, are relevant: "Sometimes veridical visions are distinguished by greater clarity and distinctness. But most often the subject must himself, by his own experience, find subjective criteria which will help him to recognize veridical visions. This is achieved by making with the subject many preliminary clairvoyant experiments in which his utterances are at once confronted with the reality, and the subject is in every case immediately informed whether he is right or wrong (p. 244).   [Return to the text]

16 Mrs. Jean Van Petten, in a letter of October 3, 1962, has called my attention to the possibility that the correct response might come to mind after the experimental session is over and everyday activities have been resumed. This phenomenon has been noted both in spontaneous cases and in experimental work. It can be allowed for in the experimental design by deciding that if an image, differing from one's usual mental contents, should spring into consciousness for no obvious reason, it should be recorded as the response to the target of the previous session, a new target then being used for the next session.  [Return to the text]

17 If Cost of printing or lack of space make it impracticable to publish a full account of the subjects' introspections in the experimental report, then it is suggested that copies of this material be made available to interested persons.  [Return to the text]