I Was Part of an ESP Experiment at Duke Last Week

22 Jun

A couple weeks ago I was flipping through the local paper and an innocent little classified ad caught my eye:

OK, so maybe that wasn’t really the classified ad I saw, but if it was, I would’ve called them too!

For real:

Instead I saw an ad placed by the Rhine Research Institute at Duke University in Durham, NC, seeking volunteers for an on-going ESP/Psi study going on. After making contact with them, I was able to volunteer in the study, which was a real interesting experience to be a part of and I thought it’d be fun to share with you!

Wait – Duke University Does ESP Research?

Until last week, I had never been a part of any kind of ESP experiments before. I’ve always heard rumors that Duke University had a long history with parapsychology and actually knew this was in fact true, and not just a rumor. But I unconsciously assumed the research had it’s hey day in the 1960’s or so and wasn’t active anymore.

Not true!

In fact, I learned there’s an ongoing handful of studies going on just down the road from me in ESP and other parapsychology areas.

Duke is a famous college here in the States, up there with the best of them really, and so it’s quite odd that they have this connection to ESP research. It appears to be an uneasy relationship that, thankfully, keeps going, even though I get the impression Duke distances themselves from the fact that there’s a center near campus with their name on it that is associated with experiments and presentations in remote viewing, precognition, ESP, and other mind weirdness.

My Experiment with ESP and Precognition

The experiment I was in was two fold:

I took a test to assess my beliefs and outlook on paranormal phenomenon that either put me in the range of being a hard nosed skeptic or a big believer in such those. Every participant does this.

Then I took a computerized test that showed me white fuzz or “visual” white noise, if you will, and I was supposed to pause it if and when I ever saw something in the noise. For instance, maybe I thought I could see a face in it all. The catch is that some of it was general noise with nothing in it, and sometimes there was an image hidden in it if you could spot it, and other times there was an image behind it all that I couldn’t see without some kind of extra sensory perception that would somehow know what was there behind the noise (or perhaps a precognitive ability to see into the future and fetch the image that way.) (The was also a second part with actual white noise with spoken words mixed in too.)

For what it’s worth, I saw the images in the noise that were there, didn’t see stuff that wasn’t really there, and didn’t at all see anything that was hidden that any ESP powers would have revealed to me.

But the experiment works on multiple levels beyond just testing for ESP abilities: it contrasts them with the users outlook that places them on the scale between a skeptic or a believer in paranormal activities.

Pretty cool, eh?

The Best Part: Getting a Behind the Curtain Look at Old School ESP Research Equipment!

The best part of this whole experience wasn’t actually the research study. It was the fact that the very kind and personable woman running the study let me into a room that had all this old equipment used in famous psychic studies from decades ago!

Seriously, it was freakin’ awesome looking at this stuff up close, even being able to touch it and hold it!

We’re talking about those famous machines that were used for random number generators, those decks of cards with images on it that people would try to guess, machines that rolled dice where people stood next to them and tried to manipulate the results with their mind, and other assorted parapsychology weirdness that I wasn’t even sure what it was to be used for!

Plus the room was decorated with various black and white photographs of the experiments themselves. It was great fun looking at these!

I really wished I would’ve brought my camera and could’ve photographed some of the equipment! You can see a few cool things over here at the Museum at the Rhine Center page, but this does NOT do it justice.

Back to this ESP Research Stuff: What Does The Study Mean?

The study is ongoing and so there’s no results published yet. But what a cool concept for an experiment to assess peoples beliefs and then contrast this with seeing patterns in noise and/or their ESP/psi abilities

I am sure there will be a correlation between people who placed super high on the scale of believing in ghosts, the afterlife, messages from the dead, etc and their ability to find patterns in the visual noise, and vice versa.

At least, I think that’s a fair speculation of what the results may show. Time will tell.

Oh PS: Your Grandfather Has ESP Powers!

On another note, I was telling my Mom about this experiment and the Rhine Research Center in general and she hit me with a shocker I will have to investigate.

Evidently, about 20 years ago, my grandparents were visiting us here in North Carolina and during the same visit my Grandfather took part in some parapsychology experiment at the same place. I don’t know any of the details yet but the detail that my Mom remembers is that whatever happened, the results seemed to suggest that my Grandpa had some kind of ESP or psychic abilities.

What the hell!

I don’t know any more details than this, but never in my life would I have thought that my grandparents would have even considered partaking in a study like this, so to learn that they did and then evidently my Grandpa’s experience showed a correlation with psychic/Psi activity is just almost too much to handle.

And here I thought he was just your every day church going mid Western farmer! 🙂

Double PS: Just So you Know…I Am Skeptical As Hell of This Stuff in General

Just so you know, I am not prone to believing any claims of ESP, paranormal powers, etc. BUT this doesn’t mean I don’t have any open mind that can apply critical thinking skills to research into such areas.

I will use a logical fallacy here called the “argument from authority” 😉 in an attempt to lure you into agreeing with me that such research is important by quoting my boy Carl Sagan – a person whose work, life, and attitude I adore and revere like no other.

While he was not making a claim that these things are true or not true, real or not real, he did say this:

“At the time of writing there are three claims in the ESP field which, in my opinion, deserve serious study: (1) that by thought alone humans can (barely) affect random number generators in computers; (2) that people under mild sensory deprivation can receive thoughts or images “…directed at them; and (3) that young children sometimes report the details of a previous life, which upon checking turn out to be accurate and which they could not have known about in any other way than reincarnation..”

From: Sagan, C. (1995). The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. New York, Random House, page 205

BOOM. Take that!

What I’m trying to say is we can have a critical viewpoint of much of these claims yet still have a scientific analysis of the claims, and that’s where the fun starts. Most of it is bunk but there are all sorts of weird tiny results showing a correlation between people thinking about things and INFLUENCING them by mind alone. This is freakin’ crazy and is deserving of serious study.

One book that goes in depth into the results of such research is The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot. I wrote about this book here if you’re interested.

3 Responses to “I Was Part of an ESP Experiment at Duke Last Week”

  1. KMG June 22, 2010 at 4:35 am #

    Interesting–I had also heard that the Rhine Research Institute was shut down. Nice to know that they’re still doing research into parapsychology.

  2. Mark Turner June 24, 2010 at 1:36 am #

    Hi Ben,

    The Rhine is indeed alive and well. However, it is actually a private, not-for-profit research institute that long ago parted ways with Duke University. Today the Rhine stands on its own.

    That wonderful woman you met was probably Dr. Sally Rhine Feather, who is the daughter of J.B. and Louisa Rhine and acts as the Executive Director.

    Glad you enjoyed the experience! You can find out more about the Rhine here: http://www.rhine.org

  3. Ben June 24, 2010 at 2:40 am #

    @ KMG – You know, you’re not the first person whose said that to me when I’ve told them about my experience at the Rhine. I wonder if they dissolved for a bit at some point in their history due to lack of funding?

    @ Mark Turner – Thanks for clarifying this. After publishing my article, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was wrong about their being a *current* connection between Rhine and Duke, and your point confirms my suspicion!!

    I did not get the chance to meet Sally, although I was told about her after looking at some old black and white photographs in their museum. There were some amazing photos of her as a young girl, participating in parapsychology research! It was so cool to see people being embedded in the history of the institution who are actively involved still.

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