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Rhine, J(oseph) B(anks) (1895-1980)

Rhine, J(oseph) B(anks) (1895-1980)

One of the pioneers of parapsychology and co-founder with William McDougall of the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. He was born on September 29, 1895, in Juniata County, Pennsylvania. He studied at the University of Chicago (B.S., 1922; M.S., 1923; Ph.D., 1925) where he majored in botany. In 1920 he married Louisa Ella Weckesser, who as Louisa Rhine, also became a noted parapsychologist. After graduation Rhine became an instructor in plant physiology at West Virginia University (1924-26) before moving to Duke University where he would remain for the rest of his active career with the department of psychology. Rhine's interest in parapsychology grew out of his investigations of mediumship with Dr. Walter Franklin Prince at Harvard University in 1926. Rhine went on to Duke University the following year and studied psychic phenomena with William McDougall, head of the psychology department. It was Rhine's training in plant physiology which gave him the idea that psychic faculties might be tested with scientific disciplines.

With the encouragement of McDougall, Rhine commenced a program for statistical validation of ESP (extrasensory perception), a term he invented, working in collaboration with colleagues on the psychology faculty, with students as subjects. The emphasis was first on clairvoyance and telepathy, transmitting images from sender to receiver, and the now familiar Zener cards, the simple symbols of cross, star, circle, square and waves assisting statistical evaluation of tests. Later work included experiments in psychokinesis using dice to test the ability of the human mind to affect movement of objects at a distance. Psychokinesis or "PK" has since largely displaced the term "telekinesis" formerly used in psychical research. The publication of Rhine's monograph Extrasensory Perception by the Boston Society for Psychic Research in 1934 was a key point in the development of parapsychology as a scientific study, and opinion sharply divided on the validity of the work. Duke, like the rest of the academic world, was home to strong opposition to parapsychology. Thus Rhine amd MacDougal were obliged to open a separate Parapsychology Laboratory in 1935 and seek outside financial sponsorship for research.

From 1937, Rhine launched the Journal of Parapsychology at Duke and settled down to create the basic foundational methodology and to generate the body of knowledge upon which laboratory parapsychology would build. In 1957 he led in the foundation of the Parapsychology Association. He retired from Duke in 1965 and lost the power base that allowed him to operate the Parapsychology Laboratory. Three years before, in anticipation of the lack of support for parapsychology, he began the reorganization of the endeavor he had managed for the last three decades. He founded the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, an organization to continue his parapsychological work. The foundation established a new research facility, the Institute for Parapsychology.

Through the years Rhine authored a set of basic texts in parapsychology, still necessary reading for any one interested in the field. Though he published many impressive reports, he was repeatedly dogged by criticism that he ignored much of the negative data he had gathered and reported only the positive. Because of these flaws, Rhine's work was not often taken seriously. He died February 20, 1980, at the age of 84. Shortly before his death he had been elected president of the Society for Psychical Research, a recognition of his monumental contributions to the field.

Financial support for the work at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University owed much to the generosity of Charles E. Ozanne who made regular financial gifts to support research. In 1960 he helped establish the Psychical Research Foundation at Duke Station, Durham, N.C., as an independent research center to investigate phenomena relating to survival of human personality after death as well as other aspects of parapsychology. Another generous donor in the field of parapsychology was the late Chester F. Carlson, inventor of xerography, whose financial support assisted the establishment of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. Situated at Durham, N.C., this foundation made possible the transition from the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University to an independent world center for the study of parapsychology and related fields.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Helix Press, 1964.

Rhine, J. B. New Frontiers of the Mind. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1939.

. New World of the Mind. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1953.

. The Reach of the Mind. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1947.

, ed. Progress in Parapsychology. N.p., 1971. Rhine, J. B. et al. Parapsychology from Duke to FRNM. Durham, N.C.: Parapsychology Press, 1965.

Rhine, J. B., and R. Brier. Parapsychology Today. New York: Citadel Press, 1968.

Rhine, J. B., and J. G. Pratt. Parapsychology, Frontier Science of the Mind. N.p., 1957.

Rhine, J. B., and J. G. Pratt, Charles E. Stuart, Burke M. Smith, and Joseph A. Greenwood. Extrasensory Perception After Sixty Years; a Critical Evaluation. New York: Henry Holt, 1940. Reprint, Boston: Bruce Humphries, 1960.

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