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ESP Duke Parapsychology Lab

Participants are tested for ESP at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory.

Duke University. What happened?

With Mercer’s Cinderella performance against Duke University in college basketball, I wondered: What happened? March Madness aside, I’m still curious. How did one of the most prestigious parapsychology laboratories lose favor? However, public interest still grows.

Duke Parapsychology Lab

Original home for the lab.

Starting in the 1930s, major colleges and universities in the United States and Great Britain opened research laboratories focusing on different aspects of parapsychology. One of the most well-known was the facility housed at Duke. In 1935, J.B. Rhine and William McDougall started the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory. For the next three decades the lab received substantial private funding and enjoyed the support of the university. However, by the early sixties, funding sources dried up and academic scrutiny displaced the lab and it moved off of the college campus. Seems the heyday of parapsychological research ended. But had it really?

According to Glen McDonald’s article “Whatever Happened to Parapsychology?” (http://news.discovery.com/human/psychology/whatever-happened-to-parasychology-1306241.htm) public interest remains high. Further, research continues. The Rhine Research Center (current name of the former lab) continues Dr. Rhine’s mission but works with substantially less staff, funding, and academic support. The skeptics are incredibly vocal and better work the media than the parapsychology academics. And academic skeptics are particularly pesky. They claim that since experiments cannot be consistently repeated in controlled conditions, ESP and the like cannot exist. It’s plain tomfoolery to them.

Dr. Rhine died in 1980 without any breakthrough in research. This week news outlets reported that scientists had established “mind reading.” Brain scanners were used to recreate images that participants were thinking. Gee, that sure sounds closely related to ESP.

Duke Parapsychology Lab

Group photograph of the staff at the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory.

Duke University made a mistake pushing Rhine and his research off the college grounds. Had the school rode the 60s wave and ignored the naysayers, parapsychological research would be further along. As it is, fewer institutes are making strides in the field. Yet, some of cable television’s highest rated shows have some paranormal or parapsychological aspect. The public craves more. We shouldn’t leave it up to “reality tv” to advance the field.

Side note: Stacy Horn has penned a wonderfully dense book about the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory titled Unbelievable: Investigations into Ghosts, Poltergeists, Telepathy, and Other Unseen Phenomena, from the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory (HarperCollins, 2009). It’s not beach reading; however, it effectively captures the essence of lab’s history and parapsychology’s place in modern science. Worth the read!

For those seeking the “quick” version, see Horn’s blog http://www.echonyc.com/~horn/unbelievable/. It is chalked full of information and pictures.