An old school parapsychologist through pictures: J B Rhine

25th April 2023. Reading Time: 6 minutes General, Paranormal Theories, Famous Paranormal Cases. 1665 page views. 0 comments.

Joseph Banks Rhine is one of the most well-known parapsychologists in history.  He is most well known for his worth with ESP and co-creating Zener Cards. His work is an important reminder that paranormal research goes far beyond the concept of ghost hunting. Let's take a look at some of his work through photographs.

 In the 1930's J.B Rhine adopted the word parapsychology to replace the phrase: physical research. He was thought to have founded parapsychology as we know it today as a branch of psychology. He focused his research on experimenting with test subjects.  Rhine himself is well known for establishing Parapsychology institutes. First was the Parapsychology lab at Duke University, founding the Journal of Parapsychology and the Parapsychology Institute and what is now known today as the Rhine Research Center.

The psychical researcher Joseph Banks Rhine. (1940) Public Domain

Noting the research of his peers before him, Rhine felt that the results of previous experiments studying areas like telepathy were not published in any peer-reviewed psychological journals. They were only published in psychical research journals.  It meant that the results while impressive to psychical researchers were not taken seriously by the scientific community.  Rhine felt that without this scientific accreditation of endorsement, the work itself was largely lost because it failed to convince both Scientists and the World in general.  This was something Rhine was passionate about changing.  A lot of his works were written in the 1930's so we were just coming out of the deception of the spiritualist era. It would have been an incredibly challenging time to have this kind of work taken seriously.  Using the Scientific Method and opening work up to peer review, was one of the first big steps to have this field taken seriously. You are also opening up to a lot of criticism.  Today parapsychology is still referred to as a pseudoscience, however, it is more accepted today thanks to the world of people like JB Rhine.  His work helped to remove some of the stigmas related to psychic abilities which were tarnished during the fraudulent activity of the spiritualist era. 

Parapsychologist Joseph Banks Rhine with William Preston Few at Duke University (1940) Public Domain

Zener Cards

In the late 1800s, researchers would use regular playing cards to test telepathy.  In the 1930’s, famous parapsychologist J.B Rhine and his colleague Dr Karl Zener wanted to expand this research by creating their own format.  Working together, initially, Rhine used cards with letters from the alphabet or numbers.  They eventually evolved over time to consist of 5 cards of 5 distinct symbols (making a deck of 25). The symbols themselves are very distinct so they could not be confused. The aim of the cards was to test a person’s mental telepathy abilities.  Rhine dubbed these as Zener cards named after his colleague, however eventually went on to refer to them as ESP cards. 

Hubert Pearce with the parapsychologist J. B. Rhine experimenting with Zener cards. (1934) Public Domain

Read more about Zener Cards here: Zener Cards

The Dice Trials

In the early 1930s, Rhine was visited by a young gambler who claimed that it wasn’t just luck on his side, that he was able to successfully rolls the number he willed with his mind.  Given that it was a fairly easy thing to test, Rhine started with some trials.  The initial results were underwhelming, however, thought there was something to the idea and began a set of trials.  Certain measures were taken to stop the sitters from influencing the results in a deceptive way.  Cups were used so that the dice could not be thrown in a certain way (admit it, we have all done this playing Monopoly!). 

The parapsychologist Joseph Banks Rhine testing a subject in a dice experiment. (1954) Public domain

As testing evolved, the dice were then placed in electrical rotating cages (almost like a lotto draw) and photographed automatically to avoid an experimenter error.  Subjects were shown a picture of the number on the dice they were to manipulate and then had to concentrate and ‘will’ the number to appear.

JB Rhine Dice Trials (Source Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man)

Louisa Rhine

While his work at Duke University paved the way for parapsychology research, Rhine had bigger dreams and left in 1965 where he formed the Foundation for the Research into the Nature of Man which would be renamed the Rhine Research Center in 1995.  He did not do this on his own, however.  A lot of people credit Rhine's work within parapsychology, however, there is another Rhine whose work was also pivotal to the exploration of ESP and spontaneous phenomena as well as the creation of the foundation - J B Rhine's wife Louisa.  In fact, she went on to make her own name within the field of psychical research.

Dr J B & Louisa Rhine - Image Source

While her husband was famous for his parapsychology experiments, Louisa was busy documenting the results in her journals.  After having 4 Children, in 1937 with her husband's support behind her, she published her first parapsychology paper on the results of ESP trials she was conducting with children.  She went on to write more papers detailing the results of many of her husband's experiments which worked with him closely, including his dice-throwing psychokineses.  Once her children were out of school and off to study further at University, she began her extensive work of studying spontaneous cases in 1948.  It was this work that would set her apart and allow her to shine.  The Duke University lab of parapsychology she had been working out of with her husband over time received thousands of letters detailing experiences where the writer felt they were experiencing something supernatural.  Her husband encouraged her to research these further with around 15,000 of these being usable for further research.  Rhine did not take the 'modern' approach that most investigators would today.  She did not go out with gadgets or a medium to see if the claims could be validated.  Her interest was with the claims on their own.  She didn't question if it was something else, she took the information as it was presented and looked to link a potential connection to psi ability.  Her thinking was that when people were correctly guessing or predicting results in dice testing or Zener cards, they were deliberately trying to use some sort of ESP, whereas in the reported spontaneous cases they were not.  

If you would like to have more of an insight into her research, here is a link to a public archive of her book Hidden Channels of the mind published in 1961

Lady Wonder

In 1927, J B Rhine set up camp in a tent near the barn to spend a week observing a horse by the name of Lady Wonder and testing her supposed psychic abilities.  He observed that Lady had the uncanny ability to be able to correctly identify things on a telepathic level, which he felt was proven by the fact that Lady could only give information that someone else knew - meaning she was telepathically receiving the information from someone else or as Claudia suspected, reading her mind.

Sign for Lady Wonder.  Public Domain

Read more about Lady Wonder here: Lady Wonder The Mind Reading Mare

To read more about JB Rhine and his wife Louisa's work, check out these articles:

In the Words of J B Rhine

In the Words of Louisa E Rhine

Children and ESP


Ladies of Paranormal Past: Louisa E Rhine

Cover Image: Edyth Hull psychic subject conducting an ESP card experiment. Public Domain

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