Jung, Rhine and the breadknife

17th June 2022. Reading Time: 10 minutes General, Famous Paranormal Cases. 1146 page views. 0 comments.

One of the more infamous stories related to analytical psychologist Carl Jung was that of the shattered breadknife. There seemed to be no one more intrigued by this story than famous parapsychologist J B Rhine.

Carl Jung is considered the forefather of analytical psychology. He is well known for his views on collective unconscious, synchronicity and Individuation just to name a few. Jungian Psychotherapy (quite obviously named after Jung) is a therapy designed to bring together the conscious and unconscious parts of the mind to help a person feel balanced and whole. We are always referring to consciousness on varying levels when it comes to paranormal discussion so it seems fitting to explore Jung's concepts. You will find quite a lot of people in the paranormal field who will know quite a lot about Carl Jung and his theories.

Image Source: Ideapod

Over the course of many years, Carl Jung used letters as a way to communicate his ideas to others and to clarify the interpretation of his work.  From over 1600 letters written by Jung between 1906 and 1961, around 1000 were selected to be published in the book Letters of C. G. Jung Volume I, 1906-1950 By C. G. Jung, Gerhard Adler, Aniela Jaffé.  Through these letters we see there was quite the relationship and admiration between Carl Jung and famous parapsychologist J.B Rhine.

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 as today as the Rhine Research Center. 

Image Source: Duke University

At the age of 23, in 1898, Carl Jung reported that a steel bread knife had exploded and shattered while kept inside a locked cupboard.  It became a catalyst for much discussion over the years and something he spoke about at length in his letters and his autobiography.  It was also a topic of much interest for his friend J.B Rhine.  Rhine often asked for Jung's thoughts on topics such as extra sensory perception and mind over matter.  In 1934, Rhine wrote to Jung asking about the knife stating: 

"These inexplicable cases are very tantalizing, but of course we must remember that all sciences begin with comparatively inexplicable phenomena. What a science must come eventually from the full explanation of such occurrences, taking them at their face value!”

C.G Jung Letters Volume 1 1906 - 1950

Jung responded with a detailed account of the event.

C.G Jung to J.B Rhine November 27 1934

Dear Sir, 
I have received a copy of your most interesting book Extra-Sensory Perception but I didn’t know that I owed the book to your personal kindness.  I am highly interested in all questions concerning the peculiar character of the psyche with reference to time and space, i.e., the apparent annihilation of these categories in certain mental activities. I am quite ready to give you any information concerning my own experiences in such matters, but I should like you to tell me exactly what you expect of me.  Concerning the case of the exploded knife I only can tell you that it happened in 1898 under apparently simple circumstances. The knife was in a basket beside a loaf of bread and the basket was in a locked drawer of a sideboard. My aged mother was sitting at a distance of about 3 meters near the window. I myself was outside the house in the garden and the servant was in the kitchen which is on the same floor. Nobody else was present in the house at that time. Suddenly the knife exploded inside the sideboard with the sound of an exploding pistol. First the phenomenon seemed to be quite inexplicable until we found that the knife had exploded into four parts and was still lying scattered inside the basket.  No traces of tearing or cutting were found on the sides of the basket nor in the loaf of bread, so that the explosive force apparently did not exceed that amount of energy which was just needed to break the knife and was completely exhausted with the breaking itself.
With in a few days of this fact under very similar circumstances a round table with the diameter of about 130 cm. suddenly tore about 3/4 through.3 T h e table then was 90 years old, its shape hadn’t been altered and there was no central heating in the house. I happened to be in the adjoining room with the door open in between and it was the same sound as of an exploding pistol. According to my idea these two facts are connected with an acquaintance I had made just in these days. I met a young woman with marked mediumistic faculties and I had made up my mind to experiment with her.4 She lived at that time at a distance of about 4 km. She hadn’t come anywhere near to my house then, but soon after the series of seances with her began. She told me that she had vividly thought of these seances just in those days when the explosions occurred. She could produce quite noticeable raps in pieces of furniture and in the walls. Some of those raps also happened during her absence at a distance of about 4 km. I am going to send you a photograph of this knife. Thanking you again for your most valuable book,

Sincerely yours, C.G Jung

C.G Jung Letters Volume 1 1906 - 1950

J.B. Rhine to C.G. Jung December 1934

Dear Doctor Jung:

I thank you very much for your kind letter and I appreciate the breadth of mind you show toward the questions of the peculiar capacity of the psyche. I am sending you under separate cover a reprint of some recent measurements of the capacities called telepathy and clairvoyance made both in the trance and in the waking state of a medium. I have other work not yet published which deals with the space and time relations of the capacities. I will be very much interested in your reactions to this work. We are not accustomed, here in America, to the breadth of mind you show. We are such specialists!

The knife incident is a most remarkable one, especially in view of the associated facts which you relate. I would indeed appreciate a photograph of the knife parts if you can supply me with one. This incident reveals by its date that you were interested in these phenomena when I was in my infancy, and reminds me that I would have a great deal to learn from you. Accordingly I look forward to the time when I can, if I may, call on you for a personal discussion of some of these problems.

If in your work with people possessing unusual capacities you have come to hypotheses or conclusions about the relations of the psyche to the material-space-time order, I would like to know as much as you have time to write me about them. My experiments at the moment are directed mainly to precognition. The results seem to be quite satisfactory on this point, that is the clairvoyant subjects or clairvoyance with respect to events that have not yet occurred. To our logical system this is, of course, quite preposterous. It may be that we will yet find some way of escaping the conclusions of precognition, although I do not see how. We have no theory of mind which helps very much in dealing with these facts. Of course the general dualistic view of Professor McDougall is favorable but we would like some further suggestion. Can you help us in this? If you would care to write anything on the subject of the psyche and space-time, I think Dr. Snudek of the Journal Character and Personality would be very glad to get it, and I should be most interested in reading it.

Thanking you again for your interest and your good letter, I am

Sincerely yours,

J.B. Rhine


This is the photograph of the knife in question which is now a prized exhibit at Duke Univeristy.

Image Source: Duke University

After years of correspondence on many matters, after a Q & A in which Jung answered some of Rhine's questions about parapsychology, Jung told Rhine that he still had the breadknife in his possession.  So in more correspondence in 1946, Rhine decided to ask a very bold question.  He wanted the infamous knife to study!

J.B. Rhine to C.G. Jung July, 1946

Dear Dr. Jung:

I have just received the answers to my questions which you kindly sent me through your secretary. I am very glad to have these, and they will be appreciated too by the members of the staff of this Laboratory, where you and your work are held in great respect.

Have you the time and the inclination to incorporate these answeres with some expansion, perhaps, into an article which we could publish in our Journal of Parapsychology? It is extremely important that we give our readers (and ourselves) a sound psychological setting for these exceptional parapsychological manifestations with which our research is concerned.

I am glad to learn that you still have the breadknife in your possession. What have you in mind to do with it? Are members of your family interested in it as an object of scientific interest? We have a small exhibit here in our Laboratory which will, of course, grow through the years. I doubt if there is any place in the world where your breadknife would be more appreciated or made better use of. If you ever feel disposed to place it anywhere to insure its being properly taken care of, please keep our institution in mind.

I hope you are enjoying good health.

Best wishes,


J.B. Rhine


While Rhine never got the real knife, he kept the photograph of it on the wall of his parapsychology lab at Duke University.  Something that Jung wasn't particularly fond of.

C.G Jung to J.B Rhine 20 May 1935

Dear Dr. Rhine, 
I was glad to be able to contribute to your researches, but being of a less optimistic outlook than you Americans I never put my experiences on show. I have learned too much from the past in that respect. There are things which are simply incomprehensible to the tough brains of our race and time. One simply risks being taken for crazy or insincere, and I have received so much of either that I learned to be careful in keeping quiet. I would ask it as a favour from every psychologist in Europe not to put that photograph on the wall, but since North Carolina is very far away from Europe, so far away, indeed, that probably very few are even aware of the existence of a Duke University, I shall not object. I have found that there are very few people who are interested in such things from healthy motives and fewer still who are able to think about such and similar matters, and so in the course of the years I arrived at the conviction that the main difficulty doesn’t consist in the question how to tell, but rather in how not to tell it. M an ’s horror novi is so great that in order not to lose his modest brain capacity he always prefers to treat the fellow who disturbed him as crazy. If you are really serious in teaching
people something good, you must do your best to avoid such prejudices. Those are the reasons why I prefer not to communicate too many of my experiences. They would confront the scientific world with too upsetting problems.
Sincerely yours,

C.G Jung

You can't blame him for trying though!  It seems even back then, there was a stigma related to airing your paranormal experiences.  How do you think Jung's shattered knife would be received in today's time?  Would it still be ridiculed or do you think it would be accepted?  Have times really changed?

Here are some more articles with ideas associated with J B Rhine:

In the words of J B Rhine

Zener Cards

The observer-expectancy effect

Kinesis and the powers of the mind


Here are some more articles with ideas associated with Carl Jung

Active Imagination

Clustering Illusion or Synchronicity?

Cryptomnesia and the paranormal

The ideomotor Phenomenon


Dopamine and the paranormal

Unconscious ESP





Spiritualism and the Foundations of C. G. Jung's Psychology
By F. X. Charet


C.G Jung Letters Volume 1 1906 - 1950

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