Sunday, 8 April 2012

Abraham Kovoor’s Case Diary: Extra-Sensory Perception

Abraham Kovoor 

Perception is the process by which an organism becomes aware of its environment. Normally perceptions are of five types - all of a stimulus-response pattern. The five sensory stimuli in man and other highly evolved animals are the senses of touch, smell, sight, taste and hearing. In some animals like the homing pigeons, bees, migratory birds, dogs, ants, moths etc., a sixth sense - the sense of direction - is present. Like the five senses in man, it has been experimentally proved that the sense of direc­tion also is a response action to certain stimuli.

Zener cards used in the early twentieth century for experimental research into ESP

Dogs, bees, moths and ants are able to trace their paths making use of their highly developed sense of smell. An ant is able to follow the same path taken by another ant which has gone before, by smelling an abdominal secretion left on the path by the leader ant. It is regarded that the sense of direction in the case of birds is the result of magnetic orientation. If a small piece of magnet is attached to the head of a homing pigeon, and let loose away from its home, it will fail to find its way back.


Unlike the lower animals, the cogitative mind of the primitive man was not content with the five senses he possessed. They did not help him to know his own future and what was in the minds of his own friends and enemies. His latent desire to know about things he could not perceive with the help of his five senses, made primi­tive man dabble in the occult. This led to the crafty ones among them resort to char­latan practices. These crafty men fraudulently claimed to possess mysterious powers to obtain information from gods, deities and the minds of other persons near or far, dead or alive. Occultism became a lucrative profession.

Theyyam, Payyannur, Kerala
In later years occultism gave rise to witch-crafts, priest-crafts and temples. It was customary in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, as in other countries, to seek the help of gods and occultists for predictions and prophesies... The most famous of all pagan oracles was that of Apollo in Delphi. Cleopatra is said to have consulted this oracle and known about Ceasar's assassination ahead. Sacrifices were offered to Apollo, and he replied through the lips of the priestess. In order to maintain the reputation of the oracle the priestess purposely avoided giving direct answers to the questions asked. The answers were often so cleverly worded as to be interpreted suitably after the incident.

The present-day kattadiyas, light-readers, astrologers, palmists, card-readers, spirit media, kappuralas, priests, devales, kovils, temples, churches and other so-called sacred places and persons are the modernized remnants of occultists and oracle of old.

Psychical research

Widespread belief in the supernatural prompted many scientists in England to establish an institution for conducting scientific research on psychic phenomena. Thus in 1882, the Society for Psychical Research (S.P.R.) was established with Professor Henry Sidgwick as its first president. Later a similar one was formed in America. The sole purpose of the S.P.R. - though not of course, the sole purpose of all psychical researchers - is to discover and explain, whatever they may be, claims of supernatural phenomena.

Most of the early investigators of the S.P.R. like F. WH. Myers, Edmund Gurney, Frank Podmore, H.F. Saltmarsh, Oliver Lodge, Arthur Connon Doyle, Harry Price, Hereward Carrington, Madame Blavatsky, Rev. Drayton Thomas, J. W Dunne, Henry Sidgwick, Madame Sidgwick, Lord Charles Hope and many others have written vol­umes giving positive evidences to establish the reality of psychical phenomena such as spirit materialization, table rapping, haunted houses, spirit photography, polter­geists, spirit writings, ectoplasmic images, apparitions, spirit media, spirit messages, spirit drawings, precognition, telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis etc.

But, most of the later investigators who were and are eminent scientists of the twentieth century, like WH. Salter, Trever Hall, Antony Flew, Spencer Brown, JR Sturge, Theodore Besterman, Richard Hodgson, S. J. Davy, Fred Barlow, JBS. Haldane, H. Cutner, Bertrand Russell and many others have condemned and severely criticized the earlier writers for arriving at hasty conclusions without adequate and foolproof investigations. They were accused of having given undue credence to anecdotal evi­dences to justify their own beliefs. It is not the method of science to construe argu­ments for making a thing reasonable and fitting to prove what is in the investigator's conditioned mind. Fraudulent media also contributed in a large measure in mislead­ing gullible investigators.

The following passage from one such writer - Hereward Carrington - will show how utterly gullible some of the earlier investigators of the S.P.R. were:-

"The writer's father, who lived in India for some ten years, told him that it was common knowledge that the natives were discussing in their bazaars events which had just transpired upcountry, hours before the official news were received. This was in the days before radio or even telegraph. As we have said before, practically all visi­tors who have come to know the natives will believe that such abilities are exercised by them - even though the majority of anthropologists as yet refuse to believe them".

Is there any truth in the above statement? We, who are of the East know what utter nonsense this story is. It is this type of silly anecdotes of some Europeans who have made temporary sojourns in the East that has given to the people of eastern countries the undue credit for being more 'spiritual' than those of the West. Instead of saying more spiritual, it would be more correct to say that the people of the Orient are more crafty and hypocritical than those of the Occident in claiming spiritual powers. Our Sadhus and Sanyasis are the living monuments of such deceptions.

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky
In 1884 Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, visited England and gave to the principal workers of the S.P.R. evidence that some Theoso­phists in India had produced apparitions of themselves to other people, and that tele­kinetic phenomena, such as are said to happen in the presence of psychical mediums, had also being occurring there.

Mr. Richard Hodgson was sent out to India by the S.P.R. to investigate it on the spot. He returned to England with a most damaging report concluding thus:-

"I finally had no doubt whatsoever that the phenomena connected with the Theo­sophical Society was part of a huge fraudulent system worked by Madame Blavatsky with the assistance of Coulombs and several other confederates, and that not a single genuine phenomenon could be found among them all". (Proc. S.P.R. Vol.III, P.2I0)

S.J. Davy and Richard Hodgson exposed that' spirit-writing', which was claimed to be inexplicable by normal methods, could be produced by conjurer's tricks. Fred Barlow and Major W Rampling exposed the trick of 'spirit-photography' with par­ticular reference to the work of one practitioner who had won great reputation among the gullibles. (Proc. S.P.R, Vol.XLI).

Very few people are aware that among the early writers, Edmund Gurney and Frank Podmore - co-authors with F. W.H. Myers of "Phantasma of the Living" - gave up in later years their beliefs in the existence of spirits. Their skepticisms in spiritual­ism are expressed clearly in their later writings. Henry Sidgwick the first president of the S.P.R. also has shown his changed views on spiritualism in his later publications.


Though for many years the work of the S.P.R remained in the anecdotal and observational phase, it entered the experimental stage only during the second quarter of the twentieth century. In 1927 Dr. J.B. Rhine, a Biologist, in collaboration with his wife Dr. Lousia E. Rhine and Dr. Helge Lundholm conducted some research at Duke University, North Carolina, under the world-renowned psychologist Professor Will­iam McDougall on the so-called extra-sensory perceptions (E.S.P.) such as telepathy, clairvoyance (the power of knowing things which are not normally perceptible), pre­cognition (fore-knowledge of future events) and psychokinesis (material motion ef­fected by thought). Later Dr. Rhine became the Director of the Department of Para­psychology at Duke University.

JB Rhine
Dr. Rhine in his books 'New Frontiers of Mind', 'The Reach of Mind', 'Extra­sensory Perceptions', 'My Thirty Yeats {)f Psychical Research', 'Telepathy and Hu­man Personality', and his numerous articles in the 'Journal of Parapsychology' con­firmed the occurrence of psychic powers in some 'gifted' persons; and his writings are authoritatively quoted by credulous believers in the supernatural.

Stimulated by Rhine's experimental claims thirty - odd universities in Europe, America and other places started conducting researches in 'parapsychology'. Before long Rhine got ardent supporters in persons like Whately Carington, S.G. Soal, G.N.M. Tyrrel, RH. Thouless, N.V. Peale, JW Dunne, I. Stevenson, B. Wiesn, C.D. Broad and recently in Professor Leonid Vasiliev of Leningrad University. These sensational claims created a big stir among scientists allover the world; and it led to many more scientists take up research on E.S.P.

Humanity as a whole is indebted to the researches on E.S.P. conducted by some of the eminent scientists of today. Renowned scientists like Dr. Eugene Adams, Dr. G.R. Price, Professor Kennedy, Dr. John E. Coover, Dr. Christopher Scott, Dr. Denys Parsons, Dr. Dennis Hyde, Dr. Helmholtz, Professor 1. Scame, Dr. E. Roux, Dr. Anita Kohsan, Professor Antony Flew and numerous others have severely criticised, con­demned and even challenged Rhine's experiments and findings. The opinions of a few such contemporary research scientists are given below:-

Dr. Christopher Scott: "Dr. Rhine's techniques are riddled with loopholes: the striking positive results reported must be discounted completely". (Proc. S.P.R., Vo1..XLIX, pp.16).

Dr. Denys Parsons: "A mechanical device for investigating E.S.P. under condi­tions of telepathy and clairvoyance has been devised. No evidence of E. S .P. was found in 24,000 trials". (Proc. S.P.R., Vol. XLVIII, pp.3l).

Dr. Dennis Hyde: "Duke University experiments were repeated, but succeeded only in detecting a hitherto un-noticed source of error". (Proc. S.P.R., Vol. XLVIII).

Dr. Margaret Knight: "The facts revealed by Dr. J.B. Rhine are so odd, so appar­ently chaotic, in a sense so trivial and yet so difficult to organize within the accepted scientific framework, that an acute intellectual discomfort is the feeling they arouse". (Science News, No.18, pp.9).

JB Rhine testing his subjects using Zener Cards
Dr. H. Helmholtz: "Neither the testimony of all the Fellows of the Royal Society, nor even the evidence of my own senses wi11lead me to believe in the transmission of thought from one person to another, independently of the recognised channels of sensation". (The Logic of Liberty).

Dr. E. Roux: "When such 'paranormal' persons discovered by an investigator, were subsequently tested by other investigators, they almost always failed to produce anything unusual ... With the new-fanged E.S.P. go all other and older marvels of the séance rooms and the rapping tables. The so-called psi -phenomena are anecdotal, not scientific. Mrs. X. the great medium can no longer perform except in a sympathetic atmosphere". (The Case Against Parapsychology).

G.L. Simions: "The study of telepathy can rightly belong to science ... Perhaps it is significant tllat to date their results appear to be negative. Rhine and his colleagues at Duke University - from whom we hear very little nowadays - will be the first to admit this". (Psychical Research and Secularism, Freethinker Jan. 1964)

C.E.M. Hansel: "Collusion between the subject and the agent might result in just the kind of results obtained in Soal's experiments and this collusion might de­ceive the experimenter who did not realize how the trick was done". (Experiments in Telepathy. The New Scientist, Feb. 1959).

Anita Kohsen: “Dr. 1.B. Rhine whose writings, in my opinion, are entirely devoid of either scientific or scholastic merit...” (New Approach to Psychical Research)

Collin McCall:  "Dr. Rhine was hopelessly unscientific ... We cannot take a word of Professor Vasiliev, however distinguished a physiologist, any more than we can take the word of Professor Rhine ... In dealing with accounts of E.S.P., we are dealing with human testimony and often with human gullibility... Telepathy is contrary to scientifically-established laws". (Freetllinker, Oct. 11 til 1963).

Professor Antony Flew. "This work indicates that E.S.P. tests by a really compe­tent, conscientious, skeptical researcher will only yield negative results ... E. S.P. guess­ing is so different from the operation of legitimate senses, that it should not ?~ thought of as a species of perception at all. It is ludicrously unreliable. The precognitive effect surely rules out all possibility of explanation in terms of radiation. Mediumistic talk of 'the vibrations', waves and so on, is simply empty mystification. .. Still we cannot say that even the most significant results prove E. S.P ... Most scandalous of all, pre­cognition conflicts with our scientific assurance that what will happen later cannot affect what happens now. It makes no sense to talk of future causes having present effects". (New Approach to Psychical Research, pp.67, 113, 114, 119, 123, 126).

Dr. Eugene Adams: "I have completed a series of 30,000 individual tests of the card-guessing sort that Dr. Rhine has conducted at Duke University. My tests were designed to test clairvoyance, telepathy, and the two in combination. My results were negative". (The Amazing World, pp.258).

Dr. G.R Price: "Dr. Rhine's so-called psychic experiments have to be condemned severely". (Science, Aug. 25th 1955).

Dr. John E. Coover: "After 10,000 tests I obtained no better than chance results. No trace of any objective thought-transmission was found". (Experiments in Psychic Research, Stanford University, pp. 123-4.)

Prof. John Scarne: "All the evidences submitted by Rhine designed to prove the existence of psychic phenomena is a lot of humbug ... It is an established fact that at one time or another every prominent psychic researcher had been duped by fallIng for some amateurish trick performed by a trickster operating under the guise of being psychic, Rhine's E.S.P. and psychokinesis are nothing but errors ... Let us stop kid­ding ourselves. If Rhine had one subject who possessed extra-sensory perception, he and/or that subject could win an enormous fortune in short time". (The Amazmg World, pp.266.)

Professor Kennedy of Stanford University. "One of the scientific demands on truth is that when experiments are repeated in laboratories, results similar to the original shall be obtained. One hundred students were used in our experiments, and our results did not correspond to those of Dr. Rhine". (The Amazing World, pp.258.)

Theodore Besterman. "We conducted three series of experiments: first with a group of S.P.R. members aged about 45-50; second with a collection of Oxford under­graduates; third with Mr. Dunne himself. The results were unimpressive". (A New Approach to Psychical Research, pp.148).

CWK. MundIe. "The fact that in precognitive phenomena the nature of the earlier event seems to be casually dependent on that of the later event, makes it tautological. …In order to explain precognition it seems necessary to suppose that they are due to casual influence by future events ... I am extremely reluctant to accept this. To accept this would be to revise the conception of 'cause and effect', "(A New Ap­proach to Psychical Research, pp.126-28.)

This is the first of a series of essays written by Dr Abraham T Kovoor (1898-1978) that we are planning to upload on to our website

This is a lecture delivered by Abraham Kovoor at Rotherfield Psychological Society (The date and year of the lecture is not available with us).  This essay is taken from the book Exposing Paranormal Claims published by B. Premanand for Indian CSICOP


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