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Rhine Checkers

from Chris Wayan's journal 1970-1971

When my sister Miriel and I were kids, one of our favorite games was to do Rhine tests for clairvoyance--ESP. We didn't have the fancy cards the Rhine Institute used, so we used checkers. One of us would fish a checker out of a big heap, eyes closed, and then guess its color, red or black; the other wrote down the scores in runs of ten. My average of 60-70 per cent right shook my scientific skepticism about clairvoyance but I was unsure of my knowledge of statistics then--I was unsure that hundreds of tries were enough to mean anything. Miriel's consistent 80--90 per cent was what changed me. It was too clear.

I felt intensely ashamed, for in my scientific value system I was converting to superstitious heresy. But it was that or deny my own data, and that was even more contemptible. I minimized it a while by looking only at the overall percentages, and ignoring my intermittent but distinct experience of sensing the color. Without Miriel's undeniable results I would not have had even the half-acknowledgment I needed to start noticing (privately) that subtle experience, and connect it with correct guesses--and with a certain attitude I couldn't describe then.

I had to stop denying the obvious one day when I started doubting myself while actually doing a run--ascribing my successes to dumb luck, accusing myself of unconscious cheating, even speculating I decoded the dye chemicals inside the smooth plastic pieces entirely by feel, by some unconscious skin-reaction! No small trick in itself, but it sounded more scientific, especially if you're twelve and grasping at straws... or checkers. Anyway, I indulged my doubts, and got a random score on that run. I got angrier. And got below random (rare for me, and insulting). And got disgusted and didn't even try to feel the colors. I got five wrong in a row. I felt such frustration and selfhate. Six wrong. And I had to face the connection at last. Both success and failure at this game enraged parts of me: my overall score was the smoothed-out average of a violent tug of war. I really do see without my eyes, AND I really sabotage it well. Suddenly I start identifying with the sabotage, the anger, and I feel a dark exultation as I guess the next one wrong and know I am going to have a perfect score, ten in a row, odds of over a thousand to one. And I do. Wrong, wrong, wrong, all wrong, perfectly wrong, and laughing silently all the way.

At last, no doubt. I had to face it. The temperamental psychics I'd snickered at, who claimed that skeptics in the lab interfered by their negative attitudes alone, who I'd assumed were frauds afraid their sleight-of-hand would be caught... now I couldn't laugh at them. Sheer mood hadn't just blinded me--my inner anger and self-hate was capable of PERFECT scores! And was ready to lead me methodically and consistently wrong. I couldn't even imagine what'd happen if I tried to reproduce these Rhine tests with hostile skeptics glaring at me... But I also had learned that for some scientific truths, reproducibility on skeptics' terms isn't always relevant. I'd felt the colors, known what score I'd get, felt the emotional tug-of-war that had been muddying my results... and now I couldn't go back, retreat inside statistics. Like a moon landing, something had changed forever, whether it could be duplicated at will or not.

LISTS AND LINKS: ESP accounts collected by Louisa Rhine - psychic dreams - working with ESP - my sister Miriel - tests - Oops!: dreams of mistakes - shame and embarrassment - pessimism and negativity - essays and rants - tales of the waking world

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