Better Than a Smoking Gun: The Riess ESP Test

Better Than a Smoking Gun: The Riess ESP Test

In my previous post When Rhine and Pearce Got "Smoking Gun" Evidence for ESP, I discussed the astonishingly successful ESP tests conducted during the 1930's by Professor Joseph Rhine and Hubert E. Pearce Jr. There were 10,030 trials in which Pearce scored 3746 successes (despite an expected chance result of only about 2060 successes). When we plug these results into a binomial probability calculator it gives us a probability of about 1 in 10 trillion. This means that if one were to try the same test on every person on Earth 1000 times, we would not expect that even one person would get a result so high. Another series of tests with Pearce was conducted by Rhine's assistant J. Gaither Pratt. In this series, Pratt dealt out one card a minute from a shuffled deck. Pearce (located in a building far away) recorded his guesses as to the cards, at the same time. 1850 cards were dealt, and the expected chance success rate was about 370 cards. Instead, Pearce got 558 correct guesses. The chance probability of such a result was less than 1 in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. In another informal test conducted in front of Rhine, Pearce correctly guessed 25 cards in a row. The chance of that? One in three hundred quadrillion.

Faced with such evidence, skeptics are reduced to advancing ridiculous theories of cheating (which I debunk here), such as the claim that Pearce spent hours peeking through the transom of Pratt's office without being noticed, or the theory that Pearce was able to peek at cards many times without being noticed by observers who were sitting at arm's length from him across a table. Such absurd theories are futile in dismissing the ESP test conducted by Bernard. F. Riess in 1937, a professor at Hunter College in New York. The test was the most successful ESP test ever recorded. The abstract of the paper is here.  The Riess experiment is discussed on page 167-168 of Rhine's book Extra-sensory Perception After Sixty Years ( see here or here).  Another discussion of the experiment is here

Riess was very skeptical about ESP, but when one of his students said that a friend claimed to have ESP, Riess began an ESP test with a 26-year-old woman who was never identified by name. At 9:00 PM on each evening the test was run, the woman stayed in a room a quarter of a mile away, in a room facing away from the home of Riess. Riess at that time would be in a room facing away from the room in which the woman was in. Before 9:00 PM Riess would shuffle a deck of ESP cards, and lay out one card each minute, recording the value of each card. At the same time the woman would make one guess each minute as to the value of the card.

Each such test involved two series of 25 cards, so a total of 50 cards were laid out in each session. Thirty-seven such sessions were held, meaning the woman guessed a total of 1850 cards. The woman returned her response sheets to Riess, and was never told the degree of success she obtained.

Symbols used in ESP tests

The ESP cards used have 5 possible values. The expected chance result per session was only 5 correct guesses. But the woman guessed an average of 18.24 cards correctly per 25 cards, achieving a phenomenal 73% accuracy rate (instead of the expected accuracy rate of 20%). This was the result in "Series A" of two series of tests with the young woman.

The chance of getting such a result accidentally is far less than 1 in 1,000,000,000,000,000 (this link estimates the probability of getting these results by chance as 1 in 10 to the 700th power, which is smaller than the chance of you correctly guessing all of the social security numbers of  a set of 70 strangers). After the test the woman moved to the midwestern US, and refused to participate in further tests. Riess had to be prodded to publish the results, which were published in the Journal of Parapsychology in 1937 (1, 270-273).

Attempts by skeptics to debunk this test have been futile. Riess pointed out that while the tests were done, his house was continually occupied by a housekeeper, meaning the woman being tested could not have strolled into the house, and altered Riess' response sheets to match her responses. Riess also pointed out his response sheets were written in his own handwriting, and showed no signs of being altered. So even the ridiculously far-fetched idea of some conspiracy between the woman and the housekeeper is not tenable.

The term “smoking gun evidence” is used to describe a situation like you might have if you had a photo of someone pointing a smoking gun at a dead body. But what would be better evidence? Perhaps a video actually showing someone firing a gun into the body of someone. The Riess experiment must be described as that type of evidence, something better than “smoking gun” evidence.

Yet outrageously our skeptics and materialists repeatedly tell us there is no evidence for ESP. To the contrary, a test such as the one discussed here is evidence almost as strong as one could hope for. Our skeptics and materialists are in denial about ESP, a phenomenon that has been demonstrated very many times under very strict conditions, which is strongly supported by ganzfeld sensory deprivation tests and recent tests with autistic children (described here), and which is also supported by an immense wealth of anecdotal evidence, such as more than 14,000 cases recorded by Louisa Rhine. This case of reality denial can best be explained as some strange cultural taboo that bears no resemblance to objective thinking.