Staff photo by Stephanie Bruce
Dr. Sally Rhine Feather, director of development for the Rhine Research Center in Durham, sits next to a bust of her father, Joseph B. Rhine, who coined the term 'extrasensory perception'. Feather is seeking accounts of possible extrasensory perception related to military service.
December 28, 2003 DURHAM, NC -- One night in mid-December 1944, Virginia Olive got out of bed and began to pace, wringing her hands with worry for her son, a soldier in Europe.
"Billy needs me," she cried. "Billy needs me. Oh, I know Billy needs me."
Two weeks later, the family received a telegram saying Pfc. Billy B. Olive had been wounded in action with the 95th Infantry Division near the Saar River in Germany.
"Later, as best we could piece together the times, the hours that she was so distressed were the hours that Billy was lying on the battlefield, wounded and in freezing weather," said Betsy Ann Olive, Billy's sister.
Betsy Ann, who is 80 and lives in Wilmington, was with her mother at the time at their home in Durham. She talked about the incident in a telephone interview this month.
Upon his return to the United States, Billy told his mother that the nurse who cared for him in the field hospital said he kept saying, "mother ... mother … mother."
His experiences have sparked the interest of parapsychology researchers who study reports of possible psychic phenomena in incidents involving military personnel and their families.
With inspiration from the Olives' story, Dr. Sally Rhine Feather, director of development for the Rhine Research Center in Durham, is seeking accounts of possible extrasensory perception related to military service.
Feather is a daughter of Joseph B. and Louisa E. Rhine, who gained an international reputation for their studies of parapsychology - mental phenomena that occur outside the normal senses of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Those experiences can involve things that will happen in the future.
Even advocates of parapsychology admit that the subject is controversial. Skeptics are quick to dismiss reported psychic experiences, often harshly, as coincidence, the product of subconscious clues or outright fraud. Critics say the evidence is "anecdotal" and question the validity of experiments.
Some people see divine sources behind such reports.
Former N.C. Rep. Charlie Rose, who discussed psychic spying with officials when he was a member of Congress said, "I think God gives everybody powers beyond what we expect, especially mothers and loved ones in times of emergency. That's what God does if we let him."
Some people see diabolical sources. Joseph W. McMoneagle was a "psychic spy" in the once-secret Stargate Project for the CIA and the U.S. military. He said that during hearings some congressmen stood up, knocking over their chairs, pointing fingers and saying, "You are doing the work of the devil."
But advocates say parapsychology is real.
"Today's psi research has progressed from efforts to prove that psychic abilities exist to coordinated programs aimed at understanding the fundamental processes that underlie these abilities and how they are integrated into human consciousness," according to the Rhine Research Center.
Coining a term
The Oxford English Dictionary credits J.B. Rhine with coining the term extrasensory perception to describe the phenomenon. The Rhine Center is the "heir" to the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University, but the center is no longer part of Duke.
"I had just not thought about it that way before, so I was real excited at this idea," Feather said.
The reported military experiences range from family members who perceived a loved one's injury thousands of miles away to soldiers whose "sixth sense" warned them of a nearby threat.
"ESP stories seem to be more around tragedies than they do around happy events," Feather said. "That's probably part of the nature of this ability: To help warn people of trouble. Where is there more trouble than in wartime? We all know that."
Feather is interested in stories from the area around Fayetteville, Fort Bragg and Pope Air Force Base.
"I expect that in Iraq and Afghanistan and these places even right at this minute there are some very, very interesting psychic experiences," Olive said. "This is something, I believe, that is a very real part of life and has never been adequately covered."
McMoneagle, the former psychic spy, said some of the highest concentrations of people with psychic ability are found among soldiers, policemen, firefighters and people with high survival rates in hazardous jobs.
"They employ it," he said. "They don't know they are employing it, but they do. That's the reason they do survive."
Butterflies in stomach
McMoneagle, who retired from the Army as a chief warrant officer two, discussed his experiences in a lecture at the Rhine Center on Dec. 5.
"I was in the military," he said. "Just being psychic, I didn't worry about how information came to me. I might be walking in a jungle or something and something would tell me - butterflies in the stomach, hair coming up on the back of my neck - Don't walk through that open clearing - and so I didn't. That's how I got my information. I didn't care where it came from. Usually it was correct, more times than not. That's why I'm standing here talking to you right now."
H. John Poole, who was a Marine Corps officer in the Vietnam War, discusses the use of senses and the sixth sense in his book "Eye of the Tiger: The U.S. Private's Best Chance for Survival."
"Any number of sources have been attributed to the mysterious sixth sense," Poole wrote. "Some claim that it is extrasensory perception. A man who has tracked African guerrillas for the better part of three decades claims it to be the product of his subconscious mind. He says it springs from one's instinctive comparison of subtle sensory input from deeply buried memories. In other words, the inexperienced woodsman shouldn't count on having much."
Using psychic abilities
Rhine said the military people might be able to offer information about how to use possible psychic abilities in real-life situations.
"I think that people who have had experience in the military may have had the opportunity to use their ESP ability in an everyday, practical way," she said. "A firefighter might be the same way. He might know (not to) go in that room. The roof is going to collapse. It might mean his survival if he is aware of how to use his ability."
Although apparently no study has focused specifically on military psychic experiences, World War II was a rich source of stories in general. In her research, Louisa Rhine collected 12,000 cases, including many military experiences.
Among the military cases in her 1961 book, "Hidden Channels of the Mind":
A Pennsylvania mother had dreams about her son who made the parachute jump on D-Day. In the dreams, he was lying in a ditch with other soldiers. On the third night, she saw him telling her that he was all right. Nine months later, the son came home and said that for two nights he had hid in a deep ditch from German airplanes that were strafing them.
In 1924, the wife of a Navy petty officer awoke one night, saw her husband, who had been at sea, come into the room, go to see their 2-year-old son in the next room and return to her bedside. The next morning, he arrived and told her of a plan he was thinking of on his way home - at the exact same time she was having her vision - to do exactly what she had seen him do.
In 1945, a mother in San Francisco had a dream on a Monday night of her son, who was on a ship in the Pacific Ocean during World War II, coming to her with a look of distress then handing her his soaked uniform. The following Sunday, a Navy chaplain came to inform her that her son was listed as missing on an ammunition ship that had been torpedoed off Guadalcanal.
Feather said that skeptics might question a story such as the Olive family's by suggesting the mother might frequently have voiced concern about her soldier son's well-being.
"No, no, no," Billy Olive said. "This was a very unusual statement on her part. I'm sure of that. It was one impressed in the memory of my sister, Betsy. It was unusual, something that made them all a little more tense than they were otherwise."
In another incident, Virginia Olive convinced her husband to travel to Georgia in 1918 because she had a sense that her brother in the Army had a medical problem. They found him severely ill in a tent with a blanket over him. He was lying on a cot on a dirt floor.
They were able to bring him home and save his life.
Olive's mother died in 1958; his father in 1973.
Betsy Ann Olive said her mother was reluctant to talk about her abilities and could not call on them at will.
"Her psychic powers seemed always to be related to illness or death of people she loved," she said. "She did not consider it a blessing, rather the opposite." -- By Henry Cuningham, Military editor for the Fayetteville Observer
World War II veteran Billy Olive talks about his mother being aware that he had been wounded in Germany (MP3)
Dr. Sally Feather talks with reporter Henry Cuningham about parapsychology (MP3)
"ESP is most commonly called the "sixth sense." It is sensory information that an individual receives which comes beyond the ordinary five senses sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It can provide the individual with information of the present, past, and future; as it seems to originate in a second, or alternate reality." -- TheMystica.com
A research team at the University of Glasgow, led by Professor Archie Roy, is claiming to have found scientific proof of ESP -- a 'sixth sense.' After completing experiments which seek to identify how spiritual mediums obtain their information -- supposedly transmitted from beyond the grave -- the research appears to have refuted "the common assumption that mediums are merely picking up signals from body language, or relying on guesswork and prior knowledge."
The experiments spanned over four years and are said to be the most conclusive to date. The team used double blind testing, in which the medium and the recipients were placed in separate rooms and communicated by microphone. The identities of all involved were kept hidden from each other.
Head researcher, Professor Archie Roy, said: "There is no doubt from the work we have done that mediums can obtain information using more than the five normal senses. The results so far have been assessed with hard maths and statistics. We believe that we have disproved the idea that all mediums are able to do is make general statements."
Gordon Smith, "The Psychic Barber," was one medium involved in the experiments. He believes that the research proves that, while some of his work can be explained by his interpretation of normal sensory phenomenon, he is also using senses that we don't understand.
"Basically you are using a heightened sense. It is just like radio waves. If there is an emotional tie with the person you want to contact a medium can pick up the signals," Smith said.
"There's not always a spirit contact," Smith continued. "If you were very emotional you'd give off a lot of feeling and I would be able to pick up the fact that you were going through a crisis time. However with a lot of the work I've done with Archie Roy I can't even see the audience and so I can't fall back on body language."
"It is totally different from the way you might see people on TV just trawling for information with general statements like 'I can feel someone over here has lost someone'," Smith said.
"Until recently, parapsychology was quite disinterested in spontaneous work with mediums. Now there seems to be a different attitude. You can do a lot of very good work with mediums as long as you are patient, spend a lot of time and are not too confrontational," said Professor Roy.
Roy wants to continue the research. "We now have to move beyond these findings," he said. "One theory is that the medium can access information in other people's minds but how does the medium do this? This research will have to be followed up by all sorts of investigation."
The team's work has already sparked fierce controversy in the academic community. Even doubters have admitted his the structure and methodology used in the research seems sound, though many believe that like all research, it will need to be replicated if it is to regarded as scientifically authoritative. Replication is one area where the field of parapsychology is very weak.
There is a surge in interest in psychic phenomena. Despite widespread skepticism of the claims of mediums, participants in seances have rocketed. The volume of believers who want to attend a taping of John Edwards' popular TV program, Crossing Over, has grown so much that the show is no longer accepting ticket requests by mail. To get a ticket to a show, those hoping to connect with their dearly departed must call a ticket hotline that's available only once a month.
The UK's Spiritualist National Union says it now has 20,000 members, and estimates that 60,000 attend more than 300 SNU churches regularly. Emmanuel Swedenborg, a scientist as well as a theologian, developed the principals of the Spiritualist movement in the mid-18th century. Ironically, it was the Fox sisters -- notorious for their "toe-cracking" hoaxes during seances -- who made Spiritualism popular in the US when they founded their Spiritualist society in 1848.
John Weir, Scottish chairman of the SNU, said: "Spiritualists are answering a need in the community. The only person who can really know if it is genuine is the one who gets a message. When that happens it is certainly a wonderful experience and it can be really uplifting for someone going through grief. People are mostly in need of comfort."
Some mediums use fraudulent techniques that exploit the bereaved. In England, the Fraudulent Mediums Act was brought in after World War II to stop psychics claiming contacts with dead soldiers. The psychic industry is not officially regulated, and now that psychics are using TV, premium phone services, and the Internet, protecting those who seek their services from fraud is getting tougher. New legal ground is being broken in cases of fraud, like the suit brought against Miss Cleo's phone syndicate in 2001.
"Whether a medium is genuine or not, they may still make you feel better about your loss and no harm is done," said Dr Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor and parapsychology researcher at Hertfordshire University. "The concept of bereavement counseling is about reaching closure."
He says that a medium can help the bereaved to keep a link open, but that, "If you start to become dependent on that medium that's where it can become dangerous." -- Edited with excerpts from the full article by Karen Goodwin
and the following resources:
Test Your ESP!
Gordon Smith -- The Psychic Barber
John Edwards bio
Spiritualist National Union
Religious Movements: Spiritualism
Anomalies -- Spiritualism
The Fox Sisters
Fraudulent Mediums Act
Miss Cleo: Seeing the Future or Just $$?
Dr. Richard Wiseman bio
Testing Psychics at the Perrott-Warrick Research Unit
Koestler Parapsychology Unit
Society for Psychical Research
Survival Science: Debunking the Debunkers
How ESP Works
ESP & Parapsychology
ESP at the Skeptic's Dictionary © 2003 - 2nd Sight Research
and the following resources:
Test Your ESP!Conduct your own free test of ESP online. The test, using standard ESP cards, sometimes called Zener cards, was devised by Dr. Michael Daniels PhD, at John Moores University, Liverpool.
2nd Sight Topic Pages
EVP: Sounds in the Dark
Body & Soul: Sound Mind, Body, and Spirit
Beyong the Veil
Cat Tales -- Prose, Poetry, Parody, & Puns
Cat Tales Too
2nd Sight Magazine
2nd Sight Site Index
Catriona's Adventures in Cyberland