Backgrounds of Some Historical Figures of Psychology and Parapsychology

Henry Sidgwick (May 31, 1838–August 28, 1900) was an English philosopher, born at Skipton in Yorkshire and educated at Rugby and at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was one of the founders and first president of the spiritualist Society for Psychical Research (SPR) and was a member of the Metaphysical Society. The SPR was founded in London in 1882 and was the first systematic effort to organize scientists and scholars for a critical and sustained investigation of paranormal phenomena.

William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher.  James was born at the Astor House in New York City, NY.  James spent his entire academic career at Harvard.  He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and the philosophy of pragmatism.  He was a founder of the American Society for Psychical Research, which opened its doors in New York City in 1885.

John Edgar Coover (March 16, 1872 – February 19, 1938) was the first person to receive a Ph.D. in Psychology from Stanford University.  Coover was born in Remington, Indiana. One of his eight publications on psychical research, "Experiments in Psychical Research", is regarded as the most important single contribution which has appeared in this field.  In 1911, under the direction of Dr. Coover, Stanford University became the first academic institution in the United States to study extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK) in a laboratory setting.

William McDougall (June 22, 1871 - November 28, 1938) was an early twentieth century psychologist born in Chadderton, Oldham, England who spent the first part of his career in the UK and the latter part in the United States. McDougall studied medicine and physiology at Cambridge, Oxford and Göttingen. After teaching at London and Oxford, he served as a professor of psychology at Harvard from 1920 to 1927, where he had been recruited by William James.  In 1920 he served as president of the Society for Psychical Research, and was later a president of its US counterpart, the American Society for Psychical Research. He then moved to Duke University where he remained until his death.  In 1930, under McDougall’s guidance, Duke University became the second major U.S. academic institution to engage in the critical study of ESP and psychokinesis in the laboratory.

Joseph Banks (J.B.) Rhine (September 29, 1895 – February 20, 1980) born in Waterloo, Pennsylvania, was a pioneer of parapsychology and is considered the “Father of Modern Parapsychology”. Rhine earned a Ph.D. degree at the University of Chicago in 1925 and did postdoctoral work at Harvard with William McDougall.   In 1927 he moved to Duke University to work under Professor McDougall. Rhine began the studies that helped develop parapsychology into a branch of science, looking upon it primarily as a branch of "abnormal psychology". Rhine, along with William McDougall, coined the term "parapsychology”.  Rhine founded several institutions, including the establishment of the Journal of Parapsychology and the formation of the Parapsychological Association, and also the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM), which was later re-named the Rhine Research Center in honor of his and his wife’s work in the parapsychology field. His parapsychology research organization was originally affiliated with Duke University, but is now a separate entity.

Louisa E. Rhine (November 9, 1891 – March 17, 1983). Born Louisa Ella Weckesser on an island in the Niagara River, New York, she earned BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in botany while at the University of Chicago.  It was while at the University of Chicago that she met and married J.B. Rhine.  She pursued work that complemented her husband’s in the late 1940s and was actively involved in the daily functioning of the Duke Parapsychology Laboratory.  She carried out experiments primarily as the foremost researcher of spontaneous psychic experiences, which are experiences people had outside of a laboratory setting, and left a legacy of over 30,000 letters sent to her by individuals from across the world.  Her collection of these cases, as well as the categorization and analysis of more than 15,000 usable spontaneous cases remains the most extensive collection in existence.  Over her lifetime, she published six parapsychology books for the layperson and also wrote numerous journal articles, some of which became the landmark work for understanding spontaneous psychic experiences.

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