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To boldly go: an appreciation of Charles Honorton.

It is not possible to describe Chuck Honorton meaningfully without also commenting on his work, but this will be primarily a subjective narrative. Chuck was a sufficiently complex person that it is unlikely any one individual can claim to offer a definitive view of the "real" Chuck Honorton; and while I have included anecdotes and comments from a number of people, the view presented here is of Chuck as I saw him. Making myself visible in this account may render it easier for others to filter me out and recognize the Chuck they knew.

Sometimes a more complete understanding of another person follows from knowledge of key aspects of that person's early, formative years. That certainly seems to be the case here. Chuck suffered from a congenital disease known as osteogenesis imperfecta. I once mentioned to a physician that I had a friend with this condition, and he asked if my friend was short, round, with a large head and a powerful intellect. He interpreted my startled glance as an affirmative and then asked if my friend had experienced heart problems, since the cardiac valves in such a person were likely to be prone to viral attack. After another nod, he conjectured that this friend almost certainly had experienced broken bones in childhood, because having weak, brittle bones was a major symptom of the disease. Right. In fact, Chuck had broken his legs at least nine times, and after each break, was immobilized in a full body cast for a period of months. I never appreciated what that entailed until one of my own children was in a similar cast for a short period of time; the degree of discomfort and confinement was truly impressive. Some of the personal qualities that might enable one to survive such a recurring traumatic ordeal were evident in Chuck as an adult: tremendous determination, genuine courage, and a robust sense of humor. It is easy to conjecture that such childhood experience might enhance either a pragmatic willingness to deal unflinchingly with harsh reality, or a powerful ability to escape into the realm of the mind; these seemingly contradictory tendencies were both strongly evident in Chuck, in a very special blend. Bob Morris remarked that Chuck once told him how much he hated the feeling of being powerless and at the mercy of others that he had experienced while in those body casts; perhaps that contributed to a desire to maintain control and not relinquish power over himself to others. In any case, Chuck liked to be in charge of situations and to do things in his own way.

Chuck always seemed to rely on his own inner resources. He had no siblings and lived alone with his parents, Henry and Emma, in St. Paul during the school year, spending summers with his mother's family in Grand Rapids, where several cousins lived nearby. There Chuck stayed with his grandmother and his Uncle Ed, who was deaf. This last is significant, for Chuck told me that his interest in parapsychology really grew out of early speculations that arose from time spent with his uncle, who clearly inhabited a different perceptual world.

For reasons I can only speculate on, Chuck also developed an early interest in hypnosis; he once described a typical Honorton family scene: a young lad bidding an early good night to his parents and then going up to his room to stare at a candle for long periods as an autohypnosis exercise. By all accounts, Chuck enjoyed some success as a stage hypnotist while in high school, but eventually gave up hypnosis because he was uncomfortable with the power over others it could confer. In connection with this, he mentioned an incident later in life that involved his reluctant use of hypnosis to relieve the pain of someone close to him who was dying of cancer, and his distress in playing this role. I thought, incorrectly as it turned out, that this story involved his mother, but in fact she died of a heart attack as did many members of her family, including Chuck. His father had died earlier, when Chuck was a teenager, as the result of a fall from a low building where he was working as a window washer--a fall that was witnessed by Chuck, who had gone to meet his father after work. Chuck's cousin Gloria said this experience affected him profoundly and led to his giving up on religion; Chuck was unwilling to accept the existence of a personal God who could allow his father to die in such a pointless accident.

On matters of religion I always found Chuck to be a thoughtful agnostic, and if he had a hidden spiritual agenda, as certain critics seem to suspect of parapsychologists, it was very well hidden. He had no doubts whatsoever about the reality of psi phenomena, but this was based on evidence rather than on unshakable prior commitment; Chuck asserted bluntly that he had no interest in wasting his time, and his life's work, by fooling himself. He acknowledged that the statistical evidence for psi, while very strong, was not compelling, but he had witnessed far too many powerful examples of nonsensory communication under carefully controlled laboratory conditions to maintain personal disbelief. Yes, the phenomena were genuine, but he felt that the nature of psi was still unknown, and he remained largely unwilling to speculate. Chuck had no personal conflict with the possibility that psi phenomena might ultimately be accounted for in some manner that extended, rather than disrupted, the formulations of contemporary physics; but he was also willing to acknowledge that adequate understanding of psi might well require a drastic revision in our concept of the nature of physical reality. While he seemed equally open to either possibility, he recognized that others might not be, and his immediate concern was to gain acknowledgment of the legitimacy of scientific investigation of psi and to stimulate interest in pursuing such investigation. He told me, not long ago, that in designing the ganzfeld procedure, a primary reason for his choosing a telepathy protocol was that it might lead to more ready acceptance, since people seemed less threatened by the idea of "mental radio" than by other ways of conceptualizing psi.

Whatever Chuck's personal motivation for getting into parapsychology, it was a passionate pursuit, and all other aspects of his life assumed supporting roles. In attending the University of Minnesota, he eagerly took those courses that seemed relevant to the career he had already decided to pursue; but when it appeared that continuing in college would advance his objectives more slowly than full-time investigation, he dropped out of school and went to work for J. B. Rhine. While he remained a ferocious learner all his life, Chuck did not formally return to school until he enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Edinburgh; and his chief motivation in relocating to Scotland was not to earn a degree, but rather to have an opportunity to pursue research again after his own laboratory closed. Chuck deeply admired his mentor, Dr. Rhine, but truly envied him for one thing: his good fortune in having a lifelong colleague and intellectual companion in his wife, Louisa. Many years after Chuck's own marriage ended in divorce, he continued to express a deep yearning for such a comrade, but I suspect it would have taken someone of the stature and dedication of Louisa Rhine to pull it off; for he was not only married to his work, but deeply in love with it. I've never seen anything quite comparable to the undiluted joy Chuck brought to the analysis of fresh experimental data. His commitment to parapsychological investigation was absolute; his life was his work.

My own involvement with parapsychology began almost accidentally. In 1974, part of my teaching duties at St. John's University was in a special undergraduate program that was interdisciplinary and somewhat unorthodox. I usually taught mathematics, but that year I wound up running a seminar in "Unexplained Phenomena" as a replacement for an anticipated course in parapsychology that was to have been conducted by Rex Stanford. When it turned out that Rex would not be available, I agreed to try to put something together for the Fall semester that would address several topics, including parapsychology, in the broad context of philosophy of science. That seemed feasible on paper, but knowing nothing of the current state of parapsychology, I made desperate contact with Rex that summer, and he served as a gracious and stimulating mentor. I read a lot, we talked a lot, and I had a wonderful opportunity to see a lot of parapsychologists up close, for the annual convention of the Parapsychological Association was to take place that August right on the St. John's campus. That convention was dubbed by some as "the year of the ganzfeld"; thus, my first exposure to Chuck Honorton was, appropriately enough, in the context of the experimental paradigm that became the focus of his finest work.

Actually, my strongest recollections of my first PA conference are of a post-convention party, held at Chuck's apartment in Brooklyn, and of a conversation we had that did not seem to end much before dawn--a precursor of many late-night discourses we would share over the years. However, those were well into the future; I actually had little personal contact with Chuck during the next year and a half, as my interest in parapsychology was still being piqued and fed by Rex Stanford, who was close at hand. That situation was due to change, for Rex was planning to leave St. John's for a full-time research opportunity in Texas. Thus, in the Spring of 1976, accompanied by Rex, I paid my first visit to Chuck's lab in the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, and a wonderful period of my life began. It was a casual association at first, but eventually Chuck became my closest personal friend and remained so for more than a decade.

The Maimonides lab is worth describing. Located in the basement of the Community Mental Health Center in the hospital complex, it was still known to most of the hospital locals as "The Dream Lab" despite the sign beside the door that proclaimed it to be the Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics, a name that must surely have been chosen by Chuck. The basic decor of the lab was that of the surrounding basement: institutional cinderblock. This, together with the underground location and the absence of windows, led to its more familiar designation by lab staff as "The Bunker." Despite the stark surroundings and the presence of special equipment that gave some of the rooms a distinctly technical flavor, the atmosphere that greeted a visitor was warm and friendly. That is certainly how it seemed to me when I first visited, and I subsequently realized that lab personnel made a special effort to create just that atmosphere.

Indeed, Chuck made sure that everyone working in the lab agreed on one fundamental policy: People who came to participate in an experiment were to be given warm attention and made to feel welcome and at ease. "Look," he often said, "if we want to encourage someone to let us see what's going on inside their head, or to do things that are out of the ordinary, then they need to feel comfortable with us and with the situation." This was something he never let co-workers lose sight of; there was little chance that a subject in one of Chuck's studies would be handled like a rat in a maze. This was especially true of "special subjects," who are sometimes treated by experimenters with remarkable insensitivity. Despite the fact that much of the focus of his research was on developing replicable procedures that other investigators could employ to obtain comparable results without the need for access to subjects with special talents, Chuck was delighted by the opportunity to work with gifted people like Malcolm Bessent and Felicia Parise, and he treated them as collaborators and friends. He gave them the attention they deserved and took special pains to develop procedures in which the experimental controls were unobtrusive and the psi tasks tailored to suit their personal styles. Of course the ultimate motivation was to maximize results, but the feelings were genuine, and Chuck had warm, long-term relationships with Malcolm and Felicia, and with Ellen Messer, his first ganzfeld superstar. To Chuck, these were not special subjects, they were very special friends.

At any rate, I liked the atmosphere at the Maimonides lab, felt welcome, and eagerly signed on as a volunteer. I spent several full days there each month, soaking up information, learning the ropes, and trying to find ways to be helpful. Initially I served as a critical reader/listener, and as a foil for new ideas; at times I played the role of subject or experimenter in working the kinks out of a new procedure; mostly I asked a lot of questions. I learned a great deal about parapsychology and about how to be an experimental investigator; my training was in theoretical mathematics, and I had quite a lot to learn about dealing with key aspects of experimental life: equipment, data, people. So I learned! Chuck expected his lab personnel to learn, to master whatever was needed to get the job done properly. Sometimes this was a definite challenge; for example, when a battery of fancy new biofeedback equipment arrived, Chuck insisted that all the regular staff learn to use each of the devices--a formidable task, since the equipment manuals were filled with technical jargon and written in the literary style of an apartment lease. At one point a frustrated volunteer, struggling unsuccessfully to program the skin temperature device so that it would sample at specified intervals, suggested that it was impossible to figure out how to work the thing and that it was unreasonable for Chuck to dump this task on her. Chuck just stepped over and unhestitatingly showed her how to do it. No one knew when he had deciphered the manuals and acquired expertise in using the equipment, but he had, and he expected them to do the same. Similarly, Chuck wanted everyone in the lab to acquire reasonable proficiency at statistical analysis; he could easily have done all the analyses himself more quickly and reliably, but the goal was not simply to get the job done, but to develop personal competence and understanding. Gradually it dawned on me that in Chuck's view the business of the lab was not just to conduct research, but to advance the field by developing competent experimenters.

Slowly I came to appreciate what an incredible apprenticeship I had fallen into, almost by walking in off the street! Chuck made such opportunities available freely; if you were interested and capable and willing to learn, you were welcome. At that time the lab was staffed almost entirely by young volunteers; a small core of regulars was augmented by a transient flow of eager newcomers who contributed their energy and assistance. Chuck welcomed them and encouraged them to find their niche; self-starters were especially welcome and their creative input was solicited. Those who came up with good ideas for projects received initial praise and encouragement followed by probing criticism and, if they could take the heat, a round of additional encouragement and more challenging criticism. Those who couldn't handle it dropped out or fell into disfavor; and over time there were quite a few of the latter.

Chuck was willing to play the heavy: the tough, unrelenting, exacting Master Craftsman. In restrospect I came to see him in the role of a potter or perhaps a smith, shaping raw materials, seeking and developing inherent good features, gauging potential, testing strength, firing/tempering the best pieces in his kiln/forge, admiring the finished products that met his expectations and discarding those he found flawed. To one of these human products such treatment could be unpredictable, confusing, and threatening: today he might be the well-turned urn, but tomorrow he could be just another shard on the scrap heap. Thus the behind-the-scenes atmosphere in the lab was not always as pleasant and relaxed for the staff as it was for subjects and visitors. Chuck was a tough man to work for. Long-term survival required a favorable balance between one's potential and limitations--as seen by Chuck. All this was only dimly perceived at the time, and not everyone may agree with my interpretation. I cannot recall that Chuck ever explained this apprentice system and his role as master/teacher explicitly to anyone; perhaps this was something else he expected people to figure out on their own. Few of us did so to our satisfaction--or his. During my Maimonides apprenticeship I was mildly perplexed by the tacit rules of the game, but I was treated very well personally. Although we weren't close friends as yet, my relations with Chuck were very amiable, and I felt I was held in high regard. This may have been due, at least in part, to the simple fact that I was not on the scene on a daily basis, so that my limitations were not as evident as my potential; and before the balance could shift, my potential soared, for the lab acquired a computer. Here at last was an area where I had some relevant expertise; not a great deal, actually, but I was at the least an advanced learner.

That first computer provided quite a learning experience for all of us. A Cromemco System III, it was one of the most powerful microcomputers available at the time, which was early 1978. It followed the leading industry standard: a Z-80 CPU with an S-100 bus; running under CP/M, the Cromemco had dual (8-inch) floppy disk drives and a huge 64K of RAM. Anyone familiar with the current generation of microcomputers should find these specifications amusing, although all that technical jargon made as little sense to us initially as it would to a complete computerphobe today. However, we learned quickly, and Chuck was certainly not phobic about computers; indeed, he was captivated by their potential. From the outset, his view of the role of the lab computer went far beyond the possibilities for mechanized collection and analysis of experimental data. He envisioned a situation in which computers were used to manage all the details of an experiment, maintaining precautions against sensory leakage and data corruption while presenting the subject with an entertaining and engaging task, and at the same time leaving the experimenter free to create optimal interpersonal conditions.

During the next few years, a lot of brainstorming took place in Chuck's lab about the kinds of things that might be done. The fact that the same underlying psi task could be presented to the subject in a variety of different guises led to the idea of a super-experiment that could be personalized for individual subjects. The computer would select from a pool of apparent tasks one that was optimally suited to the subject's personality and mood; optimality would be determined by consulting an on-going database that would keep track of past performance correlated with a variety of factors. In addition to choosing the style of the experimental task, it would be possible for the computer to manipulate other aspects of the experimental environment as well, such as lighting or music. All this was pie-in-the-sky, of course, but it suggests the way in which the mere presence of the computer stimulated our thinking and raised the level of excitement in the lab. Chuck was certainly stimulated, and while he never implemented the truly grand schemes we conjured up (the above scenario was just one of many), a few ambitious computer projects were brought to fruition, most notably the Psi Lab package, which included several computer psi games that could be distributed to other laboratories, and the automated ganzfeld experiment. But all that occurred well after the lab had ceased to exist at Maimonides and was reincarnated in new improved form as the Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL) in the fall of 1979.

In terms of improvement, the most significant aspects of PRL were a much greater degree of autonomy and funding stability than was the case at Maimonides, but the physical environment was noteworthy as well. In sharp contrast to The Bunker, not only was the new lab rather spacious, but most of the offices had a wall of windows. Chuck's comer office had two such walls, and he worked in sunlight for the first time in many years. Located in a research park just outside Princeton, PRL was considerably less accessible than its metropolitan predecessor, hence less densely populated by the accustomed stream of volunteer workers and interested subjects. I continued my involvement by making monthly pilgrimages, staying for several days during each visit. My friendship with Chuck had blossomed by this point, partly as a result of sharing an unpleasant ordeal shortly before leaving Maimonides. One of the lab workers, concerned about the fact that funding for PRL was to come from a source he perceived as an agent of the military-industrial complex, decided to uphold the purity and integrity of the lab by taking into his personal custody all the computer disks, which represented a year's collection of data and programs. He craftily safeguarded all the back-up copies as well. While Chuck was quite capable of great diplomacy, he did not often exercise it, even under ordinary circumstances. In this situation he was simply furious, and having the culprit thrown in jail was one of the milder alternatives he considered. However, because this person was someone who had been a valuable worker and a good friend for many years, and since he did in fact have all those fragile floppy disks, several of us were able to persuade Chuck to approach the problem with more finesse. It was sticky for awhile, and banding together to provide counsel and emotional support led to deeper bonds of friendship. In time the disks were recovered and the Cromemco continued running experiments smoothly at PRL.

Soon after this, Chuck purchased a small personal computer of his own so that he could increase his programming skills (and thereby be less dependent on others), and also have something to work on when the lab computer was in use. That machine was a Radio Shack TRS-80 with 16K of RAM, and it stored data on audio cassettes. I mention this to indicate the primitive state of microcomputer technology at the time Chuck began to be actively involved. He followed the computer literature closely, and when funds became available for additional equipment, he was able to make a shrewd decision. Rather than duplicate the Cromemco system, he decided to obtain a battery of less expensive Apple 11 computers, which were then emerging as ideal laboratory machines. The Apples were also ideal game machines and easier to program than the aging Cromemco.

In a reasonably short time Chuck had preliminary versions of some interesting psi games up and running--not bad for someone who knew absolutely nothing about programming only a short time before. Chuck was an impressive learner. The microcomputer field skyrocketed, with new developments occurring at a breathtaking pace; Chuck stayed at the cutting edge. I made a sharp upward revision of my already high impression of his intellectual abilities. Here we were, learning about microcomputers together, although not quite starting on equal footing, as I had a tremendous initial advantage, being a professional mathematician and having taught programming courses; but soon Chuck had far outstripped me in terms of his knowledge of computer hardware and mastery of software tools. Anything that would be useful in his work he learned in depth and with lightning speed. He upgraded to more powerful computers several times and acquired great proficiency with an impressive variety of software packages for database manipulation, statistical analysis, word processing, desktop publishing, as well as programming. Chuck and I were equally inspired by the incredible capabilities of these wonderful computers, but while I was enamored of the possibilities almost for their own sake, he always had a bottom line: "How can I use this in parapsychology?" He viewed everything with that objective in mind.

Still, Chuck did get hooked on computers. I remember an incident when he wanted to leave a phone number with his son Joe; characteristically, he entered the number in the dialing directory on his home computer, and was attempting to explain how to access it in his absence. When Joe said "Gee, Dad, why don't you just write it on a piece of paper?" Chuck seemed genuinely startled and complied only with obvious reluctance. In later years, when Joe himself discovered the joys of computing via electronic bulletin boards, Chuck was deeply pleased. Not long ago, in a visit to my home, he noticed how I had collected all the assorted games and novelties on my own computer into a folder I'd labelled "FUN"; he commented how that was a good idea, but it wouldn't work for him, since to him it was all fun. How true. Quite apart from computers, Chuck had a long-standing fondness for high-tech devices. He had been a ham radio operator as a kid, and as an adult always had first-rate stereo equipment at home. He was particularly happy with the new audio system he had purchased in Scotland; and when I visited, he proudly demonstrated to me how the sound envelope on the compact disk player could be selected from a menu of options or could even be custom tailored, all using a remote controller; Chuck really enjoyed showing off sophisticated gadgetry and his mastery of it. But good audio and good music served a useful purpose as well in helping him work more effectively; he often listened via a headset when laboring at his computer in the office. He had strong preferences in music, but his tastes were varied; recent favorites ranged from Segovia classic guitar, to Cowboy Junkies rock, to Enya New Age pop, to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade. Sometimes he worked for days in silence, but more often, not.

Chuck's work habits are worth commenting on. I recall one time when a call arrived at PRL from someone at the primary funding source; it was about 11:00 a.m. and Chuck was not yet at the lab. The caller, doubtless working a variant of a nine-to-five schedule, found this most peculiar and probably wondered what sort of unprofessional goof-off was being funded. The basic fact is that Chuck was a night person by preference. The habit dated back at least as far as the early days of the Maimonides dream experiments when working through the night made it natural to sleep through the morning. Long after this justification had expired, Chuck resisted early rising; often he would not begin work until well after noon. John Palmer, visiting from the West Coast, once commented how he enjoyed staying with Chuck when he came east, since that way his body could remain on California time. But while he typically got a late start, Chuck usually continued working long after everyone else had gone home. Ellen Messer recounted leaving him hard at work in The Bunker late one afternoon and returning the next day to find him sitting at his desk in exactly the same position, under what looked like the same aromatic cloud of Captain Black pipe tobacco. She wondered if he'd been there the whole time; quite possibly. There were periods at Maimonides when, for various reasons, Chuck did not go home at all but slept at the lab, close to the work. It took a lot to pry him from it. On one occasion, Pat Barker, making a trek to the administrative offices to pick up her paycheck, asked Chuck if he'd like her to get his as well; having gotten a nod of assent, she found he had three checks waiting unclaimed! In a real sense his work was its own reward. At PRL, he no longer slept in the lab, but it was not unusual for him to put in ten hours a day, seven days a week.

What does a workaholic do for recreation? Usually more work, but Chuck had other outlets as well. In addition to listening to music, he read voraciously, usually for several hours each night before sleeping. The shelves behind his bed were filled with partially read books, folded open to mark his place; he might easily have five or six going at a time. He enjoyed mysteries and science fiction, as well as a variety of non-fiction, especially biography and solid popular science writing; and he devoured computer magazines. He had a lingering interest in tales of the Old West, dating back to childhood periods of confinement, when he had read original accounts of the bad old days in the archives of the Tombstone Gazette. Chuck followed political events closely and, among all my knowledgeable acquaintances, was easily the most astute; having him provide an insightful commentary on the Sunday morning TV analyses of national affairs was often an educational experience. Apart from news shows, he didn't watch a great deal of television, except for a few favorite dramatic series that he followed avidly; China Beach, LA Law, and Crime Story were high on his list. Chuck was also a big movie fan. During my monthly visits to PRL we usually saw at least one film, if anything good was playing in the area; and what we missed in the theaters, he caught later on videotape (this was especially true during the period after the lab closed its doors and he was working at home). Good science fiction movies were his particular favorites and he habitually organized (and funded at his personal expense) special expeditions of lab staff to see film like Star Wars, or the latest Indiana Jones adventure. The hands-down winner of the Chuck Honorton award for best movie of the year was Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Chuck must have seen that film well over a dozen times, taking various groups of friends; Ellen Messer said jokingly that he was the only person she knew who thought it was a documentary--or wished it were.

In this context, it is worth pointing out that Chuck was an ardent Star Trek fan. Like many of us who were captured by the wonder of that remarkable 1960s television series, he had seen each of the episodes many times. In the Princeton area, rebroadcasts of the original shows were commonly available during the evening on several cable channels, and in flipping the dials to see what was on TV, Chuck's son Joe would often stumble on a Star Trek in progress; at this point he and Chuck would match wits to see who would be first to identify the episode. Chuck once commented with a wry smile that having Star Trek playing unattended in the background was rather comforting, and had for him many of the same qualities as a fire burning on an open hearth. I feel that some of Chuck's deepest qualities are epitomized in the Star Trek theme: "to explore strange new worlds ... to boldly go where no man has gone before."

In a memorial gathering after Chuck's death, Ruth Reinsel made some cogent remarks about parapsychologists and science fiction. She observed that her own interest in parapsychology had grown from reading science fiction since childhood, for it was this genre that suggested most strongly that there is more to life than meets the eye, that the mind is capable of wondrous things, that there is a veil that clouds our vision of reality and that we can learn to pierce that veil and see what lies beyond, whatever it may be. This may sound like religious motivation to some, but it really springs from a different source. Ruth commented that among her scientific acquaintances, parapsychologists seemed to include a higher percentage of science fiction buffs, and speculated that those drawn to parapsychology were often the ones willing to investigate questions that were taboo in other disciplines, and eager to confront the boundaries of our understanding of nature, of reality, and of mind. Thus it may be natural for parapsychology to attract those willing to explore strange new words ... to boldly go....

At any rate, Star Trek found a responsive chord in Chuck that was revealed in some of his work. The first computerized psi task developed at Maimonides was called "Psi Trek" and had an explicit Star Trek theme; and more than a few people commented on how the experimenter's console for the autoganzfeld set-up at PRL reminded them of the bridge of the starship "Enterprise." This should be viewed, not as a personal indulgence in fantasy, but rather an explicit attempt to tap into a rich theme that resonated deeply in many of those likely to volunteer as subjects in parapsychology. More generally, it was an effort to create an experimental environment that provided subtle encouragement to suspend the psychological restrictions of mundane consensus reality. The lab atmosphere was one of benign high technology with futuristic overtones, gently inviting participation in exploring a scientific understanding of the world of tomorrow. Besides, anyone exposed to Star Trek knew that in that future setting a form of telepathy (at least among Vulcans) was accepted as scientific fact; permission was tacitly being given for psi to be manifested.

There is another level on which I strongly associate Chuck with Star Trek. Friends who worked with J. B. Rhine have often commented on the extent to which Chuck seems to have modelled his professional style after Rhine's. I can only accept their judgment on this, but it always seemed to me that Chuck was a representative of the James T. Kirk school of executive management. For non-trekers, Kirk was the fictional captain of the starship "Enterprise," who ran his ship with absolute authority. Honorton often reminded me of Kirk in the way he managed his staff; but the heroic Captain had the advantage of years of sophisticated Starfleet training in decision-making skills, as well as a highly trained crew raised in a semimilitary tradition of unquestioning obedience to authority. Even Kirk made mistakes. George Hansen, who was the last crew member still on board when PRL was decommissioned, and who had not always enjoyed being subject to the Captain's stern authority, made an insightful observation. He commented that Chuck had absolutely no lust for personal power or high position, but sometimes he needed power to achieve his goals, so he used it.

Chuck did indeed have goals, far-reaching, visionary goals, that he reviewed continually in his own mind but did not always elaborate on to others. Unfortunately, he sometimes imposed these goals on his lab workers without inviting collaborative input or evaluation; and there were times when critical feedback would have been very helpful. At PRL, in considering prospective staff members with special skills, Chuck often envisioned the wonderful potential they had for contributing to fulfillment of his goals, and during the early phases of employment, he gave new workers enthusiastic encouragement. Typically this was followed by a period of disenchantment as he came to see that his great expectations were unrealistic; even when the potential was there in principle, the time frame was usually off by at least an order of magnitude. The less desirable aspects of the Maimonides apprenticeship program were still operative at PRL, with the effects exaggerated now that the stream of expendable volunteers had been replaced by a more permanent group of paid employees. When Chuck's estimate of the potential for attaining his goals crashed, it often led to reassignment of a worker from personal creative projects to more mundane aspects of lab activities on the grounds that this was necessary to achieve the overall objectives of PRL ("That's what you're being paid to do, Mister"). Honorton ran his ship with a heavy hand, sometimes provoking mutinous sentiments in the crew.

Perhaps some of this could have been avoided if Chuck had made his goals more explicit and had submitted them to the sort of collegial review that might lead to more realistic initial expectations or alternative objectives. On occasion he did do this, but generally he seemed reluctant to air his deeper views before thinking them through to his satisfaction; and there were some areas in which he simply had no interest in modifying, or even discussing, his plans. I suspect there were times when Chuck assumed that what was evident to him should also be clear--and desirable--to anyone who took the trouble to think about it. In this I think he underestimated both the power of his own intellect and the diversity of alternative viewpoints. He deliberately avoided peer review by anyone he did not fully accept as a peer and sometimes appeared tremendously stubborn in resisting good ideas that didn't fit in with his plans. Even when he had strong reasons for resisting, he often would not bother to explain his thinking. This somewhat arbitrary, authoritarian stance contributed to problems in management and staff morale.

Yet, when I think of Chuck as a friend, it is clear that his most salient personal characteristics bore little trace of such autocratic privacy, but involved a potent blend of openness and honesty. Indeed, our friendship rested on a base of brutal candor, a prime ingredient being self-honesty. Chuck was not strong on pretense; he was quick to point out the faults of others, but subjected himself to the same critical appraisal. In private he acknowledged his lack of effective executive skills, but had no remedy for it. He looked forward with pleasure to a time when he might have the opportunity to pursue research without the burdens of running the entire show.

Chuck wore a number of hats. One of them was that of single parent. His marriage had dissolved in the early Maimonides years, and for almost ten years he lived alone as a bachelor, except when young Joey came to visit for a few weeks during summer; then, a year after PRL opened, a fourteen-year-old Joe came to live with him permanently. Chuck struggled with the complexities of raising a teenager, often resorting to the familiar methods of Captain Kirk. At times it wasn't easy for either of them, but having Joe around enriched Chuck's life enormously.

Meanwhile, back at the lab, Chuck juggled careers in administration, fund raising, and public relations, to balance his activities as experimenter, computer expert, and meta-analyst, all the while engaging in an intense dialog with critics. With the exception of administration, he did a magnificent job. He had many talents; he was a very fine writer, an excellent public speaker, and a superb debater. Chuck worked hard to get the most out of himself; he could type about as fast as I could read, he was himself a speed reader, and he had truly impressive learning skills. The goals he set himself were enormous, and he was frustrated by the need to play so many roles. His greatest frustrations, though, came from failure to win the attention of the scientific community, at being unable to publish in mainstream journals, or gain the thoughtful evaluation his work, and the field, deserved.

Over the years, it was driven home forcefully to me that life as a parapsychologist is often filled with frustration. From my own experiences as a mathematician, I was familiar with some of the personal difficulties to be expected in pursuing a research career, but I could not have imagined the special hardships most workers in parapsychology endure, not the least of which is the skepticism and ridicule provided by colleagues in other scientific disciplines. Chuck once commented with some bitterness that one of the rewards of obtaining strong positive psi results seemed to be that often skeptics would question one's competence, and then one's integrity. Yet, because scientific acceptance was such an important goal, he exerted strenuous efforts to maintain a dialog with those critical of the field.

Another eye-opener for me was the tremendous difficulty in obtaining funding for research in parapsychology. Chuck did much better than most, partly because he won the interest and regular financial support of James McDonnell, but even that was precarious at times. At Maimonides, the funding from Mr. Mac was provided one year at a time, and each year the decision to renew support was pushed back later and later. At one point, a commitment for the coming year was not obtained until several months after the previous funding period had expired. There were times when the continued existence of the Maimonides laboratory was in serious doubt. I recall one meeting when Chuck informed the staff that it was unclear if they would be able to continue for more than another week or two, and if anyone was in serious financial difficulty, well, he had a few thousand dollars in personal savings he could make available in an emergency. When PRL was established with funding supplied by the McDonnell Foundation, Chuck insisted that they be given a five-year commitment. At the end of that period, funds were committed for an additional five years, but toward the end, some of that money was diverted from PRL to other projects. Efforts to secure alternative long-term funding proved fruitless, and the lab went out of business. In parapsychology, being absolutely top notch is not enough to assure survival. Chuck was fond of citing the impressive work done at PRL as evidence of what could be accomplished with adequate long-term financial support. His point is a good one, but the success of PRL should be properly attributed to the superb job done by Chuck and a dedicated team of gifted researchers.

The closing of PRL was a personal ordeal for Chuck, with the final weeks brightened only by the spectacular results being obtained with the Juilliard students in a series of truly exceptional ganzfeld sessions. After the lab finally closed, Chuck was essentially unemployed for two years; but he worked at home on a number of projects, chiefly the analysis of the ganzfeld data and the writing of some of his best papers. When the time came to leave for Edinburgh, he was eager to get back to experimental work, although he regretted leaving Joe; and he had some concerns about how well his arthritic body would handle the Scottish clime. In fact Chuck did very well physically in the new location and was deeply satisfied at being reunited with Bob and Joanna Morris. He enjoyed the research team at Edinburgh, and things were progressing nicely. The set-up for the new autoganzfeld experiment was finally near completion, and soon he could start collecting data. He told me, via electronic mail, of his recent activities: He had finished his article evaluating contemporary criticism of the field and was looking forward to a long period of focusing on other areas. He was about to deliver a presentation at the Cavendish Lab that promised to be very rewarding; and that important paper with Daryl Bem had been submitted to Psychological Bulletin--access to an influential mainstream journal at last! In addition to all this professional satisfaction, Chuck had found someone to love; all in all, I'd say he seemed as happy as at any time since I'd known him. The icing on the cake must have been his watching the election returns in the wee hours and having things turn out just as he'd hoped. Then he died.

Chuck was a good friend, and I miss him sorely. It seems fitting to close with the comments of a mutual friend, Norman Herzberg. A mathematician living in the Princeton area, Norman was a frequent visitor at PRL; his initial interest involved computers, but he was curious about just what it was that Chuck was up to in that lab. A true iconoclast, Norman generally offered probing observations from a unique and valuable perspective. Upon learning of Chuck's death he had this to say: "Chuck was one of the brightest and most honest men I knew. It was never a secret that I did not share Chuck's enthusiasm for parapsychology. But he was someone who clearly was searching for the truth and was willing to see where that would lead him. One had to take him seriously, and so in the end, to reconsider the whole field as well. I will miss him as a friend, but parapsychology, I think, will miss him more." Just so. While the opinions expressed in this article are my own, I had input from many others, to whom I extend gratitude; special thanks go to Chuck's cousin, Gloria Brownlee, for clarifying some early history and to Ephraim Schechter for helpful comments on preliminary versions of this paper.
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Author:McCarthy, Donald
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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