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Charles Honorton: a savant of his own kind.

Charles Honorton, "Chuck" to many of us, was a man of many talents. He was a natural leader, an outstanding researcher, a gifted experimenter, and an excellent communicator. To lead came naturally to him. He organized research even while he was in school and college, and he was a leader even when he was an apprentice under another powerful leader. He received no college degrees; yet, his guidance was sought by several who had PhD degrees. Holding no university appointments, he attracted tenured professors to his lab and impressed them with his knowledge and skills.

None of Chuck's talents, however, were apparent to a casual observer. In many ways he did not fit the conventional descriptions and stereotypes of "great men." In a sense, he was as anomalous as the phenomena he studied. Who would imagine that within that short and somewhat disproportionate physical frame was a powerful person, a born leader? Who would suspect that behind the childish face that exuded innocence rather than mature confidence, there was hidden such a seriousness of purpose and unshakable resolve? Again, who would have thought that this man, who spurned formal education, would make some of the most significant contributions for advancing parapsychology since the days of the Rhines? Chuck was simply a savant of his own kind.

Charles Honorton was born on February 5, 1946, in a small Minnesota town. His interest in parapsychology dates back to childhood. While in high school he corresponded with J. B. Rhine and spent summer months at the Parapsychology laboratory of Duke University. He was enrolled at the University of Minnesota, but his intense and irresistible interest in psi research led him to leave the university before completing his undergraduate studies and to join Rhine at the newly established Institute for Parapsychology of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man. Chuck needed only a few years of apprenticeship with Rhine before maturing into a full-fledged parapsychologist.

Leaving the FRNM in 1967, Honorton joined Stanley Krippner and Montague Ullman at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and later became the Director of its Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics. After the "Dream Lab" at Maimonides closed in 1979, Chuck obtained the support of James McDonnell and founded the Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL) in Princeton, NJ. PRL closed in 1989, and Chuck then moved on to Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1991, where he died on November 4, 1992.

The relationship between Chuck and the FRNM was very special. Chuck's professional career started there with J. B. Rhine as his mentor. Chuck was a regular contributor to the Journal of Parapsychology. When the PRL closed, he donated a good deal of PRL equipment, including the auto-ganzfeld, to the FRNM. Chuck admired and respected Rhine as a pioneer. His admiration was genuine; he named his only son Joseph Rhine. Rhine recognized Chuck's potential at an early stage and did what he could to nurture it. To be sure, there was disappointment and disenchantment on both sides, which culminated in Chuck's leaving the FRNM in 1967. Rhine and Honorton were two strong persons, each with his own agenda. They were like two swords that could not fit into a single sheath.

With Chuck's premature demise, the field of parapsychology lost one of its most productive and influential investigators. We at the FRNM considered a number of ways we could pay homage to this remarkable man. It was agreed that the best way we could do this would be to publish a series of articles on his life and work. Such a collection would not only be a fitting memorial tribute to him, but also an occasion to place his research and ideas in their most appropriate perspective so that they might inspire the future course of parapsychology. All the articles in this series are invited contributions.

We are glad that Don McCarthy, one of Chuck's close friends, has contributed the special article with which we begin this series. In his article, McCarthy focuses on more personal aspects of Chuck's life. As he points out, Chuck's "commitment to parapsychological investigation was absolute; his life was his work."

Chuck's professional life falls into four distinct epochs: (1) The preparatory period, which lasted until he left FRNM in 1967; (2) the stay at Maimonides from 1967-1978; (3) the PRL years, 1979-1989; and (4) the post-PRL days, including those at Edinburgh. James C. Carpenter, who knew Chuck from his first Duke visit in 1962, describes the early period in his article. Drawing not only from Chuck's publications in the mainstream parapsychology journals, but also from such little known sources as The Psi Worker's Newsletter, Carpenter sketches the formative years of "the parapsychologist's parapsychologist" with a great deal of sensitivity, professional esteem, and personal affection for Chuck.

The Maimonides period is covered in the articles by Stanley Krippner and Mario Varvoglis. Both Krippner and Varvoglis were Honorton's colleagues at Maimonides and collaborated with him in some of his research. Reviewing Chuck's early ganzfeld experiments and the ESP-dream studies, Krippner concludes: "The ganzfeld work will stand as Charles Honorton's most important contribution to parapsychological research."

In his paper, Varvoglis, who worked with Chuck for about ten years, discusses the research during the latter part of Chuck's stay at Maimonides. This included the ganzfeld as well as RNG research. According to Varvoglis, Honorton considered his RNG study in which significant results were obtained in alpha-gated trials during feedback periods as one of his most promising lines of research.

Ephraim Schechter, who was at PRL from 1981 to 1986, describes in summary form the different projects carried out at PRL and the various people who were associated with Chuck. "PRL," writes Schechter, "was a combination of people and projects. So is its legacy. Chuck's vision and forcefulness attracted people to work with him on his projects and incorporate the energy and shared information as they pursued their own."

The final phase, which sadly was a very brief one, is discussed in the article by Robert Morris. Morris had been a friend of Chuck's since the Duke days, and it was at his home that Chuck breathed his last.

We conclude the first part of the memorial series, which sketches the progress of Chuck's work in its chronological order, with the paper Chuck completed just before his death for publication in Scienza & Paranormale, the journal of the Comitato Italiano per il Controllo delle Aftermazioni sul Paranormale, the Italian counterpart of CSICOP. This paper succinctly defines Chuck's final position as a psi researcher and the reason why he had such scant respect for the "self-appointed protectors" of science. "True skepticism," wrote Honorton, "involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief." He felt that the description of psi as paranormal has outlived its utility and that a more fruitful conceptualization is that psi involves anomalous processes, anomalous because they are "unexplained," and not "unexplainable."

The second part of the memorial series, which will follow in the next number, contains evaluations of Chuck's five major areas of contribution for advancing parapsychology: (1) the ESP-ganzfeld studies; (2) theoretical and conceptual advances; (3) use of meta-analyses in evaluating psi results; (4) development of special techniques for psi testing; and (5) dialogues with critics. These five areas are to be discussed in the articles by Daryl Bem, Rex Stanford, Jessica Utts, Richard Broughton, and John Palmer, respectively.

Chuck played many roles: administrator, fund raiser, public relations man, advocate of the case for psi, and so on; he was, however, primarily a research scientist. Clearly, his contributions to psi research are substantial and lasting. The ESP-ganzfeld studies he championed constitute one of the most important segments of parapsychology's credible database today. I think it most appropriate that Daryl Bem, who coauthored with Chuck the paper on ganzfeld experiments which will appear in the Psychological Bulletin, is the one to contribute the article dealing with Chuck's ganzfeld research. In this paper, specially written for this series, Bem summarizes the history of Honorton's ganzfeld work and describes in more personal terms their collaborative efforts to bring ESP-ganzfeld research to the attention of mainstream psychology.

Chuck's research effort was not expended for the purpose of reinventing the wheel or of merely amassing additional empirical data. He was a synthesizer and a system builder. His research focused on progressive research programs characterized by conceptual clarity, methodological rigor, and a well-thought-out theoretical framework. His emphasis on internal attention states as a means of reducing sensory noise and enhancing psi receptivity is based on his understanding of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, and it is clearly the leading paradigm that guides much of current psi research. Rex Stanford, himself a highly regarded contributor to the theoretical domain of parapsychology, writes at some length in his article about the many facets of Honorton's contributions in dealing with perplexing empirical data. He points out that a common conceptual thread runs throughout much of Chuck's work. It is that sensitivity to internal cues is an important factor in successful psi. Stanford also believes that Honorton's goal was to obtain replicable evidence through process-oriented research that he could place before a broader scientific community.

As a researcher, Chuck was not a loner. His research was built on the achievements of the past research efforts, and he carefully blended his results with those of others for a maximum cumulative effect. He made full use of powerful analytical tools such as effect size and meta-analysis in forcefully presenting the case for psi. In so doing, not only did he achieve greater credibility for his own work, but he also brought about a fresh measure of confidence in earlier research results which might have been too weak to stand on their own. This aspect of Chuck's contribution is covered in the article by Jessica Utts, a statistician at the University of California, Davis. Utts provides an interesting outline of the development of meta-analysis as an evaluation tool in psi research and illustrates how it played an increasingly important role in the final decade of Chuck's life.

Honorton belonged to a small and select group of successful psi experimenters who obtained significant results with relative ease. For this reason he is regarded by some as a gifted experimenter. Perhaps he was. Experimental data are unambiguous in support of experimenter effects in psi research. Whether these effects are due to the exercise of psi by the experimenter is arguable, however. In the case of Chuck, it seems that his success was in no small part due to the attention he gave to providing the necessary psychosocial atmosphere in which subjects would feel at home and be at ease without being threatened in any way. Parapsychologists have known for many years that a warm, supportive, nonthreatening, and motivating environment is important for eliciting psi in the laboratory. Yet it is not uncommon to find a parapsychology test situation no different from what we would find in a physics or animal lab, with little attention given to the human side of testing. Chuck was different. He understood, more than anyone I know, the importance of the ecological validity of the tests we administer. It is therefore not surprising that those who visited his lab were uniformly impressed by the human side of his highly sophisticated technological set-up, one that was carefully crafted so as not to offend any of the subject's sensibilities but to maximize his/her involvement in the experiment. The unfailing warmth and cordiality with which subjects were greeted and treated, the subject-friendly experimental set-up, and the relaxing and yet highly motivating test environment that Chuck. helped to create in his lab are likely to have been the main reasons for his experimental success.

Richard Broughton is one of those who was totally taken by Honorton's attention to detail in making his test techniques and equipment subject-friendly. In his article entitled "Chuck Honorton and the New Technology: A Craftsman and His Tools," Broughton, who shares Chuck's enthusiasm for high-tech gadgetry, describes in some detail the auto-ganzfeld set-up and several of the computer games crafted by Honorton, and he makes it easy for us to see why Chuck was such a successful psi experienter.

Finally, Chuck was one of the more effective spokespersons and defenders of the case for parapsychology. He relentlessly endeavored to present his results to mainstream science. His early failures to publish in Science did not deter him from continuing that course. It is therefore highly significant that his last published paper will be in the Psychological Bulletin, a prestigious mainstream psychology journal. Chuck did not hesitate to defend parapsychology when it was unfairly attacked. He took Hansel head-on in his forthright 1965 review of the latter's book ESP: A Scientific Evaluation. He debated with Hyman in conferences and in journal articles. In his final response to psi critics, which is printed in this series, Honorton shows "the impoverished state of skepticism." John Palmer, who himself has had his own share of encounters with skeptics, brings out in his article the nuances of Chuck's critique of the critics, his logic, and his compelling arguments for taking psi research seriously.

The final piece in this collection is a bibliography of Honorton's writings by Carlos Alvarado and Rhea White, prominent bibliophiles among parapsychologists.

It is not easy for many of us to write about Chuck. Doing so has brought back many memories and deep sorrow at the realization that Chuck is no more. The field of parapsychology will miss him for more than one reason. He will be missed as a highly productive and ingenious experimental scientist; he will be missed as an effective spokesperson and a tireless champion of parapsychology's case; he will be missed as a leader to guide the course of psi research; and he will be missed as an affectionate friend and a valued colleague.
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Author:Rao, K. Ramakrishna
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Previous Article:Evidential Bibliography on Psychical Research/Parapsychology.
Next Article:To boldly go: an appreciation of Charles Honorton.

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