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Ganzfeld and RNG research.

I arrived at Maimonides in 1974 as a kind of tourist, prodded by a friend who was patiently trying to overcome my skepticism--and ignorance--about parapsychology. Indeed, I was converted, largely because of Honorton's work; but for several years I remained only a part-time volunteer at Maimonides, squeezing in what time I could between undergraduate studies and jobs to pay the bills. It was only toward the latter few years at Maimonides and, of course, in my years at Psychophysical Research Laboratories (PRL), from 1979 to 1985, that I can claim to have worked closely with Chuck.

The Early Ganzfeld Work

At the time I arrived at the Maimonides lab, the original Honorton and Harper (1974) study had already been completed. Several others, using identical methodologies, were in process. As in the earlier study, the sender viewed a viewmaster reel randomly selected out of a large number of possibilities and attempted to mentally convey to the receiver its visual elements and overall theme. The receiver, located in an Industrial Acoustics Corp. (IAC) sound-isolation room, was put into ganzfeld (wearing halved ping-pong balls over the eyes and headphones with "white noise" over the ears) and was asked to "think out loud," reporting all thoughts, images, or feelings that came to mind. The experimenter, who was "blind" as to the target viewmaster reel, was situated between the sender's and receiver's rooms, and monitored the latter's mentation via intercom. At the end of the sending period, the receiver would be taken out of ganzfeld and, presented with four viewmaster reels, would attempt to select the target, based on his or her earlier impressions. Assessment of psi effects for an experimental series was thus based upon a statistical comparison of the total number of direct "hits" against the expected 25% hit rate.

Terry and Honorton (1976) report two of these follow-up ganzfeld studies. The first involved 12 undergraduate students who were following an experimental parapsychology course given by Honorton. The cumulative result, based upon 27 sessions, was significant (p = .003). The second study, involving 6 self-selected sender-receiver pairs contributing 10 sessions each, yielded highly significant results (p = .00059). Also highly successful was a shorter series (Honorton, 1976) involving rather unusual conditions: Sessions were conducted under the cameras of different TV crews. The receivers correctly selected the target in 6 out of the 7 sessions (p = .0013), suggesting that such high-pressure situations may actually be conducive for experienced subjects (Honorton, 1977b). Significant results (p = .025) were also obtained in a series with 17 visiting scientists and journalists contributing one session each (Honorton, 1977b).

As in the original Honorton and Harper study, all these experiments provided not only clear-cut statistical evidence for psi, but also a wealth of strong qualitative correspondences. While pointing to the real value of the ganzfeld procedure, these correspondences also highlighted the weakness of our quantitative evaluation method, which essentially reduced all that richness to a single psi trial with a 1/4 probability of a hit. Noting the insensitivity and wastefulness of this approach, Charles Honorton (1975) proposed an alternative way for evaluating free-response psi material. The method yielded analytical data on the information content of the target, the subject's mentation, and their correspondence. By coding each target as a unique combination of 10 possible content-categories (color, activity, mythical characters, animals, human characters, artifacts, food, body parts, architecture, nature scenes) and coding the receiver's mentation using the same categorization scheme, we could immediately derive the number of matches, ranging from 0 to 10. The approach thus allowed for more precise comparisons of psi information transfer rates under different conditions, while also promising to enhance the efficiency of free-response research paradigms. As Honorton (1975) showed, given that each session would involve 10 independent guesses, with a binomial expectation of 5, a statistically meaningful result could be obtained even within a single session (i.e., with 8 or more matches out of 10).

To ensure category in of all possible combinations of presence or absence of the 10 content categories, ranging from 0000000000 for a target showing just a black and white geometric shape to 1111111111 for one with instances of all 10 categories present. This meant that [2.sup.10] or 1,024 targets had to be composed, each one showing the presence of just those content categories its code prescribed. If, for example, a target code was 1 just for body parts and food, the selected image could only show some food (without showing, say, a table, or forks and knives), and only a pair of hands, or a mouth, or nose (without showing someone's full face). Needless to say, construction of the binary target pool was a major project. When I arrived at Maimonides in 1974, Jim Terry and Sharon Harper and others were right in the middle of this, and they immediately channeled my budding curiosity about psi research into several weeks of cutting and pasting magazine images.

The first study involving the binary code target material (Terry, Tremmel, Kelly, Harper, & Barker, 1976) sought to establish the utility of this approach. Thirty volunteer sender-receiver pairs were divided into two equal groups. In one, receivers went through the ganzfeld mentation period prior to deciding which content categories were present versus absent in the target; in the other group, they simply guessed. The results were significant for the ganzfeld group (p = .018), and nonsignificant for the control group. This study thus pointed both to the utility of abstract coding schemes in free-response research and to the general effectiveness of the ganzfeld procedure (also suggested by an independent study by Braud, Wood, & Braud, 1975).

In parallel with this study, Smith, Tremmel, and Honorton (1976) undertook a very interesting investigation of the sender's role in the ganzfeld. Twenty sender-receiver pairs contributed two sessions each. In one, the target was presented to the sender for 10 minutes; in the other it was presented tachistoscopically for 1 millisecond. The sender was then put into ganzfeld and asked to "think out loud," just as the receiver did. At the end of the session, both sender and receiver encoded their mentation in terms of the 10 content categories. Overall psi results were significant (p = .015) and, interestingly enough, were comparable to results for the senders' retrieval rate (p = .016). Even more interesting was the finding that the overall significance for psi results was largely due to the condition in which the sender had been exposed to the target subliminally. However, a similar study conducted around the same time, and involving 17 subjects, yielded nonsignificant results in all conditions (Terry, 1976).

The binary target pool was one of Charles Honorton's many innovative efforts to enhance the replicability and efficiency of psi research. Honorton's initial hope was that this pool could become a powerful standardized tool for laboratories engaged in ganzfeld or other free-response research. But while the above studies showed its overall utility in free-response research, they did not demonstrate its superiority in terms of results (e.g., in effect size). Nor did they demonstrate that this approach really advanced our understanding of the psi process itself. Though we expected it to yield a more detailed picture of the types of information best communicated through psi, we found that the overly literal orientation of the content categories led to an insensitivity to metaphorical, synaesthetic, or global facets of the ganzfeld experience, and just ended up frustrating subjects who couldn't "squeeze" their mentation into the 10 categories.

Eventually, when we took up ganzfeld studies again at PRL, we moved back to the older, more global evaluation approaches. Chuck was singularly capable of sensing promising lines of research, but he was equally capable of "letting go" of a particular direction, even if he had invested time and effort in it, when it did not seem to be paying off. He had a strong pragmatic sense of priorities, and was well aware of his responsibilities as research director and as spokesman for the field.

It is also worth noting that, rigorous as Honorton may have been in his methodology and his attempts to quantitatively establish the reality of psi, he also was very sensitive to the experiential qualities of his research and its meaningfulness for participants. Unlike some other psi-testing procedures (e.g., forced-choice tasks using ESP cards), the ganzfeld is a novel and stimulating experience for subjects: It provides a unique opportunity for individuals to explore altered states of consciousness, mental imagery, and personal symbolism as well as psychological openness and sharing with another person. Honorton was well aware of all this, and he especially appreciated subject-intensive studies, which permit in-depth explorations of one's own mental events over a series of ganzfeld sessions. He also emphasized the need for us, the experimenters, to go through the experiments we asked our subjects to go through, and was, himself, more than willing to set the example. I think that whenever Chuck himself served as experimenter, subjects could sense that he had an "insider's feel" of the ganzfeld; this inspired confident anticipation of a positive experience and of success.

Any new research approach must pass through phases of exploration and of trial and error. Inevitably, problems will be located and will have to be ironed out. There certainly have been a number of methodological improvements in the ganzfeld over the years, which attests to the cumulative nature of scientific parapsychology; but despite some minor weaknesses the approach, from the outset, was quite sound. I think it is a tribute to Honorton that his very first ganzfeld experiment--the Honorton and Harper (1974) study--can still be referred to as "prototypical" of the research paradigm. From those early days of exploration, through the spirited defense of the paradigm's robustness (Honorton, 1983, 1985), and on to the empirical demonstration of its value in the PRL autoganzfeld studies (Honorton et al., 1990), Charles Honorton has left a permanent trace in the history of the field.

Random Number Generator Studies

Besides initiating the ganzfeld work, Honorton was also among the first to recognize the potential of Schmidt's random number generator studies and to attempt theory-driven research in this area. Beginning with his very first RNG experiment (Honorton & Barksdale, 1972, reviewed in Stanley Krippner's tribute), he came face to face with the challenge that psi-mediated experimenter effects pose to the interpretation of experimental outcomes and to model-testing. A few years later, in a seminal RNG study, he demonstrated that experimenters can also shape experimental outcomes through the manner in which they relate to subjects (Honorton, Ramsey, & Cabbibo, 1975). Thirty six participants were assigned either to an experimenter acting in a supportive or outgoing manner, or to one acting cold and aloof. Each group completed 200 RNG trials, attempting to guess which of two lamps would light up next. Subjects in the "positive interaction" group scored significantly above chance; those in the "negative interaction" group scored significantly below chance; and the difference was highly significant. The validity of the study's conclusions was reinforced by split-half reliability tests of internal consistency for each group's scores, and by subjects' responses to a post-experimental questionnaire, confirming that they had indeed perceived the two experimenters in the manner intended. To this day, this experiment constitutes some of our best evidence for the importance of interpersonal experimenter effects in parapsychology.

Perhaps because of these personal encounters with both psi-mediated and interpersonal experimenter effects, Honorton increasingly sought to develop protocols that would strongly link testing procedures to the experience, needs, traits, or physiology of participants. Having been recently introduced to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Honorton became especially interested in exploring the possible roles of absorption and concentration in RNG-PK tasks. Meditation, emphasizing the disciplining of attention, seemed to be a natural starting point for such investigations, and a study by Honorton and May (1976) indirectly pointed to the potential of meditation in RNG-psi results. Ten subjects were involved, 6 of whom were regular meditators. Each subject contributed 5 high-aim and 5 low-aim 100-trial runs while receiving continuous visual feedback. Five of the 10 subjects obtained significantly more hits in the high-aim than the low-aim condition (p = .00006); 4 of these subjects were meditators.

In a more direct assessment of the influence of meditation on psi, Honorton (1977a) hooked up a Transcendental Meditation instructor to an EEG apparatus and examined RNG outputs in relation to different attentional and physiological conditions. Situated in a room adjacent to that of the RNG, the meditator first received event-by-event RNG feedback over 500 trials. Psi scoring during this phase was nonsignificant, though in the right direction (i.e., more hits in the high-aim than in the low-aim condition). In the second phase, the instructor simply meditated for 25 minutes, without receiving any RNG feedback. The RNG, however, continued to be sampled, its data being automatically segregated or "gated" according to whether or not the meditator's EEG was predominantly in the theta/alpha range (4-13 Hz). RNG results here were near-significant (p = .058) during the gated trials, in which the meditator was within the theta/alpha range. Finally, in the third phase, the subject again received trial-by-trial feedback; this time, a significant difference between high- and low-aim trials was obtained (p = .0054), suggesting that meditation may have helped the instructor achieve a state conducive to volitional PK. However, in a follow-up study with 10 practitioners of Ajapa yoga (Winnett & Honorton, 1977), significant results were obtained prior to meditation (p = .005), but not following meditation. In contrast to the TM instructor's increment in performance, the results here declined following meditation.

The above psychophysiological studies with meditators were in line with Honorton's objective of tightly "coupling" participant parameters to psi data, and thus linking experimental outcomes to the participants rather than to investigators' expectations. Two subsequent studies (Honorton & Tremmel, 1979) further explicated the possible links between RNG activity and subjects' attentional state and psychophysiology. Framed within the conceptual context of Eccles's interactionist dualism (1977), this theory-driven study focused exclusively upon unintentional PK. As in the second phase of the study with the TM instructor, the RNG here was sampled while subjects were absorbed in another task. The difference, however, was that in these studies participants were totally unaware of the import of the RNG and believed that they were simply engaged in an EEG-alpha biofeedback task. RNG data were automatically gated whenever the participant met pre-established alpha (8-13 Hz) brainwave criteria. In the first study involving 10 subjects, these gated RNG samples showed significant departures from expected levels of variance. The results suggested a relationship between RNG activity and either the subjects' physiological state (i.e., alpha brainwaves) or their volitional activity (success in the control of these brainwaves). In a second experiment, involving 7 subjects, Honorton and Tremmel focused in on a test of these alternative explanations, by taking both gated and ungated RNG samples as well as RNG samples gated during the rest period, when no attempt was made to control EEG frequencies. Once again, significant results were obtained in the alpha-gated samples during the feedback periods; however, RNG samples were at chance during both feedback-ungated periods and rest periods. Furthermore, the feedback-gated RNG results were significantly stronger than the rest-period gated results, thus suggesting a link specifically between RNG-PK and volitional success in accomplishing the EEG task.

While he recognized this was only a "feasibility study" with "many conceptual and methodological problems to be overcome" (Honorton, 1978, p. 43), Charles Honorton considered the gating work to hold major theoretical potential. He suggested that such research could add some empirical substance to the eternal debate on the mind-body problem; at the very least it could elevate the debate to a new level by demonstrating that both monistic and dualistic perspectives must come to terms with "extended psychophysical interactions," and not just personal consciousness and experience.

I was, myself, strongly intrigued by the gating work, and when the Maimonides lab closed down and Chuck invited Tremmel and me to join him in Princeton, I decided to consecrate my doctoral thesis to a replication and extension of this research. I was perplexed by the finding of "field-like" correlates of volition, and, in an effort to pinpoint their nature, designed a multifactorial experiment examining RNG-gated/ungated data under a number of different attention, intention, and awareness conditions. My own research design thus departed considerably from the studies which had inspired it, and, although the overall results were significant, for both "feedback" and "hidden" RNG conditions, the particular condition most pertinent to Honorton and Tremmel's gated findings did not yield significant results (Varvoglis, 1982; Varvoglis & McCarthy, 1986). Nevertheless, I feel that the original gating work is a conceptually intriguing and empirically productive research paradigm; it deserves far more attention than it has thus far received.

Two more RNG studies by Honorton and Tremmel deserve mention (Honorton & Tremmel, 1980; Tremmel & Honorton, 1980). Involving 93 and 40 subjects, respectively, and yielding modestly significant results, these studies were among the first to explicitly attempt to blend the rigor of automated RNG research with the motivational appeal and absorptive qualities of video games. In this context, they were forerunners to PRL's PsiLab project, which was not only a means to promote interlaboratory computer/RNG research, but also a testing ground for introducing "psi games" to the general public.

In my opinion, Honorton sensed, early on, that psi-testing software disguised as games could lead the way to a "univeralist" form of parapsychological research (Varvoglis, 1992) whereby the field moves beyond its precarious dependence upon a few good laboratories and experimenters, and flourishes in entertainment centers, in homes, even in schools. Of course, at the time all this began, at Maimonides and elsewhere, the technology simply was not adequate to create truly psi-conducive software. Furthermore, the identification of such software with psi games may have been premature. As I have argued elsewhere (Varvoglis, 1992), to encourage psi in the general public through computer-based experiments, we need to go beyond the superficially entertaining games popular in video arcades and create multimedia programs which explicitly induce mental states and mindsets congruent with psi functioning. I believe that Chuck was well aware of this, and that his efforts to provide the field with reliable and meaningful testing procedures would ultimately have centered upon software which integrates RNG tasks with meditative, hypnotic, hypnagogic, or other psi-conducive states.

Charles Honorton certainly had his shortcomings. We each have our particular palette of strengths and weaknesses, both of which serve us or disserve us in different circumstances, and Chuck was no exception. He was not very good in managing those who worked with him; he did not know how to bring out the best in us, and he frequently allowed his own preconceptions and feelings to get in the way of cooperative work. Practically all of those who directly worked with him, whether at Maimonides or at PRL, have some recollection of unfair criticisms, intimidations, or slights. But in the end, death is a harsh reminder of the larger perspective, of what has really counted in one's life. And what has counted in the case of Charles Honorton is his long, tireless, loving dedication to parapsychology, his eloquence and intelligence as spokesman of the field, his integrity as researcher, his deep commitment to the scientific method, his intuitive grasp of promise and potential, his sharp perception of patterns and trends in a plethora of z scores, and his search for the deeper meaning of it all.

He used his short time on earth well.


Braud, W. G., Wood, R., & Braud, L. W. (1975). Free response GESP performance during an experimental hypnagogic state induced by visual and acoustic ganzfeld techniques: A replication and extension. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 105-113. Eccles, J. (1977). The human person in its two way relationship to the brain. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1976 (pp. 251-262). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Honorton, C. (1975). Objective determination of information rate in psi tasks with pictorial stimuli. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 353-359. Honorton, C. (1976). Length of isolation and degree of arousal as probable factors influencing information retrieval in the ganzfeld. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1974 (pp. 50-53). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Honorton, C. (1977a). 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PK performance with waking suggestions for muscle tension versus relaxation. Journal of the american Society for Psychical Research, 66, 208-214. Honorton, C., Berger, R., Varvoglis, M., Quant, M., Derr, P., Scheichter, E., & Ferrari, D. (1990). Psi communication in the ganzfeld: Experiments with an automated testing system and a comparison with a meta-analysis of earlier studies. Journal of Parapsychology, 54, 99-140. Honorton, C., & Harper, S. (1974). Psi-mediated imagery and ideation in an experimental procedure for regulating perceptual input. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 68, 156-168. Honorton, C., & May, E. C. (1976). Volitional control in a psychokinetic task with auditory and visual feedback. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1975 (pp. 90-91). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Honorton, C., Ramsey, M., & Cabibbo, C. (1975). Experimenter effects in extrasensory perception. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 69, 135-150. Honorton, C., & Tremmel, L. (1979). Psi correlates of volition: A preliminary test of Eccles' "neurophysiological hypothesis" of mind-brain interaction. In W. G. Roll (Ed.), Research in parapsychology 1978 (pp. 36-38). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Honorton, C., & Tremmel, L. (1980). Directional PK effects with a computer-based random number generator system: A preliminary study. In W. G. Roll (Ed.), Research in parapsychology 1979 (pp. 69-71). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Smith, M., Tremmel, L., & Honorton, C. (1976). A comparison of psi and weak sensory influences on ganzfeld mentation. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1975 (pp. 191-194). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Terry, J. C. (1976). Comparison of stimulus duration in sensory and psi conditions. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1975 (pp. 194-198). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Terry, J. C., & Honorton, C. (1976). Psi information retrieval in the ganzfeld: Two confirmatory studies. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 70, 207. Terry, J. C., Tremmel, L., Kelly, M., Harper, S., & Barker, P. (1976). Psi information rate in guessing and receiver optimization. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1975 (pp. 194-198). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Tremmel, C., & Honorton, C. (1980). Psitrek: A preliminary effort toward development of psi-conducive software. In W. G. Roll (Ed.), Research in parapsychology 1979 (pp. 159-161). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press. Varvoglis, M. (1982). Psychokinesis, intentionality, and the attentional object: Specificity and generality in mind-matter interactions. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University Microfilms International. Varvoglis, M. (1992). La rationalite de l'irrationnel. Paris: InterEditions. Varvoglis, M., & McCarthy, D. (1986). Conscious-purposive focus and PK: RNG activity in relation to awareness, task-orientation, and feedback. Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, 80, 1-30. Winnett, R., & Honorton, C. (1977). Effects of meditation and feedback on psychokinetic performance: Results with practitioners of Ajapa Yoga. In J. D. Morris, W. G. Roll, & R. L. Morris (Eds.), Research in parapsychology 1976 (pp. 97-98). Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press.

When I was asked to write about Charles Honorton's later years at the Maimonides Division of Parapsychology and Psychophysics I hesitated for some time; I do not consider myself the most knowledgeable person concerning that important period of Chuck's life. I hope I can overcome my spotty recollection of the Maimonides years and do some justice to his seminal work.
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Title Annotation:random number generator
Author:Varvoglis, Mario P.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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