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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

Thouless, Robert Henry (1894-1984) Thouless was a well-known British psychologist who turned, in his later years, to parapsychology. He became well known for his most successful book, Straight and Crooked Thinking (1930), which in the United States was titled How to Think Straight.
      Thouless's attempts to reproduce the Dr. Joseph Banks Rhine ESP card tests failed, and he was far from satisfied with the standards adopted by parapsychologists in their laboratory protocols. He was one of the first to discover that early versions of the famous Zener symbol cards favored by Rhine in his ESP tests could actually be read from the backs of the cards. He also introduced the term psi to parapsychology.
      Although he was still unsatisfied with experimental procedures that were being used, Dr. Thouless became convinced of the existence of ESP. He became president of the Society for Psychical Research in 1942.
      In 1948, he established a “survival” test. Similar tests had been set up by Sir Oliver Lodge, F. W. H. Myers, and others, and all had failed. The Thouless test specified that his test of survival-after-death was designed so that:

      1. The test would have no concealed object or writing that might be determined by subterfuge or by clairvoyance.
      2. It would “allow the possibility of an indefinitely large number of checks of the attempted solutions.”
      3. It would provide for any solution to be quite definitely “right” or “wrong,” without any ambiguity.
      4. It would leave no uncertainty about whether or not the solution was the correct one.

      This test consisted of two “Vigenere” cipher code passages:




      It was stated in the Thouless challenge that a third set of characters would provide the key to understand these lines. This third set was not recorded in writing, since Thouless feared the possibility, as stated in his first provision, that some gifted clairvoyant might sense such a record, thus destroying the “survival” aspect of the test. Also:

      The key to the first is a continuous passage of poetry or prose which may be indicated by referring to its title, and the key to the second consists of two words.

      The first cipher was quickly solved (the “key” word was SURPRISE) and Thouless withdrew it from the test, but the second remains unsolved.
      Dr. Thouless considered the development of this test his greatest contribution to parapsychology. To date, no one, alive or dead, has succeeded in solving the second message. Of course, the failure does not mean that Thouless did not survive death.
      Many sittings with spirit mediums attempting to obtain the two key words from the ghost of Dr. Thouless have failed; though the mediums claim they make contact with the ghost, it tells them it has forgotten the two words. That seems strange, since Dr. Thouless wrote, in his description of the test, that those two words were “easy to remember.” The ghost is able to recall all other aspects of Thouless's life, such as names, addresses, events, and quotations——all details that are easily available to anyone who might want to know them——but not the two simple words upon which the entire test——and proof of survival——depend.
      Any attempts at a solution should be sent to: Society for Psychical Research, 1 Adam & Eve Mews, London W8 6UG, U.K.

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