Saturday, February 1, 2014

Cold War Correspondence with Duke University Professor J.B. Rhine

Posted: 1 Feb 14
Updated: 10 Feb 14

J. B. Rhine

Cold War Correspondence

In summer 2013, I discovered the existence of the Rhine Research Center (RRC) and subscribed to its monthly e-newsletter. Months later I learned that this organization was originally known as the Foundation For Research on the Nature of Man (FRNM). In the December issue of RRC's e-newsletter, an article by Executive Director John Kruth titled The Science Behind Your Beliefs caught my attention.

On Monday, 12/30/2013, I wrote the following email:

Dear John,
Is there anyone in your organization who would be interested in my story about meeting J.B. Rhine in late November 1964 and the project we agreed to work on together? Does your archival history contain any of our correspondence? If not, would you be interested in having a copy?

Is there any record of the unannounced and unexpected visit of actors Eddie Albert and Burl Ives, who were there at the same time as I was?

Eugene Kovalenko

The next day, Tuesday, December 31, 2013, 
I received the following letter from Sally Feather, Emeritus Executive Director:
Dear Eugene,

I am taking the liberty of responding to your inquiry below as I am the person who deals with much of the archival matters of the Rhine Center. And in fact I recall that I just happened to be visiting at the Duke Parapsychology Lab during the visit from Burl Ives and Eddie Albert at the regular coffee hour that you note in 1964. That is the kind of occurrence that stands out, as not too common although there were often other celebrities, but especially for me as I had always been a great fan of Burl Ives. I recall my disappointment that he deferred a request to sing because there was a visiting young singer whom he encouraged to sing instead.
But yes I would be interested in the account of your meeting with JB, and your project. As for finding an account of that visit here, one would have to check through JB’s correspondences that are preserved in the Special Collections of the Duke University Library on the Duke Campus several miles away...  I will be getting over to the Library in late January and could perhaps help with that limited search if you want to pursue that further.

Thanks for your interest in this matter.

Sally Feather

Later on Tuesday 12/31/2013 I responded:

Dear Sally,

What a surprisingly wonderful and synchronistic response!

I was that young singer! So, you were there in the lab audience at that time!  It shocked me to be asked by JB to sing the "Song of the Volga Boatmen." I didn't know he knew I sang, let alone that particular song!, but it was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

I had come to see JB at his invitation to discuss an idea that I'd had the previous summer, which had nothing to do with my then career as a nuclear materials scientist. In fact, it had military implications and my question to him was, "Am I crazy?" During that first meeting he said something like, "Not only are you not crazy, but the issue you describe is urgent! Clearly you have a calling. We have been waiting years for someone with your background. Here is the phone, call your wife and tell her you are coming to work with me." And then he gave me two books by Russian authors: L.L. Vasiliev and Nikolai Khokhlov, both of which profoundly changed my life...

8 Feb 14. Shortly after that initial exchange with Sally Feather, I contacted the archivists of the University of Utah Special Collections library who generously scanned and e-mailed my correspondence with J. B. Rhine, which was forwarded to the RRC. Below is a beginning overview of that 62-file correspondence at the behest of the Executive and Emeritus Executive directors of the RRC.

First Exchanges

On October 20, 1964, I first wrote to Professor J.B. Rhine at Duke University.

20 Oct 64

Dr. J. B. Rhine
Psychology Dept.
Duke University
Durham, NC

Dear Dr. Rhine,

I am an investigator in the physical sciences, but for some years have been passively aware (in myself) of certain psi phenomena. Recently I discovered that I am apparently telepathic. Having learned of your work I resolved to try contacting you during a forth coming conference in Raleigh at which I've been invited to deliver a paper. I shall be in Raleigh on November 16, 17 and 18. Hopefully we can meet.

E.N. Kovalenko

A week later J.B. Rhine answered:

 (click on images to enlarge)
J.B. Rhine's first letter

Thus began a correspondence that would last until June 1965, with an epilogue in May 1978, two years before Rhine’s death. Two telegrams followed the first exchange:

Telegrams to and from J.B. Rhine 
Between those first October 1964 exchanges and the November telegrams there are several back stories.

I was then a new Ph.D. nuclear scientist, researching the behavior of nuclear fuels for power reactors at General Atomic in La Jolla, California.

A week or two after my Ukraine-born father's death the previous May 1964, a distressing idea hit me while I was in my laboratory at General Atomic. It felt almost like a physical blow to the head and I thought I had become deranged. It had nothing to do with my professional assignment at GA. The only thing I could connect it to was a series of experiences I had had during my clandestine military service in Berlin 8 years earlier, all of which were still classified, and which I could not disclose to any unauthorized person for 20 years (which would be 1976).

I did not know whom to talk to about this idea without being viewed with suspicion. The only person I decided to confide in was my brother Virgil, then an OSI [Office of Special Investigation] officer for the US Air Force. We met in the Los Angeles Mormon temple, which was a place we felt was spiritually safe, since we both were active, believing Mormons. As I disclosed my idea, I again felt the foreboding I had first felt in my laboratory. 

Not knowing how to evaluate what I had confided to him, Virgil decided to seek the counsel of an old Mormon friend of ours, Colonel Jack Tueller
, who had been our scoutmaster when we were Boy Scouts in Phoenix. Tueller advised Virgil "Don't let your brother feel absurd about this idea. See if he can get hard information." With that encouragement I did a literature search.

What I discovered was information vastly different from the hard science I had been trained in. The subject was so bizarre that I was confused what to take seriously. However, one name kept coming up that had the respect of the international scientific community. It was Professor J.B. Rhine of Duke University, considered by many as the ‘father of parapsychology’.

When Rhine and I met in late November 1964, after I had presented a scientific paper at an international Materials Science conference in nearby Raleigh, my first question after telling him my idea was, "Am I crazy?" The idea had to do with developing an effective defense to a psi-war offensive where Soviet psychic operatives would be able to affect decisions of major world leaders, including the U.S. president.

He surprised me with "Not only is your idea not crazy, but it is urgent!" He then showed me his private library full of relevant books and papers. He pulled two books off his shelves and gave them to me. One was "Experiments in Mental Suggestion" by Soviet physiologist 
L. L. Vasiliev, the other was “In the Name of Conscience” by N. E. Khokhlov, a defected KGB agent who had been awarded U.S. citizenship by special act of Congress because of his book.

Rhine then handed me the phone and said, "It's clear you have a calling. We've been waiting years for someone with your background. Here's the phone; call your wife. Tell her you are joining me in my new Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man."

Excited, but overwhelmed, I was unable to make such a major unexpected, career-changing decision on the spot and asked for time. Rhine agreed, but asked me to stay overnight at his home to meet his wife, Louisa, and then to attend a staff meeting the next day. To this I agreed...

Chapt. 2: Duke University Meetings (JBR office + Laboratory)
Chapt. 3: Lunch with Celebrities (Eddie Albert and Burl Ives)
Chapt. 4: Poem  (Pilgrim)
Chapt. 5: Nikolai Khokhlov (defected KGB)
Chapt. 6: Pivotal Dream (on 23 Dec 64)
Chapt. 7: Planning Carmel Meeting (Jan 65)
Chapt. 8: After Carmel Meeting (Jan-Feb 65)
Chapt. 9: Approaching Mormon Church Hierarchy (McKay and LBJ)
Chapt. 10: Walking away from the Project (professionally)
Chapt. 11: Memo to USAF Major V. N. Kovalenko (the burden)
Chapt. 12: Second poem (Night)
Chapt. 13-xx: Continuing the correspondence

To be continued....

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