Boris Kožnjak, PhD, is a historian and philosopher of science at the Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb, Croatia. E-mail: email@example.com.
Between August 1939 and May 1940 Joseph Banks Rhine and his associates from the famous Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, conducted what would become the longest distance experiment which any systematic ESP investigation has ever utilized. During that period, in three different series a Zagreb-based physician called Karlo Marchesi was trying to identify the cards in a total of 353 decks of Zenner cards set up in Durham, about 4,000 miles away from the Laboratory. The experiment was a success and it soon became an important and well-known part of the large body of statistically significant ESP data collected by the Laboratory.(1) Seven years later, between November 1946 and January 1947, in another experiment of this kind, Dr. Marchesi again obtained statistically significant results, which reinforced the assumption that ESP was not limited by space.(2) As commented by C.G. Jung in his famous essay on synchronicity, these experiments clearly demonstrated that “the distance is psychically variable, and may in certain circumstances be reduced to vanishing point by a psychic condition”.(3)
Dr. Karlo Marchesi (from Muftić, 1964).
But who was Dr. Karlo Marchesi and how did he become involved in these intriguing experiments? I was puzzled by this question for a long time, not only as a historian and philosopher of science, but also as a resident of Zagreb, whose streets Dr. Marchesi once walked. However, as I was soon to find out, no one among my fellow citizens, including local historians, have ever heard about these experiments, let alone Dr. Marchesi. To make matters worse, the existing literature on the history of psychical research did not offer any answers either. Hence, I welcome the opportunity to share a few basic facts I have eventually unearthed about this fascinating, but unfairly forgotten man.
As already indicated, Dr. Marchesi was a Zagreb physician, who started his distinguished medical career as an internist at the City Polyclinic. At first, due to his medical training, he was extremely skeptical about the claims of the psychic phenomena. However, as a result of his own experiences, and particularly the experiments he himself performed, his negative attitude toward the ESP hypothesis gradually changed. Nevertheless, he continued to work in this controversial field anonymously, publishing his texts in local newspapers and magazines under the pseudonym Dr. C. Zorin, under which he also published the book The Problem of Psychic phenomena (1939, Problem psihičkih pojava in Croatian).(4) It was also about that time that Dr. Marchesi first contacted Rhine, informing him about several experimental series of successful ESP tests he performed, acting as the percipient in some of them. By the end of 1938 the Parapsychology Laboratory had accumulated several dozens of successful ESP experiments involving almost a million of trials with the famous Zener cards, but none of them being performed with ‘senders’ and ‘receivers’ separated by more than several hundred meters. Marshesi’s letter was therefore more than welcomed, and Rhine’s proposal to arrange the Zagreb-Durham experiments followed shortly thereafter. The publication of their results in 1942 in the Journal of Parapsychology encouraged Dr. Marchesi to break his anonymity, and in 1944 he published, now under his real name, the extensive 600 pages book The Secrets of the Human Soul: Hypnosis-Telepathy-Clairvoyance (Tajne čovječje duše: hipnoza-telepatija-vidovitost), in which he collected and critically commented all available theoretical and experimental research on ESP phenomena, including his own transoceanic experiments.(5)
Marchesi’s home at Zagreb’s Gornji Grad (Upper Town), from which he tried to guess cards prepared in Durham (photo by the author).
Dr. Marshesi’s life, however, was not without hardship. Soon after the The Secrets of the Human Soul was published – during the Second World War he served as the Red Cross Hospital director in Zagreb – he was incarcerated in the notorious Savska Cesta prison, and sentenced to death by the Ustasha regime because he provided medical care for some wounded partisans and American pilots, but thanks to some odd circumstances (that would require a separate book – or better a movie – to be told) he managed to escape death. After the war he also fell into disfavor with the new Yugoslav communist regime and, banned from his private practice, was sent to cure Partisan veterans suffering from the so-called ‘partisan disease’, a sort of a post-traumatic stress disorder.(6) In 1950 he was allowed to travel abroad, and at the invitation of Rhine he finally went to visit Duke University. In 1954 he was joined there by his wife Dr. Marija Rojc-Marchesi, also a well-known Zagreb physician-phtysiologist. She was not only his life companion, but also his intellectual partner; she translated into Croatian A.J. Findlay’s influential book On the Edge of Etheric or Survival after Death Scientifically Explained and published it in 1935, three years after the book was originally published in London.(7) They both finally settled in Lynn, Massachusetts.
ESP cards prepared for Dr. Marchesi in Durham (from Marchesi, 1944).
Interestingly, contrary to his extrachance scoring level while being 4,000 miles away, during his visit to Durham in a total of 1,163.5 ESP runs Dr. Marchesi was unable to score appreciably above chance average.(8) For Rhine and his associates this was no surprise; from previous experiments they had already come to appreciate that ESP scoring abilities were tied to certain psychological conditions of the percipients. In the case of Dr. Marchesi, who was now in an unfamiliar setting far away from his homeland, these conditions were thought to be obvious.(9) But although “the psychic doctor disappointed”, as even reported in the U.S. newspapers, Dr. Marchesi remained in the States, continuing his work in the field in which he was also one of the pioneers – clinical hypnosis. Already in 1942 the Zagreb School of Medicine had invited him to demonstrate the application of hypnosis in dental medicine; the demonstration was successful and hypnosis became a part of the official curriculum at the Zagreb School of Medicine (which was, by the way, 11 years earlier than the British Medical Association started even to consider hypnosis as a possible medical aid). His successful methods of hypnotic treatment of stammering(10) and bronchial asthma(11), published in the respectable British Journal of Medical Hypnotism became classics in the field.
(1) Rhine J.B. & Humphrey, B.M. (1942). A Transoceanic ESP Experiment. Journal of Parapsychology, 6, 52-78.
(2) Mc Mahan, E.A. & Rhine, J.B. (1947). A Second Zagreb-Durham ESP Experiment. Journal of Parapsychology, 11, 244-253.
(3) Jung, C.G. (1960). Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. In: The collected works of C.G. Jung, vol. 8
(Princeton University Press, Princeton 1969), p. 433. Originally published in German in 1952.
(4) Zorin, C. (1939). Problem psihičkih pojava (Naklada Binoza, Zagreb).
(5) Marchesi, K. 1944. Tajne čovječje duše: hipnoza-telepatija-vidovitost (Naklada A. Velzek, Zagreb).
(6) Muftić, M. (1964). Dr Karlo Marchesi: trideset-godišnji jubilej znanstvenog rada. Hrvatska revija, 14, 51-53.
(7) Findlay, A.J. (1935) Na pragu eteričkog svieta ili život iza smrti znanstveno protumačen (Prev. Marija Rojc-Marchesi. S uvodom Williama Barretta (Zagreb).
(8) McMahan, E.A. & Bates, E.K. Jr. (1954). Report of further Marchesi experiments. Journal of Parapsychology, 18, 82-92. 244-253. See also Rhine, J. B. & Pratt, J. G. (1974/1954). Parapsychology: Frontier Science of the Mind (Charles C Thomas, Illinois), pp. 68-69.
(9) See McMahan & Bates (1954), p. 91.
(10) Marchesi, C. (1949). The hypnotic treatment of bronchial asthma. British Journal of Medical Hypnotism, 1(2), 14-19.
(11) Marchesi, C. (1963). The hypnotic treatment of stammering. British Journal of Medical Hypnotism, 15 (2), 40-44.
© Boris Kožnjak