Psionics

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G. K. Chesterton

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Maybe all that's needed to produce supermen is unleashing a latent talent.  After all, if we only use 15% of our brains, 10% of our spleens, 3.72% of our livers, and 0.0001% of that bit of skin on the back of our elbows, who knows what we could do if we could attain our full potential.  

We might be able to work magic, fly on broomsticks, read minds, and prophesise the future.    Sorry,  I meant to say we might develop ESP, telekinesis, telepathy, and precognition.   Words are so important, you know.  

Rhine cards opening jacks or better.It's amazing how a veneer of science will take something that is patent nonsense and push it into the realm of believability for even the most intelligent of people.  Say that the dmon Asathoth is in your command and brings the secrets of the world to your ear and people think you're a loony.  Tell them that your powers of clairvoyance allows you to know what cards are lying on the table and scientists will start studying you--- on a government grant, no less. 

That's basically what happened when Prof. Rhine of Duke university started his studies of ESP in the 1930s.  By the 1950s there was more than one serious thinker who believed that ESP was going to be the next big thing once atomic energy was nailed down and some claimed it already was the big thing.  Many universities, sensing grant money, got into studying the "paranormal," and some of the odder corners of the CIA and KGB looked into the possibility that there might be a psychic shortcut to the other side's secrets.   John W. Campbell, never one to be afraid to grab a ball and run with it, even came up with a name: psionics.

Crude schematic for an Hieronymous Machine

Short for "psychic electronics," Campbell was certain that man was on the verge of making psychic powers as tractable and predictable as an electric circuit.  And he wasn't just being metaphorical.  Campbell, in one of his keen moods, got excited over one Thomas Galen Hieronymus's Type One Psionics Machine.  This device was supposed to allow you detect "eloptic radiation"  by twiddling a knob on the device while stroking a plastic plate until it felt "sticky."  Not surprisingly, this rather subjective machine had results that varied with whether one believed in the machine or not.  Neither was it surprising that Campbell went around hailing it as a tremendous scientific breakthrough that would astonish the world.    What did raise some eyebrows was when Campbell declared that the machine worked perfectly well when its working bits were removed and that one could even use the schematic diagram as a substitute!

Be that as it may, Campbell's Astounding ( and later renamed Analog) magazine was top heavy with articles and stories about psionics and psychic powers to the point where it began to read like a technological Harry Potter book. 

Even today sci-fi has a warm spot for the telepath, as it remains a wonderful metaphor for the misunderstood adolescent, but the universities and spy agencies that once funded research into ESP soon lost interest and the psychics went off to populate 900 numbers on late night television commercials. 

Meanwhile, physicists, always a polite bunch, kept a tactful silence about the conservation of energy and other awkward little hurdles that the psionic enthusiasts were never able to quite clear. 

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