Thursday, October 9, 2014

Cold War Correspondence - Eugene Kovalenko and J.B. Rhine

We have asked Eugene Kovalenko*, Ph.D., to be a guest author on the Rhine blog.  After a series of synchronistic email exchanges, he and Sally Rhine Feather, Ph.D., Executive Director Emeritus, realized they were uncovering a fascinating, untold story about J.B. Rhine and the history of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man.  Here, in Kovalenko's words, is his description of his first meeting with Professor J.B. Rhine:

In searching for "hard information" re the psi-war warning idea of June 1964, I became aware of the work of Professor J.B. Rhine at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Rhine was considered the "Father of Parapsychology" and was clearly the most credible researcher in this often confusing and suspect field. I wrote him a letter in October 1964, which he answered with an invitation to visit him at the university. As luck would have it, the trip to Durham was made possible by having been invited to present a scientific paper at an international conference on materials science being held at that time in Raleigh, N.C., just 25 miles away!After presenting my paper, I visited Rhine in an afternoon before catching a flight home to California later that evening. My purpose was simple. After telling him my idea I naively asked, "Am I crazy?" Rhine replied by showing me his private library and giving me from it a recent book published by Soviet scientist L.L. Vasiliev called Experiments in Mental Suggestion.  With obvious enthusiasm he then declared, "Not only are you not crazy, but your idea is urgent! We have been waiting years for a man with your background. Here's the phone, call your wife and tell her you are coming to work with me in our new Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man!"Flattered, but taken aback, I responded, "I can't make such a decision at such a moment. I've barely begun a new career.""All right", he replied, "but please stay the night at our expense and then attend a meeting at our laboratory in the morning." To that I agreed.Arriving at his laboratory apprehensive, I was greatly relieved to encounter the lab personnel had become excited by a visit of two unexpected celebrities: TV star Eddie Albert and his buddy, folk song singer and actor Burl Ives. I was to learn that this kind of surprise was not unusual for Rhine and he graciously invited the visitors to attend the meeting. I was pleased to have the pressure off and content to silently watch the proceedings from a corner in the back of the room. 

Editor's note: What happened next is best described in the e-mail exhange between Dr. Kovalenko and Dr. Feather.  Here it is, as delineated by Kovalenko:

 Having discovered the existence of the Rhine Research Center in summer 2013, I subscribed to its monthly newsletter. In the December issue, an article titled The Science Behind Your Beliefs by Executive Director John Kruth 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? (A week or so before that meeting writer Pearl Buck had also been an unexpected visitor. J.B. told me back then that this was not an unusual happening at his laboratory.)

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.    From my downloaded index of the Parapsychology Lab Records,  I see that for the year 1964 there would  Boxes 264-273  alphabetically arranged- maybe Box 269 that is Ka-Mar (8 folders) would be the place to start for your correspondence.  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. When I told him I'd only just started my scientific career and couldn't make such an abrupt new decision, he invited me to stay overnight at his home and then attend his laboratory the next morning. When we arrived at his lab that following day I was relieved to see that the lab personnel were preoccupied with Ives and Albert and that the spotlight pressure was now off me. I could simply be an observer in the back of the room. Do you remember Burl's words after I'd sung and JB then asked him to sing? "Are you kidding? Not after that guy!"  I'll never forget how Burl helped me pull the boats while he bounced up and down, pretending tugging gestures as I sang….  :) Ives and Albert then took me to lunch for another memorable experience.

Although I could not make the decision JB wanted at the moment, I was afterwards so emotionally affected in ways I'd never before experienced that I discovered the process of writing poetry: a rational way of giving structure and expression to overpowering and unexpected emotions. The poem had made a decision before it became clear to me. I sent the words through "…plunge!" to JB and he replied with a congratulatory telegram [see attached] urging us to move forward.  He and I met again at his invitation the following January in Carmel, CA. [See: and]
 I look forward to continuing this correspondence.
 Eugene Kovalenko
 Sally replied within minutes.
Dear Eugene,I’m delighted to get your response.  You know, I almost asked if you were that young singer---but thought that just too far out.  JB was appropriately non-disclosing about who you were or why you were there, but now I hope that the whole story can be told.  We look forward to hearing much more of it from you. Your poem is very moving and significant for me as mountain ranges were always meaningful to JB. Even the title of my mom’s last book Something Hidden came from Kipling’s poem about “something hidden beyond the ranges, go and find it” that as found among JB’s notes when he died.  Well, so glad that you opened this door---- Warm regards,Sally Feather
On New Year’s Day at 2:46 PM, I wrote to Sally:
Dear Sally,


I have a hunch our correspondence will be loaded with more interesting surprises!--and do not believe this mutual discovery is mere happenstance.

After JB sent his November '64 telegram, he sent me two Kipling poems, one of which you allude to below. I've always treasured that gesture. They were: "IF" and "The Explorer". In doing a Google search for your mother's book, I was surprised to learn that that title is claimed by Louisa E. Rhine!?? Is Louisa your mother and therefore JB your dad?!! Perhaps this could yet be the "GREAT DAY", JB referred to?

If you have opened the second blog link re the 'Carmel Beach Challenge' that I sent earlier, you will know that our project did not mature. There were at least two reasons for this. The most important was a "Mormon complication" [see attached 2nd poem Night + commentary for my oldest son]. The other was an impasse in JB's and my correspondence. He systematically sent me all his books so that I could be up to date on his background and latest thinking. I was willing to get this under my belt, but with misgivings. The most critical was his refusal to answer, let alone acknowledge, my specific question about the Zener Card approach to studying psy. JB insisted that I experiment with my young family (wife and 5 children) using the Zener Cards. But, I was reluctant to do this when I learned that this technique seemed lethal to above-chance performance. I asked several times if there was any evidence of talented persons recovering their statistically above-chance performance once they lost it. If there was no such evidence, I was unwilling to risk involving my family. One of my colleagues later explained that I'd focused on the Achilles Heel of that technique and Rhine could not risk losing my cooperation by answering it truthfully. I was never to learn the truth of this assertion.

My last contact with JB was in spring 1978, while working on a solicited USAF proposal with the Eyring Research Institute in Provo, Utah. I was asked to re-contact JB to refresh his memory of my original idea and to invite him on board the project. He didn't remember my name, but did ask "Are you the singer?"

Two last items before closing this message. It may not mean anything to you out of the larger context, but here is one more blog link that belongs between the two links sent earlier: On the subject of dreams, I had only begun remembering and recording my dreams just two or so weeks before meeting JB in late November 1964. This was the result of reading Hugh Lynn Cayce's newly published "Venture Inward", which contained suggestions for recalling and processing dreams…. This was something JB and I never discussed.

The last item was a military experience I was not at liberty to explicitly mention to JB. This was my clandestine experience in Berlin less than a decade earlier. You may be interested my Amazon review of the print documentary by British historian David Stafford called Spies Beneath Berlin. This review soon flushed out others who contacted me personally. Instead of a second addition, which Prof. Stafford asked me to contribute to (since I was the first person he'd met that was actually at the Berlin site), it eventually morphed into a 2011 British TV film documentary by the same name. If this is of any interest to you, I would be pleased to send you a post-production copy of the complementary DVD.

Thank you for allowing me to walk through your door after so many years! I earnestly hope you will not regret it…

PS. It occurs to tell you that one of the reasons why JB was eager for my participation at the FRNM was that I work with N. E. Khokhlov, who wanted to study under JB. However, because of my subsequent correspondence with Khokhlov, JB never allowed him to come to Duke or FRNM. (This is hinted at in the last stanza of "Pilgrim", which was written after JB's telegram.) Khokhlov eventually became a professor of psychology at a college in Southern California before his death in 2007. There is more to this story only if you are interested.

The "more" to the story will continue here on the Rhine blog. 
Stay tuned!

*Brief bio of Eugene N. Kovalenko, Ph.D.

Having been born in Los Angeles in 1933 and raised in the Phoenix, Arizona Mormon society and culture, Eugene's conscious life began in 1953 during the Korean War, when he joined the US Army to learn Russian, his Ukraine-born father's native tongue. For Eugene, that military experience began his life work in learning to become human: soldier, interpreter, singer, intelligence agent, student, engineer, scientist, seeker, poet, writer, inventor, manager, entrepreneur, teacher, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, conversationalist, traveler, actor, visionary, wanderer, wonderer, believer, skeptic, philosopher, dreamer and dream worker. 

See: [Lower RH corner] for facts concerning family, education and professional activities.