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An Evening with Extrasensory Perception

2011.07.24

 

NOTE:
While Reading Academician István Hargittai’s biography TELLER (Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó.2011,) I was moved to record the following incident.
                                   An Evening with Extrasensory Perception
 
In the course of my long life, I have met many interesting people. Many of them were famous scientists. One whose name just floated back into my memory was the German-born physicist Maria Goeppert (Göppert)-Mayer whom I met only once, but that meeting was truly memorable.
It happened early in 1953, soon after Esther Brunauer and the girls moved to Evanston. The family rented a house on Garrett Street, while they were looking for a suitable home to buy.
At a scientific conference in Chicago, Stephen and Esther ran into Maria and her husband Joseph, old friends from Washington D.C. At this time, the Mayers worked at the University of Chicago. A dinner invitation was extended to them, which they graciously accepted.
 
Esther, dear Esther was radiant. Still smarting from the painful and unjust humiliation of having been suspended from her high diplomatic position as a „security risk,” she was in a happy state of excitement in her new role as hostess. She prepared a sumptious dinner, while I assisted by laying an elegant table.
In addition to myself, who counted as an intimate member of the family, two couples were expected. Maria and Joe Goeppert-Mayer and Harold Steinour with his wife. The memory of the evening is still sizzling in my mind.
Joe Mayer was interested in the origin and significance of the street address: Garrett. Esther explained that it was named after a famous theologian and pastor associated with the City of Evanston and Northwestern University. Maria made a strange little grimace. Why? I wondered.
The conversation during drinks and dinner was on a very high level, ranging over a wide field of science and politics. ( A contentious election was just behind us.) The atmosphere was electric with tension, for this was not a humdrum polite get-together. Everyone had an opinion and was not timid in expressing it. Then, at one point, there was a moment’s lull in the conversation. Into this fragile pool of stillness, Harold Steinour threw a small bomb of a new topic.
„And what do you think about extrasensory perception?”
Harold, by training a chemist, functioned at the Portland Cement Association as Science Librarian. As a sideline, he did extensive research on the subject of extrasensory perception, and his fascinating book had just come out.
Up to this point, Maria had behaved like everyone else at the dinner table—well, perhaps a little more subdued. Though still only forty-seven, she was no longer the lively blond beauty shown by her photos in the earlier scientific literature. In fact, I wondered about her health. She had pouches under her eyes, sallow skin, and looked—bloated.
Now, raising herself in fury, she exclaimed:
„Extrasensory perception? Mental telepathy? Phooey! Hoaxes, all of them!”
She looked around belligerently, daring anyone to contradict her.
Esther, ever the diplomat, quickly started to clear the table. „Coffee, anyone?” I rose, too, planning to bring in the dessert from the butler’s pantry. Maria now focused her attention on me. 
„You there, young lady, whatever your name is. You haven’t said much allevening. Don’t you have an opinion?”
This was downright rude. Esther said with the dignity which was characteristic of her: „Her name is Dr.Dalma Hunyadi. She is a faculty member at DePaul, and a close friend of our family. I am sure she has an opinion and will express it, if she wants to do so.”
Of course I had an opinion. In my family, there was a considerable amount of—what to call it ?—psychic sensibility. I myself had felt a benign hand at work at crucial times in my life. I called it Providence. But this did not seem the appropriate time to assert myself. Not at this time, not in this antagonistic person’s ompany…But the scientist-woman was relentless. She seemed determined to prove that –as the great materialistic poet of ancient Rome had declared so many centuries earlier—„In reality there is nothing but atoms and space,” and she had chosen me as her instrument and unwitting victim. She turned to Stephen.
„Bring me a pack of playing cards!”
 
Cards in hand, she turned her back on us and rearranged the pack according to some system visible to her alone. Then she commanded me to sit down across from her at a small table. The cards lay in front of her, face down. She placed her forefinger on the topmost card.
„I want you to concentrate on this, the topmost card. Tell me whether it is red or black!”
What could I do? I had to play along with her, whatever her game was. I closed my eyes and concentrated, trusting my luck and whatever „psychic genes” I may have inherited from my gifted ancestors. It did not take long. I sensed „red” and said so.
She placed the card, face down, on the table, without looking at it. „Next!” she commanded.
I felt everyone’s eyes on me, but I decided to ignore them. I concentrated. The result was the same as before . In a few seconds, the card „spoke to me.” It said „red,” and I obeyed its message. „Red.”
This card, number two, was placed on top of the first.
The rest was easy. In a feeling of free-floating, I kept sensing, and declaring, confidently, „red,” time and again.
Yes, I felt relaxed, but not Maria. She was getting more and more tense, more and more angry. As the pile was getting higher and higher, perhaps a dozen, and a second pile was started next to it, I heard Stephen’s voice in the distance, gently, coaxingly, „Why don’t you say ’black’ for a change?” But he didn’t sound convincing. In my ’floating’ state of consciousness, I whispered, „I can’t. All I see is ’red.’”
How long did it go on? I did not try to keep track. Cocooned in the inner voice of my subconscious, I just repeated what it said to me. „Red.” „Red.” „Red.” The second pile was growing also…
And then it happened. Screaming venomously, the great scientist toppled over the pile of cards between us.
They were red. Every one of them. The pack had been ’stacked.’ Reds on top, blacks on the bottom of the pile.
I could have gone on for twenty-six „guesses,” but, it did not get that far. In the face of my obvious inner certainty, she had lost her nerve Had I „stumbled,” mis-identifying even one, the „master of ceremonies” would have started a new pile, ostensibly ’black,’ until there was a total of four piles.
 Then she would have demonstrated the„trick” professional entertainers use: with a practiced sleight-of-hand, switching a  „black”pile and a „red pile” to convince a dupe that he or she had spoken under thought-transference and was „psychic.” But she fell into her own trap, since I did not oblige her by saying „black”even once. On the table, instead of four piles, there were only two,both ’red.’ The blacks were still in the original pile, untouched.
 Morosely, she withdrew into silence, and as soon as could be done with a semblance of politeness, the couple left.
The remaining five of us had different emotional reactions. Harold was satisfied: he had succeeded in stirring up an interesting debate about his pet subject. His wife, Karen, shared in her husband’s glory.
Esther, as hostess, could not help being somewhat disappointed about the abrupt breaking up of the party, but also fascinated and puzzled.
. As for me, I accepted what had happened, as another of the unfathomable wonders that had accompanied my path through life.
And Stephen? He looked very, very thoughtful. Then he spoke.
 „I believe that several factors have been in play here tonight. I have an open mind. I agree with Hamlet’s immortal lines—I hope my quote is accurate: ’There are more things in Heaven and on Earth, Horatio,/Than are dream’t of in your philosophy…’
 „We, natural scientists, have powerful searchlights in our hands. With them, we labor, day and night, projecting their light into the darkness surrounding us.
„From time to time, we discover things ’out there’ that up to then we did not know were there. But the bigger our searchlights, the farther we look, the more we realize that there is STILL MORE DARKNESS OUT THERE…
„Remember St. Augustine’s dream-vision of the child who tried to transfer the mighty ocean into his tiny dish. Wasn’t he reminded then of the capacity of his puny mind, compared to the Vastness of the Mind of God?”
We were all deeply moved. What a long road this man --a lifelong agnostic—had travelled in just the few months since he had resolved to try to find God…Esther, the other lifelong agnostic, looked at him, astonished. This was not the same man she had known in all the years they had spent together as husband and wife…nor the man she had resigned herself to have lost during their last years in Washington, when, by mutual consent, they separated. But he was the same man who unhesitatingly supported her during those horrid years of the security hearings, and now, when her own carrier was irretrievably lost, invited her back into his home, if not as wife, then as sister and cherished companion…
I, too, became dissatisfied with my own earlier complacency . HOW was I able to guess those cards? „Mental telepathy.” „Extrasensory perception?”
These were just words. I remembered that when the questioning began, I was just trusting that I won’t make a complete fool of myself—but IT WORKED! How? There was more that I needed to know.
Then Stephen spoke again, searching for an explanation.
 
„There was more to it than just luck, but I don’t quite understand myself, how it worked. When I saw Maria’s ruthless attack on Dalma, a long-forgotten and only half-understood memory flashed into my mind. Some time in the dim past, I had known how the trick was done, with the switching of the ’red’ and the ’black’ piles, by professional entertainers. They did it to hoodwink their ’subjects’ into believing that they were psychic.     It was a cute trick. But Maria wanted to do the opposite, She wanted to PROVE that there is nothing at all—that there really is nothing but energy and mass. That it is unscientific to even claim the possibility of the existence of God. In addition, she also wanted to embarrass Dalma. To ’UNMASK’ her, to show that SHE had cheated. Why this was so, I can only guess—a form of jealousy toward a young, healthy woman, felt by someone who had lost all that…poor Maria.   Of course, I did not think it all through like that—it was a flash of intuitive knowledge, but it was true, and it was important. All I could do was to send up an intention. And I was relieved to witness, have the inner certainty, that my intention, my unspoken prayer was answered. After the first two LUCKY GUESSES, I SAW Dalma relax and breeze through the rest of the cards, until Maria’s nerves gave out, and …well, you saw what happened.”
 
Yes, everyone had seen it. But, to me, and perhaps to Stephen, too, there was more to it. When he had prayed for me, God heard the prayer. And I, all unknowing, picked up the message…from Stephen’s mind to mine. The speed of prayer is faster than light…it is INSTANT!
Truly, an evening to remember…
 
 
 
Ballószög, July 2011
(signed) Dr. Dalma Hunyadi Brunauer
 
 

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