Robert A. Mcconnell 1914-2006

By Berger, Rick E. | The Journal of Parapsychology, Spring-Fall 2007 | Go to article overview

Robert A. Mcconnell 1914-2006


Berger, Rick E., The Journal of Parapsychology


On July 31, 2006, Robert A. ("Bob") McConnell passed away at age 92. He was involved with, and consumed by, parapsychology for over 60 years. He cared deeply about the Parapsychological Association, its work, and the field of research which he believed had profound consequences for the future well-being of humanity. Bob served as the first President of the Parapsychological Association (1957-1958). He was also a Life Senior Member of the IEEE, a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, Research Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences (University of Pittsburgh), and a Fellow of the AAAS.

He was born on April 6, 1914, in a small town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now called "Carnegie Mellon University'), and graduated with a BS degree in Physics in 1935. He subsequently received his PhD in Physics in 1947, at the University of Pittsburgh. (As a piece of trivia, Dr. E. U. Condon, an eminent nuclear physicist, served on his doctoral committee. Condon later became perhaps more popularly well known as the namesake of the "Condon Report'--a four year project in the late 1960s examining the reality of unidentified flying objects. The report officially concluded that UFOs all could be explained by conventional explanations.)

Bob first became aware of parapsychology in the 1930s, hearing about the ESP card-guessing experiments that J. B. Rhine conducted at Duke University in Durham, NC. Though the phenomena interested him on an intellectual level, it was not until later (around 1943) that psychokinesis experiments on willing the outcomes of thrown dice caused McConnell, himself a physicist, to realize that these phenomena, if true, would clearly be a domain of interest to physics. At the time, McConnell, then 29 years old and contributing to the war effort by designing and building radar equipment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, decided to become seriously involved in studying these new and potentially world-changing phenomena.

THE WAR YEARS

Shortly before the start of WWII, he voluntarily left his position as a civilian employee at the Philadelphia Navy Yard (possibly not the best career move in light of the peacetime draft and the impending war), and without a guarantee of another position, contacted the Radiation Laboratory at MIT where he was put on the technical staff. During the course of the war, he was in charge of the group developing "Moving Target Indication" (MTI), the technique that used the Doppler shift of the returned radar signal resulting from the motion of an object to differentiate between stationary and moving objects.

It was while he was at MIT, during 1943, that he became aware of the work that Rhine was doing at Duke, possibly through articles in Time magazine or other popular magazines. He visited the Widener Library at Harvard to more thoroughly investigate the literature and this was the "trigger" of his subsequent professional lifetime interest and participation in the field. McConnell then read the entire collection of journals on psychical research that dated back to 1882 (which took him from 1943-1947). From this study, he concluded that psychic phenomena do indeed occur, even if we do not understand the mechanisms.

During the war, many physicists started to "disappear" from the Radiation Laboratory staff, with no hint of where they had gone. They were all heading west to Los Alamos to work on the Manhattan Project. In fact, Bob had been quietly asked if he was interested in a position on the new project (without being told what the project was about) but he declined, having figured out what the project was, and constrained by the fact that his wife was, by that time, in the Trudeau Tuberculosis Sanatorium at Saranac Lake in New York, and she would not have been able to follow him westward.

He decided that after the war ended and he had his doctoral work in physics completed, he would formally begin to study parapsychology on his own. …

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