LET ME BEGIN by saying that I don't know any more
about where Professor Arthur Barnhouse is hiding than anyone else does. Save for
one short, enigmatic message left in my mailbox on Christmas Eve, I have not
heard from him since his disappearance a year and a half ago.
readers of this article will be disappointed if they expect to learn how they
can bring about the so-called "Barnhouse Effect." If I were able and willing to
give away that secret, I would certainly be something more important than a
I have been urged to write this report because I did
research under the professor's direction and because I was the first to learn of
his astonishing discovery. But while I was his student I was never entrusted
with knowledge of how the mental forces could be released and directed. He was
unwilling to trust anyone with that information.
I would like to point out
that the term "Barnhouse Effect" is a creation of the popular press, and was
never used by Professor Barnhouse. The name he chose for the phenomenon was
"dynamopsychism," or force of the mind.
I cannot believe that there is a
civilized person yet to be convinced that such a force exists, what with its
destructive effects on display in every national capital. I think humanity has
always had an inkling that this sort of force does exist. It has been common
knowledge that some people are luckier than others with inanimate objects like
dice. What Professor Barnhouse did was to show that such "luck" was a measurable
force, which in his case could be enormous.
By my calculations, the professor
was about fifty-five times more powerful than a Nagasaki-type atomic bomb at the
time he went into hiding. He was not bluffing when, on the eve of "Operation
Brainstorm," he told General Hopus Barker: "Sitting here at the dinner table,
I'm pretty sure I can flatten anything on earth-from Joe Louis to the Great Wall
There is an understandable tendency to look upon Professor
Barnhouse as a supernatural visitation. The First Church of Barnhouse in Los
Angeles has a congregation numbering in the thousands. He is godlike in neither
appearance nor intellect. The man who disarms the world is single, shorter than
the average American male, stout, and averse to exercise. His I.Q. is 143, which
is good but certainly not sensational. He is quite mortal, about to celebrate
his fortieth birthday, and in good health. If he is alone now, the isolation
won't bother him too much. He was quiet and shy when I knew him, and seemed to
find more companionship in books and music than in his associations at the
Neither he nor his powers fall outside the sphere of Nature. His
dynamopsychic radiations are subject to many known physical laws that apply in
the field of radio- hardly a person has not now heard the snarl of "Barnhouse
static" on his home receiver. The radiations are affected by sunspots and
variations in the ionosphere. However, they differ from ordinary broadcast waves
in several important ways. Their total energy can be brought to bear on any
single point the professor chooses, and that energy is undiminished by distance.
As a weapon, then, dynamopsychism has an impressive advantage over bacteria and
atomic bombs, beyond the fact that it costs nothing to use: it enables the
professor to single out critical individuals and objects instead of slaughtering
whole populations in the process of maintaining international equilibrium.
General Bonus Barker told the House Military Affairs Committee: "Until someone
finds Barnhouse, there is no defense against the Barnhouse Effect."
to "jam" or block the radiations have failed. Premier Slezak could have saved
himself the fantastic expense of his 'Barnhouse- proof' shelter. Despite the
shelter's twelve-foot-thick lead armor, the premier has been floored twice while
There is talk of screening the population for men potentially as
powerful dynamopsychically as the professor. Senator Warren Foust demanded funds
for this purpose last month, with the passionate declaration: "He who rules the
Barnhouse Effect rules the world!"
Commissar Kropotnik said much the same
thing, so another costly armaments race, with a new twist, has begun.
race at least has its comical aspects. The world's best gamblers are being
coddled by governments like so many nuclear physicists. There may be several
hundred persons with dynamopsychic talent on earth, myself included. But,
without knowledge of the professor's technique, they can never be anything but
dice-table despots. With the secret, it would probably take them ten years to
become dangerous weapons. It took the professor that long. He who rules the
Barnhouse Effect is Barnhouse and will be for some time.
Popularly, the "Age
of Barnhouse" is said to have begun a year and a half ago, on the day of
Operation Brainstorm. That was when dynamopsychism became significant
politically. Actually, the phenomenon was discovered in May, 1942, shortly after
the professor turned down a direct commission in the Army and enlisted as an
artillery private. Like X-rays and vulcanized rubber, dynamopsychism was
discovered by accident.
From time to time Private Barnhouse was invited to
take part in games of chance by his barrack mates. He knew nothing about the
games, and usually begged off. But one evening, out of social grace, he agreed
to shoot craps. It was terrible or wonderful that he played, depending upon
whether or not you like the world as it now is.
"Shoot sevens, Pop," someone
said. So "Pop" shot sevens -ten in a row to bankrupt the barracks. He retired to
his bunk and, as a mathematical exercise, calculated the odds against his feat
on the back of a laundry slip. His chances of doing it, he found, were one in
almost ten million! Bewildered, he borrowed a pair of dice from the man in the
bunk next to his. He tried to roll sevens again, but got only the usual
assortment of numbers. He lay back for a moment, then resumed his toying with
the dice. He rolled ten more sevens in a row.
He might have dismissed the
phenomenon with a low whistle. But the professor instead mulled over the
circumstances surrounding his two lucky streaks. There was one single factor in
common: on both occasions, the same thought train had flashed through his mind
just before he threw the dice. It was that thought train which aligned the
professor's brain cells into what has
since become the most powerful weapon on
The soldier in the next bunk gave dynamopsychism its first token of
respect. In an understatement certain to bring wry smiles to the faces of the
world's dejected demagogues, the soldier said, "You're hotter'n a two-dollar
Professor Barnhouse was all of that. The dice that did his
bidding weighed but a few grams, so the forces involved were minute; but the
unmistakable fact that there were such forces was earth-shaking.
caution kept him from revealing his discovery immediately. He wanted more facts
and a body of theory to go with them. Later, when the atomic bomb was dropped in
Hiroshima, it was fear that made him hold his peace. At no time were his
experiments, as Premier Slezak called them, "a bourgeois plot to shackle the
true democracies of the world." The professor didn't know where they were
In time, he came to recognize another startling feature of
dynamopsychism: its strength increased with use. Within six months, he was able
to govern dice thrown by men the length of a barracks distant. By the time of
his discharge in 1945, he could knock bricks loose from chimneys three miles
Charges that Professor Barnhouse could have won the last war in a
minute, but did not care to do so, are perfectly senseless. When the war ended,
he had the range and power of a 37-millimeter cannon, perhaps--certainly no
more. His dynamopsychic powers graduated from the small-arms class only after
his discharge and return to Wyandotte College.
I enrolled in the
Wyandotte Graduate School two years after the professor had rejoined the
faculty. By chance, he was assigned as my thesis adviser. I was unhappy about
the assignment; for the professor was, in the eyes of both colleagues and
students, a somewhat ridiculous figure. He missed classes or had lapses of
memory during lectures. When I arrived, in fact, his shortcomings had passed
from the ridiculous to the intolerable.
"We're assigning you to Barnhouse as
a sort of temporary thing," the dean of social studies told me. He looked
apologetic and perplexed. "Brilliant man, Barnhouse I guess. Difficult to know
since his return, perhaps, but his work before the war brought a great deal of
credit to our little school."
When I reported to the professor's laboratory
for the first time, what I saw was more distressing than the gossip. Every
surface in the room was covered with dust; books and apparatus had not been
disturbed for months. The professor sat napping at his desk when I entered. The
only signs of recent activity were three overflowing ashtrays, a pair of
scissors, and a morning paper with several items clipped from its front
As he raised his head to look at me, I saw that his eyes were clouded
with fatigue. "Hi," he said, "just can't seem to get my sleeping done at
He lighted a cigarette, his hands trembling slightly. "You the young
man I'm supposed to help with a thesis?"
"Yes, sir," I said. In minutes he
converted my misgivings to alarm.
"You an overseas veteran?" he
"Not much left over there, is there?" He frowned.
"Enjoy the last war?"
"Look like another war to you?"
"What can be done about it?"
I shrugged. "Looks pretty
He peered at me intently. "Know anything about international law,
the U.N. and all that?"
"Only what I pick up from the papers."
here," he sighed. He showed me a fat scrapbook packed with newspaper clippings.
"Never used to pay any attention to international politics. Now I study them the
way I used to study rats in mazes. Everybody tells me the same thing- 'Looks
"Nothing short of a miracle-" I began.
"Believe in magic?" he
asked sharply. The professor fished two dice from his vest pocket. "I will try
to roll twos," he said. He rolled twos three times in a row. "One chance in
about 47,000 of that happening. There's a miracle for you." He beamed for an
instant, then brought the interview to an end, remarking that he had a class
which had begun ten minutes ago.
He was not quick to take me into his
confidence, and he said no more about his trick with the dice. I assumed they
were loaded, and forgot about them. He set me the task of watching male rats
cross electrified metal strips to get to food or female rats - an experiment
that had been done to everyone's satisfaction in the nineteen-thirties. As
though the pointlessness of my work were not bad enough, the professor annoyed
me further with irrelevant questions. His favorites were: "Think we should have
dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?" and "Think every new piece of scientific
information is a good thing for humanity?"
However, I did not feel put upon
for long. "Give those poor animals a holiday," he said one morning, after I had
been with him only a month. "I wish you'd help me look into a more interesting
problem- namely, my sanity."
I returned the rats to their cages.
must do is simple," he said, speaking softly.
"Watch the inkwell on my desk.
If you see nothing happen to it, say so, and I'll go quietly-relieved, I might
add-to the nearest sanitarium."
I nodded uncertainly.
He locked the
laboratory door and drew the blinds, so that we were in twilight for a moment.
"I'm odd, I know," he said. "It's fear of myself that's made me odd."
found you somewhat eccentric, perhaps, but certainly not-"
happens to that inkwell, 'crazy as a bedbug' is the only description of me that
will do," he interrupted, turning on the overhead lights. His eyes narrowed. "To
give you an idea of how crazy, I'll tell you what's been running through my mind
when I should have been sleeping. I think maybe I can save the world. I think
maybe I can make every nation a have nation, and do away with war for
good. I think maybe I can clear roads through jungles, irrigate deserts, build
"Watch the inkwell!"
fearfully I watched. A high-pitched humming seemed to come from the inkwell;
then it began to vibrate alarmingly, and finally to bound about the top of the
desk, making two noisy circuits. It stopped, hummed again, glowed red, then
popped in splinters with a blue- green flash.
Perhaps my hair stood on end.
The professor laughed gently. "Magnets?" I managed to say at last.
heaven it were magnets," he murmured. It was then that he told me of
dynamopsychism. He knew only that there was such a force; he could not explain
"It's me and me alone-and it's awful."
"I'd say it was amazing and
wonderful!" I cried.
"If all I could do was make inkwells dance, I'd be
tickled silly with the whole business." He shrugged disconsolately. "But I'm no
toy, my boy. If you like, we can drive around the neighborhood, and I'll show
you what I mean." He told me about pulverized boulders, shattered oaks, and
abandoned farm buildings demolished within a fifty-mile radius of the campus.
"Did every bit of it sitting right here, just thinking-not even thinking
He scratched his head nervously. "I have never dared to concentrate as
hard as I can for fear of the damage I might do. I'm to the point where a mere
whim is a block- buster." There was a depressing pause. "Up until a few days
ago, I've thought it best to keep my secret for fear of what use it might be put
to," he continued. "Now I realize that I haven't any more right to it than a man
has a right to own an atomic bomb."
He fumbled through a heap of papers.
"This says about all that needs to be said, I think." He handed me a draft of a
letter to the Secretary of State.
I have discovered a new force which costs
to use, and which is probably more
atomic energy. I should like to
see it used most effec-
tively in the cause of
peace, and am, therefore, re-
advice as to how this might best be
"I have no idea what will happen next," said the
There followed three months of perpetual nightmare, wherein the
nation's political and military great came at all hours to watch the professor's
We were quartered in an old mansion near Charlottesville, Virginia,
to which we had been whisked five days after the letter was mailed. Surrounded
by barbed wire and twenty guards, we were labeled "Project Wishing Well," and
were classified as Top Secret.
For companionship we had General Honus Barker
and the State Department's William K. Cuthrell. For the professor's talk of
peace-through-plenty they had indulgent smiles and much discourse on practical
measures and realistic thinking. So treated, the professor, who had at first
been almost meek, progressed in a matter of weeks toward stubbornness.
agreed to reveal the thought train by means of which he aligned his mind into a
dynamopsychic transmitter. But, under Cuthrell's and Barker's nagging to do so,
he began to hedge. At first he declared that the information could be passed on
simply by word of mouth. Later he said that it would have to be written up in a
long report. Finally, at dinner one night, just after General Barker had read
the secret orders for Operation Brainstorm, the professor announced, "The report
may take as long as five years to write." He looked fiercely at the general.
"Maybe twenty ."
The dismay occasioned by this flat announcement was offset
somewhat by the exciting anticipation of Operation Brainstorm. The general was
in a holiday mood. "The target ships are on their way to the Caroline Islands at
this very moment," he declared ecstatically. "One hundred and twenty of them! At
the same time, ten V-2s are being readied for firing in New Mexico, and fifty
radio-controlled jet bombers are being equipped for a mock attack on the
Aleutians. Just think of it!" Happily he reviewed his orders. "At exactly 1100
hours next Wednesday, I will give you the order to concentrate; and you,
professor, will think as hard as you can about sinking the target ships,
destroying the V-2s before they hit the ground, and knocking down the bombers
before they reach the Aleutians! Think you can handle it?"
turned gray and closed his eyes. " As I told you before, my friend, I don't know
what I can do."
He added bitterly, " As for this Operation Brainstorm, I was
never consulted about it, and it strikes me as childish and insanely
General Barker bridled. "Sir," he said, "your field is
psychology, and I wouldn't presume to give you advice in that field. Mine is
national defense. I have had thirty years of experience and success, Professor,
and I'll ask you not to criticize my judgment."
The professor appealed to Mr.
Cuthrell. "Look," he pleaded, "isn't it war and military matters we're all
trying to get rid of? Wouldn't it be a whole lot more significant and lots
cheaper for me to try moving cloud masses into drought areas, and things like
that? I admit I know next to nothing about international politics, but it seems
reasonable to suppose that nobody would want to fight wars if there were
enough of everything to go around. Mr. Cuthrell, I'd like to try running
generators where there isn't any coal or water power, irrigating deserts, and so
on. Why, you could figure out what each country needs to make the most of its
resources, and I could give it to them without costing American taxpayers a
"Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom," said the general
Mr. Cuthrell threw the general a look of mild distaste.
"Unfortunately, the general is right in his own way," he said. "I wish to heaven
the world were ready for ideals like yours, but it simply isn't. We aren't
surrounded by brothers, but by enemies. It isn't a lack of food or resources
that has us on the brink of war-it's a struggle for power. Who's going to be in
charge of the world, our kind of people or theirs?"
The professor nodded in
reluctant agreement and arose from the table. "I beg your pardon, gentlemen. You
are, after all, better qualified to judge what is best for the country. I'll do
whatever you say." He turned to me. "Don't forget to wind the restricted clock
and put the confidential cat out," he said gloomily, and ascended the stairs to
For reasons of national security, Operation Brainstorm was
carried on without the knowledge of the American citizenry which was paying the
bill. The observers, technicians, and military men involved in the activity knew
that a test was under way -a test of what, they had no idea. Only thirty-seven
key men, myself included, knew what was afoot.
In Virginia, the day for
Operation Brainstorm was unseasonably cool. Inside, a log fire crackled in the
fireplace, and the flames were reflected in the polished metal cabinets that
lined the living room. All that remained of the room's lovely old furniture was
a Victorian love seat, set squarely in the center of the floor, facing three
One long bench had been brought in for the ten of us
privileged to watch. The television screens showed, from left to right, the
stretch of desert which was the rocket target, the guinea-pig fleet, and a
section of the Aleutian sky through which the radio-controlled bomber formation
Ninety minutes before H-hour the radios announced that the
rockets were ready, that the observation ships had backed away to what was
thought to be a safe distance, and that the bombers were on their way. The small
Virginia audience lined up on the bench in order of rank, smoked a great deal,
and said little. Professor Barnhouse was in his bedroom. General Barker bustled
about the house like a woman preparing Thanksgiving dinner for twenty.
minutes before H-hour the general came in, shepherding the professor before him.
The professor was comfortably attired in sneakers, gray flannels, a blue
sweater, and a white shirt open at the neck. The two of them sat side by side on
the love seat. The general was rigid and perspiring; the professor was cheerful.
He looked at each of the screens, lighted a cigarette and settled
"Bombers sighted!" cried the Aleutian observers.
barked the New Mexico radio operator.
All of us looked quickly at the big
electric clock over the mantel, while the professor, a half-smile on his face,
continued to watch the television sets. In hollow tones, the general counted
away the seconds remaining. "Five. .. four. ..three. ..two ..one.
Professor Barnhouse closed his eyes, pursed his lips, and
stroked his temples. He held the position for a minute. The television images
were scrambled, and the radio signals were drowned in the din of Barnhouse
static. The professor sighed, opened his eyes, and smiled confidently.
you give it everything you had?" asked the general dubiously.
"I was wide
open," the professor replied.
The television images pulled themselves
together, and mingled cries of amazement came over the radios tuned to the
observers. The Aleutian sky was streaked with the smoke trails of bombers
screaming down in flames. Simultaneously, there appeared high over the rocket
target a cluster of white puffs, followed by faint thunder.
shook his head happily. "By George!" he crowed. "Well, sir: by George, by
George, by George!"
"Look!" shouted the admiral seated next to me. "The
fleet-it wasn't touched!"
"The guns seem to be drooping,"said Mr.
We left the bench and clustered about the television sets to
examine the damage more closely. What Mr. Cuthrell had said was true. The ships'
guns curved downward, their muzzles resting on the steel decks. We in Virginia
were making such a hullabaloo that it was impossible to hear the radio reports.
We were so engrossed, in fact, that we didn't miss the professor until two short
snarls of Barnhouse static shocked us into sudden silence. The radios went
We looked around apprehensively. The professor was gone. A harassed
guard threw open the front door from the outside to yell that the professor had
escaped. He brandished his pistol in the direction of the gates, which hung
open, limp and twisted. In the distance, a speeding government station wagon
topped a ridge and dropped from sight into the valley beyond. The air was filled
with choking smoke, for every vehicle on the grounds was ablaze. Pursuit was
"What in God's name got into him?" bellowed the general.
Cuthrell, who had rushed out onto the front porch, now slouched back into the
room, reading a penciled note as he came. He thrust the note into my hands. "The
good man left this billet-doux under the door knocker. Perhaps our young friend
here will be kind enough to read it to you gentlemen, while I take a restful
walk through the woods."
"Gentlemen," I read aloud, "As the first
superweapon with a conscience, I am removing myself from your national defense
stockpile. Setting a new precedent in the behavior of ordnance, I have humane
reasons for going off. A. Barnhouse."
Since that day, of course, the
professor has been systematically destroying the world's armaments, until there
is now little with which to equip an army other than rocks and sharp sticks. His
activities haven't exactly resulted in peace, but have, rather, precipitated a
bloodless and entertaining sort of war that might be called the "War of the
Tattletales. " Every nation is flooded with enemy agents whose sole mission is
to locate military equipment, which is promptly wrecked when it is brought to
the professor's attention in the press.
Just as every day brings news of more
armaments pulverized by dynamopsychism, so has it brought rumors of the
professor's whereabouts. During last week alone, three publications carried
articles proving variously that he was hiding in an Inca ruin in the Andes, in
the sewers of Paris, and in the unexplored lower chambers of Carlsbad Caverns.
Knowing the man, I am inclined to regard such hiding places as unnecessarily
romantic and uncomfortable. While there are numerous persons eager to kill him,
there must be millions who would care for him and hide him. I like to think that
he is in the home of such a person.
One thing is certain: at this writing,
Professor Barnhouse is not dead, barnhouse static jammed broadcasts not ten
minutes ago. In the eighteen months since his disappearance, he has been
reported dead some half -dozen times. Each report has stemmed from the death of
an unidentified man resembling the professor, during a period free of the
static. The first three reports were followed at once by renewed talk of
rearmament and recourse to war. The saber-rattlers have learned how imprudent
premature celebrations of the professor's demise can be.
Many a stouthearted
patriot has found himself prone in the tangled bunting and timbers of a smashed
reviewing stand, seconds after having announced that the arch-tyranny of
Barnhouse was at an end. But those who would make war if they could, in every
country in the world, wait in sullen silence for what must come-the passing of
To ask how much longer the professor will live
is to ask how much longer we must wait for the blessing of another world war. He
is of short-lived stock: his mother lived to be flfty-three, his father to be
forty-nine; and the life-spans of his grandparents on both sides were of the
same order. He might be expected to live, then, for perhaps fifteen years more,
if he can remain hidden from his enemies. When one considers the number and
vigor of these enemies, however, fifteen years seems an extraordinary length of
time, which might better be revised to fifteen days, hours, or minutes.
professor knows that he cannot live much longer. I say this because of the
message left in my mailbox on Christmas Eve. Unsigned, typewritten on a soiled
scrap of paper, the note consisted of ten sentences. The first nine of these,
each a bewildering tangle of psychological jargon and references to obscure
texts, made no sense to me at first reading. The tenth, unlike the rest, was
simply constructed and contained no large words-but its irrational content made
it the most puzzling and bizarre sentence of all. I nearly threw the note away,
thinking it a colleague's warped notion of a practical joke. For some reason,
though, I added it to the clutter on top of my desk, which included, among other
mementos, the professor's dice.
It took me several weeks to realize that the
message really meant something, that the first nine sentences, when unsnarled,
could be taken as instructions. The tenth still told me nothing. It was only
last night that I discovered how it fitted in with the rest. The sentence
appeared in my thoughts last night, while I was toying absently with the
I promised to have this report on its way to the publishers
today. In view of what has happened. I am obliged to break that promise, or
release the report incomplete. The delay will not be a long one, for one of the
few blessings accorded a bachelor like myself is the ability to move quickly
from one abode to another, or from one way of life to another. What property I
want to take with me can be packed in a few hours. Fortunately, I am not without
substantial private means, which may take as long as a week to realize in liquid
and anonymous form. When this is done, I shall mail the report.
I have just
returned from a visit to my doctor, who tells me my health is excellent. I am
young, and, with any luck at all, I shall live to a ripe old age indeed, for my
family on both sides is noted for longevity.
Briefly, I propose to
Sooner or later, Professor Barnhouse must die. But long before then I
shall be ready. So, to the saber-rattlers of today-and even, I hope, of
tomorrow-I say: Be advised. Barnhouse will die. But not the Barnhouse
Last night, I tried once more to follow the oblique instructions on
the scrap of paper. I took the professor's dice, and then, with the last,
nightmarish sentence flitting through my mind, I rolled fifty consecutive
Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. "Report on the Barnhouse Effect." Literary Selections. Compiled by J. Massengill. 18 June 2005. http://coastalbend.home.att.net/lit