Mind Tools: Applications and Solutions


The Scientific Method of Elmer Gates

Lee Humphries


Quite famous in his day, the American scientist Elmer R. Gates (1859-1923) was a virtuoso inventor.  His better known inventions include the foam fire extinguisher, an improved electric iron, a climate-controlling air conditioner, and the educational toy “Box and Blocks.”  He was productive in the fields of X-ray, alloy casting, electrically operated looms, and magnetic separation devices for mining.  He devised instruments for developing muscular skill; he created indoor replications of weather systems; in the late 1800s he invented an electronic music synthesizer.  A 1904 Synopsis of his work listed thirty-five lines of inventive research in which results had been obtained.  At the beginning of the 20th century, the Elmer Gates Laboratory in Chevy Chase, MD, was the largest private non-commercial laboratory in the United States.

Despite his extraordinary output as an inventor, Gates saw himself as a psychologist.  He pursued invention primarily to study the processes of the mind while it engaged in its best work.  Through years of recorded observations, he discovered psychotaxis, the integrated hierarchy of sensory discriminations required to create a valid and complete mental representation of a given part of the physical world. 

Gates used psychotaxis to invent.  First, he would experience through each of his senses every piece of sensory data that the subject at hand could impart, letting his mind classify each datum naturally according to its perceived likeness to or difference from the other data.  Having thus acquired and categorized all the subject’s sensations, he would then, in psycho-taxonomic order, recreate each sensation in his mind—moving through the series over and over until he could execute it at great speed.  This might take several weeks.  Finally, he would work his way through the psycho-taxonomic hierarchy of sensory associations—which associations gave rise to images, concepts, ideas, and thoughts.  Repeated recollection of the psycho-taxonomic hierarchy increased the blood flow to the areas of the brain where its data were enregistered and processed.  This “refunctioning” brought into dominance those neurological structures through which subconscious connections were made.  The result was new insights into the subject.

He discovered and used other aids to invention, all experimentally validated—quiescence, periodicity, climate control (he invented an air-regulated isolation chamber), anabolic emotional states (he researched their chemistry and physiological effects), and linguistic mentation.

Gates hypothesized that unusual mental activity produced unusual structural or chemical differences in the brain.  To test his hypothesis, he conducted many experiments on guinea pigs, rabbits, and dogs—sometimes using electric shock as a negative reinforcer (reportedly the first person to do so).

His experiments required test animals to make extraordinarily refined discriminations with some one sense in order to carry out successful adaptive responses to their environment.  Upon completion of the experimental training (which often lasted for months), the test animals and one or more control groups of like animals were chloroformed.  The groups were compared by a histological examination of the brain areas where the sensory data were enregistered.  (To facilitate the examination, Gates invented a staining technique wherein electric current passed the stain through neurons in two different directions.  He also made major improvements in the microscope’s magnification.)  As he suspected, the neuronal structure was always more highly developed in the test group.  His conclusion was that rigorous training of the senses gives more brain structure, and therefore, more mind with which to create.

Believing that “scientific method is mental method,” Gates devoted his life to the study of the Art of Mind-Using— “psychurgy,” as he named it.   He had no sympathy for theory and speculation, and would state no more than he could “prove true if given the opportunity.”  Unfortunately, because of the unusual nature of some of his researches, they attracted a fringe element.  Studies were often misinterpreted in the popular press, and quotes were fabricated.  He was said to have seen the shadow of the departing soul of a dying rat, to have found that the color of sin is pink, to have gotten ideas for his inventions by telepathy from the minds of long-dead inventors.  His efforts to stamp out these false reports were unsuccessful; some live on in the “self-help” and “new age” sections of today’s bookstores. The record is set straight at, a repository site containing his patents, lectures, papers, and books.

©2006 Reproduced with permission.

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