Tuesday, February 12, 2019   6:39 AM

Charles Richet'a Psychic Autobiography

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

Over the years I have written several articles about Charles Richet’s psychical research, among them a general overview of his work on the subject, and an analysis of his Traité de Métapsychique (1922). My last published discussion of Richet is an article in which I translated and reprinted a chapter from one of his books in which he presented an autobiographical essay of his involvement with the subject. Here is the reference and the abstract:

“Fragments of a Life in Psychical Research: The Case of Charles Richet” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2018, 32, 55–78.

Abstract

“In this paper I present a translation of an autobiographical essay French physiologist Charles Richet wrote about his involvement in psychical research in his Souvenirs d’un Physiologiste (1933). In the essay Richet presented an outline of aspects of his psychic career, including: Early interest in hypnosis and hypnotic lucidity, encounters with gifted individuals such as Eusapia Palladino and Stephan Ossowiecki, contact with the Society for Psychical Research, his Traité de Métapsychique (1922) and his lack of belief in survival of death. Richet’s account will be of particular interest for those who are not acquainted with his career. However, the essay is succinct and lacks important events that need to be supplemented with other sources of information. An examination of this autobiographical essay illustrates the limitations of autobiographies to reconstruct the past, but also provides an opportunity to discuss aspects of Richet’s psychical research.”

I wrote: “One of the purposes of the present article is to present information about Richet’s interest in psychic phenomena via his own, admittedly brief, account. It is my impression that most contemporary workers in parapsychology, although aware of Richet’s existence, know little about his actual work. Being short, and personal, the excerpt presented below may be of more relevance to workers in parapsychology than the more academic writings cited above. The reprint of the excerpt is also an opportunity to give Richet a voice never heard before in English, since the excerpt in question originally was published in French.”
Richet and Linda Gazzera

I wrote:

“Richet was part of this movement, particularly strong in France, that explored the existence and range of non-conscious human functioning and that included both conventional and unconventional phenomena . . . This is seen in his writings about personality changes in hypnosis, unconscious movements, and the induction of trance at a distance . . .”

“An important early contribution, and a classic of Nineteenth-Century ESP literature, was Richet’s [1884] article about mental suggestion, or the “influence that an individual’s thought exerts over a specific sense, without an appreciable exterior phenomenon on our senses, over the thought of a nearby individual”. . . This included transmission of thoughts and images, as well as other effects such as the induction of trance at a distance. In the paper, Richet described his use of statistical analyses in several guessing tasks with various targets, as well as discussions of conceptual ideas such as the unconscious nature of the process . . . In later papers Richet continued testing various gifted individuals . . . and included observations of Polish psychic Stephan Ossowiecki (1877-1944) . . .”

“There were also many experiences with various mediums and psychics. Examples were séances with Eusapia Palladino (1854–1918 . . .) and Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950 . . .). Richet’s . . . materialization séances with medium Marthe Béraud are well-known, an episode that generated many controversies . . . Here both full and partial materializations were observed . . .”

The best known of his works was the highly influential Traité de Métapsychique [1922] . . . where instead of psychical research he used the term “métapsychique” (metapsychics), a word he had suggested before . . . In the Traité, and elsewhere, Richet frequently expressed hope that future developments in science would allow us to understand psychic phenomena. His popularization and discussion of psychical research not only continued in other books . . . but also in articles in non-psychic journals . . . and in newspapers . . . In addition to the above mentioned examples, Richet’s articles in psychic journals included topics such as statistical analyses of ESP tests . . . , recurrent doubts in the study of psychic phenomena . . . , the decimal indexing of psychic literature . . . , xenoglossy . . . , an ancient case of near-death experience . . . , premonitions . . . , and survival of death . . .”

“Richet did much to support psychical research in various forums of conventional science. He opened the door to, and defended the importance of, psychical research in the international congresses of psychology . . . He was also one of the founders of a very important French journal, the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, first published in 1891, where not only French but also authors from other countries discussed psychic phenomena . . . Furthermore, Richet was a supporter of the Institut Métapsychique International since its beginnings.”

The article also illustrates the limitations of autobiographies as historical documents. An analysis of the essay considering Richet’s publications about psychic topics shows occasional omissions of important information and incorrect recollection of facts. “Autobiographies, like history in general, are reconstructions of the past, but reconstructions based on one person’s perspective and motivations, on their priorities at the moment of ordering the recollections of a lifetime. The latter is particularly an issue.” Nonetheless, “when used together with other sources of information . . . [autobiographies] are not only informative, but illuminating of a time period.”

Tuesday, February 12, 2019   6:26 AM

New Entries in the Psi Encyclopedia

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

I have commented about the Psi Encyclopedia in previous essays, a project sponsored by the Society for Psychical Research. The project, managed by Robert McLuhan, has continued to grow. Here is a list of some new entries posted in 2018 and 2019.

Animals in Psi Research, by Michael Duggan

Announcing Dreams and Related Experiences, by James G. Matlock

Arigo, by Karen Wehrstein

Behavioural Memories in Reincarnation Cases, by James G Matlock

Creery Telepathy Experiments, by Karen Wehrstein

Decline Effect in Parapsychology, by Matthew Colborn

Experimental Psi Research in Asia and Australia, by Michael Duggan

Fraud in Science and Parapsychology, Chris Roe

Gladys Osborne Leonard, Trevor Hamilton

Global Consciousness Project, Roger D Nelson

Hubert Larcher, by Renaud Evrard

Indridi Indridason, by Erlendur Haraldsson

Mediumship and Pathology, by Carlos S Alvarado

Mental Mediumship Research, by Julie Beischel

Parapsychology in Psychology Textbooks, by Chris Roe

Perspectival Postmortem Awareness, by Stephen E Braude

Psi Research in the Netherlands, by Dick Bierman, Hans Gerding, and Hein van Dongen

Unusual Ways of Testing for Psi, Michael Duggan

Tuesday, February 12, 2019   1:00 AM

New Article About Eleanor M. Sidgwick

Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

I just published a short article entitled “Eleanor M. Sidgwick (1845-1936)” (Journal of Parapsychology, 2018, 82, 127-131; available on request carlos@theazire.org). This is the first of several short articles about historical figures and topics that the editor of the journal, Etzel Cardeña, plans to include in future issues.

Here is the abstract:

Abstract

Eleanor M. Sidgwick was an important figure in the early history of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). In later years she became known for her critiques of the evidence for physical mediumship, and for her systematic studies of apparitions of the dead and hauntings, premonitions, clairvoyance, and the mediumship of Leonora E. Piper. Sidgwick also made significant contributions to the study of spontaneous and experimental telepathy, the cross-correspondences, and book tests, or attempts to get spirit communicators to obtain veridical information from the content of a book.

I wrote at the beginning of the article: “Mrs. Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick was one of the most productive psychical researchers of the early Society for Psychical Research (SPR) . . . She was Treasurer, Vice-Principal, and Principal at Newnham College. Sidgwick married Henry Sidgwick in 1876, and shared with him deep interests in women’s education and in psychical research . . . Sidgwick was involved in psychical investigations before the SPR was founded. Together with some close associates, among them Edmund Gurney, Walter Leaf, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Henry Sidgwick, she had séances with several physical mediums during the 1870s . . . They included Annie Fairlamb, Anna Eva Fay, Kate Fox (then Mrs. Jencken), Mary Rosina Showers, and Catherine Wood. But the results of the séances were not in favor of the genuineness of the phenomena and led the group to a general feeling of skepticism.”

Mrs. Sidgwick contributed to many areas of psychical research, as seen in the following papers published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research:

(1885). Notes on the evidence collected by the Society, for phantasms of the dead. 3, 69–150.

(1886). Results of a personal investigation into the physical phenomena of Spiritualism: With some critical remarks on the evidence for the genuineness of such phenomena.4, 45–74.

(1888). On the evidence for premonitions. 5, 288–354.

(1891). On the evidence for clairvoyance. 7, 30–99.

(1891). On spirit photographs: A reply to Mr. A. R. Wallace. 7, 268–289.

(1910). Cross-correspondences between Mrs. Piper and other automatists. 24, 170–200.

(1915). A contribution to the study of the psychology of Mrs. Piper’s trance phenomena. 28, 1–657.

(1921). An examination of book-tests obtained in sittings with Mrs Leonard. 31, 241–400.

(1923). Phantasms of the living: An examination and analysis of cases of telepathy between living persons printed in the “Journal” of the Society for Psychical Research since the publication of the book “Phantasms of the Living,” by Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, in 1886. 33, 23–429

(1924). On hindrances and complications in telepathic communication. 34, 28–69.

Sidgwick, H., Johnson, A., Myers, F. W. H., Podmore, F., & Sidgwick, E. M. (1894). Report on the Census of Hallucinations. 10, 25-422.

Sidgwick, Professor [H.], Sidgwick, Mrs. H., & Smith, G. A. (1889). Experiments in thought-transference. 6, 128–170.

Sidgwick was well-known as a critic, as seen in her writings about physical mediumship. But she also showed throughout her life a capacity to evaluate immense amounts of data looking for patterns in the data and to assess their evidential quality. Examples of these were her Nineteenth-Century papers about apparitions of the dead (1886), premonitions (1888), and clairvoyance (1891).

Her 1915 study of records regarding the mediumship of Leonora E. Piper is a classic of the early literature of psychological studies of mediumship. I wrote: “Some of the chapters of this study were about spirit controls and their relation to the medium; language, memories, and association of ideas by the spirit controls; aspects of various spirit communicators (such as difficulties in communicating and symbolic statements), and relations between Piper’s different states of consciousness. She concluded about the medium’s trance that it was ‘probably a state of self-induced hypnosis in which her hypnotic self personates different characters either consciously and deliberately, or unconsciously’ . . . but with telepathically acquired information.”

Regarding telepathic experiences: “Sidgwick herself contributed to knowledge about the process in an analyses of its “hindrances and complications” as shown in percipient’s impressions (Sidgwick, 1924). She wrote: ‘I have now, I think, sufficiently shown that there are obstacles or at any rate difficulties in the way of telepathic transmission which easily may, and in fact often do, interfere with the process, and prevent a “message” being received as the sender intended. Apart from difficulties on the agent’s own side, and even when a message has apparently safely reached some part of the percipient’s mind, it may fail to pass successfully from that to the normal waking consciousness. And this not only because the impression is sometimes too feeble to prevail, but because as transmitted to the normal consciousness the latter may fail to interpret it. And the difficulties may be aggravated by differences in the results, according as different modes of externalisation—different methods of transferring the subliminal impression to the normal consciousness—are used, and even by deliberate invention in the subliminal mind.’ ”

If this was not enough, Sidgwick was also active behind the scenes of the SPR as an organizer and as an editor of publications. Her life and contributions, both to psychical research and the education of women, deserve a full-length biography. At present, we can get much information about her in Alice Johnson’s “Mrs Henry Sidgwick’s Work in Psychical Research (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 1936, 44, 53–93), and in Ethel Sidgwick’s, Mrs. Henry Sidgwick: A Memoir (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1938).

 

 

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