Monday, November 30, 2015   10:59 PM

History of Parapsychology V. The Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger

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

One of my papers about historical topics, authored with Renaud Evrard, is about discussions of psychic phenomena in nineteenth-century issues of a French journal. It is entitled “Nineteenth Century Psychical Research in Mainstream Journals: TheRevue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013, 27, 655-689; for a PDF reprint write to me at: Here is the abstract:

“While there were several psychical research journals during the nineteenth century many interesting discussions about psychic phenomena took place as well in a variety of intellectual reviews and scholarly and scientific journals of various disciplines. One such example was the French journal Revue Philosophique de la France et de l’Étranger, founded in 1876 by Théodule Ribot. Reflecting the various interests of psychologists during the nineteenth century, many topics were discussed in the Revue, among them hypnotic phenomena as well as mental suggestion and mediumship. The journal provided an important forum for French discussions in psychology and in the social sciences in general that helped the development of those disciplines. The same may be said about psychic phenomena, which were discussed in the pages of the journal by authors such as Émile Boirac, Victor Egger, Théodore Flournoy, Jules Héricourt, Pierre Janet, Leon Marillier, Julian Ochorowicz, Charles Richet, and Albert Ruault. We present summaries of some of these writings which we hope will bring some of this material to the attention of non-French readers.”

As we wrote about the Revue: “The first volume . . . included articles by such noted figures as Paul Janet (1823-1899), George H. Lewes (1817-1878), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893), Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906), and Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) . . . French historian of psychology Serge Nicolas has argued that . . . the journal was a contributing factor in the development of nineteenth century empirical psychology . . . An important aspect of it was that the Revue was a forum for work on abnormal psychology and hypnotic phenomena that contributed to the development of the concepts of the subconscious mind and of dissociation.”

We discussed various topics related to psychic phenomena, among them mental suggestion. This included Charles Richet’s classic 1884 paper “La Suggestion Mentale et le Calcul des Probabilités” [Mental Suggestion and the Calculation of Probabilities], as well as Pierre Janet’s two papers appearing in 1886 about the induction of trance at a distance with the famous Léonie Leboulanger. We wrote: “Janet’s papers were very influential in late nineteenth century psychical research, cited by many inside and outside France . . . This work . . . opened the door to the publication of similar cases in theRevue by other authors . . .”

There were also summaries of articles about mediumship, the effects of drugs and medicine from a distance, panoramic memory, and criticism. TheRevue also brought information about non-French work in the form of book reviews, articles and notes. “Frederic W. H. Myers authored two notes on veridical hallucinations . . . aspects of the work of the Society for Psychical Research were reviewed in a discussion of Gurney, Myers and Podmore’sPhantasms of the Living(1886). . . and in a note about the Society’s further work on hallucinations. . .There were also short summaries of the content of the Proceedings of the Society.”

We concluded: “Depending on the reader’s interest the material reviewed here will have different purposes. Those interested in the reality of psychic phenomena will use these materials to assess the evidential value of the old work. In contrast, those interested in the historical aspects of psychical research will see these papers and book reviews as examples of important primary sources for the study of nineteenth century psychical research. From either perspective—and perhaps from the perspective of those interested in both views—there is no question that the Revue is an important information source for the study of nineteenth century psychical research, particularly in France.”


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