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The conclusion examines the legacy of physical-psychical scientists. By the 1940s even the most sympathetic physical-psychical scientists were ambivalent at best about the ‘psychical’ achievements of Crookes, Lodge and other veteran physical-psychical scientists. From the 1940s until the 1960s very few of the connections between physics and psychics involved the modern physics of relativity and quantum theories; the 1970s, however, saw a rejuvenation of interest in these possibilities, which became a major focus of the new field of ‘paraphysics’ whose theories and practices continue to cause controversy. I argue that the protagonists of this book would have recognised many of the problems faced by practitioners of paraphysics but repudiated these practitioners’ perceptions that Victorian physics was materialistic, rigid and closed to psychical significance.
Chapter Two surveys what we call ‘physical-psychical scientists’ - physical scientists who, from the early nineteenth to the early twentieth century, showed some kind of interest in psychical phenomena. It uses the membership of Society for Psychical Research to identify many such physical-psychical scientists. Analysing this membership, and individuals who expressed their psychical interests outside the organisation, the chapter argues that these interests were far more extensive and complex than historians have argued. The chapter analyses the ways in which this collective interest was facilitated by existing institutional and other connections. It explores the range of intellectual, religious, moral and emotional reasons that underpinned this interest, the different positions and conclusions that different scientists reached after their investigations, and the reaons why so many scientists abandoned their interest in such studies or were actively hostile to them.
The introduction sets out the historiographical framework and principle approaches of the book. Studies of nineteenth and twentieth century interactions between the established sciences and psychical phenomena have yielded many important insights but left many questions unanswered. We know a good deal about the psychical interests and investigations of a handful of scientists but only a partial sense of how far their examples were followed. We know a lot about the ‘occult’ uses to which spiritualists, theosophists and other occultists put developments in physical sciences relating to ether, energy, electricity and matter, but far less about the uses to which scientists made of psychical and occult phenomena in their scientific enquiries. Existing studies have also established much about the connections between ’physics and psychics’ at the level of ideas, theories and concepts, but have largely sidestepped the experimental nature of these connections.
This is the first systematic exploration of the intriguing connections between Victorian physical sciences and the study of the controversial phenomena broadly classified as psychic, occult and paranormal. These phenomena included animal magnetism, spirit-rapping, telekinesis and telepathy. Richard Noakes shows that psychic phenomena interested far more Victorian scientists than we have previously assumed, challenging the view of these scientists as individuals clinging rigidly to a materialistic worldview. Physicists, chemists and other physical scientists studied psychic phenomena for a host of scientific, philosophical, religious and emotional reasons, and many saw such investigations as exciting new extensions to their theoretical and experimental researches. While these attempted extensions were largely unsuccessful, they laid the foundations of modern day explorations of the connections between physics and psychic phenomena. This revelatory study challenges our view of the history of physics, and deepens our understanding of the relationships between science and the occult, and science and religion.
Researchers in the mind sciences often look to the production and analysis of drawings to reveal the mental processes of their subjects. This essay presents three episodes that trace the emergence of drawing as an instrumental practice in the study of the mind. Between 1880 and 1930, drawings gained currency as a form of scientific evidence – as stable, reproducible signals from a hidden interior. I begin with the use of drawings as data in the child study movement, move to the telepathic transmission of drawings in psychical research and conclude with the development of drawing as an experimental and diagnostic tool for studying neurological impairment. Despite significant shifts in the theoretical and disciplinary organisation of the mind sciences in the early twentieth century, researchers attempted to stabilise the use of subject-generated drawings as evidence by controlling the contexts in which drawings were produced and reproduced, and crafting subjects whose interiority could be effectively circumscribed. While movements such as psychoanalysis and art therapy would embrace the narrative interpretation of patient art, neuropsychology continued to utilise drawings as material traces of cognitive functions.
During the late nineteenth century, many British physicians rigorously experimented with hypnosis as a therapeutic practice. Despite mounting evidence attesting to its wide-ranging therapeutic uses publicised in the 1880s and 1890s, medical hypnosis remained highly controversial. After a decade and a half of extensive medical discussion and debate surrounding the adoption of hypnosis by mainstream medical professionals – including a thorough inquiry organised by the British Medical Association – it was decisively excluded from serious medical consideration by 1900. This essay examines the complex question of why hypnosis was excluded from professional medical practice by the end of the nineteenth century. Objections to its medical adoption rarely took issue with its supposed effectiveness in producing genuine therapeutic and anaesthetic results. Instead, critics’ objections were centred upon a host of social and moral concerns regarding the patient’s state of suggestibility and weakened ‘will-power’ while under the physician’s hypnotic ‘spell’. The problematic question of precisely how far hypnotic ‘rapport’ and suggestibility might depart from the Victorian liberal ideal of rational individual autonomy lay at the heart of these concerns. As this essay demonstrates, the hypnotism debate was characterised by a tension between physicians’ attempts to balance their commitment to restore patients to health and pervasive middle-class concerns about the rapid and ongoing changes transforming British society at the turn of the century.
Shortly after the death of Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862–1929), the doyen of early twentieth century German para psychology, his former colleague in hypnotism and sexology Albert Moll (1862–1939) published a treatise on the psychology and pathology of parapsychologists, with Schrenck-Notzing serving as a prototype of a scientist suffering from an ‘occult complex’. Moll’s analysis concluded that parapsychologists vouching for the reality of supernormal phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis and materialisations, suffered from a morbid will to believe, which paralysed their critical faculties and made them cover obvious mediumistic fraud. Using Moll’s treatment of Schrenck-Notzing as an historical case study of boundary disputes in science and medicine, this essay traces the career of Schrenck-Notzing as a researcher in hypnotism, sexology and parapsychology; discusses the relationship between Moll and Schrenck-Notzing; and problematises the pathologisation and defamation strategies of deviant epistemologies by authors such as Moll.
The English music theorist and philosophical writer Edmund Gurney was the first ‘fulltime’ psychical researcher in history. While he was primarily concerned with empirical evidence for telepathy, Gurney significantly contributed to the late nineteenth-century literature on hallucinations in the sane, and the psychology of hypnotism and dissociation. He conducted the first large-scale survey of hallucinations in the general public and, with Pierre Janet, was the first to publish experimental data suggesting dissociated streams of consciousness in hypnotism. This paper sketches Gurney's contributions to psychology and dynamic psychiatry in the context of his friendship with Frederic W.H. Myers and William James. It is argued that although Gurney's research into hallucinations and hypnotism had been embraced and assimilated by contemporary psychologists such as William James, Alfred Binet and others, his contributions to psychology have subsequently been marginalised because of the discipline's paradigmatic rejection of controversial research questions his findings were entangled with.
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