Sir William Barrett

Sir William Barrett FRS

Professor of Physics at the Royal College of Science for Dublin from 1873-1910 and one of the distinguished early psychical researchers. In fact, it was Barrett who first initiated the founding of both the American and British Society for Psychical Research.

Suggestions for Investigators in Conducting Psychical Experiments

 - William Barrett -

          THERE ARE many earnest enquirers who wish to know how to conduct experiments for the investigation of psychical phenomena, and a few suggestions to this end may therefore be useful.

(I) Thought-transference

Although the evidence for telepathy is both abundant and weighty, additional evidence is always welcome especially with a view to a better knowledge of the conditions of success. A recent paper by Professor Gilbert Murray, Litt. D., giving a record of his own successful experiments, in guessing incidents thought of by others, should be read in this connection; it will be found in the "Proceedings of the S.P.R." for Nov., 1916. Professor Murray points out how important it is to avoid tedium and lack of interest in all concerned in the experiment. Hence experiments in guessing a card or a number, though useful and necessary for statistical purposes, soon bore and weary the percipient, defeating the end in view. In my original experiments with the children of the Rev. A. M. Creery, 35 years ago, I found the same thing; and in the report of these experiments which Myers, Gurney, and myself published in the first volume of the Proceedings S.P.R. (1882) we state that the more varied the experiments were made the better were the results obtained. Always remember that the essential thing is to keep alive the interest of the percipient.

Further, it is necessary to avoid distraction of the mind, or any disturbances, and also emphatically avoid any special anxiety for success. Make the conditions as stringent as possible, but at the same time endeavor to conduct the experiments as if they were an amusing game. Nor should the agents, - that is the persons who have selected the subject to be guessed, mentally exert themselves as if they were studying a difficult proposition. It is not the conscious part of our personality that is effective, but the sub-conscious; possibly thought transference occurs universally. If this is so it would appear that only in a limited number of persons does the telepathic impact emerge into the consciousness of the percipient. In this emergence delay often occurs, hence all the "guesses" should be noted down, as occasionally it will be found that an, earlier impression emerges in place of, or with, a later one.

Again Professor Murray confirms what I noticed long ago, that when the "agent" holds the hand of the percipient very often better results are obtained. This is worth further investigation, care being taken to avoid anything like "muscle reading" or hyper-aesthesia.

A series of experiments should not be continued too long at one time, as sometimes it is found the trials tire, or exhaust the percipient. Some correspondents have told me the experiments produce giddiness, etc, (see, note on p. 57, "Proc. S.P.R.," Vol. I). But I myself, have never noticed this, nor seen any ill effects from these experiments, nor from experiments on "dowsing." (see Chap. 8 of my little book on Psychical Research, Home University Library.)

(2) The Dowsing Rod and the Pendule Explorateur

Various autoscopes, as I have called them, can be used to reveal involuntary muscular action on the part of the automatist. The forked dowsing rod is the simplest and most widely successful, but the twisting of the rod is no evidence of any supernormal faculty, nor does it imply success in the discovery of underground water or metallic ores. Its movement is due to involuntary and unconscious muscular action, and may be caused by any sub-conscious, suggestion arising in the mind of the dowser.

The same explanation covers the motion of the so-called pendule explorateur, a ring or other small object suspended by a thread held between the fingers of one hand; or passed over the ball of the thumb, the elbow resting on the table. An alphabet arranged in a circle round the pendule, will enable words to be spelt out as the pendule swings to each letter.(1) it is tedious, but very amusing and curious results sometimes are found; unexpected messages and answers to questions may be given. If the holder of the pendule be blindfolded and the alphabet re-arranged, it will be seen how much is due to his unconscious muscular action and involuntary mental guidance.

(1) Two centuries ago the forked dowsing-rod was used for the same purpose and messages purporting to come from different planets were recorded!

In both these cases, however, as in the use of all other autoscopes, certain persons will be found who possess super-normal power, and the results so obtained cannot be explained away by any human faculty recognized by official science. In the case of the good dowser, - who may be a child or wholly unlettered person of either sex, or a distinguished man like the late Mr. A. Lang or others of note, - the faculty of clairvoyance reveals itself, not by a conscious perception but by an automatic action such as the twisting of the rod, whenever the object of search is found; whether it be a hidden coin, or underground spring, or metallic lode. On the continent the pendule is often used for the same purpose, but when messages are spelt out by its means the explanation falls under the next heading.

(3) Automatic Writing, the Ouija Board, etc

Here we come to a branch of psychical research which probably excites the most interest, and in which caution is necessary. Those who are new to the subject should read the suggestions given in Chapter XX and refer to p. xviii of the Preface. Young persons, and those who have little to interest or employ their time and thoughts, should be strongly discouraged from making any experiments in this perplexing region.

Moreover, it not infrequently happens, as some friends of mine found, that after some interesting and veridical messages and answers to questions had been given, mischievous and deceptive communications took place, interspersed with profane and occasionally obscene language. How far the sitters subliminal self is responsible for this, it is difficult to say; they were naturally disquieted and alarmed, as the ideas and, words were, wholly foreign to their thoughts, and they threw up the whole matter in disgust.

With this preliminary caution, and urging all investigators to preserve a sane and critical spirit, the best results can be obtained when two or more friends agree to sit regularly at some convenient and quiet hour. A pencil may be held on a sheet of paper or a planchette used, or the ouija board, already described p.176.(1) This last autoscope usually furnishes the easiest, though the most tedious, mode of automatic action. It has also the advantage that the person, or two persons, who touch the travelling indicator, can be carefully blindfolded and the alphabet re-arranged without their knowledge. If messages can thus be obtained, the conscious, or unconscious and unintentional movement of the indicator by the sitters can thus be eliminated more or less perfectly.

If after a few trials no results are obtained the circle should be changed and others allowed to try. When any messages are received, it is well to question the unseen intelligence and ascertain what are the best conditions and who is the most promising medium. Unwearied patience and regular sittings will be found necessary to obtain the best results. Whether the game is worth the candle, the enquirers must decide for themselves; personally I don't think it is, except for those engaged in purely psychological investigation.

This board can he obtained for a few shillings from the office of Light, 110, St. Martin's Lane, London., W.C. 

(4) Physical Phenomena

These are less easy to obtain; though table-tilting and the movements of other objects touched by the sitters, often occur, and may usually be traced to the unconscious and involuntary muscular action of the sitters. Raps and the movement of objects without contact cannot be so explained; nor can all of the remarkable motions of bodies which occur with contact. This will be clear from a perusal of Chapters IV. and V. dealing with physical phenomena. When raps first occur in a private circle, they are usually very faint ticks, and grow in loudness and frequency with continued sittings. Perhaps the best rules for the conduct of circles sitting for spiritistic phenomena are those long ago published by "M.A. (Oxon)" - the Rev. Stainton Moses. After instructing sitters to place their hands flat on the upper surface of the table round which they sit, he goes on to say:

"Do not concentrate attention too fixedly on the expected manifestation. Engage in cheerful but not frivolous conversation. Avoid dispute or argument. Scepticism has no deterrent effect, but a bitter spirit of opposition in a person of determined will may totally stop or decidedly, impede manifestations. If conversation flags, music is a great help, if it be agreeable to all, and not of a kind to irritate the sensitive ear. Patience is essential, and it may be necessary to meet ten or twelve times at short intervals, before anything occurs. If after such a trial you still fail, form a fresh circle. An hour should be the limit of an unsuccessful sťance.

"If the table moves, let your pressure be so gentle on its surface that you are sure you are not aiding its motions. After some time you will probably find that the movement will continue if your hands are held over but not in contact with it. Do not, however, try this until the movement is assured, and be in no hurry to get messages.

"When you think that the time has come, let someone take command of the circle and act as spokesman. Explain to the unseen Intelligence that an agreed code of signals is desirable, and ask that a tilt may be given as the alphabet is slowly repeated, at the several letters which form the word that the Intelligence wishes to spell. It is convenient to use a single tilt for No, three for Yes, and two to express doubt or uncertainty.

"When a satisfactory communication has been established, ask if you are rightly placed, and if not, what order you should take. After this ask who the Intelligence purports to be, which of the company is the medium, and such relevant questions. If you only satisfy yourself at first that it is possible to speak with an Intelligence separate from that of any person present, you will have gained much.

"The signals may take the form of raps. If so, use the same code of signals, and ask as the raps become clear that they may be made on the table, or in a part of the room where they are demonstrably not produced by any natural means, but avoid any vexatious imposition of restrictions on free communication. Let the Intelligence use its own means. It rests greatly with the sitters to make the manifestations elevating or frivolous and even tricky.

"Should an attempt be made to entrance the medium, or to manifest by any violent methods, ask that the attempt may be deferred till you can secure the presence of some experienced Spiritualist. If this request is not heeded, discontinue the sitting. The process of developing a trance-medium is one that might disconcert an inexperienced inquirer.

"Lastly, try the results you get by the light of Reason. Maintain a level head and a clear judgment. Do not believe everything you are told, for though the great unseen world contains many a wise and discerning spirit, it also has in it the accumulation of human folly, vanity, and error; and this lies nearer to the surface than that which is wise and good. Distrust the free use of great names. Never for a moment abandon the use of your reason. Do not enter into a serious investigation in a spirit of idle curiosity or frivolity. Cultivate a reverent desire for what is pure, good, and true. You will be repaid if you gain only a well-grounded conviction that there is, a life after death, for which a pure and good life before death is the best and wisest preparation."

The concluding sentence above must be read in connection with the various theories of these physical phenomena which I have given in Chapter IX. For my own part I consider all these manifestations are so closely associated with the subliminal self of the medium, that it would be rash to infer they proceed from a discarnate human personality; though the Russian case cited on p. 229, as well as Rev. S. Moses' own experience, supports the view that in some cases they may do so.

As a rule the higher and more spiritual the content of the messages, the less palpable and material is their manifestation. The silent "communion of saints" is very far removed from a spiritistic sťance. Telepathic, such communion may be, and probably is, but, as the mystics in an ages have taught, calmness of body and mind is essential,

Some have striven
Achieving calm, to whom was given
The joy that mixes man with Heaven,"

And "Into that silent heaven the Great Soul floweth in," as Plotinus tells us..

Other articles by William Barrett

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