Rosalind Heywood

Member of Council, Society for Psychical Research. Was interested in documenting different attitudes towards ESP research. Koestler dedicated his book "The Roots of Coincidence" to Heywood, 'catalyst-in-chief'. Her books included "ESP: A Personal Memoir", "The Sixth Sense" (London, 1959), "Beyond the Reach of Sense" (E. P. Dutton, 1974) and "The Infinite Hive" (Pan, 1966). In the latter book she documented her own psychic experiences.

Foundation of the Society for Psychical Research

 - Rosalind Heywood -

         THE IMMEDIATE stimulus which had encouraged Sir William Barrett to call a conference was his own apparent success with some 'thought-transference' experiments in Dublin. These also revived Sidgwick's interest, which had been damped by his dreary and disappointing study of mediumship, and he agreed to attend. At the conference it was decided to found a society, to be called the Society for Psychical Research (now commonly known as the SPR). Its membership was to be broadly based, from scientists who were willing to admit there was something to investigate, to spiritualists who wished to purge their ranks of fraud. To found such a Society was essential if systematic research was to expand, for research even then was expensive and so was the publication of results, and both could obviously be carried on better by a group with a common fund.

The Society's first task was to elect a President. Sidgwick was the obvious choice.

'His reputation for sanity, truthfulness and fairness,' says Professor C. D. Broad, 'was well known to everyone who mattered in England, and ... it was hardly possible to maintain without writing oneself down an ass, that a society over which Sidgwick presided...consisted of knaves and fools, concealing superstition under a cloak of verbiage. Needless to say, this feat was not found to exceed the capacity of some critics, but with almost anyone else as President their numbers would have been far greater and their influence might have sufficed to kill the Society.'(1)

(1) C. D. Broad, Essay on Sidgwick in Religion, Philosophy and Psychical Research (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953).

Sidgwick's friends put great pressure on him to accept the presidency. Myers and Gurney said that they were only prepared to join the Society if he did so. But it was asking a lot of a busy man. Why, as Myers put it, should he devote time and energy to getting the moon for a child who had not even cried for it? Fortunately for the Society he finally agreed to undertake the task. And he was supremely fitted for it. He had studied psi longer than anyone else and he was no fly-away visionary but exceedingly matter of fact. Indeed, he kept the noses of SPR members so firmly down to earth for so many years that they formed the habit and have dutifully remained there ever since.

Among the men who became Sidgwick's colleagues were Sir William Crookes, Lord Rayleigh and Gerald Balfour. His wife felt unable to join until two years later, in spite of her great interest, for she was playing a major role in the founding of Newnham. College and dared not risk adding to the east winds of contempt it already had to endure. Not that England in the eighties was the world of Copernicus or Galileo or Roger Bacon. These eminent men and women did not risk torture or death. But they did risk - and suffer - the hostile scorn which the herd usually meets out to heretics.

'We were told somewhat roughly,' Sidgwick wrote, 'that being just like all other fools who collected old women's stories and solemnly recorded the tricks of impostors, we only made ourselves the more ridiculous by assuming the aims of a scientific society and varnishing this wretched nonsense with technical jargon.'

Moreover, their task was the lonely one of pioneering into the blue.

'Our methods, our canons,' wrote Myers in later years, 'were all to make. In those early days we were more devoid of precedence, of guidance, even of criticism that went beyond mere expressions of contempt than is now readily conceived.'

Before setting to work on research, they had to define their subject. It was, they said, that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical and spiritualistic. It was in fact everything that was vaguely known at the time as supernatural; in other words everything that to scientists was non-existent, to the rest of the world beyond the realm of natural law. But from belief in the supernatural - from belief as such of any kind - they were at once careful to dissociate the society. 'To prevent misconception,' they wrote:

'it is here expressly stated that Membership of this Society does not imply the acceptance of any particular explanation of the phenomena investigated, nor any belief as to the operation, in the physical world, of forces other than those recognized by Physical Science.'

This was matter-of-fact and uncompromising enough, but it did not prevent the misconceptions, in particular the unfortunate confusion of psychical research with spiritualism.

Their next step was to classify, with Victorian majesty of expression, the various forms of psi which they hoped to investigate. Among other projects, their list included:

1) An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another, apart from any generally recognized mode of perception.

2) The study of hypnotism, and the forms of so-called mesmeric trance, with its alleged insensibility to pain; clairvoyance, and other allied phenomena.

3) A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony, regarding apparitions at the moment of death, or otherwise, or regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.

4) An inquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called spiritualistic; with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws.

5) The collection and collation of existing materials bearing on the history of these subjects.

This was a formidable task, involving a very great deal of detailed work, as anyone who has tried to investigate even one case of apparent psi will know; and formidable too were the standards with which they expected the SPR to undertake it. These were, they pronounced in the same rolling Victorian prose, 'to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems'. Once not less obscure nor less hotly debated. Exact and unimpassioned inquiry, without prejudice or prepossession of any kind. Psi had never before been faced with that, and even Sidgwick and his friends did not realize how hard to attain was the ideal they had set themselves - and their successors - in a subject which so easily stirs the depths in human nature. But they strove towards it so well that their work is still a model, even though our present knowledge of psychology - arrived at partly as the result of their work - has shown that some evidence which in their day seemed inexorably to point towards psi, can now be otherwise explained.

Their main question was simple: Does psi occur? To ask why and how came later. They soon reached the conclusion that the answer was an emphatic Yes. And this their successors have confirmed. But living as we do in a different mental climate, with a different approach to the eternal question of mind-body relationship, our interpretation of its nature and implications is more tentative than theirs. And we are only now learning to formulate such further and vital questions as: In what personal relationships does it occur? To what psychological needs does it minister? Is, for example, the urge to make contact with another human being, when this is impossible by more usual means, often or always behind it?

The methods of science when studying a new phenomenon are quite clear cut. First, observe it as often and as objectively as possible. Next, tentatively put forward a possible cause for it. And finally, learn to reproduce it in controlled conditions, as and when required. This procedure is comparatively easy in the physical sciences; less so in biology; less so again in psychology; and in psychical research immensely difficult.

So far evidence for psi has been found mainly in four ways. The most recent is by controlled experiments, which have been frequently repeated in laboratory conditions and assessed mathematically to estimate the number of coincidences which may have occurred by chance. It thus conforms to the accepted standards of the physical sciences. The other sources of evidence are automatic writing, the utterances of sensitives or mediums, and spontaneous cases reported by the public. This evidence differs in kind from that provided by controlled experiments. It is not exactly repeatable, but is rather of the type to be found in a court of law, and it involves in nearly every case an element of subjective judgement in the assessment of its value. To begin with, it was the only kind of evidence available to the researchers of the new Society.

Very early, however, they realized the vital importance of the first type of evidence, ESP to order, assessable as physical phenomena were assessable, and they set out with enormous energy to devise all kinds of experiments. Some of these were of a type which they hoped could be checked by statistics, and much care was devoted to working out suitable formulae. Others were attempts to transmit, such things as simple drawings, as they described it, 'from mind to mind'. Apart from a few tentative efforts by the London Dialectical Society, all this was breaking new ground. The experiments had to be invented from scratch. In one case very striking results were obtained. Two gentlemen in Liverpool, Malcolm Guthrie, JP, and James Birchall, a Headmaster and Honorary Secretary of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society, tried to convey drawings by telepathy to two percipients - both women - and their success was such that they appealed to students of science in Liverpool to take a hand. Among those who responded was the physicist, Sir Oliver Lodge, then a young man and an expert experimenter in physics. The result of one successful experiment is given in Fig. 1, and a short extract from the original report of the series in SPR Proceedings will indicate how they were done. 'The originals of the following diagrams were for the most part drawn in another room from that in which the "subject" was placed. The few executed in the same room were drawn while the "subject" was blindfolded, at a distance from her, and in such a way that the process would have been wholly invisible to her or to anyone else, even had an attempt been made to observe it. During the process of transference, the agent looked steadily and in perfect silence at the original drawing which was placed upon an intervening wooden stand; the "subject" sitting opposite him and behind the stand, blindfolded and quite still. The "agent" ceased looking at the drawing, and the blindfold was removed, only when the "subject" professed herself ready to make the reproduction, which happened usually in times varying from half a minute to two or three minutes.'(2)

(2) Proceedings SPR, Vol. II, pp. 24-42. See also Vol. II, pp. 189-200, and Vol. III, pp. 424-52.


FIG 1. 'A complete consecutive series of six drawings transmitted by telepathy from Mr Guthrie to Miss E without contact during the Liverpool experiment... When No. 6 was being transmitted, Miss E said almost directly, "Are you thinking of the bottom of the sea, with shells and fishes?" and then, "Is it a snail or a fish?" - then drew as above.'
Proceedings SPR, Vol. II.

Results of this kind were unexpected and startled the experimenters. Desperate attempts have since been made to explain them away, but this is not easy, for both Guthrie and Birchall were men of known integrity and Lodge not only controlled some of the experiments in their absence with the same care he gave to work in his own laboratory, but at times he also acted as agent himself. He introduced some interesting variations, including the use of two agents to look at the drawing, and these he described in a letter to Nature (Vol. XXX, 1884):

'One evening last week - after two thinkers, or agents, had been several times successful in instilling the idea of some object or drawing, at which they were looking, into the mind of the blindfold person, or percipient I brought into the room a double opaque sheet of thick paper with a square drawn on one side and a St Andrew's cross or X on the other, and silently arranged it between the two agents so that each looked on one side without any notion of what was on the other. The percipient was not informed in any way that a novel modification was being made; and, as usual, there was no contact of any sort or kind - a clear space of several feet existing between each of the three people. I thought that by this variation I should decide whether one of the two agents was more active than the other; or, supposing them about equal whether two ideas in two separate minds could be fused into one by the percipient.

'In a very short time the percipient made the following remarks, every one else being silent: 'The thing won't keep still.' 'I seem to see things moving about.' 'First I see a thing up there, and then one down there.' 'I can't see either distinctly.' The object was then hidden, and the percipient was told to take off the bandage and to draw the impression in her mind on a sheet of paper. She drew a square and then said, 'There was the other thing as well,' and drew a cross inside the square from corner to corner, saying afterwards, 'I don't know what made me put it inside.'

It will be noted that the drawings reproduced above are consecutive; it is not a matter of choosing the best-hits among many thousand misses. And, but for the last one, they are designs rather than representations of physical objects, so that to believe what is sometimes suggested - that the agent unconsciously whispered instructions as to what to draw and was heard by the percipient alone and by no one else in the room - is something of a strain on one's credulity.

The experiments were the ancestors of others done at intervals throughout the years in England, France, Germany and the USA with comparable results; and when such parallels occur time and again, with different people in different places, they begin to acquire the evidential value of repeated experiments.

The early investigators, however, were mainly concerned with what may be called spontaneous psi or cases which seemed to occur without any pre-arrangement. A fair number of such cases had already been collected by Sidgwick, Myers and a few other enthusiasts before the formation of the SPR, but these were not nearly enough. The immediate - and enormous - task was to go out into the highways and byways and get hold of a great many more, checked, verified and corroborated to the greatest possible extent. Gurney and Myers threw themselves into it with their usual thoroughness, and they also enlisted the help of Frank Podmore, a competent worker from the Oxford group of inquirers. In 1883 alone they wrote ten thousand letters, which they followed up with innumerable interviews. These involved much travelling - and much tact. The investigation of spontaneous cases of psi is exceedingly delicate. The difficulty of getting, say, a motor car accident accurately reported, even on the spot, at the time, and by detached witnesses, is well known. It is far greater when the incident is in, the past and the personal emotions of the witnesses are involved; and emotions can be even more deeply involved in a case of psi than in a lawsuit. There is a very human desire for the marvellous and an equally human desire to feel important. Quite unconsciously, therefore, some people will twist evidence to sound watertight when there are tiny leaks in it. Others, again, may have a latent tendency to hysteria, resulting in hallucinations which seem to them to have an exterior origin when in fact they are self-created.

Fortunately Myers and Gurney were endowed with good judgement and great industry and they collected a large crop of raw material. Having no precedents to follow, they had to begin by establishing their own canons of evidence, and these were so high that after seventy years the dispassionate critic can find little to cavil at, except that as in their day less was known about the extraordinary vagaries of human memory, their attitude towards old cases was less cautious than ours. In their view much of the material they collected fell under the heading of the first item m their list, which Myers defined as 'the communication of impressions of any kind from one mind to another independently of the recognized channels of sense' and which he labelled telepathy. In general the material was found to take roughly one of two patterns:

1) a percipient, B, gets an impression of an event or of a state of mind occurring to an agent, A, or

2) B feels aware of the presence of A when A in fact is physically elsewhere.

Numbers of such cases were reported to them, but it soon became obvious that few were ideally watertight, though many came close to it. For a case to be susceptible of no explanation but ESP several factors were necessary.

1) B must write down or describe to somebody else his impression of A shortly after its occurrence and - most important - before knowledge of the event described could have reached him by normal means;

2) there must be reliable evidence of what actually did occur to A at the approximate time of B's impression;

3) one person at least must confirm that B told him of his impression before B could have heard of the event himself by normal means.

The three investigators were satisfied that many out of the thousands of cases they studied were at least not due to fraud and were most unlikely all to be chance coincidences, and they made a collection of these entitled Phantasms of the Living, which has become a classic. These cases and the many others which have subsequently been collected by the SPR range from the trivial to impressions of serious crisis. Here in summary are typical examples of each. Mrs Atlay, the wife of the Bishop of 'Edmund Gurney, F. W. H. Myers and Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living (Trubner, 1886).

Hereford, dreamed that after reading morning prayers m the hall of the palace she went into the dining room for breakfast and found an enormous pig standing between the sideboard and the table. She was so amused at this dream that she told it to the children and their governess before prayers began. After prayers she went into the dining room and there she found a pig standing where she had seen one in her dream. It had escaped from its sty while prayers were being read. It has been suggested - not by a farmer - that the true explanation of this case is that one of the children hastened to the sty, drove the pig up to the palace dining room and persuaded it to remain there alone m the right position until his mother arrived.

The next case, an impression of crisis, occurred when the percipient, a Mrs Bettany, was a child of ten(3). 'I was reading geometry as I walked along [a country lane],' she reported:

'... when in a moment I saw a bedroom known as the White Room m my home, and upon the floor lay my mother, to all appearance dead. The vision must have remained some minutes, during which time my real surroundings appeared to pale and die out; but as the vision faded, actual surroundings came back, at first dimly, and then clearly. I could not doubt that what I had seen was real, so instead of going home, I went at once to the house of our medical man and found him at home. He at once set out with me for my home, on the way putting questions I could not answer, as my mother was to all appearance well when I left home. I led the doctor straight to the White Room, where we found my mother actually lying as m my vision. This was true even to minute details. She had been seized suddenly by an attack of the heart, and would soon have breathed her last but for the doctor's timely advent. I shall get my father and mother to read and sign this.'(4)

(3) Phantasms of the Living.
(4) Ibid, Vol. I, p. 194.

In answer to questions Mrs Bettany added:

I was in no anxiety about my mother at the time of the vision.

I found a handkerchief with a lace border beside her on the floor. This I had distinctly noticed in my vision.

This was the only occasion, I believe, on which I saw a scene transported apparently into the actual field of vision, to the exclusion of objects and surroundings actually present. I have had other visions in which I have seen events happening as they really were in another place, but I have been also conscious of real (i.e. immediate) surroundings.

When Myers and Gurney had a large number of cases collected together under their own eyes an interesting point emerged. Though few of them, taken alone, were evidentially perfect, they were seen. to have factors in common to an extent which looked incredible had each case been separately 'invented'. The two investigators also found it incredible that hundreds of people who did not know each other should 'draw the same arbitrary line between mistakes and exaggerations of which they will be guilty and those of which they will not'. Neither could they believe that the hypothesis of chance was elastic enough to cover the lot, for that would involve a normal explanation for each one of these hundreds of cases; explanations which had been sought for by themselves at length and in vain.(5)

(5) In a number of cases, collected by Myers and Gurney and by others later, chance coincidence is rendered more improbable by the fact that the percipient's impression and the event which seems to have caused it correspond in several details. In the two following dreams, cited by G. N. M. Tyrrell in The Personality of Man (Pelican Books, 1947), there are no less than seven items which correspond. 'On the 7th October, 1938, Monsieur X (the real names are all known) attended a reception at the house of Madame Y in Brussels. He left at 10.30 pm. The same night Madame Y had the following dream: She is at the railway station with a gentleman (unknown); several friends see her off, including Monsieur X. Suddenly the train starts and Madame Y leaves without having time to take all her luggage. She calls through the open window to Monsieur X: "Please bring my luggage and don't forget the yellow suitcase." Arrived at her destination, she goes upstairs to the luggage depot and finds all her luggage except the yellow suitcase. Monsieur X is there, too, and the lady severely rebukes him for his negligence.

'The next morning, 8th October, 1938, Madame Y related her dream to a witness, Monsieur Z: and an hour or so afterwards., while Monsieur Z was still present, Monsieur X arrived and before anything was said to him about Madame Y's dream, he recounted his own dream of the previous night, which was as follows: He finds himself at a station and in charge of Madame Y's luggage. A yellow suitcase is specially recommended to his care. He transports all this with great pains, but the yellow suitcase is somehow lost. He mounts the stain to the luggage depot and there meets Madame Y. She gives him a severe scolding for his bad behaviour.'

There were many cases recorded in Phantasms of the Living in which people believed themselves actually to have heard or seen friends or relatives who were not physically present at times when they were afterwards discovered to have been m danger or distress or, even more frequently, near the moment of death. These came to be known as crisis cases. Myers and Gurney analysed large numbers of them and came jointly to the conclusion that there was a least a connection between such experiences and the events occurring to the person seen or heard; that is, they seemed to be testimony to some kind of ESP. The actual nature of such apparitions was another problem and much more complicated.

Phantasms of the Living was published in 1886 and was the first authoritative study of psi made by members of the SPR. It is not, very naturally, without flaw. Some of the cases quoted are now thought to be too old. From the strictest point of view some of the experiments undertaken to test ESP had inadequate safeguards. But it cleared large areas of bush, it laid open new objectives, and for the first time it began to formulate scientific methods of pursuing psi. It still makes very instructive reading for, as Gurney said, the impact of such a large number of spontaneous cases is far greater than that of any one isolated case. It also does away with a criticism that particularly aroused Gurney's indignation. Some people, he said, say that such incidents cannot happen now because they did not happen in the past and that they could not have happened in the past because they do not happen now.

Two years after the publication of Phantasms of the Living Gurney died suddenly and unexpectedly. This was a blow, not for psychical research alone but for medical psychology in general, for he had also been doing pioneering work in hypnosis.

'Gurney's experiments were received with incredulity,' wrote the psychoanalyst Dr T. W. Mitchell, 'and few realized that he was laying the foundations on which the psychology of abnormal mental states during the next twenty years was to be based.'

In spite of the severe loss which they had incurred through Gurney's death, by the end of the 1880s the founders of the SPR felt that they had grounds for restrained optimism. In their view experimentation had already indicated that it was not impossible to evoke ESP deliberately, and one experimenter had even appeared to succeed in making an apparition of himself visible to a friend at a distance. In spontaneous cases too they had found a significant number of impressions and hallucinations which coincided with distant contemporary events, and these were beginning to, show a pattern. Consequently, in 1889 Sidgwick felt able to report to the Society that the committee appointed to investigate telepathy (the Gurney-Myers group) had pronounced decisively in its favour and had produced 1,200 pages of evidence to support their statement.

Sidgwick and his co-heretics believed their findings to be so impressive that in spite of the inherent improbability of psi the outer world would accept them or at least consider that a case had been made out for further investigation. But they were wrong: their case rebounded like a tennis ball off a wall and, except by a very few, their work was ignored. Among those few, however, were some who mattered. Oliver Lodge joined the SPR and so did a clever Australian lawyer, Richard Hodgson, who had come to study philosophy at Cambridge. He was a man of remarkable character and under Sidgwick's guidance he became an outstanding investigator, with a, flair for unmasking the tricks of fraudulent psychics. Like Myers and Gurney he ended by devoting his life to psychical research. but he worked mainly in America where, together with William James, who took a deep interest in the subject and wrote a good deal about it, and Professor J. H. Hyslop, another able worker, he laid the foundations of the American SPR in the same basic fashion as their colleagues had done in England. It is tempting to describe their work in more detail but to do more than indicate the highlights in either country would make this sketch too long.

Mrs Sidgwick was now actively working for the English SPR and she had taken on young biologist, Alice Johnson, as her secretary. This was a fortunate choice. Alice Johnson was a small, quiet, kindly woman of extreme integrity, but under her gentle exterior she possessed a mind as acute and critical, as little impressed with the marvellous., as that of Mrs Sidgwick herself. Later on she became editor of the Society's Proceedings and finally, years later, its research officer. A nice story is told of a visit paid to Mrs Sidgwick and Miss Johnson in their old age by the Irish authoress, Martin Ross, who was anxious to impress them with her remarkable discovery of a tiny slipper on an Irish hillside. It was no doubt., she explained, the work of a leprechaun. 'Did they think your evidence watertight?' a friend asked her after the visit. 'They did not!' she replied indignantly. 'Those two white-headed old weevils would bore a hole in anything!'

One of the first investigations undertaken by these two rather formidable ladies was on a major scale. In 1889, undeterred by the lack of general interest in psychical research, Henry Sidgwick set on foot a large project to compile a Census of Hallucinations(6). For his team he chose the two Myers brothers, Frank Podmore, Mrs Sidgwick and Alice Johnson. The main object of the Census was to question a representative section of the public for evidence of telepathy, in particular telepathy which appeared to take the form of waking hallucinations. Dreams were excluded.

(6) Proceedings SPR, Vol. X, pp. 25-422. A detailed description of the Census' findings is contained in G. N. M. Tyrrell's Apparitions (Duckworth, 1953).

Hallucination is another of those words which, through much knocking around in popular speech, has acquired all sorts of unfortunate associations, so that it now conjures up visions of drugs, drink and disease, of pink elephants and snakes. But there is no suggestion of morbidity in its dictionary definition: 'any supposed sensory perception which has no objective counterpart within the field of vision, hearing, etc.' A hallucination, in other words, is a percept, though not one which has been aroused by an outside impact, on a sense organ. It was found through the Census that such harmless hallucinations occur not infrequently to perfectly normal people in perfectly good health. They might be called the equivalent of waking dreams.

Sidgwick's team - all volunteers - worked like beavers on the Census for five years. They collected 17,000 replies from members of the public to the question: had they ever, when awake, had the impression of seeing or hearing or of being touched by anything which, so far as they could discover, was not due to any external cause? Nearly 10 per cent of the persons approached answered Yes. (A similar though smaller Census was taken in 1948, in which 14.3 per cent answered Yes.) The 10 per cent were then put through a friendly third degree, as a result of which it was found that a number of their hallucinations appeared to be veridical: that is, they tallied with distant, more or less contemporary situations, which were at the time unknown to the percipients. Of these, a large proportion were crisis-cases, many of them connected with a death. It now struck the committee that here might be an opportunity for tackling the bogy of chance coincidence in a big way. They would take veridical waking hallucinations occurring within twelve hours either way of the death of the person seen or heard - this was an arbitrary period but they had to impose some limit - as a basis for estimating such coincidences. The probability that any particular person in the British Isles would die on any particular day they worked out to be about one in 19,000. Thus, on that basis, if chance only were involved, no more than one in 19,000 hallucinations should be a death coincidence. They then went through their cases with a tooth comb and an outsize conscience, making almost exaggerated deductions for possible faulty reporting and other errors. But they were still left with a proportion of death coincidences to waking hallucinations that was not one in 19,000 but one in 43, or 440 times the number likely to be caused by chance alone. This, they felt, was satisfactory. And the improbability of chance coincidence was actually greater than they estimated, since the lime correspondence was often much closer than twelve hours, and they deliberately took each case as a simple one, whereas there were often a number of coincidences within a case(7). In the view of Sidgwick's team these results were valuable testimony for ESP on the grounds that if unusual experiences frequently coincided with events unknown to the percipients, it was very likely that one was the cause of the other.

(7) In 1922 a second collection of spontaneous cases of psi was made by Mrs Sidgwick, which showed similar characteristics to those in the Census of Hallucinations, and in 1939 Sir Ernest, Bennett, an ultra-cautious investigator, published a further volume. Much can be learnt by comparing collections made at different times. The first Census, for instance, showed that 32 per cent of the hallucinations reported were of living persons, 14.3 per cent of the dead, and 33.2 per cent were unidentified. The 1948 survey gave 40.5 per cent, 9.0 per cent and 27.5 per cent, a roughly similar proportion.

Gurney and Myers were the first serious students of apparitions to accept them as genuine phenomena. But what kind of phenomena? There was no evading the difficult question: What is an apparition? Gurney proposed an ingenious hypothesis to get over the embarrassing snag of having to postulate a non-physical vehicle for them. An apparition, he suggested, might be an hallucination constructed by the percipient himself to present his surface consciousness, in a form it would be willing to accept, with information which had been telepathically acquired by his subconscious self. To project such an hallucination might be a way to evade his own 'censor'. Gurney's is a psychologically plausible theory, but it is hard to fit to traditional haunting apparitions, some of which appear to have been seen by a number of people independently, each being ignorant that they had been seen before. Gurney also ran into trouble when he tried to fit his theory to collective cases, in which apparitions are reported to have been seen by several persons at the same time, each observing the correct aspect from their own angle, as if the figure had been a normal physical one. His solution here was that in the first place one person only had the experience and that his companions then 'caught' it telepathically from him. Myers allowed himself a little more latitude than Gurney. It was also possible, he thought, that at times and in some way not yet understood, the agent of an apparition did actually 'invade, the 'space' in which the percipient was placed, so that anyone else who was with him could also see it - though, as a matter of fact, they more often did not.

The immediate result of their study of apparitions was to bring the founders of the SPR right up against that most knotty of all questions: Does man survive bodily death?


"The Sixth Sense" by Rosalind Heywood (1959, Chatto and Windus Ltd).


More articles by Rosalind Heywood

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