THE WORDS which head this chapter formed part of the historic letter(1) sent me
by the late Sir Edwin Deller, Principal of the University of London, when he
informed me that the Senate had agreed in principle to my offer, made in 1933,
to found, equip, and endow a Department of Psychical Research in the University.
The proposal was that I should hand over the equipment and library of the
National Laboratory of Psychical Research (fully described in
Appendix B), the
directorship of which I was then relinquishing. Both the Senate and Court were
of the opinion that psychical research is 'a fit subject' to be investigated,
but at that time no accommodation could be found for the library or laboratory,
and no one with the necessary qualifications or time was available to take
charge of the proposed new Department. For more than twelve months the proposal
had been discussed by the Boards of Studies (Psychology, Physiology, and
Medicine) most concerned, and by the Academic Council. But the question of ways
and means proved insuperable, and the whole matter was shelved. However, a great
victory for psychical research was achieved in the extracting from the Senate
that in their opinion 'psychical research is a fit subject of University study
and research.' That pronouncement was a memorable one and was indeed worth
(1) Dated February 12, 1934.
I much sympathized with the Senate in their sustained attempt to arrange matters
so that my offer could be accepted. At that time, it was quite obvious that room
could not be found for my library and equipment. But more than five years have
now passed and during this period the stately pile of the new University
buildings at Bloomsbury has been steadily growing, and I hope that accommodation
will shortly be found. Actually, both library and equipment are now housed by
the University authorities.
Founding of the 'University Council' [top]
When it was found impracticable to establish the proposed new Department
officially, it was suggested that those members of the University who were most
interested in psychical research, or had been most concerned in examining my
proposal, should form themselves into an unofficial body with the idea of
keeping the question alive and remaining in contact with the authorities. Thus
was formed the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation. At our
first meeting on June 6, 1934, it was resolved 'That this Committee should carry
on the work formerly conducted by the National Laboratory of Psychical Research
until such time as it was thought desirable to approach again the University
authorities as to the formation of a Department for Psychical Research.' And
that is how the matter rests at present. Among the members of the Council were
Professor F. A. P. Aveling, Dr. Guy B. Brown, Professor Cyril Burt, Professor J.
C. Flugel, Dr. C. E. M. Joad (Chairman), Dr. C. A. Mace, the late Dr. E. D.
Macnamara, Professor J. MacMurray, Professor C. A. Pannett, Mr. S. G. Soal, and
the Rev. Professor E. S. Waterhouse. I was appointed Honorary Secretary.
Early Attempts at Interesting Orthodoxy
The first systematic attempt in Great Britain to examine scientifically the
phenomena which we now call psychic was made by a little group of Oxford
graduates and undergraduates which went by the name of the Phasmatological
Society. This was about 1874. It lasted but a few years and when the British
SPR was founded in 1882, the little Oxford group joined their more serious
Cambridge brethren. Among the members of the Phasmatological Society were young
men destined to become prominent in various fields, and among these can be
mentioned Sir Charles Oman, Dr. F. E. Brightman, and Professor F. C. S.
Schiller, who gives some account of the Society in the Clark University
(2) See The Case For and Against Psychical Belief, Worcester, Mass., 1927.
Other attempts at bringing psychic phenomena to the notice of orthodoxy include
the one made by Sir William Barrett when, in 1876, he was successful in
persuading the British Association at its meeting in Glasgow to permit him to
read a paper(3) on thought-transference, even though its publication in printed
form was suppressed. Sir William Crookes also tried to interest official science
in his experiments with D. D. Home and Florrie Cook, and invited one of the
secretaries of the Royal Society to a séance: he refused.
(3) On Some Phenomena Associated with
Abnormal Conditions of Mind.
the Universities have Done
In spite of the fact that orthodoxy has, in the past, regarded psychics with a
certain amount of disapprobation, a few universities have made notable attempts
to turn psychical research into a science. In 1933 a determined effort was made
in the University of Belgrade to induce the authorities to sanction courses in
psychical research. Though no official action was taken, the principals gave
their benevolent sympathy to the Students' Society formed for the purpose of
studying paranormal phenomena. The Society formed a Syllabus of Lectures(4) and
meetings were held twice a week at the House of Russian Culture. Séances were
(4) Given in full in Bulletin VI of the Nat. Lab. of Psychical Research, London,
1933, pp. 45-7.
Amongst other Continental universities, Groningen, nearly twenty years ago,
staged some experiments in telepathy. They were very ingenious and impressive,
and are more fully referred to in Chapter X ('The Story of ESP'). We first
heard of them through Dr. H. J. F. W. Brugmans, who read a paper(5) on the
subject at the First International Congress of Psychical Research, held at Copenhagen in 1921. Since that period, both
Leiden and Utrecht Universities have established official Departments of
Parapsychology, and Drs. P. A. Dietz and W. H. C. Tenhaeff (the first
investigator to be appointed officially by any university) respectively are
doing good work there. Many of their reports are printed in the Dutch psychic
journal Tijdschrift voor Parapsychologie, of which they are editors. Another
European university where some attempt has been made at interesting official
science is that of Riga. The most ambitious experiments were those made with
Ilga Kirps(6) in 1934-7 by Professor Ferdinand von Neureiter, Dr. Hans Bender of
Bonn, and others. Ilga is a little peasant girl who is stated to be able to read
telepathically the thoughts of others, principally those of her mother. At the
University of Athens, Professor Voreas is, with Dr. A. Tanagras, conducting
certain experiments in psychical research.
(5) Le Compte Rendu Officiel du Premier Congres International des Recherches
Psychiques... Copenhagen, 1922, pp. 396-408.
(6) See Wissen um fremdes Wissen: Auf unbekanntem Wege Erworben, by F. von
Neureiter, Gotha, 1935.
Growing American Interest
I have already mentioned(7) the abortive Seybert Commission of 1884, appointed
by the University of Pennsylvania to inquire into the 'truths of modern
spiritualism.' In the same year there died Leland, the only child of Leland
Stanford (1824-93), aged sixteen years. As a memorial, Stanford founded the
'Leland Stanford junior University' in the beautiful Santa Clara valley, near
Palo Alto, California. He and his wife endowed it with a sum estimated at thirty
million dollars(8). Its doors were opened in 1891. In 1911, Thomas Welton
Stanford, a Melbourne millionaire and brother of the American philanthropist,
donated to Leland Stanford University the sum of $50,000, to be used in
furthering psychical research(9). The money was received in 1912, and those
interested in parapsychology thought that the time
had at last arrived when official science would make a determined effort to
investigate whatever truth there was in psychic matters. But, as with the
Seybert endowment, little appears to have been accomplished(10), and, very
curiously, it is those universities with the least money which have done the
most work. In 1936 Stanford University published a monograph(11) useful alike to
the magician and the psychologist.
(7) In the 'Introduction.'
(8) See Stanford University and Thereabouts, by O. H. Elliot and O. V. Eaton,
San Francisco, 1896.
(9) Dr. John L. Kennedy has held the Fellowship in Psychical Research at
Stanford since 1937.
(10) But see Experiments in Psychical Research at Leland Stanford, by J. E. Coover, Stanford University, 1917.
(11) The Psychology of Conjuring, by R. E. Bernhard, Jr., Stanford University,
Stanford, Cal., 1936.
Hodgson Fellowship at Harvard
Another attempt to interest the universities in psychical research was made
after the death of Dr. Richard Hodgson (1855-1905). Dr. Hodgson was secretary to
the American SPR from 1887 until his death, and, as a memorial, a number of
his friends established the 'Hodgson Fellowship in Psychical Research,' tenable
at Harvard. A fund was raised, but was found insufficient to provide for such a
fellowship adequately, and for the expenses likely to be incurred in experiments
and investigations. Accordingly, the American SPR, by resolution of its
Executive Committee, agreed to contribute the excess over the income from the
Hodgson bequest. They guaranteed to augment the fund to $3,000 for the academic
years 1922-3 on condition that if the report of the work done should not be
published by Harvard University, it could be issued by the American SPR This
arrangement was accepted by the University.
It was Dr. Gardner Murphy, a psychologist of Columbia University, who was
appointed by Harvard University research fellow for the year 1922-3, under the
Hodgson fund. He retained this post until 1925, and devoted about half of his
time to the investigation of telepathy. Some account of Dr. Gardner Murphy's
work at Harvard is to be found in his paper 'Telepathy as an Experimental
Problem,' published in the Clark University symposium(12). Dr. Murphy's successor
at Harvard was Dr. G. H. Estabrooks, who also devoted his time to experimental
telepathy(13). Why students of psychical research in all countries choose
telepathy as a subject is because few or no professional mediums are required;
the apparatus used is usually simple; control is easy; results can be definite,
and investigation costs little.
(12) The Case For and Against Psychical Belief, op. cit., pp. 265-78.
(13) See 'A Contribution to Experimental Telepathy,' by G. H. Estabrooks,
Bulletin V, Boston SPR, 1927.
Clark University Symposium
One of the most interesting experiments connected with psychical research ever
made by an academic body was the public symposium held at Clark University,
Worcester, Massachusetts, November 29 to December 11, 1926. It was arranged by
Professor Dr. Carl Murchison that a number of persons interested in psychic
matters should either speak at the symposium or send in papers to be read. Dr.
Murchison is himself a psychologist, and it is natural that the majority of
those invited to take part in the symposium were also psychologists or
There were four classes of speakers: (I) Those 'convinced of the multiplicity of
psychical phenomena' (Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir A. Conan Doyle, F. Bligh Bond, Dr.
L. R. G. Crandon (husband of 'Margery'), Mary Austin and Margaret Deland); (II)
those 'convinced of the rarity of genuine psychical phenomena' (Professor
McDougall, Professor Hans Driesch, Dr. W. F. Prince, and Professor F. C. S.
Schiller); (III) those 'unconvinced as yet' (Dr. John E. Coover and Dr. Gardner
Murphy); (IV) and those 'antagonistic to the claims that such phenomena occur'
(Professor Joseph Jastrow and Harry Houdini). All these papers were published in
1927 in one volume under the title The Case For and Against Psychical Belief,
edited by Dr. Murchison, who warns the reader in his Preface that, in arranging
the symposium, Clark University 'is by no means assuming the role of friend to
psychical research.' Apparently his warning was necessary, as Sir Oliver Lodge
begins his paper ('The University Aspect of Psychical Research') with the
sentence: 'I can but heartily welcome the pioneer effort of Clark University to
take the subject of psychical research under its wing and give it the prestige
of academic recognition.'
The Case For and Against Psychical Belief is well worth reading, especially the
papers by Sir Oliver Lodge, Hans Driesch ('Psychical Research and Philosophy'),
W. F. Prince ('Is Psychical Research Worth While?') and Dr. Schiller ('Some
Logical Aspects of Psychical Research'). I think the scientific standard of the
book is lowered by the reprinting of chapters from Houdini's A Magician Among
the Spirits(14), a collection of mediumistic tricks most of which no fake medium
outside a lunatic asylum would dare to use.
(14) Harper & Brothers, New York, 1924.
at Duke University [top]
Very soon after the Clark symposium, Dr. J. B. Rhine and his wife, Dr. Louisa E.
Rhine, both biologists of the University of Chicago, turned their attention to
the alleged telepathic faculties of animals, and their experiments with 'Lady,'
the 'mind-reading horse' are well known. In the summer of 1930, the Rhines
turned their attention to human subjects and, having now discarded biology for
the psychological field, began a series of tests in telepathy and clairvoyance
at Duke University, North Carolina, in connection with the Department of
Psychology, of which Professor McDougall was the head. With Dr. Karl Zener and
Dr. Helge Lundholm, of the same Department, the Rhines embarked upon a long
series of 'card calling' experiments with hundreds of students and others, using
cards marked with the five symbols: circle, rectangle, plus sign, star, and wavy
lines. Dr. Rhine suggested the term 'extra-sensory perception' as being more
suitable than the older forms, telepathy, thought-transference, and
Dr. Rhine and his colleagues at Duke discovered that certain of the students and
others possessed the telepathic or clairvoyant faculty to an extraordinary
degree. Some 100,000 tests were made in the first period and the good 'guesses'
recorded exceeded any estimate based on chance. In fact, some of the results
savour of the miraculous. Though psychical researchers have, for eighty years,
been seeking a subject able to demonstrate at will, under controlled conditions,
the faculty of telepathy and failed to find one, Dr. Rhine discovered scores of
them in his own University - some even in his own class-room.
The results of the first period of Dr. Rhine's work were published in 1934 by
the Boston SPR,(15) and in London the following year. Among those who took the
results at their face value, the book created a sensation. Those more sceptical
began to experiment for themselves. Among these was Mr. S. G. Soal, of London
University, who, for the past four years, has been duplicating Rhine's
experiments, but not his good results(16). Rhine's technique was 'tightened up.'
Out of many thousands of 'guesses,' with many percipients, the good ones did not
amount to more than chance would account for. There were no miracles in London.
For these experiments, I asked a firm of playing-card manufacturers to print
special cards, on the faces of which were the Zener symbols as used by Rhine.
These cards were much better than the early home-made ones used at Duke, which
slightly varied in size.
(15) Extra-Sensory Perception, Boston, Mass., 1934.
(16) Report not yet issued.
Dr. Rhine has also experimented with Mrs. Eileen Garrett, the British trance
medium whom I introduced to American psychists in my article in the Cosmopolitan
Magazine in 1931(17). He obtained some extraordinarily successful results(18).
Later, in England, Mr. Soal. and a group also conducted a long series of
experiments in telepathy and clairvoyance with Mrs. Garrett. The results were
(17) New York, January, 1931. An account of a
séance at which the 'Conan Doyle'
entity was alleged to control the medium.
(18) 'Telepathy and Clairvoyance in the Normal and Trance States of a "Medium",'
Character and Personality, London, December, 1934.
(19) See Chapter X.
Mrs. Garrett has also been tested at Johns Hopkins University, but no official
report has been issued. Other academic centres, too, became interested in the
Duke successes and among those who experimented were Dr. J. G. Pratt (Columbia),
J. L. Woodruff and Dr. R. W. George (Tarkio College, Missouri), and Dr. C. R.
Carpenter and Professor H. R. Phalen (Columbia). Their work is recorded in the
Journal of Parapsychology, issued by Duke University Press, a quarterly which
sprang into being as a result of the Rhine tests. It was first published in
I cannot close my record of American universities without mentioning the
important 'history of spiritualism'(1) by Dr. George Lawton. It was the thesis
he submitted to Columbia University when he studied for his degree of doctor of
philosophy, and is an impartial - and rather amusing - study of, especially,
American spiritualism. His account of the American spiritualist 'camps' (Lily
Dale, Chesterfield, etc.) is valuable.
(20) The Drama of Life after Death: A Study of the Spiritualist Religion, by
George Lawton, London, 1933.
Third Reich Declares Psychical Research an Official Science
The outstanding event in psychical research during recent years is the
declaration of the German Government that it would be prepared officially to
give its blessing to a Department of Parapsychology at Bonn University, if I
would found it. When Professor Dr. E. Rothacker, the Director of the Bonn
Psychologisches Institut, and his colleague Dr. Hans Bender, heard that I was
anxious for academic support for my scheme of introducing psychical research
into the universities, I was invited to Bonn to talk the matter over. In the
meantime, the whole question was referred to the German Home Office, Board of
Education, the Foreign Office, and Ministry of Propaganda. In March, 1937, I was
officially informed by letter that the German Government, having thoroughly
examined the whole question, was favourable to the founding of the proposed new
Department at Bonn. The letter(21) stated that the Government 'authorized the
establishment of a Department for Abnormal Psychology and Parapsychology (Forschungsstelle
fur psychologische Grenzwissenschaften) and think of special interest to this
Department, besides the research work, questions of social hygiene in occult
matters.' This letter, like the one I have quoted from Sir Edwin Deller, is of
great historical interest, as the Third Reich is the first Government officially
to place its cachet on psychical research. This is the more striking, as
spiritualism has been suppressed in Germany. The letter I have cited proposed
various academic honours for me in the event of my founding the proposed new
(21) Dated March 20, 1937.
Britain Lags Behind
Academically, Great Britain has shown little interest - officially - in
psychical research. Although the Society for Psychical Research has been
established for more than fifty years, little had been done in this country to
attract organized science until I launched my 'campaign' to interest the
University of London. If, in the past, the SPR had made a real attempt at
founding a chair or fellowship at one of the principal universities, they would
have succeeded - especially at Cambridge, the home of modern psychical research.
But nothing was done. Unofficially, both Oxford and Cambridge have had for many
years small societies, supported by a few undergraduates, for the study of
psychic matters. This also applies to foreign universities. I personally have,
more than once, lectured within the precincts of the following universities:
Oxford, Cambridge, London, Nottingham (University College), the Sorbonne,
Vienna, Copenhagen, Oslo, Gottingen, and Berlin. My visits were arranged by
those professors and others interested in the subject, but, so far as
'orthodoxy' was concerned, they were not always official.
Why does official science take so little interest in psychical research? Quoting
Professor Schiller, the reason is because there is no money in it: 'The occult
can never become scientifically established until it becomes a commercial
success ... At present there is no money wherewith to prosecute researches, nor
any likelihood of raising an adequate supply until the suspicion has arisen that
there is money in it; because it is necessary, in this case, to convert both the
masses and the professors'(22). At least an attempt is being made to convert the
masses. In New York, I am told, Rhine's experimental ESP cards are being sold
on every newsstand at ten cents a packet: this is bringing psychics - literally
- to the man-in-the-street!
(22) Occult Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, January, 1905.
The article above was taken from Harry Price's "Fifty Years of Psychical
Research" (1939, Longmans, Green & Co.)