S. G. Soal

     Soal's education was that of 'a pure mathematician'. At twenty he graduated from London University with first class honours in mathematics, and though his academic career was interrupted by military service he went back to it after being demobilised in 1919, and became Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at Queen Mary College.

His interest in psychical research began when a brother was killed in action in 1918. He sat with various mediums but got little that could not be explained by telepathy till 1921, when a curious, detailed precognitive experience began to develop concerning the house of a friend whom he believed - wrongly - to be dead.

He admired - and lectured on - Rhine's work in the 1930s and undertook a five-year-long series of experiments of his own, involving 160 people and 128,356 'guesses'. Examined for telepathy these showed no significant results and were laid aside. In 1939 Queen Mary College was evacuated to Cambridge where Soal met Whately Carington. At first there was some coldness - Soal's scepticism 'had become a byword', but they became friends, and Carington urged him to reexamine the shelved experiments for possible evidence of 'temporal distraction'. This was done (Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 46, 1940-1941) by Dr Robert Thouless, Mrs Goldney, and Carington himself. Clear evidence of precognition was found.

Soal continued his investigations despite the difficulties of air raids, blackouts and wartime travel. His Presidential Address to the SPR in 1950 urged that experiments should aim not to reiterate the occurrence of extra sensory perception but to find out how it worked. He stressed that the phenomena of physics were characterized by uniformity and those of psychology by uniqueness and pointed out that the ability to will and to choose were non physical aspects of human personality.

In 1960 he was violently attacked by a Professor Hansel (SPR Proceedings 53) who basing himself on 'the hypothesis that precognition does not take place' ascribed the phenomena recorded in Modern Experiments in Telepathy (Soal and Bateman, London, 1954) to trickery or error. Soal replied in the same issue that the agents involved were respectable academics, unlikely to be involved either in these or in collusion. In the March 1971 SPR Journal R. G. Medhurst attacked him again in a paper 'On the Origin of the Prepared Random Numbers in the Shackleton Experiments'. This was followed in 1974 by a further attack by other writers in Proceedings (Volume 56) which also contained a reply by various defenders.

Source (with minor modifications): The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History by Renée Haynes (1982, Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London).



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