Robert John Strutt

Robert John Strutt, fourth Baron Rayleigh

     Lord Rayleigh, who succeeded his father in 1919, carried on the family tradition both in science and in psychical research. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1905, served as Professor of Physics at Imperial College, London, from 1908 till 1919, and did valuable work on radio activity in rock formations.

His Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research in 1937 dealt with 'The Problem of Physical Phenomena in Psychical Research'. Though 'physical' had by this time been substituted for 'spiritualistic' as applied to such happenings, the subject was still very much under a cloud and he almost apologised for discussing 'a somewhat unfashionable topic from which the Society had turned away', justifying himself only on the grounds that it was the one he knew most about. Like his father eighteen years earlier he noted scientific reluctance to look at the problem of globe lighting because its appearances were spontaneous and therefore not susceptible to experimental tests; and observed that the same difficulty arose with many forms of psi, and that this should not cause incredulity in either case, important as experimental work was wherever it could be carried out.

After summing up various early investigations, experimental and otherwise, and the criticisms they met, he concluded that later failures to repeat what had happened would 'hardly be a disproof where the identical conditions cannot be re-established'; a rare triumph for commonsense in a field where the importance of having so to speak 'the time, the place and the loved one all together' is so seldom appreciated.

He mentioned work done with Eusapia Palladino, discussed the contradictory results obtained by two different investigators with a Miss Goligher in Belfast, and surveyed in more detail the studies of Rudi Schneider carried out in Paris by the Osty brothers in 1932, noting the very odd correlation between 'the loud rapid breathings of the medium and the absorptions of the infra-red beam' originally set up to guard some object used as a target for psychokinetic movement.

Aware that the 'trance personality' of certain mediums, all too anxious to deliver the goods, mental or physical, would resort to trickery if paranormal means failed, he suggested that it was a mistake 'to discard all phenomena produced by a medium once discovered in fraud' since records of their results so often yielded 'an appreciable residue ... not successfully dissolved by the acid of destructive criticism so freely poured over it. The evidence seems to stand, and if we dogmatically reject it we shall be open to the reproach of laying down what ought to be the order of nature instead of observing what is'; a warning that all psychical researchers should bear in mind.

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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