Robert Thouless

Robert Henry Thouless

          EDUCATED AT Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he was awarded his PhD in 1922, Robert Thouless went on to be a Lecturer in Psychology at Manchester, in Glasgow, and again in Cambridge. Here he became the Reader in Educational Psychology. He was President of the British Association's Psychology Section in 1937, and published a number of books connected with this subject, including Straight and Crooked Thinking (1953). He also published Experimental Psychical Research (1963) and From Anecdote to Experiment in Psychical Research (1972).

His SPR Presidential Address 'On the Present Position of Experimental Research into Telepathy and Related Phenomena', detached, judicial - and stimulating - raised many points that are still important. He stressed the fact that though he was an experimental psychologist, and therefore accustomed to experimental methods of study, he considered observational methods equally important in psychical research. He preferred the term psi phenomena (which implied no theory) to extrasensory perception, which assumed that some special kind of perception was at work.

He insisted that people should accept the possibility that psi-phenomena are real and objective even though they cannot be explained in terms of physical causation; that is, that they do not necessarily arise either from fraud or illusion, or from a physical cause as yet unknown (as it might be some new form of radiation). Here hindsight, bearing in mind the discovery of a magnetic sense in birds, bees, snails and probably in humans can only remark 'why not both'; a reaction also provoked by his building on Henri Bergson's wider hypotheses to suggest that psi links us with the amoeba rather than, as Frederic Myers suggested, with 'the spiritual world'. Again, why not both?

Obviously much of its material has been modified by the later work of Alister Hardy, (in his SPR Presidential Address for 1966, and in his Gifford Lectures, 'The Living Stream' and 'The Divine Flame') but it is well worth reading still, both in itself and for its occasional evidence that dualism was beginning to revive after long dormancy.

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

Articles by Robert Thouless on this website:

The Experimental Study of Survival

The Problem of the Reality of ESP

The Critics of ESP

The Beginnings of Psychical Research

Anecdote and Experiment



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