Johann Zöllner


          PROFESSOR OF physics and astronomy at the University of Leipsic, a profound scientist who, by his work The Nature of the Comets, also attracted the attention of the philosophic world in view of the many original ideas there advanced. His investigation of the phenomena of Henry Slade and his subsequent Transcendental Physics has rendered his name famous in the annals of psychical research and subjected him to persecution, contempt and ridicule from the scientific fraternity. His experiments began in December, 1877. He was assisted by William Edward Weber, Professor of Physics, W. Scheibner, Professor of Mathematics, and Gustave Theodore Fechner, Professor of Physics, who, to quote Zöllner's words, became "perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding imposture or prestidigation." Prof. Fichte, of Stuttgart, and Prof. Ulrici, of Halle, also endorsed the experiments which were further supported by an affidavit of Bellachine, the conjurer at the court of Berlin.

The evidential value of the investigation is somewhat weakened by Zöllner's insistence on the theory of fourth dimension as an explanation. Of the theory itself Schiaparelli wrote in a letter to Camille Flammarion that:

"it is the most ingenious and probable that can be imagined. According to this theory, mediumistic phenomena would lose their mystic or mystifying character and would pass into the domain of ordinary physics and physiology. They would lead to a very considerable extension of the sciences, an extension such that their author would deserve to be placed side by side with Galileo and Newton.

Unfortunately, these experiences of Zöllner were made with a medium of poor reputation."

Zöllner after his sittings with Slade, had further interesting experiences with Mme. d'Esperance. In March, 1880, Baron von Hoffman engaged William Eglinton to give 25 sittings to Zöllner. He was very satisfied with the result and intended to write another book on his experiences. He died before he could do it.

The report of the Seybert Commission quotes testimonies from Prof. Scheibner, Fechner and some others that Zöllner, at the time of his experiments, was of unsound mind. As he filled his chair up to moment of his sudden death, this charge cannot be seriously supported. Baron HelIenbach writes in Birth and Death that Zöllner:

"was in his last days deeply wounded and embittered by the treatment of his colleagues, whose assaults he took too much to heart. Zöllner however, was in perfect possession of his intellect till his last breath."

When the report of the Seybert Commission was made public and anti-spiritualists, like Joseph McCabe, seized upon the Zöllner part putting him down as "elderly and purblind," Dr. Isaac Funk, the New York publisher and psychical investigator, wrote to Leipsic and received from Dr. Karl Bucher, the Rector Magnificus of the University of Leipsic, a letter, dated November 7, 1903, that "information received from Zöllner's colleagues states that during his entire studies at the university here, until his death, he was of sound mind; moreover, in the best of health. The cause of his death was a hemorrhage of the brain on the morning of April 26, 1882, while he was at breakfast with his mother, and from which he died shortly after."

Transcendental Physics was translated into English by C. C. Massey and published in 1880.

Source (with minor modifications): An Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science by Nandor Fodor (1934).



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