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justifiable in replacing mental suggestions, transmission
or penetration of thought, transfer of the personality,
dissociation of consciousness, and even exteriorization
of the sensibility, motricity, etc.

But the constitution of a technical vocabulary for the
psychical sciences will not be made without resistance
and slow progress. The great number of people to
whom the coining of new words is repugnant and even
those who believe in their necessity will not always be
in accord as to their choice. All sciences, however,
have encountered similar difficulties, until in the course
of time the objections have been met. This, we may
believe, will be equally true with the psychical sciences.


Although psychical phenomena have aroused the
curiosity of men for a long time past, the sciences which
have these phenomena for their object have not yet
been given a place in the ensemble of the sciences. Yet
it is clear enough, as the name itself indicates, that they
are linked to psychology, not as a part of philosophy,
but as an experimental science.

If it be established that the phenomena are not only
abnormal or super-normal, but essentially pathological,
it could be said that they constitute a special branch of
morbid psychology or psychopathology. But such a
thesis is not yet proved. It would be more exact to
say that they constitute a sort of side psychology, or
parapsychology, recognizing, at the same time, that the
relations between this and psychopathology are numer-
ous and most important.

It should not be forgotten that the divisions which
we imagine in our classifications of the many different
orders of natural phenomena are all more or less ar-
bitrary and artificial. Thus psychology, in its en-
semble, is inseparable from physiology; and physiology
is inseparable from the physical sciences. The soul is
non-existent without life; and life is not existent with-
out matter. It should not be surprising, therefore, if
the psychical sciences go even beyond psychology and
penetrate physiology, especially the physiology of the
brain and of the nervous system; or perhaps they may
go even farther, in the regions of physics, where the
theory of the most subtle and imponderable forces of
nature are elaborated. This is one of the reasons why
these sciences can progress only slowly; for their prog-


ress is conditioned to a large extent by that of those
more general sciences upon which they depend and to
which they contribute. 1

To conduct experimentation satisfactorily, researches
specializing in the psychical sciences should be assured
the constant collaboration of psychologists, physiolo-
gists, and physicists thoroughly acquainted with the
methods and results of their respective sciences. Or
else each of the specialists in psychical research should
be a combined physicist-physiologist-psychologist.
That, however, is a difficult combination to realize.
In fact, all those who hitherto have studied these phe-
nomena have been recruited from among medical men
and physiologists — Mesmer, Charcot, Dumontpallier,
Bernheim, Richet, Joire, Janet, etc. ; from among physi-
cists and chemists — Reichenbach, Gregory, William
Crookes, Oliver Lodge, etc. ; or from among the ranks
of philosophers, moralists, litterateurs — many were
mere " amateurs " — Flournoy, William James, Fred-
eric Myers, and most of the members of the S. P. R.
of London and New York. It is perhaps the psycholo-
gists who have been least numerous, although it would
seem that psychology, more than any other branch of
science, should be able to dissipate the heavy mist that
still surrounds the psychical sciences.

A frequent objection leveled against psychical re-
search is that one cannot see what practical value it may
have, even if it were to be brought to a satisfactory

1 It cannot be believed otherwise than that the experimental re-
searches conducted by William Crookes in certain parapsychical phe-
nomena influenced him in his conceptions of the radio-activity of
matter and of the discoveries which followed.


conclusion. No science, we are taught, has as its goal
the mere satisfaction of a purely speculative curiosity.
Scientific theories are fully justified only when their
application and the power they confer upon man assures
him the ability to enslave the forces of nature at will.
The difference between science and philosophy, or the
ancient conception and the modern, is that to-day we
expect from science not only a knowledge of reality,
but also a knowledge of the means to modify and
transform it for our own use. Said Auguste Comte :
" Know, so that you may foresee and provide."

If the psychical sciences do not meet this condition,
they will not merit the name of science.

Although we recognize the fact that science cannot
consist in a sort of intellectual dilettantism which would
have no interest in the aims of practical life, we must
also appreciate that its proper and immediate object
is, above all things, the real, and not merely the useful
or proper; and that in the interest of its own task it
should impose upon itself a provisional, relative, and
apparent disinterestedness in regard to every other ob-
ject. It is impossible for any one to anticipate what
useful applications may result from the discovery of a
truth which, at first sight, may appear thoroughly ster-
ile in practical possibilities. The scientist who would
aim systematically at the practical instead of first aim-
ing at the real, would inevitably miss the real and the

In the psychical sciences, the first group — which
includes all the hypnotic and suggestive facts — already
has been advanced sufficiently far to permit of practi-
cal applications. We do not refer to the useful con-


tribution to psychology in general for the experimental
study of the various human faculties: consciousness,
memory, will, etc. This usefulness might appear more
theoretical than practical. We do not refer even to
the services which this first group — hypnology — will
render in obtaining knowledge, in a practical way, of
the character of individuals, or in their education when
the processes of ordinary pedagogy have failed, not-
withstanding the interesting indications of Durand de
Gros and Berillon. We refer especially to medicine;
for it is here that hypnology has its most important
applications. Every one knows the remarkable results
obtained by the practitioners of the School of Nancy,
whose method is now in current use in the practise of
psycho-therapy, especially in the treatment of nervous

The other branches of psychical science are not as
yet sufficiently advanced to be capable of being util-
ized unerringly in practical ways. When, however, the
day arrives when the study of animal magnetism, sys-
tematically pursued in a scientific spirit, will confirm all
that is expected of it, it will then positively bring a
contribution to the science of therapeutics no less im-
portant than that of hypnology. For whatever exag-
gerations may be found in the stories of the marvelous
cures reported by the chroniclers of the old mesmerists,
it is perfectly evident that the facts described by them
show that the biactinic force emanating from the human
body produces some singular and powerful curative
effects. The question would be to determine with
sufficient precision the conditions in which these effects


Shall we ever be able to establish scientifically the
reality, and so be able to formulate the laws, of the
seemingly incomprehensible phenomenon of clairvoy-
ance? If in the future the reply should be in the affirm-
ative, it would not be too daring to say that there will
be found in man an organ of communication which can
be compared with telegraphy, telephony, and telepho-
tography. Already there are many who have been
asking whether it would not be possible to utilize the
clairvoyant faculty in helping the police in their investi-
gations; and particularly whether this could not be
used in time of war, to foresee the means of attack and
of defense of the enemy. But our present knowledge
of the mechanism of clairvoyance is too imperfect to
justify our risking an instrument of which we are not
quite sure. Hyloscopy, on the other hand, under the
form of actual prospecting for water and mineral de-
posits, has already entered the field of practical appli-
cations. Have not the French already used the divin-
ing-rod and the pendulum to find water wells in Al-
geria? Did not the English find, by the same means,
wells of water during the Gallipoli expedition in re-
gions thoroughly deficient in drinkable water? And
it is said that the Germans found mines in their colonial
possessions in Africa by means of the divining-rod.
If, as is asserted, the special sensitiveness which is re-
vealed by the movements of the rod or the pendulum
is to be found existent, in a latent state, in the majority
of people, it perhaps may be through this branch of
the psychical sciences that the breach will be opened
through which all the others shall pass, thereby making
it impossible to doubt the reality of influences which to


our material senses are imperceptible, yet which are
capable of being revealed to us by reactions sui generis
of our nervous system.

To go a step farther, it is not premature to conceive
the day when even the spiritoidal phenomena will be
possible of practical applications. And when that is
realized, it will mean in the affairs of men a revolution
as considerable as that produced by the applications
of steam or of electricity.

Let us suppose for one moment that it can be proved
experimentally that the strange phenomena of levita-
tion, materialization, or of distant action, such as pro-
duced by mediums like Daniel D. Home or Eusapia
Palladino, are phenomena as real as the fall of a stone,
an electrical discharge, or a chemical combination.
Let us suppose still farther that we shall be able to
prove experimentally that the cause of these effects re-
sides in a particular condensation or transformation
of a force emanating from the nervous system, and
that we shall discover the laws according to which this
force, latent in every human being, acts, develops, and
transforms itself. What then would we need in order
to derive from these theoretical constatations certain
practical consequences of extraordinary value? It
would be necessary that the laws should be such as to
enable our own will to use them for the purpose of
manipulating this force, as it already can utilize the
laws that govern steam and electricity.

It is evident that we do not know, to-day, whether
such a condition can be realized. It may be that the
productive energy of the Palladinian phenomena, owing
to its nature, escapes the control of the will, exactly as


that which produces storms and lightning, and which,
in spite of our knowledge of the laws of electricity, we
cannot and perhaps never shall be able to control at


But it might also be otherwise. In this case it would
be sufficient to condense this force artificially in order
to obtain, through the sole resources of human organ-
isms, certain mechanical, calorific, luminous, electrical
and other effects, of which it is impossible to limit a
priori the diversity and the power.

Utopia, you will say?

Perhaps! But when Galvani studied the contrac-
tions of the legs of the frogs he had suspended from
his balcony, who could foresee that the force which
manifested itself under his very eyes, in effects so
puerile, would one day, in the hands of man, circulate
ceaselessly thought, light, and motion around the globe?




Before entering upon the many special subjects
which this book will cover, it may be well to give a
general — and as exact as possible — idea of the actual
state of the psychical sciences at the present time. In
order to do this, we must first try to determine, on the
one hand, those results that may be considered as hav-
ing been acquired, and, on the other, the problems that
are still unsolved, the researches that still remain to be

It is this balance of the psychical sciences that we
shall endeavor to establish in the present chapter.


First of all, by far the most important result — ob-
tained little by little, and not without much struggle
and great effort, during the second half of the past
century — is the recognition of the existence of the psy-
chical sciences.

Just how far the domain of psychical phenomena ex-
tends, and where in that domain the field of reality
ends and that of illusion begins, are questions that still



are being debated, and will continue to be debated for
many years to come. But there are at least two points
upon which, we believe, all those capable of understand-
ing the terms fully agree :

First, the reality of psychical phenomena, 1 constitut-
ing in nature an order sui generis, undoubtedly related
to the ensemble of psychological phenomena but having
their own particular characteristics and their own pe-
culiar laws.

Second, that these phenomena can and must be ob-
jects of science; and, as such, the psychical sciences are
legitimate, as worthy of being studied as are physical,
biological, or social sciences.

Those who devote their time and labor to this study
are no longer necessarily considered as charlatans or
fools. There is in the attitude of the public — and par-
ticularly of the scientific public — regarding psychical
phenomena and the psychical sciences, a change that is
becoming more and more pronounced; and this change,
in a more or less distant future, will enable these now
imperfectly defined sciences to be definitely organized.

All the honor of this change, which is nearly a revo-
lution, must be credited to the work of the Schools of
the Salpetriere and Nancy, and to that of the English
Society, and its young sister, the American Society, for
Psychical Research — in a word, to such men as Colo-
nel de Rochas and Professors Charles Richet and

The very fact that the Academie des Sciences has ac-
cepted the foundation of a prize 2 destined to encour-

1 Called occult by Grasset, metapsychic by Charles Richet, and
parapsychic by Flournoy and the author of this book.

2 Publisher's Note: The Fanny Emden Prize. In a competitive


age psychical research concerning " suggestion, hypno-
tism, and physiological actions likely to be exerted from
a distance upon the human organism in general " is
sufficient to measure the road traversed since the com-
paratively recent time when the same Academie refused
to receive any communication relative to animal mag-
netism, relegating it to the ranks of the fourth dimen-
sion and perpetual motion. And is it not a significant
fact that such savants as d'Arsonval, Branly, and the
late Pierre Curie participated in the whole series of
experiments made in 1906 with the medium Eusapia
Palladino at the Institut General Psychologique?


A second result which appears equally to have been
acquired is the recognition that the only method that
can adequately be applied to the study of psychical
phenomena is the experimental method, such as that
used by the precise and practical Claude Bernard and
Pasteur, with the modifications of detail necessary to
adapt it to the particular conditions of this class of

Nearly all scientists agree that it is no longer a ques-
tion of forming, a priori, systematic theories as to the
universal or life fluid, or the constitution of matter or
of spirit, and from them deducing, without either ex-
periment or control, the explanation of more or less ex-
traordinary facts. It is these facts themselves which

contest, two thousand francs of this prize was awarded to Prof. Boirac
for the best work submitted to the Academie des Sciences on these
subjects. His contribution, La Psychologie inconnue, was translated
into English by Dr. W. de Kerlor, and published in America under
the title, Our Hidden Forces.


it is necessary first of all to verify, to observe, to
analyze, to classify, and then to submit to repeated and
varied experiments before patiently deducing the laws
which control them — laws always subject to revision.
That the hypothesis has its place and its role in this
method is fully recognized; but under the express con-
dition that, suggested by phenomena already known,
its object is not to give us an ingenious though sterile
explanation, but to help us in the discovery of phe-
nomena still unknown, and to enable us to produce
these phenomena by new experiments.

That which at the present time remains to be deter-
mined, and which the development of the psychical
sciences will gradually establish, is ( i ) the particular
method to be used in the study of these sciences — the
manner of observation and of experimentation espe-
cially adapted to the nature of the phenomena to be
studied — and (2) the hypotheses that will permit
experimenters to see their way clearly in their re-
searches and to advance to the point where they will
discover facts still unknown and laws still unformu-

It is necessary to review briefly the different branches
of the psychical sciences in order to show the extent
of the progress each has made. For this purpose we
may use the classification suggested in Our Hidden
Forces, 5 as it seems both practical and convenient.

3 Our Hidden Forces (La Psychologie inconnue), Emile Boirac.
Translated by Dr. W. de Kerlor. (New York: Frederick A. Stokes


The two Congresses of Experimental Psychology held
in Paris in the years 191 1 and 19 13 adopted it in ar-
ranging the program of their work; and most of the
terms comprised in it are entering more and more
into current usage among authors whose works lie in
the field of psychical sciences.

In this classification the psychical phenomena — or
parapsychic, according to the definition we have given:
" the phenomena which, produced in animate beings or
as an effect of their action, do not seem to be entirely
explicable by the laws and forces of nature already
known " — are divided into three great classes, super-
imposed one upon the other in the order of their in-
creasing complexity and difficulty, and in such way that
knowledge of the first is an indispensable condition and
an efficacious instrument in the study of those that fol-

The first of these three classes is that of hypnoidal
phenomena. These apparently may be explained by
forces already known, supposing only that these forces,
under certain conditions, operate according to laws of
which we are still ignorant, or which are known to us
only imperfectly — laws more or less different from
those which are now known. To this class belong the
phenomena of hypnotism and suggestion, especially
studied by the Schools of the Salpetriere and Nancy, and
the phenomena of dissociation of the personality which
Dr. Pierre Janet submitted to a methodical investigation
for the first time in his book, Automatisme psycholo-
gique, and carried farther in another work, Nevroses et
idees fixes. The general term hypnology may be given
to this first class of phenomena, thus reserving the term


cryptopsychism 4 for the special study of the phenomena
of subconsciousness.

The second class is that of magnetoidal phenomena.
These appear to involve the intervention of forces still
unknown, distinct from those that science has so far
discovered and studied, but of a physical nature and
more or less analogous to the radiating forces of
physics: light, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc. In
this class there are three distinct groups of phenomena,
which nevertheless are imperceptibly related to one an-
other. They are :

( i ) Animal magnetism; or, as the English aptly
call it, mesmerism.

(2) Telepsychic phenomena, comprising numerous
varieties, such as the transmission or penetration of
thought, the exteriorization of the sensitiveness, psy-
chometry, telepathy, clairvoyance or lucidity, etc.

(3) Hyloscopic phenomena, where physical mat-
ter appears to exert over animate beings, especially
human beings, an action that does not seem to be ex-
plicable by any physical or chemical properties already
known and that seems, consequently, to reveal in it a
force irreducible to any that science has studied up to
the present time. To this third group of magnetoidal
phenomena belong the effects obtained by seekers of
subterranean sources of water and metals, as demon-
strated by the rod- and pendulum-diviners who so
strongly aroused public interest during the Congress
of Experimental Psychology held in Paris in 19 13.

The third and last class is that of spiritoidal phe-

4 This term has been adopted by Prof. Flournoy in his book, Esprits
et mediums.


nomena. These also seem to imply the hypothesis of
agents as yet unknown; but in this case they are agents
of a psychological nature, more or less analogous to
human intelligence, situated, perhaps, outside of our
ordinary world, in a plane of reality exterior to that in
which we live. This class embraces all the phenomena
of spiritism or mediumism when it does not seem that
they may properly be included in either of the preceding
classes — disregarding, of course, the dogmatic asser-
tion as to their real causes.

It is in the psychical sciences of the first degree, hyp-
nology and cryptopsychism, that we find the greatest
number of results acquired — results that now are in-
contestably established. In this field we are on nearly
firm ground. More than one question of detail still
remains obscure and uncertain, but it can be said that,
on broad lines at least, these sciences are definitely con-

In spite of a few isolated cases of the old skepticism, 5
there exists no doubt as to the fact that a human being
may, under certain conditions, sink into a particular
state of torpor and automatism, where certain of his
faculties are more or less annihilated while others are
singularly exalted, and that the characteristics of this
state, called hypnotic, are more or less variable, and
are known as catalepsy, lethargy, somnambulism, etc.
There exists no doubt that suggestion — that is to say,
the human word, or, to go back to its origin, the
thought, as a species of imagination and faith — can
exercise a quasi-magical action upon not only the facul-
ties of our moral being, but also the functions of our

5 Prof. Babinski, for instance, declares that it is impossible to know
if hypnosis is not always a case of simulation.


organism. Nor can there exist any doubt that such
action is able, without our knowledge, to produce in
us beneath our conscious personality another person-
ality that is still ourselves yet appears to be some one
else : a personality that feels, thinks, and acts, entirely
without our being conscious of it except for its exterior

All these points are firmly and incontestably estab-
lished. There now remains the necessity for knowing
more precisely the determining conditions of the dif-
ferent phenomena, the study of their effects, the prac-
tical applications that may be drawn from them.

In passing to the psychical sciences of the second class
— magnetoidal phenomena — we enter a region little
explored by scientists, who have been unwilling to risk
themselves there, for fear of compromising their pro-
fessional dignity or their reputation as prudent and
serious persons. The number of results acquired in
this class, therefore, is much less considerable than in
the preceding class. Here all is more or less doubtful,
or at least invariably contested. The facts are either
denied or ignored, or else they are treated as effects of
the imagination, or attributed to fraud. In the most
favorable hypothesis they are credited to will, or to
some force that, temporarily, it is impossible to analyze
from facts of the first class.

It well seems, however, that the day may not be
very far off when science will end by recognizing the
existence of a force emanating from the human organ-
ism, really of the nerves and of the brain, and capable

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Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 2 of 22)