Friday, November 18, 2011

The Normal Paranormal -- Phantasms of the Living, Volume One (Part One)

(Note: the quotes included in my post below are from the rights-free version of Phantasms of the Living, by Edmund Gurney, on Google Books. The Google Books copy of Phantasms of the Living is free to download.)

In the Book of the Damned, Charles Fort mentions the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) a couple of times. On one side, he mentions how the SPR chalks up every kind of anomalous experience it considers to telepathy.

Fort assumes correctly that the SPR does this because it is trying to get readers comfortable with the idea of psychic research. So if everything can fall under one neat heading, "telepathy," it might be easier for the general reader to accept.

However, Fort disagrees with this idea. Fort finds this kind of approach to anomalous experience too narrow. Rather than finding one explanation for a number of phenomena, Fort would find one explanation for each anomalous phenomenon, or at least one explanation for each type of phenomenon.

At the same time, later in his book, Fort mentions certain members of the SPR as being the new psychologists of their age. This is more of a positive reflection on the members of the SPR.

But overall, I believe Fort kind of looked at the SPR as too restrictive in their methods. And I think that Book of the Damned, in its constant multiplication of causes for phenomena, and its usage of imagination as a source for causes -- so that anything that might be good enough for a science fiction novel would be good enough for Fort's scientific explanations -- was a reaction to the restrictiveness of the SPR.

And the SPR was restrictive. They were restrictive because they were attempting to gain the approval of the scientific community. Their first book, Phantasms of the Living, largely written by Edmund Gurney, was written at the end of four years (1882-1886) of research. These four years of research themselves followed six more years of research (1876-1882) by many members of the SPR. So, ten years before the SPR published Phantasms of the Living, they were conducting pretty rigorous research into psychic phenomena.

The SPR traces its interest in psychic phenomena to the popularization of mesmerism, or hypnotism, as we now call it. It was found that when people were in states of hypnotism, there was a certain "rapport" or "community of sensation" between the hypnotized subject and the hypnotist. In other words, the hypnotist seemed to be able to transfer thoughts to the subject, without even speaking.

However, this and other aspects of hypnotism took on a bit of an entertainment kind of quality. Hypnotists became too much like showmen. And hypnotic episodes, performed in public, became a bit too marvellous. Because of this, all the paranormal aspects of hypnotism were looked on as fraudulent.

Hypnotism actually took on a scientific use in other spheres. Some people used it as a kind of anaesthetic device during surgeries. Psychologists would later use it either to get a better understanding of certain latent functions of the mind, or else to try to get at certain mental issues that might be making people ill. But, in terms of its characteristic of "community of sensation," hypnotism was not looked at seriously.

However, in the late 1800s, a game became familiar during household parties. It was called the "willing-game." It was similar to hypnotism in the sense of involving a "community of sensation." But in the "willing-game," the subject was not hypnotized. He or she was wide awake.

In the "willing-game," one person would stand outside of a room. The people in the room would come up with an action the person outside was supposed to perform. The person outside the room would then be brought in. The group of people would all then lay hands on the person. The people would then try to will the person into doing the action they'd previously settled on.

It was obvious to many psychologists that the successes people had in performing the acts could simply have been due to the person getting unconscious messages from the group's muscular responses. Since the group of people were touching the person, the person could "read" messages -- slight tremblings, little pushes, sudden slackness -- in the group's touches. The person, if sensitive enough, could then decide to act one way or another. There would be nothing unnatural about this -- it would just be a correct interpretation of movements.

But one psychologist, a Professor William Barrett, started receiving correspondence from people who'd played versions of the willing-game which involved no touch at all. In these games, groups of people might sit perfectly still and will the person in the room to perform some sort of action. These games were much more interesting to Barrett, who went out with a number of other people who would eventually form the SPR to experiment with these groups.

After six years of this experimentation, the SPR was formed as an organization to collect data on phenomena like this, in hopes of coming to confirm its existence and, if it did exist, to understand what it was actually all about.

After four more years of conducting experiments and collecting correspondences on spontaneous phenomena, the SPR finally published the first book based on its research, Phantasms of the Living.

But the SPR itself, though it had a hard time saying this right out, was itself a reaction to Darwinism. This is interesting to me, because Charles Fort's work is largely a reaction to Darwinism.

In Fort's work, Darwin is seen as something of a systematizer. He has fashioned his theory of evolution, Fort claims, and then basically imposed it on nature. He has excluded what does not fit into his theory, and where his theory doesn't fit into nature, he reasons it away, often by using the phrase that becomes a favorite of Fort's, "a gap in the geological record," as evidence.

So Fort reacts against Darwin's exclusivist theory with an inclusionist quasi-theory. But the SPR has a different kind of reaction against Darwin. The SPR say that Darwin's theory of evolution has become a theory that can kind of fit well with any natural system:

"In evolution mankind have gained for the first time a working hypothesis which covers enough of the known facts of the universe to make possible its extension to all facts a matter of hopeful interest."

But because of this system, it was becoming more and more likely that living beings were nothing more than organic machines. "In the view of some ardent physiologists, it is becoming more and more probably that we are in fact physiological automata."

The SPR was reacting, in fact, against this materialistic viewpoint of humanity. In fact, another SPR member, F.W.H. Myers, claims in the preface to Phantasms of the Living, "The utmost I anticipate is, that they [the phenomena evidenced in the book] may afford a solid basis of general evidence to the independence of man's spiritual nature, and its persistence after death."

But the SPR also seemed to be reacting against Darwin because, as they saw it, it created, in a spirit-less world, a world where mediocrity was the ideal to be looked for, as opposed to nobility and achievement:

"'Mad-doctors' tend to supplant theologians, and the lives of lunatics are found to have more lessons for us than the lives of saints. ... [This] ideal of mere sanity [comes] to look on any excessive emotion or fixed idea, any departure from balanced practicality, with distrust or disfavor -- and classes genius itself as a neurosis."

"But if the materialistic theory be the true one, these limitations of ideal might well be adopted even by men who would deeply regret what they were renouncing."

In fact, Phantasms of the Living, is all about Phantasms -- which might be interpreted as spirits. Myers, in his preface to the book (which is mostly written by Edmund Gurney), states that the SPR studied correspondence it received from the general public:

"On reviewing the evidence thus obtained, we were struck with the great predominance of alleged apparitions at or near the moment of death. And a new light seemed to be thrown on these phenomena by the unexpected frequency of accounts of apparitions of living persons, coincident with moments of danger or crisis."

Later on, Edmund Gurney gives the theme of the book, which seems further to delineate Myers' statement:

"The main theses of this book, then, are now capable of being stated in a very simple form:

I. Experiment proves that telepathy -- the supersensory transference of thoughts and feelings from one mind to another -- is a fact in nature.

II. Testimony proves that phantasms (impressions, voices, or figures) of persons undergoing some crisis -- especially death -- are perceived by their friends and relatives with a frequency which mere chance cannot explain.

III. These phantasms, then, whatever else they may be, are instances of the supersensory action of one mind on another. The second thesis therefore confirms, and is confirmed by, the first."

So this book is about "phantasms" of people appearing to other people while the people are still alive. The book is about "phantasms," "apparitions," -- ghosts, spirits. It is a book about spirits. It is a book showing the evidence of spirits -- but under the guise of telepathy.

So -- looked at one way, the SPR's interest in psychic phenomena were sparked by the interesting occurrences during mesmeric performances, and furthered along by the interesting events taking place during the parlor-party "willing-games." This led the SPR from a neutral, disinterested standpoint to a more interested involvement in psychic phenomena.

But -- looked at another way, the SPR's interest in psychic phenomena came from a direct reaction against the scientific current of the day: the apparently spirit-killing materialism inspired by Darwin's theory of natural selection.

But people in general took to Darwin's theory (or, rather, the theory of evolution, more so, I believe, than the theory of natural selection) as a reaction against religion, which people were now looking on with scepticism. Scientists in particular took a haughty attitude toward religion or anything that might have to do with religion, such as spiritualism and psychic phenomena.

So the SPR felt like they had to be very scientific in their approach to their research. They couldn't approach it as if they were dealing with spiritual or mystical phenomena. They could hardly deal with it as something anomalous, because they had to stay as close to the natural world as they possibly could.

In fact, although the book is largely a series of testimonies regarding various people's personal experiences with the spontaneous perceptions of the phantasms of people who are in a moment of crisis or near-death, the first part of the book is all about experimental telepathy.

After F.W.H. Myers' philosophical preface, the book spends a certain amount of time talking about the history of mesmerism and the "willing-game," then moves directly into the work the SPR has done with experimental telepathy -- actual instances where thought-transference has been attempted through things like card games, drawing experiments, and automatic writing experiments.

After the section on experimental telepathy, the book moves into a "transition phase" of phenomena of telepathy. This chapter seems almost entirely designed to show that the spontaneous phenomena which apparently take up the rest of the book could possibly be duplicated in an experimental way, though it would be extremely hard to make it happen with a good degree of predictability.

And after this section, Gurney spends a whole chapter more discussing all the possible sources of error that can come from the relation of spontaneous experiences of phantasms of the living. He gives a whole apology for the science of psychical research and discusses all the safeguards the SPR has taken against error in its judgment of spontaneous experiences.

So this book, which is a collection of testimonies of spontaneous mystical phenomena, begins with a scientific section that really takes up one-third of the first volume of this two-volume work (both volumes together come to about 1,300 pages). The book is dealing with an obviously mystical subject, but prefaces the subject as scientifically and non-mystically as it can -- because it wants -- justifiably! -- to deal with the subject in a scientific way, and to recognized with some degree of esteem from the scientific community.

So they had to keep an attitude of scientific rigour. "As observations are accumulated, different fair minds will give in at different points; and until the most exacting are satisfied, our task will be incomplete."

The SPR was understandably concerned in keeping its subject scientific and in appealing for understanding from the rest of the scientific community. Nevertheless, I believe that because of this concern and appeal, the SPR was, in some points, overly stringent in its expression of the matter. And I think it sometimes took a view that was restrictive, too the point of being snobbish and completely unimaginative. This is illustrated in two good passages:

"In proportion as the expert moderates his tone, and makes his forecasts in a tentative and hypothetical manner, it is true that those who are not experts will wax bold in assertion and theory."

This seems to go directly against any sort of imaginative boldness which might lead to the creation of new theories.

And:

"Wherever the expert can put his foot down, and assert or deny with assurance, the uninstructed instinctively bow to him."

This statement strikes me most definitely as a type of elitism of knowledge. Furthering this ideal of elitism of knowledge, Gurney says that the student of physics, versus the student of psychic phenomena:

"is marked out from his neighbors by the very fact of dealing with subject matter which they do not know how even to begin to talk about. The 'psychicist' is not so marked out. His subject matter is in large measure common property."

The SPR believes that the rest of the scientific community sees its subject matter as an object of scorn for scientists because it is "common property," as opposed to specialized, technical knowledge. But, in order to gain the approval and esteem of the scientific community, the SPR intends to change this:

"The endeavor of this book, almost throughout, is to deal with themes that are in a sense familiar, by the aid, partly, of improved evidential methods, but also partly of concepts which have as yet no place in the recognized psychology."

This supplicating attitude taken toward the rest of the scientific community makes the SPR, largely through Edmund Gurney, in this book, express its ideas in a highly legalistic kind of phrasing, which sometimes makes the book, which is actually full of really interesting stuff, very hard to read and occasionally kind of boring.

But, interestingly, the SPR adds one more aspect of caution to its outlook. It doesn't want the phenomena it studies to be compared with witchcraft.

In fact, the SPR seems to prefer, in my opinion to look at witchcraft, as well as "fraudulent" religions, such as Theosophy and Mormonism, as the things against which science is turning. It doesn't seem to want to think that Christianity might be another religion that science is attempting to turn its back on. My favorite author, George Bernard Shaw, saw this, however, as did many others.

But the SPR seems to make a concerted effort to distance itself from witchcraft. The beginning of the fourth chapter, the chapter on safeguards against error, begins with a small discussion of witchcraft. And right after the fourth chapter, before the actual body of the work finally gets underway, there is a special section entitled "A Note on Witchcraft."

The SPR doesn't take much notice of Christianity at all, it seems to me. And it only mentions "fraudulent" religions in one or two glancing sentences. It mentions some of the spiritualist events in history, like the psychokinetic or poltergeist phenomena of the Fox sisters in America, only briefly. And, although the SPR discusses mesmerism, it takes mesmerism as a point in its own development. It looks at mesmerism as a method which got caught up in glamour and unfortunately became too outrageous to believe.

So why is there so much focus on witchcraft? I believe it's because witchcraft is considered to be sinister -- and, though people don't often think about it -- people often look at psychic powers in general as having a sinister element.

Of course they do. Psychic powers, for the time being, and maybe for all time, will have some connection to the undercurrent of the unconscious. And the unconscious always has its shadow side. Because of its shadow side, the unconscious produces things we don't approve of. Sometimes we may even think of our unconscious actions as evil. Other times we may simply think of them as "tricky," "pranksterish," or just plain "dopey."

But the fact is that the unconscious has an uncanny side that we find very hard to deal with in our conscious lives. And -- if not always, then at least while the psychic powers of mankind are in their current deplorable state of underdevelopment -- any manifestation of psychic powers, being connected so strongly with the unconscious, will always stand a chance of manifesting the uncanny side, be it dopey, pranksterish, or sinister.

That witchcraft was seen, in the 1880s, to be sinister, is a reasonable assumption. Even today many people see witchcraft as being sinister. But the SPR didn't attempt to counteract the perception of witchcraft as sinister. Instead, they attempted to neutralize the power witchcraft had altogether.

The "Note on Witchcraft" was written by Frank Podmore, and largely goes to prove that the wilder events alleged to have happened during the era of the witchcraft trials actually never happened. In Podmore's opinion, based on his reading of over 260 books on witchcraft, he says, there were no verifiable, first-hand accounts of any of the really marvellous occurrences of witch-magic. Podmore asserts that:

"The main burden of proof seems really to rest on about four cases."

These cases are of a woman who turned guests at her lodging house into donkeys; a man who wounded three cats, only to have three women turn up later on claiming to have received wounds from him; a man pursued as a wolf; and a man who cut off a wolf's paw, only to come back to the home where he was staying as a guest, and finding his host's wife missing a hand.

Podmore says that these "same cases keep on re-appearing in one work after another." He looks to the record, even for spurious cases. But, he says, "we can only take the record that we find, and it is as monotonous as it is meagre."

Later on, Podmore again marvels on the paucity of original data. "If thousands of wise and grave discerners saw the incredible marvels with their own eyes, how is it that in not a single case has the record been preserved?"

Podmore's answer, like Gurney's at the beginning of the chapter of guarding against error, is that none of the more marvelous alleged events of the witchcraft era ever happened. So there was, really, nothing sinister to be afraid of.

Gurney's discussion of witchcraft at the beginning of the fourth chapter gives an interesting discussion on fact and fraud. According to Gurney, during the witchcraft trials, the people who gave testimony against people alleged to be witches were generally uneducated people -- commoners. The educated people were generally the ones who had to judge.

But the educated people, although they'd seem to be too wise (being not-common and educated and all) to believe in witchcraft, were confronted with a dilemma. They either had to believe the testimony as fact, or dismiss it as fraud. But fraud seemed too hard to believe. Why? Gurney answers:

"The previous character of many of the persons involved, the aimlessness of such a fraud, the vast scale of conspiracy which would have had to be organized in order to impose it on the world, and above all the fact that many of the witnesses brought on themselves nothing but opprobium and persecutions by their statements, made it practically impossible to doubt that the testimony was on the whole honestly given. Fraud, then, being excluded, there remained nothing but to believe the facts genuine."

But Gurney works up to a third option, that the educated people of the witchcraft-trial era didn't see: delusion. The people weren't giving fraudulent testimony: they were giving deluded testimony, based on their natural, sane, but impaired, perceptions of the world around them.

To further drive a wedge between the common people, or the uneducated, and the educated, or the ruling class, Gurney states that the uneducated actually have a tendency, not, in all cases, to have deluded visions, but at least to remember their perceptions in such deluded ways as to imply something like retroactive hallucinations. In two rather offensive passages, Gurney explains this:

"We know now that there is a condition, capable often of being induced in uneducated and simple persons with extreme ease, in which any idea that is suggested may at once take sensory form, and be projected as an actual hallucination."

And:

"The imagination which may be unable to produce, even in feeble-minded persons, the belief that they see things that are not there, may be quite able to produce the belief that they have seen them -- which is all, of course, that their testimony implies."

So the uneducated are prone to delusions. But they don't actually have enough imagination to have delusions. And they can only trick themselves into saying that they've seen things while they are giving testimony -- to educated people!

Okay... And what was the fault of the educated people? It was, apparently, not being as educated as the educated people of Gurney's day:

"What the educated and intelligent believers did was to accept from others, as evidence of objective facts, statements which were really only evidence of subjective facts. And this they did naturally and excusably, because they lived at a time when the science of psychology was in its infancy, and the necessary means of correction were not within their reach."

I find this statement really nice and elegant. But I also find it simply panders to the scientific people from whom the SPR wants approval. It also wants, I believe, to paint a picture of psychic science as something that needs to stop being "common property" and needs instead to be a specialized branch of knowledge, like the sanctum sanctorum of physics.

But -- really, what Gurney's trying to do here, I believe, is cordon off any aspect of the sinister in psychic phenomena so that scientific researchers don't have to worry about it. Like I said before, I believe the reason such a big effort is made in the book to break psychic research's connection with witchcraft is that people see psychic phenomena, like witchcraft, to have a sinister side.

Earlier on in the book, Gurney obliquely addresses the sinister side of psychic phenomena. He says that people fear telepathy because people are afraid of having their private thoughts read without their will. Gurney says that people think that telepaths are people gifted with the ability to probe the secrets of other peoples minds.

Gurney works to neutralize this fear, just like he works to neutralize the fear people have of witches:

"The experiments involve, in fact, the will of two persons; and of the two minds, it is rather the one which reads that is passive and the one which is read that is active."

So, at least in experimental situations, the sensitive person, the telepath, is the passive person. The telepath has no power, per se, other than the power of being extremely passive. There is, therefore, nothing to worry about with the telepath. The telepath is too passive to have an effectively sinister side.

In fact, I believe that Gurney's attempts to make psychical research a specialized branch of study, as opposed to something that is "common property," aren't based on any beliefs in the necessity, say, for the stratification of society. Rather, I think Gurney is attempting to narrow the world of psychic research into something that is no longer scary for scientists.

I'm not claiming scientists are easily made afraid of things. But scientists do seem to dread disorder and the uncanny. And I think that Gurney and the SPR are trying to eliminate as much need for that dread as they can for the scientists. They are trying to create a clean world for psychic research. Unfortunately, the world of clean, scientific classification and method also often seems, of necessity, hierarchical.

So Gurney often assumes a hierarchical attitude. In doing so, he makes leering references to "common property" psychic knowledge, such as the testimony of the uneducated regarding witchcraft, and the sensational newspaper stories of psychic phenomena, which, Gurney, often laments, aren't even first- or second-hand stories, but stories so far removed from the original that the SPR couldn't even find the person who'd allegedly had some of these experiences.

I love Gurney's idea of sensational newspaper stories, though, and I found, as I read this first third of the first volume of Phantasms, that my favorite stories, outside of the witchcraft stories, actually came from the spurious stories Gurney mentions in the fourth chapter.

But I also find it interesting that Gurney mentions sensational newspaper stories. This, again, puts the SPR in connection with Charles Fort. Fort drew on newspapers, as well as scientific journals, almanacs, etc., for his evidence. And though much of his evidence came directly from scientists of various kinds, other evidence came from people Gurney shudders to recognize evidence from, such as railway operators and sailors. Gurney even once says:

"Nautical phantasms are not a favorite class of ours; the evidence is too apt to 'suffer a sea-change"; and even the guarantee offered to us in respect of another specimen, that 'the crew had no difficulty in believing it,' is not completely reassuring."

But Gurney connects himself, in the fourth chapter, again more favorably with Charles Fort. Of course, one of Fort's pet ideas is that as science, like any other system, develops, evolves, it becomes more inclusive -- it becomes more complex, so that it can accept more phenomena and exclude less.

Gurney himself makes a similar comment:

"There is, of course, a line -- and every age will have its own line -- beyond which it would be impossible for anyone who wished to be thought sane and educated to go."

Gurney follows this by saying:

"But short of this line there is always a range of ideas and beliefs as to which opinion is divided -- which it is perfectly allowable to repudiate, and which science may treat with scorn, but which it is not a sign of abnormal ignorance or stupidity to entertain."

In this sense, I like Gurney's idea more than I like Fort's. I believe that Gurney's idea allows a lot more room for grey area, for indeterminacy. Fort's system is all inclusionism, but his system is so rigidly, idiosyncratically his, that it's hard to find a way to make it into something more universal.

Although Fort encourages people to come up with their own systems, since Fort is the one who's gathered the data for us, he influences our system-forming process. But he's so rigidly idiosyncratic. Gurney, although narrow in his scientific restrictions, allows freedoms that Fort doesn't allow, because Fort has so arbitrarily to assign his phenomena with causes.

Gurney, in this sense, benefits from having a scientific method on his side. He avoids overly theorizing. And, in doing so, he allows the phenomena to speak for themselves. What he does, rather than theorize on the phenomena, is to characterize them.

In fact, Gurney's argument is that the instances of spontaneous telepathy all form a part of one natural group of phenomena. Gurney says this natural group has "one general characteristic -- an unusual affection of one person, having no apparent relation to anything outside him except the unusual condition, otherwise unknown to him, of the other person."

In the case of the phenomena in Phantasms of the Living, the "unusual affection" is the perception of the phantasm or apparition of a person at a distance, when the person is going through some kind of crisis, possibly even death.

Because these phenomena all fall into one natural group, Gurney says that they all likely have one single cause. Gurney takes this as an argument against the people who, he says, answer psychic research with an "a priori" disbelief. Gurney argues that the people who have an "a priori" disbelief in psychic phenomena will take pains to find specific arguments against each and every case submitted. This eventually leads to a multiplication of causes, less tidy than the statement psychic researchers give of the one cause of this one natural group of phenomena.

"Common-sense persists in recognizing that when phenomena, which are united by a fundamental characteristic and have every appearance of forming a single natural group, are presented to be explained, an explanation which multiplies causes is improbable, and an explanation which multiplies improbable causes becomes, at a certain point, incredible."

This argument is, in my opinion, a lot more workable than Fort's, although it seems, again, to be diametrically opposed to Fort's statement that he finds the evidence and fits new notions to it.

But the SPR's research doesn't limit the variety of evidence: it simply characterizes it.

"The narratives are very various, and their force is derived from very various characteristics."

One natural group, with one common cause. The cause doesn't have to be worried about for the time being, the SPR claims. But the natural group, with its common cause, can have, and thrive on having, various characteristics. This is a lot more inclusive an ideal than the SPR seems to have in a lot of its other apology.

Gurney actually seems to claim the importance of psychic phenomena as "common property." Psychic ability is not limited to a few people, but is probably an ability all people have to some degree.

"Experiments with a comparatively small number of subjects [like the SPR's thought-transference experiments], however conclusive we may consider them as to the existence of a special faculty, afford no means of judging how commmon that faculty may be. If it exists, we have no reason to expect it to be extremely uncommon."

So, in this case, amateur evidence and amateur experiments are actually helpful to the SPR. And the SPR notes that many of these amateur experiments have been intelligently conducted, observing the SPR's conditions and controls. So, again, this is a science, which, in spite of being specialized, also has the ability to be "common property."

Gurney even encourages more people to conduct their own experiments:

"The necessary material for experimentation is not of extreme rarity. If what has been here said induces a wider and more systematic search for this material, and increased perseverance in following up all indications of its existence, a very distinct step will have been taken towards the general acceptance of facts."

Again, beyond requesting testimony of experiments, Gurney continues to call on people, from all walks of life, to give testimony of spontaneous experiences of psychic phenomena to the SPR:

"If telepathy is a reality, examples of it may be trusted to go on occurring; and with the increase of intelligent interest in psychical research we may hope that the collection and verification of good first-hand evidence will eventually become easier, and that the necessity of careful contemporary records, and of capable attestation, will be more widely perceived."

This statement seems to broaden out into something F.W.H. Myers says in the first chapter of the book, that humanity might now be experiencing an "awakening into consciousness of some inherited and instinctive need." This is a very inclusive statement, and it matches the collective-consciousness feeling that I believe permeates a lot of Fort's Book of the Damned.

But this statement of Myers is preceded by an even more mystical, and more Fortean, statement: "It is no longer an unsupported dream but a serious scientific possibility, that if any intelligences do in fact exist other than those of living men, influences from those intelligences may be conveyed to our own mind, and may either remain below the threshold of consciousness, or rise into definite consciousness, according as the presence or absence of competing stimuli, or other causes as yet unkknown to us, may determine."

I am sorry that this entry has been largely based on the philosophical or theoretical parts of my reading. As I said, I read basically the first third of the first volume of Phantasms of the Living, and this post has been my reaction to that section.

But -- what I've neglected -- or not had the skill -- to include in my post is all the wonderful examples. The first third of the volume is full of stories of experiments. Some of the experiments are clinical, like laboratory experiments. Others are rather spontaneous, and involve people in houses, at parties, etc. The stories themselves have a value of their own, in that they paint wonderful portraits of life, largely British life, at the end of the nineteenth century.

But I was, unfortunately, more interested, for this post, in some of what I felt were the implications of the theories of the SPR. They really seem to have affected Charles Fort's thought, inspiring him to come up with a completely different, yet valid, way of looking at anomalous phenomena. And so I wanted to explore these theories of the SPR and relate them, however my poor skill would allow me, with the theories of Fort.