Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
Another one of my articles about past developments in psychical research was just published. Following on a previous overview of the work of Swiss psychologist ThÃ©odore Flournoy, in the article commented here Nancy L. ZingroneÂ and I focus on the reception of Flournoyâs most important work: âNote on the Reception of ThÃ©odore Flournoyâs Des Indes Ã la PlanÃ¨te Marsâ (Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 2015, 79, 156-164).
As stated in the introduction:
âThe book is generally considered a classic of mediumship literature, and was devoted to the mediumship of HÃ©lÃ¨ne Smith, the pseudonym of Catherine Ãlise MÃ¼ller (1861â1929). Those who are familiar with the book . . . will be aware that Flournoy presented psychological analyses of the mediumâs phenomena. These included her control Leopold, as well as communications about her presumed previous lives in India as a princess and in France as Marie Antoinette, and her travels to and descriptions of Mars, including the development of a Martian language. At the end of his book Flournoy refers to various psychological processes that he believed explained the manifestations, such as the effect of early traumatic events on dissociation, latent emotional tendencies, the suggestibility and auto-suggestibility surrounding mediums in general, and cryptomnesia.â
âDes Indes made an impact soon after it was published. Flournoyâs case âbecame a key addition to the other paradigm cases of mediumship and multiple personality that defined the eraâ (Taylor, 2009, p. 41). For those convinced of Flournoyâs arguments, the book soon became an exemplar of psychological explanations of mediumship. But for others Des Indes represented an unwarranted and hostile analysis of mediumship.â
Some comments about the book, which was translated into English, appeared in popular publications, such as newspapers and magazines. An example was an article in the North American Review by American philosopher and psychical researcher James H. Hyslop (1900). Who wrote: âLeopold, Marie Antoinette, and the Martian inhabitant ought to have given us some evidence of personal identity, as in the âcommunicatorsâ of the Piper case, if Mlle. Smith expects us to believe in spirits, and it is their absolute failure to satisfy this demand that justifies M. Flournoyâs sceptical positionâ (p. 745).
âDes Indes, wrote anthropologist Giuseppe Serge (1841-1936) in his book Animismo e Spiritismo, should be seen as a model of research about phenomena supporting the belief of spiritists (Sergi, 1903, p. 54). In this authorâs view, while Flournoy had not explained everything, he had explained much, and his approach provided a âstarting point for research and analysisâ (p. 55).â
Praise also came from Frederic W.H. Myers. First in a review of the book published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which was later incorporated in his Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death. âIn his view Flournoy had confirmed his (Myersâs) belief that the action of the subliminal was a continuous process and not a mere sporadic action. Myers argued that it was to be expected that the subliminal mind presented such cases of âpseudo-possession,â cases similar to the action of discarnate spirits. Most of his review of Des Indes was incorporated later into his last work (Myers, 1903), in which it provided support for his conception of the subliminal mind. Here Myers referred to the case as his âculminant example of the free scope and dominant activity of the unassisted subliminal selfâ â (Myers, 1903, Vol. 2, p. 144).â
Finally, we mentioned the critiques of spiritists, among them French engineer Gabriel Delanne. He was âsceptical of the capabilities of the subconscious mind and considered Flournoy an âadversary of spiritismâ (Delanne, 1902, p. 463).
In the Revue Spirite another critic stated: âMore changing that Proteus, more subtle than X-rays, more learned that a psychologist, the âSubconsciousâ of M. Flournoy has all the skills, all the faculties, all knowledge. A child of the scientific imagination, gifted at birth with all talents by the wand of the âGlossolaliaâ fairy, it has been created to respond to all the spiritist objections, and you can be assured that it will not abandon its missionâ (Conscient, 1902, p. 187).
Overall the reception to Des Indes reflected the multiple conception of the mind existing at the time. For some psychologists it was an affirmation of the powers of non-conscious levels of the mind, and an incredible argument for spiritists, who felt threatened by Flournoyâs use of psychological ideas.
âPaying attention to the reception of Flournoyâs work both adds to our understanding of his research, and allows us to situate him in a wider historical context. By illustrating the complex way in which philosophers, physicians, and psychologistsâfrom those skeptical of the notion of spirit agency and those who defended itâthought about mediumship and the subconscious mind, we can better understand the competing interests and theoretical views that were prevalent in the era . . . Knowledge of these issues may be useful to students of intellectual history and the history of science and medicine, as well as to current students of mediumship in their attempts to evaluate the reception of modern claims about the source of such âcommunications.â â
Conscient, H. (1902). La SociÃ©tÃ© dâÃtudes Psychiques de GenÃ¨ve. Revue Spirite: Journal dâÃtudes Psychologiques, 45, 187.
Delanne, G. (1902). Recherches sur la MÃ©diumnitÃ©. Paris: Librairie des Science Psychiques.
Hyslop, J.H. (1900). âFrom India to the Planet Mars.â North American Review, 171, 734â747.
Myers, F.W.H. (1903). Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols). London: Longmans, Green.
Sergi, G. (1903). Animismo e Spiritismo. Turin: Fratelli Bocca.
Taylor, E. (2009). The Mystery of Personality: A History of Psychodynamic Theories. New York: Springer.
Ideas About ThÃ©odore Flournoyâs Classic Study of Mediumship
Ideas About ThÃ©odore Flournoyâs Classic Study of Mediumship
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