The New Society for Psychical Research
Theosophist, July, 1882
In Light for April 27th, we find the manifesto of the new Socierty which has just been organized at London under the above title. The following extracts will be read with attention, especially by our Asiatic Branches, whose lines of research, as prescribed by the President-Founder, are almost identical with these:
“It has been widely felt that the present is an opportune time for making an organized and systematic attempt to investigate that large group of debatable phenomena designated by such terms as mesmeric, psychical, and spiritualistic.
“From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations recently made by scientific men of eminence in various countries, there appears to be, amidst much illusion and deception, an important body of remarkable phenomena, which are prima facie inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis, and which, if incontestably established, would be of the highest possible value.
“The task of examining such residual phenomena has often been undertaken by individual effort, but never hitherto by a scientific society organized on a sufficiently broad basis. As a preliminary step towards this end, a Conference was held in London, on January 6th, 1882, and a Society for Psychical Research was projected. The Society was definitely constituted on February 20th, 1882, and its Council, then appointed, have sketched out a programme for future work. The following subjects have been entrusted to special Committees:
“1. An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another, apart from any generally recognized mode of perception.
“2. The study of hypnotism, and the forms of so-called mesmeric trance, with its alleged insensibility to pain; clairvoyance, and other allied phenomena.
“3. A critical revision of Reichenbach’s researches with certain organizations called sensitive, and an inquiry whether such organizations possess any power of perception beyond a highly exalted sensibility of the recognized sensory organs.
“4. A careful investigation of any reports, resting on strong testimony regarding apparitions at the moment of death, or otherwise, or regarding disturbances in houses reputed to be haunted.
“5. An inquiry into the various physical phenomena commonly called Spiritualistic; with an attempt to discover their causes and general laws.
“6. The collection and collation of existing materials bearing on the history of these subjects.
“The aim of the Society will be to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated. The founders of this Society fully recognize the exceptional difficulties which surround this branch of research; but they nevertheless hope that by patient and systematic effort some results of permanent value may be attained.
“Letters of inquiry or application for membership may be addressed to the Hon. Secretary, Edward T. Bennett, The Mansion, Richmond Hill, near London.”
It was intended, in founding the British Theosophical Society, our London Branch, to cover this exact ground, adding to it the hope of being able to work up to a direct personal intercourse with those “Great Masters of the Snowy Range of the Himavat,” whose existence has been amply proven to some of our Fellows, and, according to the Rev. Mr. Beale, ——“is known throughout all Tibet and China.” While something has, certainly, been done in that direction, yet for lack of the help of scientific men, like those who have joined to found this new Society, the progress has been relatively slow. In all our Branches there is more of a tendency to devote time to reading books and papers and propounding theories, than to experimental research in the departments of Mesmerism, Psychometry, Odyle (Reichenbach’s new Force), and Mediumism. This should be changed, for the subjects above-named are the keys to all the world’s Psychological Science from the remotest antiquity down to our time. The new Psychical Research Society, then, has our best wishes, and may count upon the assistance of our thirty-seven Asiatic Branches in carrying out their investigations, if our help is not disdained. We will be only too happy to enlist in this movement, which is for the world’s good, the friendly services of a body of Hindu, Parsi and Sinhalese gentlemen of education, who have access to the vernacular, Sanskrit, and Pali literature of their respective countries, and who were never yet brought, either by governmental or any private agency, into collaboration with European students of Psychology. Let the London savants but tell us what they want done, and we will take care of the rest. In the same connection we would suggest that the Psychical Research Society and our London and Paris Branches should open relations with the Committee of the Academy of France, just formed, or forming, to make a serious study of these very subjects, as the result of the recent experiments of Drs. Charcot, Chevillard, Burcq and other French biologists. Let us, by all means, have an international, rather than a local, investigation of the most important of all subjects of human study—PSYCHOLOGY.