Theodor Flournoy

Théodore Flournoy

          PROFESSOR OF Psychology at the University of Geneva; author of perhaps the most remarkable book in the whole literature of psychic science: Des Indes a la Planete Mars (From India to the Planet Mars), Paris, 1900. This was the sensation of the year and the passage of time has in no way affected its unusual scientific worth, or mitigated its absorbing interest. It deals with the mediumship of Mlle. Hélène Smith to whose circle he was first admitted in the winter of 1894-95.

It was published at a time when the work of the SPR and Mrs. Piper's mediumship had prepared a large part of the public for an impending scientific revelation of another life. The book, written with great erudition, a vivid sense of humour and irony, destroys many spiritualistic beliefs, and throws great doubt on the ascertainability of the extra-mundane existence of the entities which communicate through mediums. Nevertheless, Prof. Flournoy admits many a puzzling phenomenon in the history of Mlle. Hélène Smith's mediumship. He found the Hindu reincarnation remarkably real and he could not offer an explanation for the knowledge of remote historical incidents and traces of the Sanscrit language. The arguments he advanced in proof that the communicators were subconscious impersonations were very impressive. He saw no reason to surrender this attitude in his subsequent Nouvelles Observations sur un cas de Somnambulisme, Geneva, 1902. 

The reality of telekinesis, telepathy and clairvoyance he did not doubt. Of the first he became convinced through his experiences with Eusapia Palladino, of the second he found sufficient proofs in the researches of the SPR. Into the question of apparitions of the dying and the dead he investigated as early as 1898 by addressing a questionnaire to the members of the Societe des Etudes Psychiques and others concerning their personal experiences. He received seventy-two replies and published his conclusions in February, 1899, in the Revue philosophique. As he did not accept the narratives at their face value he was accused of suppressing the evidence. Feeling honour-bound to publish the correspondence in extenso he included it in a later work: Esprits et Mediums, Melanges de Metapsychique et de Psychologie, Paris, 1911, translated into English under the title of Spiritism and Psychology, in the same year. It is an admirable book of reference and contains a detailed exposition of his conclusions as regards psychical research and survival. He believes in the survival of the soul, but not in experimental communications with the dead. On Mrs. Piper's mediumship and on the evidence of cross correspondences he dwells but briefly. In offering telepathy as an explanation he becomes hesitative and loses his tone of assurance. He died in 1921.

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



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