Alister Hardy

Alister Hardy

     Alister Hardy, who has so significantly and so fruitfully linked biology with psychical research, was educated at Exeter College, Oxford, and was for a time one of Julian Huxley's students. He specialised in marine biology and explored on long voyages the ecology of sea creatures. Professor of Zoology at Hull University from 1928 to 1942, he returned to Oxford as Linacre Professor of Zoology from 1946 to 1961, and as Professor of Zoological Field Studies from 1961 to 1963. Gifford Lecturer from 1963-5, he founded (and directed till 1976) the Religious Experience Research Unit at Manchester College, Oxford.

In 1949 he suggested in his presidential address to the Zoological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science that telepathy was relevant to biological studies. In the SPR Journal (May/June 1950) he wrote:

'assuming the reality of telepathy ... the discovery that individual organisms are somehow in psychical connection across space is of course one of the most revolutionary ... ever made' adding that 'if we admit telepathy in man ... we must expect something akin to it to mould the patterns of behaviour among members of a species'.

In Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 50, 1953) he worked out the hypothesis that:

'there is a general subconscious sharing of a form and behaviour design, a sort of psychic blue-print between members of a species' adding that 'the mathematical plans of growth seem ... to have all the appearance of ... a pattern outside the physical world which has served as a plan for selective action by way of changing combinations of genes'.

Sir Alister's Presidential Address to the SPR (Proceedings Vol. 55, 1966) declared him to be a Darwinian and a Mendelian, accepting the evidence for the DNA chemical genetic code; but stressed the importance of adaptation, habit and behaviour as a source of evolutionary change, noting for instance that an animal species does not by chance develop webbed feet and take to the water to use them; but that members of that species which begins to dive after fish produce the most successful generations of offspring when their genes favour the development of such feet. No less did he emphasize the importance of dualism as opposed to monism of either sort; and of realizing that consciousness is a given, primary experience, not a by-product of the body's mechanisms.

The first volume of his Gifford Lectures, The Living Stream (London, 1966) related these conclusions to contemporary neo-Darwinianism; the second, The Divine Flame (London, 1967) surveyed the possible relationship between extra sensory perception and religious experience.

Among his other books are The Open Sea (London, 2 vols. 1956 and 1958); The Biology of God (London, 1975); The Spiritual Nature of Man (London, 1979) and, with Robert Harvie and Arthur Koestler, The Challenge of Chance (London, 1973).

Source (with minor modifications): The Society for Psychical Research, 1882-1982: A History by Renée Haynes (1982, Macdonald & Co (Publishers) Ltd, London).



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