Tag Archive: mediums


Uri Geller – part 4

Uri Geller.

The scientific approach to telepathy is more than a hundred years old now.  Its great ancestor is the Frenchman Richet, the first President of the Union metapsychique internationale.  From the beginning of the XXth Century, he untiringly leads the investigation through all those who manifest clairvoyancy gifts, and analyses the diverse cases with the aim of finding, in a rigorous manner, the mechanisms of thought transmission, of the “sixth sense”, as it was then called.  But he also gives a global explanation, by a poetic comprehension of the matter, breathing in unison with the Conscious.  A Conscious which is in permanent expansion in the Universe, and which transmits “all the vibrations of reality” to thinking people.  He thus opens the way for the American Rhine, who proves that distance does not alter the telepathic message, and that, on the contrary, it is at a distance of 500 kilometres or more that perception is at its best.  If telepathy is not affected by Space, is it affected by Time?  Rhine then asks.  He proves that it is not, and that certain messages are received before they are even emitted.  This is the case for Uri Geller, who directly perceives images which appear on a television screen.  This is no longer telepathy, but clairvoyance.  The paranormal information arrives without there being any need for it to pass through a person who emits this information.

***

The crucial question of knowing when an experiment begins and when it ends is therefore a stumbling block in the bewildering problem of precognition.  Until then, attempts had been made to explain telepathy by the schema of radio wave function.  A very limited schema, by the way, for all telepathic exchanges are sooner or later infiltrated by clairvoyance:  when Rhine asks his telepaths to read cards bearing symbols such as a cross, a circle or a star, it frequently happens that the subject perceives the preceding or the following card.  As the person is not looking at the cards at this moment, it is necessarily a sort of divination which, for the moment, is totally inexplicable…

***

The Russians were the most advanced in this domain.  They worked a lot on precognition, notably to try to teach pilots of space vessels to detect obstacles in the sideral vacuum, or enemy rockets, by precognition.

***

The Americans multiplied their experiments, but seem to have remained at the hypothetical stage.  Targ and Puthoff, notably, have worked with extraordinarily gifted clairvoyants.  Certainly more gifted than Geller.  The most prodigious was certainly Ingo Swann, a New York artist.  He could describe places that he had never seen.  Targ and Puthoff indicated geographical longitudes and latitudes to him, Ingo settled himself comfortably on a sofa and immediately began:

“2 degrees South, 34 degrees East…, I’m above a big stretch of water, it’s a lake, the altitude is high…”

These co-ordinates are those of Lake Victoria.

“64 degrees North, 19 degrees West…, I’m above the ocean, I see a volcano in the South-East…”

These co-ordinates indicate a point above the Atlantic, twenty miles from the Hekla volcano.

“60 degrees North, 90 degrees West, I’m in the middle of the sea but I see pine trees to the North.”

The co-ordinates of Hudson Bay.

***

The researchers thought at first that this was a simple case of telepathy but they found that telepathy had nothing to do with it.  They put together a fabulous project that they baptised SCANATE, which roughly means “exploration by co-ordinates”.  Their principal objective was precisely to mix up all possible telepathic influences, and this is how they went about it:  firstly, all the targets around the world were chosen by the ordinary employees of the Stanford Research Institute, and by researchers belonging to other laboratories.  Right to the end, those who were participating in the experiment were kept in ignorance of the chosen co-ordinates.  Lastly, the researchers had details described to them which were not found on any map, such as houses, pylons, bridges…

One day, a physicist stationed at the other end of the United States, and completely sceptical about the eventual results of the project, was asked to telephone the following co-ordinates:  49 degrees 20 minutes South, 70 degrees 14 minutes East.  On his orange sofa – a colour that inspired him – Ingo Swann immediately began.

“I see an island and a mountain rising through a layer of clouds.  The terrain is rocky, little plants are growing there…  There are a lot of clouds and it is very cold…  I see buildings arranged symmetrically.  One is orange, it is dominated by a radar antenna and a round disc…”

Ingo then starts to draw a map, which he comments like this:

“Night is falling.  There is an orangey light in the West where I see hills.  To the North, I see a landing-strip and to the East, far away, the ocean.  Now I’m at the edge of the water…  waves are breaking over the rocks, and now there appears to me a basin of sand traversed by a river with many birds flying over it.  Oh!  A high cliff, and a promontory…  Over there, a lighthouse perhaps…  But I really don’t feel like flying over this rocky zone, which is, by the way, very indistinct!”

The map that the paragnostic had drawn was that of the French island of Kerguelen, in the Southern Indian Ocean, and its outline is much more precise than that done by Cook two centuries earlier, or by Tremarec, who discovered the island…  Of course, all the details mentioned are exact, as a very detailed enquiry was able to determine later…

***

Dr Charles Richet was one of the foremost physiologists of his time.

No explanation has been given.  However, since this study, we know that this form of vision at a distance is suscitated by the right hemisphere of the brain.  We already knew that both hemispheres of the brain had functions and aptitudes which were completely different from each other.  The left is specialised in analytical and logical activities, the right, in intuition, and the global and poetic comprehension of things.  And, above all, the left hemisphere better measures Space, the right, Time.  Space and Time are the fundamentals of the Conscious, and the brain has an equal need to apply both of its parts to them.  This well proves that, for the most difficult problems presented to the human species, the scientist needs the artist, and that no creative work is possible without the complementarity of the rational and the intuitive.  Charles Richet’s genius was to understand, as early as 1908, that his hypotheses would remain, for the essential, “buried in darkness”, if he couldn’t manage to embrace this “immense intelligence, on the surface of which we live” by scientific experimentation.  It is true that this winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine had begun his career by writing an excellent book of poetry.

***

To be continued.

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Uri Geller – part 3

Uri Geller.

Uri Geller manages to capture images sent to him via a television screen or from a calculator’s memory.  The person who loads the machines does not know what the image is.  Uri manages to receive the images anyhow, although with less clarity.  This is a troubling innovation:  does it mean that he doesn’t need a human intermediary to read the image?  The experiment is pursued in this sense.  A researcher places an object inside one of the ten film containers spread out over the table.  Uri has to identify the one which contains it, without touching anything.  Whether the object is a magnet, a ball bearing, sugar or water, he designates the right container twelve times out of twelve.  Then a dice is placed in a metal classer, which someone shakes energetically.  Like the other telepathy experiments, Geller is allowed to “pass” a certain number of times.  Out of ten answers to be given, he passes twice and guesses eight times the number on the dice.  The probability of luck in this experiment:  one chance in a million.

Because the Stanford Research Institute‘s team is composed only of serious and competent people, who are laying their reputations on the line with this type of experimentation, their conclusions are more than prudent.  Apart from the absolutely uncontestable experiments in telepathy, they only talk about Uri Geller and a “chain of coincidences”.  Other men of science who have worked with the Israeli speak in the same terms about the phenomena that he declenches, because the state of Science and its language are still incapable of reporting it properly.  Targ and Puthoff repeated the experiment once more, several years after having met Geller.

One evening in 1975, when they are passing through Washington, one of their colleagues from the East Coast, asks them to drop everything and meet him.  Although they are already late, the two men accept to receive him in their hotel room.  The scholar arrives out of breath, and shows them a series of recent photographs on which Uri is trying to bend a bar of iron.  On several of these photographs, above his head, an arm in a sleeve of light material is clearly visible.

Very impressed, Russel Targ and Harold Puthoff try humour:

“That must be the famous arm which always comes, when needed, to help Uri!”

Their colleague does not at all feel like laughing.  He recounts that, a few days after having taken these photos, the photographer awoke in the middle of the night.  An arm was floating above his bed.  It appeared terribly real, this arm, dressed in a sleeve of light grey material.  And on top of that, it ended in a hook.  Puthoff jokes:

“An extra-terrestrial, perhaps, or one of Venus de Milo’s arms.”

He looks at his watch.  It is nearly midnight.  Suddenly, the three men distinctly hear the sound of a key in the lock.  The door opens and a man enters the room.  And this man, who is wearing a light grey suit, has only one arm.

In fact, he is just a client of the hotel who had previously occupied this room, and thought that his luggage was still inside.  A simple coincidence therefore, another one, which has taken a slightly poetic turn this night.  Poetry which, according to Eddington, Einstein’s friend, is particularly adapted to the comprehension of today’s physics.  Physics which seem to obey the pre-established, rational conception that we have of them a lot less now, than they do a series of chance events, which make possible today, phenomena which appear to be quite startling…

***

We don’t hear a lot about Uri Geller today.  Some people say that he was just a clever mystifier of the 1970’s.  They are completely wrong.  It is possible that his gifts one day disappeared, as quickly as they had come, notably telekinesis.  This faculty is in fact intimately connected to stages of life:  it culminates in adolescence and totally disappears at mature age.  Illnesses, a bad function of sexual or thyroid glands, can also perturb it.  In 1972, when Targ and Puthoff are testing Uri, he is twenty-five.  He impresses the two physicists so much, that they completely turn their backs on their speciality, quantum electronics, to consecrate themselves to the study of parapsychology.  At the Stanford Research Institute, nobody thinks that they are crazy.  On the contrary.  The State even gives them an important grant for their research.

***

They are right, however, to be wary of Geller’s gifts as well as of chance.  In the example of the playing cards, there could have been a manufacturing fault.  These sorts of coincidences, as improbable as they are, give enormous problems to scientists who are interested in parapsychology.  Arthur Koestler, the author of Zero et l’Infini, talks at length on it.  But for him, it is very hazardous to conclude, in the case of the damaged cards, that it was entirely due to coincidence.  For him, this incident, as modest as it is, reminds us that universal order covers all activity, and that it is only the present and temporary limits of our minds which prevent us from finding the connection between the man and the event, the pack of damaged cards and the fact that it was precisely into Uri’s hands that this strange pack of cards arrived that night…

***

Geller’s exhibitionist side is a moral problem which has nothing to do with his paranormal gifts.  All of the great paragnostics are exhibitionists, and most of them cheat as well, sometimes.  Because they impose such tension on their willpower, that the awaited phenomenon must be produced.  If it isn’t, the consequences can be dramatic for their psychism, which is already sorely tried.  As for the experiments which took place over six weeks at the S. R. I., Targ and Puthoff used the most sophisticated controlling instruments available to track Uri’s telekinetic powers, and possess kilometres of film which prove their reality.  For the moment, they have not been able to draw any scientific laws from them.  But they are convinced that these phenomena obey hidden harmonies.  It is good that the mind discovers only slowly the vertiginous gulfs that they cover.  Because reason would otherwise be swallowed up in them…

***

To be continued.

Uri Geller – part 2

Uri Geller.

The magnometre measuring Uri Geller’s magnetic field shows that it is close to that of the Earth.  The apparatus comports two pens which permit the notation of the variations in measure onto a graph.  These steel pens have turned over and have largely scratched the graph’s support.  The whole team decides to celebrate this first success by a lunch.  For Uri, the psychokinetic effects which have been produced in the laboratory cannot just cease.  All those seated around the table this day have the privilege of stirring the sugar into their coffee with a completely twisted object, vaguely resembling a spoon.  After what had happened to the “Stop” sign, this is nothing, and Uri wants to go further.  He sees a group of people working in a neighbouring laboratory, near a television set testing visualisation by ultra-sounds.  A system which allows you to see inside bodies, without using dangerous X-rays…  Uri thanks the researchers for his lunch and says that he wants to play a little trick, although he doesn’t know whether or not it will work.

Followed by the whole team, he arrives at about four metres from the television screen and concentrates, while putting himself into a boxer’s guard position.  Before the stunned researchers, he shouts:

“Up!  Down!…  Up!  Down!…”

The researchers are even more stunned to see the image going up and down on the screen, docily obeying the paragnostic’s orders…

So as to leave nothing to chance or… to any possible strategy from Uri, they make him repeat his “number” that afternoon, but this time with an ultra-perfected control dispositive:  he sends the image in all directions, in exactly the same way…  But will he be able to clear the following obstacle, which appears to the scholars to be redoubtable in its simplicity?  He has to try to influence, at a distance, an electric scale, on the plateau of which a weight of one gramme has been placed.  This weight is covered with an aluminium box and the whole is placed under a glass bell, to eliminate the effects of any draughts.  Uri concentrates intensely for a long time.  On the measuring apparatus, there is no doubt:  he has managed to suscitate gains and losses of weight of about one gramme.  But above all, he has emitted sound signals, in the form of vibrations of one fifth of a second, that a magnet was able to receive.  The problem is that, for weeks, they tried by diverse methods, notably charges of static electricity, to imitate the vibrations obtained by Geller.  Not only did they not succeed, but no-one until now, at the Stanford Research Institute or elsewhere, during similar experiments, has been able to explain the exact nature of these signals, nor how Uri is able to produce them…

This emission of waves or signals brings us straight back to telepathy.  Uri does not hold it in very high estime, for “everyone can be telepathic”  he says, which is true in a way.  But those who manage to read complex visual messages are very rare, and our physicists well know that telepathy is the only parapsychological domain where systematic experimentation has led to scientific certitude.  So, just to please him, they propose a few more tests aimed at exorcising his poltergeist.  But with the hope of quickly locking him up in their famous space capsule.  First of all, they affront him with a laser beam, whose position is controlled to the hundredth of a millimetre by photographic detectors.  If he manages to deviate the beam ever so slightly, the result will be inscribed on a graph.  Geller has understood and puts himself in his guard position again.

“I have to move that little pen…  All right, let’s do it!… “

He holds out his fist and after about ten seconds of extraordinary tension, the pen transpierces the graph’s paper and lacerates it over its whole length.  And as, with Uri, a prodigy never comes alone, the amplis of both of the recording canals go up in smoke.

Over the whole of these six weeks, the deregulation and destruction of all kinds of apparatus will be continual.  One day, Uri is filmed making figure eights with rings locked up in a box.  Suddenly, a detonation shakes the camera.  The operator opens it and sees that a cog has disappeared, entangling one hundred metres of film.  The man swears that such an incident is impossible, and in any case, it is the first time in his career that he has seen anything like this…  The following day the cog is found.  It had been projected behind the easel for blowing-up photographs in the dark-room…  While he is at it, Uri manages to deviate the needle of a compass and, at the price of tremendous effort, which exhausts him for several days, he makes a big ball bearing turn…

Before all of these marvels, the scholars are ecstatic…  But they are not forgetting that they are men of science and that, to make sense of these prodigies, they must conform to the austere necessities of experimental method.  For in the so spectacular and poetic manifestations of psychokinesis, the phenomena could also come from a failure of the material, that is to say by coincidence.  As improbable as this may be in the Geller case, this possibility cannot be excluded by a scientist worthy of the name, and for the Targ-Puthoff team, the time of hors-d’oeuvre and recreation is over…

Uri Geller receives by telepathy the image of an object, drawn by an unknown person, and reconstitutes it on a blackboard.

Not without reticence, the Israeli finally consents to enter the “message chamber”, a room with metal walls, garnished with a thick, isolating layer, and a door of the type of those used in recording studios.  In a neighbouring building, a researcher randomly chooses, in a big dictionary, a certain number of target-images which are copied by a sketch artist.  The researcher then “emits” these images toward Uri Geller, locked up in his cabin, under the surveillance of Hall.

The results are impressive.  Uri does not draw well.  But he manages to reproduce the target-images sent to him in a way which leaves absolutely no room for chance.  When it is something simple, like a bird, a horse, he manages perfectly well.  The painter Jean Mayo draws for him a bunch of twenty-six grapes.  Uri reproduces twenty-four…  The images with a symbolic content give particularly interesting results:  as Mayo draws him a little devil, Geller responds by symbolic drawings, where there is the Earth, an apple with a worm in it, a snake and…  the Tables of the Law.  Only the devil’s fork is concretely perceived…  Geller warns seriously:

“Don’t ever do that to me again.  You know very well that, in my country, it is forbidden to draw the devil’s image!”

To be continued.

Uri Geller

Uri Geller was born in Tel-Aviv, in 1946.

We are in 1972, in the Baylands Natural Reserve, near San Francisco.  In the cafeteria of the Museum of Natural History in Palo Alto, five men are gathered around a table on which there are metal rings, watches, bracelets and a few other pieces of jewellery.  Outside, daylight is fading and dissolving the shadows of the overhead bridges which span the Bay’s marshlands, like miniature Golden Gates.  One of the men is picking up the pieces of jewellery and placing them in the open palm of the man opposite him.  Then he puts his hand on the fist which is clutching all these objects and enters into deep concentration…  After which, he shakes his thick, brown hair and announces that something has bent.  His companion opens his hand and shows a ring that is now twisted into the form of an ellipse.  The four men around him let out exclamations…

Is this a student gathering where one of them is trying out some prestidigitation?  Or a spiritist seance, like in Allen Kardec’s time?  Not at all.  The men are eminent physicists from the famous Stanford Research Institute, which is specialised in research on plasmas, lasers and quantum electronics.  Two of them, anyway.  Another one, Doctor Puharitch, being one of the greatest specialists in the world on the paranormal, and the last one, Edgar Mitchell, the astronaut from the first manned flights to the Moon.

“Hal” Puthoff, one of the physicists, is sceptical.  He doesn’t understand how the young, dark-haired man has been able to twist the ring without getting it mixed up with all the rest of the “baubles”.  The young man, whose face is now bathed in perspiration, takes Puthoff’s heavy, silver bracelet delicately between his thumb and index finger, places it completely flat on the table and lightly touches it with a gentle finger.  He concentrates again, his face contracted and, fairly quickly, declares:

“It’s too thick!  I can’t do it… “

Then he takes his finger off the bracelet.  His companions can’t believe their eyes:  the researcher’s heavy piece of silver jewellery is cleanly broken in two places…

As astonishing as it is, the young man’s exploit does not convince the men of science who are with him.  They are professional doubters, who are as wary of their senses as of the young man’s prestige.  He is perhaps only a clever illusionist…

Mitchell has just obtained important amounts of money for paranormal research and they have met this evening to have a scientific look at the PSI faculties of a young Israeli whom Dr Puharitch has brought with him.  His name is Uri Geller and he comes straight from Tel-Aviv where the doctor has seen him twist all sorts of metal objects, apparently by willpower alone.  He also makes things disappear and reappear in the most surprising places.  Already, the day before, upon his arrival at the San Francisco Airport, Uri Geller had given a small preview of his talents.  Despite his hosts’ reticence, he sat at the wheel of the car of the other physicist in the group, Russel Targ, and with his eyes blindfolded, drove at high speed through the residential quarter of Palo Alto.  Describing along the way the shape and colour of the cars he passed and counting the signalisation panels…

During this first evening, Mitchell asks him if he would accept to enter a special sort of space capsule.  The Israeli replies:

“Of course!  That and other things.  Whatever you want!  If only you knew how much I want to know why I am different!”

Puharitch has brought along a movie camera, and Puthoff decides that the time has come to use it.  He pulls a pack of cards from his pocket.  It is a new packet, still wrapped in cellophane.

“Apparently you have done dematerialisations?”

While the camera rolls, Uri starts shuffling the cards, rather clumsily.  A few fall from his hands onto the table.  His companions then ask themselves if they aren’t victims of an hallucination.  They have the clear impression that some of the cards have dissolved into the table-top…

Puthoff grabs the pieces of cardboard.  They are still all there, but five of them have bits missing.  Which is why the onlookers thought that the cards were melting into the table.  However, a good quarter of each of these cards is missing…  On top of which, it is impossible to find the missing pieces.

Has this phenomenon occurred because our scholars have just spoken to Geller about dematerialisations?  Perplexed, they put an end to the seance.  But they are far from the end of their surprises.  Over the six weeks that Uri Geller spends at the Stanford Research Institute, Puthoff writes that they were daily witnesses of “astounding and marvellous things”.  On this particular evening, it begins again as soon as they are outside.  At the end of the avenue there is a “Stop” sign.  The metal pole which holds it no longer looks like a pole at all.  Whatever it is now, is on the ground:  an absurd object twisted into three complete loops, as if a giant has wrapped it three times around his finger.  The physicists make enquiries and learn that before Geller’s arrival, at the end of the afternoon, it still resembled all the other “Stop” signs…

But Russel Targ and Harold Puthoff are waiting for Uri Geller in a completely different domain.  That of the laboratory experiment, where guinea-pig nudity and the cold starkness of the measuring apparatus will render any eventual trickery impossible.  Therefore, a few days later, here is Uri, in jeans and T-shirt, facing a magnometre in the central laboratory of the S. R. I.  Near this installation is a sensitive sounding device, capable of determining that the medium is hiding no magnet on him.  A video will register the whole scene.  At a given signal, Uri advances towards the sounding device, his arms outstretched and his hands open…  The magnometre needle deviates so much that it indicates a measure close to that of the Earth’s magnetic field…

To be continued.

Eusapia Palladino – part 4

Eusapia Palladino.

Is it possible to know with certainty when Eusapia was cheating and when she wasn’t?

Camille Flammarion liked to remark:

“I am able to say that over the last forty years, almost all of the famous mediums have passed through my salon and I have surprised all of them cheating”.

By taking this remark at face-value, it could be concluded that mediumnity and trickery are synonymous.  This would be a great error.  Eusapia’s answer to the lawyer Mirando who had asked her one day if it was true that all mediums cheated, sheds good light on the question.  She replied:

This photograph was taken at Camille Flammarion's home. Eusapia is hidden by a cushion.

“Yes!…  For when a phenomenon must occur, I feel an interior force which pushes me to produce it!”

This signifies two things:  that true mediums nearly always work in a trance (the interior force) and that they make it a sort of imperious obligation to produce the phenomenon, often not to disappoint the expectations of their entourage.  The trance, or the fatigue which mediums impose upon themselves, often make them execute their exercises unconsciously…  This includes the frauds.

***

Damiani presented Eusapia to the famous scholar Lombroso.  He was a positivist and, in his eyes, she could be only a simulator or an hysteric.  At this epoch, because of the work of the great French doctor Charcot, most paranormal phenomena were explained by hysteria.  But Lombroso was rapidly convinced, and later, he even converted to spiritism.

***

Eusapia once made this imprint of a face appear in a block of putty. It was done at a distance while she was surrounded by observers.

The famous report of the French scholars was re-published in extenso in 1957 in a complete and very rigorous book by Robert Amadou, entitled Les Grands Mediums.

One phenomenon was noted with absolute guarantees of authenticity:  that of the side-table which moved backwards and evolved in space while Eusapia was perfectly bound.  It is this really prodigious phenomenon which no illusionist could ever perform, that set off the research movement, known at the time as “metapsychical”, at the beginning of the XXth Century.  In France, the pioneers of this research were Dr Osty and Pr Warcollier.  The methods of the metapsychological institutes were still very empiric;  it is in America, with Rhine’s work, that scientific parapsychology was truly created.  Research there has been totally disencumbered by spiritist superstition, which has permitted important progress, notably in the domain of telepathy.

In passing from the observation phase of exceptional cases to the experimental phase, parapsychology has begun to acquire a hearing and credibility.

***

This photograph of Eusapia shows a clear resemblance between her face and the imprint above.

There are certainly more spiritist circles than ever throughout the world, but very few great mediums.  There are no satisfactory explanations for this.  Some maintain that most of the great mediums came from countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain.  Others that the appearance of great mediums obeys cyclical laws a bit like years of rain or great wine millesima.  Others again, that parapsychology is now less interested in mediums, thereby condemning them to disappearance.

It is possible that the appearance of great mediums coincides with a state of custom, ideas, and the particular sensitivity of an epoch.  Would it be possible for us to imagine France’s ten greatest scholars of today assembling with the most distinguished philosophers, flanked by our most recent Nobel prize-winners in Medicine, to play at “flying side-tables” with an unknown woman, who had debarked the day before from her native Pouilles?  Probably not, and it is certainly a shame.

***

Eusapia Palladino.

Science is asked to conceive complicated apparatus to measure the fluid emitted by Eusapia Palladino:  notably a manometric dispositive with a Marey cylinder, which inscribes on paper the lightest pressure exercised on a little, wooden plank.  To make all fraud impossible, not only is the apparatus placed out of Eusapia’s reach, but the plank is also entirely covered in soot.  So any direct contact would leave a very visible trace…  It could be asked, why so many precautions when simple, direct observation would have been enough?

“It is customary to say that one must resign oneself to being tricked by all mediums and that surprising them in the act must not make us doubt their sincerity at other moments… “

The words which introduce this report are surprising and rather like a warning:  our scholars appear to be saying that, as astounding as the phenomena which we have seen may be, none of us would dare to draw a scientific law from it.

“Although we are all ready to allow our throats to be cut to affirm their reality, none of us would dare assure that this reality will ever be proven one day… “

As prudent as their conclusions are, they are still significant, and will have considerable impact throughout the whole world.  After fifty tightly-written pages in which they expose the draconian psycho-physiological conditions of control and observation that they had put in place around the medium, they come to the description of the phenomena.

At the fourth seance of 1905, the report indicates

“a table weighing seven kilogrammes and carrying a weight of ten kilogrammes is twice completely raised for several seconds.  It is again raised at the sixth seance of the same year while the table’s legs were wrapped”.

This chapter of the report concludes:

“We defy a person of average strength to try to reproduce this phenomenon!”

The scholars actually do try;  Yurievitch and Courtier, both of above-average strength, try to succeed in this exercise by putting themselves in all imaginable positions.  The raising of the table is absolutely impossible when they respect the conditions which had been imposed on Eusapia.

The report in fact underlines that, when the table had started to float “for a fairly long number of seconds”, Eusapia’s feet and knees were being very firmly held  by Messieurs d’Arsonval and Baillet, and that at this moment, absolutely no contact had been exercised on any part whatsoever of the table.  Several other raisings are noted, some of which are up to one metre from the floor…  Even better.  On an order from Eusapia, a side-table starts to advance towards her.  Pulled by an invisible string?  Our scholars think so, and scramble to verify it…  Of course, they find nothing, and to punish them, the medium makes the side-table move away from her, also.

Pierre Curie saw a side-table rise to the level of his shoulders and turn over in the air.

On 6 April 1906, during a particularly impressive seance, the side-table rises as high as Pierre Curie’s shoulders, turns over in the air, and comes to rest, top against top, on the experimental table, in front of Eusapia.

A collective hallucination, perhaps?  Not at all, for all of the little table’s movements are registered on the Marey cylinder…

During these very many seances, diverse prodigies occur – mysterious imprints, apparitions and the unexplained touching of the witnesses, divisions of Eusapia into two, the movement of veils and cords placed above or in front of her, etc.  But the scholars are unable to agree on the quality of the controls which had been exercised, and prefer not to place them among the number of those which they qualify as true and authentic, deplacements and upraisings, intense molecular vibrations (raps, sound vibrations) which she manages to produce at a distance, from diverse objects, and spectacular emissions of sparks which occur around her.

The roll of thunder which this report produces throughout the scholarly world and in public opinion leads the medium to receive a series of other invitations from French metapsychists, and on 10 February 1908, in the presence notably of Monsieur Rene Warcollier, President of the Institut metapsychique, and the engineer Archat, the imprint of a face suddenly appears on a block of putty placed opposite Eusapia.

The English, always more sceptical than others, regret having scorned the Eusapia phenomenon.  A commission composed of the best observers of physical phenomena, Fielding, Baggaly and Carrington, go to Naples and control, according to their report,

“four hundred-and-seventy paranormal phenomena, many of which occurred in full light, while the medium’s hands and her whole body were fully visible”.

On 10 November 1909, Eusapia debarks at New York, preceded by a considerable reputation.  Her arrival in the country of spiritists and blossoming publicity produces enormous enthusiasm, despite the fifty dollars charged at the entrance to the room.  Is it all this noise, or the enormous efforts that Eusapia has to make during these parades, that wear her out, probably prematurely?  Others incriminate menopause and her now world-wide celebrity, which modify her psychism…  Whatever the reason, Eusapia will very rapidly lose her gifts.  She, whose main fear is to fall back into her former milieu, notices with consternation that the prodigies, which she had been accomplishing before with relative facility, are no longer occurring.  She will then start to cheat, openly and with pitful clumsiness.  From 1910, Fielding easily unmasks these poor ruses.

Ill, more and more decried, she hangs on for another few years, without accepting to put away her more and more tattered robe of guardian of the spirits.  So she, more than any other medium much less gifted than herself, will thus contribute to discrediting psychical research.  In the face of her lamentable failures, the few friends who remain to her can only sigh:

“Ah!  If only you could have seen her in the old days… “

***

To be continued.

Eusapia Palladino.

It is only in the crucial year 1905 that the tenors of the scientific world of the epoch decide to find out once and for all whether or not the peasant woman, Eusapia Palladino, is a fraud.

None of those who participated in these decisive experiments is a second-class mind;  almost all are known to the public.  Before looking at the astonishing report that they published, let us discover a bit more about the enigmatic figure of Eusapia, who was doubtless the greatest medium of all time.

When she is born in 1854, into a family of poor peasants, the region is still living in antique paganism as far as religion goes, and in the Middle Ages as far as the roughness of its life is concerned.  In the little, narrow valleys, witchcraft is rife, and the backroads unsafe.  One night, bandits occupy the little farm and slit the throat of Eusapia’s father in front her, so atrociously, that the poor little girl is covered in blood.  She faints, then remains prostrated for days.  She is taken in by her grandmother, an appalling shrew, who beats her for pleasure.  All of her nights are peopled with horrible nightmares and, at puberty, she starts having hallucinations which eventually go away, only to be replaced by another strange trouble:  the instability which, until now, has wreaked havoc inside her, regularly exteriorises itself in material form, visible to numerous witnesses.  It is as if, at puberty, Eusapia has ceased suffering from hallucinations, to become capable of making other people see them…

These phenomena are unexplained to this day, and the term “hallucination” is hardly the right one, because there are photographs of these so-called hallucinations.

At fifteen, Eusapia, who does not know how to read and write, finds work as a washerwoman.  One of her employer’s clients is Professor Damiani, an adept of spiritism.  As soon as he meets the young girl, Damiani realises that she is a medium endowed with very exceptional qualities.  Despite her absolute ignorance, Eusapia is very intelligent;  she immediately accepts the Professor’s proposition to take her into his home and, thanks to his advice, her gifts rapidly develop.  So great is her fear of falling back into her former condition, that she is sometimes tempted to help nature along a bit…  When the phenomena are slow to occur, she has the unfortunate tendency to replace them by cheating.  Not always very cleverly either:  she pretends that a draught of cold air comes from a scar that she has on her forehead, and to do it, she gently expulses her breath towards the ceiling, while directing the air with her fingers…  A subterfuge that Rinn, a prestidigitator, and pupil of the famous Houdini, rapidly discovers.

Does this mean that all the other supranormal phenomena that Eusapia produces are suspicious?  To claim this would be absurd, and would contradict the conclusions of numerous scholarly commissions.  For example, the most prestigious of them all, which met four times between 1905 and 1908 in Paris, under the auspices of the Institut general de psychologie.

Henri Bergson discovered no trickery, but gave no hypothesis.

Around the table, which has just entered into levitation, are grouped the dignified people who have submitted Eusapia to a test of unprecedented rigour.  The most scrupulous among them go as far as upturning the table, to verify that it does not have some cheating dispositive…  One of them asks Henri Bergson what he thinks.  The philosopher replies simply:

Hypothesis non fingo!”  [“I shall not make an hypothesis” – in the words of Galileo Galilei.]

Flammarion remarks, when asked his opinion, that it is more the domain of his friend Branly who is also present.

Pierre Curie thinks that it is just a shame that they don’t have with them one of the illusionists who are performing at the Alhambra.

The famous scholar, Yurievitch, says jokingly that Eusapia should be entrusted to Mme Curie for a week, as women tell each other everything.

Marie Curie was a rationalist. She saw Eusapia's powers but refused to believe her eyes.

Marie Curie, who, with her husband, has just discovered radium, replies that she would rather need simple faith:

“I have seen it, but my reason doesn’t believe it, nonetheless!”

The fate that official science will reserve for Eusapia’s powers is entirely resumed in these words from Marie Curie.  It perfectly resumes the embarrassment of all those who want to drink only from the sources of rationality, backed by reasoning of the mathematical or physical type.  Beyond the evident perceptions of their senses, they are ceaselessly looking for this objective proof which can only be furnished by phenomena which are repeatable at will.  Completely the opposite of what is happening with Eusapia, as with all other mediums:  their powers are submitted to forces, part of which they don’t understand, and this is why they have highs and lows.

This is what immediately appeared to our scholars, assembled in Paris, who, however, had the immense merit of studying supranormality, with the seriousness and the perseverance which evidently prove the authenticity of the phenomena that they had been called upon to examine.  How is it conceivable that minds, which are at the origin of a great number of the XXth Century’s essential scientific discoveries, consecrated themselves to this study, by meeting all together, for forty-three seances of the kind that we saw at the beginning of the first part of this story?  Spread as they were over nearly three years, they demonstrate the durable interest that Eusapia’s extraordinary gifts suscitated.  Before this atonishing collection of geniuses, the medium is not at all awed.  It is true that she is accustomed to it.  Since the age of fifteen she has been running around Europe at the invitation of all the scholarly commissions that wanted to examine her:  Naples, Milan, Rome, Cambridge, Varsovia, Saint Petersburg, London, Toulon…  However, she has never had to vanquish so many doubts, fed by an inflexible scientific mentality, which therefore gives weight to the report that will be published.  Eusapia knows this, and that is why she plays the game with completely inhabitual patience and good will.  Until now, it has been mostly she who imposes her conditions of light, disposition of witnesses throughout the room, proximity of the objects that she is going to move or imprint.  This time, the witnesses multiply controls and constraints, in such a way that the medium is practically tied up throughout the experiments by all the strings which bind her, the hands which hold her, the feet which press on her…

To be continued.

Eusapia Palladino

Eusapia Palladino was a peasant from the Abruzzes whose mediumnic gifts astounded scientists.

The dining-room has been emptied of its furniture, and is divided down the middle by a big, black veil.  Only a few chairs have remained in place.  Five or six gentlemen in high, white collars, waistcoats and tails are talking gravely in a corner.

A little woman around fifty, dressed all in black and looking like a peasant, makes her entrance.  She glances around absently, then stares at the overhead light, her eyes blinking.  The gentlemen move closer to one another and examine her with suspicious curiosity…

The chairs are arranged in a circle, and a man in a striped jacket and bow tie, aims a bulky camera at the newcomer.  This could be used to photograph her, but the light is gradually dimming and the photograph therefore risks being completely spoiled…

Two gentlemen sit on either side of the little woman and squeeze up so close to her that their knees touch her.  One of them is not afraid to remove his ankle boot and place his foot on that of the woman…

Now they attach their ankles and their wrists to those of the woman, who again appears to be unsettled by the faint light still coming from the ceiling.  The two other actors in this scene take hold of their acolytes’ hands in a way that forms a sort of chain.  It is growing darker, and the man whose camera is connected to a big battery seizes the rubber bulb.

Now, it is almost completely dark.

Suddenly, a cracking noise shakes the table placed in front of the group.  Someone asks if his neighbour is holding Eusapia’s hand.  He is told that she is being held by her thumb.  He asks about her legs.

“My left leg is pressed tightly against her right leg and I can’t feel any movement.”

“Mine too.  And my foot is on her left foot.  Lightly, for she tells me that it hurts her.  But neither her foot nor her leg can move!”

A man’s voice draws their attention to the table.  It is rising, and reaches at least thirty centimetres in the air.  The seated, bound woman then screams:

Fuego!  Fuego!

There is a flash.  The photo is taken.  A photo which will set off a passionate debate throughout the whole of the scholarly world at the beginning of the XXth Century.

Its most illustrious representatives will contribute to it for around ten years.

***

On 9 August 1888, a very curious article appears in an Italian newspaper.  It relates the occult powers of a certain Eusapia Palladino and, looking more closely at it, it seems to be more of an open letter.  It emanates from a Napolitan Professor of Medicine, Ercole Chiaia, who is addressing it to the famous Italian doctor Cesare Lombroso.

He is asking that Science deign at last to treat the case of this peasant woman from Abruzzes, other than with indifference or amused contempt.

Lombroso, who is one of the greatest scholars of modern Italy, knows Chiaia and estimes him.  He is doubtless a little troubled by his colleague’s tone and the recital of the astounding performances of which this Eusapia appears capable.  He accepts to examine her case, convinced that, although it will contribute nothing to Science, it will at least sweep from its noble doorstep one of those manifestations which disturb its rational harmony.

Thanks to the subsidies of Aksakoff, a famous spiritist medium of the epoch, he surrounds himself with a whole collection of first-class scholars, has Eusapia brought to his laboratory, and submits her for weeks to a great number of observations.  They result in so many paranormal manifestations that Lombroso and his colleagues are obliged to draw up an inventory of them in the form of a chart which contains no fewer than forty-four headings.  It goes from the transportation through space of objects or the medium’s own body, to the perception of icy breaths, not to mention visions of flying hands accomplishing complicated acts, and imprints of unknown faces or hands in clay placed near the medium.

The scholars gathered around the Maestro are unanimous:  the phenomena which they have just seen are authentic and irrefutable.  All except one, a Frenchman:  the great criminologist, Dr Edmond Locard, who remembers that Lombroso is not fully satisfied with his medium.  That she sometimes cheats, like cracking her joints and passing it off in the dark as coming from spirits.  Or arriving at the place of the experiments with flowers in her pockets which are supposed to surge later from a table or a stool…

Dr Charles Richet was one of the foremost physiologists of his time.

It is therefore decided to attempt a whole series of other experiments controlled by veritable commissions of enquiry, one of which includes Charles Richet, also French, and one of the best physiologists of his time.

Richet is impressed to the point of having Eusapia come to his property on the island of Roubaud for new observations.  He takes the precaution of inviting a few English scholars who are particularly sceptical and clever at weeding out false mediums.

They are impressed, but not convinced.  One of them, Richard Hogdson, who knows all the secrets of illusionism, even attempts to prove that all Eusapia’s paranormal actions are reduced to an extremely simple trick, which consists in liberating one of her hands from the hold of those who are controlling her.  In the darkness, she would make one of them hold the back of one of her hands, and the other, the palm, and they would have the illusion of holding Eusapia’s two extremities at the same time.  It is with the freed hand that she would accomplish her prodigies.

These subterfuges, that other scholars present had not uncovered, are eventually known, and the scientific observers are more and more vigilant and sceptical, when they aren’t frankly aggressive or hostile.

Eusapia Palladino participates in numerous experiments for another few years, in front of witnesses as distinguished as W.-H. Myers, Joseph Maxwell, Camille Flammarion, Victorien Sardou, Gustave Le Bon, Professor Morselli of the University of Turino, and many others.  Despite the notoriety of the witnesses and the trouble or the enthusiasm of most of them, unhappy minds make it known that, had a prestidigitator of quality been present at these seances, he would certainly have been able to detect the fraud.

To be continued.

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