F amous Scientists and the Paranormal:
Implications for Consciousness Research

Presented at:
Toward a Science of Consciousness (Tucson3),
April 27-May 2, 1998, Tucson, Arizona

by Michael A. Cremo
Research Associate in History and Philosophy of Science
Bhaktivedanta Institute
9701 Venice Blvd. #5
Los Angeles, CA 90034

Phone: (310) 837-5283
Fax: (310) 837-1056
Email: mcremo@compuserve.com


Parapsychological research generally tends to suggest some kind of dualist solution to the mind/body question. But parapsychological research is sometimes viewed with suspicion by scientists involved in consciousness research. One is left with the impression that such work is for marginal individuals, outside the mainstream of science. This impression may, however, be based on an incomplete understanding of the history of science. For example, not many physicists know that Nobel Laureates Pierre and Marie Curie were involved in parapsychological research.  They participated with many other noted French scientists in investigating paranormal phenomena that occurred in the presence of the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino. In the works of Charles Richet (Nobel laureate physiologists) and others, we get an intriguing picture of Marie Curie controlling the medium while her husband Pierre measured the movement of objects in the room. Pierre Curie came to the conclusion that the phenomena were genuine. Richet himself conducted extensive research into the paranormal, as did Alfred Russell Wallace, cofounder with Darwin of the theory of evolution by natural selection, and Sir William Crookes, Nobel Laureate in physics and President of the Royal Society. And they were not alone. Indeed, from the time of Newton to the present, some of the best minds in science have actively investigated paranormal phenomena and come to conclusions tending to suggest that consciousness cannot be reduced to brain functions or derived from biochemistry.
Famous Scientists and the Paranormal:
Implications for Consciousness Research

by Michael A. Cremo

Currently, dualist solutions to the brain/consciousness question are distinctly unpopular in mainstream scientific circles. Most research efforts are dedicated to exploring the “neural correlates of consciousness,” the brain circuitry that supposedly produces consciousness. The unremitting reductionism of most consciousness research does not interfere with my personal beliefs in Krishna consciousness, nor with my practice of Hare Krishna mantra meditation, inspired by my years of study of the ancient Sanskrit writings of India, as I have received them from my guru Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.  But I am concerned that this almost unquestioned reductionism prevents many in the world of science from appreciating the true dimensions and characteristics of consciousness, which is something absolute, and not derivable from biochemistry or biophysics. Of course, even today there are researchers who pursue investigations suggesting consciousness is something that cannot be understood by the ordinary laws of physics and chemistry. These investigations come under the general heading of the “paranormal.” Most paranormal researchers concern themselves with micro-psychokinetic effects (statistically significant intentionally induced variations in the output of random number generators) and mico-esp events (statistically significant identifications of cards or pictures through remote vision). I find such work of considerable value, but I find even more value in the account of famous scientists of the past who recorded instances of macro-psychokinetic and esp events. These accounts, if true, in my opinion, provide stronger and more direct evidence for the existence of a conscious self, distinct from matter, than statistical summations of  accounts of micro-effects.

Many modern scientists know that Sir Isaac Newton, the founding father of modern science, wrote extensively on alchemy and esoteric spiritual topics. But  the paranormal research of later figures in science are less well known in scientific circles. Indeed, many suppose that research into the paranormal has been  the special province of those on the outermost fringes of normal science. This may be true today, but it has not always been so. Some of the greatest minds of modern science have busied themselves with problems that now for many seem taboo. I shall now give a few of the many examples that could be given.

Alfred Russell Wallace was cofounder, with Charles Darwin, of the theory of evolution by natural selection. He conducted decades of research into spiritualistic phenomena, sometimes in the company of Sir William Crookes. Wallace wrotee: "I ought to state that for twenty-five years I had been an utter skeptic as to the existence of any preter-human or super-human intelligences, and that I never for a moment contemplated the possibility that the marvels related by Spiritualists could be literally true. If I have now changed my opinion, it is simply by the force of evidence.”

Sir William Crookes received the Nobel Prize for physics in 1911, for his discovery of the element thallium. Crookes was also elected President of the Royal Society, England’s most prestigious scientific body. He gave this account of a séance with D.D. Home (May 22, 1871), attended by himself and Wallace: "The table now rose completely off the ground several times whilst the gentlemen present took a candle, and kneeling down deliberately examined the position of Mr. Home's feet and knees, and saw the three feet of the [3-footed] table quite off the ground. This was repeated, until each observer expressed himself satisfied that the levitation was not produced by mechanical means on the part of the medium or any one else present."

Wallace and Crookes had both seen an accordion play while Home held it with one hand, away from the keyboard. Later, Crookes designed an experiment to further test this phenomenon. To insure that Home was not using sleight of hand, Crookes made a cage, which rested under a table. An accordion was placed in the cage, and Home was allowed to insert one hand into the cage to grasp one end of the instrument. Home was to keep his other hand on the top of the table. This arrangement prevented Home from using his free hand to manipulate the instrument. To guard against a trick accordion, Crookes supplied a brand new one never seen by Home. Crookes reported that even with this arrangement the accordion played as usual.Then Home removed his hand from the cage. Crookes stated: “I and two of the others present saw the accordion distinctly floating about inside the cage with no visible support.”  Wallace reported a similar experience.

Both Wallace and Crookes reported seeing Home levitate. Crookes reported: “The best cases of Home's levitation I witnessed in my own house. On one occasion, he went to a clear part of the room, and, after standing quietly for a minute, told us he was rising. I saw him slowly rise up with a continuous gliding movement and remain about six inches off the ground for several seconds, when he slowly descended. On this occasion no one moved from their places. On another occasion I was invited to come to him, when he rose 18 inches off the ground, and I passed my hands under his feet, round him, and over his head, when he was in the air.”  Crookes reported many other instances of Home levitating.

Every student of physics knows the story of the Curies. Their investigations of radioactivity earned them the Nobel Prize 1n 1903 and helped set physics on its modern course. But hardly anyone knows that they were heavily involved in psychical research. Along with Dr. Charles Richet, and other European scientists of the early twentieth century, they participated in investigations of the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino.

Eusapia was born in Italy in 1854, and her psychic abilities were manifested early in life. By the late nineteenth century, she was the object of study for many of Europe’s leading scientists. In 1905, she came to Paris, where Pierre and Marie Curie were among those who investigated her.

Pierre Curie, letter to Georges Gouy, July 24, 1905: “We had at the Psychology Society a few séances with the medium Eusapia Palladino. It was very interesting, and truly those phenomena that we have witnessed seemed to us to not be some magical tricks --a table lifted four feet above the floor, movements of objects, feelings of hands that pinched you or carressed you, apparitions of light. All this in a room arranged by us, with a small number of spectators all well known and without the presence of a possible accomplice.  The only possible cheating would be an extraordinary ability of the medium as a magician.  But how to explain the different phenomena when we are holding her hands and legs, and the lighting of the room is sufficient to see everything going on?”  

In another letter to Gouy (April 14, 1906), Curie wrote: “We had a few new séances with Eusapia … those phenomena exist for real, and I can’t doubt it any more.  It is unbelievable but it is thus, and it is impossible to negate it after the séances that we had in conditions of perfect monitoring.”

Charles Richet, who won the Nobel Prize in physiology in 1913, carried out decades of research into psychical phenomena. He participated with the Curies in the investigations of Eusapia Palladino. Here is one of his accounts of a séance:

“It took place at the Psychological Institute at Paris. There were present only Mme. Curie, Mme. X., a Polish friend of hers, and P. Courtier, the secretary of the Institute. Mme. Curie was on Eusapia’s left, myself on her right, Mme. X, a little farther off, taking notes, and M. Courtier still farther, at the end of the table. Courtier had arranged a double curtain behind Eusapia; the light was weak but sufficient. One the table Mme. Curie’s hand holding Eusapia’s could be distinctly seen, likewise mine also holding the right hand. . . We saw the curtain swell out as if pushed by some large object. . . I asked to touch it . . . I felt the resistance and seized a real hand which I took in mine. Even through the curtain I could feel the fingers … I held it firmly and counted twenty-nine seconds, during all which time I had leisure to observe both of Eusapia’s hands on the table, to ask Mme. Curie if she was sure of her control . . . After the twenty-nine seconds I said, ‘I want something more, I want uno anello (a ring).’ At once the hand made me feel a ring . . . It seems hard to imagine a more convincing experiment . . . In this case there was not only the materialization of a hand, but also of a ring.”

Camille Flammarion (1842-1925), founder of the French Astronomical Society, carried out extensive research into clairvoyance and apparitions. Flammarion concluded: “All these observations prove that a human being does not consist only of a body that is visible, tangible . . . it consists, likewise, of a psychic element that is imponderable, gifted with special, intrinsic faculties, capable of functioning apart from the physical organism and of manifesting itself at a distance with the aid of forces as to the nature of which we are still ignorant.”

Lord John William Strutt Rayleigh (1842-1919) received the 1904 Nobel Prize in physics for his discovery of argon. Rayleigh was attracted to psychical research by the writings of Sir William Crookes. He was cautious in drawing conclusions, but he never disavowed any of the positive experiences he recorded. Rayleigh accepted the presidency of the Society for Psychical Research in 1919. In his presidential address he said, “I have never felt any doubt as to the importance of the work carried on by the Society . . . Our goal is the truth, whatever it may turn out to be, and our efforts to attain it should have the sympathy of all, and I would add especially of scientific men.”

With Charles Richet, Oliver J. Lodge, a famous English physicist, participated in experiments with Eusapia Palladino and was  convinced her phenomena, in this case, were real. During the First World War, his son Raymond was killed on the battlefield. Afterwards, Lodge claimed he was receiving verifiable communications from him through mediums. Lodge wrote: “I have made no secret of my conviction, not merely that personality persists, but that its continued existence is more entwined with the life of every day than has been generally imagined . . . and that methods of intercommunication across what has seemed to be a gulf can be set going in response to the urgent demand of affection.”

The testimony of such scientists, noted for their their skill in experimental design and observation, when taken in combination with modern parapsychological research, provides good reason to suppose that there is more to the human organism than the physical body visible to our eyes. It would appear that a complete picture of the human being must also take into account subtle mental energies and a conscious self distinct from the body. When embodied the conscious self can make use of subtle mental energies to manipulate matter in ways transcending the normal laws of physics. And when detached from the body, the same self can apparently make use of the same subtle mental energies to communicate with selves still embodied.

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