Society for Psychical Research

The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a non-profit organization in the United Kingdom. Its stated purpose is to understand “events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and supporting important research in this area” and to “examine allegedly paranormal phenomena in a scientific and unbiased way.

The SPR was founded in 1882 in London by a group of eminent thinkers including Edmund Gurney, Frederic William Henry Myers, William Fletcher Barrett, Henry Sidgwick, and Edmund Dawson Rogers. Its stated purpose given in the first Proceedings was “to approach these varied problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned enquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated.”

Initially six committees were established: on Thought-Transference, Mesmerism and similar phenomena, Mediumship, Reichenbach Phenomena (Odic Force), Apparitions and Haunted Houses, physical phenomena associated with séances, and the Literary Committee which studied the history of these phenomena. One significant undertaking was the Census of Hallucinations, in which 15,000 persons were asked to report on hallucinatory experiences while awake and in good health. Some 10% of those reported such experiences, and a small number of ‘veridical hallucinations‘ were reported – that is, hallucinations which appeared to convey information not known to the person hallucinating at the time, which was believed by the authors to be suggestive of telepathy.

Critical SPR investigations into purported mediums and the exposure of fake mediums led to a number of resignations in the 1880s by Spiritualist members, but the Society continued to investigate mediums, studying Leonora Piper and Eusapia Palladino among others. In 1885 the report of the Committee on Theosophical Phenomena expressed the opinion that the founder of the Theosophical Society, Helena Petrova Blavatsky, was “neither the mouthpiece of hidden seers, nor… a mere vulgar adventuress; we think she has achieved title to permanent remembrance as one of the most accomplished, ingenious and interesting imposters in history”. This report, which had a marked effect on Theosophy, remains as with all SPR reports the opinion of the member concerned; the SPR holds no corporate opinions. It gained the SPR a reputation for being scientific and highly critical. Mrs Salter recorded W.B.Yeats as saying “It’s my belief that if you psychical researchers had been about when God Almighty was creating the world, he couldn’t have done the job”.

The SPR is frequently referred to in Victorian and Edwardian literature as “the Psychical Research Society”. The term psychical was adopted to distinguish the purported phenomena from those classified as psychic, (that is simply mental processes such as thought, memory, etc.) and the SPR were to introduce a number of other neologisms which have entered the English language, such as ‘telepathy‘, which was coined by Frederic Myers.

Wikipedia, Society for Psychical Research, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_for_Psychical_Research

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