The Chemistry Professors Who Documented the Paranormal

 A critic of claims of the paranormal will sometimes insinuate that claims of paranormal activity are not made by very careful and respectable observers such as scientists.  Any such claim is not at all historically accurate. In my three part series When World Class Scientists Saw Ghosts (here, here, and here), I discuss how some great or famous scientists provided abundant written testimony in favor of the paranormal, including mysterious apparitions, ESP and levitations. Abundant evidence for the paranormal was also provided by twentieth century professors such as Joseph Rhine

Let us look at some cases of chemistry professors who abundantly documented the paranormal. One such professor was William Gregory (1803-1858), a professor of chemistry at the University of Edinburgh (founded in 1582, and the sixth oldest English university).  Gregory (the author of a conventional chemisty textbook) was the author of the long book Letters to a Candid Inquirer, on Animal Magnetism, which you can read online here.  The book is a very fascinating work on hypnosis (the title uses a term for hypnosis which went out of vogue shortly after the book was published, being replaced by the word hypnosis). 

Most of the second half of the 384-page book is a discussion of paranormal effects observed under hypnosis, mainly clairvoyance. Gregory provides very many fascinating accounts of clairvoyance that he personally observed in hypnotized subjects. The reality of clairvoyance under hypnosis had been affirmed by a prestigious French academic committee decades earlier, a five-year committe of the Royal Academy of Medicine. 

On page 271 Professor Gregory gives some very specific numerical details relating to clairvoyance in hypnotic trances (referred to below as "mesmeric sleep"):

"Major Buckley has thus produced conscious clairvoyance in 89 persons, of whom 44 have been able to read mottoes contained in nut-shells, purchased by other parties for the experiment. The longest motto thus read, contained 98 words. Many subjects will read motto after motto without one mistake. In this way, the mottoes contained in 4860 nut-shells have been read, some of them, indeed, by persons in the mesmeric sleep, but most of them by persons in the conscious state, many of whom have never been put to sleep. In boxes, upwards of 36,000 words have been read; in one paper, 371 words. Including those who have read words contained in boxes when in the sleep, 148 persons have thus read. It is to be observed that, in a few cases, the words may have been read by thought-reading, as the persons who put them in the boxes were present; but in most cases, no one who knew the words has been present, and they must therefore have been read by direct clairvoyance. Every precaution has been taken. The nuts, inclosing mottoes, for example, have been purchased of 40 different confectioners, and have been sealed up until read. It may be added, that of the 44 persons who have read mottoes in nuts by waking or conscious clairvoyance, 42 belong to the higher class of society; and the experiments have been 
made in the presence of many other persons. These experiments appear to me admirably contrived, and I can perceive no reason whatever to doubt the entire accuracy of the facts."

On page 272 Professor Gregory discusses two other case histories:

"Case 10. — A lady, one of Major Buckley's waking clair- 
voyantes, read 103 mottoes, contained in nuts, in one day, 
without a pass being made on that occasion. In this, and 
in many other cases, the power of reading in nuts, boxes, 
and envelopes, remained, when once induced, for about a 
month, and then disappeared...
Case 11. — The words, 'Can you see inside?' were written on a narrow slip of paper, which was then laid on a 
quarter sheet, and folded over 11 times. The folded paper 
was placed in a thick envelope, and sealed with three seals, 
in such a way that it could not be opened undetected. It 
was then sent to a clairvoyante, who returned it with the 
seals uninjured, having read the contents in waking clairvoyance." 

Later in the same work Professor Gregory gives many detailed descriptions of clairvoyance under hypnosis, one of which is the account below (which uses the "magnetic sleep" to refer to a hypnotic trance):

 "E., in the magnetic sleep, as I saw more than once, could see perfectly what passed behind her, her eyes being closed ; or any thing placed in such a position, that, had her eyes been open, she could not have seen it ; she could also see very often all that passed outside of the door, and when I was there, told us how many of the servants of the hotel were listening at the door, in hopes of 
hearing wonders ; she would also often tell what was doing in the room above or below her. In short, she frequently exhibited direct clairvoyance in every form, not only in those just mentioned, but also in that of seeing prints or pictures shut up in boxes. Besides seeing various instances of direct clairvoyance, I was able to satisfy myself that Dr. Haddock's experiments were made with the greatest care and judgment ; that he was particularly well acquainted with the various causes of error and confusion, very careful to avoid these, and that in short his accounts of such experiments as I had not seen were entirely trustworthy."

On page 293 we have this account of dramatic clairvoyance witnessed by Professor Gregory (who uses the phrase "the sleep" to refer to a hynotized state):

"Case 29. — 1. Before I had seen E., I sent to Dr. Had- 
dock the writing of a lady, without any details, requesting 
merely to know what E. should say of it. I did not even 
say it was a lady's writing, and, indeed, as the hand is a 
strong bold one, Dr. H. supposed it was that of a man. E. 
took it in her hand, she being in the sleep, and soon said, 
'I see a lady. She is rather below middle height, dark 
complexioned, pale, and looks ill.' She then proceeded to 
describe the house, the drawing-room in which the lady was, 
her dress, and the furniture, all with perfect accuracy as 
far as she went. She said the lady was sitting at a long 
table close to the wall, something like a sideboard, writing 
a letter ; that on this table were several beautiful glasses, 
such as she had never seen. (In fact, this lady writes at a 
long sofa-table at the wall, on which stood then several 
Bohemian glasses.) She further detailed, with strict ac- 
curacy, all the symptoms of the lady's illness, mentioning 
several things, known to the lady alone. She also described 
the treatment which had been followed, and said, among 
other things, that the lady had gone over the water, to a 
place where she drank ' morning waters' for her health ; 
that the waters had a strange taste, but had done her good. 
(The lady had been at a mineral water in Germany, and had 
derived benefit from it. The water was always taken in the 
morning.) I need not enter into all the details ; it is enough 
to state, that not only Dr. H. did not know the lady, nor 
even her name, but that he had had no means of knowing 
any one of the details specified, and indeed rather supposed 
E. was wrong when she spoke of a lady, until he found that 
she was positive on that point. I received his answer, with 
the above and many more details, almost by return of post, 
and, in short, I was perfectly satisfied that E. had seen or 
perceived somehow, from the handwriting, all that she said, 
as I knew she had done in other cases."

On page 303 Professor Gregory states the following:

"I have mentioned, in the first Part of this work, a re- 
markable case, in which this same clairvoyante, with the 
aid of handwriting, traced the progress of a gentleman, Mr. 
W. Willey, then in California, as well as of another person 
who accompanied Mr. W., and whose writing was also 
shown to her. In this case, which was published in the 
newspapers, E. gave a multitude of details in regard to the 
persons, their voyage, their occupations, and various occur- 
rences, the whole of which details were, in so far as con- 
cerned the period subsequent to their embarking at Liverpool, 
entirely unknown to their families, but were afterwards fully 
confirmed in every point by Mr. W. on his return."

On page 313 Professor Gregory describes an experiment done with a young boy, said to be clairvoyant. The boy was hypnotized, and asked to describe the interior of Gregory's house, which he did accurately, although never having visited the house. We then read the following (in which "the sleeper" refers to the hypnotized boy):

"I then requested Dr. Schmitz to go into another room, and there to do whatever he pleased, while we should try whether the boy should see what he did. Dr. S. took with him his son, and when the sleeper was asked to look into the other room, he began to laugh, and 
said that Theodore (Dr. S.'s son) was a funny boy, and was 
gesticulating in a particular way with his arms, while Dr. 
S. stood looking on. He then said that Theodore had left 
the room, and after a while that he had returned; then 
that Theodore was jumping about ; and being asked about 
Dr. S., declined more than once to say, not liking to tell, 
as he said, but at last told us, that he also was jumping 
about. Lastly, he said Dr. S. was beating his son, not 
with a stick, although he saw a stick in the room, but with 
a roll of paper. All this did not occupy more than seven 
or eight minutes, and when Dr. S. returned, I at once gave 
him the above account of his proceedings, which he, much 
astonished, declared to be correct in every particular...I am, 
therefore, perfectly satisfied, that the boy actually saw what 
was done ; for to suppose that he had guessed it, appears 
to me a great deal more wonderful ; besides, his manner 
was entirely that of one describing what he saw."

On page 334 in the same work, Professor Gregory gives this account of "traveling clairvoyance" under hypnotism, in which a person seems to see with a kind of "mind's eye" many details at a distant location:

"We requested her to visit the house of Mrs. P., one of the ladies present. This house was in Greenock, distant from my cottage about a mile and a quarter. She saw her servant in the kitchen, but said that another woman was with her. On being pressed to look earnestly at the woman, she said it was C_____ M______. This, Mrs. P. declared to be true. We then asked her to see if any person was in Mrs. P.'s parlor, when she said that Miss Laing was there, a young lady from Edinburgh, who was boarding with Mrs. P. at the time ; that she was sitting on the sofa ; that she was crying, and that a letter was in her hand. On the party breaking up, I walked into Greenock with the ladies and gentlemen, in order to see if she was right about Miss L. It was true. Miss L. had received a letter by that evening's post from her father in Edinburgh, stating that her mother was not expected to live, and requesting her to come home by the first train in the morning." 

On page 335 Professor Gregory gives this account of clairvoyance (which comes just before an even more impressive account of clairvoyance), in which "visited" refers to a purely mental visit:

"December 25. — J. S., Esq., spending the evening with 
me, was anxious to test her clairvoyance accurately. She 
visited, at his request, his breakfast parlor at home, said 
that his father was reading Blackwood's Magazine, in his 
easy chair by the fire; described the room with perfect 
accuracy, though, I need scarcely say, she had never been 
in it in her life ; described the gaselier, and the number of 
burners lighted, and mentioned what Mrs. Scott was doing. 
Some of these statements, he felt perfectly sure, were incor- 
rect; but, on going home, he found that she had been 
minutely accurate."

On page 351 Professor Gregory gives this account, using the word "magnetized" to mean "hypnotized":

"Case 55. — A young lady in London, being magnetised, 
saw her family in the country, described their occupation, 
and added that her little brother had got the measles. Being 
asked, if her little sister had not also got the measles, she 
said, 'No, but she will have them on Wednesday. Oh ! my 
elder sister will have them too, but not until the Wednesday 
following.' All this proved correct."

Another chemistry professor who investigated the paranormal was Robert Hare, a professor of chemistry at Harvard University. In a lengthy 1856 book, Hare tells how he at first thought that the phenomenon of table tipping (also called table turning), widely reported in his time, could be explained by mere muscular movements, as suggested by the scientist Faraday. Hare says in 1853 he was "utterly incredulous of any cause of the phenomena excepting unconscious muscular action on the part of the persons with whom the phenomena were associated." But he received a letter from Amasa Holcombe saying "I have seen tables move, and heard tunes beat on them, when no person was within several feet of them," and proposing he investigate the matter further. 

After witnessing seemingly impressive manifestations he could not explain, Hare invented various test devices such as a device by which movements of a table might produce corresponding letters of the alphabet. The device is shown below:

spirit communication device

Hare reported getting "copious" intelligible messages from such a device, which should have been impossible from any person manually moving the device from behind it, as such a person would not have been able to see the letter wheel and which letters corresponded to the table positions.  He reported getting answers known only to himself, using one of the letter wheel devices he invented:

"As a test question, I inquired 'What was the name of a partner in business, of my father, who, when he had left the city with the Americans during the Revolutionary war, came out with the British, and took care of the joint property?' The disk revolved successively to letters correctly indicating the name to be Warren. I then inquired the name of the partner of my English grandfather, who died in London more than seventy years ago. The true name was given by the same process."

On this page Hare reports eight beautiful lines of rhyming  poetry mysteriously spelled out using such a device. 

Hare reports seeing these paranormal manifestations:

"I first saw a table continue in motion when every person had withdrawn to about the distance of a foot; so that no one touched it; and while thus agitated on our host saying, 'Move the table toward Dr. Hare,' it moved toward me and back again. At the same premises...the table was violently overset, so as to have its legs uppermost. Yet while thus upside down, it continued to vibrate, a single finger of a medium girl, about twelve years of age, being the sole means of human contact therewith. This I ascertained, with the greatest care..."

In the nineteenth century the type of observations just mentioned were reported countless times by many reliable witnesses who reported tables moving, turning, tipping and often levitating when no one was touching the tables (see here and here and here for some examples). Completely ignoring all such accounts, and acting as if they had spent maybe ten minutes reading up on the nineteenth century phenomena called table turning, modern writers continue to tell us the tale that Faraday successfully explained such phenomena as merely "unconscious muscular action." This story is one of the most groundless of the many legends of scientist lore, where we find many unfounded claims of scientist achievements.  Hare's reports of paranormal effects involving tables were abundantly replicated in a two-volume work on the topic by Count Agenor de Gasparin.

On page 60-80 of his book, Hare quotes at length many observations of paranormal events from outside of the United States, reports dating from about the same time as his experiments. He includes the following astonishing account from Count Agenor de Gasparin, indicating some mysterious invisible power:

"Each of us, in his turn, gave orders to the table, which it promptly obeyed ; and I should succeed with difficulty in explaining to you the strange character of these movements, of blows struck with an exactness, with a solemnity that fairly frightened us. 'Strike three blows ; strike ten blows. Strike with your left foot ; with your right foot ; with your middle foot. Rise on two of your feet ; on only one foot ; remain up ; prevent those on the side raised from returning the table to the floor.'  After each command the table obeyed. It produced movements that no complicity, involuntary or voluntary, could have induced....  Each one of us gave orders with equal success. Children were obeyed as well as grown persons."

Although not actually holding a title of chemistry professor, the German scientist Johann Zollner was a professor of physical astronomy, and did some work in spectroscopy and astrochemistry.  Zollner published a work entitled Transcendental Physics describing his experiments documenting inexplicable  paranormal effects. 

The most remarkable of quite a few paranormal results are shown in the visual below.  Zollner set up a pair of wooden rings (obtained from a G. de Liagre) so that they were tied securely with a very strong cat-gut wire, as shown in the Before part of the visual below (the illustrations are from his book). He states the following:

"The two wooden rings and the above-mentioned (p. 98) entire bladder band were strung on to a piece of catgut one millimetre in thickness, and 1.05 metre in length. The two ends of the catgut were tied together by myself in a knot, and then, as formerly in the case of the string, secured with my own seal by myself."

Zollner then tells us the following, mentioning the medium Henry Slade he was testing:

"After a few minutes had elapsed, and Slade had asserted, as usual during physical manifestations, that he saw lights, a slight smell of burning was apparent in the room — it seemed to come from under the table, and somewhat recalled the smell of sulphuric acid. Shortly afterwards we heard a rattling sound at the small round table opposite, as of pieces of wood knocking together. When I asked whether we should close the sitting, the rattling was repeated three times consecutively. We then left our seats, in order that we might ascertain the cause of the rattling at the round table. To our great astonishment we found the two wooden rings, which about six minutes previously were strung on the catgut, in complete preservation, encircling the leg of the small table."

In the After part of the visual below, we see the results as depicted (here and here) in Zollner's book. 

Zollner paranormal experiment

Here we have two inexplicable effects that you can see by closely inspecting the drawings above. First is that the two wooden rings were inexplicably removed from a tied sealed catgut binding that had not been changed, something that would have taken extensive fiddling that Zollner never observed. The second inexplicable effect is that the wooden rings were now in a position that should have been quite impossible for them to have reached, given the physical construction of the small table on the left.  The tables were furniture in the home of a friend of Zollner's, and could not have been kind of special trick tables prepared by the person being tested. 

Zollner regarded this as being very clear proof of a paranormal effect. He began to speculate whether it was proof of some kind of effect by which solid matter can be passed directly passed through solid matter. 

Such an idea does not seem impossible when we consider the possibility of a fourth dimension. Let us consider a two-dimensional creature, like those depicted in the classic imaginative work Flatland by Edwin Abbott. To such a creature, it would seem very possible for some creature (represented by the circle) to escape from the box on the left of the visual below, by going out the exit area on the left. But to such a creature, it might seem impossible to escape from the box on the right, there being no such exit area. 

But to a three-dimensional being, this "impossibility" vanishes.  For such a being, the ring in the box on the right can be removed by simply lifting it up in the air, and taking it out of the box. Similarly, to a four-dimensional being, moving solid matter through solid matter (what seems like an impossibility to us) may be as easy as lifting a ring out of a box with an open top.  But just as a two-dimensional being could never imagine how a ring could be removed from a box by lifting the ring up, we three-dimensional beings might never be able to imagine how solid matter could be passed through solid matter, by some route conceivable only to four-dimensional beings. 

A professor of chemistry at the University of St. Petersburg, A. Butlerof wrote up an account in which he claimed to have witnessed the most astonishing paranormal phenomena while testing a medium named Williams, while the medium was tied up in a hotel room of Butlerof and a Mr. Aksakof.   Below (dating from 1875) is an excerpt:

"Presently phosphorescent lights were floating in the air, and immediately the form of John King became visible. This apparition is accompanied by a greenish phosphorescent light...The form was outside the cabinet, and near to us. We only saw it for a moment at a time ; the light vanished, and the form retreated into the darkness, but reappeared again as quickly. The voice of John comes from the spot where the figure stands, generally, but not always, while the form is invisible. John asked us what he should do for us. M. Aksakof begged that he would rise to the ceiling and say a few words to us in that position. Accordingly we saw the form appear just over our table, and then gradually rise upwards to the ceiling, which became visible in the light proceeding from the luminous object in the hand of the figure. While up there, John called out to us—' Will that do ?' "

A very similar account was published two years earlier in the Daily Telegraph.