Flournoy, Theodore (1854–1920)
Professor of psychology at the University of Geneva, Switzerland,
and a noted psychical researcher. Flournoy was born
August 15, 1854, and studied at the University of Strasbourg
Medical School. From 1891 to 1919 he taught physiological
psychology, experimental psychology, and the philosophy of
science at the University of Geneva. He published many important
works on medicine and psychology, including Des Phénomènes
de Synapsie (Phenomena of Synapsis) (1893), Les Principes
de la psychologie religieuse (1903), and Le Genie religieux (1904).
He became interested in mediumship, which led to his writing
one of the more famous books in psychical research, Des
Indes à la Planète Mars (1900), translated as From India to the
Planet Mars in 1901. This was the sensation of the year, and the
passage of time has in no way affected its unusual scientific
worth or mitigated its absorbing interest. The book deals with
the mediumship of Hélène Smith, to whose circle Flournoy was
first admitted in the winter of 1894–95. It was published at a
time when the work of the Society for Psychical Research
(SPR), London, and information on the mediumship of Lenora
Piper had prepared a large part of the public for scientific revelation
regarding another life.
Flournoy’s book, written with erudition and a vivid sense of
humor and irony, questioned many Spiritualistic beliefs and
threw great doubt on the ascertainability of the extramundane
existence of the entities that appear to communicate through
mediums. He admitted many puzzling phenomena in the history
of Smith’s mediumship, however. He found the Hindu reincarnation
remarkably real, and he could not offer an explanation
for the medium’s knowledge of remote historical
incidents and traces of the Sanskrit language.
The arguments he advanced to prove that the communicators
were subconscious impersonations were most impressive.
He saw no reason to surrender this attitude in his subsequent
Nouvelles Observations sur un cas de Somnambulisme (Geneva,
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Flournoy, Theodore
The reality of other psychic phenomena, such as telekinesis,
telepathy, and clairvoyance, he did not doubt. He became
convinced of telekinesis through his experiences with Eusapia
Palladino and he found sufficient proof of telepathy in the research
of the SPR.
Flournoy investigated the question of apparitions of the
dying and the dead as early as 1898 by addressing a questionnaire
to the members of the Societé des Études Psychiques and
others concerning their personal experiences. He received 72
replies and published his conclusions in February 1899 in the
Revue philosophique. Because he did not accept the narratives at
their face value he was accused of suppressing evidence.
Feeling honor-bound to publish the correspondence in full,
he included it in a later work, Esprits et Médiums, Mélanges de
Métapsychique et de Psychologie (Paris, 1911), translated into English
in an abridgment under the title Spiritism and Psychology
in the same year. It is a book of reference and contains a detailed
exposition of his conclusions regarding psychical research
and survival. Flournoy believed in the survival of the
soul but not in experimental communications with the dead.
He referred briefly to Lenora Piper’s mediumship and the evidence
of cross-correspondence but was hesitant in offering telepathy
as an explanation.
Flournoy died November 5, 1920.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Flournoy, Theodore. Esprits et Médiums, Mélanges de Métapsychique
et de Psychologie. Geneva Libraire Kundig, 1911. Translated
by Hereward Carrington and abridged as Spiritism and
Psychology. New York Harper & Brothers, 1911.
———. Des Indes à la Planète Mars. 1900. Translated as From
India to the Planet Mars. New York Harper, 1901.
———. The Philosophy of William James. Freeport, N.Y.
Books for Libraries Press, 1969.
LeClair, R. C. The Letters of William James and Theodore
Flournoy. Madison University of Wisconsin Press, 1966.

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