Koestler, Arthur (1905–1983)
World-famous novelist and writer on political, scientific, and
philosophical themes who was also interested in parapsychology.
He was born in Budapest September 5, 1905, the only son
of a Hungarian father and an Austrian mother. He described
his early life as ‘‘lonely, precocious and neurotic,’’ saying he was
‘‘admired for my brains and detested for my character by teachers
and schoolfellows alike.’’ Koestler attended the Polytechnic
High School in Vienna and studied engineering, then studied
science and psychology at the University of Vienna.
As a young man he became a Zionist, and when working as
a journalist he joined the Communist party. He was a reporter
in Spain during the Civil War, where he was imprisoned as a
Communist and was only released after the intervention of the
British government. In Paris during World War II, he was arrested
and sent to a concentration camp. His prison experiences
became the basis of his brilliant but depressing book
Darkness at Noon (1940). In this book, as in his contribution to
the later symposium The God That Failed Six Studies in Communism
(1949), he expresses his rejection of communism and
other totalitarian regimes, which he sees as corrupted by inhuman
and cynical power politics. In 1941 Koestler joined the
British army and after the war became a British citizen. By 1955
he had ceased to be actively involved in political campaigning.
In addition to his novels Koestler published a series of brilliant
questing works concerned with human faculty and destiny
in relation to scientific findings. Although it was not widely recognized
that he had a long-standing interest in parapsychology,
his book The Roots of Coincidence (1972) touches on the question
of scientific validation of psychic gifts and states that
extrasensory perception might be ‘‘the highest manifestation
of the integrative potential of living matter,’’ while in The Challenge
of Chance, published a year later, Koestler reviews possible
connections between parapsychology and quantum physics.
However, he maintained a characteristic skepticism, as expressed
in a television interview ‘‘I am still skeptical. I’ve got
a split mind about it. I know from personal experience, from
intuition, whatever you call it, that these phenomena exist. At
the same time, my rational or scientific mind rejects them. And
I’m quite happy with that split of the mind.’’
He participated in three annual international conferences
of the Parapsychology Foundation. At the 1972 Amsterdam
conference, ‘‘Parapsychology and the Sciences,’’ he contributed
a paper, ‘‘The Perversity of Physics,’’ in which he states
‘‘I do believe that there is a positive, not only a negative rapprochement
between those two black sheep parapsychology
and quantum physics. But let us not try to rush things. The
great new synthesis in the history of science occurred when
each component, which ultimately went into synthesis, was already
there and they only needed to be together. I do not think
that the time is ripe, but I think there is this affinity between
parapsychology and modern physics which is more intuitive
than logical, more potential than actual . . . a kind of ‘gestalt’
In the 1974 conference at Geneva, he again discussed parapsychology
in relation to quantum physics, stating,
‘‘So there is now a radical wing in parapsychology, a sort of
Trotskyite wing, of which I am a member, with Alister Hardy
and others, who are trying really radically to break away from
causality, not only paying lip service to the rejection of causality,
or confining this rejection of causality and determinism to
the micro-level, but who really wonder whether a completely
new approach, indicated in holism, Jung’s synchronicity, and
so on, might not be theoretically more promising.’’
Koestler was also a founding member of the KIB Foundation
(later renamed the Koestler Foundation), a British organization
fostering research into unorthodox and paranormal
phenomena. He wrote some 35 books.
Koestler died at his London home March 3, 1983, at age 77,
in a joint suicide with his third wife, Cynthia Koestler. He had
been suffering from leukemia and advanced Parkinson’s disease.
In his will he included a bequest to a British university for
the study of paranormal faculties such as metal bending, telepathy,
and healing. The Koestler bequest, equivalent to
$600,000, was awarded to the University of Edinburgh, Scotland,
to establish the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology. The
first occupant was Robert L. Morris of Syracuse University, former
president of the Parapsychological Association.
Koestler is generally recognized as one of the most stimulating
intellects of the twentieth century. In 1968, at the University
of Copenhagen, he was awarded the Sooning Prize for his
political and philosophical writings, a prize earlier awarded to
Bertrand Russell and Winston Churchill. Koestler was also honored
with such awards as Commander of the British Empire
and Companion of the Royal Society of Literature.
Atkins, John. Arthur Koestler. N.p., 1956.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Hardy, Aleister C., Arthur Koestler, and Robert Harvie. The
Challenge of Chance A Mass Experiment in Telepathy and Its Unexpected
Outcome. New York Random House, 1973.
Huber, Peter Alfred. Arthur Koestler, Das Literarische Werk.
Zürich Fretz & Wasmuth, 1962.
Koestler, Arthur. The Ghost in the Machine. New York Macmillan,
———. The Lotus and the Robot. London Hutchinson, 1960.
———. The Roots of Coincidence. London Hutchinson, 1972.
———. The Yogi and the Commissar. New York Macmillan,
Webberly, Rob, ed. Astride the Two Cultures Arthur Koestler at
70. London Hutchingson, 1975.