Rayleigh, Lord (1842–1919)
World-famous as experimental physicist, the discoverer of
argon, and president of the Society for Psychical Research
(SPR), London (1919). He was born John William Strutt on November
12, 1842. He inherited the title as the 3rd Baron Rayleigh
from his father. He attended Trinity College, Cambridge
(Senior Wrangler and Smith’s Prizeman 1865, Fellow 1866).
He was the Cavendish professor of experimental physics at
Cambridge (1879–84) and a professor of natural philosophy at
the Royal Institution (1887–1905). He was secretary of the
Royal Society (1884–1896) and was awarded the Nobel Prize
for physics in 1904 for his discovery of argon. He published
many scientific papers and one important book Theory of Sound
(2 vols., 1894–96).
One of several members of royalty interested in psychical research,
Lord Rayleigh married Evelyn Balfour, the sister of Arthur
James Balfour, one of the presidents of the SPR in the
1890s. Evelyn Balfour’s other sibling was Eleanor Sidgwick,
wife of SPR founder Henry Sidgwick. In 1876 in the discussion
of William F. Barrett’s paper on Spiritualism before the British
Association for the Advancement of Science, he declared
that his own interest in the subject dated from 1874. He was
first attracted to it by the investigations of Sir William Crookes.
‘‘Although,’’ he stated, ‘‘my opportunities have not been so
good as those enjoyed by Professor Barrett, I have seen enough
to convince me that those are wrong who wish to prevent investigation
by casting ridicule on those who may feel inclined to
engage in it.’’
Physical phenomena impressed him more than mental phenomena.
He had many sittings with Kate Fox-Jencken, one of
the Fox sisters, and with Eusapia Palladino. He was nonplussed
by the result. Yet he never felt sufficiently convinced to
declare himself in public. He paid little attention to automatic
writing and trance phenomena. He did not think the evidence
for telepathy conclusive, but he declared that, given irrefragable
evidence for telepathy between living persons, he would
have no difficulty in extending it to telepathy from the dead.
Speaking of Kate Fox-Jencken and the famous medium D.
D. Home in his presidential address before the Society for Psychical
Research, London, in 1919 (see pp. 275–290) he said ‘‘I
repudiate altogether the idea of hallucination as an explanation.
The incidents were almost always unexpected, and our
impressions of them agreed’’ (Rayleigh, pp. 275–90). He died
June 30, 1919.
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology.
New York Helix Press, 1964.
Rayleigh, Lord. ‘‘Presidential Address.’’ Proceedings of the
Society for Psychical Research 30, 70 (1918–1919).