Richet, Charles (1850–1935)
Pioneer psychical researcher, honored professor of physiology
at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, and winner of the 1913
Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. He was also the honorary
president of La Societé Universelle d’études Psychiques,
president of the Institut Métapsychique Internationale, and
president of the Society for Psychical Research, London
(1905).
Richet was born on August 26, 1850, and educated at the
University of Paris. He had an initial personal experience in lucidity
(paranormal knowledge) in 1872. He confessed that although
it had tremendous effect on him, he lacked the requisite
intellectual courage to draw conclusions. In 1875, while yet
a student, he demonstrated that the hypnotic state was a purely
physiological phenomenon which had nothing to do with
‘‘magnetic fluids.’’ ‘‘Following my article,’’ he wrote of the result,
‘‘many experiments were widely made, and animal magnetism
ceased to be an occult science.’’
A few years later, he published his studies in multiple personality.
He sat with various mediums, including William
Eglinton and Elizabeth d’Esperance, and in 1886–87 conducted
many experiments in cryptesthesia with four subjects—
Alice, Claire, Eugenie, and Leontine. Some were in a hypnotic,
some in a waking state. They reproduced drawings enclosed in
sealed envelopes. As a result of these experiments Richet formulated
the theory of cryptesthesia in these words ‘‘In certain
persons, at certain times, there exists a faculty of cognition
which has no relation to our normal means of knowledge.’’
He founded with Dr. Dariex the Annales des Sciences Psychiques
in 1890, and two years later he took part in the investigation
conducted by the Milan Commission with the medium
Eusapia Palladino. The report admitted the reality of puzzling
phenomena, expressing also the conviction that the results obtained
in light, and many of those obtained in darkness, could
not have been produced by trickery of any kind.
Richet did not sign the report and in his notes on it in the
Annales des Sciences Psychiques carefully stated his conclusions as
follows
‘‘Absurd and unsatisfactory though they were, it seems to me
very difficult to attribute the phenomena produced to deception,
conscious or unconscious, or to a series of deceptions.
Nevertheless, conclusive and indisputable proof that there was
no fraud on Eusapia’s part, or illusion on our part, is wanting
we must therefore renew our efforts to obtain such proof.’’
He became convinced of the reality of materialization phenomena
by his experiments with the medium Marthe Béraud
(better known as Eva C.) at the Villa Carmen, Algiers, in General
Noel’s house. His report, published in the Annales des Sciences
Psychiques (April 1906) aroused wide attention. He confirmed
his experiments in later sittings at the house of Juliette Bisson
and at the Institut Métapsychique of which, after the resignation
of Professor Santoliquido, he was elected president. He
was unable to detect Eva C.’s fraud which was conclusively revealed
only in the 1950s.
He conducted experiments with a number of different mediums
including Franek Kluski, Jan Guzyk, and Stephen Ossowiecki,
both in Paris and Warsaw.
His book Traité de Métapsychique (1922; translated as Thirty
Years of Psychical Research, 1923) summed up the experiences of
a lifetime. The book was dedicated to Sir William Crookes and
F. W. H. Myers. It became a sign of repentance for his earlier
skepticism. He stated in his work
‘‘The idolatry of current ideas was so dominant at that time
that no pains were taken either to verify or to refute Crookes’
statements. Men were content to ridicule them, and I avow with
shame that I was among the wilfully blind. Instead of admiring
the heroism of a recognized man of science who dared then, in
1872, to say that there really are phantoms that can be photographed
and whose heart beats can be heard, I laughed.’’
He accepted cryptesthesia, telekinesis, ectoplasm, materializations,
and premonitions as abundantly proved. On the
other hand, he considered doubtful apports, levitations, and
the phenomena of the double, which he had no opportunity to
examine thoroughly. He was most emphatic in stating ‘‘The
fact that intelligent forces are projected from an organism that
can act mechanically, can move objects and make sounds, is a
phenomenon as certainly established as any fact in physics.’’ As
if to leave a loophole for more definite proofs on psychic photography,
direct writing, apports, psychic music, and luminous
phenomena he added, somewhat naively ‘‘No one would
have thought of simulating them if they had never really occurred.
I do not hesitate to think them fairly probable, but they
are not proven.’’
His struggle with the problem of survival was very interesting.
He stated ‘‘I admit that there are some very puzzling cases
that tend to make one admit the survival of human personality—the
cases of Leonora E. Piper’s George Pelham, of Raymond
Lodge and some others.’’
His basis for disbelief in survival was twofold first, the
human mind has mysterious faculties of cognition; second
these mysterious cognitions have an invincible tendency to
group themselves around a new personality. He explained
‘‘The doctrine of survival seems to me to involve so many
impossibilities, while that of an intensive cryptesthesia is (relatively)
so easy to admit that I do not hesitate at all. I go so far
as to claim—at the risk of being confounded by some new and
unforeseen discovery—that subjective metapsychics will always
be radically incapable of proving survival. Even if a new case
even more astounding than that of George Pelham were to appear,
I should prefer to suppose an extreme perfection of transcendental
cognitions giving a great multiplicity of notions
grouping themselves round the imaginary centre of a factitious
personality, than to suppose that this centre is a real personality—the
surviving soul, the will and consciousness of a self that
has disappeared, a self which depended on a brain now reduced
to dust. . . .
‘‘But except in a few rare cases, the inconsistency between
the past and the present mentality is so great that in the immense
majority of spiritist experiences it is impossible to admit
survival, even as a very tentative hypothesis. I could more easily
admit a non-human intelligence, distinct from both medium
and discarnate, than the mental survival of the latter.’’ Treating
of the so-called death bed meeting cases he stated ‘‘Among all
the facts adduced to prove survival, these even seem to me to
be the most disquieting.’’
He did not accept the facts of materialization as proof of survival.
‘‘The case of George Pelham, though there was no materialization,
is vastly more evidential for survival than all the materializations
yet known. I do not even see how decisive proof could
be given. Even if (which is not the case) a form identical with
that of a deceased person could be photographed I should not
understand how an individual two hundred years dead, whose
body has become a skeleton, could live again with this vanished
body any more than with any other material form.’’
He called the phenomena of materialization absurd, yet
true, and explained
Ricerca Psichica Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
1310
‘‘Spiritualists have blamed me for using this word ‘absurd’;
and have not been able to understand that to admit the reality
of these phenomena was to me an actual pain; but to ask a physiologist,
a physicist, or a chemist to admit that a form that has
a circulation of blood, warmth, and muscles, that exhales carbonic
acid, has weight, speaks, and thinks, can issue from a
human body is to ask of him an intellectual effort that is really
painful.’’
In concluding his weighty Thirty Years of Psychical Research,
he was assailed by doubts
‘‘Truth to tell—and one must be as cautious in denial as in
assertion—some facts tend to make us believe strongly in the
survival of vanished personalities. Why should mediums, even
when they have read no spiritualist books, and are unacquainted
with spiritualist doctrines, proceed at once to personify
some deceased person or other Why does the new personality
affirm itself so persistently, so energetically, and sometimes
with so much verisimilitude Why does it separate itself so
sharply from the personality of the medium All the words of
powerful mediums are pregnant, so to say, with the theory of
survival These are semblances, perhaps, but why should the
semblances be there’’ Then, again, as if repenting his doubts,
he explained
‘‘Mysterious beings, angels or demons, existences devoid of
form, or spirits, which now and then seek to intervene in our
lives, who can by means, entirely unknown, mould matter at
will, who direct some of our thoughts and participate in some
of our destinies, and who, to make themselves known (which
they could not otherwise do) assume the bodily and psychological
aspect of vanished human personalities—all this is a simple
manner of expressing and understanding the greater part of
the metapsychic phenomena.’’
His next book, Notre Sixième Sens (1927; translated as Our
Sixth Sense, 1929), was a courageous attempt to grapple with the
problem of cryptesthesia. He conceived it physiologically as a
new sixth sense which is sensitive to what he called the vibrations
of reality. It is a sweeping theory that, in its implications,
is nearly as far-reaching as the spirit theory.
In La Grande Espérance (1933), following an important
monograph, L’Avenir et la Premonition (1931), he himself admitted
that this vibratory theory is far from being sufficient for
‘‘there are cases in which á la rigeur one could suppose the intervention
of a foreign intelligence.’’
These were the cases of veridical hallucinations. Even there
he would have preferred to fall back on the vibratory explanation
but for the puzzle of collective veridical hallucinations in
which ‘‘one is almost compelled to admit the objective reality
of the phantom.’’ That admission did not allow him to doubt
that ‘‘in cases of simple veridical hallucinations there is an objective
reality as well.’’ Pursuing this line of reasoning, he stated
‘‘It appears that in certain cases phantoms are also inhabiting
a house. I hesitate to write this down. It is so extraordinary
that my pen almost refuses to write but just the same it is true.’’
Still, after having analyzed the purely psychological phenomena,
if the choice was between the spirit hypothesis and a
prodigious lucidity he would lean towards the second. For that
explained all cases, whereas the former, although it is the better
one in a small number of cases, was inadmissible in many
others.
The grand hope of humanity lay in psychical research, in
that immense incertitude which we feel in face of its extraordinary,
truly absurd phenomena.
‘‘The more I reflect and weigh in my mind these materializations,
hauntings, marvelous lucidity, apports, xenoglossie, apparitions
and, above all, premonitions, the more I am persuaded
that we know absolutely nothing of the universe which
surrounds us. We live in a sort of dream and have not yet understood
anything of the agitations and tumults of this dream.
‘‘Everything came down to this
‘‘Either the human intelligence is capable of working miracles.
I call miracles the phantoms, ectoplasm, lucidity, premonitions.
Or assisting in our doings, controlling our thoughts,
writing by our hand, or speaking by our voice there are, interblending
with our life, mysterious, invisible entities, angels or
demons, perhaps the souls of the dead, as the spiritualists are
convinced. Death would not be death but the entrance into a
new life. In each case we hurl ourselves against monstrous improbabilities
(invraisemblances), we float in the inhabitual, the
miraculous, the prodigious.’’
Richet died December 3, 1935.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. New York
Schrocken Books, 1968.
Jules-Bois, A. H. ‘‘Charles Richet Father of Metaphysics.’’
Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 30
(1936).
Richet, Charles. Notre Sixième Sens. N.p., 1927. English ed.
as Our Sixth Sense. N.p., 1929.
———. Traité de Métapsychique. N.p., 1922. English ed. as
Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York Macmillan, 1923.

SHARE
Previous articleQuigley, Joan (1927– )
Next articleRhabdomancy