Spirit Hypothesis
The theory that the intelligence that directs the phenomena
of the medium and the séance room is a disembodied spirit. Interest
in the possibility of this theory being true and of establishing
proof of it energized much of psychical research in its
first generations. The theory suffered greatly from the discovery
that most of the more interesting phenomena was simply
the product of fraud. Most of contemporary parapsychology
has redirected itself away from any consideration of the spirit
hypothesis and in favor of exploring psychic powers inherent
in the individual and the various altered states of consciousness
that accompany the exercise of such powers. Some consideration
of possible spirit activity remains in the study of poltergeists
and the near-death experience.
As Spiritualism developed, the spirit hypothesis stood
against various psychological theories of mediumship and the
diabolic theories of conservative Christian theologians. The
psychological theory reduced the genuine phenomena to mental
processes inherent in the mediums themselves and their associates.
Theodore Flournoy was an early champion of the psychological
‘‘The state of passivity, the abdication of the normal personality,
the relaxation of voluntary control over the muscular
movements, and the ideas—this whole psycho-physiological attitude,
where the subject is in a state of expectancy of communicating
with the deceased—strongly predisposes him to mental
dissociation and a sort of infantile regression, a relapse into an
inferior phase of psychic evolution, where his imagination naturally
begins to imitate the discarnate, utilising the resources
of the subconscious, the emotional complexes, latent memories,
instinctive tendencies ordinarily suppressed, etc., for the
various roles it plays.’’
James H. Hyslop summed up the fundamental conditions
of the spirit hypothesis as follows (1) The information acquired
must be supernormal, that is, not explicable by normal perception;
(2) The incidents must be verifiable memories of the deceased
persons and so representative of their personal identity;
(3) The incidents must be trivial and specific—not easily, if at
all, duplicated in the common experience of others.
William James, in his report of the ‘‘Richard Hodgson’’
spirit control of Leonora Piper states
‘‘I myself can perfectly well imagine spirit agency, and find
my mind vacillating about it curiously. When I take the phenomena
piecemeal, the notion that Mrs. Piper’s subliminal self
should keep her sitters apart as expertly as she does, remembering
its past dealings with each of them so well, not mixing
their communications more, and all the while humbugging
them so profusely, is quite compatible with what we know of the
dreamlife of the hypnotised subjects. . . . But I find that when
I ascend from the details to the whole meaning of the phenomenon
. . . the notion that such an immense current of experience,
complex in so many ways, should spell out absolutely
nothing but the word humbug, acquires a character of unlikeness.
The notion that so many men and women, in all other respects
honest enough, should have this preposterous monkeying
self annexed to their personality seems to me so weird that
the spirit theory immediately takes on a more probable appearance.
The spirits, if spirits there be, must indeed work under
incredible complications and falsifications, but at least if they
are present some honesty is left in the whole department of the
universe which otherwise is run by pure deception. The more
I realise the quantitative massiveness of the phenomenon and
its complexity, the more incredible it seems to me that in a
world all of whose vaster features we are in the habit of considering
to be sincere at least, however, brutal, this feature should
be wholly constituted on insincerity.’’
In a chapter called ‘‘The Spiritistic Hypothesis’’ in his book
My Philosophy (1933), Sir Oliver Lodge states
‘‘My doctrine involves the primary reality of mind in association
with whatever physical mechanism it may find available.
Matter constitutes only one of these mechanisms, and indeed
only constitutes it in a secondary fashion; and by a study limited
to matter alone we shall never get the full reality of existence.
Spirit and Nature Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
I hold that all our actions on matter here and now are conducted
through empty space, or rather through the entity which
fills space; and that if our activity continues, it must be continued
in the same sort of way and through the same sort of etheric
mechanism that we already unconsciously utilise now. That
in brief terms is the spiritistic hypothesis which I proclaim and
work on.’’
Beard, Paul. Survival of Death For and Against. London
Hodder & Stoughton, 1966.
Broad, C. D. Personal Identity and Survival. London Society
for Psychical Research, 1968.
Carington, Whately. The Foundations of Spiritualism. New
York E. P. Dutton, 1920.
Hart, Hornell. The Enigma of Survival The Case for and
Against Survival. Springfield, Ill. C. C. Thomas, 1959.
Hyslop, James H. Contact With the Other World The Latest Evidence
as to Communication With the Dead. New York Century,
Jacobson, Nils Olof. Life Without Death On Parapsychology,
Mysticism and the Question of Survival. New York Delacorte
Press, 1973. Reprint, London Turnstone Books, 1974.
Richmond, Kenneth. Evidence of Identity. London G. Bell,
Rogo, D. Scott. Welcoming Silence A Study of Psychical Phenomena
and Survival of Death. New Hyde Park, N.Y. University
Books, 1973.
Salter, W. H. Zoar; or, The Evidence of Psychical Research Concerning
Survival. London Sidgwick & Jackson, 1961. Reprint,
Arno Press, 1975.
Smith, Susy. Life Is Forever Evidence for Survival After Death.
Putnam, 1974.