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  • Cited by 22
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
September 2019
Print publication year:
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Book description

This is the first systematic exploration of the intriguing connections between Victorian physical sciences and the study of the controversial phenomena broadly classified as psychic, occult and paranormal. These phenomena included animal magnetism, spirit-rapping, telekinesis and telepathy. Richard Noakes shows that psychic phenomena interested far more Victorian scientists than we have previously assumed, challenging the view of these scientists as individuals clinging rigidly to a materialistic worldview. Physicists, chemists and other physical scientists studied psychic phenomena for a host of scientific, philosophical, religious and emotional reasons, and many saw such investigations as exciting new extensions to their theoretical and experimental researches. While these attempted extensions were largely unsuccessful, they laid the foundations of modern day explorations of the connections between physics and psychic phenomena. This revelatory study challenges our view of the history of physics, and deepens our understanding of the relationships between science and the occult, and science and religion.


‘Physics and Psychics is a much-anticipated contribution to scholarship by the preeminent historian of science studying the interaction of science and occultism in this period. Noakes's masterful book, focused on the years 1870–1930, will be essential for scholars of modernism in art, literature, and culture more generally.'

Linda Dalrymple Henderson - University of Texas, Austin

‘Richard Noakes knows more than anyone else in the world about the complex ways physics and psychical research interacted in the decades around 1900, and in this incisive book he shows us just how permeable the boundary between science and the seemingly supernatural was in those days - and perhaps still is.'

Bruce J. Hunt - University of Texas, Austin

‘Richard Noakes's ground-breaking book casts important new light on the place of physics in Victorian spiritualism, and the place of spiritualism in Victorian physics. This detailed and compelling study shows just how important the psychic world was in the development of the physical sciences at the end of the nineteenth century.'

Iwan Rhys Morus - Aberystwyth University

'This book provides new and fascinating insights into the historical links between physics and psychical research. It shows that the interest of eminent physicists in the subject was initially surprisingly widespread and that this was important in gaining it scientific recognition. Recent developments in physics have rekindled an interest in the link with psychical research, which makes this work particularly timely.'

Bernard Carr - Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy, Queen Mary University of London, and former President of the Society for Psychical Research

‘The book includes a wealth of footnotes and other apparatus, and instructive illustrations.'

M. Dickinson Source: Choice

‘Noakes’s humane account reminds us that both enterprises have included rational, productive, and creative scientists whose ambitions, however vaunted, deserve respect and understanding.’

Lucy Rhymer Source: Science in History

‘… a wonderful, rich, and detailed book.’

Ruth Heholt Source: Victorian Studies

‘Deeply researched and persuasively argued, [this book] sheds valuable light on some of the most important questions concerning science and its borderlands in the years between 1870 and 1930.'

Bruce J. Hunt Source: The British Journal for the History of Science

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  • 1 - New Imponderables, New Sciences
    pp 21-75


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