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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

5 - The concept of hallucination in late Victorian psychology


The concept of hallucination in the Society for Psychical Research

The general approach of the scientific and medical establishment to the activities of psychical research was epitomised by a note in Lancet that announced the formation of the SPR and referred to its series of

what must surely be serio-comic interrogatories to the public in relation to ‘hallucinations’ and ‘dreams’. An invitation is thrown out to all the weak-minded people who think they have seen ‘ghosts’ or ‘spectres’, or been ‘touched’ by mysterious shades, and to all the dreamers who dream dreams of the nature of ‘coincidences’, to state their experiences.

Here it is clear that the subject-matter of the SPR had been grouped under the signifier of the ‘weak-will’ familiar to the anti-spiritualist discourse in abnormal psychology which pathologised both the phenomena themselves, and the urge to seriously investigate such issues. Lancet wondered if any philosophical society of presumably sane men had the moral right to invite the supernatural accounts of ‘the mad folk outside Bedlam’, the ‘crazy public’. The author of the note warned that such investigations could have disastrous consequences for people with ‘weak brains’ given that all spiritualistic phenomena must be considered morbid. While the manner in which the medical model viewed psychical research was extreme, it is significant vis-à-vis the topic of this chapter that the canvassing methodology behind the SPR was represented as heterodoxical and a dangerous threat to the mental health of the population.

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