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Professional Heresy: Edmund Gurney (1847–88) and the Study of Hallucinations and Hypnotism

  • Andreas Sommer (a1)
Extract

The English music theorist and philosophical writer Edmund Gurney was the first ‘fulltime’ psychical researcher in history. While he was primarily concerned with empirical evidence for telepathy, Gurney significantly contributed to the late nineteenth-century literature on hallucinations in the sane, and the psychology of hypnotism and dissociation. He conducted the first large-scale survey of hallucinations in the general public and, with Pierre Janet, was the first to publish experimental data suggesting dissociated streams of consciousness in hypnotism. This paper sketches Gurney's contributions to psychology and dynamic psychiatry in the context of his friendship with Frederic W.H. Myers and William James. It is argued that although Gurney's research into hallucinations and hypnotism had been embraced and assimilated by contemporary psychologists such as William James, Alfred Binet and others, his contributions to psychology have subsequently been marginalised because of the discipline's paradigmatic rejection of controversial research questions his findings were entangled with.

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References
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1 See, for example, Henri F. Ellenberger, The Discovery of the Unconscious (New York: Basic Books, 1970); Sonu Shamdasani, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Alan Gauld, A History of Hypnotism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).

2 Serge Nicolas and Hedvig Söderlund, ‘The Project of an International Congress of Psychology by J. Ochorowicz (1881)’, International Journal of Psychology, 40 (2005), 395–406.

3 I am grateful to Carlos S. Alvarado for allowing me to read his manuscript ‘Telepathy, Mediumship and Psychology: Psychical Research at the International Congresses of Psychology, 1889–1905’, forthcoming.

4 Ian Hacking, ‘Telepathy: Origins of Randomization in Experimental Design’, Isis, 79 (1988), 427–51.

5 Richard Hodgson and S.J. Davey, ‘The Possibilities of Mal-Observation and Lapse of Memory from a Practical Point of View: Experimental Investigations’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 4 (1887), 381–495; Richard Hodgson also investigated the famous Ansel Bourne case of multiple personality. See Hodgson, ‘A Case of Double Consciousness’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 7 (1891), 221–57. Studies in multiple personality were a major domain of French, British and German psychopathologists as well as psychical researchers, which together informed the work of leading figures in the so-called Boston School of Abnormal Psychology, i.e., Morton Prince, James Jackson Putnam and Boris Sidis. See Eugene Taylor, William James: On Consciousness Beyond the Margin (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996).

6 Edmund Gurney, The Power of Sound (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1880). The author of Gurney’s last biographical monograph, Gordon Epperson, was a musicologist. See Epperson, The Mind of Edmund Gurney (Madison, WI: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997).

7 Gurney’s philosophical papers were published in his Tertium Quid: Chapters on Various Disputed Questions, 2 vols (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, 1887).

8 Edmund Gurney, ‘The Problems of Hypnotism’, Mind, 9 (1884), 477–508; idem, ‘An Account of Some Experiments in Mesmerism’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 2 (1884), 201–16. Other important papers in hypnotism by Gurney were ‘Peculiarities of Certain Post-Hypnotic States’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 4 (1887), 268–323; ‘Hypnotism and Telepathy’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 5 (1888), 216–59; ‘Further Problems of Hypnotism’, Mind, 12 (1887), 212–32, 397–422; Edmund Gurney and Frederic W.H. Myers, ‘Some Higher Aspects of Mesmerism’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 3 (1885), 401–23.

9 See William Carpenter, Principles of Mental Physiology, 3rd edn (London: Henry S. King, 1875); Rudolf H. Heidenhain, Der sogenannte thierische Magnetismus: Physiologische Betrachtungen (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Händel, 1880).

10 Edmund Gurney, ‘Hallucinations’, Mind, 10 (1885), 161–99. In his paper, Gurney reviewed and scrutinised empirical findings and theories by Binet, Wundt, Griesinger, Taine, de Boismont, Burdach, Müller, Baillarger, Régis, Kandinsky, Meynert, Krafft-Ebing, Despine, Esquirol, Féré and others.

11 Henry Sidgwick et al., ‘Report on the Census of Hallucinations’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 10 (1894), 25–422. For preliminary reports and discussions at the International Congresses of Psychology see, for example, Joseph Delbœuf, ‘Séance du samedi 10 août 1889: Statistique des hallucinations’, in Congrès international de psychologie physiologique (Paris: Bureau des Revues, 1890), and Henry Sidgwick et al., ‘Statistical Enquiry into Hallucinations [with Discussion]’, in International Congress of Psychology: Second Session (London: William & Norgate, 1892). The results were presented by Nora Sidgwick at the 1896 Congress in Munich. See Eleanor Mildred Sidgwick, ‘On a Statistical Enquiry into Hallucinations’, in Dritter Internationaler Congress für Psychologie (Munich: Lehmann, 1897).

12 For an assessment of the significance of the SPR’s work for late nineteenth-century psychopathology, see John P. Williams, ‘Psychical Research and Psychiatry in Late Victorian Britain: Trance as Ecstasy or Trance as Insanity’, in W.F. Bynum, Roy Porter and Michael Shepherd (eds), The Anatomy of Madness: Essays in the History of Psychiatry, Vol. 1: People and Ideas (London: Tavistock, 1985), 233–54.

13 Eugene Taylor, William James on Exceptional Mental States: The 1896 Lowell Lectures (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1983), 37; Alfred Binet, Les altérations de la personnalité (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1892), 79, and idem, La suggestibilité (Paris: Librairie C. Reinwald, 1900), 41.

14 Carlos S. Alvarado, ‘Dissociation in Britain during the Late Nineteenth Century: The Society for Psychical Research, 1882–1900’, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 3 (2002), 9–33.

15 William James, ‘Frederic Myers’s Service to Psychology’, Proceedings of the Society of Psychical Research, 17 (1901), 13–23: 16.

16 Edmund Gurney, Frederic W.H. Myers and Frank Podmore, Phantasms of the Living, 2 vols, (London: Trübner, 1886), Vol. 1, 172.

17 Taylor, op. cit. (note 13), 113–130.

18 William James, ‘Phantasms of the Living’ (review), Science, 9 (1887), 18–20.

19 Letter, Edmund Gurney to William James, 16 January 1887, in Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth M. Berkeley (eds), The Correspondence of William James (Charlottesville, VA: The University of Virginia Press, 1998), Vol. 6, 190.

20 Wilhelm Wundt, Der Spiritismus: Eine sogenannte wissenschaftliche Frage (Leipzig: Engelmann, 1879); Nikola Kohls and Andreas Sommer, ‘Die akademische Psychologie am Scheideweg’, in A. Büssing, T. Ostermann, M. Glöckler, P.F. Matthiesen (eds), Spiritualität, Krankheit und Heilung – Bedeutung und Ausdrucksformen der Spiritualität in der Medizin, (Frankfurt: Verlag für Akademische Schriften, 2006). Other prominent German psychologists debating psychical research were Wilhelm Preyer and Hugo Münsterberg. See, for example, William T. Preyer, Die Erklärung des Gedankenlesens nebst Beschreibung eines neuen Verfahrens zum Nachweise unwillkürlicher Bewegungen (Leipzig: Grieben, 1886); Hugo Münsterberg, Gedankenübertragung (Freiburg i. Br.: Mohr, 1889).

21 Deborah J Coon, ‘Testing the Limits of Sense and Science: American Experimental Psychologists Combat Spiritualism’, American Psychologist, 47 (1992), 143–51; Taylor, op. cit. (note 5); Andreas Sommer, ‘Psychical Research and the Origins of American Psychology: Hugo Münsterberg, William James and Eusapia Palladino’, History of the Human Sciences, 24 (2011), forthcoming.

22 Wilhelm Preyer, ‘Telepathie und Geisterseherei in England’, Deutsche Rundschau, 46 (1886), 30–51; Edmund Gurney, Telepathie: Eine Erwiderung auf die Kritik des Herrn Prof. W. Preyer (Leipzig: Friedrich, 1887). Other critics of Gurney were, for example, Joseph Jastrow, Josiah Royce and Charles Saunders Peirce.

23 See, for example, the problematic first biographical monograph of Gurney by Trevor Hall, The Strange Case of Edmund Gurney (London: Gerald Duckworth, 1964). For critiques of Hall’s Gurney biography, see Alan Gauld, ‘Mr Hall and the S.P.R.’, Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 43 (1965), 53–62; Trevor Hamilton, Immortal Longings: F.W.H. Myers and the Victorian Search for Life After Death (Exeter: Imprint Academic, 2009), Fraser Nicol, ‘The Silences of Mr. Trevor Hall’, International Journal of Parapsychology, 8 (1966), 5–59.

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