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Physics and Psychics
The Occult and the Sciences in Modern Britain


Part of Science in History

  • Date Published: June 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781316638569

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About the Authors
  • 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.

    • Includes many of the most celebrated figures in the history of British physics
    • Questions entrenched distinctions between science and pseudo-science
    • Exposes new aspects of Victorian scientific creativity
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '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, 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, Science in History

    '… a wonderful, rich, and detailed book.' Ruth Heholt, Victorian Studies

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781316638569
    • length: 419 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 25 mm
    • weight: 0.62kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures and tables
    List of abbreviations
    1. New imponderables, new sciences
    1.1 Animal magnetism as physics
    1.2 The oddity of od
    1.3 Outdoing the electric telegraph
    1.4 'Scientific men' and spiritualism
    1.5 Extending the boundaries of physics
    2. A survey of physical-psychical scientists
    2.1 Inventing psychical research
    2.2 Identifying physical-psychical scientists
    2.3 Connecting physical-psychical scientists
    2.4 Gold mines of science, handmaids to faith
    2.5 Changing attitudes to psychical investigation
    3. Psychical effects and physical theories
    3.1 Removing scientific 'stumbling blocks'
    3.2 Challenging materiality
    3.3 Dim analogies
    3.4 Maxwellian psychics
    3.5 Doubts and criticisms
    4. Psychical investigation as experimental physics
    4.1 From psychic force to the radiometer
    4.2 Tying mediums with electricity
    4.3 Magnetic sense or nonsense?
    4.4 Physical as psychical laboratories
    4.5 Wanting opportunities?
    5. Expertise in physics and psychics
    5.1 Scourging spiritualists and scientists
    5.2 Tricky instruments of psychics
    5.3 Tricky instruments of physics
    5.4 Psychical researchers and conjurors
    5.5 N-rays and psychical expertise
    6. Modernising physics and psychics
    6.1 Busy men
    6.2 'Applied' psychical research
    6.3 Lodge's etherial body
    6.4 Interpreting Lodge's physics and psychics
    6.5 Interwar transitions

  • Author

    Richard Noakes, University of Exeter
    Richard Noakes is a leading historian of nineteenth and twentieth century sciences and technology at the University of Exeter. He is the co-editor of From Newton to Hawking: A History of Cambridge University's Lucasian Professors of Mathematics (Cambridge, 2003) and the co-author of Science in the Nineteenth Century Periodical: Reading the Magazine of Nature (Cambridge, 2004).

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