Why Investigation of Psi Phenomena and Hypnosis Have Stopped

By Charles T Tart


From an address entitled Fears of the Paranormal in Ourselves and Our Colleagues: Recognizing Them, Dealing with Them, published in "Subtle Energies," 1995, Vol. 5, No. 1

Now let me go back to the question of telepathic hypnosis and start on another theme. Dr. Jule Eisenbud is retired now, but he was a psychoanalyst who contributed a great deal to our understanding of this field. He once made a list (which I could not find just before this conference) of really successful experiments in parapsychology over the last 75 years which somehow, after tremendous initial success, nobody bothered to do anymore, including the people who originally did them! Let me give an example from his book. He's talking about telepathic trials done at the end of the last century by Pierre Janet and other people. > In a series of experiments which Janet reported some months after his early work, Leone, his highly trained telepathic subject, was not only repeatedly hypnotized at a distance in the presence of several lay and medical witnesses, but was also made to carry out post- hypnotic commands mentally given. Of 21 trials done over a period of days, and distances of at least 500 meters, no less than 16 were judged a compete success. The times for the trials were randomly chosen. All trials in which Leone was not found in deep trance when the investigators entered her house, or when the trance did not follow the mental suggestion within a quarter of an hour, were counted as failures. During this entire period, Leone fell into only two trances which were considered spontaneous and outside the experimental program. > Another time when she had been incompletely awakened from a previous cataleptic state and had done nothing but doze in the intervening two hours, the post hypnotic commands which were successfully carried out were simple acts, such as going into another room and lighting the lamp in broad daylight. In other words, they were not the sort of things that would happen spontaneously. Evaluating these results, Janet wrote, "Are we to imagine that on 16 occasions there was a rather exact coincidence? Such a supposition is a little unreasonable. Was there at any time involuntary suggestion on our part? All I can say, and I say this with utmost sincerity, is that we took every possible precaution to avoid this." And Eisenbud goes on to say that the now-celebrated Leone was subsequently studied by Charles Richet, professor of physiology at the faculty of medicine of the University of Paris, and later a Nobel Prize winner. He successfully duplicated the results of Janet and Gilbert. We have a very powerful phenomena here. Besides those of Janet, four other papers on telepathic hypnosis were read before the Society of Physiological Psychology in the winter of 1885 and the spring of 1886. > But, Eisenbud says, now comes the puzzling thing. With the exception of one well written account of hypnosis experiments on traveling clairvoyance by a Swedish physician in 1892, practically all work on the telepathic aspects of hypnosis came to a standstill by the end of the decade in which its most significant and most promising results were achieved. One could imagine that the writers of these reports might have felt something of the wild surmise of Cortez catching his first breathtaking view of the Pacific. They might have sensed that no other studies they were likely to pursue could possibly match in importance the experiments they had barely embarked upon. [They] would have starved, if need be, to continue such investigations that might have held the key to profound enigmas in biology, medicine, anthropology, sociology, philosophy and other riddle-wrapped subjects. But nothing like this developed. Janet suddenly found that the quirks of his hysterical patients at the Salpetriere presented a much more rewarding field of study, and Richet returned to his physiology and other types of psychic phenomena. Of the others, history does not tell. > Janet himself wrote, in 1925, by which time most standard texts on hypnotism no longer bothered to mention the telepathic aspects at all, "Such a decadence, so rapid a disappearance after such high enthusiasm and such extensive developments is certainly surprising." He confessed that he could no longer quite understand how he came to get the results he had reported in 1886. And although he did not flatly disavow what he had reported in good faith at the time, it's clear that inwardly he had the greatest difficulty believing that such things had happened. It was like a dim and distant dream, or a childhood memory which was no longer trustworthy. Very interesting. In addition, whole other lines of experiments that showed really powerful, clear psychic effects were abandoned.




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