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Concepts of force in early psychical research.

ABSTRACT: One of the oldest explanatory concepts of psychic phenomena holds that biological forces are projected from the human body. The old literature refers to this force as animal magnetism, ectenic force, fluids, human radiations, magnetism, nervous force, od, psychic force, and vital energy. This tradition of concepts of force associated with the human body has a history dating from antiquity and was particularly prominent in the mesmeric movement between the 18th and the 19th centuries. The use of the concept of the "fluid" to explain parapsychological phenomena represents an attempt to give a physical, mechanical, and natural explanation to unexplained phenomena. This has been a recurrent theme in discussions of these forces, especially in terms of relating them to neurological ideas or to other phenomena of nature.

Franz Anton Mesmer presented 27 propositions about animal magnetism in his Memoire sur Ia Decouverte du Magnetisme Animal, published in 1779. The so-called mesmeric trance, as well as such other phenomena as the transposition of the senses and healing, was attributed by many to "animal magnetism." Later mesmerists--among them James Esdaile--continued this tradition. Reformulations of the concept of animal magnetism appeared in the works of Karl von Reichenbach, who postulated a universal force he called od.

During the heyday of spiritualism, many writers speculated about spiritualistic phenomena, offering concepts of bodily forces as explanations. Influential books such as Rogers's Philosophy of Mysterious Agents, published in 1853, and Dods's Spirit Manifestations Examined and Explained, published in 1854, postulated that a nervous force could be exteriorized from the body to account for mental and physical phenomena such as movement of objects, materializations, and telepathy.

Later psychical research developed these concepts further, especially in the face of the phenomena of physical mediumship. A common idea was that these phenomena arose from the action of a biological energy dependent on the body of the medium, a clear extension of earlier concepts from mesmerism and spiritualism. Among the writers who discussed these ideas of force were Hereward Carrington, W.J. Crawford, Edward W. Cox, Albert de Rochas, Gracis Gerry Fairfield, Cesare Lombroso, Joseph Maxwell, Enrico Morselli, F. W. H. Myers, and Julian Ochorowicz.

With the rise of the Rhinean paradigm, these ideas were set aside by mainstream psychical research. The new experimental parapsychology presented results seemingly inconsistent with the workings of a biological force, namely, the apparent independence of psi phenomena from any physical parameters. Nonetheless, these ideas of psychic forces are still common, especially in a variety of healing and metaphysical systems and in the popular culture.
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Author:Alvarado, Carlos S.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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