Max Dessoir

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Dessoir, Max (1867-1947)

German psychologist who had a special interest in parapsychology he coined the term during or before 1889. He also had both talent and interest in art and aesthetics. A precocious child, he was an accomplished musician who played the violin for the German emperor. His experiments in muscle reading and thought-transference were undertaken in 1885 at the age of 18 and reported in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (1885). Three years later he founded the Gesellschaft fur Experimental Psychologie (Society for Experimental Psychology), dedicated to the study of hypnosis and paranormal phenomena.

Dessoir collaborated with Albert Moll on experiments in hypnotic rapport. He originated a theory of "Doppel-Ich" or double ego, suggesting that human consciousness is not a unit merely to our own consciousness, but actually consists of at least two distinguishable personalities, each held together by its own chain of memories. Because of this, an action that is quite intelligible can be performed unconsciously (i.e., without the agent noticing what he or she is doing, or even breaking off a conversation).

As he matured, Dessoir saw himself as an instrument for educating the German public on psychical research. He founded the periodical Zeitschrift für kritischen Okkultismus and wrote Vom Jenseits der Seele (1917). He also investigated several mediums including Eusapia Palladino.


Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Dessoir, Max. Aesthetics and the Theory of Art. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970.

. Einleitung in die Philosophie. N.p., 1946.

. "Experiments in Muscle-Reading and Thought-Transference." Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research 4 (1889): 111.

. Das Ich, der Traum, der Tod. N.p., 1947.

. Psychologische Briefe. N.p., 1948.

. Die Rede als Kunst. N.p., 1948.

Hövelman, G. H. "Neglected Figures in the History of Parapsychology. I. Some General Reflections." In Liber Amicorum in Honoue of G. A. M. Zorab, edited by F. W. J. J. Snel. Amsterdam: Nederlander Vereniging voor Parapsychologie, 1986.

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DESSOIR, MAX (1867–1947), German philosopher and psychologist, of Jewish origin (he described himself as a "Vierteljude"); son of Ludwig *Dessoir. Dessoir studied with Wilhelm Dilthey and received doctorates in philosophy and medicine. He was professor of philosophy in Berlin, 1897–1934 and taught until 1933. He only left Berlin in 1943 and returned to Germany in 1946 and taught at Frankfurt. Dessoir was particularly interested in marginal psychological phenomena, and in 1889 coined the term "parapsychology." He described and criticized the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner. Dessoir anticipated *Freud by introducing a theory of the subconscious, based on experiments carried out with hypnosis and dream analysis and psychological observation of daily life. Dessoir was also interested in aesthetics and "the general science of art" – a branch of study he founded. Aesthetic objects (or essences), in his view, include many phenomena in nature and in everyday life; while works of art have not only an aesthetic significance but also possess functions of meaning which embrace the whole range of culture: religious, moral, pedagogical, political, social functions, etc. Dessoir's aesthetics are mainly objectivist. He founded the Zeitschrift fuer Aesthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft in 1906 and was its editor for 30 years. His works include Das Doppel-Ich (1890); Geschichte der neueren deutschen Psychologie (1894); Aesthetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft (1906); Vom Jenseits der Seele (1917); Der Okkultismus in Urkunden, 3 vols. (1925), ed. by M. Dessoir; Beitraege zur allgemeinen Kunstwissenschaft (1929); Die Rede als Kunst (1940); Buch der Erinnerung (1946), an autobiography.


C. Herrmann, Max Dessoir, Mensch und Werk (1927); W. Kuehne, Max Dessoirs Methode… (1922); A. Werner, in: Philosophia, 2 (Belgrade, 1937), 299–307 (Ger.). add. bibliography: A. Kurzweg, Die Geschichte der Berliner "Gesellschaft für Experimental-Psychologie" mit besonderer Berücksichtigung ihrer Ausgangssituation und Wirkens Max Dessoir (1976); R. Steiner, Von Seelenrätseln – Max Dessoir über Antroposophie (19835).