Spirit Hypothesis

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Spirit Hypothesis

The theory that the intelligence that directs the phenomena of the medium and the séance room is a disembodied spirit. Interest in the possibility of this theory being true and of establishing proof of it energized much of psychical research in its first generations. The theory suffered greatly from the discovery that most of the more interesting phenomena was simply the product of fraud. Most of contemporary parapsychology has redirected itself away from any consideration of the spirit hypothesis and in favor of exploring psychic powers inherent in the individual and the various altered states of consciousness that accompany the exercise of such powers. Some consideration of possible spirit activity remains in the study of poltergeists and the near-death experience.

As Spiritualism developed, the spirit hypothesis stood against various psychological theories of mediumship and the diabolic theories of conservative Christian theologians. The psychological theory reduced the genuine phenomena to mental processes inherent in the mediums themselves and their associates.

Theodore Flournoy was an early champion of the psychological hypothesis:

"The state of passivity, the abdication of the normal personality, the relaxation of voluntary control over the muscular movements, and the ideasthis whole psycho-physiological attitude, where the subject is in a state of expectancy of communicating with the deceasedstrongly predisposes him to mental dissociation and a sort of infantile regression, a relapse into an inferior phase of psychic evolution, where his imagination naturally begins to imitate the discarnate, utilising the resources of the subconscious, the emotional complexes, latent memories, instinctive tendencies ordinarily suppressed, etc., for the various roles it plays."

James H. Hyslop summed up the fundamental conditions of the spirit hypothesis as follows: (1) The information acquired must be supernormal, that is, not explicable by normal perception; (2) The incidents must be verifiable memories of the deceased persons and so representative of their personal identity; (3) The incidents must be trivial and specificnot easily, if at all, duplicated in the common experience of others.

William James, in his report of the "Richard Hodgson" spirit control of Leonora Piper states:

"I myself can perfectly well imagine spirit agency, and find my mind vacillating about it curiously. When I take the phenomena piecemeal, the notion that Mrs. Piper's subliminal self should keep her sitters apart as expertly as she does, remembering its past dealings with each of them so well, not mixing their communications more, and all the while humbugging them so profusely, is quite compatible with what we know of the dreamlife of the hypnotised subjects. But I find that when I ascend from the details to the whole meaning of the phenomenon the notion that such an immense current of experience, complex in so many ways, should spell out absolutely nothing but the word humbug, acquires a character of unlikeness. The notion that so many men and women, in all other respects honest enough, should have this preposterous monkeying self annexed to their personality seems to me so weird that the spirit theory immediately takes on a more probable appearance. The spirits, if spirits there be, must indeed work under incredible complications and falsifications, but at least if they are present some honesty is left in the whole department of the universe which otherwise is run by pure deception. The more I realise the quantitative massiveness of the phenomenon and its complexity, the more incredible it seems to me that in a world all of whose vaster features we are in the habit of considering to be sincere at least, however, brutal, this feature should be wholly constituted on insincerity."

In a chapter called "The Spiritistic Hypothesis" in his book My Philosophy (1933), Sir Oliver Lodge states:

"My doctrine involves the primary reality of mind in association with whatever physical mechanism it may find available. Matter constitutes only one of these mechanisms, and indeed only constitutes it in a secondary fashion; and by a study limited to matter alone we shall never get the full reality of existence. I hold that all our actions on matter here and now are conducted through empty space, or rather through the entity which fills space; and that if our activity continues, it must be continued in the same sort of way and through the same sort of etheric mechanism that we already unconsciously utilise now. That in brief terms is the spiritistic hypothesis which I proclaim and work on."


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