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J. Malcolm Bird, associate editor of Scientific American and secretary of its committee, has returned from London, where with Conan Doyle he investigated the claims of William Hope, photographic medium, who in sittings at the British College of Psychic Science produced photo- graphs with at least one distinct extra face. Bird's conclusion, after careful scrutiny of conditions, was, "To me the probabilities seem good that the picture constitutes a genuine psychic phenomenon." Others claim to have caught Hope, however, in substituting prepared plates.
Last week in the offices of the magazine, George Valentine, a medium of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., was tested by members of the committee and the editors. In a darkened room lights flitted about, and six "spirits" of departed Indian chiefs and others were evoked, which tapped the sitters with their paraphernalia. Electric connections between the medium's chair and instruments in an adjoining room, a dictograph, and clock watches proved that the medium left his chair whenever the spirits moved. Mr. Houdini, who was concealed in the room, declared the seance the rawest of fakes. " I have never encountered an honest medium," he said.
Why is this question, shrouded as it frequently is in proved fraud and sensational mummery, an object of scientific attention and experiment? Chiefly because for 40 years a number of eminent men have been convinced exponents of supernaturalism. The movement sprang largely from the British Society for Psychical Research, organized in 1882, among whose founders, presidents, or sympathizers have been numbered Lord Balfour, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Barrett, Alfred Russell Wallace, Lord Rayleigh, Prof. Gilbert Murray, F. W. H. Myers, Sir William Crookes, Andrew Lang, Prof. Henry Sedgwick, Richard Hodgson, Sir James Barrie, Conan Doyle, and in France, Professors Henri Bergson, Charles Richet, Camille Flammarion. In Germany, Zöllner, Fechner, and Weber, all distinguished scientists, were confirmed spiritualists. In the United States, similar organizations have enjoyed the membership—although few of these men have been more than merely open-minded on the subject—of the late Daniel Coit Gilman, president of Johns Hopkins, Simon Newcomb, Edward C. Pickering (astronomers), Henry P. Bowditch, Charles S. Minot, S. Weir Mitchell (physicians), William James, G. Stanley Hall, James Hervey Hyslop (psychologists and philosophers). Dr. Hyslop (died 1920) was the only one of these who could be said to be definitely converted, so much so, in fact, that he gave up his professorship of logic and ethics at Columbia to devote his time to psychic investigation and propaganda. A number of facts might be noted about this list of great names: They are mostly men, whose scientific work has been done in the exact sciences, such as physics and astronomy, who are untrained in psychology or magic and have come into this interest by the back door, so to speak. They are for the most part elderly men, whose sense perceptions may have been blunted and whose interest in death and its consequences is natural. Many of them have lost near friends or relatives, some under tragic circumstances. It is noteworthy that no contemporary psychologist of America (where exact experimental methods have had their greatest development) is a believer in, or even a sympathizer with, the spiritistic hypothesis.