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Vintage Psychical Studies

Date: 08-30-06
Host: George Noory
Guests: Deborah Blum

Science journalist Deborah Blum discussed her new book Ghost Hunters which deals with psychical studies that took place at the turn of the 20th century. She focused on the work of three prominent academics of that time period--- William James, the founder of the study of psychology in the U.S., Richard Hodgson, a Cambridge scholar, and James Hyslop, a Professor at Columbia University. All three started off skeptical, said Blum, but eventually ended up believing that psychic or spiritual abilities do exist.

A highly regarded philosopher and psychologist, James' initial interest in the subject lent it a legitimacy that opened it up for academic study. All three became fascinated by a Boston medium named Leonora Piper who was able to relay uncanny details such as what was inscribed on a long-lost ring. Hodgson even had her followed by detectives at one point, to see if she was somehow getting information from living sources, Blum reported.

While James said Piper had "supernormal" abilities, he wondered if she was using telepathy to get the information from someone in the room. Hodgson, on the other hand, became convinced she was talking to the dead. James found evidence that mediums tap into signals that most people routinely block out but that an injury or ill health might lower these defenses. Both Hodgson and Hyslop became formative members of the American Society for Psychical Research and devoted their remaining years to this type of research, said Blum. In the last hour, she evaluated callers' accounts of ghosts and communications with the dead.

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