ROBERT W. BROCKWAYTHE ROOTS OF NEW AGE
psychic phenomena by application of the scientific method. It was introduced by the British Society of Psychical Research founded in 1885. Today telepathy is called a form of “extrasensory perception,” better known by the acronym ESP. Many respected psychologists are convinced of the reality of ESP, but hold that it is of such a spontaneous nature that it cannot be proven by systematic experimentation. Many other psychologists are either highly sceptical or else dismiss the possibility altogether. The best that can be said is that ESP is possible but unproven.
The liberally-endowed Institute of Psychical Research at Duke University embarked on scientific experimentation in the field of parapsychology, which continues today. These experiments were originally conducted by J. B. and Mary Rhine. They devised packs of cards with simple marks such as a cross, circle, or wavy lines. In one such experiment, the subject is seated in such a way that he or she cannot see the cards as they are flipped one by one by the experimenter. The subject attempts to record the sign on each card on a pad. Repeated experiments of this kind have been carried on for many years, but, as stated previously, the results are still inconclusive.
Hypnosis is the one area of the occult which has been verified scientifically, and taken out of the occult as a result. Interest in hypnosis began with a carnival-like charlatan, Anton Mesmer, who astounded royalty and aristocrats at Versailles with his shows during the years just preceding the French Revolution. The technique was called Mesmerism and was dismissed as nonsense by most reputable authorities until Charcot, a neurologist at the Saltpetriére Institute in Paris, made use of it in his diagnosis and treatment of patients suffering from hysteria, a neurosis seldom seen by psychiatrists today, but very common during the late nineteenth century. Young Sigmund Freud studied hypnosis under Charcot and later used it therapeutically in collaboration with an older mentor, Josef Breuer. Freud was never happy with the results. By 1896, he and Breuer had ceased using hypnosis and invented psychoanalysis, a technique based on free association. Hypnosis, however, is still widely used, not only by psychiatrists, but by dentists and other medical practitioners.
Despite hypnosis now being recognized as having validity, it is still not known why or how it works. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists of the psychodynamic school cite the results of hypnosis as proof of the reality of the unconscious mind. This is by no means universally accepted. It has also been used, as mentioned earlier, for occult purposes by those who believe in reincarnation, in an attempt to recover the memory of former lives. The results are highly questionable.