Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center (http://Rhine.org)
Dr. Michael Nahm has reminded us of Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach’s (1788-1869) explorations of “Od’ in his article “The Sorcerer of Cobenzl and His Legacy: The Life of Baron Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach, His Work and Its Aftermath” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2012, 26, 381-407; available here: http://parapsykologi.se/Notiser/Nahm_Reichenbach_JSE.pdf). This article is the best overview available about von Reichenbach’s work and the controversies it generated.
The abstract of this article reads:
“Karl Ludwig von Reichenbach was a well-known and controversial personality In the 19th century. The controversies largely centered on his theories concerning a universal and all-permeating force he claimed to have discovered—the “Od.” In this article, I highlight important events In von Reichenbach’s life and his explorations into the frontiers of science. Subsequently, I present an overview on lines of experimentation that have addressed two of his propositions, namely (a) that the effects of Od can be directly detected by macroscopic movements of objects such as compass needles, and (b) that (electro-)magnets can be detected visually in the dark due to the emission of od light.”
The paper is divided in sections about the life of von Reichenbach, his work regarding Od, and attempts to replicate his work. In his view von Reichenbach’s work had flaws, but this does not means that all his findings may be explained away.
Nahm’s work led me to write a short note about the topic. In “The Influence of Reichenbach’s Concept of Od” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2013, 27, 111-115) I briefly mention some ways in which the idea of Od was used by others.
“Od was one of the inspiring factors behind the development of ideas of forces to explain physical manifestations such as those associated with mediums during the beginnings of spiritualism.” This is evident in mentions of von Reichenbach’s writings in books such as Edward C. Rogers Philosophy of Mysterious Agents (1853). Another example were the writings of physician B.W. Richmond: “The Od-force of Reichenbach comes to our aid in the ‘modern mysteries.’ It is an imponderable fluid . . . . The human body having it in abundance transmits it to inanimate matter—the human will having control over it—as easily grasps and impels it, when chairs and tables have been charged with it, as when a muscle or a nerve has been charged with it” (Brittan & Richmond, 1853, p. 70).
Others used Reichenbach’s findings in a different way. As stated in the note: “A small group of people utilized Reichenbach’s work to argue for the power of the mind to create illusory phenomena, a topic discussed before in relation to mesmerism and other phenomena. The individuals in question saw the performances of Reichenbach’s sensitives as the product of suggestion and expectation.” An important example was James Braid, as seen in his book The Power of the Mind Over the Body (1846).
Braid, J. (1846). The Power of the Mind Over the Body. London: John Churchill.
Brittan, S.B., & Richmond, B.W. (1853). A Discussion of the Facts and Philosophy of Ancient and Modern Spiritualism. New York: Partridge & Brittan.
Rogers, E. C. (1853). Philosophy of Mysterious Agents, Human and Mundane. Boston, MA: John P. Jewett.