Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
My last published paper just appeared in History of Psychiatry, a journal published by Sage: “Classic Text No. 98 ‘Visions of the Dying’, by James H Hyslop (1907)” (History of Psychiatry, 2014, 25, 237–252; for a PDF reprint write to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org). It is a reprint of a 1907 paper written by American philosopher and psychical researcher James H. Hyslop (1854-1920) about deathbed visions. The paper appeared in a section of the journal devoted to texts from the past.
Deathbed visions have been of interest to psychical researchers and others since the nineteenth century. This Classic Text presents a reprint of an article on ‘Visions of the Dying’ published in 1907 in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research by philosopher and psychical researcher James H. Hyslop (1854–1920). The article was Hyslop’s attempt to define the topic as one belonging to the agenda of psychical research and to request additional cases for further study. An introduction to this Classic Text sets it in the context of previous writings on the subject, of Hyslop’s psychical research work, and of his writings about deathbed visions after 1907.
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As I stated in the article “Hyslop’s paper was influential in bringing the topic to the attention of psychical researchers, as well as psychologists and others. As such, the work contributed to the establishment of deathbed visions as a type of experience needing research, particularly for those interested in parapsychological and spiritual aspects of the phenomenon.”
“Similar to the large literature about apparitions . . . discussions on the topic fell into two main camps: authors who explained deathbed visions via conventional processes (hallucinations based on such processes as imagination and brain pathology) and those who were open to the potentially spiritual aspects of the experience (that is, the idea that when experiencers were close to death they actually perceived the deceased) . . . . Those who reduced deathbed visions to hallucinations were working within the nineteenth century tendency to explain all sorts of visions as the function of human imagination or nervous pathology . . . This, in turn, was part of a nineteenth-century movement to medicalize, and explain away, old ideas about the soul and other unusual experiences.”
The first group included individuals such as English physician Samuel William Langston Parker (1803–1871) and American physician Edward Hammond Clarke (1820–1877). The latter group had English poet and spiritualist Thomas Shorter (1823–1899) and Irish social reformer and writer Frances Power Cobbe (1822–1904) as representatives.
Hyslop’s work took place in the context of psychical research, some of which workers were redefining the very concept of a hallucination. “That is, some psychical researchers argued that hallucinations could have aspects that could not be reduced to imagination or pathology because the apparitions perceived included verifiable information not known to the perceiver . . . To some extent the article by Hyslop reprinted here was an extension of this regarding some deathbed vision cases, and it was a protest against the acceptance by physicians and others of a purely intrapsychic model of visionary experience.”