Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Rhine Research Center
“Kathleen Goligher of Belfast . . . and the family circle in which she sat, were exhaustively studied by Dr. W. J. Crawford, a lecturer in mechanical engineering in the local university, who described his conclusions in a series of books: The Reality of Psychic Phenomena appeared in 1916, Experiments in Psychical Science in 1919, while the third, The Psychic Structures at the Goligher Circle, delayed by the author’s sudden death, appeared in Feb. 1921. They formed a graduated series, growing more and more sensational in their results, and in the end actually represented as visible facts what had originally been suggested as hypothetical inferences.”
This comment, authored by philosopher Ferdinand C.S. Schiller (“Psychical Research (or Spiritualism).” Encyclopaedia Britannica [12th edition, Vol. 32, pp. 198–204]. London: Encyclopaedia Britannica Company, 1922) are the opening words of a short note I published recently: “On W.J. Crawford’s Studies of Physical Mediumship” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2014, 28, 351-357; for a reprint write to the author: firstname.lastname@example.org).
The phenomena studied by William J. Crawford included table levitations and ectoplasm. My comment was not about the evidentiality of the phenomena, but instead about issues surrounding it. As stated in the abstract:
“These comments are about the context and reception of W. J. Crawford’s physical mediumship work. Interestingly, Crawford did not discuss previously relevant work on the subject, nor the conceptual tradition about mediumistic forces discussed by many authors before he published his studies. The latter included ideas to explain phenomena such as telekinesis and materialization. Many writers were skeptical of Crawford’s results, while others argued that some of his findings may have been due to what we now call experimenter effects.”
One of the things I comment about is that Crawford “did not place his work in the context of previous work, among it observations of the phenomena of mediums such as D. D. Home . . . and Eusapia Palladino . . . , among many others. Crawford’s books are limited to his observations and to the results of his tests, and no systematic comparisons were offered in terms of previous findings on the topic.”
Another interesting omission is that Crawford, who believed in some sort of semi-physical force projecting from the medium and the circle to cause the phenomena, did not discuss in his writings previous similar ideas. In fact, by the time Crawford was writing, the “psychic force” model of physical mediumship had been discussed frequently by spiritualists and psychical researchers.
The study of Crawford also brings out other aspects. In additions to discussions of fraud, his work served as a catalyst for the “belief in what today we refer to as experimenter effects.” That is, there were some speculations that the way the phenomena manifested may have represented the influence of Crawford’s ideas and interests, and not the actual nature of the phenomena. “In truth, this was basically a speculation with no evidence in its support. But it provides a fascinating connection with similar ideas from the previous literature about hysteria and hypnosis, not to mention some studies of mental mediums . . . Ideas such as these show that research programs such as Crawford’s fulfilled many functions in the past discourse on psychical research.”