Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation

An interesting figure in the history of French psychical research is the astronomer Camille Flammarion. I recently published, with Nancy L. Zingrone, an article about him (available on request: carlos@theazire.org). Here is the reference and the abstract:

Nancy Zingrone 2019b

Nancy L. Zingrone

Alvarado, C.S., & Zingrone, N.L. (2020). Classic Text No. 122: Camille Flammarion on the Powers of the Soul. History of Psychiatry, 31(2), 237–252.

Abstract

There is a long conceptual tradition that interprets phenomena such as clairvoyance and apparitions as evidence for a spiritual component in human beings. Examples of this appear in the literatures of mesmerism, Spiritualism and psychical research. The purpose of this Classic Text is to present excerpts from a book by French astronomer Camille Flammarion touching on this perspective. They are selected from the introduction and conclusion of Flammarion’s L’Inconnu: The Unknown (1900), a translation of L’Inconnu et les problems psychiques (1900), in which he published and commented on cases of apparitions and other phenomena he collected. In his view, these phenomena showed the existence of the soul. Similar beliefs regarding ideas of the nonphysical nature of human beings and psychic phenomena have continued to the present.

Flammarion at different stages in life

Camille Flammarion 20 years old

Camille Flammarion2

Camille Flammarion

Camille Flammarion 5

Regardless of attempts to reduce psychic phenomena to medical, physiological and other conventional explanations, many, such as Flammarion, saw psychic phenomena—apparitions, telepathy, mediumship—as examples of the action of spiritual or nonphysical component of human beings. We mention authors defending such view before the excerpt we reprint by Flammarion, such as Johann Heinrich Jung Stilling, J.P.F. Deleuze, Catherine Crowe, Carl du Prel, and Frederic W.H. Myers.

Johann Heinrich Jung Stilling

Johann Heinrich Jung Stilling

We wrote: “Flammarion was extremely productive as a writer about astronomy and related topics . . . His Astronomie populaire (1880), one of his best-known books, was an introduction to the topic. It had 47 chapters divided in six sections about earth, the moon, the sun, planets, comets and shooting stars, and stars and the universe. While most of Flammarion’s works were designed to popularize the topic and inform the public about the triumphs of astronomy, he also had some technical publications . . . Flammarion was particularly interested in the possibility of life on other planets, as seen in his first book, the famous and influential La pluralité des mondes habités . . . [1862].”

Flammarion Astronomie Populaire 2

Flammarion was interested in Spiritism and psychic phenomena most of his life (1842-1925). Here are the books and some of articles he published on the subject (I have emphasized below some of the books that were translated into English:

(1862). Les habitants de l’autre monde: Révélations d’outre-tombe (2nd ed. (series 2). Paris: Ledoyen.

Flammarion Les Habitants de l’autre monde

[under the pseudonym Hermès]. (1865). Des forces naturelles inconnues: à propos des phénomènes produits par les frères Davenport et par les médiums en general. Paris: Didier.

(1897). A séance with Eusapia Paladino: Psychic forces. Arena, 18, 730–747.

Flammarion Seances with Palladino 1897

Flammarion’s Seances with Eusapia Palladino, 1897

(1899). Les problèmes psychiques et l’inconnu. Annales Politiques et Litteraires, 32, 3–5, 35–36, 67–69, 99–101, 131–133, 163–165, 195–196, 227–230, 259–261, 291–293, 338–341.

(1900b). L’Inconnu: The Unknown. New York: Harper and Brothers.

 (1905). Animals and psychic perception. Annals of Psychical Science, 2, 374–378

 (1907). Mysterious Psychic Forces. Boston, MA: Small, Maynard.

Flammarion Mysterious Psychic Forces 3

 (1920). Métapsychisme: Des faits. Revue Spirite, 63, 106–110.

(1921). Les vision prémonitoires. Revue Spirite, 64, 129–135.

 (1921–1923) Death and Its Mystery (3 vols.). New York: Century (First published in French in 1920–1922).

Flammarion Death and its Mystery

 (1923). Discours présidentiel. Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, 34, 1–27.

 (1924) Haunted Houses. New York: D. Appleton (First published in French in 1923).

 (2005). Fantômes et sciences d’observation (compiled by P. Fuentès). Agnières, France: JMG.

Flammarion Fantomes

“In much of this work Flammarion defended the existence of a soul separate from the body . . . The excerpts presented here to illustrate Flammarion’s ideas about the spiritual aspects of psychic phenomena come from his book L’Inconnu et les problèmes psychiques . . . , which was translated into English as L’Inconnu: The Unknown . . . The book in question was mainly the result of an appeal for cases that appeared in the Annales Politiques et Littéraires . . . , and later in other publications. Flammarion asked two questions: one about unexplained waking visual, auditory and tactile experiences related to some other person, and the other asked whether that experience was related to a death.”

Flammarion Unknown

Here are some fragments of Flammarion’s conclusions reprinted in the article:

“The object of these researches is to discover if the soul of man exists as an entity, independent of his body, and if it will survive the destruction of the same . . .”

“It is certain that one soul can influence another soul at a distance, and without the aid of the senses.”

“Many dead persons whose examples are herein given have been told by telepathic communications, by apparitions (subjective or objective), called by voices they distinctly heard, by songs, noises, and movements (real or imaginary), and impressions of different kinds. We can have no doubt upon this point. The soul can act at a distance . . .”

“POSITIVE OBSERVATION PROVES THE EXISTENCE OF A PSYCHIC WORLD, as real as the world known to our physical senses.”

“And now, because the soul acts at a distance by some power that belongs to it, are we authorized to conclude that it exists as something real, and that it is not the result of functions of the brain? . . .”

“The observations given in this work, the sensations, the impressions, the visions, things heard, etc., may indicate physical effects produced without the brain . . .”

“All these things present themselves to us as indicating, not physiological operations of one brain acting on another, but psychic actions of spirit upon spirit. We feel that they indicate to us some power unknown.”

“No doubt it is difficult to apportion what belongs to the spirit, the soul, and what belongs to the brain. We can only let ourselves be guided in our judgment and our appreciations by the same feeling that is created in us by the discussion of phenomena. This is how all sciences have been started . . .”

“These phenomena prove, I think, that the soul exists, and that it is endowed with faculties at present unknown. That is the logical way of commencing our study, which in the end may lead us to the problem of the after-life and immortality . . .”

Flammarion was criticized by his lack of investigation of most of the cases he published. He did not seem to doubt any case he received via correspondence.

We also point out that this conceptual tradition of belief in nonphysicality based on psychic phenomena has continued after Flammarion. “Variants of these ideas have continued to more recent times . . . ‘The findings of scientific parapsychology’, wrote psychologist Charles T. Tart in his book The End of Materialism, ‘force us to pragmatically accept that minds can do things . . . that cannot be reduced to physical explanations, given current scientific knowledge or reasonable extensions of it’ ” . . . Many studies by authors who supported survival of death were also published in later years, after the publication in 1900 of Flammarion’s book. Among these were treatments of areas such as physical phenomena related to deaths . . . , apparitions of the dead . . .  and recollections of previous lives . . . Interestingly, in recent decades there has been some interest in death-related phenomena similar to those explored by Flammarion, and with a similar interest in favouring belief in survival of death . . .”