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

Over the years I have written several articles about Charles Richet’s psychical research, among them a general overview of his work on the subject, and an analysis of his Traité de Métapsychique (1922). My last published discussion of Richet is an article in which I translated and reprinted a chapter from one of his books in which he presented an autobiographical essay of his involvement with the subject. Here is the reference and the abstract:

Charles Richet 10

Charles Richet

“Fragments of a Life in Psychical Research: The Case of Charles Richet” (Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2018, 32, 55–78; PDF available on request:


“In this paper I present a translation of an autobiographical essay French physiologist Charles Richet wrote about his involvement in psychical research in his Souvenirs d’un Physiologiste (1933). In the essay Richet presented an outline of aspects of his psychic career, including: Early interest in hypnosis and hypnotic lucidity, encounters with gifted individuals such as Eusapia Palladino and Stephan Ossowiecki, contact with the Society for Psychical Research, his Traité de Métapsychique (1922) and his lack of belief in survival of death. Richet’s account will be of particular interest for those who are not acquainted with his career. However, the essay is succinct and lacks important events that need to be supplemented with other sources of information. An examination of this autobiographical essay illustrates the limitations of autobiographies to reconstruct the past, but also provides an opportunity to discuss aspects of Richet’s psychical research.”

Richet Souvenirs

I wrote: “One of the purposes of the present article is to present information about Richet’s interest in psychic phenomena via his own, admittedly brief, account. It is my impression that most contemporary workers in parapsychology, although aware of Richet’s existence, know little about his actual work. Being short, and personal, the excerpt presented below may be of more relevance to workers in parapsychology than the more academic writings cited above. The reprint of the excerpt is also an opportunity to give Richet a voice never heard before in English, since the excerpt in question originally was published in French.”

Richet and Linda Gazzera

Richet (on the left) in séance with Italian Materialization Medium Linda Gazzera

I wrote:

“Richet was part of this movement, particularly strong in France, that explored the existence and range of non-conscious human functioning and that included both conventional and unconventional phenomena . . . This is seen in his writings about personality changes in hypnosis, unconscious movements, and the induction of trance at a distance . . .”

“An important early contribution, and a classic of Nineteenth-Century ESP literature, was Richet’s [1884] article about mental suggestion, or the “influence that an individual’s thought exerts over a specific sense, without an appreciable exterior phenomenon on our senses, over the thought of a nearby individual”. . . This included transmission of thoughts and images, as well as other effects such as the induction of trance at a distance. In the paper, Richet described his use of statistical analyses in several guessing tasks with various targets, as well as discussions of conceptual ideas such as the unconscious nature of the process . . . In later papers Richet continued testing various gifted individuals . . . and included observations of Polish psychic Stephan Ossowiecki (1877-1944) . . .”

Stefan Ossowiecki 2

Stefan Ossowiecki

“There were also many experiences with various mediums and psychics. Examples were séances with Eusapia Palladino (1854–1918 . . .) and Leonora E. Piper (1857–1950 . . .). Richet’s . . . materialization séances with medium Marthe Béraud are well-known, an episode that generated many controversies . . . Here both full and partial materializations were observed . . .”

Eva C 8

Marthe Béraud

The best known of his works was the highly influential Traité de Métapsychique [1922] . . . where instead of psychical research he used the term “métapsychique” (metapsychics), a word he had suggested before . . . In the Traité, and elsewhere, Richet frequently expressed hope that future developments in science would allow us to understand psychic phenomena. His popularization and discussion of psychical research not only continued in other books . . . but also in articles in non-psychic journals . . . and in newspapers . . . In addition to the  above mentioned examples, Richet’s articles in psychic journals included topics such as statistical analyses of ESP tests . . . , recurrent doubts in the study of psychic phenomena . . . , the decimal indexing of psychic literature . . . , xenoglossy . . . , an ancient case of near-death experience . . . , premonitions . . . , and survival of death . . .”

Richet Traite de metapsychique 4

Richet Notre sixieme sens

Richet L'Avenir de la Premonition

“Richet did much to support psychical research in various forums of conventional science. He opened the door to, and defended the importance of, psychical research in the international congresses of psychology . . . He was also one of the founders of a very important French journal, the Annales des Sciences Psychiques, first published in 1891, where not only French but also authors from other countries discussed psychic phenomena . . . Furthermore, Richet was a supporter of the Institut Métapsychique International since its beginnings.”

Annales des Sciences Psychiques 1891

Annales 1905

The article also illustrates the limitations of autobiographies as historical documents. An analysis of the essay considering Richet’s publications about psychic topics shows occasional omissions of important information and incorrect recollection of facts. “Autobiographies, like history in general, are reconstructions of the past, but reconstructions based on one person’s perspective and motivations, on their priorities at the moment of ordering the recollections of a lifetime. The latter is particularly an issue.” Nonetheless, “when used together with other sources of information . . . [autobiographies] are not only informative, but illuminating of a time period.”

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Older Charles Richet