Great Spiritualists and Friends
Winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Medicine, Dr. Charles Richet (August 25, 1850 to December 4, 1935) was a physiologist, chemist, bacteriologist, pathologist, psychologist, aviation pioneer, poet, novelist, editor, author, and psychical researcher. After receiving his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1869 and his Doctor of Science in 1878, he served as professor of physiology at the medical school of the University of Paris for 38 years.
Richet was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substance. He also contributed much to research on the nervous system, anesthesia, serum therapy, and neuro-muscular stimuli. He served as editor of the Revue Scientifique for 24 years and contributed to many other scientific publications.
Initially, Richet, like so many of his peers, was a closed-minded materialist. He admitted to scoffing at the reports by Professor William Crookes of his sittings with the medium Daniel Dunglas Home during the early 1870s. “…I avow with shame that I was among the willfully blind,” he wrote in his 1923 book, Thirty Years of Psychical Research, which he dedicated to Crookes and Frederic W. H. Myers, another pioneering psychical researcher, commenting in the dedication that these two men, “equally distinguished by their courage and by their insight, were the first to trace the outlines of this science.”
Home was the first physical medium to be subject to scientific testing, but not enough support was given to Crookes in his investigation of Home. When Palladino came along, many researchers, including Richet, apparently puzzled by Crookes’s report on Home, expressed an interest in studying her.
After attending experiments in Milan with medium Eusapia Palladino during 1884, Richet began taking an active interest in psychical research. He befriended many of the top psychical researchers of the day, including Crookes, Myers, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. He served as president of the Society for Psychical Research of London in 1905.
Many researchers of the day were convinced that Palladino was a charlatan, at best a mixed medium, sometimes producing genuine phenomena and other times cheating. However, Richet defended her. “Even if there were no other medium than Eusapia in the world, her manifestations would suffice to establish scientifically the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasmic forms,” he wrote, going on to explain that in her trance condition “the ectoplasmic arms and hands that emerge from the body of Eusapia do only what they wish, and though Eusapia knows what they do, they are not directed by Eusapia’s will; or rather there is for the moment no Eusapia.”
Richet reported experiencing touches and raps in the first stages with Eusapia, followed by materialized hands that could execute well-defined mechanical actions. He touched the hands and found them to be warm and jointed. Other reputable researchers observed an entire body materialized from the ectoplasm exuding from Palladino, but Richet never witnessed that phenomenon.
Richet gave the name “ectoplasm” to what had previously been referred to as teleplasm. “The word ‘ectoplasm,’ which I invented for the experiments with Eusapia, seems entirely justified,” he wrote, explaining that it is a kind of gelatinous protoplasm, formless at first, that exudes from the body of the medium, and takes form later. “In the early stages there are always white veils and milky patches and the faces, fingers, and drawings are formed little by little in the midst of this kind of gelatinous paste that resembles moist and sticky muslin.” He added that materializations are ectoplasm, “sarcoidic extensions emanating from the body of a medium, precisely as a pseudopod from an amoeboid cell.”
In addition to Palladino, Richet studied Marthe Bèraud (Eva C.), William Eglinton, Stephan Ossowiecki, Elisabeth D’Esperance, and others. He was especially impressed with the phenomena produced by Eva C., even though some of the manifestations were very bizarre.
While clearly accepting the reality of mediumship and other psychic phenomena, Richet remained skeptical as to whether the evidence suggested spirits and survival. “I oppose it (spirit hypothesis) half-heartedly, for I am quite unable to bring forward any wholly satisfactory counter-theory,” he wrote. Publicly, he leaned toward a physiological explanation, but privately, at least in his later years, he is said to have accepted the spirit hypothesis as the best explanation.