Psychical Research Timeline

July 20, 2023 1:00 AM
Psychical Research History
The field of psychical research or parapsychology, has a rich and intriguing history that spans across cultures and centuries. Researchers seek to explore and understand experiences and abilities that defy conventional scientific explanation, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, mediumship, and ghostly apparitions.

The timeline provides a chronological overview of key events, individuals, and societal trends that have shaped psychical research from the mid-19th century to the present day. From the Fox sisters, whose séances ignited the Spiritualist movement, to modern parapsychologists seeking empirical evidence of psychic phenomena, this timeline captures the ongoing interplay between belief, skepticism, scientific inquiry, and the human fascination with the unknown.
The Fox sisters of Hydesville, New York, claim to communicate with a spirit in their house, sparking widespread interest in Spiritualism. These claims were investigated by multiple individuals, though methodologies varied and were not always scientific.
The first Spiritualist newspaper, The Spiritual Telegraph, is published in New York, promoting investigations into paranormal occurrences.
British chemist Sir William Crookes begins investigating spiritualist phenomena, including the mediumship of D.D. Home and Florence Cook.
William Mumler, an American photographer, accidentally produces a double exposure image that appears to show a "ghost" in the background. He later becomes one of the first spirit photographers, claiming to capture images of the departed alongside the living.
The Ghost Club is founded in London. Although its focus was more on ghost stories than on scientific research, it helped stimulate interest in the investigation of paranormal phenomena.
Victorian-era fascination with Spiritualism inspires the serialised story 'The Ghost in the Cap'n Brown House' by Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'
The Dialectical Society in London conducts an inquiry into spiritualism and produces a report acknowledging the occurrence of unexplained phenomena.
Sir William Crookes publishes his research on the mediumship of Florence Cook, claiming to have photographed a full materialisation of the spirit of Katie King.
The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is established in London. It is the first organisation of its kind dedicated to the scientific study of paranormal phenomena. Notable early members include Henry Sidgwick, Frederic W. H. Myers, and Edmund Gurney.
The Seybert Commission is established at the University of Pennsylvania to investigate the phenomenon of Spiritualism. The commission includes prominent scientists and publishes a largely skeptical report in 1887.
The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) is founded by professor of psychology and philosopher William James, who was a leading thinker in the burgeoning field of American psychology.
The Ouija board, a popular tool purported to enable communication with spirits, is patented by businessman Elijah Bond. Though initially marketed as a harmless parlour game, the Ouija board later becomes both a subject of psychical research and a cultural icon associated with the occult and supernatural.
'The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes' by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is published. Doyle, a spiritualist himself, often included elements of spiritualism and the paranormal in his works.
Frederic Myers publishes his two-volume work, 'Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death,' a foundational text in the field of psychical research.
Magician and escape artist Harry Houdini takes on a new mission: debunking psychics and mediums using his knowledge of illusion and stage trickery.
British psychic researcher Harry Price investigates and exposes fraudulent spiritualist mediums. He conducts notable investigations into famous paranormal occurrences, including the Borley Rectory, which he dubbed "the Most Haunted House in England."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publishes 'The Case For Spirit Photography,' validating and promoting the phenomenon. His endorsement sparks significant public interest, but also controversy, as many critics accuse spirit photography of being a fraudulent practice.
J.B. Rhine, considered the "father of modern parapsychology," establishes the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University. This marks a shift from the term "psychical research" to the term "parapsychology."
Rhine introduces the experimental approach to parapsychology, including the use of Zener cards for testing extrasensory perception (ESP). The cards were later made famous by Dr. Peter Venkman in the 1984 'Ghostbusters' movie.
The Parapsychological Association (PA) is formed to support the scientific study of paranormal phenomena.
The PA becomes affiliated with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), increasing the credibility of psychical research within the broader scientific community.
Remote viewing programs, such as the Stanford Research Institute's Stargate Project, receive funding from the US government, demonstrating a serious interest in the potential applications of psychic phenomena.
The Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) lab is established to study psychokinesis.
James Randi takes up the mantle from Houdini in debunking psychics, mediums, and pseudoscience. He became well-known for his $1 million challenge, which offered a never-claimed cash prize to anyone who could demonstrate supernatural abilities under controlled conditions.
Dean Radin publishes the book 'The Conscious Universe,' in which he includes a meta-analysis of ganzfeld experiments providing statistical evidence for the existence of psychic phenomena. The work continues to be subject of much debate among parapsychologists and skeptics alike.
The PEAR lab closes, citing the completion of its original research goal, which was to challenge the scientific community's prejudices against the study of anomalous phenomena. However, they also stated that the questions raised by their research needed much more comprehensive scientific exploration.

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