- Explaining the Unexplained: Mysteries of the Paranormal by Hans Eysenck and Carl Sargent
Weidenfeld, 192 pp, £9.95, April 1982, ISBN 0 297 78068 9
- Appearances of the Dead: A Cultural History of Ghosts by R.C. Finucane
Junction, 292 pp, £13.50, May 1982, ISBN 0 86245 043 8
- Hauntings and Apparitions by Andrew Mackenzie
Heinemann, 240 pp, £8.50, June 1982, ISBN 0 434 44051 5
- Beyond the Body: An Investigation of Out-of-the-Body Experiences by Susan Blackmore
Heinemann, 270 pp, £8.50, June 1982, ISBN 0 434 07470 5
‘Do the spirits teach Socialism?’ asked a working-class spiritualist magazine in 1897. The answer, of course, was yes. In a year which sees the centenary of the establishing of the Society for Psychical Research in 1882, it is worth recalling why the Society was founded and who its real enemies were. The last two decades of the 19th century saw a remarkable growth in the general interest in socialism and spiritualism. Keir Hardie’s speeches to the Independent Labour Party were creatively reinterpreted as announcements of ‘unseen forces of the angel world’ working for ‘moral Socialism’ here on Earth. The ‘New Jerusalem’ of the socialist prophets had a spiritual as well as a revolutionary aspect. And into this maelstrom of radical parapsychology stepped the traditional arm of the British intellectual police – the fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge. Respectable members of that august institution, including Henry Sidgwick (philosophy lecturer), William Barrett (physicist) and Frederic Myers (poet and classicist), founded the Society for Psychical Research as a means of controlling the investigation of phenomena which looked as though they might fall into dangerously subversive hands. The Trinity men soon attracted influential support: from the future Tory prime minister Arthur Balfour, from J.J. Thomson (discoverer of the electron) and from the distinguished physicists Oliver Lodge and Balfour Stewart. Since then the links between scientific heroes and psychical research have always been close. In his foreword to the two books, by Mackenzie and Blackmore, published to celebrate the Society’s centenary, Brian Inglis recalls the roll of honour among scientific converts: it includes Marie Curie and Sigmund Freud. But of course what these two books also recall, and what is made even clearer in Dr Finucane’s masterly history of ghostly appearances, is the aura of fraud rather than luminous ectoplasm which surrounds this whole project. And into this world of spirit and subterfuge, we are astonished to discover, Professor Hans Eysenck of the Institute of Psychiatry is bold enough to enter.
In fact, Eysenck has been interested in the psychic end of things for most of his career. That career, beginning with his departure from Germany in the 1930s and his enrolment under the notorious figure of Cyril Burt at University College, London in 1936, has attracted more than usual attention. Let us not explain this attention in the extraordinary terms used on the cover of Eysenck’s book: ‘Professor Eysenck is Britain’s leading social scientist.’ Let us instead go back to Eysenck’s own words: ‘Many laymen,’ says Eysenck, ‘have a kind of stereotyped view of the scientist as an inhuman, completely objective and rational sort of person, who only takes into account facts, and is not swayed by emotions and feelings in his judgments. Unfortunately,’ Eysenck confides, ‘there is little truth in such a picture.’ What ‘emotions and feelings’, then, hold sway in Eysenck’s pursuit, alongside collaborators such as Carl Sargent and D.K. Nias, of the arcana of parapsychology and astrology? What ‘humanity’ has suggested to Eysenck the virtue of producing a stream of popular books on mind, on smoking, on extrasensory perception, on psychokinesis? The answer to these questions will not involve the application of any of the tools Eysenck would recognise as scientific: his campaign is more fruitfully considered in historical, or even (perish the thought) sociological terms.
Vol. 4 No. 15 · 19 August 1982
SIR: I have read with much interest Mr Simon Schaffer’s review (LRB, 1 July) of the book I wrote with Carl Sargent on Explaining the Unexplained: Mysteries of the Paranormal. I find it difficult to judge whether Mr Schaffer liked the book or didn’t, because most of his review seems to deal with the alleged motivation of my doing a great variety of different things, of which writing this book is only a very minor one. I am, however, intrigued by his words that ‘Eysenck dispenses’ a ‘kind of “scientific racism”, as it has been called’. I wonder what Mr Schaffer can be thinking of? The only definite statement I make in my book on Race, Intelligence and Education is that there are no biological methods of proving that observed (phenotypic) differences in intelligence between races are due to genetic causes. For the rest, I simply reviewed the evidence, and suggested caution in coming to any definitive conclusions. Is this ‘scientific racism’, or has Mr Schaffer not read what I had to say on the topic, but has relied, as so many do, on extremely inaccurate newspaper reports?
Schaffer also comments on an ‘egregious application of techniques of statistical correlation in his work on IQ and race’: this is curious because I have never done any work on IQ and race! Perhaps Mr Schaffer could clear up what work he had in mind. All I have ever done in this field is to review work done by psychologists concerned with these matters, try to summarise their findings, and point out the difficulties and dangers involved in interpreting these in certain ways. What all this has to do with a book on the paranormal is still mysterious to me, but I thought I should not let the occasion pass to protest against Mr Schaffer’s inaccurate references to my position in the ‘racist’ debate.
Institute of Psychiatry, London SE5
Vol. 4 No. 16 · 2 September 1982
SIR: Professor Eysenck is becomingly modest in his description of his own work (Letters, 19 August). In books such as The Inequality of Man and Race, Intelligence and Education (quite apart from his more ‘popular’ contributions), he has made rather more of the research than merely to ‘review the evidence and suggest caution’. Laudably, of course, he has argued for ever-larger funding in this area. More problematically, he has not confined himself to what he admits is the ‘primitive method of quantitative assessment’. ‘All the evidence to date,’ he tells us, ‘suggests the strong and indeed overwhelming importance of genetic factors in producing the great variety of intellectual differences which we observe in our culture, and much of the difference observed between certain racial groups.’ ‘Biology sets an absolute barrier to egalitarianism in life as in sport,’ and ‘for all those who wish genuinely to restore to bright working-class children the best opportunities for an education appropriate to their talents the restoration of IQ tests to their rightful place seems the best, if not the only way.’ Two further points stem from any consideration of such statements. Professor Eysenck persistently uses a model of the history of physical science which is supposed to lend credence to the tools of his trade: history shows, he argues, that ‘the premature imposition of inappropriate criteria of perfection’ would be too harsh for the early state of psychology. Yet, at the same time, he also makes the boldest claims for the scope and status of any such psychological numerical model: ‘an underlying quantitative system of proof and deduction’ drawn from these ‘primitive’ methods can and must be the basis of all successful social policy. Because of these claims about policy, the scope of science, and the degree to which any science may be criticised and yet used, there are very strong connections between the statements in Eysenck’s texts on race, on IQ and on ESP. There is, therefore, much more to this work than Eysenck seems to want to concede. In 1971 he wrote that ‘the message has been lacerated, ruptured,… minced, pulverised and comminuted to suit the needs of the mass media.’ Eysenck’s critics may not be the only culprits here.
Imperial College of Science and Technology, London SW7