William Crookes’ Psychic Force Experiments in Table Tipping
Written By: Paranormal News
Sir William Crookes was born on the 17th of June in 1832 and was known as both a chemist and physicist who spent many years on spectroscopy, which was the study of the interaction between matter and radiated energy. He was credited with the discovery of Thallium, and is considered a pioneer in the invention of vacuum tubes which eventually went on to be used in the first mainframe computers. Even at a very young age, he was offered fellowship within the Royal Society, and later knighted.
After being lauded by the scientific community, in 1871, at the request of some of his fellow scientists, he began to look into the phenomena of spiritualism. He stated to have no preconceptions, and thought that the introduction of measuring instruments into the field of spiritualism would help draw some much needed conclusions that would point to further ways to classify the phenomena, or assist in helping to throw it all out as pure superstition. It was his desire that all evidence he gathered would be used solely for the purpose of furthering scientific principles. He stated that the utmost care was needed in his experiments, as a mistake could eventually cause the unintended consequence of misleading thousands of future scientists.
Many experiments done by fellows of the Royal Society were published in the peer-reviewed work known as the Quarterly Journal of Science, Literature, and Arts which was published by the Royal Institute of Great Britain. Today the same Royal Institute is considered to be the oldest independent research body in the world. The collection of Crookes’s experiments that appeared in the journal were eventually republished in a book called ’Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism’ which, like most rare books that have gone out of copyright, are now available online.
In the introduction of his book, he stated that prior to it being requested of him, he thought little of spiritualists and believed the majority of the claims originated from superstitions or unexplained tricks. Opportunities were also few and far between to study the matter, so it was difficult for fellow scientists to find subjects in which they could further investigate. To take on such a venture, he wished only to bring to light some of what was occurring, and cared not for which direction that information ultimately went.
Being a fellow of the Royal Society ultimately had its perks, and although test subjects were difficult to find to most scientists, Crookes was eventually introduced to a man named Daniel Dunglas Home who was known to perform feats of levitation and also had the ability to move objects about a room without any apparent aid. Lauded by Harry Houdini who personally didn’t believe in legitimate pyschic feats, Home’s biographer considered him to be one of the most famous men of his era. After reading Crookes investigations on the man, one can begin to see why.
THE FIRST EXPERIMENTS
In the first paper published by the Journal, Crookes decided to test Home’s supposed ability to play musical instruments without touching them, as well as to test claims that he could affect the weight of objects. As such, Crookes decided to rig up a cage of sorts, and purchased an accordion that Homes had not seen prior to their meeting. In another room for a weight experiment, he placed a mahogany board rigged up to a balance and spring which registered the amount of force exerted downwards upon the board.
For the test, Crookes first went to Home’s residence and waited for him to dress while they spoke with one another. By doing so, he was able to note that no contraptions or gadgets were brought with him. Upon returning to Crookes’ residence, Home sat down on a chair near a table, and the cage itself constructed by Crookes was placed beneath the top of the table. One scientist sat on the left of Home, and another to his right, with their legs pressed up against one another to detect even the slightest movement. Crookes passed the accordion underneath the table to Home who grasped it only with an index finger and thumb of one hand. Upon establishing contact with the accordion, it began to move and, ultimately, play. Another assistant went underneath the table and confirmed that the hand Home was using to grasp the instrument was quite still while the accordion moved. Then, to everyone’s astonishment, Home removed his hand from the accordion completely and held the hand of one of the witnesses so both his hands and feet were under account. Even still, the accordion beneath the table continued to play on its own.
After the accordion test, the group went into the room with the mahogany board and scale. The board itself registered three pounds in weight on the scale. Home touched the extreme end of the board that was fastened securely to the edge of the table, and the witnesses in the room watched as the other end of the board rigged up to the spring descend and ascend multiple times. Upon touch, the board registered up to 9 pounds, which indicated up to 6 pounds of pressure was being applied. Crookes himself stood up on the table and stepped onto the extreme end of the board where Home had touched it and could only make the scale go down 2 pounds himself. He later confirmed that 74.5 pounds of pressure would have been needed on one end of the board to affect the scale on the other.
At the conclusion of these two experiments, Crookes indicated that enough evidence had been presented to warrant further investigation into this unknown force that Home was able to harness, despite the fact that a few months prior, a few fellow scientists had met with Home and had experienced less favorable results. He stated, "Whatever the nature of Mr. Home’s power, it is variable, and at times entirely absent." He admitted that at times in his own experiments Home did not produce results, but after a few continual trials, more positive results were recorded.
Afterwards, as requested, Crookes wrote up his results and submitted his papers, all the while deciding how to take his experiments to the next level.
Crookes had a very thick skin and seemed to have an extreme ability to accept ridicule. To Crookes, experiments spoke for themselves. As such, he set about spending the next few months addressing each and every unwarranted attack on his character, all the while looking for criticism that he could actually use.
He claimed that the remarks he received mostly expressed a ’curious oblivion’ to how scientific fact is obtained. Stating that what he had uncovered cannot be explained by what is already known and to dismiss it for that very reason does little more than bring science itself to an absolute stand still. In one footnote which addresses the impossibility of the results, he brings forth the quote: "I never said it was possible, I only said it was true." When a new fact presents itself which seems to oppose of preconceived notion of a law of nature, Crookes stated, it does not automatically disprove that fact, but instead, points out that man has not obtained all the laws of nature, or man has not learned them correctly.
In another criticism it was mentioned that the results received by Crookes would have had more weight, given that he had tried them a greater number of times—to which Crookes explained that he had been working on the subject for two years with ten different people who seemed to present some degree of psychic ability, but he received the greatest results with Home. It was only after several meetings with Home that he was able to formulate an experiment to test what appeared to be genuine phenomena. He also went on to explain that his experiments were independently confirmed by a Professor Boutlerow at the University of St. Petersburg who obtained even more extraordinary results, as Home at that time was able to exert 50 pounds of pressure with his fingers instead of the 6 pounds of pressure that Crookes had observed in his own residence. He also went on to cite numerous other works involving research into the same force presented, stating that his own experiments could be looked on as merely further verification of results already obtained by others, most notably, by Count Agenor de Gasparin, and M. Thury, a professor at the Academy of Geneva.
Furthering the criticism, Professor Stokes, who was a secretary of the Royal Society, believed there was a fallacy in Crookes’s measuring apparatus in which he possibly did not rule out other forces which could have been at work...such as a tremor from a passing train. The Professor offered to come to the residence to observe the apparatus and help find the fault, but was pretty blunt in stating that he did not want to witness the experiment being conducted himself, although both Crookes and Home offered to make themselves available at any time. One can easily inject the reason—even in the 1870s, taking part in anything related to spiritualism seemed to be political suicide if it involved anything besides ridiculing it.
If that weren’t enough, in "The Spectator" on July 22nd of 1871, an editorial asserted that Crookes’s paper had been rejected by committee vote since it were entirely wanting in scientific precision. However, the Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society had informed Crookes that a vote on his paper had been completely deferred until November. Upon further investigation, Crookes discovered that the statement in the Spectator had been based on a comment by Secretary Professor Stokes. Stokes later presented Crookes with the explanation that he only had 45 minutes both to read the paper and provide an opinion upon it, so he wasn’t able to go into much of its detail. Crookes interpreted this to mean—perhaps rightly so-- that Stokes offered an opinion upon whether the paper should be accepted or rejected when he hadn’t even read it.
Following Professor Stokes, Crookes then went on to deal with statements made by Dr. Allen Thomson, President of the Royal Medical Society, who said he had been fully convinced of the fallacies of spiritualistic demonstrations by repeated examination and, as such, no further course of enquiry was needed. Crookes raises his objection to this by asking to see the results of Thomson’s own investigations. The assumption by Crookes was that Thomson had not actually conducted any investigations whatsoever.
Crookes agreed with other members of the Royal Society that he did not supply any mathematical foundation to the force present within D.D. Home, but this fact did not provide a good argument against the existence of such a force, nor did it warrant the rejection of his work. "Men thought before the syllogism was invented, and, strange as it may seem to some minds, force existed before its demonstration in mathematic formulae." Crookes purpose was to provide evidence of such a force--not attempt to quantify it for calculative purposes.
THE SECOND EXPERIMENTS
Based on the received criticisms, Crookes had what he believed to be enough of an idea on what, specifically, he should modify in the next experiment. His objective was to remove the possibility that raw nerve or muscle power could have any effect, yet still enable Home to make contact with it in order to receive or get a feel for the ’power’ which seemed to be a requirement. In addition, he decided that in this new experiment, he would completely mask the way in which he was measuring the weight so Home would have no idea what it was that could be modified or where the results were being recorded.
Since, in his initial experiment, he had no indication of time nor of duration in which the weight of the board had been affected, he rigged up a device which would create a graph on photographic plates which would record both the time passing, as well as the weight of the board at any given moment.
To one end of a table he set up an iron plate. To the other end of the board, directly above a fulcrum he placed a copper vessel of water. In between the iron plate and the vessel of water he placed the mahogany board. The instrument which recorded the weight of the board was attached to the table itself. He ensured that neither knocking the copper vessel, nor jumping on the floor, nor making any other activity in the room would affect the recorded weight of the board. If he placed his hand within the copper vessel of water, he was assured that the weight of the board was not affected either.
When he brought Home in to the room he did not explain the new set up, but instead brought him over, watching his every move, and asked him to dip the fingers of his right hand into the water. When he did so, Home said he could feel a power, or force, and Crookes started the clock which would record the weight of the board over a span of 60 seconds. The end of the board that was attached to the vessel sunk downwards and rose back to its normal height. It descended again, rose, and slowly sunk for 17 seconds and it rose yet again. The only thing Home had touched at the time was the water itself and not the board. He recorded at the extreme reading a pull on the board of 7/10ths of a pound, or 5000 grains.
Crookes retried the experiment by removing the water and the iron stand as unnecessary complications and told Home simply to touch the table. Both of his feet were secured and a witness placed his hand on top of Home’s hand to ensure no other movement was being made. He told Home to try once again, and started the clock to record the weight of the board, which suddenly descended and rose irregularly.
After the table contact experiment, he told Home to stand one foot away from the table. Both his hands and feet were secured so he was not making any physical contact with the table. Once again, the weight of the board rose and fell directly on queue.
He tried the experiment once again with another lady who seemed to have similar capabilities. Although her results were not as strong as those from Home, she still was able to affect the weight of the board.
At the conclusions of these experiment, Crookes indicated in his paper that it proved, absolutely, that humans were capable of increasing the weight of solid bodies without direct physical contact. He stated that this force was capable of ’acting at a distance’ but it was more powerful of a force the closer the medium was to the physical object being measured.
Since Crookes understood that there can be no manifestation of one force without the depletion of another, he searched to find evidence for the indication of that force, and settled on the term ’vital force.’ After the experiment was over, Crookes believed there was evidence of this force being used up as Home was completely exhausted, leaving him nervous, fainting, pale, and speechless.
He decided to give the force that affected the board a name: Psychic force. He felt an apprehension to name this force a psychic force because it came with a bit of baggage from the spiritualistic movement which was chocked full of frauds and charlatans.
He believed that all human beings must be capable of such a force, although most people who have it in the same amount as Home were few in number. He recorded at least six additional families that were capable of affecting the weight of inanimate objects, but never to such extremes.
The new experiment was mentioned by Professor Morton who wrote of it in the "Journal of the Franklin Institute". The Journal was established in 1826 which published U.S. Patent information and documented scientific and technological achievements throughout the United States. The essence of the criticism was that Crookes had furnished the board himself. How, asked Morton, could the board have weighed only six pounds? It should have weighed thirteen and a half pounds based on the dimensions.
In Crookes rebuttal, he stated that four separate balances in his home assured him that the board only weighed six pounds. He even brought in an external witness who confirmed this was indeed the case. He stated that his experiment must have been convincing, given that the only criticism that could be found was the fact that he had owned the mahogany board that he used in his experiment, and that it had weighed six pounds.
Unwarranted attacks on his character continued. The Quarterly Review published a vicious essay entitled "Spiritualism and its Recent Converts" written by William Benjamin Carpenter which accused Crookes and a number of other scientists of converting to spiritualism. Crookes response: "Now, let me ask, what authority has the reviewer for designating me a recent convert to spiritualism?" In Crookes mind, he was merely publishing the results of what he had discovered with Home and did not have any desire beyond that. Yes, it was a force that had not been systematically studied, but he did not claim to be the first to uncover it—his results merely confirmed what had previously been written by Count Agenor de Gasparin in 1854 and Professor M. Thury in 1855 at the Academy of Geneva.
Crookes returned the criticism by stating the curious beliefs of Carpenter himself who pursued evidence of a "new force" stemming from the brain which involved ’latent thought’ or a ’reflex action’ or an ’ideo-motor principle’ or an ’unconscious muscle action’ as a solvent for unusual phenomena. Most of the examples cited by Carpenter’s own work involved table-tipping, planchettes, and mesmerism. Although Carpenter may have found no evidence of his own, it was still possible for others to have been more fortunate. Crookes himself implied that the reason for the vicious attack was because Carpenter was somewhat jealous that Crookes had found evidence in a relatively short amount of time, whereas Carpenter had spent over a dozen years and had found none.
Furthering the criticism, Carpenter mentioned that Crookes’s own experiment was invalidated as the result of Home initially touching the board in which he could have exerted downward pressure. Initially, yes, but in the second experiment, Crookes was able to record a change of weight in the board without Home actually touching anything. He had also modified the experiment so motor skills would have been impossible to obtain the amount of force which was recorded.
Carpenter then went on to write in his critique of Crookes, "For his discovery [Thallium] he was rewarded Fellowship of the Royal Society, but we speak advisedly when we say that his distinction was conferred to him with considerable hesitation." This condescending tone probably put Crookes into a rage when he read it. His response, "When fifteen only are to be elected from about fifty candidates, it is to be expected that the claims of each should be rigidly scrutinised, but whatever my anonymous reviewer may say ’advisedly’ on the subject, the fact remains that I was elected on the first application, an almost unheard-of honor for so young a man." Crookes, at the time, had been only 21 when he was elected on the 4th of June, 1863.
The gossip level on the hit-piece went on for six months, and then another letter appeared in the ’Echo’ newspaper, signed conspicuously as ’B.’ Not wanting to have to defend himself against another anonymous writer (although the previous piece in the Quarterly Review was revealed to be Carpenter), John Spiller stepped forward to claim responsibility. Spiller had actually witnessed some of Home’s capabilities himself when he had been invited to the Crookes’s residence, so this new hit piece most assuredly felt very much like a friend had stabbed him the back.
Spiller had been at Crookes’s residence before he properly devised all of the experiments, but this new anonymous criticism claimed he knew how the initial accordion ’trick’ had been done as he was one of the assistants. Crookes reiterated that Spiller had never been at the house when an accordion was present, but had been to the house to meet Home only prior as a guest to meet Home and had done so enthusiastically. In addition, mentioning that he knew how the trick was done and not providing a description of this secret knowledge didn’t make a whole lot sense and seemed quite slanderous--hence, the anonymity. When the editor of the Echo became aware that Spiller had been using the newspaper for slander, he was debarred from writing for it any further.
Instead of retreating into the bowels of exposed anonymous slandering, Spiller then continued his attacks in the pages of the English Mechanic--a weekly newspaper that began publishing in 1865--where he slandered Crookes yet again, all the while complaining that his statements were now placing him under harsh criticism. "Of course they have, but this criticism is simply a consequence of his own unwarranted attack," wrote Crookes.
In the English Mechanic, Spiller did not mention the experimental results but instead focused on a "monster" locket which had been attached to Mr. Home’s watch-chain while he had been in Crookes’s residence before the experiments had been conducted. Spiller had taken up a position under the table to watch Home and had noted the locket dangling and reflecting light around his fingers. Crookes stated that it was of no consequence and had no bearing on the experiments that he had conducted much later.
In the final portion of the letter, Spiller mentioned that as the result of the statements he had made, Crookes was now threatening him with legal proceedings. "I have never threatened Mr. Spiller with legal proceedings, I have never given him the remotest hint of such a thing, never did such a thought enter my mind, and nothing that he has ever said or written in its connection with this controversy could induce me for a moment to entertain the idea of legal proceedings." Why not? Because, as it seems, Crookes had considered Spiller a friend.
After the slanderous articles by Spiller had been settled, W.B. Carpenter decided to make an appearance and attack Crookes again by publicly conducting a grossly misleading experiment during a lecture on the 19th of January in 1872 at Vestry Hall. In the lecture, he exhibited a glass of water and showed that by dipping his finger in the water he was able to increase the weight showing on the balance.
Crookes, after discovering such a lecture occurred, demanded an apology from Carpenter...who promptly blamed the representation of the experiment that he himself had performed on fellow scientists. He stated he had heard how it had been conducted by Professor Stokes and Sir Charles Wheatstone, so it is their fault for the misrepresentation. Any modern reader would wonder why Carpenter didn’t just read Crookes’s experiments himself instead of jumping to conclusions based on hearsay. Then again, if he had read them himself, he wouldn’t have been able to blame anyone else for the obvious misrepresentation.
Crookes then went to demand an explanation from Professor Stokes who stated that the conversation he was having with Carpenter happened briefly in a tea room and, had he known the conversation was going to manifest itself into a full-blown lecture, he would not have said a word. He explained that what had been mentioned to Carpenter was that the displacement of water could have conceivably created the effect, not that it had actually produced the results within the experiment itself.
Crookes then received a reply from Wheatstone who seemed less apologetic on the matter. He didn’t understand what purpose the water served. Furthermore, he mentioned that a displacement of three cubic inches of water could have produced 6816 grains upon the fulcrum, whereas Crookes’s ’imaginary’ psychic force only had produced 5000 grains.
In reply, Crookes explained that the water had been added by the suggestion of Wheatstone in the first place, and it had been set up so applying pressure to the board itself through any mechanical means did not increase the weight of the board. You could push down on the board which would create the maximum displacement of water, and it would cause no effect on the portion of the experiment which recorded how much the board weighed. He also raised the question as to how the displacement of water could have played any role, especially in the portion of the experiment where Home was able to modify the weight of the board on queue, even while standing three feet away with both his arms and legs secured.
Houdini himself would have been impressed with that one, for sure.
Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism