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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY

THEODORE FLOURNOY

Professor of psychology. B. August 15, 1854, Geneva, Switzerland; d. November 5, 1920, Geneva. M.D., 1878, University of Strasbourg Medical School. Dr. Flournoy taught at the University of Geneva from 1891 until 1919, his subjects, successively, physiological psychology, experimental psychology, philosophy, history and the philosophy of science. He founded (1901) the journal Archives de Psychologie, which is still being published, and was author of many medical and psychological works, including Des Phénomènes de Synapsie (Phenomena of Synapsis; 1893); Les Principes de la psychologie religieuse (1903); Le Génie religieux (1904).

Interested in mediumship, Dr. Flournoy became particularly well known for his study of the medium Hélène Smith, whose phenomena took their most remarkable form in automatic writing and speaking, including "glossolaly," or "speaking with tongues" -- the utterance of words and phrases, in trance, of a language apparently unknown to the speaker when in the conscious state.

Mlle. Smith, responsibility employed in a Geneva business firm, first manifested mediumistic abilities in seances with a spiritistic circle, passing along to its members suppossed messages from the dead. More extraordinary, however, were the communications over a period of years in which she narrated three distinct "dramas," in two of them telling of her supposed previous incarnations as a Hindu princess and as Marie Antoinette. Her third "drama" concerned the son of one of her seance circle who had purportedly been transported to Mars and who "reported" on the language, people and customs of the planet. Bits of all three stories appeared in alternating seances and sometimes in the same seance.

Dr. Flournoy, in his book Des Indes à la Planète Mars (From India to the Planet Mars; 1900), carefully reported and analyzed these dramas, as well as Hélene Smith's "control," Léopold, Dr. Flournoy saw as rooted in what would today be called "repressed" aspects of the medium's personality, particularly since the facts of Marie Antoinette's life were common knowledge and since the "language" of Mars was composed of European roots, primarily French. Flournoy found far more puzzling, however, the romance of the Hindu princess. For he uncovered in extensive research obscure books on India's history, books apparently inaccessible to Mlle. Smith, which confirmed place names and persons described by the medium -- who had, futhermore, spoken Hindi phrases and written similar phrases in Arabic script during her trances.

Although Dr. Flournoy felt Mlle. Smith displayed knowledge that would have been difficult if not impossible for her to acquire by normal means, he rejected a spiritistic explanation. Instead, while he arrived at no absolute solution, he believed telepathy might account for her performances, her subconscious having picked up factual fragments haphazardly. Flournoy concluded: "...One may hope that the study of the facts fo mediumship will contribute to furnish us one day with a true and fertile view of normal mental development, which in return will enable us better to understand the appearance of these curious phenomena, and that the whole of psychology will gain a better and more exact conception of human personality."

William McDougall (q.v.) in his book Outline of Abnormal Psychology (1926) discussed at length Flournoy' study of Hélène Smith and credited him with anticipation of "much that is now becoming common doctrine" in psychology. Flournoy's other books on parapsychological subjects include Métapsychique et Psychologie (Parapsychology and Psychology; 1890); Nouvelles observations sur un cas de somnambulisme avec glossolalie (New Observations on a Case of Somnambulism with Glossolaly; (1902); Esprits et Médiums (1911); La Philosophie de William James (1911; Amer. ed., 1917).


Taken from Helene Pleasants (1964) Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology with Directory and Glossary 1946-1996 NY: Garrett Publications


 
 

 

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