Knowledge in Motion
Knowledge in Motion
Oliver Lodge, the Imperceptible Ether, and the Physics of (Extra-)Sensory Perception
Between 1884 and 1894, the physicist Oliver Lodge pursued three distinct episodes of psychical research, each substantially tied to his thinking about the ether. The first involved telepathy, which Lodge analogized as brain waves in a field, cracking open his hydro-mechanical model of force. In 1889, Lodge deepened this speculation, sponsoring a series of séances with the clairvoyant Leonora Piper. Her inexplicable knowledge led Lodge to consider that consciousness was not a field tied to the brain, but transcended matter entirely, even time and space. Soon after, Lodge entered a phase of epistemological activism. By 1891, he was urging his fellow scientists to trust in “the ultimate intelligibility of the universe,” steps ahead of physic’s coming phenomenological turn. The third episode involved Eusapia Palladino. Her excreted ectoplasm gave Lodge a psychical grip on the ether even as panic over its absence in the Michelson-Morley experiments was setting in. Out of this decade of data, Lodge began formulating his psychical theology, mainly in the context of Synthetic Society debates between 1896 and 1907. Lodge put the mind at the center of evolution and empirical science at the service of humanity’s religious impulse, rescuing “God” from the doomed epistemology of faith.
Keywords: Oliver Lodge, psychical research, physics and psychology in the nineteenth century, science and religion in conflict, phenomenology, epistemology and science, ectoplasm, Eusapia Palladino, ether physics, spiritualism in the nineteenth century
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