January 15, 2013
Ingrid Kloosterman is a PhD student at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, investigating the history of Dutch parapsychology in the twentieth century. She has a Bachelor in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences and a Masters (cum laude) in Historical and Comparative Studies of the Sciences and Humanities. With her background in the social sciences, she is especially interested in the history of these disciplines. With her current research she wants to contribute to understanding how psychology in general and parapsychology in particular have changed over time in their aim for academic recognition. Drs. Wim H. Kramer holds degrees in psychology and business administration and has worked in clinical psychology and telecommunications. Since January 2011, he has been the managing director of the Dutch foundation Stichting Het Johan Borgman Fonds (HJBF). The foundation is financing projects in psychic healing and parapsychology. He has published articles on clinical parapsychology and the history of parapsychology in the Netherlands. He is currently writing a biography of internally renowned Dutch parapsychologist W.H.C. Tenhaeff, the first formal study of Tenhaeff’s life’s work. Last year, he co-edited Perspectives of Clinical Parapsychology: An Introductory Reader with Eberhard Bauer and Gerd H. Hovelmann (Bunnik: Stichting HJBF, 2012). I interviewed them both ahead of the Psychical Research in the History of Medicine at the Sciences being held at University College London, 25-27 January 2013, where they are presenting their papers. I had met them during my own research travels in North Carolina and England in August and September. I wanted to find out more about the history of Dutch psychical research, its interactions with non-Dutch researchers, and what Ingrid and Wim were going to present on at the upcoming conference. Christopher Laursen: I want to begin by setting the scene.  How did psychical research emerge in the Netherlands, and who are the major people who have worked in this study since it began there? Wim Kramer: Within the Netherlands, traditionally there has always been a serious interest in so-called psychic phenomena. Back in February 1858, the famous D.D. Home was invited over to Amsterdam by a group of ten critical scientists and laymen to demonstrate his alleged powers in a séance to be held in an Amsterdam hotel. Not only Dutch critics were interested. Two days after this séance in Amsterdam, Home was invited by Queen Sophia of The Netherlands to give a séance at the Royal Palace in The Hague. The Queen showed her appreciation of this séance by giving Home an expensive ring. The ‘case for Spiritism’ was discussed widely in nineteenth-century newspapers, books, journals and special brochures on the topic. Newspapers and public magazines in general took a very critical point of view on the subject. Nineteenth- century Holland was still a very Protestant, religious society; the vicars decided what was right and wrong and, as expected, most were furiously against any Spiritual phenomena as being an act for the devil himself trying to lure mankind into darkness. Remarkably, on the other hand, many advocates of the Spiritistic movement in Holland were vicars. By the late 1890s, a strong movement of what we can call a Christian Spiritistic movement became mainstream. Also, the Theosophical movement, and about twenty years later, the Anthroposophical movement became influential in Holland. Next to these spiritual movements there was interest by scientists in psychic phenomena. So when, in 1882, the British Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was founded, soon several Dutch scientists joined their ranks. One of the early participants was the famous Dutch author and psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden. He published several articles in the SPR’s journal and proceedings, and many of his books have spiritualistic elements in them. Remarkably, the First World War-era prime minister of the Netherlands was a member of the British SPR. Ingrid Kloosterman: One could say that the real beginning of Dutch psychical research is to be situated in 1920. This is when the Dutch version of the Society for Psychical Research (Studievereeniging voor Psychical Research) was established. Several respected Dutch scientists were among its first members; such as the psychiatrist Gerard Jelgersma, the astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn and the first professor in experimental psychology Frans Roels. Another highly renowned pioneering psychologist – Gerard Heymans – was the first president of the Dutch SPR. His successful experiments – together with Brugmans and Weinberg – into telepathy on Abraham van Dam are still famous nowadays. In an ingenious experiment design, Van Dam had to point out a specific field on a chess board – a field which was decided upon by the experimenter beforehand. It could be argued that the emergence of psychical research in the Netherlands was very much intertwined with the emergence of the discipline of psychology, perhaps moreso than in other countries. Heymans’ experiments with the student Van Dam were certainly not the first serious attempt to investigate paranormal phenomena. Wim mentioned the psychiatrist, pioneering psychologist and author Frederik van Eeden. For example, van Eeden had investigated the mediums Fay and Thompson in 1890 and 1902 respectively. In his opinion, the investigation of spiritualistic phenomena were an integral part of the new discipline of psychology. He pleaded for an anti-materialistic psychology in which these phenomena – and their complex relationship with fraud and deceit – could and should be researched seriously. Wim: Two of the most interesting persons from the early twentieth century in my opinion are Mr. N.H. de Fremery and Floris Jansen (link in Dutch).  Both were instrumental in establishing the first experimental laboratory dedicated to parapsychology. This laboratory existed from 1906 to 1908 in Amsterdam.  Mr. de Fremery was also the nucleus of a ‘heavy’ debate in 1914 about the American medium Susanne Harris. Mr. de Fremery accused her of fraud. This caused an enormous row among Dutch Spiritualists and in the end, Mr. de Fremery resigned. Ingrid and I have just stared to investigate this ‘row/debate’ and intend to publish an in depth article on it in 2013/14. After the Laboratory of Jansen was closed it would take another decade before the next significant chapter in Dutch psychical research would start. That was in 1920, as Ingrid mentioned, with the creation of the Dutch SPR. Another interesting person in the history of psychical research was Prof. Valckenier Suringar, Professor of Botany at Wageningen University. From a scientific point of view, he was caught between the Spiritistic explanation and the psychological (animistic) explanation. A few years back, Derk Jansen and I wrote an article on him. Interestingly, I recently obtained the original handwritten reports on the sittings held between 1920 and 1922. Christopher: Ingrid, you and I met at Duke University this past summer where the archives of J.B. Rhine's Parapsychological Laboratory are held - and what a fantastic collection and archive it is! Can you start by telling me a bit about your research project, and why it brought you to the United States and England? Ingrid: Ah yes, the wonderful archives of the Parapsychology Laboratory! Those were amongst the most complete and elaborate archives I have worked with thus far. As a PhD student, I’m investigating the history of Dutch parapsychology in the whole twentieth century. The history of parapsychology in the Netherlands is quite unique, especially regarding its institutionalization. One of the first professors in parapsychology was appointed in the Netherlands at Utrecht University in 1953, this was Wilhelm Tenhaeff (link in Dutch). And in the ‘70s, there were even two professorships in parapsychology in the Netherlands, with two corresponding research institutes. In my project, I try to relate the developments in parapsychology – regarding institutionalization, research objects and methods – to developments in the discipline of psychology in general. In doing so, I eventually hope to demonstrate that many of the problems parapsychologists encountered in trying to become accepted as a scientific discipline could be regarded as an enlargement of similar issues all other researchers in psychology had to and still have to deal with. As part of my research I went to the United States, since for a long period of time – I would say from the 1930s up till the 1960s – the Parapsychology Laboratory of Joseph Banks Rhine was the center of international parapsychology. Rhine was corresponding with many parapsychologists all over the world and among them were several Dutch parapsychologists. I was particularly interested in the correspondence between Rhine and Johan van Busschbach. Rhine and Van Busschbach sent back and forth many letters from 1952 until 1974, which are all nicely kept in the archives of the Parapsychology Laboratory. Van Busschbach was a school inspector, who – in his free time – conducted experiments into telepathy with teachers and students. The experimental setting that he used – in which the teacher had to look at a certain image and his pupils wrote down what they thought the teacher was looking at – and the fact that Van Busschbach used standardized forms which made statistical analysis easy, duly impressed Rhine, as did the fact that Van Busschbach obtained highly significant results. Van Busschbach came to visit Rhine several times in the 1950s and 1960s and conducted his experiments in Durham as well. In 1957, Rhine awarded Van Busschbach with the first MacDougall Award for distinguished work in parapsychology. Their correspondence – and the correspondence between Rhine and other Dutch parapsychologists –not only gave me a lot of information about the international reputation of Dutch parapsychology but also about which research objects were deemed interesting and what methods were used. Christopher: I remember that I would come across the occasional letter from a Dutch researcher at that archive, and I would invite you to my table to have a look, Ingrid, and it became a really fun exercise in connecting in our research!  It made things lively to have a researcher with similar interests there. Wim, you and I met across the pond the following month, at the conference of the Society for Psychical Research.  You were presenting on Floris Jansen, who you already mentioned briefly.  A truly fascinating presentation that took us all the way from the Netherlands to Argentina.  How did you come to find out about Jansen and how does he fit in with your historical research project? Wim: Floris Jansen might in fact be the most intriguing person in the history of experimental parapsychology. Back in 1906 he founded a very modern en well-equipped laboratory dedicated to what we now call parapsychology research. The interesting fact is that his motivation was completely different from all other pioneer researchers in the field. These early researchers of the SPR were all were fascinated by the effects obtained at spiritualistic séances. Floris however entered the field from a totally different point of view: physiology. He tried to understand how biological life (cells, organisms, species) transformed into psychological life (the human mind, awareness).  Floris thought that the so-called ‘ether theories’ might provide a model for explanation of this transformation. This was not a bad idea at all during his time. The ether theories were a complex series of theories based on an ancient Greek philosophical background adapted to physics in the seventeenth century. At that time, many scientists were seriously interested in these theories. Also the mechanism of mitosis was not yet fully understood by science and some theories on this process involved ether theoretical components. Floris postulated that alleged psychical phenomena like ectoplasm, apparitions, and knockings obtained at séances were in fact a waste product of the transformation process. However the most interesting aspects of his work were his actual experiments. They were all methodological on a very high level – even by nowadays’ standards – and from his publications it is clear that he already understood the concepts of what we now know as the experimenter effect, statistical evaluation, control groups and hypothesis testing. Note that this was all in the time that psychology as an experimental science did not even exist in Dutch universities. It took me more than a decade of research to find out the history of this early laboratory in Amsterdam and the background of Mr. Jansen himself. My investigations actually brought me to Buenos Aires where Mr. Jansen lived most of the rest of his life. I’ve been interested in the history of parapsychology since the autumn of 1979 when I entered Utrecht University as a freshman psychology student. I changed from studying electronics at a technical university to psychology with the sole purpose to study parapsychology. In hindsight, I was lucky because back in those days this was possible at Utrecht University. Inside the psychology department there was also the Parapsychology Laboratory headed by professor Martin Johnson and Dr. Sybo Schouten offering formal courses on parapsychology. Next to historical aspects of parapsychology, I’m seriously interested in the clinical psychological aspects of parapsychology. Christopher:  How did you get into historical research, and more specifically, in this topic of study? Wim: My main historical interest is the history of Dutch parapsychology as an academic science and in how the Dutch played a serious role in investigating the alleged psychical phenomena over the past one- hundred years. There is still so much hidden in the past covered with dust and slipping away in oblivion, often because nobody cares, but sometimes because researchers were deliberately wiped out of the history of the field for ‘political’ reasons. An interesting example of this is Prof. Dr. E.A. Greven (1879-1956) who, formally, was the first ever professor in parapsychology in Holland at Leiden University. Although I knew of his existence back in the 1980s, the pioneer parapsychologists in Holland who knew him personally actually refused to speak about him. It was only thanks to Google that I was able to start serous research to Dr. Greven and his work; by the end, I unravelled a totally unknown part of the history of Dutch parapsychology. Also the existence of the laboratory of the Dutch SPR before the Second World War was known but what kind of research was done and by whom remained unclear. A few years ago I dove into this and was able to reconstruct the history of this laboratory, the people involved and the work that was done. This finding is the topic of my talk at the London conference in January 2013. Christopher: Ingrid, in your research so far, have you noticed correspondence and meetings with psychical researchers from outside of Holland?  What are some of the most prominent relationships that have caught your attention? Ingrid: Dutch parapsychology has always been a small field; within each period only a handful of researchers who could dedicate all their time to parapsychological research. The Netherlands is a small country, yet centrally located in Europe. Therefore, it is only logical that Dutch parapsychologists have always been interested in contact with parapsychologists in other countries. Thus far I have mainly focused on the contact Dutch parapsychologists had with famous parapsychologists from Anglo-Saxon countries. For example van Eeden – who was one of the first popularisers of a Dutch parapsychology – upheld an intensive correspondence with Frederic Myers. Van Eeden and Myers had met at an International Congress of Experimental Psychology in London in 1892. Until 1900, they sent each other 80 letters and visited each other regularly. Their correspondence is interesting since it demonstrates simultaneously van Eeden's critical stance towards Myers' psychological ideas and his profound belief in the existence of a spiritual world. I have already mentioned Van Busschbach who was in close contact with Rhine and visited Durham several times. Rhine was also in close correspondence with Martin Johnson. In 1974, this Swedish parapsychologist was appointed as full professor in parapsychology at Utrecht University. The fact that Johnson was Swedish is also a sign of the profound international character of Dutch parapsychology. From the many letters they have sent from 1962 until 1979 it is obvious that for Johnson, Rhine was his true mentor. These are just some examples of interesting contact between Dutch parapsychologists and their international counterparts, but there are of course many more! [Continued on Page 2]
Dutch researcher Johan Van Busschbach meets with famed American parapsychologist J.B. Rhine.  Image courtesy of Rhine Research Center
by Christopher Laursen
Two historians are tracing the origins and development of psychical research in the Netherlands, which otherwise has been seldom discussed in English language studies.
interview | historical research
Ingrid Kloosterman and Wim Kramer on Dutch Psychical Research
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Dutch historian Ingrid Kloosterman. Wim Kramer, standing, giving a historical lecture about the famous Dutch psychic Gerard Croiset in 2009 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Swedish psychologist Martin Johnson worked at Utrecht University; he taught and practiced parapsychology.   Image courtesy of Rhine Research Center
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