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
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
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
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
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]
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
interview | historical research
Ingrid Kloosterman and Wim Kramer
on Dutch Psychical Research
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