Boirac, Professor Émile
Professor Émile Boirac (26 August 1851 – 20 September 1917) was a French philosopher, psychologist, parapsychologist, promoter of Esperanto and writer.
In the years 1910 and 1913, he presided over two International Conferences held in Paris on Experimental Psychology.
He was the Rector of the Academy of Dijon and was well known as a Professor of philosophy and psychology. His particular interest was the soul and the extra sensory capabilities of the soul. Boirac through his experiments never found any reason to doubt the existence of soul [as opposed to just brain] or that man has some very interesting extra abilities – his efforts thus went into not proving they exist, but trying to fathom how they worked.
The Academie des Sciences of Paris awarded him the prize endowment of ‘Fanny Emden’. [Baron Jacob Adolphe Reinach (17 April 1840 – 19 November 1892), was a very rich French banker of Jewish German origin. He founded the banque Kohn-Reinach and on 6 May 1863 he married his first cousin Fanny Emden.]
This prize was worth two thousand francs, a considerable sum at the time and, according to the translator’s introduction to Boirac’s books, did so ‘in the full consciousness of what that meant to the outside world and in particular the general public’. In other words, it was both an endorsement of his work and approval of psychical research as a legitimate science.
The French have continued to have a scientific interest in this area. ‘France has devoted herself to the study of soul-understanding’
W. de Kerlor – Translator’s Introduction to La Psychologie Inconnue April 1917 [New York city]
The moral shock I received when first landing on these shores [USA] – a shock caused by the attitude of a scoffing press, the indifferent attitude of prejudiced college professors and the hysterical, non scientific attitude of a public always preyed upon by charlatans and humbugs – led me to the translation of this important work – La Psychologie Inconnue. The translation is offered in the hope that we may see in America a new impetus to the scientific study and solution of such important problems as those offered by the presence of Hidden Forces in man, around man, above man and below man
Life and work
Boirac was born in Guelma, Algeria. He became president of the University of Grenoble in 1898, and in 1902 president of Dijon University. A notable advocate for the universal language, Esperanto, he presided over its 1st Universal Congress (Boulogne-Sur-Mer, France, 7 August to 12 August 1905) and directed the Academy of Esperanto.
Déjà vu and other terminology
Déjà vu is the name given to that perplexing and strange feeling that we have been here before, or done this before, but know for sure that this is impossible. In fact, according to numerous surveys, about two-thirds of us have experienced déjà vu at least once, and most of us have had multiple experiences.
Boirac was one of the first to use the term "déjà vu", where it appeared in a letter to the editor of Revue philosophique in 1876, and subsequently in Boirac's book L'Avenir des Sciences Psychiques, where he also proposed the term "metagnomy" ("knowledge of things situated beyond those we can normally know") as a more precise description for what was, then, commonly known as clairvoyance.
Although the term déjà vu is now in everyday use, the arguments within psychology and neurology were extremely heated at the time, and the déjà vu experience was being called ‘paramnesia’, a ‘memory dysfunction’, a ‘pathological condition’, a ‘perversion of memory’, a ‘memory error of both omission and commission’, and even new terms such as ‘promnesia’. All these terms were heavy with pre-conceived judgement that déjà vu was some kind of mental malfunction.
It has since been found that déjà vu is one of the strong features of the children who believe they are reincarnations of other people or more correctly they think they are someone else, act like someone else and that someone else is eventually found to have existed and be dead. There is a possibility that déjà vu of adults is also a flashback - prompted by some indexing type event – to a past perception and not necessarily a perception of this life, a past life. Boirac was thus much closer to the likely explanation than any of his medical colleagues.
Boirac, along with other French researchers such as Arnaud thus helped the progress of bias free research considerably by adopting a term that was solution neutral, described succinctly only what was happening and didn’t subtly involve the idea that this was some kind of mental aberration. If all you have is a hammer [neurology training], the entire world is a nail [neurological disease]. Likewise, if all you have is a hammer [psychology training], the entire world is a nail [psychological problems].
In essence, Déjà vu is an experience in which we feel we have been to a place before, or done a certain thing before, but know that this is impossible in this current life. As such the event may have occurred in a past life, or much more controversially it may have been ‘written’ into our destiny – the plan for our future life, and we have been aware of it subconsciously, via, for example, dreams.
Boirac did a great number of experiments on potentially psychic subjects whilst he was the rector of the Academy of Dijon. He was one of a group, for example, that conducted experiments on the Italian medium Eusapia Palladino.
Many of these are recounted in his book La psychologie inconnu. For example he visited a lady in Paris called Mme V- who claimed that when she was hypnotised, she could read just by using her finger-tips.
Boirac verified that when her eyelids were first closed by gummed paper and then covered by a thick bandage, she could not only read visiting cards and printed papers, but letters written in ink or pencil in characters so small as to be almost imperceptible.
She could similarly describe photographs, and even tell the time by a watch by simply passing her hand over the glass. ‘She also took the precaution of wrapping the watch-case in a handkerchief, because, as she said, the gold gave her a sense of burning’.
Boirac decided it might be worth experimenting not just on subjects who claimed to have interesting abilities, but on subjects completely new to the whole area – a subject who had ‘never heard speak of such a thing’, who ‘had no idea of it’, and whom no one had previously hypnotized. We have included the results as an observation.
Although one could be critical of the experiments he undertook then, to be so would be very churlish, as he explored this area in extraordinary depth with numerous attempts to try to find out what was going on.
Boirac found that the subject did not seem to be affected by colours, nor by a shape to which there might adhere a greater or less amount of printer's ink: That he described photographs by passing his hand over the surface, and could even distinguish details through glass: That he came to be able to read with his fingers a paper placed at a distance, provided that his sensibility were suppressed ‘according to ‘de Rochas' method’: That ‘all results were positive and conclusive in complete darkness’; and that the interposition of another person between the subject and the writing did not impede the phenomenon; just as if that person were a conductor of the impressions.
From this well-devised series of experiments M. Boirac concluded that the results were due to ‘supernormal conscious interpretation of tactile impressions habitually unperceived’.
He was not 'right', and many of his conclusions or hypotheses do not tie in with later evidence, but because his solutions do not necessarily now stand up to scrutiny, one should not dismiss his experiments, as they were very thorough and extensive.
The phenomena he identified is today called ‘blindsight’, an ability to perceive without needing the eyes and it seems possible that more than one type of spiritual experience may be working to achieve it – remote viewing via an out of body, or inter composer communication – using other people’s minds to get information
Many of his experiments were achieved via the use of ‘animal magnetism’ - hypnosis, as such they are of interest in this area as well.
Neither in the first, nor in the second part of the book do I pretend to have solved any problem.
My sole aim has been to show that there are many problems awaiting solution; these problems consist of irrefutable facts; these facts cannot be evaded by ‘a priori’ arguments; the problems should be solved by having recourse constantly to the facts themselves.
The thought recurring on almost every page is that, in this order of research – as in every other field of natural and physical science – theories, hypotheses and other purely logical inferences are of no value.
They owe their validity to a two-fold condition: first of being suggested by the facts themselves; second and more important, of rendering experiments possible and of serving to discover new facts which control them.
Even in this latter case their value is always conditional; in other words, it is subject to being modified or nullified by the appearances of new facts.
- Émile Boirac - Our hidden forces ("La psychologie inconnue") An experimental study of the psychic sciences (New York, Frederick A. Stokes company, 1917). “Although his theories are not free from confusion and other defects, his work remains un oeuvre magistrale, a masterpiece, which coming generations engaged on similar lines of study will do well to consult. M Boirac has made a laudable attempt, in the greater part crowned with success, to classify systematically and in their respective order the phenomena of the unknown in psychology [Academie des Sciences]
- Émile Boirac - The psychology of the future ("L'avenir des sciences psychiques") (London, Paul, 1918)
- "Revue philosophique", 1, 1876 p. 430-431
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