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Osty, Dr Eugene

Category: Scientist

 

Dr Eugéne Osty (16 May 1874 – 20 August 1938) was a French physician and one of France's foremost psychical researchers.  He was the Director of the Institut Métapsychique in Paris from 1924 until his death in 1938, and during his time there he investigated people such as Rudi Schneider, Stanisława P, the medium Jan Guzyk, Jeanne Laplace and the clairvoyant Pascal Forthuny.

He was also a member of the Society for Psychical Research, London and the Honorary Vice-President of the National Laboratory of Psychical Research also in London, working with Harry Price on a number of projects.   

Besides the books that Dr Osty wrote to summarise his research, from 1925 to his death in 1938, he contributed some one hundred articles to Revue Métapsychique and Psychica,

Areas of study

What is little recognised today is the wide area of coverage that Dr Osty researched.  He did some very detailed research on most of the major types of spiritual experience:

Past lives and Perception recall

In 1913 I summed up in my book, Lucidity and Intuition, the results of three years' experimental work on the strange faculty possessed by certain persons of revealing the sequences of individual lives independently of normal intelligence, of normal sensorial information, and also of the unavoidable obstacles which Time and Space place in the way of ordinary perceptions. In succeeding years I have continued to explore this department of an unknown psychology. The book, which in 1913 reflected my knowledge of the subject, satisfies me no longer though it contains many observed psychological facts that remain unchanged. It will not be reissued. Wishing to resume this study and to define its foundations before proceeding to the mysterious origins of human thought, I found myself obliged to start altogether afresh.

Inter composer communication

Dr. Osty’s principal areas of research were in telepathy and clairvoyance.  He summed up his findings in clairvoyance in the book La Conaissance Supranormale (Supernormal Knowledge; 1925).

Environmental influence

Dr Osty also made a careful and controlled study of physical mediumship. His work with the Polish physical sensitive Jan Guzik and later with the Austrian medium Rudi Schneider convinced him that physical objects may be displaced and otherwise affected by other than known physical means. He reported on a year of experiments and research with Schneider in the book (written with his son, Marcel Osty), Les Pouvoirs inconnus de l'Esprit sur la Matiére (The Unknown Powers of Mind over Matter; 1932).

Out of body experiences

Although Dr Osty is perhaps best known for his work with mediums, often trance mediums, he also had an interest in out of body experiences. 

OBEs were not called this then, in an article written in 1930, for example, Dr Osty entitled the paper “La Vision de Soi” ([Visions of the Self] Revue Métapsychique, 1930, No. 3, 185-197).  But he contributed considerably to the long history of attempts to explain OBEs.

His research began from an interest in ’autoscopy’, an experience in which a person sees an apparition of themselves from the perspective of their physical body. Occasionally this is a precursor to an OBE, as transfer is controlled from body to Higher spirit.  Cases of this sort had also been described in previous publications, for example, Paul August Sollier’s  Les Phénomènes d’Autoscopie (Paris: Félix Alcan, 1903) and Dr Osty collected various cases, basing his selection on Sollier’s  influential book on the subject.

But Osty also presented cases in which the experiencer’s perceptions took place from a position in space out of the physical body, thus true out-of-body experiences, a term Osty did not use. Of exceptional use is the fact he recorded the circumstances in which they occurred – thus he was probably one of the first people to methodically record the activities that may have caused the OBEs.  He found OBEs had occurred under anaesthesia and heart trouble (two cases with the same individual), weakness produced by gripe, depression, and while reading (the last two cases taking place with the same person).  The case under anaesthesia was reported to physiologist Charles Richet by M. L. L. Hymans in a letter dated 1928. As Hymans wrote describing the experience:

While I was anaesthetised, I had the sensation of waking up and feeling I was floating at the top of the room, from where I saw, with the greatest astonishment, the dentist caring for my body, and the anaesthetist next to him. I saw my inanimate body as distinctly as any other object in the room. Everything gave me the impression of a living picture. It did not last but a few seconds. I lost consciousness again and I awoke on the chair with a very clear impression of what I had seen.

Another case was reported to Dr Osty by Mme. Nathalie Annenkof in 1930. She was in a cemetery sitting on the corner of her daughter’s tomb feeling sad and depressed. Next she started having feelings of lightness:

 

My first impression was that my legs and arms did not weigh much, then the stomach and then the chest. Suddenly I found myself on top and aside of my body which I saw sitting on the edge of the grave. I saw my face tired. I even noticed that my coat was stained with dirt. And I had the feeling of hovering above my body in complete bliss. I had the sensation of a large and bright love of life, as if I lived thousands of lives at the same time, and a complete tranquillity.
I could not move and did not feel the need to. But I could see, understand and feel an inner and happy life. My body looked like a rag, like an abandoned thing. I thought: “This is death.” And yet I had the joy of living.
I saw the cemetery caretaker approach my body, touch it, feel it, talk to me, and leave running. He told me later, that he had gone to ask for an ambulance, and that my hands and my face were beginning to get cold.
When I saw him leave, I realized that he believed me dead, and suddenly I was afraid. ‘It is death’, I thought. ‘How will my husband live without me?’
But I felt so alive that I said to myself: ‘I must go back to my body.’ I tried to come back and was afraid of not being able to.
I started feeling the weight, then the pain, the small discomforts which we are so accustomed to that we do not notice them anymore. Then came sadness and the desire to cry.

Soon after she returned to her body. This lady also wrote that she had a similar experience two weeks later. This one took place while she was reading in bed.

Dr Osty’s conclusions about why these OBEs were happening are somewhat typical of someone who has never had one – there is just a bit too much rational, but wholly unconvincing psychological description.  Osty initially followed Sollier in the idea that ‘loss of body sensitivity’ produced the feeling that the thinking self was exteriorized from the physical body. This lack of sensibility, he wrote, could lead the person to perceive the body as a foreign thing, which in turn produced the feeling that the “thinking self is exteriorized in some degree.”  Only someone who had not had an OBE would come to this conclusion. 

However, one can see his position shifting over time as he saw that the people who had OBEs  “believed themselves to be dead and among them two derived from these events  proof of the existence of a thinking principle capable of living without matter, and the firm conviction that their soul had lived for a time out of their bodies.”

Dr Osty’s conclusions are actually of less interest than his case studies, and he was a good observer – he did have a good scientific mind capable of recording data without too much extraneous and added opinion.

Career

 

Eugene Osty formally qualified as a doctor of medicine, but his interest in the paranormal began in 1909, when he was a practicing doctor.  He was invited to a meeting in which a palmist offered sessions. He was ‘amazed by the precise and intimate details’ that she could "read" in the lines of his hand or the hand of his friends.  Many palmists are mind readers – they have telepathic powers, - but at the time Osty would not have known this and it spurred him on to find out more.

In 1910, he began a study of ‘lucidity’, and summed up his researches in the 1913 book Lucidity and Intuition

After service with the French Army Medical Corps through World War I, Dr. Osty published Le Sens de la Vie humanie (The Meaning of Human Life; 1919), in which he linked the mental evolution of man with his psychic potentialities.

After the end of hostilities he was invited by Gustave Geley, then one of France's top psychical researchers to join the Management Committee of the Institut Métapsychique in Paris.  Osty relocated to the French capital in 1921, where he collaborated with other researchers including the philosopher Emile Boirac, the distinguished physiologist Charles Richet, the philosopher Henri Bergson and Camille Flammarion, known as ‘the Master’ and France’s leading astronomer at the time. Geley considered Osty one of the foremost researchers and described his book Supernormal Faculties in Man as a ground breaking work of psychical research. 

Dr Gustave Geley

The unexpected and tragic death of Geley in an aeroplane crash on 15th July 1924, left Osty shocked and saddened, as he had been a friend of Geley.  But Charles Richet then asked Osty to succeed his friend as the Director of IMI and Dr Osty agreed. Dr Osty took over as Director of the Institut in 1924 and he retained this position until his own death in 1938.  He abandoned his doctor's practice and devoted himself entirely to IMI, studying very diverse subjects, using strictly scientific disciplines.

In 1931 and 1932 in collaboration with his son Marcel, Dr Osty developed an infra-red ray apparatus which he used in his examination of the mediumship of Rudi Schneider.   

The unpleasantness involving Harry Price

 

Despite his distinguished career, there is a sad side to Dr Osty’s life, and it was caused by Harry Price, at one time an enthusiastic collaborator with Dr Osty.

Within some areas of psychical research – particularly at the ‘lower end’ of the scale of phenomenon – magicians and mediums are often difficult to tell apart, furthermore some magicians use medium skills; and some mediums use magicians’ skills.  For reasons we cannot understand this is termed ‘fraud’, but not fraud by magicians, fraud by the mediums.  Quite a significant number of magicians use telepathy for their card tricks, and even use various forms of mind control – benign and not so benign mind control; but this appears to be deemed acceptable, whereas if a medium decides to have a bit of fun with some tedious skeptic, rude or downright unpleasant sitter, it is deemed not acceptable.  Most mediums are very obliging to begin with, but it is noticeable that even the most patient lose that patience after meeting yet another ‘man of science’ who treats them like a laboratory rat and then insults them afterwards, calling them ‘fake’ or worse.

Dr Osty treated his volunteer subjects with considerable respect, but at the same time set up some fairly stringent controls.  The controls were ultimately not to detect ‘fraud’ but to sort the magic from the metaphysical and to this end he sought the help of Harry Price, who was himself a magician.

 

In June 1927, Osty held the Third International Congress for Psychical research at the Institut where Price delivered a lecture on the Stella C. experiments.  In the July of the following year Osty invited Price to lecture at the Institut and Price gave a talk entitled 'Some Favourite Tricks of Famous Mediums'.  Note the word ‘trick’ and not deception or fraud.  Later in the same year, Price entertained Osty at his National Laboratory of Psychical Research in London.  Dr Osty had been made an Honorary Vice President when the organisation was brought into existence in 1925.  

When Rudi Schneider visited London and Paris for a series of sittings at both the National Laboratory and the Institut Métapsychique, Dr Osty and Price collaborated on the experiments sharing notes and research.  In 1929-1930, when Price was considering closing the National Laboratory, he even entered negotiations to transfer his entire laboratory and research library to the Institut Métapsychique, but this eventually was shelved.  Thus Price's relationship with Osty was fairly harmonious over some period of time, but what changed was that Price got cold feet.

Price earned his living initially as a magician and it became clear that he started to realise that the work he was doing was actually undermining his own skills and those of his fellow magicians.  If, as a magician, your main abilities are achieved via mind reading and telepathy, and people see them as ‘magic’, then if you legitimise telepathy, find out enough of how it is done so that anyone can do it and then publicise the fact – you have, to all intents and purposes shot yourself in the foot. 

 

A magician has to earn his living eventually – and this was the 1930s – very grim times for everyone, and Price was clearly a bit worried that the experiments he was carrying out would not give him an income long term.  So how does one ensure that one can go back to being a magician?  One rubbishes anything that might jeopardise this career move.  Instead of simply backing out gracefully, Price – rather shamefully - tried to boost his magician credentials by criticising Dr Osty's controlling procedures during his Paris sittings.  Given the care and attention Price had paid to the earlier Rudi Schneider experiments, this was indeed a desperate action – cornered rat tactics.  And Dr Osty, understandably, was both shocked and hurt.

The Frenchman countered this by issuing a 16 page paper entitled The Strange Conduct of Mr Harry Price.  The two men subsequently exchanged a few letters but in March 1933 Osty ended their professional relationship with the three-line letter: "Erase my name as Vice-President of the National Laboratory.  I do not wish to have any more contact with you."

Dr Osty continued his distinguished career until his death.

The book is not a summary of other men's work with additions of my own, but is my contribution of personal research in Meta-normal psychology. The biological problem set forth is so important in itself and in its implications, that I do not doubt that the scientific world will wish to verify the exactitude of my experimental data. I hope that men of science will not remain indifferent or merely passively interested spectators of the psychological drama exhibited in the following pages. The phenomenon of supernormal cognition is, as will be seen, reproducible at will, provided that its processes are known. It does not depend on any faith in the witnesses, nor on any beliefs, whether positive or negative, but on exact observations and on experiments that can be renewed at any time. It is not to be judged by any dicta such as I believe or I do not believe, but by precise verification of the facts. In publishing these results of personal research, I take the whole responsibility of placing the scientific world in a position to reproduce the series of experiments from which I have received data on one of the most profoundly interesting problems presented to mankind. I hope that a committee of unbiased men of science only desirous of truth and holding such positions as will make their verdict decisive, may, after reading this book, verify experimentally the soundness of its conclusions. Such a confirmation of my observations would result in bringing into the realm of science phenomena that have hitherto lain outside its purview because they have been considered (without examination) to be absurd. Treated as scientific data they should receive investigation at the hands of many competent experimenters, and speedily lead to fruitful results.
Paris July 1922

 

References

  •   Lucidité et Intuition (1913)
  •   Le Sens de la Vie humaine (1919)
  •   La Connaissance supranormale (1925)
  •   Les Pouvoirs Inconnus de l’Esprit sur la Matière (1932)

The only book that has been translated is Supernormal Faculties In Man: An Experimental Study which was translated with some care by Stanley De Brath.  Unfortunately the book is both rare and expensive, but we were able to obtain a copy and have included observations from it.

There is also an unavailable book in English - Supernormal aspects of energy and matter (The Frederic W. H. Myers lecture) by Eugene Osty but in English and originally published by the  Society for Psychical Research (1933)

Observations

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