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Tyrrell, G N M

Category: Scientist

 

George Nugent Merle Tyrrell (1879 - October 29, 1952), most well known as G. N. M. Tyrrell was a British mathematician, physicist, radio engineer and parapsychologist. 

He is perhaps best known for creating the term out-of-body experience found in his book Apparitions.

Life

G N M Tyrrell was educated at Haileybury, an independent school near Hertford in England. Originally a boys' public school, the original institution at Haileybury was the East India College (EIC), the training establishment founded in 1806 for administrators of the Honourable East India Company. In the wake of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the East India Company was wound up, and its College closed in January 1858. In 1862, a public school that retained close links with the EIC opened on the site.  Haileybury's primary purpose during the second half of the 19th century was to serve the British Empire, principally in India.  To put this more succinctly Tyrrell and his family had close links with India.

Tyrrell then went to London University, where he took his degree in mathematics and physics.  He became a student of Guglielmo Marconi and a pioneer in the development of radio. After a visit to Mexico for the Marconi Company, to introduce wireless into the Western hemisphere, he enlisted in 1914, was given a commission and twice mentioned in despatches.  He served as a signals officer with the Royal Artillery in World War I.

 

After the war, however, psychical research became the main interest of his life, and in 1923 he decided to devote himself to it entirely.  He joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1908 and became its President in 1945.  Tyrrell was the president of the Society for Psychical Research from 1945-1946, by which time he was 67. He died only 6 years later.

Tyrrell's SPR Presidential Address in 1945 highlighted the danger of a split between statistical and qualitative workers which was 'likely to occur because two different types of mind, and two different temperaments, were involved'. He added that psychical research needs both.

Experiments and work

The late 1800s and the 1900s were not a good time to be entering into research of psychical experiences.  Materialism had taken a vice like grip and observation and experiment being replaced by dogma and hypotheses.  Tyrrell was therefore largely bucking the trend by collecting any observations at all and he was very critical of a ‘science’ community who chose to ignore observations that didn’t tie in with what they wanted people to believe.  The age of Science as religion was drawing nigh.

What is Science?  The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism   - G. N. M. Tyrrell

IT WILL have been noticed that some … critics …. repudiate the study of psychical research in the name of science. They do not make it very clear why it is unscientific to investigate the more unusual faculties of the human being; but some appear to think that the practice of psychical research is illogical.
Professor Troland compared paranormal phenomena with a perpetual motion machine, that is to say with something which the laws of nature show to be impossible.
Professor Jastrow described the hypotheses of telepathy as "an egregious logical sin." He also said that the study of this subject shows "the weak hold that principle and logic" have gained on the human mind.
It is quite common for people to deplore the study of psychical phenomena in a "scientific age," as though science ought to cure us from studying facts which lie outside some arbitrary line. The views of these university professors are by no means unique. The almost universal tendency to smile at the mention of psychical research is alone sufficient to show that most people do not regard it as a field for serious study. In view of such criticisms it may be as well to clear the ground by reminding ourselves of what science is.
People often say that science is measurement or that science is accuracy. This is to erect means into principle. The primary object of science is to ascertain facts. Reason is, of course, essential; but it is applied after the facts have been ascertained and not before. Its secondary object is to infer general laws from them. Whether or not in ascertaining the facts use is made of measurement or mathematics depends entirely on the nature of the subject matter. It is not a matter of scientific principle but of common sense or expediency. Non-metrical methods can be just as scientific as metrical if the type of inquiry demands them.


Dormitories at his school Haileybury 

Tyrell conducted numerous experiments in telepathy and became totally convinced of its existence, but he was also a critic of how it had been ethically misused - that is in extracting money from the gullible or innocent, sometimes the distressed innocent and gullible.  He stated that it had been the "happy hunting ground of tricksters and charlatans", a finding expressed by numerous other researchers in this area.   

What is Science?  The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism   - G. N. M. Tyrrell

Telepathy and precognition appear at first sight to be unattached and unassimilable "brute facts." The scientist is placed in a dilemma. He is pledged in the first place to trust in empirical observation. He believes in the second place that all observed facts must fit into a single, ordered scheme. What is he to do when he finds an observed fact which will not fit into any part of his ordered scheme? ….

Can phenomena, which show no sign of falling into line with [past] scientific experience, be acknowledged to exist simply because careful observation shows that they occur? ….Should we, on the one hand, say that, whether or not these things can occur, experience shows that they do? Or, on the other, that, whatever experience shows, reason declares that they cannot? It is interesting to observe that when faced with this dilemma …. men of science tend to adopt the latter attitude. The [so called] rationalist in them is stronger than the scientist.


Of course it largely depends on what one defines as reason.  It may be that observations do not fit some existing belief system that has been constructed [the so called hypothesis], but one is not actually reasoning, if one bases one's logic on a belief system.  If there are observations that do not fit an existing belief system [scientific or otherwise], it might be better to ditch the belief system and start again.

Tyrell was also interested in ‘apparitional experiences’.  We have become convinced on this site that ‘ghosts’ can fall into all sorts of categories - they can be simple hallucinations [an image from perceptions superimposed like a double negative on the images being received from the eyes], they can also be accompanied by an actual presence of some disembodied soul.  And they can be ‘apports’, glimpses into other realities.

 

Tyrrell also decided that ghosts can be hallucinations and explained collective hallucinations [examples of which he found and of which we too have found many], where more than one person ‘sees’ the same thing, as being a telepathic mechanism.   We would go further, with the benefit of all the evidence we have collected, and say that apports can also be jointly seen.

What is Science?  The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism   - G. N. M. Tyrrell

One might have expected that, to a man endowed with true scientific curiosity, the merest hint of telepathy would act like the scent of battle to a war-horse. But the scientist does not behave in the least like a war-horse. He behaves much more like a mule: neither pushing nor pulling will move him. When the real test comes, he proves himself to be an a priori theorist at heart.


Plus ca change.  When Tyrrell died, many mourned his loss, describing him as a true man of science.  His books and articles are an exceptionally useful source of data.

The Significance of the Whole - G. N. M. Tyrrell

if we feel inclined to condemn these phenomena because they are queer, are not many things queer which we accept without a qualm? There is no hard and fast line separating the "normal" from the "paranormal." These are terms of convenience only. The poet with "eye in a fine frenzy rolling" is mentally dissociated, as also is the medium. States of mysticism lead to the heights of religion; yet they are closely connected with various "paranormal" phenomena. Hypnotism, at one time scoffed at as paranormal, has crossed the boundary and is accepted without a murmur. In fact, the division between "normal" and "paranormal" is perfectly arbitrary.

When the news of the invention of the telephone was reported to Professor Tait, of Edinburgh, he said: 'It is all humbug, for such a discovery is physically impossible." When the Abbe Moignon first showed Edison's phonograph to the Paris Academy of Sciences, all the men of science present declared it impossible to reproduce the human voice by means of a metal disc, and the Abbe was accused, Sir William Barrett tells us, of having a ventriloquist concealed beneath the table. The thing was unbelievable. If the phenomena of psychical research seem queer, that is no more than we should expect. It should not be held against them.

 

References

Tyrell contributed articles to the Hibbert Journal, the Spectator, Philosophy and a number of other journals including those of the SPR. His Myers Memorial lecture on Apparitions, was turned into a book published in 1942/3, and described the psychological character of these experiences.

  • Grades of Significance (1931)
  • Science and Psychical Phenomena (1938)
  • Apparitions (1943)
  • The Personality of Man (1946)
  • Homo Faber: A Study of Man's Mental Evolution (1951)
  • Man the Maker: A Study of Man's Mental Evolution (1952)

Observations

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