Charles Robert Richet Biography

Charles Robert Richet 


Birth: August 26, 1850

Death: December 3, 1935

Nationality: French



Pioneer psychical researcher, honored professor of physiology at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, and winner of the 1913 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. He was also the honorary president of La Societé Universelle d'études Psychiques, president of the Institut Métapsychique Internationale, and president of the Society for Psychical Research, London (1905).

Richet was born on August 26, 1850, and educated at the University of Paris. He had an initial personal experience in lucidity (paranormal knowledge) in 1872. He confessed that although it had tremendous effect on him, he lacked the requisite intellectual courage to draw conclusions. In 1875, while yet a student, he demonstrated that the hypnotic state was a purely physiological phenomenon which had nothing to do with "magnetic fluids.'' "Following my article,'' he wrote of the result, "many experiments were widely made, and animal magnetism ceased to be an occult science.''

A few years later, he published his studies in multiple personality. He sat with various mediums, including William Eglinton and Elizabeth d'Esperance, and in 1886-87 conducted many experiments in cryptesthesia with four subjects--Alice, Claire, Eugenie, and Leontine. Some were in a hypnotic, some in a waking state. They reproduced drawings enclosed in sealed envelopes. As a result of these experiments Richet formulated the theory of cryptesthesia in these words: "In certain persons, at certain times, there exists a faculty of cognition which has no relation to our normal means of knowledge.''

He founded with Dr. Dariex the Annales des Sciences Psychiques in 1890, and two years later he took part in the investigation conducted by the Milan Commission with the medium Eusapia Palladino. The report admitted the reality of puzzling phenomena, expressing also the conviction that the results obtained in light, and many of those obtained in darkness, could not have been produced by trickery of any kind.

Richet did not sign the report and in his notes on it in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques carefully stated his conclusions as follows:

"Absurd and unsatisfactory though they were, it seems to me very difficult to attribute the phenomena produced to deception, conscious or unconscious, or to a series of deceptions. Nevertheless, conclusive and indisputable proof that there was no fraud on Eusapia's part, or illusion on our part, is wanting: we must therefore renew our efforts to obtain such proof.''

He became convinced of the reality of materialization phenomena by his experiments with the medium Marthe Béraud (better known as Eva C.) at the Villa Carmen, Algiers, in General Noel's house. His report, published in the Annales des Sciences Psychiques (April 1906) aroused wide attention. He confirmed his experiments in later sittings at the house of Juliette Bisson and at the Institut Métapsychique of which, after the resignation of Professor Santoliquido, he was elected president. He was unable to detect Eva C.'s fraud which was conclusively revealed only in the 1950s.

He conducted experiments with a number of different mediums including Franek Kluski, Jan Guzyk, and Stephen Ossowiecki, both in Paris and Warsaw.

His book Traité de Métapsychique (1922; translated as Thirty Years of Psychical Research, 1923) summed up the experiences of a lifetime. The book was dedicated to Sir William Crookes and F. W. H. Myers. It became a sign of repentance for his earlier skepticism. He stated in his work:

"The idolatry of current ideas was so dominant at that time that no pains were taken either to verify or to refute Crookes' statements. Men were content to ridicule them, and I avow with shame that I was among the wilfully blind. Instead of admiring the heroism of a recognized man of science who dared then, in 1872, to say that there really are phantoms that can be photographed and whose heart beats can be heard, I laughed.''

He accepted cryptesthesia, telekinesis, ectoplasm, materializations, and premonitions as abundantly proved. On the other hand, he considered doubtful apports, levitations, and the phenomena of the double, which he had no opportunity to examine thoroughly. He was most emphatic in stating: The fact that intelligent forces are projected from an organism that can act mechanically, can move objects and make sounds, is a phenomenon as certainly established as any fact in physics. As if to leave a loophole for more definite proofs on psychic photography, direct writing, apports, psychic music, and luminous phenomena he added, somewhat naively: "No one would have thought of simulating them if they had never really occurred. I do not hesitate to think them fairly probable, but they are not proven.''

His struggle with the problem of survival was very interesting. He stated: "I admit that there are some very puzzling cases that tend to make one admit the survival of human personality--the cases of Leonora E. Piper's George Pelham, of Raymond Lodge and some others.''

His basis for disbelief in survival was twofold: first, the human mind has mysterious faculties of cognition; second these mysterious cognitions have an invincible tendency to group themselves around a new personality. He explained:

"The doctrine of survival seems to me to involve so many impossibilities, while that of an intensive cryptesthesia is (relatively) so easy to admit that I do not hesitate at all. I go so far as to claim--at the risk of being confounded by some new and unforeseen discovery--that subjective metapsychics will always be radically incapable of proving survival. Even if a new case even more astounding than that of George Pelham were to appear, I should prefer to suppose an extreme perfection of transcendental cognitions giving a great multiplicity of notions grouping themselves round the imaginary centre of a factitious personality, than to suppose that this centre is a real personality--the surviving soul, the will and consciousness of a self that has disappeared, a self which depended on a brain now reduced to dust. . . .

"But except in a few rare cases, the inconsistency between the past and the present mentality is so great that in the immense majority of spiritist experiences it is impossible to admit survival, even as a very tentative hypothesis. I could more easily admit a non-human intelligence, distinct from both medium and discarnate, than the mental survival of the latter.''

Treating of the so-called death bed meeting cases he stated: "Among all the facts adduced to prove survival, these even seem to me to be the most disquieting.''

He did not accept the facts of materialization as proof of survival.

"The case of George Pelham, though there was no materialization, is vastly more evidential for survival than all the materializations yet known. I do not even see how decisive proof could be given. Even if (which is not the case) a form identical with that of a deceased person could be photographed I should not understand how an individual two hundred years dead, whose body has become a skeleton, could live again with this vanished body any more than with any other material form.''

He called the phenomena of materialization absurd, yet true, and explained:

"Spiritualists have blamed me for using this word `absurd'; and have not been able to understand that to admit the reality of these phenomena was to me an actual pain; but to ask a physiologist, a physicist, or a chemist to admit that a form that has a circulation of blood, warmth, and muscles, that exhales carbonic acid, has weight, speaks, and thinks, can issue from a human body is to ask of him an intellectual effort that is really painful.''

In concluding his weighty Thirty Years of Psychical Research, he was assailed by doubts:

"Truth to tell--and one must be as cautious in denial as in assertion--some facts tend to make us believe strongly in the survival of vanished personalities. Why should mediums, even when they have read no spiritualist books, and are unacquainted with spiritualist doctrines, proceed at once to personify some deceased person or other? Why does the new personality affirm itself so persistently, so energetically, and sometimes with so much verisimilitude? Why does it separate itself so sharply from the personality of the medium? All the words of powerful mediums are pregnant, so to say, with the theory of survival? These are semblances, perhaps, but why should the semblances be there?''

Then, again, as if repenting his doubts, he explained:

"Mysterious beings, angels or demons, existences devoid of form, or spirits, which now and then seek to intervene in our lives, who can by means, entirely unknown, mould matter at will, who direct some of our thoughts and participate in some of our destinies, and who, to make themselves known (which they could not otherwise do) assume the bodily and psychological aspect of vanished human personalities--all this is a simple manner of expressing and understanding the greater part of the metapsychic phenomena.''

His next book, Notre Sixième Sens (1927; translated as Our Sixth Sense, 1929), was a courageous attempt to grapple with the problem of cryptesthesia. He conceived it physiologically as a new sixth sense which is sensitive to what he called the vibrations of reality. It is a sweeping theory that, in its implications, is nearly as far-reaching as the spirit theory.

In La Grande Espérance (1933), following an important monograph, L'Avenir et la Premonition (1931), he himself admitted that this vibratory theory is far from being sufficient for "there are cases in which á la rigeur one could suppose the intervention of a foreign intelligence.''

These were the cases of veridical hallucinations. Even there he would have preferred to fall back on the vibratory explanation but for the puzzle of collective veridical hallucinations in which "one is almost compelled to admit the objective reality of the phantom.'' That admission did not allow him to doubt that "in cases of simple veridical hallucinations there is an objective reality as well.'' Pursuing this line of reasoning, he stated: "It appears that in certain cases phantoms are also inhabiting a house. I hesitate to write this down. It is so extraordinary that my pen almost refuses to write but just the same it is true.''

Still, after having analyzed the purely psychological phenomena, if the choice was between the spirit hypothesis and a prodigious lucidity he would lean towards the second. For that explained all cases, whereas the former, although it is the better one in a small number of cases, was inadmissible in many others.

The grand hope of humanity lay in psychical research, in that immense incertitude which we feel in face of its extraordinary, truly absurd phenomena.

"The more I reflect and weigh in my mind these materializations, hauntings, marvelous lucidity, apports, xenoglossie, apparitions and, above all, premonitions, the more I am persuaded that we know absolutely nothing of the universe which surrounds us. We live in a sort of dream and have not yet understood anything of the agitations and tumults of this dream.

"Everything came down to this:

"Either the human intelligence is capable of working miracles. I call miracles the phantoms, ectoplasm, lucidity, premonitions. Or assisting in our doings, controlling our thoughts, writing by our hand, or speaking by our voice there are, interblending with our life, mysterious, invisible entities, angels or demons, perhaps the souls of the dead, as the spiritualists are convinced. Death would not be death but the entrance into a new life. In each case we hurl ourselves against monstrous improbabilities (invraisemblances), we float in the inhabitual, the miraculous, the prodigious.''

Richet died December 3, 1935.



Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. New York: Schrocken Books, 1968.

Jules-Bois, A. H. "Charles Richet: Father of Metaphysics.'' Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research 30 (1936).

Richet, Charles. Notre Sixième Sens. N.p., 1927. English ed. as Our Sixth Sense. N.p., 1929.

------. Traité de Métapsychique. N.p., 1922. English ed. as Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Macmillan, 1923.

The above writeup was reproduced by permission from "Charles Richet." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 5th ed. Edited by J. Gordon Melton, 2001.


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