Friday, August 6, 2010

Famous People & the Supernatural Part III: Gurney

Edmund Gurney
By Robin M. Strom-Mackey

Edmund Gurney, the tall, mercurial, handsome, gentleman-scholar was one of the first three founders of the SPR, along with Henry Sidgwick and Frank Myers. Gurney was educated at Black Heath and Trinity Colleges where he obtained a fellowship. He then studied medicine at Cambridge, devoting himself to physics, chemistry and physiology, though apparently had no intention of ever practicing medicine. He professed an interest in the paranormal, “looking for an unexplored region of human faculty transcending the normal limitations of sensible knowledge (Anonymous Essay, 2010).” He intended to approach psychical research through observation and experimentation, with a special interest in the fields of hypnotism and telepathy.
He is probably best remembered for being one of the three authors of the two-volume set of books, Phantasms of the Living. Based on years of data collection the books detailed the phenomenon of crisis apparitions; apparitions of the newly dead that often present themselves to the living directly following their demise. This work is undoubtedly the most intensive study ever conducted of the phenomena, and it should be noted that Gurney did the bulk of the field work, collecting, analyzing and interviewing the witnesses.
Excerpt from: Phantasms of the Living, Gurney, E, Myers, F.W.H, Podmore, F. (1886)
"I sat one evening reading, when on looking up from my book, I distinctly saw a school-friend of mine, to whom I was very much attached, standing near the door I was about to exclaim at the strangeness of her visit when, to my horror, there were no signs of anyone in the room but my mother. I related what I had seen to her, knowing she could not have seen, as she was sitting with her back towards the door, nor did she hear anything unusual, and was greatly amused at my scare, suggesting I had read too much or been dreaming.

A day or so after this strange event, I had news to say my friend was no more. The strange part was that I did not even know she was ill, much less in danger so could not have felt anxious at the time on her account, but may have been thinking of her; that I cannot testify. Her illness was short, and death much unexpected. Her mother told me she spoke of me not long before she died ... She died the same evening and about the same time that I saw her vision, which was the end of October, 1874."

Shortly after the publication of Phantasms of the Living, Gurney himself passed on; dying of a narcotic medicine drug overdose in June 1888. Having suffered through most of his adult life with episodes of deep depression, many of Gurney's friends suspected the brilliant, troubled young man had taken his own life.

Anonymous (2010). Edmund Gurney.
Retrieved August 5, 2010.

Blum, D. (2006). Ghost Hunters; William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death. Penguin Books, New York, NY.

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