Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Edison's "Spirit Phone"

Huffington Post has an article up today about one of Thomas Edison's weirdest experiments, an attempt to construct a "spirit phone" that would allow communication with the dead. The device was first proposed at the height of the spiritualism craze, and developed over subsequent years.

Was Edison making a joke? Was he merely looking to grab headlines during the Spiritualism craze?

Many believed this was the case, but a 1933 article in Modern Mechanix magazine reported on a secret demonstration in his darkened laboratory with several scientists present. According to the article, “Edison set up a photo-electric cell. A tiny pencil of light, coming from a powerful lamp, bored through the darkness and struck the active surface of this cell, where it was transformed instantly into a feeble electric current. Any object, no matter how thin, transparent or small, would cause a registration on the cell if it cut through the beam.”

The team of scientists spent hours closely watching Edison’s prototype for any sign of movement from beyond. But none came.

In theory, this isn't a bad idea - except that as most magicians know, you usually have to explicitly conjure spirits in order to get them to come around and it sounds like Edison did nothing of the sort. Spiritualists of the time believed that you could just randomly call out to anything in the universe and something would show up, a practice Aleister Crowley once derided as "low-grade necromancy."

One set of experiments that I have performed myself involved the use of an EMF detector, which seemed to show some capacity for detecting spirits within the limits of a small sample set. What I find myself wondering is how well Edison's machine could detect slight shifts in the frequency of the light, which is more like how an EMF detector works, rather than just reacting to obstructions.

Also, I wonder how large objects would really have to be to set off such a device. Unless Edison tested it in a clean room, which was difficult to set up in the 1920's, the same dust in the air that shows up as "orbs" in photographs should have passed through the beam. That makes me think the device may have been nowhere near as sensitive as Edison appears to have thought.

Still, it's an interesting piece of history from a time when mainstream science did not consider anything paranormal entirely off limits. Strict scrutiny of results is important, but if you don't do the work in the first place you're left with nothing to evaluate but anecdotes.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble

No comments: