Sir Oliver JosephLodge (1851–1940) was a physicist, educator and psychical researcher, a prominent member of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). Although he made important contributions to both physics and psychical research, Lodge is perhaps best known today for his book Raymond, or Life and Death (1916), which dealt with mediumistic communications received from his son, who was killed in World War I.
Oliver Lodge was born on June 12, 1851, in Penkhull, Staffordshire, England (near Stoke-on-Trent). Oliver’s father was the 23rd of 25 children, and Oliver was the eldest of seven sons and a daughter. His father was a successful businessman, who supplied clay to the local potteries. Oliver was sent away to a boarding school when he was eight, but he was unhappy there, and his father brought him home at 14 to help in his business. For the next seven years, Oliver traveled as an agent for his father.
When he was 16, his maiden Aunt Anne had him visit her in London, where he attended university classes in physics, and these stimulated his interest in that subject. He entered his first full course at the Royal College of Sciences in 1872. In 1874 he enrolled in University College, London; he received his B.S. from that institution in 1875 and his D.Sc. in 1877. Upon earning his doctorate, he was appointed assistant professor of physics at University College. That same year he married Mary Marshall, by whom he was to have his own large family of six sons and six daughters.
Lodge was present at the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at which Sir William Barrett read his paper on his telepathy experiments, but he had no interest in it, and did not hear it. His involvement in Psychical Research was soon to begin, however. Edmund Gurney attended one of Lodge’s lectures, and invited Lodge to his home, where he was busy classifying accounts of apparitions for a book that would be published a few years later as Phantasms of the Living. The cases struck Lodge as “a meaningless collection of ghost stories,” but he was impressed by Gurney, and through him met Frederic W.H. Myers.
In 1881, Lodge was appointed the first professor of physics at the new University College in Liverpool. As it happened, Liverpool was the home of Malcolm Guthrie, the proprietor of a drapery establishment, who had discovered that two of his employees were successful ESP test subjects. He contacted University College, and Lodge responded to the opportunity to conduct his own experiments. Rather to his surprise, he obtained good results. He joined the SPR and began traveling to Cambridge to attend its meetings, deepening his acquaintance with Gurney and Myers (both of whom were closely involved in the Society).
The next milestone in Lodge’s contact with the paranormal was the American trance Medium, Leonora Piper, whom the SPR invited to England for sittings in 1889. Lodge had his first sittings with Piper in Cambridge. He was much impressed to receive messages from his beloved Aunt Anne, who had recently died, and he invited the medium to Liverpool so that he could study her further. During these later Séances, Piper told Lodge of long-departed relatives of whom he knew nothing, and of incidents which were later verified. He concluded that telepathy— which he was already satisfi ed operated between the living—would need to be extended to include the possibility of communication between the living and the dead.
Five years later, in 1894, Lodge had his first experience with a physical medium: Eusapia Palladino. He and Myers journeyed to the summer home of Charles Richet on the Isle de Ribaud. The meeting was difficult because the researchers and medium had no common language between them, but he and Myers were impressed enough by what they witnessed to invite Palladino to Cambridge for another series of sittings.
In 1900 Lodge accepted the post of principal of another new university, this one in Birmingham, on the condition that he be allowed to continue his work in psychical research. He was elected president of the SPR to succeed Myers in 1901, and again in 1902 and 1903. Later, in 1932, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the society, he served as president of honor jointly with Eleanor Sidgwick.
Lodge was well aware of the possibility that medi- Sir Oliver Lodge. ums read the minds not of their supposed deceased communicators, but of their sitters or other living persons. Messages given through mediums had to be verified if they were to stand as evidence of the beyond, and this required them to be recorded somewhere or known to someone—which at the same time meant that in theory the medium could have gained the knowledge through her (or his) ESP.
This was a key problem in the interpretation of Séance material. So it was a major development in psychical research when several different mediums, on different continents, began to make fragmentary statements, attributed to the same communicators, that made sense only when brought together. These communications (which became known as Cross Correspondences) could be understood as the products of a single guiding intelligence. Gurney (who died in 1888) and Myers (who died in 1901) were among those apparently involved. Lodge saw the potential value of such communications at once, and became a major figure in their explication.
Lodge was by now convinced of Survival After Death, but it was only after an extraordinary series of events that his belief turned to faith, and he became a dedicated follower of Spiritualism. In August 1915, Piper, in Boston, delivered a message to Lodge, ostensibly from Myers, to the effect that he would ease the blow; this became meaningful a few days later when it was learned that Lodge’s son, Raymond, had been killed in battle in France.
Lodge and his wife began to attend Séances with other mediums in England, and at one of these Lady Lodge was told that Raymond appeared in a group photograph, with his walking stick. Through another medium, Gladys Osborne Leonard, came a more detailed description of this photograph, including the fact that someone was leaning on Raymond’s shoulder. The Lodges had no such photograph at the time, and were inclined to mark these communications down as meaningless, when a friend (who knew nothing of these events) offered to send them one. When the photograph arrived, it proved to match Raymond’s communications exactly.
Lodge describes these events and the subsequent sittings he had with his son in Raymond, or Life and Death. Much of the book is less evidential, Lodge using it to advance his ideas about the afterlife. The book created a sensation and brought Lodge both ridicule from the Scientific establishment and praise from the spiritualist community.
Alongside his contributions to psychical research and his involvement in Spiritualism, Lodge was responsible for important advances in physics, and was highly honored. He did early research in electricity, worked on the radio before Marconi, and developed a spark plug, known as the Lodge plug. Some of his work was useful to Einstein in his development of the theory of relativity. He was knighted in 1902, while he was serving as president of the SPR. In 1913 he was elected president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
In 1920, Lodge went on a lecture tour in Canada, appearing in Winnepeg, Vancouver, and Victoria, among other places in eastern Canada. He was followed in 1922– 23 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Their conversion to spiritualism had a substantial impact upon the public.
Lodge died on August 22, 1940 at home at Normanton House, Amesbury, Wiltshire, England. He left a sealed envelope, the contents of which he was to try to communicate after death, with the SPR, but no satisfactory message seems to have been received from him (see Survival Tests). However, there is supposed to have been a communication of another sort. The journalist Paul Tabori, in a short biography, reports that “in September 1940 hundreds besieged a big spiritualist church in New York where Lodge’s ‘whispy form’ was alleged to have floated over the altar, announcing itself as Sir Oliver.”
Lodge wrote numerous books on psychical research and Spiritualism, and in the later ones, especially, he tried to relate these areas to physics. Drawing on the widely accepted 19th-century concept of “ether,” which was said to pervade the entire universe, he held this to be the common basis of both physical and psychical worlds.
Lodge’s other books include Man and the Universe (1908), Survival of Man (1909), Modern Problems (1912), Science and Religion (1914), Ether and Reality (1925), Evolution and Creation (1926), Why I Believe in Personal Immortality (1928), Phantom Walls (1929) and My Philosophy (1933). His autobiography, Past Years, appeared in 1931. A comprehensive Bibliography of Sir Oliver Lodge, compiled by SPR librarian Theodore Besterman, was published in 1935.
- Haynes, Renee. The Society for Psychical Research, 1882–1892: A History. London: Heinemann, 1982.
- Jolly, W. P. Sir Oliver Lodge. London: Constable, 1974.
- Lodge, Oliver. Past Years: An Autobiography. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1931.
- Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England, 1850–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- Pleasants, Helene, ed. Biographical Dictionary of Parapsychology. New York: Garrett Press, 1964.
- Tabori, Paul. Pioneers of the Unseen. New York: Taplinger, 1973.