“BRILLIANT MINDS REQUIRED”

Sir William Barret stayed a few more months in New York overseeing the details of the founding of the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research. Among other things, he had the mission to recruit talented scientists willing to devote their research to paranormal phenomena. People with a rationalist mentality capable of “separating the wheat from the chaff” as he used to say. Naturally, when it came to renowned scientists, he visited them personally to invite them to join the project. But also many unknown scientists who aspired to be part of the ASPR passed through his office. He had placed an ad in the New York Times requesting “brilliant minds accustomed to separating the wheat from the chaff”, which motivated many peasants to pass through his office. It was necessary to withdraw the announcement and write another one without metaphors that could give rise to misunderstandings. However, at the beginning many screwballs also passed through his office. “Guys with theories, you know (Barret wrote in a letter to Henry Sedgwick, the president of the English SPR), those are the most dangerous.” And he cited the example of a guy who had the theory that the so-called paranormal phenomena were actually normal, and those we considered normal were the real paranormal phenomena. “And then (the letter continues) the guy exemplified it with a stone he carried in the pocket and which he threw into the air.” Naturally the stone fell, on Barret’s head by the way. Well, according to this guy, that was a paranormal phenomenon. The normal thing would have been that the stone had continued to rise until it met an obstacle, in this case the ceiling. If the experiment had been done outdoors, the stone should have ascended and ascended to get lost in outer space. His crazy conclusion was that we are surrounded by paranormal phenomena and instead we suffer from an alarming shortage of normal phenomena. “I asked him (Barret adds) if he had heard about the law of gravity, and he answered that he didn’t know anything about laws, that his thing was Science!”.

Barret also mentioned the case of a young man who had the extravagant theory that there were infinite parallel universes. Anyway, craziness. After a lot of interviews of this kind, he went to take a look at the newspaper ad and then discovered with distress that the ad had been printed with an error: the word “rational” had the syllable “ir” attached at the front. Once the error was corrected, things started to straighten out.

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