Transcendental Physics by Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner


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Ballantyne Press, London: W. H. Harrison, 1880. First edition. Translated from German by Charles Carleton Massey. 266 pages. 11 plates. Britton Memorial Library sticker pastedown, water damaged rear boards, corners rubbed and bumped, text is clean and binding firm. Overall, a fair example of a rare title. 

Transcendental Physics. An Account of Experimental Investigations From the Scientific Treatises of Johann Carl Friedrich Zöllner.

'A pioneer in the field of astrophysics, Johann Zöllner (1834-1882) was a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Leipzig and an associate of the Royal Astronomical Society. Zöllner was best known for his work on astronomical photometry and spectrum analysis. He invented the astronomical photometer used for measuring stellar magnitudes. He also engaged in psychical research beginning his subsequent book; Transcendental Physics (1880), rendered his name famous in the annals of psychical research and subjected him to persecution, contempt, and ridicule from the scientific fraternity.

The experiments began in December 1877, assisted by William Edward Weber, a professor of physics; W. Scheibner, a professor of mathematics; and Gustave Theodore Fechner, a professor of physics who, to quote Zöllner's words, became "perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding imposture or prestidigitation." Professor Fichte, of Stuttgart and Professor Ulrici, of Halle, also endorsed the experiments that were further supported by an affidavit of Bellachine, the conjurer at the court of Berlin.

The evidential value of the investigation was somewhat weakened by Zöllner's insistence on the theory of fourth dimension as an explanation. Of the theory itself, the astronomer G. V. Schiaparelli wrote in a letter to Camille Flammarion:

"It is the most ingenious and probable that can be imagined. According to this theory, mediumistic phenomena would lose their mystic or mystifying character and would pass into the domain of ordinary physics and physiology. They would lead to a very considerable extension of the sciences, an extension such that their author would deserve to be placed side by side with Galileo and Newton. Unfortunately, these experiments of Zöllner were made with a medium of poor reputation."

In March 1880, Baron von Hoffmann engaged the medium William Eglinton to give twenty-five sittings to Zöllner. He was very satisfied with the result and intended to write another book on his experiences. He died before he could do it.'