Interpsy Laboratory, University of Lorraine, Nancy, France
Since Gertrude Schmeidler’s monograph ESP in relation to Rorschach test evaluation (1960), the famous Rorschach inkblot test has hardly been associated with parapsychology. Schmeidler and LeShan (1970) demonstrated that subjects with high ESP scores showed more penetration responses in relation to their barrier responses; subjects with scores that stayed near chance had a higher ratio of barrier responses, and the difference was significant. This finding was later integrated in the theory of thinness/thickness of psychic boundaries (Krippner et al., 2001), assessed through questionnaires but not with projective tools (Rabeyron & Watt, 2010).
The Rorschach inkblot test has nevertheless been used marginally to study various exceptional experiences and psychic claimants: near-death experiences (Locke & Shontz, 1983; Lang et al., 2020); psychokinetic mediums (Carpenter, 1993; Roll, 1968; Mischo, 1971; Palmer, 1974); possession (Ferracuti, et al., 1996); induced memories of previous life (Ferracuti et al., 2002); and coincidence experiences (Keller et al., 2021). More recently, a study has investigated traumatic experiences of 31 people who report recurrent ESP experiences using the Rorschach Traumatic Content Index with a control group (Scimeca et al., 2015). In these cases, the Rorschach test is used to say something about personality traits of the participants but without any explicit connection with a parapsychological dimension.
I recently explored with a colleague the historical background of the Rorschach inkblot test on the occasion of its centenary (Evrard & Frigaux, 2021). The sources of inspiration for this test are multiple. The most obvious are the influence of his psychiatric colleagues Carl Gustav Jung (1919) (word association test), based on his own studies on mediumship; the self-taught psychoanalyst Herbert Silberer, who was interested in symbolism, mysticism, and esotericism, and published an article in 1912 on lecanomancy (a method of divination by inspecting the water in a pool); and Szymon Hens (1917) (inkblots and imaginative function). Nevertheless, other sources can be identified.
Since antiquity, mantic practices have stimulated sensory and motor automatisms. Of course, the Rorschach test is not mantic in the sense that its purpose is not to predict the future, but its use to uncover personal character and to prognosticate something of the trajectory of one’s life takes up some of this heritage. Hermann Rorschach was not unaware of these traditional uses of spots. The book Kleksographien by the physician and poet Justinus Kerner (1857) earned Rorschach his nickname Kleks (i.e., stain). The principle was simple: a few drops of ink were put on a sheet of paper and then folded in half to obtain a symmetrical spot, a process that can be found in the cards designed by Rorschach. Kerner thought that this was a way of communicating with the dead, while mourning his wife and waiting for his own death. At the time when Rorschach reused this process for scientific purposes, it was already charged with many occult connotations.
The few studies that point to the probable role of mancies in the genesis of the Rorschach test fail to refer to scholarly studies of them that were current at the time (e.g., Gaudriault, 1998). These practices were indeed reappropriated during the 19th century, within the framework of the first dynamic psychiatry, until, in the path established by the Englishman Frederic Myers (1885a) and his studies of automatic writing and vision in crystal, the “psychoscope” (a term designating any device that allows the emergence of motor or sensory automatisms) was proposed as an essential instrument of experimental psychology, but was later supplanted by the chronoscope and its derivatives (Evrard & Frigaux, 2021).
Myers (1885b) describes an induction procedure that involves spending ten minutes staring at the crystal, if necessary with a black background behind it so that only its reflection is seen. After three or four sequences of prolonged observation, during which the participants have confused reminiscences or apparently incidental imagery, some subjects have the impression that the ball becomes milky or vaporous, and then after a certain amount of time, they see images or even entire scenes in the ball or “elsewhere”: this is sensory automatism, i.e., uncontrolled perceptions. Myers also observed that, among the visions that emerged in the crystal, some involved forgotten or involuntary memories, but also information about events taking place at a distance or in the future. Unfortunately, there have been no systematic studies of this paranormal aspect, but it is clear here that attempts to psychologize the phenomenon fall back on the divinatory problem (Prince, 1922; Besterman, 1924).
These studies on automatisms have participated in the construction of great theoretical syntheses on the functioning of the mind. One of the four functions of the unconscious would thus be the mythopoetic function, a term coined by Myers and taken up by Flournoy, then by Bergson under the name of “fabulatory function.” It is this continuous fabrication of fictions and myths which often remains unconscious and appears only in the dream, but which can also be expressed, on occasion, via waking dreams, hypnosis, somnambulism, possession, mediumistic trance, mythomania, hysteria, and delusions. One may be surprised at the ability of an individual to tell a story from a stain or an image, but this has been considered to reveal a fundamental property of intrapsychic functioning. One wonders to what extent this function is called upon in the free-response ESP protocols and whether the projective situation itself does not facilitate a parapsychological performance.
If a reunion between Rorschach test and parapsychology is possible, it will require the restoration of a complete history that will reintroduce this famous tool in its context, as one of the few psychoscopes to have remained useful until today, both for scientists and clinicians.
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Renaud Evrard is a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Lorraine, in Nancy, France. He’s a professional member of the Parapsychological Association (Student co-representative in 2010), Board Member (since 2014-2019), President (2019-2021), and is a member of the Society for Psychical Research, the Society for Scientific Exploration, and of the Gesellschaft für Anomalistik.
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