Born in Paris, he received his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1869 and his Doctor of Science in 1878. He then served as professor of physiology at the medical school of the University of Paris for 38 years. Richet was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on anaphylaxis, the sensitivity of the body to alien protein substance. He also contributed much to research on the nervous system, anesthesia, serum therapy, and neuro-muscular stimuli. He served as editor of the Revue Scientifique for 24 years and contributed to many other scientific publications.
Initially, Richet, like so many of his peers, was a closed-minded materialist. He admitted to scoffing at the reports by Professor William Crookes of his sittings with the mediums Daniel Dunglas Home and Florence Cook during the early 1870s. "…I avow with shame that I was among the willfully blind," he wrote in his 1923 book, Thirty Years of Psychical Research, which he dedicated to Crookes and Frederic W. H. Myers, another pioneering psychical researcher, commenting in the dedication that these two men, "equally distinguished by their courage and by their insight, were the first to trace the outlines of this science."
When Eusapia Palladino, an Italian peasant, began producing phenomena somewhat similar to that of D. D. Home, Richet, still puzzled by Crookes’s reports on Home, expressed an interest in studying her. After attending evidential experiments with Palladino in Milan during 1884, Richet began taking an active interest in psychical research. He befriended many of the top psychical researchers of the day, including Crookes, Myers, Sir Oliver Lodge, and Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing. In addition to Palladino, he studied Marthe Béraud (Eva C.), William Eglinton, Stephan Ossowiecki, Elisabeth D’Esperance, and others. He served as president of the Society for Psychical Research of London in 1905.
Richet gave the name "ectoplasm" to what had previously been referred to as teleplasm. "The word ‘ectoplasm,’ which I invented for the experiments with Eusapia, seems entirely justified," he wrote, explaining that it is a kind of gelatinous protoplasm, formless at first, that exudes from the body of the medium, and takes form later. "In the early stages there are always white veils and milky patches and the faces, fingers, and drawings are formed little by little in the midst of this kind of gelatinous paste that resembles moist and sticky muslin." He added that materializations are ectoplasm, "sarcoidic extensions emanating from the body of a medium, precisely as a pseudopod from an amoeboid cell."
Many researchers of the day were convinced that Palladino was a charlatan, at best a mixed medium, sometimes producing genuine phenomena and other times cheating. However, Richet, who had more than 200 sittings with her, defended her. "Even if there were no other medium than Eusapia in the world, her manifestations would suffice to establish scientifically the reality of telekinesis and ectoplasmic forms," he wrote, going on to explain that in her trance condition "the ectoplasmic arms and hands that emerge from the body of Eusapia do only what they wish, and though Eusapia knows what they do, they are not directed by Eusapia’s will; or rather there is for the moment no Eusapia."
Marthe Béraud (given the pseudonym "Eva C") also impressed Richet. He studied her in Algiers during 1905 and again in 1906, observing full materializations of a phantom called Bien Boa. "The first experiments at which I was present [in Algiers] impressed me greatly, but I always distrust first impressions," Richet wrote. In the following year, I returned to Algiers resolved to repeat experiments under more rigorous conditions. The materializations produced were very complete. The phantoms of Bien Boa appeared five or six times under satisfactory conditions in the sense that he could not be Marthe masquerading in a helmet and sheet. Marthe would have had not only to bring, but also to conceal afterwards, the helmet, the sheet, and the burnous (hooded cloak worn by Arabs). Also Marthe and the phantom were both seen at the same time. To pretend that Bien Boa was a doll is more absurd still; he walked and moved, his eyes could be seen looking around, and when he tried to speak his lips moved. He seemed so much alive that, as we could hear his breathing, I took a flask of baryta water to see if his breath would show carbon dioxide. The experiment succeeded. I did not lose sight of the flask from the moment when I put it into the hands of Bien Boa who seemed to float in the air on the left of the curtain at a height greater than Marthe could have been even if standing up."
While clearly accepting the reality of mediumship and other psychic phenomena, Richet remained skeptical as to whether the evidence suggested spirits and survival. "I oppose it (spirit hypothesis) half-heartedly, for I am quite unable to bring forward any wholly satisfactory counter-theory," he wrote. Publicly, he leaned toward a physiological explanation, but privately, at least in his later years, he is said to have accepted the spirit hypothesis as the best explanation.
As with other scientists who dared express a belief in such phenomena, Richet came under attack by scientific fundamentalists. "To admit telekinesis and ectoplasm is not to destroy even the smallest fragment of science," he replied. "It is but to admit new data, and that there are unknown energies. Then why be indignant, when, on the basis of thousands of observations and experiments, we affirm one of those unknown energies?"
Materializations that did not resemble human forms or were only partial human form – a half body or just a head – were scoffed at by many. "It is imagined, quite mistakenly, that a materialization must be analogous to a human body and must be three dimensional. This is not so," Richet responded to them. "There is nothing to prove that the process of materialization is other than a development of a completed form after a first stage of coarse and rudimentary lineaments form from the cloudy substance. The moist, gelatinous, and semi-luminous extensions that come from the mouth of Marthe are embryonic formations which tend towards organization without immediately attaining it."
His colleagues often referred to the phenomena reported on by Richet as "absurd." To them, he replied: "Yes, it is absurd; but no matter – it is true."
(this Red Pill entry written by Michael E. Tymn, reproduced with permission)