Is Einstein Still Laughing? The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider
Posted on 26 April 2021, 9:07
“I could find no evidence of fraud or trickery, and, while retaining an alert and critical attitude of mind throughout, I had a strong feeling of some mysterious power working from within the cabinet, a power for which I could imagine no mechanical or pneumatic contrivance as a cause – at least such as would be possible under the conditions of the séance.”
So wrote Dr. William Brown, F.R.C.P., Wilde Reader in Mental Philosophy at Oxford University and founder of the Institute of Experimental Psychology, in a letter to The Times of London of May 7, 1932 in reference to the mediumship of a 23-year-old Austrian, Rudi Schneider, (below) who was known primarily for producing physical phenomena, including materialized hands, occasionally a full materialization, levitations of the medium, floating tables, and other telekinetic movements. Brown was part of a group studying Schneider in England. The group included astronomer Christopher Clive (better known as C. C. L.) Gregory, founder of the University of London observatory, and later, the husband of Anita Gregory, the author of The Strange Case of Rudi Schneider.
According to Anita Gregory, a British psychologist, Professor Brown was subjected to a good deal of ridicule at Oxford, notably by Professors Albert Einstein and Frederick Lindemann, both world-renowned physicists. They are said to have laughed at the phenomena reported by Brown and a number of other reputable scientists. “No way!” they must have scoffed.
Anita Gregory first heard about Schneider while attending a lecture given by Brown toward the end of the 1940s. When Brown told of witnessing objects flying about the room and a hand materializing out of nothing while Schneider was in a trance state, she could not accept that a man of Brown’s standing in the academic world and in psychology would believe such things. “I recall vividly how I reacted to Dr. Brown’s lecture: by impatient contempt, a little tinged with pity,” she wrote in the Introduction of her book. “How could a learned man believe such nonsense? And how could he bring himself to admit such absurd notions in public? Why didn’t someone stop him from making such a fool of himself? I never entertained even for a moment the possibility that there could have been some real experience underlying his assertions.”
Gregory did not believe Brown was insane or the victim of some magician; she simply considered it so absurd that she gave it no further consideration until after her marriage in 1954 to C. C. L. Gregory, when she found out that he was also present in many of the experiments with Schneider and fully supported Brown’s version. In fact, C. C. L. sat next to Schneider and controlled his arms and legs during a number of the experiments. Along with another scientist, he developed an infrared apparatus used in registering infrared “occultations” during the experiments. Her husband’s testimony prompted Anita Gregory to begin a detailed search into all records of the experiments carried out with Schneider.
Although Gregory’s study of the research records takes 425 pages to explain, it is not Schneider’s mediumship that makes the book especially interesting and intriguing; it is the hubris involved among the many scientists who studied him. Harry Price, an engineer who established the National Laboratory of Psychical Research in London, is quoted by Gregory from a 1929 article: “I wonder how many of my readers are aware of the number of squabbles, petty jealousies and open feuds that are taking place among those investigating psychic phenomena. In nearly every country where two or more societies or investigators are working there exists a state of affairs which is little less than a scandal. Quarrels, backbiting, lawsuits, sharp prejudice, scandal-mongering, the gratification of personal spite, these things are rampant to the detriment of the science of psychical research and a paralyzing drag on the wheel of progress. It would be bad enough if the psychic brawlers confined their activities to their own frontiers, but they do not – the internecine warfare is international…”
One might assume from that statement that Price was the victim of his peers in psychical research, but he emerges from Gregory’s research as the real “monger.” “When he wished for widespread popular support he would court spiritualist opinion, conceding that belief in survival was accepted among the majority of those who occupied themselves with such matters, and hinting that he himself shared this belief; when, on the other hand, he wished to present himself as the champion of a new scientific discipline he would belabor spiritualism as a more of benighted superstition from which he personally had rescued the subject,” Gregory surmised. “This dual attitude, which is by no means confined to Price, must also be taken into consideration when assessing anyone’s claims in the field.”
Perhaps the two most dedicated researchers studying Schneider were Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, a German physician who had 88 sittings with Schneider, and Dr. Eugene Osty, a French physician who carried out 77 experiments with him. Both men were convinced that he was the real deal. “We are sure, absolutely sure, of the reality of the phenomena,” Osty reported, “but we cannot say the same for our interpretation.” The issue there was whether “Olga,” the entity who took control of Schneider’s body when he became entranced, was the spirit of a deceased human, as she claimed to be, or a “secondary personality” surfacing from Schneider’s subconscious mind. It was much more “scientific” to assume the latter and thereby dismiss any suggestion of spirits of the dead, something written off by the fundamentalists of science as pure superstition.
“The phenomena were personal in the sense that there was every appearance of someone, an invisible or barely invisible ‘person’ acting upon the everyday world, moving objects, knotting handkerchiefs, patting sitters on the head or boxing their ears, as the case might be,” Anita Gregory explained, describing Olga as a “phantom person” who at times was “capable of producing tangible effects on the physical world, and of somehow or another partially clothing herself in visible and tangible substance.”
Dr. Alois Gatterer, a Jesuit priest and professor of physics at Innsbruck University, reported observing a full phantom on April 12, 1926, which he described as “light, misty, and indistinct and which seemed to increase and decrease in size and luminosity.” He also observed materialized hands at two different sittings with Schneider and was absolutely certain they were not Schneider’s hands. “I do not hesitate to express my personal conviction on the subject of paraphysical phenomena…,” he wrote.
Many other scientists and intelligent people observed Schneider under strictly controlled conditions and attested to the genuineness of the phenomena, but some, no doubt concerned with the criticism of men like Einstein and Lindemann, hesitated in their reports, theorizing that one of the scientists in attendance “could have been” an accomplice. Dr. Karl Foltz theorized that the phenomena “could be” explained on the supposition that Schneider made use of the mechanical vibrations of the different objects in the room and that the floor “must have been” shaky. Some, like Dr. Eric Dingwall of the Society for Psychical Research, flip-flopped, first vouching for the authenticity of the phenomena but then retreating and saying there “could have been” an accomplice. “The pressure on the scientist to recant is unrelenting, and if the errant researcher succumbs and returns to the straight and narrow path of denial, the scientific community breathes a sigh of relief, and allows him or her to forget the lapse and the reasons for that lapse with the blandest discretion,” Anita Gregory opined.
After studying him in Austria on a number of occasions, Price arranged to have Schneider brought to London for 27 séances between February 9 to May 3, 1932. Although eight of those 27 sittings were totally negative, and it had become clear earlier that his mediumship was in decline, enough phenomena were produced to convince Price, Brown, C. C. L. Gregory, Lord Charles Hope, Professor D. F. Fraser-Harris, an eminent biologist, Professor A. F. C. Pollard, an authority on engineering, and others that paranormal phenomena were being produced and that trickery was not a factor. “If Rudi were ‘exposed’ a hundred times in the future, it would not invalidate or affect to the slightest degree our considered judgment that the boy has produced genuine abnormal phenomena while he has been at the National Laboratory of Psychical Research,” Price reported. “We have no fault to find with Rudi; he has cheerfully consented to our holding any test or any séance with any sitter or controller. He is the most tractable medium who has ever come under my notice.”
Although Anita Gregory never met Rudi Schneider and looked upon him as some kind of huckster when Dr. Brown told of him in a lecture, she did a complete about-face after her detailed study of the research records. “If one insists upon regarding the phenomena as fraudulent, then one is forced to attribute the majority of instances as being due to an accomplice, an outsider, who was somehow or another smuggled into the séance room,” she concludes, wondering how Rudi, who spoke no English and had no money of his own, could have arranged for an accomplice in London and how that accomplice could have gone undetected. She adds that all who knew Rudi considered him an exemplary person.
But the story doesn’t end there. Almost a year after Rudi left London, and after other researchers had added to earlier research in further validating him, Price claimed that a double-exposure photograph from the 1932 series that he had previously overlooked revealed that Rudi’s arm was free of control at the same time the displacement of a handkerchief was taking place. Price, himself, was holding Rudi’s hand at the time, but he claimed that because of a toothache he was not attentive to the matter and did not realize Rudi had freed his arm. The double exposure is very fuzzy and inconclusive, and it was argued by others that even if he had momentarily freed his arm, possibly a shock reaction to the photographic flash, he was too far distant from the phenomenon to have affected it. But Price’s denouncement provided the sensationalism that the press and the skeptics desired, and Schneider was labeled a cheat by many. “Indeed, [Price’s] motives were only too obvious to all those involved: to discredit his ‘enemies,’ that is those researchers who had ‘taken Rudi away from him’ and who had declined to accept him as the ultimate and final authority on the phenomena of Rudi Schneider,” Anita Gregory concludes. In effect, if I am interpreting all this correctly, Price didn’t intend to totally discredit Schneider. He just wanted to “muddy the waters” and create the need for additional testing in his laboratory.
Is it any wonder that psychical research gave way during the 1930s to parapsychology, in which spirits of the dead and the subject of life after death were ignored as the focus turned to extra-sensory perception (ESP) and psychokinesis (PK)? The famous “Margery” case of the 1920s, in which Dr. Dingwall also seems to have flip-flopped from acceptance to doubt, and that of medium George Valiantine, during the late 1920s and early ‘30s, involved so much conflict and friction among researchers that it became clear that there would never be a meeting of the minds when it came to physical phenomena or any phenomena in which “spirits” were supposedly involved. The Rudi Schneider case seems to have put the final nail in the coffin of survival research.
Nevertheless, the cumulative evidence seems to have been overwhelming and one can only wonder if Professor Einstein is still laughing.
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow Books.
Next blog post: May 10
Thanks for the comment. Regretfully, I am not aware of anyone who has so dissected or analyzed the Imperator teachings. However, I have a hard time remembering what I did or read yesterday. If one later comes to me, I’ll let you know. You should give it a try.
Michael Tymn, Fri 7 May, 08:44
Sir William Barrett had his share of wisdom, and Michael, his own, to share Barrett’s. It’s long been an accusation leveled against Christianity that its focus on the afterlife (as pale as its picture may be in comparison with that of spiritualism) leads not so much to leaving this life prematurely as to devaluing the living of it, especially the hard work necessary to build a better world. All the more reason IMHO for both Christianity and spiritualism to constantly emphasize a shared core principle; namely, that how one lives THIS life is of crucial importance for how one fares in the next. Parenthetically, does anyone know of a scholar who has taken a close look at “Spirit Teachings” with regard to how much of contemporary liberal Christianity—virtually EVERY doctrinal position it puts forward—was startling prefigured in the teachings of Imperator & Co.? Were I younger or less senile, I’d take a shot at exploding this apparent theological bombshell.
Newton E. Finn, Thu 6 May, 18:16
Let me add what Sir William Barrett had to say on the subject:
“It is probable we shall never be able to see behind the veil with the clearness and assurance that Swedenborg claimed to possess, although he warned others off the ground he trod. There may be, and are, I believe, good reasons for this obscure vision. If everyone were as certain as they are of day following night, that after the momentary darkness of death they would pass into an endless life of brightness and freedom, such as many spiritualists depict, it is possible few would wish to remain on earth. May be multitudes of earth-worn and weary souls would resort to some painless and lethal drug that would enable them to enter a realm where they hoped their troubles would be forever ended. A vain and foolish hope, for the discipline of life on earth is necessary for us all, and none can hope to attain a higher life without the educative experience of trial and conflict.”
Michael Tymn, Tue 4 May, 03:16
Having become acquainted over a period of 65 years with an abundance of information related to survival of consciousness after death of the body, I find it extremely difficult to take the other side and make the argument that there is no survival of consciousness after bodily death. I wouldn’t know where to start my argument because for each initial thought against survival I am aware of tens of examples of evidence suggesting, implying, and intimating that survival of consciousness does occur. The evidence and examples are extensive, varied and from many reliable sources. I can’t even dredge up and develop one thought against survival before it is shot down by the multitude of evidence for survival.
Oh, I suppose if I knew little or nothing of the evidence accumulated over the past centuries I would just say “It is not possible; when you are dead you are dead. I have never experienced any communication from anyone who has died.” I would have to put it on a personal level that nothing suggesting evidence of survival has occurred in my life. “The evidence is all hearsay and so who can say that all of those people reporting such evidence were telling the truth.”
Amos Oliver Doyle, Mon 3 May, 18:41
Well, who is to say that anyone is telling the truth about anything? We only really know what we experience and that experience is molded by our predilections. - AOD
One final thought on the “absolute certainty” question; by way of analogy…
Let’s say you’ve been invited to a large, celebratory party at an address (let’s say “713 Enigma Court”) in a part of town that you’re completely unfamiliar with. You hail a cab. As it nears that address, your first hint that you may have found the right destination, comes from the melange of noises that strikes your ears—music from a band, loud and boisterous voices, and as you step a bit closer, from another corner of whatever’s inside, quieter voices engaged in deep conversation.
Stepping closer still, you near the front door. It’s large, heavy and dark, with one small window at eye-height, paned with deeply frosted glass. Through this imperfect viewing port, you dimly perceive a number of dancing figures, their movements accentuated by the flashes from a multi-colored strobe.
Adding to your impressions of the interior goings-on, is a wave of mixed aromas—the savory, taste bud stimulating waftings from a buffet, the sharp tang of various alcoholic delights, and from a corner, perhaps a touch of marijuana in the air.
As a final clue, as you reach out and put your hand on the heavy brass knob, you feel it vibrating in sync with the throbbing of the dance floor.
Multiple clues—for every one of your senses—telling you that you’ve reached your goal. And yet—you hesitate—and ultimately pull away and return home. Because the “images” that you “saw” through the frosted glass window lacked the absolute clarity that you feel would be necessary to provide 100% “certainty” that you had indeed found your proper destination. By your own choice, you missed a pretty good party…
More relevant to the main topic (after-death survival) of this ongoing conversation—there’s little more that I can say, other than while every piece of evidence we have indicates that the party is indeed going on—and that ALL of us (some less willingly than others) regardless of our earth-life beliefs, WILL be in attendance—if any individual chooses, of their own free-will, to IGNORE the available evidence, there’s nothing more that anyone else can do to help them find their way to belief. And if there’s an intellectual justification for the denial of evidence, I’ll just have to admit to stupidity, because I just can’t see it (and certainly, nobody’s offered an adequate one yet).
I’ll leave this here…on to the next battle (whatever it is…)
Don Porteous, Mon 3 May, 15:14
Don, I’m in full agreement with you concerning the overwhelming weight of the inductive evidence for the afterlife. But I also agree with Michael that this ample and powerful evidence can bring us only to near certainty. The only way we would be able to achieve absolute certainty would be to experience an actual afterlife, and thus my deductive thought experiment, more of an indication or suggestion than a compelling argument. I also like the idea Michael raises, apparently attributed to Luther speaking from the other side, that it’s precisely this residual doubt that operates existentially to keep our hands on the plow in the furrows of life.
Newton E. Finn, Sat 1 May, 14:23
If you are indeed correct that the Universe “withholds from us the most fundamental and important information of all”—-then your sense of intellectual frustration would certainly be soundly based.
On the contrary, I’m positing that by allowing for anomalous events that leave traces of evidence—in other words, that “carry information”—-the universe is indeed providing us with critical input, sometimes more overt, sometimes more implied,that if given thoughtful consideration, will point us “rational and questioning creatures”
in the right direction. As I’ve already indicated, this evidence, in its totality (and with such apparent indications of being willfully and intentionally given) points clearly (for me at least) to the unquestionable existence of an afterlife (spiritual survival) and of a God.
Being creatures of free will, it’s entirely up to each of us individually as to how we choose to react to the evidence available to us. My main point, of course, is that it IS available to us.
Don Porteous, Fri 30 Apr, 23:03
Thanks for responding, Don, and let me say to those who have not yet had the opportunity to read Don’s book, that it is EXCELLENT, providing a clear and comprehensive survey of afterlife evidence AND going into evidence arising in an explicitly religious context, rather remarkable evidence which many afterlife investigators have ignored. As for finding out about the afterlife in due time, the point I’m trying to make is that we won’t have the privilege of this “finding out” unless there IS an afterlife. If there isn’t, then we won’t be able to find out anything, and the disbelievers will never know they were right. Same goes for the existence of God. And as you and others probably noticed, I put one too many “e’s” in raison d’etre. But the question remains: Does the information-based universe defeat its nature and purpose by withholding from us rational and questioning creatures the most fundamental and important information of all?
Newton E. Finn, Thu 29 Apr, 22:22
As you know after having read my book, my primary schtick is “evidence.” All of the reasoning in the world, inductive, deductive, or otherwise, can’t negate the actual existence of actual evidence. When an event that mainstream science says “can’t” happen—is demonstrated to have actually “happened” (like the Marian phenomena that seem to trouble you)—it can’t be ignored and swept under the rug, as so many devout sceptics are prone to do. It must be addressed, and analyzed with the best information available to us.
With regard to so many of the evidential phenomena relating to the “afterlife,” that analysis leads us to a point where the ability to intelligently justify any explanation that DOESN’T include God becomes seriously compromised. Of course, we’ll all find out in due time…
Don Porteous, Thu 29 Apr, 15:58
Now may be as good a time as any to throw out another of those crazy ideas I would have put into a Bigelow essay. In contrast to inductive arguments for the afterlife based upon the kind of mediumship evidence underlying the caustic, almost comedic flap about Rudi Schneider (whom I suspect was on the up and up throughout his career), I was going to assert, among other things, a purely deductive argument for the afterlife, along the lines of the ontological argument for the existence of God. That’s the argument that stems from the definition of God as the greatest being conceivable, and then, pointing out that a being which exists is greater than one that doesn’t (the real Dr. Schweitzer, for example, being greater than the fictional Dr. Rieux), concludes that God must exist by definition. Although this sort of deductive reasoning is unfashionable these days and likely strikes many as simplistic or absurd, the ontological argument for God’s existence has been convincing to some theologians and philosophers of the first rank and remains controversial to this day. That said, let’s get back to the afterlife and a universe which cutting-edge science now contends is purely mental, consists, on its most fundamental level, of nothing but information—creates and processes information as its raison de’etre. What is the only possible way for us information-processing creatures to know that an afterlife exists as an absolute certainty? By there actually being one, of course, because if death brings only oblivion, then we would never know, could never know, the answer to the most fundamental question of our existence. I fluctuate between thinking there might be something to this…and laughing at it.
Newton E. Finn, Thu 29 Apr, 03:15
I echo Keith’s comments. Well done, Michael, in tackling a very complex case and presenting it so crisply.
Dave D., Wed 28 Apr, 02:39
Extremely interesting article, this progression to, as you put it, from psychical research to parapsychology.
Scientists’ lack of moral courage, peer pressure and fear of damage to their own professional reputations took precedence over seeking and standing up for truth, no matter where it leads.
If only they all had been more supporting of each other, it would officially confirm what so many lay people believe today.
I imagine Einstein would feel humbled and remorseful.
Yvonne Limoges, Tue 27 Apr, 23:23
I seems to me that the 1977 paper by Anita Gregory is about fraud perpetrated by Harry Price and not by Rudi Schneider. Anita Gregory says in her conclusions that, “The Price-Schneider episode is unusual in that it is the exposure of the medium rather than the production of paranormal phenomena that can be shown to be fraudulent. Either an accident was exploited to reach a false and irrelevant accusation, or else—and this is far more probable from the evidence—a very careful falsification of the evidence was staged. I hope I have shown how it could have been, and probably was, done.”
Anita Gregory is accusing Harry Price of fraud, not Rudi Schneider. As I read it,that is what her whole paper is about. - AOD
Amos Oliver Doyle, Tue 27 Apr, 12:13
I didn’t have time earlier to read every page of the link, but I just took a closer look at it and I don’t see the “about-face” that you refer to. The article is pretty much the same as the concluding chapter of her book and appears to me to support Schneider.
Thanks again, and thanks to Newton for the very meaningful Imperator quote.
Michael Tymn, Tue 27 Apr, 10:33
I have no patience or time for insincere skeptics. There was a time when I thought it was important to argue. Now, I know that the ability to see requires not only a working eye, but a willing eye. “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” I’m grateful for Michael’s blogs as I am for Keith’s video documentaries. Thank you to all who work in these fields.
Brian Anthony Kraemer, Tue 27 Apr, 06:16
Reading through Michael’s post, which deftly cuts through the petty and pointless turmoil that swirled around one instance of physical mediumship, and then reading through MichaelD’s link (and I thank him for it), which reveals that turmoil in microscopic, mind-numbing detail, I was reminded of and relieved by the cautionary message of Imperator & Co. “In days when faith has grown cold, and belief in God and immortality is waning to a close, we come to demonstrate to man that he is immortal, by virtue of the possession of that soul which is a spark struck off from Deity itself. We wish to teach him the errors of the past, to show him the life that leads to progress, to point him to the future of development and growth. It is not with such an end before us that we can tamely allow our work to be set aside for the development of any strange phenomenal power that spirits may possess over gross matter. If we use such power at all it is because we find it necessary, not because we think it desirable, save always as a means to an end. Were it harmless we should say so much. But being what it is, an engine of assault from the adversaries, the worst we have to dread, we are urgent in warning you against promiscuous seeking after these physical marvels, and against resting in them as the end and aim of your intercourse with us…. The physical accompanies, but is no real part of our work.” To which I can add only a most grateful amen.
Newton E. Finn, Mon 26 Apr, 23:40
Gregory’s book was published in 1985,just after her death in 1984, so it appears that the book provided her final position on the matter. Thanks for the link. So much confusion.
Many thanks to Keith for the kind words.
Michael Tymn, Mon 26 Apr, 21:52
I haven’t digested all of this yet, but will note that Anita Gregory apparently made a second about-face back to disbeliever in a 1977 article, Anatomy of a Fraud” that’s available at archive.org:
I’ve been reading various skeptical articles about Schneider and am getting the usual confusion injected from skeptics who can’t discriminate “could have” from “did” and quote each other back and forth about how Schneider was a fraud without any of them having evidence beyond their quotee’s assertions that everyone else already knows he was a fraud. So as usual, the skeptics aren’t really any help, either.
MichaelD, Mon 26 Apr, 19:01
I have read a huge number of Michael’s blogs and have very often been impressed with both his interpretations of the evidence and his economy in the use of language, even when the topic is a huge one, as here. I rate this blog as up there with the very best of his output. Well done, Mike.
Keith P in England, Mon 26 Apr, 13:53
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