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Biorhythms: A Missing Component in the Study of After-Death Communication

Posted on 25 September 2023, 7:51

In an article published in the December 1925 issue of the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research, Dr. Hans Thirring, professor of physics at the University of Vienna, reported on his research with several mediums, primarily the brothers Willy and Rudi Schneider. “I had not believed in the existence of metapsychic phenomena at the commencement of our research, but when I saw how easily a mere suspicion could be turned into an exposure, I became sceptical of the sceptics, and resolved to study these matters a little more closely,” Thirring (below) explains his introduction to the subject matter, adding that a committee involving eight other professors was formed to study different mediums. Much of his research was with committee members, but he also carried out research on his own in his laboratory.


Thirring goes on to report on many sittings with strong phenomena, many with weak phenomena, and some with no phenomenon at all. “These sittings confirmed an observation which we had already made a year ago: periods of poor phenomena by the medium were alternating with periods of strong phenomena, while the control conditions remained constant,” he wrote of sittings with Willy Schneider (below) during 1924 and 1925.


While Thirring concluded that many of the phenomena he observed were genuine and beyond trickery, the lack of consistency was a major detriment to the research.  A number of other committee members lacked the patience and understanding to deal with the negative sittings and they gradually withdrew.  At the same time, the inconsistency prevented Thirring and the few who remained on the committee from reaching any definite conclusion.  Moreover, some actual fraud by one of the alleged mediums studied by the committee influenced certain committee members to believe that Willy Schneider was simply more cautious and skilled than other tricksters. It was all beyond natural law and so it had to be a trick of some kind, even if it was not obvious to the committee members. 

The inconsistency in phenomena was much the same with other well-known mediums, including D. D. Home, Eusapia Palladino and Leonora Piper.  All seem to have had their bad days or their bad periods, which frustrated the researchers.  If any consideration was given to the biorhythm theory of human behavior by the early researchers, I have not come across it. Basically, that theory holds that we all have our good periods, our bad periods, and those in a gray area between good and bad.  Biorhythms is the “science” that studies our built-in natural cycles that influence our physical, intellectual, and emotional behavior.  The primary tenet of the theory seems to be that we all have a 23-day physical cycle, a 28-day emotional cycle, and a 33-day intellectual cycle.

One of the pioneers in this area of biorhythms was, like Thirring, a professor at the University of Vienna.  Dr. Hermann Swoboda, a professor of psychology there, teamed with Dr. Wilhelm Fleiss, a German medical researcher, both focusing mostly on the physical and emotional rhythms affecting patients. Their works were published in the first decade of the 1900s.  During the 1920s, Alfred Teltscher, an Austrian doctor of engineering, developed the intellectual cycle.

The 28-day emotional cycle governs sensibility, nerves, feelings, intuition, cheerfulness, moodiness, and creative ability, while the 33-day intellectual cycle affects memory, alertness, logic, reasoning power, reaction and ambition. The 23-day physical cycle encompasses physical strength, endurance, energy, resistance to disease, and confidence.

Sometime around 1985, I read a book entitled Biorhythm Sports Forecasting by Bernard Gittelson. The book included complete biorhythm charts for the years 1977, 1978, and 1979, three years during which I kept a somewhat detailed log books concerning my daily efforts in long-distance training and racing, including notes as to when I was feeling energetic or lacking in energy. In matching up my notes with Gittelson’s charts, I found a positive correlation between my efforts and my supposed biorhythms.

In one of my most memorable races, I noted in my log that I was in “cruise control” all the way and that I had a strong kick at the finish.  According to the biorhythm charts, I was at both a physical and emotional peak that day, but pretty close to an intellectual low. However, according to Gittelson, distance running “does not significantly involve thinking.” He says that too much thinking about the pain and strain of the run has been the undoing of many an athlete.

All Systems Charged

According to Gittelson, the 11 ½ days in which the physical cycle is in a positive phase, all systems are charged and giving off energy.  During the 11 ½ days of the down cycle, the negative days, there is reduced vitality. The critical days, he explains, are when there is a change in rhythm from positive to negative or vice versa. This is when extra caution is called for. In one of my 1978 log entries, I noted that a knee began bothering me.  The charts showed that I was in the negative zone in all three categories that day.  Likewise, when I developed an ankle problem several months later, I was in three negative zones. 

There were too many variables and too much subjective data for my little personal study to be meaningful. Baseball lends itself to a more scientific study of biorhythms as it is a numbers game. Anyone who really follows the game knows that most every player, if not all of them, has his “hot” streaks and his slumps over the course of a 162-game season. He might be “on fire” for a week or 10 days and “cold as a cucumber” for an equal period of time. If any statistician has done a detailed study on this, I am not aware of it.

According to Wikipedia, “the biorhythm theory as a pseudoscientific idea that suggest that people’s daily lives are significantly influenced by rhythmic cycles with periods of exactly 23, 28, and 33 days.”  They say that the theory was developed by Wilhelm Fliess in the late 19th century and popularized in the United States in the late 1970s. “It is important to note,” Wikipedia says, “that there is no scientific evidence supporting the validity of biorhythms. Therefore, it is not recommended to make important decisions based on this theory.”  As most readers of this blog know. Wikipedia is heavily biased against all paranormal phenomena, including mediumship. It seems that their writers regard anything not lending itself to exact measurement and replication is pseudoscience. 

I admit to having a problem with that part of the theory holding that the individual’s date and time of birth triggers the rhythms and that they continue from the moment of birth,  without change, for the person’s lifetime, but it is clear to me that we have our hot streaks and our slumps in our everyday lives.  Therefore, I see no reason why scientists who researched mediums should have expected them to produce strong phenomena on every experiment or not to have anticipated them having off days, or off periods, when they produced little or nothing.  Assuming that a medium should produce strong phenomena on every occasion seems very unscientific to me. 

Harmony Required

In addition to periods of strong and weak phenomena, Thirring concluded “that the production of the phenomena must necessarily depend on the mutual feeling of goodwill between medium and sitters if they are to be really genuine; that is to say, of psychic origin.”  Many other researcher before Thirring had recognized the need for a passive mental state for the medium and overall harmony during the experiment. It was often reported that soothing music was played to achieve the harmony and that negativity on the part of a sitter or sitters could defeat the medium (or the spirits working through the medium) in the production of phenomena. It has been likened to a comedian on a stage reacting to laughs and cheers or to boos and taunts. 

In many failed studies, it appeared that the medium succumbed to the pressure.  Back to the baseball analogy, many players have said that when they try to hit homeruns they fail. When they just try to make contact with the ball, no harder swing attempted, they succeed.  Thirring explained; “It is obvious that good many average men would not even be able to fall asleep in their own beds at 10 p.m. if half-a-dozen university professors were sitting around them waiting in deadly silence for the occurrence of the phenomenon.  The far more delicate metapsychical phenomena cannot be produced by the mere will of the medium. Some psychic emotion seem to be necessary – in the same way as certain sexual functions are started by emotions and imaginations. In the case of our medium, the necessary emotions seem to be furnished by rhythmical music; by the touch of a woman; or by the buoyant spirit of a cheerful circle. Whenever the atmosphere of the circle resembles a law court with the medium as the poor delinquent; or even still worse, when the sitting takes the form of a college examination, no phenomenon will occur.”

“Thirring summarized the results of his investigation: “As a teacher of exact sciences I had never dreamt of believing in metapsychical phenomena until the beginning of 1924. My investigation with Willy Schneider taught me, however, that the hypothesis of genuine telekinetic phenomena is much better founded than the average scientist realizes.  My conviction of their genuineness would be still greater except that the experience with [a charlatan] had taught me to be very cautious. I learned further that the information concerning psychical research given by the daily press as well as by scientific journals is generally one-sided and unreliable. There seems to be a great gap between the group of convinced occultists or spiritists and the very badly informed average intellectual man.”

Another factor, one which Thirring does not go into, was reported by other researchers – that some of the psychic energy of the sitters added to the psychic power of the medium and thereby raised the overall psychic power available for the alleged spirits to carry out the particular phenomenon.

It should be noted that Babe Ruth hit 714 homeruns during his 22-year baseball career, but he also struck out 1,330 times and had his share of streaks and slumps. 

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: October 9





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