Cover of Common Phantoms by Alicia Puglionesi
Common Phantoms
An American History of Psychic Science
Alicia Puglionesi


August 2020
328 pages.
from $30.00

Cloth ISBN: 9781503608375
Paper ISBN: 9781503612778

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Séances, clairvoyance, and telepathy captivated public imagination in the United States from the 1850s well into the twentieth century. Though skeptics dismissed these experiences as delusions, a new kind of investigator emerged to seek the science behind such phenomena. With new technologies like the telegraph collapsing the boundaries of time and space, an explanation seemed within reach. As Americans took up psychical experiments in their homes, the boundaries of the mind began to waver. Common Phantoms brings these experiments back to life while modeling a new approach to the history of psychology and the mind sciences.

Drawing on previously untapped archives of participant-reported data, Alicia Puglionesi recounts how an eclectic group of investigators tried to capture the most elusive dimensions of human consciousness. A vast though flawed experiment in democratic science, psychical research gave participants valuable tools with which to study their experiences on their own terms. Academic psychology would ultimately disown this effort as both a scientific failure and a remnant of magical thinking, but its challenge to the limits of science, the mind, and the soul still reverberates today.

About the author

Alicia Puglionesi is author of the novella Krall Krall (2013) and the poetry chapbook Views from the National Forests (2014). She has published in The Point, Atlas Obscura, The Public Domain Review, and the VICE magazine Motherboard.

"A fresh perspective on the goals and failures, friendships and rivalries, methods and dreams of those who investigated the interconnected powers of the human mind."

—Pamela Klassen, author of The Story of Radio Mind: A Missionary's Journey on Indigenous Land