Miss Cuddlywumps investigates a curious collision of ghosts, cats, and scientific inquiry
Today, dear readers, I draw your attention to a minor clash of world views that played out in the venerable pages of the journal Science in the mid-1880s.
It began in the issue of Friday, July 31, 1885, in a section titled “Comment and Criticism,” penned by Professor S. H. Scudder. The comment and criticism in this case involved the Theosophical Society, the American Society for Psychical Research, and the newly appointed censor of said research society. The writer referred to the censor, a Professor Elliott Coues, rather dismissively as a “well-known ghost-smeller” who claimed to have “seen, felt, heard, and smelled” various ghosts.
Professor Coues naturally took exception to the writer’s tone and responded in a letter to the editor that was published August 6, 1886. (Today, with Twitter, this incident would have played out much more quickly.) In his very enlightening response, Coues points out Scudder’s most remarkable ability to detect…cats.
It seems that the esteemed professor “[did] not require to see the cat, or hear the cat, or smell the cat, or taste the cat, or touch the cat” to know that a cat was present. He had only to feel that “painful affection of the respiratory passages” he suffered whenever a cat was near. This, Coues playfully contended, was clear evidence of Scudder’s telepathic bond with cats.
Coues went on to consider the possible source of such a remarkable phenomenon, writing,
What subtile connection there is between the anthropoid and the aeluroid organisms in this case, resulting in such violent antipathy and respiratory derangement on the one hand and such complacent sympathy or entire apathy on the other, is hard to say.
Perhaps the connection lay in the resemblance of asthmatic breathing to purring, Coues postulated. He doubted, though, that there was any actual mind-reading going on, for, while everyone knew exactly what Scudder thought of cats, no one could begin to guess what cats thought of Scudder.
In any case, Scudder’s undeniable connection to cats invariably resulted in a “psychic storm” within him, followed closely by a “physical derangement” familiar to allergy sufferers of every time and place. And that brings me to my conclusion, which is this:
Those who are allergic to cats should consider themselves fortunate to have such a close psychic bond with these most remarkable creatures.
“Comment and Criticism.” Science, vol. 6 no. 130 (July 31, 1881), p. 81.