Blinded by seance: The man who offered scientists an afterlife

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“Clairvoyant” con man Henry Slade electrified Europe’s scientific community, and took some high-profile scientists for a reputation-destroying ride

Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty

IT WAS nothing short of astonishing. In 1877, word began to spread that a team of internationally renowned scientists had witnessed empirical proof of a fourth spatial dimension populated by the souls of the dead.

The luminaries, at the University of Leipzig in Germany, included Wilhelm Weber, inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph, psychophysics pioneer Gustav Fechner, Johann Zöllner, the university’s chair of astrophysics, and Wilhelm Wundt, who would later be dubbed the “father of experimental psychology”.

How did they come to believe what we

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