From the Stacks: "The Human Atmosphere" by Walter J. Kilner

Tue, 09/24/2013 - 1:45pm -- anonymous


The Human Atmosphere; or, the aura made visible by the aid of chemical screens. Walter J. Kilner; Rebman Company: NY, 1911 | Cutter Number 1G .K55

The late 19th and early 20th century proved to be an interesting period in attempting to meld science with Spiritualism; the rational with the metaphysical; the known with the unknown. Although much of the cultural emphasis of the Victorian and later Edwardian philosophical schools intersected with the heady progress in the hard sciences (especially Chemistry and Physics) including Social Darwinism, Aristotelian-based Pragmatism, Rationalism and in later years the rise of Analytical Philosophy, there was a strong parallel current of more Platonic-inspired metaphysics as espoused by such schools as the Theosophical Society and “occult” practitioners such as Madame Blavatsky. Although from different perspectives and aims, both parallel currents demanded human-centered experience and observationas as part of their humanist-inspired world view over total religiously-inspired “blind faith”. Of course as we know,  the social upheaval of the Great Depression, two World Wars and two atomic bombs later would decimate the optimism of these humanist ideals, ushering in a period of cultural and social existential crisis as well as a resurgence of religious fundamentalism which we are still, through disjointedly compressed social and technological forces, living through: witness current television programs such as Ghost Hunters where the objective is to disprove, through the use of technology and “direct observation”, any claims of the “supernatural” by the often "deluded", confused homeowners, shop-keeps and other non-specialized observers. Indeed, cynicism has become the watchword surrounding non-religious sanctioned metaphysics, and the idealism of turn-of-the century Spiritualism is seen, if at all today, as a quaint precursor to contemporary “New Age” philosophies. Although some rationally-based studies of the paranormal still exist (such as New York-based American Society for Psychical Research), they have taken on a more marginal position in academe.   

Dr. Walter Kilner (b. 1847 - d. 1920) was a respected member of the Royal College of Physicians and one of the first medical professionals to utilize radiology in the medical theater. He claimed that though the use of “Kilner Screens” – an eye-glass like contraption - one could observe the individual auras of patients in various states of health. In The Human Atmosphere, he describes 42 case studies of various “types” such as “Healthy Infant, 15 hrs. old”, “Married Woman, 26 years old”, “Young woman - nervous breakdown”, and so on. Black-and-white illustrations accompany most of the cases identified. In the preface, Kilner is at pains to describe his study as scientific and not of the occult, although he does admit to borrowing terms from “theosophic (sic) books”. Most interesting is the description of the “Kilner Screens” and the “great difficulty in the manufacture of these thin flat cells” for the general public. There is a vague indication in a footnote suggesting a pair of these glasses was sold with the book, although Redwood’s copy does not include this addition, nor do any copies currently in the used book market describe this additional feature. The chemical compound dye Dicyamin was a main ingredient in these screens and, apparently, was very difficult to obtain, although some today claim great success in producing a version of the Kilner Screens, to wit: “aura glasses” may be currently purchased for $200 via certain websites.  

This title was donated in 1927 and has been borrowed five times since it was first checked out in 1936; the most recent in 2002. It may be found in our basement-level stacks where we encourage all our members to browse and borrow.