Visions of Thought: Mid-century Science and Visual Knowledge
This chapter examines the role of the visual imagination in scientific and metaphysical debates of the mid-century. Attention focusses on the scientific uses of the magic lantern and associated instruments in popular science shows, including Pepper’s ghost illusion of the 1860s, the kaleidoscope, and the oxyhydrogen microscope. As the chapter will make clear, rather than simply debunking ideas about ghosts and the supernatural, the examples altered the parameters of the debate, relocating supernatural phenomena into a border space between imagination, rationalism, and technological forms of perception. Material is drawn from scientific and philosophical texts published in the periodical press and non-fiction books, and there is an extended analysis of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel A Strange Story (1862).