If you're a lover of the paranormal, you've probably heard about ectoplasm. And, if you haven't, it was created long before Ghostbusters ever made it famous. There have been famous photos, especially at the turn of the last century, that depict a strange substance coming out of people in spirit photography. You can see some of those images here.
Although it wasn't quite understood what it was, many believe it is either materialization of the spirit itself, or a substance inherent in the human body, but was excited or coaxed out by the experience of a séance.
This substance was also seriously investigated by several well-known, and respected, scientists at the time. The study of ectoplasm was spearheaded by a study, and paper, conducted in 1890 by Charles Robert Richet.
Richet was incredibly respected, and even won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1913 for his research on anaphylaxis. In addition to finding out some life-saving things about anaphylaxis, Richet also coined the term ectoplasm in the aforementioned study.
Ectoplasm is typically described gelatinous-appearing substance that seeps from mediums while they performed séances, and it was often believed to be the materialization of spirits.
In his own words, Richet described ectoplasm occurring in a medium, “In the early stages there are always white veils and milky patches and the faces, fingers, and drawings are formed little by little in the midst of this kind of gelatinous paste that resembles moist and sticky muslin.”
Despite a hefty amount of research during this time period, anyone who studies contemporary paranormal news will notice that ectoplasm rarely makes headlines anymore. So, was it all a hoax? Were great minds fooled by clever party tricks? Or, was it something else?
Well, it was found that these were actually a parlor trick of the highest degree. One of the reasons so many prominent scientists dedicated their time and talents studying this faux-phenomena was because of a new scientific study which proved the existence of another kind of plasm.
In the mid-1800s, scientists discovered a gelatinous substance, also known as “plasm”, inside both plant and animal cells. At the time, they believed to be the basis for all life on Earth. So, by the turn of the 19th century the idea of plasm, and of plasm existing in cells, was pretty common and well-studied. Thus, they thought they could link the extrusion of plasm, aka ectoplasm, from the body during extreme human experiences, like a seance.
Later, with the emergence of molecular biology it was revealed that heredity is stored not in a cell’s jiggly plasm...but in the acids of its nucleus. And, with that discovery, the menion of ectoplasm slowly disappeared.