Results of Intuitive Experiment #20

So who was the man in Intuitive experiment #20?

The man in this intuitive experiment is Alphonse Bertillon, widely regarded as the father of criminal identification, and inventor of the system called Bertillonage, or anthropometry.

This detailed measurement technique allowed police to successfully classify and identify repeat criminal offenders for the first time in history, and was used in numerous countries for several decades. Bertillon also contributed to other forensic techniques such as ballistics, and was responsible for the invention of the mug shot.

Early Life

Bertillon was born in Paris on April 24th, 1853, the son of the physician and statistician Louis-Adolphe Bertillon. He worked a variety of odd jobs in his youth, and served in the French army for several years beginning in 1875. At loose ends after his discharge from the service, he was placed by his father as an entry-level clerk at the Prefecture of Police in Paris.

Bertillon was an orderly, scientific man with a brilliant and innovative mind, but an introverted and somewhat shy personality. He had a dislike for social niceties, and could come off as abrasive or rude due to his lack of refined social skills. This often put him at odds with his fellow policemen, many of whom he viewed with disdain.

Development of Anthropometry

Alphonse soon became frustrated with the limitations of the criminal records system, which was unorganized, and based on nothing but poor quality photographs and vague descriptions. Many criminals disguised their appearance, and used different names each time they were arrested. This made it difficult to identify repeat offenders, at a time when criminal recidivism was at an all-time high in France.

As a result, Bertillon began to develop a system of criminal identification composed of detailed measurements of the human body, on the theory that no two people had identical proportions. He began measuring convicts during his spare time at work, and worked out how to record and categorize records based on small, medium, and large dimensions, so that they would be easy to locate and compare against new arrestees. He also began taking high-quality mug shots himself (instead of employing commercial photographers), and included a profile view on the theory that the ear is a uniquely identifying feature.

Alphonse initially encountered resistance to his invention, but when Jean Camecasse was hired as police administrator, he decided to give Bertillon’s idea a chance. In December 1882, when Bertillon was able to successfully identify a repeat offender during a trial period for his system, Camecasse decided to adopt it.

In 1883, Alphonse felt confident enough to ask his assistant Amelie Notar to marry him, and they eventually had a son, Francois.

Over the years the Bertillon method gained wide acceptance, and was implemented by most advanced countries as the primary method of criminal identification.

The Dreyfus Affair

After some time, Bertillon began to view himself as an expert on many aspects of forensic science. In that capacity, he served as an expert on handwriting in the trials of accused spy Alfred Dreyfus in 1894 and 1899, despite the fact that he was not really trained in that discipline.

Bertillon suggested that Dreyfus had imitated his own handwriting on a suspect document known as the bordereau, in order to be able to claim that it was a forgery. Although this idea was clearly absurd, it helped lead to the conviction and imprisonment of Dreyfus, who was actually innocent of the crime.

Dreyfus served several years under very harsh conditions on Devil’s Island, and although he was eventually cleared and reinstated to the military, he retired a year later due to recurrent tropical illnesses and fevers. Bertillon continued to believe in Dreyfus’ guilt, and this stubbornness did serious damage to his reputation.

The Rise of Fingerprinting

In the 1890’s, fingerprinting gradually began to be viewed as a superior alternative to anthropometry. Bertillon’s method was certainly effective, but it required a lot of time and manpower to document so many detailed measurements. Fingerprinting was not only more efficient, but more distinctive as well. It was not immediately effective, though, because a system of classification of the different fingerprint traits took several years to develop.

Bertillon’s system of measurements continued to be used in the meantime, but with the publication of Edward Henry’s book Classification and Uses of Fingerprints in 1901, Scotland Yard established the first bureau of fingerprint identification, which marked the beginning of the end for anthropometry.

Alphonse was furious at the replacement of his invention, and to the day of his death he refused to admit that fingerprints were a better method of criminal identification. He died a bitter and disappointed man on February 13, 1914, at the age of 60. This was the same year that even his own country, France, replaced Bertillonage with fingerprints.

Legacy

Even though Bertillon’s method was eventually replaced, it was a major leap in forensic science and investigation, and many of his innovations (such as the mug shot) are still in use today. He is mentioned in many publications as well, such as The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Caleb Carr’s novel The Alienist.

Despite his disappointment at the outcome of his life, Bertillon’s contributions to science and public safety will not be soon forgotten.

Intuitive Hits

Many readers picked up on Bertillon’s scientific and analytical nature, and on the divide between his good intentions toward humanity in general and his disdain toward specific people.

Several people also correctly noted that Alphonse did not have the warmest or most socially graceful personality, and was viewed as eccentric by many. He was clearly an introverted person with a thinking nature, and this caused him some difficulty in being able to network and convince others of the validity of his ideas. But the ideas were so valid in their own right that they eventually spoke for themselves.

Some readers picked up on similar names like Albert and Alfred, and references to the name Henry might pertain to Edward Henry, whose book on fingerprinting spelled the beginning of the end for Bertillonage.

Another reader mentioned the jungle and high fevers, which is interesting because Dreyfus suffered from these afflictions, partly as a result of Bertillon’s testimony against him.

All in all, this was an excellent experiment, with many solid intuitive hits. You are all making wonderful progress by practicing here!

Another mystery person will be posted soon, so please stay tuned for more.

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8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Anna,
    I was so far off. I guess, when I’m off, I really miss the mark, but that’s never stopped me before :).
    I will be waiting for the next post and I will continue posting until I can hear Spirit more clearly.

    I am so grateful to you for doing this doing this work.

  2. Avatar

    That’s really interesting. I think I got his character quite well. One thing intriques me though. The first thing that came to mind was, ‘I’m sorry,’ so I still wonder what he was sorry about. Maybe it was the Dreyfus affair or maybe it was something less significant.
    Thank you for giving us the chance to read this character.

  3. Avatar

    I’m finding these experiments really interesting to do, and they’re really helping me to pay attention to those first fleeting thoughts about something. I’m doing each one as I want to get better at it.

  4. Avatar

    Anna, THANK YOU for continuing to provide these opportunities to practice our intuitive skills.

    FYI – I’ve tried reading the people in ALL 20 intuitive experiments and my intuitive skills gradually improved with every attempt. The good news is that I did quite well this time getting plenty of intuitive hits and reasonably accurate interpretations! Hooray! Compared to how clueless I felt back at Experiment #1 – now I’m in “Beast Mode”!!!

    Doing these intuitive experiments has helped me learn:
    1) To recognise intuitive hits;
    2) To distinguish intuitive hits from the chatter of unrelated thoughts etc; and
    3) To make (slightly) more accurate interpretations.

    For Intuitive Experimenters just starting out, then keep practising, because you will improve!

    Thanks again Anna. Much love to you. x

  5. Avatar

    Anna, thank you for these intuitive experiments, it’s exciting to see what I pick up on! The first thing that came to me was that he was quite intelligent…genius popped into my mind; and doctor – son of a physician… I picked up on the name “Al” and that he found a better way to do something – he improved criminal identification. I definitely feel myself improving each time!

  6. Avatar

    Hello Isaac.

    For some unknown reason it really affected me when I read your response here on the results page for Experiment #20. So I looked at your original comments about Alphonse Bertillon – And please, if I may say so – I believe you were closer than you think!

    If you continue reading below, I believe your reading of Alphonse Bertillon was fairly accurate because of the following reasons:

    1) Your reading contained elements that were very similar to many other experimenters’ readings, mine included. For example: serious character, no fun, Russian, cold climate (France can get snowy cold), activist, and speaker. Which shows you were on same path as the rest of us!

    2) Despite the fact you pre-empted it with ‘Siberia’, you correctly identified “prison”. Bertillon spent much time in prisons measuring the criminals to gain data to prove his theories and develop his anthropometry system. Spot on with prison!

    3) You noted that Bertillon was paranoid, anxious, and felt like he was being watched. Bertillon was known to have poor social skills, and sometimes people with poor social skills are anxious about having poor social skills, plus they think that other people are always judging them or watching them, which makes them even more anxious and paranoid. A double whammy! I think you may have sensed how Bertillon personally felt in social situations, which means you really tuned into his energy! Impressive!

    4) Plus many other scientists and experts during his time discredited his Bertillonage System and eventually replaced it with fingerprinting. So of course Bertillon felt paranoid and anxious because his life’s work was getting attacked!

    5) Maybe when you sensed snow, cold climate etc these impressions were hinting at Bertillon’s cold character, or maybe the fact he spent lots of time in cold prisons, rather than hinting at where he lived or where he was born.

    6) I did some extra online research for my own interest and found out that Bertillon was also involved in developing identity cards for nomads/vagrants/gypsies, which you may have interpreted as him being an ‘activist’ or someone that ‘fought for the poor’. I got the same ‘activist’ sense too. Maybe we both took our interpretations too far, and instead should just note down our impressions???? Anna can you please comment about this point?

    7) You noted that Bertillon was a ‘powerful speaker.’ Bertillon’s communication style was known to be abrasive and rude, which you may have interpreted as ‘powerful’??? Bertillon also very strongly supported (or powerfully) his own system and openly criticised other experts in the field of forensics.

    8) Furthermore, one of Bertillon’s most notable inventions was the criminal identification card which he called “Portrait Parle”, translated as the “Portrait Speaks” or “Spoken Portrait”!!!! This card system was the dominant method of identifying repeat offenders for several decades (?) in many countries across the world. Definitely a ‘powerful speaker’ in a certain way since Bertillon is now known as one of the ‘Founding Fathers of Forensics’!

    From my point of view, Isaac I think you did really well getting some very accurate intuitive hits, and it was bugging me that you thought you were off the mark!

    But hey – I’m no expert in this field, so I won’t be offended if you disagree.

    Thank you and wishing you all the best.

    🙂 Mon

  7. Avatar

    Mon,
    Thank you so much for your encouraging comments. That was a big help. I realize that I have a tendency to add to the impressions I pick up on, but have not found a way to cope with this yet.
    Thanks again.

  8. Avatar

    I had the feeling that he was a criminal with some pain inside that he hides maybe. And as someone who had an experience with child sexual assault, as a 32-year-old woman I do not feel so comfortable dealing with men I don’t know. So I found myself thinking that if I saw him on the street, and I wanted to ask about something, I would never ask him.

    After seeing the result, maybe this feeling is associated with the criminals he helped with his system, to get caught. Maybe his own thoughts about criminals. Interesting.

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