C. J. Ducasse -
A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death
How Stands the Case for the Reality of Survival
IN CHAPTS. XVII and XVIII, we considered and to some extent commented upon the chief kinds of paranormal occurrences that appear to constitute empirical evidence of survival. The point has now been reached where we must attempt to say, in the light of the evidence and of the criticisms to which it may be open, how stands today the question whether the human personality survives the death of its body.
1. What, if not survival, the facts might signify
Only two hypotheses have yet been advanced that seem at all capable of accounting for the prima facie evidences of personal survival reviewed. One is that the identifying items do indeed proceed from the surviving spirits of the deceased persons concerned. The other is that the medium obtains by extrasensory perception the facts she communicates; that is, more specifically, obtains them: (a) telepathically from the minds of living persons who know them or have known them; or (b) by retrocognitive clairvoyant observation of the past facts themselves; or (c) by clairvoyant observation of existing records, or of existing circumstantial evidence, of the past facts.
To the second of these two hypotheses would have to be added in some cases the hypothesis that the medium's subconscious mind has and exercises a remarkable capacity for verisimilar impersonation of a deceased individual whom the medium has never known but concerning whom she is getting information at the time in the telepathic or/and clairvoyant manner just referred to.
In cases where the information is communicated by paranormal raps or by other paranormal physical phenomena, the hypothesis that the capacity to produce such physical phenomena is being exercised by the medium's unconscious but still incarnate mind would be more economical than ascription of that capacity to discarnate minds; for these - unlike the medium and her mind - are not independently known to exist.
It must be emphasized that no responsible person who is fully acquainted with the evidence for the occurrences to be explained and with their circumstances has yet offered any explanatory hypothesis distinct from the two stated above. As of today, the choice therefore lies between them. The hypothesis of fraud, which would by-pass them, is wholly untenable in at least some of the cases; notably, for the reasons mentioned earlier, in the case of the communications received through Mrs. Piper. And, in the case of the cross-correspondences, the hypothesis that the whole series was but an elaborate hoax collusively perpetrated out of sheer mischief for over ten years by the more than half-dozen automatists concerned - and this without its ever being detected by the alert investigators who were in constant contact with the automatists - is preposterous even if the high personal character of the ladies through whom the scripts came is left out of account.
Still more so, of course, would be the suggestion that the investigators too participated in the hoax, In this connection the following words of Prof. Sidgwick are worth remembering. They occur in his presidential address at the first general meeting of the Society for Psychical Research in London, July 17, 1882:
"The highest degree of demonstrative force that we can obtain out of any single record of investigation is, of course, limited by the trustworthiness of the investigator. We have done all that we can when the critic has nothing left to allege except that the investigator is in the trick. But when he has nothing else left to allege he will allege that ... We must drive the objector into the position of being forced either to admit the phenomena as inexplicable, at least by him, or to accuse the investigators either of lying or cheating or of a blindness or
forgetfulness incompatible with any intellectual condition except absolute idiocy."(1)
(1) Proc. S.P.R. Vol. L 12, 1882-3. Cf. in this connection an article, Science and the Supernatural, by G. R. Price, Research Associate in the Dept. of Medicine, Univ. of Minnesota. Science, Vol. 122, No. 3165, Aug. 26, 1955 and the comments on it by S. G. Soal, J. B. Rhine, P. E. Meehl, M. Scriven, P. W. Bridgman Vol. 123, No. 3184 Jan. 6156.
2. The allegation that survival is antecedently improbable
The attempt to decide rationally between the two hypotheses mentioned above must in any case take into consideration at the very start the allegation that survival is antecedently known to be improbable or even impossible; or on the contrary is known to be necessary. In a paper to which we shall be referring in the next two sections(2), Prof. E. R. Dodds first considers the grounds that have been advanced from various quarters for such improbability, impossibility, or necessity. In view, however, of our own more extensive discussion of those grounds in Parts I and III of the present work, we need say nothing here concerning Prof. Dodds' brief remarks on the subject. Nothing in them seems to call for any revision of the conclusion to which we came that there is not really any antecedent improbability of survival (nor any antecedent probability of it.) For when the denotation of the terms "material" and "mental" is made fully explicit instead of, as commonly, assumed to be known well enough; and when the nature of the existents or occurrents respectively termed "material" and "mental" is correctly analyzed; then no internal inconsistency, nor any inconsistency with any definitely known empirical fact, is found in the supposition that a mind, such as it had become up to the time of death, continues to exist after death and to exercise some of its capacities. Nor is there any antecedent reason to assume that, if a mind does so continue to exist, manifestations of this fact to persons still living would be common rather than, as actually seems to be the case, exceptional.
(2) Why I do not believe in Survival, Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XLIL 147-72, 1934.
3. What telepathy or clairvoyance would suffice to account for
Prof. Dodds considers and attempts to dispose of ten objections which have been advanced against the adequacy of the telepathy-clairvoyance explanation of the facts. The objections in the case of which his attempt seems definitely successful are the following.
(a) The first is that telepathy does not account for the claim made in the mediumistic communications, that they emanate from the spirits of deceased persons.
Prof. Dodds replies that some of the communications have in fact claimed a different origin; and that anyway the claim is explicable as due to the fact that communication with the deceased is usually what is desired from mediums, and that the medium's own desire to satisfy the sitter's desire for such communications operates on the medium's subconscious - from which they directly proceed - as desire commonly operates in the production of dreams and in the determination of their content.
(b) A second objection is that no independent evidence exists that mediums belong to the very small group of persons who have detectable telepathic powers.
In reply, Prof. Dodds points to the fact that Dr. Soal had in his own mind formed a number of hypotheses about the life and circumstances of the - as it eventually turned out - wholly fictitious John Ferguson (mentioned in Sec. 2 of Chapt. XVIII) and that in the communications those very hypotheses then cropped up as assertions of fact. Prof. Dodds mentions various other instances where things actually false, but believed true by the sitter, have similarly been asserted in the medium's communications and thus have provided additional evidence that she possessed and was exercising telepathic powers.
To this we may add that there is some evidence that the trance condition-at least the hypnotic trance - is favorable to the exercise of ordinarily latent capacities for extrasensory perception(3).
(3) See for instance ESP card tests of college students with and without hypnosis, by J. Fahler and R. J. Cadoret, Jl. of Parapsychology, Vol. 22:125-36, No. 2, June 1958.
(c) Another objection is that telepathy does not account for "object reading" where the object is a relic of a person unknown both to the sitter and to the medium, but where the medium nevertheless gives correct detailed information about the object's former or present owner.
Prof. Dodd's reply is in substance that these occurrences are no less puzzling on the spiritistic than on the telepathic hypothesis. Since much of the information obtained in such cases concerns occurrences in which the object itself had no part, the object can hardly be itself a record of it; rather, it must be a means of establishing telepathic rapport between the mind of the sensitive and that of the person who has the information.
And of course the correctness of the information could not be verified unless some person has it, or unless the facts testified to are objective and thus accessible to clairvoyant observation by the sensitive.
(d) To the objection that no correlation is found between the success or failure of a sitting and the conditions respectively favorable or unfavorable to telepathy, Prof. Dodds replies that, actually, we know almost nothing as to what these are.
(e) Another objection which has been advanced against the telepathy explanation of the communications is that the quantity and quality of the communications varies with changes of purported communicator, but not of sitter as one would expect if telepathy were what provides the information communicated.
The reply here is, for one thing, that, as we have seen in Sec. 3 of Ch. XVIII, the allegation is not invariably true; but that anyway changes of purported communicator imply corresponding changes as to the minds that are possible telepathic sources of the information communicated.
(f) Again, it is often asserted that the telepathy explanation of the facts is very complicated, whereas the spiritistic explanation is simple. Prof. Dodds' reply here is that the sense in which greater simplicity entails greater probability is that in which being "simpler" means "making fewer and narrower unsupported assumptions;" and that the telepathy hypothesis, not the spiritistic, is the one simpler in this alone evidentially relevant sense. For the spiritistic hypothesis postulates telepathy and clairvoyance anyway, but ascribes these to "spirits", which are not independently known to exist; whereas the telepathy hypothesis ascribes them to the medium, who is known to exist and for whose occasional exercise of telepathy or clairvoyance some independent evidence exists.
4. The facts which strain the telepathy-clairvoyance explanation
In the case of the other objections to the telepathy explanation commented upon by Prof. Dodds, his replies are much less convincing than those we have just presented. Indeed, they bring to mind a remark made shortly before by W. H. Salter concerning certain features of the cross-correspondences communications: "It is possible to frame a theory which will explain each of them, more or less, by telepathy, but is it not necessary in doing so to invent ad hoc a species of telepathy for which there is otherwise practically no evidence?"(4)
(4) Journal, S.P.R. Vol. 27:331, 1932. The remark occurs towards the end of a review of C. S. Bechofer Roberts' The Truth about Spiritualism.
The essence of these more stubborn objections is the virtually unlimited range of the telepathy with which the automatist's or medium's subconscious mind has to be gifted. It must be such as to have access to the minds of any persons who possess the recondite items of information communicated, no matter where those persons happen to be at the time. Furthermore, the telepathy postulated must be assumed somehow capable of selecting, out of all the minds to which its immense range gives it access, the particular one or ones that contain the specific bits of information brought into the communications. But this is not all. The immediate understanding of, and apposite response to, allusive remarks in the course of the communicator's conversation with the sitter (or sometimes with another communicator) requires that the above selecting of the person or persons having the information, and the establishing and relinquishing of telepathic rapport with the mind of the appropriate one, be virtually instantaneous. And then, of course, the information thus telepathically obtained must, instantly again, be put into the form of a dramatic, highly verisimilar impersonation of the deceased purported communicator as he would have acted in animated conversational give-and-take. This particular feature of some of the communications, as we saw, was that on which - as the most convincing - both Hyslop and Hodgson laid great stress, as do Mr. Drayton Thomas and also Mr. Salter.
Let us now see how Prof. Dodds proposes to meet these difficulties, which strain the telepathy hypothesis, but of which the spiritistic hypothesis would be free.
For one thing, he points to some of Dr. Osty's cases, where "sensitives who do not profess to be assisted by 'spirits'" nevertheless give out information about absent persons as detailed as that given by the supposed spirits.
Obviously, however, there is no more reason to accept as authoritative what a sensitive "professes" or believes as to the paranormal source of her information when she denies that it is spirits than when she asserts it. Mrs. Eileen Garrett, who in addition to being one of the best known contemporary mediums, is scientifically interested in her own mediumship, freely acknowledges that she does not know, any more than do other persons, whether her controls, Abdul Latif and Uvani, are discarnate spirits, dissociated parts of her own personality, or something else.
Again, Prof. Dodds argues that recognition of the personality of a deceased friend by the sitter has but slight evidential value, since there is no way of checking how far the will-to-believe may be responsible for it; but that even if the reproduction is perfect, it is anyway no evidence that the personality concerned has survived after death; for Gordon Davis was still living and yet Mrs. Blanche Cooper, who did not know him, did reproduce the tone of his voice and his peculiar articulation well enough for Dr. Soal to recognize them.
Prof. Dodd's reply is predicated on the assumption that, although Dr. Soal was neither expecting nor longing for communication with Gordon Davis, nevertheless the recognition was positive and definite. This should therefore be similarly granted in cases where the person who recognizes the voice or manner of a deceased friend is, similarly, an investigator moved by scientific interest, not a grieving person moved to believe by his longing for reunion with his loved one.
Aside from this, however, the Gordon Davis case shows only that, since he was still living, the process by which the tone of his voice and his peculiar articulation were reproduced by Mrs. Cooper was not "possession" of her organism by his discarnate spirit. Telepathy from Dr. Soal, who believed Davis had died, is enough to account for the vocal peculiarities of the communication, for the memories of boyhood and of the later meeting on the railroad platform, and for the purported communicator's assumption that he had died. But this mere reproduction of voice peculiarities and of two memories, in the single brief conversation of Dr. Soal directly with the purported Gordon Davis, is a radically different thing from the lively conversational intercourse Hyslop and Hodgson refer to, with its immediate and apposite adaptation of mental or emotional attitude to changes in that of the interlocutor, and the making and understanding of apt allusions to intimate matters, back and forth between communicator and sitter. The Gordon Davis communication is not a case of this at all; and of course the precognitive features of the communication by Nada (Mrs. Blanche Cooper's control) at the second sitting, which referred to the house Gordon Davis eventually occupied, are irrelevant equally to the telepathy and to the spiritualist hypotheses.
Prof. Dodds would account for the appositeness of the facts the medium selects, which the particular deceased person concerned would remember and which identify him, by saying that, once the medium's subconscious mind is en rapport with that of the telepathic agent, the selection of items of information appropriate at a given moment to the demands of the conversation with the sitter can be supposed to take place in the same automatic manner as that in which such selection occurs in a person when the conversation requires it.
The adequacy of this reply is decreased, however, by the assumption it makes that the information given out by the medium is derived from one telepathic source, or at least one at a time; whereas in the case of Hyslop's communications purportedly from his father, the items of information supplied were apparently not all contained in any one person's memory, but scattered among several. Hence, if the medium's subconscious mind was en rapport at the the same time with those of different persons, the task of selecting instantly which one of them to draw from would remain, and would be very different from the normal automatic selection within one mind, of items relevant at a given moment in a conversation.
But anyway the degree of telepathic rapport which Prof. Dodds' reply postulates vastly exceeds any that is independently known to occur; for it would involve the medium's having for the time being all the memories and associations of ideas of the person who is the telepathic source; and this would amount to the medium's virtually borrowing that person's mind for the duration of the conversation; and notwithstanding this, responding in the conversation not as that person himself would respond, but as the ostensible communicator - constructed by the medium out of that person's memories of him - would respond.
Concerning the cross-correspondences, Prof. Dodds admits that they manifest pattern, but he is not satisfied that they are the result of design. Even if they were designed, however, he agrees with the suggestion others had made that Mrs. Verrall's subconscious mind, which had all the knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics required, could well be supposed to have designed the scheme, rather than the deceased Myers and his associates; for, he asserts, "more difficult intellectual feats than the construction of these puzzles have before now been performed subconsciously" (p. 169). H. F. Saltmarsh, however, suggests "that it may be unreasonable to attribute to the same level of consciousness intellectual powers of a very high order and a rather stupid spirit of trickery and deception."(5)
(5) Op. cit. p. 138.
But in any case, more than the construction of the puzzles would be involved; namely, in addition, telepathic virtual dictation of the appropriate script to the other automatist - whose very existence was, in the case of Mrs. Holland in India, quite unknown at the time to Mrs. Verrall in England. To ascribe the script to "telepathic leakage" will hardly do, for, as Lord Balfour remarked concerning such a proposal made by Miss F. M. Stawell in the Ear of Dionysius case, "it is not at all clear how 'telepathic leakage' could be so thoughtful as to arrange all the topics in such an ingenious way. It seems a little like 'explaining' the working of a motor car by saying that it goes because petrol leaks out of a tank into its front end!"(6)
(6) Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XXIX:270.
5. What would prove, or make positively probable, that survival is a fact
The difficult task of deciding where the various kinds of facts now before us, the rival interpretations of them, and the criticisms of the interpretations, finally leave the case for the reality of survival requires that we first attempt to specify what evidence, if we should have it, we would accept as definitely proving survival or, short of this, as definitely establishing a positive probability that survival is a fact.
To this end, let us suppose that a friend of ours, John Doe, was a passenger on the transatlantic plane which some months ago the newspapers reported crashed shortly after leaving Shannon without having radioed that it was in trouble. Since no survivors were reported to have been found, we would naturally assume that John Doe had died with the rest.
Let us now, however, consider in turn each of three further suppositions.
(I) The first is that some time later we meet on the street a man we recognize as John Doe, who recognizes us too, and who has John Doe's voice and mannerisms. Also, that allusions to personal matters that were familiar to both of us, made now in our conversation with him, are readily understood and suitably responded to by each. Then, even before he tells us how he chanced to survive the crash, we would of course know that, somehow, he has survived it.
(II) But now let us suppose instead that we do not thus meet him, but that one day our telephone rings, and over the line comes a voice which we clearly recognize as John Doe's; and that we also recognize certain turns of phrase that were peculiar to him. He tells us that he survived the disaster, and we then talk with ready mutual understanding about personal and other matters that had been familiar to the two of us. We wish, of course, that we could see him as well as thus talk with him; yet we would feel practically certain that he had survived the crash of the plane and is now living.
(III) Let us, however, now consider instead a third supposition, namely, that one day, when our telephone rings, a voice not John Doe's tells us that he did survive the accident and that he wants us to know it, but that for some reason he cannot come to the phone. He is, however, in need of money and wants us to deposit some to his account in the bank.
Then of course - especially since the person who transmits the request over the telephone sounds at times a bit incoherent we would want to make very sure that the person from whom the request ultimately emanates is really John Doe. To this end we ask him through the intermediary to name some mutual friends; and he names several, giving some particular facts about each. We refer, allusively, to various personal matters he would be familiar with; and it turns out that he understands the allusions and responds to them appropriately. Also, the intermediary quotes him as uttering various statements, in which we recognize peculiarities of his thought and phraseology; and the peculiar nasal tone of his voice is imitated by the intermediary well enough for us to recognize it.
Would all this convince us that the request for money really emanates from John Doe and therefore that he did survive the accident and is still living? If we should react rationally rather than impulsively, our getting convinced or remaining unconvinced would depend on the following considerations.
First, is it possible at all that our friend somehow did survive the crash? If, for example, his dead body had been subsequently found and identified beyond question, then obviously the person whose request for money is being transmitted to us could not possibly be John Doe not yet deceased; and hence the identifying evidence conveyed to us over the phone would necessarily be worthless, no matter how strongly it would otherwise testify to his being still alive.
But if we have no such antecedent conclusive proof that he did perish, then the degree of our confidence that the telephoned request ultimately does emanate from him, and hence that he is still living, will depend for us on the following three factors.
(a) One will be the abundance, or scantiness, of such evidence of his identity as comes to us over the phone.
(b) A second factor will be the quality of the evidence. That is, does it correspond minutely and in peculiar details to what we know of the facts or incidents to which it refers; or on the contrary does it correspond to them merely in that it gives, correctly indeed, the broad features of the events concerned, but does not include much detail?
(c) The third factor will be that of diversity of the kinds of evidence the telephone messages supply. Does all the evidence, for example, consist only of correct memories of personal matters and of matters typical of John Doe's range of information? Or does the evidence include also dramatic faithfulness of the communications to the manner, the attitudes, the tacit assumptions, and the idiosyncracies of John Doe as we remember him? And again, do the communications manifest in addition something which H. F. Saltmarsh has held to be "as clear an indication of psychical individuality as finger prints are of physical,"(7) namely associations of ideas that were peculiar to John Doe as of the age he had reached at the time of the crash?
(7) Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross Correspondences, G. Bell & Sons, London 1938, p. 34.
If these same associations are still manifest, then persistence of them will signify one thing if the communication in which they appear is made not too long after the accident, but a different thing if instead it is made, say, twenty-five years after. For a person's associations of ideas alter more or less as a result of new experiences, of changes of environment, of acquisition of new ranges of information, and of development of new interests. Hence, if the associations of ideas are the same a few months or a year or two after the crash as they were before, this would testify to John Doe's identity. But if they are the same a quarter of a century later, then this would testify rather that although some of the capacities he had have apparently persisted, yet he has in the meantime not continued really to live; for to live in the full sense of the word entails becoming gradually different - indeed, markedly different in many ways over such a long term of years.
Now, the point of our introducing the hypothetical case of John Doe, and of the three suppositions we made in succession as to occurrences that convinced us, of that inclined us in various degrees to believe, that he had not after all died in the plane accident is that the second and especially the third of those suppositions duplicate in all essentials the evidences of survival of the human mind which the best of the mediumistic communications supply. For the medium or automatist is the analogue of the telephone and, in cases of apparent possession of the medium's organism by the purported communicator, the latter is the analogue of John Doe when himself telephoning. The medium's "control," on the other hand, is the analogue of the intermediary who at other times transmits John Doe's statements over the telephone. And the fact recalled in Sec. 2 of this chapter - that survival has not been proved to be either empirically or logically impossible - is the analogue of the supposition that John Doe's body was never found and hence that his having survived the crash is not known to be impossible.
This parallelism between the two situations entails that if reason rather than either religious or materialistic faith is to decide, then our answer to the question whether the evidence we have does or does not establish survival (or at least a positive probability of it) must, in the matter of survival after death, be based on the very same considerations as in the matter of survival after the crash of the plane. That is, our answer will have to be based similarly on the quantity of evidence we get over the mediumistic "telephone;" on the quality of that evidence; and on the diversity of kinds of it we get.
6. The conclusion about survival which at present appears warranted
To what conclusion, then, do these three considerations point when brought to bear on the evidence referred to in Chapters XVII and XVIII?
The conclusion they dictate is, I believe, the same as that which at the end of Chapter XVIII we cited as finally reached by Mrs. Sidgwick and by Lord Balfour - a conclusion which also was reached in time by Sir Oliver Lodge, by Prof. Hyslop, by Dr. Hodgson, and by a number of other persons who like them were thoroughly familiar with the evidence on record; who were gifted with keenly critical minds; who had originally been skeptical of the reality or even possibility of survival; and who were also fully acquainted with the evidence for the reality of telepathy and of clairvoyance, and with the claims that had been made for the telepathy-clairvoyance interpretation of the evidence, as against the survival interpretation of it.
Their conclusion was essentially that the balance of the evidence so far obtained is on the side of the reality of survival and, in the best cases, of survival not merely of memories of the life on earth, but of survival also of the most significant capacities of the human mind, and of continuing exercise of these.
The Doctrine of Reincarnation in the History of Thought
IN SECTIONS 5 to 8 of Chapter XIV, various forms were described which a discarnate life after death, if there is such, might conceivably take. Another possible form of survival, namely life, incarnate again, of the "essential" part of a personality through rebirth in a new human or possibly animal body, was also mentioned but was not discussed there since Part IV was concerned only with the question of discarnate life after death. In the present and the subsequent chapters of Part V, we return to that very interesting conception of survival, and examine it in some detail.
The content of the belief that the individual "soul" lives in a body on earth not once only but several times has been designated by various names. Metempsychosis, Transmigration, Reincarnation, and Rebirth are the most familiar, but Reembodiment, Metensomatosis, and Palingenesis have also been used. The doctrine has taken a variety of specific forms, some of which will be considered farther on; but there is little warrant either in etymology or in any firmly established usage for regarding one or another of those names as denoting only some particular form of the doctrine that the individual "soul" lives on earth not once only but several times.(1)
(1) "Rebirth," "Reembodiment," "Reincarnation," and "Transmigration," are self-explanatory. "Metempsychosis" is from the Greek meta = after, successive, + empsychoō = to animate, from en = in + psyche = spirit, soul; "Palingenesis," from palin = again, anew, + genesis = birth, gignomai = to be born; "Metensomatosis," from meta = after, successive, + en = in, + soma = body.
The conception of survival as metempsychosis seems fantastic and unplausible to the great majority of people today in Europe and America, notwithstanding that the believers in survival among them conceive life after death in terms either more fantastic or merely nebulous. And implausibility - distinguished from grounded improbability - means little else than that the doctrine a person characterizes as implausible is one he has not been accustomed to see treated seriously.
The idea of metempsychosis has appealed to vast numbers of persons in Asia and, even in the West, has commended itself to a number of its most distinguished thinkers from ancient times to the present. In this chapter, we shall cite briefly what some of them have said on the subject. It has in most cases been phrased by them in terms of the words "soul" or "spirit," which we shall retain in presenting their views, instead of using "mind" or "personality" as in our preceding chapters.
Then, in subsequent chapters, we shall examine the objections to which the hypothesis of reincarnation appears open, and the ways, if any, in which they might be met. Finally, we shall consider the facts, such as they are, which have been alleged to constitute evidence of the reality of survival conceived as reincarnation.
1. W. R. Alger, on the importance of the doctrine of metempsychosis
The importance of the doctrine of Metempsychosis in the history of mankind may be gathered from the statement with which the Rev. W. R. Alger, a learned Unitarian clergyman of the last century, opens the discussion of the subject in his monumental work, A Critical History of the Doctrine of a Future Life. "No other doctrine," he declares, "has exerted so extensive, controlling, and permanent an influence upon mankind as that of the metempsychosis, - the notion that when the soul leaves the body it is born anew in another body, its rank, character, circumstances and experience in each successive existence depending on its qualities, deeds, and attainments in its preceding lives."(2)
(2) Op. Cit, p. 475, Tenth Edition, Boston 1880; preface dated 1878.
Alger cites authority for the fact that at the time of his writing, the adherents of the transmigration doctrine in one or another of the more specific forms under which it has been conceived numbered some six hundred and fifty million; and, in order to account for what he terms "the extent and the tenacious grasp of this antique and stupendous belief" (p. 475), he mentions, among other less potent reasons, the fact that "the theory of the transmigration of souls is marvellously adapted to explain the seeming chaos of moral inequality, injustice, and manifold evil presented in the world of human life ... Once admit the theory to be true, and all difficulties in regard to moral justice vanish" (p. 481). Moreover, he writes, "the motive furnished by the doctrine to self-denial and toil has a peerless sublimity" (p. 487).
Alger's book was published in 1860 and ran through ten editions in the course of the succeeding twenty years. In the early editions, notwithstanding the high merits he granted to the reincarnation theory, he apparently rejected it, on the ground that, "destitute of any substantial evidence, it is unable to face the severity of science" (p. 484). But in the fifth of six new chapters which in 1878 he adds in the tenth edition, he considers again the merits of the theory and offers it - though, he emphasizes, in no dogmatic spirit (p. 739) - as probably "the true meaning of the dogma of the resurrection" (p. 735); "the true meaning of the doctrine of the general resurrection and judgment and eternal life, as a natural evolution of history from within" (Preface, p. iv); pointing out (p. 735) that "resurrection and transmigration agree in the central point of a restoration of the disembodied soul to a new bodily existence, only the former represents this as a single collective miracle wrought by an arbitrary stroke of God at the close of the earthly drama, (whereas) the latter depicts it as constantly taking place in the regular fulfilment of the divine plan in the creation." The difference, he goes on, "is certainly, to a scientific and philosophical thinker ... strongly in favor of the Oriental theory" (p. 735). For, he somewhat rhapsodically declares, "the thoughts embodied in it are so wonderful, the method of it so rational, the region of contemplation into which it lifts the mind is so grand, the prospects it opens are of such universal reach and import, that the study of it brings us into full sympathy with the sublime scope of the idea of immortality and of a cosmopolitan vindication of providence uncovered to everyone" (p. 739).
One virtue of the reincarnation hypothesis which Alger does not actually mention concerns the "origin" of the individual human soul if the latter is conceived, as generally by the religious, in spiritual not materialistic terms. For reincarnation provides an alternative to the shocking supposition common among Christians that, at the mating of any human pair, be it in wedlock or in wanton debauch, an all-wise, almighty, and infinitely loving God creates outright from nothing, or extracts from his own eternal being, an immortal human soul endowed arbitrarily with a particular one out of many possible sets of latent capacities and incapacities. In contrast with this the reincarnation theory says nothing about absolute origins, for it finds no more difficulty in thinking of the "soul" as unoriginated than in thinking of it as unending; that is, in conceiving it as evolving from more primitive to more advanced stages, and as extending thus from an infinite past into an infinite future. For if it is conceivable that anything at all should have no absolute beginning, then it is conceivable of a human spirit as easily as of a divine one.
2. Metempsychosis in Brahmanism and Buddhism
The transmigration theory, then, presents to us the idea of a long succession of lives on earth for the individual, each of them as it were a day in the school of experience, teaching him new lessons through which he develops the capacities latent in human nature, grows in wisdom, and eventually reaches spiritual maturity.
This idea has for many centuries been widely accepted in Asia. In Brahmanism, the belief is held that the individual ego or spirit, the Atma, has lived in a body on earth many times before the birth of its present body, and will do so again and again after the death of that body; the bodies in which it incarnates being human, or animal, or even vegetable ones according to its Karma, that is, according to the destiny it generates for itself by its acts, its thoughts, and its attitudes and aspirations; this evolutionary process continuing until the individual Atma, at last fully developed, attains direct insight into its identity with Brahman, the World Spirit, and thereby wins salvation from the necessity of further rebirth.
In Buddhism, which, like Protestantism in Christianity, was a reform movement, the belief in reincarnation and Karma carried over but with a difference which at first seems paradoxical. For one of the chief teachings of the Buddha is the Anatta doctrine - the doctrine namely, that man has no permanent Atma or ego, but that the constituents of his nature are always in process of change, more or less rapidly; and that his present being is related to the past beings he calls his, only in being continuous with them as effect is continuous with cause. In Buddhism, the culmination of the long chain of lives, each generating the next, is therefore not described as realization of the identity of Atma and Brahma, but as extinction of the three "fires" - that is, of craving, ill-will, and ignorance - which, as long as they persist, bring about re-birth. Their extinction is the extinction which the word Nirvana signifies.
3. Pythagoras and Empedocles
But the idea of preexistence, and of repeated incarnations through which the individual progresses has commended itself not only to the minds of men in Asia, but also to numerous eminent thinkers in the West, both ancient and modern.
One of the earliest was Pythagoras, who flourished about 455 B.C. and is believed to have travelled extensively in the East, perhaps as far as India. Little is known with certainty concerning his views, but Ueberweg, in the first volume of his History of Philosophy, states that "all that can be traced with certainty to Pythagoras himself is the doctrine of metempsychosis and the institution of certain religious and ethical regulations." The exact nature of his conception of metempsychosis is not known, but an anecdote reported by Diogenes Laertius - according to which Pythagoras allegedly recognized the soul of a deceased friend of his in the body of a dog that was being beaten - suggests that Pythagoras believed that the human soul was reborn at least sometimes in the bodies of animals. Another Greek philosopher of about the same period, namely, Empedocles, also held to some form of the doctrine of the transmigration of souls(3).
(3) Ueberweg, op. cit. English Trans. 1, pp. 42-63. Scribner's, N.Y., 1898.
But the greatest of the Greek philosophers who taught the doctrine of periodical reincarnation of souls is of course Plato. In the Phaedrus, he writes that the human soul, according to the degree of vision of truth to which it has attained. is reborn in a correspondingly suitable body: "The soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher or artist, or musician or lover; that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be a righteous king or warrior or lord; the soul which is of the third class shall be a politician or economist or trader; the fourth shall be a lover of gymnastic toils or a physician ..." and so on, down to the ninth degree, to which birth as a tyrant is appropriate - Plato adding that "all these are states of probation, in which he who lives righteously improves, and he who lives unrighteously deteriorates his lot." In another passage Plato says that the soul of a man "may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast again into the man," but that a soul which has never beheld true being will not pass into the human form, since that vision "was the condition of her passing into the human form."(4) In the tenth book of another of the dialogues, The Republic, Plato, sets forth similar ideas. He tells of a mythical warrior, called Er, who had been left for dead on the field of battle but who returned to life ten days afterwards and related that he had seen the souls of men awaiting rebirth, beholding a great variety of available lives open to them, and drawing lots as to who would choose first, who next, and so on. Some chose, according to such folly or wisdom as they had, one or another sort of human life; but here too Plato holds to the possibility of rebirth of a man in animal form, saying that Er saw the soul of Orpheus choose the life of a swan, that of Ajax the life of a lion, that of Agamemnon that of an eagle, and so on.(5)
(4) Phaedrus, Jowett's translation, pp. 248-249, Scribner's, N.Y., 1908.
(5) The Republic, Jowett's translation, pp. 614, 617-20.
The next of the great thinkers whose views on reincarnation may be mentioned is the Neo-Platonist, Plotinus, (204-269 A.D.) who was educated in Alexandria under Ammonius Saccas and taught at Rome for some twenty-five years during the middle of the third century, A.D.; and whose philosophical ideas influenced many of the early shapers of Christian theology. In his treatise on The Descent of the Soul, he sets forth a view of the education of the soul through repeated births in a material body. The soul, he writes, "confers something of itself on a sensible nature, from which likewise it receives something in return ... By a "sensible" nature, Plotinus means here a nature perceptible to the senses, that is, a body. He goes on to say that the soul ... through an abundance of sensible desire ... becomes profoundly merged into matter and no longer totally abides in the universal soul. Yet our souls are able alternately to rise from hence carrying back with them an experience of what they have known and suffered in their fallen state; from whence they will learn how blessed it is to abide in the intelligible world," that is, in the world of abstract forms, which cannot be perceived by the senses but only apprehended by the intellect, and which are the objects of what Plato called the vision of truth, or of true being. Plotinus goes on to say that the soul, "by a comparison, as it were of contraries, will more plainly perceive the excellence of a superior state. For the experience of evil produces a clearer knowledge of good, especially where the power of judgment is so imbecil, that it cannot without such experience obtain the science of that which is best."(6)
(6) Five Books of Plotinus, translated by Thos. Taylor, London, 1794, pp. 279-80.
Among Christian thinkers of approximately the same period as Plotinus, who like him believed in repeated earth lives for the soul, was Origen (c. 185-c. 254, A.D.) one of the Fathers of the Church most influential in the early developments of Christian theology. He held not only, like some of the other theologians of that period, that the human soul preexisted and in some sense lived prior to its entrance into the body, but also that after death it eventually reentered a new body, and this repeatedly until, fully purified, it was fit to enter heaven. This doctrine was later condemned by the second Council of Constantinople, but the following passage, from the Latin translation by Rufinus of Origen's Greek text, of which only a fragment of the original passage remains, leaves no doubt that Origen professed it: "Everyone, therefore, of those who descend to the earth is, according to his deserts or to the position that he had there, ordained to be born in this world either in a different place, or in a different nation, or in a different occupation, or with different infirmities, or to be descended from religious or at least less pious parents; so as sometimes to bring about that an Israelite descends among the Scythians, and a poor Egyptian is brought down to Judaea."(7)
(7) Origen: De Principiis IV Cap. 3, 10, 26, 23. The Latin of Rufinus' translation is given as follows on p. 338 of Vol. 5 of Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der Ersten Drei Jahrhunderte: Unusquisque ergo descendentium in terram pro meritis vel loco suo, quem ibi habuerat, dispensatur in hoc mundo in diversis veI locis vel gentibus vel conversationibus vel infirmitatibus nasci vel a religiosis ant certe minus piis parentibus generari, ita ut inveniat aliquando Israheliten in Scythas descendere et Aegyptium pauperem deduci ad Iudaeam.
The fragment, which is all we have of Origen's own Greek of the passage, reads: kai para toisde ē toisde tois patrasin ōs dynasthai pote Israēlitēn pasein eis Schythas kai Aigypton eis tēn Ioudaian katelthein.
7. The Jews, Egyptians, Celts, and Teutons
Having alluded in what precedes to the influence of Neo-Platonism and in particular of Plotinus on the early Christian theologians, it may not be amiss to mention briefly two or three statements in the new Testament, which have often been cited as indicating that belief in preexistence and rebirth was not uncommon among the persons to whom Jesus spoke, and indeed as suggesting that perhaps he himself accepted it or at least regarded it as plausible.
In the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, we have the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus saw as he passed by. "His disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered. "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him." The point is that the answer of Jesus does not deny that the man could have sinned before birth, but denies only that this actually was the cause of his blindness. More explicit and positive is the assertion by Jesus, twice reported in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, that John the Baptist was Elijah: "And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear." And farther on: "But I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased... Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist" (XVII, 12, 13).
At all events, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls was a part of the Jewish esoteric mystical philosophy known as the Kabbala, the origin of which is very ancient, apparently antedating even the Christian era. The doctrine is mentioned in the later Zoharistic works, but "is never found systematically developed" there; rather, wherever it occurs, it is tacitly assumed as well known, and no explanation is given in detail(8). The following passage is quoted from the Zohar (ii, 99b) by C. D. Ginsburg: "All souls are subject to transmigration, and men do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be he; they do not know that they are brought before the tribunal, both before they enter into this world and after they quit it, they are ignorant of the many transmigrations and secret probations which they have to undergo ... But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed."(9) The same author, in a footnote (p. 125) writes: "According to Josephus, the doctrine of the transmigration of souls into other bodies ... was also held by the Pharisees ... restricting, however, the metempsychosis to the righteous. And though the Midrashin and the Talmud are silent about it, yet from Saadia's vituperation against it ... there is no doubt that this doctrine was held among some Jews in the ninth century of the present era. At all events it is perfectly certain that the Karaite Jews firmly believed in it ever since the seventh century ... St. Jerome assures us that it was also propounded among the early Christians as an esoteric and traditional doctrine which was entrusted to the select few; ... and Origen was convinced that it was only by means of this doctrine that certain Scriptural narratives, such as the struggle of Jacob with Esau before their birth, the reference to Jeremiah when still in his mother's womb, and many others, can possibly be explained.'
(8) M. Caster: Hastings Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Art. Transmigration, p. 439. Cf. G. SchoIem: Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. Schoken Pub. House, Jerusalem, 1947 pp. 281 ff.
(9) The Essenes, The Kabbalah, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1955, pp. 124-5.
In the ancient world, the belief in reincarnation was anyway widespread. Herodotus, Plato, and other Greek writers report it of the Egyptians of their time; Herodotus, for example, writing (Bk. II, Sec. 123): "... the Egyptians were the first to teach that the human soul is immortal, and at the death of the body enters into some other living thing then coming to birth; and after passing through all creatures, of land, sea, and air (which cycle it completes in three thousand years) it enters once more into a human body at birth. Some of the Greeks, early and late, have used this doctrine as if it were their own..."(10)
(10) Bk. III. Sec. 123. Tr. by. A. D. Godley, Putnam's N. Y. 1921.
Both Caesar and Valerius Maximus definitely state that the Druids of ancient Gaul held the belief in reincarnation; and there is evidence also that it was present among the early Teutonic peoples.
Let us' however, now turn to more recent times and see what some eminent modern philosophers have had to say concerning metempsychosis. The first I shall mention is one of the greatest in the history of modem thought-the skeptical philosopher, David Hume. In one of his essays, he emphasizes on the one hand the weakness of the metaphysical and of the moral arguments for the immortality of the soul, and on the other, the strength of the physical arguments for its mortality; and he then concludes the passage with the statement that "the Metempsychosis is therefore the only system of this kind [that is, the only conception of immortality] that philosophy can hearken to."(11)
(11) Essays and Treatises on Various Subjects, Boston, 1881. Second of the two, Essays on Suicide, p. 228. p. 162.
Another and no less famous philosopher, who also gave some thought to the idea of preexistence and of rebirth, was Immanuel Kant. In a passage of his celebrated Critique of Pure Reason, he notes that "generation in the human race depends on ... many accidents, on occasion, ... on the views and whims of government, nay, even on vice;" and he remarks that 'It is difficult to believe in the eternal existence of a being whose life has first begun under circumstances so trivial, and so entirely dependent on our own choice." Kant then points out that the strangeness, which attaches to the supposition that so important an effect arises from such insignificant causes, would disappear if we should accept the hypothesis that the life of the human spirit is "not subject to the changes of time ... neither beginning in birth, nor ending in death," and that the life of the body, which so begins and so ends, "is phenomenal only;" that is to say, if we should accept the hypothesis that "if we could see ourselves and other objects as they really are, we should see ourselves in a world of spiritual natures, our community with which did neither begin at our birth nor will end with the death of the body."(12) Indeed, a more recent philosopher, James Ward, who in his Gifford Lectures calls attention to this passage, states in a note that Kant, in his lectures on metaphysics shortly before the publication of the Critique, dogmatically taught both the preexistence and the immortality of the soul.(13)
(12) Critique of Pure Reason, M. Mueller's Trawl. MacMillan's 2nd ed. pp. 625-6.
(13) James Ward, The Realm of Ends, p. 404.
Another German philosopher, Fichte, contrasts the spiritual part of himself, which he conceives as the will to obey the laws of reason, with the sensuous other part, and conjectures that the latter may have the form of a succession of incarnate lives. He writes: "These two orders, - the purely spiritual and the sensuous, the latter consisting possibly of an innumerable series of particular lives, - have existed in me from the first moment of the development of my active reason ... My sensuous existence may, in future, assume other forms, but these are just as little the true life, as its present form."(14)
(14) The Vocation of Man, Bk. III, Trawl. by Wm. Smith, Pub. London 1848.
Another German philosopher, Schopenhauer, had some acquaintance with the thought of India, and a good deal of sympathy with certain of its features-in particular with its doctrine of repeated births. In the third volume of his great work, The World as Will and Idea, he has a chapter on "Death and its relation to the indestructibility of our true nature." This true nature he conceives to be not the intellect, which is mortal, but "the character, i.e., the will" which is "the eternal part" of us and comes again and again to new births. This doctrine, he goes on, is "more correctly denoted by the word palingenesis [that is, new births] than by metempsychosis- since the latter term suggests that what is reborn is the whole psyche, whereas not the intellectual part of it, but only the will, is born again.(15)
(15) Vol. 111:300, Haldane and Kemp's translation. Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner Co. London, 1906.
One of the most distinguished French philosophers of recent times, Charles Renouvier, also endorses the doctrine of reincarnation. In the course of the exposition of his elaborate theory of monads, of indestructible germs, and of the origin and destiny of personality, he writes: "But it is not once only that each person must live again on earth owing to the actualization of one of those seminal potencies; it is a certain number of times, we do not know how many ..." And again, speaking of the several individuals which are the several lives of one person, he writes: "These individuals, whom memory does not tie together, and who have to one another no earthly genealogical relationships, also have no memory of the person whom each of them comes to continue on earth. Such forgetting is a condition of any theory of preexistence ... the person, reintegrated in the world of ends, recovers there the memory of its state in the world of origins, and of the diverse lives which it has gone through, in the course of which it has received the lessons and undergone the trials of the life of pain."(16)
(16) Le Personnalisme, pp. 125-126. Felix Alcan, Paris 1903.
To be mentioned next in our partial list of recent and contemporary eminent thinkers who have regarded with favor the theory of metempsychosis are three distinguished British philosophers. The first is John McTaggart, who in 1906 published a book entitled Some Dogmas of Religion. The whole of its fourth chapter is devoted to a discussion of the idea of human preexistence. He states that this "renders the doctrine of a plurality of lives more probable." This doctrine "would, indeed, be in any case the most probable form of the doctrine of immortality" (p xiii). Farther on, McTaggart points out that if both preexistence and immortality are true, then "each man would have at least three lives, his present life, one before it, and one after it. It seems more probable, however, that this would not be all, and that his existence before and after his present life would in each case be divided into many lives, each bounded by birth and death." And he adds that there is much to be said for the view that [such] a plurality of lives would be the most probable alternative, even on a theory of immortality which did not include preexistence (p. 116).(17)
(17) Op. Cit. London. Edw. Arnold, 1906.
14. James Ward
James Ward, cited above as having called attention to what Kant had to say on the subject of the human spirit's existence before the birth and after the death of its body, himself considers various theories of a future life in the 18th of his Gifford lectures. One of these theories is that of metempsychosis. He examines some of the chief objections to it which have been advanced, and he suggests more or less plausible ways in which they may be met. He concludes that "we must at least insist ... that if such life [to wit, a future life] is to have any worth or meaning, a certain personal continuity of development is essential. From this point of view, death becomes indeed a longer sleep dividing life from life as sleep divides day from day; and as there is progress from day to day so too there may be from life to life."(18)
(18) The Realm of Ends, Cambridge Univ. Press N.Y. 1911, p. 407.
15. C. D. Broad
Lastly, the distinguished Cambridge philosopher, C. D. Broad, at the end of his discussion of the empirical arguments which may be advanced in support of the idea of survival after death, points out that the hypothesis as to what specifically may survive, which he has himself offered, "has certain advantages for those who favor the theory of metempsychosis, as Dr. McTaggart does."(19) And, in a later work where at one point he discusses what McTaggart says on the subject, Broad states that, to himself, the theory of preexistence and plurality of lives seems to be one "which ought to be taken very seriously, both on philosophical grounds and as furnishing a reasonable motive for right action .... We shall behave all the better if we act on the assumption that we may survive; that actions which tend to strengthen and enrich our characters in this life will probably have a favorable influence on the dispositions with which we begin our next lives; and that actions which tend to disintegrate our characters in this life will probably cause us to enter on our next life "halt and maimed." If we suppose that our future lives will be of the same general nature as our present lives, this postulate, which is in itself intelligible and not unreasonable, gains enormously in concreteness and therefore in practical effect on our conduct.(20)
(19) The Mind and its Place in Nature. Harcourt Brace & Co. New York, 1929, p. 551.
(20) Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy. Cambridge, University Press 1938, p. 639
The preceding citations from authors who have expressed opinions favorable in various degrees to the idea of reincarnation have been limited to philosophers, and even so have not included all those who could be listed. But numerous poets also have viewed the doctrine sympathetically. Persons interested to know what these have had to say, or in citations from various other quarters of opinions commendatory of the doctrine of rebirth, will find quotations in several fairly accessible books, among which may be mentioned E. D. Walker's Reincarnation, A Study of Forgotten Truth, G. de Purucker's The Esoteric Tradition, and Paul Siwek's La Reincarnation des Esprits.(21)
(21) Respectively, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1888; Theosophical University Press, Point Loma, Calif., 1935, Vol. II, Chs. XIX, XX, pp. 620-47; Desclee de Brouwer, Rio de Janeiro, 1942, Introduction and Part I.
16. Various forms of the doctrine of reincarnation
Some of the statements which have been quoted in what precedes will have indicated that believers in reincarnation do not all conceive the doctrine in exactly the same manner. Many of them, for example, believe that a man may be reborn as an animal, and hence that some of the animals are animated by souls which have been and probably again will some time be lodged in human bodies. Others believe that once a soul has reached the human level, it will not thereafter be reborn as an animal. Again, differences of opinion exist as to the interval of time between incarnations. For example, L. A. Waddell, who accompanied the expedition of Sir Francis Younghusband to Tibet at the beginning of the present century, and who has written extensively on the religion of the Tibetan Lamas, mentions that when the Dalai Lama dies, the selection of his successor is based on the belief that his spirit is immediately reincarnated as a new born infant(22). Search is then made for a child born at that time, to whom certain additional tests are then applied.
(22) Lhasa and its Mysteries, Dutton and Co., N. Y. 1905, p. 28.
Other believers in reincarnation hold that a long interval normally elapses between two incarnations - centuries, or indeed sometimes a thousand years or more - and offer accounts of the manner in which they think the discarnate soul employs these lengthy periods.
Another interesting form of the belief in reincarnation is that held, according to Delafosse, by one of the West African tribes, the Mandingos. They do not think of reincarnation as universal. They believe that the spirit of a dead man, which they call his niama "can reside where it likes - in the corpse, in the hut, in a sacred object, or in the body of a living being whose niama it absorbs." The spirit of a man for whom the due rites have not been performed may reincarnate itself in a solitary animal, or in a human being, who goes mad."(23) This particular version of the idea of reincarnation is interesting as being virtually identical with the familiar ideas of "obsession" or "possession"; although, in these as traditionally conceived, what incarnates temporarily in the "possessed" person, is not, as in the Mandingo belief, a discarnate human spirit, but a devil. Some West African tribes more easterly than the Mandingos apparently do not conceive reincarnation in this manner, but in its ordinary sense, according to which the body the discarnate human spirit enters is that of a child about to be born, not an adult body with a spirit of its own that has to be displaced or is made insane by the invasion of another spirit. A conception of reincarnation similar to that of the Mandingos appears in some of the communications of automatists emanating purportedly from discarnate spirits. For example, in Ch. XV of a book entitled Thirty Years Among the Dead,(24) the author, Dr. C. A. Wickland, transcribes communications, uttered by his wife while entranced, from purported spirits who said that during life they had had some acquaintance with the teachings of modem Theosophy and [apparently misconceiving these] that they endeavored to reincarnate by invading the bodies of several of Dr. Wickland's patients. These, as in the Mandingos' belief, had gone mad, i.e., seemingly obsessed or possessed by some personality other than their own.
(23) Delafosse, Haut-Senegal-Niger, Ill, 165 quoted in Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, Art. Transmigration.
(24) Spiritualist Press, London, no date.
Difficulties in the Reincarnation Hypothesis
THE MERE fact that the reincarnation hypothesis, in one form or another, has been treated with respect by some thinkers of high eminence, and even has been accepted by some of them, does not prove that reincarnation is a fact. Moreover, critics of the doctrine have advanced various objections to it, purporting to show that it can not possibly be true. We must now consider them and decide whether they do or do not establish the impossibility. And, if we find that they do not really do so, we shall then have to ask whether any empirical evidence at all exists that shows or tends to show that reincarnation occurs.
1. The materialistic objection to any form of life after death
The first objection likely to suggest itself to the contemporary Western educated mind would be that a mind cannot exist without a living body, nor therefore pass from a dying body to a living one born later. This objection, if sound, would rule out not only metempsychosis, but also the possibility of any form of survival. But it need not detain us here since, as we saw in Part Ill, the basis of it consists not of established facts, but only of one or another of the materialistic interpretations of the facts. And, as we took pains to make clear, these interpretations are in no way authoritative but amount only to this: that in them, a legitimate program - that of searching for material causes - is illegitimately erected unawares into the metaphysical dogma that none but material causes can exist at all. Moreover in Part IV, various facts were cited which lend some empirical support to the hypothesis that the mind survives the body's death.
The question before us in the present chapter is therefore only whether, if survival is indeed a fact, any good reasons exist for believing that it cannot take the form which the reincarnation hypothesis describes; namely, in its most plausible version, that, following the body's death, there is first a period of discarnate existence whether short or long; and then rebirth, in an infant body, of such of the capacities of the mind of the deceased person as had constituted the basis for acquisition by it of the other capacities it did acquire - and indeed also for acquisition of various others which it did not in fact acquire because external circumstances presented no need for them, or no opportunity to acquire them.
2. The objection that we have no memory of having lived before
A prima facie plausible objection to the reincarnation hypothesis is that we have no memory whatever of having lived before our birth. But if this objection has any force at all, then it has far too much; for, since we have also no memory of the first few years of our present life, it would then follow equally that we did not then exist. Indeed, the case is really worse than this, for we have also no memories at all of the great majority of the days of our life. My own belief, for example that I was alive and conscious on say, the third of December, 1930 is not based on my memory of that day, for I recall nothing whatever in connection with it; and probably nobody else recalls having observed me on that particular day. That belief of mine is in fact only an inference, based on the vacuous premise that human consciousness is continuous - except for periods of unconsciousness in dreamless sleep, in anesthesia, in coma, or otherwise!
It may be said, of course, that although we have no conscious memories of our days of early childhood, or of most of our days since then, yet memories of them persist subconsciously and can be made manifest by automatic writing as induced in her patients by, for example, the late Dr. Anita Muhl, or by the techniques of psychoanalysis; or by suggestions of age-regression, given under hypnosis. But then we naturally find ourselves led to ask how far back such revival of memories can be made to go. Memories of the intra-uterine experiences of the foetus have apparently been obtained; and in some cases, purported memories pertaining to past incarnations. If the latter are dismissed as mere inventions of the mythopoeic faculty, induced by the suggestions of age-regression, then, on the very same ground, it will be necessary to dismiss also alleged memories of intra-uterine experiences; and indeed, also abnormally obtained memories of the years of infancy and even of subsequent years, except where the reality of the events purportedly remembered happens to be in some way independently verifiable. But then, what shall we say about the few reported cases where it is claimed that verification was made also of facts purportedly remembered from an earlier incarnation? We shall return to this claim farther on, when we come to ask whether any positive empirical evidence exists in support of the reincarnation hypothesis. At this point, however, we are concerned only with the allegations that absence of memory of earlier lives is empirical evidence that we had no such lives; and the outcome of the preceding remarks is that absence of memory of an event, and especially of a long past event, never proves that one did not experience the event. Positive memories can be evidence concerning one's past, but absence of memories of it proves nothing at all about it.
3. The objection that memory is indispensable to identity of person
Another objection to the transmigration hypothesis is that personal identity is wholly dependent on memory; and hence that, without memories of earlier lives, there is no difference at all between rebirth of "one" person, and death of one person followed by birth of a different person(1). This objection, however, would be easily disposed of by the supposition that, although memory of earlier lives is absent during any one life, such memory is periodically regained at some point during the interval between consecutive lives; or, possibly, is regained at the end of the series of earthly incarnations if the series does have an end. The supposition that, at some time, memory of earlier lives is recovered suffices to make rebirth of one person mean something different from death of one person followed by birth of another person. Absence now of such memory entails only that we cannot tell now which of those two possibilities is the fact.
(1) Leibniz; Philosophische Schriften, ed. Gerhardt, IV. 300.
4. The objection that, without memory of one's acts, nothing is learned from their consequences
An objection which has been made to the transmigration hypothesis - or at least to the assumption usually coupled with it that wisdom is gained and moral lessons learned gradually from the consequences brought about by right and wrong acts - is that, without memory of the act, or thought or feeling or attitude, which brought about a given consequence, the relation of cause and effect between them is not perceived; and hence that no moral lesson is learned or any wisdom gained from such features of our lot in the present life as are consequences of right or wrong conduct in preceding lives.
A sufficient answer to this objection is that perception of the consequences of our conduct is one way, but not the only way, in which growth in wisdom, virtue, or ability, can be brought about by those consequences. An act of which we retain no memory may nevertheless have the remote effect of placing us eventually in a situation conducive to the acquiring of the wisdom, virtue, or ability, lack of which made us act as we did in the forgotten past. If, as the Karma doctrine of the Hindus asserts, our conduct in one incarnation automatically tends to have this very sort of consequence in one or another of our later lives, then lack of memory of those past lives does not prevent our growing morally and spiritually, in this indirect manner, owing to the nature of our conduct in unremembered earlier lives. Moreover if, as already suggested may be the case, memory of preceding lives is regained in the discarnate interval between incarnations, this would make growth in wisdom possible not only in the manner just described, but also by discernment of some of the consequences of certain of one's acts in earlier lives.
5. The objection that wisdom, virtue, knowledge, and skills are not innate, but are gradually acquired after birth
It may be objected, however, that whatever such growth we achieve in a given incarnation, whether in the indirect manner described, or directly out of perception of the consequences of acts done in the present or in a previous incarnation, that growth anyway does not carry over from past lives to the present one. For children are not born with knowledge that fire burns, but have to learn it again in this life no matter how many times in past lives they may have touched fire and got burnt. Similarly, children have to be taught not to lie and not to take the property of others; they are not born with ready-made mathematical or musical or other skills, any more than with a ready-made moral conscience, but acquire all these by processes open to observation. No matter what they may have learned in past lives, their education - moral, intellectual, aesthetic, and of other sorts - certainly seems to have to start from scratch in the present life.
Reflection, however, makes evident that what has just been said is not quite the whole story. Skills, habits, knowledge, and other varieties of what psychologists call "conditionings" indeed have to be painstakingly acquired during the years of life. But what we come equipped with at birth is not these things; it is only certain instincts and certain aptitudes - an aptitude being a capacity to acquire, when subjected to the relevant stimuli, certain more determinate capacities of the kinds mentioned above. In these native aptitudes, human beings differ considerably one from another. One person will learn quickly and easily what another, even with great effort, is able to learn but slowly and imperfectly.
In this connection, it is useful to dwell on the fact that if any one of us, had been taken away in early childhood from the family where in fact he grew up, and had been placed instead among the Pygmies of Africa, or among the Eskimos, or among the Chinese; or indeed, in his native country, in a family markedly different in economic, cultural and social respects from that in which he was born; then he would, on the basis of his very same stock of native aptitudes, certainly have developed a personality vastly different from his present one. Reflection on this indubitable fact is likely to make the personality he now calls his Self appear to him analogous rather to some particular one of the various roles which a given actor is capable of playing. And this reflection is then likely to lead a person to identify his true Self with his native set of basic aptitudes, rather than with the accidental particular personality - i.e., the particular memories, skills, habits, and so on-generated through the interaction between those aptitudes and the particular environment in which his body happens to have lived.
It is true that, when discussing reincarnation, Professor James H. Hyslop writes: "It is personality that we want, if survival is to be in any way interesting to us, and not only personality, but we want a personal consciousness of this personal identity"(2). But in the light of the remarks just made this demand, though natural enough, appears rather naively wilful.
(2) Borderland of Psychical Research, Turner & Co. Boston, 1906, p. 368.
The supposition just considered, that if reincarnation is a fact then what a man brings to a new birth is not a developed mind or personality but only certain aptitudes, has commended itself also to some other writers who, however, have worded it somewhat differently. Professor Broad, for example, suggests that what transmigrates, if anything does, might not be a mind but only something which he calls a "psychogenic factor," the nature of which, however, he does not describe beyond saying that, from combination of it with a brain, a mind emerges-somewhat as common salt emerges out of the combination of sodium and chlorine, neither of which by itself has the properties of salt(3) .Again, Professor Francis Bowen, in an article in the Princeton Review for May, 1881, quoted at considerable length by E. D. Walker(4), offered a similar hypothesis, wording it, however, in terms of Kant's distinction between man's Intelligible Character, which is noumenal, and his Empirical Character, which is phenomenal - a distinction only alluded to in the particular passage of Kant's Critique we cited earlier, but which Kant formulates explicitly elsewhere in a different connection.
(3) The Mind and its Place in Nature, Harcourt Brace & Co. New York, 1929, p. 535
(4) Reincarnation, A Study of Forgotten Truth, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1888, pp. 102 ff.
But if transmigration is to be conceived as a process of growth, it is necessary to assume that the activities and experiences of each incarnation result not only in the acquisition of particular skills, tastes, habits, knowledge, etc., on the basis of the aptitudes (or "psychogenic factor," or "Intelligible Character") brought from past lives; but in addition result in some alteration of that stock of aptitudes itself-enhancement of some of them, deterioration of others, perhaps acquisition of new ones, and possibly loss altogether of certain others. And Broad indeed postulates for the psychogenic factor capacity to be modified to some extent by the experiences and activities of the mind which has resulted from the combination of the psychogenic and the bodily factors.
6. Native aptitudes, heredity, and growth of the self.
It may be contended, however, that a person's native aptitudes or anyway some of them are a matter of heredity; and that if they are derived thus from his ancestors then they are not derived from strivings or experiences of his own past lives. But McTaggart, whose favorable opinion of the transmigration hypothesis was cited earlier, argues that the facts of heredity are at least not incompatible with transmigration. "There is no impossibility," he writes, "in supposing that the characteristics in which we resemble the ancestors of our bodies may be to some degree characteristics due to our previous lives." He points out that "hats in general fit their wearers with far greater accuracy than they would if each man's hat were assigned to him by lot. And yet there is very seldom any causal connection between the shape of the head and the shape of the hat. A man's head is never made to fit his hat, and, in the great majority of cases, his hat is not made to fit his head. The adaptation comes about by each man selecting, from hats made without any special reference to his particular head, the hat which will suit his particular head best." And McTaggart goes on to say: "This may help us to see that it would be possible to hold that a man whose nature had certain characteristics when he was about to be reborn, would be reborn in a body descended from ancestors of a similar character. His character when reborn would, in this case, be decided, as far as the points in question went, by his character in his previous life, and not by the character of the ancestors of his new body. But ... the character of the ancestors of the new body, and its similarity to his character." would be what "determined the fact that he was reborn in that body rather than another."(5) And in answer to the question as to how each person finds the body most appropriate to him, McTaggart refers to the analogy of chemical affinities.
(5) Some Dogmas of Religion, Edward Arnold, London, 1906, p. 125.
McTaggart, it must be emphasized, is not contending that some of the characteristics - or let us say more specifically, aptitudes - which a person possesses were gained in an earlier life and brought over to the present one at birth. He is contending only that this supposition is not incompatible with the inheritance of aptitudes from one's ancestors.
But the compatibility of the two, or not, turns on whether heredity accounts for every aptitude a person is born with. If it does, then the supposition that any aptitudes at all are brought from a past incarnation becomes wholly idle. Indeed, no room at all is left for it, since if something did have a certain origin, then it did not have a different one!
The assumption. however, that heredity does account for all of a person's native aptitudes is a good deal more sweeping than present-day knowledge of heredity warrants. Hence, if a given aptitude a man has does not happen to be traceable to his parents or known ancestors, his having brought it over from an earlier life remains conceivable.
But just what, in McTaggart's simile. the "hat" and the "head" may respectively consist in literally, can become clear only in the light of analysis of the notions of an "aptitude" and of the corresponding "skill."
An aptitude, it will be recalled, is the capacity to acquire a specific capacity under given circumstances; and the specific capacity concerned is a skill in so far as it is voluntary. Moreover, that a given person did possess aptitude for acquisition of a given skill is shown by his having in fact acquired it. But the factors on which his having acquired it depended are several.
One was possession by him of such bodily organs of sensation or of action as may be necessary for exercise of the skill concerned. For example, no matter how musically gifted otherwise a man may be, he cannot acquire high skill as a violinist if his fingers are short, thick, and stiff.
A second factor consists in possession of psychological aptitude for acquisition of the skill concerned, in addition to such bodily aptitude as the skill may require.
The third factor consists of the external opportunities or/and stimuli which the person in view has had for acquisition of that skill. A man's capacity to acquire ability to swim, for instance, would have no opportunity to realize itself if he were to spend his whole life in the desert.
And a fourth factor is interest in acquisition of the skill concerned. Aptitude and opportunity for acquisition of the skill might exist, yet interest in acquiring it might be lacking. Or the interest might exist but remain latent in the absence of external circumstances that would arouse it. Or the interest might exist and be patent, but the person might have no aptitude for acquisition of the particular skill. The interest is therefore a factor additional to the other three.
Which of the four factors, we may now ask, would constitute the "hat" in McTaggart's simile, and which of them the "head"?
The first factor - bodily aptitude - is plausibly a matter of biological heredity and would therefore be part of the "hat." Whether or how far the second factor - psychological aptitude - is also purely a matter of biological heredity is dubious. So when, as often is the case, a given aptitude is not traceable to the parents or the known ancestors, the supposition that it has been brought over from an earlier life remains possible. The aptitude concerned would then be part of the "head."
The third factor - the external circumstances which permitted acquisition of the skill for which aptitude existed - would evidently be another part of the "hat." And the fourth factor - existence of latent interest in acquisition of the skill concerned - can, like the aptitude for that skill, be supposed to be a carryover from an earlier life and thus to be part of the "head." Indeed, that interest, which amounts to a craving to acquire that skill, can be supposed to operate as the quasi "chemical affinity" McTaggart invokes, by which the aptitude to acquire that skill is brought to incarnation in a family that provides not only the appropriate bodily heredity, but also eventually the kind of external circumstances necessary for development of the particular skill concerned.
Incompetent Kinds of Evidence For and Against Reincarnation
IN CHAPT. XXI, we examined a number of difficulties in the way of the reincarnation hypothesis, and found them far from sufficient to show that it cannot be true, or even that it is more probably false than true. We now come to the question whether any empirical evidence is available that would tend to support the hypothesis. In the present chapter, certain facts will be considered which have sometimes been offered as evidence of reincarnation but which, as we shall see, admit of some different and more plausible explanation. And since, in Part IV, we came to the conclusion that some positive evidence exists for survival - survival discarnate for the time being anyway - of some components of the personality of deceased persons, the facts on which we shall comment in the present chapter will include the testimony on the subject of reincarnation contained in certain communications which purported to emanate from surviving spirits of the deceased.
1. "Deja vu" experiences
An experience sometimes thought by the persons who have it to be evidence that they have lived before their present life is the experience psychologists have labelled "deja vu," i.e., "already seen," "seen before." It is what occurs when a person "recognizes" some situation which in fact he never experienced before-for example some street or house in a town he is now visiting for the first time, and of which he has never seen a picture or description. In such cases, the person concerned sometimes interprets the fact that what he is seeing for the first time in his life nevertheless feels familiar to him, as being evidence that he must have seen it in an earlier life.
The true explanation, however, is usually that the new situation is similar in prominent respects to some situation he has experienced before in his present life but which he does not at the moment recall; and that, although the two situations also have dissimilarities, nevertheless the points of likeness between them are sufficient to generate the feeling of familiarity which, normally, is a sign that the object or situation arousing it was experienced before. A striking example of such spurious recognition occurs when we "recognize" a person whom we have in fact never met before, but who happens to be the twin of an acquaintance we then mistakenly believe ourselves to be facing at the moment.
Another explanation, however, perhaps fits better some instances of "deja vu" - those where the person concerned feels that he so remembers the conversation he is now hearing, or the house he is now entering for the first time, that he can tell what the person who speaks next is going to say, or what a given door in the house leads into.
In such cases, what he now feels he already knows may be something which he is now paranormally precognizing. Or it may be something which he paranormally precognized a short time before, but only subconsciously, or perhaps the night before in a dream he does not remember - the later parts of the past precognition being now brought to consciousness by the present perceptual fulfilment of the earlier parts.
Whether or not this explanation happens to be the correct one in a given case, the fact that precognition has been experimentally proved to occur sometimes(1) means that explanation of a "deja vu" experience in terms of paranormal precognition must not be ruled out a priori, and that the normal type of explanation must not be made a Procrustean bed, which every fact of this kind, no matter how recalcitrant, shall be stretched or trimmed to fit into.
(1) See for instance "Experiments in Precognitive Telepathy" by S. G. Soal and K. M. Goldney, Proc. S.P.R. Vol. 47:21-150; 1943; and summary in Modern Experiments in Telepathy, by S. G. Soal and F. Bateman, Yale Univ. Press 1954, pp. 123-31.
2. Illusions of Memory
Mnemonic illusions are another type of experience capable of causing a person to believe that he has lived other lives than his present one. The late Prof. J. H. Hyslop mentions an example of such an illusion, which, although the experient did not interpret it as memory of an earlier life, nevertheless strikingly illustrates the possibility of mnemonic illusion(2). The person concerned was a friend of Dr. Hyslop's, and, in conversation with another, mentioned that he remembered the Harrison presidential campaign and described in considerable detail many of the incidents in it. He, however, had been born in 1847, whereas the Harrison campaign had taken place in 1840. The explanation of his "memories" of the campaign turned out to be that what he really remembered were the vivid images of the campaign which he had formed in childhood as a result of the elaborate descriptions of it which uncles of his who had taken part in it and with whom he went to live at the age of eight, delighted to rehearse, in his hearing, for their friends and neighbors. He had remembered the images, but not how his mind had come to be furnished with them.
(2) Borderland of Psychical Research, Turner & Co., Boston, 1906, pp. 371-2.
3. Paranormal retrocognitions
But a person's belief that he had an earlier life may be a conclusion he bases on a dream or vision which subsequent historical research shows to have corresponded in recondite details to some historical event antedating his birth - which details he certainly never learned in a normal manner. A tempting interpretation of such an experience is that he actually witnessed the event in an earlier life, and that the vision or dream is a memory image of it, carried over from that earlier life to the present one.
An example of a vision which would lend itself to such an interpretation, although in fact it was not so interpreted by the two ladies who had the vision, is that of Miss Moberly and Miss Jourdain at Versailles, related in their much discussed book entitled An Adventure(3). A more plausible interpretation of the facts as reported - which is the interpretation they themselves adopted - is that their vision was a case of retrocognitive clairvoyance.
(3) London, Faber & Faber, 1911. By 1947 the book had had four editions and many printings.
4. Testimony, purportedly from discarnate spirits
Another kind of empirical evidence alleged by some to substantiate, or to invalidate, the belief in reincarnation consists of the declarations on the subject contained in the mediumistic communications from purported discarnate spirits.
In 1856, Hypolite Denizard Rivail, better known by his pen name of Allan Kardec, published Le Livre des Esprits, consisting mainly of communications, dictated through unnamed "diverse mediums" by various purported discarnate spirits in answer to questions asked by Kardec - these questions and answers being then published by him in the book at the behest of those spirits. One of the central doctrines proclaimed by them is that of reincarnation. The following, which is a translation of Sec. 166 of the 1947 amplified edition, is a typical passage (from Chapter IV pp. 147/8):*
* Ed. Griffon d'Or, Paris, 1947.
Q. How can the soul, which has not reached perfection during corporeal life, complete its purification?
A. By undergoing the trials of a new life.
Q. How does the soul accomplish this new life? Is it by its transformation into Spirit?
A. The soul, by purification, undoubtedly undergoes a transformation, but for this it needs the trials of a new life.
Q. The soul then has several corporeal lives?
Yes, we all have several lives. Those who assert the contrary wish to keep you in the ignorance in which they themselves are; it is their desire.
Q. It seems to follow from this principle that the soul, after having left one body, takes on another; in other words, that it reincarnates in a new body. Is this what we are to understand?
Interesting additional information concerning Le Livre des Esprits is provided by Alexander Aksakof, one of the early investigators of psychic phenomena, in an article entitled "Researches on the Historical Origin of the Reincarnation Speculations of French Spiritualists."(4) He states that, in 1873 in Paris, he heard that a somnambulist, Celina Japhet (real name, Bequet) had contributed largely to the work. He called on her, and she told him among other things, that she was "a natural somnambulist from her earliest years;" that, in 1845 she went to Paris, made the acquaintance of a magnetizer, M. Roustan, and became a professional somnambulist under his control, giving "medical advice under the spiritual direction of her grandfather, who had been a doctor;" and that "in this manner in 1846 the doctrine of Reincarnation was given to her by the spirits of her grandfather, of St. Theresa, and others." Aksakof states at this point that "as the somnambulic powers of Madame Japhet were developed under the mesmeric influence of M. Roustan, it may be well to remark in this place that M. Roustan himself believed in the plurality of terrestrial existences." Aksakof's account of what Madame Japhet told him goes on to relate that from 1849 until 1870, she was a member of a spirit circle in Paris which met once or twice a week, and of which Victorien Sardou was a member; that, after a while, she became a writing medium and that the greater part of her communications were obtained in this manner; and that "in 1856 she met M. Denizard Rivail, introduced by M. Victorien Sardou. He [Rivail] correlated the materials by a number of questions; himself arranged the whole in systematic order, and published The Spirits' Book without ever mentioning the name of Madame C. Japhet, although three quarters of this book had been given through her mediumship. The rest was obtained from communications through Madame Bodin, who belonged to another spirit circle ... After the publication of The Book of Spirits ... he quitted the circle [Mme. Japhet's] and arranged another in his own house, M. Roze being the medium." Aksakof's article ends with the words: "All that I have herein stated does not affect the question of Reincarnation, considered upon its own merits, but only concerns the causes of its origin and of its propagation as Spiritism."
(4) The Spiritualist, Aug. 13, 1875, pp. 74-5.
Another Frenchman, Alphonse Cahagnet, published in 1848 a book, Arcanes de la Vie Future Devoiles, translated under the title of The Celestial Telegraph, and containing, like Kardec's, communications purporting to emanate from discarnate human spirits, who on the contrary deny that reincarnation occurs. For example:
Q. You are convinced that we never more appear on earth, to be again materialized?
A. We are born, and die but once; when we are in heaven, it is for eternity.(5)
(5) Sec. 83, p. 111 of the 1851 First American Edition.
In England, the famous medium, D. D. Home, denied and ridiculed the doctrine; and communications through mediums in English speaking countries, when touching at all on reincarnation, have in most cases denied it. For example, Dr. C. A. Wickland, in his book, Thirty Years Among the Dead, already mentioned, reports many communications received through his own wife as medium, including some purporting to come from deceased persons who while on earth had accepted and taught reincarnation, but who in those communications repudiate the doctrine. Prominent among these are the purported spirits of Ella Wheeler Wilcox (pp. 411-5) and of Mme. Blavatsky (pp. 420-7).
Their testimony, however, is hardly more impressive than that of Allan Kardec's spirits on the opposite side of the question. For instance, what the supposed spirit of Ella Wheeler Wilcox says is that she "would not care to come back ... would not like to come back to this earth plane again to be a little baby;" that she does "not see why" she should come back! But obviously, if our likes and dislikes as regards our own future fate, settled the question of what it actually will be, then few of us would die, or become bald or wrinkled, or ever catch cold; for few persons indeed like these prospects.
The utterances of the purported Blavatsky spirit are much more categorical: "Reincarnation is not true," the spirit says, "I have tried and tried to come back to be somebody else, but I could not. We cannot reincarnate. We progress, we do not come back."(6) But although more downright, these statements are no more impressive than those of the Wilcox spirit; for it would be strange indeed that, as those statements would have it, not only the other alleged spirits of former Theosophists quoted in the same chapter, but the spirit of the very foundress of the modern Theosophical movement, should expect and try to reincarnate just a few years after death, notwithstanding her own explicit teaching that the interval between incarnations averages from 1000 to 1500 years; notwithstanding her own definite condemnation of the belief of "the Allan Kardec school ... in an arbitrary and immediate reincarnation;"(7) and notwithstanding her own teaching that reincarnation takes place not by trying for it, but automatically at the end of many centuries spent in the blissful "devachan" dream world. And it would be equally strange that reincarnation should now be denied - on the ground of the gratuitous assumption that "progressing" and "coming back" are mutually exclusive - by the very same Mme. Blavatsky who had affirmed reincarnation on the ground that we progress by coming back, as does the schoolboy progress by coming back to the same school after vacations and learning each time new lessons, which the school well can teach him but which he cannot all learn in a single term.
(6) Op. cit. Chapt. XV, p. 421.
(7) The Key to Theosophy, 3rd. ed. 1893, pp. 90, 98, 129.
Thus, if the utterances of the purported Blavatsky spirit should be considered evidence at all for anything, it would then rather be for truth of the Blavatsky teaching that the purported spirits who speak or write through a medium are instead only what is left of a personality when, some time after death, what she calls "the second death" has taken place; that is, when the higher active, thinking and judging mind has withdrawn from and left behind the lower, passive part, consisting of the habits, passions, memory images, and desires. This unthinking shell of the personality, she taught, borrows from the medium's living mind and is in this way temporarily able to act the part of a true spirit.
It would seem, then, that the misconceptions of Mme. Blavatsky's teachings evident in the statements of her alleged spirit through Mrs. Wickland, and uniformly also in the statements of the alleged spirits of former disciples of hers, are in fact simply the misconceptions of those teachings present in Mrs. Wickland's own mind.
As regards the modes of thought and the style of the communications attributed in Dr. Wickland's book to the spirit of Ella Wheeler Wilcox, the present writer is not in position to judge whether they are typical of the thought and style of the prototype. But in the case of those attributed to Mme. Blavatsky's spirit, the intellectual content of most of the utterances in the eight pages of its communications is of the feeble quality which is rather usual in "spirit" messages; and which, if the messages really emanated from the particular spirits claimed to be their authors, would cause one to weep for the then degeneration patently undergone after death by the minds of such of them as, like Mme. Blavatsky's, were anyway vigorous.
In this connection, it is interesting to note that the purported Blavatsky spirit says at one point: "Some may say this is not Madam Blavatsky ... They may say, she would not say so and so, she would not talk so and so, - but it is Madam Blavatsky" (p. 424). This would indicate that the would-be-Blavatsky "spirit" was conscious of the incongruity of its own utterances to the mind and personality of its claimed prototype.
Anyway, assuming for the purposes of the argument that the communications by mediums do come from discarnate human spirits, and even that these spirits are the particular ones they say they are, the really important point with regard to their denials of the reincarnation doctrine is that their lack of memory of lives earlier than their recent one on earth proves exactly nothing; just as the fact pointed out earlier that we now have no memory of the first few years after our birth or of the vast majority of our days since then, is no proof at all that we were not alive and conscious at those times. And the spirits' denial, or equally their assertion, that they will eventually reincarnate, is not based by them on any claim of paranormal capacity to precognize their own far remote future; nor is there any evidence that they have such capacity. Indeed, A. Campbell Holms, a writer who does not himself believe in reincarnation, but who is familiar with the records of spirit communications and apparently accepts them at their face value, writes: "Spirits long passed over, who appear to discuss matters with moderation and caution, if asked about reincarnation, will usually say that, although it may be true, they have no knowledge of it."(8)
(8) The Facts of Psychic Science and Philosophy, London, Kegan Paul, 1925, p. 36.
Such "spirits" thus evince greater intellectual responsibility than do either those Spiritualists or Spiritists who naively assume that the mere fact of a person's having died constitutes an answer to the question how his surviving spirit knows, or whether it knows, that reincarnation is not, or is, a fact. All that a surviving discarnate spirit could competently testify to would be (a) that it has survived its body's death; (b) that, as yet, it has not reincarnated; and (c) that it does not, or as the case may be does, "remember" anterior lives on earth.