from "Inquiry into the Unknown"
-Sir Oliver Lodge -
IN THE long evolution of humanity, we trace, first, the gradual emergence of the organic from the inorganic, the utilisation of highly complex chemical compounds for the formation and purposes of life, and then the gradual rise of living things in the scale of existence, until at a certain stage the rudiments of mind and consciousness begin to make their appearance. At some unknown time after this, must have arisen the power of choice and knowledge of good and evil, which may be regarded as the most definitely human characteristic. Then humanity, too, went on rising in the scale, until it blossomed and bore fruit in the creations of Art, the discoveries of Science, and in works of genius.
Nor is development likely to stop there. Hitherto we have known life and mind as utilising the properties of matter, but some of us are beginning to suspect that these psychical entities are able to utilise the properties of the Ether too - that intangible and elusive medium which fills all space; and if that turn out to be so, we know that this vehicle or medium is much more perfect, less obstructive, and more likely to be permanent, than any form of ordinary matter can be. For in such a medium as ether, there is no wearing out, no decay, no waste or dissipation of energy, such as are inevitable when work is done by ponderable and molecularly constituted matter - that matter about which chemists and natural philosophers have ascertained so many and such fascinating qualities. Physicists, chemists, and biologists have arrived at a point in the analysis of matter that opens up a vista of apparently illimitable scope. Our existing scientific knowledge places no ban on supernormal phenomena; rather it suggests the probability of discoveries in quite novel directions. Any possible utilisation of the ether, however, by discarnate intelligences must be left as a problem for the future. What appears to be certain is that life and mind require for their manifestation and terrestrial development some form of "material" in the broadest sense, and that there is certainly an interaction between mind and earthly matter.
The two branches of knowledge, the study of Mind and the study of Matter, have usually been dealt with separately; and the facts have been scrutinised by different investigators - the psychologists and the physicists. The time is coming when the study of these two apparently separate entities must be combined; for it has always been a puzzle how there can be any relation or interaction between two such apparently diverse things as matter and mind.
The normal facts of their interaction are so familiar that it needs an effort to pick them out with due discrimination, and to present the outstanding problem in all its clearness. A philosopher is aware of the difficulty; and most systems of philosophy have been attempts to solve the mystery and formulate the principles underlying the universe as a whole. But by science in its narrow sense such unification has not yet been attempted. Physical science deals mainly with matter, and so far as it touches on mind it assumes that mind acts, and can only act, in connection with, or in relation to, or as a development of matter. The science of psychology, on the other hand, aims at treating of all the normal processes and interrelations of mind and describes its use of the organs of the body, both for receiving and transmitting impressions, without attempting, or at least without succeeding, in explaining the transition from mechanical vibration to sensation and emotion, or vice versa.
But there are certain asserted facts, now receiving growing attention, which on the surface suggest that mind may possibly exist apart from matter; that, though its manifestations may be, its activities are not, wholly limited to material organs; that mind and matter are in fact not inseparable, and that perhaps matter may be replaced by all etherial vehicle, which would elude our present senses.
There may be some doubt as to what these asserted facts precisely are; but, in so far as they represent reality, it becomes necessary to examine their validity and relevancy, to determine the suspicion of independent mental action is justified, and generally to seek to evolve a theory of mental activities beyond those known and familiar. In this way investigators may hope to ascertain whether the facts do really establish an independent and persistent existence for mind apart from its temporary bodily mechanism. So we may summarise and say that to ascertain the real nature of the connection between mind and matter, and the possibilities which underlie their connection -whether those possibilities are generally recognised or not, and even if they lead us into strange and unusual regions of inquiry - is the object of Psychic Science
The facts which need to be examined have long been known to groups of people here and there from the earliest times, but only of late years - say three-quarters of a century at most - have they been taken seriously by more than one or two, individuals, and critically and responsibly and corporately examined, without prejudice and without superstition.
Much had been done previously in the observation and collection of facts, but in 1882 a new Society was founded in London for their special study, along lines as far as possible similar to those that had conducted to the astonishing progress of physical science. And with the birth of this Society (the Society for Psychical Research, or the S.P.R.) Psychic Science may be said to have entered upon a more stable career. The Society has published thirty-two volumes of Proceedings and twenty of its Journal; amongst its presidents and honorary members there are illustrious names; and Sir A. J. Balfour, the President in 1893, at the end of his Address quite truly implied that the Society had already shown, "not as a matter of speculation or conjecture, but as a matter of ascertained fact, that there are things in heaven and earth not hitherto dreamed of in our scientific philosophy."
To mention the names of the pioneers and to trace the history of their laborious effort to attain truth, would take up space that may be more usefully devoted to a setting forth of the main phenomena which had to be examined and either rejected as fictions or established as facts. So long as there are legitimate differences of opinion as to the nature of these phenomena, it will be best not to dogmatise nor attempt to sustain a thesis ill favour of some and against others, but only to summarise the phenomena now familiar to most people - at least - is folklore, stories - and to indicate, as far as may be, some means by which it may be hoped that these odd occurrences can be rationalised and understood. We must proceed on the well-tried hope and expectation that everything in the universe, however apparently bizarre, is intelligible to the mind when it is sufficiently well known. Mystery and superstition belong to ignorance; they enshroud tracts that lie in the dark, outside the civilised and cultivated region. An effort is required to deal with such phenomena at all, even if they turn out to be facts; for, without some link or clue with which to connect facts together, they are difficult of apprehension, and they can hardly be said to conform to the requirements of science. There must be system and orderly arrangement, before disjectamembra can be assimilated and incorporated into the main body of organised knowledge.
First Fruits of the Inquiry
One of the first fruits of the labours of the S. P. R., or rather of the pioneers who founded it, was the discovery of "telepathy," or thought-transference between mind and mind without the use apparently of any of the known organs of sense. It was found by careful experiment that an idea or visual image, or other familiar notion, could be conveyed to another person, provided he possessed the faculty of receptivity, although that person was screened from all normal channels of communication. Experiments of this kind were at first conducted in the same room, usually with trivial things like portable objects and diagrams and numbers - stringent precautions being taken, by the use of opaque screens without dependence on the completeness of blindfolding, that normal means of acquiring information about the diagrams or objects were excluded. Experiments of this kind will be found in most of the earlier volumes of the Proceedings of the S.P.R.
Similar or slightly modified experiments were afterwards extended to a considerable distance; and still, between, so to speak, "attuned" persons, the amount of correspondence was found to be beyond chance. The evidence is bulky, and perhaps rather tedious, but the establishment of such a faculty is of prime importance, and is worth the labour, for manifestly it begins the demonstration of the possible independence and separation of mind from its ordinarily used methods of communication. The voice and the hand, the ear and the, eye, are no longer the only transmitters and receivers of mental impressions.
Several series of experiments in thought-transference in the same, room will be found in the early volumes of the Proceedings of the S.P.R. and a few of the diagrams looked at by the "agent" and simultaneously drawn by the blindfolded and screened "percipient" in these experiments can be reproduced here; these being selected as successful instances. But from the point of view of evidence the whole series must be studied, and chance eliminated.
Perhaps the most interesting of recent experiments on this subject are those conducted by Professor Gilbert Murray in his own family, where the thing transferred was not a diagram or anything objective or visible at all, but an event or scene silently thought of by one of those present. For instance, these successful items from the Proceedings of the S.P.R., vol. xxix:
Agent silently thinks of:
"Alister and [Malcolm] MacDonald running along the platform at Liverpool Street, and trying to catch the train just going out";
While, after a pause, Percipient says aloud:
"Something to do with a railway station. I should say it was rather a crowd at a big railway station, and two little boys running along in the crowd. I should guess Basil."
As another instance may be quoted this one.
Subject thought of by Agent:
"Belgian Baron getting out of train at Savanarilla with us, and walking across the sandy track and seeing the new train come in."
Statement by Percipient:
"Man getting out of a train and looking for something. I don't know if he's looking for another train to come. I think it is a sort of dry hot sort of place. I get him with a faint impression of waxed moustache - a sort of foreign person - but I can't get more."
And another, an ambitious and rather remarkably successful and dramatic attempt, may also be here cited.
Subject set by Agent:
"A scene in a story by Strindberg. A man and woman in a lighthouse, the man lying fallen on the floor, and the woman bending over him, looking at him and hoping that he is dead."
"A horrid atmosphere, full of hatred and discomfort. A book, not real life, a book I have not read. Not Russian, not Italian, but foreign. I cannot get it . . .. There is a round tower, a man and woman in a round tower: but it is not Maeterlinck. Not like him. I should guess it was Strindberg. The woman is bending over the man and hating him, hoping he is dead."
Assuming that the experiments were fairly conducted, we are driven to suppose either that one brain acts on another brain, through the interaction perhaps of some hypothetical and unknown ether waves; or else that the phenomenon is a purely psychic one, and that the impression is transmitted direct from mind to mind without any necessary connection of a physical nature between brain and brain. Or, indeed, a third hypothesis, which possibly may be gaining adherents, viz. that a third intelligence, not one generally recognised, is in operation, and is conveying information from the mind of A, or agent, to the mind of B, or percipient; in fact, that the connection is not direct between A and B at all, but is managed by an invisible and intangible operator C.
This may sound an absurd surmise, and one that need not be made in connection with such instances as these. But it is not an easy matter, anyhow, to explain the conveyance of an idea by purely psychic means, or even to attempt clearly to formulate such an operation; hence any working hypothesis which can be suggested may have to be tested and tried to see if it will work. At least the bare possibility of messenger-communication will help to prevent too easy and certain a conviction about the existence of wholly unproven "brain-waves". The testing of working hypotheses is a common-place procedure in science. Such hypotheses do no harm if they are lightly held, and if a key not unduly pressed into keyholes that it does not fit. Some good judges think that a mysterious non-vocal method of intercommunication may have been inherited from an animal and savage ancestry, though it has now come almost overlaid and suppressed by civilisation and disuse.
Concerning Citation of Illustrative Examples
If instances or samples of each or of some of the things which are said to occur are quoted in this article, it can only be by way of illustration, not as evidence of fact. For to give anything like real evidence, all manner of details of time and place must be supplied, together with testimony and extracts from any relevant that may be available. The securing of evidence is a troublesome business, involving the interviewing of witnesses, the examining of places, the obtaining of signed statements, and generally the securing of details which, however instructive and necessary, are laborious to collect and bulky to record. Recorded testimony of this kind must be sought in the Proceedings and Journal of a scientific society and other serious publications. If it be complained they are not easy reading, that is a disadvantage they share with the Proceedings of learned societies in general. They do not aim at being easy; they aim at being exact and trustworthy. So the samples here and there cited below, though based upon actual statements, may be taken as mere assertions, or at best as illustrations or types of what has to be substantiated, or else criticised and demolished, elsewhere.
Hallucinations or Apparitions
After experimental telepathy was fairly established, a spontaneous variety such as had long been suspected and was the basis for innumerable stories, in history as well as in fiction, was examined and brought to book. This spontaneous kind of telepathy-analogous to spontaneous radioactivity as contrasted with the experimental excitation of X-rays - is held responsible for many apparitions or hallucinations or phantoms, whether of the living or of the dead, especially the appearance of persons then being subjected to a strong emotion, or some calamity or accident, or in imminent prospect of death. The difference between this and the experimental form of thought-transference is that, whereas in an experiment the conscious attention and willpower of the agent is riveted on achievement of the result - though it has hardly been proved that conscious effort is really effective - in the, spontaneous class it is the unconscious mind which must be assumed to be operative, for the impression is transmitted without conscious intention and without knowledge of the supposed agent that it has been done. Thus, let one whom we may tentatively and hypothetically regard as the agent be suffering shipwreck, or be in danger from fire; his mental constitution may be supposed so upheaved that any latent power of telepathic or sympathetic communication is evoked, and translates itself into an impression in the mind of some distant relative or friend, with such vividness that the circumstances of the person in danger are presented to the friend's imagination as if they had veritably been conveyed through the sense of sight or of hearing. A phantom in dripping clothes, or a voice in tones of distress, are as it were "seen" or "heard" by the one whom we may regard as the percipient; not with the bodily eyes, or ears but with the mind: though the mental impression may readily be interpreted as all objective reality, not as of a person at a distance but as of a person close by, so as to be accepted as within reasonable reach of the organs of sense.
As when a boy killed by a crash from the air is both seen and heard, almost immediately afterwards, by another officer sitting in the camp, and hailed and spoken to; surprise being expressed that his long journey was so soon over. The figure, which exhibited identifying details of costume, responds and goes out. In the evening the officer learns that this same youth, whom he knew intimately, had been killed by an accident on the way to his destination, at just about the time of his appearance. A much fuller account of this occurrence is in the Journal of the S.P.R. for June 1919. But really instances of this kind are innumerable, and are often narrated in biographies.
The voice of Rochester heard by Jane Eyre at an impossible distance could not be attributed to a hyper-acute sense of hearing; if it occurred in reality it would have to be attributed to a telepathic or sympathetic connection between, shall we say, kindred souls; for it is represented as a reciprocal and not a one-sided experience. Mr. Caskell heard Charlotte Bronte say that it was based on an incident that had really happened. (Life, P. 445.)
Few families are without some such story in their archives; and all difficulties about the appearance of any real phantom, the dripping clothes for instance, the accompanying horse, or any wild scene generally - which can not be thought of as objective, present reality, even if the phantom itself could so be regarded - all difficulties of this kind vanish or are reduced to insignificance when once it is realised that the whole impression is a mental one, and that the surprised percipient has automatically constructed not only the phantom itself, but a number of accessory features too, as mental imagery appropriate to and aroused by the purely mental shock or stimulus which, through his unsuspected receptive power, he has been privileged to receive.
Such cases are far too numerous for chance coincidence to explain - a fact which a most carefully conducted and hypercritical census of inquiry has established. The sensible thing for those who are out for unprejudiced truth is to accept the demonstrated fact and see if they can devise some line of explanation better than the telepathic one. For because telepathy of some kind is a plausible explanation, it does not follow that it is the true one in every case. Our aim is not to rest satisfied with what may superficially seem probable, but to ascertain what is true.
As an example of a phantasm of the living, we may take the case of a mother with a sailor son work in the Pacific. She dreams, or has a vision of him standing by her bedside in dripping clothes, accepts the omen, and mourns him as dead. Six months later he turns up alive and well; but, gradually, in response to inquiries, admits that he, had run the risk of being drowned, for he had fallen from a mast into the water, and had only with difficulty been rescued. And it is maintained that the date of the accident agrees well enough with the phantasmal appearance.
Mrs. Arthur Severn being awakened by an imaginary blow on the mouth, at the same time as her husband sailing on Lake Coniston before breakfast is struck in the mouth by the swing round of the tiller, is a well-authenticated case of spontaneous and unconscious telepathy.
Visions or Apparitions of the Dead
A further step may have ultimately to be taken. Not only are phantasms of the living experienced, we find also clear records, of phantasms of the dead. The two classes merge into one, another, for the moment of death may be uncertain, and some latitude for delayed impression must be allowed; but undoubtedly appearances of dead people have occurred, and whether these also are to be attributed to a telepathic impression, received from a discarnate agent, remains an open question. On the whole the hypothesis of telepathy from the dead is regarded favourably by some of those competent to judge.
The standard classical instance of such an occurrence, as narrated by the poets, is the appearance of the drowned Ceyx to his beloved wife Alcyone, and her consequent veridical, conviction of his fate. The story is beautifully told, with full circumstance and vividness, in the eleventh book of Ovid's Metamorphoses. But it is noticeable that in this instance Ceyx had been dead for some days when the phantom appears, and the poet takes it to be a messenger from the gods, assuming the form and voice of the dead man in order to convince Alcyone of the truth.
And yet telepathy, though wide in its range, does not cover all the ground. It has to be stretched considerably in order to account for many apparitions, and especially for what is called the "fixed local" ghost, that is to say, an apparition said to be encountered in association with certain houses or places with the reputation of being haunted; any stranger being said to be able to see the apparition at suitable times, even if he were ignorant of the legend and unacquainted with the traditional haunting.
The first thing is to make sure that the facts are as described, and that such persistent haunting is a reality. It seems wisest to preserve an open mind on that subject; for the evidence, though noteworthy, is not yet considered as crucial as that for the other class of phantasms - the class more readily conceived of as due to transmitted mental impression. There appears to be a certain objectivity about this fixed local ghost: there seems no obvious agent to attribute a telepathic impulse; and besides the things the ghost is sometimes said to do are hardly consistent with a mere mental impression - though certainly the hypothesis of a vivid dream on the part of the percipient must be allowed all the benefit of any doubt there may be, and the burden of proof that there is anything objective in the experience must rest upon the narrator. No need to adduce any examples: ghost stories of this class are almost too well known; they are, difficult to remember in detail, though absurdly easy to invent.
Is there any rational hypothesis that can be thrown out for the explication of such phantoms as these, provided they establish themselves as facts? Does the possible independence of or unusual connection between mind and matter - the occasional freedom of the mind from the body - at all assist in such explication? On the whole and tentatively it does, along one of two channels.
Clairvoyance or Lucidity
First along the line of clairvoyance or lucidity. A critical examination of mediumistic powers has shown that occasionally they can extract information, not only from people's minds, by what we assume to be a process of telepathy - whatever that is - but also occasionally from commonplace objects. That they can decipher, for instance, what is in a scaled letter or packet, or read part of a page of a closed book. This "reading with the pit of the stomach," as it was long ago called, or reading with the top of the head, or with the fingers or some other part of the body, has sometimes been attributed to hyperaesthesia, as if parts of the skin not usually sensitive to visual impression become so under exceptional conditions, or as if the sense of sight became incredibly penetrating and efficient. The difficulties about such a semi-physical theory are insuperable, and it is better to affix the term clairvoyance or lucidity to the phenomenon, without any attempt at explanation in the first instance, and continue to scrutinise intelligently the facts.
A well-known instance, detailed by the great philosopher Kant, is when Swedenborg was aware of a fire in Stockholm, 200 miles away, and rose perturbed from a dinner party, remaining disquieted for an hour or two; until his anxiety subsided, and he was able to assure himself and his friends that the fire had been got under, and that it had been extinguished before it had reached his own home, though it had been dangerously near it. All of which, in a day or two, was verified.
As for the apparent reading of distant books, an appropriate Biblical text is sometimes given by chapter and verse; but that may be thought due to memory. It is difficult to attribute to the memory of a youth killed in the war the precise statement that a comforting message to his mother will be found near the, bottom of page 77 of the third book on the shelf where his schoolbooks are kept, in a house the medium has never been in. And yet things akin to this are contained among the so-called "book-tests" which of late have been received and published. (As, for instance, in Lady Glenconner's Earthen Vessel.)
The actuality of real clairvoyance, as distinct from any kind of telepathy, is not an easy thing to test; for if the knowledge has existed in any mind whatever, telepathy or mind-reading may be the simplest or at least a possible hypothesis; and, furthermore, if a thing is in no mind at all, and never has been, it does really seem as if it were difficult or perhaps impossible for any medium to get hold of it. On the other hand, if a packet is really known to a deceased person, the information can sometimes be obtained. As an illustration of the kind of thing expected from a sealed packet the fictional instance told by Mr. E. F. Benson in his novel Up and Down may be cited, for it is evidently modified from some real experience and represents in a more or less guarded and imaginative manner something of the kind that occasionally happens.
In the reading of sealed packets and the like, there are often failures. But failures - like negative results generally - prove hardly anything; moreover, they may be due to natural lapse of memory. The theme of a posthumous message or written sentence may be remembered, but it may be impossible to recall at will the exact words in which it was expressed. This happened in a famous instance, when the late F.W.H. Myers failed to repeat the sentence that he had written inside an envelope and handed to me twelve years before his death. Memory of the theme alone was quite insufficient for this particular kind of test. The result has to be counted as a complete failure.
Moreover, even if successful, the evidence for survival from a deciphered posthumous letter or package would be inconclusive - much more inconclusive than people are apt to suppose. For the contents of packets, or the history of relics belonging to a deceased or distant person, have frequently been said to be deciphered by a medium who handles them - the process is known as psychometry - just as the pages of closed books, even while still in a distant library, have been read. These things do not seem inaccessible to this strange faculty of lucidity; and the appearance, is as if the actual objects were able to produce an impression on some mind.
At any rate, that is the kind of supposition which underlies the hypothetical or tentative explanation of the fixed local of ghost. It is supposed that a sort of phonographic or photographic record has been left on, say, the walls or furniture of a room in which a tragedy has occurred, and that this latent impression can be psychometrised and disinterred from oblivion, by a person possessing the required faculty, with sufficient vividness to enable that person automatically to reconstruct the scene and describe the figures taking part in the psychical drama, as if they were again present and dreamily active.
Another alternative is to suppose that the deceased actors in the drama are themselves liable to dream vivid recurrent dreams of the past, and that these dreams act telepathically on the mind of a sensitive. It seem as if this kind of thing could happen between living people. A literary instance of a very vivid and complete experience of this kind - a kind of dream experience not altogether unknown to people now living - is the remarkable story of Peter Ibbetson by George du Maurier.
But there is another and still more puzzling line of explanation, which some are inclined to adopt, viz. the hypothesis that not only can matter act on mind, but that mind can act on matter without the intervention of the muscles, can extrude a certain kind of organic material from the body of a so-called physical medium, and can collect and form it into an actual presentation of form or features such as is technically known as materialisation. A physical phenomenon of this extraordinary kind requires exceptionally strong and cogent evidence, but it is one of the phenomena that are vigorously asserted to have occurred under favourable conditions; and some, eminent Continental physiologists have, against their will, been convinced of the reality of the bare occurrence. It is said to take a good deal of energy, and, therefore, to be assisted by the presence of a fair number of people - a circumstance which evidently makes strict investigation more difficult. Moreover, it requires specific membership of a certain strong, even though low, kind - a kind which cannot always be depended on as forthcoming at every date when a competent investigator is ready and willing to examine unlikely things of this sort.
Fortunately, in the past, the combination of a strong medium and a competent investigator has occurred, and has given us at least a record of a remarkable series of occurrences of this kind. And, again, today there are those who are able to testify to actual physical temporary materialisations, which can sometimes be seen, sometimes handled, moulded in plaster or paraffin, and more often photographed.
Furthermore, the material or semi-material fluid or substance or plasma is said to be able to move objects with considerable force, thus bringing about the phenomenon which has been named "telekinesis" or movement of objects without apparent or normal contact.
If this faculty of materialisation is established, however it be accounted for, the application to some varieties of ghostly apparition is obvious. Something visible, and occasionally tangible, may be really there.
But it must be clearly stated that several of the Continental observers who have most successfully and thoroughly scrutinised this materialisation and telekinetic phase of mediumistic activity are very loth to entertain the spiritistic hypothesis in any form; these scientific investigators prefer to regard it as an unexplained power of the medium's own organism, when in an unconscious or hypnotic state. They have to assume a power of rearranging the molecules of an extruded bodily substance, known as ectoplasm, which emanates from a medium's body, so as to cause it to simulate the appearance of human bodies or parts of bodies. And they have further to assume the possibility of its exerting considerable force on objects in the neighbourhood.
However this may be, physical phenomena are among the things requiring investigation by psychic science; and one of the commonest forms at the present time is psychic photography. Some mediums are said to have the power of so influencing the photographic process that when, say, a widower or bereaved parent, arriving quite anonymously, is photographed, a shadowy extra representing his deceased wife or son is sometimes obtained too. Whether these so-called "extras," if genuinely produced by a supernormal process, are "psychographed" on to the plate itself independently of the camera - though perhaps requiring exposure to light to bring them out, - or whether there is something in front of the camera which is optically focussed upon the plate during the exposure given for the purposes of photographing people present in the ordinary way, or whether both of these things may occur at different times, is a matter not yet fully settled, even among believers in the facts. It may be as easy to supernormal operators to manipulate the chemicals in a film as to manipulate the plasma into a face; one cannot say which is the easier hypothesis, when both seem equally impossible.
Direct Writing and Speaking
Another strange phenomenon, which must be regarded as akin to incipient materialisation, is the comparatively well-evidenced phenomenon of direct speaking or direct writing.
What is called automatic writing, when the pen is held by an ordinary person and appears to write without conscious volition, is a purely psychic phenomenon; for there is no question that the muscles of the writer are used, any more than there is a question that the voice of the medium is used in ordinary trance utterance. In these cases it is the substance of the message that alone needs consideration to establish any supernormal faculty. But there are rather exceptional mediums in whose presence pencils are said to write without being touched and others in whose presence, under suitable conditions, voices are said to be heard which do not emanate from the throat or larynx or even the neighbourhood of the medium, or of any person present in the flesh. This phenomenon is called "direct" because, not only is the subject-matter dictated in a supernormal manner, but the physical act is accomplished in an inexplicable manner too.
On the verge between purely psychical and semi-physical phenomena are such faculties as dowsing and travelling clairvoyance.
The dowsing or water-divining faculty is a very ancient claim, said to be hereditary in families; and, however it be done, it has undoubtedly been found useful. It is as if some faculty of remote ancestors to whom water might be a matter of life and death - a faculty akin to the not yet understood homing instinct of animals - survived among some individuals, even now. The dowser takes a twig in his hands and feels it struggle and turn when he is over the desired kind of water or other mineral. This appears to be a genuine impression on his part, however it may be produced, and the result is that, with people skilled in the art, the finding of springs of water in unlikely and difficult places has actually been accomplished. It is like a form of clairvoyance or lucidity, akin to the finding of hidden objects or the reading of closed books.
Real travelling clairvoyance may take various forms, and is rather liable to be associated with enfeebled bodily condition, as if the link with matter was being loosened or relaxed without being completely broken.
As an example of travelling clairvoyance under pathological conditions we may instance, the experience in South Africa narrated by the eminent Professor of Surgery, Sir Alexander Ogston, LL.D., etc., in his book "Reminiscences of Three Campaigns." During an attack of typhoid he often felt separated from his body, which he then regarded with some loathing, though he felt compelled to enter it from time to time; until gradually he felt his wanderings restricted, at about the time when the attendants began to hope for his recovery.
"In my wanderings there was a strange consciousness that I could see through the walls of the building, though I was aware they were there, and that everything was transparent to my senses. I saw plainly, for instance, a poor R.A.M.C. surgeon, of whose existence I had not known, and who was in quite another part of the hospital, grow very ill and scream and die; I saw them cover his corpse and carry him softly out in shoeless feet, quietly and surreptitiously, lest we should know that he had died, and the next night - I thought - take him, away to the cemetery. Afterwards, when I told these happenings to the sisters, they informed me that this had happened just as I had fancied. But the name of the poor fellow I never knew."
This kind of experience, with varieties of form, has often been narrated by persons who have been at the point of death and have recovered, or who have awakened out of a deep trance. Such persons have said that they felt physically attached to the body, as by a kind of cord, and were under the impression that if the cord snapped return would be impossible. (Cf. J. A. Hill's Man is a Spirit, ch. iv.)
Return is indeed often undesired, for the free condition seems much more attractive than the cramped, fettered, and commonplace condition familiar to us in our customary association with an animal-descended body, full of appetites and liable to pain and physical troubles: though, doubtless, the association is for some good and evolutionary purpose.
Travelling clairvoyance is the projection, as it were, of the intelligence out of the body into some distant place, so that it brings back information as to what is there at the time occurring; it is a phenomenon which certainly suggests the separation and independent existence of mind and body, and which also in some exceptional forms suggests an ectoplasmic or other vehicle for the intelligence, while separated from its usual complete organism.
For when the distant vision of the surroundings of an absent person is being attained, by what feels like a visit to a distant place, there are certain rare, so-called reciprocal, cases in which the distant person is aware of the presence (if his visitor, who is said to manifest a sort of phantasmal appearance, as if the perception were not wholly subjective, and not limited to one side alone. (A good instance, much too long to quote, is cited in Myers's Human Personality vol. i, p. 682, from vol. vii, P. 41 of the Proceedings S.P.R.)
Such joint clairvoyance may perhaps be only a vivid kind of reciprocal telepathy; but there are some asserted instances of what cannot be wholly, accounted for by any form of telepathy, in which an actual movement is produced, and some object is displaced and left displaced, or brought from a distance or carried away to another place: this being a variety of the phenomenon known as "apports," which need not be necessarily associated with clairvoyance at all. Things are asserted to happen in a séance as if a far-fetched object, such as a live parrot or a piece of Chinese jade or some rare Egyptian relic made its appearance in the closed and locked room in which a party are assembled, without (so it is said) anyone having brought it in.
That these things sound incredible is obvious; the question is whether anything like this ever occurs, or whether honest testimony that they have occurred, on a given occasion, is merely the result of a conjuring device.
Every kind of deception is not fraudulent. The tricks of a conjurer are deception, but not fraud. Deception is what he is paid for; it might even be regarded as fraudulent if he failed to produce some sort of rabbit out of a hat. It is charitably thought that the subconscious - of a medium sometimes resorts to deception in order to achieve results without any intention of fraud.
Accusation of conscious fraud is a serious tiring, and should be held to require substantial proof. Such proof has at times been forthcoming - with legitimate consequences, - but appearances may suggest it without being really convincing; and care should be taken in this as in all other matters connected with an obscure subject. That deception and fraud are both possible is manifest; that they are more probable a priori than the phenomena themselves may be admitted; the question is what substratum of truth remains when these verae causae are effectively allowed for or thoroughly guarded against. It is known in business that there comes a stage at which continual suspicion or discredit of a reputable personality becomes unreasonable, and foolishly inimical to trade: but there may be differences of opinion as to when that stage is reached.
It is sometimes said that a professional medium, who gets a fee of half a guinea or thereabouts, has a motive to deceive. But an amateur with no pecuniary temptation may also have a motive to deceive - it may have been noticed that money is not everything in this world - and the fact that the temptation in his case is of a more subtle and less generally recognised character tends to case his task by making him more immune from suspicion. Indeed, if an officer and a gentleman thought it worth while to sacrifice his honour, and to lie with unscrupulous persistent cleverness, there is no telling how far his deception could go: he might deceive even the very elect. Few, if any, deceivers, however, have so far shown sufficient cleverness to evade the suspicion and secure the confidence of a hardened and experienced and trained investigator of the S.P.R. It is thought by many that suspicion and lack of confidence have by that Society been pressed unduly far. Suspicion is the safest attitude - perhaps the only safe one - in the present state of public, ignorance and against a background of ingenious plots and conspiracies to waylay and trap the unwary; but it must be admitted that an atmosphere of suspicion and cold aloofness - however wise and needful - does tend to militate against the production of genuine phenomena, and thus to diminish opportunities for rational investigation. For if nothing is produced, there is nothing to examine; and the mere inhibition of phenomena, though safe and prudent, does not enlarge our opportunity for observation and for framing improved theories as to the modus operandi.
The giving of some kind of credit, the faith which is the foundation of business enterprise, seems likely to be fruitful here also, in spite of the risk. "Without faith there is no redemption." Without risking something there is no gain.
Evidence for Survival
Leaving these puzzling physical phenomena and returning to the more purely psychical demonstrations, we encounter not only evidence of telepathy and of clairvoyance, but of the simulation of personal control, whereby it certainly appears as if a deceased person were making use of the medium's organism, to speak and write somewhat as he might have done when he possessed his own physiological mechanism. The trance and the hypnotic states have several points in common, though they are not identical; and whereas in the hypnotic state (so long uncritically and stupidly denied) the patient is more or less amenable to the thoughts and will of the operator, in the trance state the medium is influenced by either a secondary personality or by some form of controlling intelligence (not present in the flesh and sometimes believed to be a discarnate person once resident on the earth), who wishes to take this indirect means of proving his continued existence, and of sending an assurance of help or a message of abiding affection, to members of his family. Messages of affection, however, are seldom evidential, though through the use of pet names, etc., they have a certain value, provided nothing has been given away by an incautious sitter.
Certainly a strenuous effort is made sometimes to give proof of surviving personal identity. All manner of trivial incidents are recalled, and personal peculiarities are emphasised and, though these things are usually known to someone present and, or are afterwards recalled by some near relation, and therefore may be plausibly attributed to telepathy from the living, an effort is evidentially being made to show that they are really due to telepathy from the "dead" - though they rather resent the application of that term when they are feeling all the time active and vigorous. The method of demonstration they adopt, when possible, is to mention things which only they knew, in the hope that their friends will succeed in verifying them, and will accept the evidence as proof of their continued existence.
Sometimes the communications are useful as when Swedenborg was able to get from the deceased Dutch ambassador, M. Marteville, the location of a secret drawer unknown to the family, in which was a missing document that had been long hunted for fruitlessly by the widow. Verification of the finding of the document, after getting the information, was specially satisfactory in this case, because it was done in the presence of a number of people who happened to be in the deceased's house at the time when Swendborg arrived to report what he had learned, and to stimulate the final instructed search. (Kant, Trume eines Geistersehers.)
Sometimes the communicators show signs of anxiety and distress, about things they wish to remedy and cannot. As when a soldier, killed at the front, appears to a stranger at a sitting and begs that his kit may be overhauled and certain letters and documents extracted and destroyed, for that they would cause irremediable mischief if seen by his folk at home. How to get this done is forthwith discussed; and at length the communicator suggests the name of a person known to him, in sufficient authority and with sufficient family connection to make it possible that the mission might be accomplished. The sequel is that the message was given, and suitable action taken. It all turned out true; so the vicarious misery which had been legitimately weighing on the mind of the deceased was averted.
Sometimes the natural affection they exhibit takes a form which does happen to be of an evidential character. As when a secret engagement is announced to his family by a deceased soldier, with the name and address of his betrothed, accompanied by the request that when she is found a certain object of remembrance which is still in his unopened kit, unknown to anyone, may be found and given her. (See Barrett, "On the Threshold of the Unseen," p. 184.)
Moreover, some of the most skilful communicators "on the other side" have taken the trouble to clinch the argument by sending mysterious fragments of references, through several independent mediums in different parts of the world, nearly simultaneously; fragments which are only perceived to have a meaning, and that a personal and identifying one, when they are all collected and compared and seen to fit into each other like the fragments of a puzzle. This is what is called the system of "cross-correspondence." They have also succeeded in showing scholarly knowledge, appropriate to themselves, but beyond the scope of anyone present, and of a grade often edifying to living scholars. It is a great mistake, though one often made, to suppose that only rubbish comes through.
The last-mentioned elaborate devices - how elaborate is only known to painstaking students - cannot reasonably be attributed to mind reading from any living person; nor can the result be attributed to mere chance coincidence. It bears all the marks of careful and ingenious design. The most sceptical among the serious students of this kind of utterance, have at length become convinced that the explanation of communication from surviving is the only one they can think of which meets the case and that covers all the facts, - whatever outstanding difficulties still surround that tremendous hypothesis. It is not one to be lightly granted or prematurely published broadcast. There should be no forcing of conviction. "Ears to hear" are still necessary.
More Elementary Methods
In studying these messages, it is the phenomenon of psychic control which has to be explained. There, is no difficulty about the physical performance itself. The problem is as to the nature and identity of the controlling or communicating intelligence.
Sometimes the hand, instead of writing, is used to point to a set of letters of the alphabet exposed to view, or occasionally, though rarely, not exposed, but screened from the view of the operator; some form of pointer being usually employed as indicator of the letters, for convenience. This is a more elementary form of manifestation; for the letters are already formed, and only have to be pointed at instead of written. Sometimes the muscular action takes the form of tilts or taps, which repeat themselves as the alphabet is recited by somebody present, and which stop when the intended letter is reached. Or else, as in some cases, a tilt is given only when the intended letter is reached. All these variations are trivial: the important thing is the substance of the communication, and the proof of identity which can thus be obtained.
Here, therefore, a caution - a much needed caution. The ease with which communication of some kind can be got, by tilts and by pointing to letters, enables people with extraordinarily small mediumistic power to get results of some kind. So also can they be got, by a fair number of people, through automatic writing. And in many case, it has to be pointed out, politely but emphatically, that what they get is very rubbishy, and may be due to the unconscious tapping of their own dream stratum.
Occasionally, if people are truly susceptible to telepathic influences, even the dream stratum may be the recipient of genuine impressions from a distant mind or scene; and in that case even dreams, as well as the more mechanical methods of tapping the subconsciousness, may be veridical or truth-telling, - that is to say, may give information unknown to the persons operating, which yet can subsequently be verified.
This undoubtedly happens occasionally, however it be accounted for; but, as a rule, it may be said that the more mysterious or occult modes of writing, or spelling, or talking, are of no particular value merely because they are puzzling and occult. In some painful cases they are no better than if the person operating allowed the fancy to roam at large and say whatever came into its ken. The tricks of the subconsciousness are innumerable: much more so than novices suspect.
The main thing which psychic science has so far established is the possible disconnection of mind and body, the proof that mind can exist, and can even act in certain ways, apart from the usual instrument. This fact has a close bearing on the possibility of survival, for it shows that the mind and personality and character and memory need not become extinct when the brain and other usual organs of manifestation are destroyed.
Mind cannot function, or display itself, without a physiological organ of some kind, but it has shown itself capable of existing under other conditions; and, moreover, it can telepathically produce an effect, not only on other minds in like condition with itself, which presumably is easy, but occasionally even on incarnate minds; minds presumably of sympathetic persons who are not too busy to attend, and who are not too wholly and closely guarded by their bodily screen.
For it would seem that the brain and body being instruments for use during our practical sojourn on the earth amid material surroundings, are adapted to isolate us as individuals and to sever us from a multitude of cosmic influences which would otherwise distract us and prevent our attending to the business in hand. These instruments are not an essential part of ourselves, and we go on without them but meanwhile they are, useful and in most people give complete isolation for the development of an individual personality, - since the only channels of communication with others are through the physiological sense and motor organs with which we are all familiar. So familiar with the usual methods of communication do we become that we are tempted to think them the only conceivable way. But it turns out that in the case of a few persons - not so few as had been thought - the screening apparatus is incomplete, the brain is as it were leaky, and impressions can get through from the psychic universe which are not brought by the sense organs and nervous network to a brain centre, but arrive in the mind by some more direct route.
Such persons are the mediums; and their faculty exhibits itself most readily when ordinary disturbances, and the lights and sounds of every day, are shut off, and when they enter into the quiet.
Something of the same sort has been known to the saints of all time, and also to men of genius. The conditions for meditation, or for high and fruitful production, are similar. But whereas, in the case of lofty minds, things of value are received into the consciousness, and are skilfully worked upon and converted into great discoveries, or immortal poems or pictures, the lowly class of more nearly ordinary people called mediums are as a rule not particularly able or highly educated folk - though there are exceptions - and are only privileged to get inspiration into their subconsciousness in a temporary and easily forgotten manner. They have to let the inspiration such as it is be utilised by others, who take the trouble to obey the conditions and to make and study the record of what is given, through their subconscious utterance. Such utterance, whether by speech or by writing, often takes the form of ecstatic description of occurrences and conditions "on the other side" and on the joys and occupations of future existence. Many books recording this kind of information have been published, both in America and England. But, though they may be considered edifying, statements of this kind are not verifiable, and therefore are not yet attended to by psychic science; though in the case of Swedenborg, they have been made a foundation for religion.
The utterances in which science at present is most interested are concerned with more mundane affairs; they may not seem at all important or edifying to superficial observation, and are often said to be trivial and unworthy of the dignity of the subject - whatever that may mean. One gets tired of pointing out that the triviality of these personal and domestic tests adds to their value as evidence of personal survival - which appears to be their object. If the events referred to were historical, or even domestically important, they would be recorded in Papers of some kind, and clairvoyant reading of the record could be appealed to as an alternative explanation, even if a much more commonplace suspicion were not entertained. - To complain of triviality in the events selected as evidence for continued personal existence and memory, is stupid, or at least thoughtless. For if, when studied, the best messages are found to constitute in the chain of evidence demonstrating continued existence or human survival beyond the adventure of bodily death; if they show that we are not alone in an alien universe for some seventy odd years, and are then extinguished as if we had it not been, but that all immortal future - an infinite destiny - lies before each one of us; if they tend to prove that the loves and powers and hopes and aspirations of earth persist, that our acts for better for worse are laid to our charge, and that without any sudden change our character goes on developing:- if any weak and halting utterances are able to convey such knowledge as this, no one has the right to stigmatise them
The Mode of Future Existence
WHEN WE consider the question or Survival from the physical point of view we are up against the ancient problem of the connection between mind and body. The body is certainly made of matter, but matter is inert, it never does anything, it is completely controlled by the forces acting upon it, which forces exist in the empty space surrounding the atoms. Left to itself, matter merely continues in whatever state it was last made to accept. If it was spinning, it continues to spin with constant angular momentum. It has no power of changing its state or of stopping. If it was in a state of locomotion, that motion also continues unaltered. This is called the law of inertia, and to it all material atoms are absolutely obedient, whether they form part of an engine or of a clockwork mechanism or of an animated body. There is no exception. All matter is inert.
If any change is observed in atomic or material behaviour, it is a sign of some activity, some energy apart from matter, demonstrating its existence by acting upon matter, and causing some acceleration or retardation proportionate to the force exerted. This is called the second law of motion. Furthermore, every kind of energy known to us exists in the empty space between the atoms and exerts equal force upon the boundary atoms at either end of that space, so that every action is accompanied by an equal opposite reaction. This is called the third law of motion, or it might be called the law of energy. Energy only makes itself manifest by its effect on material bodies, but its main existence is in space. We have no sense organ for perceiving energy itself, our senses tell us of nothing but matter. We can see the results of energy as expended upon matter, but we have no direct apprehension of the energy. We are not acquainted with anything in the Universe save by its effect upon matter, and that is the origin of our tendency to philosophic materialism; we are liable to doubt whether things not apparent to the senses can have a real existence, though there is no justification for such a doubt.
The physical Universe does not consist of matter alone. If it did, it would be absolutely inert, no change would ever occur. Experience shows us constant change, constant activity, and, when analysed, the source of this activity is always found in the field or space between the atoms. That is where the energy exists, that is where it is stored; and we can gradually realise that it is through interaction between the void and the material particles that every change or activity is accomplished. A field of force always exists in what we call vacuum or Ether, what the Ancients called 'void'; never does it exist in matter. Yet force is only made manifest by matter. It is only by observing the behaviour of material bodies that we can become aware of the existence of a field of force or of a seat of energy. Energy is constant in amount, but it takes various forms. The form with which we are best acquainted is the form of motion, and that is the only form ever associated with matter. All the other forms are hidden and make no impression upon us, save when they encounter material particles and thus display their existence. No one, for instance, could experience a magnetic field without a bit of iron to test it with. No one has any knowledge of the broadcast waves which now surround us unless he has a suitable detecting apparatus in the form of a wireless set and a telephone. And, strange to say, we can only appreciate light when it impinges upon some piece of matter and thence is deflected into the eyes. When we see a lighthouse or searchlight beam tracking its way across space, it is not the beam that we observe, but the dust particles which are illuminated by it. We can only see material objects : we have no sense for radiation itself, nor for an electric current, only for its activity in affecting various kinds of matter. These are only instances of a quite general law.
We cannot understand the activity of the material Universe without taking energy into account, and this energy exists in the space between the particles. Matter is discontinuous, consisting of isolated particles, they are connected only through space. But inasmuch as this space is impregnated with energy, it must be something more than mere emptiness. It makes no impression on our senses, and yet it is full of energy, and is the reservoir of all activity; hence we have agreed to call it the Ether. A magnetic field exists wholly in the Ether, iron fillings are only used to demonstrate it and map it out. An electric, a gravitational, field is in the same predicament. Cohesion, too, and indeed every action between material particles, is an affair of the Ether. In no other way can one piece of matter act on another. Every kind of physical action is really transmitted across space - that is, through the Ether - just as really, though not so obviously, as electric and magnetic attraction, gravitation, and light. Atoms and their constituents are never in contact. Ether forces or Ether strains have to be appealed to, when we try really to understand the most ordinary activities in daily life. Even a simple push is exerted through an infinitesimal layer of Ether. Every variety of potential energy exists in the Ether : matter has no energy except kinetic ; and recently an ethereal explanation of even that kind of energy shows signs of emerging from the theory of relativity.
Animated matter differs in no respect from every other kind of matter, except that it is subject to animation.
So when we say that life only exists in a material organism, we ought to say that life only manifests itself in association with such an organism, and that when it is dissociated from matter we know nothing of its existence. We have no right to say that it is extinct. All that we know is that it is no longer manifest it has gone out of our ken. But the same may be said of every form of energy in itself, it has no power of becoming known to us but by its effect on material bodies. A body under the action of life can do many things, can initiate spontaneous movements, can build up an organism, can operate on the physical Universe, and leave structures behind it of interest and beauty, but it is not the material body that does these things ; they are due to the life or animation of the body.
If, then, we can adduce any evidence that life or mental activity exists in space, and only sporadically makes itself evident by some material activity, the state of our present knowledge of physics renders our acceptance of the fact entirely harmonious. We have to do no violence to our physical conceptions if we admit the fact of survival. Life and mind never were functions of the material body, they only displayed themselves by means of the material organism. The organism was not essential to their existence, but only to their display - that is, to our apprehension of them. If they ever find means of operating in a novel or unusual manner on a physical organism, then they may still manifest their continued existence ; and that is exactly what they do. Why should we decline to receive the evidence?
Telepathy shows that mind can act on mind without the use of any bodily organs, hence certain people may have a faculty of apprehending a spiritual world direct ; and this may account for genius and inspiration. This has been well argued by F.W.H. Myers, and I shall not labour it now.
If you have evidence of the existence of a spiritual world, a world of help and guidance and sympathy, then you can hold to it in spite of every denial of the materialists, who can only base their denial on the absence of any sensory stimulus to their material organism. Such a world may exist all round us, and yet can only be spiritually discerned. The faculty of discernment does exist in some people, and their positive evidence overweighs a wilderness of negation from people whose perceptions are limited to the bodily senses. One of the most elementary forms of discernment is (rather absurdly) called Psychometry. An object put into their hands may convey more information than the senses can give : a psychometrist can tell something of its history, something of its association, something of its possessor. By special faculty they can tell far more than could be arrived at by chemical tests. They can tell, for instance, that a bit of stone has formed part of a pyramid, or that a ring has taken part in a scene of slaughter, or that a piece of writing or drawing has been done by a certain person normally quite unknown to them, and can even tell what the circumstances of that person were at the time, and what they were doing.
The existence of a spiritual world throughout the depths of space is becoming to me a great and fundamental, even a physical, reality. The manifestation of that world in connection with material organisms on one or other of the planets is a comparatively trifling and temporary episode, of great importance doubtless in the history of evolutionary development, but our real existence is not dependent on a material organism. Our spiritual and real home is in the Ether of space.
Chemists and biochemists are liable to limit themselves unduly to the purely material aspect of things. A chemist's business is to deal with matter in its various forms ; that is his job, and he need not be expected to go beyond it. A physicist takes into account the Ether as well, though he may, for a time, prefer to call it space. He is not limited to material particles, but studies the fields of force which connect them and make them active. The psychologist goes further still, and studies the action of the mind. I would I could say that the biologist is a student of life, but at present the tendency is for him only to study animated organisms and their behaviour, limiting his attention to what is manifested by the material processes brought about by life, and not thinking that life has any existence apart from its instrument of manifestation. We shall never understand the Universe by attending to matter alone and ignoring everything which makes it active and interesting. We cannot even understand the bending of a steel spring or the fall of a raised weight without implicitly taking the Ether into account. We are continually making experiments on the Ether and realising the consequences of its abundant qualities. If we make the assumption that it is a physical vehicle of life and mind too, we are only extending our generalisation in the same direction.
A supplementary and semi-physical treatment of Survival is now becoming possible ; a treatment which is well calculated to replace the old materialistic view that man had only a material body, and that when that body died and decayed, the animation, the personality, and the individual, necessarily ceased to exist. It is also well calculated to replace the popular idealistic notion that any spirit which survives the death of the material body must survive in an entirely disembodied condition, and be out of relationship with the physical Universe. Many people suppose that it then belongs to another order of existence, or, as some would say, of non-existence ; that it is likely to be free from any relationship even with Space and Time, and must have departed entirely out of our ken ; so that communication or intercourse with it is no longer possible, until perhaps at some future day when the material body shall have been somehow resuscitated and restored to its old function, in glorified form, so that the spirit can resume its active control. That this superstitious idea has been prevalent is testified to by popular modes of expression, such as :
'On the Resurrection morning, all their dead the graves restore. Father, mother, sister, brother meet once more.'
This depressing notion of future existence - if it can be called existence in the interim - is not a scientific or psychological view at all ; but it has been the religious, or at least the ecclesiastical, view through medieval times ; hymns and liturgies are saturated with it, and it continues to this day the chief representation of what, by strictly orthodox people, is meant by Survival.
A modern theory which seeks to provide the emancipated spirit with any kind of organism related to the physical world might thus be ranked as a return to a modified form of materialism. For though, when properly understood, the view I advocate ought to emancipate us from materialistic bugbears, and although it wholly condemns the idea that flesh and blood or any particles of terrestrial matter are revivified and inherit Eternal Life, yet popular ignorance of what is meant by the Ether, and of the certain fact that the Ether is a part of the physical Universe and has definite properties which can be experimented on and ascertained, may well suggest all manner of difficulties in understanding the hypothesis I am trying to expound. Wherefore it will probably be considered unsatisfactory, both by the scientific materialist and by the theologian; possibly also by some spiritualists.
The necessity for some kind of organ or instrument or habitation for an emancipated spirit has been intuitively felt by many inspired writers. The most ancient classical idea was that of a condition rather melancholy - unhouseled, wistful, shadowy and sad - but this notion was improved upon even in later classical times. And towards the end, 'Not unclothed, but clothed upon,' 'God giveth it a body,' are modes of expression very familiar to modern ears.
The existence of a spiritual body is an idea, in one form or another, at least as old as St. Paul. It has been upheld by some of the Greek Fathers of the Church ; it has been vaguely in the mind of many modern investigators ; sundry obscure and super-normal facts seem to lend it strong support. And recently an etheric version of such a body has been approved - and if not inculcated, at any rate, regarded as a step in the right direction - by some of the more thoughtful and philosophically minded communicators 'on the other side'.
What they know by experience is that, though discarnate, they are certainly not disembodied ; they feel no more disembodied than we do. They tell us that they still have substantial instruments of manifestation which serve for intercourse among each other, and that it is through this permanent instrument that they are able, occasionally and under certain conditions, to operate indirectly, through our organisms, on the matter of this planet. They operate with more difficulty than in the old days, partly because they have to make use of other people's mechanism; but still, subject to many restrictions, they exert influence in a somewhat similar way, and thereby are able occasionally to know what we are doing ; and they claim sometimes to succeed in helping and stimulating us, not only mentally but physically.
Now, although the departed may not understand fully and completely of what their present body is composed, or how they operate on it so as to produce the results they desire and aim at, they are still only in the same predicament as they were when here, and as we are now. For we do not know how we control our bodies of matter, nor what the nature of the connection between mind and matter is. We know that we have muscles and nerves and brain centres. We can dissect and describe this part of the mechanism. But how a physiological instrument - how any kind of mechanism - can think and feel and plan and will and remember and hope and love, we certainly cannot explain. And probably we shall never be able to explain how such a thing can happen ; for the thing to be explained does not happen, it is only imagined to happen through a misapprehension. The truth is that it is we ourselves who really do all the psychical things ; we employ our bodies only as instruments for recording and transmitting our thoughts and for exercising muscular action on matter. The body itself neither thinks nor wills nor sees nor feels. It is an instrument, a channel, a medium.
Although full explanations about our method of controlling of a body are not yet forthcoming - either on this side or on that - yet those 'on the other side' are quite willing to accept the suggestion that their bodies, which to them feel so substantial, and all the surroundings in which they exist, are related to the thing which we here call the Ether, very much in the same way as they used to be related to the familiar thing known as Matter.
That Ether is a very substantial entity, far denser than any form of matter, has been gradually becoming clear to physicists. At first, we only said that it must be denser than lead or gold or platinum, but now we find that it must be out of all proportion denser. I have made an estimate of its density, in the light of electromagnetic theory, and it comes out inevitably huge. Every cubic millimetre contains as much substance as what, if it were matter, we should call a thousand tons. As the Ether is not matter in the ordinary sense of the term, our ordinary units of measurement are inappropriate ; but on the analogy of matter, the Ether is of the order a million million times as dense as water. All its properties are of supernormal magnitude. Its rate of vibration which enables us to see any ordinary object is five hundred million million per second : a number so great that to try to conceive such a number of vibrations per second simply dizzies us. The number of seconds which have passed since ancient geological periods of twenty million years ago is about this number. Yet we familiarly make use of these vibrations. Our wonderful organ, the eye, is constructed so as to cope with them, in the easiest possible manner. And most people are ignorant - as ignorant as are the animals - of the strange ethereal environment amid which we all live, and of which the vibrations convey to us so much information, and awaken so keenly our sense of beauty.
Until instructed, we can hardly help thinking of matter as dense, and of Ether as tenuous, but that is a poetic illusion associated with the term 'ethereal'. It is an illusion based on the testimony of our senses, which, as so often happens, have to be corrected by deeper insight into the real nature of things. Matter appeals to us so strongly, not because it is anything but a gossamer-like or milky-way existence in the vast continuity of Ether, but because our obvious bodies are made of matter, and because our animal sense organs are specially adapted to existence in association with matter, and give us information about nothing else. Even light, which we know is an Ether vibration, tells us nothing about itself without study ; what it tells us familiarly is - not about light , but - about the material objects which have emitted or scattered or differentially absorbed it. We get this information by lifelong, indeed age-long, inherited and instinctive experience. We interpret the luminous indications without difficulty, and we forget the strangely complex nature of the processes which underlie all our channels of information; we only find their true nature out when phenomena are fundamentally analysed and seriously cross-questioned. When we have pursued this line of investigation for many years, we find that the important thing in the physical Universe is Ether, and that matter is trivial in comparison. Yet we can freely admit that matter takes such splendid and beautiful forms that it is worthy of the continued study of generations of scientific men; and we need not wonder that they become so enthusiastic over its properties that they are able to imagine it the sole reality in existence. That, however, is a mistake; it constitutes a mechanism actuated and wielded by mental and spiritual power, which is dominant and supreme.
The Possibility of Survival from a Scientific Point of View
I SHOULD not have known the truth about the friendly co-operation of a spiritual world - existing under conditions beyond our normal perception - had I not received indubitable proof of the persistent continuity of individual personal existence. The survival of personality is therefore a theme which is bound to ran as a guiding thread through most of these chapters, though I do not think it necessary in this volume to discuss the available evidence; nor need I assume that my readers are similarly acquainted with the facts and equally convinced.
The hesitating attraction which some people feel for the subject of what is often called spirit communication, and the instinctive dislike or repulsion which others feel for the same subject, is due partly to the influence of surroundings, and partly to the general attitude of the community in which they live. If ever the facts became generally accepted by scientific men, the attitude of the public would be gradually changed; religious people also would without insuperable difficulty adjust their views to acceptance of phenomena generally agreed upon, as they have already done in connection with the at first heterodox discoveries of astronomers, geologists, and biologists. But as long as scientific acceptance is limited to a comparatively few individuals here and there, the general public if uninstructed do well to be cautious, and to wait for a clearer consensus of opinion among those presumably best qualified to judge of reality. For science is or ought to be a study of reality wherever it is to be found, independent of any conclusions or consequences that may be drawn from it, and irrespective of any influence that the spread of knowledge may exert upon human life and conduct.
Assertions about supernormal or unusual phenomena are plentiful enough; but at present there is an element of uncertainty about them which militates against their general acceptance as fact. Trustworthy and crucial evidence is difficult to obtain, and there is a natural disinclination to enter upon a course of research without some a priori probability that the quest would lead to something real, and not into a quagmire of popular superstition and folk-lore. Testimony about obscure mental phenomena and psycho-physical happenings has been prevalent throughout human history, and among all races of men; but the phenomena testified to are at first sight so contrary to the general trend of human experience that they are naturally looked at askance, and are not examined with the same keenness and perspicacity as have been devoted during the last century or two to what seemed to be more natural phenomena, - that is to say phenomena which can he repeated in the laboratory at will, about which some guiding theory can be formulated, and which are more harmonious with the general trend of scientific progress. It can hardly be merely because the asserted facts are extraordinary, or because they do not appeal to the senses in the ordinary way, that they are disregarded and suspected: for many of the facts in orthodox science are of this character. The constitution of an atom, and the orbits of in electron, make no direct appeal to the senses; they have to be explored by recondite methods; yet the difficulty of a complete comprehension of them does not deter competent explorers from giving them minute and sustained attention, or from elaborating theories, which, however imperfect, are susceptible of gradual improvement, and seem to open the way to a wider truth. The supersensual phenomena dealt with by mathematicians are just as difficult of direct apprehension, and involve just as much speculation and hypothesis, as any of the barely credible mental phenomena which come under discussion.
The aloofness of science is not really because the phenomena are elusive and difficult of observation; rather it is because they appear to run counter to preconceptions or prejudgments, or what may be called rational prejudices, based upon a long course of study of natural phenomena, with which these asserted occurrences appear to be inconsistent; so that any favouring testimony has to be criticised, continually suspected, and frequently discarded, because it appears to be testimony in favour of what is a priori impossible or absurd. The aim of science has been for the most part a study of materialistic phenomena, a study of mechanism, the mechanism whereby results are achieved, an investigation into the physical processes which go on, and which appear to he coextensive with nature. Any theory which seems to involve the action of Higher Beings, or of any unknown entity controlling and working the mechanism, is apt to be extruded or discountenanced as a relic of primitive superstition, coming down from times when such infantile explanations were prevalent. Such ideas seem to belong to a time when there was no adequate notion of the coherent scheme of physical process which must underlie all the baffling and inscrutable operations of nature.
There was a time, for instance, when the movements of the planets were attributed to psychic guidance, the action of angels or some other beings; when thunder and lightning were the direct manifestations of the wrath of Zeus; when plague pestilence and famine were a commentary on human sinfulness, and were stemmed, not by medical and sanitary effort, but by the erection of altars and the humble submission of sacrificial atonements. The triumph of Newton and Laplace consisted in showing that the regular though puzzling phenomena occurring in the heavens were to be accounted for mechanically by the force of gravitation. Thus it was that modern science was born; and on those lines it has continued its successful career. Portents were thus reduced to order. Lightning became one of the inanimate manifestations of electricity: volcanoes were due to the spontaneous radioactivity of complex atoms: disease was due to the secretions of microbes and bacteria, which were visible under the microscope. And the ambition of science was to find a physical cause, on the same sort of lines, for every occurrence of whatever nature it might be. This ambition, which was formulated by Newton himself as a hope and aspiration, has been justified by long, continued experience. A physical process underlies every class of phenomenon. The evolution of living things, the evolution of the stars and planets, the birth and death of worlds, are going on before out eyes. Even the evolution of matter itself is under consideration. The stars have yielded up their secrets, the atoms also. The laws of physics and chemistry reign supreme throughout the cosmos.
What wonder then, in face of this magnificent achievement, if spiritualistic views and hypotheses are looked at askance as a backward step, a reversion to barbarism, a giving up of the clue which human genius has found so successful; or even as treachery to the pioneers and architects who have erected the splendid structure of modern science. What wonder if the attempt is made to explain every mental process as a chemical action in the cells of the brain, to explain every action of live things as the activity of physiological mechanism, and to hold that when the physiological process is interrupted, or the machinery destroyed, all vitality necessarily ceases; in other words that life and mind are the working of an organism, and that when the organism ceases to function, they completely perish.
And yet many biologists have themselves, when they began to philosophise, encountered a real difficulty. The mechanism was complete as far as it went: the physical processes of every action could be traced, either in fact or in imagination: but there was an outstanding difficulty about consciousness, which could not be explained by mechanism. Their own awareness of the processes going on was itself something more than the mere processes. There were things in human nature which escaped their physiological ken, which seemed to be of a different order, something which made use of mechanism, but which transcended it, something towards which mechanical science give no clue. The sense of beauty, for instance. What piece of mechanism could contemplate its own beauty? What mechanical device could understand its own working? How could human beings plan and contrive and design, and form theories, and seek to apprehend the universe, if they were nothing more than mechanical structures? The only way consistent with philosophic materialism was to suppose that consciousness was a kind of illusion, and that these mysterious functions could probably be themselves reduced to mechanism if only we had sufficient knowledge. But the formation of such a hypothesis as that is conspicuously irrational. It is leaving the safe ground of science, the exploration of reality, and denying some parts of reality itself. Such denials are illegitimate, and are themselves superstitious.
It has become pretty obvious that human nature is more than mechanism, that it utilises the physical energy and the physical and chemical processes of its organism, but that in every important aspect it transcends those processes. Even the mere sensation of colour and tone are more than belong to the physical world: physically there is nothing except vibrations of different frequency. Emotion again, the emotion raised by poetry, drama, music, far transcends the admittedly physical basis of these things. Man plans and contrives and directs the forces of nature to higher ends: he uses and dominates the material universe: he has some understanding of it: he feels sympathy and affection: he has faith and hope - and love. These elements in his nature are far more than molecular processes going on in the brain. These higher attributes are displayed and manifested by chemical processes, but in themselves they transcend and outlast them; they belong to another order of existence, interpenetrating and utilising the material, but not limited by or coextensive with it.
Well, that is the view to which some of us have been led: that is the view which I think most philosophers now take. Hence the a priori prejudgments and prejudices are now altered. If there is testimony bearing upon the perennial existence and survival of these higher things, we need no longer look at it askance, or consider it as foreign to our perception of reality. Reality is a much bigger thing than the mechanicians had thought. Their perceptions are true as far as they go, but we can go much further. Testimony to survival need no longer be unacceptable. Indeed we should expect something of the kind. What survival means, and what its implications are, may still remain to be ascertained, but there is a prima facie case for investigation. We are not traitors to science when we explore mental processes, however unusual and surprising they may be. There is a large amount of evidence that personality persists, that individuals continue after the destruction of their bodily organism. They may find it difficult to manifest their continued existence; but, according to the evidence, they have managed to do so. The evidence must be scrutinised with great care; but there is no reason to disbelieve it on a priori grounds. The body of evidence has grown of late years, and is growing. So that many now have no doubt that their loved ones continue, that they are still watching and helping and guiding, as of old; that realities do not go out of existence, that these higher attributes of man are just as real as any others, more real because more persistent. We feel assured that there will come a time of reunion, that intelligence and character and tastes and aptitudes persist, and that love is the dominating power in the universe, - a universe far greater and higher than its merely material manifestations.
In its own field the revelations of science are magnificent; and, if we exclude the element of Personality, which science hardly deals with, it may be true, as Lord Moynihan has recently declared, that the God of science is a greater and more glorious Being than the God of the Theologians.
God of the star-swarm and the soul,
The conscious Will that made the world
From ether-drift and cosmic dust,
Such is the God we know and trust.
The Mechanism of Survival
IN THE last two chapters I have attempted incidentally to show the combined strength and weakness of the materialistic position. Its strength lies in the fact that apparently every psychic or mental happening has a physical concomitant; or, in other words, that life and mind have to be embedded in some physical vehicle, and that all operations, not physical only, but every kind, are conducted in accordance with a regular system of law and order, which can be explored and gradually understood by science. The mind of man is not something outside nature, but is a part of the whole, and harmonious with all the rest. The physical vehicle of mind may not as yet be fully apprehended by us, but experience tends to show that there is a physical vehicle in every case; or in other words, the psychical and the physical are interlocked, so that each is a portion of an all-embracing Whole.
Hitherto the only physical vehicle known to us in the service of life and mind has been some form of matter; but it would be a mistake to assume without proof that organised matter, such as brain, is the sole and necessary instrument without which mental operations cannot go on. Matter is that part of the physical universe which makes direct appeal to our senses; it is that which displays the activity of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The processes which go on in the complicated structure of organisms can be followed into singular detail as knowledge increases, so that these processes repay a lifetime of study, and are sometimes thought to be, not only coherent, but complete and satisfactory and final in themselves. The strength of materialism lies in the rational character of these material Processes. The weakness lies in the assumption, the gratuitous and unfounded assumption, that those material processes are all-inclusive, and demand that nothing else shall be taken into account.
But already experience has shown that there are many other things, even in the physical universe, besides matter; things for which we happen to have no sense-organ, and which therefore are apt to elude observation, so that careful enquiry and discovery have been necessary to bring them to light. To this category belong such now familiar agents as electricity and magnetism, which for all practical purposes were unknown to the human race even a few centuries ago. Electricity and magnetism belong to the physical universe, but they are not Primarily apprehensible; their activities are only indirectly displayed by matter, and therefore they have to be indirectly apprehended by us. They can only be explored by means of material instruments: we have not grown accustomed to them through our senses, as we have to the different forms of matter, and consequently we often feel puzzled as to their nature. Such forces as gravitation and cohesion belong to the same category. We know that material bodies fall together as if they attracted each other; but we have very little notion of why they do so. The tendency to fall together is only conspicuous when one at least of the pieces of matter is huge. The fact of gravitation is forced on our attention by the behaviour of bodies near the earth; but had it not been for the generalisations of science, we should never have discovered that there is the same kind of gravitative attraction between two pebbles, two bits of wood, two books, two objects of any kind. The force is too small to be appreciated, but it certainly exists; and the fact of this what we call "attraction" across empty space, has led us to postulate the existence of something in between the particles of matter, something tenuous which fills all space, something which is essential to the activity of the material world, but which in itself eludes our senses, so that its very existence can be doubted, although it is probably the most real and substantial thing in the physical universe. This, which we call empty space or ether, is what interpenetrates all matter; it extends to the furthest star, there is no break in its infinite continuity, and it is now suspected of being the raw material out of which matter has been made.
To carry on and substantiate the strength of the materialistic position, while at the same time admitting that matter alone is insufficient for an explanation, it is natural to frame the hypothesis that this etheric medium may constitute the physical vehicle for life and mind when they are dissociated from matter. If there is a real entity which fills all space, it is unlikely that it is not made use of for vital purposes; and if it be true that a physical instrument or vehicle, some kind of mechanism involving rational processes, must accompany every thought and every mental operation, then the space-filling entity suggests itself as competent to do all that is wanted. To suppose that mind cannot exist without matter, is weak, gratuitous, and inconclusive: but to suppose that mind requires for its activity some physical vehicle, though it may be of an entirely supersensual kind, is in analogy and accordance with all the rest of our experience. Mind may always require a body or mode of manifestation, but that "body" need not be formed of matter, and need not appeal to our present senses.
Now this view of existence has a bearing on the problem of survival. Instinctively scientific men feel that in connection with every kind of activity there must he some physical process which can be investigated; they are not content with the idea of a totally disembodied spirit. Instinctively they seek for something physical; but hitherto some of them have made the mistake of assuming that the, adjectives "physical" and "material" are interchangeable terms, and that when the brain and nerve systems are left behind there is nothing to take their place. That however is going beyond the facts. Indeed there are many operations going on m the nerves and brain cells which are not yet fully understood, and will not be fully understood until the etheric; connection between the particles is taken into account. And when that connection is better understood, it will be perceived that the matter particles are after all a secondary consideration; they have been extracted from animal food and are constantly changing: no sort of identity can be associated with them. The motions of the particles cannot be the primary activity, though they are the means by which our senses are affected, and therefore the means through which we study the more recondite operations of which their movements are the outward and visible sign.
When this idea is fully grasped - and admittedly it takes some time to grasp it - many of the arguments and analogies against survival break down; for as a matter of fact we never find things going out of existence, though we do find them going out of our ken. Anything which enters the ether goes out of our ken; but in that new vehicle it continues, whether its subsequent history can be traced or not.
Past and Future
It is possible that the ether can automatically retain a record of the past capable of being deciphered and interpreted by intelligence. By suitable devices records may indeed he incorporated in matter, as in photographic plates and gramophone disks, but, like all material aggregates, such records fade or wear out, whereas the clarity of an etheric record continues undiminished for ever. When we look through a telescope at a nebula or star cluster we are gazing on the distant past - thousands or even millions of years ago - and extracting information from it. Thus is the past brought to our present apprehension. Not by such aid can we directly apprehend the future. Yet we can anticipate, plan, and to some extent predict: and what we can thus do consciously we may be able perhaps to do more mystically by intuition or inspiration. It becomes a question well worthy of attention, how far the future is accessible, whether it is decipherable to beings of any kind, whether it in any sense already exists, and what power our faculties have of catching glimpses of the future as well as of the past. Unfortunately this enquiry is at present hampered by obsolete legislation; the common sense of mankind has decided that the future is hopelessly inaccessible. But the common sense of mankind has before now decided many other things which have turned out wrong. A spherical and revolving earth, flying annually round the sun was repugnant to common sense at one time. The intuitions of genius may be a guide worth following up and submitting to verification: the presumptions of uninstructed ignorance are apt to lead us astray into positions whence extrication is troublesome. Security in a false position devoid of any real foundation can only be sustained or bolstered up by the abominable resources of persecution: a brutal buttress of blundering bigotry which Ecclesiastics and Legislators have not scrupled to employ in the past.
Direct Evidences of Survival
Survival however is not to be established on grounds of analogy or by arguments of probability: it must be proven by direct experience. Individuals who have died must demonstrate their continued existence by trustworthy evidence. That may not be easy, it might not be possible. Experience must be the judge: we cannot decide what is possible or impossible, except by trial. Those who have studied the matter consider that the evidence is good, and that some individuals have proved their survival: that is to say, they have demonstrated that their individual mind and character has survived the death of the material organism in which they were at one time incorporated. We need not suppose that they are divorced from the physical universe as disembodied ghosts. Their physical existence may be just as real and substantial as ever, only they are no longer associated with matter; but then matter is not the only entity: there is another more universal, more continuous, far more perfect mechanism, which it may be presumed they still inhibit and utilise. The strength of materialism remains, but in a glorified form. The theory takes a more comprehensive view of the universe than the narrow materialist thought possible. Whilst the essential and rational claims of the materialist are satisfied, his illegitimate denials are contradicted, and shown to be incompatible with the progress of scientific knowledge. The facts, the new and as yet unorthodox facts, range themselves on the side of a larger truth, and discountenance any narrow views based upon too limited experience or over-hasty prejudice. A study of those facts of psychic experience is just as important as a study of the behaviour of material organisms, and in due time they will attract some of the concentrated attention now devoted to other branches of knowledge. So a working hypothesis, capable of assimilating them with natural knowledge in general, may be helpful, however much it may have to be modified, extended, and replaced by something better.
A reverent utterance of Thomas Henry Huxley, though often quoted, may here once more find a place:
"Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this."
Problems Raised by the Idea of Survival
SUPPOSE WE let it be granted that accumulated evidence shows that human beings survive, a number of problems clamour for solution. What does survival mean in general? Why should it be limited to human beings? What line can be drawn differentiating one part of existence from another? It seems likely that all existence is perpetual. We certainly find that energy, for instance, continues without loss, changing form but always constant in amount; that death is not the characteristic and fundamental thing in the universe, but continued life. Energy need not always be associated with matter; it may pass into the ether, and indeed is constantly so doing. Not only from every star and every fire, but from all objects without exception, there is a constant interchange of energy between ether and matter. Sometimes matter gains more than it loses, sometimes it loses more than it gains. This interchange constitutes the whole activity of what we observe; and the energy is never destroyed.
Is it the same with life? Not human life alone, but all life, animal and vegetable together? We do not know for certain, but it is a natural working hypothesis that the interaction between life and matter is temporary, while the interaction of life with the greater physical universe is permanent. In that sense survival is the law to which there need be no exception. But when we talk of human survival we mean more than that. We mean individual survival, the survival of personality and character.
Now survival only applies to things which really exist. If there is no individuality, then there is nothing to persist. Whether all human beings have sufficient personality to make their individual persistence likely, is a question that may be argued. Whether some of the higher animals have acquired a kind of individuality, a character and wealth of affection which seem worthy of continued existence, may also be argued. There may be many grades of existence, many grades of personality, and accordingly there may be many grades of survival.
To illustrate this, and to get into closer touch with the subject, we may take some examples. The human body is composed of cells, and some of those cells have a life or vitality of their own. Some indeed, such as the white corpuscles in the blood, have an independent motivity, analogous to that of the amoeba. They move with apparent spontaneity, they assimilate and digest and excrete; they subdivide and thereby increase in number: in other words, they have many of the attributes of independent existence. Yet they are essentially parts of a community: the communal life is the important thing, and by their activity they serve that communal life. They help to keep the whole body in health, and their individual life is often sacrificed to that end. In so far as they are individuals, their individuality seems unimportant; it cannot be supposed to persist.
Many examples of communal life may be adduced. For instance in a hive of bees it would seem to be the communal life that is the important thing. The individuals go about their business in an instinctive manner, and willingly sacrifice themselves for the good of the community. Their individual existence is short and strenuous: they speedily succumb to overwork or to the dangers encountered, but the community goes on. Moreover it is instructive to realise that their specific activity depends not only on themselves but on their surroundings. They carry on whatever work is necessary in the particular place they find themselves. If wax is needed, they proceed to make it: if wax is provided, they proceed to shape it: if they find it already shaped, they fill it with honey. Any one bee does what is wanted at that particular place, adding to the labours of his predecessors the quota demanded. The guiding influence seems represented by a communal instinct which does not belong to the individual but to the whole community.
It appears to be much the same with the cells of the body. Where a hair is required, there it is built up by the cells which find themselves in that position: where a nerve needs renewal it is renewed. And so the parts of the body are constructed and maintained; and the waste products are cleared away automatically and instinctively, without any attention from consciousness, so long as the body is in a state of health. The cells can be diverted from their proper work by abnormal secretions and poisons, and then abnormal structures are produced, with resulting pain and perhaps death to the organism as a whole. The organism may have in individual identity, but the cells composing it apparently have not. The ingredients in food are sorted out and planted automatically in the place required by the whole organism, the identity of which does not depend on the identity of the particles, for they are in a constant state of flux.
At a lower grade we find something of the same sort even in inorganic nature. What constitutes for instance the identity of a river, the Tiber, or the Ganges, or the Nile? We recognise that the river has a sort of identity but it cannot depend on the particles of water which constitute it. It may be said that the identity of a river is determined by the shape and locality of the channel along which the particles move; but even that is liable to change from time to time; yet we recognise it as the same river. The river therefore has a certain individuality, displayed by the stream of particles, and occasionally it has been personified as Father Tiber, Mother Ganges, and the like. But this is obviously a fanciful personification. There is no real soul or personality, or anything which calls for persistence beyond. its terrestrial and temporary manifestation.
An identity of this general kind seems to belong to all vegetables and to the lower animals. There is no need to postulate permanent personal existence in their case. The question only arises when the life of an organism has reached a stage at which the elements of mind and consciousness appear, when the action becomes more than mechanical, when it shows signs, not only of accumulated memory, but of incipient reasoning power, leading to purposive action, based on accumulated or inherited experience. Purposive action is indeed often based not upon the laws of heredity alone, but upon experience acquired by the individual, so that in some sense it knows what it is doing, and spontaneously and individually tries for some end, or acts with some apprehension of the future. An intelligent creature is guided, not merely by the present, but by anticipation and hope.
It is not easy to say where this element of consciousness, conscious striving for an as yet unrealised end, first began to enter into the animal kingdom; but we see signs of it in the higher animals, at any rate in those that have become domesticated; and we are well aware of these faculties in ourselves. At some stage or other, conscious planning, or what Aristotle called "entelechy," entered into the scheme; and this element we may well call the germ of the soul. As a working hypothesis we may conjecture that where a soul exists it means the emergent evolution of something higher than ordinary life, of something which has a personal aspect, and of something which, if real, is likely to persist. If it is a very minute fragment of personality, then its survival will also be minute and fragmentary. Only when it becomes considerable and dominant will it have a considerable and dominant survival. In so far as a thing is real, it will not go out of existence; it will survive for whatever it may be worth.
Clearly there are grades of existence or grades of value; so in a sense there may be grades of survival. Surely not, it may be objected, there is either survival or there is not; there cannot be partial survival. No, but a small and trivial thing may survive in a small and trivial way. A great love endures; but a little bit of affection may still survive. The problem is one of reality. Only reality persists. But then, on the other band, all reality persists. A cloud or a crowd is dispersed and scattered and ceases to be. But that was not a reality, it was a mere aggregate of atoms or of people: when it was dispersed the individual components continue. The reality belonged, not to the assemblage, but to that which gathered them together. The emotion, or the guiding principle, which convened a League, a Parliament or an army, may continue and may alter the course of history. A written document may have an effect long after the document has been destroyed. The soul of a poem, or of a Treaty, is not in the black marks on a scrap of paper; nor is its reality dependent on the physical vehicle by which it was conveyed to others. It is the soul of such things that is real, and it is that which persists.
So it may be with our bodily organism. Each organism is an assemblage of particles in a state of flux and change. The cells have a communal existence, but the permanent thing which put them together, and which by their aid has accumulated experience and developed a personal character is not dependent on them for its identity; and it can endure long after they have been dispersed and scattered.
These being the possibilities, the remaining question is one of fact. The evidence for human survival does not depend on argument but on experience. There is a growing amount of evidence that human personality does really persist, that individual people have not gone out of existence. That evidence must be critically examined and subjected to scientific enquiry, and if it stands the test, it must be admitted: it must be accepted as one of the facts ascertained in the process of scientific discovery, whether we understand it or not. All that the argument has done is to show that there is nothing irrational in the idea, that we need not turn our backs on the evidence because it appears to be demonstrating something impossible. The thing is possible enough: no one has a right to say that it is impossible. Our business is to find out what is true. If there is trustworthy evidence tending to show that humanity has attained a grade at which a real and permanent personality has developed, then that evidence can be accepted. If the evidence goes further, and shows that some of the higher animals have reached such a grade, then that evidence can be accepted too. We have no right to draw an artificial line and say, Thus far and no further. Nor have we any right to turn down actual evidence because of our irrational and perhaps superstitious preconceptions. We have no more right to do that than we have to accept or invent faulty evidence and imaginary facts, on the ground of our preconceptions or superstitions or human longings. The emotions must be kept in their place. Things are not true because we want them to be true; but neither are they false because we feel they ought to be false. Human instincts and intuitions are not to be despised. The intuitions of genius are part of the facts, and have a weight and value of their own.
Fortunately in this vital matter we are not left to inspirations and intuitions. Cold-blooded direct evidence is vouched for, and this it is which must be examined without prejudice either way. And this it is which will ultimately convince all humanity of the truth of survival, and incidentally will in the long run enable us to realise more clearly what survival means, what physical mechanism is associated with it, what is its scope and how far it extends, and what bearing it has on the ultimate problems of reality.
Meanwhile Teachers and Clerics are faced with practical problems, and the next chapter is intended as an interim help.
On the Asserted Difficulty of the Spiritualistic Hypothesis from a Scientific Point of View
STUDENTS OF orthodox science undoubtedly feel great difficulty about admitting the possibility of spiritual agency or the interaction of other Intelligences, even under exceptional circumstances, in mundane affairs. The idea seems contrary to the whole trend of what may be called Newtonian science, though it is true that Newton himself did not scruple to write a General or Theological Scholium as a conclusion to his great work.
To illustrate the difficulty often felt by psychical investigators themselves about anything like a spiritual interpretation of the facts, the truth of which nevertheless they fully admit on grounds of personal experience, I might quote from Professor Richet and other continental explorers; but it will suffice if I use as a text a paragraph from a recent writer in the Proceedings of the S.P.R. for 1929 about the meaning of certain Writings which he himself had unconsciously produced and which to superficial appearance seemed inspired by people who were dead. The paragraph runs thus:
" ... Regarded as a scientific working hypothesis, spiritism does not seem to me to be a very hopeful avenue of investigation. The spirit hypothesis has a delusive appearance of simplicity, but so also had Kepler's hypothesis of guiding angels. And how remote this was from the complex reality of Einstein's description of gravitation! In fact if these supernormal mental phenomena depend on the whims and caprices of departed spirits, then I for one despair of ever being able to discover any law and order in them."
Undoubtedly there is some difficulty, in our present state of comparative ignorance, about specifying or formulating the spiritistic hypothesis in any precise and so to speak scientific manner; for it is an appeal to the activity of unknown agents, acting by unknown methods, under conditions of which we have no experience, and by means of which we are unaware. We get into touch, or appear to get into touch, with these agencies only when they have affected material objects, for instance someone's brain, thereby stimulating muscles so as to produce results which appeal to our normal senses.
But the admission that we cannot understand how agents work does not justify our denial of the existence of such working. A good deal of modern mathematical physics is in the same predicament. We do not really understand how the properties of the ether, or of what it is now the fashion to call "space-time," act in producing the material effect we call weight or gravitation. We know a good deal about it; we can specify with precision the law of "weight" in so far as it imitates the resultant of an independent and unscreened attraction of every particle for every other. We can say that the earth acts nearly as if its whole mass were concentrated at its centre, that the law of force is different inside and outside, so that it changes abruptly when the surface is penetrated, and that the force attains a peak value at the surface, sloping down differently on the two sides. We can speak of the state of strain or "potential" to which the force is due, say that it is continuous across the boundary, we can give the law of its variation with distance, and so on. Newton, in fact, correctly formulated the whole theory of gravitation considered as action at a distance, but the true mechanism of what seems like a condition of strain or warp in space brought about by the very existence of matter, was beyond him, just as it is still beyond us. In philosophic mood, Newton was never satisfied with his mode of specification. It merely gave the resultant effect of something that simulated the direct attraction of one body for another across apparently empty space; he had to leave the inner meaning of such mysterious action for future discovery.
Einstein discarded the attraction or force exerted by a body at a distance, and replaced it by a geometry of space which would account for, or at least express, the observed behaviour in a more intimate and so to speak less magical manner. When a registering thermometer, with a steel index, is "set" by means of a magnet acting through the glass, the index is really moved by the analogous but different modification of space (or ether) that we call a magnetic field. An inert body can only be perturbed or guided by something in immediate contact with it; even though the particular modification of that "something," which enables it so to act, may be due to the neighbourhood of a distant mass of matter, for reasons which remain to be explored.
The fact that we sometimes have to postulate an unknown agency does not justify our attributing anything capricious to that agency. We are ignorant of how the gravitational agent acts, but we know that it acts in accordance with law and order, so that the results can he duly predicted. Einstein's view (if we may call it Einstein's, though in one form or another it must have been vaguely held by many) is after all not so very different from Kepler's asserted hypothesis. What Kepler meant by "guiding angels controlling the planets" (assuming that he used that phrase) I do not know; but I am sure he meant nothing capricious. He must have meant that an unknown something guided the planets in their path; and that is a paraphrase of the modem view. The something is now often spoken of as a warp in space - acting as a sort of groove. In so far as Kepler postulated something in immediate touch with a planet and acting directly on it, he had what now appears to he truth on his side; his thesis being perhaps nearer the ultimate truth, though far less practically useful, than Newton's delightfully, simple quantitative expression for the indirect action of a distant body.
In order to illustrate direct guidance by contact action, we may cite the familiar example of a gramophone needle, which automatically reproduces a prearranged tune, simply by following the path of least resistance. What else, after all, can an inert thing do? That is the meaning of inertia. Animated things are not inert: they need not take the easiest path. A man may climb the Matterhorn for fun. But inanimate unstimulated matter never behaves with any initiative or spontaneity: it is strictly inert. Atoms never err nor make mistakes, they are absolutely law-abiding. If they make an apparent error, if a locomotive engine leaves its track, we call it a catastrophe. All machinery works on that principle; every portion takes the easiest path. It is true that to get a coherent result there must have been planning and prearrangement. Certainly! In all cases of automatic working, whether biological or other, that must be an inevitable preliminary. But explorers of the mechanism will detect no signs of mental action by their instruments or their senses. To infer a determining or controlling cause they must philosophise. Indeed, we may go a step further and emerge from the past into the present: A wireless set talks like a gramophone, and to one accustomed only to gramophones it would seem barbarously superstitious to urge that in the wireless case some (possibly whimsical and capricious) operator was actually in control. Statements may be unpalatable, and yet be true.
Now return to gravitation. Planets behave as if they were attracted by the sun. That is certainly true. But what is attraction? A train is not attracted to its destination; lightning is not attracted to a chimney; but it gets there none the less, by continually taking the easiest path. So it is with a planet. Indeed, one might say that everything inert takes the only path open to it, it has no option. The law is a sort of truism. But the principle, once recognised, has been formulated into a clue; the Principle of Least Action can be expressed mathematically. Once postulate that, and the behaviour of the inanimate portions of the cosmos can be accurately deduced.
The modern statement that the planets move along the line of least resistance, or the easiest path, makes their motion rather closely analogous to that of a railway train guided by the rails. The path and destination of a train are determined by the continual direct influence of the rails, which make it easier for the train to travel in the right direction than to jump them and go astray. We might, if we chose, admit that the path was laid down or determined by the mentality of the surveyors and designers of the route; but a Martian spectator with partial information might still wonder at the apparent intelligence which guided one part of a train to Manchester, and another part to Liverpool, in accordance with the wishes of the passengers or the labels on the coaches. If told that an invisible guardian angel switched over the points to produce this result, he might resent the suggestion as absurdly unscientific and preposterous; as on a purely mechanistic view it would be.
After having studied trains for some time, our spectator might begin to notice the novelty of a motor-car. His first tendency would be to look for the rails in that case also; and, finding none, he might superstitiously but correctly surmise that a guardian spirit was guiding the car to its destination. In this case, moreover, further experience would soon persuade him that he had to allow for an element of caprice. But even that is not fatal to the truth: he need not throw up his hands in despair. As soon as we introduce the activity of life and mind we get out of mere mechanism and the results are not easily formulated or predicted. The activities of an animal cannot be expressed in mathematical terms, and yet animal instincts and behaviour are subject-matter for scientific investigation. It is assumed that they obey laws of some kind. Science is not limited to the accurate data and laws of mathematical physics: and to claim that a hypothesis is unscientific because we cannot formulate it completely, or because we do not understand the method of working, or even because there is a certain amount of capriciousness about it, is more than we have any right to claim. Anthropology and sociology are less advanced sciences than physics and chemistry: they have to get on as best they can, with a profusion of data, and with the inevitable complications appropriate to live things. Let us not be put out of our stride by the fear of retaining, in modified form, some of the animistic guesses of primitive man. Experience may lead us, as it led him, to contemplate stranger modes of existence, and more whimsical phenomena, thin our long study of mechanism has led us to expect. We must put aside prejudice, be guided by the evidence, and strive for truth. The superficial simplicity of materialism has served us well, as a comprehensive covering, for many centuries, and we have made good progress under its protection; but it is beginning to get threadbare and inadequate, it is not coextensive with reality, and unsuspected influences are peeping through.
To sum up. A working hypothesis can be followed up and developed rationally without being metrically exact in its early stages. The important question about the spiritistic hypothesis is not whether it is simple or complicated, easy or puzzling, attractive or repellent, but whether it is true. Its truth can only be sustained or demolished by the continued careful critical and cautious method of enquiry initiated by the S.P.R. under the Presidency of a guiding spirit or guardian angel called Henry Sidgwick, with the active (and I believe continuing) co-operation of Edmund Gurney and Frederic Myers.
Let us suppose then that some day human survival and the continuance of personality beyond bodily death will be demonstrated so clearly that the whole world will accept it as naturally and instinctively as it now accepts that other once controverted theory of the motion of the earth round the sun at the incredible pace of nineteen miles a second. Would not the new conception have as revolutionary an influence on the outlook of humanity as ever the Copernican theory had! Surely it would be momentous in its consequences in many directions. Let me try to trace in a concluding chapter some of the implications of a universal acceptance of survival as a demonstrated fact.
Do We Survive?
THE MAIN object of this series of talks has been to emphasize the importance of psychical research and to maintain the actual occurrence of facts for which we have no scientific theory, - and which are therefore liable to be ignored or denied by present-day science: whereas the testimony is that they undoubtedly occur under certain barely known conditions. This being so, no scientific man has a right to deny them without examination, or to penalize those who elect to make a study of them. Science cannot rationally make a survey of existence if it ignores actual occurrences; and the science which attempts to prescribe the exclusion of a whole range of facts cannot be trusted as a guide to life or be put into opposition to any form of idealistic philosophy. A comprehensive science would study these occult facts, would seek to understand them, and in treating of the problem of existence would leave nothing relevant out of consideration.
The aim of the talks, so far, has been to emphasize this. Lord Charles Hope, for instance, brought forward in detail one comparatively small phenomenon, which he holds can be verified and made fraud-proof by instrumental devices. Mr. Gerald Heard cited a whole set of phenomena which are asserted to occur, but are denied by orthodox science; and Sir Ernest Bennett told you of certain experiences, which he thinks are facts, and which it is difficult to get away from. No scientific man who ignores them has the right to philosophize on existence or to argue against the fundamental tenets of religion.
What in my judgement these phenomena prove is that we are denizens of a spiritual world, and that its activities are by no means limited to those of the material organisms we see around us. That is my personal conviction, based on half a century's study of the evidence. It seems to me quite certain that mankind is not limited to the physical body or to the brief tenure of life here, but that he has a larger and more permanent existence, which we do not wholly understand. That is what the ultimate deduction will be when the facts are rationally treated and their implications made out.
The subject of the talk allotted to me is 'Do We Survive?' thus jumping at once from the facts to the conclusion to be drawn from them - a conclusion which is of such great importance that many people regard it as the main object of psychical research. It is not that; but it looms so large in popular estimation, and a certainty regarding it is of such vital importance to humanity, that it is regarded in some quarters as the sole topic to which the efforts of the psychical researcher should be directed.
Let it be clearly understood that it is possible to admit some or most of the facts and to remain sceptical about survival. In France, for instance, most of the facts are accepted and yet this conclusion is denied. I argue that it is only by selection and special pleading that one is able to arrive at a negative conclusion. I do not think it would be admitted that so to conclude it is necessary to ignore some of the facts and make selection from the evidence, and yet I feel that it is so.
I myself was convinced initially by the evidence derived from Mrs. Piper's trance utterances in the year 1889. I then had communications from deceased members of my own family, which unmistakably showed that they were just as living and active as ever: at first from older members of the previous generation, who sent evidence of their identity and characteristics.
But the best and most crucial evidence has been given since the death of F. W. H. Myers in 1901, for he knew the fallacy of many of the alternative hypotheses which are still brought forward by those who pride themselves on not departing much from what may be called orthodox science. So after his decease Myers took pains to show that these semi-orthodox explanations, though plausible, were not sufficient to account for all the phenomena. He showed this by an ingenious and elaborate system of cross-correspondences, which have been recorded by the Society for Psychical Research and made a study of by Mr. Piddington. He also showed the insufficiency of any explanation short of individual survival by what may be called 'scholarly' communications, that is, communications of a kind specially characteristic of individual scholars, and far above the competence of the medium, for which the late Dr. A. W. Verrall and S. H. Butcher and Myers himself have given posthumous evidence. This cannot be summarised, but will repay careful and elaborate study.
As an instance in which Myers himself is the communicator, I would specially mention the answers that he gave to a question about Lethe, which he was asked first by Mr. Dorr in America, working through Mrs. Piper, and then by me in England, working through Mrs. Willett. F. W. H. Myers gave appropriate classical references on both occasions, the first being from Ovid, the second from Virgil, neither of these answers being understood by the recipient at the time; but he also, by special effort, when the question about Lethe was put to him for the second time, contrived to make Mrs. Willett, the automatist, write the (to her) meaningless word 'Dorr'; that is to say he recalled the name of the man who in America had asked him the very same question. This answer was given by special effort, in my absence, and was sent me by post. The episode is quite convincing and is recorded in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. xxv, pp. 116-175, especially 124-130.)
And, to illustrate the scholarly communications characteristic of Professor Verrall, I may instance the case of Philoxenus, an obscure writer of whom very little is known, but which formed the complete solution to a problem set to scholars posthumously by Professor Verrall and studied by Lord Balfour in his pamphlet called The Ear of Dionysius.
These are only two out of a multitude of instances which have been ignored by those who come to a negative conclusion, but which have had their due effect on those who have studied them, especially on the group of leaders of the Society for Psychical Research who live at Fishers Hill, and have led to the striking testimony of Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, as communicated through her brother Lord Balfour to the Society for Psychical Research two years ago. She is generally regarded as ultra sceptical, like her husband the late Henry Sidgwick; and certainly she is exceedingly cautious; but Lord Balfour ended his reading of her paper with the following testimony so that there should be no misapprehension regarding her views in the future:
'Some of you may have felt that the note of caution and reserve has possibly been overemphasized in Mrs. Sidgwick's paper. If so, they may be glad to hear what I am about to say. Conclusive proof of survival is notoriously difficult to obtain. But the evidence may be such as to produce belief, even though it fall short of conclusive proof. I have Mrs. Sidgwick's assurance - an assurance which I am permitted to convey to the meeting - that, upon the evidence before her, she herself is a firm believer both in survival and in the reality of communication between the living and the dead.'
That is a statement by Lord Balfour, who spoke on behalf of Mrs. Sidgwick, an old lady of nearly ninety, who was unable to come to the meeting herself.
And now let me take advantage of this unique opportunity provided by the B.B.C. and speak to those who find life hard, who get depressed sometimes and wonder whether all the struggle and effort is worth while. Let me convey to them some assurance and state the certainty which has gradually grown up in my mind as the result of all the evidence obtained over a period of nearly fifty years.
All this evidence, so full and unmistakable, has brought me to a perception that a spiritual world is a great reality and has led me back to a realization of the truth of the sayings attributed to the Founder of Christianity: 'In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.' So ran His assertions of quiet confidence about a future life. Indeed, I don't see how a professing Christian can have any doubt about it.
If we look upon this life as only the beginning of our pilgrimage and think of it as a preparation for a larger and fuller existence, then we might learn to welcome the rebuffs and the opportunities for service and development of character. For it is our character and memory that we take with us. We are not different the moment we pass over. Those on the other side tell us that there is scope for talent and enterprise over there. Our friends come to welcome us when we cross the barrier: friendship is important there as here.
Some there are who are spared much of the discipline of this life, and have been removed as we think prematurely. I constantly receive letters from bereaved people who are in deep distress at the loss of a child or young person. I can only pass on the information that has been vouchsafed to me and assure them that all is well with their loved ones and that children are taken care of by good people. The veil between the two worlds is wearing thin. It is possible, given the right conditions, to communicate with those we call the dead. They are still mindful of our love for them, and they reciprocate it fully; they are hurt by our excessive grief at their loss. They do not think of themselves as dead, but as now fully alive, free of the clogging body and able to move freely in their new state, using the etheric body which they possessed all the time. They assure us that all is well with them, that they are still at work, and that love bridges the chasm.
I did not arrive at this belief by any religious channel. My own belief was based on the facts and experience studied, in the large and comprehensive science which in my view ought to take into account the whole of the phenomena, and not limit itself to material phenomena, as urged by the leaders of the nineteenth century and fashionable among most scientific men since Sir Isaac Newton. Science as hitherto understood has always been liable to take a limited view of existence, and to pride itself upon excluding a whole range of reality as belonging to another region which it calls religious or idealistic or psychical.
I hold that science should be comprehensive enough to include a treatment of the whole, to exclude no facts which can be responsibly maintained on scientific evidence to have occurred. It has to exclude the vagaries of superstition; to them it must always turn a deaf ear: they are an abomination. But every kind of reality which can be asserted by responsible people as having actually happened ought to be included in the scope of a larger broader science, which may then, and not till then, claim a right to view existence as a whole, and gradually come to conclusions about it.
It is this larger science that I humbly and unworthily try to represent. It removes all fear of the unknown, and encourages trust - trust in God as a loving Father; and I am grateful to the authorities of the B.B.C. for allowing me to express my mature convictions, unhindered, in what may possibly prove my last talk to you.
If it should happen that my work down here is done, or nearly done, let me take an affectionate farewell. Good-bye.
Source: The article above was taken from "Inquiry into the Unknown" edited by Theodore Besterman (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1934).