Book: "The Survival of Man"
Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS
Availability: Out of Print
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
Professor William James's Testimony to Mrs. Piper
ALTHOUGH Mrs. Piper was brought by the Society to England in the autumn of 1889, she was of course known to members of the Society in America before then and, so far as we were concerned, may be said have been "discovered" by Professor William James in 1885. His early experience of her sittings, and his testimony as to the way in which his initial scepticism was broken down, are very interesting; and I shall here make a few quotations from a short paper of his which was included in the Proceedings of the Society along with my first Report of the Piper Case.
Professor William James's Statement
The most recent utterance of Professor William James on the subject is published in the Proceedings of the S.P.R. for June 1909 (Part LVIII.), and it contains an account of conversations carried on through Mrs. Piper since Dr. Hodgson's death with what purported to be Dr. Hodgson's surviving personality - together with Professor James's critical comments thereupon.
I may here quote a very small initial portion of this voluminous Report. It is very likely a mistake to quote the early and therefore more difficult stages of a re-appearance, instead of a more finished and practised example such as comes at a later date; and yet there is an interest in the first effort and stumblings - if they are intelligently read - and in several respects they may be considered instructive.
Richard Hodgson died suddenly upon December 20th, 1905. On December 28th a message purporting to come from him was delivered in a trance of Mrs. Piper's, and she has hardly held a sitting since then without some manifestation of what professed to be Hodgson's spirit taking place. Hodgson had often during his lifetime laughingly said that if he ever passed over and Mrs. Piper was still officiating here below, he would control her better than she had ever yet been controlled in her trances, because he was so thoroughly familiar with the difficulties and conditions on this side. I had myself had no sitting with Mrs. Piper and had hardly seen her for some nine years, but for most of that time I had been kept informed of what was going on by reading the typed records, furnished me by my friend Hodgson, of all the trances of which report was taken, and for which the sitters had not asked secrecy to be observed. The "Control" most frequently in evidence in these years has been the personage calling himself "Rector." Dr. Hodgson was disposed to admit the claim to reality of Rector and of the whole Imperator-Band of which he is a member, while I have rather favoured the idea of their all being dream-creations of Mrs. Piper, probably having no existence except when she is in trance, but consolidated by repetition into personalities consistent enough to play their several roles. Such at least is the dramatic impression which my acquaintance with the sittings has left on my mind. I can see no contradiction between Rector's being on the one hand an improvised creature of this sort, and his being on the other hand the extraordinarily impressive personality which he unquestionably is. He has marvellous discernment of the inner states of the sitters whom he addresses, and speaks straight to their troubles as if he knew them all in advance. He addresses you as if he were the most devoted of your friends. He appears like an aged and, when he speaks instead of writing, like a somewhat hollow-voiced clergyman, a little weary of his experience of the world, endlessly patient and sympathetic, and desiring to put all his tenderness and wisdom at your service while you are there. Critical and fastidious sitters have recognised his wisdom, and confess their debt to him as a moral adviser. With all due respect to Mrs. Piper, I feel very sure that her own waking capacity for being a spiritual adviser, if it were compared with Rector's, would fall greatly behind.
As I conceive the matter, it is on this mass of secondary and automatic personality of which of late years Rector has been the centre, and which forms the steady background of Mrs. Piper's trances, that the supernormal knowledge which she unquestionably displays is flashed. Flashed, grafted, inserted - use what word you will - the trance-automatism is at any rate the intermediating condition, the supernormal knowledge comes as if from beyond, and the automatism uses its own forms in delivering it to the sitter. The most habitual form is to say that it comes from the spirit of a departed friend. The earliest messages from "Hodgson" have been communicated by "Rector," but he soon spoke in his own name, and the only question which I shall consider in this paper is this: Are there any unmistakable indications in the messages in question that something that we may call the "spirit" of Hodgson was probably really there? We need not refine yet upon what the word "spirit" means and on what spirits are and can do. We can leave the meaning of the word provisionally very indeterminate, - the vague popular notion of what a spirit is, is enough to begin with.
The spirit-Hodgson's first manifestation was, as I have said, eight days after his death. There was something dramatically so like him in the utterances of those earliest days, gradually gathering "strength" as they did, that those who had cogniance of them were much impressed. I will begin by a short account of these earliest appearances, of which the first was at Miss Theodate Pope's' sitting on Dec. 28th, 1905. At this sitting Rector had been writing, when the hand dropped the pencil and worked convulsively several seconds in a very excited manner.
(The hand, shaking with apparently great excitement, wrote the letter H. . . . bearing down so hard on the paper that the point of the pencil was broken. It then wrote "Hodgson.")
(The hand writes, "I am " - followed by rapid scrawls, as if regulator of machine were out of order.)
(Hand assents by knocking five times on paper-pad.)
"All" was then written, with a "B" after it, and Miss P. asked, "What is that?" "A," "B "and "L" followed, but no explanation. (The explanation was given later.)
(1) - Miss Pope was subsequently a passenger nearly drowned on the Lusitania.)
The above is the whole of the direct matter from Hodgson at this, the first of the sittings at which he has appeared.
(For the sequel to this ring-episode, see the report itself in Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. xxiii.)
At Miss Pope's next sitting (five days later), after some talk about him from Rector, R. H. appeared for the second time, and in the character, familiar to him, of being a well-spring of poetical lore. Mrs. Piper's hand cramped most awkwardly, first dropped and then broke the pencil. A new one being given, the hand wrote as follows:-
At the second sitting after this (Jan. 8th, 1906), Miss Pope again being the sitter, R. H. appeared again, writing as follows:
On Jan. 23rd, 1906 Mrs. Wm. James, and W. James, Jr., had a sitting at which R. H. used the medium's voice and gave a very life-like impression of his presence. The record runs as follows:
(After an interval he comes in again :-)
So much for Hodgson's first appearances, which were characteristic enough in manner, however incomplete.
Mr. G. B. Dorr of Boston had later sittings with Mrs. Piper, at which he encouraged Hodgson to give all sorts of reminiscences, as evidence of survival of memory, and as tending towards proof of identity. I only quote a small portion from the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, vol. xxiii., page 44, selecting a portion which contains true reminiscences; and adding Mr. Dorr's annotations, without which to us in England they would be useless. The remarks at the end are quoted from the Report by William James in Proceedings S.P.R., vol. xxiii.
G. B. D. then tries again to get the name of the man who occupied the farmhouse, describing him to R. H. without mentioning his name.
After some talk about the Tavern Club, about Australia, and about the state of things in the other world, R. H. goes on as follows:-
This is, I think, the whole of the matter relative to Oldfarm which the R. H. - Control has given. The number of items mentioned is not great, and some inability to answer questions appears. But there are almost no mistakes of fact, and it is hardly possible that all the veridical points should have been known to Mrs. Piper normally. Some of them indeed were likely a priori; others may have been chance-hits; but for the mass, it seems to me that either reading of Mr. Dorr's mind, or spirit-return, is the least improbable explanation.
The fewness of the items may seem strange to some critics. But if we assume a spirit to be actually there, trying to reach us, and if at the same time we imagine that his situation with regard to the transaction is similar to our own, the surprise vanishes. I have been struck over and over again, both when at sittings myself and when reading the records, at the paralyzing effect on one's ready wit and conversational flow, which the strangeness of the conditions brings with it. Constraint and numbness take the place of genial expansiveness. We "don't know what to say," and it may also be so "on the other side." Few persons, I fancy, if suddenly challenged to prove their identity through the telephone, would quickly produce a large number of facts appropriate to the purpose. They would be more perplexed, and waste more time than they imagine.
At the request of Mr. Myers I undertook a share in the investigation of a case of apparent clairvoyance.
It is the case of a lady who appears to go off into a trance when she pleases to will it under favourable surroundings, and in that trance to talk volubly, with a manner and voice quite different from her ordinary manner and voice, on details concerning which she has had no information given her.
In this abnormal state her speech has reference mainly to people's relatives and friends, living or deceased, about whom she is able to hold a conversation, and with whom she appears more or less familiar.
By introducing anonymous strangers, and by catechising her myself in various ways, I have satisfied myself that much of the information she possesses in the trance state is not acquired by ordinary commonplace methods, but that she has some unusual means of acquiring information. The facts on which she discourses are usually within the knowledge of some person present, though they are often entirely out of his conscious thought at the time. Occasionally facts have been narrated which have only been verified afterwards, and which are in good faith asserted never to have been known; meaning thereby that they have left no trace on the conscious memory of any person present or in the neighbourhood, and that it is highly improbable that they were ever known to such persons.
She is also in the trance state able to diagnose diseases, and to specify the owners or late owners of portable property, under circumstances which preclude the application of ordinary methods.
In the midst of this lucidity a number of mistaken and confused statements are frequently made, having little or no apparent meaning or application.
Concerning the particular means by which she acquires the different kinds of information, there is no sufficient evidence to make it safe to draw any conclusion. I can only say with certainty that it is by none of the ordinary methods known to Physical Science.
OLIVER J. LODGE
In order to gain experience, my wife had invited Mrs. Piper to our house in Liverpool between the dates December 18th and December 27th, 1889; and again between the dates January 30th and February 5th, 1890, when she sailed for New York.
During these days we had twenty-two sittings, and I devoted my whole time to the business, being desirous of making the investigation as complete and satisfactory as possible while the opportunity lasted.
Mrs. Piper pretends to no knowledge as to her own powers, and I believe her assertion that she is absolutely ignorant of what she has said in the trance state. She appears to be anxious to get the phenomenon elucidated, and hopes by sitting to scientific investigators to have light thrown on her abnormal condition, about which she expresses herself as not quite comfortable. She perfectly appreciates the reasonableness of withholding information; assents with a smile to a sudden stop in the middle of a sentence during conversation, and in general is quite uninquisitive. All this innocency may, of course, be taken as perfection of acting, but it deprives her of the great advantage (assuming fraudulent intention for the moment) of controlling the circumstances after the manner of a conjurer; and prevents her from being the master of her own time and movements. The control of the experiments was thus entirely in my own hands, and this is an essential ingredient for satisfactory testimony.
The initial question to be satisfactorily answered, before anything can be held worth either investigating or recording, concerns the honesty of Mrs. Piper herself.
That there is more than can be explained by any amount of either conscious or unconscious fraud - that the phenomenon is a genuine one, however it is to be explained - I now regard as absolutely certain; and I make the following two statements with the utmost confidence:-
(i.) Mrs. Piper's attitude is not one of deception.
(ii.) No conceivable deception on the part of Mrs. Piper can explain the facts.
[I went on to enumerate eight possibilities of imposture against which we were on our guard: but matters have advanced far beyond that now, and it is useless to dwell upon this discarded part of the subject.]
Cheating being eliminated, and something which may briefly be described as a duplex or trance personality being conceded, the next hypothesis is that her trance personality makes use of information acquired by her in her waking state, and retails what it finds in her sub-consciousness without any ordinary effort of memory.
It is an interesting question whether any facts instilled into the waking Mrs. Piper can be recognised in the subsequent trance speech. My impression at one time was that the trance information is practically independent of what specific facts Mrs. Piper may happen to know. The evidence now seems to me about evenly balanced on either side. Whether the trance speech could give, say, scientific facts, or a foreign language, or anything in its nature entirely beyond her ken, I am unable to say. [Further information on these points is now accessible, but not anything finally conclusive. It appears that unknown details and incidents can certainly be obtained, but hardly information on some alien and recondite subject, - at least without great difficulty.] So far as my present experience has gone, I do not feel sure how far Mrs. Piper's knowledge or ignorance of specific facts has an appreciable influence on the communications of her trance personality. But certainly the great mass of facts retailed by this personality are wholly outside of Mrs. Piper's knowledge; in detail, though not in kind.
The personality active and speaking in the trance is apparently so distinct from the personality of Mrs. Piper that it is permissible and convenient to call it by another name. It does not differ from her as Hyde did from Jekyll, by being a personification of the vicious portion of the same individual. There is no special contrast, any more than there is any special similarity. It strikes one as a different personality altogether; and the name by which it introduces itself when asked, viz., "Dr. Phinuit" is as convenient as any other, and can be used wholly irrespective of hypothesis.
I would not, in using this name, be understood as thereby committing myself to any hypothesis regarding the nature of this apparently distinct and individual mind. At the same time the name is useful as expressing compactly what is naturally prominent to the feeling of any sitter, that he is not talking to Mrs. Piper at all. The manner, mode of thought, tone, trains of idea, are all different. You are speaking no longer to a lady, but to a man, an old man, a medical man. All this cannot but be vividly felt even by one who considered the impersonation a consummate piece of acting.
Whether such a man as Dr. Phinuit ever existed I do not know, nor from the evidential point of view do I greatly care. It will be interesting to have the fact ascertained if possible; but I cannot see that it will much affect the question of genuineness. For that he did not ever exist is a thing practically impossible to prove. While, if he did exist, it can be easily supposed that Mrs. Piper took care enough that her impersonation should have so much rational basis.
Proceeding now on the assumption that I may speak henceforth of Dr. Phinuit as of a genuine individual intelligence, whether it be a usually latent portion of Mrs. Piper's intelligence, or whether it be something distinct from her mind and the education to which it has been subjected, I go on to consider the hypotheses which still remain unexamined.
And first we have the hypothesis of fishery on the part of Dr. Phinuit, as distinguished from trickery or, the part of Mrs. Piper. I mean a system of ingenious fishing: the utilisation of trivial indications, of every intimation-audible, tactile, muscular-and of little shades of manner too indefinable to name; all these, excited in the sitter by skilful guesses and well-directed shots, and their nutriment extracted with superhuman cunning.
Now this hypothesis is not one to be lightly regarded, or ever wholly set aside. I regard it as, to a certain extent, a vera causa. At times Dr. Phinuit does fish; occasionally he guesses; and sometimes he ekes out the scantiness of his information from the resources of a lively imagination.
Whenever his supply of information is abundant there is no sign of the fishing process.
At other times it is as if he were in a difficult position, - able to gain information from very indistinct or inaudible sources, and yet wishful to convey as much Information as possible. The attitude is then as of one straining after every clue, and making use of the slightest indication, whether received in normal or abnormal ways; not indeed obviously distinguishing between information received from the sitter and information received from other sources.
I am familiar with muscle-reading and other simulated "thought-transference" methods, and prefer to avoid contact whenever it is possible to get rid of it without too much fuss. Although Mrs. Piper always held somebody's hand while preparing to go into the trance, she did not always continue to hold it when speaking as Phinuit. She did usually hold the hand of the person she was speaking to, but was often satisfied for a time with some other person's, sometimes talking right across a room to and about a stranger, but preferring them to come near. On several occasions she let go of everybody, for half-hours together, especially when fluent and kept well supplied with "relics."
I have now to assert with entire confidence that, pressing the ingenious-guessing and unconscious-indication hypothesis to its utmost limit, it can only be held to account for a very few of Dr. Phinuit's statements.
It cannot in all cases be held to account for medical diagnosis, afterwards confirmed by the regular practitioner. It cannot account for minute and full details of names, circumstances, and events, given to a cautious and almost silent sitter, sometimes without contact. And, to take the strongest case at once, it cannot account for the narration of facts outside the conscious knowledge of the sitter or of any person present.
Rejecting the fishery hypothesis, then, as insufficient to account for many of the facts, we are driven to tile, only remaining known cause in order to account for them:- viz., thought-transference, or the action of mind on mind independently of the ordinary channels of communication.
I regard the fact of genuine "thought-transference" between persons in immediate proximity (not necessarily in contact) as having been established by direct and simple experiment; and, except by reason of paucity of instance, I consider it as firmly grounded as any of the less familiar facts of nature such as one deals with in a laboratory. I speak of it therefore as a known cause, i.e., one to which there need be no hesitation in appealing in order to explain facts which without it would be inexplicable.
The Phinuit facts are most of them of this nature, and I do not hesitate to assert confidently that thought-transference is the most commonplace explanation to which it is possible to appeal.
I regard it as having been rigorously proved before and as therefore requiring no fresh bolstering up; but to the many who have not made experiments on the subject, and are therefore naturally sceptical concerning even thought-transference, the record of the Phinuit sittings will afford, I think, a secure basis for faith in this immaterial mode of communication, - this apparently direct action of mind on mind.
But, whereas the kind of thought-transference which had been to my own knowledge experimentally proved was a hazy and difficult recognition by one person of objects kept as vividly as possible in the consciousness of another person, the kind of thought-transference necessary to explain these sittings is of an altogether freer and higher order, - a kind which has not yet been experimentally proved at all. Facts are related which are not in the least present to the consciousness of the sitter, and they are often detailed glibly and vividly without delay; in very different style from the tedious and hesitating dimness of the percipients in the old thought-transference experiments.
But that is natural enough, when we consider that the percipient in those experiments had to preserve a mind as vacant as possible. For no process of inducing mental vacancy can be so perfect as that of going into a trance, whether hypnotic or other. Moreover, although it was considered desirable to maintain the object contemplated in the consciousness of the agent, a shrewd suspicion was even then entertained that the sub-conscious part of the agent's mind might be perhaps equally effective.
Hence one is at liberty to apply to these Phinuit records the hypothesis of thought-transference in its most developed state: vacuity on the part of the percipient, sub-conscious activity on the part of the sitter.
In this form one feels that much can be explained. If Dr. Phinuit tells a stranger how many children, or brothers, or sisters he has, and their names; the names of father and mother and grandmother, of cousins and of aunts; if he brings appropriate and characteristic messages from well-known relatives deceased; all this is explicable on the hypothesis of free and easy thought-transference from the sub-consciousness of the sitter to the sensitive medium of the trance personality.(1)
(1) - For instance, in the course of my interviews, all my six brothers (adult and scattered) and one sister living were correctly named (two with some help) and the existence of the one deceased was mentioned. My father and his father were likewise named, with several uncles and aunts. My wife's father and stepfather, both deceased, were named in full, both Christian and surname, with full identifying detail. I only quote these as examples; it is quite unnecessary as well as unwise to attach any evidential weight to statements of this sort made during a sojourn in one's house.
So strongly was I impressed with this view that after some half-dozen sittings I ceased to feel much interest in being told things, however minute, obscure, and inaccessible they might be, so long as they were, or had been, within the knowledge either of myself or of the sitter for the time being.
At the same time it ought to be constantly borne in mind that this kind of thought-transference, without consciously active agency, has never been experimentally proved, Certain facts not otherwise apparently explicable such as those chronicled in Phantasms of the Living, have suggested it, but it is really only a possible hypo, thesis to which appeal has been made whenever any other explanation seems out of the question. But until it is actually established by experiment, in the same way that conscious mind action has been established, it cannot be regarded as either safe or satisfactory; and in pursuing it we may be turning our backs on some truer but as yet perhaps unsuggested clue. I feel as if this caution were necessary for myself as well as for other investigators.
On reading the record it will be apparent that while "Phinuit" frequently speaks in his own person, relating things which he himself discovers by what I suppose we must call ostensible clairvoyance, sometimes lie represents himself as in communication - not always quite easy and distinct communication, especially at first, but in communication - with one's relatives and friends who have departed this life.
The messages and communications from these persons are usually given through Phinuit as a reporter. And he reports sometimes in the third person, sometimes in the first. Occasionally, but very seldom, Phinuit seems to give up his place altogether to the other personality, friend or relative, who then communicates with something of his old manner and individuality; becoming often impressive and realistic.
This last I say is rare, but with one or two personages it occurs, subject to reservations to be mentioned directly; and when it does, Phinuit does not appear to know what has been said. It is quite as if he in his turn evacuated the body, just as Mrs. Piper had done, while a third personality utilises it for a time. The voice and mode of address are once more changed, and more or less recall the voice and manner of the person represented as communicating.
The communications thus obtained, though they show traces of the individuality of the person represented as speaking, are frequently vulgarised; and the speeches are more commonplace, and so to say "cheaper," than what one would suppose likely from the person himself. It can, of course, be suggested that the necessity of working through the brain of a person not exceptionally educated may easily be supposed capable of dulling the edge of refinement, and of rendering messages on abstruse subjects impossible.
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
Extracts from Piper Sittings
AND now might follow a detailed report of the sittings which at that date (1889-1890) I held with Mrs. Piper in my house at Liverpool, all of which were taken down very fully; some of them verbatim by a stenographer introduced on those occasions. For in those days communication was conducted entirely by the voice; writing being quite exceptional, and limited to a few words occasionally. Whereas in more recent years communication is for the most part conducted by writing only, and the need for stenography has practically ceased.
My detailed report appears in the Proceedings of the Society, vol. vi., but it occupies a great deal of space, and would be merely tiresome if reproduced in any quantity. Accordingly I propose to make only a few extracts, quoting those incidents which demonstrate one or other of the following powers , or which illustrate by way of example the general character of the sittings at that time, - regarded rather from the dramatic than from the evidential point of view.
The powers just referred to are the following:-
(1) The perception of trivial events simultaneously occurring at a distance.
(2) The reading of letters by other than normal means.
(3) The recognition of objects and assignment of them to their respective owners.
(4) Perception of small and intimate family details in the case of complete strangers.
The statement of facts unknown at the time to any person present;
With perhaps a supplement illustrating apparent ignorance of some facts within Mrs. Piper's normal knowledge, and likewise - what are frequent - instances of erroneous statement concerning facts which are well-known to, and in the mind of, the sitter.
Among sitters, I may mention Dr. Gerald Rendall, late of Trinity College, Cambridge, then Principal of University College, Liverpool. He was introduced as Mr. Roberts, and a sitting was immediately commenced. The names of his brothers were all given correctly at this or at the evening sitting of the same day, with many specific details which were correct.
He brought with him a locket, and received communications and reminiscences purporting to come from the deceased friend whom it commemorated, some of them at present incompletely verified by reason of absence of persons in America, some of them apparently incorrect, but those facts which he knew correctly stated in such a way as to satisfy him that chance guessing and all other commonplace surmises were absurdly out of the question.
Another sitter was Prof. E. C. K. Gonner, then Lecturer on Economics at University College, Liverpool, introduced as Mr. McCunn, another colleague with whom therefore he might on a fraudulent hypothesis be confused. He brought a book belonging to his mother, still living in London, and had many correct details concerning her family and surroundings related to him.
Many of his own family were also mentioned; but, whether because of the book or otherwise, his mother's influence seemed more powerful than his own; and, several times, relatives, though otherwise spoken of correctly, were mentioned in terms of their relationship to the elder generation. Phinuit, however, seemed conscious of these mistakes and several times corrected himself; as for instance: 'Your brother William - no I mean your uncle, her brother.'
This Uncle William was a good instance. He had died before Prof. Gonner was born, but he had been his mother's eldest brother, and his sudden death had been a great shock to her - one in fact from which she was along time recovering. Phinuit described him as having been killed with a hole in his head, like a shot hole, and yet not a shot, more like a blow:- the fact being that he met his death in a Yorkshire election riot, a stone striking him on the head.
Speaking of deaths, I may also mention the case of my wife's father, who died when she was a fortnight old in a dramatic and pathetic fashion. Phinuit described the circumstances of his death rather vividly. The cause of death of her stepfather also, which was perfectly definite, was also precisely grasped. The fall of her own father down the hold of his ship and his consequent leg-pain were clearly stated. My wife was present on these occasions, and of course had been told of all these family incidents, and remembered them.
As an instance of reading a letter, which had indeed just passed through my mind, but which was not read in any normal manner by the medium, I take the following case.
(A chain was handed to Phinuit by me, the package having been delivered by hand to me late the previous evening. I had just opened the package, glanced at the contents, and hastily read a letter inside, then wrapped all up again and stored them. The chain had been sent by Mrs. John Watson from Sefton Drive; it had belonged to "Ian Maclaren's" father.)"This belongs to an old gentlemen that passed out of the body - a nice old man. I see something funny here, something the matter with heart, paralytic something. Give me the wrappers, all of them. - [i.e., The paper it came in; a letter among them. Medium held them to top of her head, gradually flicking away the blank ones. She did not inspect them. She was all the while holding with her other hand another stranger, a Mr. Lund, who knew nothing whatever about the letter or the chain.]"Who's dear Lodge? Who's Poole, Toodle, Poodle? Whatever does that mean?"O. J. L.: "I haven't the least idea.""Is there J. N. W. here? Poole. Then there's Sefton. S-e-f-t-o-n, Pool, hair. Yours truly, J. N. W. That's it; I send hair. Poole J. N. W. Do you understand that?O. J. L.: "No, only partially."[Note by O. J. L - I found afterwards that the letter began "Dear Dr. Lodge," contained the words "Sefton Drive," and "Cook" so written as to look like Poole. It also said "I send you some hair." and finished - yours sincerely J. B. W."; the "B" being not unlike an "N." The name of the sender was not mentioned in the letter, but at a subsequent sitting it was correctly stated by Phinuit in connexion with the chain.]
This reading of letters in an abnormal way is very curious, and is a very old type of phenomenon. Kant and Hegel were both familiar with it: only it was then called "reading with the pit of the stomach." Now it seems usually done with the top of the head.
I had a few other cases-less distinct than the above - and I again refer here to the little experiment made by Mrs. Verrall as reported on page 98, as well as to Page 104.
One of the best sitters was a friend who for several years was my next-door neighbour at Liverpool, Isaac C. Thompson, F.L.S., to whose name indeed, before he bad been in any way introduced, Phinuit sent a message purporting to come from his father. Three generations of his and of his wife's family, living and dead (small and compact Quaker families), were, in the course of two or three sittings, conspicuously mentioned, with identifying detail; the main informant representing himself as his deceased brother, a young Edinburgh doctor, whose loss had been mourned some twenty years ago. The familiarity and touchingness of the messages communicated in this particular instance were very remarkable, and can by no means be reproduced in any printed report of the sitting. Their case is one in which very few mistakes were made, the detail standing out vividly correct, so that in fact they found it impossible not to believe that their relatives were actually speaking to them. This notable belief correctly represents the impression produced by a favourable series of sittings, and it is for that reason I mention it now. Simple events occurring elsewhere during the sitting were also detected by Dr. Phinuit in their case, better than in any other I know of. A full report of this rather excellent case has had to be omitted for lack of space.
There was a remarkable little incident towards the end of my series of sittings, when this friend of mine was present. A message interpolated itself to a gentleman living in Liverpool, known, but not at all intimately known, to both of us, and certainly outside of our thoughts - the head of the Liverpool Post-office, Mr. Rich. The message purported to he from a son of his who had died suddenly a few months ago, and whom I had never seen; though Isaac Thompson had, it seems, once or twice spoken to him.
"This son addressed I.C.T. by name, and besought him to convey a message to his father, who, he said, was much stricken by the blow, and who was suffering from a recent occasional dizziness in his head, so that he felt afraid he should have to retire from business. Other little things were mentioned of an identifying character and the message was, a few days later, duly conveyed, The facts stated were admitted to be accurate; and, the father, though naturally inclined to be sceptical, confessed that he had indeed been more than ordinarily troubled at the sudden death of his eldest son, because of a recent unfortunate estrangement between them which would otherwise have been only temporary."The only thought-transference explanation I can reasonably offer him is that it was the distant activity of his own mind, operating on the sensitive brain of the medium, of whose existence he knew absolutely nothing, and contriving to send a delusive message to itself!"One thing about which the son seemed anxious was a black case which he asked us to speak to his father about, and to say he did not want lost. The father did not know what case was meant: but I have heard since, indirectly, that on his death-bed the son was calling out about a black case, though I cannot learn that the particular case has been securely identified."
Contemplating these and such-like communications, could not help feeling that if it be really a case of thought-transference at all, it is thought-transference of a surprisingly vivid kind, the proof of which would be very valuable, supposing it were the correct explanation of the phenomenon.
But I felt doubtful if it were the correct explanation. One must not shut one's eyes to the possibility that in pursuing a favourite hypothesis one may after all be on the wrong tack altogether.
Every known agency must be worked to the utmost before one is willing to admit an unknown one: and indeed to abandon this last known link of causation as inadequate to sustain the growing weight of facts was an operation not to be lightly undertaken. And yet I felt grave doubts whether it would really suffice to explain the facts; whether indeed it went any distance toward their explanation.
So I set to work to try and obtain, by the regular process of communication which suits this particular medium, facts which were not only out of my knowledge but which never could have been in it.
In giving an account of these experiments, fully reported at the time though now some twenty years old, I must enter on a few trivial details concerning my own relations. The occasion is the excuse.
It happened that an uncle of mine in London, then quite an old man, the eldest of a surviving three out of a very large family, of which my own father was one of the youngest, had a twin brother who died some twenty or more years ago. I interested him generally in the subject, and wrote to ask if he would lend me some relic of this brother. By morning post on a certain day I received a curious old gold watch, which the deceased brother had worn and been fond of; and that same morning - no one in the house having seen it or knowing anything about it - I handed it to Mrs. Piper when in a state of trance.
I was told almost immediately that it had belonged to one of my uncles - one that had been mentioned before as having died from the effects of a fall-one that had been very fond of Uncle Robert, the name of the survivor - that the watch was now in possession of this same Uncle Robert, with whom its late owner was anxious to communicate. After some difficulty and many wrong attempts Dr. Phinuit caught the name, Jerry, short for Jeremiah, and said emphatically, as if impersonating him, "This is my watch, and Robert is my brother, and I am here. Uncle Jerry, my watch, "All this at the first sitting on the very morning the watch had arrived by post, no one but myself and a shorthand clerk who happened to have been introduced for the first time at this sitting by me, and whose antecedents are well known to me, being present.
Having thus ostensibly got into communication through some means or other with what purported to be Uncle Jerry, whom I had indeed known slightly in his later years of blindness, but of whose early life I knew nothing, I pointed out to him that to make Uncle Robert aware of his presence it would be well to recall trivial details of their boyhood, all of which I would faithfully report.
He quite caught the idea, and proceeded during several successive sittings ostensibly to instruct Dr Phinuit to mention a number of little things such as would enable his brother to recognise him.
References to his blindness, illness, and main facts of his life were comparatively useless from my point of view; but these details of boyhood, two-thirds of a century ago, were utterly and entirely out of my ken. My father himself had only known these brothers as men.
"Uncle Jerry" recalled episodes such as swimming the creek when they were boys together, and running some risk of getting drowned; killing a cat in Smith's field; the possession of a small rifle, and of a long peculiar skin, like a snake-skin, which he thought was now in the possession of Uncle Robert.
All these facts have been more or less completely verified. But the interesting thing is that his twin brother, from whom I got the watch, and with whom I was thus in correspondence, could not remember them all. He recollected something about swimming the creek, though he himself had merely looked on. He had a distinct recollection of having had the snakeskin, and of the box in which it was kept, though he did not know where it was then. But he altogether denied killing the cat, and could not recall Smith's field.
His memory, however, was decidedly failing him, and he was good enough to write to another brother, Frank, living in Cornwall, an old sea captain, and ask if he had any better remembrance of certain facts - of course not giving any inexplicable reasons for asking, The result is this inquiry was triumphantly to vindicate the existence of Smith's field as a place near their home, where they used to play, in Barking, Essex; and the killing of a cat by another brother was also recollected; while of the swimming of the creek, near a mill-race, full details were given, Frank and Jerry being the heroes of that foolhardy episode.
I may say here that Dr. Phinuit has a keen "scent" - shallI call it? - for trinkets or personal valuables of all kinds. He recognised a ring which my wife wears as having been given "to me for her" by a specified aunt just before her death; of which he at another time indicated the cause fairly well. He called for a locket which my wife sometimes wears, but bad not then on, which had belonged to her father 40 years ago. He recognised my father's watch, asked for the chain belonging to it, and was still unsatisfied for want of some appendage which I could not think of at the time, but which my wife later on reminded me of , and Phinuit at another sitting seized, - a seal which had been usually worn with it, and which had belonged to my grandfather.
He pulled my sister's watch out of her pocket and said it had been her mother's, but disconnected the chain and said that didn't belong, which was quite right. Even little pocket things, such as fruit-knives and corkscrews, he also assigned to their late owners; and once he quite unexpectedly gripped the arm of the chair Mrs. Piper was sitting in, which had never been mentioned to him in any way, and said that it had belonged to my Aunt Anne. It was quite true: it was an old-fashioned ordinary type of armchair which she valued and had had re-upholstered for us as a wedding present 12 years ago. Phinuit, by the way, did not seem to realise that it was a chair: he asked what it was, and said he took it for part of an organ.
But perhaps the best instance of a recognised object was one entrusted to me by the Rev. John Watson, at that time quite a recent friend of mine, with whom I had been staying recently in Italy, - a chain which had belonged to his father. It is the chain referred to in connexion with the episode of reading a letter related on page 177 above.
The package was delivered by hand one evening at my house, and, by good luck, I happened to meet the messenger and receive it direct. Next morning I handed it to Dr. Phinuit, saying only, in response to his feeling some difficulty about it, that it did not belong to a relative. He said it belonged to an old man and had his son's influence on it. He also partially read a letter accompanying it-as described at page 178. Next sitting I tried the chain again, and he very soon reported the late owner as present, and recognising the chain but not recognising me. I explained that his son had entrusted me with it; on which Phinuit said the chain belonged now to John Watson, away for health, a preacher, and a lot of other details all known to me, and all correct. The old gentleman was then represented as willing to write his name. A name was written in the backward manner Phinuit sometimes affects. It was legible afterwards in a mirror as James Watson. Now, the name of his father I was completely ignorant of.
The father's name turned out to be not James but John - the same as that of the son: and although the facts stated concerning the son, my friend, were practically all correct, I learned three weeks later, when I got a reply from Egypt where he was travelling, that the statements about the father were all wrong. But Dr. Watson told me later that James was the name of his grandfather, and that the statements would have a truer ring if they had purported to come from the grandfather instead of from the father. And I understood that the chain - which was the ostensible link of connexion - had belonged to both. The episode cannot, however, be claimed as a success beyond the identification of John Watson and the incidents connected with him.
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
Discussion of Piper Sittings
UNLESS the evidence, of which the merest sample has now been given, be held to constitute a sufficiently strong proof that the performances of this particular "medium" are neither lucky shots nor explicable by cunning and imposture, it is premature to examine further into their significance. But as soon as these preliminary suppositions can be unreservedly dismissed, the best plan is to dismiss them thoroughly and waste no more time over them. The possibility of telepathy from the sitter remains.
The question largely turns upon proof of identity: proof of the genuineness of the identity claimed by the communicator. Now if you met a stranger in a railway carriage who professed to have returned from the Colonies where he had met your friends or relations, of whom he showed knowledge in some decided ways, it would not at first occur to you to doubt his veracity, even though he was a little hazy about the names of relatives, and occasionally mixed things tip; nor would you stigmatise him as a deceiver if lie occasionally made use of information supplied by yourself in course of conversation. But directly it was suggested that he might be a thought-reader, detailing to you the unconscious contents of your own mind, it would not be easy rigorously to disprove the suggestion, especially if subsequent access to the friends chiefly mentioned were denied you. This is, however, very nearly, the problem before us.
Only occasionally does the question forcibly arise most facts asserted are, of course, within the knowledge of the sitter, and none of those are of any use for the purpose of discrimination; but every now and then facts, often very trivial but not within the knowledge of the sitter, have been asserted. and have been more or less clearly verified afterwards; and in order to assist a special study of these data, with the view of examining how far they are really valuable, I made an index to them, which I published in the Proceedings, vol. vi. page. 647, as an Appendix to the Report of the early Piper sittings. To that index a student may refer.
Episodes Normally Selected for Identification
Concerning the means of identification naturally adopted by living people who are communicating with each other at a distance by telephone, under conditions in which they are debarred from communicating their names, or, what is the same thing, under conditions in which their names might be understood as being falsely given, Professor Hyslop made some interesting experiments which are thus reported in the journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. ix.): -
In an introduction lie explains the object and the method of these experiments, about which there was nothing supernormal at all. A telegraph line was arranged between two buildings of the Columbia University, and a couple of friends or acquaintances were taken independently to each end of the line, only one of them knowing who was at the other end; and this one (the communicator) was to send messages, at first vague but increasing in definiteness, while the other person was to guess until he could guess correctly and assuredly who it was that was at the other end of the line. The replies and guesses were likewise telegraphed by an assistant stationed with the receiver, for the guidance of the sender. Professor Hyslop's objects in carrying out an extensive series of this kind of experiment are thus stated by himself: -"I. To test the extent to which intelligent persons would spontaneously select trivial and unimportant incidents for the purpose of identification - that is, incidents that were not connected, or not necessarily connected, with the main habits of their lives."II. To test the accuracy of the identification in connection with both individual and collective incidents, and especially to test how slight or how definite the incident had to be in order to suggest rightly the person it was intended to represent."III. To test the success and personal assurance of the receiver of the messages in guessing who is the true sender, in spite of some messages that are misleading or even false, but the bulk of which involves sufficient cumulative facts to overcome the natural scepticism and confusion caused by incoherence's and contradictions."IV. To study the sources of misunderstanding that might arise under such circumstances when one party was ignorant of the intentions of the other, and the causes of illusion in identification, which we can determine in my experiments, and which are likely to occur in the Piper case."
And he proceeds:-
"In regard to the first of these objects, it is very interesting to observe the uniformity with which perfectly intelligent persons spontaneously chose what would generally be considered trivial incidents in order to identify themselves. This seemed naturally to recommend itself to them, perhaps for the reason that trivial circumstances represent far more isolation than any chosen from the main trend of life, though I noticed no consciousness of this fact in any one. It was simply the instinctive method which every one tended to adopt. The records show very distinctly that, if left to themselves, men will naturally select unimportant incidents for proof of their identity, and it is one of the most interesting features of this choice that the individual relied wholly upon the laws of association to recall what was wanted, after deciding on the nature of the incidents to be chosen. Very often there were interesting illustrations of those capricious revivals in memory of remote incidents which not only resemble so much the incidents in the Piper sittings in triviality, but also represent the caprices and incoherence's of associative recall, intelligible to the subject on reflection, but hardly so to the outside observer. At any rate, the results in this regard completely remove all objections to the Piper phenomena from the standpoint of the triviality of the incidents chosen for identification; and that is an accomplishment of some worth."
I may further add that though the incidents serving for identification sounded vague to bystanders or readers of the record, yet when they were explained from the point of view of both sender and receiver they were perceived to be distinct enough, and to justify the leap of identification taken upon them. And this fact is of interest in connection with the Piper record, where it has been often felt by readers or note-takers that sitters identify their relatives too easily and fancifully; for in Professor Hyslop's experiments the identification is often performed on still slighter grounds - often on what would superficially appear no legitimate ground at all-and yet it turns out, when both ends of the line are catechised (as they can not be catechised in the real Piper case), that these incidents are perceived to be of force adequate to support the conclusion based upon them. I have been constantly struck, while taking notes for a stranger at a Piper sitting, with the apparently meaningless incidents which were being referred to; and yet afterwards, when I saw the annotations, I realised their meaning and appropriateness.
Further, in answer to Professor Sidgwick's tentative objection that the sitters in the Hyslop experiments were only playing at identification, and therefore were naturally in a more or less frivolous mood, whereas on a spiritistic hypothesis the Piper communicators would be serious and emotional and not so likely to refer to trivial incidents: we may imagine the case of a wanderer not able to return to his home, but able to communicate with it for a few minutes by telephone. In however strenuous and earnest a spirit he might be, - indeed, both ends of the line might be, - yet when asked to prove his identity and overcome the dread of illusion and personation, he would instinctively try, to think of some trifling and absurd private incident; and this might very likely be accepted as sufficient, and might serve as a prelude to closer and more affectionate messages which, previous to identification, would be out of place. And I feel bound to say that my own experience of the Piper sittings leads me to assert that this kind of genuinely dignified and serious and appropriate message does ultimately in many cases come, - but not until the preliminary stages (stages beyond which some sitters seem unable to get) are fairly passed.
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
Summary of Dr. Hodgson's Views
OF all men at that time living, undoubtedly Dr. Hodgson had more experience of Mrs. Piper's phenomena than any other - for lie devoted years of his life to the subject and made it practically his sole occupation. He did this because, after preliminary study, lie recognised its great importance. He was by no means a credulous man-in fact he was distinctly sceptical, and many have been the spurious phenomena which be detected and exposed. In some respects he went, in my judgment, too far in his destructive career - he disbelieved in Mrs. Thompson, for instance, and he practically for the time annihilated Eusapia Palladino, the famous "physical" medium - but hyper-scepticism is more conducive to the development of the subject than hyper-credulity, and when such a man is, after adequate study, decidedly and finally convinced, his opinions deserve, and from those who knew him received, serious attention.
Not that we must be coerced into acceptance, any more than into rejection, of facts, by any critical judgment passed upon them by others; but undoubtedly his views are entitled to great weight. Accordingly I extract some of them from a paper which he published in the Proceedings, vol. xiii., in the year 1898; and I begin with his summary of the kind of statements made by the ostensible communicators as to the way the phenomenon appeared to them, on their side - statements which I judge were provisionally accepted by him as true.
The statements of the "communicators - as to what occurs on the physical side may be put in brief general terms as follows. We all have bodies composed of "luminiferous ether" enclosed in our flesh and blood bodies. The relation of Mrs. Piper's etherial body to the etherial world, in which the "communicators" claim to dwell, is such that a special store of peculiar energy is accumulated in connection with her organism, and this appears to them as "a light." Mrs. Piper's etherial body is removed by them, and her ordinary body appears as a shell filled with this "light." Several "communicators "may be in contact with this light at the same time. There are two chief "masses" of it in her case, one in connection with the head, the other in connection with the right arm and hand. Latterly, that in connection with the hand has been "brighter" than that in connection with the head. If the "communicator" gets into contact with the "light" and thinks his thoughts, they tend to be reproduced by movements in Mrs. Piper's organism. Very few can produce vocal effects, even when in contact with the "light" of the head, but practically all can produce writing movements when in contact with the "light" of the hand. Upon the amount and brightness of this "light," coeteris paribus, the communications depend. When Mrs. Piper is in ill health the "light" is feebler, and the communications tend to be less coherent. It also gets used up during a sitting, and when it gets dim there is a tendency to incoherence even in otherwise clear communicators. In all cases, coming into contact with this "light" tends to produce bewilderment, and if the contact is continued too long, or the "light" becomes very dim, the consciousness of the communicator tends to lapse completely.Then floods of excited emotion at the presence of incarnate friends, dominant ideas that disturbed him when he was incarnate himself, the desire to render advice and assistance to other living friends and relatives, etc., all crowd upon his mind; the sitter begins to ask questions about matters having no relation to what he is thinking about, he gets more and more bewildered more and more comatose, loses his "grasp" of the "light," and drifts away, perhaps to return several times and go through a similar experience. Sometimes, shortly before the hand starts writing, Phinuit gives notice that some one is "going to talk with you himself." Sometimes the hand is "seized" and passes through its convulsive vagaries while Phinuit gives no sign, but talks on with the sitter continuously, even after the writing has started. To give an extreme instance of this, at a sitting where a lady was engaged in a profoundly personal conversation with Phinuit concerning her relations, and where I [H.] was present to assist knowing the lady and her family very intimately, - the hand was seized very quietly, and as it were, surreptitiously, and wrote a very personal communication to myself, purporting to come from a deceased friend of mine, and having no relation whatsoever to the sitter; precisely as if a caller should enter a room where two strangers to him were conversing, but a friend of his also present, and whisper a special message into the ear of the friend without disturbing the conversation.It occurred to me (continues Dr. Hodgson) that possibly the left hand might also write, and that it might be possible to get both hands writing and Phinuit speaking, all at the same time on different subjects with different persons. On February 24th, 1894 the "Edmund Gurney" control wrote in the course of some remarks about certain "mediums": "In these cases there is no reason why various spiritual minds cannot express their thoughts at the same time through the same organism." I then referred to my proposed experiment with the two hands, and said that I would arrange to try it some time, with "Gurney" using one hand and "George Pelham" the other, but that I was not prepared to make the experiment at that time. At my next sitting, February 26th, 1894, when I was unprepared and was alone, an attempt, only very partially successful was made to write independently with both hands at the very beginning of the sitting. On March 18th, 1895, another attempt, much more successful, was made, when I was accompanied for the purpose by Miss Edmunds. Her "deceased sister" wrote with one hand, and G. P. with the other, while Phinuit was talking,all simultaneously on different subjects. Very little, however, was written with the left hand. The difficulty appeared to lie chiefly in the deficiencies of the left hand as a writing-machine.To a person unfamiliar with a series of these later sittings, it may seem a plausible hypothesis that perhaps one secondary personality might do the whole work, might use the voice and write contemporaneously with the hand, and pretend in turn to be the friends of the various sitters; might in short be a finished actor with telepathic powers, producing the impression not only that he is the character he plays, but that others are with him also, though invisible, playing their respective parts. I do not, however, think it at all likely that he would continue to think it plausible after witnessing and studying the numerous coherent groups of memories connected with different persons, the characteristic emotional tendencies distinguishing such different persons, the excessive complication of the acting required, and the absence of any apparent bond of union for the associated thoughts and feelings indicative of each individuality, save some persistent basis of that individuality itself.But here objectors arise."Why" they will say, "if discarnate persons are really communicating, do they not give us much more evidence? We ourselves, if put in the witness-box here and cross-examined, could do vastly better even than G. P., and why have so few others been able to show even an approximation to such clearness as he exhibited? Why all the incoherence and confusion and irrelevancy?In all cases I should expect at first a confusion in understanding me, as well as a confusion in manifesting go me. If the cessation from manifestation has been very complete and has lasted a very long time, I should expect a greater bewilderment, for a short time at least, when it began again to manifest. These deficiencies and bewilderments I should expect to be much more marked if such a consciousness, instead of trying to manifest itself once more through its own organism with which it had practised for years, were restricted for its manifestations to another organism. In such an event I should expect the manifestations to partake in the first instance of the same lack of inhibitory control, the same inability to appreciate my injunctions and questions, the same dreamy irrelevancy that characterises all the manifestations, in my physical world, of a consciousness that has temporarily ceased to manifest therein and begins once more to reveal itself in what I call the waking state, - varying in individual cases as I find they do in ordinary life, - whether it he after ordinary sleep, or prolonged coma, or anaesthetisation, etc - but with a tendency for the incoherency of the manifestations to be much more pronounced, inasmuch as the consciousness is trying to regain its wakefulness towards me by an unwonted way. Whether such a consciousness could ever regain its complete former fullness in my world through another organism seems highly improbable. What I should expect to find is that through another organism it could only Partially wake. Hence I must suppose that even the best of direct "communicators" through Mrs. Piper's trance is asleep. This is the first point, says Dr. Hodgson, which I wish to emphasise.Again, that persons just "deceased" should the extremely confused and unable to communicate directly, or even at all, seems perfectly natural after the shock and wrench of death. Thus in the case of my friend Hart, he was unable to write the second day after death. In another case a friend of mine, whom I may call R, wrote, with what appeared to be much difficulty, his name and the words, "I am all right now. Adieu," within two or three days of his death. In another case F., a near relative of Madame Elisa, was unable to write on the morning after his death. On the second day after, when a stranger was present with me for a sitting, he wrote two or three sentences, saying, "I am too weak to articulate clearly;" and not many days later he wrote fairly well and clearly, and dictated also to Madame Elisa, as amanuensis, an account of his feelings at finding himself in his new surroundings. Both D. and F. became very clear in a short time. D. communicated later on, frequently, both by writing and speech, chiefly the latter, and showed always an impressively marked and characteristic personality. Hart, on the other hand, did not become so clear till many months later. I learned long afterwards that his illness had been much longer and more fundamental than I had supposed. The continued confusion in his case seemed explicable if taken in relation with the circumstances of his prolonged illness, including fever, but there was no assignable relation between his confusion and the state of my own mind.Returning to the actual circumstances, I say that if the "spirits" of our "deceased" friends do communicate as alleged through the organisms of still incarnate persons, we are not justified in expecting them to manifest themselves with the same fullness of clear consciousness that they exhibited during life. We should on the contrary expect even the best communicators to fall short of this for the two main reasons: (i) loss of familiarity with the conditions of using a gross material organism at all we should expect them to be like fishes out of water or birds immersed in it; (2) inability to govern precisely and completely the particular gross material organism which they are compelled to use. They learned " when living to play on one very complicated speaking and writing machine, and suddenly find themselves set down to play on another of a different make."There are, indeed, three kinds of confusion that need to be distinguished by the investigator: (i) the confusion in the "spirit," whether he is communicating or, not, due primarily to his mental and bodily conditions when living; (2) the confusion in the "spirit" produced by the conditions into which he comes when in the act of communicating; (3) the confusion in the result due to the failure of complete control over the writing (or other) mechanism of the medium. (2) and (3) are increased very much by the failures of sitters to understand the process. Thus when a "Mrs. Mitchell" control was requested to repeat words which we had difficulty in deciphering, she wrote: -No, I can't, it is too much work and too weakening and I cannot repeat - you must help me and I will prove myself to you. I cannot collect my thoughts to repeat sentences to you. My darling husband, I am not away from you, but right by your side. Welcome me as you if I were with you in the flesh and blood body. [Sitter asks for test.] * * * I cannot tell myself just bow you hear me, and it bothers me a little . . . how do you hear me speak, dear, when we speak by thought only? Your thoughts do not reach me at all when I am speaking to you, but I hear a strange sound and have to half guess. . . .Of such confusions as I have indicated above I cannot find any satisfactory explanation in "telepathy from the living" (continues Dr. Hodgson), but they fall into a rational order when related to the personalities of the ''dead."The persistent failures of many communicators under varying conditions; the first failures of other communicators who soon develop into clearness in communicating, and whose first attempts apparently can be made much clearer by the assistance of persons professing to be experienced communicators; the special bewilderment, soon to disappear, of communicators shortly after death and apparently in consequence of it; the character of the specific mental automatisms manifest in the communications; the clearness of remembrance in little children recently deceased as contrasted with the forgetfulness of childish things shown by communicators who died when children many years before, - all present a definite relation to the personalities alleged to be communicating, and are exactly what we should expect if they are actually communicating, under the conditions of Mrs. Piper's trance manifestations. The results fit the claim.On the other hand these are not the results which we should expect on the hypothesis of telepathy from the living. If the hypothesis of telepathy from the living is acted upon in anything like the ordinary experimental way, the supernormal results will be lessened. If the investigator persistently refuses to regard the communications as coming from the sources claimed, he will not get the best results. If, on the other hand, he acts on the hypothesis that the communicators are, "spirits" acting under adverse conditions, and if he treats them as he would a living person in a similar state, he will find an improvement in the communications.And having tried the hypothesis of telepathy from the living for several years, and the "spirit" hypothesis also for several years, - says Dr. Hodgson, - I have no hesitation in affirming with the most absolute assurance that the "spirit" hypothesis is justified by its fruits, and the other hypothesis is not.
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
More Recent Piper Sittings. General Information
THE preceding account of my own sittings dates from 1889-90. I saw Mrs. Piper again on 9th Nov., 1906, at Liverpool, where she had just arrived from America, and was staying in the house of Mrs. Isaac Thompson of Liverpool, whose acquaintance she had made on her previous visit to this country. Another series of sittings then began, but at a rate of only two or three per week instead of two a day, and of the general character of these I now propose to give an account.
Since our first English experience with Mrs. Piper a great mass of material had been accumulated in America, under the management of Dr. Hodgson, and the manner of the sittings had somewhat changed. In the old days communication had always been made with the voice, and any writing done was only brief and occasional. Communications are now almost entirely in writing, and only under exceptional circumstances is the voice employed.
The manner of preparation was as follows. A quiet room was selected in which interruption need not be feared; a fire was provided for warmth, and the windows were open for ventilation. A comfortable chair was placed near a table, on which was, a pile of from four to six cushions or pillows, on which the medium sitting in the chair and leaning forward could securely rest the side of her head when sleep came on, - not burying her face in the cushions, but turning it to the left side so as to be able to breathe during the trance. If it ever happened that the pillows incommoded the breathing, they had to be adjusted and pressed down by the experimenter in charge, so that air obtained free access to the mouth and nose. On the right hand side of the pillows, either on the same or on a small subsidiary, table, the writing materials were arranged, namely, a large pad or block-book (10" x 8") of 100 blank sheet, all numbered ill order, and four or five pencils of soft lead, 2B or 3B, properly cut and ready.
It was the duty of the experimenter in charge to record all that the Sitter said. This could generally be done sideways on the same sheet without interfering with the medium's hand. He also had to arrange the pad so that the hand could conveniently write upon it; and to tear off the sheets as they were done with. No attempt was made to economise paper; the automatic writing was large and scrawling, and did not often begin at the top of the page. Sometimes a good deal of writing was obtained on a single page, sometimes only a few lines, and occasionally only a few words. The tearing off of the old sheet was quickly done; and the hand waited the moment necessary; though sometimes, when in the midst of an energetic message, it indicated momentary impatience at the interruption.
Mrs. Piper and her daughters often had breakfast with the family, though occasionally she breakfasted in her room. On ordinary days she went shopping or sight-seeing, or was otherwise ordinarily occupied; but on sitting days she went back after breakfast to her own room to be quiet. At the time fixed for the sitting, say 10 or 10.30 a.m., Mrs. Piper came into the arranged room and seated herself in the chair in front of the pillows; then the experimenter in charge sat down on a chair near the table, leaving a vacant chair between him and the medium, from the sitter; who at my sittings was sometimes present from the first, but at those held in London was introduced only after the trance had come on. Mrs. Piper sat with her hands on the pillows in front of her; about five minutes of desultory conversation followed, then heavy breathing began, and the head of the medium presently dropped on to her hands on the pillows and turned itself with its face to the left.
Then almost at once the right hand disengaged itself and fell on the table near the writing materials. After about 30 seconds of complete quiescence, this hand alone "woke up" as it were; it slowly rose, made the sign of the cross in the air, and indicated that it was ready to write.
The experimenter then gave the hand a pencil, placing it between fore and middle fingers; it was at once grasped, and writing began. First a cross was drawn, and then the word "Hail" was written, followed usually by "We return to earth this day with joy and peace"; or "We greet you friend of earth once again, we bring peace and love"; or some such semi-religious phrase, signed "R," which stands for "Rector," the ostensible amanuensis.
In the old days the control had styled itself "Phinuit"; now Phinuit never appears, and the control calls itself Rector.
In the old days the tone was not so dignified and serious as it is now: it could in fact then be described as rather humorous and slangy; but there was a serious under-current constantly present even then; the welcomes and farewells were quaint and kindly-even affectionate at times-and nothing was ever said of a character that could give offence. I judge that stupid familiarity or frivolity on the part of a sitter - for which, however, there was no excuse-would have been at once rebuked and checked.
In the old days the going into trance seemed rather a painful process, or at least a process involving muscular effort, there was some amount of contortion of the face, and sometimes a slight tearing of the hair; and the same actions accompanied the return of consciousness. Now the trance seems nothing more than an exceptionally heavy sleep, entered into without effort - a sleep with the superficial appearance of that induced by chloroform; and the return to consciousness, though slow and for a time accompanied by confusion, is easy and natural.
A sitting used to last only about an hour; and on the rare occasions when there is a voice sitting now, an hour is the limit; but a writing sitting seems less of a strain, and was often allowed to last as much as two hours, though not more.
In the old days, when sittings were more frequent, there were degrees of intensity about them. Occasionally, though rarely, trance declined to come on at all; and sometimes, even when it did, the loss of consciousness seemed less than complete. Under present conditions the trance is undoubtedly profound, and the suspension of normal consciousness unmistakably complete. Once, but only once in my 1907 experience, the trance refused to come on, and the attempt at a sitting had to be abandoned till next day.
Usually after purposely placing herself under the familiar conditions to which she is accustomed, Mrs. Piper is able to let herself go off without trouble or delay. Great care was taken of the body of the medium, both now and previously, by the operating intelligence. She was spoken of usually as "the light," sometimes as "the machine," though the word "machine" commonly signified only the pencil.
If anything went wrong with the breathing, or if there was insufficient air in the room, or if the cushions slipped so as to make the attitude uncomfortable, the hand wrote "something wrong with the machine," or "attend to the light," or something of that sort; and the experimenter amended the arrangements before the writing went on. The whole thing was as sensible and easy as possible, as soon as the circumstances and conditions were understood. Each experimenter, of course, handed down all the information and Hodgsonian tradition of this kind to the next, so that all the conditions to which Mrs. Piper was accustomed could be supplied beforehand, and so that no injury would happen to her bodily health.
The following illustrates the care taken of the physical conditions and the way they are spoken of it is an extract from a sitting held by Mr. Dorr at Boston in 1906
(Rector interrupting a "Hodgson" communication.) Friend, you will have to change the conditions a moment.[At the beginning of the sitting only one of the two windows in the room was open a very little way. A few moments previous to this time H. J. Jr. noticing that the room was a little close had opened the other window, and G. B. D. had nearly closed it again.]G. B. D. What is wrong with the conditions? Do you want more air or less?Well, there will have to be a change in the surroundings, there will have to be more strength, what is it, air, yes, air. And a good deal more just now. Hodgson takes a good deal of strength when he comes, but he is all right, he understands the methods of operation very well (The window was now opened wide). That is better. Now the light begins to get clear. All right, friend.
As the time drew near to the two-hour limit, which has been set as a period beyond which it is undesirable to persist, and sometimes at the end of about an hour and a half, or an hour and three quarters, from the commencement, the experimenter in charge gave a hint that the sitting must terminate soon; or else the controls indicate the same thing, and they then begin to clear up and take farewell. A sitting usually concludes as it began, with the writing of a serious sentence invoking the blessing of the Most High upon the sitter and the group.
The coming out of the trance was gradual, and semi-consciousness lasted for several minutes, during which muttered sentences were uttered, and the eyes, if open at all, only glared in sleep-walking fashion; until almost suddenly they took on a natural appearance, and Mrs. Piper became herself. Even then, however, for half an hour or so after the trance had disappeared, the medium continued slightly dazed and only partly herself. During this time her eldest daughter usually took charge of her. But the trance itself was so familiar to them all that the daughters were not the least anxious, and in another room went on with their letters or needlework unconcerned. After a sitting, one of them was usually called and took her mother for a stroll in the garden. Then everybody had lunch together and talked of ordinary topics, nothing being said about the sitting, and no ill result of any kind being experienced. It seemed a normal function in her case. The experimenter meanwhile had collected the papers and arranged them in order, and had removed the pencils and other appliances, subsequently it was his business to write out legibly all the material accumulated during the two hours of sitting, to annotate it sufficiently, and send it to a typewriter.
The actual record is of course preserved for exact reference whenever necessary. A record was also made of the remark., of Mrs. Piper during the period of awaking from trance. These were more or less mumbled and difficult to hear, but they were often a continuation of what had been obtained during trance, and generally contained useful passages; though part of them nearly always consisted of expressions of admiration for the state or experience she was leaving, and of repulsion-almost disgust-at the commonplace terrestrial surroundings in which she found herself. Even a bright day was described as dingy or dark, and the sitter was stared at in an unrecognising way, and described as a dull and ugly person, or sometimes as a Negro. Presently, however, the eyes became intelligent and she recognised some one - usually Lady Lodge first - and then with a smile welcomed her by name, and speedily came to.
Coming to ordinary social details: it is not an impertinence, but is justified by the special circumstances of the case, to state that the family is an admirable one, and that we regard them as genuine friends.
At the time of Mrs. Piper's first visit her daughters were children. Now they are grown up, and are very useful to their mother. Nothing in any way abnormal or unusual is to be noticed about them, and their mother expresses it as her sincerest wish that they will not develop her power. For though she must realise the value of her services to science, she cannot but feel that it to some extent isolates her and marks her out as peculiar among her neighbours in New England, and that the time spent in the trance state must have made a distinct inroad on her available lifetime. This however is to sortie extent the case with any occupation, and it is as the duty specially allotted to her that she has learnt to regard her long Service, now extending over a quarter of a century.
In speaking of messages received from a certain "control," it is not to be understood in general that that control is actually manipulating the organism; it may be always, and certainly is in general, merely dictating through an amanuensis as it were, - the actual writer or speaker being either "Rector" or "Phinuit," who again may or may not be a phase of Mrs. Piper's personality.
In the old days, undoubtedly, the appearance was sometimes as if the actual control was changed - after the fashion of a multiple personality; whereas now I think it is nearly always Rector that writes, recording the messages given to him as nearly as he can, and usually reporting in the first person, as Phinuit often did. I do not attempt to discriminate between what is given in this way and what is given directly, because it is practically impossible to do so with any certainty; since what appears to be direct control is liable to shade off into obvious reporting. That is to say, if a special agency gets control and writes for a few minutes, it does not seem able to sustain the position long, but soon abandons it to the more accomplished and experienced personality, Rector. In the recent series there appeared very little evidence of direct control other than Rector.
We shall speak however of the "Gurney control," the "Hodgson control," etc., without implying that these agents - even assuming their existence and activity are ever really in physical possession of the organism; and, even when they are controlling as directly as possible, they may perhaps always be operating telepathically on it rather than telergically - operating, that is to say, through sortie stratum if the mind, rather than directly on any part of the physical organism. It is rather soon as yet to make definite assertions regarding the actual method of control-there are too many unknown quantities about the whole phenomenon, at the same time Dr. Hodgson has thought it worth while to report the general aspect of the phenomenon as it is said to appear to the Communicators themselves; he does this on Page 400 Of Proc. xiii. (A portion is quoted above on page 190). And in the next few pages he goes on to indicate his own independent view of what is occurring, - giving a detailed description which my own smaller experience, as far as it goes, tends in a general way to confirm.
In the old days Mrs. Piper sat upright in her chair, with head somewhat bowed and eyes closed, and with both hands available for holding objects or a hand of the sitter. Now her head reclines throughout on a cushion, with her face turned away. The right hand alone is active, being engaged nearly all the time in writing, with intervals of what looks like listening. The dramatic activity of the hand is very remarkable it is full of intelligence and can be described as more like an intelligent person than a hand (cf. p. 2,5). It turns itself to the sitter when it wants to be spoken to by him; but for the most part, when not writing, it turns itself away from the sitter, as if receiving communications from outside, which it then proceeds to write down; going back to space - i.e. directing itself to a part of the room where nobody is - for further information and supplementary intelligence, as necessity arises (cf. P. 105).
When Mrs. Piper in trance wrote a name in the old days - as Phinuit did sometimes - the writing was usually mirror-writing; but sometimes she wrote a name on paper held to her forehead, so that the pencil was turned towards her face: in that case the writing was ordinary. If this should happen to have been so consistently, it is curious. But now that Rector writes, voluminously, the mirror-writing only crops up occasionally; and usually the only reversal consists in giving the letters of a name in inverted order, e.g. Knarf instead of Frank.
One other point deserves to be here mentioned:-
In the days of Phinuit considerable facility was shown in dealing with strangers. Persons introduced anonymously had their relations enumerated, and their family affairs referred to, in a remarkably quick and clever way: so much so that they sometimes thought that their special case must have been "got up" beforehand. The facility for dealing with strangers in this way is now much less marked. The introduction of a stranger now makes things slow and laborious, and is on the whole discouraged; for although the old characteristics continue to some extent, the tests now given are mainly of a different kind. The early procedure was useful at the beginning, and it continued useful for a good many years till a case for investigation was firmly established; but it must have seemed tedious to prolong that method further, so the group of controls associated with Rector assured Dr. Hodgson that they would take the trance in hand and develop it on better and higher lines.
As to how far the change is an improvement, there have been at times some differences of opinion; but in view of the remarkable tests recently given under what, though of several years' standing, may be called the new regime, - tests which have been and are being dissected out by Mr. Piddington, - there can be but little doubt about the reality of the improvement now.
Since this book first appeared Mrs. Piper's power appears to have vanished. Her controls have said a carefully considered farewell, and no trance will now come on. Whether the regime, - tests or inhibition is permanent or temporary I cannot say. At one time I thought it likely to be permanent, and it would not be surprising after her highly valuable thirty years of service.
- Section Four -
Automatism and Lucidity
WHILE coming out of trance Mrs. Piper usually speaks, or rather mutters, at intervals; and her words are taken down, or such of them as can be heard. It is worth while to quote one record of these ejaculations - which sometimes convey interesting residual information, - and I select the following as a fairly typical case of an unimportant and unevidential but characteristic coming to.
Notes intruded in square brackets are added merely in order to place the reader in the same sort of position, as regards understanding the significance of these subconscious utterances, as a recorder finds himself in after an experience of many sittings.
"I saw you before. It is fearful. (This means that she dislikes changing from her trance state and coming back to ordinary surroundings.)They are going away. It's awful. Too bad. Snap. (This refers to a sensation which she calls a snap in the head, which nearly always precedes a return to consciousness. Sometimes it heralds almost a sudden return; and she is always more conscious after a snap than she was before; but often it takes two snaps to bring her completely to. What the snap is I do lot know, but I expect it is something physiological. It is not audible to others, though Mrs. Piper half seems to expect it to be so.)What are all the people doing?(Probably some of the sitters were moving about and leaving the room, under the mistaken impression that the snap meant that interest was over.)I saw a man in the light, which looked like Mr. Thompson. Kept waving his hand. The man with the cross was helping him out.("The man with the cross" is intended to signify Imperator.)The sun was shining. (This only signifies that her recent surroundings have been bright and luminous.)Has an old lady with him. She is helping him read something. I could see his face perfectly.Noise. (Probably something going on outside.) They were talking to me. I came in on a cord, a silver cord. They were trying to tell me something about the children in the body. Lovely place.Buzzing in my head. Another snap.Miss Thompson. I thought you were small. Looking through opera glasses at wrong end. You grew larger. Did you hear my head snap? It breaks.I forgot where we were sitting.Why Mrs. Thompson, I didn't know you were there. My cold."[Mrs. Piper was troubled with a cold at this time. Her intelligence was now normal.]
In further illustration of the waking stage, showing how similar it was in 1906 to what it is now, and as a further description of the curious "snap" sensation, I subjoin an extract from the termination of a sitting, with Henry James junior and Mr. Dorr, in America in 1906.
I thought you were a stranger.Well, did you hear my head snap?H. J. Jr. No.Didn't hear it? It is a funny sound. Don't you hear it at all? Sounds like wheels clicking together and then snaps. There it is again.G. B. D. Now you are really back.-----------------------------------------------------------------