''ESTONIA'' (15) "Hindenburg" (2) “Yom Kippur” War (1) 2017 Westminster attack (1) 20th_Century (3) 7/7 London bombings (38) 911 (389) A.H.M. RAMSAY (2) Abu Ghraib (1) ADL (1) ADOLF_HITLER (22) ADVENTURE (1) Affirmative Action (1) Afghanistan (7) AFRICA (45) Agriculture (3) AIDS (23) Al Azhar University (1) Alain de Benoist (15) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (22) AMAZONIA (3) America (4) American Islamization (15) American Universities (1) American_Indian (1) ANCIENT_CIVILISATIONS (2) Animal_Rights (6) ANTEDILUVIAN_CIVILISATION (15) Anthony Blunt (1) Anthony Ludovici (3) Anti-Semitism (1) Antifa (1) AR. LEESE (4) ARCHAEOLOGY (3) Argentina (1) Armenia (4) Armenian Genocide (1) Art (15) Arthur Koestler (1) Astronomy (30) AUSTRALIA (1) AUSTRIA (1) Ayaan Hirsi Ali (3) BALI (1) Balkans (4) Bangladesh (1) banned_weapons (1) BELGIUM (2) Benjamin Freedman (1) BENJAMIN SOLARI PARRAVICINI (11) Beslan (1) Bill Clinton (1) Biological Warfare (2) BLOOD PASSOVER (12) BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION (14) Book purge (1) Brainwashing (1) Brigitte Gabriel (1) British politics (1) Buddhism (5) California (1) Cambodia (8) CANADA (7) CANCER (40) Carolina bays (1) Celebrities-Show Business (3) Cell Phone towers (6) Censorship in Europe (6) CENTRAL_ASIA (1) Central/South America (1) Ch. Bollyn (30) Charles Tart (8) Charlie Hebdo (1) Che Guevara (2) CHEMTRAILS (13) CHINA (6) Christian Zionism (1) CHRISTIANISM (45) Churchill (6) Circumcision (10) CLIMATE (6) Climate Change (1) cluster bombs/mines (2) COLD_FUSION (1) COLONIALISM (1) Colonization of Europe (19) Commerce (1) Communism (48) CONGO (5) Consciousness (9) Conspiracies (8) Consumerism (1) contemporary society (8) COPTS (1) Cosmogony (1) Crime (5) Criminal_Sciense (1) crop circles (5) CUBA (16) DARFUR (3) Dead Sea Scrolls (1) Death penalty in ISLAM (1) Death-Bed Visions (1) DECADANT_ART (1) Deir Yassin (8) DENMARK (2) Depleted uranium (6) DIAMOND CARTELS (1) DIANA (10) DIETRICH ECKART (1) DILUVIUM (5) Disney (2) DOGS (1) Donald TRUMP (3) Dönmeh (1) Doppelgangers (1) Dresden (6) DRUG ADDICTION (1) E.U. (11) Eastern Europe (1) ECHELON (1) ECONOMY (14) EDUCATION (4) Egypt (7) Eisenhower (2) El Inglés (2) Elite_Child_Sex_Rings (16) Elizabeth Taylor (1) ENERGY (8) Enoch Powell (1) environmentalism (3) Ernst Zundel (1) European Parliament (1) EUROPEAN UNION (10) EUROPEAN_IDENTITY (3) Eustace Mullins (10) Evidence for the Afterlife (1) EVOLUTION (5) EXPLORATIONS (1) Ezra Pound (1) FALSE_HISTORY (1) Fascism (3) Female Genital Mutilation (2) FEMINISM (11) FINLAND (1) Fjordman (6) Flight 007 (1) Fluoride (1) Food (8) FRANCE (23) Francis P. Yockey (3) Frankfurt School (1) Franklin D. Roosevelt (5) freedom of speech (1) Fukushima (2) Gaza (1) Geert Wilders (9) genetically modified organisms (GMO) (8) Georges Bensoussan (2) German National Socialism (13) GERMANY (35) Gilad Atzmon (11) Globalism (4) Great Britain (46) Great Pyramid (16) GREECE (2) Guatemala (1) Gulag (3) Gulf War (1) Gulf War Syndrome (1) Guylaine Lanctot (2) HAARP (10) Harry Potter (1) HEALTH (114) HEMP (1) Henry Makow (2) Hidden History (15) HIDDEN HYPNOSIS TECHNIQUES (1) Hiroshima (3) Historical Review (63) History_of_IDEAS (1) HMS Hampshire (3) Hollow Earth (22) Hollywood (9) Holocaust (137) HOLODOMOR_1932-33 (17) Homosexuality (2) Horst Mahler (4) Howard Hughes (1) HUMAN_RIGHTS (1) Humorous (2) HUNGARY (2) HYPERBOREA (7) IAN STEVENSON (13) Immigration (15) IMPORTANT (5) INDIA (24) IndoEuropean (9) Indonesia (2) Infrasound Weapons (1) Intellectual_freedom (1) Intelligence (15) International Criminal Tribunal (3) INTERNET (2) INTERRACIAL_RELATIONS (1) INTIMIDATION (2) INVENTIONS (3) IRAN (9) IRAQ (21) IRAQ_war (10) IRELAND (1) ISLAM (303) Islam in Europe/America (75) ISLAM in RUSSIA (1) ISLAM propagandists (4) ISLAMIST INTIMIDATION (20) ISLAMIST_VIOLENCE (13) ISLAMIZATION OF EUROPE (43) Islamophobia (4) ISRAEL (124) ISRAEL-ARAB RELATIONS (8) ISRAEL's_ATOMIC_BOMB (4) ISRAEL/EU RELATIONS (1) ITALY (5) J.Kaminski (4) Japan (2) JEWS (97) JEWS/ISRAEL-USA_relations (47) JFK Assassination (27) JFK/RFK (1) Jihad (2) Jo Cox (6) Joe Sobran (4) John Bryant (17) John Lear (3) Journalists (2) Julius Evola (38) Jyllands-Posten newspaper (1) Kafirs (1) Karl Marx (1) Katie King (1) Katyn (11) Kevin MacDonald (28) KHAZARs (1) Knut Hamsun (1) Kurdistan (1) KURDS (1) Lasha Darkmoon (4) Laurel Canyon (4) Layla Anwar (4) LEBANON (3) LEFT (16) Lord Kitchener (4) Lord Northcliff (1) Lost Civilisations (2) Lost Technology (1) LYDDA (1) MADELEINE McCANN (4) Magic (1) Magnesium (7) Mahathir (1) Mahatma Gandhi (4) Malaysia (2) Manipulation (67) MAPS (1) Mark Weber (10) Mass immigration_Multiculturalism (18) Mass_Media (2) Mass-Psychology (3) Massacres (1) METEMPSYCHOSIS (16) MEXICO (1) MH370 (2) MIDDLE EAST (44) Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (8) MIND CONTROL (23) MONEY-Banking (8) Monsanto (9) Mormonism (1) Mortacracy (6) MUSIC MAFIA (2) Muslim Brotherhood (5) Muslim Persecution of Christians (1) MUSLIMS IN EUROPE (59) Mussolini (2) Mysterious (69) Mysterious_SKY (1) Nathuram Godse (3) Native Americans (1) Neapolis (1) NESSIE (17) Netherlands (10) New World Order (4) NEW_ZEALAND (1) NGOs (2) Nicolai Sennels (1) no-go zones (1) NOAM CHOMSKY (4) Nonie Darwish (10) North Africa (3) NORWAY (1) Norway massacre (5) NUCLEAR (11) Nutrition (20) Obama (2) Occult Symbols (21) Oklahoma City bombing (7) OLYMPIC_GAMES (13) OPINION (9) Orel_Yiftachel (5) P. Buchanan (23) PACIFISM (1) PAEDOPHILIA (15) Paganism (2) PALESTINE 1944-1948 (1) Palestinians (17) PARIS (1) Patrice Lumumba (1) PATRICIA HEARST (2) Patton (2) Paul Craig Roberts (1) Paul Weston (9) PEARL HARBOR (1) Persecuted Christians (7) PERSONALITIES (1) Photographic_Archive (1) Photography (2) Physics (9) POLAND (5) POLAR REGIONS (30) Poliomyelitis (8) Political Thought (50) Pollution (3) Polynesia (25) Pope Benedict (1) PORTUGAL (5) PREHISTORY (28) propaganda (3) Prophecies (12) Psychedelics (64) PSYCHIATRY (10) Psychical Research (122) Psychology (5) QATAR (1) QUEBEC (1) Queen Victoria (1) R.R.Rife (10) Race (119) Racism (2) RED_Alert (4) Religion (23) René Guénon (1) Revilo Oliver (11) Richard Dawkins (1) Rockefellers (1) Roger Garaudy (6) Roman Catholic Church (8) Ron Paul (7) Rudolph Hess (1) Ruling_by_CORRUPTION (14) RUSSIA (8) RUSSIAN REVOLUTION (1) RWANDA (31) S. H. Pearson (1) Sabra-Shatila massacre (10) Sandy Hook (1) Sanskrit (1) SAUDI ARABIA (5) Savitri Devi (27) Scandinavia (1) SCIENCE (42) Secret Military Technology (14) Secret weapons (10) Sedition Trial (1) SERBIA (1) sexual freedom (1) Skepticism (1) Slave trade (1) SOUTH AFRICA (2) Space/Apollo_Hoax (54) SPAIN (2) Spengler (6) Spirituality (1) Srebrenica (1) State_criminality (8) Steganography (16) Steven Yates (7) STRANGE SOUNDS (4) Subterranean_world (10) SUDAN (2) Surveillance (1) SWASTIKA (33) SWEDEN (8) Switzerland (1) SYRIA (8) Taj Mahal (13) Ted Kaczynski (1) Terrorism (24) TESLA (6) The 1001 Club (1) The Celts (1) The Frankfurt School (1) The Great Flood (8) The Nuremberg Trials (2) The plutonium injections (4) Theo van Gogh (1) Thought of the Right (63) TITANIC (72) Tommy Robinson (1) Torture (1) Tradition (5) Transcendent Experience (6) Tunguska (1) Tunisia (2) TURKEY (7) TWA flight 800 (1) U.S.A. (142) U.S.A. ARMY CRIMINALITY (18) U.S.A. Foreign policy (11) U.S.A. Military (2) U.S.A._HISTORY (2) U.S.A._POLITICS (3) U.S.A._SOCIETY (3) U.S.A.-CIA (12) U.S.A.-Power Structure (4) U.S.S. Liberty (7) UFOs (166) Ukraine (15) United Church of Christ (1) United Nations (3) UNKNOWN_EARTH (2) USA (3) USA_Press (2) USA/USSR_relations (2) USS San Francisco (1) USSR (51) Vaccination (1) VATICAN (11) Vatican II (2) VELIKOVSKY (2) Vernon Coleman (14) Voynich_manuscript (15) WAFA SULTAN (1) War Crimes (30) water (2) Wayne MADSEN (2) WEST (9) WEST/ISLAM Relations (16) WESTERN_ELITES (1) White phosphorous (1) WILD_LIFE (1) Wilhelm Reich (4) William Gough (10) wind farms (1) Wm F. Koch (8) Women in Islam (4) World Wildlife Fund (8) WORLD_ORDER (57) WWI (6) WWII (89) WWII Aftermath (34) Younger Dryas Ice Age (4) Yugoslavia (7) ZIONISM (10)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ian Stevenson : Thoughts on the Decline of Major Paranormal Phenomena

Thoughts on the Decline of Major Paranormal Phenomena[1]
(Presidential Address to the Society for Psychical Research, 1989)

- Ian Stevenson -
Abstract: Major paranormal phenomena, defined as phenomena detectable by the senses alone without a need for statistics, have diminished in the contemporary publications of the Society compared with the publications of its first several decades. The lack of reports of such major phenomena may reflect diminished interest in them on the part of investigators, most of whom have turned their attention to laboratory experiments that elicit marginal results requiring statistical analysis. However, it seems likely that the major phenomena occur less frequently in the West today than they did formerly. Skepticism derived from philosophical materialism may inhibit normally the occurrence of major paranormal phenomena. It may also inhibit them through paranormal processes. The most promising sources of major paranormal phenomena today may be in industrially undeveloped countries, among a few specially gifted individuals, and in certain unusual experiences, such as those of persons who come close to death and recover.
[1] Presidential Address, April 1989. I thank T. N. E. Greville, Emily Williams Cook and Rhea White for helpful comments on an earlier draft on this Address.

          THE DAUNTING prospect of trying to deliver a Presidential Address in any way worthy of being placed on the same shelf as previous Addresses impelled me to read, in recent months, many of the Addresses that I had not previously studied. In doing this I paid particular attention to the speakers' appraisals of the Society's accomplishments. Although I made no attempt to rank the speakers on a scale of optimism versus pessimism in their judgments of the Society's work, I noted that several emphatically expressed optimism about the outcome of our labors. I am not referring to confidence in the worthiness of the enterprise, but to assertions of success in it. In the decades between 1910 and 1980 at least six Presidents asserted that telepathy had been proved or nearly so (Flammarion, 1923-24; McDougall, 1920; Prince, 1930-31; L. E. Rhine, 1982; Salter, 1946-49; and Smith, 1910).[2]

[2] This list may not be exhaustive of all those who confidently claimed the proof, or near-proof, of extrasensory perception. I have not read all the Presidential Addresses.

One might ask why, if telepathy had been proved by 1910, later Presidents thought it necessary to reiterate the claim so often in subsequent years. I can think of two reasons why they might have felt a need for such renewed affirmation. First, each generation of investigators, perhaps each decade of them, has believed its methods superior to those of its predecessors. This has entailed the temptation to hint at, or even to say openly, something like: "Our forerunners thought they had solid evidence of paranormal phenomena, but their methods were crude compared with ours. We have finally proven the reality of these phenomena." Second, they knew that what they and the audiences listening to their Addresses — largely the members and friends of the Society — regarded as proof did not seem that to the majority of scientists. The rest of the world had not heard, or had not listened if it did hear. They needed to be told again. Unfortunately, the need still exists.

Our inability to persuade larger numbers of educated persons, especially scientists, to take seriously our endeavors and accomplishments seems more than a disappointment; it may now be a fatal weakness. Until the present generation new recruits in psychical research always seemed available to fill the places of investigators who died; and for a time it looked as if the study of paranormal phenomena was taking root in universities. However, we must admit that today psychical research has almost gone from the universities, at least on the continent of Europe and in North America. Even in the United Kingdom, psychical research is almost extinct in universities south of the Tweed. We are not gaining the interest of well-qualified younger investigators with new ideas in sufficient numbers to succeed those of us whose ideas need to be replaced by other insights and better methods.

The decline during recent decades in the acceptance of our achievements — even of the legitimacy of our endeavors — on the part of other scientists must have several causes. I have written elsewhere about what I believe to be one of the less important of these causes, namely the misguided effort to identify a separate discipline of science called parapsychology (Stevenson, 1988). However, that is not my theme in this Address. Instead, I wish to suggest other causes of the decline effect in psychical research. I think by far the most important of these causes is our inability to observe and report major paranormal phenomena. Here I emphasize the word major, by which I mean phenomena so gross that we require no statistics for their demonstration. In specifying further what I am thinking about, I shall say little about physical phenomena and consider mainly spontaneous (mental) cases, mental mediumship, and the feats of unusually gifted sensitives or clairvoyants. The volumes of the early and middle years of our Society's publications contain numerous reports of carefully investigated major phenomena subsumed under these categories, and I wish to address the question of why we publish little or nothing of this sort today.

Some of my listeners and readers may ask whether a return of such major phenomena would improve the fortunes of psychical research. After all, if these phenomena failed to carry conviction outside a fairly narrow circle[3] before, why should they do so today? The point is a good one, and to it I can only reply that the minor phenomena requiring statistics for their demonstration are certainly not exciting interest among modern scientists, and perhaps the major phenomena would. A survey by McClenon (1984) of "elite scientists" offers some support for this view. He found that 29 percent of the respondents said that they believed in extrasensory perception. However, as the basis for their belief, twice as many of the believers cited personal experience as cited reports in scientific journals. Moreover, among 351 scientists responding to McClenon's questionnaire only nine cited a journal in our field as a source of information on the subject. We are not justified in believing from the information available that the elite scientists surveyed by McClenon experienced what I think of as major phenomena, although some of them may have done so. We may, however, believe that they would be more impressed by such major phenomena, if we could report them, than they now are by the marginal results of most laboratory experiments that require statistics for their demonstration.

[3] The circle of persons interested in psychical research and praising the work of the Society (even though not active in it) may have been larger between 1880 and 1920 than this phrase implies. I think the willingness of so many eminent men to stand in the glaring publicity of the Presidency reflects a broader acceptance of the Society's work by intellectual leaders than we can find among their successors today.

Next we come to the distinction between the reporting of phenomena and the occurrence of them. The paucity of reports of such major phenomena may reflect nothing more than lack of interest or lack of resources for investigations on the part of psychical researchers. Or there may have been a real decline in the occurrence of the phenomena. Or both these factors may be present.

We could argue that the preponderant attention given in our journals to experimental studies compared with reports of the major phenomena reflects a lack of interest in the latter on the part of investigators. A decline of interest in the major phenomena appears to have set in during the 1930s, when they were still more plentiful than they appear to be today. It is worth asking why this occurred.

Several causes may have contributed to investigators having less interest in the major phenomena than they earlier had. Changing economic conditions may have drawn them away from spontaneous cases, the study of which was more costly than experiments were, at least in the early days of the fashion for experiments.

Perhaps researchers became afraid of the phenomena. Eisenbud (1983), Tart (1984) and White (1985) have suggested that psychical researchers are afraid to acknowledge (and hence afraid to observe) the vast paranormal powers of which they assume at least some persons are capable. Who would want to believe that by thinking alone he could move mountains, kill a neighbor, or sink the Titanic? This argument seems based on assumptions instead of evidence. Moreover, it must include a discrediting judgment of ourselves compared with our predecessors, because certainly nineteenth-century investigators and some of those in the early years of this century did not hesitate to encounter tables and persons that levitated as well as the appearance or the reality of full-form materializations of the dead.

It seems to me that the psychical researchers of the last two generations have been less afraid of the major phenomena than they have been of the disapproval of colleagues in other branches of science. This led many of them to imitate psychologists, who, in their laboratories, were trying to imitate physicists and chemists in theirs. The unbalanced emphasis on laboratory experiments that has now prevailed among two generations of psychical researchers needs correction, as I have argued elsewhere (Stevenson, 1987). We are bound to have fewer reports of major paranormal phenomena if we have fewer investigators interested in studying and reporting them. Moreover, the paucity of scientists known to take an interest in these phenomena means that persons having paranormal experiences have little information about qualified professional persons to whom they might describe whatever experiences they have. Also, persons who have or think they may have special sensitivities or mediumistic abilities have almost no one qualified in psychical research to whom they can turn for encouragement and guidance.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that we can attribute the decline in the reporting of major phenomena entirely to lack of interest on the part of investigators, whatever factors may have contributed to that lack. Also, some of the decline in the interest of investigators may now result from a falling off in the amount and quality of the phenomena available for study. For judging the truth of this conjecture we have little reliable data. I can assure you that claims of the major phenomena that warrant investigation have not ceased altogether, because our unit at the University of Virginia continues to be notified of them from time to time. However, our informants are not a random sample, both because they have the initiative to telephone or write to us and because they know of our existence in the first place. Surveys conducted during recent decades (Haraldsson, 1985,1988-89; Kalish and Reynolds, 1973; Palmer, 1979) tell us that the proportion of the general population who believe that they have experienced some paranormal phenomenon has not declined from that found in earlier surveys (Sidgwick, H. and Committee, 1894; West, 1948). Unfortunately, the modern surveys have elicited reports of beliefs about paranormal experiences, not evidence that the reported experiences are paranormal. Haraldsson (1988-89) is the only modern surveyor of psychical experiences who has also investigated some of the claims his respondents have made. In Iceland, at least, veridical and death-coinciding apparitions seem to be reported with a frequency not appreciably less than that observed in nineteenth-century England (Sidgwick, H. and Committee, 1894). However, I believe that Iceland may not be typical of Western countries, and I think — admittedly on insufficient evidence — that a real decline in major paranormal phenomena has occurred in the West during this century. In the remainder of this Address, I propose to accept this assumption and consider some of the possible reasons for this decline.

Physical theories about the nature of extrasensory perception have been proposed since the late nineteenth century (Barrett, Gurney and Myers, 1882); they achieved some prominence from Berger's (1940) conjectures and in recent years have become fashionable. They have gained many adherents without winning universal acceptance among persons whose opinions we should respect. If we were to decide that some physical feature, such as extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves (Persinger, 1987), correlated reliably with manifestations of extrasensory perception, we might decide that the increase during recent decades of "electronic smog" (Fox, 1988) (at least in regions having much electronic equipment) has been an important cause of the decline in major paranormal phenomena. This would lead us to expect that manifestations of extrasensory perception would vary from region to region with differences in the amount of electronic smog. Unfortunately, with our present meager resources we cannot undertake a project of the magnitude required for adequately testing this hypothesis.

I recognize in myself a bias against physical theories of extrasensory perception, because I believe that we can understand it better by a dualist concept of brain and mind that permits minds, under certain circumstances, to communicate directly with each other (outside known physical means of communication). Accordingly, my search for causes in the decline of the major paranormal phenomena has concentrated on possible psychological explanations. I have tried to think of features in which life in the West now differs from what it was one hundred years ago and from what it is in other parts of the world today. I shall consider the changes that seem to me important under the two headings of normal processes and paranormal ones.

The normal processes I further divide into changes in our conditions and manner of living and changes in our attitudes. To take the former first, I think that we have learned from the study of spontaneous cases the importance for their occurrence of both love and death. The participants are nearly always persons having bonds of affection, and the event communicated is most often some peril endangering the agent. We can say that the percipient has a need to know what is happening to the agent and the agent a need to let the percipient know (Murphy, 1943).

When normal communication is infeasible, the need for paranormal communication increases. The authors of Phantasms of the Living (Gurney, Myers and Podmore, 1886) may not have realized that violent death occurred frequently among the events communicated in the cases reported in their great work. At least they did not draw attention to the fact. Nevertheless, among 314 Phantasms cases involving death, it had occurred violently in 28 percent. Furthermore, among the approximately two-thirds of the cases in which death had occurred naturally we found that in one-third the death had occurred suddenly (Stevenson, 1982). (We defined a death as "sudden" if it occurred within 24 hours of the deceased person's being thought well or at least, if ill, in no danger of dying.) A violent death in the nineteenth century was nearly always also a sudden one, and, if this be agreed, then almost 53 percent of the deaths involved in the Phantasms cases occurred suddenly. Furthermore, the persons concerned were often physically separated by long distances and normal communications were, .by modern standards, extremely crude. (The telegraph was not adequately developed until the second half of the nineteenth century, and die telephone not until its last quarter.) The slowness and sometimes the impossibility of a normal communication would, I believe, increase the need to have a paranormal one. In the hundred years since the founding of our Society normal long-distance communications have greatly improved. Advances in medical care and their better deployment have also resulted in delayed deaths from violence, so that although violent deaths still occur they are not so apt to be sudden as they once were. These changes, I suggest, have reduced the need for a person who dies violently, or is accidentally injured, to communicate paranormally with those who love him or her.

The need to communicate paranormally has therefore diminished. Can we say that the desire to communicate has declined also? I said above that percipients and agents in spontaneous cases are nearly always linked in a loving relationship. No one has found a way to measure love, but certain social indicators, such as the increased rate of divorce, of crime, and perhaps of child abuse, suggest to me that our society has become, on the whole, more selfish, that is, less loving than at least some societies of other times and places. If so, this may be another factor in the decline in paranormal communications.

A third normal feature of Western society that has changed markedly during the past one hundred years is the growth of philosophical materialism. Most scientists, for example, believe in materialism as unquestioningly as they believe in Copernican astronomy. A survey of the belief in life after death conducted in 1981 showed that in the United States 67 percent of the general population believe in life after death, whereas only 32 percent of leading physicians and only 16 percent of leading (nonmedical) scientists do (Gallup, 1982). Most of us are probably familiar with the prevalence of materialism among scientists. What is not sufficiently recognized is that, although about two-thirds of respondents among the general public believe in life after death, almost one-third do not. It is to that substantial minority that I wish to draw your attention. I am not familiar with any surveys of belief in life after death in the nineteenth century, and I think there were none. However, a question posed about the belief in life after death would have shocked nearly all respondents of that time. Gallon's study of the efficacy of prayer assumed that most persons attended church, prayed when they were in church, and believed — some perhaps only perfunctorily — in the power of their prayers to preserve the life of the British sovereign (Galton, 1883). I think we may assume also that everyone who engaged in prayers for the sovereign believed that the sovereign had a soul that would survive physical death; and they believed the same of themselves.

Some persons can segregate beliefs about different aspects of non-material existences and events. This would be particularly likely to be true of persons who have made a special study of psychical phenomena. We know that at least two (and probably more) former Presidents of our Society have believed in paranormal cognition but not in the survival of human personality after death (Dodds, 1934; Richet, 1922). However, I think that members of the general public do not usually make such a distinction. For most of them, a belief in life after death almost entails a belief in miracles, such as the phenomena described in the Bible, and also a belief in what we call paranormal cognition. Conversely, members of the general public who do not believe in life after death are also likely to be skeptical about all kinds of paranormal phenomena, the recognition of which would imply for them a soul that would survive bodily death. If these assumptions are justified, we can conclude that the belief in paranormal phenomena has declined during the past century. (I realize that this is contrary to what the surveys that I cited earlier suggest.) Beliefs influence expectations, and numerous experiments in psychology have shown that expectations influence perceptions (Allport and Kramer, 1946; Dixon, 1981). This must also be true of extrasensory perceptions. A disbeliever in apparitions is less likely to see one than is a believer. Some disbelievers may see apparitions despite their skepticism, but the overall effect of an increased skepticism would be to reduce the number of persons sensitive to apparitions and other paranormal experiences also. In addition, disbelief may cause dismissal of a paranormal experience that does occur through quick interpretation of it as "just a hallucination" or "only a coincidence". From the consequent reduction, both of the perception of paranormal experiences and of their recognition as being paranormal when they do occur, fewer of them would be reported.

Indications of interference with paranormal phenomena may be exceedingly difficult to detect. To illustrate this point, I shall mention an observation from our study of the features of persons who claimed to remember experiences when they were recovering from being near death. Greyson and I (1980) found that such persons were much more likely to say that they had had what I call the advanced phenomena of these experiences, such as meeting deceased persons or "beings of light", when their near-fatal crisis occurred at home or outdoors than when it occurred in a hospital or other public place. I want to emphasize that I completely overlooked the importance of this finding for several years, until I happened to have occasion to review our data and suddenly realized the possible significance of this correlation. I have long thought that the attempt of some experimenters to simulate in their laboratories a home-like atmosphere by putting in deeply upholstered chairs and some well-known prints of Picasso's paintings was downright silly. To reach this mock living room, the subjects of such experimenters would usually have had to traverse half a mile of hospital or other institutional corridors which would effectively tell them that they were far from home. The results of our comparison between the experiences of persons having near-fatal crises in their homes and in their hospitals confirmed me in my bias against the use of laboratories to study paranormal phenomena, except for a few restricted purposes.

I shall next consider the possibility that spreading materialism has had an inhibiting effect on paranormal phenomena through paranormal causes. Critics tell us that allegations of their having an adverse effect on the phenomena are mere evasions of the painful truth that they have imp roved vigilance and tightened controls, so that the alleged phenomena do not occur in the presence of the controls they recommend. This may be true in some instances, and I am far from saying that we can learn nothing from critics. However, we for our part have obtained abundant evidence of the effect of the participants' beliefs on the delicate balance for or against paranormal effects in experimental situations (White, 1976). An atmosphere of completely unqualified belief appears to facilitate and may indeed be essential for the occurrence of paranormal physical phenomena (Batcheldor, 1966; Owen and Sparrow, 1976), and I think this may be equally true of paranormal mental phenomena. If belief facilitates them, disbelief can block them, as Schmeidler's (1943a, 1943b) experiments showed many years ago.

A person adversely affecting an experiment in extrasensory perception does not need to be physically present with the percipient. Schmeidler (1961a, 1961b) showed that the scores of percipients at card-guessing tended to be high or low according to whether an agent was wishing the percipient to succeed or to fail. Some experiments even suggest that unfavorable influences may not reach the level of an overt wish that a percipient would fail; much more subtle negative qualities may come into play (West and Fisk, 1953). Several experiments, principally of the late nineteenth century, have demonstrated a capacity for certain subjects to be put to sleep by suggestion directed at them from a long distance (Adams, 1849-50; Janet, 1886a, 1886b; Richet, 1886; Vasiliev, 1976). There are even cases on record whose authenticity we have no reason to doubt of persons having died suddenly after they were wished to death at a distance, the victims being unaware of the fatal wishing aimed at them (David-Neel, 1961; Rose, 1956). These observations warrant us in thinking that disbelief can inhibit the occurrence of the phenomena whose authentic existence it denies.

I have made a diagnosis and, as a medical man should, I have also indicated what physicians call etiology, that is, causes. However, I am reminded now of Hilaire Belloc's slighting reference to physicians who
... answered, as they took their Fees,
There is no cure for this disease.
Therefore, I should propose some remedies. We cannot — I say with some regret — return to all conditions as they were in the West a century ago. However, our studies may benefit from a new cycle of belief in paranormal phenomena. Perhaps the current wave of gullibility toward alleged paranormal phenomena that we see among many members of the general public, and which most of us deplore, may, by the processes I have conjectured, once again facilitate the occurrence of the major paranormal phenomena.

Let me, however, suggest three other means of finding major paranormal phenomena today. First, we can go to the countries now called undeveloped. I mean most of Asia and Africa, where social conditions are in many respects similar to those of the West in the nineteenth century or perhaps the eighteenth century. In these regions normal communications still depend largely on conveyance by word of mouth. One's own feet and perhaps the bullock-cart are the main means of movement from one place to another in rural parts. Family ties remain close,[4] everyone believes in the reality of telepathy, and the dead are conceived as having survived and being still sometimes able to intervene in terrestrial affairs. Thus impaired normal communications exist along with both a still strong desire to communicate with other persons one loves and a widespread belief that paranormal communication is possible. In these regions the major paranormal phenomena are said still to occur abundantly.

[4] This is not just one more datum for dissertations by graduate students in anthropology. There are grounds for believing that the more rapid and more durable recovery from severe mental illnesses in undeveloped countries (compared with Western countries) may be due to the stronger family ties that exist in these countries (Waxier, 1974).

I have myself no personal experience with any form of paranormal phenomena in Asia and Africa other than that of the children who claim to remember previous lives, but I do have much experience of these cases. I have often asked myself why we find such children so much more easily in those parts of the world than elsewhere. An obvious first answer to this question is that the people of these regions nearly all believe in reincarnation, and this belief somehow facilitates and even promotes the children's narrations about previous lives. This is certainly true, but I think it is insufficient as an explanation of what we are trying to understand. There must be other factors contributing to the occurrence of these and other cases of apparent paranormal phenomena in Asia and Africa. I suggest that one cause is that the peoples of these regions still take as normal what we in the West have come to call paranormal. If I were advising a young scientist entering psychical research today, I would reverse Horace Greeley's[5] advice to young Americans of the mid-nineteenth century and say "Go East, young man."[6]

[5] This well-known phrase is correctly attributed to John B. L. Soule. Horace Greeley borrowed it and used it, but with due acknowledgment to Soule.

[6] During a rehearsal of this Address my colleagues quickly told me that the direction to go East was too narrow. They reminded me that the northwest area of North America is not East, while Africa and South America are South. All these are regions where we may still find major paranormal phenomena.

My second recommendation is a careful search for special subjects who have unusual paranormal capacities and are also willing to cooperate in scientific investigations. In the last few decades several persons with alleged or self-proclaimed gifts have appeared in our arena. Unfortunately, nearly all have tended either to become figures in the world of entertainment and mass media or to welcome and attract a circle (or crowd) of adulating and uncritical followers. The former outcome occurs most often in the West, the latter most often in Asia. With both of them conditions for quiet scientific inquiry become ruined. But we should not despair. Our predecessors had the good fortune to work with Eileen Garrett, Olga Kahl, Gladys Osborne Leonard, Stefan Ossowiecki, Eusapia Palladino, Leonora Piper, and a few others of their quality. Their like will surely be seen again; some may even be among us now, if we would just look for them. There will be no quick results in this endeavor. It may take years of sifting before an investigator finds an outstanding subject and perhaps some further years before investigations with the subject can warrant a publication. Still, the rewards from this effort in gains of knowledge might be immense.

My last suggestion might seem like a rebuke to present members of the Society, but I certainly do not intend it as such. I cannot, however, forbear from telling you that in some respects the domain of the Society for Psychical Research has broken up rather in the manner of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I. If we were to pursue this analogy we might say that regions formerly held under one sovereignty have asserted their independence and gone their own ways. The departure of hypnotism after it received at least a modicum of official recognition from medicine was not regretted in the Society; some members even welcomed it as a sign of progress, because the studies of some of our early members, such as Gurney, had signally contributed to the legitimation of hypnosis. So far so good. Consider, however, the following categories: unusual healings, lucid dreams, multiple personality, mystical or religious experiences, and experiences during near-fatal injuries and illnesses. Each of these topics had the attention of our pioneers, and reports of them appear in the early volumes of our Society or in related publications by early members of the Society. And yet today each of these five categories of research has a separate society devoted to the special study of a particular type of experience.[7] I cannot explain why this happened, but I deplore it. I do not think the secession, as I see it, of these territories that we first colonized is beneficial, either to the small newly-created states or to the mother country. Some of those who have founded these smaller societies seem misguided to me, and they may find themselves more isolated from other scientists than we are.

[7] Perhaps I should add to this list of secessions that of the skeptics, who have now formed their own group. The Society for Psychical Research has always had — from Frank Podmore on — one or more members who could be described as "skeptics in residence ". However, so far as I know, these members, although they often doubted individual instances, never adopted the stance that paranormal phenomena could not be possible; and none ever advocated stopping the search for more and better evidence of the phenomena.

However, our Society may have been as much at fault as those who have failed to find it an appropriate forum for their interests. The Society for Psychical Research may insidiously have come to identify the field of its endeavors as narrower than it once was or should now again become. Some may even say that the Society has begun to resemble a particular chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States, which gradually became so exclusive that it eventually denied membership to certain applicants on the grounds that they were drunkards. Some of the recently founded groups with more specialized interests than ours may have taken with them, so to speak, some of the major phenomena of which I lament the decline in our reports.

We must ask ourselves what should be the task of the Society in the remaining decade of this century and in all the decades of the next. It is certainly that of continuing to act as a third force between persons who are too credulous and those who are too skeptical. If we maintain the high standards for which we have been known and esteemed, we may once more attract first-rate scientists and scholars. So long as our Society exists, fanatical skeptics cannot say there are no paranormal phenomena to study. Also, so long as it exists, intelligent persons will have some resources against the claims of the self-deceived and the deceivers who abound around the edges of psychical research.

Our survival cannot, however, rest on an assumed position of magisterial authority. We may not be the best judges — we are almost certainly not — of the place from which the next advances in our field will come. Therefore, in maintaining our standards we must avoid any hardened dogmas that allow only familiar ideas to find expression. An open mind is not necessarily an empty one. Let us try to seek out again the major paranormal phenomena — wherever they may be. Careful investigations of these phenomena brought this Society its early fame; and such investigations can bring it a new fame as well.
Adams, N. Remarkable Mesmeric Phenomena. The Zoist 1849-50, 7, 79-80.
Allport, G. W. and Kramer, B. M. Some Roots of Prejudice. Journal of Psychology 1946, 22, 9-39.
Barrett, W. F., Gurney, E. and Myers, F. W. H. First Report on Thought-Reading. ProcSPR 1882, 1, 13-34.
Batcheldor, K. J. Report on a Case of Table Levitation and Associated Phenomena. JSPR 1966, 43, 339-356.

Berger, H. Psyche. Jena: Verlag von Gustav Fischer 1940.
David-Neel, A. Immortalité et Réincarnation. Paris: Librairie Pion 1961.
Dixon, N. F. Preconscious Processing. New York: John Wiley and Sons 1981.
Dodds, E. R. Why I Do Not Believe in Survival. ProcSPR 1934, 42, 147-172.
Eisenbud, J. Parapsychology and the Unconscious. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books 1983.
Flammarion, C. Presidential Address. ProcSPR 1923-24, 34, 1-27.
Fox, B. Electronic Smog Fouls the Ether. New Scientist 1988, 118, 34-38.
Gallup, G., Jr. (with W. Proctor) Adventures in Immortality. New York: McGraw-Hill Company 1982.
Galton, F. Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development. London: Macmillan and Company 1883.
Greyson, B. and Stevenson, I. The Phenomenology of Near-Death Experiences. Am. J. Psychiatry 1980, 137, 1193-1196.
Gurney, E., Myers, F. W. H. and Podmore, F. Phantasms of the Living. London: Trubner and Co. 2 vols. 1886.
Haraldsson, E. Representative National Surveys of Psychic Phenomena: Iceland, Great Britain, Sweden, USA and Gallup's International Survey. JSPR 1985, 53, 145-158.
Haraldsson, E. Survey of Claimed Encounters with the Dead. Omega 1988-89,  19(2), 103-113.
Janet, P. Note sur Quelques Phénomènes de Somnambulisme. Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger 1886(a), 21, 190-198.
Janet, P. Deuxième Note sur le Sommeil Provoqué à Distance et la Suggestion Mentale Pendant l'Etat Somnambulique. Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger 1886(b), 22, 212-223.
Kalish, R. A. and Reynolds, D. K. Phénoménologie al Reality and Post-Death Contact. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 1973, 12,209-221.
McClenon, J. Deviant Science. The Case of Parapsychology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press 1984.
McDougall, W. Presidential Address. Proc SPR 1920, 31,105-123.
Murphy, G. Psychical Phenomena and Human Needs. JASPR 1943, 37,163-191.
Owen, I. M. and Sparrow, M. Conjuring up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis. New York: Harper and Row 1976.
Palmer, J. A Community Mail Survey of Psychic Experiences. JASPR 1979, 73, 221-251.
Persinger, M. A. Spontaneous Telepathic Experiences from Phantasms of the Living and Low Global Geomagnetic Activity. JASPR 1987, 81, 23-36.
Prince, W. F. Presidential Address. ProcSPR 1930-31, 39, 273-304.
Rhine, L. E. Presidential Address: The Way it Looks. ProcSPR 1982, 56, 367-398.
Richet, C. Un Fait de Somnambulisme à Distance. Revue Philosophique de la France et de l'Etranger 1886, 21, 199-200.

Richet, C. Traité de Métapsychique. Paris: Librairie Félix Alcan 1922. (American edition. Thirty Years of Psychical Research. S. De Brath, trans. New York: The Macmillan Company 1923.)

Rose, R. Living Magic. New York: Rand McNally and Co. 1956.
Salter, W. H. Presidential Address. ProcSPR 1946-49, 48, 239-252.
Schmeidler, G. R. Predicting Good and Bad Scores in a Clairvoyance Experiment: A Preliminary Report. JASPR 1943(a), 37, 103-110.
Schmeidler, G. R. Predicting Good and Bad Scores in a Clairvoyance Experiment: A Final Report. JASPR 1943 (b), 37, 210-221.
Schmeidler, G. R. Evidence for Two Kinds of Telepathy. Int. J. Parapsychology 1961 (a), 3, 5-48.
Schmeidler, G. R. Are There Two Kinds of Telepathy? JASPR 1961(b), 55, 87-97.
Sidgwick, H. and Committee. Report on the Census of Hallucinations. ProcSPR 1894, 10, 25-422.
Smith, H. A. Presidential Address. ProcSPR 1910, 24, 330-350.
Stevenson, I. The Contribution of Apparitions to the Evidence for Survival. JASPR 1982, 76, 341-358.
Stevenson, I. Changing Fashions in the Study of Spontaneous Cases. JASPR 1987, 81, 1-10.
Stevenson, I. Was the Attempt to Identify Parapsychology as a Separate Field of Science Misguided? JASPR 1988, 82, 309-317.
Tart, C. T. Acknowledging and Dealing with the Fear of Psi. JASPR 1984, 78, 133-143.
Vasiliev, L. L. Experiments in Distant Influence. New York: E. P. Dutton and Co. 1976.
Waxier, N. E. Culture and Mental Illness. A Social Labeling Perspective. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 1974, 159, 379-395.
West, D. J. A Mass-Observation Questionnaire on Hallucinations. JSPR 1948, 34, 187-196.
West, D. J. and Fisk, G. W. A Dual ESP Experiment with Clock Cards. JSPR 1953, 37, 185-197.
White, R. A. The Influence of Persons Other than the Experimenter on the Subject's Scores in Psi Experiments. JASPR 1976, 70, 133-166.
White, R. A. The Spontaneous, the Imaginal, and Psi: Foundations for a Depth Psychology. Research in Parapsychology 1984.
R. A. White and J. Solfvin, Eds. Metuchen, N.J : The Scarecrow Press, Inc. 1985, 166-190.
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 57, Part 215, April 1990.

Scott Rogo : Apparitions and the Case for Survival

Psychical Research and the Survival Controversy (Part 3)
Apparitions and the Case for Survival
- D. Scott Rogo -
          SINCE THE first psychical investigators conducted a fair amount of field research, it wasn't odd that their first evidence for survival emerged from the day-to-day experiences of the British public. The SPR founders were interested in collecting and studying cases of spontaneous ('real life') psychic experiences, and by 1886 they were amassing a great number of cases of telepathy, apparitional experiences, and other psychic anecdotes. What so impressed these great thinkers was the number of crisis apparition reports included in their data. These were cases in which an apparition was seen at the same time that the person who projected it actually died. Thirty-two such cases were included in their collection, and the SPR leaders felt that an in-depth investigation of these reports might help resolve the survival issue[2]. The following report is typical of these early cases. The report was dated 20 May 1884:
[2] Gurney, Edmund, Myers, F. W. H. and Podmore, Frank, Phantasms of the Living. London: Trubner; 1886.
I sat one evening reading, when on looking up from my book, I distinctly saw a school-friend of mine, to whom I was very much attached, standing near the door I was about to exclaim at the strangeness of her visit when, to my horror, there were no signs of anyone in the room but my mother. I related what I had seen to her, knowing she could not have seen, as she was sitting with her back towards the door, nor did she hear anything unusual, and was greatly amused at my scare, suggesting I had read too much or been dreaming.

A day or so after this strange event, I had news to say my friend was no more. The strange part was that I did not even know she was ill, much less in danger so could not have felt anxious at the time on her account, but may have been thinking of her; that I cannot testify. Her illness was short, and death very unexpected. Her mother told me she spoke of me not long before she died ... She died the same evening and about the same time that I saw her vision, which was the end of October, 1874.
It soon fell to Edmund Gurney to investigate these cases personally. He painstakingly sought to determine whether the witness was prone to hallucinations, or whether she might be mistaken about the day on which she had her experience. His fieldwork findings were consistent with the witness's testimony.

Most of these early crisis apparition cases were less than dramatic. This peculiar banality impressed the SPR researchers, since it was out of keeping with the intense drama that typified fictional ghost stories. In fact, one early reviewer of the SPR's work suggested that these stories tended to put one to sleep rather than banishing it! For example, the following case was reported by a puzzled teacher:
About fourteen years ago, about 3 o'clock one summer's afternoon, I was passing in front of Trinity Church, Upper King Street, Leicester, when I saw on the opposite side of the street a very old playmate, whom, having left the town to learn some business, I had for some time lost sight of. I thought it odd he took no notice of me; and while following him with my eyes, deliberating whether I should accost him or not, I coned after him by name, and was somewhat surprised at not being able to follow him any further or to say into which house he had gone, for I felt persuaded he had gone into one! The next week I was informed of his somewhat sudden death at Burton-on-Trent, at about the time I felt certain he was passing in front of me. What struck me most at the time was that he should take no notice of me, and that he should go along so noiselessly and should disappear so suddenly, but that it was E.P. I had seen I never for one moment doubted. I have always looked upon this as a hallucination, but why it should have occurred at that particular time, and to me, I could never make out.
Follow-up interviews substantiated that the witness had never experienced a previous hallucination. The SPR also learned that the witness first told the story to his mother before hearing of the death. The witness's mother unfortunately died before the SPR conducted its inquiry, so this important testimony was lost to them. Nonetheless, the SPR researchers were able to unearth several cases where such testimony was still available to them. In some cases the apparition was even seen by more than just one person, as in the following example:
Some years since, when living at Woolstone Lodge, Woolstone, Berks, of which parish and church, etc., etc., my husband was clerk in Holy Orders, I left the fireside family party one evening after tea, to see if our German bonne could manage a little wild Cornish girl to prepare her school-room for the morning. As I reached the top of the stairs a lady passed me who had some time left us. She was in black silk with a muslin 'cloud' over her head and shoulders, but her silk rustled. I could just have a glance only of her face. She glided fast and noiselessly (but for the silk) past me, and was lost down two steps at the end of a long passage that led only into my private boudoir, and had no other exit. I had barely exclaimed 'Oh, Caroline,' when I felt she was something unnatural, and rushed down to the drawing-room again, and sinking on my knees by my husbands side, fainted, and it was with difficulty I was restored to myself again. The next morning, I saw they rather joked me at first; but it afterwards came out that the little nursery girl, while cleaning her grate, had been so frightened by the same appearance, 'a lady sitting near her in black, with white all over her head and shoulders, and her hands crossed on her bosom,' that nothing would induce her to go into the room again; and they had been afraid to tell me over night of this confirmation of the appearance, thinking it would shake my nerves still more than it had done.

As chance would have it, many of our neighbours called on us the next morning - Mr Tufnell, of Uffington, near Faringdon, Archdeacon Berens, Mr Atkins, and others. All seemed most interested, and Mr Tufnell would not be content without noting down particulars in his own pocket-book, and making me promise to write for inquiries that very night, for my cousin, Mrs Henry Gibbs. She had been staying with us some time previously for a few days, and I had a letter half written to her in the paper case.

I wrote immediately to my uncle (the Rev. C. Crawley, of Hartpury near Gloucester) and aunt, and recounted all that had happened. By return of post, 'Caroline is very ill at Belmont' (their family place then), 'and not expected to live; and die she did on the very day or evening she paid me that visit. The shock had been over-much for a not very strong person, and I was one of the very few members of the Drawley or Gibbs family who could not follow the funeral.
Edmund Gurney of the Society for Psychical Research played a leading role in gathering evidence for appairitons. (Mary Evans Picture Library)
Luckily, one of the independent witnesses was still alive and was able to confirm the entire series of events for the SPR.

The fact that apparitional appearances seemed to be genuine paranormal phenomena intrigued the SPR founders no end. Did these appearances, they wondered, constitute evidence that man possesses a soul released from the body at death? This seemed a tenable position to take at first; but when they started examining their data in more depth, they gradually became less sure.

A prolonged debate about the nature of apparitions came to the forefront of psychical research when Edmund Gurney, F. W. H. Myers and their colleague Frank Podmore joined forces to write their two-volume study, Phantasms of the Living. This publication was the first major undertaking of the SPR and it was clear that these brilliant researchers could not agree about the nature of phantasms ... much less whether they represented the release of the soul from the body.

Edmund Gurney wrote the bulk of Phantasms. Since he was fascinated by the subject of telepathy, he couldn't shake the idea that apparitions actually resulted from a form of thought-transference. He pointed out that apparitions seem little different in essence from the visual images some people 'see' during the reception of a telepathic message. This led him to suggest that apparitions are merely a more perfectly exteriorized form of mental image. This was a radical stand to take, but Gurney supported his view on empirical as well as theoretical grounds. He pointed out that apparitions do not appear to be objective, space-occupying entities. His data indicated that they never leave anything behind, they appear and then vanish without a trace, can walk through walls, and usually appear dressed in ordinary clothing. These seem to be tell-tale marks of immateriality. Sometimes, Gurney went on to show, apparitions appear dressed in ways the witnesses might expect to see them. This would indicate that the figures were partially constructed from the witnesses' own minds.

This was not the last word on the subject of apparitions by any means, since F. W. H. Myers was fast to counter his colleague. He objected that the existence of collectively seen apparitions demonstrated their partial objective reality. His theory was that an apparition results when some aspect of the dying persons organism projects over space and exteriorizes at the distant location. What manifests might therefore not be purely physical in the objective sense, but would represent a partial psychic invasion of its place of manifestation.

Edmund Gurney couldn't go along with Myers' complicated rehabilitation of the idea that apparitions are objective phenomena. So he countered by suggesting that collectively seen apparitions occur through a form of telepathic infection between (or among) the witnesses.

While these debates bandied back and forth, other SPR researchers organized an attempt to replicate the Phantasms study. This was undertaken in 1889 by surveying the British public about their psychic experiences, and the results were published in 1894 as the 'Census of Hallucinations'. Reports of crisis apparitions were once again conspicuous by their presence. The evidence for some of these cases was even better than for those appearing in Phantasms.

Despite the discovery of so many new cases, it seemed that the debate over the nature of apparitional appearances was heading towards a stalemate. This state of affairs led some of the SPR researchers to study post-mortem apparitions; i.e. those phantoms seen long after the agents' deaths. Through these studies the SPR uncovered cases where the apparitions appeared and even conveyed correct information to the witnesses. In other cases it seemed that the phantoms were interested in fulfilling some goal or intention that had consumed them in life. A few cases of conventional haunted houses also came to the SPR's attention as well. These cases turned out to be much rarer than crisis apparitions, and some of SPR leaders were rather dubious about their value. F. W. H. Myers studied them the most intensely and soon concluded that they represented '... manifestation of persistent personal energy; but he was sharply criticized by Frank Podmore. Podmore, who eventually became the SPR's resident sceptic, pointed out that most post-mortem apparitions rarely displayed any true sense of personality. He preferred to believe that these accounts were either bogus, or that the apparitions were created by the witnesses' own minds, although perhaps in response to the reception of psychic information.[3]
[3] Gauld, Alan. The Founders of Psychical Research. New York: Schocken, 1968.

Edward Feser : Some brief arguments for dualism

Edward Feser

Some brief arguments for dualism


It is unreasonable to expect even the best argument for a controversial philosophical position to be capable, in one fell swoop and all by itself, of convincing the most skeptical opponent – or, indeed, even to move him slightly in the direction of reconsidering his position. That is (usually, anyway) simply not how the human mind works. A dispute over some particular argument for the existence of God, mind-body dualism, or traditional sexual morality (to take just three examples) can reflect a tacit disagreement about fundamental metaphysical assumptions that is so deep and unconscious that the parties to the dispute (or at least one party, usually the skeptical or “naturalist” one) are barely aware that it exists at all, and often talk past each other as a result. What seems like an obvious objection to an argument can often constitute in reality a failure to see the point of the argument, and in particular a failure to see that what the argument does is precisely to call into question the intelligibility or rational justifiability of the objection itself. While the argument in question can in many cases be stated fairly simply and straightforwardly, pages and pages, indeed an entire book, might be required in order to set the stage so that its terms and basic assumptions are properly understood, and that countless point-missing objections might patiently be swept away like so much intellectual rubbish standing in the way of understanding.

Some common objections to dualism are like this. They falsely assume, for example, that any argument for dualism must be something analogous to a “God of the gaps” argument – a “soul of the gaps,” as it were – which seeks to exploit some current lacuna in our knowledge of the brain and to suggest that the “hypothesis” of an immaterial substance might explain what neuroscientists have so far been unable to. It is then objected that such an explanation would violate Ockham’s razor, that neuroscience has already “explained” x, y, and z and thus can be expected to explain everything else, etc. etc. I hear these objections frequently. They are often presented by people who mean well, and who are not entirely uninformed about some of the arguments presented by both materialists and anti-materialists in the philosophy of mind. But they nevertheless reflect a very shallow understanding of the debate. For the main arguments for dualism do not have this structure at all. They are not quasi-scientific “explanatory” “hypotheses” which “postulate” the existence of this or that as one way among others (albeit the most “probable”) of “accounting for” “the evidence.” They are intended rather as strict metaphysical demonstrations. They either prove conclusively that the mind is immaterial or they prove nothing. And if they work, there can be no question of the materialist looking for other possible ways to explain “the data.” For the existence of an immaterial mind, or an immaterial aspect to the mind, will, given such a proof, simply have itself to be taken as a piece of data for which any acceptable theory has to account.

Again, this doesn’t mean that one should judge such arguments based on one’s immediate reaction to a first reading; to prove something conclusively doesn’t mean to prove it instantly, to the immediate satisfaction of the most hostile and stubborn skeptic. Even properly understanding an argument, especially in metaphysics, can require a great deal of effort and sustained thought. Still, some dualist arguments are straightforward enough that at least their basic thrust can be put fairly succinctly, even if a complete treatment would require various further explanations of this or that premise or key concept. In this post and several succeeding ones I want to present some of these arguments, in as brief a form as possible. (Further elaboration can be found in my books Philosophy of Mind and The Last Superstition.)

One aspect of the mind that philosophers have traditionally considered particularly difficult to account for in materialist terms is intentionality, which is that feature of a mental state in virtue of which it means, is about, represents, points to, or is directed at something, usually something beyond itself. Your thought about your car, for example, is about your car – it means or represents your car, and thus “points to” or is “directed at” your car. In this way it is like the word “car,” which is about, or represents, cars in general. Notice, though, that considered merely as a set of ink marks or (if spoken) sound waves, “car” doesn’t represent or mean anything at all; it is, by itself anyway, nothing but a meaningless pattern of ink marks or sound waves, and acquires whatever meaning it has from language users like us, who, with our capacity for thought, are able to impart meaning to physical shapes, sounds, and the like.

Now the puzzle intentionality poses for materialism can be summarized this way: Brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, the motion of water molecules, electrical current, and any other physical phenomenon you can think of, seem clearly devoid of any inherent meaning. By themselves they are simply meaningless patterns of electrochemical activity. Yet our thoughts do have inherent meaning – that’s how they are able to impart it to otherwise meaningless ink marks, sound waves, etc. In that case, though, it seems that our thoughts cannot possibly be identified with any physical processes in the brain. In short: Thoughts and the like possess inherent meaning or intentionality; brain processes, like ink marks, sound waves, and the like, are utterly devoid of any inherent meaning or intentionality; so thoughts and the like cannot possibly be identified with brain processes.

You can, as I have implied, look at this as just a “puzzle” for materialism – one which might be solved by developing a complex functional analysis of mental states, or by framing materialism in terms of the concept of “supervenience” rather than identity or reduction, or whatever. Or you can see it as a very simple and straightforward statement of an objection that, while it can also be formulated in much more sophisticated and technical terms and in a way that takes account of and preempts the various objections materialists might try to raise against it, nevertheless goes to the core of the problem with materialism, and indeed shows why materialism cannot be true. This latter view is the one I endorse. I maintain that the problem for materialism just described is insuperable. It shows that a materialist explanation of the mind is impossible in principle, a conceptual impossibility. And the reason has in part to do with the concept of matter to which materialists themselves are at least implicitly committed. Some of the further posts in this series will develop this suggestion. Along the way we will see (among other things) that the common materialist claim that “everything else has been explained in materialist terms” is an urban legend, based on nothing more than conceptual sleight of hand coupled with historical ignorance. Stay tuned.


Following Aristotle, the Scholastic tradition famously held that final causes – goal-directedness, purposiveness, natural ends – permeate the natural world. Contrary to a popular misconception, this does not mean that they thought that everything in the world has a purpose or function in the sense that biological organs have purposes or functions. Hence it is no good to accuse them of thinking, absurdly, that piles of dirt, asteroids, mountain ranges, and the like simply must play some role within the universe as a whole that is somehow analogous to the role hearts and kidneys play in the body. Functions like the kind bodily organs play constitute only one, relatively rare, kind of final causality. Nor did they think that final causality is generally associated with anything like consciousness. For an Aristotelian to say that a plant by virtue of its nature “wants” to grow is just a figure of speech. Literally speaking the plant does not, of course, want anything at all, since it is totally unconscious. It is only in us, and in certain other animals, that final causes are associated with conscious awareness.

What the Scholastics did have in mind is summed up in Aquinas’s dictum that “every agent acts for an end,” otherwise known as the “principle of finality.” By an “agent” he means that which brings about or causes some effect. And what he is saying is that when a certain cause generates a certain effect or range of effects in a law-like way (as we would say today) that is only because it naturally “points to“ or is “directed towards” that effect or range of effects as its proper end. For example, a match when struck will, unless prevented (e.g. by being water damaged), generate flame and heat – and flame and heat specifically rather than frost and cold, or the smell of lilacs, or no effect at all. It has an inherent causal power to bring about that effect specifically. What Aquinas and the other Scholastics argued is that unless we acknowledge the existence of such inherent powers, unless we recognize that whenever a certain efficient cause A generates its effect B that is only because the generation of B is the final cause or natural end of A, then we have no way of making intelligible why it is exactly that A generates B specifically rather than some other effect or no effect at all. The existence of final causes is, in this sense, a necessary condition for the existence of efficient causes – of, that is to say, causation as modern philosophers tend to understand it. This is one reason Aquinas held the final cause to be “the cause of causes.”

Now modern philosophy, and in particular modern philosophy’s conception of science, is defined more than anything else by its rejection of final causes. Indeed, as philosophers like William Hasker and David Hull have pointed out, at this point in the history of science, what remains of the “mechanistic” picture of the natural world which we have inherited from the early moderns is really nothing but this rejection. As I argue in The Last Superstition, there has never really been any serious philosophical case for this rejection; it was, and still is, more ideologically than intellectually motivated. Moreover, there are in my view (and, again, as I argue in TLS) overwhelming reasons to think it was a mistake. One of them is that, as Hume’s famous puzzles illustrate, causation has indeed become seriously problematic in modern philosophy in exactly the way Aquinas’s analysis would lead us to expect it to, given the abandonment of final causes.

The abandonment of final causes has also crucially contributed to the creation of the “mind-body problem,” something that did not exist, certainly not in anything like the form familiar to contemporary philosophers, prior to the moderns’ rejection of the Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysical framework. For to insist that the material world is utterly devoid of final causes – devoid, that is to say, of anything that inherently “points to” or is “directed toward” anything beyond itself – is implicitly to deny that intentionality could possibly be material, for intentionality, of course, is just the mind’s capacity to point to or be directed towards something beyond itself, as it does in thought. (See my previous post in this series.) Hence to insist that the material world is devoid of any inherent final causes while at the same time acknowledging the existence of intentionality is implicitly to commit oneself to dualism. Indeed, this is surely one reason why Descartes, one of the fathers of the “mechanistic” revolution in science, was a dualist. Far from being a kind of pre-scientific holdover, dualism of the broadly Cartesian sort is a logical consequence of the turn to mechanism that defined the scientific revolution.

The only way to hold on to the mechanistic conception of nature while rejecting dualism is thus to deny the existence of intentionality. And that is why, as John Searle has argued, all extant forms of materialism do indeed implicitly deny its existence, and thus (I would say) amount to disguised forms of eliminative materialism. This is halfway admitted by Jerry Fodor when he writes, as he does in Psychosemantics, that “if aboutness [i.e. intentionality] is real, it must be really something else.” That is to say, intentionality per se simply cannot be real given the mechanistic conception of the material world that Fodor, like all materialists, has inherited from the early modern philosophers. Hence the most the materialist can do is try to substitute for it some physicalistically “respectable” ersatz. But this is simply eliminative materialism in “folk psychological” drag; and eliminative materialism, however you dress it up, is simply incoherent. (Yet again, see TLS, and in particular chapter 6, for the details.)

We have, then, another brief argument for dualism, which can be summarized as follows: If materialism is true, then (given that it is committed to a mechanistic conception of the material world), there are no final causes, and thus nothing that inherently “points to” or is “directed at” anything beyond itself; and in that case, there can be no such thing as intentionality; but there is such a thing as intentionality; therefore materialism is not true.

This is an argument for dualism, I should say, at least if one admits that the material world exists in the first place (which, of course, everyone other than a few adherents of idealism would admit), because it implies that there are features of the world other than its material features. The only way to avoid the dualistic consequences (other than opting for eliminativism or idealism) would be to acknowledge that the Aristotelians were right after all, and that final causes are a real feature of material reality. But that would, of course, be to abandon the entire modern mechanistic-cum-materialistic interpretation of science. Nor would it really stave off dualism for long, for it would simply open the door to the Thomistic or hylemorphic (as opposed to Cartesian) version of dualism. But that is a story for another time – a story which, like other details of the argument sketched here, can be found (if I might be forgiven one more shameless plug) in The Last Superstition.


In the previous post in this series, I argued that the “mechanistic” conception of the natural world adopted by the early modern philosophers more or less entails a kind of dualism insofar as its banishment of final causes from the material world effectively makes intentionality necessarily immaterial. Intentionality, of course, is one of two features of the mind to which contemporary philosophers of mind have paid special attention. The other is consciousness, and in particular the “qualia” that are said to make consciousness uniquely difficult to explain in material terms. There is a good reason for this difficulty – indeed, impossibility – and it is the same reason why intentionality is impossible to explain in materialistic terms. It lies in the mechanistic conception of matter itself.

The early modern philosophers and scientists were obsessed with quantification. There were several reasons for this, one of them being their desire to reorient intellectual efforts toward the improvement of life in this world and away from the otherworldliness of the ancients and medievals. This entailed a new emphasis on technology and more generally on the control and exploitation of the natural world in the interests of bettering man’s material condition. Since quantification would facilitate this, those aspects of nature that could be described in purely mathematical terms took on a special importance, and those which could not came to seem, from the point of view of this new, worldly approach to learning, irrelevant at best and a distraction at worst. Thus did final causes, hidden powers, substantial forms and the like go out the window. So too did the qualitative aspects of nature. Colors, odors, tastes, feels, sounds, and the like, at least as understood by common sense, vary from observer to observer – think of old philosophical chestnuts like the room temperature water that feels warm to one hand and cool to the other, colorblindness, and so forth – making them a poor fit for a science looking to make nature subject to human prediction and control. Out the window with them too, then. The physical world would be redefined as comprised of colorless, odorless, tasteless particles in motion; and color, temperature, and the like would be redefined entirely in terms of the quantifiable relations holding between these particles (e.g. heat and cold in terms of molecular motion). What about color, odor, taste, and so forth as common sense understands them? They in turn were redefined as entirely mind-dependent “secondary qualities” (or rather, ideas of secondary qualities), the ancestors of the contemporary philosopher’s concept of qualia. On the view in question, they do not exist in the physical world as it is in itself, but only in our perceptual representation of that world.

It should be obvious, then, how, as with intentionality, the notion that qualia are incapable of materialistic explanation is not some desperate attempt to avoid the implications of modern science, but is rather precisely a consequence of modern science. The mechanistic conception of matter that underlies science (or rather underlies what, since the 17th century, is allowed to count as science) itself entails that qualia (as we call them today) are immaterial or non-physical. Many early modern thinkers – Descartes, Cudworth, and Locke, for example – saw this, which is part of the reason they were dualists. Given the mechanistic conception of matter, these thinkers concluded that “secondary qualities,” “sensory qualities,” “qualia,” or whatever else you want to call them are necessarily immaterial, precisely because matter got (re)defined by the mechanical philosophy by contrast with these qualities.

Some contemporary naturalists – Joseph Levine, Thomas Nagel, and John Searle, for example – have more or less recognized this, acknowledging that there is nothing more to the contemporary materialist’s concept of matter (which derives from the 17th century “mechanical” conception) other than its contrast with the “qualitative” (and intentional) features of our experience of the world. Precisely for this reason, all three of these thinkers have (in their different ways) regarded modern materialism as deeply conceptually problematic, though they have also stopped short of embracing dualism. But other contemporary naturalists – Dennett and the Churchlands, for example, not to mention countless lesser lights of the sort who write crude atheist pamphlets and pop neuroscience books – cluelessly suggest that there is no good reason to think that the mind will fail to yield to the same sort of reductive explanation in terms of which everything else in nature has been accounted for.

In fact there is a very good reason why the mind should be uniquely resistant to such “explanation,” and it precisely because everything that doesn’t fit the mechanistic-cum-quantificational picture of the natural world has not been “explained” by science at all, but simply swept under the rug of the mind and treated as a mere “projection.” This is true in particular of anything in nature that seems to smack of final causality or to have an irreducible qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) character. It is conceptually impossible that the mind itself should be “explained” in the same way – that is to say, by further sweeping – which is why modern philosophy has a “mind-body problem” of a sort that did not exist before the mechanistic revolution, and why all materialist attempts to “explain” the mind are really disguised versions of eliminative materialism. The tiresome canard that “everything else has already been explained in materialistic terms” is thus a gigantic shell game, pure sleight of hand, a complete fraud from start to finish. (This is a theme I first explored in my book Philosophy of Mind and develop at length in The Last Superstition.)

In any case, we have now a third brief argument for dualism, which can be summarized as follows: Given the materialist’s own (mechanistic-cum-quantificational) conception of matter, colors, odors, tastes and the like as we experience them do not exist in the material world itself; but these qualities do exist in our perceptual representations of the material world; therefore, there exist features of the world – namely these sensory qualities or “qualia” that characterize our perceptual experiences – that are not material or physical features.

Obviously this argument raises questions about how these immaterial features relate to the material ones – Are they basic or emergent? How can they causally interact with the material ones? Do they inhere in a physical or a non-physical substance? – but the fact that it raises them has no bearing on the cogency of the argument itself. My own view is that the standard (Cartesian) dualist answers to such questions are problematic precisely because they buy into the same mechanistic conception of matter to which materialists are beholden. The right approach is to challenge that conception of matter, and return to the Aristotelian-Scholastic picture it replaced. But whether I am right about this or not is also irrelevant to the argument just given, which does not assume any Aristotelian-Scholastic premises, but simply draws out the consequences of the very conception of matter to which materialists themselves are committed. Whatever the deficiencies of Cartesian dualism, they do not approach the sheer incoherence and cluelessness of contemporary materialism.


The arguments for dualism considered so far in this series (see here, here, and here) have been more or less “modern” rather than “classical.” They focus on those aspects of the mind most familiar to contemporary philosophers, namely intentionality (the meaningfulness or directedness beyond themselves of thoughts and the like) and qualia (those aspects of a conscious experience which are directly knowable only via introspection, and thus only by the one undergoing the experience). And they contend that, given the mechanistic conception of matter taken for granted by modern philosophers (dualists and materialists alike), these features of the mind are necessarily immaterial.

Classical arguments for the immateriality of the mind, by which I mean the sort common within Western philosophy prior to Descartes and defended by the likes of Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas, are very different. You won’t find the latter thinkers going on about either qualia or intentionality, because the very notions of qualia and intentionality, as usually understood, are artifacts of the modern mechanistic re-conception of the material world. “Qualia” are what you get when you deny that matter can have anything like the sensible qualities it seems to have in ordinary experience. “Intentionality” is what you get when you insist that the material world is devoid of anything like final causality, when you go on accordingly to relocate all meaning and purpose within the mind, and when you also go on in turn to characterize mental states as internal “representations” of an external reality. I have said a little bit about all of this in earlier posts, and it is a theme I explore in great detail in The Last Superstition.

For Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and other ancients and medievals, the main reason why the mind has to be immaterial concerns its affinity to its primary objects of knowledge, namely universals, which are themselves immaterial. When properly fleshed out and understood, this sort of argument is in my view decisive. Yet it has received very little attention from contemporary philosophers, partly, I think, because of their general ignorance of what the ancients and medievals thought, and partly because the logic of the mechanistic revolution inaugurated by Galileo, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, et al. has pushed them into so cramped and narrow a conceptual space that they can hardly even conceive any alternative to it. The result is that when they do address the arguments of the ancients and medievals (concerning this subject or any other), they almost always distort them in the most grotesque fashion, anachronistically reading into them assumptions that make sense only if one takes for granted conceptions of matter, mind, causation, etc. that the older thinkers in question would have regarded as deeply mistaken and muddleheaded. (Thus is Aristotle made out to be a “functionalist” vis-à-vis the mind, Aquinas’s Fifth Way is read as if it were an anticipation of Paley’s feeble “design argument,” etc.)

In The Last Superstition, I explain at length why some form of realism about universals is rationally unavoidable. (Whether it is the Platonic form of realism, the Aristotelian one, or the Scholastic one that we should endorse is a separate matter irrelevant to present purposes.) I am not going to attempt to summarize that case here, but the examples to follow should suffice to give a sense of how an argument from the reality of universals to the immateriality of the mind might proceed. Readers wanting a fuller treatment should consult TLS.

Consider that when you think about triangularity, as you might when proving a geometrical theorem, it is necessarily perfect triangularity that you are contemplating, not some mere approximation of it. Triangularity as your intellect grasps it is entirely determinate or exact; for example, what you grasp is the notion of a closed plane figure with three perfectly straight sides, rather than that of something which may or may not have straight sides or which may or may not be closed. Of course, your mental image of a triangle might not be exact, but rather indeterminate and fuzzy. But to grasp something with the intellect is not the same as to form a mental image of it. For any mental image of a triangle is necessarily going to be of an isosceles triangle specifically, or of a scalene one, or an equilateral one; but the concept of triangularity that your intellect grasps applies to all triangles alike. Any mental image of a triangle is going to have certain features, such as a particular color, that are no part of the concept of triangularity in general. A mental image is something private and subjective, while the concept of triangularity is objective and grasped by many minds at once. And so forth. In general, to grasp a concept is simply not the same thing as having a mental image. (Again, see TLS for more details.)

Now the thought you are having about triangularity when you grasp it must be as determinate or exact as triangularity itself, otherwise it just wouldn’t be a thought about triangularity in the first place, but only a thought about some approximation of triangularity. Yet material things are never determinate or exact in this way. Any material triangle, for example, is always only ever an approximation of perfect triangularity (since it is bound to have sides that are less than perfectly straight, etc., even if this is undetectable to the naked eye). And in general, material symbols and representations are inherently always to some extent vague, ambiguous, or otherwise inexact, susceptible of various alternative interpretations. It follows, then, that any thought you might have about triangularity is not something material; in particular, it is not some process occurring in the brain. And what goes for triangularity goes for any thought that involves the grasp of a universal, since universals in general (or at least very many of them, in case someone should wish to dispute this) are determinate and exact in a way material objects and processes cannot be.

As James F. Ross has argued, some of the best-known arguments of twentieth-century analytic philosophy reinforce this judgment. For instance, Quine’s arguments for the indeterminacy of translation and Kripke’s argument regarding “quaddition” show that there is in principle nothing in the facts about human behavior or physiology, or in any other physicalistically “respectable” set of facts, that can determine (say) whether by “gavagai” I mean “rabbit” or “undetached rabbit part,” or whether I am doing addition rather than “quaddition.” Indeed, these arguments show that this same indeterminacy afflicts everything I say or do. Yet it is simply false that everything I say or do is indeterminate in this way. For example, should I deploy modus ponens in defending a Quine- or Kripke-style argument, what I will be deploying is indeed modus ponens and not some mere approximation of modus ponens; certainly it had better be modus ponens and not some mere approximation, otherwise my arguments would all be invalid. Nor will it do to suggest that maybe all my arguments really are invalid, for even to deny that I ever really use modus ponens but only ever approximate it requires that I first grasp determinately what modus ponens is before judging that I never really engage in it. Similarly, if someone wanted to deny that we ever really grasp perfect triangularity, he would first have to grasp it himself before going on to judge (obviously falsely, in that case) that it is something we never grasp.

So, there is no coherent sense to be made of the suggestion that all of our thoughts are indeterminate. But if at least some of them are determinate, and no physical process or set of physical facts is ever determinate, it follows that at least some of our thoughts are not physical. (Ross’s argument, by the way, is elegantly developed in his article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought,” which appeared in the Journal of Philosophy in 1992. A later version of this article is available at his website, in the form of a chapter of his book manuscript Hidden Necessities.)

That is one way an argument from realism about universals to the immateriality of the mind can be developed. There are other ways too, which I will summarize in future posts.

Whatever one thinks of arguments like this, it is important to understand that (like the other arguments I’ve presented in this series) they are not the sort that might be undermined by the findings of neuroscience, or any other empirical science for that matter. They are not “soul of the gaps” arguments which purport to give a quasi-scientific explanation of some psychological phenomenon that we simply haven’t got enough empirical data to explain in a materialistic way. Rather, they purport to show that it is in principle impossible, conceptually impossible, for the intellect to be accounted for in a materialistic way. If such arguments work at all, they establish conclusively that the intellect could no more be identified with processes in the brain than two and two could make five. If they are mistaken, they would be mistaken in the way one might make a mistake in attempting to carry out a geometrical proof, and not by virtue of having failed to take account of this or that finding of brain research.


The next argument in our series is inspired by Karl Popper, and in particular by some ideas he first presented in his short article “Language and the Body-Mind Problem” (available in his collection Conjectures and Refutations) and repeated in The Self and Its Brain. As Popper originally formulated it, its immediate aim was to demonstrate the impossibility of a causal theory of linguistic meaning, but it is evident from some remarks he once made about F. A. Hayek’s book The Sensory Order that he also regarded it as a refutation of any causal theory of the mind. (See my essay “Hayek the Cognitive Scientist and Philosopher of Mind” in The Cambridge Companion to Hayek.) Hilary Putnam would later present a similar line of argument in his book Renewing Philosophy, though he does not seem to be aware of Popper’s version.

The argument as I will state it is somewhat different from anything either Popper or Putnam has said, though it is in the same spirit. Before stating the argument, it is worthwhile recalling the “mechanistic” conception of the natural world which, as I have emphasized in earlier posts in this series, implicitly or explicitly informs materialism. On this conception, the world is devoid of what Aristotelians call formal and final causes: there are in nature no substantial forms or inherent powers of the sort affirmed by the medieval Scholastics, and there is no meaning, purpose, or goal-directedness either. The physical world is instead composed entirely of inherently purposeless elements (atoms, corpuscles, quarks, or whatever) governed by inherently meaningless patterns of cause and effect. All the complex phenomena of our experience, from grapes to galaxy clusters, from mudslides to minds, must somehow be explicable in terms of these elements and the causal regularities they exhibit.

But in fact there can be no such explanation of the mind, not even in principle. In particular, there can be no such explanation of intentionality, the mind’s capacity to represent the world beyond itself – as it does, say, when your thought that the cat is on the mat represents the cat’s being on the mat.

The reason is this. As already indicated, any materialistic explanation of intentionality is bound to be a causal explanation. That is to say, it is going to be an attempt to show that the intentionality of a mental state somehow derives from its causal relations. The causal relations in question might be internal to the brain (as they are according to “internalist” theories of meaning); they might extend beyond the brain to objects and events in a person’s environment (as they do according to “externalist” theories); they may even extend backwards in time millions of years to the environment in which our ancestors evolved (as they do according to “biosemantic” theories). An adequate description of the relevant causal relations may require any number of technical qualifications (such as an appeal to Fodor’s notion of “asymmetric dependence”). In every case, though, a materialist is bound to appeal to some pattern of causal relations or other as the key to explaining intentionality. He’s got nothing else to appeal to, after all; the basic elements out of which everything in the physical world is made are by his own admission devoid of any meaning (“intentionality simply doesn’t go that deep,” as Fodor insists in Psychosemantics) and anything other than these elements exists only insofar as causal interactions between the elements generates it.

Now, specifying the relevant causal relation entails specifying a relevant beginning point to the series and a relevant end point. We have to identify some physical phenomenon as that which does the representing, and some other physical phenomenon as that which is represented; or in other words, we have to pick out one thing as the thought, and another thing as that which is thought about. To take a simple example, if we imagine that a certain brain process is associated with the thought that the cat is on the mat because it is caused in such-and-such a way by the presence of cats on mats, then we will have to take the cat’s presence on the mat as the beginning of the relevant causal chain (call it A) and the occurrence of the brain process in question (call it B) as the end. (Of course, specifying exactly what the “such-and-such a way” involves can get pretty complicated, as anyone familiar with the contemporary literature knows, but the complications are irrelevant for our purposes here.)

But what objective reason is there to identify A and B as “the beginning” and “the end” of a causal sequence? Consider what happens in a situation like the one in question. Someone flips on a light switch, which causes electrical current to flow through the wires in the wall up to a ceiling lamp. Light from the lamp travels to a cat sitting on a mat below, is reflected off of the cat, and travels to the retinas of a nearby observer. This in turn causes signals to be sent up the optic nerves to the brain, which results in the firing of a certain cluster of neurons, which in turn results in the firing of another cluster, which in turn results in the firing of yet another cluster, and so on and so forth. All this neural activity ultimately results in a behavioral response, such as walking over to the refrigerator to get the milk bottle out so as to give the cat a snack. And this is followed, say, by an accidental dropping of the milk bottle, which results in broken glass, a cut to the ankle, a yelp of pain, and the kicking of the cat.

Now, again, what is it about this complex chain of events that justifies picking out A and B specifically and labeling them “the beginning” and “the end” respectively? Why is it the cat’s presence on the mat that counts as “the beginning” – rather than, say, the flipping of the light switch, or the flow of the current to the ceiling lamp, or the arrival of such-and-such a photon at exactly the midpoint between the surface of the cat and the observer’s left retina? Why is it brain process B exactly that counts as “the end” of the causal chain – rather than, say, the brain process immediately before B or immediately after B, or the walk over to the refrigerator, or the motion of such-and-such a shard of glass from the broken milk bottle as it skips across the floor? Of course, we have an interest in picking out and identifying cats and not in picking out and identifying individual photons, and an interest in brain processes and their associated mental states that we don’t have in shards of glass. But that is a fact about us, not a fact about the physical world itself. Objectively, as far as the physical world itself is concerned, there is just the ongoing and incredibly complex sequence of causes and effects, which extends indefinitely forward and backward in time well beyond the events we have described. Objectively, that is to say, there is no such thing as “the beginning” or “the end,” and nothing inherently significant about any one event as compared to another.

Popper’s point, and Putnam’s, is that what count as the “beginning” and “end” points of such a causal sequence, and thus what counts as “the causal sequence” itself considered in isolation from the rest of the overall causal situation, are interest relative. These particular aspects of the overall causal situation have no special significance apart from a mind which interprets them as having it. But in that case they cannot coherently be appealed to in order to explain the mind. It is no good saying that the representational character of our mental states derives from their causal relations when the causal relations themselves cannot be specified except in terms of how they are represented by certain mental states. A vicious circularity afflicts any such “theory” of intentionality.

Now it is important to emphasize that the point is not that causation per se is interest relative or mind-dependent; the argument is not an exercise in idealism or anti-realism. The overall complex ongoing sequence of causes and effects is entirely mind-independent. The claim, again, is just that something’s counting as a “beginning” or “end” point within the series is interest-relative and mind-dependent. Still, even this much might seem to be too close to idealism or anti-realism for comfort. It might seem to make causal explanations somehow subjective and arbitrary. (Indeed, Putnam attributes something like this sort of objection to Noam Chomsky.) But to fear that the Popper/Putnam argument we’ve been considering might entail that causal explanations are somehow subjective or arbitrary doesn’t show that the argument is wrong.

Is there any way to reconcile the argument with the objectivity and non-arbitrariness of causal explanations? Absolutely. The way to do it is to show that certain physical phenomena really can objectively count as the beginning or end points of a causal sequence after all – that they can indeed be picked out in a way that is not mind-dependent or interest-relative. But how can that be done? By showing that natural objects and processes are by their natures inherently directed towards the generation of certain other natural objects and processes as an “end” or “goal.” That is to say, by showing that natural objects and processes have what Aristotelians call substantial forms and final causes. In short, the way to explain how causal explanations can be objective and non-arbitrary as opposed to subjective and interest-relative is to acknowledge that the mechanistic conception of the world is mistaken, and that the Aristotelian-Scholastic conception that it replaced is correct after all.

So, the Popper/Putnam argument shows that the mechanistic conception of nature to which materialists are explicitly or implicitly committed entails that there can be no materialistic explanation of the mind. (As we have seen in earlier posts in this series, other arguments tend to show the same thing.) And the only way to sidestep the argument is to abandon the mechanistic conception of nature, which entails rejecting materialism anyway. Either way, materialism is refuted.

What positive view results? That depends. If one holds on to the mechanistic conception of nature, the result would seem to be some broadly Cartesian form of dualism – either substance dualism or property dualism. (Popper himself opted for the former. Putnam does not consider what consequences his view might have for the dualism/materialism debate.) If instead on opts to return to an Aristotelian conception of nature – the right choice, in my view – then one is on the path toward hylemorphic or Thomistic dualism. (I examine these options in my book Philosophy of Mind and defend the latter at length in The Last Superstition.)

Hence, one way or the other dualism is vindicated. And as with the arguments presented in earlier posts in this series, it will not to do object to this one that it somehow “violates Ockham’s razor,” that materialism is the “simpler explanation,” and so forth. Such objections can only have force against attempts to present dualism as a “probable” “hypothesis” “postulated” as the “best explanation” of the “data.” That is not the sort of argument I have given. As I have already said, the argument just presented is an attempt to show that materialism fails in principle; it purports to be a metaphysical demonstration of the falsity of materialism, not a piece of quasi-empirical theorizing. If it fails (and obviously I don’t think it does), it does not fail for the sorts of reasons empirical hypotheses do.