By Sir Oliver Lodge
From: "The Outline of Science", Vol.2 Edited by Prof. J. Arthur Thomson
In the long evolution of humanity, we trace, first, the gradual emergence of the organic from the inorganic, the utilisation of highly complex chemical compounds for the formation and purposes of life, and then the gradual rise of living things in the scale of existence, until at a certain stage the rudiments of mind and consciousness begin to make their appearance. At some unknown time after this, must have arisen the power of choice and knowledge of good and evil, which may be regarded as the most definitely human characteristic. Then humanity, too, went on rising in the scale, until it blossomed and bore fruit in the creations of Art, the discoveries of Science, and in works of genius.
Nor is development likely to stop there. Hitherto we have known life and mind as utilising the properties of matter, but some of us are beginning to suspect that these psychical entities are able to utilise the properties of the Ether too - that intangible and elusive medium which fills all space; and if that turn out to be so, we know that this vehicle or medium is much more perfect, less obstructive, and more likely to be permanent, than any form of ordinary matter can be. For in such a medium as ether, there is no wearing out, no decay, no waste or dissipation of energy, such as are inevitable when work is done by ponderable and molecularly constituted matter - that matter about which chemists and natural philosophers have ascertained so many and such fascinating qualities. Physicists, chemists, and biologists have arrived at a point in the analysis of matter that opens up a vista of apparently illimitable scope. Our existing scientific knowledge places no ban on supernormal phenomena; rather it suggests the probability of discoveries in quite novel directions. Any possible utilisation of the ether, however, by discarnate intelligences must be left as a problem for the future. What appears to be certain is that life and mind require for their manifestation and terrestrial development some form of "material" in the broadest sense, and that there is certainly an interaction between mind and earthly matter.
The two branches of knowledge, the study of Mind and the study of Matter, have usually been dealt with separately; and the facts have been scrutinised by different investigators - the psychologists and the physicists. The time is coming when the study of these two apparently separate entities must be combined; for it has always been a puzzle how there can be any relation or interaction between two such apparently diverse things as matter and mind.
The normal facts of their interaction are so familiar that it needs an effort to pick them out with due discrimination, and to present the outstanding problem in all its clearness. A philosopher is aware of the difficulty; and most systems of philosophy have been attempts to solve the mystery and formulate the principles underlying the universe as a whole. But by science in its narrow sense such unification has not yet been attempted. Physical science deals mainly with matter, and so far as it touches on mind it assumes that mind acts, and can only act, in connection with, or in relation to, or as a development of matter. The science of psychology, on the other hand, aims at treating of all the normal processes and interrelations of mind and describes its use of the organs of the body, both for receiving and transmitting impressions, without attempting, or at least without succeeding, in explaining the transition from mechanical vibration to sensation and emotion, or vice versa.
But there are certain asserted facts, now receiving growing attention, which on the surface suggest that mind may possibly exist apart from matter; that, though its manifestations may be, its activities are not, wholly limited to material organs; that mind and matter are in fact not inseparable, and that perhaps matter may be replaced by all ethereal vehicle, which would elude our present senses.
There may be some doubt as to what these asserted facts precisely are; but, in so far as they represent reality, it becomes necessary to examine their validity and relevancy, to determine the suspicion of independent mental action is justified, and generally to seek to evolve a theory of mental activities beyond those known and familiar. In this way investigators may hope to ascertain whether the facts do really establish an independent and persistent existence for mind apart from its temporary bodily mechanism. So we may summarise and say that to ascertain the real nature of the connection between mind and matter, and the possibilities which underlie their connection -whether those possibilities are generally recognised or not, and even if they lead us into strange and unusual regions of inquiry - is the object of Psychic Science
PART ONE Psychical Research
The facts which need to be examined have long been known to groups of people here and there from the earliest times, but only of late years - say three-quarters of a century at most - have they been taken seriously by more than one or two, individuals, and critically and responsibly and corporately examined, without prejudice and without superstition.
Much had been done previously in the observation and collection of facts, but in 1882 a new Society was founded in London for their special study, along lines as far as possible similar to those that had conducted to the astonishing progress of physical science. And with the birth of this Society (the Society for Psychical Research, or the S.P.R.) Psychic Science may be said to have entered upon a more stable career. The Society has published thirty-two volumes of Proceedings and twenty of its Journal; amongst its presidents and honorary members there are illustrious names; and Sir A. J. Balfour, the President in 1893, at the end of his Address quite truly implied that the Society had already shown,
"not as a matter of speculation or conjecture, but as a matter of ascertained fact, that there are things in heaven and earth not hitherto dreamed of in our scientific philosophy."
To mention the names of the pioneers and to trace the history of their laborious effort to attain truth, would take up space that may be more usefully devoted to a setting forth of the main phenomena which had to be examined and either rejected as fictions or established as facts. So long as there are legitimate differences of opinion as to the nature of these phenomena, it will be best not to dogmatise nor attempt to sustain a thesis ill favour of some and against others, but only to summarise the phenomena now familiar to most people - at least - is folklore, stories - and to indicate, as far as may be, some means by which it may be hoped that these odd occurrences can be rationalised and understood. We must proceed on the well-tried hope and expectation that everything in the universe, however apparently bizarre, is intelligible to the mind when it is sufficiently well known. Mystery and superstition belong to ignorance; they enshroud tracts that lie in the dark, outside the civilised and cultivated region. An effort is required to deal with such phenomena at all, even if they turn out to be facts; for, without some link or clue with which to connect facts together, they are difficult of apprehension, and they can hardly be said to conform to the requirements of science. There must be system and orderly arrangement, before disjectamembra can be assimilated and incorporated into the main body of organised knowledge.
PART TWO First Fruits of the Inquiry
One of the first fruits of the labours of the S. P. R., or rather of the pioneers who founded it, was the discovery of "telepathy," or thought-transference between mind and mind without the use apparently of any of the known organs of sense. It was found by careful experiment that an idea or visual image, or other familiar notion, could be conveyed to another person, provided he possessed the faculty of receptivity, although that person was screened from all normal channels of communication. Experiments of this kind were at first conducted in the same room, usually with trivial things like portable objects and diagrams and numbers - stringent precautions being taken, by the use of opaque screens without dependence on the completeness of blindfolding, that normal means of acquiring information about the diagrams or objects were excluded. Experiments of this kind will be found in most of the earlier volumes of the Proceedings of the S.P.R.
Similar or slightly modified experiments were afterwards extended to a considerable distance; and still, between, so to speak, "attuned" persons, the amount of correspondence was found to be beyond chance. The evidence is bulky, and perhaps rather tedious, but the establishment of such a faculty is of prime importance, and is worth the labour, for manifestly it begins the demonstration of the possible independence and separation of mind from its ordinarily used methods of communication. The voice and the hand, the ear and the eye, are no longer the only transmitters and receivers of mental impressions.
Several series of experiments in thought-transference in the same, room will be found in the early volumes of the Proceedings of the S.P.R. and a few of the diagrams looked at by the "agent" and simultaneously drawn by the blindfolded and screened "percipient" in these experiments can be reproduced here; these being selected as successful instances. But from the point of view of evidence the whole series must be studied, and chance eliminated.
Perhaps the most interesting of recent experiments on this subject are those conducted by Professor Gilbert Murray in his own family, where the thing transferred was not a diagram or anything objective or visible at all, but an event or scene silently thought of by one of those present. For instance, these successful items from the Proceedings of the S.P.R., vol. xxix:
Agent silently thinks of:
"Alister and [Malcolm] MacDonald running along the platform at Liverpool Street, and trying to catch the train just going out";
While, after a pause, Percipient says aloud:
"Something to do with a railway station. I should say it was rather a crowd at a big railway station, and two little boys running along in the crowd. I should guess Basil."
As another instance may be quoted this one.
Subject thought of by Agent:
"Belgian Baron getting out of train at Savanarilla with us, and walking across the sandy track and seeing the new train come in."
Statement by Percipient:
"Man getting out of a train and looking for something. I don't know if he's looking for another train to come. I think it is a sort of dry hot sort of place. I get him with a faint impression of waxed moustache - a sort of foreign person - but I can't get more."
And another, an ambitious and rather remarkably successful and dramatic attempt, may also be here cited.
Subject set by Agent:
"A scene in a story by Strindberg. A man and woman in a lighthouse, the man lying fallen on the floor, and the woman bending over him, looking at him and hoping that he is dead."
"A horrid atmosphere, full of hatred and discomfort. A book, not real life, a book I have not read. Not Russian, not Italian, but foreign. I cannot get it . . .. There is a round tower, a man and woman in a round tower: but it is not Maeterlinck. Not like him. I should guess it was Strindberg. The woman is bending over the man and hating him, hoping he is dead."
Assuming that the experiments were fairly conducted, we are driven to suppose either that one brain acts on another brain, through the interaction perhaps of some hypothetical and unknown ether waves; or else that the phenomenon is a purely psychic one, and that the impression is transmitted direct from mind to mind without any necessary connection of a physical nature between brain and brain. Or, indeed, a third hypothesis, which possibly may be gaining adherents, viz. that a third intelligence, not one generally recognised, is in operation, and is conveying information from the mind of A, or agent, to the mind of B, or percipient; in fact, that the connection is not direct between A and B at all, but is managed by an invisible and intangible operator C.
This may sound an absurd surmise, and one that need not be made in connection with such instances as these. But it is not an easy matter, anyhow, to explain the conveyance of an idea by purely psychic means, or even to attempt clearly to formulate such an operation; hence any working hypothesis which can be suggested may have to be tested and tried to see if it will work. At least the bare possibility of messenger-communication will help to prevent too easy and certain a conviction about the existence of wholly unproven "brain-waves". The testing of working hypotheses is a common-place procedure in science. Such hypotheses do no harm if they are lightly held, and if a key not unduly pressed into keyholes that it does not fit. Some good judges think that a mysterious non-vocal method of intercommunication may have been inherited from an animal and savage ancestry, though it has now come almost overlaid and suppressed by civilisation and disuse.
PART THREE Concerning Citation of Illustrative Examples
If instances or samples of each or of some of the things which are said to occur are quoted in this article, it can only be by way of illustration, not as evidence of fact. For to give anything like real evidence, all manner of details of time and place must be supplied, together with testimony and extracts from any relevant that may be available. The securing of evidence is a troublesome business, involving the interviewing of witnesses, the examining of places, the obtaining of signed statements, and generally the securing of details which, however instructive and necessary, are laborious to collect and bulky to record. Recorded testimony of this kind must be sought in the Proceedings and Journal of a scientific society and other serious publications. If it be complained they are not easy reading, that is a disadvantage they share with the Proceedings of learned societies in general. They do not aim at being easy; they aim at being exact and trustworthy. So the samples here and there cited below, though based upon actual statements, may be taken as mere assertions, or at best as illustrations or types of what has to be substantiated, or else criticised and demolished, elsewhere.
Hallucinations or Apparitions
After experimental telepathy was fairly established, a spontaneous variety such as had long been suspected and was the basis for innumerable stories, in history as well as in fiction, was examined and brought to book. This spontaneous kind of telepathy-analogous to spontaneous radioactivity as contrasted with the experimental excitation of X-rays - is held responsible for many apparitions or hallucinations or phantoms, whether of the living or of the dead, especially the appearance of persons then being subjected to a strong emotion, or some calamity or accident, or in imminent prospect of death. The difference between this and the experimental form of thought-transference is that, whereas in an experiment the conscious attention and willpower of the agent is riveted on achievement of the result - though it has hardly been proved that conscious effort is really effective - in the, spontaneous class it is the unconscious mind which must be assumed to be operative, for the impression is transmitted without conscious intention and without knowledge of the supposed agent that it has been done. Thus, let one whom we may tentatively and hypothetically regard as the agent be suffering shipwreck, or be in danger from fire; his mental constitution may be supposed so upheaved that any latent power of telepathic or sympathetic communication is evoked, and translates itself into an impression in the mind of some distant relative or friend, with such vividness that the circumstances of the person in danger are presented to the friend's imagination as if they had veritably been conveyed through the sense of sight or of hearing. A phantom in dripping clothes, or a voice in tones of distress, are as it were "seen" or "heard" by the one whom we may regard as the percipient; not with the bodily eyes, or ears but with the mind: though the mental impression may readily be interpreted as all objective reality, not as of a person at a distance but as of a person close by, so as to be accepted as within reasonable reach of the organs of sense.
As when a boy killed by a crash from the air is both seen and heard, almost immediately afterwards, by another officer sitting in the camp, and hailed and spoken to; surprise being expressed that his long journey was so soon over. The figure, which exhibited identifying details of costume, responds and goes out. In the evening the officer learns that this same youth, whom he knew intimately, had been killed by an accident on the way to his destination, at just about the time of his appearance. A much fuller account of this occurrence is in the Journal of the S.P.R. for June 1919. But really instances of this kind are innumerable, and are often narrated in biographies.
The voice of Rochester heard by Jane Eyre at an impossible distance could not be attributed to a hyper-acute sense of hearing; if it occurred in reality it would have to be attributed to a telepathic or sympathetic connection between, shall we say, kindred souls; for it is represented as a reciprocal and not a one-sided experience. Mr. Caskell heard Charlotte Bronte say that it was based on an incident that had really happened. (Life, P. 445.)
Few families are without some such story in their archives; and all difficulties about the appearance of any real phantom, the dripping clothes for instance, the accompanying horse, or any wild scene generally - which can not be thought of as objective, present reality, even if the phantom itself could so be regarded - all difficulties of this kind vanish or are reduced to insignificance when once it is realised that the whole impression is a mental one, and that the surprised percipient has automatically constructed not only the phantom itself, but a number of accessory features too, as mental imagery appropriate to and aroused by the purely mental shock or stimulus which, through his unsuspected receptive power, he has been privileged to receive.
Such cases are far too numerous for chance coincidence to explain - a fact which a most carefully conducted and hypercritical census of inquiry has established. The sensible thing for those who are out for unprejudiced truth is to accept the demonstrated fact and see if they can devise some line of explanation better than the telepathic one. For because telepathy of some kind is a plausible explanation, it does not follow that it is the true one in every case. Our aim is not to rest satisfied with what may superficially seem probable, but to ascertain what is true.
As an example of a phantasm of the living, we may take the case of a mother with a sailor son work in the Pacific. She dreams, or has a vision of him standing by her bedside in dripping clothes, accepts the omen, and mourns him as dead. Six months later he turns up alive and well; but, gradually, in response to inquiries, admits that he had run the risk of being drowned, for he had fallen from a mast into the water, and had only with difficulty been rescued. And it is maintained that the date of the accident agrees well enough with the phantasmal appearance.
Mrs. Arthur Severn being awakened by an imaginary blow on the mouth, at the same time as her husband sailing on Lake Coniston before breakfast is struck in the mouth by the swing round of the tiller, is a well-authenticated case of spontaneous and unconscious telepathy.
PART FOUR Visions or Apparitions of the Dead
A further step may have ultimately to be taken. Not only are phantasms of the living experienced, we find also clear records, of phantasms of the dead. The two classes merge into one another, for the moment of death may be uncertain, and some latitude for delayed impression must be allowed; but undoubtedly appearances of dead people have occurred, and whether these also are to be attributed to a telepathic impression, received from a discarnate agent, remains an open question. On the whole the hypothesis of telepathy from the dead is regarded favourably by some of those competent to judge.
The standard classical instance of such an occurrence, as narrated by the poets, is the appearance of the drowned Ceyx to his beloved wife Alcyone, and her consequent veridical, conviction of his fate. The story is beautifully told, with full circumstance and vividness, in the eleventh book of Ovid's Metamorphoses. But it is noticeable that in this instance Ceyx had been dead for some days when the phantom appears, and the poet takes it to be a messenger from the gods, assuming the form and voice of the dead man in order to convince Alcyone of the truth.
And yet telepathy, though wide in its range, does not cover all the ground. It has to be stretched considerably in order to account for many apparitions, and especially for what is called the "fixed local" ghost, that is to say, an apparition said to be encountered in association with certain houses or places with the reputation of being haunted; any stranger being said to be able to see the apparition at suitable times, even if he were ignorant of the legend and unacquainted with the traditional haunting.
The first thing is to make sure that the facts are as described, and that such persistent haunting is a reality. It seems wisest to preserve an open mind on that subject; for the evidence, though noteworthy, is not yet considered as crucial as that for the other class of phantasms - the class more readily conceived of as due to transmitted mental impression. There appears to be a certain objectivity about this fixed local ghost: there seems no obvious agent to attribute a telepathic impulse; and besides the things the ghost is sometimes said to do are hardly consistent with a mere mental impression - though certainly the hypothesis of a vivid dream on the part of the percipient must be allowed all the benefit of any doubt there may be, and the burden of proof that there is anything objective in the experience must rest upon the narrator. No need to adduce any examples: ghost stories of this class are almost too well known; they are, difficult to remember in detail, though absurdly easy to invent.
Is there any rational hypothesis that can be thrown out for the explication of such phantoms as these, provided they establish themselves as facts? Does the possible independence of or unusual connection between mind and matter - the occasional freedom of the mind from the body - at all assist in such explication? On the whole and tentatively it does, along one of two channels.
Clairvoyance or Lucidity
First along the line of clairvoyance or lucidity. A critical examination of mediumistic powers has shown that occasionally they can extract information, not only from people's minds, by what we assume to be a process of telepathy - whatever that is - but also occasionally from commonplace objects. That they can decipher, for instance, what is in a scaled letter or packet, or read part of a page of a closed book. This "reading with the pit of the stomach," as it was long ago called, or reading with the top of the head, or with the fingers or some other part of the body, has sometimes been attributed to hyperaesthesia, as if parts of the skin not usually sensitive to visual impression become so under exceptional conditions, or as if the sense of sight became incredibly penetrating and efficient. The difficulties about such a semi-physical theory are insuperable, and it is better to affix the term clairvoyance or lucidity to the phenomenon, without any attempt at explanation in the first instance, and continue to scrutinise intelligently the facts.
A well-known instance, detailed by the great philosopher Kant, is when Swedenborg was aware of a fire in Stockholm, 200 miles away, and rose perturbed from a dinner party, remaining disquieted for an hour or two; until his anxiety subsided, and he was able to assure himself and his friends that the fire had been got under, and that it had been extinguished before it had reached his own home, though it had been dangerously near it. All of which, in a day or two, was verified.
As for the apparent reading of distant books, an appropriate Biblical text is sometimes given by chapter and verse; but that may be thought due to memory. It is difficult to attribute to the memory of a youth killed in the war the precise statement that a comforting message to his mother will be found near the, bottom of page 77 of the third book on the shelf where his schoolbooks are kept, in a house the medium has never been in. And yet things akin to this are contained among the so-called "book-tests" which of late have been received and published. (As, for instance, in Lady Glenconner's Earthen Vessel.)
The actuality of real clairvoyance, as distinct from any kind of telepathy, is not an easy thing to test; for if the knowledge has existed in any mind whatever, telepathy or mind-reading may be the simplest or at least a possible hypothesis; and, furthermore, if a thing is in no mind at all, and never has been, it does really seem as if it were difficult or perhaps impossible for any medium to get hold of it. On the other hand, if a packet is really known to a deceased person, the information can sometimes be obtained. As an illustration of the kind of thing expected from a sealed packet the fictional instance told by Mr. E. F. Benson in his novel Up and Down may be cited, for it is evidently modified from some real experience and represents in a more or less guarded and imaginative manner something of the kind that occasionally happens.
In the reading of sealed packets and the like, there are often failures. But failures - like negative results generally - prove hardly anything; moreover, they may be due to natural lapse of memory. The theme of a posthumous message or written sentence may be remembered, but it may be impossible to recall at will the exact words in which it was expressed. This happened in a famous instance, when the late F.W.H. Myers failed to repeat the sentence that he had written inside an envelope and handed to me twelve years before his death. Memory of the theme alone was quite insufficient for this particular kind of test. The result has to be counted as a complete failure.
Moreover, even if successful, the evidence for survival from a deciphered posthumous letter or package would be inconclusive - much more inconclusive than people are apt to suppose. For the contents of packets, or the history of relics belonging to a deceased or distant person, have frequently been said to be deciphered by a medium who handles them - the process is known as psychometry - just as the pages of closed books, even while still in a distant library, have been read. These things do not seem inaccessible to this strange faculty of lucidity; and the appearance, is as if the actual objects were able to produce an impression on some mind.
At any rate, that is the kind of supposition which underlies the hypothetical or tentative explanation of the fixed local of ghost. It is supposed that a sort of phonographic or photographic record has been left on, say, the walls or furniture of a room in which a tragedy has occurred, and that this latent impression can be psychometrised and disinterred from oblivion, by a person possessing the required faculty, with sufficient vividness to enable that person automatically to reconstruct the scene and describe the figures taking part in the psychical drama, as if they were again present and dreamily active.
Another alternative is to suppose that the deceased actors in the drama are themselves liable to dream vivid recurrent dreams of the past, and that these dreams act telepathically on the mind of a sensitive. It seem as if this kind of thing could happen between living people. A literary instance of a very vivid and complete experience of this kind - a kind of dream experience not altogether unknown to people now living - is the remarkable story of Peter Ibbetson by George du Maurier.
PART FIVE Materialisations
But there is another and still more puzzling line of explanation, which some are inclined to adopt, viz. the hypothesis that not only can matter act on mind, but that mind can act on matter without the intervention of the muscles, can extrude a certain kind of organic material from the body of a so-called physical medium, and can collect and form it into an actual presentation of form or features such as is technically known as materialisation. A physical phenomenon of this extraordinary kind requires exceptionally strong and cogent evidence, but it is one of the phenomena that are vigorously asserted to have occurred under favourable conditions; and some, eminent Continental physiologists have, against their will, been convinced of the reality of the bare occurrence. It is said to take a good deal of energy, and, therefore, to be assisted by the presence of a fair number of people - a circumstance which evidently makes strict investigation more difficult. Moreover, it requires specific membership of a certain strong, even though low, kind - a kind which cannot always be depended on as forthcoming at every date when a competent investigator is ready and willing to examine unlikely things of this sort.
Fortunately, in the past, the combination of a strong medium and a competent investigator has occurred, and has given us at least a record of a remarkable series of occurrences of this kind. And, again, today there are those who are able to testify to actual physical temporary materialisations, which can sometimes be seen, sometimes handled, moulded in plaster or paraffin, and more often photographed.
Furthermore, the material or semi-material fluid or substance or plasma is said to be able to move objects with considerable force, thus bringing about the phenomenon which has been named "telekinesis" or movement of objects without apparent or normal contact.
If this faculty of materialisation is established, however it be accounted for, the application to some varieties of ghostly apparition is obvious. Something visible, and occasionally tangible, may be really there.
But it must be clearly stated that several of the Continental observers who have most successfully and thoroughly scrutinised this materialisation and telekinetic phase of mediumistic activity are very loth to entertain the spiritistic hypothesis in any form; these scientific investigators prefer to regard it as an unexplained power of the medium's own organism, when in an unconscious or hypnotic state. They have to assume a power of rearranging the molecules of an extruded bodily substance, known as ectoplasm, which emanates from a medium's body, so as to cause it to simulate the appearance of human bodies or parts of bodies. And they have further to assume the possibility of its exerting considerable force on objects in the neighbourhood.
However this may be, physical phenomena are among the things requiring investigation by psychic science; and one of the commonest forms at the present time is psychic photography. Some mediums are said to have the power of so influencing the photographic process that when, say, a widower or bereaved parent, arriving quite anonymously, is photographed, a shadowy extra representing his deceased wife or son is sometimes obtained too. Whether these so-called "extras," if genuinely produced by a supernormal process, are "psychographed" on to the plate itself independently of the camera - though perhaps requiring exposure to light to bring them out, - or whether there is something in front of the camera which is optically focussed upon the plate during the exposure given for the purposes of photographing people present in the ordinary way, or whether both of these things may occur at different times, is a matter not yet fully settled, even among believers in the facts. It may be as easy to supernormal operators to manipulate the chemicals in a film as to manipulate the plasma into a face; one cannot say which is the easier hypothesis, when both seem equally impossible.
Direct Writing and Speaking
Another strange phenomenon, which must be regarded as akin to incipient materialisation, is the comparatively well-evidenced phenomenon of direct speaking or direct writing.
What is called automatic writing, when the pen is held by an ordinary person and appears to write without conscious volition, is a purely psychic phenomenon; for there is no question that the muscles of the writer are used, any more than there is a question that the voice of the medium is used in ordinary trance utterance. In these cases it is the substance of the message that alone needs consideration to establish any supernormal faculty. But there are rather exceptional mediums in whose presence pencils are said to write without being touched and others in whose presence, under suitable conditions, voices are said to be heard which do not emanate from the throat or larynx or even the neighbourhood of the medium, or of any person present in the flesh. This phenomenon is called "direct" because, not only is the subject-matter dictated in a supernormal manner, but the physical act is accomplished in an inexplicable manner too.
PART SIX Dowsing
On the verge between purely psychical and semi-physical phenomena are such faculties as dowsing and travelling clairvoyance.
The dowsing or water-divining faculty is a very ancient claim, said to be hereditary in families; and, however it be done, it has undoubtedly been found useful. It is as if some faculty of remote ancestors to whom water might be a matter of life and death - a faculty akin to the not yet understood homing instinct of animals - survived among some individuals, even now. The dowser takes a twig in his hands and feels it struggle and turn when he is over the desired kind of water or other mineral. This appears to be a genuine impression on his part, however it may be produced, and the result is that, with people skilled in the art, the finding of springs of water in unlikely and difficult places has actually been accomplished. It is like a form of clairvoyance or lucidity, akin to the finding of hidden objects or the reading of closed books.
Real travelling clairvoyance may take various forms, and is rather liable to be associated with enfeebled bodily condition, as if the link with matter was being loosened or relaxed without being completely broken.
As an example of travelling clairvoyance under pathological conditions we may instance, the experience in South Africa narrated by the eminent Professor of Surgery, Sir Alexander Ogston, LL.D., etc., in his book "Reminiscences of Three Campaigns." During an attack of typhoid he often felt separated from his body, which he then regarded with some loathing, though he felt compelled to enter it from time to time; until gradually he felt his wanderings restricted, at about the time when the attendants began to hope for his recovery.
"In my wanderings there was a strange consciousness that I could see through the walls of the building, though I was aware they were there, and that everything was transparent to my senses. I saw plainly, for instance, a poor R.A.M.C. surgeon, of whose existence I had not known, and who was in quite another part of the hospital, grow very ill and scream and die; I saw them cover his corpse and carry him softly out in shoeless feet, quietly and surreptitiously, lest we should know that he had died, and the next night - I thought - take him away to the cemetery. Afterwards, when I told these happenings to the sisters, they informed me that this had happened just as I had fancied. But the name of the poor fellow I never knew."
This kind of experience, with varieties of form, has often been narrated by persons who have been at the point of death and have recovered, or who have awakened out of a deep trance. Such persons have said that they felt physically attached to the body, as by a kind of cord, and were under the impression that if the cord snapped return would be impossible. (Cf. J. A. Hill's Man is a Spirit, ch. iv.)
Return is indeed often undesired, for the free condition seems much more attractive than the cramped, fettered, and commonplace condition familiar to us in our customary association with an animal-descended body, full of appetites and liable to pain and physical troubles: though, doubtless, the association is for some good and evolutionary purpose.
Travelling clairvoyance is the projection, as it were, of the intelligence out of the body into some distant place, so that it brings back information as to what is there at the time occurring; it is a phenomenon which certainly suggests the separation and independent existence of mind and body, and which also in some exceptional forms suggests an ectoplasmic or other vehicle for the intelligence, while separated from its usual complete organism.
For when the distant vision of the surroundings of an absent person is being attained, by what feels like a visit to a distant place, there are certain rare, so-called reciprocal, cases in which the distant person is aware of the presence (if his visitor, who is said to manifest a sort of phantasmal appearance, as if the perception were not wholly subjective, and not limited to one side alone. (A good instance, much too long to quote, is cited in Myers's Human Personality vol. i p682, from vol. vii, p41 of the Proceedings S.P.R.)
Such joint clairvoyance may perhaps be only a vivid kind of reciprocal telepathy; but there are some asserted instances of what cannot be wholly, accounted for by any form of telepathy, in which an actual movement is produced, and some object is displaced and left displaced, or brought from a distance or carried away to another place: this being a variety of the phenomenon known as "apports," which need not be necessarily associated with clairvoyance at all. Things are asserted to happen in a séance as if a far-fetched object, such as a live parrot or a piece of Chinese jade or some rare Egyptian relic made its appearance in the closed and locked room in which a party are assembled, without (so it is said) anyone having brought it in.
That these things sound incredible is obvious; the question is whether anything like this ever occurs, or whether honest testimony that they have occurred, on a given occasion, is merely the result of a conjuring device.
Every kind of deception is not fraudulent. The tricks of a conjurer are deception, but not fraud. Deception is what he is paid for; it might even be regarded as fraudulent if he failed to produce some sort of rabbit out of a hat. It is charitably thought that the subconscious - of a medium sometimes resorts to deception in order to achieve results without any intention of fraud.
Accusation of conscious fraud is a serious tiring, and should be held to require substantial proof. Such proof has at times been forthcoming - with legitimate consequences, - but appearances may suggest it without being really convincing; and care should be taken in this as in all other matters connected with an obscure subject. That deception and fraud are both possible is manifest; that they are more probable a priori than the phenomena themselves may be admitted; the question is what substratum of truth remains when these verae causae are effectively allowed for or thoroughly guarded against. It is known in business that there comes a stage at which continual suspicion or discredit of a reputable personality becomes unreasonable, and foolishly inimical to trade: but there may be differences of opinion as to when that stage is reached.
It is sometimes said that a professional medium, who gets a fee of half a guinea or thereabouts, has a motive to deceive. But an amateur with no pecuniary temptation may also have a motive to deceive - it may have been noticed that money is not everything in this world - and the fact that the temptation in his case is of a more subtle and less generally recognised character tends to case his task by making him more immune from suspicion. Indeed, if an officer and a gentleman thought it worth while to sacrifice his honour, and to lie with unscrupulous persistent cleverness, there is no telling how far his deception could go: he might deceive even the very elect. Few, if any, deceivers, however, have so far shown sufficient cleverness to evade the suspicion and secure the confidence of a hardened and experienced and trained investigator of the S.P.R. It is thought by many that suspicion and lack of confidence have by that Society been pressed unduly far. Suspicion is the safest attitude - perhaps the only safe one - in the present state of public, ignorance and against a background of ingenious plots and conspiracies to waylay and trap the unwary; but it must be admitted that an atmosphere of suspicion and cold aloofness - however wise and needful - does tend to militate against the production of genuine phenomena, and thus to diminish opportunities for rational investigation. For if nothing is produced, there is nothing to examine; and the mere inhibition of phenomena, though safe and prudent, does not enlarge our opportunity for observation and for framing improved theories as to the modus operandi.
The giving of some kind of credit, the faith which is the foundation of business enterprise, seems likely to be fruitful here also, in spite of the risk. "Without faith there is no redemption." Without risking something there is no gain.
PART SEVEN Evidence for Survival
Leaving these puzzling physical phenomena and returning to the more purely psychical demonstrations, we encounter not only evidence of telepathy and of clairvoyance, but of the simulation of personal control, whereby it certainly appears as if a deceased person were making use of the medium's organism, to speak and write somewhat as he might have done when he possessed his own physiological mechanism. The trance and the hypnotic states have several points in common, though they are not identical; and whereas in the hypnotic state (so long uncritically and stupidly denied) the patient is more or less amenable to the thoughts and will of the operator, in the trance state the medium is influenced by either a secondary personality or by some form of controlling intelligence (not present in the flesh and sometimes believed to be a discarnate person once resident on the earth), who wishes to take this indirect means of proving his continued existence, and of sending an assurance of help or a message of abiding affection, to members of his family. Messages of affection, however, are seldom evidential, though through the use of pet names, etc., they have a certain value, provided nothing has been given away by an incautious sitter.
Certainly a strenuous effort is made sometimes to give proof of surviving personal identity. All manner of trivial incidents are recalled, and personal peculiarities are emphasised and, though these things are usually known to someone present and, or are afterwards recalled by some near relation, and therefore may be plausibly attributed to telepathy from the living, an effort is evidentially being made to show that they are really due to telepathy from the "dead" - though they rather resent the application of that term when they are feeling all the time active and vigorous. The method of demonstration they adopt, when possible, is to mention things which only they knew, in the hope that their friends will succeed in verifying them, and will accept the evidence as proof of their continued existence.
Sometimes the communications are useful as when Swedenborg was able to get from the deceased Dutch ambassador, M. Marteville, the location of a secret drawer unknown to the family, in which was a missing document that had been long hunted for fruitlessly by the widow. Verification of the finding of the document, after getting the information, was specially satisfactory in this case, because it was done in the presence of a number of people who happened to be in the deceased's house at the time when Swedenborg arrived to report what he had learned, and to stimulate the final instructed search. (Kant, Träume eines Geistersehers.)
Sometimes the communicators show signs of anxiety and distress, about things they wish to remedy and cannot. As when a soldier, killed at the front, appears to a stranger at a sitting and begs that his kit may be overhauled and certain letters and documents extracted and destroyed, for that they would cause irremediable mischief if seen by his folk at home. How to get this done is forthwith discussed; and at length the communicator suggests the name of a person known to him, in sufficient authority and with sufficient family connection to make it possible that the mission might be accomplished. The sequel is that the message was given, and suitable action taken. It all turned out true; so the vicarious misery which had been legitimately weighing on the mind of the deceased was averted.
Sometimes the natural affection they exhibit takes a form which does happen to be of an evidential character. As when a secret engagement is announced to his family by a deceased soldier, with the name and address of his betrothed, accompanied by the request that when she is found a certain object of remembrance which is still in his unopened kit, unknown to anyone, may be found and given her. (See Barrett, "On the Threshold of the Unseen," p. 184.)
Moreover, some of the most skilful communicators "on the other side" have taken the trouble to clinch the argument by sending mysterious fragments of references, through several independent mediums in different parts of the world, nearly simultaneously; fragments which are only perceived to have a meaning, and that a personal and identifying one, when they are all collected and compared and seen to fit into each other like the fragments of a puzzle. This is what is called the system of "cross-correspondence." They have also succeeded in showing scholarly knowledge, appropriate to themselves, but beyond the scope of anyone present, and of a grade often edifying to living scholars. It is a great mistake, though one often made, to suppose that only rubbish comes through.
The last-mentioned elaborate devices - how elaborate is only known to painstaking students - cannot reasonably be attributed to mind reading from any living person; nor can the result be attributed to mere chance coincidence. It bears all the marks of careful and ingenious design. The most sceptical among the serious students of this kind of utterance, have at length become convinced that the explanation of communication from surviving is the only one they can think of which meets the case and that covers all the facts, - whatever outstanding difficulties still surround that tremendous hypothesis. It is not one to be lightly granted or prematurely published broadcast. There should be no forcing of conviction. "Ears to hear" are still necessary.
More Elementary Methods
In studying these messages, it is the phenomenon of psychic control which has to be explained. There, is no difficulty about the physical performance itself. The problem is as to the nature and identity of the controlling or communicating intelligence.
Sometimes the hand, instead of writing, is used to point to a set of letters of the alphabet exposed to view, or occasionally, though rarely, not exposed, but screened from the view of the operator; some form of pointer being usually employed as indicator of the letters, for convenience. This is a more elementary form of manifestation; for the letters are already formed, and only have to be pointed at instead of written. Sometimes the muscular action takes the form of tilts or taps, which repeat themselves as the alphabet is recited by somebody present, and which stop when the intended letter is reached. Or else, as in some cases, a tilt is given only when the intended letter is reached. All these variations are trivial: the important thing is the substance of the communication, and the proof of identity which can thus be obtained.
Here, therefore, a caution - a much needed caution. The ease with which communication of some kind can be got, by tilts and by pointing to letters, enables people with extraordinarily small mediumistic power to get results of some kind. So also can they be got, by a fair number of people, through automatic writing. And in many case, it has to be pointed out, politely but emphatically, that what they get is very rubbishy, and may be due to the unconscious tapping of their own dream stratum.
Occasionally, if people are truly susceptible to telepathic influences, even the dream stratum may be the recipient of genuine impressions from a distant mind or scene; and in that case even dreams, as well as the more mechanical methods of tapping the subconsciousness, may be veridical or truth-telling - that is to say, may give information unknown to the persons operating, which yet can subsequently be verified.
This undoubtedly happens occasionally, however it be accounted for; but, as a rule, it may be said that the more mysterious or occult modes of writing, or spelling, or talking, are of no particular value merely because they are puzzling and occult. In some painful cases they are no better than if the person operating allowed the fancy to roam at large and say whatever came into its ken. The tricks of the subconsciousness are innumerable: much more so than novices suspect.
PART EIGHT Summary
The main thing which psychic science has so far established is the possible disconnection of mind and body, the proof that mind can exist, and can even act in certain ways, apart from the usual instrument. This fact has a close bearing on the possibility of survival, for it shows that the mind and personality and character and memory need not become extinct when the brain and other usual organs of manifestation are destroyed.
Mind cannot function, or display itself, without a physiological organ of some kind, but it has shown itself capable of existing under other conditions; and, moreover, it can telepathically produce an effect, not only on other minds in like condition with itself, which presumably is easy, but occasionally even on incarnate minds; minds presumably of sympathetic persons who are not too busy to attend, and who are not too wholly and closely guarded by their bodily screen.
For it would seem that the brain and body being instruments for use during our practical sojourn on the earth amid material surroundings, are adapted to isolate us as individuals and to sever us from a multitude of cosmic influences which would otherwise distract us and prevent our attending to the business in hand. These instruments are not an essential part of ourselves, and we go on without them but meanwhile they are, useful and in most people give complete isolation for the development of an individual personality, - since the only channels of communication with others are through the physiological sense and motor organs with which we are all familiar. So familiar with the usual methods of communication do we become that we are tempted to think them the only conceivable way. But it turns out that in the case of a few persons - not so few as had been thought - the screening apparatus is incomplete, the brain is as it were leaky, and impressions can get through from the psychic universe which are not brought by the sense organs and nervous network to a brain centre, but arrive in the mind by some more direct route.
Such persons are the mediums; and their faculty exhibits itself most readily when ordinary disturbances, and the lights and sounds of every day, are shut off, and when they enter into the quiet.
Something of the same sort has been known to the saints of all time, and also to men of genius. The conditions for meditation, or for high and fruitful production, are similar. But whereas, in the case of lofty minds, things of value are received into the consciousness, and are skillfully worked upon and converted into great discoveries, or immortal poems or pictures, the lowly class of more nearly ordinary people called mediums are as a rule not particularly able or highly educated folk - though there are exceptions - and are only privileged to get inspiration into their subconsciousness in a temporary and easily forgotten manner. They have to let the inspiration such as it is be utilised by others, who take the trouble to obey the conditions and to make and study the record of what is given, through their subconscious utterance. Such utterance, whether by speech or by writing, often takes the form of ecstatic description of occurrences and conditions "on the other side" and on the joys and occupations of future existence. Many books recording this kind of information have been published, both in America and England. But, though they may be considered edifying, statements of this kind are not verifiable, and therefore are not yet attended to by psychic science; though in the case of Swedenborg, they have been made a foundation for religion.
The utterances in which science at present is most interested are concerned with more mundane affairs; they may not seem at all important or edifying to superficial observation, and are often said to be trivial and unworthy of the dignity of the subject - whatever that may mean. One gets tired of pointing out that the triviality of these personal and domestic tests adds to their value as evidence of personal survival - which appears to be their object. If the events referred to were historical, or even domestically important, they would be recorded in Papers of some kind, and clairvoyant reading of the record could be appealed to as an alternative explanation, even if a much more commonplace suspicion were not entertained. To complain of triviality in the events selected as evidence for continued personal existence and memory is stupid, or at least thoughtless. For if, when studied, the best messages are found to constitute in the chain of evidence demonstrating continued existence or human survival beyond the adventure of bodily death; if they show that we are not alone in an alien universe for some seventy odd years, and are then extinguished as if we had it not been, but that all immortal future - an infinite destiny - lies before each one of us; if they tend to prove that the loves and powers and hopes and aspirations of earth persist, that our acts for better for worse are laid to our charge, and that without any sudden change our character goes on developing:- if any weak and halting utterances are able to convey such knowledge as this, no one has the right to stigmatise them as common or unclean.