Peter Wadhams is Professor of Ocean Physics, and Head of the Polar Marine Sciences Group in the Scott Polar Research Institute.
Sir William Crookes
Thank you very much for sending the Crookes letter. I have certainly not seen this before, it doesn't seem to be in general circulation, and it certainly sheds new light on the Crookes debate. What Crookes' careful description makes crystal-clear is that, in his own home and laboratory, under conditions of reasonable lighting, he saw Florence Cook and Katie King at the same time and that they were separate entities. This allows only three explanations:-
1. He was a liar
2. He was fooled by an accomplice of Florence Cook posing as Katie King
3. He was telling the absolute truth, proving that materialisations occur.
Given Crookes' stature as a scientist, his demonstrated respect for truth and accuracy in all of his conventional scientific work, and the amount that he had to lose (and did lose) in terms of his reputation by endorsing materialisation, with nothing to gain by it, I would say that (1) is impossible. (2) is also impossible since these sessions were held in his own lab and completely under his own control, so no accomplice could have gained access. This leaves us with (3).
I get the feeling that both the established scientific community and the educated general public, in his own time, were uneasily aware that logically one should believe Crookes. Yet they couldn't bring themselves to do so consciously, since if they did they would have to acknowledge that here was a phenomenon of mind-boggling importance, exceeding in importance all the exciting physics then taking place, and that this should therefore become the chief concern of science. It was too much to ask of people, to recognise as a serious business things which up to then had been the preserve of spiritualists and other characters believed to be weird or fraudulent. Yet deep down they could not ridicule Crookes or run him out of town on a rail, because unconsciously they had to acknowledge that he was right. So the result was a strange ambivalence towards Crookes. He continued to be respected for his discoveries in physics, he became President of the Royal Society, but his work with mediums was ignored and not spoken of.
This persists to our own time. As a physics student I learned about Crookes' work with cathode rays and his discovery of the "Crookes dark space" in a cathode ray tube. I learned about the Crookes radiometer which shows the pressure of radiation on a surface. I didn't learn about Crookes' work with mediums.
Other scientists had it worse. If they were distinguished scientists in another field (which might lead one to expect that their psychic research results would be respected), then not only were their psychic findings ignored, but their solid achievements in other fields were subtly downplayed, so that they did not receive the full honour and fame that they were due. One example is Sir Oliver Lodge, who sent the first radio message and was probably the rightful inventor of both the thermionic valve and the spark plug, but who received no credit for any of these things (or at least inadequate credit) because he was tainted by his psychic interests. Alfred Russel Wallace was the co-discoverer of evolution with Darwin, and actually had priority (he was the chief author of the paper that was read as "Darwin and Wallace" for alphabetical reasons at the Linnean Society and which for ever after established Darwin as the father of evolution). Wallace did much more than Darwin in investigating natural selection in the field (usually in dangerous jungle regions) but got much less credit because he dared to be interested in life after death and wrote papers on sittings with mediums and observations of people like Daniel Dunglas Home. In our own day Cambridge University shows little recognition of the achievements of Brian Josephson despite the fact that (after the retirement of Tony Hewish) he is the only Nobel Laureate in Physics currently at work in the University. They had to give him a Chair, of course, but they seem embarrassed by his continued existence and his range of research interests, whilst praising to the skies (and making a large amount of money out of) the reputation of Stephen Hawking, who is not a Nobel prizewinner and probably never will be.
It is a psychological phenomenon. Deep down they know that great scientists who engage in this kind of work and get positive results should be believed and should cause this subject to become a central theme of the world's scientific effort. But they dare not accept this thought. So to square their consciences and make the dissonance less extreme they have to invent reasons to pretend that the great scientist is not actually as great as he seems, that he's somehow naive or bonkers or that his conventional discoveries weren't as important as they at first appear.
For truly great scientists this effort to rewrite history is unfair and an insult to their reputations. But the ones who suffer most are the good, but not great, scientists who interest themselves in psychic or life-after-death research. It's open season on these. Their papers cannot be published in mainstream journals, they get no research funds, they are fired or downgraded from their jobs for no valid reason. You can ridicule Josephson but you can't take away his Chair. You can, however, destroy the career of Robert Jahn (who lost his job as Dean of Engineering at Princeton for daring to get positive results in a long series of experiments on psychokinesis with random number generators). These are the real martyrs to truth.
Related material on this site:
Miss Florence Cook's Mediumship - Letter from Sir William Crookes to Spiritualist publications (February 3, 1874)
Spirit-Forms - Letter from Sir William Crookes to Spiritualist publications (March 30, 1874)
The Last of Katie King - Letter from Sir William Crookes to Spiritualist publications (April, 1874)
The Chemist Sir William Crookes Proved Survival With Repeatable Experiments Under Laboratory Conditions - by Michael Roll
Sir Oliver Lodge Invented Radio Not Marconi
A plaque in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History commemorates Sir Oliver Lodge sending the first radio signal on August 14, 1894 at the Oxford meeting of The British Association.
The Mode of Future Existence - 1933 Lecture by Sir Oliver Lodge FRS (1851-1940)
This article is censored from all large-circulation papers and magazines throughout the world because it links the subject of survival after death with the scientific discipline of subatomic physics - the study of the invisible part of the universe.
Great Naturalist Censored for Reading Survival After Death as a Branch of Physics - an article about Alfred Russel Wallace (1823 - 1913), by Michael Roll
"Paranormal" - An article by Michael Hanlon about Prof. B D Josephson, published in The Daily Mail, (October 1, 2001)