WHILE THE Indian sophists of old contended with one another as to whether the
soul survived the death of the body or not, Buddha is said to have got out of
the difficulty by asserting that there was no such thing as personality,
maintaining that all was continuous motion.
Although many psychic researchers of to-day assert that no satisfactory proof
has been adduced of the survival of personality after death, nobody, so far as I
am aware, has denied its existence and persistence in this life, or defined what
would be a satisfactory proof of survival. As the grounds of our belief in the
one case must hold good in the other, it is obviously necessary to decide how
far rational and empirical psychology can justify us in arriving at a conclusion
in regard to this life.
Before discussing this point it is, first of all, essential to determine the
nature and source of our knowledge of the phenomenal world. In other words: What
system of philosophy holds the field at the present day? The essence of the
system which has been in vogue in Germany from Fichte to Haeckel, Schopenhauer
excepted, consists in making baseless assumptions, and endeavouring to support
them by using jaw-breaking words and sentences totally devoid of meaning.
Goethe ridiculed this weakness in his countrymen in a well-known passage in
This has brought philosophy into such contempt that many have forgotten that
there was such a man as Kant, and that he revolutionised philosophy 126 years
ago by conclusively proving in his Transcendental Aesthetik that our empirical
knowledge depends on the forms of time and space, a priori existing in our
intellect, time being the form of the inner sense and space that of the outer.
At one blow he upset the dogmatic idealism of Berkeley and the sceptical of Des Cartes by showing that inner experience, which the latter looked upon as the
only certainty, could not be possible without the existence of external objects.
Some English writers on metaphysics, completely ignoring Kant's arguments, still
look upon objects in space as realities in themselves, and endeavour to show how
we derive the ideas of time, space, and causality from them, never thinking to
ask themselves how on earth they could get any knowledge of an external object,
to begin with, if these forms did not already exist preformed in their brains.
According to this idea of Kant's, which is at the same time transcendental
idealism and empirical realism, objects in space are objects of the outer sense,
and as seen by us have no existence apart from our thinking subject. They have,
however, an underlying reality of which we can know nothing. Similarly the
thinking ego is the object of the inner sense, thoughts are its manifestations,
and the underlying reality is totally unknown to us.
Schopenhauer has supported Kant's
theory with such clearness that, in my opinion, no other can now be taken into
consideration. Applying these principles to the cogito, ergo sum, on which the
arguments of rational psychology are based, he shows that thoughts being simply
the presentation - Vorstellung - of the thinking subject, and consciousness the
form by which this presentation is effected, we can draw no inference whatever
regarding the underlying reality of the ego. It may be like or unlike that of
any object in space, which may have its own thoughts and consciousness, although
these make no impression on our senses. The impossibility of inferring the
persistence of personality from the consciousness of our numerical identity at
different times – third paralogism - he illustrates by taking the case of a row
of similar electric balls in a straight line. The first impinging on the second
communicates its motion and complete condition to it, and so on through the row.
Assuming a series of "substances" instead of such bodies, each would take on the
ideas and consciousness of its predecessor, and the last would have all the
states of the previous ones, together with their consciousness, and yet not be
the same person. The idea seems to be the same as Buddha's.
If we wish to observe our own ego through its various "presentations" we have no
standard of comparison but the same ego, and so must necessarily assume what is
to be proved. The phenomena of multiple personality make the matter still more
difficult. It is obvious, therefore, that rational psychology cannot solve the
Can empirical psychology give us any help in the matter? Professor Morselli, in
his introductory article on spiritualism, says that we must put aside empiricism
and have recourse to research. Research, however, is an appeal to experience,
the knowledge so gained is empirical, and, from what has been said, can bring us
no nearer the transcendental object of our investigation, even if we add the
word "physical" to "psycho" to make the latter look more respectable. Professor
Morselli also says in the same article that all metaphysical problems must be
put aside as worthless. I presume he means that the question of personality
should be dropped altogether. On the other hand, in stating that no proof of
survival has been produced he makes himself responsible for the metaphysics.
The spiritualist can, in my opinion, often maintain that he has as good proof of
survival as of persistence in this life, and those that do not agree with him
must either admit that no proof is possible in either case or add a new chapter
to rational psychology. Until this is done we must be content to amuse ourselves
after the fashion of the Indian sophists, using such words as "telepathy" to
conceal the fact that we have to deal solely with a metaphysical problem.
The Annals of Psychical Science, October 1908, Vol
VII, Number 46.