Sir Oliver Lodge

Sir Oliver Lodge

President of the Radio Society, Physical Society, British Society, Society for Psychical Research and Rontgen Society. Professor of Physics in the University of Liverpool, Principal of the University of Birmingham. Knighted. Sent a radio message one year before Marconi.

A Summary of Dr. Hodgson's Report

 - Oliver Lodge -

        OF ALL men at that time living, undoubtedly Dr. Hodgson had more experience of Mrs. Piper's phenomena than any other - for lie devoted years of his life to the subject and made it practically his sole occupation. He did this because, after preliminary study, lie recognised its great importance. He was by no means a credulous man-in fact he was distinctly sceptical, and many have been the spurious phenomena which be detected and exposed. In some respects he went, in my judgment, too far in his destructive career - he disbelieved in Mrs. Thompson, for instance, and he practically for the time annihilated Eusapia Palladino, the famous "physical" medium - but hyper-scepticism is more conducive to the development of the subject than hyper-credulity, and when such a man is, after adequate study, decidedly and finally convinced, his opinions deserve, and from those who knew him received, serious attention.

Not that we must be coerced into acceptance, any more than into rejection, of facts, by any critical judgment passed upon them by others; but undoubtedly his views are entitled to great weight. Accordingly I extract some of them from a paper which he published in the Proceedings, vol. xiii., in the year 1898; and I begin with his summary of the kind of statements made by the ostensible communicators as to the way the phenomenon appeared to them, on their side - statements which I judge were provisionally accepted by him as true.

The statements of the "communicators - as to what occurs on the physical side may be put in brief general terms as follows. We all have bodies composed of "luminiferous ether" enclosed in our flesh and blood bodies. The relation of Mrs. Piper's etherial body to the etherial world, in which the "communicators" claim to dwell, is such that a special store of peculiar energy is accumulated in connection with her organism, and this appears to them as "a light." Mrs. Piper's etherial body is removed by them, and her ordinary body appears as a shell filled with this "light." Several "communicators "may be in contact with this light at the same time. There are two chief "masses" of it in her case, one in connection with the head, the other in connection with the right arm and hand. Latterly, that in connection with the hand has been "brighter" than that in connection with the head. If the "communicator" gets into contact with the "light" and thinks his thoughts, they tend to be reproduced by movements in Mrs. Piper's organism. Very few can produce vocal effects, even when in contact with the "light" of the head, but practically all can produce writing movements when in contact with the "light" of the hand. Upon the amount and brightness of this "light," coeteris paribus, the communications depend. When Mrs. Piper is in ill health the "light" is feebler, and the communications tend to be less coherent. It also gets used up during a sitting, and when it gets dim there is a tendency to incoherence even in otherwise clear communicators. In all cases, coming into contact with this "light" tends to produce bewilderment, and if the contact is continued too long, or the "light" becomes very dim, the consciousness of the communicator tends to lapse completely.

Then floods of excited emotion at the presence of incarnate friends, dominant ideas that disturbed him when he was incarnate himself, the desire to render advice and assistance to other living friends and relatives, etc., all crowd upon his mind; the sitter begins to ask questions about matters having no relation to what he is thinking about, he gets more and more bewildered more and more comatose, loses his "grasp" of the "light," and drifts away, perhaps to return several times and go through a similar experience. Sometimes, shortly before the hand starts writing, Phinuit gives notice that some one is "going to talk with you himself." Sometimes the hand is "seized" and passes through its convulsive vagaries while Phinuit gives no sign, but talks on with the sitter continuously, even after the writing has started. To give an extreme instance of this, at a sitting where a lady was engaged in a profoundly personal conversation with Phinuit concerning her relations, and where I [H.] was present to assist knowing the lady and her family very intimately, - the hand was seized very quietly, and as it were, surreptitiously, and wrote a very personal communication to myself, purporting to come from a deceased friend of mine, and having no relation whatsoever to the sitter; precisely as if a caller should enter a room where two strangers to him were conversing, but a friend of his also present, and whisper a special message into the ear of the friend without disturbing the conversation.

It occurred to me (continues Dr. Hodgson) that possibly the left hand might also write, and that it might be possible to get both hands writing and Phinuit speaking, all at the same time on different subjects with different persons. On February 24th, 1894 the "Edmund Gurney" control wrote in the course of some remarks about certain "mediums": "In these cases there is no reason why various spiritual minds cannot express their thoughts at the same time through the same organism." I then referred to my proposed experiment with the two hands, and said that I would arrange to try it some time, with "Gurney" using one hand and "George Pelham" the other, but that I was not prepared to make the experiment at that time. At my next sitting, February 26th, 1894, when I was unprepared and was alone, an attempt, only very partially successful was made to write independently with both hands at the very beginning of the sitting. On March 18th, 1895, another attempt, much more successful, was made, when I was accompanied for the purpose by Miss Edmunds. Her "deceased sister" wrote with one hand, and G. P. with the other, while Phinuit was talking, all simultaneously on different subjects. Very little, however, was written with the left hand. The difficulty appeared to lie chiefly in the deficiencies of the left hand as a writing-machine.

To a person unfamiliar with a series of these later sittings, it may seem a plausible hypothesis that perhaps one secondary personality might do the whole work, might use the voice and write contemporaneously with the hand, and pretend in turn to be the friends of the various sitters; might in short be a finished actor with telepathic powers, producing the impression not only that he is the character he plays, but that others are with him also, though invisible, playing their respective parts. I do not, however, think it at all likely that he would continue to think it plausible after witnessing and studying the numerous coherent groups of memories connected with different persons, the characteristic emotional tendencies distinguishing such different persons, the excessive complication of the acting required, and the absence of any apparent bond of union for the associated thoughts and feelings indicative of each individuality, save some persistent basis of that individuality itself.

But here objectors arise.

"Why" they will say, "if discarnate persons are really communicating, do they not give us much more evidence? We ourselves, if put in the witness-box here and cross-examined, could do vastly better even than G. P., and why have so few others been able to show even an approximation to such clearness as he exhibited? Why all the incoherence and confusion and irrelevancy?

In all cases I should expect at first a confusion in understanding me, as well as a confusion in manifesting go me. If the cessation from manifestation has been very complete and has lasted a very long time, I should expect a greater bewilderment, for a short time at least, when it began again to manifest. These deficiencies and bewilderments I should expect to be much more marked if such a consciousness, instead of trying to manifest itself once more through its own organism with which it had practised for years, were restricted for its manifestations to another organism. In such an event I should expect the manifestations to partake in the first instance of the same lack of inhibitory control, the same inability to appreciate my injunctions and questions, the same dreamy irrelevancy that characterises all the manifestations, in my physical world, of a consciousness that has temporarily ceased to manifest therein and begins once more to reveal itself in what I call the waking state, - varying in individual cases as I find they do in ordinary life, - whether it he after ordinary sleep, or prolonged coma, or anaesthetisation, etc - but with a tendency for the incoherency of the manifestations to be much more pronounced, inasmuch as the consciousness is trying to regain its wakefulness towards me by an unwonted way. Whether such a consciousness could ever regain its complete former fullness in my world through another organism seems highly improbable. What I should expect to find is that through another organism it could only Partially wake. Hence I must suppose that even the best of direct "communicators" through Mrs. Piper's trance is asleep. This is the first point, says Dr. Hodgson, which I wish to emphasise.

Again, that persons just "deceased" should the extremely confused and unable to communicate directly, or even at all, seems perfectly natural after the shock and wrench of death. Thus in the case of my friend Hart, he was unable to write the second day after death. In another case a friend of mine, whom I may call R, wrote, with what appeared to be much difficulty, his name and the words, "I am all right now. Adieu," within two or three days of his death. In another case F., a near relative of Madame Elisa, was unable to write on the morning after his death. On the second day after, when a stranger was present with me for a sitting, he wrote two or three sentences, saying, "I am too weak to articulate clearly;" and not many days later he wrote fairly well and clearly, and dictated also to Madame Elisa, as amanuensis, an account of his feelings at finding himself in his new surroundings. Both D. and F. became very clear in a short time. D. communicated later on, frequently, both by writing and speech, chiefly the latter, and showed always an impressively marked and characteristic personality. Hart, on the other hand, did not become so clear till many months later. I learned long afterwards that his illness had been much longer and more fundamental than I had supposed. The continued confusion in his case seemed explicable if taken in relation with the circumstances of his prolonged illness, including fever, but there was no assignable relation between his confusion and the state of my own mind.

Returning to the actual circumstances, I say that if the "spirits" of our "deceased" friends do communicate as alleged through the organisms of still incarnate persons, we are not justified in expecting them to manifest themselves with the same fullness of clear consciousness that they exhibited during life. We should on the contrary expect even the best communicators to fall short of this for the two main reasons: (i) loss of familiarity with the conditions of using a gross material organism at all we should expect them to be like fishes out of water or birds immersed in it; (2) inability to govern precisely and completely the particular gross material organism which they are compelled to use. They learned " when living to play on one very complicated speaking and writing machine, and suddenly find themselves set down to play on another of a different make."

There are, indeed, three kinds of confusion that need to be distinguished by the investigator: (i) the confusion in the "spirit," whether he is communicating or, not, due primarily to his mental and bodily conditions when living; (2) the confusion in the "spirit" produced by the conditions into which he comes when in the act of communicating; (3) the confusion in the result due to the failure of complete control over the writing (or other) mechanism of the medium. (2) and (3) are increased very much by the failures of sitters to understand the process. Thus when a "Mrs. Mitchell" control was requested to repeat words which we had difficulty in deciphering, she wrote: -

No, I can't, it is too much work and too weakening and I cannot repeat - you must help me and I will prove myself to you. I cannot collect my thoughts to repeat sentences to you. My darling husband, I am not away from you, but right by your side. Welcome me as you if I were with you in the flesh and blood body. [Sitter asks for test.] * * * I cannot tell myself just bow you hear me, and it bothers me a little . . . how do you hear me speak, dear, when we speak by thought only? Your thoughts do not reach me at all when I am speaking to you, but I hear a strange sound and have to half guess. . . .

Of such confusions as I have indicated above I cannot find any satisfactory explanation in "telepathy from the living" (continues Dr. Hodgson), but they fall into a rational order when related to the personalities of the ''dead."

The persistent failures of many communicators under varying conditions; the first failures of other communicators who soon develop into clearness in communicating, and whose first attempts apparently can be made much clearer by the assistance of persons professing to be experienced communicators; the special bewilderment, soon to disappear, of communicators shortly after death and apparently in consequence of it; the character of the specific mental automatisms manifest in the communications; the clearness of remembrance in little children recently deceased as contrasted with the forgetfulness of childish things shown by communicators who died when children many years before, - all present a definite relation to the personalities alleged to be communicating, and are exactly what we should expect if they are actually communicating, under the conditions of Mrs. Piper's trance manifestations. The results fit the claim.

On the other hand these are not the results which we should expect on the hypothesis of telepathy from the living. If the hypothesis of telepathy from the living is acted upon in anything like the ordinary experimental way, the supernormal results will be lessened. If the investigator persistently refuses to regard the communications as coming from the sources claimed, he will not get the best results. If, on the other hand, he acts on the hypothesis that the communicators are, "spirits" acting under adverse conditions, and if he treats them as he would a living person in a similar state, he will find an improvement in the communications.

And having tried the hypothesis of telepathy from the living for several years, and the "spirit" hypothesis also for several years, - says Dr. Hodgson, - I have no hesitation in affirming with the most absolute assurance that the "spirit" hypothesis is justified by its fruits, and the other hypothesis is not.   


Other articles by Oliver Lodge

In Memory of Prof. Frederic W. H. Myers

Psychic Science

What Science Means For Man

The Possibility of Survival from a Scientific Point of View

The Mechanism of Survival

Problems Raised by the Idea of Survival

On the Asserted Difficulty of the Spiritualistic Hypothesis from a Scientific Point of View
Do We Survive?

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