"What distinguishes religion from ethics is the belief in another world and the endeavour to hold intercourse with it."
Father George Tyrrell in The Quarterly Review for July, 1909, in the course of a review of certain orthodox religious
FOR by far the greater part of its history mankind has been effectively aware only of the earth, and has regarded it as the sole world in existence, the host of heaven being treated as subordinate appendages to this world for the purpose of giving it light and surrounding it with objects of interest. (A greater light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.) A few gleams of wider knowledge came through to antiquity. Supersensual regions, under or above the earth’s surface, were treated of in both classical and medieval poetry, but always in close relation and subservience to the earth. Not till some centuries after Copernicus (A.D. 1500) did the idea that the earth was a heavenly body, one among a multitude of others, penetrate to the ordinary intelligence. Not till comparatively recent times were the ideas of man enlarged generally from a mainly terrene to a cosmic view. The great revolution in man’s thoughts has now fairly been accomplished, and everyone admits the independent existence of a multitude of other worlds, so far as their material constitution and movements in space are concerned. Let us hope that along with this material expansion we shall ultimately recapture the spiritual insight and enthusiasm of the Middle Ages which built Chartres and other cathedrals. Lost though that insight was in more recent centuries, it may yet be recoverable; with added knowledge of the material, and with renewed sense of the spiritual, order of existence. It is not for nothing that the Liverpool Cathedral, with its breadth and grandeur, has been built by civic enterprise in this twentieth century of danger, conflict, and
turmoil. Notwithstanding the material expansion, and in spite of exceptions here and there, it is surely true that when we leave material considerations and attend to the mental and spiritual domain, we find something like the old kind of limitation to earth still persistent. No life or mind is known to science beyond the boundaries of this planet; and our systems of thought are constructed on that basis. In psychology man is treated as the only, or by fat the highest, intelligent being. Lower intelligences, and friendly intercourse with them, are perforce admitted, in the rest of the animal creation, but the existence of any intelligences higher than man is for the most part ignored or sometimes denied; while any attempt to hold intercourse or enter into relations with such hypothetical intelligences, in order to learn more about them or even definitely to verify their existence, is reprobated as superstition unworthy of science.
At the same time there are evidences of unusual and perturbing phenomena, which suggest that this kind of pre-Copernican limitation to earthly life and conduct, this lack of interest or belief in anything beyond, is a narrowing down of what might be our outlook on existence, and is far from being ultimately and finally satisfactory. For in order to maintain the isolation hypothesis complete and compact, it is necessary resolutely to turn one’s back upon certain asserted facts, to attribute them all without discrimination to fraud, and to deny their genuine
reality. Moreover, it must be remembered that the instincts of mankind have only slightly been controlled or governed or restricted by scientific considerations. Human life is guided much more by emotion and instinct than by logical reasoning; and everywhere the instinct of man has led him, indistinctly and even superstitiously, to postulate the existence of Higher Powers, which in some way control his destiny, and which by ceremonies can be either propitiated or offended. Whether those Higher Powers are distributed among many intelligences, or whether they are entirely the prerogative of One, is comparatively a detail. And concerning the attributes of that One there has been a great variety of doctrine, and much gradual growth towards an improved and still improving view. The aspirations and highest ideals of existing humanity, at the stage which it had at any time attained, are reflected in its notions of Deity; the power of worthy conception being necessarily limited by moral and intellectual development. The animal, if it worships at all, can only worship man, its visible and tangible superior. Man has risen to the worship of something supersensuous, and is able to embody his symbolic interpretation of the Universe in images and other forms of art. Christianity has illuminated our perception of the Divine by glorifying the idea of Incarnation.
But whatever variety there may be, and however lofty some of our conceptions, it is undoubtedly true, as Father Tyrrell says, that the essence of religion is the belief in another world, another order of existence, and the endeavour to hold intercourse with it. To this universal tendency our churches and chapels, and the services of prayer and praise which go on in them, bear eloquent witness. The preamble of all religions is the existence of a spiritual world; that is, of intelligences and beings far higher than man. And when their existence is not only admitted, but when it is felt that they can influence and assist our lives, when it is felt possible to enter into communion with them, to send up petitions and derive help from them, then the belief becomes something more than intellectual, and blossoms into some more or less worthy form of religion.
To the whole of this tendency towards the supernormal, and what might properly be called the miraculous, scientific men, being human as well as scientific, have reacted individually and diversely. Some of them go so far as to despise and condemn these reachings out beyond real knowledge; others accept them humbly as part of the human inheritance, without presuming to formulate and comprehend them; while the majority, though looking at the behaviour of religious people with a respectful and perhaps compassionate eye, treat these things as alien to their professional and intellectual pursuits, and, without actively denying, take no particular interest in them.
The extreme group of scientific men who claim to be also philosophers, and who survey existence from what may briefly be called the materialistic or sensory point of view, are not lacking in either eloquence or enthusiasm; they are quite prepared to be dogmatic in support of their chilly but robust philosophy. They joy in their emancipation from religious tradition; they call upon others to share their bold rejection of popular sources of comfort; they exhibit a stoical calm amid what to others - would seem like ruin and desolation. I cite in illustration a passage from an essay called "A Free Man’s Worship," by Mr. Bertrand Russell, F.R.S.; many less eloquent expressions of faith by other writers might equally well be quoted, to the same general effect :—That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins — all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.There is a ring of conviction in this counsel of assured despair which is almost triumphant. It may be like a battle-song to sustain the fighter’s spirits, but it is far removed from that sad contemplation of human destiny which sometimes afflicted the ancient poets. Virgil, for instance, is thus apostrophised by Tennyson :-Thou that seest Universal Nature moved by Universal Mind; Thou majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of human kind.
modern agnostic this sad acquiescence has been replaced by something more like exultation, for the doom apparently is no longer doubtful. If this were the truth, one could but admire the stoicism, and at the same time wonder at the energy devoted to the service of a perishing race. The only reason I join issue with such an ethical philosophy is because, however admirable in itself, I firmly believe its main foundation to be scientifically unsound. The agnostic of last century sometimes ceased to be purely agnostic, and, like the late W. K. Clifford, gave vent to an exuberant denial of any spiritual or supersensuous existence — a negative faith shared by a good many people of the present day, including patrons of that amusingly cocksure and not over-modest periodical The Freethinker. These pride themselves on what they seriously consider, not their limited outlook, but their freedom of thought :—The universe is made of ether and atoms, and there is no room for ghosts.Speculative negations of this comprehensive kind might have been confirmed by further knowledge and become the verdict of science. But it so happens that gradually, of late years, first one and then another of men whose lives are devoted to the study of science have had their attention called to strange and unusual phenomena, which by many are asserted to demonstrate the existence of an unseen supernormal and presumably spiritual world — a world of immaterial and yet individual realities, as F. W. H. Myers called it. After long study of these phenomena some of us have come to the conclusion, not without a vivid sense of responsibility, that their claim to reality is valid, and that they find their easiest explanation by aid of the working hypothesis that our existence is not so limited to the earth and to terrestrial affairs as we thought it was, but that we are related to and in touch with another order of existence, and that our view even of mental phenomena must expand and become cosmic and universal. In other words, that the phenomena cannot be explained if we limit ourselves to the ordinary normal experiences of terrestrial
life. Another Copernican revolution is thus in progress: the earth, including any other planets that are like the earth, is turning out to be not the sole abode of intelligence. Indeed, I am beginning to think, not merely from the intuitions of religion, but from the somewhat obscure indications of an enlarged though only nascent science, that Intelligence is not limited to the surface of planetary masses, but pervades and dominates space; nowhere absent, everywhere active. In other words, that the essence of life and mind possibly or probably inhabits the ether, if it needs a physical vehicle, and is only exceptionally and temporarily incarnate in matter, here and there, when circumstances are favourable and the singularly difficult and exceptional conditions are supplied.
For it would seem that incarnate life, as we know it, needs the complex substance that we call "protoplasm" for its habitation; and this complex molecular aggregate can only form, indeed some of the atoms of which it is composed can only form, at a moderately low temperature: whereas we know that by far the greater part of the matter in the universe is at a high and blazing temperature. And even among those masses that have cooled down, many are too small to hold an atmosphere. It is quite exceptional for a body to be large enough to retain gases on its surface by gravity, and yet not so large as to retain or generate too much heat. To Sustain life, a planet must not be too cold, so that water is solid, and must not be too hot, so that water is steam. There must be just the special grades of temperature that we find on the earth, for water to be liquid and for protoplasm to exist.
Here on the earth we find life distinctly and obviously associated with matter, wherever possible, and not otherwise. In the higher creatures, and in ourselves, we find life blossoming into intelligence. So we have, curiously though after all naturally enough, come to the tacit conclusion that life and mind can only exist in association with matter; and when in ordinary course the material vehicle of life wears out and is discarded, we are apt to conclude that the emancipated life and intelligence must necessarily have gone out of existence, and can no longer be.
Whereas the wonder is, not that they survive their material embodiment, but that they could ever be incorporated with matter at all. For what I have come to accept as the probable truth, so far as I can perceive it, is that the association of life and mind with matter is an exceptional thing, and that they are really more at home in the interplanetary cosmic region, which the orthodox sciences — psychological as well as biological — have so far in the main
ignored. I admit the need for a bodily vehicle of some kind for the practical functioning of intelligence, but I do not suppose that the body need be composed only of the assemblage of opposite electric charges that we are accustomed to call "matter." That seems to me an unfounded and gratuitous assumption, like many other assumptions that recent scientific theories (especially the so-called Relativity doctrines) have led us to discard. I can imagine another structure composed of ether, just as solid and substantial as ordinary matter is, but differing from it in making no appeal to our present animal sense-organs, and in being unamenable to direct muscular control. The discrete particles which compose any ordinary block of matter are held together by the uniting forces of cohesion, chemical affinity, and gravitation; and these immaterial forces or strains are more and more being recognized as functions of the ether of space. The body of matter which we see and handle is in no case the whole body, it must have an etheric counterpart to hold it together; and it is this etheric counterpart which in the case of living beings is, I suspect, truly animated. In my view, life and mind are never directly associated with matter; and they are only indirectly enabled to act upon it through their more direct connexion with an etheric vehicle which constitutes their real instrument, an ether body which does interact with them and does operate on matter.
The matter particles put together by the etheric body are constantly changing, they are adventitious and temporary, they are sometimes troublesome or morbid; and ultimately the material body decays. Matter has many imperfections. But ether has never shown any sign of the least imperfection; it is absolutely transparent, it dissipates no energy, and any structure composed of ether is likely to be permanent. An etheric body we possess now, independent of accidents that may happen to its sensory aggregate of associated matter, and that etheric body we shall continue to possess, long after the material portion is discarded. The only difficulty of realizing this is because nothing etheric affects our present senses; everything about the ether, even in physics, has to be inferred. Direct observation seems hopeless. We may be living in a permanent invulnerable tractable etheric body of which we know nothing; for it interpenetrates, or is cased over by, an assemblage of vibrating material particles which constantly stimulate our nerves and attract all our attention.
This, briefly and hastily summarized, is the conclusion at which I have gradually arrived, and it remains to indicate in a general way the sort of basis of experience on which it rests, and some of the implications that are involved in it. I cannot now go into modern arguments about the ether and its philosophical necessity for the understanding and exposition of all phenomena, except when they are treated in merely abstract fashion so as to leave the mathematical equations without physical interpretation; but I will try to summarize the general position which scrutiny of the facts has led me to take up, and then run through the story of some of those facts so far as they have come within my ken. It may seem rather a hind-before plan, thus to recite deductions before treating of the kind of facts on which they are based. But a working hypothesis is always a help, like a thread on which beads can be strung, and without some sort of clue we may be left wandering in a maze without cognizance of our bearings. If a hypothesis is out of harmony with truth it will have to be modified or discarded. Of course: but meanwhile it may have served its turn; and the way to ascertain its weak points is to test it. A theory must be confronted with facts of observation and experiment. It should be given a fair chance of survival; it need only be ruthlessly exterminated when it has proved a false and misleading guide. The following, then, are my theses which at present I wish to uphold.
Summary of Postulates or Provisional Conclusions Derived from Experience and Numbered for Reference
(1) That the activity of mind is not limited to its bodily manifestations, though it is true that some material mechanism is necessary to display its activity to us here and now.
(2) That the brain-nerve-muscle mechanism, with the rest of the material body, constitutes an instrument, which is constructed, controlled, and utilized, by life and mind; an instrument which may become impaired or worn out, so as to prevent its successful manipulation by the normal controlling entity; and that the signs of that dislocation or impairment may become conspicuous without entitling us to draw any conclusion other than that the channel or link between mind and matter has become clogged or imperfect.
(3) That neither life nor mind go out of existence when separated from their material organ or instrument: they merely cease to function in the material sphere after the same fashion as they were able to when the instrument was in good order.
(The fact is, that nothing real goes out of existence, but merely changes its form. Things may readily go out of our ken, and become imperceptible to our senses; but that does not prove that they have ceased to be. This, which is conspicuously true of matter and energy, is, in my view, true also of vital and spiritual existence. We have no ground for assuming that anything real can cease to exist, though it may readily be dispersed or otherwise rendered inaccessible.)
(4) That what we call "an individual" is a definite incarnation, or association with matter, of some vital or spiritual element, which itself has a continuous existence. Identity, or in its higher developments Personality, certainly does not depend on the identity of the material particles which display it; it can only be an attribute of the controlling entity which put those particles together for a time; for that is known to be able to discard and renew them, in the ordinary course of life, without its own continuity being thereby in the least affected.
(5) That the value of incarnation lies in the opportunity thus afforded for individualizing a specific and gradually increasing portion of mentality, so as to isolate it and screen it from its pristine cosmic surroundings, and enable it to develop a personality which shall be characteristic of that particular organism.
(6) That when such an individuality or personality is real, there is every reason to suppose that, like all other real entities, it must persist, and may thus survive the separation from the material organism which helped to isolate it and make its individual characteristics
or "character" possible.
Whether the individual character thus formed does persist as an individual, carrying with it the memory and experience and affections which have been formed under the opportunities and privileges associated with the matter body during earth life, is a question which must be answered by direct observation and experience. So finally my conviction is:-
(7) That the evidence already attainable suffices to prove that individual character and memory do persist; that the personalities that have departed this life continue, with the knowledge and experience which they have gained here; and that under certain partially known conditions our dead friends are able to demonstrate to us their real and individual personal survival.
Present Position of these Theses
Now all these conclusions, or deductions from a long course of enquiry, are looked at askance by orthodox science, which hitherto has been limited to terrestrial manifestations without postulating the existence of anything beyond; and any insistence upon such propositions tends to be derided as speculation or even as superstition. Moreover, they do not seem essential even to religion as generally understood, and for the most part they are deprecated as unnecessary by religious teachers. Accordingly it may be asked why I and some others are so impressed with the truth and vital importance of these doctrines that we are willing to undergo the obloquy or derision which inevitably attaches to their supporters, and why we think it our duty to advocate these or similar theses as truths to be reverently considered and gradually improved in presentation as knowledge and experience grow. That question is what I wish to answer in this book, so far as it can be answered briefly; though the real answer involves a study of the facts recorded in a mass of literature extending at the very least over half a century. Really extending over much more; for ancient literature is full of such facts, however inadequately or unscientifically recorded. The evidence for them is daily growing in volume, and will grow more rapidly when the ban of contemptuous criticism is lightened, and when simple testimony is freed from militant suppression.