Book: "Why I Believe in Personal Immortality"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Chapter 2 -

The Seven Propositions


This main-miracle, that thou art thou,
With power on thine own act and on the world.
From that true world within the world we see, Whereof our world is but the bounding shore.


          LET us take the propositions at the end of last chapter and proceed to discuss or elaborate them.

First, that mind can act independently of the bodily organs. I became convinced of this in or about the year 1883, from the facts of experimental telepathy, which had previously been called attention to by Sir William Barrett, in a Paper read to the British Association in 1876. Experimental telepathy, as everyone now knows, is the communication of an idea or a picture or a sensation, from one living mind to another, without using the material sense organs. Two people are involved, the agent and the percipient. The percipient or receiver is screened from any sensory perception, while the agent or transmitter thinks of something, or looks at an object, or otherwise tries to keep before his mind some notion that he wants to transmit mentally. Under careful conditions it was found that certain persons had a percipient faculty, so that, after a certain moderate interval of quiescence, they could get the idea, or were able to draw the object looked at by the agent, without the use of either hearing, sight, or touch. This fact, thus critically established by many observers, was then made use of to explain a great number of instances of otherwise inexplicable occurrences, which now seemed likely to be due to the spontaneous utilization of this telepathic faculty, whether consciously or not, under the stress of strong emotion. By thus applying this nearest approach to a vera causa available, it was hoped to eliminate superstition and rationally to account for numerous legends and contemporary assertions, to the effect that one person had received from another at a distance an impression of illness, danger, or death. It is well known that such experiences often take the form of a vision or phantasmal appearance; and we assumed that the mental impression in such cases was so strong and vivid as to call up in the mind of the percipient an hallucination of an auditory or visual character; so that mentally, and not physically, words were heard or a vision seen, not through any normal channel, and not due to any objective presence, but as a sort of mental reconstruction. The impression in the best and only important cases was, however, what we call veridical; that is to say it did really correspond with events occurring elsewhere, so that after inquiry it was found capable of verification.

This was the outcome of a carefully compiled two-volume book published in 1886 under the title "Phantasms of the Living," by Myers and Gurney with the co-operation of Mr. Podmore. Thereby a great number of mysterious occurrences which had been testified to, and which are still occurring to people in all parts of the world, were rationalized and as far as possible accounted for, on the basis of the observed fact of psychical communion discovered by means of experimental telepathy. The phantom or apparition seen by the sensitive percipient, which heretofore had been naturally regarded as due to some real presence of mysterious kind, could thus be reasonably reduced to a vivid mental impression produced by telepathy unconsciously exerted by the distant person who was at that time in distress or danger or, it might be, at the point of death.

A great number of such cases were subsequently collected and scrutinized by skilled and most careful investigators, in what was called "A Census of Hallucinations"; a laborious enterprise carried out up to and during 1894, and frankly including, now, phantoms not only of the living but also of the dead. After all doubtful cases had been eliminated, all weak points allowed for, and every chance granted to any more normal view that could be suggested, the weighty conclusion of these investigators was thus summarized at the end of the volume (Proceedings S.P.R., Vol. X, p. 394) :—

Between deaths and apparitions of the dying person a connexion exists which is not due to chance alone. This we hold as a proved fact. The discussion of its full implications cannot be attempted in this paper — nor perhaps exhausted in this age. 

This long and exceedingly conscientious report was signed by Professor and Mrs. Henry Sidgwick and others. Whether the hypothesis of telepathy from agent to percipient actually is the full explanation of these experiences, I do not presume to dogmatize. I think that there may be other and supplementary explanations — other causes at work. But at any rate the hypothesis of telepathy between the persons concerned is the simplest and most rational; in other words, the very minimum of unusual or supernormal explanation that can be formulated, to account for the established facts. It is of interest to remember that the great philosopher Kant was at one time keenly interested in psychical subjects; and he even investigated one or two remarkable cases, especially connected with Swedenborg; though subsequently his interest waned. The late Professor William Wallace in an essay on Kant called attention to the possibly subjective view that may be taken of apparitions, and concludes with a quotation from Kant which is plainly akin to the telepathic explanation suggested so much later by Myers and Gurney in their book "Phantasms of the Living"; wherein they specially emphasized the fact that some such visions, however originating, are veridical, and therefore may have more importance than Kant was inclined to attribute to them. Here is the quotation from Kant and Wallace:-

The possibility of any communication between pure spirit and its matter-clad kinsman depends on establishing a connection between abstract spiritual ideas, and cognate images which awake analogous or symbolical conceptions of a sensuous kind. Such associations are found in persons of peculiar temperament. At certain times such seers are assailed by apparitions, which, however, are not, as they suppose, spiritual natures, but only an illusion of the imagination, which substitutes its pictures for the real spiritual influences, imperceptible to the gross human soul. Thus departed souls and pure spirits, tho’ they can never produce an impression upon our outward senses, or stand in community with matter, can still act upon the soul of man, which, like them, belongs to a great spiritual commonwealth. For the ideas they excite in the soul clothe themselves according to the law of fantasy in allied imagery, and create outside the seer the apparition of the objects to which they are appropriate.

Clause Two — that the body is an instrument — is largely consequent or dependent on Clause One, and is intended to meet and controvert the argument frequently adduced by anatomists and physiologists that the brain and the mind are identical, so that an injury to the brain means ipso facto a corresponding injury to the mind, and that the destruction of the one means the destruction of the other. This hypothesis may be regarded as the basis of materialistic philosophy, and is a proposition evidently concordant with the common experience that a surgical injury to the brain involves a corresponding mental defect. Needless to say, all these facts of common observation are by me fully admitted; but I claim that the deduction suggested by and commonly drawn from the facts oversteps what is legitimate. All that is really proven is that when the instrument is damaged, the power of displaying mental activity is damaged too — which is only common-sense. But from this undoubted fact we have no right to deduce anything at all about what has happened to the mind, unless we gratuitously assume that the brain and mind are identical. If the brain ceases to work, we naturally get no communication: the manifestation of mind, through the working of the mechanism, has ceased. Possibly aphasia has set in: ideas can no longer be expressed in words if the speech-centres are injured. Past occurrences can no longer be brought out of the memory if the cells of the brain or their communicating fibres are prevented from activating the muscles either of the hand or larynx. But to say that the memory itself is wiped out, because its organ of reproduction is unable to function, is to go beyond any deduction that we ate entitled to make. Those who hold that the brain is not merely the instrument of mind, but is the mind itself, must inevitably be willing to make the strange gratuitous and intrinsically absurd assumption that the mass of matter inside the skull is able to think and design, to look before and after, to plan works of literature and art, to conceive great poems, to explore the mechanism of the universe, to feel sorrow and affection, to initiate and determine on a course of action, and generally not only to display, but really to feel, the sentiments associated with the words — Faith, Hope, and Love.

Whereas it ought to be admitted that the brain does not really even see, any more than the eye does. The eye and the brain together are an instrument through which seeing is rendered possible. The ear is conspicuously a physical instrument by means of which we hear. But surely it is really the mind that both sees and hears, and interprets the meaning of the seeing and hearing, and extracts from pictures, poems, and music, a mental impression and emotion — a psychic response altogether foreign to any of the attributes of matter. The sense of beauty, for instance, can be aroused by an assemblage of material particles, but no assemblage of material particles can admire its own beauty. Nor can a piece of matter, however animated, be reasonably supposed capable of initiating a course of action, of designing a work of art or a scientific theory, or indeed of any spontaneous action whatever. Particles of matter are completely subservient to the mechanical forces which act upon them: they neither initiate nor rebel, they are absolutely and completely docile. And this is true of the atoms of organic matter just as much as of the inorganic; for the whole tendency of science has been to break down the distinction on the material side between organic and inorganic, and to emphasize the fact that, however exceptionally organisms behave, the particles themselves are completely obedient to the laws of physics and chemistry, and can only display vital and mental phenomena by being subject to vital and mental control.

I find a simple statement of this issue in a work by the Polish philosopher Professor Wincenty Lutoslawski, called "The World of Souls." This book was apparently written in 1899, though not published in England till 1924, and is not so well known as it might be, in spite of a forcible commendation by William James. The passage runs thus:- 

To understand the relation of thought and brain it will be sufficient to admit that the brain is the organ through which we receive all impressions from without, and through which we produce all movements, specially the movements of speech. All evidence tends to exhibit merely these functions of the brain, and every assertion crediting the brain with thought is based on a fallacy similar to that which refers to the heart all emotions for the reason that emotions influence the action of the heart.... Thus thought is known to us, not as a physiological process, but as an act of consciousness, from our own mental experience, and we have no reason to identify it with any bodily activity observable.... Nothing else than what you are conscious of as yourself is your soul. It is a wrong analogy of language which leads us to say, "My soul," as we say "My body," "My brain," etc. In fact you are a soul, and you ought not to speak of having a soul as if the soul were different from yourself.

Clause Three, which implies that things which go out of our ken do not go out of existence, can be illustrated by many familiar phenomena. The indestructibility of matter is not an obvious fact: it had to be ascertained and proven by scientific inquiry. The common idea is that a thing burnt is destroyed, that milk spilt upon the ground is lost, that a cloud which evaporates in the heat of the sun has ceased to be. But everyone now knows that however dispersed a piece of matter can be, its particles are indestructible, that there is just as much aqueous vapour, however invisible, as there was when the cloud was a conspicuous object to our eyes. There is no need to argue or emphasize this further.

But it may be said that this admission militates against individual survival. Superficially yes, but really not in the least. The cloud had no individuality: it was merely an assemblage of particles, which happened so to affect the rays of light as to be perceived by our eyes: it has no more identity than any other assemblage. A crowd may be dispersed, or an army disbanded: historically they had a corporate existence, and were then scattered. The reality of its existence while it lasted was not in the grouping, but in the mental stimulus which called the unit together: each constituent of the crowd went about its own business : there is nothing essential or permanent about mere juxtaposition. An Army or Fleet is obedient to orders, conceived perhaps by statesmen in London or Washington and then communicated through the proper officers. Its members are like the particles of our own bodies which have been put together by some dominant agency, and are obedient to orders for a time, until they are disbanded. As a body they cease to be; but the controlling entity which ordered and arranged them has no part or lot in them: they were the instrument through which it acted and produced certain effects; the controlling power can continue to function long after its subservient mechanism has been discarded.

But without an instrument it cannot function. Not even the Deity produces results except by employing the proper means. The Psychical and the Physical seem continually blended. Briefly it must always be true that God acts through agents. What we call the laws of nature are our formulation and recognition of some of His agents. Theologians have surmised that angels and other lofty beings are among the agents and messengers; while that some things can only be done by mankind is a familiar truth. Man is an instrument of higher powers, just as man himself needs an instrument through which to exercise and display his faculties. And as the maker of instruments may rejoice when a master uses them to good purpose, so may the Highest rejoice in the beneficent use made of faculties and talents. As says George Eliot,

When any Master holds ‘twixt hand and chin
A violin of mine, he will be glad
That Stradivari lived, made violins
And made them of the best.
For while God gave the skill,
I gave them instruments to play upon,
God using me to help Him …
He could not make Antonio Stradivari’s violins without Antonio.

Clause Four — that an individual is a temporary incarnation of something permanent — concerns the more difficult problem of personal identity. What do we mean by an individual personality? Need we assume that that individual has always existed? If a thing is to continue, need it pre-exist? On the whole we may realize that this is not necessary, though there are some whose thought tends in that direction. A poem or drama may be immortal, but it originated at a definite time; special circumstances brought it into being.

To me, at present, it seems likely that the individuality is formed during the isolation in matter of what may be called, by analogy, raw psychic material. The psyche or unidentified soul gradually leaks into the body as the body is fitted to receive it, beginning with an infinitesimal portion in its early stages, and gradually growing in amount up to a certain measure, dependent on the individual’s own exertions and opportunities. Occasionally the influx is such as to form what we call "a great man," though in the majority of cases it stops far short of that. After an interval for development, the now identified soul goes back whence it came, either gradually, in the natural course of things, or suddenly if a catastrophe happens, but in either case retaining the powers, aptitudes, tastes, memory, and experience attained during incarnate life. That increase of value it carries with it and contributes to the Whole, whatever the appropriate Whole which it rejoins may be — perhaps a larger or subliminal self, parts of which may possibly be liable to some modified form of reincarnation hereafter. On those questions I withhold judgment. But of this we may be sure, that the temporarily accreted material particles have done their part and are left behind; they were themselves always quite subordinate to the uses to which they were put. There is no personal identity about the substance of the body: its particles are collected from food of any kind, they are assimilated for a time, and are continually being discarded so as to give place to others. No sort of control is exercised by the particles; they are pushed hither and thither and are in a constant state of flux, but the whole organism preserves its identity. Somewhat as a river preserves its identity, and remains the Ganges or the Tiber, though the water particles are continually changing and merely pass through it. Analogies are by no means complete, they are merely suggestive. A poem, once recited, does not cease. An orchestral performance is a temporary incarnation of the ideas of a genius, and is liable to reincarnation. This proves nothing: it is a mere illustration.

Clause Five implies that terrestrial incarnation is of value; and we can partly see why. The individual appears to us through his bodily manifestation, and common experience shows that an individual is thus to a great extent isolated from his fellows, and has in any case to live his own life and develop his own character as best he can; at the same time encountering others in like case and having an opportunity of making friends. The material body is a psychic screen, but a physical uniter: we encounter people — in the street, so to speak — whom we should never otherwise have met. Through our bodily mechanism we can learn about historical characters and even about those who only live in literature. The body is a fine instrument for education.

The brain-nerve-muscle mechanism, which constitutes a human being on the material side, is fairly complete in itself, and normally is only open to outside influence through its sense-organs. Thus it becomes conscious of an external world, and of other individuals in a similar condition to itself, from whom it can gain instruction by physical methods of communication, and with whom it can co-operate in learning something about the universe, of which it constitutes an individualized portion. It is quite exceptional for a person to have telepathic or direct connexion with other people, or to receive direct inspiration. Experience is limited for the most part to information received through physical channels, largely by means of a code of symbols called language, which we have to learn from others and gradually gain the power of interpreting. Learning of every kind is a matter of some difficulty, and requires an effort: yet without instruction and effort our information would be very limited. The special organs of sense are as it were the windows through which the soul looks on the universe, and by means of which it gradually gathers relevant information. Matter is in that way helpful, and yet it somehow seems an alien thing, which has to be energetically moulded and manipulated, so as to express as well as to receive ideas. A certain amount of effort is needed even for the sustenance and continuance of the material body. The difficulties thus met with are part of the soul’s training; the value of the individual character depends on the success with which the special conditions are utilized, and the wisdom with which they are employed. The episode of earth life is therefore of great value in developing character, in enlarging knowledge, in cultivating new friendships, and generally adding to the richness of life.

Clause Six is to the effect that realities are permanent and are not dependent on the material vehicles that display and assist and make possible our apprehension of them. Incarnate isolated psychic units are provided with sense-organs whereby some communication with the rest of the universe is preserved. But we can bethink ourselves that our special senses are very limited in their scope; they originated low down in the animal kingdom, to enable the organism to gain its food, escape its enemies, and avoid other dangers which surround it. Only in the higher creatures are these channels of information used not merely for these mundane purposes but for scientific and philosophic study. Yet we know that by us facts are not merely noticed and remembered, after animal fashion; they are classified, generalized, and speculated upon; inferences are drawn, and knowledge is systematized, in a way which goes far beyond what could naturally be expected as derivable from the mere contacts and vibrations that are all that we really receive from the material universe.

I will deal with deductions from our senses in Chapter V. All that we need realize now is that of the Universe as a whole, in its wider content, our senses tell us little or nothing directly. They limit us to the perception of matter. We do not really perceive even vibrations : we perceive only the sounding or luminous or illuminated bodies whence they come. That is why "matter" looms so large in our thoughts, and why some people are tempted to imagine that nothing else exists. That is why we find it so difficult to believe that there is a universe of life and mind and thought and aspiration, apart from the material aggregates which are temporarily actuated by these things, and through which alone they make any direct appeal to our bodily senses.

When we go beyond direct sensation we have to exercise our imagination and make images, mental images, or what in scientific phraseology are sometimes called "models," though that term in this connexion has a purely technical significance. The physicist is always imagining analogies or working models, when he leaves the safe ground of his equations. This is the way he conceives or makes mental pictures of the imperceptible, even perhaps of the fourth dimension. This is how he follows the intricacies of the structure of the atom, the behaviour of electrons, the nature of radiation, and indeed of everything connected with the impalpable ether of space. The physicist may fail to form clear satisfactory images, and throughout the nineteenth century he did to some extent fail. The key or clue to his problem was only begun to be put into his hands in the twentieth century. But even throughout the nineteenth century the chemist used this imaginative method in order to arrive at the composition of the molecules of nearly all the substances with which he has to do, entering into great and remarkable detail, some of which is now being confirmed by the progress of physics. To the imagination of the physicist the distribution of a few spots on a photographic plate, exposed to X-rays through a crystal, speaks volumes.

This again is the only way in which, on a higher and more mysterious level, human beings can hope to deal with the mysteries of religion and to construct a Theology. Sensory apprehension must be aided, and indeed can only be rendered possible, by images. The unseen must be illustrated and made accessible by the seen. Imagination must have a core or nucleus of sensory perception in order to be clear and distinct. If this process is pushed too far, there lurk dangers in it; and the dangers have caused one school of thought to fight shy of it, to deprecate the process. We must, however, beware of confusing the image with the idol. True imagery is not idolatry, it is Vision. To comprehend spiritual things imagery is essential: it is a kind of embodiment, it is a glorification of the material; it rises to its height in incarnation. And if matter becomes transfigured during an Incarnation in excelsis, we need not be surprised; for to permit or render possible incarnation is the highest function of matter, its apotheosis. That is its glory and main purpose. By accepting "form" it can manifest the eternal. "For Soule is forme and doth the bodie make." The body is constructed to enshrine and aid the soul, and then the soul can reflect; in times of serenity it can reflect even God. This I take to be the meaning of a poem just written by my son, where the body is depicted as a house or tabernacle, the home or shrine of the mind, which is presented as a chalice or cup, whose liquid contents when placid and serene can reflect reality, however distant and bright:

O body which art free and kind
Be a clean house to hold the mind.
And mind make fair thy rounded bowl
A clean cup to receive the soul.
O soul be still, reflect the far
Clear image of the Evening Star.

It is by the exercise of our faculty of imagination that we form theories and grasp the underlying reality in even the commonest thing. We ate constantly inferring the reality or substratum or entity that we only apprehend indirectly. From electricity and magnetism upwards. Magnetism for instance is only known to us from the odd movements or behaviour of certain substances; yet everyone admits the existence of a magnetic field in vacuo, and the theoretical development of the science is immense. Light, too, is quite independent of matter, once it has been brought into existence; and apart from matter its existence would not cease. Nothing jumps out of existence. Everything is only transformed. Realities are permanent.

But just as light is independent of matter except in so far as it is absorbed or generated by its atoms — just as light travels and exists for thousands of years in space devoid of matter, carrying with it every detail of impression that was made on it at its origin, and delivering up its secrets to a far distant spectroscope, generations afterwards — so in my view, it is with the intelligence which has had impressed upon it a detailed memory of earth life. It retains it thereafter in a form capable of being deciphered by, or communicated to, an appropriately receptive medium. 

Clause Seven postulates evidence for individual survival. The vitally important question now arises — even granting some kind of impersonal permanence for mind in general — whether an individualized portion of mind can retain its individuality, long after the assemblage of particles which it once inhabited are dispersed, that is after the material organism is destroyed, although that organism may have been the physical condition of its individualization. We might be inclined wrongly to imagine that personality was dependent on the particular assemblage of particles which to us constitutes the individual, and that when that was dispersed or discarded the personality would either cease or else might return to the hypothetical general pabulum of cosmic being whence it came. It would be irrational to suppose that it need go out of existence entirely; but it is and has been natural to imagine that what we call death is the end of the person as we knew him. We cannot by mere argument, at least I cannot, hope to establish the continued existence of the personality which has grown up in association with matter, when the matter is left behind. The Socrates of Plato made the best attempt in that direction, but evidently was not convincing. So here we come to the crux of the position, and must fall back upon experience. We must be guided by the facts of observation, and must establish (if we can establish at all) the survival of what we may now call the individual soul, not by argument, but by actual fact. How can we hope to do this? 

Well, certain curious statements ate made by eminent physiologists and by a few medical men, who, without any bias towards spiritualism, indeed with some revulsion from it, have testified to the formation or extrusion of protoplasmic material outside the body of an entranced person, and the apparent control of that material as if by a temporarily incarnate intelligence. That intelligence, having performed some action such as would ordinarily be accomplished by muscular contraction, — say the movement of objects, and perhaps leaving a mould or imprint on plastic material, — abandons the temporarily occupied organized tissue, and presumably departs whence he came; while the borrowed material plasm returns to its source. This is not a phenomenon that I feel inclined to emphasize unduly: it is admittedly difficult of belief. But there are many facts about normal materialization and heredity which would be incredible were we not accustomed to them; and I am impressed by the evidence both for telekinesis and for this unusual kind of materialization. I perceive that when these strange occurrences are substantiated they will illustrate and reinforce my doctrine of the temporary association of ether-dwelling intelligence with matter, an association which lies at the toot of all and every incarnation. They may indeed, just possibly, suggest methods for inducing life and mind to enter into relation with matter other than those with which we are at present familiar.

But the very occurrence of these, so to speak, abnormal incarnations or materializations, or psycho-physical disturbances of matter, is disputed; and in any case their meaning is uncertain and their implications obscure. Not in that way nor by such aid are we likely to strengthen our conviction of personal survival: to many they seem off the track, the phenomena are called gruesome and are disliked; but science will never turn its back on them on that account. So I mention them here because they do bear witness to something tangible and physical, outside the scope of recognized scientific doctrine; and it may be that through this unlikely avenue of approach the stronghold of science may be assaulted, curiosity and interest may be aroused, the gates may thereby be opened, and a flood of supernormal knowledge may begin to enter in. I rather expect this to happen in due time.

Let us leave that part of the subject as comparatively irrelevant, and return to the question — What is the simplest and most direct way of establishing the persistence of the individual personality after bodily death? Surely the most direct plan, if it were feasible, would be to get into actual communication with deceased individuals, so as to find out whether they still exist, and whether they retain their memory and character unchanged.

But how are we to get into contact with such discarnate entities, even assuming that they exist, when they have no material bodies, no means of manifestation, no method of communicating with us through our senses? It might have been impossible. But gradually those who have gone into the subject, and opened their minds to the evidence, have found that it is not impossible, and that the fact of telepathy comes to our aid. We have already found that a few individuals were not completely screened from mental influences when their sense organs were shut off and no physical stimulus applied. Something could be received, independently of any transmitting or receiving instrument. If those influences still continue, such individuals might still be able to receive impressions, even from discarnate intelligences; because it was not always necessary to use bodily methods of communication even when they were still possessed. Hence it is possible that some, perhaps etheric or possibly purely psychic, method of communication will serve, even after the old material bodies have fallen to pieces.

Thus it seems possible that actual communication can be held with the discarnate. And this is what we find to be true. The receptive faculty is not widespread: it is possessed by a special person here and there, just as any other inexplicable mental faculty is possessed. Some there are in whom the mathematical faculty, or on a lower grade an arithmetical facility, is specially prominent; and these are known as calculating prodigies. Others there are with a marked musical faculty, to whom apprehension of the relation between tones comes naturally, so that they can appreciate and can produce a special sequence and co-existence of aerial vibrations, which when produced can be apprehended also in minor degree as melody and harmony by ordinary people. This power is not solely the result of education, for it occurs sometimes in quite young children. Again there are people in whom the artistic faculty is highly developed, so that an assemblage of pigments can excite in them and can be used to excite in others intense emotion; they can thus speak to the world in terms of colour and form — a language only partially apprehended by ordinary people. There are diversities of gifts; and these gifts are the outcome, not of material, but of spiritual development. So we need not be surprised at finding people with a special facility for psychic reception, apart from any special cultivation or education — a power which to them seems natural.

Accordingly we do find people with the receptive or telepathic faculty specially developed. These are popularly known as mediums, for through them and by their aid it is possible for us to attain the privilege of indirectly communicating with the discarnate. The power seems independent of nationality, circumstances, education, sex, and even intelligence. Some are men, some women, some children; some are educated scholars, some are ignorant people; while the majority are just ordinary homely citizens whom one would not pick out as anything exceptional — a selection from the kind of people who are naturally the most numerous. The way in which they exercise their gifts varies in different cases, and in none of them is the receptive power continuous. A certain placidity seems necessary, and then, whether in solitude or in the presence of an observer, their bodily organism is occasionally actuated by an intelligence not their own. In some cases it would even seem that the psychic operator acts directly on the organism, through its brain-nerve-muscle mechanism; but in other cases the transmission appears to be telepathic, ideas being received by the recipient’s mind which are then reproduced through his or her physiological organism in the ordinary way — a way to which, however mysterious it may be when considered as an interaction between mind and matter, we have grown accustomed. I will enlarge upon this later in Chapter V. The result is that either their hand writes, or their mouth speaks, words and sentences — messages it may be to some relative still on earth — the meaning of which may not be apparent to the automatic writer or speaker, but which does more or less correctly represent the intention of the communicator, and is well adapted to convey a distinct meaning to the person to whom it is addressed, or for whom it is intended. Such messages are now frequently being received by bereaved people, who are thus enabled to get into touch with their loved ones, and to find that their memory and character and affection persist. Evidence of identity is given, and has to be given, through what may be called trivial reminiscences, the kind of reminiscences that would naturally be used for the purpose by a distant person seeking to establish his identity, say through a telephone. The evidence of identity is often so strong that the bereaved person has his scepticism broken down, and is able to receive the comfort and hope intended. It may be thought that bereaved people are specially prone to believe, and are willing to catch at straws. That is occasionally so, but by no means always: sometimes the longing for assured conviction rightly makes them ultra-sceptical.

Moreover, the proof does not depend solely on the testimony of bereaved people. Evidence for identity has been examined by scientific investigators, who are aware of all the difficulties associated with possible thought-reading from the living, the danger of personation, and the like. So gradually the proof of personal identity is being established in a careful and systematic manner; partly by the critical examination of those on this side, but mainly by the special and highly intelligent efforts of communicators from beyond. Some of these were specially interested in the subject while here, and they appear to have made a special effort to exclude the facile, or sometimes ingenious, hypotheses that have gradually accumulated and been put forward as an alternative possibility.

To me the evidence is now virtually complete, and I have no more doubt of the continued existence of surviving personalities than I have of any deduction from ordinary normal experience. The persons who take the trouble to communicate are much the same as they were; they are gradually progressing, no doubt, but not immediately getting out of touch with earth. Some of them are actuated by affection for those left behind, disturbed by their sorrow, sharing their joy, and anxious to give comfort and hope through the knowledge of continued affection, interest, and help, the certainty of recognition, and the clear expectation of ultimate reunion. Others there are who are actuated by a sense of duty, which impels them to enlighten the world concerning the reality of survival, to instruct us as far as they can about the manner of their existence, and to show that they sympathize and have some power of still helping in mundane affairs. It seems, moreover, that they are sometimes able to infer or see what is coming, and to send caution and advice, just as they might have done while here, and generally to impress us with the importance of our earth-life opportunities, the responsibility of our privileges, the permanence of character, and the sustained power of continued work and service hereafter.

Once their identity has been established, the are willing to talk to us, though doubtless wit difficulty and under half-understood conditions, about their enlarged view of existence and its wide possibilities. Their understanding of things is, needless to say, far from complete; they know a little more than we do, but not very much. There are things which still puzzle them, though to some of our problems they feel that they have a solution. They are not to be treated as oracles or infallible sources of information; they have their ignorance's and disabilities; but these gradually diminish as time goes on, and the general outcome of their teaching is of a high and lofty character.

Indeed it may be claimed that some of our own inspirations — the flashes of genius — really come from them; they are more in touch with us than we know. And we too appear to be able to help them. by our thoughts and actions. There is no gulf or gap, other than a sensory gap, between us and them; we are still all one family. They have been emancipated from material difficulties, but otherwise are unchanged. They view our earth life with encouragement and hope; they constitute what has been called a cloud of witnesses. They look forward to a time of reunion and steady progress and to the attainment of still higher conditions. Better things are in store, and they without us are not made perfect.

Difficulties and Objections

Every now and then we hear an objection to the utilization of mediums for the purposes of communication. People ask why they cannot themselves communicate direct. Well, if they have the faculty and power, they can do so; but if they have not, they must use the appointed means. When people want to communicate with a distant person by telegram, they do not do it directly — they don’t know how. They utilize the services of an uninterested operator, or pair of operators; that is to say, they use a medium. Indeed, so it is with all our methods of normal communication. We are always using a medium, though we do not recognize it. In speech we use the vibrations of the air; in vision we utilize the vibrations of the ether; even in touch we use the accustomed instrument of our own body. In communication with the discarnate we have to use the bodily mechanism of such people as have the faculty needed for such communication. This faculty is, perhaps mercifully, denied to most of us, in order that we may attend to our own business and do our respective duties. A medium is one who sacrifices part of his or her own life in order to give help to others. To them we ought to be grateful, and make their task easier. The idea of grudging them the modest remuneration which enables them to live while devoting themselves to the service of others, is utterly preposterous. At present their task is made difficult by general suspicion — even by antiquated legal enactments — and they suffer from the disgraceful activities of a few impostors who, not really possessing the power, simulate it for their own ends. That such scoundrels have existed is known: that they are numerous is improbable. But wherever they exist they are a danger, like any other heartless swindlers. A competent investigator would soon discover them, and their fraudulent career should be terminated.

Apart from villainy, however, the power of genuine communication is variable; some mediums are much stronger than others, and in none of them is the power uniform. Common-sense must be used, and allowances made, in this as in all other subjects. If the process of communication were easy, it would have been recognized long ago. There is no reason why the scientific demonstration or proof of human survival should be easy. Gradually modern science is beginning to attend, and in due time the whole thing will be put on a more satisfactory footing than at present. It is now going through the early stages, through which every nascent science has had to go. There was a time when radio-telegraphy was impossible; now it is commonplace. I do not say that the use of telepathy or mediumship will ever be commonplace, for we are dealing with powers far less understood than are the devices of radio telegraphy. A century ago we could not use electricity: it seemed, and perhaps still seems, mysterious. The existence of the universal and all-pervading ether has been denied, though we feel its quivers when we toast in front of a fire or bask in the sunshine, and though we send messages by it daily. Whether there is any physical medium for telepathic communication, whether the ether of space serves for this also, and whether our continued existence is associated with that substance instead of with matter, we do not yet know for certain. The departed seem to think it is so, and as fat as my knowledge goes they may be right. But in all scientific questions it is proper for us to investigate on our own behalf, and not accept without verification the testimony of others, however well they may seem to be informed. On all this, and many other obscure questions, we shall gain more knowledge, and be able to formulate a better theory, if we gradually advance along the lines of scientific method which have already proved so fruitful. To quote F. W. H. Myers again:-

Science forms a language common to all mankind; she can explain herself when she is misunderstood, and right herself when she goes wrong; nor has humanity yet found … that the methods of Science, intelligently and honestly followed, have led us in the end astray.



Contents / Foreword / Chapter 1  / Chapter 2  / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 4a / Chapter 4b / Chapter 4c / Chapter 4d / Chapter 4e / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7

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The International Survivalist Society 2001

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