Book: "Psychical Research, Science and Religion"

Author: Stanley De Brath

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- Chapter 2 -

The Objective Facts


"Before experience itself can be used with advantage there is one preliminary step to make, which depends wholly on ourselves: it is the absolute dismissal and clearing from the mind of all prejudice, and the determination to stand or fall by the result of a direct appeal to facts in the first instance, and of strict logical deduction from them afterwards"

Sir John Herschell

          THREE questions at once present themselves with reference to the many allegations pressed upon us:

(1) What are the facts definitely substantiated by scientific methods? 
(2) What is the evidence for them? 
(3) What is their use and value?

I shall take the second question first, because after briefly disposing of that I can proceed to the facts themselves.

1. The Witness to the Facts

The evidence bulks very large and is daily increasing. Hundreds of persons have seen some of these things. The number of men of science who have experimented to test their truth is already considerable. The mere bibliography occupies two closely printed pages in Professor Richet's Treatise on the subject, and among these witnesses I may quote the following: Professor De Morgan (1863); The London Dialectical Society's Report (1870); Sir William Crookes, F. R. S. (1874); Dr. A. R. Wallace, O.M. (1875); Professor Zollner (1879); Professor Aksakof (1890); Professor Brofferio (1892); F. W. H. Myers (1902); J. Maxwell (1905); Professor Hyslop (1905); Professor E. Boirac (1907); Sir William Barrett, F.R.S. (1908); Sir Oliver Lodge, F.R.S. (1909); Professor Calderone (1913); Dr. G. Geley (1919) Dr. von Schrenck-Notzing (1920); Professor Richet (1922); Dr. E. Osty (1923); also a large number of men of standing and position - Chiaia, Schiaparelli, Gerosa, Finzi, Morselli, Foa, Bozzano, Botazzi, all university professors in Italy; de Gramont, de Rochas, Segard, P. Curie and Mme. Curie, d'Arsonval, Courtier, Watteville, Dariex, and Sabatier in France; Ochorowicz in Poland; Cromwell Varley, Edmund Gurney, Feilding, Carrington, Professor and Mrs. Sidgwick, F. Hodgson, and others in England.

Each of these has testified to some one or other (some to many) of the facts, though varying greatly in their interpretations; not to speak of the immense mass of observers mentioned in the Proceedings of the English and American S.P.R., and the recently published certificate of over 100 German doctors and scientists to the genuineness of Schrenck-Notzing's experiments at which they were present, and the similar declaration of 35 highly-placed literary and scientific men in Paris. I have given the foregoing dates to show the continuous development of the subject, but some of the writers have published works both earlier and later than the dates quoted. It is to be remarked that nearly, if not quite all, of these men were entirely sceptical at the beginning of their investigations, and that none of them were convinced by casual sťances, but only by long-continued and patient experiments. Even newspapermen have nearly given up scoffing!

2. Two General Aspects

The facts testified to have two leading aspects - the Scientific, known as Psychical Research, and the Religious, known as Spiritualism. It cannot be over-emphasized that the basic facts are the same in both, though spiritualists recognize some (such as communications from the Unseen) that are not yet admitted as facts by most men on the scientific side(1) All important discoveries have these two aspects; it is only necessary to recall the names of Galileo, Lyell, Lamarck, and Darwin to perceive that their discoveries had far-reaching religious implications and provoked as much opposition as the supernormal facts have now to encounter. It is a curious and melancholy reflection that from Copernicus and Newton to Pasteur and Richet, every great advance has been received with determined hostility by many of the very men whose position, whether in science or religion, made the reception of truth their special function and duty.

(1) Nevertheless, no sharp line can be drawn: some distinguished men on the scientific side (such as Sir William Crookes, Sir William Barrett, Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir A. Conan Doyle, Professor Hyslop, Professor Bozzano, and a large number of the members and associates of the S.P.R. are convinced of survival and communication. Meanwhile, I strongly deprecate opposition between those who accept rather more and those who accept rather less than has been formally proved, or account for the facts in diverse ways. The one side is typified by men like Sir William Brewster, who said "Spirit is the last thing I will give in to," and the other by fanatical spiritualists who scorn the scientific investigations fundamental to their own position, for nothing out of harmony with Science will get any extended hearing. The whole difference between Psychical Research and Spiritualism lies in the treatment of the same facts by two types of mind: the one works for the pure science which appeals only to the few; the other seeks to turn the many to a recognition of spiritual verities.

As for certain chemists and physiologists who deny or contemn the whole, no man's opinion is worth anything on a new science, on which he has not experimented carefully, after studying the work of his predecessors.

3. What are the Facts?

They fall into two classes:

(1) The Objective - where some visible, tangible, or fulfilled result remains for examination. These are - Movements of heavy bodies without apparent contact (telekinesis); Materializations; Healing; and Supernormal photography.

(2) The Subjective (mental or psychological) such as Clairvoyance, Crystal-vision, Lucidity, Telepathy, Prediction, and the like.

It is not easy to draw a clear line between the two; some phenomena partake of both. Prediction, for instance, is entirely subjective till the prediction is fulfilled. Dowsing for water is subjective till the water is found. Automatic writing is subjective as to the method, objective in respect of the matter written.

The facts of the objective group are the very foundations of psychical research, because they are the visible, tangible proofs that we are dealing with very much more than the subconscious faculties of the mind to which the subjective (psychological) phenomena are often entirely referred. It is impossible to ascribe to subconsciousness an ectoplasmic materialization which has been photographed by flashlight, or a photograph produced where there has been no visible object present.

I shall deal in this section only with those facts that have been absolutely and repeatedly proved: there are others concerning which we should suspend judgment.

The chief progress here has been made in France, in Germany, in Italy, and in Poland, especially in the first-named country, where alone there has been found a wealthy man sufficiently imbued with a sense of the importance of the subject to endow during his life-time an institute for experimental work.

(1)A bequest Of 400,000 dollars has recently been made to endow a Chair of Psychical Research in the University of Columbia, U.S.A.

4. The International Metapsychic Institute (Paris)

In 1920 Mr. Jean Meyer, having received indubitable proofs of the reality of the phenomena, founded this Institute, placing it under the honorary presidency of Professor Charles Richet, and inviting leading men of science to be members of its Council and to conduct actual experimental work under the directorship of Dr. Geley, my great friend whose recent death by the crash of the aeroplane in which he was travelling from Warsaw to Paris we profoundly deplore.

Its laboratory is furnished regardless of expense, with automatic and self-recording weighing machines, photographic appliances and every possible aid to observation. It is locked off from all other rooms and is not entered by any persons but the experimenters and friends they may see fit to take with them. The method pursued is to make physically impossible any fraudulent imitation of phenomena, as I have myself seen. Thus for telekinesis the medium is seated in a small locked cabinet of closemesh wire-netting. The lighting is controllable by switches from a feeble red light to powerful electric flashes. Almost all experiments are carried out in the light, modified according to requirements.

5. Telekinesis

The movement of objects without physical contact has been carefully verified, and this first and very common phenomenon need not be minutely described. The most exhaustive experiments were made by Mr. W. J. Crawford, B.Sc., of Belfast, for three consecutive years. In his Reality of Psychic Phenomena and other works he shows: (1) that the medium being seated on a chair placed on the platform of a weighing machine registering to 2 oz. there is a loss of weight while the phenomena are in progress; (2) that there is an invisible, or dimly visible, connection between the medium and the object displaced; (3) that even in its invisible condition this (ectoplasmic) connection can carry power-it is a vehicle of energy; (4) that a strong light disperses the power; (5) that a moderate light can be borne without interference with the results; (6) that this connection can assume mechanical forms, rods or cantilevers; (7) that these, even when invisible, can discharge an electroscope; and (8) that verbal requests modify results.

6. Ectoplasmic Forms

The most striking result obtained at the Paris Institute is the verification of ectoplasmic forms.

It has long been known, and confirmed by such careful experimentalists as Dr. A. R. Wallace and Sir William Crookes, that from certain mediums in the trance state there emanates a tenuous substance which assumes animated forms such as faces, hands, and feet, having to sight and touch all the appearances of life. This has been amply confirmed in the locked laboratory of the Institute by repeated experiments extending over many months. The substance is highly ideo-plastic - capable of being moulded by mind.

The medium having been completely undressed and reclothed in black garments provided, and moreover having been most thoroughly examined medically, was seated in a chair screened from light by curtains, and speedily fell into trance. The experiments were conducted by dull red light. The first appearance of ectoplasm was in form of luminous patches which coalesced into a larger mass in which there grew, under the eyes of the spectators, living faces and forms. The eyes move, the mouth smiles, and the hands grasp. All were photographed by flashlight in the whole course of their genesis and disappearance. The entire process is described in full detail in Dr. Geley's last book, Ecloplasmie et Clairvoyance, and also in From the Unconscious to the Conscious. The photograph in the frontispiece is reproduced from Dr. Geley's original by kind permission.

In a paper read before the Metapsychic Congress at Copenhagen in 1921 Dr. Geley says:

The ectoplasmic phenomenon is a physical extension of the medium. During trance a portion of her organism is exteriorized. This portion is sometimes small, sometimes considerable. It is first observable as an amorphous substance which may be solid or vaporous; it then takes organic form (usually very quickly) and there appear forms which, when the phenomenon is complete, may have all the anatomical and physiological characteristics of living organs. The ectoplasm has become a Being, or fraction of a being, but always in close dependence on the body of the medium, of which it is a kind of prolongation and into which it is absorbed at the end of the experiment ... This fact is established by flashlight photographs of materialized forms, impressions of them on clay, putty, and lamp-blackened paper, and hollow casts of them in paraffin wax. The ectoplasmic phenomena are the same in all countries, whoever the medium and the observers may be. Crookes, Dr. Gibier, Sir Oliver Lodge, Professor Richet, Ochorowicz, Professor Morselli, Mme. Bisson, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, Dr. Geley, Dr. Crawford, Lebiedzinski and others have given rigorously concordant descriptions.

Apart from its far-reaching philosophical implications, the phenomenon is relatively simple, but much cumulative work was needed to reach precise ideas on its genesis. Among such work, that which refers specially to the nature of the substance is highly important. It appears under three aspects, the vaporous and the solid or the semi-solid. Both have been observed with powerful mediums such as Mr. Eglington and Mme. d'Esperance. It is curious, however, that the first observers did not establish the systematic and invariable relation that exists between the shapeless ectoplasm and the completed materialization - the latter is developed out of the former, sometimes very slowly.

Dr. Geley continues:

In 1909 Mme. Bisson made the acquaintance of Eva C. (Marthe Beraud) and began to work with her. She observed that Eva's head and face were covered with a kind of white substance which changed her aspect ... In 1910 Professor Schrenck-Notzing took the matter up and worked with Mme. Bisson. His investigations and those of Dr. Geley, both with Mme. Bisson, were published simultaneously in France and Germany. The substance in its vaporous condition appears as a fog, more or less visible, sometimes slightly phosphorescent, which proceeds mainly from the medium's head. In this fog there appear brighter points of condensation, resembling the light of the glow-worm. Whether the emanation be solid or gaseous, it is usually rapidly organized, and gives materializations which may be abortive (partial) or complete and perfect. Both generate light; sometimes the forms are self-luminous, either completely or in places.

Very distinct analogies can be traced between the ectoplasmic process and some well-known biologic facts:

The first of these is the transformation of some insects in the chrysalis-the larva is almost entirely reduced to a white pulp and is re-integrated into new organs by interior forces.

The second striking analogy is with the emission of cold light by certain insects, microbes, deep-sea fishes, and plants; also in the first stages of decomposition of organic matter. In all these cases we observe the transformation of biologic energy into luminous energy without any sensible production of heat.

7. Casts in Paraffin Wax

The most undeniable proofs of the reality of materialization are: (1) the series of photographs taken by flashlight by Dr. Geley and Professor Richet in the laboratory of the Institute, showing the successive phases of the phenomenon; and (2) the hollow moulds of hands and feet, taken in paraffin wax. The full detail of these experiments is given in Dr. Geley's last book, Ectoplasmie et Clairvoyance.(1) 

In brief, the experimenters prepared in their own laboratory a special mixture of paraffin wax coloured with blue dye and impregnated with cholesterin, a chemical admitting of easy test. This paraffin, kept at melting-point by being floated on warm water, was placed near the medium, Franek Kluski. As a rule, the ectoplasmic materializations are too fleeting to be moulded, but with this medium they are rather more durable. The medium's hands were held during the whole experiments, which were conducted by weak red light, and the ectoplasmic prolongations from his body were requested to dip into the wax. The hands so produced became coated with wax, and by dipping two or three times, the glove so formed was sufficiently solid to retain its shape when the hand itself was withdrawn, by dematerialization, through the narrow opening of the wrist. These "gloves" being filled with plaster, gave exact copies of the ectoplasmic hands. Fragments of the gloves being detached and tested for cholesterin gave the reaction which absolutely proved that they were made from the paraffin provided in the laboratory.

(1) See P. 257. Dr. Geley says: "We had the great satisfaction of actually seeing the hands which dipped in the paraffin. They were visible by luminous points at the end of the fingers. They passed slowly before our eyes, plunged into the paraffin wax, moved in it for a fraction of a minute, came out of the trough still luminous and deposited the moulds still warm against our hands."

In the May-June issue of the Revue Melapsychique (1922) the phenomenon is more fully described in detail. The medium was Franek Kluski; his hands were held during the whole time. He was in trance and made no movement. Experimenters: Professor Richet, Dr. Geley, M. Ossowiecki. Colonel Okolowicz, Dr. Guirard, and Mdlle. L. Gzeliak. 

I have seen twenty-eight of these casts, some with the paraffin still adherent. They are of all kinds - single hands, open and closed; two hands clasped, some masculine and some feminine - and the two most remarkable characteristics are:

(1) All the hands, and the foot, that I have seen show the creases and folds of the skin precisely like normal hands, down to the minute marks that are relied upon as proofs of personality in finger-print criminology. (See the photograph, P1.2, annexed of one of these casts.)

(2) Some of them are about half-size, but adult in anatomical structure, not round and plump like the hands of children.

Similar experiments have been carried out at Warsaw by Mr. and Mrs. Hewat McKenzie with the same medium, and the hollow wax moulds are to be seen at the British College of Psychic Science, 59, Holland Park, London, W. II. These two disinterested workers have spent many hundred pounds in providing the opportunities to private persons who desire to see facts for themselves. A full account of their experiments is given in their Quarterly Transactions in Psychic Science for July 1922.

In the present connection the palmary value of these experiments is the undeniable proof of objective reality at the base of metapsychic science. We have here a series of facts as real as any chemical experiment, with the vast difference that the "forces" that produce them are intelligent, can, and do, comply with requests and are able to produce the forms and movements that we associate with life.

8. "Demonstration and Proof"

Of course, no proof convinces those who are fixed in their scepticism of any existence but the material. "Proof" is used in two senses, (a) for that which ought to convince (Q.E.D., quod erat demonstrandum), and (b) for that which actually does convince (Q.F.V., quod facit videre). The more a specialist has devoted himself to his speciality, the less does he know of any other and the less valuable is his opinion outside his own speciality. I will give two instances, one quoted from Professor Richet, the other my own:

M. Thiers, ex-President of the French Republic, whose eminence as a statesman no one will question, devoted himself to Philosophy after his retirement and sought the necessary mathematical knowledge as a preliminary step. His teacher showed him mathematically that every slant section of a cone is a perfect ellipse-the sum of the radii from each focus being a constant length (Q.E.D.). The statesman objected that an oblique section of a conical sugar-loaf must have a big and a little end. A sugarloaf was brought and cut before him; he received the proof Q.F.V. - (Richet's Treatise, Engl. trans., P. 597)

A very distinguished chemist, A., was discussing with an engineer "dematerialization" as proved by the paraffin gloves above described and by Zollner's experiments. He denied the possibility, from common sense, that to tie a knot in an endless cord is impossible. The engineer maintained that Zollner's experiment with the medium Slade showed that it is not impossible to the "intelligent forces." The professor maintained that this must have been a fraud. The engineer took a narrow strip of paper over a foot long, twisted it three half-turns, gummed the ends together and asked the chemist, "Is this an endless cord?" Receiving an affirmative reply, he proceeded to cut the paper along its middle line. The result was a knot in the endless cord. Professor A. was delighted at the "exposure of Slade's trick." No argument could convince him that there was neither trick nor exposure. The real explanation is simple: the axis of the paper was twisted through 180 x 3 = 540 in the horizontal plane; the division along the axis allowed each half to be turned through 180 x 2 = 360 in the vertical plane, the result being a knot in a twisted loop, necessarily produced by the mathematics of the case. Professor A. could not see this; he maintained that as this knot was produced without supernormality, Slade's must have been produced in like manner. Demonstration that in Zollner's experiment neither of the rotations could have been made was of no avail. (If the little experiment is varied by giving two twists only, the cut along the axis will give two twisted rings interlocked; if four twists are given, the result is two rings, one doubly linked to the other. With three twists, the knot was really half-completed before the ends were joined.)

Dematerialization has actually been witnessed. Crookes writes:

I have retained one of these hands in my own, firmly resolved not to let it escape. There was no struggle or effort to get loose, but it gradually seemed to resolve itself into vapour, and faded in that manner from my grasp. - (Notes of an Enquiry into the Phenomena called Spiritual, p. 93.)

Richet gives other instances (Traite, p. 506). These, however, are not dematerializations of ordinary matter; and the alleged passage of solids through solids, though often asserted (and I have seen what appeared to be such) requires much more detailed examination before it can be considered proven. Zollner's experiments, given in his Transcendental Physics, are the best yet available.

9. Note on Physical Phenomena

The laboratory experiments on physical phenomena are very little known in England. From time to time perplexed persons write to the newspaper press calling for investigation. In a recent issue of English Mechanics (February 1925) there appeared the following paragraph:

What is now called for is a really earnest and scientific investigation into the phenomena of materialization ... Provided the investigators were trained observers free from any taint of spiritism, they might be trusted to establish once and for all whether or not the so-called materializations are genuine phenomena; and if so, they might proceed to further investigations with a view to discovering the natural laws under which they are manifest.

This is somewhat amusing. Of course the physical (objective) phenomena are the foundations of psychical research, for they throw light upon the psychological (subjective) group, whereas the latter do not explain the former. But the writer is evidently not aware of Crookes' and Wallace's investigations: Wallace especially was a thorough-going agnostic, as opposed to spiritualism as he was devoted to natural science. Nor does he appear to know that the investigation called for has already been made at the Paris Institute by Professor Richet, Dr. Geley, and other "trained observers" of the highest standing in contemporary science and free from any taint of "spiritism." Their experiments have extended over four years in a laboratory furnished with every appliance for exact scientific work. The record of these experiments has been published in full detail and is to be found in Dr. Geley's Ectoplasmie et Clairvoyance. This work is a classic of the subject, and has been translated into German and Spanish; but in England so little interest is taken in the matter, that three publishers to whom I was commissioned to offer it, declined on the ground that it would not pay.

Some indication of the reason for this indifference may be gathered from the presidential address of Mr. Piddington the S.P.R in May 1924. He avows that he is not conversant with the objective phenomena, and adds:

I find in my own case that as a general rule I do not attach the same weight to the evidence of foreigners, even of Americans, as to the evidence of my own countrymen, and having no reason to think I am singular in this respect, I assume the impression to be a common one.(1) 

(1) Estimates of "national character" applied to individuals are more often wrong than right. Irishmen are supposed to be sentimental because of Irish fairy folklore and because Tommy Moore wrote sentimental songs; I have known many Irishmen, but never a one turned aside from the main chance by sentiment. Frenchmen are supposed to be excitable because they get hot on politics, but in science they are very calm and close reasoners. Germans are credited with thoroughness and logic, which is true unless touching the Vaterland. We pride ourselves, not without reason, on British good sense, but we have more sloppy epicene idealists to the square mile than there are in France and Italy together; who say, "We will urge women to refuse to bear children to become soldiers," by way of "preventing war"; who would retire from every land where a dog barks at us, reduce the Navy, and leave Australia defenceless before an overcrowded Asiatic Power which can put more soldiers into the field than the whole male population of Australia.

This is, unfortunately, quite true, and extends even to normal science. In England the differential calculus is ascribed to Newton, in Germany to Leibnitz: in France the discovery of oxygen is referred to Lavoisier, in England to Priestley, though the latter was attached to the "phlogiston" theory and called the gas "dephlogisticated air": the law connecting the volume, pressure, and temperature of gases is known as "Boyle's Law" in England (1675) and "Mariotte's law" (1676) in France; and so on. These questions of priority or independence matter very little because the laws themselves are admitted.

But in metapsychic science it matters greatly that careful and detailed laboratory work should be ignored because of the nationality of the experimenter. Mr. Piddington's analogy of an Englishman on trial before a jury of foreigners conversant with the English language but not with English life is quite misleading: guilt or innocence may turn largely on local customs or habits, but an educated man of whatever nationality is able to testify to facts. In normal science discovery is fairly evenly distributed among the chief nations. In electrical science, for instance, Faraday, Clerk Maxwell and Lord Kelvin are English; Galvani and Marconi Italian; Volta, Gramme and Coulomb French; Weber, Ohm, and Herz German. In psychic matters which are common to the whole human race there is as much sound judgement in one country as another. I do not seem to see foreigners, or "even Americans," much distressed by Mr. Piddington's opinion, and in France I happen to know that they are amused, for they are aware that their own country has made unparalleled progress in metapsychic science by applying the Experimental Method which, dating from Leonardo, Galileo, and Newton, has given the splendid results of physical science.

In France there is a regular endowed laboratory, approved by the Government as "of public utility," where careful scientific work is done by first-class men. In America 400,000 dollars have recently been bequeathed for the same purpose, In England there is as yet no such institution, and private research is most inadequately supported.

Of course, if private persons were to charge themselves with the highly technical, laborious, and expensive experiments which the writer in English Mechanics so innocently desires, exactly the same results would follow that have already taken place: a sceptical man of science like Wallace is "convinced by the weight of the facts": he is then under the "taint of spiritism" and is reviled by the Ignorant. Even a sceptical journalist like Mr. Blatchford meets the same fate.

The inferences to be drawn from the work of such men as Crookes, Wallace, Lodge, Richet, Geley, Schrenck-Notzing, Ochorowicz and Morselli, may well be held to be sub judice, but the actualities cannot be doubted by anyone who reads their works with an open mind. As long, however, as English investigators shut their eyes to the work of responsible Continental experimentalists, there will be no synthesis worth the name, but only interminable discussions by which the facts are lost sight of in the fog of insular suspicion and endless verbiage.



Contents / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Appendix

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