Book: "Psychical Research, Science and Religion"

Author: Stanley De Brath

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- Chapter 4 -

The Subjective (psychological) Facts


"The phenomenon of supernormal cognition is reproducible at will provided that its processes are known. It does not depend on any faith in the witnesses, nor on any beliefs, whether positive or negative, but on exact observations, and on experiments that can be renewed at any time."

Dr. E. Osty, Supernormal Faculties in Man, Preface

          EXPERIMENTS in these mental phenomena are in some respects easier than with the objective class; the mediums who have these powers are much less rare than physical mediums; but on the other hand, clear inferences are more difficult because it is hard to separate between subconscious mental action that does not go beyond normal powers, and that which is necessarily supernormal, such as prediction, or perception at a distance.

Automatic writing, for instance, may be, and usually is, quite unconscious, and therefore, as regards the automatist, perfectly genuine, though it may, and usually does, reveal nothing at all (even if it be actually inspired) beyond what may reasonably be attributed to subconscious prompting. The assuredly supernormal comes in if the matter written is such as could not be produced by normal consciousness, e.g. prediction, or as in Mr. Bligh Bond's Gate of Remembrance, where the facts were known to no living person. It is closely allied to hypnotism, in which the subconscious, dissociated from the central directing mind, produces results, sometimes very surprising, of which the subject has no remembrance at all on waking; but the hypnotic state is not in itself supernormal.

The Proceedings of the English and American S.P.R. are the chief authorities for a vast number of carefully criticized facts of this mental order, and also for many exhaustive experiments to test their genuineness. The Society has established beyond all question the fact of telepathy - that perceptions and sensations in one person can be transferred to another person without the aid of the normal senses, provided that the percipient can remain sufficiently passive to the mental operations of the agent.

More than this, there are many well-proven cases on record of telepathy from considerable distances, when there has been conscious effort between agent and percipient; and also a certain number of cases in which there has been no such effort-cases in which the telepathic explanation (in the sense of thought-transference) is doubtful.

For instance, Sir Oliver Lodge, in his book The Survival of Man (p. 59), records a well-substantiated case in which Professor Redmayne, exploring in a remote district of South Africa with a Durham miner named Albert Tonks, deposes that this man had an intimation of his mother's death in England, and repeated her last words; these being confirmed both as to detail and date by letters received six weeks later.

1. Telepathy

Here a caution must be entered. The word "telepathy" is currently used in three quite distinct senses: (1) for the fact that when agent and percipient are in presence or mental connection, impressions can be transferred without any exercise of the normal senses; (2) for the theory that when impressions reach a percipient, "thought-waves" are the means of transmission; and (3) for the assumption that all such impressions are due to conscious (or even subconscious) thought in some other mind somewhere or other. Professor Hyslop, who made a special study of telepathy for several years, is of opinion that while the first is true, the second is very doubtful, and the third has no foundation at all. Sir Oliver Lodge, too, says: 

"Spiritual and psychical events do not enter into the scheme of Physics ... If telepathy is an etherial process, as soon as it is proved to be an etherial process, it will come into the realm of physics; till then it stays outside" (Survival of Man, p. 24).

Most etherial forces are governed by the law of inverse square of the distance between origin and effect. Light, for instance, of given intensity at one foot distance, gives only one-fourth of the illumination at two feet, one-ninth at three feet, and so on; it is in the highest degree improbable that Mrs. Tonks' dying thought should set up it "waves" of such intensity as to penetrate to South Africa.

Another case: Mrs. Green, in England, had a dream in which she saw two girls drowned by the fall of a carriage into a lake, their hats being left floating on the water. About the same time, allowing for longitude, her niece and another girl were so drowned in Australia, the bodies being located by the floating hats (Richet, P. 301). Other details were equally circumstantial. This is one of the most interesting cases on record, being well substantiated and foreign to the telepathic and spiritualist explanations alike, for the aunt and niece had never seen each other, so that it is in the highest degree unlikely that the drowning girl would think of this aunt or that her soul should travel to a relative she did not know. Careful analysis of the phenomena points to the real existence of faculties independent of space and time as we know these, and also independent of intervening material obstacles.

We will return to this later; meanwhile we will take a few typical facts selected almost at random out of many hundred similar ones, which I shall endeavour to place in ascending order as they point to this inference. I shall follow Professor Richet in taking Telepathy, Clairvoyance, Crystal-vision, Dowsing, Palmistry, and mento-mental phenomena (communications from mind to mind) generally, as special manifestations of sensitiveness which he names Cryptesthesia, meaning "a hidden sensibility," not necessarily to "vibrations" of any kind (Richet, pp. 69, 266-7), but describing the broad fact of psycho-cognition, without implying any theory at all.

2. Subconscious Supernormal Action

The term "supernormal" carries a certain ambiguity. It is ordinarily understood to mean "faculties of cognition independent of the normal senses," (1) and as a popular rendering this may pass. But any accuracy of thought will recognize that faculties independent of the physical senses are not only older than history and found in uncivilized races, and are in that sense normal to humanity, but are also closely paralleled in the animal world by many "instincts," especially in insects, migratory birds and fish, which, though equally independent of the normal senses, are perfectly normal to each species, and have, moreover, a very high survival-value in its existence, though it is not easy to see how they could be produced by Natural Selection or the compulsion of the environment.

(1) I have been taken to task, somewhat magisterially, for not saying "independent of the normal action of the senses," and have even been told that I ought to know the difference! I humbly remark that I do know the difference; but when a clairvoyant describes an event a hundred miles away, or one in time long past, or still more, one to be realized in the future, I regard it as mere question-begging to see in such cognition any form whatsoever of the action of the normal senses.

For instance, it would seem that these two factors should operate to produce eels accommodated to fresh-water life, rather than compel them at maturity to seek the deep sea, where, under enormous pressure, they procreate and die; the young elders in their turn seeking the rivers a thousand miles distant, unguided save by inherent faculty, to repeat the cycle. The young cuckoos, too, do not accompany the parent birds; they migrate a month or two later, but reach their destination without fail.

In the human being, however, the faculties called supernormal, or at least those manifestations of them that are supernormal, have totally different objects - they are personal, not common to the race; they have no apparent relation to the continuance of the species; and they involve cognitions that are remote from bodily life, and of no assistance to it. They are comparatively rare among individuals, they are sporadic and unusual, and in that sense, supernormal.

But the main functions of the subconscious phases of the mind are not only normal, but are essential to personal and general evolution. Unless we are prepared to admit that the forces, the directive agency, and the organizing power that are the essential features of all growth are accidental and uncaused by any permanent direction, we must admit an internal intelligent agency of which we are unconscious.

3. Normal Function of the Subconscious

My late friend, Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer with Darwin of evolutionary law, writing on the constructive, selective and directive power of life, uses the simple illustration of a bird's feather (World of Life, P. 294). Look at a feather under a low power of the microscope, or even with an ordinary lens - it is built up of delicate horny plates of marvellous elasticity and lightness. The barbs on each side of the midrib are provided with tiny hooks that lock the barbs together. Each feather grows to exactly the size required in the general scheme, and takes the exact coloration required by the pattern of the plumage proper to the species. All are formed by groups of special cells nourished by the same blood. What is the directive force that selects from the blood the molecular constituents required and organizes them into that extraordinary combination of curvature, lightness, and elasticity? And that not once only, but after every moult.

The plumage of a butterfly's wing is even more intricate. It consists of many thousand minute scales, each of which has its place in the mosaic colour scheme, and this is produced, along with new organs, from a white emulsion in the chrysalis into which nearly the whole of the larva except its central nerve has been dissolved.

In our own bodies, what is the intelligence that forms each organ from the same blood, correlates nerve and muscle, brain and senses, maintains the vital functions, repairs injuries, and even modifies function when some part is too far hurt for repair?

Directed Energy and Ideo-plastic Matter is the key to the mystery.

I have already mentioned the experiments by which Professor Driesch has shown that the faculty of producing diverse organs and structures is not limited to special cells, but is common to all. The genesis of an organism cannot be explained as a mechanism, and the whole mechanistic theory of life breaks down. There is a latent Intelligence, a directive and constructive power working towards the pre-existing type of the perfect animal. Agreeably to the principle that all change and movement of whatever kind results from Energy-working force as contrasted with static force - we see in all these metamorphoses the operation of a directed Energy conforming to a pre-existent Idea.

This likewise is the concept of Life developed by Dr. Geley in his book From the Unconscious to the Conscious, the active agent being Mind immanent in Nature, acting through an individualized concrete energy that he calls a "dynamo-psychism," a term which means neither more nor less than "soul-energy." Professor Driesch is in substantial agreement. It is obvious to the inner experience of anyone who thinks out the matter that this directed energy forms the body and maintains it from birth to death, taking charge of the functions of nutrition, repair, and the sum of the subconscious physical processes.

4. Intuition

It has also very distinct mental activities:

A great artist works irregularly; his plan as first conceived undergoes great and sometimes complete alteration. The outlines do not follow from one another as a man builds a house; they vary according to the inspiration of the moment. In fact the artist is not master of his inspiration, it is sometimes absent; and if he persists, he will on that day produce only moderate work which he will afterwards reject. If he is wise enough not to persist, he will on some other day be able to complete his work as if by enchantment, for the subconscious activity has proceeded during repose, especially during sleep...

Intuition is the very essence of subconsciousness; its data lie beyond facts, experiences, and reflection. Outlined in the animal, where it appears as instincts, it acquires in Man the higher aspects of Genius ... Finally, all the foundations of our being, that which is the principal part of the Self, innate capacities, good and bad dispositions, character-all that is not the result of personal effort, of education, or of surrounding examples, are modes of subconsciousness. GELEY, Loc. cit., pp. 85-88.

There is therefore a subconscious Intelligence latent in Man that is capable of producing results unapproachable by conscious volition.

Moreover, the connection between the Conscious and the Subconscious is very close: there is continuous exchange between them. The subconscious, by determining our proclivities, impels us to many choices: on the other hand, by prolonged conscious effort we acquire technical skill, which may be mechanical, literary, artistic, mathematical, or any other, including that general acquirement that we call experience of life. It then becomes a faculty, is put to use, and is exercised subconsciously.

The development of moral qualities proceeds along the same lines of habitual actions and abstentions, and thus what we call "character" is built up.

This hasty sketch of the chief normal functions of the Subconscious will show that it is not a separate mind existing, as it were, internally to Consciousness, but is part (the larger part) of the whole mentality which determines our tastes, proclivities, and aptitudes. However imperfect this outline, it will suffice to show that as soon as we probe beneath the surface we know very little indeed of the true causation of even the most ordinary phenomena of life; but it will prepare the way for a better understanding of the supernormal.

5. The Hypnotic State

This, as has already been mentioned, is not supernormal; it belongs to normal psychology. It has been known from the remotest times; only in modern days has it been denied and ascribed to fraud with that self-assured complacency that can find no other explanation for whatever it does not understand. Aristotle treats of it under the title of Prophecy in Sleep. The accounts we have of the priestesses of Delphi indicate a similar condition of trance or semi-trance.

It is impossible here to go into the grades of the hypnotic state. Broadly speaking, there are three;- light hypnosis, which may be automatic or artificially induced, in which the subject is highly suggestible by dissociation from the control of the conscious mind; the second, or cataleptic state; and deep hypnotism, when certain really supernormal faculties appear, though these are, with some few subjects, as frequent in the first condition of light hypnosis.

These faculties take the form of great extensions of the information normally limited by sight and hearing. The subject perceives events distant in time and space (Richet's Cryptesthesia), manifests a singularly perfect and impeccable memory (Cryptomnesia), and also, in many cases, is able to describe persons, places, and things directly or indirectly connected with an object placed in his (more usually her) hands. In this hypnotic state, which is also called somnambulic or "magnetic," the percipient may be able to describe accurately, organ by organ, the internal state of his own body, or, if a link is provided, that of another, but always in non-medical language, such as he would normally use. There is no trace of thought-transference from the questioner.

With this preamble we may now proceed to the certainly supernormal.

6. Dowsing (Water-Finding)

It is almost unnecessary to assert the reality of this faculty. Like hypnotism it was not long ago vehemently asserted to be fraudulent; but dowsers are now regularly employed by both the French and German Governments and by private companies in England. The location of springs at Gallipoli by a dowser there was known to the whole army. Reference may be made to Sir William Barrett's work on the so-called Divining Rod (Proc. S.P.R., xiii and xiv), in which he gives a number of carefully verified experiments. Richet gives the following particulars of other experiments:

  Number of Experiments Percentage Successful
Subterranean water 19 89
Subterranean cavities 23 87
Metals and metallic veins 11 80
Coal 9 55

I would draw particular attention to the fact that not only water and metals, but underground cavities are correctly traced by dowsers walking over the surface of the ground. It has been supposed that the dowser is sensitive to particular vibrations proceeding from the subterranean source producing unconscious muscular movements. In that case we must admit that metals, ores, coal, and oil give off these vibrations, and that even empty spaces have the same effect, which seems to add considerably to the difficulty of the vibration theory. It is also to be noticed that the dowser must know what he is looking for, and that his results do not seem to be affected by water when he is looking for something else - a fact which would seem definitely to prove the psychic (non-physical) nature of the faculty. As to unconscious muscular movements, the fact that the twig sometimes breaks in the hands of the dowser who resists its movement would seem inexplicable on that theory.

The phenomenon may be taken as a link between the subconscious and the entirely supernormal.



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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