Book: "Psychical Research, Science and Religion"

Author: Stanley De Brath

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- Psychical Research, Science and Religion -



          THIS book is a synthesis of facts severally established by men of high standing in science, and an inference from that synthesis. In the course of my lectures on the supernormal facts that are now exercising many minds, a very large number of persons have expressed regret at not being able to find any small and handy book to tell them what has been scientifically demonstrated and may reasonably be believed, what should be kept in suspense of judgment, and, more especially, what are the rational conclusions at which the substantiated facts point. They are perplexed by the great number of isolated statements brought to their notice, and while they feel that "there is something in it," they want to know just what that "something" amounts to. They are disposed to turn down some very excellent handbooks, such as the Rev. Professor Henslow's Proofs of the Truths of Spiritualism (Kegan Paul, 1919) because they dislike the word "spiritualism," and suspect that such books are written to support the author's opinions, and they say they have not time to read the classics of the subject, such as Myers' Human Personality, Flammarion's three volumes, Richet's Thirty Years of Psychical Research, Geley's From the Unconscious to the Conscious, Osty's Supernormal Faculties in Man, Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond, and still less the voluminous Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research. They turn from works that are frankly spiritualistic, such as Stainton Moses' Spirit Teachings, because they distrust the foundation of alleged fact on which these rest, and they say, moreover, that all these works are expensive and rather inaccessible, besides requiring more thought and reflection than they are able to find leisure to bestow.

I have therefore undertaken to write a short summary and synthesis of leading facts that have been severally and definitely substantiated from the scientific standpoint. To do this and yet keep brevity, I have taken only one or two typical examples in each class. It must be understood that these typical instances could be multiplied a hundredfold and still not exhaust the evidence which is to be found in works by English, French, Italian, American, German and Spanish professors who have studied the phenomena that have appeared simultaneously in all quarters of the world, and have given rise to the immense amount of testimony by reliable, though undistinguished, men and women of good sense and high intelligence, which is to be found in the records of the S.P.R and in the journals devoted to these subjects. These are very numerous - 6 in Britain, 23 in France and Belgium, 9 in Germany and Scandinavian countries, 14 in North America and Mexico, and no less than 63 in South America.

But despite (or perhaps because of) the immense mass of this testimony, general synthesis is still to seek.

The general inference that my old friend Alfred Russel Wallace drew from the supernormal facts conjointly with the biological work in which he and Darwin were collaborators, was that the selective, directive and organizing powers in Nature are explicable only by an all-pervading Immanent Mind-a Mind which not only adapts organisms to their environment, but aims at their beauty also.

The friend of my later years, Dr. Gustave Geley of Paris, and director of the Metapsychic Institute there, though he was not conversant with any of Wallace's work, came to exactly the same philosophical conclusion, though he phrases it in a somewhat different manner. Essentially the two are agreed on the evolutionary aspect.

Taken colleclively, the facts seem to me conclusive on Survival, provided that we observe that there are certain differences between the essential Self that adapts itself to the environment and the Personality that results from that adaptation.

The facts that Wallace considered proofs of survival are:

1. Materializations of living forms, some of which are personal, 

2. Hyper-physical photographs of deceased persons, e.g. of his own mother. 

3. Written messages, on the photographic plate and otherwise. 

4. Personal and impersonal predictions. 

5. Messages automatically written purporting to be from such persons, and conveying information unknown to those present and instructions which were verified when carded out. 

6. Visions of the dying, especially of dying children, always of deceased friends and relatives.

I have taken only one or two thoroughly authenticated instances of each of these classes, but, as I have said above, they could be supplemented by many more.

Strictly speaking, one single authenticated case of each ought to be sufficient to carry conviction. When Lavoisier observed that the "ash" of a metal (then called a calx) was heavier than the metal from which it was derived, that finally proved that oxygen had combined with the metal. This had to be repeated many hundred times before the "phlogiston" theory was given up, but the first proof was the conclusive proof; repetitions merely served to convince the sceptical. It is the same with the supernormal facts. What some persons demand is a great number of detailed and cumulative instances in each class without the trouble of reading them up, and expressed in language with which they can agree ab initio. This is like the demand of the old woman who asked the bookseller for a pocket Bible in large print. Richet, Flammarion, and others have collated the mass of evidence; it is considered too voluminous in this age, which wants all its knowledge in tabloids to save the trouble of thinking. I have not met a single researcher who has read even Richet's book carefully from end to end. Certainly very few of his reviewers have done so.

I have therefore adopted the briefer form, giving only one or two authenticated cases.

I have found that the facts lead up to the fundamental postulates of Religion - a Creative Mind, a surviving soul, and a consequential hereafter - but I have not the slightest desire to capture them for any particular form of institutional religion. I was personally a contented agnostic till in 1889 the facts led me away from that position to a sincere belief in essential Christianity. I do not now start from a prepossession in favour of survival or any other doctrine and select arguments to prove it - that is a reversal of the process. Like Wallace, I started as a sceptic and was convinced by the weight of the facts.

Incidentally they compelled me, as they have compelled many others, to consider their bearing on the Resurrection of Christ. If this were a mere theological dogma, I should have avoided it here as I have avoided as far as possible all theological dogmas. But if it was a fact, it was, as St. Paul considered it, absolutely fundamental. In an age so sectarian that it produced fourteen other apocryphal "gospels" besides the four adopted as canonical, an age in which converts could claim to follow, some Paul, some Cephas, some Apollos, and some Christ (I Cor. 1. 12), St. Paul laid down the Resurrection as a reality without which all Christianity would be mere opinion. He did not seek to prove this because he was a Christian; he became a Christian because he had proved it. It is the same to-day with a large number of persons.

It is agreed by many that if men would adopt the moral principles of Christianity, their political opinions and interests would not lead to armed conflicts because they would be restrained from enmity and violence by the principles. But if those principles are founded in a real evolutionary law directed to the development of a spiritual being, belief in them must, as heretofore, rest on a basis of actuality. They must, as Myers pointed out, rest on the evidence for "a real spiritual world of things, concrete and living, not a mere system of abstract ideas." It is for this reason that I have endeavoured to show the connection by which the clue of facts leads up to the fundamental postulate of Christianity.

There is now a wide-spread demand to know what the facts are; and being familiar with these matters since 1889, having the privilege of friendship with most of the distinguished men from whose works I have quoted, and having seen nearly all the phenomena myself under strict conditions, I may be able to give a summary to serve as an introduction to more extended reading on facts which have a close bearing on personal life and conduct for every man and woman, and are pregnant with great changes in scientific and religious ideas.

It is necessary to give a rapid glance at modern science, because this is so intimately connected with its supernormal extensions that these latter cannot be understood without fairly clear ideas on Matter and Energy. I shall, however, make this glance exceedingly brief, only premising that some such definite knowledge is absolutely essential to comprehension of phenomena which at first sight seem irreconcilable with Physics.

Reproaches are sometimes levelled against the S.P.R. (London) and the International Metapsychic(1) Institute (Paris) that they confine themselves entirely to the scientific side, and maintain a neutral or even a sceptical attitude to all religious inferences. Such reproaches are unjustified unless the scepticism extends to facts verified by other experimentalists. Both the S.P.R. and the I.M.I. are scientific bodies. "Science" is the verification of facts and their proximate causes; it leaves primary causes to Philosophy. The business of a scientific society is to verify facts and to propose working theories, and their sceptical attitude to spiritualistic inferences is a valuable asset to the latter. Very few men are capable of honest and open-minded agnosticism, and it is useful to have the facts substantiated by persons who cannot be accused of religious or spiritualist bias.

(1) "Metapsychic." This term was adopted by the International Congress of 1923 to designate all investigations outside normal psychology.

But in a work which, however modestly, endeavours to show consistency and reason running through the phenomena, it is impossible to avoid the religious implications, because everyone, except some professional "researchers," feels at once that the crucial question is the real existence of the spirit of man and its survival. This is the basis of all religions and (subconsciously) of all morality excepting the ordinances that every society must make if it is to hold together at all.

Even experimentalists on the supernormal are influenced by their positive or negative attitude to this question. Professor Richet admits that the very raison d'etre of the new science is that the forces studied are intelligent. It is no violation of his courteous hospitality to say that when I said to him that "unseen intelligent forces" seem to me not very different from "spirits," he made a deprecatory gesture and laughed. His position, as explained in his book (p. 607), is that though these forces do show intelligence of a human type, both in earnestness and levity, knowledge and ignorance, they are under such totally different conditions that they cannot properly be called "human" - the brain, bodily senses, and relation to Matter, Time, and Space, being essential to all that we know as "Man." Those who (like F. W. H. Myers and Sir Oliver Lodge) define humanity by the qualities of memory, affection, and capacity for spirituality, take a different view, and consider the body as the material representation only - not essential to the human Self, in which I concur. The difference from Richet is really one of definition.(1)

(1) Richet defines man as does the Quicunque Vult, (!) "the reasonable soul and flesh is one man," and on this definition the Athanasian creed demands a corporeal resurrection to reconstitute the human personality.

But while unable, from the nature of the case, to avoid the bearing of the phenomena on Religion, because they are almost meaningless apart from that bearing, I have been careful to avoid direct references to the creeds except in the one crucial case. Creeds seem to me the human formulations of mysteries most of which transcend the powers of languagethey are the forms in which earnest men having very various degrees of enlightenment have cast their perceptions. I am not competent to discuss abstruse theological questions, but it seems clear that creeds are necessarily open to restatement as knowledge increases, though such restatement may be of form rather than of substance. Formulas will inevitably be modified to accord with fresh facts. They have already been much modified: a Great Assize followed by everlasting reward or punishment has been given up by all thinking men and women, and this is tacitly admitted by the Churches, though they have not as yet put any very definite ideas in place of the primitive concepts.

The prime necessity at the present day is to set in order the substantiated facts, to show that these are consistent with each other, with religious history, and with the deepest intuitions and instincts of mankind. The present Bishop of Durham, Dr. H. Hensley Henson, in his episcopal Charge (1924), tells his clergy that "men of necessity make three main demands on their religion - that it shall provide them with a tolerable explanation of the Riddle of Existence: that it shall give them a sufficient version of duty: and that it shall bring them strength to fulfil the obligations which perforce they acknowledge."

The metapsychic facts fulfil the first demand; they imply that the evolution of character is the purpose of life, and by enabling us to discriminate between legendary "miracles" and real "signs" of supernormal power, they immensely strengthen the intellectual position of Christianity. F. W. H. Myers said that without these facts there would a century hence probably not be an educated man who would believe in the Resurrection of Christ, whereas with these facts there will probably be none who disbelieve it. They render totally unnecessary the notion of the resuscitation of a corpse.

There is, however, one aspect of the matter on which I feel it impossible to be silent. Children are still taught the Creation myths, the Deluge, the Tower of Babel, and the early Hebrew legends as facts. Their religious instincts are thus poisoned at the source. They soon discover that no reasonable adult believes these things, and religion becomes to them an elaborate pretence. The injury thus done to the growing mind is incalculable and can hardly be over-stated. Parents can to some extent correct this pernicious school "instruction" by pointing out that the real meaning of the Edenic story is that we are all born into the garden of the world to make it beautiful; but they very rarely do. No teacher who has the new knowledge will deem it necessary to start with legends whose real historical significance is quite beyond the childish mind, nor will try to impart advanced knowledge prematurely. A child's religion begins in rightdoing, and should not be based on any theological system whatsoever, but on Love and Duty. This book has no propagandist intention. The new facts do not, and cannot, constitute a new religion in any sense, but taken along with the "Higher Criticism" they make the Bible understandable. My purpose has been to keep closely to leading facts and the chief inferences from them, putting forward no more than has been proved, and not entering into abstruse arguments on the limits of the subconscious. I have even scarcely mentioned the chief difficulty regarding survival; but in view of some criticisms that have been passed on this subject it is perhaps advisable to say something at this point.

If we are to regard every human personality as "an immortal soul" there is no getting away from the idea that all the creatures called men and women, from the anthropithecus onwards through all savage races for the last hundred thousand years, up to the most degraded races of our own day, must be supposed to be existent somewhere. This is much more incredible than any of the supernormal facts.

It is to some extent an academic question, because at the present level of development, survival seems an experimental fact, certainly for a time. Immortality is another question altogether, for the solution of which data are few.

The explanation may be involved in the profound distinction (long since recognized by Orientals) between the Self and the personality. An English baby brought up in China by Chinese would grow up into a very different "person" than in England, while remaining the same Self. If the personality is the evolutionary expression of the Self in response to a given environment, it is necessarily transformable and progressive. Orientals solve the difficulty by re-birth. It must remain for us an open question, further complicated by the fact that all indications point to a future life under conditions that transcend all our notions of Time.

A distinguished scientific man has recently said that if the surviving mentality is such as is revealed by most "spirit-communications," he would prefer extinction - a very reasonable remark, though it would also apply to most villagers' conversation, and to that of many others than villagers. A very large proportion of such alleged "communications" are empty, frivolous, or vapid; some are false. This gives rise to the not unusual impression that nine-tenths of what "comes through" is valueless. That figure is perhaps rather too high; I should put it at about three-fifths, taking account of the whole mass of "scripts." If they are from "spirits" we may surmise that the automatist is attracting those like to himself; if they are from the subconscious the inference is still more unflattering. As some sitters get only rational and useful matter, it would be well for those who complain that they get empty, false or foolish "messages" to be cautious before impaling themselves on one or other horn of the obvious dilemma. Those who say that nothing not already known ever comes by automatic writing are referred to Mr. Bligh Bond's Gate of Remembrance (Blackwell, Oxford), which contains the story of the revelation of lost sites at Glastonbury by this means, proved true by actual excavation, and to the predictions given in p.82 and following. But whether the surviving personality is of the low type that in many cases it certainly seems (if the origin of the scripts is what it claims to be) depends on ourselves. If we elect to live according to the flesh alone, for pleasure, gain, or self-importance, that would be just the mentality that naturally would survive, and its extinction, or even its improvement, seems likely to be a painful process.

That is all that vitally concerns us. There is no need to seek to bring all life under one formula. We can leave abstruse questions alone. Finally, I would repeat that this book is written for those who wish to know what classes of fact are really substantiated, with the conclusions to which they point, and are willing to give some quiet thought to the matter. The facts stated are not, or should not be, controversial. Each person who thinks them over calmly can form his own conclusions, but it is worth some trouble to understand the position created by discoveries that are already producing such far-reaching effects both in Science and Religion that so distinguished a biologist as Professor Driesch can say publicly the words that I have placed at the head of my first chapter.

In the experiments on supernormal photography the mediums were not permitted to touch the plates in any way. I hold the certificates of my co-experimenters confirming my own statement.

Stanley De Brath
Weybridge, July 1925



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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