THE importance of the character of a witness to the unusual is obvious. The training of a witness to a scientific fact is equally important.
Dr. T. Glen Hamilton by character and training was qualified for the exacting work of
psychic research. A Canadian by birth, he was of Scottish ancestry. His boyhood was spent on an isolated homestead near what is now the city of Saskatoon in western Canada. In later years he was Chairman of the Winnipeg Public School Board and a member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. Thus to his native caution was added the toughness which comes to pioneers who have to confront the forces of nature and the scepticism which a first-hand knowledge of public affairs can engender. He was withal of deep religious convictions. He was an Elder of his kirk and was respected as a man, moderate and self-reliant.
Of his scientific training, it may be said that he was a Doctor of Medicine of Manitoba University, and a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons. He was a Lecturer in Clinical Surgery at his Alma Mater. He was recognized as a skilled surgeon, and in addition to his work in the public wards of the Winnipeg General Hospital, he had a very large private practice. He was at one time President of the Manitoba Medical Association, and was for many years a member of the Executive Council of the Canadian Medical Association.
As might be expected of such a man, his observations in the field of psychics were always careful and exact. The testimony of such a witness is not lightly to be disregarded.
I am well aware that one important lesson which can be learned from a contemplation of the rules of evidence is that of the fallibility of human witnesses. Too often lawyers are forced to realize the frailty of their fellow-beings as recorders of facts or events.
Some years ago, when addressing the Winnipeg Psychic Research Society, I said:
"... In scientific work, complete proof of a fact is required. Where an experiment can be repeated
ad infinitum by any number of experiments and the same result can always be obtained, then it can be said scientifically that it is proved that from such and such causes, such a result will always ensue.
"... This is one of the alleged great stumbling-blocks for scientific men when they approach the subject of metapsychics. The results are not always the same, they say, under identical conditions. But of course, the fallacy there is that the conditions probably are not identical. When more is known about the laws which govern these psychical phenomena, it will no doubt be possible to ensure the essential conditions, and these being assured, to obtain the resultant phenomena.
"... For centuries men knew that clouds gathered in the skies and that on one occasion there would be thunder and lightning and that on another occasion there would not, and yet they could not tell why it was so. I feel convinced, however, that no one thought of telling the man whose hut had been struck by lightning that he must have walked in his sleep and set fire to his roof himself, or that he was hallucinated and that his hut was not really damaged at all. The fingerprint and the photograph are just as much the result of physical impacts as the damaged hut, and it is begging the question for scientists to say that the phenomena do not occur because they cannot always be produced.
"... Knowledge of the truth of the occurrence of the phenomena is not dependent on knowledge of how these phenomena can be produced."
Psychic phenomena of remarkable similarity have been observed in different parts of the world by Crookes, Richet, Schrenck-Notzing, Geley, Price, Crandon and other competent observers. Dr. Hamilton observed occurrences of the same order. To establish that these phenomena do occur is the first step.
Professor Henry Sidgwick, in delivering the Presidential Address at the first meeting of the Society for Psychical Research,
"... As regards the question of credibility, the important point to bear in mind is that every additional witness who has a fair stock of credit to draw upon, is an important gain. Though his credit alone is not likely to suffice for the demand that is made upon it, his draft will
Charles Richet has summed up the position in
Thirty Years of Psychical Research (translated by Stanley De Brath) at page
"... Assuredly it is possible that I may be mistaken, even grossly mistaken, along with Crookes, De Rochas, Aksakoff, Myers, William James, Schiaparelli, Zollner, Fechner and Oliver Lodge. It is possible that some day an unexpected experiment may explain our prolonged deception quite simply. So be it; but until it has been explained how we have all been duped by an illusion, I claim that the reality of these materializations must be conceded...
Glen Hamilton is an important 'additional witness'.
To quote again from Professor Sidgwick (at the fourth general meeting of the
"... All records of experiments must depend ultimately on the probity and intelligence of the persons recording
Dr. Hamilton was a man of probity and intelligence. It was for that reason he made so profound an impression on the medical men and on the public of Manitoba generally, when he came forward as a witness of psychic phenomena.
When he died it was not the numbers of those who crowded the church for his funeral service, or who, unable to find a place within, stood outside until the end of the service, which was the impressive tribute to his standing in the community where he had worked so long. That tribute was in the faces of the long procession of rich and poor who marched past his coffin in the church. The grief of many was open. It was then that I fully realized why the results of Dr. Hamilton's experiments, as he had announced them, had never been seriously challenged in Manitoba by any member of his own profession or by any of the citizens.
It was not only because of the scrupulous care which he took to avoid the possibility of conscious or unconscious fraud. It was not only because his technique and approach were scientifically correct. It was also because he was a man whom to know was to accept his word.
Dr. Hamilton published records of some of his experiments, and it had been his intention to arrange for publication the vast unpublished collection of records and notes of phenomena which he had observed. Death suddenly defeated the project.
Mr. J. D. Hamilton has assumed the task of editing his father's notes. Mr. Hamilton has treated his material as scientific data, and not as the subject for an emotional or religious appeal.
The problem of explaining the nature, both objective and subjective, of the Elizabeth M. trance phenomena has been handled clearly and explicitly. The reduction to a concise and unboring exposition of the accumulation of observations and notes made during those trances would have baffled many, but the chapters in which Mr. Hamilton has given an account of this medium and her phenomena are to me evidence of the qualities of precision, clarity and conciseness which he has brought to his task.
The chapters dealing with the phenomena associated with Mary M. are straightforward accounts of what occurred.
If no explanation can yet be given by any of those who have observed materializations, it is none the less of the utmost importance that the facts which have been carefully collected should be clearly recorded, so that when some future Newton or Einstein appears, he may have a solid basis from which to enunciate the laws which govern the phenomena, and which, I am convinced, are waiting for genius to perceive.
In conclusion, let me quote from Frederic Myers:
"... I will resort to a bold metonymy, and will speak of that great incurrent truth to which each man severally holds, under the figure of the great stone at Ephesus which fell down from Jupiter. The faithful who proclaimed that wondrous fall were essentially in the right - were far more in the right than the free-thinkers who derided it. But whence and why the stone had truly fallen - how vast the significance of that cosmic trajectory and rushing flame this could be known only when humble labourers had catalogued many a lesser congener of the mighty mass, and had gathered the meteoric dust from the ocean's floor; and had learnt that no field of heaven had been found so desolate as not to carry still the impress of ultimate energy and universal law
Glen Hamilton laboured long and unfalteringly gathering grains of meteoric dust which will some day be revealed in their cosmic significance.
(1) F. W. H. Myers, "Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death" (Ed. 1920), Vol. 2,