I HAVE discussed illusions and hallucinations in their more technical meaning as understood in psychology and psychiatry, and thus limited their import to sensory phenomena, which they technically are. But the same terms have a general meaning which applies to all sorts of erroneous conceptions and judgments, and associated with them is another term which sometimes does service for both of them. It is the term
delusions. This also has a technical import and denotes functional disease of the intellectual activities. They are such as mistaken cases of identity, for example, thinking one is Caesar, Christ, God, or other personality, "illusions" of persecution (paranoia), religious ecstasy, etc. These are typical cases of insanity, and involve disturbances apparently only in non-sensory centres. Sensory disturbance may at times also be concerned, but it is not essential to delusions that sensory affection should be involved, though hallucinations may be the sequence of delusions and conceal the real source of the trouble. But delusions proper may involve nothing but diseased functions of the intellectual activities, and so represent errors of judgment as unavoidable as are certain types of hallucinations.
But the term delusion has a general meaning almost synonymous with illusion on the one hand, and with fallacy on the other. When we wish to indicate that a person is mistaken in his judgment and mistaken in a manner difficult to correct, we speak, at least loosely, of his delusion, and at times we as freely use the term illusion to describe similar errors. In this chapter I wish to describe a class of phenomena, therefore, which involve errors that we cannot always call delusions or illusions in the technical sense of those terms, and which are seldom so pronounced or deep-seated as diseased intellectual functions, but which have all the invalid nature of such phenomena. I shall, therefore, use the terms here in an untechnical sense to describe such sources of erroneous judgment, when it is necessary to describe them at all, while there may be instances in which their technical import will be involved also. But I shall not treat of delusions in their import of insane conditions of mind. I have only a type of phenomena to deal with that are not strictly sensory illusions or hallucinations, and yet are as fruitful a source of error as they can possibly be. They are caused by more than misadjustment of the various functions of the mind and their relation to external stimuli. They involve imperfect knowledge of scientific method.
The history of Spiritualism shows where the trouble begins and what is its cause. And I do not mean Spiritualism in the modern narrow sense, though what I mean includes this. By Spiritualism I mean the doctrine that opposes Materialism and so affirms the survival of the soul after death. Its modern narrow meaning, which identifies it with a certain mode of communication with the dead and cuts itself away from the previously acquired knowledge of science and philosophy, is not the old and respectable use of the term. Spiritualism as a philosophic theory did not necessarily imply communication with the dead, and obtained its meaning from all those facts and arguments which were used to refute the materialistic theory of human consciousness. This conception of it, however, was the outcome of the efforts to give Christianity a philosophic basis. The fact is that Christianity probably originated in psychic phenomena. The Gospels are certainly full of references to events which we should to-day classify as psychic, or claiming to be psychic phenomena of importance. For example, the story of Moses and Elias appearing to Christ on the Mount, the apparition of St. Paul, the day of Pentecost, in which people were said to have spoken in unknown tongues, the appearance of Christ to his disciples on the way to Emmaus, Christ walking on the water, when the phenomenon was taken for his spirit or apparition, Christ astonishing the woman at the well by telling her that the man she called her husband was not her husband, possibly even the story of the resurrection, and many others. It is not necessary to suppose these stories true in order to accept the hypothesis that Christianity was suggested by them. The main point in this matter is that they were believed. Hence, whether true or not, the same general type of real or alleged phenomena gave rise to Christianity that are now the subject of more careful investigation. But they were not examined scientifically in that age. Then, as now, they were the property of the uneducated mind, and the philosophers ignored them, and lost their opportunity either to repudiate them intelligently or to prove their real basis.
But as time passed, the force of the alleged facts on which the first impulse of Christianity rested decreased and men had to fall back upon a philosophic system for the defence of the doctrine which had received such an impetus with the belief in these allegations of the supernormal or what was long called the supernatural. The philosophic view lasted as long as civilization was aristocratic, and intelligent men could do the governing and enjoy the education that was to be had. But Materialism and democracy came to supplant, one of them, the ancient philosophy, and the other, the ancient methods of government. The intellectual attitude which mediated between Spiritualism and Materialism was agnosticism: the political doctrine which mediated between imperialism and anarchy was democracy. The intellectuals are cut out of the latter and are left to philosophic pursuits, if they have the means, or to pandering to the multitude, if they have not the economic resources on which to depend. This agnosticism, which maintained that the existence of God and of immortality could not be proved, obtained its present status, one of great strength, from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He it is that is responsible for the modern narrow conception of Spiritualism. This is not because he advocated such a view as that term now stands for among people in general, but because he made it useless to argue for the belief in a future life. Though he used the term Spiritualism in his work on "Pure Reason" as the proper antithesis to Materialism, he did not regard its position as a tenable one. He did not attempt any such refutation of Materialism as did Berkeley, and so left the field of speculation free to the advocates of that doctrine. Swedenborg's conceptions took the place of the old Spiritualism. He was the contemporary of Kant, and the latter's work on
Dreams of a Ghostseer, inspired by his study of Swedenborg, and admitting the possibility of communication with the deceased, if they existed, though qualifying the communications by the abnormal condition of the medium through which they come, on this account virtually left this conception of Spiritualism as the only one that could take up the argument against Materialism.
The consequence was that the whole problem of a future life was left to those who believed in the possibility of communication with the dead, the intellectuals having taken to curious speculations on any and all subjects that had no human interest. The defence of Spiritualism was turned over, as religion generally was, to the uneducated, save as a kind of dissipation for the emotional and aesthetic. The chasm that had always separated the common man and the philosopher was widened, the philosopher having abandoned the last belief which had previously given him authority, over the uneducated masses. Democracy came in to deprive him also of political authority, and with an aristocratic feeling to cherish, he would neither educate nor govern those whose interests still lay in a human interpretation of the cosmos. He simply sneered at them, and contrived to get his living out of their labor. His philosophy was for the schools and not for man. With this widening of the breach between the philosophic and the naive mind there came a removal of the restraints on judgment as well as the loss of influence by the intelligent upon those who sought the consolation of hope and the defence of their ideals in regard to the meaning of the world. Spiritualism was left for its conceptions to the methods and claims of charlatans. Though it was in its very inception, both in its primitive form and in its revival by Swedenborg, a concession to the methods of science, the class that should have taken its claims into serious consideration, as Kant did in spite of his later evasion of it, turned its back upon the matter and allowed its cause to be espoused by adventurers for its priests and by fools for its votaries.
It took the revival of Spiritualism after the Fox sisters to bring it to its lowest stage of development. Their phenomena, which consisted largely of "raps" in answer to questions, suggested various forms of improvement, and though they later confessed to trickery in their performances, explaining the "raps" as having been produced by their knees and toes, this confession did not put an end to similar attempts at fraud. In fact the methods for producing illusions and committing fraud in the name of communicating spirits were developed and multiplied so as to cover rope-tying tricks, cabinet performances and materializing
séances, and slate-writing. The interest of intelligent people in such phenomena declined after the exposures and confessions of the Fox sisters, and the claims of the spiritualists were left to the credulous for study and maintenance. Finally the
Report of the Seybert Commission in 1887 effected a decided
check to the claims and interests of Spiritualism, as it had now come to represent physical phenomena, and it would hardly have revived except for the work of the Society for Psychical Research. The publications of this body contain so much evidence for something supernormal, and its members have so generally endorsed the claims of telepathy as to raise again some presumptions for beliefs extending beyond mere communication between living minds. In the meantime the conception of Spiritualism had been determined by the type of phenomena upon which its claims were based, and these were such physical facts as materializations, rope-tying tricks, mysterious rappings, slate-writing, and dark
séances. That it should be a psychological problem no one seems to have dreamed or to have urged. The conception of physical miracles still prevailed to determine the method of approach for the solution of the problem. Hence a term which once had a reputable import became a synonym for charlatanism and fraud. It connoted the methods of adventurers and jugglers and the beliefs of the most ignorant. There has been no term but Idealism to take the place of the older and more respectable conception of the facts supposed to point the way against Materialism, and this was equivocal. But intelligent thinking seemed to have no other resource for escaping illusion and misunderstanding. Unfortunately it is still necessary to notice and teach caution in regard to the phenomena and methods concerned with the question of the destiny of the soul or human consciousness. Men are not content with an agnostic creed, but they are as little inclined, when they are intelligent, to run after such evidence of the transcendental or "supernatural" as prevails in the exhibitions of the average spiritualistic performance.
I shall not enter further into the history of Spiritualism. Readers interested in it may consult such works as Truesdell's
Bottom Facts Concerning Spiritualism, and Podmore's Modern
Spiritualism. I have briefly outlined its history for the sake of illustrating the development of the conception of its problems and the persistent antagonism which philosophy and science exhibited toward it; an antagonism forced on intelligent men by the degenerated and depraved idea of evidence which the common mind had shown in its treatment of the issue. The consequence of agnosticism, as I have indicated, was the removal of the common ground of interest in philosophic and religious belief, and the great human issues were left to the uneducated while the curious questions of speculation were confined to academic walls. No compromise seemed possible between aristocratic and democratic interests, and the vulgar mind assumed a monopoly of the ways and means for proving or defending the belief in a future life, with the natural result that it became a prey to illusion and folly.
I propose, therefore, to examine the difficulties which this mind has to face in its contentions for physical miracles in the attempt to prove spiritualistic claims. There are two general types of phenomena to which men have appealed in this controversy. The first is what I have called the physical phenomena: the second is what I shall call the psychological phenomena. In some narratives of experience both types are associated, and this regardless of the question whether either of them is to be accepted as genuine or not. I am now concerned only with the definition or classification of what is alleged. The physical phenomena are such as table-tipping, slate-writing, materializations, rope-tying, and various cabinet performances. The psychological phenomena are apparitions, mediumistic "communications," and such as are classified as secondary personality by skeptics, telepathic coincidences, and clairvoyance, and perhaps premonitions.
I shall insist that these two types of phenomena shall be kept radically distinct from each other. The spiritualists generally have not distinguished between them, but have quoted them all alike as in favor of their theory. They may ultimately prove to have at least some right on their side, but with this possibility I have nothing to do in the present discussion. We have not yet reached any such assurance regarding the facts as will justify our classifying the two types under the same general causes. The classification which has been adopted has been with reference to their relevancy or irrelevancy to the spiritistic hypothesis. Physical phenomena must be excluded at once as not of themselves in any respect evidence of spirit action. The only phenomena that can pretend to have any such relevance are the psychological. Even these have to be subdivided into telepathic, clairvoyant, premonitory, and mediumistic or spiritistic communications. And this last class is relevant only when the facts bear directly upon the personal identity of a particular deceased person. When the problem is regarding the existence of discarnate spirits, it is one that can be decided only by such evidence as would prove their personal identity. What they can do other than this must wait upon the proof of identity and we can assume nothing but the power to tell incidents of their earthly past. We cannot even assume how they can communicate with us. This must be proved to be a legitimate hypothesis by facts which exclude all other explanations. Anything else that they may be supposed to do must have other evidence than the incidents proving personal identity. Hence coincidences showing a causal nexus between the thoughts of living persons and knowledge of physical things and events not known to the subject evincing it, and premonitions along with them, will have to be excluded from the evidence of discarnate action until the identity of deceased persons has been proved. Much more must we exclude physical phenomena from the evidence, is it neither bears upon the question of identity nor accords so easily as the psychological phenomena with our existing scientific knowledge.
The reliance on the physical phenomena of Spiritualism is a relic of the belief in miracles. One can understand why this point of view was so important in antiquity. The theory of the physical universe at hat time was a coarse type of materialism, and the religious mind appealed to real or alleged facts which that view could not explain, and it laid most
stress on physical phenomena not explicable by existing theories. Its object was to prove a spiritual world which was then a refined matter. But we know what became of the reliance on physical miracles. The phenomena reported as such were either rejected as impossible or regarded as so defective evidentially
that they could not be used to support a theory. The time came when an appeal to phenomena of this kind
as tantamount to an abandonment of the case, and it is much the same with such phenomena to-day. To doubt physical exceptions to known laws of material action would prove much, but they would not prove spirits. The time is past when they can be used for any such purpose. It is not enough to establish a fact beyond ordinary physical explanation. This may suggest a presumption that there is more than is dreamt of in our philosophy, but it will not assure the belief in spirits. The development of philosophic thought has taken us far beyond the ancient conception of spirit. We now associate spirit with conscious personality, while antiquity was satisfied with something immaterial, whether personal or not, though it included the personal in its idea of spirit. But in our more definite conception of it we insist that personal consciousness is its essential attribute, and any phenomena which do not prove this function of it are not acceptable as evidence of its existence.
There are two types of the physical phenomena. Those purely such or unassociated with intelligent messages, and such as are associated with alleged communications with discarnate spirits. The first class consists of such as raps, the movement of physical objects, rope-tying, and materializations without messages. The second type consists of raps with messages, slate-writing with messages, materialization with messages, and table-tipping with messages. The irrelevance of the former has been sufficiently discussed. Whether genuine or not, they have no pertinence to the issue. They may represent phenomena worth investigating for various reasons. But they cannot be used in support of a spiritistic hypothesis, at least in its initial development. They occupy a secondary place in the problem.
The second class is more relevant, because it purports to possess communications from a transcendental world. But there is a fundamental difficulty with physical phenomena of this kind. They involve two separate problems. The first is the question of the process in producing the physical effect, and the second is the source of the alleged message. Suppose we take as a concrete instance slate-writing and its messages. We have two things to determine: (1) How the message got on the slate, and (2) whence came the message. The writing on the slate purports to be inexplicable by ordinary agencies. It claims to have been done by processes that contradict all that we are accustomed to accept as intelligible in the material world. In addition to this miracle the message purports to come from beings whose existence has also to be proved by the alleged facts. Hence in phenomena of this kind we have two problems to solve instead of one, and by insisting on such facts we only complicate our issues. What we need above all things is to simplify them, if this be possible.
In the psychological phenomena we have but one mystery, and this is the source of the messages. The apparition, which is one of the phenomena to which appeal is made, claims to be an experience by the subject and to represent something which is either intelligible as a subjective hallucination with which we are quite familiar, or it is as credible as telepathy, which produces similar effects on the mind of percipients. In cases of automatic writing the writing is not regarded as miraculous, but is a phenomenon with which we are familiar in instances where we do not suspect or accept anything as supernormal. The
modus operandi of the phenomena is in no respect mysterious to us or inexplicable by ordinary means. The only problem which we have to solve in such cases is the source of the intelligent messages. All but this may be assumed to be action of the subject according to well-known laws.
With slate-writing, however, and other similar physical phenomena, the case is quite different. We have to explain both the source of the message and the method of producing it on the slate. The usual treatment of the phenomena is not this, but assumes that the phenomenon is a simple one explicable by the same cause. But as we may assume and do assume in the psychological phenomena, that the phenomenon as it appears involves action of the subject revealing it, we should also be able in physical phenomena to explain the physical aspect of it in this way and to leave no mystery but the source of the message. But the claim that the effect is spiritistic as well as the source of the message is to require us to believe more than our existing scientific knowledge will permit for the present. If only the medium and advocate of such phenomena would frankly admit that the writing or physical event was produced by the medium, we might study the other question with more patience and might adopt means to exclude the medium's previous knowledge of the facts communicated. But when we have to prove also that the writing or physical event has not been produced in any normal way, we impose two tasks on ourselves. First we have to take measures to prove that the medium could not have
done the writing, and secondly we have to prevent previous normal acquisition of evidential information. This is simply to double our task and to expose our theory of the supernormal character of the phenomena to the accusation that they contradict the known laws of physical action, while the psychological phenomena do not contradict these, and present the minimum of facts not explicable by the ordinary laws of mind, and may fall even under these, if telepathy be admitted as possible. If we have the facts which relate most naturally to the personal identity of deceased persons, we might assume that the telepathy is from such beings, as an explanation of them, all the concomitants of the phenomena as they appear being referable to the subject in which they occur. But the physical phenomena have no conformity with known material laws to make them credible and so are much more difficult to prove.
Let me analyze the case and show what suppositions are possible in physical phenomena. Taking the concrete instance of slate-writing, we may suppose (1) that both the writing and the message are by the medium. (2) We may suppose that they are both effected by spirits. (3) We may suppose that the writing is by the medium and that the message is from spirits. (4) We may suppose that the medium has fraudulently obtained his information and fraudulently put it on the slate. (5) We may suppose that the medium has obtained his information supernormally and fraudulently put it on the slate.
Now the psychological phenomena show us that the primary question to settle is the source of the messages and that we need not care how they are given if we can show that they have not been previously acquired by normal means. Hence we should not care how the messages got on the slate or were written if only we can assure ourselves that the facts have been supernormally acquired. In cases like Mrs. Piper we actually see the message written on a pad before our eyes in broad daylight. Nothing in the physical production of the phenomenon is done out of sight or in the dark. We have only to prevent the normal acquisition of the information conveyed, and this is much easier than to prevent the medium from doing the writing on the slate. It is clear, therefore, that the simplest method is to have the message written in sight, as this removes the complications of the phenomena and renders possible the kind of scientific observation which is so necessary to reduce the amount of suspicion and accusable fraud in such cases. Hence the physical phenomena must take a secondary place in the problem. They do not guarantee the existence of spirits when they are supposed to be genuine, and they do not eliminate fraud when the messages are supposed to be supernormal, while the supernormal is more easily obtainable without them altogether.
Take again the alleged phenomena of materialization. These have the facts of apparitions, whether veridical or subjective, to mislead the believer. The acceptance of apparitions, with the circumstance that they represent an apparently visible reality, suggests the credibility of the "realities" of the materializing
séance. Besides this fact there is the long-standing belief in physical miracles which were supposed to be consistent with other knowledge. But there is an equivocation in the very use of the term. We are never sure whether the believer means materialization or etherealization. We might assume, as we must on the reality hypothesis, the ethereal nature of apparitions. This is supposing that they are not veridical hallucinations. Granting the existence of either ethereal realities represented in apparitions or
veridical hallucinations pointing to such a reality not represented in the phenomenon, we might well admit the possibility of such apparitions under mediumistic conditions. But such an admission would not carry with it the credibility of such claims as are usually reported from materializing
séances. By materialization the believer often, if not always, means the physical reformation of the body which the soul has once cast off by death. It is supposed that the spirit has power to make or form matter at pleasure and to appear in its genuine physical embodiment and disappear with equal ease.
Now without impeaching the testimony of those who report such phenomena and without accusing them of illusion, it is fair to ask this class
if they have ever seriously thought of what demands they make on scientific minds when asking that such claims shall be believed? In the age when matter was supposed to be a creation of spirit it might not be so difficult to accept phenomena involving this assumption, but in an age when the indestructibility of matter and energy is assumed, a man must have little sense of humor who expects stories of materialization to be easily believed. He must also have as little sense of humor if he supposes that scientific men will accept it on the evidence of phenomena occurring in darkened rooms and excluding such investigation as the claims demand. It is impossible for any sane man to cast aside the well-established laws of matter and its persistence at every assertion of a spirit materializing a body for itself and then disappearing without any apparent disturbance in the physical world about it. Such a claim would have to be subjected to as scrutinizing an investigation as is given to the claims of radiobes, the transmutation of the elements, radio-therapeutics. Such an examination has never been made, and darkness is not favorable to it, to say nothing of the contradiction which the alleged phenomena represent with the fundamental law of matter. Other discoveries have not contradicted the known laws of reality, though they have modified or extended them. But no claim whatever has been made, except by the believer in materialization, for the existence of phenomena in contravention of the accepted indestructibility of matter in any such manner or with any such case as the acceptance of materialization implies. Scientific standards will have to be accepted and conformed to, or incredulity can be the only sane attitude of the intelligent mind. The testimony of learned men is not sufficient. Too many learned men have been fooled to rely implicitly on general intelligence in such things. Two considerations will have to be religiously observed before any allegation can be respected. The first is that an immense quantity of experiments in various conditions and with various people must be undertaken and a plausible result attained. The second is that the conditions under which the phenomena occur must be such that suitable observations can be made and the possibility of fraud excluded. Mere testimony involving the judgment of the experimenter will not suffice. This may justify investigation, but is not evidence. The whole case must rest on an account of the conditions and results which will render probable the claims made without reliance on the mere authority of the experimenter. But the actual conditions under which such phenomena are said to occur are a fatal barrier to scientific observation, and make anything but skepticism an incautious attitude of mind.
I have thus far treated the physical phenomena of Spiritualism as if they had no difficulties to face except their relation to the existing body of scientific knowledge and as if they were to be as seriously considered as any new discovery in the field of physical science. But the fact is that they have much more serious objections than the prejudice of physicists to meet. I have assumed that observers and reporters of them were qualified to make good their testimony and that honesty in this testimony made it acceptable. But in reality we are not entitled to any such assumption. The prevailing belief is that honesty is a sufficient qualification to make any statement acceptable or credible. This assumption is an inheritance of the controversy about miracles and the authenticity of certain Biblical records. We have had it taught that the honesty of the witnesses proved the trustworthy nature of their narratives, and we have accepted this criterion without reflecting that a man may be treated as truthful in his intentions though he does not report his facts correctly. It requires much more than honesty to tell the truth in many situations. A man must have the intelligence that can observe and report correctly and accurately what is done in his presence. Good judgment is as important, perhaps a more important qualification for telling the truth than honesty. One needs experience in dealing with the things observed and reported in order to give a true account of them. Education and long training and experience with certain complicated matters are absolutely necessary in order to tell anything whatever accurately about them. Ignorant honesty will not secure our statements. It must be intelligent honesty, and this intelligence must extend to a technical and detailed knowledge of the phenomena purporting to occur. Otherwise our report of them must be subject to a certain amount of suspicion and discount. We must not insist that our honesty is a sufficient guarantee of the genuineness of our experience. We may be truthful and yet not tell the truth, if we way be allowed a paradoxical way of putting the matter. We may be veracious in our statements and yet riot tell the facts as they occurred. The proper guarantee of correctness is good judgment as well as moral integrity, and if we lose sight of this fact we only expose ourselves to difficulties which we had not expected and which we cannot meet.
There is another fact which reporters of physical Phenomena of the kind under consideration will not recognize. It is their liability to illusion in the observation of them. We have placed such a price on intelligence that men do not like to admit they can be fooled, and they go on in confidence of their proof against illusion and only unfit themselves for escape from the very mistake which they claim does not occur. We are too unwilling to admit that we are exposed to illusions. We want our auditors to think that we are sharp and alert, and we go on thinking and talking as if we were safe from error. It would be much better if we were perfectly conscious of our liability to illusion, as that would itself be a protection against it. No man is fooled who knows that he is fooled, or liable to be so. Such a person can suspend his judgment. He knows when he has failed to discover all the facts, and if he is familiar with jugglers' tricks he knows how to reckon with situations in which it may be impossible to observe all the facts, and so may not allow himself to be deluded with the idea that he has seen all that is necessary to give an adequate account of the phenomena. The phenomena which
I have illustrated in the chapter on Illusions show that all of us in our most normal experience have our inevitable illusions, and we may as well admit that we cannot escape such liabilities in those events which at least lie on the border-line of prestidigitation and have certainly been most frequently associated with the arts of the adventurer.
Now it is to this aspect of such physical phenomena that I wish to turn, and I mean to assume that every one of us is exposed to illusion in the observation of them, and unless we admit this fact we shall not be in a position to suspect the real explanation of many, if not all of them. I hold as a matter of fact that there is no field of observation in which we are so liable to illusion as in the alleged physical phenomena of Spiritualism. This is owing to the conditions under which such facts are reported. These conditions are generally such as prevent either the accurate observation of what does occur or the possible observation of the whole of what occurs. I must emphasize this circumstance as the key to the primary difficulties in connection with the accounts of such phenomena as we are considering. Let me begin with an illustration by the materializing
In the first place the materializing séance is in the dark, or in such a light as makes scientific observation impossible. In the second place, no adequate freedom of observation is permitted and opportunities are open for much that it is impossible to observe. Under such circumstances no sane scientific man can admit the "supernatural," and it matters not what may actually take place. The primary problem is not the production of certain real or alleged facts, but the production of them under circumstances which compel conviction in the skeptic. Darkness and inability for continuous and complete observation are a fatal obstacle to the admission of the "supernatural," especially when we have whole generations of fraud associated with just such conditions. This objection must be removed before any intelligent man will even listen to stories of what occurs on such occasions. The scientific man will insist that opportunities for accurate observation must be admitted or he will necessarily repudiate the alleged phenomena, and he cannot be denied his rights in this matter by any who demand his opinion of the facts. This must be an axiom in such investigations, and until the claimants of physical phenomena supply such conditions and opportunities they must expect to meet nothing but skepticism. The burden of proof lies on them.
Let me illustrate our liability to illusion from personal experiences. I went with three lady friends to a materializing
séance of one of the most notorious "mediums" in this country. None of the parties with me believed in the phenomena. The experience, however, was the first for two of the ladies with me. After it was over they told me, with perfectly apparent interest, that they had seen forms in the air when the performance was not going on. They had hitherto ridiculed such things, but their personal vision of forms in the air had impressed them with possibilities which they had not previously been disposed to admit. Now although I saw nothing in the air, I did note certain interesting facts. I observed when the seance was not going on that the light was not so dim as during the performance. I saw a slide altered in the dim lantern used to produce a certain kind of luminosity in the room. I noted also, with the relaxation of the intense strain of attention, that a sort of phosphorescent light suffused itself through the room, and this condition was very favorable to the production of illusions and hallucinations on the part of the spectator, especially if anything like
muscae volitantes floated about in the aqueous humor of the eyes or a spectral defect existed on the retina. The modification of the muscles of accommodation in such circumstances might well prepare the sense of vision for spectral phenomena, and I so explained the visual forms reported by my friends. I had occasion some years later to confirm this conjecture. I witnessed another
séance of this same "medium," and before the performance began she made a speech in bright gaslight. Then all the lights were suddenly turned out except the dim lantern with its dim blue light radiating into the room. The effect of this on the field of vision was most interesting. For some minutes
I was almost blind with the after-effects of the reaction, or what the Germans call the "Eigenlicht" of the eyes. Besides a generally diffused phosphorescent light in the room making the perception of objects impossible, I also noticed bright yellow patches of light of various shapes, most of them assuming definite form, but geometrical and not human. After some time the eyes began to become used to the conditions, and the phosphorescent light gradually disappeared and I could see the persons sitting about me clearly enough to recognize shirt-waists and form. The whole visual effect of the reaction after the sudden turning off of the lights disappeared and I finally became able to make fairly good observations of certain things from which I could easily infer fraud. But for awhile I was totally unfit to perceive anything but what retinal reaction produced. Just imagine what is likely to occur with untrained observers, as with the ladies who were present at the first of these two seances. Imagine also. what is likely to occur with persons whose vision is defective under such 'circumstances. I have no doubt that these ladies reported facts of experience, but they were in no position to report them rightly, nor even to ascertain those concomitants which affected their interpretation of experience. To illustrate this fact further I may remark that, on this occasion, I saw a lady recognize an uncle who had died about two weeks previously, though 1 could see the wig on the person appearing and personating that uncle. The skin of the wig was plainly visible on the forehead, my eyesight happening to be extraordinarily good.
Another fact of importance in such situations should be remarked. Our interpretation of such phenomena will depend as much upon our previous knowledge of the ways in which they can be simulated or produced as upon our perceptions at the time. I have already shown how our present state of consciousness affects what we see. The chapter on Illusions explained this at length. Now the ladies who accompanied me to the
séance above mentioned were puzzled to account for the appearance of forms in the middle of the floor and their apparent vanishing in. the same place. They seemed to recognize definite human forms that appeared and disappeared in an inexplicable manner, representing the claims of materialization and dematerialization. I saw the same forms, but knowing how they could be produced I did not recognize them to be as they were reported to me. I saw only a sheet, and did not infer, as they did, the presence of anything but an invisible manipulator. I would not describe the phenomenon as a human form. One who did not know how the effect could be produced might be pardoned for this inference, but one who knew the possibilities would not have this temptation.
Let me mention a similar instance for hearing. It is a case in which the apparent nature of the sound was determined by the observer's state of mind. A gentleman was awakened by hearing some one groaning as if in great pain. He sprang out of bed, lit a match, and looked about the room. Finding no one, he opened the door and looked about the hall outside. The groaning ceased and the man went back to bed. In a short time he again heard the groaning and got up again to look about the room, and opening the door, repeated his search outside. But he found nothing and again retired, as the noise ceased again. He soon heard it a third time, and arose, opened the door into the hall and found no traces of any one. The groaning ceased again. He came back into the room puzzled, and while cogitating on the matter heard the sound a fourth time, and on opening the door found that the noise ceased. He waited awhile and heard it again. Opening the door it again ceased, and so he experimented until he found that it was the wind blowing through a crack in the door which had caused the noise. The interesting fact, however, is that the man now observed that
the sound was no more like that of a groaning sufferer. As soon as he knew what it really was, or what explained it, he had no illusion as to its being a suffering person.
I myself had a similar illusion not long since. I happened to turn round on my chair to look at the time. I distinctly heard the voice of my little girl, as if she were down at the basement door. For a moment I expected to hear her come up-stairs. I turned back to go on with my work, and as she did not appear I thought to turn on my chair again, and I heard the same voice, or noise. I repeated the experiment and found that it was the squeaking of my chair. Now that I knew what it was the illusion was not distinct. I could with difficulty detect the resemblance between it and my child's voice. But in my occupied mental state this apparent resemblance magnified itself and I required only to escape the abstraction of my employment in order to discover the real nature of the sound.
In the instance of the apparent groaning the man had been awakened from sleep by the sound, and we know how distorted the impressions of sleep life are. Any stimulus will give rise to almost any experience, and it may not be in the sense which is actually stimulated at the time. The preconception caused by the sleep condition is hard to break down, and hence this supplied the point of view from which the ordinary stimulus is interpreted. It will be so with our visual experiences. Unless we are familiar with the process by which all sorts of pseudo-effects can be produced, we are sure to misrepresent what actually occurs on any occasion, and especially under conditions where visual perception is not clear. We are so familiar with this in normal situations that we wonder that the most ordinary person does not reckon with it in such circumstances as accompany materializing
But the whole secret of the apparent miracle is often in incidents which we do not see and cannot see. For instance, we may examine the cabinets in such performances and pronounce them proof against escape by the person supposedly locked in them. But unless we are familiar with the method by which they are made and by which secret locks are concealed in them, we are not secure against an illusion which is perhaps more frequent than any other, namely, the illusion of supposing a thing is protected against a phenomenon, which, in fact, is very easy and simple when the facts are fully known. Trap-doors, concealed locks, dummy apparatus, and various methods of producing illusions will escape our detection unless we are already familiar with the multiform methods of jugglers. If we would only seriously observe such performances as those of Hermann and Keller, we should have some conception of the illusions to which we are all exposed when we are not able to observe all that is done. Often, perhaps most frequently, the
séances of "mediums" are much poorer exhibitions than those of the most ordinary prestidigitator, and yet men will solemnly tell us of "supernatural" appearances and events as occurring in them. A little more complete observation and an opportunity to see that part of the performance which is carefully concealed would convert the affair into the simplest of tricks.
Let me give some examples of my personal experiences with slate-writers. In narrating these I shall first tell my story as it is usually told by inexperienced observers, and then afterwards tell the real facts as closer observation reveals them or as the juggler himself explained them.
A gentleman who was himself an expert in the production of pseudo-spiritistic phenomena and who was a stranger to me advertised an exposure of the tricks by which people are so generally deceived. I wished to see the tricks performed, but I did not wish to see the exposure and explanation of them. So I went to him before the performance and explained to him my desire. The result was an appointment to meet him in his home, where he would perform his tricks and leave me to find out what I could and to be fooled if I did not find them out and wished to believe they were anything but tricks. My object was to test my own powers of observation in such circumstances and to see how much I could carry away from the performance for narration. I made the agreement that he was not to explain anything until after the performance was over. I went prepared to take notes, which I did. But I came to the conclusion that I could take but a very small part of the notes necessary to give a clear and full account of such performances. I moreover concluded also that five minutes after the performance of any trick my memory was not good enough to recall important facts which would be necessary to tell the story rightly and fully to one who had not observed it. But the most important conclusion was that many things took place which I could not observe at all, as the sequel showed to be true.
Let me describe the first experiment as the ordinary observer usually describes such performances.
I was given two folding and hinged slates to clean, which I did with a dry rag to prevent such a thing as the development of previously written messages by moisture. As soon as this was done, having taken care to see that no writing was on the slates, I placed them on the table in full sight. We did not touch the slates while the writing was being done. They remained on the table a few minutes, perhaps two or three. When the slates were opened there was writing on one side of one of them covering the most of the slate.
As this stands I doubt if any one could explain the phenomena. The conjurer might notice that I had not told all the story, but the ordinary person would suppose from my statement that the fact that neither of us touched the slates while the writing was going on eliminated the performance of the writing by the gentleman with whom I was experimenting. But the fact is that I have omitted two things in the account and assumed another which begs the question. I speak of the writing going on as if this were a fact. But in reality I had no evidence that the writing was done while the slates were on the table. I might naturally infer from my assumption that I had cleaned the slates, that the writing came on it afterward. But I omitted to say that I had not in any way examined the slates and that I had not brought them with me. Secondly, I did not say who opened the slates. This last incident is most important. It was the conjurer who opened the slates, and in doing so he let a flap fall into his lap. I could not see this act, as he opened them so that, to see it, I should have to see through the slates. Hence in "cleaning the slate" I had
not cleaned them at all. A cleaned two sides of one slate and one side of the other, and the flap on the remaining side of this slate. The flap could not be distinguished in color and appearance from the slate. Under it was the writing prepared beforehand.
Again I cleaned seven slates and threw them on the floor. When I picked them up, which was almost immediately after cleaning the last one, I found the side of one slate full of writing. The slates were cleaned with a dry cloth.
I noticed at the time that the conjurer moved the slates about over the floor, but I did not see how this affected the performance. I was told, however, that a prepared slate had been concealed under the carpet and removed while moving the other slates about and substituting one of the slates that I had cleaned. I did not see this, as I was occupied with my work of cleaning the slates.
Another instance was the following. An electrical apparatus for telegraphing was made up consisting of a box and a dry cell. I prepared some pellets with questions on them and laid them on the table. The man was not allowed to see me write them. When I was ready he picked one of them up and threw it into the box, and presently the message in answer to the question was ticked out in the Morse alphabet. The same was done with the other questions.
The error of this account is in the statement that he threw the pellets into the box. He did nothing of the kind. He only appeared to do this. He held the lid of the box with the left hand and picked up the pellets with the right and made the motions of throwing them into the box, but took them below the edge of the table, where he opened them and read them, and with the left hand, after closing the lid of the box, he pressed slightly on the lid and ticked the messages out himself. The important point in my observation is that it was my inference, not my perception, that led to the statement that the pellets were thrown into the box. I could not actually see the act done, as to do so I should have to have been able to see through the lid of the box. But it would have been a natural inference from the man's movements to infer the act. No other impression would be apparent to the unwary, and at this point the description of such phenomena is sure to err. Any suspicion of the performance would be suggested by the general knowledge of fraud in such things and by special acquaintance with the method by which the trick could be done.
These are very simple instances of jugglers' tricks, and are much less mysterious or complicated than many of them. I have quoted them because they represent personal experiences which I had for the very purpose of examining my own liability to illusion and the extent of my capacities for observation. The most important result in them was the limited opportunities which I had for seeing all that occurred, and to see all that occurred was absolutely necessary for forming a rational judgment of the phenomena. It was physically impossible to see some things under the circumstances, and any one who should imagine that he had seen all that was necessary to form an intelligent judgment of the facts would be sure to make a fool of himself. It is what we do not see that often explains the trick and explains it in a very simple way. We must always be certain that we see all that occurs, or all that it is possible for any one to see, and to secure this result it is necessary for the observer to determine the conditions under which the experiments are performed. This is never the case in professional performances.
I give one more personal experience of some interest, and again I shall describe it as such things are usually described, showing afterward just what actually took place. I was asked to have an experiment with a man who claimed to be clairvoyant. When I arrived I was asked to write the maiden name of my mother on one slip of paper and three questions on other slips. The man left the room, and I had a friend with me to occupy his attention in the other room. It was in the man's hotel and the door was shut after him. He could not see where I was if the door had been open. I prepared my slips alone and put them in my vest-pocket. When the man came in he asked me to put each pellet against his head and then put it in my vest-pocket again. I did so. I then held one in my fingers and he lit it with a match and burned it up on an ink-well, and in their order he announced the contents of the pellets and answered the questions.
This account, however, is not at all accurate. I made very careful observations at the time and wrote out a full account of the experiment immediately on my return home. Let me note the following most important facts which enabled me to discover the trick after I got home.
I did not see through the trick at the time. But I did things and remembered them which enabled me to ascertain what the trick was afterward.
The man himself made the slips of paper on which I wrote the name and questions. He took one slip with him. I noticed this fact distinctly. On his return from the room, noticing that I had not folded mine enough, he asked me to fold them still more. I had not folded mine as he had his, and as I always obey orders in such emergencies, so as not to show my skepticism, I folded mine as directed. He then asked me to place each pellet in order against his forehead for a moment and put it in my other
vest pocket. I did so and held the last one in my fingers after touching his forehead with it. He then appeared to light it with a match and burn it up as described. I then took another pellet out of my pocket and held it in front of me near the man. I was then asked to hold my left hand against the man's forehead so that he could read the contents clairvoyantly. This was to serve as a help in the reading. But it gave the man an excuse for pushing his head against my hand in a way to stoop over and read the contents of the pellet which he was supposed to have burned, and when this was done he took the second pellet from my fingers and I replaced it by the third. In the same way he went through all the pellets.
Now what the man had done was to exchange his pellet for my first one and burn up his own instead of mine. This enabled him to have one pellet ahead of mine all the while and to unfold it below the edge of the table which was between us. Now the important point to remark is the fact that
I neither saw nor felt him exchange the pellets, and yet I was watching him with all the care I knew how to exercise, though I did not know previously what the trick was or could be. You may ask then how I know that he exchanged the pellets. Well, the answer is simple.
I brought all four of my pellets home with me. I went to the fellow's waste-basket and found the fourth torn in three pieces and with my question on
it. Hence it was that only when I came to write out my report was I able to discover the proof of what took place. I was too busily employed by distractions of attention which the fellow instituted to make more than a partial set of observations, but these were sufficient when away, and putting two and two together, to discover the
modus operandi of the trick. Of course I was already familiar in general with the pellet trick, but had not seen this particular form of it before. One must, however, simply set it down as an axiom that pellets simply condemn a pretension the moment that they are proposed, no matter what we think about the appearance of the performance.
I shall refer next to a celebrated case which Spiritualists always quote in proof of their contention. It is that of Professor
Zöllner and the tying of four knots in an endless cord, a cord tied at the ends and sealed with wax seals.
Zöllner and Hare are constantly quoted because they were men of some reputation in their respective universities,
Zöllner of Leipsic and Hare of Pennsylvania. For this reason it will be well to examine
Zöllner's experiment and statements to see if they are as conclusive as they appear. He gives his account of the experiment in his work on
Transcendental Physics, in which he tries to explain the physical phenomena by means of his pet theory of the fourth dimension of space.
Zöllner describes his experiment as
"The hempen cord had a thickness of about a millimetre; it was strong and new, having been bought by myself. Its single length, before the tying of the knots, was about 149cm; the length, therefore, of the double string, the ends having been joined, about
74cm. The ends were tied together in an ordinary knot, and then-protruding from the knot by about 1.5cm. - were laid on a piece of paper and sealed to the same with ordinary sealing-wax, so that the knot just remained visible at the border of the seal. The paper around the seal was then cut off, as shown in the illustration.
"The above described sealing of the two strings, with my own seal, was effected
by myself in my apartments, on the evening of December 16th, 1877, at nine o'clock, under the eyes of several of my friends and colleagues, and
not in the presence of Mr. Slade. Two other strings of the same quality and dimensions were sealed by Wilhelm Weber with
his seal, and in his own rooms, on the morning of the 17th of December, at 10.30am. With these four cords I went to the neighboring dwelling of one of my friends, who had offered to Mr. Henry Slade the hospitalities of his house, so as to place him exclusively at my own and my friend's disposition, and for the time withdrawing him from the public. The
séance in question took place in my friend's sitting-room immediately after my arrival. I myself selected one of the four sealed cords, and, in order never to lose sight of it before we sat down at the table, I hung it around my neck,
the seal in front always within my sight. During the séance, as previously stated, I constantly kept the seal - remaining unaltered - before me on the table. Mr. Slade's hands remained
all the time in sight; with the left he often touched his forehead, complaining of painful sensations. The portion of the string hanging rested on my lap, - out of my sight, it is true, - but Mr. Slade's hands always remained visible to me. I particularly noticed that Mr. Slade's hands were not withdrawn or changed in position. He himself appeared to be perfectly passive, so that we cannot advance the assertion of his having tied the knots by his
conscious will, but only that they, under these detailed circumstances, were formed in his
presence without visible contact, and in a room illuminated by bright
The first thing to be remarked about
Zöllner's experiment thus described is the fact that he does not show the slightest consciousness of the psychological elements entering into his experiment. We may digress at this point enough to remark also that, in this period, the primary interest in Spiritualism was in its physical claims, a most significant fact when viewed from the standpoint of traditional conceptions of miracles and from that of the physical sciences which had usurped the right to explain all the phenomena of human experience. Hence
Zöllner approaches the problem with the assumption that psychology has nothing to do with it and that he has not to question the completeness and assurance of his observation. He has appeared entirely ignorant of the maxim which requires more continuous observation when dealing with conscious beings than when dealing with inanimate bodies or forces. Hence the following considerations affecting the integrity of his account of the phenomena.
There are a number of facts to be noted in reference to the defective nature of the evidence here adduced in support of anything extraordinary and against a very simple trick. (1) We should mark the disproportionate amount of detail in the description of the preparations for the experiment and in the description of the experiment itself. This is the natural habit of the physicist, who either imagines that the preparation is the main thing or leaves to others the verification of his work. But the point where he should have shown the most care and the most minute description was during the performance. (2) He does not say anything whatever about the history of the other three cords which he took with him. We should know where they were put during the performance and what became of them. (3) We are not told anything to show that he had compared the cord with the knots in it after the
séance with the cord as taken to Slade. It ought to have been accurately measured after the performance to see if any difference between it then and before could he detected. In other words,
Zöllner should have assumed the possibility of substituting one cord for another, which he thought he had excluded. (4) He does not tell us whether he examined the paper afterward on which the wax seals were pasted. Whether a substitute cord was possible or not, this examination should have been made as an evidential precaution. (5) He says nothing about any careful examination of the seals to show that they were identical with those he had put on the knotted end of the cord. (6) He does not say a word about the amount of time employed in the experiment or the tying of the "fourth dimension knots." (7) Most important of all the omissions is one which was observed by Mrs. Sidgwick in the study of the case.
Zöllner does not tell us that the experiment was made several times before it succeeded. This was stated in another work by the author. The failure gave Slade an opportunity to prepare duplicate cords, after observing the one or ones
Zöllner had with him, and to substitute his own cord for that of Zöllner. (8) He does not give any details of what went on between the time of sitting down at the table and the final tying of the knots. Here was a crucial moment when the most minute account of the experiment should have been made. (9) He does not say when the account of the experiment was written. To give it value
it should have been from notes made on the occasion and written out immediately afterward. (10) Though very careful to give the dates on which the cords were prepared, no care is taken to tell us when or on what dates the experiment was performed. (11) We are not told whether Slade touched or examined the cord in his own hands or not. (12) No indication is given regarding the chances that Slade may have had to examine the friend's cord and to be prepared for a reproduction of Zöllner's.
Any one of the last eleven defects in the account of this experiment is sufficient to nullify its scientific character, and much the same verdict can be given against Hare's experiments, which, in fact, were not so good as
Zöllner's. If these students of the problem had been acquainted with psychology and the many pitfalls in such phenomena, they would have been careful to provide against their fall. But nothing save an unwarranted confidence in the experiments of physicists in a field for which they are not equipped at all will explain the influence of their accounts, and we have to educate the public still in the fundamental weaknesses of such instances. They are summarized in malobservation and defective memory, with consequent failures in detailed accounts of the facts. The malobservation is provable in this case, though defective memory is not, but we are bound to suspect it under the circumstances because of the lack of data to exclude it. At least it is so possible that we must demand security against the suspicion of it in order to respect the account more than we do.
But the defender of Zöllner will say that, whatever the objections to the cord experiment, we cannot explain that of putting wooden rings on the foot of a table standing some distance off and with another table between it and the man holding the cord on which the rings are fastened. But if the reader will look up the account he will find it far more defective in details that, that of the knot-tying.
Zöllner gives no adequate account of it whatever. We do not know how it began, what the history of the table was, what Slade did while the. experiment was going on, how and when the rings were prepared, what opportunities Slade had or did not have to have similar ones prepared and previously placed on the chair-leg, etc. There is in fact practically nothing but the result to convince the reader of the story, and this assumes confidence in
Zöllner's judgment and abilities to protect himself against fraud. There is no evidence whatever in his account that he did so protect himself.
That readers of such narratives constantly forget is the simple fact that their reading depends on forming a definite conception of events as they are described, and we forget that incompleteness of the account prevents us from forming a true conception of the facts. In other words, the psychological continua may not correspond to the physical continua in the events, and yet we are forced from the very narrative to assume them to be the same. Our psychological continua consist of the conceptions which the narrative carries: the physical continua
consist of events which may either not be seen by the observer at all or may not be described when they are seen. Hence we have to be careful about accepting any story, especially stories about unusual events, as accurately representative of the facts. Careful study of details for omissions or for time and 'intellectual chasms should always be made, and it will often reveal imperfections that throw suspicion on reports or make them incompletely evidential of the claims set up for them. This is perfectly clear in the account of
Zöllner as quoted, and it either vitiates his other incidents, which
I have no space to examine, or it suggests skeptical caution in accepting them.
One of the best papers on the problem psychologically of these physical phenomena is one by Dr. Richard Hodgson in the
Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. IV). It concerns "Malobservation and Lapse of Memory," and followed an able article by Mrs. Sidgwick on the physical phenomena of Spiritualism. It was found that most people had such confidence in their powers of observation and memory that it was necessary to perform some experiments showing that this confidence might be mistaken. The consequence was an extensive system of such experiments consisting of slate-writing performances on which various people were to report without being told the object of them. The result vindicated the judgment of Dr. Hodgson and his coadjutors in the work and proved that only expert observers can be trusted to give an adequate account of what occurs on such occasions. One incident which Dr. Hodgson tells and which was an experience that induced him to institute the experiments
was the following. He describes what he witnessed in India in connection with a Hindu juggler and an English
"The juggler was sitting upon the ground immediately in front of the hotel, with his feet crossed. Two small carved wooden figures were resting on the ground, about two feet distant from the juggler. Some coins were also lying on the ground near the figures. The juggler began talking to the figures, which moved at intervals, bowing, 'kissing,' and bumping against each other. The coins also began to move, and one of them apparently sprang from the ground and struck one of
the figures. An officer and his wife, who had but recently arrived at the hotel, were spectators with myself, and we stood probably within two yards' distance of the juggler. I knew how the trick was performed; they did not know. The officer drew a coin from his pocket, and asked the juggler if this coin would also jump. The juggler replied in the affirmative, and the coin was then placed near the others on the ground, after which it betrayed the same propensity to gymnastic feats as the juggler's own coins. Two or three other travellers were present at the dinner in the evening of the same day, and in the course of the conversation the officer described the marvellous trick which he had witnessed in the afternoon. Referring to the movements of the coin, he said that he had taken a coin from his own pocket and placed it on the ground himself, yet that this coin had indulged in the same freaks as the other coins. His wife ventured to suggest that the juggler had taken the coin and placed it on the ground, but the officer was emphatic in repeating his statement, and appealed to me for confirmation. He was, however, mistaken. I had watched the transaction with special curiosity, as I knew what was necessary for the performance of the trick. The officer had apparently intended to place the coin upon the ground himself, but as he was doing so, the juggler lean slightly forward, dexterously, and in a most unobtrusive manner, received the coin from the finger of the officer as the latter was stooping down, and laid it close to the others. If the juggler had not thus taken the coin, but had allowed the officer himself to place it on the ground, the trick, as actually performed, would have been
In more or less extenuation of the officer's liability to malobservation and lapse of memory, Dr. Hodgson goes on to say regarding the incident what it is important always to
"Now I think it highly improbable that the movement of the juggler entirely escaped the perception of the officer - highly improbable, that is to say, that the officer was absolutely unaware of the juggler's action at the moment of its happening; but I suppose that, although an impression was made upon his consciousness, it was so slight as to be speedily effaced by the officer's
imagination of himself as stooping and placing the coin upon the ground. The officer, I may say, had obtained no insight into the
modus operandi of the trick, and his fundamental misrepresentation of the only patent occurrence that might have given him the clue to its performance debarred him completely from afterward, in reflection, arriving at any explanation. Just similarly, many an honest witness may have described himself as having placed one slate upon another at a sitting with a 'medium,' whereas it was the medium who did so, and who possibly effected at the same time one or two other operations altogether unnoticed by the
I cannot quote from the reports of people who witnessed the slate-writing of Mr. Davey, as they are too elaborate and detailed to do so. But if readers of this brief account will go to the volume mentioned they will find overwhelming evidence that lay reports not involving previous knowledge of the trick cannot be used for proof of the "supernatural" or supernormal, but at most only as reason for careful investigation. There is no use to indulge in pride about the matter. This will only help to keep us in illusion on such things. The sooner we all admit that there is much that we are not able to detect or observe, the better are we protected against illusion. This ought to be apparent to any one who has witnessed the performances of Hermann and Keller. We never suppose for an instant in such cases that we are witnessing miracles. We know that they are tricks, and we are generally quite content to admit our inability to see through them. Why should we not admit the same frailties in performances which profess to be ordinarily inexplicable? Why should we pride ourselves in our powers when the performance claims to be "supernatural," and have no such pride when it is a juggler's trick? We cannot expect, without previous training and experience, to have any more knowledge of the one than the other, and if we would only admit this frankly we might be willing to rely upon the judgment of experts in the investigation of such things. We should be less frequently fooled if we did this than when we try the investigation for ourselves. In some instances, as I have already intimated, it is impossible for any one to observe the crucial facts upon which an explanation rests, as the performer conceals them from us. No skill at observation will serve in such circumstances. The observer needs previous knowledge of the phenomena to enable him to observe when he cannot observe the facts.
I shall not assume an attitude of contempt or ridicule against reports of physical phenomena nor against the reality of them. I shall not deny the
possibility of extraordinary physical phenomena. For all that I know there may be such, but I have not had any personal experiences of such, and am not entitled to endorse them until I do. All such phenomena that
I have witnessed have either been explicable by trickery or were proved to be such by actual observations. One celebrated slate-writer, often quoted to me, was the subject of two experiments with me, and in the very first experiment I discovered him writing on a slate below the edge of the table, and in other instances he exchanged slates so dexterously that, but for my trained habits of observation, I should not have seen the incidents that made skepticism imperative, and that proved the natural explanation of the facts.
But in spite of my experience I shall not take an attitude of denial in such things. I shall admit that it is only a matter of adequate evidence to prove the claims of physical phenomena, and so I shift upon the narrator the burden of proof that they occur. I have, too, some sense of humor about this situation. I have myself asked the scientific world to listen to certain extraordinary phenomena in psychology, and I am not going to belie the principles involved in this demand and show a dogmatic denial of physical phenomena. I shall listen as patiently to accounts of them as I ask scientists to listen to the psychological phenomena that demand explanation. I shall not repeat their folly and neglect. But this attitude does not absolve me from the duty to make the credentials of my belief as severe as the nature of the phenomena requires, and no one should expect or demand of me anything but the most careful and cautious limitations under which conviction is to be established.
But, whatever the attitude which I shall take regarding physical phenomena, I must insist that they have certain most important defects on any theory of their character that relegates them to a secondary place in the investigation of the claims of Spiritualism. The first of these defects is that they are much the most difficult of the phenomena to validate. The second is that they are much less frequent than the psychological phenomena having a scientific interest. The third is that they occur under circumstances in most instances that associate them with the ordinary tricks of jugglers. These three considerations are matters of great weight in any attempt to study such phenomena. I may add also what I have already indicated, namely, that they are quite irrelevant of themselves to prove the claims of the spiritualist even on the supposition that they are genuine. There must be the accompaniment of phenomena illustrating the personal identity of deceased persons to effect this result, and if these phenomena can be obtained without a resort to methods associated with prestidigitation, and under conditions adequate to the proof of genuineness, we should most naturally depend upon the simpler process. Hence, while the physical phenomena require investigation, and should be examined with an open mind, we should neglect the really crucial facts if we risked our case upon any such credentials, and while I shall listen with patience and unbiased mind to any accounts of such phenomena, I must be indulged a continued skepticism regarding them, until they have accumulated in such abundance as to accord with the quantitative standards of scientific method. Hitherto, the very best records of such real or alleged facts have been so defective, and human testimony so unreliable that suspense of judgment is still an imperative duty. The actual outcome of many experiments by qualified observers has been such that strong contempt for claims regarding physical phenomena may be indulged with some excuse, especially by those who are familiar with scientific knowledge. But I shall not indulge that temper of mind. I have heard narratives which, though I remain uncertain as to the explanation, I am certain that further investigation is necessary for any conclusion, even for that of trickery, and as the phenomena are perennial, and in this age of expectation so liable to produce illusion if they are not general, I think there is the same reason for patient examination of them without regard to expected or unexpected conclusions.
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