Book: "Psychical Research and Survival"

Author: Prof. James Hyslop

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- Chapter Nine -

The Nature of the Spiritual World


          THE EXPLANATION of apparitions and the suggestion made in the last paragraph of the explanation of predictions, offer a clue to what is possible in the nature of a future life. We cannot read the literature on this subject, however, without feeling perplexed by its real or apparent contradictions. No two psychics give exactly the same account of such a world. Each colours the communications about it by his own ideas more or less. and in some instances they simply duplicate their own ideas, and there is no evidence that their alleged communications about it are correct. But in all of the literature there often runs a thread of common ideas which suggest that we are not dealing altogether with subconscious products and imagination. There is just enough consistency amidst many contradictions to keep the scientific student alert to some possibilities.

I cannot go into illustrations here at length. They would only necessitate unfavourable criticisms. One has only to read such works as Andrew Jackson Davis produced to raise the severest sceptical doubts. No one could have given a more graphic account of the other life than he does in his Summerland. But if we compare it with the communications of Judge Edmunds, the differences are so great as to create doubt, rather than prove the case. Then Stainton Moses, in his Spirit Teachings, gives an altogether different account, and through Mrs. Piper the same real or alleged personalities denied some of the most important statements made by them through Stainton Moses. In all of them, however, it is represented as a replica or duplicate of the material world. And yet, in the face of this, communicators will often tell us that they cannot tell us what it is like, and that we would not understand it if they did.

Of course, all this raises the fundamental question, whether we are communicating with spirits at all in such phenomena, and whether some subconscious dreaming might not be sufficient to account for the whole set of statements made about such a world. This is the easiest explanation of the facts, and but for evidence of supernormal information, showing that spirits exist, we might dismiss the whole subject with indifference. But it is not at all likely that all non-evidential matter should be subconscious fabrication when so much of it cannot possibly be this. It is extremely probable that much non-evidential matter is spiritistic in its source, and that it is not much more coloured by the subconscious of the medium through whom it comes, than is the evidence of the supernormal, which is often - I think always-more or less so coloured. The only question is whether either the evidential or the non-evidential matter can be interpreted superficially as indicative of what a spiritual world really is.

The first difficulty in the way of determining what a spiritual world is or is like, is the fact that we cannot verify any information on the matter in the way we verify evidential communications. The facts which prove the existence of a spiritual world, do not necessarily carry with them any information regarding its nature. They have to be facts which the psychic does not know, and which living people verify as memories or experiences in the earthly life of the communicator. This makes the case rest on the testimony of the living. The statements of the dead count for nothing. They cannot be received on trust. They have to receive verification from the living, as having been events in the life of the deceased and not previously known by the psychic. But such verification cannot be sought or obtained from the living regarding messages that purport to describe a spiritual life. There is, however, a way in which they can be verified. But it is a costly and difficult process. We should have to make experiments with a large number of psychics whose history and education we knew well, excluding previous knowledge and interest in the things said about a life beyond the grave. We should also need to have the same communicators through this large number of psychics, and the same messages from them. In this way we might eliminate, to some extent at least, the influence of the subconscious in the psychics which gives the colouring of their own ideas to the messages. We should never wholly exclude that colouring tendency; but we could do something to determine the extent to which the personal equation in the psychic affected the results. Common statements made through sources which knew nothing about what spiritualism has held regarding such a world, would have their value, and if obtained often enough might have the value of verification. But the task of getting such information is not a light one. It will require immense resources and a long period of time, together with infinite patience in dealing with the material obtained.

Then the question may be whether the conditions for communicating with the incarnate, with the material world, are such as to render it probable that the information will properly represent a spiritual world. Suppose that the discarnate have to be in some trance or abnormal state when communicating, and necessarily think in terms of their sensory experience when living in the body, we might have clear enough statements from them, but could not regard them as correctly describing a supersensible world. But I am not inclined to think that this objection is a formidable one. Besides, we have still to prove either that there is such a condition for communicating, or that, if some similar condition prevails it is correctly conceived in the terms used. Moreover, we have found that it may even be doubtful if such a limitation to communication exists. But suppose it does not, it is possible that the conditions of getting messages through may involve the conditions that make sensory representation necessary, and the recurrence to earthly modes of thought and speech; and in that case we could not interpret the messages superficially as properly indicative of a spiritual world. That is to say, mere appearances in the form of the statements would not be a true index of what the spiritual world actually is. If the conditions for communicating necessitate more or less reproduction of past memories, or the conversion of new experiences into that mould, we should not get a true conception of a spiritual life from the result. Of course, we do not know whether any such conditions prevail or not, and hence this point is only a speculative one. The fact that the spiritual world is not open to sense perception is a presumption that it is not a sensible, but a supersensible, world; and what a supersensible world would be we do not know, except that it is the negative of our sense experiences; though we might have to admit, if evidence proved it, that it was a replica of the material world, just as the ultra-violet rays of the spectrum are, though not visible. The law of continuity in nature, and the unity of things, would suggest that the other world is only in degree different from what we call matter, and that it is sense experience which makes us define the material world as we do, forgetting that the atomic theory, and all the metaphysics of ether and the ions and electrons, make matter in its bases quite as supersensible as the theologian ever made spirit. Even in science sense perception is not the measure of reality, and it conceives the supersensible as the basis of things in sense, even though it does not make that supersensible spirit. But when we once admit that the idea of matter is reconcilable with that of the superserisible, it is a mere matter of words as to whether we might not make spirit so nearly allied to it, as to connect directly a spiritual world with it, and find a basis for the explanation of all the supernormal phenomena which seem to duplicate the material in all but its appeal to sense perception.

But the religious mind has not used the term 'spiritual' in any such sense. It has identified it with the immaterial, though I myself might even accept that term as adaptable to the flexible conception of matter as conceived by science. But nevertheless the religious mind has meant something very different by the spiritual world. It is at least a world of consciousness, where consciousness is apart from a material body, and without material qualities of any kind. Most religious people, not acquainted with the philosophical conceptions of the spiritual, as including intellectual and therefore scientific and philosophical activities, have identified the term with the emotional mental states connected with reverence and worship. In these they believe they become independent of sensuous and sensory experiences. It is non-sensory happiness or elation, some form of ecstasy, that defines the spiritual for them, even though the objective world be the exciting cause of all consciousness. They separate this spiritual experience from all scientific, artistic, and ethical activities, and confine it to what they would call the religious emotions in the contemplation of the divine. They expect the spiritual life beyond the grave to be this in the absence of a sense life to distract or prevent the spiritual from obtaining proper expression. For this class, the spiritual world might or might not be a replica of the material world, provided only that, whatever it is, it offers no temptations to sin.

The representations of this world, however, as given by real or alleged communications with it, seem to ally it very closely to what we know of the material world. It is quite generally said to be very like this life and only a finer form of material substance, what we may call the supersensible side of the material world. The phenomena of apparitions would suggest this when taken superficially to represent reality. But the explanation of them, and the 'mental picture' method of communicating with the living, suggest a very great modification of that first supposition, and one can hardly calculate the changes in conception which they involve regarding the nature of the spiritual world. We are in the habit of regarding thought-consciousness as spaceless and as not necessarily implying a material world for its object. It is not extended, it is not coloured, it is not audible; it has no sensory characteristics, even though memory pictures represent the reality which became known to us through sense in our first experiences. Apparitions superficially indicate a quasi material world, and so too the average communication with the 'spiritual' world. But we have found that apparitions and the visions of the psychic are mental creations, telepathic hallucinations perhaps, induced by the thoughts of the dead. These thoughts are supposedly not like things, though they can produce effects superficially like them. The spiritual world in this conception would seem to be a world of pure consciousness, which happens to produce simulacra of the material world under conditions necessary to adduce evidence of its existence.

To most people such a world would not appear to be very attractive. In spite of their antagonism to a material existence and its sensuous or sensory life, they at heart expect it to be this minus physical enjoyments, and in fact it may be such a world. But whatever it is, the phenomena of apparitions and mediumistic visions telepathically produced in the living suggest clearly that the spiritual world has its decidedly mental side, apparently creative of reality or the simulacrum of it. The representations of it make it appear like the material world, and this often comes in the details of the statements about it. Can we form any hypothesis that will explain its seemingly mental and material character at the same time?

We must remember that in our ordinary experience, as interpreted by the idealistic psychology, even our sensations of the material world do not represent it as it is. We think our sensations as reactions against a stimulus which is not like the sensation. That is, the world is not what it seems to be. The undulations which, on striking the retina provoke a sensation, are not like the light we see, according to the usual opinion. Our mind's reaction makes the light or the appearance of it, and the physical 'light' is wholly without resemblance to the sensation. It would thus appear that even the physical world is not seen as it is, and that in one sense we make what it seems to be. This is truer still of all the higher conceptions of things. We have to form our idea of what the solar system is by putting together ideally the separate experiences which enable us to construct a mental picture of it. The intellectual processes are always building up wholes which the senses do not reveal, and this is particularly true of those scientific hypotheses which take xis far beyond sense, though the evidence of them is some effect in the field of sense.

But there is another step in our normal experience that helps to suggest what may take place in a spiritual world. The imagination is an important function of the mind. It is both reproductive and productive, or representative and creative, if we may use this distinction. Its first function is to picture our past sensory experience, but it may act creatively, so to speak, and out of separate images form a whole which. has no resemblance, as a whole, to any individual experience. Now in dreams, deliria, hypnosis, and hallucinations, this creative tendency of the imagination takes the form of apparent reality. Indeed, we mistake the apparitions of these states for reality, and would never be able to regard them otherwise but for our ability to pass judgment on them in our normal state, when we find that they are purely subjective products. These creations belong to the subconscious activities of the mind. It seems to be characteristic of these subconscious activities to produce images or apparitions, in any of the sensory centres, that are taken by the mind to be as real as we take the physical world in normal sensation. Now Mr. Myers maintained that it was the subliminal or subconscious part of the soul that survived, and, allowing for the fact that it is the sensory functions of man, as connected with the physical organism, that perish, we have the supposition that it is the creative functions of the mind that survive. If this be true, the mind could create its own world after death just as it does in dreams, in deliria, and hallucinations. It might not require an objective world upon which to react; it would make its own in accordance with its earthly habits and tastes. If this life could be rationally organized and called a rationalized dream-life it might be made as ideal as some of our dreams are. Day dreaming and poetry in our normal lives are the best analogies of what this might be. Our moral and intellectual habits would determine what such a life would be, and whatever progress we made in the direction of idealism would depend partly on our earthly life and partly on the will or ability to correct any evil tendencies we might have had in the physical life. On this we cannot dwell here. It suffices to give readers a clue to it.

The hypothesis that apparitions and mediumistic pictures, of both the clairvoyant and the clairaudient type, are telepathic hallucinations produced by the dead, externalized or projected mental products, tends to suggest just this interpretation of the spiritual world. It makes it mental. It may not be wholly this. It is quite possible that the ethereal world is one of sense perception, an objective reality. But this does not interfere with the fact that thoughts on that side appear to the living as reality when they are not this in accordance with our conception of external reality. But this hypothesis, that the spiritual world is reflected in these facts of 'mental pictures 'appearing as realities, will explain all the contradictions in communications about that world. It makes the spiritual world preserve individuality in every form, whether good or ill, and if communication with it be established we should expect the differences of opinion about it to be greater than about the physical world, where the differences are great enough. Men carry into the spiritual world the ideas they had before death, and these, mixed up with what they learn of the other life, or possibly not changed at all in some instances, and perhaps a number of limitations about which we know little or nothing, might make messages about a transcendental life extremely various and contradictory; and if it be a dream life transmitted to us in the form of hallucinations, when communication is possible, we should expect all sorts of absurdities from the point of view of reality as conceived in physical terms. But it would be a consistent world for the imagination of each individual.

I have no assurance that this view of the matter is correct. Indeed, I do not think we have evidence enough to present it as a probable hypothesis. It is only possible along with much else that might be possible, and explains much that is otherwise perplexing.

I cannot go into theories of the 'astral' or 'spiritual body,' nor into the question whether the spiritual and the material are related. I am indifferent to this matter, especially as there is nothing but speculation as yet to discuss, and I am interested in scientific problems. There is as yet no assurance of scientific evidence for the solution of it. When we have made allowance for the telepathic hallucinations into which apparitions and mediumistic visions are resolved, we have no criterion for assuredly determining as yet the nature of the spiritual world apart from the indications that it has a decidedly mental appearance.



Notes / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Bibliography

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