Book: "The Survival of Man"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- Section Four -

Automatism and Lucidity

Chapter 15

The Author's first Report on Mrs. Piper


          My own first Report on this case appeared in 1890, soon after the close of Mrs. Piper's first visit to England, and it ran as follows:-

Account of Sittings with Mrs. Piper

Formal Report

At the request of Mr. Myers I undertook a share in the investigation of a case of apparent clairvoyance.

It is the case of a lady who appears to go off into a trance when she pleases to will it under favourable surroundings, and in that trance to talk volubly, with a manner and voice quite different from her ordinary manner and voice, on details concerning which she has had no information given her.

In this abnormal state her speech has reference mainly to people's relatives and friends, living or deceased, about whom she is able to hold a conversation, and with whom she appears more or less familiar.

By introducing anonymous strangers, and by catechising her myself in various ways, I have satisfied myself that much of the information she possesses in the trance state is not acquired by ordinary commonplace methods, but that she has some unusual means of acquiring information. The facts on which she discourses are usually within the knowledge of some person present, though they are often entirely out of his conscious thought at the time. Occasionally facts have been narrated which have only been verified afterwards, and which are in good faith asserted never to have been known; meaning thereby that they have left no trace on the conscious memory of any person present or in the neighbourhood, and that it is highly improbable that they were ever known to such persons.

She is also in the trance state able to diagnose diseases, and to specify the owners or late owners of portable property, under circumstances which preclude the application of ordinary methods.

In the midst of this lucidity a number of mistaken and confused statements are frequently made, having little or no apparent meaning or application.

Concerning the particular means by which she acquires the different kinds of information, there is no sufficient evidence to make it safe to draw any conclusion. I can only say with certainty that it is by none of the ordinary methods known to Physical Science.

May, 1890

In order to gain experience, my wife had invited Mrs. Piper to our house in Liverpool between the dates December 18th and December 27th, 1889; and again between the dates January 30th and February 5th, 1890, when she sailed for New York.

During these days we had twenty-two sittings, and I devoted my whole time to the business, being desirous of making the investigation as complete and satisfactory as possible while the opportunity lasted.

Mrs. Piper pretends to no knowledge as to her own powers, and I believe her assertion that she is absolutely ignorant of what she has said in the trance state. She appears to be anxious to get the phenomenon elucidated, and hopes by sitting to scientific investigators to have light thrown on her abnormal condition, about which she expresses herself as not quite comfortable. She perfectly appreciates the reasonableness of withholding information; assents with a smile to a sudden stop in the middle of a sentence during conversation, and in general is quite uninquisitive. All this innocency may, of course, be taken as perfection of acting, but it deprives her of the great advantage (assuming fraudulent intention for the moment) of controlling the circumstances after the manner of a conjurer; and prevents her from being the master of her own time and movements. The control of the experiments was thus entirely in my own hands, and this is an essential ingredient for satisfactory testimony.

The initial question to be satisfactorily answered, before anything can be held worth either investigating or recording, concerns the honesty of Mrs. Piper herself.

That there is more than can be explained by any amount of either conscious or unconscious fraud - that the phenomenon is a genuine one, however it is to be explained - I now regard as absolutely certain; and I make the following two statements with the utmost confidence:-

(i.) Mrs. Piper's attitude is not one of deception.

(ii.) No conceivable deception on the part of Mrs. Piper can explain the facts.

[I went on to enumerate eight possibilities of imposture against which we were on our guard: but matters have advanced far beyond that now, and it is useless to dwell upon this discarded part of the subject.]

Cheating being eliminated, and something which may briefly be described as a duplex or trance personality being conceded, the next hypothesis is that her trance personality makes use of information acquired by her in her waking state, and retails what it finds in her sub-consciousness without any ordinary effort of memory.

It is an interesting question whether any facts instilled into the waking Mrs. Piper can be recognised in the subsequent trance speech. My impression at one time was that the trance information is practically independent of what specific facts Mrs. Piper may happen to know. The evidence now seems to me about evenly balanced on either side. Whether the trance speech could give, say, scientific facts, or a foreign language, or anything in its nature entirely beyond her ken, I am unable to say. [Further information on these points is now accessible, but not anything finally conclusive. It appears that unknown details and incidents can certainly be obtained, but hardly information on some alien and recondite subject, - at least without great difficulty.] So far as my present experience has gone, I do not feel sure how far Mrs. Piper's knowledge or ignorance of specific facts has an appreciable influence on the communications of her trance personality. But certainly the great mass of facts retailed by this personality are wholly outside of Mrs. Piper's knowledge; in detail, though not in kind.

The personality active and speaking in the trance is apparently so distinct from the personality of Mrs. Piper that it is permissible and convenient to call it by another name. It does not differ from her as Hyde did from Jekyll, by being a personification of the vicious portion of the same individual. There is no special contrast, any more than there is any special similarity. It strikes one as a different personality altogether; and the name by which it introduces itself when asked, viz., "Dr. Phinuit" is as convenient as any other, and can be used wholly irrespective of hypothesis.

I would not, in using this name, be understood as thereby committing myself to any hypothesis regarding the nature of this apparently distinct and individual mind. At the same time the name is useful as expressing compactly what is naturally prominent to the feeling of any sitter, that he is not talking to Mrs. Piper at all. The manner, mode of thought, tone, trains of idea, are all different. You are speaking no longer to a lady, but to a man, an old man, a medical man. All this cannot but be vividly felt even by one who considered the impersonation a consummate piece of acting.

Whether such a man as Dr. Phinuit ever existed I do not know, nor from the evidential point of view do I greatly care. It will be interesting to have the fact ascertained if possible; but I cannot see that it will much affect the question of genuineness. For that he did not ever exist is a thing practically impossible to prove. While, if he did exist, it can be easily supposed that Mrs. Piper took care enough that her impersonation should have so much rational basis.

Proceeding now on the assumption that I may speak henceforth of Dr. Phinuit as of a genuine individual intelligence, whether it be a usually latent portion of Mrs. Piper's intelligence, or whether it be something distinct from her mind and the education to which it has been subjected, I go on to consider the hypotheses which still remain unexamined.

And first we have the hypothesis of fishery on the part of Dr. Phinuit, as distinguished from trickery or, the part of Mrs. Piper. I mean a system of ingenious fishing: the utilisation of trivial indications, of every intimation-audible, tactile, muscular-and of little shades of manner too indefinable to name; all these, excited in the sitter by skilful guesses and well-directed shots, and their nutriment extracted with superhuman cunning.

Now this hypothesis is not one to be lightly regarded, or ever wholly set aside. I regard it as, to a certain extent, a vera causa. At times Dr. Phinuit does fish; occasionally he guesses; and sometimes he ekes out the scantiness of his information from the resources of a lively imagination.

Whenever his supply of information is abundant there is no sign of the fishing process.

At other times it is as if he were in a difficult position, - able to gain information from very indistinct or inaudible sources, and yet wishful to convey as much Information as possible. The attitude is then as of one straining after every clue, and making use of the slightest indication, whether received in normal or abnormal ways; not indeed obviously distinguishing between information received from the sitter and information received from other sources.

I am familiar with muscle-reading and other simulated "thought-transference" methods, and prefer to avoid contact whenever it is possible to get rid of it without too much fuss. Although Mrs. Piper always held somebody's hand while preparing to go into the trance, she did not always continue to hold it when speaking as Phinuit. She did usually hold the hand of the person she was speaking to, but was often satisfied for a time with some other person's, sometimes talking right across a room to and about a stranger, but preferring them to come near. On several occasions she let go of everybody, for half-hours together, especially when fluent and kept well supplied with "relics."

I have now to assert with entire confidence that, pressing the ingenious-guessing and unconscious-indication hypothesis to its utmost limit, it can only be held to account for a very few of Dr. Phinuit's statements.

It cannot in all cases be held to account for medical diagnosis, afterwards confirmed by the regular practitioner. It cannot account for minute and full details of names, circumstances, and events, given to a cautious and almost silent sitter, sometimes without contact. And, to take the strongest case at once, it cannot account for the narration of facts outside the conscious knowledge of the sitter or of any person present.

Rejecting the fishery hypothesis, then, as insufficient to account for many of the facts, we are driven to tile, only remaining known cause in order to account for them:- viz., thought-transference, or the action of mind on mind independently of the ordinary channels of communication.

I regard the fact of genuine "thought-transference" between persons in immediate proximity (not necessarily in contact) as having been established by direct and simple experiment; and, except by reason of paucity of instance, I consider it as firmly grounded as any of the less familiar facts of nature such as one deals with in a laboratory. I speak of it therefore as a known cause, i.e., one to which there need be no hesitation in appealing in order to explain facts which without it would be inexplicable.

The Phinuit facts are most of them of this nature, and I do not hesitate to assert confidently that thought-transference is the most commonplace explanation to which it is possible to appeal.

I regard it as having been rigorously proved before and as therefore requiring no fresh bolstering up; but to the many who have not made experiments on the subject, and are therefore naturally sceptical concerning even thought-transference, the record of the Phinuit sittings will afford, I think, a secure basis for faith in this immaterial mode of communication, - this apparently direct action of mind on mind.

But, whereas the kind of thought-transference which had been to my own knowledge experimentally proved was a hazy and difficult recognition by one person of objects kept as vividly as possible in the consciousness of another person, the kind of thought-transference necessary to explain these sittings is of an altogether freer and higher order, - a kind which has not yet been experimentally proved at all. Facts are related which are not in the least present to the consciousness of the sitter, and they are often detailed glibly and vividly without delay; in very different style from the tedious and hesitating dimness of the percipients in the old thought-transference experiments.

But that is natural enough, when we consider that the percipient in those experiments had to preserve a mind as vacant as possible. For no process of inducing mental vacancy can be so perfect as that of going into a trance, whether hypnotic or other. Moreover, although it was considered desirable to maintain the object contemplated in the consciousness of the agent, a shrewd suspicion was even then entertained that the sub-conscious part of the agent's mind might be perhaps equally effective.

Hence one is at liberty to apply to these Phinuit records the hypothesis of thought-transference in its most developed state: vacuity on the part of the percipient, sub-conscious activity on the part of the sitter.

In this form one feels that much can be explained. If Dr. Phinuit tells a stranger how many children, or brothers, or sisters he has, and their names; the names of father and mother and grandmother, of cousins and of aunts; if he brings appropriate and characteristic messages from well-known relatives deceased; all this is explicable on the hypothesis of free and easy thought-transference from the sub-consciousness of the sitter to the sensitive medium of the trance personality.(1)

(1) - For instance, in the course of my interviews, all my six brothers (adult and scattered) and one sister living were correctly named (two with some help) and the existence of the one deceased was mentioned. My father and his father were likewise named, with several uncles and aunts. My wife's father and stepfather, both deceased, were named in full, both Christian and surname, with full identifying detail. I only quote these as examples; it is quite unnecessary as well as unwise to attach any evidential weight to statements of this sort made during a sojourn in one's house.

So strongly was I impressed with this view that after some half-dozen sittings I ceased to feel much interest in being told things, however minute, obscure, and inaccessible they might be, so long as they were, or had been, within the knowledge either of myself or of the sitter for the time being.

At the same time it ought to be constantly borne in mind that this kind of thought-transference, without consciously active agency, has never been experimentally proved, Certain facts not otherwise apparently explicable such as those chronicled in Phantasms of the Living, have suggested it, but it is really only a possible hypo, thesis to which appeal has been made whenever any other explanation seems out of the question. But until it is actually established by experiment, in the same way that conscious mind action has been established, it cannot be regarded as either safe or satisfactory; and in pursuing it we may be turning our backs on some truer but as yet perhaps unsuggested clue. I feel as if this caution were necessary for myself as well as for other investigators.

On reading the record it will be apparent that while "Phinuit" frequently speaks in his own person, relating things which he himself discovers by what I suppose we must call ostensible clairvoyance, sometimes lie represents himself as in communication - not always quite easy and distinct communication, especially at first, but in communication - with one's relatives and friends who have departed this life.

The messages and communications from these persons are usually given through Phinuit as a reporter. And he reports sometimes in the third person, sometimes in the first. Occasionally, but very seldom, Phinuit seems to give up his place altogether to the other personality, friend or relative, who then communicates with something of his old manner and individuality; becoming often impressive and realistic.

This last I say is rare, but with one or two personages it occurs, subject to reservations to be mentioned directly; and when it does, Phinuit does not appear to know what has been said. It is quite as if he in his turn evacuated the body, just as Mrs. Piper had done, while a third personality utilises it for a time. The voice and mode of address are once more changed, and more or less recall the voice and manner of the person represented as communicating.

The communications thus obtained, though they show traces of the individuality of the person represented as speaking, are frequently vulgarised; and the speeches are more commonplace, and so to say "cheaper," than what one would suppose likely from the person himself. It can, of course, be suggested that the necessity of working through the brain of a person not exceptionally educated may easily be supposed capable of dulling the edge of refinement, and of rendering messages on abstruse subjects impossible.



Contents / Preface / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 1 7 / Chapter 18 / Chapter 19 / Chapter 20 / Chapter 21 / Chapter 22 / Chapter 23 / Chapter 24 / Chapter 25

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