FOR a further account of these sittings my paper in vol. xxiii. of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research must be referred to. It would take too much space to quote further here. I must be satisfied with a few comments.
It will be observed in many of the records how natural it is for a sitter, or for the experimenter in charge, to challenge a "control" to furnish some evidence of his identity, or to demand from him a sudden answer to a specific question.
It is quite natural, and I suppose inevitable: but that it also is to some extent unreasonable, must be admitted. Trivial domestic incidents are not constantly in one's thoughts, and only when in a reminiscent and holiday mood, or under the stimulus of friendly chat, does any vivid recollection of such incidents normally occur.
It is proverbially difficult to control thoughts to order, and a communicator suddenly asked to remember an identifying circumstance, or to send an appropriate message, may feel rather as a person feels when set in front of a phonograph and told to "say something brilliant for posterity." Under these conditions any one with the gift might compose some half-doggerel verse perhaps, or might remember some poetry more or less accurately, - and indeed that is what it appears the controls sometimes actually do - but usually there would be hesitation, requests for delay, and fishing for suggestions, - something like what we find in the records. The controls unfortunately cannot be assisted by the give and take of friendly and stimulating conversation; for, under the conditions of a sitting, the intercourse on our side is nearly all "take" and very little "give." It is admittedly dangerous for a sitter to talk freely, because the conditions then become "loose," and more may be inadvertently given away than was intended, so that thereafter nothing obtained, however otherwise good, can be considered evidential. But then - it must also be admitted - no conversation can be in the full sense stimulating or satisfactory if its animation is hampered by a constant desire to withhold information, lurking in the background.
In order to be human a conversation should be wholehearted and free from arrieres pensees on both sides: but under evidential conditions that seems quite impossible. It is one of the many disadvantages under which the investigation of the subject inevitably
Recollections, and Relics
It will by some people - who might otherwise be in favour of some form of spiritistic hypothesis - be thought absurd that reference should be made under such circumstances to trifles like ordered but undelivered pictures, and to trivialities like the possession of a handkerchief or other relic. The usual excuse is that these things are mentioned for purposes of identification; but though there may be some truth in that view, there is in my judgment more reason than that for such incidents; and they are not contradictory of the notion of survival. The fate of objects once regarded with affection, or even interest, and possessing any kind of personal association, does not seem to have suddenly become a matter of indifference. Scattered through all the sittings are innumerable instances of this sort of curious memory of and interest in trifles; so that it would be merely tedious to refer to pages where they occur. Every experienced sitter knows that such references are the commonest of all. What is the explanation? I am not prepared with a full explanation; but, granted the most completely spiritistic hypothesis, it would appear that the state after death is not a sudden plunge into a stately, dignified, and specially religious atmosphere. The environment, like the character, appears to be much more like what it is here than some folk imagine. This may be due to the effort and process incidental to the condition of semi-return, under which alone communication is possible: it appears to involve something less than full consciousness. But it goes rather further than this, since a few of the controls when recently deceased (a pious old lady in particular is in my mind) have said that the surroundings were more "secular" than they expected; they have indeed expressed themselves as if a little disappointed, though they nearly always say that the surroundings are better than they are here. Anyhow, there appears to be no violent or sudden change of nature; and so any one who has cared for trinkets may perhaps after a fashion care for them still.
But there must be more than that even. Objects appear to serve as attractive influences, or nuclei, from which information may be clairvoyantly gained. It appears as if we left traces of ourselves, not only on our bodies, but on many other things with which we have been subordinately associated, and that these traces can thereafter be detected by a sufficiently sensitive person. This opens a large subject which I have touched upon once or twice already in other papers - never with any feeling of certainty or security - and which requires careful handling lest its misunderstanding pave the way for mere superstition.
But to return to common sense, and without assuming anything of this kind, even hypothetically, how do we know that we are right in speaking of some things as trifles and other things as important? What is our scale or standard of value?
No one expects people to be wholly indifferent as to the posthumous disposal of their property, provided it amounts to several thousand pounds. They make careful wills, and would, if they knew, be perhaps displeased if the provisions were not adhered to, or if their final will was lost.
Very well, on what scale shall we estimate property, and how shall we measure its value?
It is conceivable that, seen from another side, little personal relics may awaken memories more poignant than those associated with barely recollected stocks and shares.
That at any rate is the kind of idea which naturally suggests itself in connexion with the subject. Our terrestrial estimate of the comparative importance of things is not likely to be cosmically sufficient or perennially true.
However that may be, it is clear that the various Piper controls do not estimate the importance of property, by any standard dependent on pounds sterling. As a variant on old letters, old lockets, and other rubbish, in which Phinuit seemed to take some interest, I once gave him a five-pound note. It was amusing to ace how at first he tried to read it - in his usual way by applying it to the top of the medium's head;- and then on realising the sort of thing it was, how he crumpled it up and flung it into a corner with a grunt, holding out his hand for something of interest. Needless to say, I did not share in this estimate of value, and, after the sitting, was careful to rescue the despised piece of paper from its perilous position.