Man's Psychic Powers
( Originally Published 1904 )
COMMON SENSE teaches us, and all human experience demonstrates, that it is a waste of time and energy to argue a question in controversy, or to present proofs on either side, before the vital issue has been clearly defined, and that this can be done only by a logical process of exclusion, or elimination, of all irrelevant side issues. Students of English common law jurisprudence understand this process better than any other class of controversialists, for, in the evolution of the system of practice in common law courts, the process has been reduced to a science. The " pleadings " in a case at law are nothing more nor less than the steps taken in the logical process of eliminating extraneous or irrelevant matter, for the purpose of clearly defining the issue between the parties litigant, and thus determining the nature of the evidence admissible on either side. Thus, A sues B for trespassing upon the property of A by passing over it in going to and from the house of B. The latter may answer the complaint of A by admitting the act complained of, but pleading that he has a right of way over the property granted by A in a deed for that purpose. To this A may answer that he admits that B has a certain paper purporting to be a deed for a right of way over the land, but may allege that said paper was drawn and signed by a third party, as his agent, when, in fact, the latter had no authority to act as such agent in matters affecting real estate titles. B may then admit that the deed in question was made by C as agent for A, but allege that, C was in possession of full authority to act for A in matters affecting the title to real estate. The latter allegation directly traverses that of A, who avers that C-had no authority sufficient to bind his principal in real estate transactions ; and thus the issue is joined. The merits of the case centre in the question of C's authority to bind his principal, and this may be a purely legal question which the judge can decide. [an error occurred while processing this directive]
This is a crude but simple illustration of the logical methods by which courts of common law eliminate, step by step, all irrelevant side issues, and bring the parties litigant at once to a discussion of the real and only vital questions involved. Thus, in the case sup-posed, neither proofs nor argument were required at any step in the proceedings until the vital issue was developed by the process of exclusion ; and what seemed at first to be a plain case of one man flagrantly violating the rights of another turns out to be a question as to the validity in law of the acts of a third party.
Unfortunately, polemists, that is to say, those of them who have the public mind and conscience in their especial keeping in matters of religious and philosophical controversy, cannot be compelled to be logical, or to define an issue, or to confine themselves to its discussion when it is defined. If they could, about ninety-nine per cent of all that has been written on the various subjects of popular controversy would never have seen the light. This is true of many subjects of public disputation, but it is especially true of spiritism, and it is as true of one side as of the other of that question.
Thus many years of time and oceans of ink have been wasted in the discussion of the physical phenomena of spiritism, such as table-tipping, levitation, slate-writing, et cetera, each side taking it for granted that the whole question of spiritism could be settled forever by proving, on the one hand, or disproving on the other, the super-normal character of the phenomena. During nearly half a century the evidence for spiritism was practically con-fined to that class of phenomena. If a table was levitated without physical contact or mechanical appliances, spiritists proclaimed and believed it to be demonstrative proof that spirits of the dead communicate with the living. Nor was this estimate of evidential values con-fined to the rank and file of spiritists. Learned professors, doctors, and even lawyers, were carried off their logical feet by seeing tables lifted into the air and chairs carried about the room by invisible hands.
Thus the late Dr. Hare of Philadelphia, emeritus professor of chemistry in the University of Pennsylvania, fell an easy victim to that species of logic in the early days of spiritism. Commencing his investigations as a skeptic, he constructed several ingenious machines by which he was able to demonstrate the existence of a force in man capable of moving ponderable bodies without physical contact (telekinesis), and then he immediately rushed into print with a book entitled Spiritualism Scientifically Demonstrated. That Professor Hare should fall into such an error may be accounted for by the fact that in his day no other than the spiritistic hypothesis had been seriously advanced to account for the facts. Besides, scientists in those days generally contented themselves by simply denying the existence of the phenomena and refusing to investigate, which was a tacit admission that if the phenomena were true the spiritistic explanation followed. The result was that those who did investigate and verified the phenomena naturally felt justified in accepting the only explanation offered. It followed as a natural consequence that the great body of spiritists believed, and they still believe, that the claims of spiritism are demonstrated to be true by the phenomena of telekinesis.
Nor is it at all strange that the rank and file should so believe since they have such modern examples as are found in the attitude of such scientists as Alfred Russell Wallace and Sir William Crookes. Each of these eminent savants verified the physical phenomena of spiritism, especially telekinesis, by indubitable tests, and each ended by declaring himself a convert to spiritism. No one can doubt the ability of either of these gentlemen to make correct observations of facts when conducting a scientific investigation, for they were both trained in the strictest schools of scientific inquiry. So, when they tell us that they have verified the fact that ponderable bodies can be moved without physical con-tact, and describe and illustrate the process of verification, we are bound to believe them. But when they assume to draw conclusions from those facts, their reputation for habits of close scientific observation of mere phenomena no longer commands confidence ; for it is one thing to be a close observer of facts and quite a different thing to be able to draw a correct conclusion from those facts. In other words, it does not necessarily follow that a scientist is also a logician. In point of fact it often happens that the closest and most minute observers of facts are the least competent to formulate from them a correct generalization, or to estimate their evidential value. A striking example is found in Sir William Crookes in his treatment of psychic phenomena in general, and telekinesis in particular, and the example becomes still more striking when his conclusions are contrasted with those of his collaborators, Serjeant Edward W. Cox and Dr. Huggins, F. R. S., in whose presence the tests were made.
Professor Crookes, the scientist, eminent as the discoverer of a new metal, and as having rendered possible the discovery of the Roentgen rays, devised the instruments of precision by which telekinesis was demonstrated, made the experiments and became a spiritualist. Serjeant Cox, an eminent lawyer, skilled in logic, practised in the art of testing truth, detecting falsehood, and estimating evidential values, observed the same facts, and found that they excluded spiritism as a factor in the case. They both agreed, however, that their experiments demonstrated the existence in man of a hitherto unrecognized force, which they agreed in designating as " psychic force "— " a force emanating from, or in some manner directly dependent on, the human organization." In this they both agreed, al-though they ultimately disagreed as to whether the co-operation of the spirits of the dead was necessary to set the force in motion. Serjeant Cox mentioned eighteen characteristics of the phenomena as developed in the experiments made in his presence, each of which was wholly inconsistent with the spiritistic theory. Professor Crookes, on the other hand, ultimately concluded that the spiritistic theory was the only tenable one. I do not say that this particular series of experiments contested him to spiritism, but I do say that in all his public utterances on the subject there is not the slightest evidence to show that his conversion was brought about by the observation of any other than the purely physical phenomena of spiritism. And it is against the acceptance of this character and quality of evidence for spiritism that I protest in the name of outraged science, logic, and reason. Why?
1. Because the existence of a " psychic force," inherent in the human organism, a force capable of levitating heavy tables or other ponderable bodies without physical contact, is amply sufficient to account for all the purely physical phenomena of spiritism. Obviously a physical force that is great enough to lift a table is great enough to produce any of the minor physical phenomena, such as slate-writing, et cetera. In either. case the force is guided by intelligence presumably that of the medium — until the contrary is shown by competent evidence.
2. There is nothing in the purely physical phenomena of spiritism that proves or disproves the spiritistic hypothesis. The proof of the existence of psychic force, however, does, as Sergeant Cox justly remarks, " shake to its foundation the materialism of modern science by the probability it raises that, as a fact in nature, there is in us an entity, distinct from the corporeal structure, which can exercise an active force, directed by intelligence, beyond the limits of the bodily powers." He might have added that it also raises the presumption that this intelligent entity survives the dissolution of the body, and that, therefore, spirits do exist beyond the grave. This much, in all candor, must be conceded to spiritism. But it is one thing to create a presumption in favor of a life after death, and quite another to prove. that spirits of the dead communicate messages to the living through mediums.
And this is the crucial question raised by spiritism : Do spirits of the dead communicate with the living through mediums?
This is the issue, and the only question which we are called upon to consider, and no phenomenon which does not throw light upon this question can be accepted as possessing any evidential value whatever. All the physical phenomena, such as table-tipping, slate-writing, et cetera, must therefore be thrown out of court, for the :
1. The only evidence which can possibly prove the affirmative of the issue is that which will demonstrate the personal identity of the alleged communicating spirit.
2. The only possible way that personal identity can be established by an alleged spirit is by the communication of personal intelligence.
3. It is therefore the character and contents of the messages received from alleged spirits that must deter-mine their genuineness.
4. Obviously, the levitation of tables affords no assistance in the analysis of the content of a message.
Nor can any other physical phenomenon throw the faintest possible light upon the question of personal identity, and, pending the settlement of that question by other forms of evidence, physical phenomena are logically valueless to spiritism from an evidential point of view. They prove nothing but the existence of a psychic force inherent in the vital organism of the living man. It is true that messages, purporting to come from spirits of the dead, are delivered by means of physical manifestations. But their evidential value rests entirely with their contents, and not in the methods employed in their delivery.
It follows that we may safely admit all that the most ardent spiritist claims in regard to the purely physical phenomena; for it may be all genuine, or it may be all fraudulent, without in the least affecting the crucial question : Do spirits of the dead communicate with the living through mediums ?
It will thus be seen that one of the supposed evidential strongholds of spiritism vanishes the moment the logical rule excluding side issues of no evidential importance is applied.
The fact remains that there are many phenomena bearing directly upon the question of personal identity, which, unexplained, possess great evidential value in favor of spiritism. Moreover, it must be said in behalf of the great body of spiritists, that the valid explanations of the phenomena which converted them are the result of scientific discoveries of a comparatively recent date.
Thus one of the strongest proofs urged by them of personal identity was the fact that mediums of unimpeachable character thoroughly believed in the genuineness of their own trance utterances when they declared themselves to be under the control of certain spirits. And when to this confidence in the integrity of the medium was added the fact that he often personated the alleged spirit with marvellous fidelity to the known character of the spirit, the evidence of personal identity was deemed complete. Voice, gestures, bearing, and personal idiosyncrasies were, in fact, often so perfectly reproduced as to leave no doubt in the minds of witnesses of the identity of the alleged spirit. Moreover, this was frequently done by mediums who had never been suspected of possessing any histrionic ability what-ever in their normal condition.
But when hypnotism came to be studied as a science, and the law of suggestion was discovered, it at once became evident that this marvellous dramatic play of personality possessed no evidential value whatever as tending to prove the identity of an alleged spirit. And this conviction became a certainty when the law of mental duality was formulated. The points bearing upon the case may be briefly stated as follows :
1. The so-called spirit medium,, in the trance condition, is simply self-hypnotized, and is consequently subject to all the conditions and governed by all the laws pertaining to hypnotism. That is to say, the objective, or reasoning mind, is in abeyance and the subjective mind is in control.
2. The subjective mind is constantly amenable to control by suggestion. That is to say, it accepts as true, every suggestion or statement that is made to it, and it carries every suggestion, true or false, to its legitimate conclusion.
Thus, if the suggestion is made to a hypnotized subject that he is a dog, he will act the part suggested just as perfectly as it is physically possible, firmly believing for the time being that he is a dog. The same is true of every possible suggested change of personality. Every-body knows how perfectly a hypnotized subject will personate any suggested character, high or low, good, bad, or indifferent. Nor can any one fail to correlate the phenomena with those of spiritism when a spirit is suggested as being in possession of the medium. The psychological conditions are identical; and if the subjective mind of the medium did not respond to the suggestion and act accordingly it would argue an exception to a universal law of nature.
But, it has been objected, the medium is not always in the trance or hypnotic state. On the contrary, he is as often perfectly conscious when he is performing his best work. Granted. But so much the stronger is the case for suggestion, for, from his standpoint, so much the firmer are his grounds for belief. A medium is usually one who, from his youth up, has been reared in an atmosphere of spiritism. His whole mental environment, therefore, constitutes a perpetual suggestion favorable to spiritism. He trains himself for medium-ship because he believes, and he confidently expects that spirits of the dead will take possession of his organism and do things. In due time his hopes are realized. He becomes conscious of an influence at work within his organism which manifests intelligence and powers of which he is not the conscious possessor. He knows nothing of the new psychology, and is most likely unaware that there ever was an old one. He knows nothing of the dual mind, and probably has every reason to doubt whether he has even one mind — of his own. In short, from his intellectual view-point, he has every reason to believe that the intelligence and power thus strangely manifested is extraneous to himself. This, of course, constitutes the strongest possible suggestion to his subjective mind that it is a foreign intelligence, and that the suggestion should be accepted and dramatically carried to its legitimate conclusion is in strict accordance with what we should have a right to expect from what science has learned of the law of suggestion through experimental hypnotism. In fact, the spiritistic suggestion is infinitely stronger and more likely to be fully accepted and promptly executed than the other, for the obvious reason that the medium believes, both objectively and subjectively, in the truth of the suggestion, whereas the hypnotized subject objectively knows that the experimental suggestions are false to the point of absurdity. Nevertheless, so potent is the influence of suggestion over the subjective mind, in either case, that it is compelled by the fundamental law of its being to believe whatever suggestion is imparted to it, and to dramatically carry it to its legitimate conclusion by acts and words corresponding to the central thought embraced in the suggestion.
It is evident, therefore, that personal identity cannot be predicated upon either the personal honesty or the convictions of the medium, or upon his dramatic personation of the suggested personality. And thus does an-other supposed evidential stronghold of spiritism utterly vanish in presence of the demonstrated facts of modern science.
We may, therefore, admit all that the most pronounced spiritist may choose to claim in favor of the honesty of mediums, or in regard to their wonderful ability to personate particular spirits, since neither fact possesses the slightest evidential value in view of the well-known facts of experimental hypnotism.
It now remains to consider those phenomena of so-called spiritism which have a possible evidential value, namely, the alleged messages from the spirits of the dead. Before proceeding with the discussion I wish to remind the logical reader again, first, that no evidence can be of any possible value except that which proves, or tends to prove, the personal identity of the alleged communicator from the other world; and, secondly, that the only possible means by which personal identity can be proved is by the communication of personal intelligence.
It should also be remarked at the outset that the personal intelligence communicated must be such as to exclude any rational doubt as to its source. That is to say, the evidence for personal identity of an alleged communicating spirit should be so clear and conclusive as to exclude any possible explanation based on mundane causes known to exist. It must not be forgotten for a moment that the contest between spiritism and its opponents is a contest between supermundane and mundane theories of causation, with all the presumptions, logical and scientific, against the supermundane. Nor must the logical axiom be lost sight of which forbids us to refer any phenomenon to a supermundane cause so long as it is explicable under known natural or mundane causes. Another axiom of science of equal pertinence is that we must never explain the unknown by that which is still more unknown.
If the reader will bear in mind these time-honored axioms or rules of scientific investigation he will fnnd no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that there is no valid evidence whatever in so-called spiritistic phenomena that spirits of the dead communicate with the living through mediums.
As before remarked, this is the main issue to be decided : Do spirits of the dead communicate with the living through mediums? The subsidiary issues pertain to the validity of the evidence now offered in proof of the personal identity of the alleged communicating spirits; and no scientific polemist on either side now pre-tends to discuss any other question, for the simple reason that the whole question of spirit communion now hinges upon the validity of that evidence. And it is freely admitted that if the alleged communications are to be taken at their face value, the question has been settled over and over again in favor of the spiritistic hypothesis. The admitted facts in the case may be briefly stated as follows :
Certain highly endowed psychics, or so-called " mediums," such as Mrs. Piper of Boston and many others, have repeatedly demonstrated the fact that when in the subjective or trance condition in a spiritistic circle they evince a knowledge of the sitters' affairs that they could not possibly have obtained by any normal means. This knowledge, of course, came to light in the guise of communications from spirits of the dead, and it often extended to the affairs of the alleged communicators as well as to those of their living friends in the circle. So minute and complete and circumstantial was this knowledge that it often left no room for doubt in the minds of sitters of the personal identity of the alleged spirit.
But when the Society for Psychical Research demonstrated the fact that thought-transference, or telepathy, is a power of the human mind, and that it was most easily developed in persons in the subjective state, it at once became evident that telepathy afforded a complete explanation of much that was before mysterious and inexplicable. The result has been to narrow the issue between spiritists and their opponents so that now but two theories are the subjects of controversy, namely, the spiritistic and the telepathic. And it is now admitted by all who pretend to discuss the subject from a scientific point of view that the possession of supernormally acquired knowledge by a spirit medium possesses no evidential value for spiritism where telepathy cannot be eliminated as a possible factor.
In order, however, to give the reader a clear idea of the present status of the question it will be expedient to continue to treat the subject historically, to the end that I may present a continuous series of steps showing how a gradually increasing knowledge of nature's laws and forces has, step by step, relegated the evidential strong-holds of spiritism to a state of harmless disuse.
Telepathy, as a possible factor in spiritistic phenomena, was urged many years before the Society for Psychical Research had an existence. The old mesmerists had demonstrated it as a power of the human mind long before the " Rochester knockings " disturbed the serenity of the Fox family. Modern spiritism was, in fact, the psychological substitute of mesmerism, as I have pointed out elsewhere (see The Era magazine for February, 1902), and it could never have obtained the foothold it has but for the mediumistic material found in the thousands of psychics already developed by mesmerism. And when it is remembered that nine out of ten of mesmeric psychics were trained telepathists, it will be seen that spiritism fell on fruitful soil. Naturally its opponents were instant in correlating the two classes of phenomena, and in insisting that telepathy must be held to afford a- valid explanation of all that was in the mind of the sitter, or of any one present at the seance. Fair-minded men on all sides of the question agreed that this proposition was necessarily true; and thus the first step was taken in the direction of affording a scientific explanation of the supernormally acquired knowledge admittedly in the possession of the medium. A portion, at least, of that knowledge was due to a known natural cause, and the supermundane explanation was, in a corresponding degree, relegated to the background.
But spiritists soon proceeded to show that mediums sometimes told things that (a) the sitter was not thinking of at the time, and (b) things that he might have once known but had entirely forgotten. This was so often demonstrated that the advocates of the telepathic theory were confounded; for they had no answer to the triumphant question of spiritism, How could it be mind reading, when the subject was not in the mind of the sitter, or had been completely forgotten? Needless to say spiritism scored a triumph which lasted many years.
In the meantime, however, the Society for Psychical Research was organized and instituted an exhaustive investigation of telepathy and other kindred phenomena; the dual mind theory was formulated, and a clear line of demarcation was shown to exist between the mind of ordinary waking consciousness, or objective mind, and that intelligence which is ordinarily submerged below the threshold of normal consciousness, or subjective mind. The crucial points demonstrated by the research which interest us in this connection were the following :
1. That telepathy is a power belonging exclusively to the subjective mind.
2. That ordinarily the content of a telepathic message is foreign to the conscious thoughts of the agent or sitter, except in experimental telepathy.
3. That the memory of the subjective mind is potentially perfect.
4. That rapport (relation of harmony) between the agent (the sender) and the percipient (the receiver) is essential to the successful transmission of a telepathic message.
The bearing of these discoveries upon the question at issue will be at once apparent to the intelligent reader. It will be seen, first, that the fact that a sitter is not consciously thinking of a given subject when in presence of a psychic does not prevent a telepathic transmission of the subject matter, since telepathy is exclusively between subjective minds.
Secondly, that the fact that a sitter has objectively forgotten a circumstance does not prevent a telepathic transmission of the fact, since the memory of the subjective mind is potentially perfect.
Thus does another evidential stronghold of spiritism vanish in the light of modern science, for it is now self-evident that what a sitter is consciously thinking of, or what he has once known, but has objectively forgotten, weighs not one hair against the telepathic theory. On the contrary, it so completely sustains the telepathic theory that the burden of proof rests upon spiritism to show, by demonstrative evidence, that all cases where supernormally acquired knowledge is in evidence may not be thus explained.
This they are attempting to do, but by a process as flagrantly illogical and unscientific as that employed in any of their attempts to sustain a constantly failing cause.
Numerous cases are now in evidence where mediums have evinced a knowledge of facts, say in the earthly career of an alleged communicating spirit, which no one present could by any possibility have ever objectively known.
This, it must be acknowledged, is the crucial test. It is the last ditch of spiritism, and if such cases can be explained by reference to telepathy their cause is forever lost, for if this fails them there will be left not a shred of valid evidence that spirits of the dead communicate with the living through mediums.
The case, however, is a very simple one and easily disposed of when treated in a straightforward, commonsense manner. It presents but one question about which there can be any possible room for a rational difference of opinion, and that is simple to the last degree to any one who is acquainted with the fundamental facts of telepathy and the elemental principles of logical reasoning. The question is :
Can information telepathically received by ono person be telepathically communicated by him to another?
Strange as it may seem to the average reader, the whole question of spirit communion with the living through mediums hinges upon the decision of that simple problem. And this is what I meant in my opening remarks by urging the propriety — the logical necessity — of reducing the question to its lowest terms by eliminating all irrelevant side issues and confining our attention to the vital issue when it is found.
A few words will show the practical pertinency of the question as stated, and this can best be done by supposing a simple illustrative example :
A seance is held in which the sitter is supposed to be put into communication with the spirit of his deceased father. To make the case clear and free from complications, we will suppose that all the rest of the sitter's family and friends are dead, — all died before the death of the father. Then suppose a communication from the alleged spirit to reveal the fact that some time before his decease the father had concealed a large sum of money in a certain locality, naming it ; that it was intended for the son when he became of age, but that the father died suddenly without having an opportunity to reveal the facts to the son, who, in the meantime, never had a suspicion that his father ever had any surplus cash.
Spiritists hold, of course, that such a case is clearly one in which telepathy cannot possibly be held to afford an explanation, - a clear case, therefore, of spirit communion. Advocates of the telepathic theory, on the other hand, hold that it is just as clearly a case in which telepathy affords an easy explanation, on the obvious theory that information received telepathically by one person can be communicated by him telepathically to a third person. Thus, the father and son must be presumed to have been in telepathic rapport during the life of both, and the father must be presumed to have communicated the information to the son, unconsciously, of course, to the latter, since telepathy is a faculty belonging exclusively to the subjective mind. The information was, therefore, lodged in the subjective mind of the son, where it remained, latent, until he came in contact with a psychic who was able to reach the information telepathically and thus elevate the information above the threshold of normal consciousness. The ability to do that is what constitutes a psychic, and a good psychic can reach the content of the subjective mind of another, presumably without reference to how it got there. The son, not being a psychic, was unaware of the facts which had been communicated telepathically during the life-time of his father. But the information was there; it was a part of his subjective mental equipment, and only awaited contact with a psychic who could reach it telepathically and thus make it known to the objective consciousness of all concerned.
Is there anything inherently impossible or improbable in this hypothesis ? I think not. In the first place, all the logical and scientific presumptions favor it, as against supermundane theories of causation. Telepathy is a vera causa; spiritism is not. We know something of telepathy and its conditions, powers, and limitations ; we know that it is a means of communicating intelligence between living persons. But we know absolutely nothing of the conditions, powers, or limitations of disembodied spirits. Besides, having shown that telepathy affords a complete explanation of the great bulk of the cases where supernormally acquired knowledge is in evidence, the presumption that all cases may be so ac-counted for amounts to a logical certainty. Especially is this true in the absence of any reasons to the contrary, and none have ever been given that were not obviously intended to evade the issue rather than to meet it. (See Society for Psychical Research reports in Piper case.) Moreover, if the telepathic theory in this class of cases harmonizes with all that is known of the powers and limitations of telepathy, its truth must be considered as practically demonstrated. And that this is true I shall now briefly attempt to show.
In the first place, the Society for Psychical Research (before the date of its conversion into an international spiritistic propaganda) published two large volumes (Phantasms of the Living) devoted to a record of its telepathic investigations, in which the following facts, pertinent to the inquiry, were developed :
1. That acquaintances, friends, and near relatives are actually or potentially en rapport at all times.
2. That the power to project a telepathic impression seems to increase on the near approach of death.
3. That dying persons make an effort to acquaint their near relatives or friends with their condition and wishes, especially when some unsatisfied desire is weighing upon their minds.
4. That the power to convey and to receive thoughts by means of telepathy seems to be practically unlimited.
5. The limitations of telepathy as a means of communication between those who are en rapport seem to pertain solely to the power to elevate the communications above the threshold of normal consciousness.
It will now be seen that the powers and limitations of telepathy, as ascertained by years of observation and laborious research, correspond exactly with what we would have a right to expect if the telepathic theory is the correct interpretation of the phenomena under consideration.
Thus, we find an unlimited capacity in the subjective mind to transmit and to receive information by telepathy, which, with the perfect memory of the subjective mind, argues a vast store of information thus acquired from friends and relatives with whom one is en rapport.
The limitations, which pertain solely to the means of drawing upon this fund of information, are explained by the fact that the only available process by which this can be accomplished is the employment of psychics (mediums), and these are constantly handicapped by the abnormal conditions necessary for the work of mediumship, as well as by the limitations involved in the fact that they are constantly open to control by the power of suggestion while in that condition.
And when to these powers and limitations is added the constant rapport of relatives and friends, the supreme efforts of the dying to acquaint their friends with facts of mutual interest and importance, and the latency of the knowledge thus acquired (lodged in the subjective mind) when the percipient is not himself a psychic, it will be seen that there is every possible facility for the phenomena to occur exactly as we have supposed them to occur.
Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in any recorded experience in telepathy to militate against that theory in this class of cases, for it is manifest that if the sup-posed case can be explained by reference to telepathy every other possible case can be thus accounted for. That is to say, if telepathically acquired information can be telepathically transmitted to a third person it would be impossible to imagine a case that the fact would not account for.
I repeat, therefore, that this is the crucial question upon which spiritism hinges ; and it is, of course, important that it should be determined whether telepathic a trois, as the French term it, or telepathy by three, in plain English, is a telepathic potential. Let us put the question in another form, — a form that will show the affirmative to be self-evident :
If A can communicate intelligence to B by any known means of transmitting human knowledge, B can communicate the same intelligence by the same means to C, conditions, of course, being equal.
This might be termed a " universal postulate," according to Herbert Spencer's definition of that term, for " its opposite is inconceivable." If it is true of one means of communicating human intelligence it is necessarily true of all. If it is true of all, then it is self-evident that " telepathy by three " is a telepathic potential. And if that is true it follows that all conceivable cases of supernormally acquired intelligence by so-called mediums, are easily explicable under the telepathic hypothesis.
What answer has spiritism to offer to these propositions? When I first propounded the theory in substantially this form, eleven years ago (see The Law of Psychic Phenomena), it was met by a Podsnappian wave of the hand, and —" Oh ! that is carrying telepathy too far." But neither then nor since has any one attempted to say why telepathically acquired information cannot be telepathically transmitted to a third person. Why? Is it because the proposition is unanswerable; and because, if true, it is fatal to spiritism? The reader must judge.
Later the attempt is being made by pseudo-scientists of spiritism to ignore the real issue, and to exaggerate and misrepresent the telepathic theory for the purpose of denying it without the necessity of giving valid reasons for so doing. Thus, they tell us that the telepathic theory presupposes the psychic to be " omniscient," an assertion that for gratuitous absurdity could only be paralleled by the assertion that it required common intellectual integrity to enable them to formulate it.
Strange as it may appear, the answer that comes nearest to being valid, if not scientific, comes from the corner-grocery savants of spiritism. They tell us, " straight from the shoulder," as it were, that " there is no such thing as telepathy ; it 's all spirits."
Obviously, argument would be futile against such robust faith in the supernatural, and I pass on to an equally absurd proposition that is current among the " scientists " of spiritism. Beginning with Alfred Russell Wallace, and continued with insistent iteration by the Society for Psychical Research spiritists, we are told that the spiritistic theory bears internal evidence of scientific truth because of its " simplicity."
It must be admitted that it is far " simpler " to refer all psychic phenomena to spirits than it is to explain them on scientific principles. Besides, it obviates all necessity for thinking, and that is a great point gained for many otherwise remarkably good people. The theory that the earth is flat was also very simple, and it would have saved a vast deal of robust thinking if the world's astronomical geniuses had been content to recognize " simplicity " as a valid scientific postulate. The savage's theory that " thunder is the voice of an angry god " is simple to the last degree — much simpler than is the vast science which has grown out of the scientific observation of the electrical phenomena of the heavens.
If simplicity is the measure of scientific accuracy, there is a theory extant that is far less complicated than that which postulates millions of good, bad, and indifferent spirits at work, often at cross-purposes — some even with intent to deceive mankind into scientific beliefs, and others repudiating all that science thinks it knows ; no two spirits, in short, ever agreeing upon any one proposition. If, as I said, simplicity is the measure of scientific verity, why not adopt the far more simple, and vastly more orthodox, theory that the devil is responsible for the whole business? Aside from the superior quality of " simplicity " inherent in the satanic theory, the results of spiritism invest it with an air of plausibility not to be ignored as valueless by spiritistic logicians.
In concluding this I desire to answer a question that has often been propounded by spiritists concerning the telepathic theory and which will doubtless occur to many of the readers of this article. It is this:
" You admit," say the spiritists, " that two embodied spirits can communicate with each other by means of telepathy. Why, then, cannot a disembodied spirit communicate with an embodied spirit by the same means ? "
This is a very popular question, and it is usually held to be a " poser," especially by those whose logic is a little infirm. The obvious answer is that it is not a question pertinent to the issue involved in spiritism. As for myself, I do not know why they cannot — I do not even know that they cannot — so communicate. But that is not the question raised by the phenomena of spiritism. That question is : " Do spirit's of the dead communicate with the living through mediums? " obviously a very much more restricted question, as it involves solely the question of mediumship, otherwise the phenomena of spiritism. And it is exclusively from the evidence afforded by the phenomena them-selves that the question must be settled.
I have endeavored to show that the whole question hinges upon " telepathy by three," and that that is a self-evident proposition. Besides, it can easily be shown that telepathy by three is, in fact, a very common phenomenon. It follows that spiritism, considered as a subject of scientific inquiry, has no polemical weapon now available except the insensate denial of a self-evident proposition.
It will now be in order to take our logical bearings by a brief recapitulation of the points thus far established, with a view to ascertaining what positions, if any, may be further fortified by the facts of human experience. It is safe to assume that the following propositions will not be disputed by any scientist who cares to apply the elementary principles of logical induction to the investigation of spiritism.
1. That the issue is, " Do spirits of the dead communicate with living persons through mediums? "
2. That the only valid evidence competent to prove the affirmative must be such as will demonstrate the personal identity of the alleged communicating spirit.
3. That physical phenomena, per se, therefore, possess no evidential value whatever.
4. That, in the absence of other proofs of personal identity, the dramatic personation of a spirit possesses no evidential value.
5. That telepathy, or thought-transference, is a valid explanation of all cases where the information " communicated " was in the possession of any person present at the seance.
6. That the telepathic explanation is none the less valid because the information was not consciously possessed by the sitter, as when he had quite forgotten the facts "communicated."
Thus far, no intelligent spiritist will take exception. This narrows the field of inquiry to those communications which contain information not obtained by the medium, or any one present, by any of the normal, sensory channels of communicating human thought. That is to say, the information, if possessed by the sitter, must have been received telepathically, unconsciously to himself and to the agent from whom it was obtained. This involves the question whether information telepathically received can be telepathically communicated to a third person. And this, as I have already shown, is the ultimate issue to be decided ; for if telepathic a trois, or " telepathy by three," is a telepathic potential, it is manifestly impossible to imagine a case to which the principle would not afford a complete explanation. I have also shown that telepathy by three is a self-evident proposition. That is to say, it is self-evident that if A can send a message to B, by any known means of communicating intelligence, B can communicate the same message, by the same means, to C, conditions being equal.
Is telepathy an exception to this universal rule? Is knowledge communicated telepathically anything less than knowledge? Is information thus communicated to the subjective mind not a part of its mental equipment? Is the subjective mind prone to forget what it has once known? These questions answer themselves. All who are even superficially acquainted with the salient characteristics of the subjective mind know that it never sleeps, and never forgets ; that knowledge, however trivial may be its character, may remain latent for many years, but that proper mental conditions will bring forth with all its details. The old psychologists were well aware of this fact. If any one has ever given a reason why telepathically acquired knowledge rests upon a different footing in this respect from knowledge acquired in any other way, I have yet to hear of it.
Now what are the facts? I have said that telepathy by three is a self-evident proposition, and it is. But as spiritists require demonstrative proofs of self-evident propositions that contravene their cherished beliefs, I shall cite a few cases, taken mostly from the proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, which prove our thesis beyond peradventure.
Telepathy by three is, in point of fact, a very common phenomenon. But, like many other familiar facts in nature, it has remained for years unnoted by scientific investigators because its importance was not realized. Who could have predicted, seventeen years ago, that the whole question of spirit intercourse through mediums would ever hinge upon the truth or falsity of the familiar phenomenon of telepathy by three? Certainly not the spiritistic members of the Society for Psychical Re-search, for their early reports abound in well authenticated cases. It is significant, however, that, since the conversion of that society into a gigantic spiritistic propaganda, the reported cases of telepathy by three, outside of alleged spiritistic communications, are conspicuous for their scarcity. Fortunately, however, for the cause of truth, that society cannot obliterate its own record ; nor can it prevent the daily exemplification of that phenomenon in experimental telepathy, nor sup-press the reports of thousands of spontaneous cases constantly occurring outside the limited field to which it now confines its earnest efforts.
F. W. H. Myers, for instance, early admitted the possibility of telepathy by three in cases of collective phantasms. (See p. 320, Vol. VII. Proc. S. P. R.) But at the time he preferred another theory, which has since been shown to be fallacious, thus leaving telepathy by three as the only possible solution, outside of the assumption of the objective reality of the phantasm.
In the same volume, p. 295, Mr. Walter Leaf, one of the ablest of the then active members of the Society for Psychical Research, clearly formulated the doctrine. Reviewing a current publication by von Hartman, Mr. Leaf offered the following pregnant suggestion :
"And finally, von Hartman seems to have overlooked the consequences which result from the joint admission of the reality of telepathy and the infinite retentiveness of the subliminal memory. It can hardly be doubted that those rare telepathic impressions which rise to the level of consciousness are but a fraction of those which the underself is continually receiving. Yet each one of these must be stored up in the unconscious memory, and be capable of reproduction under favorable circumstances. If we further admit that the unconscious self is capable of handing on such impressions, whether by telepathy or thought-transference, they remove all necessity for the assumption of spiritual agency or clairvoyance, when we have to deal with a piece of knowledge which may at any time have been in the mind of any living man."
Professor Oliver Lodge, who is now the president of the Society for Psychical Research, very early announced his belief in "thought-transference " as fully competent to explain all that is mysterious in so-called spirit communications, on the ground that it is a " known cause," that is, one to which there need be no hesitation in appealing in order to explain facts which without it would be inexplicable. (Proc. S. P. R. Vol. VI. p. 451.) Professor Lodge did not distinctly formulate the doctrine of telepathy by three, but he cited two cases, in contrast, which are demonstrative of the principle. In one of them a deceased uncle figured as the communicator, and he related many facts — family affairs — of which those present knew nothing, all of which, how-ever, " have been more or less completely verified," says the professor (pp. 458-9). On the other hand, a message was received in his presence from a comparative stranger—not a relative of any one present—and every-thing which the sitters knew about was correctly related ; whereas, the statements made of which they knew nothing were all false (p. 461).
Obviously the principle of telepathy by three affords a full and complete explanation of the knowledge obtained from the uncle, and the failure in the other case is just as obviously due to the absence of the necessary conditions, namely, rapport between the sitters and the communicator during the lifetime of the latter. The spiritistic hypothesis necessarily fails, for the conditions from that standpoint were precisely the same in the two cases. The principal sitter was the same, namely, Professor Lodge, the medium was the same, Mrs. Piper, and the so-called " control " was in each case none other than the now noted Dr. Phinuet, a Frenchman, who had forgotten la langue francaise. If, therefore, it was a spirit in one case it was a spirit in the other, and no good reason has yet been given why one spirit should tell the truth, whether the sitter knows the facts or not, while another tells it only when the sitter knows the facts. In other words, the spiritistic hypothesis does not furnish an explanation of the difference in the results of the two cases. On the other hand, telepathy by three does account for it in the only way consistent with the known facts of modern science.
Andrew Lang is another famous psychical researcher who finds telepathy by three to be the only tenable hypothesis explanatory of the phenomena under consideration. He has caused numerous experiments to be made by means of "crystal gazing," through the agency of Miss Angus and others, many of which are demonstrative of telepathy by three. A few of the latter he sums up as follows : (See Part XXXVI. Proc. S. P. R. pp. 48-50.)
" Again and again Miss Angus, sitting with man or woman, described acquaintances of theirs, but not of hers, in situations not known to the sitters, but proved to be true to fact. Now, _ the far-going hypothesis of direct clairvoyance was here excluded (in most cases, not in all) by conditions of time. In one instance, Miss Angus described doings from three weeks to a fortnight old, of people in India, people whom she had never seen or heard of, but who were known to her `sitter,' Her account, given on a Saturday, was corroborated by a letter from India, which arrived next day, Sunday. In another case she described (about 10 P. M.) what a lady, not known to her, but the daughter of a matron present (who was not the sitter), had been doing about 4 P. M. on the same day. What the person seen was doing was not a thing familiar, for I asked that question. Again, sitting with the lady, Miss Angus described a singular set of scenes much in the mind, not of her sitter, but of a very unsympathetic stranger, who was reading a book at the other end of the room. I have tried every hypothesis, normal and not so normal, to account for these and analogous performances of Miss Angus. There was, in the Indian and other cases, no physical possibility of collusion; chance coincidence did not seem adequate ; ghosts were out of the question, so was direct clairvoyance. That Miss Angus (who, by the way, was in the most normal and wide-awake condition) had got into touch with the Absolute, and was making discriminating selections from the stores of Omniscience, did not seem likely, because her crystal pictures appeared to be directed by the mind of a person present, not always the sitter. Nothing remained for the speculative theorizer but the idea of cross cur-rents of telepathy [telepathy by three] between Miss Angus, a casual stranger, the sitters and people far away, known to the sitters or the stranger, but unknown to Miss Angus. Unpublished examples of these things went on the same lines. Miss Angus picked up facts, unknown to the sitters, about people known to them, but not to her.
" Now suppose that Miss Angus, instead of dealing with living people, by way of visions, had dealt by way of voice, or automatic , handwriting, and had introduced a dead ' communicator.' Then she would have been on a par with Mrs. Piper, yet with no aid from the dead.. . .
" Not, to rely solely on Miss Angus, I take another instance. My friend, Mr. Lesley, is known to the world as a man of business, a golfer, and a composer. He can see crystal pictures, but (like most of my acquaintances who possess the faculty, including my cook) has hardly any interest in the practice. One day Mr. Lesley and I had been talking about a lady, unknown to him, but known to me, though I had never seen her house. Mr. Lesley began to look into a glass water-jug, and described what he saw, the interior of the hall of a house, with a good deal of detail. Neither of us recognized the house. I happened later to tell this to the lady of whom we had been talking; she said, ' Why, that is my house,' and, on visiting it, I found that in all respects it answered to Mr. Lesley's description."
Mr. Lang then proceeds to say that if the lady had been dead, and the psychic had been in a trance, spiritists would have claimed it as a spirit communication. But as nobody was dead, " the theory of a spirit is wholly impossible, and if not telepathy a trot's, then some other nonspiritualistic theory must account for the facts, as for the facts in Miss Angus's cases."
A typical case once came under my own observation, which not only demonstrates telepathy by three, but reveals its wide range of usefulness to charlatans and mountebanks of many varieties. A gentleman residing in a distant northern city visited Washington on his way to Florida, and, being somewhat interested in psychical matters, especially telepathy, requested me to introduce him to some one who could satisfy his curiosity by some signal display of telepathic powers. At that time I happened to know a hypnotic subject who occasionally manifested remarkable powers in that direction. He was neither a spiritist nor a professional psychic, and shrank from publicity, but would occasion-ally display his powers to a select few of his friends. One of his peculiarities consisted in a fondness for mystifying his friends by " dropping into prophecy " concerning their future movements, often with startling results, the case that I am about to relate being in point. With much reluctance he consented to meet a total stranger, having been assured by me that the gentleman was on his way to Florida and would not be here to trouble him further. The seance was accordingly held that evening in the gentleman's private room at the Arlington, two or three friends of the sitter being the only ones present besides the dramatis personae. Having hypnotized the psychic, to insure perfect rapport I caused the two to shake hands, saying to the psychic as I did so: " Now I want you to tell this gentleman all that he knows about himself, and more, too, if possible."
After a few moments of silence the psychic asked to take the sitter's hand again. This being complied with, he said, speaking very rapidly :
" I can tell the gentleman one thing that he thinks he knows, but does not know. He thinks that he is going to start for Florida tomorrow morning."
" Yes, I told you that," I replied.
Without noticing the interruption he continued :
" I can tell him another thing that he does not know. He is going directly home to-morrow morning."
" I certainly do not know that," replied the sitter. " If I live I shall start for Florida tomorrow morning."
" Nevertheless, you will go home before you go to Florida. I prophesy that, and don't you forget it," replied the psychic with some show of dogmatism.
" Did the spirits tell you that?" asked the sitter, sarcastically.
" No ! I am not a medium, much less a spiritualist," indignantly replied the psychic.
Knowing that he was sensitive on that point, and realizing that he was becoming excited, I signalled the sitter to cease talking on the subject and proposed other experiments. Several crucial tests were made during the evening with special reference to the question of independent clairvoyance, resulting in demonstrative proof that the psychic did not possess that power, but that he did possess telepathic powers to an extraordinary degree. The latter was demonstrated the next morning when the gentleman boarded the first train for home.
His sudden change of front was in response to a telegram received about four o'clock in the morning from his family physician, urging his instant return on account of the sudden and-serious illness of his wife.
" Spirits," explains the spiritist. But nobody was dead.
" Clairvoyance ! " suggests the belated believer in the existence of that power, — that is, in the power to see what is occurring at a distance, independently of the aid of telepathy from living persons. Aside from the all but demonstrated fact that no such power exists, it was obviously not independent clairvoyance in this case, since personal contact with the sitter was necessary.
" Muscle reading ! " oracularly proclaims the pseudo-scientist, who feels bound, by the limited range of the authorized beliefs of his cultus, to find a physical explanation for every phenomenon.
To which I reply that if the potentialities of " muscle reading " extend to the cognizance of the acts and thoughts of strangers hundreds of miles distant; and if that knowledge can be obtained by physical contact with one who is in telepathic rapport with the actors, I am content, for the sake of argument, to call it "muscle reading."
In this case, however, the only possible muscle reading was between the psychic and the sitter. But the fact remains that the psychic, by some means, became cognizant of what was, for the time being, uppermost in the subjective mind of the sitter, namely, the condition and necessities of his own family; and that information must be presumed, in the absence of any other explanation, to have been obtained telepathically from his distressed wife.
No psychical researcher, who is at all acquainted with the propaedeutics of psychic science, will for a moment deny the probability of telepathic communion between husband and wife under such circumstances. Indeed, the records of the Society for Psychical Research render this as certain as any fact in science. The information, therefore, that led the psychic to " prophesy " the sitter's early return home was certainly in the subjective mind of the latter ; and that the psychic obtained it directly from the sitter's subjective mind by some means other than through ordinary, sensory channels — call it telepathy, thought-transference, or muscle reading, or what you will — is not open to rational doubt. Terminology is not the essence of a scientific inquiry ; and the fact remains that this case is typical of that telepathy by three which spiritists, with hysterical insistence, see fit to deny.
I have said that telepathy by three lends itself to the uses of a great variety of charlatans. Thus, the psychic in this case was fond of posing as a prophet, pure and simple, and would rarely give reasons for his previsions. Nevertheless it was always evident that he obtained his data by means of his telepathic powers, and thus mystified his sitters to the top of his bent.
It is obvious that if he had seen fit to pose as a spirit medium he would have won renown as such, and by the same means that others do. All that would have been required in the case mentioned would have been for him to say that the spirits had told him that the sitter's wife was dangerously ill. Moreover, the telepathic visions from which he obtained his data for " prophesying " the sudden departure of the sitter for home would very likely have been practically the same if he had believed them to have been produced by spirits.
In short, a good telepathist is well equipped for successful charlatanry in almost' any field; for example, fortune-telling, palmistry, astrology, clairvoyance, etc. In other words, whatever of supernormally acquired knowledge is found to exist in the mind of any psychic, no matter what his particular theory of causation may be, or what may be his particular method of elevating it above the threshold of normal consciousness, telepathy affords a full and complete revelation of its mysterious source. And when the truth is once realized of the self-evident proposition that knowledge telepathically acquired from one person can be telepathically communicated to another, it will be apparent that every imaginable case of alleged spirit communication through mediums easily ranges itself under the terms of the telepathic hypothesis.