Whately Carington

Mathematician, philosopher, and respected psychical researcher. Gardner Murphy described him as, "a man of warmth, generosity, intensity, excitement, and enthusiasm." In 1934, Carington set out to discover whether trance personalities were real, autonomous individuals, or merely phases of the medium's own personality using quantitative testing. Among other books, he wrote "Telepathy, an Outline of facts, theory and implications of telepathy" (New York: Creative Age Press, 1946), and, "Matter, Mind and Meaning" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949).

The Problem of Survival

Inversion of the Classical Treatment | The Meaning of 'Survival' | Stability of the Psychon System as the Determinant of Survival | Probable Effects of Perseveration | The Post-mortem World of Images | Corporeal versus Intellectual Interests | The Problem of Recognition, Reunion, etc | Contact with the Physical World: Psychical Environment | Stability of Psychon Systems | Formation of Larger Systems | Reincarnation: Genius and Inspiration | The Problem of Survival: Summary and Conclusions

 - Whately Carington -

Inversion of the Classical Treatment [top]

          IF I were attempting a discussion of the Problem of Survival in the classical manner, I should proceed as follows. I should begin by marshalling the evidence for survival, with examples, in ascending order of cogency. I should then - or perhaps concurrently - discuss the alternative hypotheses by which it might be explained away; in particular, I should pay great attention to Telepathy and its ramifications, aided maybe by a little clairvoyance and precognition, carefully considering whether any combination of these is sufficient to account for all the evidential facts, or whether there is a residuum not to be explained in this way. And I should end with a piece of judgematical fine writing in which I should nicely weigh the pros and the cons and conclude that, on balance, the weight of evidence justifies a provisional belief in man's survival of death.

If I did my work well, the reader would be left with his belief in survival somewhat strengthened, or his disbelief somewhat weakened, as the case might be; but in either event (unless he were an immovable extremist) he would feel himself to be holding a somewhat undecided opinion on a quite definite issue.

I do not propose to adopt this course, partly because I have not the space available to give even an outline of the evidence, but mainly because I consider this kind of attitude to be exactly the inverse of the proper one. The proper attitude, I consider, is not one of doubt as to a definite issue, but of virtual certainty on an indefinite issue; that is to say, I have (humanly speaking) no doubt at all that, in some sense and in some degree, man survives death; but I am not at all sure about the sense and the degree, or about what survival means or how permanent it is. I shall try to explain this somewhat cryptic utterance below.

Any one who has studied the subject knows (and no one who has not is entitled to express an opinion) that the evidence for survival is extremely copious, and that some of it is extremely strong. Much, of course, is very bad - so bad as to be barely worth considering and it unfortunately happens that most belief in survival, other than that derived from religious faith or blatant wish-thinking, is based on evidence of the worst type, such as is obtained at uncritical and emotion-ridden spiritualist séance; but this naturally does not impair the value of the better varieties.

These range from the simple and circumstantial evidences of identity - items of information, etc., known to the supposed 'spirit' communicating, but not to the medium or automatist - to the exceedingly complicated cases, such as Cross Correspondences and Literary Puzzles(1) to which members of the Society for Psychical Research have devoted years of patient and highly critical scholarship.

(1) The essential feature of this type of evidence is that fragments of a complex communication are given through two or more carefully isolated automatists, which only 'make sense' when put together; or sometimes not until a clue is finally given by the ostensible originator of the communication. A degree of apparent planning and purposivity is often shown which it is difficult to attribute to any secondary personality of an automatist, and still more so to a combination of such personalities.

For details the reader must consult the Proceedings of the Society; but excellent summaries are given in H. F. Saltmarsh's Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross-Correspondences, Mrs. Richmond's Evidence of Purpose, and Kenneth Richmond's Evidence of Identity, all in Bell's Psychical Experiences Series.

I think there can be no doubt at all that this mass of evidence is totally inexplicable on the basis of knowledge acquired in normal ways by the automatists and mediums concerned. This is generally agreed among students of the subject, and discussion has almost entirely centred on the question of whether it can be explained by telepathy in sufficiently complex ramifications. Some of it obviously can be. If I go to visit a medium, it is inevitable that the ideas of death and bereavement should be fairly prominent in my mind, and these will be associated with others connected with deceased friends and relatives and their history and circumstances; thus the 'idea of death', etc., will be quite competent to act as a K-idea between me and the medium in the ordinary way, so that her 'control' personality may well pick up and reproduce as an evidential 'message' some item known to me and more or less characteristic of some deceased friend. I need not go into details.

To account for the more complex cases on these lines will evidently be very much more difficult, and many students have thought it virtually impossible. They may be right, but my own strong opinion is that discussion on these lines is bound to be inconclusive. If we assume the possible operation of telepathy and precognition, as we certainly must, I think it will be found literally impossible even to devise, let alone obtain, evidence which would be completely invulnerable to a suitable combination of the two. In other words, I think it is almost complete waste of time to try to form an opinion about whether survival is a fact in nature by a process of pitting the evidence in its favour against the alternative explanations afforded by telepathy, etc. This is not to say that the evidence is valueless, or that the labours of those who collected it were in vain. On the contrary, I think that it has been immensely valuable in directing our attention to all kinds of problems, and that, like the 'spontaneous phenomena' discussed earlier, it will prove still more valuable as a source of information when we come back to it with greater understanding and a revised perspective. My contention rather is that the perspective implied in this frontal assault on the problem is, in fact, all wrong, though it was natural and indeed inevitable in the circumstances in which the subject developed.

My point is this - that to argue about whether the evidence for survival is explicable in terms of telepathy, etc., is to put the cart before the horse, to strain at the gnat after swallowing a gigantic camel, or any other metaphorical cliché you prefer. Roughly speaking, survival is a spectacular issue, but not a crucial issue; it is telepathy that is crucial though it may not be spectacular. Lightning is spectacular, but it was the attractive properties of rubbed amber which broke across the frontiers of the push-and-pull mechanical world and opened up that of electro-magnetic phenomena generally; and it is the fact of telepathy (unless you can explain it in physical terms - which you can't) that breaks across the frontiers of the physical world and opens up the psychical.

I do not think I would care to go so far as to say that to establish telepathy, which is physically inexplicable, automatically implies survival, though it certainly breaks the backbone of the essential argument against it, namely, that there is no 'reality' other than the physical. But if the association theory of telepathy and the psychon theory of mind be accepted, survival of some sort becomes at least an entirely legitimate supposition. We have already seen that sensa and images (psychons) are the most 'real' things we know, for it is only by them that we know anything at all; the facts of telepathy and precognition show that they are not subject to the limitations of matter, space, and time as are material entities; hence, since physical law is irrelevant, there is no reason to suppose - but if anything the contrary - that dissolution of the body necessarily involves dissolution of the corresponding psychon system.

Thus, apart from acting as a source of information about survival (which is very important), the function of the evidence on the subject is not to demonstrate that survival does occur against a contention that it cannot, but rather to indicate whether it does actually occur in a context such that it perfectly well may. That is to say, given telepathy (particularly on my view of it), it is no longer a matter of arguing about the possibility of survival and considering telepathy as an alternative; for the occurrence of telepathy has itself ensured the possibility, by bursting the ring-fence of matter and energy within which materialists have sought to confine us. I think this will become a little clearer when we have considered the next aspect of the subject that I wish to discuss.

The Meaning of 'Survival' [top]

As I have already implied, it is all too commonly taken for granted that there is no doubt about what we mean when we affirm or deny the proposition that mall survives death, and our doubts are reserved for the question of whether it is true; whereas my own view is that doubt should be concentrated on its meaning rather than on its truth.

We are too apt to assume that when we ask, "Has Jones survived death?" we are asking the same kind of unambiguous question as when we ask, "Has Jones survived shipwreck?", and I do not think that this is by any means necessarily the case. The question about surviving shipwreck is quite unambiguous, because we know from experience that (quibbles about 'suspended animation', etc., apart) bodily survival in such circumstances is a yes-or-no, all-or-none affair; there is no half-way house between survival and non-survival - the man is either alive or is drowned. But we have no such empirical experience to guide us in the matter of the mind's (or 'soul's') survival of the death of the body; and in demanding a yes-or-no answer we may be demanding what cannot be given.

As I have pointed out elsewhere(2), it may be that when we ask, "Does man survive death, or is he annihilated?" we are posing to nature an impossible question proceeding from a too-naive application of analogy, and that there is in reality no true antithesis of the kind we assume. To condense from the lecture just referred to: If we ask, "Is an electron a wave or a particle?" we think we are asking an unambiguous question, for we are familiar enough (we would say) with the properties of particles and of waves, and there would seem to be no possibility of confusing the one with the other. This is because, in everyday life, we invariably find certain properties of particles accompanied by all the others - and the same, of course, for waves - and we assume that these concomitances must be universally true, so that all can be inferred when some are noted. "But Nature cares nothing for such inferences, and when we ask her, 'Is an electron a wave or a particle?' she can only return the somewhat disconcerting answer, 'Neither - but both!'" It is at least possible that to pose the question, "Does man survive death, or is he annihilated?" may be to express a similar false antithesis, and that Nature's answer may similarly be, "Neither - but both!"

(2) Cf. also Saltmarsh.

The essence of the whole matter, I think, is that we cannot give a yes-or-no answer to the question, "Does man's mind survive death?" unless we conceive of a mind as a kind of indivisible unity which must either survive as a whole or perish as a whole; and, as we have seen, an 'indivisible unity' is quite certainly the one thing which a mind, on any theory, most emphatically is not. We must accordingly resign ourselves to the prospect of our inquiries yielding, in principle, no more than conditional, or graded, or quantitative answers.

Stability of the Psychon System as the Determinant of Survival [top]

To bring this long preamble to a close and get to the heart of the matter. The mind is a psychon system, and the question of whether any particular mind survives death is one of the stability of that system under post-mortem conditions, notably as regards the sudden cutting off of the normal influx of sensa occasioned by the incidence of physical stimuli on the sense organs. This, it seems to me, is a purely technical problem of the same essential character as the stability of astronomical systems, chemical molecules, or radio-active atoms, and capable of solution by the same kind of methods.

Note here that we have already surmounted, without even noticing it, the most formidable of all the obstacles that confront the survivalist, namely, that of saying what it is that survives when the body perishes - it is the psychon system. The same real entities which we have found so useful in discussing telepathy, apparitions, secondary personalities, etc., now form the basis of our views on survival. It is true that, in a sense, we are but exchanging one sort of difficulty for another; but those that now confront us are of a relatively familiar kind, inasmuch as they are concerned with the behaviour of entities with known (or postulated) properties related in specified ways. That is to say, they are problems to which appropriate mathematical methods can, in principle, be applied; and wherever this is the case we can feel assured that progress will not be very long delayed.

The kind of way in which these problems will have to be tackled is as follows: We shall start by assuming the existence of entities (psychons) having no relevant property other than that of associability, and the strengthening of this by repeated co-presentation. We shall then see whether certain simple phenomena, such as the forgetting curve, can be successfully deduced from these assumptions. If they can, well and good, and we will go on to other deductions and test these against the facts in their turn; if not, we shall alter, or possibly add to, our assumptions till we have found a set which works so well that we may be reasonably sure they are correct and that we have not omitted any of importance. We shall next try to define what we mean by 'stability' in this context - which should not be too difficult - and inquire what kind of system will possess it, if composed of entities having the properties we have thus assumed and tested. This inquiry will evidently have to include the effect on the system considered of any linkages it may have with other systems, just as a study of the stability of, say, a planet and its satellites would preferably include consideration of the effects likely to be produced by the close passage of another planet or system. Finally, we shall check up our conclusions with whatever observational data are available.

It would naturally be worse than rash to anticipate the results of such inquiries; but I think it is legitimate, if only as a matter of interest, to indulge in a certain amount of speculation as to the kind of way they are likely to work out - on the even stricter understanding than usual, if possible, that the views suggested are no more than conjectural. On the other hand, I think it is not difficult to indicate possibilities which, if not particularly gratifying, are at least more plausible on general grounds - that is to say, more consonant with what we know of natural phenomena as a whole - than those advanced by the extremer spiritualists on the one hand or the orthodox religionists on the other.

Broadly speaking, I should expect to find that close-knit and well-integrated systems of large numerical extent (i.e., composed of large numbers of manifoldly inter-related and closely associated psychons) will prove to be highly stable, and vice versa; but I will defer for the moment the question of what is likely to happen in the case of loosely-knit and ill-integrated systems. Given such a well ordered system, e.g., that of a normal adult, I should expect that at the moment after death it would be very much the same as at the moment before it. The actual process of dying may be supposed, it is true, to introduce a certain number of more or less characteristic sensa and images, but I find it difficult to suppose that these will, in general, have very much effect on the system as a whole. After all, most of us experience fairly severe illnesses or accidents at one time or another, and may even be knocked unconscious, and so forth, without suffering any very profound disturbance of the mind. Probably the surprise or shock of realizing that one is dead will be the most serious factor in the majority of cases.

This supposition accords well with (for what they are worth) many communications which stress how the deceased person 'could not believe he was dead', 'felt just as he did before', etc. Its natural implications, followed up without undue regard to romantico-religious fantasy, are not without interest. If you are killed while doing something in which you are intensely interested, your mind will be full, as we say, of that activity-that is to say, the images representing it will all be much more closely linked with your contemporary sensa than will those representing activities, etc., of lesser interest. But - and this is very important - it is clear that the brake normally applied by the influx of sensa from the physical world, which usually hold our noses so distressingly hard against the mundane grindstone, will be suddenly taken off; so that there will be nothing by which to check our fantasies - at any rate in the first instance. Thus, whatever we imagine will be 'real' to us until we learn to recognize it as imagination.

Probable Effects of Perseveration [top]

This enables us to understand the apparently ridiculous statements of a crassly material character which have so often stirred the mockery of the critics. Consider, for example, the classical example in the late Sir Oliver Lodge's Raymond. The ostensible communicator(3), Sir Oliver's son killed in action during the last war, declared that soon after his death he was taken along and given "a whisky and soda and a cigar". This remark, published by Sir Oliver with characteristic honesty and courage, was greeted with hoots of derision by the sceptics; but I think this was due much more to the strength of their preconceptions than to any inherent absurdity in the occurrence. Put it like this: If you are a normal man and find yourself, for any reason, able to case off in the middle of a battle, your thoughts naturally turn to the chances of getting a drink and a smoke - at least, those of very many men would. That is to say, you 'think of' these things and imagine them, i.e., images of whatever drinks and smokes you normally indulge in arise in your mind; indeed, it is a matter of common experience that this happens even when there is no chance of getting them. So long as you are pent in the body these images remain recognizable as such by contrast with the insistent sensa coming in from the outer world; but if these sensa are cut off the images will (presumably) greatly gain in vividness and become indistinguishable from 'reality', for the simple reason that they will themselves be the only 'reality' available at the moment. Thus, up to a point, at any rate, imagining the drink you long for will be indistinguishable from having it actually before you. More generally, in the absence of checks, supplied through the sense organs, from a material world conforming to the laws of physics, the objects and events of imagination will constitute the 'real' world, just as they do in dreams.

(3) Henceforward, to save trouble, the words 'ostensible', 'alleged', 'supposed,' etc., should be understood as qualifying all remarks of this kind.

I hope I need hardly say that I hold no special brief for the veridicity of remarks of this kind, and that the last thing I wish to suggest (but very much the contrary) is that everything said by an entranced medium which purports to come from a deceased person is to be taken at its face value. But I do put it to you as a matter of plain common sense: Which seems the more plausible - that a man killed in battle should enjoy and report the experience of drinking a whisky and soda (which he probably badly needed), or that he should report being led off by a celestial quarter-master to be fitted with a pair of wings?

It seems to me to be just one of those queer little unexpected points which so often are especially illuminating.

Similar considerations apply to such statements as those to which a certain amount of publicity has recently been given about deceased fighter-pilots continuing to fly with the 'astral' R.A.F., escort bombers, etc. I should consider this kind of thing to be a simple matter of what is technically called 'perseveration'. Almost every one is familiar with this, I suppose, in one degree or another - when some activity in which one has been indulging for a long time or to excess (e.g., driving a car for many hours on end) continues persistently in one's mind after one has stopped doing it, and particularly may continue in sleep, or especially in states bordering on sleep. The relevant images recur again and again, and one cannot get rid of them. It seems to me that in the case of a keen pilot, whose thoughts have probably been almost exclusively of fighters and air-fighting for months on end, this sort of thing would be extremely likely to recur; he would be likely to continue in imagination after death just those activities which he had pursued in actuality during life; and, if he had not learned to recognize his images as images, he would report that he really is going on flying and fighting. What else should he do?

There is nothing at all absurd about this; these people are simply experiencing perseverative dreams - just as we may do in similar circumstances when cut off from the physical world in sleep, temporarily as they are permanently. What is absurd is to suppose that such statements do not need interpretation or any reflection about what is likely to be going on, but are to be taken at their face value as affirming the existence of a quasi-material 'astral' world containing whisky, cigars, aeroplanes, etc., having the same properties as these objects possess in the mundane world we know.

The Post-mortem World of Images [top]

Out of all this, several points of interest and difficulty arise. Since, by hypothesis, there can be no sensa, we must suppose that the next world is a world of images. Are we then to conclude that it is vague, shadowy, diaphanous and lacking in vividness? I do not think so. I very much doubt whether it is, so to say, inherent in the nature of an image to be vague and unvivid. Some people report that their dreams, and even their day-dreams, may be as vivid as the occurrences of waking life, though I have never found mine to be so. Eidetic images seem to be as vivid as sensa, and there is some reason for supposing that this type of imagery is more primitive - i.e., more the original and natural type - than that which we usually experience; without going into details, I suspect that the comparative faintness of normal imagery is due rather to lack of concentration - i.e., the effect of competition between images in the field of consciousness, and consequent distraction - or something of this kind, than to anything in the nature of images as such. Moreover, it seems clear that apparitions, the seeing of which is certainly not due to stimulation of the seer's retina, may be every bit as vivid as 'real' (material) objects. I think I should accordingly expect the psychical world to be just as vivid as the mundane, though I should not care to be dogmatic on the point.

Next, I have spoken of the difficulty of recognizing images as images in the absence of anything else against which to check them, or words to this effect. Will this difficulty remain insuperable, or shall we learn, and how? I think the answer is fairly clear in principle, though obscure in certain details.

When we have an hallucination we do not recognize it as such, but continue to interpret our experience as being of a material object (otherwise it would not be an hallucination) until we find that it does not exhibit the properties which a material object would. We may mistake the apparition for a material person until we find that we experience no sensation of touch when we put out our hand in the way which ought to produce a tactile sensation if the visual experience were originated by a material object; that is to say, until the normal sensum-sequence is interrupted. If the sequence were never interrupted, if the apparition exhibited all the properties of a material object, then there would be no meaning to be attached to the statement that it was 'only an hallucination'. Conversely, if we had no previous experience of material objects, there would be no grounds for expecting one sensum-sequence rather than another, and anything imagined might have any properties whatsoever. It is only the memory of past events (sensum-sequences) which enables us to expect contemporary events to take one course rather than another.

But memory does do this, and the surviving mind (psychon system) of our deceased pilot - to continue with this example - will certainly contain plenty of memories of the way in which material aeroplanes behave; if a wing is shot off, they fall; if you crash one in landing, it will not fly again till it has been repaired; and so forth. But the imaginary aeroplane does not behave like this; you can fly with one wing or with no wings at all; you can crash it in imagination as often as you like, and be flying again the next instant. It seems to me extremely plausible to suppose that after a while this unprecedented behaviour will strike the pilot as distinctly odd, and that he will begin to say to himself, 'I must be dreaming,' and begin to adjust himself to the situation. In other words, memory images, and memories of sensum-sequences, will serve perfectly well as a basis for recognizing the non-materiality (I do not say 'unreality') of the imaginary objects and events.

But what applies to exhausted warriors and fighter-pilots will presumably apply, mutatis mutandis, to other people. One might broadly say, "Where your thoughts have been, there will you find yourself." If you expect wings and harps, you will get wings and harps, until you find that the expected sequences break down and it occurs to you that it is only imagination. I remember a nice old Dutch gentleman I once knew, aged about ninety at the time, who was immovably convinced that he would burn eternally in hell for his (probably non-existent) sins. After death he no doubt experienced in imagination all the distresses of judgement and condemnation; but it pleases me to think of it dawning on him in due course that there must be something wrong somewhere, when he found that the flames did not burn - at least, not enough to worry about.

This raises the rather nice point of the extent to which imagined happenings will have imaginary consequences. Presumably the imaginary act of drinking an imaginary (but, so to put it, 'locally real') whisky and soda will call up by association the images of smell and taste; but will it produce an imaginary but locally real exhilaration, and will drinking a dozen of them produce an imaginary but locally real intoxication, followed by an imaginary, etc., hangover? Only, I should think, to a very limited extent. The recalled images will, it is true, or so we may suppose, be livelier and more vivid than those of mundane life; but in the absence of material substances to reinforce and maintain them by the continued influx of stimuli, I conceive that they will be so transient and evanescent - so easily displaced by alternative images - as to be scarcely worth considering. Thus, though the toper may pour innumerable imaginary whiskies down his imaginary throat, he will make little more progress towards satisfaction than the daughters of Danae perpetually filling their broken cistern.

Corporeal versus Intellectual Interests [top]

I have deliberately written hitherto in terms of extreme and almost repellent trivialities, because it is only by considering concrete and apparently trivial examples of this kind that we can hope to reach plausible conclusions; and because it is above all things important to exclude from our minds all those sanctimonious sentimentalities which are apt so perniciously to corrupt thought on the subject. There is no reason whatever to suppose that the fact of a man's body ceasing to function should suddenly and magically invest him with knowledge or wisdom or virtue which he did not possess before, or that he is suddenly snatched into a state of beatitude or the opposite.

So far as we have gone, it is simply and solely a matter of trying to estimate in a reasonable way how the mind is likely to work when all sensory stimuli are cut off and the system of 'checks and balances' normally supplied by the external world ceases to operate.

But from the apparently trivial examples considered a point of considerable interest emerges. It looks very much as if the attempt - or rather the natural tendency - to pursue in imagination after death the material avocations and activities of mundane life is unlikely to be accompanied by any great degree of satisfaction, though it may take some people a long time(4) fully to realize it. I think, however, that this will apply only to what I have said, namely, material activities - or mainly so. But as regards intellectual activities, involving what we call abstractions, the matter seems to me to stand differently. An 'astral'(5) tot of rum will be found not to have the same properties as a mundane tot; but an astral circle must have exactly the same properties as a mundane circle, because they are assured by definition, while two and two will always make four whatever sort of a world you live in, for the same reason. So if your chief interest in life is geometrizing or doing mental arithmetic there seems no reason why you should not indulge it to your heart's content after death, just as you did before(6). It may be objected here that it is virtually impossible to conduct abstract thinking without the use of words, and that it is in fact done largely by subliminal(7) innervations of speech mechanisms; but it seems not unreasonable to suppose that memory images of the words and concomitant bodily sensations may be sufficient for this purpose.

(4) I use the word 'time' somewhat metaphorically here; it will not be astronomical time, but something like 'amount of experience'.
(5) I shall allow myself the use, without prejudice, of the word 'astral', borrowed from the occultists, to refer to the next (post-mortem) phase of life whenever convenient. It has the advantage of avoiding the implication of 'imaginary' that, because something is made of images, so to say, it is therefore 'unreal'.
(6) We need not, I think, go into details about whether the inability to make material notes, etc., is or is not compensated by vividness of imagery and absence of distraction.
(7) 'Subliminal' = of too low an intensity to result in overt muscular movement, etc.

I cannot quite make out how the matter would stand as regards aesthetic appreciation, except for the kind we feel towards an 'elegant' mathematical method, or a 'beautiful' piece of logical reasoning. The trouble would seem to be the difficulty of obtaining, except, of course, from memory, the material, so to speak, to appreciate aesthetically. It is no good transporting yourself in thought to the National Gallery if you have no physical eyes with which to see the pictures; and I see no reason at present (or very little) for supposing that you could pick up in any useful way the thoughts or visual images of those physically present; besides, on the whole I think I would rather not.

I will not pursue this line of thought further, but there is certainly a very strong suggestion that those who have cultivated 'the things of the mind', as the phrase goes, will find much greater possibilities of satisfaction than those who have not. This conclusion will, I fear, please the moralists (so-called) more than I usually care to do; but I do not think it is to be taken as implying that we should neglect mundane life in exclusive concentration on an ascetic intellectualism. After all, the physical world is just as much a part (I would even say just as respectable a part) of the total world as is the psychical, and experience of its properties, it seems to me, is just as necessary a part of one's mental equipment as anything else. It is, indeed, as I have just indicated, solely by such experience of these properties, carried forward in memory, that we can hope to orient ourselves in post-mortem existence at all.

But this is taking me well beyond my terms of reference, and there are many points yet to be discussed on which it seems possible to form not unreasonable opinions.

The Problem of Recognition, Reunion, etc [top]

First and foremost, perhaps, is the vexed and somewhat poignant question of the extent to which we may expect to recognize, and be recognized by, the friends who have predeceased us, and of whether we may reasonably expect to 'meet them again' in any satisfying sort of sense. Everything that I have said in the last three sections is clearly of great relevance to this issue, though it is not one on which I should care to be at all dogmatic, and the most plausible answer seems to me appreciably more cheering than we might fear even if not quite so good as (from our present viewpoint) we might hope.

Let us make no bones about it. We may say with perfect truth that we delight in the qualities of X's mind or the beauties of his moral character, and that these are more important to us than his physical body; but it is not, for most of us at least, the loss of these that chiefly affrights us when death threatens, or that we primarily miss when X is at last taken from us - it is the plain corporeal absence of X, whom we can no longer see or hear or touch, that is so distressing, and it is for renewal of the sights and sounds and touches that we chiefly long and hope. As Dr. Jacks well points out, many a man would have some difficulty In even identifying his wife "if he had nothing but her moral characteristics to go by, however admirable these might be".

Now we evidently cannot expect a full-blooded physical reunion, such as we enjoy in this life after a return from a journey, while to my earth-bound mind at least a purely mental congruence seems most desperately chilly. But it seems to me probable that, even if we keep wish-thinking at a minimum, there will be some tempering of the wind to the shorn lambs.

Everything that I have said above about the 'local reality', so to term it, of imagined drinks and aeroplanes will clearly hold equally well for our thoughts of X. If, when I die, I desire the presence of X, I shall presumably think of X, which means calling up various images (visual, auditory, tactile, etc.) of X as I remember him(8). And since there will be no competing sensa of physical origin, as already pointed out, these images may be as vivid as the sensations of mundane life; thus, for the moment, my re-meeting of X will appear what we should usually call 'real' to me. But the other considerations will also apply, so that, if there were no more to be said, I should be doomed to an almost literal disillusionment, as I gradually discovered that this 'image-X' did not react to and on myself in the same way that mundane X had done - i.e., did not possess the physical properties of mundane X.

(8) This is rather an agreeable thought; it seems to imply that we shall at least appear to meet again those we cared for in the form in which it most pleases us to think of them.

But there is this very important difference to be noted: that X has a mind, which by hypothesis is surviving as well as my own, whereas the drinks and aeroplanes, etc., of our previous discussion have not. My thoughts of X and his of me, with their images of situations and experiences shared, etc., are clearly competent to serve as K's promoting telepathic interaction and linking our psychon systems together. Indeed, if we have enjoyed any considerable period of life together, with many experiences common to us both, but peculiar to the two of us, this will presumably have already taken place to some extent.

Just how far this will affect the particular issue we are considering, I should not care to say. It may be that X's ideas of himself and his relations with me might react on mine of him, and vice versa; or it even might be that Mr. Tyrrell's theory of Apparitions might prove relevant, and that our interacting minds might conspire together, as it were, to construct image-situations, so to call them, far more consistent and satisfactory than either of us could achieve singly. We do not as yet know enough to form even a reasonably plausible conjecture.

My own guess would be that these image-situations would be rather in the nature of a stop-gap or stepping-stone, affording some degree of comfort and satisfaction pending our learning to dispense with them. Thus those who despite their disclaimers were in fact only, or almost only, interested in their X's bodies and the physical gratifications to be derived therefrom, would find themselves no more than tantalized by an ever-elusive wraith. Those, on the other hand who, while properly delighting in the intrinsic merits of the flesh, had yet wisely used them as a means to the end of a true community of mind and spirit, would correspondingly soon adjust themselves to the changed conditions, to their infinitely greater long-term satisfaction.

Contact with the Physical World: Psychical Environment [top]

To what extent, again, may we expect to maintain contact with mundane happenings and knowledge of them? My own surmise would be 'very slight'. To speak of deceased persons 'seeing' or 'hearing' physical events appears to me to be arrant nonsense. Seeing depends on physical light rays falling on a physical retina, and if you have no physical retina you can't see-and there's an end of it. But it seems to me very possible that, if you have a sufficiency of K-ideas in common with some one still living you might to some extent how great I do not know - pick up and share their visual images or some of them (and of course other sensations), and thus maintain some sort of a vicarious contact. But I should expect it to be extremely hazy and imperfect.

Much more important, I think, though very difficult to deal with, is the question of what, if anything, takes the place of the external world of mundane life and acts as an 'environment'. It is fairly easy to give a superficially plausible answer to this by suggesting that the thoughts of other minds, i.e., psychon systems other than one's own, may play this part; but I am not sure that this is more than verbally satisfactory, though I think it may be. We may readily concede that, in the absence of competition from sensory stimuli, images, and ideas derived telepathically from other minds are likely to be much more important than they are at present. But if, at some moment or other (and what in the context do we mean by this?) an idea K is present to my mind and to that of X (incarnate or discarnate) and an idea A, associated with it in X's mind, is thereby brought into my field of consciousness, how do I know that it was his and not my own - what gives it its 'environmental' quality? There is nothing whatever that I know of in the experimental work to indicate that 'telepathed' ideas have any distinguishing feature or attribute at all. It seems to me doubtful whether mere failure to recognize an image as one which I have imaged before would be sufficient for the purpose; for I find it fairly easy to conjure up images of which this is true - e.g., a black cat with a head at each end without being sensible of any such alien quality. This, however, may very well be due to inadequate introspection or insufficient analysis, and on the whole I think that the notion of an environment consisting of the contents of other minds is probably the most promising that can be adopted.

Stability of Psychon Systems [top]

I think it is now time to say a few words about the question of the stability of psychon systems, of which I emphasized the importance a few pages earlier. Possibly 'coherence' would be a better term, but we may let that pass for the moment.

To put the point in a very elementary way, what I have in mind is this. Granted that the psychon system immediately after death is substantially identical with what it was a moment before it, is there any guarantee that it will continue to stick together, so to say; and is there not a chance that it may disintegrate or come to pieces when the influx of sensory stimuli ceases?

At one time I thought there was, and that this was a much more serious risk, as it were, than that of extinction at the moment of death itself. Now I am not at all so sure, but the matter is of such manifest importance that I think it worth while to spend a few minutes trying to clarify it.

It is very easy to picture to oneself a psychon-system consisting of groups and sub-groups and sub-sub-groups, etc., of psychons linked together by associative bonds like atoms in a molecule - one can almost see the psychons and the links and the clusters of various sizes; and one can very easily visualize a group becoming detached and, perhaps, setting up shop on its own. But it is precisely this case of picturing that makes such forms of words so dangerous. The moment we begin making quasi-mechanical models of things which are not even 'quasi-' mechanical, we are asking for trouble, for we run the risk of unthinkingly using for purposes of reasoning properties of the constituents of the model which we did not use for building it. To take a crude example: We might try to convey to a child the notion of gravitational 'force' as it appears in astronomy by saying that the earth pulls the moon 'as if it were tied to it by a piece of elastic'. "Oh, I see," says the child, "then the farther the moon is from the earth, the harder it is pulled"; which, of course, is the exact opposite of the truth. The precocious infant has seized on a property of elastic which we did not need for our 'model' and discreetly ignored, and has argued correctly from it to a false conclusion. Similarly, if we argue to any conclusion from any property of a supposed 'link' or 'associative force' other than the fact which these terms are used to symbolize, we are liable to go astray.

To say 'A is associated with B in mind M' is only a shorthand way of saying that if A is presented to mind M, B is more likely to accompany or quickly follow it, or, vice versa, than if A were not associated with B; and even this needs considerable expansion before we reach a fully accurate statement. And to say that there is 'an associative link between A and B' is only to say the same thing in a different shorthand form. If we unthinkingly smuggle in any property of links as known in other contexts, e.g., liability to being 'broken', we are liable to come to false conclusions.

This question of the breakability of links seems to me to be of very great importance. If the links were of a kind that could literally be broken, then evidently sub-systems or groups of psychons could become literally detached from the main mass, and there would be no reason in principle why the process should not be continued to the point of complete disintegration of the whole system. If this were true, then everything I have said above about the conditions of post-mortem existence might be correct for the period immediately following death; but it might be that the mind or personality gradually faded away or dissolved like a lump of sugar in warm water. But I think that any such conception of links would be much too material and quite illegitimate; and that all the indications are against it.

It is a matter of common experience that suitable combinations of circumstances may cause us to recall quite vividly images of long past experiences (or early childhood and the like) which we should have said we had completely forgotten; and I believe I am right in saying that the results of deliberately suggesting such recall to hypnotized subjects indicates that any early experience could in principle be recovered under appropriate conditions. Moreover, the work of the psycho-analytic school seems to show pretty clearly that even though early experiences may not be recoverable in the sense of the relevant images entering the field of consciousness under normal conditions, they are none the less still operative, and therefore still 'linked' in some fashion to the rest of the mind.

I accordingly provisionally conclude that a 'link' once formed can never be broken; and I think this could be justified on theoretical grounds, by translating into terms of probabilities, though it would be out of place to attempt it here. But the actual conditions of equilibrium of a psychon system will be a matter for mathematical treatment which we are at present far from being in a position to apply.

But this view introduces fresh difficulties of its own, and I must warn the reader that I am now going right out of my own depth into regions of almost complete speculation, though I think the possibilities opened up are much too interesting to be wholly ignored.

Formation of Larger Systems [top]

Let us go right back to the beginning of the telepathy story or rather to the beginning of the association theory. In colloquial language: if an idea A is associated with idea K in my mind, and idea K is presented to your mind, then idea A is more likely to come into your mind than it would be if it had not been associated with K in mine. This is telepathy. There are, of course, many ideas of a 'public' character - such as sun, clouds, houses, trees, etc. - which at any moment are presented to large numbers of people simultaneously, and these have many ideas associated with them, which doubtless tend to come into all the minds concerned. But most of these will be themselves public, and, so to say, already in the minds concerned, while those that are not will have to compete, as regards any particular person's mind, with the other 'thoughts' of that mind, prompted by other factors in the person's environment, and with each other, so that nothing very noticeable happens. It is only in very special circumstances, such as those of experiments, that we can, as it were, identify an idea and ascribe its appearance to telepathy. We accordingly need not worry about this sort of generalized telepathy which is doubtless always going on, because it is, as we might say, too diffuse and too random to lead to overt results.

None the less, we must suppose that whenever two or more persons entertain the same or similar ideas (K's) at any time, then such other ideas as may be associated with these in the mind of each will tend to appear in the minds of the others. The operation of this tendency will be impeded in proportion to the number, intensity, etc., of the incoming sensa originated by the external world, and their associates, and it will naturally be facilitated as the competition of the incoming sensa and their associates is reduced.

Now, under post-mortem conditions we can at least be certain that there will be no competition from incoming sensa, because there will be no sense organs, nerve fibres, brain cells, etc., such as are necessary for the generation of sensa or the bringing of them (if they pre-exist) into the appropriate relation with the self nucleus, etc.

It seems not unreasonable to suppose, therefore, that what may roughly be termed 'telepathic intercourse' is likely to be much more extensive and potent a factor under post-mortem than under mundane conditions. But, as we have seen, telepathy is essentially a matter of sharing rather than of transference; if, in everyday language, X 'telepaths' the idea O to Y, he does not lose it-it merely becomes more closely linked with the other constituents of Y's mind than it was (if at all) before. Indeed, this is true of non-telepathic communication though hardly in so pure a form. As I have pointed out elsewhere (7, cf. also 8) "there is a sense in which we can and habitually do mingle our personalities. Whenever we so laboriously communicate with each other through the roundabout methods of speech and writing, I add some of your experience to my own stock, or vice versa, yet you do not feel less you, or I less I, as a result. On the contrary, the consciousness of each may well be enriched and enlarged, not weakened or circumscribed, by the intercourse, and the effect would be enhanced if a less cumbersome mode of exchange could be employed. If ... you and I could be put in complete telepathic rapport, it would seem that you might absorb the whole of my experience, and I the whole of yours without the sense of individuality being at all diminished."

I should say, now, that this demands considerable qualification, but I think the main idea is sound enough. If I were to acquire telepathically quasi-memories of your childhood and parentage, etc., as vivid as those of my own, I might, to be sure, begin to have doubts about my own identity in the purely Home Office sense; but this is hardly the kind of 'I-ness' that I have in mind or is important. If my view of Consciousness be anything like correct, the consciousness of a system can hardly be diminished (but, I should have said, the reverse) by linking more psychons into it, while the words "enriched and enlarged" follow almost as a matter of definition.

The point I want to make, stated in the most general terms, is this: just as the dissociative forces or their equivalent operative within the so-called individual mind (cf. sections 72, 77, and 79 above) may lead to the formation of repressed complexes, sub-personalities, etc., so the associative forces between minds - i.e., telepathic linkings of their constituents - is likely to lead to the formation of large syntheses or 'super-minds'. Admitting that all this is in the highest degree speculative and conjectural, in the sense that observational confirmation seems quite out of reach at present, I none the less think that it is along some such lines as these that our post-mortem development is most likely to proceed.

One or two points may be noted here. First, in accordance with the considerations of section 49, the synthesizing telepathy will predominantly take place between minds or parts or sub-groups thereof (this is likely to be important), of like constitution. Thus, the music-loving elements of Jones's personality would naturally become linked into one system, his motoring enthusiasms into a second, and his beer-drinking propensities into a third, and so fort h, though I do not see that this should involve any diminution in the consciousness of Jones, though a strengthening, so to say, of the systems concerned. Second, there seems nothing in principle to prevent such higher-synthesis systems acquiring a certain autonomy of their own, in accordance with the principle of section V; but, in view of the almost complete lack of data from which to reason, I think it wiser not to attempt to pursue this sort of possibility any further here. On the other hand, I think it would be well worth any one's while to attempt a little constructive thinking on these lines, to which I shall have occasion to refer again below.

Reincarnation: Genius and Inspiration [top]

I mention the subject of Reincarnation solely because it enjoys a considerable popularity in certain circles. I do not agree with the eminent philosopher who declared it to be the only view of Immortality worthy the consideration of an intelligent man; and, even if I did, this would not dispose of the two great handicaps under which it labours - namely, first that there is not a shred of worth - while evidence in its favour, second that not even its most ardent exponents can give any reasonable account of what it is that is reincarnated.

The supposed reminiscences of soi-disant ex-priestesses (of whom there seems to be a most astonishing number) are not verifiable, and would not be evidence of anything but a particular sort of dramatized paranormal cognition even if they were; I have yet to meet anything of the kind that could not have been constructed by any normally competent novelist.

When we ask what it is that reincarnates, we are told that it is the Ego; but unfortunately, further inquiry reveals that the Ego is supposed to be that which remains when all qualities of the personality have been stripped away in the process of advancement through successive 'planes'. That is to say, it is the exact analogue of the Ding an sich - a featureless entity expressly divested of all identifying attributes. It is accordingly meaningless to say that Smith's Ego rather than Brown's or Jones's Ego is reincarnated in the body of Robinson.

None the less, I think it possible that in a certain not uninteresting sense, the occultists may be on the track of a process that does actually occur.

To simplify matters, imagine that Smith devoted many years of his life to the study of some subject so extremely obscure that no one else had ever studied it - let us say the incidence of caries in the Plantagenet kings; then Smith's psychon system will contain a highly organized sub-system centred round the closely linked key-ideas of 'caries' and 'Plantagenets'. In due course Smith is gathered to his fathers; but half a century later, say, Robinson selects the same peculiar subject for a doctoral thesis, and he also begins to gather a system of ideas around the same key notion of 'carious Plantagenet'. But this is just the condition we require for telepathic interaction between Smith's (surviving) and Robinson's psychon systems, with (carious Plantagenet' acting as a K.

I do not mean to suggest for a moment that the whole content of Smith's mind instantly becomes accessible to Robinson, so that he can read off, so to say, the specific results of Robinson's researches; for this would be as contrary to common sense as it is to experience. But it does seem to me perfectly reasonable to suppose (within the framework of our suppositions) that the relevant system of Smith's mind might exert a certain influence on Robinson's.

After all, the essence of those lucky guesses which we describe as flashes of genius, intuition, or inspiration is the sudden emergence into the field of consciousness of an idea - from nowhere, as it seems - that fits the facts and does the job we want it to. And it has always seemed to me as if such ideas were, so to say, thrown up from the subconscious not so much because they are right as because they are not wrong - in accordance, as it were, with the operation of some Principle of Minimum Conflict. The difficulty usually is to find a theory, or a solution to a problem which will fit - i.e., not conflict with - not merely one set of facts, but several, which at first sight may appear contradictory. Various ideas hover on the margin of consciousness, but are automatically thrust back because they conflict with one set or another; and the satisfaction that is felt when at last the right idea appears results, I think, from the feeling of relaxation or relief from tension that accompanies the cessation of the conflicts.

In this kind of process the system of ideas formed by Smith, and telepathically linked, in the manner indicated, with that of Robinson, might reasonably be supposed to play a part, without our having to postulate any crude transference of thought from the deceased to the living.

In this somewhat Pickwickian sense, then, it seems possible to say without absurdity that Smith's surviving mind is in some degree animating Robinson's body - which is tantamount to 'reincarnation' of a sort.

I have, of course, taken an extreme and over-simplified case by way of illustration, but the interested reader may amuse himself by thinking out other possibilities.

It seems to me, too, that certain cognate phenomena, such as those of musical prodigies, may be susceptible of at least partial elucidation on much the same lines. If heredity and chance combine to produce a child equipped with the anatomical prerequisites of, e.g., extreme auditory discrimination and digital dexterity, we have a potential pianist or violinist, say, of outstanding ability; and if such a child has the fortune to make the appropriate musical contacts, he will automatically have presented to him the various ideas more or less peculiar to these activities, but common to all who pursue them. These, I would suggest, may act as K-ideas and serve to link his mind with whatever pianistic or violinic, or merely musical', systems may have been formed - notably on the lines so roughly indicated in the last section.

More generally, I suspect that the inspiration of any artist - which always appears to come from 'outside' himself - may be due to no inexplicable magic but to the linking of his mind, however feebly and transiently, into the appropriate super-system built up, as it were, by all the masters and executants of his craft.

But this is bordering on the fantastic and taking us too far from the problem of Survival as such.

The Problem of Survival: Summary and Conclusions [top]

The critical reader will have noticed that my later sections have contained much that borders all too closely on - to borrow a phrase from Rhine - "the familiar pattern of untested speculation". I have thought it worthwhile to make these suggestions, vague and imperfect expressed as they may be, because of the interesting possibilities they seem to open up. But I should be very sorry if they were allowed to obscure or detract from the main points I have tried to make, which I think may be regarded with a very fair measure of confidence. Let us briefly run over these again to get them clear.

There can be no doubt at all about the reality of sensa and images (psychons), which are, on the contrary, the only realities we can possibly know. The phenomena of telepathy demonstrate that these entities do not conform to physical laws, for they pass (to speak colloquially) from one mind to another without any physical mediation; but they do conform to psychical law, notably the Law of Association, and associative linkages effectively operate, so to say, behind the physical scene. Associatively linked psychon systems accordingly provide us with a non-physical order of reality, while there is no justification, but the contrary, for supposing that they are extinguished by physical death, since we know that they operate, in telepathy, without reliance on physical processes. The phenomena of telepathy, etc., are therefore not an alternative to survival, but a virtual guarantee of it.

The real problem is that of what happens to the psychon system after death, or, in other words, what form survival takes. There is clearly an antecedent possibility, which I do not think we are yet in a position wholly to eliminate, though I regard it as unlikely in view of the evidence, that the surviving psychon system might gradually disintegrate. Personally, I think that a process of integration rather than of disintegration is more probable, and this without any loss of the sense of 'I-ness'; but I should not care to defend this very stoutly in the present state of our ignorance.

On the other hand, I think that what I have said about imagined objects, situations, etc., being 'real' to the surviving mind, and the way in which this accounts for the apparently crassly material nature of some ostensible communications is almost indisputable; and I think the conclusion pretty well follows from this that the 'next world' will have, in the first instance, a definitely dream-like quality. That is not to say that it will be purely fantastic, in the colloquial sense, only that it will be ordered by psychical and not by physical laws, to which it will take us some little time to adjust ourselves, just as it does when we first make contact with this physical world.

Up to this point I feel almost complete confidence; but beyond it any conjectures one may venture must clearly be extremely tentative and liable to the most drastic revision.

I cannot say that I find the prospect particularly alluring; on the other hand, one would probably have felt much the same if, without mundane experience to go upon, one had had described to one the general principles governing this physical world one is so loathe to leave; so very likely post-mortem existence will turn out to be a good deal more enjoyable, once we get used to it, than I have painted it.

In conclusion: Perhaps the greatest difficulty we have to contend with in this subject arises from within ourselves - from our natural desire to settle the issue definitely one way or the other, and at once; and our reluctance to resign ourselves to a state of partial and uncertain knowledge. It is this, I think, rather than the voice of reason, which makes so many of us prone to accept the roseate fairy-stories of spiritualists, occultists, religionists, etc., on the one hand, or even (since we demand an answer at whatever price) the pretentious extrapolations of materialists affirming extinction on the other. We insist imperatively that Survival, if it occur, shall be 'proved'; whereas I doubt whether this is possible in any ordinary sense of the word, because, I suspect, just those properties of the universe that make some sort of survival a certainty also provide alternative explanations (if we care to make them far-fetched enough) for any evidence of it.

But I think we can do better than prove Survival - we can find out something about it. If we harden our hearts against dogmatism in some quarters, sentimentalism in others, and wish-thinking in ourselves; if we carefully scrutinize the evidence (especially the odder and more unexpected items); if we try to develop a reasonable theory of what is likely to be going on, and check it wherever possible against any relevant facts obtainable, I believe we shall gradually form a pretty clear conception of what post-mortem conditions are like, and why. In this way, by studying the question of How, we shall make as it were a detour around Whether, and end with a degree of informed assurance unlikely to result from any frontal assault.


The article above was taken from Whately Carington's "Telepathy, an outline of its facts, theory and implications" (New York: Creative Age Press, 1946)


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