recent article suggesting an admirable metapsychic experiment, Dr. W. F. Gehrhardt (1926) reiterates "the wonder with which one must regard the opposition of official science, particularly psychology, to the new field." The opposition of the psychologist is probably stronger than that of his fellow scientists because much of the detail in his particular field of knowledge has an especial pertinence to the evidence and methods of metapsychics. To understand his position, however, it is necessary first to examine the opposition of "official science," which he shares, and which springs from a persistent, sometimes described as an "obstinate," incredulity.
It is a fact that official science regards the phenomena of metapsychics with incredulity. It is an old fact. Official science was incredulous in 1848 when the Rochester Knockings began with Catherine and Margaret Fox; it was still incredulous 34 years later, when Professor Henry Sidgwick in the first presidential address before the Society for Psychical Research said, "I say it is a scandal that the dispute as to the reality of these phenomena should still be going on, that so many competent witnesses should have declared their belief in them, that so many others should be profoundly interested in having the question determined, and yet that the educated world, as a body, should still be simply in an attitude of incredulity." There followed the further accumulations of evidence for a period of 44 years, and
René Sudre (1926) in an address delivered in the Amphitheatre of Medicine (College of France, in Paris), under the auspices of the School of Psychology, on March 22, 1926, exclaimed:
Now the facts of metapsychics are reported by scientists who, from Crookes to Richet, are entirely accustomed to observe natural phenomena. Why, then, does their incorporation into academic science meet such resistance?
Thus the results of all the researches in metapsychics during the past three-quarters of a century have failed to break down the incredulity of official science. Still more definitely, official science does not accept a single phenomenon of any one of the three or four classes of metapsychic phenomena, notwithstanding that some men of science who have engaged in metapsychic investigation claim for many of the phenomena of the several classes "irrefragable and incontrovertible proof."
What is the cause of this persistent incredulity of official science? Interested metapsychists have repeatedly faced this question, and offered answers; for they know that "the final test for truth is the agreement of experts," that the standard of evidence must be drawn from the recognized sciences, and that to prevent a miserable failure metapsychics must produce evidence that will convince the scientific world. To remove this incredulity, its cause must be found and removed. Until this is done, metapsychics stands without the pale of the accredited sciences. This is the most serious problem of metapsychics. It has always been its most important problem, whether fully recognized or not, and as the years of opportunity have passed, and the incredulity of official science has remained persistent, it has become more and more serious acute, menacing. For half a century, there has been earnest and persistent, individual and collective, effort to adopt and maintain scientific standards in metapsychic research, to make metapsychic research indistinguishable from scientific research, in the hope of solving this problem, of winning an honored place among the established sciences - without avail.
Various causes of the incredulity of official science are suggested by recent writers.
René Sudre says that:
the skeptics' negation is an
a priori one; a state of mind arising out of no conscientious examination of the facts ... Telepathy and clairvoyance are no longer seriously denied by anybody ... We wish a scientific audience. We demand but a simple effort of good will - yes, let us say it, of honesty; for it is not honest to deny without trying to examine fairly.
He thinks official science is incredulous because, (1) it fears miracles, fears facts refractory to accepted principles; (2) its philosophy is materialistic, regarding mind as epiphenomenal, and the laws of material science as inviolate and alone competent to explain all the phenomena of the universe; and (3) its repugnance for phenomena long associated with superstition, arising from his knowledge
(a) of the role of illusion and fraud, (b) of the will to believe,
(c) of the concomitant variation between precautions against fraud and sparsity of phenomena,
(d) of the uniform failure of noteworthy decisive tests.
He discounts these reasons for incredulity, on the grounds that new phenomena are being constantly assimilated by official science, that biological and psychological phenomena are granted principles that range beyond the laws of material science, that the disputed phenomena have been witnessed by eminent scientists, such as Crookes and Richet. The causes of incredulity he is able to find do not seem to him adequate. There is an element of culpable negligence in the attitude of official science; a taint of dishonesty. His cure would be persuasion, further exposition of results of metapsychic experiments of the same character as those past and current.
Charles Richet (1923), the eminent physiologist, in a recently published treatise on metapsychics, presents the arguments of official science against objective metapsychics: The more latitude for fraud the more apparent are the phenomena; all mediums have been caught in conscious or unconscious deception, hence fraud is always possible; unless one is versed in legerdemain he cannot imagine how completely an observer can be duped; no observer can maintain continuous attention during the two or three hours of a séance; etc., and he says, "These doubts have occurred to me hundreds of times, and I know, better than anyone else, the full force of these arguments. Nevertheless, I do not think them well founded, and I am firmly convinced that there are real physical metapsychic phenomena."
Richet confesses that the innumerable experiments published by eminent men of science would not have convinced him if he had not himself been a witness of the four fundamental facts of Metapsychics. He says he was an unwilling witness, very critical, distrustful of the facts that forced themselves upon him. That he, nevertheless, was able to verify those facts under exceptional conditions and despite his desire to disprove them. They determined his belief, and that not at once, but after long consideration, meditation, and repetition." The phenomena to which Richet gives credence, because he has verified them, are:
Cryptesthesia: A faculty of cognition that differs radically from the usual sensorial faculties. A sample of evidence: Stella, in the presence of G., whose family she does not know, and
cannot have known, gave the first names of his son, of his wife, of a deceased brother, of a living brother, of his father-in-law, and of the locality where he lived as a child.
2. Telekinesis: Raps and the movement of objects without contact. While Eusapia's head and hands were held, a large melon weighing six pounds was moved from the sideboard to the table, the distance between them being over a yard.
3. Ectoplasms: Hands, bodies, and objects seem to take shape in their entirety from a cloud and take all the semblance of life. Eusapia was in half-light, her left hand in my right, and her right in my left tightly held, and before Lodge, Myers, and Ochorowics, a third hand stroked my face, pinched my nose, pulled my hair, and gave a smack on my shoulder heard by Ochorowics, Myers, and Lodge.
4. Premonitions: That cannot be explained by chance or perspicacity, and are sometimes verified in minute detail. Alice, at 2 p.m. told me, for the first and only time, that I should soon give way to violent anger before one, two, three persons whom she designated with her hand as if she saw them. At 6 p.m. the unlikely and unforeseeable impertinence of a person absolutely unknown to Alice provoked me to one of the strongest and most justifiable fits of anger of my whole life before two other persons, an anger that led to my receiving a challenge to a duel, the only one I have ever received.
Richet in his treatise on metapsychics has brought together the tremendous amount of evidence that has accumulated during the past three-quarters of a century, organized it, and indexed it with approximately 1,800 names. He says he "tried to extricate the sciences anathematized as occult from chaos, and to put in a clear light knowledge that official science, in its pride of reputation, has refused to consider. It has seemed to me that the time has come to claim for metapsychics a place among the recognized sciences by making it conform to the rigor and the logical treatment which have given them their authority."
He recognizes that "scientific men will be surprised, and perhaps indignant," but he thinks that a study of the evidence he presents will shake their incredulity. Since the facts are very strange, however, "and clash with current scientific dogmas, the affirmations made will give rise to strongly adverse criticism and to mocking incredulity." He then presents strong argument for the acceptance of metapsychic phenomena:
There are too many well-verified facts and rigorously conducted experiments that chance, illusion, or fraud should always be attributed to all these facts and experiments without exception. [p. 595]
It is not possible that all these observers [200 competent scientists, and a thousand others] should never have made mistakes, but the whole constitutes a sheaf of testimony so large and homogeneous that no criticism of details, however acute, will be able to disintegrate and disperse. [p. 599]
To suppose that all metapsychics are an illusion is to suppose that [twenty named eminent scientists] were all, without exception, liars or imbeciles; it is to suppose that two hundred distinguished observers less eminent, perhaps, but persons of high and acute intelligence, were also liars or imbeciles. [p.
I shall refer later to the sheaf of testimony as the "fagot theory," and consider the possibility of complete and wholesale delusion.
Richet is candid and forceful. He points out that the Business of Science is to establish positive facts, not to formulate negations, that at every moment she is confronted with profound mysteries.
Therefore when new facts supported by many irrefragable proofs are brought forward, the new facts being positive facts that do not contradict old positive facts, lovers of truth ought to bow before them and receive them joyfully. [p. 600]
To admit telekinesis and ectoplasms is not to destroy even the smallest fragment of science; it is but to admit new data, and that these are unknown
energies... That a hand having all the attributes of a living hand should be formed from a whitish cloud in no way nullifies the laws of circulation, nutrition, and structure of a normal hand. It is a new fact but not a contradictory one. [p. 601]
Richet freely grants that these phenomena are not understood; that "the more we try to analyze Cryptesthesia the less we understand it" (p. 614); "its modalities and its mechanism escape us entirely"
(p. 615). And, "as regards the substance of materializations our ignorance is painful" (p. 476). He is sanguine, however, of important contributions to scientific knowledge and declares, "We must advance resolutely, using exact scientific methods" (p. 624).
Richet pleads for the acceptance of the phenomena on the grounds of the evidence for their occurrence, not because they are in any way understood. This appears to be a curious position and raises a question concerning the quality of the evidence. If the evidence for occurrence is sound, scientific results are already obtained and no anxiety should be felt lest they be disregarded by official science. Resolute advance, by "using scientific methods," would make important contributions to scientific knowledge, and the incredulity of official science would gradually disappear. But is the evidence for a phenomenon really sound if nothing concerning the phenomenon is revealed but its occurrence? Is this not the essential characteristic of illusion and hallucination? Official science quite probably takes this stand.
Whatever the causes the metapsychists find responsible for the obstinate incredulity of official science, they are weighed and found wanting, and it is
possible either that undiscovered causes remain or that there is some error in estimating the weight of those found.
The conservatism of official science in its admission of new facts is a natural precaution against error and the waste of time and energy. The evidence for the new phenomenon will have had to meet the requirements for rigorous proof. It is a curious fact that during the past half-century many new facts have been presented with proper credentials and have been admitted; some of them were very strange and were revolutionary in their effects upon current laws of nature, but none of them were metapsychic. Conservatism cannot be an unjust cause of the incredulity.
General indifference of official science to metapsychic phenomena may be granted, but the indifference has not been complete. For three-quarters of a century distinguished men of science have given occasional professional attention to them and have investigated
them - with negative results. And many other intelligent observers have from time to time seen and reported natural methods of producing what were currently accepted as supernormal phenomena.
The persistence of this stream of negative evidence has had the effect of strengthening the incredulity of official science:
1. Fraud is not only frequent and general, but it is witnessed and published.
2. Astute, and sometimes eminent, observers - even scientists - witness the same phenomena and pronounce them metapsychic.
3. Some of the more eminent scientists have persisted in maintaining the validity of their observations at the same time that they were cognizant of the adverse reports of other observers upon the same phenomena and cognizant of the disabilities of observation and reporting of phenomena produced under the identically restricted conditions, pointing with confidence to the corroboration of their observations by independent witnesses in other places at other times.
4. A reliance upon the corroboratory testimony of others often increases the confidence of a scientist in his own observations to the extent of weakening the rigor with which he may reasonably be expected to guard against fraud.
The application of each of these four points may be shown in the investigation of "raps," for which eminent scientists have presented "irrefragable proof," and which of all telekinetic phenomena Richet wisely suggests are most worthy of study. The observations upon raps will also illustrate the effect of the stream of negative evidence upon the incredulity of official science.
It will be recalled that raps started the movement known as Modern Spiritualism, in Hydesville, New York, in March 1848, in a family consisting of John D. Fox, his wife Margaret, and their two younger daughters, Margaret aged 14, and Catherine aged 12. Owing to the annoyance of curious crowds that swarmed the premises, Kate was sent to the neighboring city of Rochester to stay with her sister Leah Fish, and Maggie was sent to her brother's farm. The raps followed the girls, and the Rochester Knockings soon became the object of public investigation. Three public meetings were held in Corinthian Hall, in November 1848, to receive the reports of investigating committees appointed from the floor. With each report confessing failure to determine a natural cause for the raps, the excitement grew until it flared into a sensation that spread over the world and, much abated, has continued to the present time.
1. The chairman of the last Committee was Dr. E. P. Langworthy, a young physician in Rochester, who took further opportunity to investigate these raps and reported his results to the
New York Excelsior, February 2, 1850. The knockings were always under the Fox girls' feet, or if upon doors or tables their dresses were in contact with the objects rapped. He concluded that the mysterious rapping was so intimately connected with the persons of these girls that they voluntarily produced them.
2. John W. Hurn, of Rochester, wrote a number of articles to the New York
Tribune, during January and February 1850. He related that the Fox girls could get no sounds when they were completely isolated from the floor, claimed that the whole affair was the most miserable imposition ever attempted upon a civilized community, that he had entered into an agreement with the girls to procure ink to use on walls that would appear visible after a short time, and to deliver spirit blows to the heads of sitters.
3. The Rev. John M. Austin, of Auburn, wrote to the Tribune, March 27, 1850, saying that he had been three times to hear the sounds, but thought they were made by human agency. He had reliable information that "persons in Auburn" could make all these knockings with the cracking of toe joints, without any movement the eye can detect.
4. The Rev. Dr. Potts delivered a lecture in Rochester in December 1850, announcing the toe-joint theory. He stood upon the stage in Corinthian Hall and demonstrated the raps by cracking his toes.
5. The Rev. C. Chauncey Burr wrote to the New York Tribune, January 2, 1851, saying that he not only discovered how their rappings are produced, but by much practice he learned to produce them himself, in a manner that no person could detect, if he chose to impose upon his credulity, and so loud that they were heard in every part of a hall crowded with an audience of a thousand people. He made the raps by snapping the toe-joints.
6. Three Buffalo University professors, Austin Flint, M.D., Charles A. Lee, M.D., and C. B. Coventry, M.D., investigated the raps of Margaret Fox in the Phelps House and reported their results to the
Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, February 18, 1851, and the Buffalo Medical Journal for March. They immediately saw by observing the countenance that the raps were the result of voluntary effort and concluded that they were made by the dislocation of bones at the joint: knees, ankles, toes, or hips. They studied the mechanism in a patient who could make the raps with her knee-joints and made a medical report. They observed that the anatomical and physiological books had neglected articular sounds - which allowed the Fox girls' deception to gain headway.
7. At another sitting at the Phelps House, for the purpose of resisting the damaging report of the Buffalo professors, Mrs. Fish and Margaret Fox produced phenomena in profusion for the gratification of friends and believers. But that sitting is listed here because a frank reason was given for a cardinal principle of control in the séance: Question: What is the use of these demonstrations? Answer: They are made to prove the mediums have no agency in it. Mr. Stringham: May I leave the table whilst the others remain that I may look under and see the bells ring? Answer: What do you think we require you to sit close to the table for? When spirits make these physical demonstrations they are compelled to assume shapes which the human eyes must not look upon.
8. Mrs. Culver, a relative by marriage to the Fox girls, made a signed statement before witnesses April 17, 1851, explaining the fraud. She had helped Catherine by touching her when the right letters came in the calling of the alphabet, and Catherine showed her how to make the raps by snapping her toes. She also said that Margaret told her that, when people insisted on seeing her feet and toes, she could produce a few raps with her knees and ankles.
9. Professor Henry and Professor Page, of the Smithsonian Institute, visited the Fox sisters when they were in Washington, in February 1853. Professor Page published the results of his observations in a book issued later in the year. He remarked that he was surprised to notice how the scrutinizing powers of the most astute fail as soon as they entertain the remotest idea of the supernatural in these cases. After many experiments, he concluded definitely that the sounds were entirely at the control of the girls. Every rap was attended with a slight movement of the person of the rapper. A very distinct motion of the dress was visible about the right hypogastric region. He declared that there was no necessity for wonderment on account of the rapping sounds so long as one is excluded from a personal examination of the rappers.
10. Rev. H. O. Sheldon, of Berea, Ohio, spent some time investigating the subject. The mediums that he detected rapped by snapping their toes.
11. Three professors of Harvard College, Agassiz, Peirce, and Horsford, were part of an investigating committee appointed to pass upon phenomena offered to win a prize of $500 put up by the
Boston Courier, in June 1875. Mrs. Leah Fox Fish Brown and Catherine Fox were the first mediums to be employed. Agassiz declared with emphasis that there was an easy physiological explanation of all the effects that the Fox sisters, or any other rappers, produced. The editor, Mr. George Lunt, issued a report in a pamphlet dated 1859. Whenever conditions were favorable for observation, the raps did not come, when they were not, they came in profusion. Mr. Clark, assistant to Agassiz, produced raps on a box with his knuckles in a way that could not be detected. Agassiz said the taps of the mediums were produced by the bones of the feet.
12. The Seybert Commission of the University of Pennsylvania investigated the raps produced through Margaret Fox Kane, in November 1884, and "Dr." Henry Slade, in February 1885. Professor Furness placed his hand upon one of the feet of Margaret Fox and distinctly felt pulsations in her foot, but no movement, while the raps were being produced. Both Miss Fox and Slade knew when other raps than their own were produced, no matter how similar in sound.
13. In May 1888, Margaret Fox Kane sent from London a letter to the New York
Herald, in which she said, "Spiritualism is a curse... Fanatics like Mr. Luther R. Marsh, Mr. John L. O'Sullivan, ex-minister to Portugal, and hundreds equally as learned, ignore the 'rappings' (which is the only part of the phenomena that is worthy of notice) and rush madly after the glaring humbugs that flood New York... Like old Judge Edmonds and Mr. Seybert, of Philadelphia, they become crazed, and at the direction of their fraud 'mediums' they are induced to part with all their worldly possessions as well as their common sense..."
14. After coming to New York, Margaret Fox Kane granted an interview to the New York
Herald, in August 1888, in which she said she was going to expose spiritualism from its very foundation. She loathed the thing she had been during her years of deception. She proposed to expose the raps to the public and produced raps for the reporter on the floor near his feet, under his chair, under a table, on the other side of the door, on the legs of a piano.
15. On October 21, 1888, Margaret appeared at the Academy of Music in New York before a large audience, enunciated her solemn abjuration of spiritualism: "That I have been chiefly instrumental in perpetrating the fraud of spiritualism upon a too confiding public, most of you doubtless know... The greatest sorrow of my life has been that this is true and, though it has come late in my day, I am now prepared to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth - so help me God!"... A plain wooden stool, resting upon four short legs, was placed before her. Removing her shoe, she placed her right foot upon this table. The entire house became breathlessly still, and was rewarded by a number of little short, sharp
raps - those mysterious sounds that for more than forty years frightened and bewildered hundreds of thousands of people in this country and Europe. A committee, consisting of three physicians taken from the audience, then ascended to the stage and, having made an examination of her foot during the progress of the "rappings," unhesitatingly agreed that the sounds were made by the action of the first joint of her large toe.
16. In this confession Margaret Fox Kane had the support of her sister, Kate Fox Jencken, who had recently returned from Europe and who sat in a box during the abjuration and demonstration.
17. Kate Fox Jencken also granted an independent interview to the New York papers in which she said: "Spiritualism is a humbug from beginning to end... The manifestations at Hydesville in 1848 were all humbuggery, every bit of them...
I certainly know that every so-called manifestation produced through me in London or anywhere else was a
fraud. The time has come for Maggie and me to set ourselves right before the world ... and not leave this base fabric of deceit behind us unexposed."
It is true that these mothers of spiritualism were declared completely unbalanced, that fast living had destroyed their judgment and blunted their moral sense, and that their confessions were fraudulent. But there is a completely corroborative fact that is decisive in its support of the confessions, and it has been almost wholly overlooked. When Margaret Fox and her mother were in Philadelphia, engaged in "spiritualistic manifestations," in 1852, Margaret met Dr. Elisha Kent Kane, the intrepid arctic explorer. He was much struck with her naiveté and her danger. Margaret was eighteen and beautiful. In a letter to her he described his first impression of her: "A little Priestess, cunning in the mysteries of her temple, and weak in everything but the power with which she played her part. A sentiment almost of pity stole over his worldly heart as he saw through her disguise." He sought to remove her from her life of deception and from the influence of her elder sister Mrs. Leah Fox Fish Brown Underhill. He wrote many letters to both Margaret and Kate, warning them of the dangers ahead of them, pleading with them to turn to a good life before the shackles became too strong, and offering them help. They agreed, and he put Margaret in school; Katie had promised to live with them after Dr. Kane married Margaret. He was especially fearful that the "rappings" would be found out and adjured them to remain faithful to their promise not to have anything to do with stances anymore. He returned from his second expedition, married Margaret, and died.
18. Margaret Fox Kane, in 1888, said: "From the first of our intimate acquaintance, Dr. Kane knew that the 'rappings' which I practiced were fraudulent... I simply obeyed the impulse of my candid regard for him, when the knowledge of his devotion grew upon me, and confided to him the whole secret of the fraud, together with my increasing repugnance to the life I was living."
Here was an early confession not only made but acted upon. The Fox girls only repeated it to the public 45 years later in New York.
This is a part of the stream of negative evidence that undoubtedly supported the incredulity of official science concerning the supernormal nature of spiritualistic raps. And it might well extend to other telekinetic phenomena or to any "manifestations" through the Fox sisters, the greatest mediums of the early days, in spite of the eminence of the witnesses.
In the statements of Kate Fox Jencken quoted above she explains that all the phenomena (including raps) ever produced anywhere through her were fraudulent. Let us now examine the records of observations of her phenomena written by an eminent man of science who made
Researches in the Phenomena of Spiritualism (Crookes 1874, 86-88) during 1871-74:
With mediums, generally it is necessary to sit for a formal séance before anything is heard; but in the case of Miss Fox it seems only necessary for her to place her hand on any substance for loud thuds to he heard in it, like a triple pulsation, sometimes loud enough to be heard several rooms off. In this manner
I have heard them in a living tree, on a sheet of glass, on a stretched iron wire, on a stretched membrane, on a tambourine, on the roof of a cab, and on the floor of a theatre. Moreover, actual contact is not always necessary: I have heard these sounds proceeding from the floor, walls, etc., when the medium's hands and feet were held, when she was standing on a chair, when she was enclosed in a wire cage, and when she had fallen fainting on a sofa. I have hard them on a glass harmonica, I have felt them on my own shoulder and under my own hands. I have heard them on a sheet of paper, held between the fingers by a piece of thread passed through one corner.
With a full knowledge of the numerous theories which have been started, chiefly in America, to explain these sounds, I have tested them in every way that I could devise, until there has been no escape from the conviction that they were true objective occurrences not produced by trickery or mechanical means. [pp. 86-88]
Crookes's observations on Ectoplasm through Kate
The first instance which I shall give took place, it is true, at a dark séance, but the result was not satisfactory on that account. I was sitting next to the medium, Miss Fox, the only other persons present being my wife and a lady relative, and I was holding the medium's two hands in one of mine, whilst her feet were resting on my feet. Paper was on the table between us, and my disengaged hand was holding a pencil.
A luminous hand came down from the upper part of the room, and after hovering near me for a few seconds, took the pencil from my hand, rapidly wrote on a sheet of paper, threw the pencil down, and then rose up over our heads, gradually fading into darkness. [p. 91]
Crookes's observations on
Telekinesis through Kate Fox:
Miscellaneous occurrences of a complex character. - Under this heading I propose to give several occurrences which cannot be otherwise classified owing to their complex character. Out of more than a dozen cases, I will select two. The first occurred in the presence of Miss Kate Fox. To render it intelligible I must enter into some details.
Miss Fox had promised to give me a séance at my house one evening in the spring of last year. Whilst waiting for her, a lady relative, with my two eldest sons, aged fourteen and eleven, were sitting in the dining-room, where the séances were always held, and I was sitting by myself, writing in the library. Hearing a cab drive up and the bell ring, I opened the door to Miss Fox, and took her directly into the dining-room. She said she would not go upstairs, as she could not stay very long, but laid her bonnet and shawl on a chair in the room. I then went to the dining-room door, and telling the two boys to go into the library and proceed with their lessons, I closed the door behind them, locked it, and (according to my usual custom at séances) put the key in my pocket.
We sat down, Miss Fox being on my right and the other lady on my left. An alphabetic message was soon given to turn the gas out, and we thereupon sat in total darkness, I holding Miss Fox's two hands in one of mine the whole time. Very soon a message was given in the following words: "We are going to bring something to show our power;" and almost immediately afterwards we all heard the tinkling of a bell, not stationary, but moving about in all parts of the room; at one time by the wall, at another in a further corner of the room, now touching me on the head, and now tapping against the floor. After ringing about the room in this manner for fully five minutes, it fell upon the table close to my hands.
During the time this was going on no one moved, and Miss Fox's hands were perfectly quiet. I remarked that it could not be my little hand-bell ringing, for I left that in the library. (Shortly before Miss Fox came I had occasion to refer to a book which was lying on a corner of a book-shelf. The bell was on the book, and
I put it on one side to get the book. That little incident had impressed on my mind the fact of the bell being in the library.) The gas was burning brightly in the hall outside the dining-room door, so that this could not be opened without letting light into the room, even had there been an accomplice in the house with a duplicate key, which there certainly was not.
I struck a light. There, sure enough, was my own bell lying on the table before me. I went straight into the library. A glance showed me that the bell was not where it ought to have been. I said to my eldest boy, "Do you know where my little bell is?" "Yes, papa," he replied, "there it is," pointing to where
I had left it. He looked up as he said this, and then continued, "No - it's not there, but it was there a little time ago." "How do you mean? - has anyone come in and taken it?" "No," said he, "no one has been in; but I am sure it was there, because when you sent us in here out of the dining-room, J. (the youngest boy) began ringing it so that I could not go on with my lessons, and I told him to stop." J. corroborated this, and said that, after ringing it, he put the bell down where he had found it. [pp. 96-98]
Why should official science be expected to accept the fact of telekinesis, upon the basis of "irrefragable proof" of rapping or other phenomena produced through the mediumship of Kate Fox? William Crookes does not stand alone in disclaiming the
possibility of a natural agency. Very probably the larger proportion of the 13,000 signers of the Memorial to Congress, in 1854, could have testified to the raps through this same
medium - producing "a sheaf of testimony" unexampled by any other. Is it not possible that all of the witnesses for their supernormal nature have been wrong in each and every instance? The fagot theory is dangerous.
If such is the case with the phenomena of the Fox sisters, can the phenomena of other mediums be regarded free from suspicion, even though "irrefragable proof" is offered by eminent scientists for them?
In most of the summaries of evidence, phenomena of "Dr." Henry Slade, Florence Cook, Daniel Dunglas Home, and Eusapia Palladino are included. Official science has some negative evidence on all of them.
It is well known that the great Slade was a notorious and resourceful imposter, and we may record a few of the counts against him:
1. In 1872, Henry Slade was caught in fraud in New York by John W. Truesdell, who had two sittings with him. Clasping the medium's hands at the small séance table, and being held close to it, Truesdell felt something touching him and pulling at his clothing as if there was someone under the table; directly, the thing came up into his lap. Slade said it was a materialized spirit-hand. A surreptitious glance, hardly won, indicated a foot. Watching his opportunity, when the "spirit-hand" was playing its most venturesome tricks, Truesdell suddenly recoiled from the table ... just in time to see the "Doctor's" left foot withdraw from his lap to the medium's slipper. He saw plainly the movements of the cords in the medium's wrist when the "spirits" were producing slate-writing. At the second sitting, that took place months later, T. refused to give his name, but left in his overcoat the name of Samuel Johnson. While waiting for the medium he noticed a slate hidden under a low sideboard, covered with a stock message, and upon it he wrote a second message in a bold hand: "Henry! Look out for this
fellow - he is up to snuff! Alcinda" (the name of Slade's deceased wife). In the sitting, T. got a message from "Mary Johnson" on the first slate. The next slate fell to the floor, and, when regained, presented the double message on the substituted slate: Slade was at first furious, but he quickly recovered, acknowledged T. as a great medium, and they exchanged tricks.
2. In 1876, Henry Slade was unmasked in London by Professor Lankester and Dr. Donkin. They caught him in the act of substituting a slate upon which a "spirit message" had been prepared. Criminal prosecution followed. After a trial at Bow Street Police Court lasting three days, Slade was sentenced to three months' hard labor. He took appeal, which was sustained, on the ground that the words "by palmistry or otherwise" had been omitted in the indictment. Before he could be arrested on the new summons, Slade fled to the continent, in 1877, and presented himself to Professor Zöllner at Leipzig.
3. In 1882, Henry Slade was caught in fraud in Belleville, Ontario. Dr. Abbott saw Slade's heel making the raps against the rung of his chair. Mr. James Starling, when touched under the table by an ectoplasmic hand, suddenly raised his right foot; the "hand" felt like the calf of a leg, and on Slade's countenance there was an expression of pain. Mr. A. McGinnis saw the slate passing under the table on Slade's left foot. Chief McKinnon detected Slade causing telekinetic phenomena on a chair with his toe. They saw him writing "spirit messages" and saw him substituting slates. They confronted him with his fraud, and upon his confession and his accommodatingly showing them his tricks, they permitted him to catch the noon train for the East.
4. In 1885, Henry Slade was caught in fraud by the Seybert Commission. They saw his slates with prepared messages, they saw him substituting the slates, they saw him making scratching motions with his thumb to simulate spirit writing. At the moment a slate had been substituted, in preparation for the long process of getting spirit writing, Professor Sellers asked: "Dr. Slade, will you allow me to see that slate?" The reply was, "No, not now; the conditions are not favorable." Professor Furness, the great Shakespearian scholar, had seen the prepared message on that slate. At the close of their investigation Professor Sellers said: "The methods of this medium's operations appear to me to be perfectly transparent, and I wish to say emphatically that I am astonished beyond expression at the confidence of this man in his ability to deceive, and at the recklessness of the risks which he assumes in his deceptions, which are practiced in the most barefaced manner."
5. In 1886, Slade created a furor in Hamburg among the spiritualists. But he balked at tests, and was out-conjured there. Dr. Borchert wrote to Slade offering him one thousand marks if he would produce writing between locked slates, similar to the writing alleged to have been executed at the Zöllner séances. The medium took no notice of the professor's letter. Slade could do nothing in the presence of the conjurer Carl Wilmann, and the conjurer Schraieck eclipsed Slade in his own tricks, making use of a "spirit hand" by means of his left foot, just as Slade did.
Daniel Dunglas Home is said never to have been publicly exposed in fraud, which may have been owing to the special protection afforded him by his peculiar social relations that made his observers his hosts. Nevertheless, there are reported charges of suspicious circumstances against him:
1. A spirit hand that could be seen against the faint light of the window appeared and disappeared at the edge of the table. It was observed to be continuous with Home's body: "The situation at this point struck me so forcibly - the trick so plain to my eyes and the reverential and adoring expression of the company ... that I was seized with a strong impulse to laugh."
2. Delia Logan, the journalist, in writing of one of Home's séances at the house of a nobleman in London, says that the medium failing to produce balls of fire tried for luminous hands. In the darkened house Home groped his way alone to the head of the broad staircase where every few minutes a pair of luminous hands were thrown up. The audience was satisfied generally. But the host stood near the mantelpiece and had seen Home abstractedly place a small bottle upon it; he slipped the bottle into his pocket, and upon examination found it to contain phosphorated oil. He had seen Home's marvels and had testified to them freely, but after the discovery of the phosphorous trick he dropped him at once.
3. Solovovo wrote that it had always seemed to him that action by Home's feet was often not a very improbable hypothesis, and that detailed descriptions, even those of Sir William Crookes, were extremely faulty in this particular respect. That the spirit hand was not a stuffed glove, at least when it worked under the table, is seen from Aksakof's description: 'Tender but firm fingers began to work, trying to take off the ring ... and I was fully convinced these were living, warm, thin human fingers." There was no mention of the control of Home's feet, however. All these omissions are very unfortunate.
4. In the action brought by Mrs. Jane Lyon, in 1867, against Home, for the recovery of some £30,000, the testimony convicted him of culpable fraud. Through "spirit messages" from the deceased husband, Home induced the lady to (a) adopt him as her son, (b) set aside £24,000 to yield him an annual income of £700, (c) make a will giving him the arms and name of Lyon and all the property, and (d) make him a birthday gift of £6,800. After ten days of trial, Vice-Chancellor Giffard decreed that the gifts and deeds were fraudulent and void.
5. Home refused Mr. Addison's offer of £50 to float in the air in his presence; and he declined the Emperor Napoleon's proposal for Robert Houdin, the conjurer, to be present at one of his séances.
Miss Florence Cook and Miss Showers appear to have given séances together that permitted Sergeant Cox to study their materialized spirits and led to the consequent exposure of Miss Showers in April 1874.
1. Cox studied the "spirits," "Katie" and "Florence," moving about together in a lighted room; he saw that they could breathe, talk, perspire, and eat; and that in face, complexion, gesture, and voice, they precisely resembled the two mediums who were asserted to be lying entranced behind the curtains. When the form of "Florence" appeared in the aperture between the curtains, Mrs. Edwards opened the curtains wider. In the spirit's struggles to prevent this, the headdress fell off, and revealed the spirit's head as that of Miss Showers. The chair where the medium should have been sitting was seen to be empty. The medium was masquerading as a spirit.
2. At one of Florence Cook's séances, Mr. W. Volckman scrutinized the form, features, gestures, size, style, and peculiarities of utterance of the so-called spirit. He grasped the spirit form and found he held the medium. [Crookes, who studied the phenomena of Miss Cook, referred to this incident as a "disgraceful occurrence" that cast unjust suspicion upon an innocent young woman.]
3. At another sitting, in a dark séance with Miss Cook, one William Hipp seized the hand of the spirit that was sprinkling him with water, and when a light was struck found himself grasping the hand of the medium.
4. Some half a dozen years later, in 1880, Sir G. Sitwell and Carl von Buch seized the spirit and found it to be the medium, Mrs. Corner (formerly Miss Cook).
Reading between the lines, we are forced to recognize that the confidence expressed by scientific witnesses in the genuineness of these "materializations" is inextricably bound up with their confidence in the personal integrity of the medium, and Miss Cook's later career, at any rate, scarcely allows us to suppose that such confidence was ever well founded.
It is well known that Eusapia Palladino has been frequently caught in fraud, and it is said that her early training included legerdemain. Sitters have recognized in her an adept in conjuring. Those scientists who report favorably upon her phenomena recognize that the weight of their evidence depends upon the
impossibility of fraud.
The illustrations of suspicious circumstances of fraud that are brought together here constitute but a very small fraction of the stream of negative evidence that without doubt supports the persistent incredulity of official science. They are not intended to offer a means of estimating the full weight of all the negative evidence. Rather, they were chosen for the purpose of explaining. why official science hesitates to accept the favoring results of investigations in metapsychics carried out by the most eminent scientists - such as Crookes, Lodge, and Richet - and of providing some concrete material for use in the constructive intimations of this exposition.
What weight has Crookes's report on the phenomena of Kate Fox? Of Home? Of Miss Cook? The rating by official science is probably just zero. The Zöllner report on Henry Slade is also, even more positively, rated at zero. The various reports on Eusapia Palladino probably receive no higher rating.
The stream of negative evidence warns official science that all metapsychic phenomena may be illusory; may be but physiological, psychological, or simple legerdemain.
Another cause for the incredulity of "official science" is to be found in the prevalent methods of metapsychic investigation, and this cause perhaps has much greater weight than the stream of negative evidence.
"Unless the 'conditions' are observed, the phenomena will not appear." But since this is true in all science, why does it have special significance in metapsychics? Because in science the experimenter controls the conditions and in metapsychics the medium controls the conditions. In case the medium is not satisfied with the conditions proposed by the investigator, who in fact is only a sitter, she need not produce the phenomena, and she is excused on the grounds of their uncontrollability.
The reports of metapsychic investigations do not always show how completely the control of the conditions under which the phenomena occur lies with the medium, and many earnest students of the literature will be ready to dispute the fact. We can do no better than to examine one of the best possible cases: the classic report by Crookes on the phenomena of D. D. Home. It reads like a laboratory report, and the natural presumption of the reader would be that the experiments followed laboratory procedure.
Eighteen years after the research, Crookes, in response to earnest entreaty for the long promised amplified report of his investigations, published his notes that were written while the phenomena were going forward and sometimes copied or expanded immediately after. Curiously enough, the heading for these "Notes" carries the term "séances" instead of "experiments."
The Séance of June 21, 1871, at Mr. Crookes's house is described in the "Notes" as follows (Crookes 1889-90, 110-112):
21, 1871. - Sitting at 20, Mornington Road. - From 10:45 to 11:45. (This séance was held shortly after the previous one [8:40 to 10:30 on the same evening].) We all got up, moved about, opened the windows, and changed our positions.
Present: Mr. D. D. Home (medium), Mrs. Wr. Crookes, Mr. Wr. Crookes, Mrs. Humphrey, Mr. C. Gimingham, Mr. Serjt. Cox, Mr. Wm. Crookes, Mrs. Wm. Crookes.
In the dining room. The table and apparatus the same as before.
The light was diminished, but there was still light enough to enable us to distinguish each other plainly and see every movement. The apparatus was also distinctly visible.
The automatic register was pushed up close to the index of the balance.
We sat in the following order: [Cut of rectangular table, with positions labeled - Mrs. Wm. C. sat between Home and the apparatus (mahogany board, etc.), and Mr. Wm. Crookes sat by the apparatus.]
A lath was lying on the table. [A foot from the edge at which Home sat.]
Almost immediately a message came, "Hands off." After sitting quiet for a minute or two, all holding hands, we heard loud
raps on the table; then on the floor by the weight apparatus. The
apparatus was then moved and the spring balance was heard to move about strongly. We then had the following
"Weight altered a little. Look."
I then got up and looked at the register. It had descended to 14 pounds, showing an additional tension of (14 - 5 =) 9 pounds.
As this result had been obtained when there was scarcely light enough to see the board and index move, I asked for it to be repeated when there was more light. The gas was turned up and we sat as before. Presently the board was seen to move up and down (Mr. Home being some distance off [sitting or standing?] and not touching the table, his hands being held), and the index was seen to descend to 7 pounds, where the register stopped. This showed a tension of 7 - 5 = 2 pounds.
Mr. Home now told us to alter our position. We now sat as follows: [Cut of positions; Mr. Wm. Crookes is moved two places further from the apparatus, and
Home sits by it.]
Mr. Home thereupon moved his chair to the extreme corner of the table and turned his feet quite away from the apparatus close to Mrs. H. Loud
raps were heard on the table and then on the mahogany board, and the latter was shaken strongly up and down. The following message was then given:
"We have now done our utmost."
On going to the spring balance it was seen by the register to have descended to 9 pounds, showing an increase of tension of 4 pounds.
The apparatus was now removed away from the table, and we returned to our old places (see first diagram).
We sat still for a few minutes, when a message came:
"Hands off the table, and all joined."
We therefore sat as directed.
Just in front of Mr. Home and on the table, in about the position shown on the first diagram, was a thin wooden lath 23¼ inches long, 1½ inch wide, and 3/8 inch thick, covered with white paper. It was plainly visible to all, and was one foot from the edge of the table.
Presently the end of this lath, pointing towards Mr. Wm. Crookes, rose up in the air to the height of about 10 inches. The other end then rose up to a height of about five inches, and then the lath floated about for more than a minute in this position, suspended in the air, with no visible means of support. it moved sideways and waved gently up and down, just like a piece of wood on the top of small waves of the sea. The lower end then gently sank till it touched the table and the other end then followed.
Whilst we were all speaking about this wonderful exhibition of force the lath began to move again, and rising up as it did at first, it waved about in a somewhat similar manner. The starting novelty of this movement having now worn off, we were all enabled to follow its motions with more accuracy. Mr. Home was sitting away from the table at least three feet from the lath all this time; he was apparently quite motionless, and his hands were tightly grasped, his right by Mrs. Wm. Crookes and his left by Mrs. Wm. Crookes. Any movement by his feet was impossible, as, owing to the large cage being under the table, his legs were not able to be put beneath, but were visible to those on each side of him. All the others had hold of hands. As soon as this was over the following
message was given: "We have to go now; but before going we thank you for your patience. Mary sends love to aunt, and will play another time."
The séance then broke up at a quarter to twelve.
This sample indicates that the "spirits" directed the seating, the order of the phenomena, and the time to inspect the phenomena or read indicators. Looking over the rest of the notes, the reader learns that they regulated the amount of light. The behavior of the mahogany board was irregular, sometimes swaying sideways. And the experiments of a single type were not generally repeated consecutively. Always much else went on: movement of furniture, playing of accordion, passing flowers, clothing tugged, and persons touched by a "spirit hand," elongation or levitation of Home's body, movement of planchette, tumbling and ringing of a bell, knotting of handkerchiefs, the jumping of the table in keeping time with the accordion music, writing of messages on paper, the movement of curtains, trembling of the table, heavy knockings, innumerable raps, and many "messages." In general, we have a multiplicity of phenomena produced in confusion, very similar to those Slade provided Zöllner; and we know that Home kept up an incessant chatter. Home was the only person free to move about.
Metapsychic investigations are not experiments, they are séances. The phenomena come unexpectedly, not just at the moment the observer is prepared to examine them carefully. Rarely are the phenomena of the decisive kind, that are asked for and prepared for, produced.
Crookes, before the researches, had reproved the spiritualists for their extravagant evidence, such as the levitation of pianos, and said that what the scientist yearns for is the exercise of a force of one-ten-thousandths of a gram on the pan of a balance that is confined in a closed case, the swinging of a pendulum in a glass case, the passing of a thousandth part of a grain of arsenic into a sealed glass tube. He did not get these phenomena. He does imply that an enclosed pendulum was set in motion, but nowhere does he describe the experiment.
Zöllner (1880) asked for: (1) The linking of two solid rings of different kinds of wood. (2) The reversal of the twist in snail shells. (3) A knot in an endless bladder band. (4) The placing of a paraffin candle in a hollow glass ball, without melting the edges.
What he obtained was: (1) The placing of the rings on a jointed centre-post of a table. (2) The removal of the snail shells from the top of the table to a slate held beneath. (3) The entangling of the bladder band with a cord having sealed ends. He regarded these as such an improvement upon what he had requested that the paraffin candle was neglected.
Even when scientific instruments are used in metapsychic investigation, the control of the conditions of experiment remains in the medium's hands.
In 1907, assistants of Professor Mosso, Doctors Herlitzka, Charles Foa, and Aggazzotti, held sittings with Eusapia Palladino in Turin:
[They saw some of the usual phenomenal but the tests they had specially prepared in order to render physical intervention on the part of Eusapia impossible unfortunately miscarried. At the first sitting a clockwork cylinder, covered with blackened paper, was placed inside a bell-glass, secured from interference by sealed tapes. The object of the test was to obtain a vertical mark on the cylinder, and the key of the electric circuit through which end could be accomplished was enclosed in a securely fastened and sealed cardboard box. In the event the sealed tapes were torn off the bell-glass; the lid of the cardboard box was forcibly removed, and the key then depressed. The test was thus rendered useless. Eusapia explained, however, that if woven material instead of cardboard had been used to protect the key, it could have been moved without interference with the apparatus. Acting on the hint the experimenters prepared for the next séance a new apparatus. Inside the cabinet was placed a manometer - a U-shaped tube of mercury with a floating pointer which would automatically register any movements of the mercury on a scale. The tube was in connection with a vessel full of water, and closed with a rubber capsule. Pressure on the capsule would, of course, force up the mercury in the tube. The vessel of water was enclosed in a wooden box, the sides of which rose high above the capsule. The top of the capsule was blackened. In place of a lid the box was covered with cloth, so as to prevent pressure on the capsule by normal means. At the close of the séance the mercury was found to have risen; but the cloth covering was torn. [Podmore 1910, 100-101]
In the same year another series of investigations was made with Eusapia by professor Botazzi of the University of Naples:
No trouble was spared to test the phenomena and ascertain the conditions. At the beginning of each sitting the barometric pressure, the temperature, and the atmospheric saturation were recorded. Several pieces of apparatus - a letter balance, an electrical metronome, a commutator, a rubber ball in connection with a
manometer - were placed on a table in the cabinet behind Eusapia, in connection with automatic registering machinery in another room; and in the course of the séance several movements were registered of which the tracings are published. Other inexplicable phenomena were observed, such as a
mandolin moving about by itself on the table, whilst Eusapia's hands lay in her lap. But again the only really conclusive test failed. A telegraph key had been securely enclosed in a wire cage, and this Eusapia and her spirit control 'John' were unable to move. [Podmore 1910, 110
Forty-three sittings with Eusapia were held under the auspices of the Institute General Psychologique in Paris:
The investigators loyally complied with the conditions imposed, but sought in various ways to devise tests which should still be valid. The really valuable part of their report is the history of the successive rejections or evasions of their tests by Eusapia. At one time they suggested that the sleeves of the medium should be sewn to the sleeves of the controllers' coats by tapes four inches long. She accepted this method of control on three occasions only - one in each year - and then refused to have anything more to do with it, giving as her reason that she had seen lunatics fastened together in this manner in an asylum, and that the recollection was unbearable. [Podmore 1910,
They tested Eusapia's alleged power of affecting the balance without touching it. At first a small machine, like a letter weigher, designed by M. Yourievitch, was employed. It was surrounded with a wooden frame, with linen or wooden panels to fit in the frame, so as to prevent the use of a hair or other fraudulent device. Eusapia tried it with the wooden covering and failed; tried it with the linen covering and failed; tried it with the frame alone and failed. All the protecting apparatus was then removed. Eusapia put her hands on either side of the scale and it went down, and the onlookers could not find out how it was done. Nothing daunted, M. Yourievitch then procured a more delicate balance (pèse-cocon) and surrounded it with a panelled glass lantern. M. Yourievitch further isolated the balance on a cake of wax, and put it in connection with a charged electroscope, so that if Eusapia touched the balance the fraud would be instantly detected. No result. All the glass panels were then removed except the one next Eusapia. Still no result. The last panel was then taken away, a handkerchief being placed over Eusapia's mouth to prevent her breath affecting the sensitive balance. She stretched out her hands as before, and once more the scale moved; but the electroscope was not discharged. Twice more the same results followed.
Then - in consequence of some suspicious movement observed by Madame Curie and another member of the Committee - the light was raised (our first intimation that the previous experiments took place in partial obscurity), and an arch of thick wire was placed in front of the balance. The balance moved no more, and Eusapia said she was tired.
Now, Madame Curie and her colleagues had suspected from the position of Eusapia's hands that she might have affected the movement by means of a fine thread, and in fact, on experimenting afterwards, it was found that the scale could be depressed by means of a hair without discharging the electroscope. After this experience M. Yourievitch coated the scale with lamp-black, on which even the pressure of a hair would leave a mark - and the balance moved no more.
Then they tried again with the other balance, replacing the metallic scale by a disc of paper in a wooden frame. If a pin were used, the paper would be pierced; if a hair, it would crackle. In fact, the balance moved once, when Eusapia's hands were held - but the paper crackled!
On another occasion Eusapia asked that her hands might be held and in this position she placed her hands on either side of the leaf of an india rubber plant, and the leaf was seen to move. Unfortunately for her she had forgotten her usual precaution; an isolated observer saw the hair between her hands. She was detected on another occasion moving the balance by the same means. [Podmore 1910,
The investigator who introduces instruments of precision meets special difficulties when the medium retains control of the laboratory. He is merely a sitter in a stance.
The distinction must be made between (A) parlor observations under stance conditions, which yield at best but anecdotal evidence, and (B) scientific observations under laboratory conditions, which yield evidence acceptable to "official science." We must regard scientific method.
A. Under stance conditions, proper observation is precluded by the (a) multiplicity of phenomena,
(b) unexpectedness of each event, (c) distraction of synchronous phenomena or discourse,
(d) demand on attention for several hours continuously, (e) dim light,
(f) lack of essential instruments, (g) lack of control of the conditions,
(h) emotional atmosphere, (i) taking of inadequate notes while phenomena are occurring.
The observer cannot be prepared to observe a specific occurrence, for he doesn't know what is coming next; any observation is consequently incidental, out of the tail of the eye, or in peripheral vision. Incidental observation in poor light for two continuous hours, amid distractions addressed to both eyes and ears, and attention often misdirected, favors inference in description and becomes malobservation. With the medium in control of the conditions, no instruments to assist the senses can be used to certain advantage. The report at best can be but anecdotal.
B. Under laboratory conditions, proper observation is carefully provided for by
(a) selecting as simple a phenomenon as possible, (b) providing a definite moment for its occurrence,
(c) excluding as much distraction as possible, (d) limiting the time for concentrated attention,
(e) adapting most favorable lighting, (f) utilizing all essential instruments,
(g) keeping complete control of the conditions, (h) excluding emotional elements, (i) recording correctly after the phenomenon has occurred.
The experimenter is prepared to observe the specific event at the moment it occurs. He gives concentrated attention, and his attention is directed to it. Immediately after he "observes accurately," he "records correctly" by taking care to exclude inference from his description. With the conditions of experiment under his control, he can vary them at his pleasure and repeat the experiment as often as is necessary to reach a decisive, reliable result. His report is scientific.
The attitude in the séance is that of blind faith; in the laboratory, of precaution. The closer the scrutiny, in the stance, the less you learn; in the laboratory, the more you learn. Cooperation in the stance is simulated; in the laboratory, effected. The purpose in the stance is to conceal causes; in the laboratory, to reveal them.
The charge has often been made, and in itemized detail, that the rules of the stance enforce the conditions precisely favorable for fraud. And it is a curious fact, briefly suggested in the contrasted lists above, that if all the requirements in scientific method are formally set down in a list, and their opposites are then formally set down, the second list gives the method of the stance. Whereas the rules of the stance grew up empirically in the course of the practice of years, it is certainly suggestive that they may be logically deduced by the principle of negation from the method upon which we depend to acquire knowledge in all the fields of science.
The "obstinate incredulity" of "official science" must be largely attributed to the stance method of investigation to which metapsychics has been almost wholly confined.
For three-quarters of a century, evidence has been accumulating in metapsychics, and many eminent scientists have contributed to this evidence. The most constant factor in the investigations, whether by laymen, public committees, academic committees, metapsychists, or scientists, during all this time, is the method of the stance. There is no agreement upon the nature, or the description, of a single phenomenon in metapsychics; there is nothing constant in the "how" of any of the phenomena. There is agreement only "that" phenomena occur that no one can yet describe or explain. The full yield of the stance is the conviction in the minds of metapsychists that unknown phenomena occur.
"Official science" without doubt will refuse to recognize even the "fact" that the alleged phenomena occur until it is established by the scientific method, which at the time of revealing the fact of occurrence will also reveal something of the nature of the phenomena. The eminence of men of science will not outweigh the disabilities of the séance method.
The incredulity of the experimental psychologist is probably more obstinate than that of his fellow scientists. All of these metapsychic phenomena seem to be associated with the mind of a medium, and the reports are dependent upon the mind of the observer. A large proportion of the evidence offered for metapsychic phenomena can be immediately written off in accordance with the psychology of deception and the psychology of testimony. The liability of error in séance observations is very great, much greater than is generally granted. An eminent scientist may be wrong in his observation, even repeatedly wrong, as Crookes certainly was, without being "either a knave or a fool"; and to charge him with error is by no means to call him "either a liar or an imbecile."
The ease and completeness of deception have been amply illustrated by séances held for the purpose of studying the extent and nature of malobservation. David J. Halstead, proprietor of the
Syracuse Daily Courier, reported to that paper what he saw at a sitting with Truesdell, a prominent young businessman of Syracuse (Truesdell 1892, 160-169):
The table cloth was removed from the table; upon the table were placed a plain slate with a bit of pencil, and some writing paper also with a bit of lead pencil. Two tureen covers were brought, one placed over the slate, the other over the paper. A sitter went to another room and wrote names of deceased persons on slips of paper which he brought back tightly folded into pellets.
The medium placed these pellets to his forehead, and called out signals at letter after letter, to be recorded, while the sitter repeated the alphabet. In this way the name "Adelbert" was communicated. The selected pellet was unfolded and revealed that name on it.
After writing-sounds, located under the tureen cover on the slate, had ceased, the cover was removed and a message of twelve or more lines, pertinent to the evening's experiment, was found on the slate, and it was signed "Adelbert."
The medium rubbed his arm, rolled up his sleeve, and showed glowing flesh upon which was recorded in pale skin the name "Adelbert."
All occurred under full gas light (and by legerdemain).
Mr. L. W. Chase, a spiritualist, reported to the Syracuse Daily Courier, of December 7, 1872, the results of a sitting with Truesdell (Truesdell 1892, 184-203). Chase went into an adjoining room to write down names of deceased friends, on slips of paper to be folded into pellets. "On re-entering the room he [T.] called out, 'This is all fraud; Caroline C. is not dead, but your sister Charlotte is. If you wish to get anything at all, you must deal honestly with me...' Imagine my chagrin... I am entirely satisfied that no mortal eye save my own rested upon the names I had written, and still held tightly folded in my hand, nor did a live soul in the city of Syracuse know the relations of these individuals to myself."
He received on the under surface of a slate lying on the table, in the full glare of gaslight, a message: "My dear Brother: You strive in vain to unlock the hidden mysteries of the future. No mortal has faculties to comprehend infinity. Charlotte." The message was characteristic of his sister, and the handwriting "so closely resembled her's that, to my mind, there cannot be a shadow of doubt as to its identity." He also received a message from his mother in her own handwriting on a piece of paper. The time is not far distant when "to doubt upon this subject will not only evince greater credulity than to believe, but will necessarily destroy all confidence in our senses... I think, Mr. Editor, if men of science are anxious to investigate (in an honest manner) ... here is an excellent opportunity..."
Mr. Chase was a stranger; he appeared to be an honest, earnest, seeker after spiritual knowledge. He called upon Truesdell at the moment the latter was closing his office for the day, and requested an appointment for a sitting. Mr. Truesdell tried to dissuade him, protesting that he was merely an amateur investigating for amusement and instruction, that all reports about him were greatly exaggerated, and that science would probably reveal the true origin of the phenomena to be of a material, instead of a spiritual, nature. The more he protested, the more earnestly Chase begged for a sitting, and when Truesdell noticed the large diary in which Chase made one or two memoranda, he reluctantly made an appointment for a sitting in the evening at his home. Before they left the office, however, Truesdell turned on the draft of the coal-stove, compelling the perspiring visitor to remove his overcoat, and examined that diary and a letter from Chase's sister (while Chase was engaged with a book in the adjoining room).
Truesdell explains the phenomena of the sitting at his home: The ballots were exchanged for blanks by palming, and were read; the message was prepared and the slate substituted; the movement of the slate was effected by a thread tied to a vest-button; the sound of the writing was produced by the rubbing of a slate-pencil, held by silk loops to the knee, against another pencil clamped to the flange of the table.
Richard Hodgson had some sittings with Eglinton, in 1884, and endeavored to make detailed records of the phenomena. For the first time, he said, he appreciated the difficulties of observation and of recollection of such events; they seemed so great as to effectually prevent a full and accurate description (Hodgson 1886-87, 382). He arranged with S. J. Davey to give séances to ascertain exactly how much reliance could be placed upon the reports of even acute and intelligent observers.
Mr. Davey, who was first attracted to séance phenomena by reports of Eglinton, was so amazed at the ease with which the medium deceived his sitters that he set to work at séance technique to see how much he could perform by legerdemain that would be recognized as supernormal. Spiritist reports were so glowing that he was accepted as one of the great mediums. After the Hodgson-Davey investigation, Alfred Russel Wallace declared that the findings of that investigation could not be accepted until it was proved that Davey was not a genuine medium pretending to use legerdemain.
The reports of séance phenomena produced by Davey were written by educated and intelligent witnesses immediately after the séance. A single small sample follows:
Mrs. Y.: This test seemed to me
perfect. The slate was under my own eye, on top of the table, the whole time, and either my daughter's hand or my own was placed firmly upon it without the intermission of even a second; moreover, we closed and opened it ourselves. [JSPR 1891, vol.
Nevertheless, the substitution occurred, and Hodgson saw it. Hodgson also saw Davey write the message on the slate in the morning.
The results completely discredit the reliability of records of séance phenomena, upon the grounds of malobservation. In addition to these illusions of perception, Hodgson emphasizes illusions of memory that affect descriptions written weeks or months after the events (Hodgson 1886-87; 1892).
Henry Sidgwick and Mrs. Sidgwick's sister attended a séance by Haxby, in 1878, and observed phenomena that created a complete illusion of perception in Mr. X. (Sidgwick 1886-87, 61-62):
Mrs. Sidgwick's sister said: Abdullah professed to dematerialize before us once as at the previous séance. My head was only about
1½ feet from him, and I saw him go through the same processes as he did then. I saw his arms plainly till he was right down on the floor. Then he put up his hands to the cloth on his head bringing the part hanging behind over the top and front, to hide the tiara, and then pulled the whole off his head, the white cloth remaining as the last bit of Abdullah for a few moments. I saw his hair plainly as the cloth came off, and also his back inside the curtains.
Before this séance all the members of the circle, including an enthusiastic spiritist [Mr. X] had been told what to expect.
Mr. Sidgwick said: I was seated at the farthest point in the circle; at the same time in witnessing Abdullah's disappearance I was unable even to imagine it anything else than the medium withdrawing gradually into the cabinet, having first fallen on his knees, and then gradually lowering his head. But Mr. X, who sat nearly as far off, but certainly not farther than I did, remarked when the performance was over that "All our doubts must now be removed," and afterwards to Mr. H., on going away, that our materializations were better than theirs in Paris.
Experiences like this make one feel how misleading the accounts of some completely honest witnesses may be... And after all it appears that those marvelous séances [in Paris] were no better than this miserable personation by Haxby.
Many illustrations of the illusion of memory may be found in the literature. But three will be quoted. The first two relate to the phenomena of D. D. Home. Sir David Brewster, with Lord Brougham, attended a sitting with Home in Cox's Hotel, in 1855. In his diary he recorded:
A small hand-bell was then laid down with its mouth on the carpet; and after lying for some time, it
actually rang when nothing could have touched it. The bell was then placed on the other side, and it came over to me and placed itself in my hand... Could give no explanation...
Four months later he wrote a letter to the
Morning Advertiser, October 12, 1855:
Round table covered with copious drapery beneath which nobody was allowed to look. The spirits were powerless aboveboard... A small hand-bell, to be rung by spirits, was placed on the ground near my feet. I placed my feet round it in the form of an angle, to catch any intrusive apparatus.
The bell did not ring; but when taken to a new place near Mr. Home's feet, it speedily came across and placed itself in my hand... Conjecture it was done by Home's feet. [Podmore 1902, vol. 2, 142-143]
An alternative explanation of the contrast between the two accounts of the same phenomena, given above, is that, upon reflection, the sensorial memory responsible for the first account was discredited. Whatever the explanation, the reliability of testimony remains impaired. In the "Researches," William Crookes (1874) reports the behavior of the Wooden lath as follows:
A small lath ... moved across the table to me, in the light, and delivered a message to me by tapping my hand;
I repeating the alphabet, and the lath tapping me at the right letters. The other end of the lath was resting on the table, some distance from Mr. Home's hands.
The taps were so sharp and clear, and the lath was evidently so well under the control of the invisible power which was governing its movements, that I said, "Can the intelligence governing the motion of this lath change the character of the movements, and give me a telegraphic message through the Morse alphabet by taps on my hand?" (I have every reason to believe that the Morse code
was quite unknown to any other person present, and it was only imperfectly known to me.) Immediately I said this, the character of the taps changed, and the message was continued in the way I had requested. The letters were given too rapidly for me to do more than catch a word here and there, and consequently I lost the message; but
I heard sufficient to convince me that there was a good Morse operator at the other end of the line, wherever that might be.
Crookes (1889-90, 123-124), in his "Notes" published eighteen years later but recorded on the spot, reported as follows:
The wooden lath now rose from the table and rested one end on my knuckles, the other end being on the table. It then rose up and tapped me several times.
Questions which I put were answered "Yes" or "No" in this manner. I said, "Do you know the Morse alphabet?" "Yes." "Could you give me a message by it?" "Yes." As soon as this was rapped out the lath commenced rapping my knuckles in short and long taps, in a manner exactly resembling a "Morse" message. My knowledge of the code and of reading by sound
is not sufficient to enable me to say positively that it was a message; but it sounded exactly like one; the long and short taps and the pauses were exactly similar, and
Mr. C. Gimingham, who has practice with the Morse code, feels almost certain that it was so.
Sir Edmund Hornby, formerly Chief Justice of the Supreme Consulai Court of China and Japan, at Shanghai, provides the third illustration of illusion of memory. In this case dream elements very probably enter to alter the events as experienced (Gurney and Myers 1884, 89-91).
He [Hornby] described events occurring on the night of January 19, 1875. It had been his habit to allow reporters to come to his house in the evening to get his written judgments for the next day's paper.
On the day of the event he went to his study an hour or two after dinner and wrote out his judgment.
"I rang for the butler, gave him the envelope, and told him to give it to the reporter who would call for it. I was in bed before twelve ... I had gone to sleep, when I was awakened by hearing a tap at the study door, but thinking it might be the butler-looking to see if the fires were safe and the gas turned off - I turned over ... to sleep again. Before I did so, I heard a tap at my bedroom door. Still thinking it the butler ... I said, 'Come in.' The door opened, and, to my surprise, in walked Mr.- I sat up and said, 'You have mistaken the door; but the butler has the judgment, so go and get it.' Instead of leaving the room he came to the foot of the bed.
I said, 'Mr.-, you forget yourself! Have the goodness to walk out directly. This is rather an abuse of my favor.' He looked deadly pale, but was dressed as usual, and sober, and said, 'I know I am guilty of an unwarrantable intrusion, but finding that you were not in your study
I have ventured to come here.' I was losing my temper, but something in the man's manner disinclined me to jump out of bed to eject him by force. So I said simply, 'This is too bad, really; pray leave the room at once.' Instead of doing so he put his hand on the footrail and gently, and as if in pain, sat down on the foot of the bed.
I glanced at the clock and saw that it was about twenty minutes past one.
I said, 'The butler has had the judgment since half-past eleven; go and get it!' He said, 'Pray forgive me; if you knew all the circumstances you would. Time presses. Pray give me a precis of your judgment, and I will take a note in my book of it,' drawing his reporter's book out of his breast pocket. I said, 'I will do nothing of the kind. Go downstairs, find the butler, and don't disturb
me - you will wake my wife; otherwise I shall have to put you out.' He slightly moved his hand. I said, 'Who let you in?' He answered, 'No one.' 'Confound it,' I said, 'What the devil do you mean? Are you drunk?' He replied quickly, 'No, and never shall be again; but I pray your lordship give me your decision, for my time is short.' I said, 'You don't seem to care about my time, and this is the last time I will ever allow a reporter in my house.' He stopped me short, saying, 'This is the last time I shall ever see you anywhere.'
"Well, fearful that this commotion might arouse and frighten my wife, I shortly gave him the gist of my judgment... He seemed to be taking it down in shorthand; it might have taken two or three minutes. When I finished, he rose, thanked me for excusing his intrusion and for the consideration I had always shown him and his colleagues, opened the door, and went away. I looked at the clock; it was on the stroke of
(Lady Hornby awoke, thinking she had heard talking; and her husband told her what had happened, and repeated the account when dressing the next
"I went to court a little before ten. The usher came into my room to robe me, when he said, 'A sad thing happened last night, sir. Poor
was found dead in his room.' I said 'Bless my soul! dear me! What did he die of, and when?" Well, sir, it appeared he went up to his room as usual at ten to work at his papers. His wife went up about twelve to ask him when he would be ready for bed. He said, "I have only the Judge's judgment to get ready, and then I have finished." As he did not come, she went up again, about a quarter to one, to his room and peeped in, and thought she saw him writing, but she did not disturb him. At
half-past one she again went to him and spoke to him at the door. As he didn't answer she thought he had fallen asleep, so she went up to rouse him. To her horror he was dead. On the floor was his notebook, which I have brought away. She sent for the doctor, who arrived
a little after two, and said he had been dead, he concluded, about an hour.' I looked at the notebook. There was the usual heading: 'In the Supreme Court, before the Chief Judge: The Chief Judge gave judgment this morning in this case to the following effect' - and then followed a few lines of indecipherable shorthand.
"I sent for the magistrate who would act as coroner, and desired him to examine
Mr. 's wife and servants as to whether Mr.
had left his home or could possibly have left it without their knowledge between eleven and one on the previous night. The result of the
inquest showed he died of some form of heart disease, and had not and could not have left the house without the knowledge of at least his wife, if not of the servants. Not wishing to air my 'spiritual experience' for the benefit of the press or the public. I kept the matter at the time to myself, only mentioning it to my Puisne Judge and to one or two friends; but when I got home to tiffin
I asked my wife to tell me as nearly as she could remember what I had said to her during the night, and I made a brief note of her replies and of the facts."
[Lady Hornby has kindly confirmed the above facts to us, as far as she was cognizant of them.]
"As I said then, so I say now - I was not asleep - but wide awake. After a lapse of nine years my memory is quite clear on the subject. I have not the least doubt I saw the man - have not the least doubt that the conversation took place between us.
"I may add that I had examined the butler in the morning - who had given me back the MS. in the envelope when I went to the court after
breakfast - as to whether he had locked the door as usual, and if anyone could have got in. He said that he had done everything as usual, adding that no one could have got in even if he had not locked the door, as there was no handle outside which there was not... The coolies said they opened the door as usual that morning - turned the key and undid the chains."
A communication to the
Nineteenth Century, November 1884, by Frederick H. Balfour, points out some discrepancies between the narrative above and the facts:
1. Mr. is the Rev. Hugh Lang Nivens, editor of the Shanghai
Courier. He died not at one in the morning but between eight or nine a.m. after a good night's rest.
2. There was no Mrs. Hornby at that time. Sir Edmund's second wife had died two years previously, and he did not marry again till three months
after the event.
3. No Inquest was ever held.
4. The story turns upon the judgment of a certain case to be delivered the next day, January 20, 1874. There is no record of any such judgment.
Before printing the letter from Balfour, the Editors sent it to Judge Hornby for his comment:
[My vision] must have followed the death (some three months) instead of synchronizing with it. At the same time this hypothesis is quite contrary to the collection of the facts both in my own mind and in Lady Hornby's mind... If I had not believed, as I still believe, that every word of it [the story] was accurate, and that my memory was to be relied on, I should not have even told it as a personal experience.
All these discrepancies are concordant with the results of psychological research on testimony and are to be attributed to psychological law rather than to either dishonesty or culpable carelessness.
The readiness of metapsychists to rely upon observations of séance phenomena, their insistence that illusion can be avoided, and their quick condemnation of the competence of an observer who is tricked, clearly indicate that they do not understand that error is inevitable. Consequently the psychologist remains incredulous in the face of all the accumulating "evidence."
Perception is not the photographic process the layman and elementary textbooks take it to be. We do not perceive with our senses. We perceive with our minds. What we perceive is represented in part by (a) immediate sensations (through our special senses) and in part by (b) mental stuff (imagery) contributed by our past experience. A perception, we might say, is a process compounded of sensation and imagination; it is the result of sensory impressions being assimilated by memorial material. The ratio between sensation and imagination varies greatly in what we call perception, depending upon the definiteness of the sensory component and upon the definiteness, or readiness, of the memorial
elements - which is often referred to as "expectancy." When the sensorial component is definite but overridden, illusions occur; when it is negligible, hallucinations occur. Thus perception is not different in its constitution from illusions or hallucinations. The observer himself is unable to distinguish the difference; nor can the trained observer in the psychological laboratory by introspection separate the memorial component from the sensory component in a perception, so thoroughly fused are they in the unitary psychical process.
The method of the séance is precisely adapted to produce illusions and hallucinations, and it strains credulity to imagine that any trustworthy observations come from it. All of the evidence is suspect, and no "sheaf of testimony" is more cogent than its weakest component. The "fagot theory" is fallacious. It is not universally true that "where there is so much smoke, there must be some fire," for the "smoke" may be but dust stirred up by artful deceivers for artless perceivers. It is useless to fagot séance evidence.
It thus becomes clear why evidence for phenomena observed under séance conditions cannot be accepted by the experimental psychologist, and why his refusal does not reflect upon the honesty or the general scientific competence of the séance observer.
The disability of the evidence for metapsychic phenomena can be removed only by the adoption of the laboratory method. That the phenomena are extremely variable and difficult to control is no more a reason for avoiding the scientific method in metapsychics than in physiology or psychology where similar difficulties are met.
Memory is not the recovery of a block of experience that has lain in a pigeonhole. Physical analogy is hopelessly inadequate to illustrate the way the mind works. Memory is a process, and a process that never repeats itself exactly. A block of experience has no more existence before it is recalled than the North wind has in a calm and cannot be pigeon-holed. Its recollection is another mental process, a new one in itself, reproducing elements identical or similar to the elements in the original experience. In the representative repetition, however, the mutation of the elements in the original experience is characteristic and is often very great. It is not so much of a surprise, therefore, that flagrant errors in testimony occur as it is that conditions can be devised by which testimony may be accurate. The method of experiment in the laboratory provides these conditions by requiring the record on the spot.
Perhaps another circumstance bearing upon the incredulity of the psychologist should be given consideration. In the psychological laboratory the study of mental processes, dependent upon an adult person, is a cooperative enterprise. The experimenter and the observer, when the information sought must be obtained by introspection, have each their definite respective parts to play. The experimenter and the subject, when the information sought is accessible to the experimenter, must likewise assume their respective roles. In either case, thorough understanding and complete cooperation are essential.
Now any record of séance phenomena reads like a contest between the medium and the sitters. There is the matching of wits, with the great advantage in favor of the medium, who retains control of the phenomena. When scientific instruments are brought into the séance room, they must first be "magnetized," and later they are almost invariably misused, so that all crucial tests fail and the investigators are forced to return to the usual séance phenomena.
If the relation becomes experimenter and subject, and the experimenter retains control of the conditions of the experiment, the nature of the phenomena need not depend upon the immediate control of the medium's body. The use of scientific instruments will reveal the exact relation of her body or her movements to the phenomena. And, should phenomena new to science appear, the conditions favoring them could be determined, and headway could be made in the further study of their nature and the laws governing them.
The use of scientific method and instruments of precision does not constitute a threat to the medium, as is sometimes intimated, and neither she nor her manager should demur at their use. To do so implies a fear lest the phenomena
will be found to be normally produced. Sincerity on the part of those in charge of the phenomena should inspire not only a willingness to cooperate in the only method of research fitted to advance knowledge, but an earnest request to be allowed to do so. This attitude would immediately disarm many a priori critics, and recommend the medium to the psychologist as a suitable subject for his laboratory.
Research could then begin on two simple but fundamental types of metapsychic phenomena: (a) telekinesis, and (b) cryptesthesia. The experimental problems might be, (a) What are the raps? and (b) Is there supernormal knowledge?
The incredulity of the psychologist does not spring from an a priori judgment that metapsychic phenomena are not possible; it comes from his knowledge of psychological causes of error and the resulting conviction that reliance upon the scientific method alone is the price of admissible evidence.
Crookes, William. 1874.
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Crookes, William. 1889-90. Notes of séances with D. D. Home. Proceedings of the SPR, 6.
Gerhardt, W. F. 1926. A metapsychic experiment. Journal of the American
Gurney, E. and F. W. H. Myers. 1884. Visible apparitions. Nineteenth
Century. July 16.
Hodgson, Richard. 1886-87. The possibilities of mal-observation and lapse of memory, from a practical point of view.
Proceedings of the SPR, 4:381 ff.
Hodgson, Richard. 1892. Proceedings of the SPR, 8:253 ff.
Podmore, Frank. 1902. Modern Spiritualism. London: Methuen.
The Newer Spiritualism. London: Unwin.
Richet, Charles. 1923. Thirty Years of Psychical Research. New York: Macmillan.
Sidgwick, Mrs. Henry. 1886-87. Results of a personal investigation into the physical phenomena of spiritualism, with some critical remarks on the evidence for the genuineness of such phenomena.
Proceedings of the SPR, 4:45 fr.
Sudre, Renè. 1926. Psychical research and scientific opinion. Journal of the American
Truesdell, John W. 1892. The Bottom Facts Concerning the Science of
Spiritualism. New York: Dillingham.
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article above was first published in "The Case For and Against Psychical
Belief", edited by Carl Murchison. Worcester, Clark University Press 1927.