W. J. Crawford

Lecturer in mechanical engineering in The Municipal Technical Institute, Belfast and Extra-Mural Lecturer in Queens University, Belfast, whose painstaking and thorough investigations with the Kathleen Goligher Circle between 1917 and 1920 go some way towards discovering the 'psychic' laws behind telekinesis phenomena.

24 Questions and Answers on Experiments in Psychical Science

 - W. J. Crawford-

          I GIVE below a series of questions which have been addressed to me at various times. I am quite aware that the answers are very incomplete, but they are the best I can give at this stage of our knowledge of psychic processes and phenomena.

(1) Does the application of force by the psychic structure present any analogy to the way in which force is transmitted by water through a tube?

In some examples of phenomena it does. For instance, in the case in which the table is turned upside down on the floor and is then apparently "glued" to the floor, the psychic apparatus may be likened to a tube projecting from the medium and filled with water. In the medium's end we can suppose there is a piston, and also a piston at the other end, and that this second piston presses on the table. When a force is applied to the first piston, the pressure is transmitted through the water to the second, and thence to the table.

Generally, it is possible to conceive of a psychic structure as a stiff tube filled with an incompressible fluid, the tube itself having the power to lengthen and shorten, and to move up and down.

It is also possible to imagine that raps, blows, etc., could be transmitted through such an apparatus.

In the case in which the medium and the chair on which she is sitting are bodily pushed along the floor, the application of water pressure transmitted along tubes is comprehensible.

It is necessary to say, however, that the idea of fluid pressure transmitted along a rigid tube is no more than an analogy.

(2) Does the psychic structure resist pulls as well as pushes?

Yes. It also resists torques. When the trumpet is psychically held up in the air, the experimenter may grasp the end of it and endeavour to turn it. He finds that he can turn it through a few degrees, but that the resistance to further twisting soon becomes so great that he is unable to proceed. The structure resists forces applied to its free end just as an ordinary solid body does. But the likeness of the structure to a solid body does not appear to go much further than this.

(3) Is there any possibility that some, or all, of the energy required for the manifestations is a form of heat energy: i.e. is it possible that the operators can abstract supplementary energy from a table by slowing down its molecular movements?

It does not seem likely. During a long levitation I could not discover any fall of temperature in the table. There is much evidence that the energy required is taken only from the bodies of the sitters, such evidence including loss of weight, physical fatigue after a séance, nervous bodily reactions, etc.

(4) In a good séance do phenomena go on continuously without periods of rest?

No. They are never continuous. After a burst of phenomena there is a period of quiescence, as though time were required for the collection and storage of psychic energy. It would appear that at least some of this energy is stored on or within the wood of the table.

(5) What do you mean when you use the term "psychic equilibrium"?

I have used this term, in default of anything better, to mean that the preliminary stage of instability at a séance is over the stage in which phenomena are as a rule weak, sporadic, and unreliable, and in which the operators would appear to be paying more attention to collecting quantities of psychic energy from the bodies of the sitters than to producing really good phenomena, and that a kind of equilibrium has been established in which there is a reserve of energy to draw upon. The two stages are analogous, for instance, to that in which steam is being raised in a large boiler and that in which this process has been completed and the boiler is in steady working order.

(6) What is the medium's condition during and after the séances? Does her respiration or pulse increase during levitation? Is she exhausted at the end? In fact, does she supply the energy as well as the material?

Her general condition after a séance seems much the same as before it. She does not seem in the least fatigued, although, she tells me, she is inclined to sleep longer than usual the following morning. I have no data with regard to pulse or respiration. During the séance she supplies the material, but not (or only a very little of) the energy. The function of the sitters is to supply the energy.

(7) Have raps ever occurred while the medium has been asleep?

Yes. On several occasions, I have been informed by her sisters, rapping has taken place while she has been sound asleep. Most often she was not wakened thereby. The members of the circle had a verbal agreement with the operators that the latter should not interfere with the medium at any time except during séances. This arrangement the operators loyally kept to, with the exception of occasional rapping at night in her bedroom, which I think was done for some special reason.

(8) What is your experience of clairvoyance in connection with the Goligher circle?

Very involved, and on the whole unsatisfactory. In The Reality of Psychic Phenomena I gave one example of clairvoyance by a lady who is psychically developed and who seems really to have seen something of the actual physical processes involved. A gentleman, who has had a fairly good scientific training and who is also a psychic, has likewise given me an account which agrees to some extent with several processes of which he was ignorant. But on the whole the results have been disappointing, at any rate as far as descriptions of the actual psychic structures are concerned. As at all circles, some very wonderful and impossible things are alleged to have been seen by people who were under the delusion they possessed the clairvoyant faculty. Several persons declared that they beheld spirits actually holding up the table with their hands - a result which would simplify the problem of levitation considerably if only it were true.

With regard to what clairvoyants have seen of the operators themselves, the same kind of thing holds. I have heard clairvoyants describe in minute detail various spirit forms they said they saw in the room, and, while they were giving their descriptions, raps, loud and happy-sounding, were heard on the floor, apparently in confirmation of what the clairvoyants saw. On the other hand, spirit forms have been seen which I am sure existed only in the imaginations of the "seers" themselves.

If the experimenter had to depend upon clairvoyance for information concerning the psychic processes at the Goligher circle, he would be leaning on a broken reed. I have never received the slightest help from it during all the years I have been experimenting. In my experience clairvoyance is a faculty not much to be depended upon even in that region where we might expect it to be supreme, the psychic.

(9) What is your opinion of the question of conscious or unconscious fraud at séances for physical phenomena?

While recognising that both varieties of fraud exist, I am confident that they have been much overrated. Even at séances, such as the Golighers', where everything is above suspicion, where all phenomena can be demonstrated with the greatest ease to be genuine to the last detail, things happen which to a superficial observer might appear fraudulent. For instance, sometimes the medium's body, or portions of her body, make spasmodic kinds of movements when heavy raps or impacts are being experienced far out in the circle. These are simply the reactions due to the raps and are what we might expect. The seeker after fraud (who, by the way, is usually a person with no knowledge of science) immediately puts them down to imposture. My experiments conducted over a long period of time, and more thoroughly than any ever carried out hitherto, have proved to me beyond all question that the medium's body is either directly or indirectly the focus of all the mechanical actions which result in phenomena. And not only is it the focus, but it also seems to supply a kind of duplicate of portions of her body which can be temporarily detached and projected into the space in front of her. Thus things happen in the séance-room which, from the very nature of the case, sometimes bear a superficial appearance of fraud, though in a properly conducted circle it is only superficial, and the true and genuine nature of the phenomena can always be discovered by a little investigation. I am, therefore, chary of accepting off-hand any fraud hypothesis. Many of the cases of fraud which have been brought forward against mediums I know to be untrue, and further, I know (which the authors of the fraud theory do not) exactly where the truth lies and in what way a genuine manifestation has borne the appearance of a fraudulent one. This occasional similarity of genuine and fictitious phenomena is very disconcerting to the investigator when he meets it for the first time, and has, I venture to say, put a period to much promising work in the psychic field. But the man who is not ready to go thoroughly into details and hunt out the ultimate causes of things is of no use in the séance-room.

(10) Has there been much interest shown in your researches, especially by scientists?

Yes. I have had letters from people in all walks of life who wished some point made clearer in connection with the phenomena. I have had many valuable suggestions with regard to experimental work from scientific men in many parts of the world. And I am altogether agreeably surprised at the great interest taken generally in the subject. To judge from the scathing articles which occasionally appear in the press, an outsider might be justified in concluding that psychic phenomena and psychic subjects in general are mere humbug, and that those who deal with them are also humbugs, though perhaps self-deluded ones. The superior attitude of most of the press is highly amusing. It is based, I think, on the assumption that the general public know nothing of psychic things, whereas the truth is that nowadays eight people out of ten know something of them. I should say, judging from my experience, that the newspaper which takes upon itself the responsibility of declaring everything connected with psychic research to be humbug, and which even conducts a campaign against it, will surely offend a host of its readers. People do not go about advertising their belief that a spiritual world actually exists - a world whose existence can to some extent be demonstrated by experiment - but nevertheless there are very many people in the world to-day with this belief, and their number is steadily growing.

The kind of work which I have carried out and, in fact, am still continuing, has for its object the placing of as many of the processes as possible connected with psychic phenomena before the educated world, so that others may be encouraged to follow, whereby in time such an accumulation of scientific testimony and facts may be gathered that no thoughtful man may any longer doubt. I desire to help in the discovery of the psychic laws, which are as real as physical ones, so that in the years to come there may be no more mystery. If there is no mystery there will be no mystery mongers.

(11) Is ordinary scientific experience of much avail when conducting experiments in the séance-room?

In conducting experiments in an ordinary mechanics laboratory we work with certain instruments or machines which can be relied upon to do what they are asked to do: in other words, if we make proper dispositions we can obtain a certain amount of accurate results for a given amount of mental and physical work. We apply, for instance, a force of a certain number of pounds to a certain part of a given machine, and we can always rely upon a certain effect due to this force. In psychic work it does not follow that a given cause produces always the same effect. In ordinary scientific work our tools are obedient to our commands. Unknown factors can be almost eliminated. In psychic work our tools are often anything but obedient to our commands, and the unknown factors are predominant.

The truth is that the human factor in psychic work is the most troublesome and unreliable. No physical phenomena can be produced without the aid of a human being (usually termed a medium), and in addition several other human beings (called sitters) are often required.

If the experimenter can overcome the great stumbling block of the human factor, he will make progress and will find a use for his scientific knowledge. But until he learns, possibly only by long experience, how to control the human element necessarily concerned in his experiments, he will not make headway. I was fortunate in having a medium like Miss Goligher to work with.

(12) In the two years that have passed since the publication of The Reality of Psychic Phenomena, have you changed your opinion in regard to the identity of the "operators"?

No. I am quite satisfied in my own mind that the operators are discarnate human beings. Of course I am not primarily interested in this phase of the matter. The methods by which the phenomena are produced are what I am chiefly concerned with, and whether the operators are what they claim to be or are masquerading subconscious elements of the medium's brain does not much matter to me. It is sufficient for my purpose that there are intelligences of some kind in charge of the phenomena. Nevertheless, I have seen and heard sufficient at the Goligher and other circles to convince me that man does not really die at physical death, but passes on to another state of existence, and that, for the most part, the entities who demonstrate at good séances are really human beings who have so passed on.

(13) What is the best form of phenomena considered solely from the point of view of obtaining messages from inhabitants of the psychic realm?

In my opinion, the "direct voice." At a direct-voice séance people who have "died" speak audibly in an objective voice. Many readers will probably not believe this, but nevertheless, however incredible it may seem, it is a fact. Unfortunately, a good direct-voice medium is an extremely rare personage. I think there are not above half a dozen in Great Britain to-day.

(14) Is the "direct voice" more satisfactory than materialisation?

Yes, from the point of view of obtaining messages. Materialisation phenomena require such a large expenditure of psychic energy that the quantity of this kind of phenomena is strictly limited at any given séance even with the best mediums. In the case of the "direct voice," however, the amount of psychic energy required seems to be very much smaller, with the consequence that a corresponding increase in the magnitude of results is obtained.

(15) Is it dangerous for people who are not in good health to sit in séances?

Yes. The sitters supply most of the energy required for the manifestations, and this energy is taken in some unknown form from their bodies. If a person is in poor health the drain of vital energy may be disastrous.

(16) Has the holding of so many séances in any way affected the health of Miss Goligher?

No. But great care was taken to see that she did not sit too often; never, except in very special cases, more than once a week.

(17) What do you think of the future in store for psychic research?

I think it will have a great future. All indications point that way. But there will have to be organised effort, and not merely the sporadic experiments of a few. The recent war, as one of its few welcome by-products, seems to have opened the eyes of a great many people to the importance of the subject, and the interest thus created is not likely to lapse. For, in the last analysis, psychic research and psychic research only is likely to determine in any definite way whether man does or does not continue to exist after physical death.

(18) Have you found phenomena of the physical order so rare as most people think they are?

No. Of course, mediumship such as Miss Goligher's is rare. But I know several other persons who can obtain movements without contact, and I am confident that if I had the time to give to them and they had the time to sit regularly, good non-contact phenomena would eventually be obtained in their cases. As it is, I have obtained some data from experiments I have carried out with them.

(19) How would you recommend an experimenter desirous of undertaking psychic research to proceed?

I think it would be well he should confine his attention to one small branch of the subject. The subject is already so vast that no man can tackle it all. Time should not be wasted in eternally seeking to verify the actuality of the phenomena. When the experimenter has satisfied himself that the phenomena with which he is dealing are genuine, he should not seek to satisfy all the world, for that is impossible. He should go ahead and try to discover the mechanism of the phenomena and the laws regulating them. Psychic phenomena are quite as real as any other, and the man who nowadays denies their occurrence on a priori grounds is not worth wasting time upon.

(20) Should not the fact that light affects the magnitude of physical phenomena give us some clue to the composition of the psychic structures?

Yes, but it is difficult to say how. I once experienced the effect of light on these structures at the Goligher circle in a rather impressive way. The body and chair of one of the sitters was casting a shadow on a portion of the floor within the circle space. A rapping rod was "out" and was rapping on various parts of the floor. At my request it rapped on a portion of the floor where the light was strong, and the ensuing sounds were muffled and dull. It then rapped a few inches further along the floor within the shadow of the chair, and the resulting sounds were hard and strong. It rapped half a dozen times in the light and in the shadow alternately, and the result was always as stated. It changed quickly from the light to the shadow, and just as quickly the loudness of the blows changed. As a matter of fact, the operators were actually giving me a simple demonstration on the effects of light upon their structures.

The effect of light in the séance-room is immediate. I think the peculiar form of matter of which the structures are partly composed is quickly and adversely affected. Light of long wave length, like red light, is least troublesome, which points to the fact that the matter of the psychic structures must exist in a delicate and unstable form.

At the Goligher circle we once substituted mauve glass for the customary red glass of the illuminating lantern. We waited for quite a long time for phenomena. Eventually the séance-table jerked about the floor two or three times. But that was all that occurred. The only light we could use with the certainty of getting good phenomena was the red.

It is possible that light of some particular wave length in the visible spectrum may not be injurious to phenomena. All that can be said at present is that the longest wave length seems best, and, indeed, the only possible. Nevertheless, there may be some wave length well up the spectrum which, when used alone, and not in combination with other wave lengths on either side of it, may be permissible. But this is a matter for exact and painstaking experiment. I need not enlarge on the advantages that would accrue if a type of radiation could be found which would strongly illuminate the séance-room and at the same time not be hurtful to phenomena. Only the most powerful mediums have been able to produce strong physical phenomena in daylight, and even then the period of such phenomena was of the briefest. Materialisation of the full form has, I understand, only been accomplished in daylight on one or two occasions, and then only after prolonged sitting under the most suitable conditions with a strong medium of this class.

(21) Is photography likely to play an important part in psychic research of the future?

I am inclined to think so. Indeed, I think that we may look for the chief advance along this line. There seems to be no doubt that by the aid of a certain peculiar type of mediumship, psychic "extras" can be made to appear on the ordinary photographic plate - these "extras" being in many cases pictures of deceased relatives or friends of the sitters. Unfortunately, this class of result is very susceptible to fraud. All sorts of faked effects can be produced on an ordinary photographic plate, and the amateur has little chance of discriminating between the true and the false. Nevertheless, there is evidence to show that genuine psychic "extras" are obtained when the proper quality of mediumship is present. The most convincing results are seldom made public. The facts of many cases have, however, been placed before me in confidence, and I can only come to the conclusion, after thorough examination, that the "extras" are indeed photographs of deceased people-pictures impressed on the plate by means we know nothing about at present. Our ignorance of the method is of little relative importance. The levitation of a table was as mysterious to me as the production of photographic "extras" before I took up the investigation. What is required is continued investigation with the object of unravelling the laws - experiment and more experiment. Things are incredible only when we cannot understand how they are done. It is one of my objects, in publishing the results of my researches into psychic phenomena, to induce others to take a scientific interest in these subjects.

There is a kind of psychic photography besides that in which "extras" are obtained on the plate. I mean that in which flashlight exposures are made of processes in connection with physical phenomena, such as levitation or materialisation. These photographs have of necessity to be taken by flashlight, because the phenomena of this class cannot be obtained in any but dim light. The photograph of the levitating structure described in The Reality of Psychic Phenomena, experiment 87, was of this kind.

The effect on the medium of the flashlight is always severe. After the flash by means of which we succeeded in obtaining the above picture, Miss Goligher trembled violently for ten minutes or more. Her arms and legs kept jerking spasmodically, and her body every now and then moved involuntarily. But in a quarter of an hour she was quite normal again. It is not to be wondered at that the effect of flashlight is severe on a physical medium when a psychic structure emanating from her body is "out" in the séance-room, The reader who has carefully followed my experimental work will understand that the structure is built up of matter from the medium's body, and that it is really a part of her organism in a very unstable state. It is acutely sensitive to practically all light, except that at the bottom end of the spectrum, and, in fact, cannot exist in any light except this. Imagine, then, the devastating effect of the magnesium flash upon this delicate structure. No wonder the medium trembles violently and is upset for some little time!

A few mediums of the past have apparently been able to withstand the effects of the magnesium light fairly well. At least no untoward results were reported. But I am satisfied that its use is rather risky for the medium, and that it should only be employed after careful thought and preparation, and in conjunction with the desires of the operators. For, whether the reader look upon the operators as the spirit beings they claim to be, or as subconscious nuclei belonging to the medium or sitters, it is certain they are in charge of, and produce, the phenomena, and that, therefore, they may be trusted to know more about the dangers incurred by the medium than the experimenter. Miss Goligher is a young woman, and possibly her bodily functions are not yet fully developed, with the consequence that exposure to flashlight during the occurrence of phenomena would be specially injurious to her. At any rate, the operators were always careful that nothing should be done which would in any way be likely to harm her. They seemed anxious that photographs of the levitated table and of other psychic phenomena should be secured, and we held several sittings for the purpose. But they always demanded that a trial of the flashlight should first be made, with the object, apparently, of discovering its likely effect on the psychic structures and the medium. Usually after that they simply refused to levitate the table again. They spelt out messages to the effect that if, while the table was levitated, the magnesium flash was used, the medium would probably be severely injured. It requires a large and powerful psychic structure to levitate a table, with corresponding drain upon the medium. The structure shown in the photograph (The Reality of Psychic Phenomena, experiment 87) did not require nearly so much psychic energy and material from the medium's body, as the table was not levitated at the time. It was only a framework compared with the structure necessary during actual levitation. Yet the medium was severely affected by the flash. If a heavily energised structure had been present, it is reasonable to suppose that the medium would have been proportionately affected and that really serious injury might have followed. The experimenter into psychic phenomena of the physical order should always be careful of the health and well-being of his medium. He should remember that he is dealing with processes of the true nature of which he is completely ignorant, and that any thoughtlessness on his part is likely to lead to untoward results. Moreover, much better experimental work can be done if the medium is treated considerately than if she is looked upon as an insensitive machine. I think that much of the trouble in the past has arisen from want of consideration for their mediums on the part of experimenters. Psychic work should be a combined affair; the experimenter and the medium should form a partnership, as it were, with the object of obtaining the best results possible.

There is no doubt that the operators at the Goligher circle were desirous that as much photographic work should be done as was consistent with the health of the medium. But, unfortunately, it was found that little such work could be accomplished owing to the reasons mentioned. The youth of the medium was, I think, the chief drawback. Five or six years hence it will probably be found that she will not be so acutely sensitive to the magnesium flash as she now is, and accordingly photographs of many phases of the phenomena at present impossible will be obtained. For my part, I state plainly that in matters of this kind I would not go against the advice of the operating entities. I have had such intimate experience of the séance-room and its manifestations that I have become systematically careful of the well-being of the medium.

While on the, subject of the health of the medium, I may mention that when the experiments were being carried out in which she temporarily lost 80, 40, and even 50 lb. in weight, there was abundant evidence that the strain upon her system was becoming severe. I felt that it was necessary to be careful, and I would not proceed too far. The operators, however, were working in conjunction with me on that occasion, and, accordingly, I felt the more confident.

(22) Is it the case, so far as your experience goes, that mediums are hysterical or weak-minded?

It is difficult to answer this by a direct affirmative or negative. Miss Goligher is an extremely practical and strong-minded young woman. She is not excitable, but is placid and cheerful. As I have already mentioned, however, her mediumship has never been pressed. What might happen if she were to sit three or four times a week in promiscuous circles I would not like to say, but I think there can be little doubt that she would suffer.

Some professional mediums are, I think, not exactly stable. A good many of them are excitable and given to exaggeration. A few are decidedly eccentric. I have never met one whom I would consider weak-minded, but I think, on the whole, their calling is not very suitable for them, either physically or mentally.

(23) Have you had experience of mental phenomena such as trance, clairvoyance, etc.?

Yes. I have had considerable experience. Such phenomena do not, however, appeal to me so strongly as the physical. I expect it is a matter of temperament and that I am unduly prejudiced. I can never get rid of the feeling, in the case of phenomena such as trance speaking, clairvoyance, clairaudience, automatic writing, planchette, and Ouija board, etc., that the mind of the medium has far too much to do with the results. It is difficult to see how the mind of the medium can lift a table weighing 50 lb. clear of the floor when it is placed a couple of feet in front of her, but it is not at all difficult to picture how her mind, in its subconscious aspect, may be responsible for the general inanities of trance speaking, or what passes nine times out of ten for clairvoyance. The reader should understand that I do not decry the genuine nature of mental phenomena, but that I am appalled at the difficulties of sifting them. There seems so little one can come to grips with. Of course phenomena of the mental class are much more common than those of the physical, and that may account for our hearing so much about them. For one physical medium such as Miss Goligher there are a thousand so-called clairvoyants. I am not at all inclined to the opinion that it is by means of the mental phenomena that all doubt of the existence of a psychic realm will eventually be removed. I think rather that this will be accomplished largely by the "direct voice" and psychic photography, which are both phases of physical phenomena.

Some people have grown accustomed to look upon physical phenomena with contempt, but I think their attitude is a mistaken one.

(24) Have the phenomena occurring with Miss Goligher shown any signs of changing in character?

No. In essentials they are the same now as they were four years ago. Of course they are of greater magnitude, variety, and accuracy, but their type has not altered. We had hoped to obtain materialisations, or the direct voice, and a cabinet was erected for that purpose in the séance-room. But nothing came of it. I am inclined to think that each medium possesses his or her own particular type of phenomena, and that it is seldom capable of varying or embracing other types, at least to any notable extent.

Note: The above article appeared in "Experiments in Psychical Science" by W. J. Crawford (1919, E. P. Dutton & Co, New York).


Related Material

Contact Phenomena: W. J. Crawford

Direct-Voice Phenomena: W. J. Crawford

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