Sir Oliver Lodge

Sir Oliver Lodge

President of the Radio Society, Physical Society, British Society, Society for Psychical Research and Rontgen Society. Professor of Physics in the University of Liverpool, Principal of the University of Birmingham. Knighted. Sent a radio message one year before Marconi.

The Mechanism of Survival

 - Oliver Lodge -

          IN THE last two chapters I have attempted incidentally to show the combined strength and weakness of the materialistic position. Its strength lies in the fact that apparently every psychic or mental happening has a physical concomitant; or, in other words, that life and mind have to be embedded in some physical vehicle, and that all operations, not physical only, but every kind, are conducted in accordance with a regular system of law and order, which can be explored and gradually understood by science. The mind of man is not something outside nature, but is a part of the whole, and harmonious with all the rest. The physical vehicle of mind may not as yet be fully apprehended by us, but experience tends to show that there is a physical vehicle in every case; or in other words, the psychical and the physical are interlocked, so that each is a portion of an all-embracing Whole.

Hitherto the only physical vehicle known to us in the service of life and mind has been some form of matter; but it would be a mistake to assume without proof that organised matter, such as brain, is the sole and necessary instrument without which mental operations cannot go on. Matter is that part of the physical universe which makes direct appeal to our senses; it is that which displays the activity of the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The processes which go on in the complicated structure of organisms can be followed into singular detail as knowledge increases, so that these processes repay a lifetime of study, and are sometimes thought to be, not only coherent, but complete and satisfactory and final in themselves. The strength of materialism lies in the rational character of these material Processes. The weakness lies in the assumption, the gratuitous and unfounded assumption, that those material processes are all-inclusive, and demand that nothing else shall be taken into account.

But already experience has shown that there are many other things, even in the physical universe, besides matter; things for which we happen to have no sense-organ, and which therefore are apt to elude observation, so that careful enquiry and discovery have been necessary to bring them to light. To this category belong such now familiar agents as electricity and magnetism, which for all practical purposes were unknown to the human race even a few centuries ago. Electricity and magnetism belong to the physical universe, but they are not Primarily apprehensible; their activities are only indirectly displayed by matter, and therefore they have to be indirectly apprehended by us. They can only be explored by means of material instruments: we have not grown accustomed to them through our senses, as we have to the different forms of matter, and consequently we often feel puzzled as to their nature. Such forces as gravitation and cohesion belong to the same category. We know that material bodies fall together as if they attracted each other; but we have very little notion of why they do so. The tendency to fall together is only conspicuous when one at least of the pieces of matter is huge. The fact of gravitation is forced on our attention by the behaviour of bodies near the earth; but had it not been for the generalisations of science, we should never have discovered that there is the same kind of gravitative attraction between two pebbles, two bits of wood, two books, two objects of any kind. The force is too small to be appreciated, but it certainly exists; and the fact of this what we call "attraction" across empty space, has led us to postulate the existence of something in between the particles of matter, something tenuous which fills all space, something which is essential to the activity of the material world, but which in itself eludes our senses, so that its very existence can be doubted, although it is probably the most real and substantial thing in the physical universe. This, which we call empty space or ether, is what interpenetrates all matter; it extends to the furthest star, there is no break in its infinite continuity, and it is now suspected of being the raw material out of which matter has been made.

To carry on and substantiate the strength of the materialistic position, while at the same time admitting that matter alone is insufficient for an explanation, it is natural to frame the hypothesis that this etheric medium may constitute the physical vehicle for life and mind when they are dissociated from matter. If there is a real entity which fills all space, it is unlikely that it is not made use of for vital purposes; and if it be true that a physical instrument or vehicle, some kind of mechanism involving rational processes, must accompany every thought and every mental operation, then the space-filling entity suggests itself as competent to do all that is wanted. To suppose that mind cannot exist without matter, is weak, gratuitous, and inconclusive: but to suppose that mind requires for its activity some physical vehicle, though it may be of an entirely supersensual kind, is in analogy and accordance with all the rest of our experience. Mind may always require a body or mode of manifestation, but that "body" need not be formed of matter, and need not appeal to our present senses.

Now this view of existence has a bearing on the problem of survival. Instinctively scientific men feel that in connection with every kind of activity there must he some physical process which can be investigated; they are not content with the idea of a totally disembodied spirit. Instinctively they seek for something physical; but hitherto some of them have made the mistake of assuming that the, adjectives "physical" and "material" are interchangeable terms, and that when the brain and nerve systems are left behind there is nothing to take their place. That however is going beyond the facts. Indeed there are many operations going on m the nerves and brain cells which are not yet fully understood, and will not be fully understood until the etheric; connection between the particles is taken into account. And when that connection is better understood, it will be perceived that the matter particles are after all a secondary consideration; they have been extracted from animal food and are constantly changing: no sort of identity can be associated with them. The motions of the particles cannot be the primary activity, though they are the means by which our senses are affected, and therefore the means through which we study the more recondite operations of which their movements are the outward and visible sign.

When this idea is fully grasped - and admittedly it takes some time to grasp it - many of the arguments and analogies against survival break down; for as a matter of fact we never find things going out of existence, though we do find them going out of our ken. Anything which enters the ether goes out of our ken; but in that new vehicle it continues, whether its subsequent history can be traced or not.

Past and Future

It is possible that the ether can automatically retain a record of the past capable of being deciphered and interpreted by intelligence. By suitable devices records may indeed he incorporated in matter, as in photographic plates and gramophone disks, but, like all material aggregates, such records fade or wear out, whereas the clarity of an etheric record continues undiminished for ever. When we look through a telescope at a nebula or star cluster we are gazing on the distant past - thousands or even millions of years ago - and extracting information from it. Thus is the past brought to our present apprehension. Not by such aid can we directly apprehend the future. Yet we can anticipate, plan, and to some extent predict: and what we can thus do consciously we may be able perhaps to do more mystically by intuition or inspiration. It becomes a question well worthy of attention, how far the future is accessible, whether it is decipherable to beings of any kind, whether it in any sense already exists, and what power our faculties have of catching glimpses of the future as well as of the past. Unfortunately this enquiry is at present hampered by obsolete legislation; the common sense of mankind has decided that the future is hopelessly inaccessible. But the common sense of mankind has before now decided many other things which have turned out wrong. A spherical and revolving earth, flying annually round the sun was repugnant to common sense at one time. The intuitions of genius may be a guide worth following up and submitting to verification: the presumptions of uninstructed ignorance are apt to lead us astray into positions whence extrication is troublesome. Security in a false position devoid of any real foundation can only be sustained or bolstered up by the abominable resources of persecution: a brutal buttress of blundering bigotry which Ecclesiastics and Legislators have not scrupled to employ in the past.

Direct Evidences of Survival

Survival however is not to be established on grounds of analogy or by arguments of probability: it must be proven by direct experience. Individuals who have died must demonstrate their continued existence by trustworthy evidence. That may not be easy, it might not be possible. Experience must be the judge: we cannot decide what is possible or impossible, except by trial. Those who have studied the matter consider that the evidence is good, and that some individuals have proved their survival: that is to say, they have demonstrated that their individual mind and character has survived the death of the material organism in which they were at one time incorporated. We need not suppose that they are divorced from the physical universe as disembodied ghosts. Their physical existence may be just as real and substantial as ever, only they are no longer associated with matter; but then matter is not the only entity: there is another more universal, more continuous, far more perfect mechanism, which it may be presumed they still inhibit and utilise. The strength of materialism remains, but in a glorified form. The theory takes a more comprehensive view of the universe than the narrow materialist thought possible. Whilst the essential and rational claims of the materialist are satisfied, his illegitimate denials are contradicted, and shown to be incompatible with the progress of scientific knowledge. The facts, the new and as yet unorthodox facts, range themselves on the side of a larger truth, and discountenance any narrow views based upon too limited experience or over-hasty prejudice. A study of those facts of psychic experience is just as important as a study of the behaviour of material organisms, and in due time they will attract some of the concentrated attention now devoted to other branches of knowledge. So a working hypothesis, capable of assimilating them with natural knowledge in general, may be helpful, however much it may have to be modified, extended, and replaced by something better.

A reverent utterance of Thomas Henry Huxley, though often quoted, may here once more find a place:

"Science seems to me to teach in the highest and strongest manner the great truth which is embodied in the Christian conception of entire surrender to the will of God. Sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing I have only begun to learn content and peace of mind since I have resolved at all risks to do this."


Other articles by Oliver Lodge

In Memory of Prof. Frederic W. H. Myers

Psychic Science

The Mode of Future Existence

What Science Means For Man

The Possibility of Survival from a Scientific Point of View

Problems Raised by the Idea of Survival

On the Asserted Difficulty of the Spiritualistic Hypothesis from a Scientific Point of View
Do We Survive?

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Some parts 2003