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.

Do We Survive?

 - Oliver Lodge -

          THE MAIN object of this series of talks has been to emphasize the importance of psychical research and to maintain the actual occurrence of facts for which we have no scientific theory, - and which are therefore liable to be ignored or denied by present-day science: whereas the testimony is that they undoubtedly occur under certain barely known conditions. This being so, no scientific man has a right to deny them without examination, or to penalize those who elect to make a study of them. Science cannot rationally make a survey of existence if it ignores actual occurrences; and the science which attempts to prescribe the exclusion of a whole range of facts cannot be trusted as a guide to life or be put into opposition to any form of idealistic philosophy. A comprehensive science would study these occult facts, would seek to understand them, and in treating of the problem of existence would leave nothing relevant out of consideration.

The aim of the talks, so far, has been to emphasize this. Lord Charles Hope, for instance, brought forward in detail one comparatively small phenomenon, which he holds can be verified and made fraud-proof by instrumental devices. Mr. Gerald Heard cited a whole set of phenomena which are asserted to occur, but are denied by orthodox science; and Sir Ernest Bennett told you of certain experiences, which he thinks are facts, and which it is difficult to get away from. No scientific man who ignores them has the right to philosophize on existence or to argue against the fundamental tenets of religion.

What in my judgement these phenomena prove is that we are denizens of a spiritual world, and that its activities are by no means limited to those of the material organisms we see around us. That is my personal conviction, based on half a century's study of the evidence. It seems to me quite certain that mankind is not limited to the physical body or to the brief tenure of life here, but that he has a larger and more permanent existence, which we do not wholly understand. That is what the ultimate deduction will be when the facts are rationally treated and their implications made out.

The subject of the talk allotted to me is 'Do We Survive?' thus jumping at once from the facts to the conclusion to be drawn from them - a conclusion which is of such great importance that many people regard it as the main object of psychical research. It is not that; but it looms so large in popular estimation, and a certainty regarding it is of such vital importance to humanity, that it is regarded in some quarters as the sole topic to which the efforts of the psychical researcher should be directed.

Let it be clearly understood that it is possible to admit some or most of the facts and to remain sceptical about survival. In France, for instance, most of the facts are accepted and yet this conclusion is denied. I argue that it is only by selection and special pleading that one is able to arrive at a negative conclusion. I do not think it would be admitted that so to conclude it is necessary to ignore some of the facts and make selection from the evidence, and yet I feel that it is so.

I myself was convinced initially by the evidence derived from Mrs. Piper's trance utterances in the year 1889. I then had communications from deceased members of my own family, which unmistakably showed that they were just as living and active as ever: at first from older members of the previous generation, who sent evidence of their identity and characteristics.

But the best and most crucial evidence has been given since the death of F. W. H. Myers in 1901, for he knew the fallacy of many of the alternative hypotheses which are still brought forward by those who pride themselves on not departing much from what may be called orthodox science. So after his decease Myers took pains to show that these semi-orthodox explanations, though plausible, were not sufficient to account for all the phenomena. He showed this by an ingenious and elaborate system of cross-correspondences, which have been recorded by the Society for Psychical Research and made a study of by Mr. Piddington. He also showed the insufficiency of any explanation short of individual survival by what may be called 'scholarly' communications, that is, communications of a kind specially characteristic of individual scholars, and far above the competence of the medium, for which the late Dr. A. W. Verrall and S. H. Butcher and Myers himself have given posthumous evidence. This cannot be summarised, but will repay careful and elaborate study.

As an instance in which Myers himself is the communicator, I would specially mention the answers that he gave to a question about Lethe, which he was asked first by Mr. Dorr in America, working through Mrs. Piper, and then by me in England, working through Mrs. Willett. F. W. H. Myers gave appropriate classical references on both occasions, the first being from Ovid, the second from Virgil, neither of these answers being understood by the recipient at the time; but he also, by special effort, when the question about Lethe was put to him for the second time, contrived to make Mrs. Willett, the automatist, write the (to her) meaningless word 'Dorr'; that is to say he recalled the name of the man who in America had asked him the very same question. This answer was given by special effort, in my absence, and was sent me by post. The episode is quite convincing and is recorded in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. xxv, pp. 116-175, especially 124-130.)

And, to illustrate the scholarly communications characteristic of Professor Verrall, I may instance the case of Philoxenus, an obscure writer of whom very little is known, but which formed the complete solution to a problem set to scholars posthumously by Professor Verrall and studied by Lord Balfour in his pamphlet called The Ear of Dionysius.

These are only two out of a multitude of instances which have been ignored by those who come to a negative conclusion, but which have had their due effect on those who have studied them, especially on the group of leaders of the Society for Psychical Research who live at Fishers Hill, and have led to the striking testimony of Mrs. Henry Sidgwick, as communicated through her brother Lord Balfour to the Society for Psychical Research two years ago. She is generally regarded as ultra sceptical, like her husband the late Henry Sidgwick; and certainly she is exceedingly cautious; but Lord Balfour ended his reading of her paper with the following testimony so that there should be no misapprehension regarding her views in the future:

'Some of you may have felt that the note of caution and reserve has possibly been overemphasized in Mrs. Sidgwick's paper. If so, they may be glad to hear what I am about to say. Conclusive proof of survival is notoriously difficult to obtain. But the evidence may be such as to produce belief, even though it fall short of conclusive proof. I have Mrs. Sidgwick's assurance - an assurance which I am permitted to convey to the meeting - that, upon the evidence before her, she herself is a firm believer both in survival and in the reality of communication between the living and the dead.'

That is a statement by Lord Balfour, who spoke on behalf of Mrs. Sidgwick, an old lady of nearly ninety, who was unable to come to the meeting herself.

And now let me take advantage of this unique opportunity provided by the B.B.C. and speak to those who find life hard, who get depressed sometimes and wonder whether all the struggle and effort is worth while. Let me convey to them some assurance and state the certainty which has gradually grown up in my mind as the result of all the evidence obtained over a period of nearly fifty years.

All this evidence, so full and unmistakable, has brought me to a perception that a spiritual world is a great reality and has led me back to a realization of the truth of the sayings attributed to the Founder of Christianity: 'In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.' So ran His assertions of quiet confidence about a future life. Indeed, I don't see how a professing Christian can have any doubt about it.

If we look upon this life as only the beginning of our pilgrimage and think of it as a preparation for a larger and fuller existence, then we might learn to welcome the rebuffs and the opportunities for service and development of character. For it is our character and memory that we take with us. We are not different the moment we pass over. Those on the other side tell us that there is scope for talent and enterprise over there. Our friends come to welcome us when we cross the barrier: friendship is important there as here.

Some there are who are spared much of the discipline of this life, and have been removed as we think prematurely. I constantly receive letters from bereaved people who are in deep distress at the loss of a child or young person. I can only pass on the information that has been vouchsafed to me and assure them that all is well with their loved ones and that children are taken care of by good people. The veil between the two worlds is wearing thin. It is possible, given the right conditions, to communicate with those we call the dead. They are still mindful of our love for them, and they reciprocate it fully; they are hurt by our excessive grief at their loss. They do not think of themselves as dead, but as now fully alive, free of the clogging body and able to move freely in their new state, using the etheric body which they possessed all the time. They assure us that all is well with them, that they are still at work, and that love bridges the chasm.

I did not arrive at this belief by any religious channel. My own belief was based on the facts and experience studied, in the large and comprehensive science which in my view ought to take into account the whole of the phenomena, and not limit itself to material phenomena, as urged by the leaders of the nineteenth century and fashionable among most scientific men since Sir Isaac Newton. Science as hitherto understood has always been liable to take a limited view of existence, and to pride itself upon excluding a whole range of reality as belonging to another region which it calls religious or idealistic or psychical.

I hold that science should be comprehensive enough to include a treatment of the whole, to exclude no facts which can be responsibly maintained on scientific evidence to have occurred. It has to exclude the vagaries of superstition; to them it must always turn a deaf ear: they are an abomination. But every kind of reality which can be asserted by responsible people as having actually happened ought to be included in the scope of a larger broader science, which may then, and not till then, claim a right to view existence as a whole, and gradually come to conclusions about it.

It is this larger science that I humbly and unworthily try to represent. It removes all fear of the unknown, and encourages trust - trust in God as a loving Father; and I am grateful to the authorities of the B.B.C. for allowing me to express my mature convictions, unhindered, in what may possibly prove my last talk to you.

If it should happen that my work down here is done, or nearly done, let me take an affectionate farewell. Good-bye.

Source: The article above was taken from "Inquiry into the Unknown" edited by Theodore Besterman (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1934).


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 Mechanism of Survival

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

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