Frederic W. H. Myers

Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and classical scholar of the nineteenth century. Distinguished psychical researcher and author of "Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death." In 1882 he joined with Henry Sidgwick, William Barrett, and Edmund Gurney to form the Society for Psychical Research.

Science and a Future Life

 - Frederic Myers -

          TO THE question, "What has science to say as to man's survival of death?" the chief spokesmen of modern science are inclined to answer, "Nothing at all." The affirmative answer she holds as unproved, and the negative answer as unprovable.

Nevertheless, in spite of, and by reason of, her studied neutrality, the influence of science is every year telling more strongly against a belief in a future life. Inevitably so, since whatever science does not tend to prove, she in some sort tends to disprove; beliefs die out, without formal refutation, if they find no place among the copious store of verified and systematised facts and inferences which are supplanting the traditions and speculations of pre-scientific days as the main mental pabulum of mankind.

And the very magnitude of the special belief in question renders it, in one sense, the more easily starved. Men feel that, if it were true, there would surely be far more to be said for it than they have ever heard. The silence which surrounds the topic is almost more discouraging than overt attack. At first, indeed, in the early days of the scientific dominion, savants were wont to make some sort of apology, or disclaimer of competence, when their doctrines seemed too obviously to ignore man's hope of a future. Then came open assaults from audacious and confident savants - to whom the apologetic and optimistic savants seemed to have nothing particular to reply. And gradually the educated world - that part of it, at least, which science leads - is waking up to find that no mere trifles or traditions only, but the great hope which inspired their fathers aforetime, is insensibly vanishing away.

Now it is important that a question so momentous should not thus be suffered to go by default. There should be an occasional stocktaking of evidence, an occasional inquiry whether, among the multifarious advances of science, any evidence has been discovered bearing on a question which, after all, is to science a question of evidence alone.

It seems to me that, even during this generation - even during the last few years discoveries have, in fact, been made which must gradually revolutionise our whole attitude towards the question of an unseen world, and of our own past, present, or future existence therein.

Some of the discoveries of which I speak in the realm of automatism and of human personality -have already commanded wide scientific assent, although their drift and meaning have, as I hold, been as yet very imperfectly understood. Other discoveries, which I regard as equally valid, are as yet disputed or ignored; but they are, in fact, so closely linked with what is already admitted, that all analogy (I think) leads us to suppose that, in some form or other, these newer views also are destined profoundly to modify scientific thought.

The discoveries of which I speak are not the result of any startling novelties of method. Rather, they are examples of the fruitful results which will often follow from the simple application of well-known methods of research to a group of phenomena which, for some special historical reason, has hitherto been left outside the steady current of experiment and observation.

Now, the whole inquiry into man's survival has thus far, if I may so say, fallen between two stools. Neither those who support the thesis, nor those who impugn it, have thus far made any serious attempt to approach it by scientific method.

On the one hand, materialistic science has, naturally enough, preferred to treat the subject as hardly capable of argument. There is the obvious fact that, when a man dies, you hear nothing more from him. And there is the fact - less obvious, indeed, but more and more fully established - that to every mental change some cerebral change corresponds; with the inference that, when the brain decays, the mind, is extinct as well.

This strong negative argument forms the basis of the popular treatises - Buchner's "Kraft und Stoff" and "Das kunftige Leben" may serve as examples - which urge mankind definitely to set aside all thought of a life to come. The argument is, necessarily, a purely negative one; it rests on the absence of positive testimony to any mental energy with which some cerebral change is not directly concomitant. The negative presumption will, therefore, be shaken if accepted notions as to man's personality are shown to be gravely defective, while it will be at once overthrown if positive evidence to man's survival of bodily death can in any way be acquired.

To the arguments of Materialism, Philosophy and Religion have replied in ways of their own. As regards the nature of human personality, philosophy has had much to say; and man's immortality has been the very corner stone of the Christian faith. But, with rare exceptions, neither philosophy nor religion has discovered, or even sought for, facts and arguments which could meet materialistic science on its own ground. The spokesmen of religion, indeed, have generally preferred, for ecclesiastical or for moral reasons, to leave the question of man's survival, or, as they have termed it, man's immortality, to the domain of faith. On ecclesiastical grounds, they have naturally desired to retain the monopoly of spiritual teaching; they have been less concerned to prove by carnal methods that an unseen world exists, than to impress their own crowning message or revelation upon men who already believed in that world as a reality. On moral grounds, also, they have felt it dangerous to allow a dogma so essential as man's future life to be thrown into the chaldron of speculation. So long, indeed, as the earthly prosperity of the righteous was held sufficient to prove the moral government of the world, man's destiny after death might remain an open field for primitive questionings. But when earthly justice was too plainly seen to fail, then the doctrine of future reward and punishment became necessary in order to justify the ways of God to men.

Since, then, the thesis of man's survival has been far more often defended with an ethical than with a merely scientific interest, it is no wonder that the moral and emotional arguments should have assumed almost complete predominance.

With those arguments I have in this essay nothing to do. I am expressly laying aside all support which the belief in a future life receives either from "natural religion," from philosophy, or from revelation. I wish to debate the matter on the ground of experiments and observations such as are appealed to in other inquiries for definite objective proof.

Yet there is one argument which, since it is historical as well as religious, I must not avoid altogether. It will be urged by many readers that the Resurrection of Christ is "a fact as well attested as any in history " - better attested, they will say, than many of the recent observations on which I rely. And although on that historical question my opinion has no special value, I must not shirk this appeal. I will say, then, that I still adhere to Paley's view; that I cannot explain that testimony given by the "twelve men of probity," in face of bonds and stripes and death, except on the supposition that Christ did in fact in some way manifest Himself to His disciples after bodily life was extinct. But I personally could not press this argument upon other minds. I recognise that, were I not convinced also of those facts of modern occurrence which are actually in dispute, then, although I might have a moral right, I should hardly have a scientific right to pin my faith to an event so marvellous and so isolated, and dating back to a time and country with standards of historical accuracy so different from our own.

And I observe that, among the newer school of theologians, there is less and less disposition to press the argument on purely historical grounds. Preachers do not often say, "Apart from all question of what Christ was or did, we have absolute proof that He rose from the dead, and, consequently, that all men are so constituted that they will rise also." Rather they say, "Christ scaled a divine life with this great manifestation of divinity; therefore, we must believe Him when He tells us that we shall rise again."

It is natural enough to mix historical with moral proof where the purely moral elements in the demonstration have so often been found convincing. Yet it would be a grave mistake to suppose that, however cogent the moral proof of any proposition as to matter of fact may be, a scientific proof is thereby rendered superfluous. A belief which a man cannot connect and correlate with other beliefs relating to similar matters cannot long maintain an independent vitality.

As I have already said, the habit of belief on definite scientific grounds tends to the atrophy of all beliefs on matters of fact which cannot be verified by rigorous historical methods, or by modern experiment and observation. Physical science is in this way far more sceptical - or, rather, far more agnostic - than Law. Law has to act on probabilities; it gives weight to moral considerations when definite proof cannot be had. But science, if definite proof is unattainable, puts the matter aside altogether.

The result is, as we all know, that the great majority of Continental savants and disciples of science have practically ceased to regard a future life as a possibility worth discussing. In England and America the case is different; but even here the belief in survival seems now to rest, not so much on any definite creed, as on a temper of mind which in energetic Western races survives for some time the decay of definite dogma. I mean that view of the universe loosely styled optimism, but which some now term bonism, with no greater barbarism in the form of the word, and more accuracy in its meaning. These sanguine races, I say, still maintain their trust that the Cosmos, as a whole, is good, even when the definite beliefs on which this trust anciently rested have one by one been cut away. "We cannot believe," they say, "that God or Nature will put us to permanent intellectual confusion." "We must hold that life has a meaning, and that man's highest instincts are in accordance with the truth of things."

One must needs feel sympathy for the various groups, semi-Christian, Theistic, or Pantheistic, who are thus striving to support, on less and less of substantive aliment, the spiritual life within. But, alas! no sooner have the Positivist school succeeded in reducing that aliment to a large H in Humanity - the spiritual equivalent of a straw per diem - than the optimistic temper is found to be starved out, and the Western world to be gravitating towards the immemorial melancholy of the East.

It is the pessimists who contribute the most characteristic note to the philosophy of our generation. They tell us that the young vigour of Western races has thus far accepted without question the illusive brightness which Nature's witchery casts upon human fates. But, as these races attain maturity of meditation, they will pass from under the magic spell; their restless energy will die down as it recognises that all energies in the end are vain.

Yet it is not in philosophical utterance, but in practical life, that this disillusioned view of the universe is most pervading and potent. The determined egoist has in all ages been hard for the moralist to handle. And now he can turn round on the moralist and invoke the universe to back him. The "struggle-forlifeur" can plausibly maintain that it is he who in reality conforms to the fundamental law of all existence - that law being the self-preservation of each separate entity; and all alliances with other entities being mere temporary aids to self-preservation. "My ancestors," he may say, "instinctively practised tribal virtues, or they would not have survived. I can survive without practising those virtues; and if others imitate me, and my tribe decays, I shall merely infer that a nation containing many persons above a certain pitch of intelligence must necessarily lose the tribal instinct, the self-sacrificing naiveté, which are essential to what you call private virtue, or national greatness." We may threaten to hold aloof from such a man as this; but he will reply that the society of dupes or prigs is not the form of enjoyment at which he particularly aims.

To all this, of course, the upright man has for his own part an unshaken answer. He refuses to believe that the universe can be an evil thing. Whatever his personal destiny may be, he is ready to throw himself into the destiny of the whole. No disenchantment can dislodge him from the august self-surrender of Cleanthes' prayer:

Lead, lead Cleanthes, Zeus and holy Fate, 
Where'er ye place my post, to serve or wait 
Willing I follow; if against my will, 
A baffled rebel I must follow still.

To this temper the best men come nearest; this temper we should wish to be ours. And yet we have no proof that it may not in very truth be entirely irrational. The universe may not expect anything of this kind, nor be prepared to meet our self-devotion in any way whatever. All the moral grandeur which we feel in the Cosmos may be the mere figment of our own imaginations. This may be the last form of man's ineradicable anthropomorphism; the ascription to the Sum of Things of that merger of individual interests in a vaster wellbeing which was necessary to our struggling ancestors in order that their tribe might survive.

The universe has no need to struggle for existence; it exists, and there is no more to say. For aught we know, it may consist of countless units of sensation, with no ultimate end beyond their own individual and momentary pleasure, or surcease of pain, and only linked into a semblance of community by the exigencies of lust or war.

So profound is the atheism of these reflections, that there is something repugnant even in the admission that they need an answer. And yet when, sometimes, an answer is hinted at by some philosopher cognisant of the weakness of the habitual positions, there is apt to be a sinister tone in his reserve. It is suggested that it need not always be deemed incumbent on the moral teacher to proclaim that at all hazards we must seek the truth. If the wisest men have decided that it is impossible to "maintain Eternal Providence," it will be well to say and think as little as possible about the destiny of man. Nay, it may be a duty to preach to the young a lying gospel; to hide from them as long as may be the vanity of human hope. Science, it is urged, would thus be only doing what religion has often done before-setting a bar to inquiries which would lead to demoralisation and despair. Nor can one say which would be the better justification: the plea of religion, that she did but restrain the soul from a risk of wilful and fatal error; or the plea which science would have to urge, that she was but hiding the Medusa's head under her robe, and keeping from men innocent and unfortunate the inevitable and paralysing truth.

For my own part, I am opposed to either plea. There seems to me to be something even absurdly premature in this despair of the human republic. And, meantime, it is to the simple, dispassionate love of truth, and to this alone, that I can appeal in urging a line of inquiry on which neither scientific nor religious orthodoxy has thus far bestowed active support.

I maintain, then, that to suppose for a moment that mankind could have already arrived at any valid scientific conclusion negativing our possible survival of death, is to show that the very idea that the subject can be treated scientifically has hardly yet entered men's minds. We sometimes see it said that "the highest intellects have grappled with the problem in vain for many an age." But what does this really mean? What materials have the highest intellects had to work upon? What observations have they made? What line of experiment have they pursued and found to be fruitless?

And what fraction of the probable duration on earth of the race of civilised men do such reasoners suppose to have already elapsed? Was there any abstract speculation worth speaking of five thousand years ago? And what proportion do five thousand years bear to the millions of years - place the number of millions as low as you will - during which, barring accidents, we may suppose that the slowly cooling sun will still be keeping our descendants alive? Assuredly "we are ancients of the earth and in the morning of the times," in a sense far deeper than our habitual modes of thought, our contrasts between "antiquity" and the modern world, permit us to realise. We are still in the first moment of man's awakening intelligence; we are merely opening our eyes upon the universe around us.

But even if we choose to speak of the past duration of human thought as long, and of the thinkers who have pondered on man's survival as many in number, we may yet well ask whether a failure thus far to solve any particular problem need be taken as indicating that men better equipped for the research will not solve it in due time. In dealing with any ordinary branch of science such a question could have but one answer. The only reason why it is needful here to press it is, that the existence or nature of an unseen world around us has scarcely, thus far, been treated as a scientific question at all.

And yet, if an unseen world exists - and supposing it to exist, we must in some sense be in it - that world cannot consist only of ideas and emotions, of theology and metaphysics. It must be a world of science too, - a world governed by laws which cannot be moral laws alone, but which must regulate all that goes on in that world, and all communications (if any there be) which pass between that world and this.

The question, then, whether such communications can ever be received or understood, is in reality a question as to the possible extension of our terrestrial science so as to embrace possible indications of a life lying beyond, yet conceivably touching the life and the conditions of earth.

Now, the whole history of science is a history of the recognition and interpretation of continually slighter indications of forces or entities continually more subtle and remote. At each stage of progress there have been savants who have declared that the extreme limit of human perception had now been reached. At each stage observers accustomed to one set of inquiries, already easy and fruitful, have protested against new kinds of inquiry as chimerical and useless.

It happens thus, that an inquiry by positive methods into the survival of men, although, of course, like other inquiries, it may be doomed to ultimate failure, is, nevertheless, both an almost new and a by no means hopeless thing. So novel is it, that the very observations which are urged most strongly against survival are scarcely a generation old; while the observations which tell in favour of survival have only been systematically recorded within the last decade. Nor, in fact, need it surprise us that the problem should have remained thus practically almost untouched. The mere fact that a problem is important to us is no reason why we should expect that our ancestors should have solved it. The priest or the philosopher, indeed, may give us answers on those matters first which it most behoves us to know. But the savant, the actual observer and experimenter, gives us answers first, not on the most important problems, but on those which it is easiest to solve. We must discover the proper methods of search before we can get at any given result. Now, the proper methods in question touching the intimate constitution of man - on which constitution his survival or non-survival of death must depend - are partly those of physiology and partly those of psychology. The methods of physiology are new and imperfect; the methods of experimental psychology are newer and more imperfect still.

As has been already implied, the scientific arguments against survival are themselves very recent. After that first obvious inference from the impenetrable silence of death, no further precision was given to the discussion until the middle of the present century. At about that date men began to realise the fact which John Stuart Mill could still treat as unproved namely, that to every observable thought or emotion of man there probably corresponds some change or movement in the material substance of the brain.

The exactness and delicacy with which these correspondences can now be established have made a deep impression on the public mind. We seem to have tracked mental life to its inmost recesses, and to have found it everywhere enwound with an organism which tells us much of our bestial origin, nothing of our spiritual future. The very pineal gland which Descartes suggested as the seat of the soul is now regarded as a degenerate vestige of the eye of an invertebrate ancestor. And yet, however exactly the parallelism between psychical and cerebral energies may be established, the exacter correlation can tell us little more than the vaguer told us - little more than we had always known when noting the abeyance of the spiritual life in infancy, its distortion in madness, its decay in age.

No one, indeed, can now claim - but no one could ever reasonably claim - that the soul can sway and dominate the brain as it will, and express itself in its entirety through however defective an instrument. Going back to a metaphor as old as Plato, we know, even more surely than he did, that the musician cannot play sweetly on the lyre if it be strained or broken. But as to the origin or essential significance of this close connection of "psychosis and neurosis" we avowedly know nothing at all. We do not know whether the mental energy precedes or follows on the cerebral change, nor whether the two are, somehow, but different aspects of the same fact.

Thus far we are most of us agreed. We come now to a point of greater novelty. During the last few years experiments have been made, in France and in England, on the nature of human personality, which must influence our conception of this equation between mind and brain in directions as yet very imperfectly understood.

How quickly matters have moved may be best judged by a reference to the utterance of an advanced thinker a quarter of a century ago.

In 1865 the late John Stuart Mill, in his "Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy", had occasion to discuss the question whether "unconscious mental modifications" do or do not exist; whether ideas can pass through the mind without forming a part, even for a moment, of the normal - assumed to be the only - current of consciousness. The only sentence which need here be cited from that discussion runs as follows: "The difference between the two opinions being beyond the reach of experiment" (the italics are mine - F. Myers) "land both being equally consistent with the facts which present themselves spontaneously, it is not easy to obtain sure grounds for deciding between them."

Most of my readers will be aware that it is, in fact, perfectly easy to decide this question by direct experiment in five minutes. Nay, even at the date when Mill wrote, it was perfectly easy so to decide it, and the experiment had been already made many thousands of times; so dangerous is it for even the greatest philosophers to neglect even the humblest adit into actual fact.

For, in truth, ever since the experiments, I will not say of Mesmer, but of De Puysegur, it had been known to all those who were willing to take the trouble to read a few books, and to verify for themselves by actual trial the records which those books contained - it had been known, I say, that very many men and women in normal health, could by various simple methods be placed in the so-called somnambulic condition, or mesmeric trance, during which state they could talk and act intelligently; but that when "awakened" from this trance, they remembered absolutely nothing of what had passed. It is as clear as such a matter can reasonably be made, that thoughts and emotions of almost any degree of strength and complexity may occupy a sane mind for hours together, and yet at no time enter into the current of ordinary waking consciousness.

This in itself is a striking fact enough, and goes far to settle the question which Mill deemed incapable of direct attack. But these experiments have a significance which reaches far beyond the bounds of the ancient controversy. For the question is no longer of mere momentary intrusions into, or exclusions from, a stream of consciousness which is assumed to be practically synonymous with the man's entire being. On the contrary, we are now learning to conceive of our normal consciousness as representing only a fragment of the activity going on in our brains. We know of cases where a secondary current of consciousness - connected in various ways with the primary current - is always ready to take its place; so that the person lives alternately two different lives, with different chains of memory, and even different characters. Nay, we know of cases, both spontaneous and experimentally induced, where the secondary consciousness has definitely replaced the primary one, and the person now possesses what would have been called in old times a different Self from that with which her earthly consciousness began.

These conclusions, I say, are now admitted; but, although admitted, they are still, I think, very imperfectly understood. They have as yet been observed mainly by physicians, who have seldom realised their profound psychological meaning. That meaning, as I understand it, is that no known form of human consciousness manifests, or comes near to manifesting, the total Self; and, consequently, that this empirical or superficial consciousness with which we habitually identify ourselves can only discover indirectly and inferentially, by experiment and artifice, the extent of our intellectual being. We know not what fraction of ourselves it may be which till now we have taken for the whole.

As thus far stated, these expanding psychological prospects are still consistent with the view that all our mental activities, however extensive and however subdivisible, may be dependent on cerebral changes, and may end with death. Yet even were there no new powers visible in the widening inward horizon, the very magnitude of the change in our conception of personality might well make us pause before repeating the dogmas of negation which were framed with regard to far simpler and narrower facts. Such a pause, at any rate, would soon bring its own justification. For in reality there is much more to add. Our notion of personality is being deepened as well as widened; we begin to discern profounder powers - powers difficult to explain by any process of terrestrial evolution, and indicating connections between mind and mind of a character which there seems no logical necessity that death should interrupt or abolish. The direct action of mind upon mind at a distance, without the agency of the recognised organs of sense, is a fact in Nature (as I believe) which, although of frequent, or even of continual occurrence, can rarely be so isolated and observed as to be capable of direct and formal proof. That it has been, and is now being, so isolated and observed, under rigorous conditions, is the belief of a growing group of experimenters in England and other countries - a group which includes not a few names already known for accurate work accomplished in other fields.

Now this fact, as I deem it, of telepathy, or the passage of thought and emotion from one mind to another without sensory aid, does not in itself carry obvious proof of anything in man which the materialistic hypothesis might not cover "Brain-waves" might be a form of ether waves, or in some way analogous thereto; and this view, indeed, is now urged by the eminent Italian savant, Professor Lombroso, who regards telepathy as tending to show that thought is essentially a vibratory energy, and possibly capable of correlation with other modes of motion. Assume the possibility of such a view; even thus, what need will there again be of pause and readjustment! But in truth even the slight knowledge thus far gained of telepathy is enough to show something far more complex than any single physical law can explain. When once we have got hold of this transference of thoughts and images as an experimental fact, we find new analogies suggested, and a new light thrown on many previously inexplicable phenomena.

We find, for instance, that it is occasionally possible for an experimenter to produce by effort of will a hallucinatory image of himself in the perception of a friend at a distance, without any previous suggestion or anticipation that such an image would appear. This fact, of which we have several instances, attested by trustworthy persons at each end of the chain, forms a transition between ordinary experiments in thought-transference and those spontaneous hallucinatory images which occur so frequently at or about the moment of death, and represent the dying person to a distant friend, who is often not even aware of the illness. These "Phantasms of the Living," again, although they may not actually prove that man is other than a purely material being, do at any rate so extend and alter our conception of his hidden powers that our previous psychology is seen to need fundamental readjustment. Nay more; the connection of these apparitions with the unconscious self is significant in the extreme. It appears that the projection of a phantom of this kind, although it sometimes follows on an exertion of conscious will, is much more frequently an unconscious act, and takes place while the "agent" or person whose image is projected is asleep, or fainting, or even in the comatose condition which often precedes death. Now this projection of a phantom into other minds is a psychical activity of some kind, and some cerebral activity must, I do not doubt, correspond with it. But whatever the equation thus implied may be, it assuredly must contain some elements which are not. allowed for in the formulae by which the concomitance between "psychosis and neurosis" is commonly expressed. We generally suppose, for instance, that a rapid flow of blood through the brain is necessary for vigorous psychical action. But in some of our published cases the dying man seems to produce a strong psychical effect at a distance while he is lying in a state of coma, with bodily functions at their lowest ebb. In short, this kind of special telepathic energy seems to vary inversely, rather than directly, with the observable activity of the nervous system or of the conscious mind.

The solution of this puzzle is not likely to be found without a far wider knowledge of actual facts than we have yet attained. It is encouraging, therefore, to observe that the scientific world is gradually beginning to realise the importance of collecting and analysing all those instructive psychological phenomena which we class under the title of hallucinations, since, whatever of truth their purport may contain, they possess at any rate the special hallucinatory quality of suggesting some material object which is not actually present. The International Congress of Experimental Psychology, which was opened in Paris in 1889 by the well-known psychologist M. Ribot, undertook the continuance of a Census of Hallucinations, which had been already set on foot, and which has since been carried on in France by M. Marillier, in America by Professor William James of Harvard, and in England by Professor Sidgwick of Cambridge. The object of this inquiry - which, be it observed, is not mystical but statistical - is to determine what percentage of sane and healthy persons experience hallucinations of any kind, what the nature or causes of such hallucinations appear to be, and what percentage of them arc truth-telling, or veridical-coincide, that is to say, with some actual fact at a distance not otherwise known, as when a man sees the figure of a friend who dies at that moment.(1)

(1) The Report of the Census is expected to appear this year (1893) as Part XXV. of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner, and Co.).

This whole quest, it should be understood, is practically a new one. Hallucinations had, of course, been already studied (though in somewhat cursory fashion) as symptoms of disease. And of late years the induction of hallucination in sane and healthy persons during the hypnotic trance had begun to be recognised as an experimental method of great value in psychology. But comparatively few savants have yet realised the extreme variety and instructiveness of the phantasmal sights and sounds which occur spontaneously to normal persons, and which it is now for the first time becoming possible to study in a systematic instead of a merely anecdotic manner.

And here we, of course, come face to face with the question whether any of these phantasmal appearances, which we hold to give frequent evidence of an influence of living men at a distance, can be held to give evidence of an influence of the still remoter dead. The first thing needed in such an inquiry has been to set aside altogether, not only the mass of ill-attested stories on which the believer in ghosts has been wont to rely, but also the very grounds of belief to which such stories have mainly appealed. It cannot be admitted that if, say, a mourning husband sees the phantasmal figure of his deceased wife, and hears her speak, there is proof of anything beyond a mere subjective affection. No emotional fitness, no mere vividness of perception, can prove that the figure was not generated by the percipient's own brooding memories. But if the supposed husband does not know that his wife is dead, or even ill, and yet sees her figure shortly after her death, the apparition at once acquires evidential value. And if, not a mourning husband, but some complete stranger, sees a phantasmal figure, and afterwards identifies that figure amongst a number of photographs, and it turns out to represent someone who has recently died in the room where the apparition was seen - then, again, we have a kind of coincidence which, if often repeated, must indicate something more than chance, although the precise meaning of the incident may still be far from clear. Again, if several persons simultaneously or successively (but independently of each other) see a phantasmal figure which they describe in similar terms, it seems probable that some cause is at work beyond the mere subjective state of the percipients in question.

The study of cases of this type (many of which I have set forth elsewhere) has gradually convinced me that the least improbable hypothesis lies in the supposition that some influence on the minds of men on earth is occasionally exercised by the surviving personalities of men departed. I believe this influence to be, usually, of an indirect and dreamlike character, but I cannot explain the facts to myself without supposing that such an influence exists.

I am further strengthened in this belief by the study of the automatic phenomena briefly noticed above. I observe that in all the varieties of automatic action - of which automatic writing may be taken as a prominent type - the contents of the messages given seem to be derived from three sources. First of all comes the automatist's own mind. From that the vast bulk of the messages are undoubtedly drawn, even when they refer to matters which the automatist once knew, but has entirely forgotten. Whatever has gone into the mind may come out of the mind; although this automatism may be the only way of getting at it. Secondly, there is a small percentage of messages apparently telepathic - containing, that is to say, facts probably unknown to the automatist, but known to some living person in his company, or connected with him. But, thirdly, there is a still smaller residuum of messages which I cannot thus explain - messages which contain facts apparently not known to the automatist nor to any living friend of his, but known to some deceased person, perhaps a total stranger to the living man whose hand is writing. I cannot avoid the conviction that in some way - however dreamlike and indirect - it is the departed personality which originates such messages as these.(1)

(1) See Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Part XVI., etc.

I by no means wish to impose these views upon minds not prepared to accept them. What I do desire is, that as many other men as possible should qualify themselves to judge independently of the value of the evidence on which I rely - should study what has been collected, and should repeat the experiments and extend the observations which are essential to the formation of any judgments worth the name.

To those who have watched with personal interest the slow stages which had to be passed through before the simpler facts of hypnotism received official recognition as facts and not as frauds, the gradual pace at which these more advanced phenomena are finding acceptance is in no way surprising. The general public are little aware of the persistent disregard of good evidence, as well as of bad, with which the early school of mesmerists were met by the medical world of their day. Yet the study of that slow victory over prejudice and apathy forms one of the most instructive chapters in the history of science.

Gradually one phenomenon after another of those discovered and attested by De Puysegur, Esdaile, Elliotson, etc., has been admitted into orthodox science under some slightly altered name. Certain phenomena, rarer and more difficult to examine, but attested by the same men with equal care, are still left in the outer court of the scientific temple. But when one has seen the somnambulic state, the insensibility under operations, etc., which were once scouted as fraudulent nonsense, becoming the commonplaces of the lecture-room, one can await with equanimity the general acceptance of the thought-transference and the clairvoyance which, from De Puysegur's day onwards, have repeatedly occurred in the course of those same experiments - experiments which sometimes ruined the careers of those who made them, but which are now recognised as epochmaking in a great department of experimental psychology.

I place together then - as I claim that history gives me a prima facie right to do certain experiments which have, so to say, gained general acceptance but yesterday, and certain cognate experiments which are on their way (as I think) to general acceptance on some not distant morrow; and I draw from these a double line of argument in favour of human survival. In the first place, I point to the great extension and deepening which experiment has given to our conception of the content and capacities of the sub-conscious human mind, - amounting, perhaps, to a shifting of man's psychical centre of gravity from the conscious to the sub-conscious or subliminal strata of his being - and accompanied by the manifestation of powers at least not obviously derivable from terrestrial evolution.

And, in the second place, I claim that there is, in fact, direct evidence for the exercise of some kind of influence by the surviving personalities of departed men. I claim that the analysis of phantasmal sights and sounds, treated by careful rules of evidence, indicates this influence. And I claim that it is indicated also by the analysis of those automatic messages which, in various manners, carry upwards to the threshold of consciousness the knowledge acquired from unknown sources by the sub-conscious mind.

And now a word as to the special character of the fragments of knowledge as to things unseen which I regard as having been reached in the aforesaid manner. The only claim which I make for this knowledge is a claim considerably humbler than prophet or preacher has usually advanced. I do not say that these are such facts as might be selected from the whole universe of facts to edify or to console us. But I say that they are such facts as we should have been likely, on any scientific method, to get hold of amongst the first, and to assimilate the most easily.

If there be an invisible universe, it will be easiest for us to imagine it after the analogy of the largest conception which we apply to the visible universe. We shall accordingly conceive it as an immense, coherent process of evolution, in which Thought and Consciousness are not, as the materialists hold them, a mere epiphenomenon, an accidental and transitory accompaniment of more permanent energies, a light that flashes out from the furnace door but does none of the work, - but, on the other hand, are, and always have been, the central subject of the evolutionary process itself.

Now, if this be the case, we should expect that our first intimation of the true extraterrene character of our evolution might be the accidental discovery of some faculty within us which was not traceable to the action of our terrene antecedents. Here, as elsewhere, we might expect that knowledge of the future might be attained by inference from the past. The comparison of man as he is to the caterpillar, and of man as he may be after death to the butterfly, is a tolerably old one. Let us suppose that some humble larvae are dissecting each other, and speculating as to their destinies. At first they find themselves precisely suited to life and death on a cabbage leaf. Then they begin to observe certain points in their construction which are useless to larval life. These are, in fact, what are called "imaginal characters" - points of structure which indicate that the larva has descended from an imago, or perfect insect, and is destined in his turn to become one himself. These characters are much overlaid by the secondary or larval characters, which subserve larval, and not imaginal life, and they consequently may easily be overlooked or ignored. But our supposed caterpillar sticks to his point; he maintains that these characteristics indicate an aerial origin. And now a butterfly settles for a moment on the cabbage-leaf. The caterpillar points triumphantly to the morphological identity of some of the butterfly's conspicuous characters with some of his own latent characters; and while he is trying to persuade his fellow-caterpillars of this, the butterfly flies away.

This is exactly what I hold to have happened in. the history of human evolution. I will mention one or two great names alone. Plato was the first larva to insist upon the imaginal characters. His doctrine of Reminiscence asserted that our quasi-instinctive recognition of geometrical truths, etc., implied that we, in fact, remembered these truths; that geometrical capacity was a character carried into this world with us from some other stage of being. And the view thus pressed by Socrates and Plato, the very founders of science, is now renewed by the foremost of living naturalists. Mr. Wallace holds, as is well known, a modification of Plato's view. He considers that these sudden increments of faculty - mathematical, musical, and the like - which occur without apparent hereditary cause, indicate some access of energy outside the order of purely terrene evolution. Somewhat similarly, I would suggest that telepathy and cognate faculties now beginning to be recognised as inherent in the sub-conscious strata of the human intelligence, may be the results of an evolution other than that terrene or physical evolution whose successive steps and slowly-growing capacities we can in some rough way retrace.

Yet one more point to complete the parallel which I have suggested between the man and the caterpillar. We have discovered (as I hold) that we men can occasionally communicate among ourselves in a fashion at once inexplicable and practically useless - a fashion for which no origin suggests itself in the history of terrene evolution. And we observe also, that information not attainable by ordinary methods is sometimes conveyed to us by this method. I argue, as the caterpillar argued about the butterfly, that here is a similarity of structure between our own intelligence and some unseen intelligence, and that what that unseen intelligence is we too may once have been, and may be destined again to be. And, addressing myself for a moment to the religious and philosophical side of man, I point out that our small or even grotesque cases of telepathic transmission between living men, or between the men called living and the men called dead, stand towards certain of the central beliefs of the Gospels and of some high philosophies in the same relation in which laboratory experiments stand to the vast operations of Nature. That same direct influence of mind on mind which we show in minimis would, if supposed operative in maximis, be a form of stating the efficacy of prayer, the communion of saints, or even the operation of a Divine Spirit.

To those who will say that all this is a mere fantasy played on the great theme of Evolution, I would suggest that the theory of Evolution can never be - I do not say complete - but even coherent, until it can say some plausible word on Life, Consciousness, Thought; and that even inconclusive experiments - if ours are inconclusive - and misinterpreted observations - if ours are misinterpreted - may be the inevitable pathway through which the human mind gropes onwards into fuller light. And to those, on the other hand, who disdain the paltriness, the unspiritual character of our results, and who would fain keep alive the religious glow in humanity with no definite basis of proof, I would reply, that by small accretions sure foothold may be upbuilt, and that he who stands on a narrow coral island in mist and night will in the end see more than he who floats dreamily amid the splendours of sunset which illumine an ever-shadowing sea.

But, indeed, whatever be the significance of the facts which in my own view are already established, I am anxious not to claim from my readers more than they can fairly concede. I do not claim that all men ought to be convinced; but only that men whose minds are free from prepossession ought to feel that there is a case for further inquiry. Nor can we even assume that the minds, even of able and honest men, will, in fact, be free from prepossession in such a matter as this. Most men of middle age have formed some decided opinion on points so vital; and they must for some time continue, I do not say to judge the new evidence in the light of the old opinion, but to retain the old opinion, whatever they may think of the new evidence. I have met with instances on both sides. I know certain agnostic savants whose intellect pronounces the new evidence to be very strong, but whose habitual temper of mind does not permit them to dwell upon the conclusions to which that evidence points. And, on the other hand, I know certain theologians and metaphysicians who take for granted, without examination, that the new evidence must needs break down, and the new researches come to nothing, but who nevertheless continue to treat man's immortality as already proved to demonstration by favourite arguments of their own.

Such men as these - and many of our best minds arc among them - will never seriously grapple with a new and complex inquiry which lies far outside their habitual line of thought. We must appeal - as is commonly the case in any new departure of great moment - to a somewhat younger generation. There are many men now entering on active intellectual life who are practically devoid of any prepossession; who feel neither the old religious fervour, nor, on the other hand, that ardour of negation which formed the brief reaction from an orthodox domination which could no longer maintain its hold. Such men believe in the methods of science, and in little else; but they are often animated by a deep sympathy for mankind, and are impelled to a practical benevolence which would fain base itself upon a larger hope.

It is these men whom I wish to convince, not that my own answer to any given problem is the true one, but simply and solely that these most momentous problems of human fate can be, and must be, attacked with precisely the same steady care and dispassionate candour as have been already employed upon those myriad problems on which science has established a "consensus of experts," and has set mankind at unity.

The time for a priori chains of argument, for the subjective pronouncements of leading minds, for amateurish talk and pious opinion, has passed away; the question of the survival of man is a branch of Experimental Psychology. Is there, or is there not, evidence in the actual observed phenomena of automatism, apparitions, and the like, for a transcendental energy in living men, or for an influence emanating from personalities which have overpassed the tomb? This is the definite question, which we can at least intelligibly discuss, and which either we or our descendants may some day hope to answer.

And what, after all, is this appeal of mine except a last assertion of the inductive method in a field from which Bacon debarred that method only because he deemed the position already impregnable without need of further proof? You may say, of course, that the evidence which has thus far been collected, by a few men, in a few years, is weak and insufficient. You may say this, I repeat, either after perusing the dozen or so of necessary volumes, or, as is more usual, without thinking it needful to study the actual facts at all. But in this age of the world you can scarcely impugn the temper of mind which prompts the inquiry; the readiness to repeat minute experiments, to analyse obscure indications, to prefer small facts to great assumptions-in short, what Bacon calls "the true and legitimate humiliation of the human spirit." And when Bacon speaks of those who "have but cast a glance or two upon facts and examples and experience, and straightway proceeded, as if invention were nothing more than an exercise of thought, to invoke their own spirits to give them oracles," are we not reminded of many a proud conclusion of the metaphysician who would by his own mere sign-manual renounce the heritage of the race - of many an "ignoramus et ignorabimus" of the savant who would fain set his own private boundary to the still - advancing tide-wave of the discoveries and the dominion of man?

What other effort after knowledge is equally worth our pains? What possibility lies before mankind of equal magnitude with this possibility of demonstrating the existence of an unseen world, and man's communication therewith or existence therein? We are standing, be it remembered, at the very beginning of the probable period of civilised human habitation of this planet. We live in the infancy of our race; but we have not the child's boundless expectation of knowledge or of joy. On the contrary, the necessary limits of our material science are dimly divined, at a distance which men already begin to measure, albeit with that calmness with which we regard the possible troubles of a hundredth generation. If we allow ourselves a speculation so perilously remote, we have to admit that the nature of light itself, the structure of our own sense-organs, the character of the elements of which our planet is composed, all indicate that there are boundaries of observation which no instruments and no inferences can overpass, and that after a few more thousand years, if you will, of theoretic discovery, we shall be reduced to mere practical applications of such small fraction of the facts of the universe as have proved accessible to men who can but peer through the bars of a prison-house into an illimitable world.

On the moral side, moreover, as well as on the scientific, we know what limitations of the ideal are imposed by the narrowing of our prospect to earth alone. I shall not here enter on the question of the intrinsic value of human life, if that life ends in the tomb. It is enough to say that in the very Utopias framed by so-called Secular or Positivist enthusiasm, the elements of enterprise and aspiration - the "high strife and glorious hazard" of which Plato speaks - avowedly and inevitably tend to disappear. Suppose, for instance, an entirely successful Socialism - suppose the earth inhabited by a fixed number of healthy persons, living in equal luxury and universal peace. What are these men and women to think of or to look to more? or what will be left Epicuri de grege porcis to give to life its mystery, its hope, its charm? Now I do not say that the consideration of the salutary results of any given belief should lead us to entertain that belief on insufficient evidence. But I do say that such prospect of consequences should urge to strenuous effort along lines of inquiry which can be so straightforwardly conducted, so strictly defined, that it shall be open to all to criticise the process and to estimate the result. "If in anything," says Bacon again, "I have been either too credulous or too little awake and attentive, or if I have fallen off by the way, and left the inquiry incomplete, nevertheless, I so present these things naked and open that my errors can be marked and set aside before the mass of knowledge be further infected by them; and it will be easy also for others to continue and carry on my labours." Such, surely, is the temper in which those should work who hold that this same patient subjection of the human spirit to the facts of the universe, this same obedience to Nature - whom we hope in the end to rule may at last extend beyond the material Cosmos the prospect and the hopes of man.

I will conclude this paper with a curious illustration of that survival of medieval conceptions which prevents men from approaching this problem with a clear and open mind. The effort to prove that there is a life beyond the grave is sometimes spoken of as selfish, by the very men who declare themselves most eager to promote the terrestrial welfare of their fellows. It is hard to say why it should be philanthropic to desire the lesser boon for mankind, and selfish to desire the greater; unless, indeed, the genuine philanthropist is forbidden to aim at any common benefit in which he himself may expect to share. In reality, this confusion of mind has a deeper source; it is a vestige of the old monkish belief that man's welfare in the next world was something in itself idle and personal, and was to be attained by means inconsistent with man's welfare in this. Whether Christianity ever authorised such a notion I do not now inquire. It is certain, at any rate, that Science will never authorise it. We are making as safe a deduction from world-wide analogy as man can ever make regarding things thus unknown when we assume that spiritual evolution will follow the same laws as physical evolution; that there will be no discontinuity between terrene and post-terrene bliss or virtue, and that the next life, like this, will "resemble wrestling rather than dancing," and will find its best delight in the possibility of progress, not attainable without effort so strenuous as may well resemble pain.

There will, no doubt, in such a quest, be an element of personal hope as well; but man, after all, must desire something, and what better can he desire? There is little danger, I think, that with eyes fixed on so great a prospect, he should sink into a self-absorption which forgets his kind. Rather, perhaps, the race of man itself may sometimes seem to him but a little thing in comparison with the majesty of that spiritual universe into whose intimate structure it may thus, and thus only, be possible to project one penetrating ray. Yet we ourselves are a part, not only of the race, but of the universe. It is conceivable that our share in its fortunes may be more abiding than we know; that our evolution may be not planetary but cosmical, and our destiny without an end. Major agit deus, atque opera in majora remittit.

Other articles by Frederic Myers

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