Gerald N. M. Tyrrell

G. N. M. Tyrrell

Educated at Haileybury and London University. In 1923 he decided to devote himself entirely to Psychical Research. Wrote several highly acclaimed works. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1908 and became President in 1945.

The Significance of the Whole

Is the Queer Character of Paranormal Phenomena a Legitimate Reason for Rejecting them at Sight? Are Queer Things Improbable? How do we Judge the Probable? Is the Material Order of Things Universal? "Misplaced Centrality." A Speculation about Another World

 - G. N. M. Tyrrell -

          WHEN WE look back at the evidence cited above, one thing stands out clearly: it hangs together as a whole. Disparate though the individual phenomena may seem at first sight, they manifest a unity when we look deeper. All point towards the existence of a region of the human personality lying behind consciousness, hidden from view. Strange things evidently happen in this region, but not things without order. They are correlated both with one another and with normal happenings. They are not "white elephants" - scandalous interlopers into law and order which it is superstitious even to contemplate. They indeed introduce us into a strange realm; but it is a further hall in the mansion of nature; not an imaginary fairy-land.

After all, if we feel inclined to condemn these phenomena because they are queer, are not many things queer which we accept without a qualm? There is no hard and fast fine separating the "normal" from the "paranormal." These are terms of convenience only. The poet with "eye in a fine frenzy rolling" is mentally dissociated, as also is the medium. States of mysticism lead to the heights of religion; yet they are closely connected with various "paranormal" phenomena. Hypnotism, at one time scoffed at as paranormal, has crossed the boundary and is accepted without a murmur. In fact, the division between "normal" and "paranormal" is perfectly arbitrary.

How easily we crossed the Rubicon when we were considering the evidence for telepathy in Chapter 6. Miss Jephson's cheque and Mr. Constable's five-barred gate, palpable to the senses but non-existent, were "normal" because created by their own subconscious minds. But the sentence in Mrs. Field's letter, equally palpable but nonexistent, was "paranormal" because the impulse which gave rise to it came from someone else's mind. How childish it would be to accept the two first as ordinary psychological happenings but to fling up our hands at the third, crying "superstition and spooks"! We are equally ignorant of the modus operandi of all three.

Assuming that the reader has overcome, at least to some extent, the tendency to dismiss the paranormal as rubbish, and is prepared to admit that responsible work has been done which has revealed startling facts, it now remains to collect the threads of the previous chapters and to attempt a brief summary of their significance.

In Chapter 1, some remarks were made about the "unconscious," and it was pointed out that psycho -therapists have made a genuine inroad into human personality beyond the threshold of consciousness and have there made discoveries. But this inroad is mainly at that particular level at which the psychological springs of action are to be found. Psychical research, on the other hand, has attacked the personality at a different level. Genius and mysticism are concerned with a different level again.

On account of the practical importance of psychoanalysis, a great deal of public attention has been directed to it, and a tendency has arisen to regard the whole personality beyond consciousness as consisting of Freudian repressed material, together with certain inherited tendencies. The facts we have dealt with show, however, that this is too narrow a basis. Psycho-pathology has a utilitarian origin: there is much in the personality which lies outside its scope. Psychical research, with fewer workers and less public understanding, has supplemented the work of medical psychologists in an extremely important field. The two studies are complementary - not separate or opposed. The same dream may contain a Freudian and a telepathic element. The psycho-therapeutist is interested in the first; the psychical investigator in the second. Each notices in the dream the factor which most concerns him; but it would be the height of folly for either to deny the element which is of interest to the other. There is indeed one sense in which the two studies are not quite on a par. The psycho-therapeutist is on the look-out for facts which he can use; the psychical investigator for facts which will shed light on the nature of the human being. But this should be no cause for mutual exclusiveness.

In telepathy and precognition we catch a glimpse of something at work in the personality which bears no ordinary relation to space and time; something, also, which is no mere unintelligent "unconscious," but is full of planning and directed effort. Here we meet the claim for intervention by the dead - a claim which cannot be dismissed off hand by any who wish to be guided by empirical evidence rather than by presuppositions.

It is natural to ask why, if the phenomena of psychical research are genuine, they should be so elusive. Why, after six thousand years of civilisation, are we still in doubt about them? Why, if they can be experienced at all, can they not be experienced certainly and at will? Why can we not test them, become familiar with them by daily experience and deal with them in the scientific laboratory? Men of science incline to the view that if they are to be expected to take these phenomena seriously, they must be provided with an experimental technique by means of which they can observe and repeat them at will. They demand that they be put on 'a par in this respect with ordinary laboratory phenomena. Why is this demand so difficult to meet? Does the difficulty imply that the phenomena in question are really illusory?

The answers to these questions have, I think, been substantially given in the above chapters. Roughly, the situation is as follows. In the physical sciences we are dealing with events directly open to the inspection of the senses. Such events can be accurately and continuously observed and, moreover, by the direct intervention of our bodies, we can control them and vary their conditions. In such cases the demand for controllable and repeatable experiments is easily met. Even in the psychological laboratory, where we are dealing with mental and not with physical events, this is fairly true. But when we come to events which occur neither in the physical world nor in the conscious mind, the situation is different. Our only means of getting to know about events taking place in the subliminal portion of the personality is by watching for symbolical signals to arrive at consciousness. This is a totally different situation from that obtaining in normal psychology or physics. All we can do is to put the human subject into the psychological state in which experience shows that these signals are likely to occur. That is what we do in hypnosis, automatism or trance. We displace the normal consciousness and allow the deeper levels of the personality to send signals indicating what is passing in them. The main task of psychical research is to induce the right psychological conditions in the most promising types of individual. Its ultimate hope is to control these conditions. At present we are at the state of observation to a considerable extent, groping like explorers on the verge of an unknown continent. The demand for immediate and complete control comparable with that-exercised in the physical laboratory is, on the face of it, unreasonable. We must not be dictatorial: our business is to question nature, not to attempt to coerce her.

It turns out, however, that a certain portion of the field of psychical research is amenable to the type of experiment the man of science demands. In Chapters 11 to 15, an outline was given of what has been accomplished in this direction. But we must not forget that, satisfactory as these results are, the more thoroughly we get into contact with the subliminal self, the more spontaneous do the phenomena become. And hence the more inapplicable is the classical method of scientific research. The further we penetrate inwards from the fringe of the subject, the more the phenomena take on a teleological and hormic character; and this very character is itself one of the things we most wish to observe. In Chapters 17 and 18, for example, the phenomena under observation went so far as to take almost complete control of the situation. It would be absurd to inhibit this spontaneous feature in order to keep the control entirely in our own hands. One might as well shoot an animal in order to study its habits.

The statistical experiments depend mainly on material which consists of faint, ragged and uncertain images or impulses, which the subjects can conjure up more or less at will. This is, in fact, what the controllability of the experiments depends on. The fact that such experiments have attained success is due, not to the good quality of the material investigated, but to the sensitiveness of the method of detection. The method is like that of working a poor gold-mine with a very efficient method of gold-extraction, and while this is excellent as far as it goes, it does not go far enough. The advantage of complete control is bought at a price, the price of being confined to the perimeter of the subject. There seems little promise that the completely controlled, mathematical method of research will ever lead to the heart of the subject. The very fact that the percipient is required to retain conscious control of the conditions, and to adjust his behaviour to the rules of the experiment, would seem to negative it. We can have the customary type of scientific control at the price of paddling in the, shallows.

In any experiment, whether primarily of a statistical kind or not, mathematics do, however, provide an ideal way of dealing with the question of chance. But here again we strike a profit-and-loss account. For the satisfactory application of figures, the subject-matter must be of a numerically assessable kind. If chance-figures are to mean anything, they must take into account the salient characteristics of the phenomena, not merely the less important. Where phenomena are rich in qualitative features, this cannot be done; and chance-figures applied to such cases may be more misleading than helpful. Some critics appear to assume that anything not mathematically demonstrated to be beyond the reach of chance may be put down to chance. But it is clear from their mode of criticism that they do this in order that they may put down the qualitative evidence to chance and so escape from having to deal with it. It is surely best in such cases to recognise at once that this kind of argument is of an escapist type and to go straight to the root of the matter, namely to the critic's irrational bias. For where this bias exists, critics are quite capable of being unconvinced by even a mathematical proof. They do not argue about it; they merely shrug their shoulders and turn away. We have cited the two examples of Dr. Coover and Professor Troland in Chapter 27, whose bias overrode the evidence of figures.

But why does anyone, claiming to be imbued with the scientific spirit, wish to escape from the investigation of facts? Is it because these alleged facts are so queer as to justify their dismissal at sight? There are two points with regard to this. Queer people have undoubtedly been attracted by these things: much fraud has been connected with them and much rubbish talked about them. But this does not afford the slightest justification for men of science to ignore them. If there is any prospect of the phenomena being important, it would be their clear duty to separate the truth from the fraud.

Again, it might be said that not only are the people connected with these things queer: the things themselves are queer also - so queer that one can see at a glance that they cannot possibly be true. But we have already seen that there are many queer things which we do not boggle over, and that most things are queer if we look into them deeply enough. What is it about paranormal phenomena which causes people to reject them with such determination, and even with emotion amounting sometimes to panic? I suggest that, deep down beneath all the pretenses, evasions and attempted rationalisations, the principal reason is because they lie outside the orbit of the familiar. Do we realise how powerful the grip of the familiar is on our minds? It has been pointed out above; but is it generally realised that if we probe deeply into anything it becomes queer and unacceptable to common sense? The things which are familiar seem probable; but they float on the surface; underneath, everything is wild improbability.

Lord Russell brings this out strikingly when talking about matter and our mode of perceiving it. He says: "We have seen that even if physical objects do have an independent existence they must differ very widely from sense-data and can only have a correspondence with sense-data in the same sort of way in which a catalogue has a correspondence with the thing catalogued. Hence, common sense leaves us completely in the dark as to the true intrinsic nature of physical objects, and if there were good reason to regard them as mental, we could not legitimately reject this opinion merely because it strikes us as strange. The truth about physical objects must be strange. It may be unattainable, but if any philosopher believes that he has attained it, the fact that what he offers as the truth is strange ought not to be made a ground of objection to his opinion."(1)

(1) The Problems of Philosophy, pp. 59-60

We need not trouble about what Lord Russell means by "sense-data." He says that "the truth about physical objects must be strange." Does the non-philosophical reader realise that he is talking about everyday objects which we continually see and touch? What is there strange about them? He says that the truth about them may be unattainable. Does everyone realise that chairs, tables, bricks, etc., which lie all about us, as plain as a pikestaff, are mysterious, and strange, entities, when we come to analyse them? The deeper we probe, the stranger they become. Does everyone realise that the analysis of sense perception leads philosophers into the queerest problems and perplexities - that what is apparently obvious and straight - forward to start with becomes "curiouser and curiouser" when we try to reach a fundamental understanding of it? The world about us, so plain that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot err therein," has been made to appear plain by nature's extraordinary cunning. Its ostensible simplicity is specious. We are cozened into accepting it naively; and in consequence we form a totally erroneous estimate of what is probable. Automatically, our minds try to reject whatever does not fit in with this smooth order of the familiar.

"That great philosopher Bacon," writes Professor Macneile Dixon, "could not to the last believe that the earth revolved round the sun. The facts were too solidly opposed to such a fancy. It was incredible. The diamond appears the acme of stability, it is, in fact, a whirlpool of furious motion. Who could believe it? What is credible?' Only the familiar. When the news of the invention of the telephone was reported to Professor Tait, of Edinburgh, he said: 'It is all humbug, for such a discovery is physically impossible." When the Abbe Moignon first showed Edison's phonograph to the Paris Academy of Sciences, all the men of science present declared it impossible to reproduce the human voice by means of a metal disc, and the Abbe was accused, Sir William Barrett tells us, of having a ventriloquist concealed beneath the table. The thing was unbelievable."(2) If the phenomena of psychical research seem queer, that is no more than we should expect. It should not be held against them.

(2) The Human Situation, p. 429.

But there is more to be considered than this. Are these phenomena, perhaps, not merely queer, but inconsistent with the established laws of science? Is there a danger that, if we accept them, we shall sink back into superstition and find ourselves in an Alice-in-Wonderland world in which anything might happen? Shall we have to admit, as Feilding put it, that if these things are true, the statue on the Albert Memorial might one day drop in to tea? Some scientific men appear to think so. Professor Jastrow, for example, said: "Obviously if the alleged facts of psychical research were genuine and real the labours of science would be futile and blind." And William James's biologist friend, said that if the evidence for telepathy were true, scientists ought to band together to keep it concealed.

It is important to be clear on this question, for if these professional men of science are right, psychical research has embarked on a wild-goose chase. Of one thing we may be sure: the established laws of science will stand. Nothing will upset them; and if paranormal phenomena are real, they must be consistent with them. Are they consistent?

Psychical research confronts us with three main branches of evidence and we can say of them all that they differ in a startling way from both common and scientific experience. 1) Evidence that knowledge can be shared by the conscious minds of persons whose bodies are separated in space, while no intra-spatial action is taking place between these bodies. 2) Evidence that non-inferential knowledge can be acquired of events which have not yet happened. 3) Evidence that messages come to us from the dead, which is exceedingly difficult to explain on any hypothesis which does not go immensely far beyond common views about the nature of human personality. A fourth mystery hovers in the background. There is evidence, not as good as could be wished, but still by no means negligible, that novel and peculiar physical effects can take place in the vicinity of a living human body which is in a particular psycho-physical state. This latter phenomenon belongs to a somewhat different category from the first three, having more to do with physiology and physics. For the moment we will consider the first three only.

Supposing telepathy and non-inferential foreknowledge to be facts, and supposing also that messages purporting to come from the dead really do so (in the sense that surviving human minds have something to do with them), would any of these phenomena contradict an established law of nature or any established fact? I suggest that the answer is, no. They only seem to contradict them because we have made a certain unjustifiable assumption. The apparent contradiction arises because we have decided that anything which happens at all must happen in the world-order with which we are familiar. Speaking in a rough and ready way, if we admit a region outside the familiar world-order for paranormal events to happen in, there is no longer any reason to suppose that they contradict or interfere with the laws of nature. Of course, by "outside" I do not mean spatially outside. I mean that there must be an "elsewhere" in the sense of some locus for events which is independent of the space-time-matter world. It is impossible to express this "elsewhereness" without using spatial language.

Take telepathy. The view outlined in Chapter 7 was to the effect that information known to A in one place can be shared by B in another place without anything happening in the intervening space, because A's subliminal self and B's subliminal self enter into some cognitive relation with one another (perhaps a permanent relation). This fact is signalled to B's consciousness by means of some created sense-image or the like. The two subliminal selves dodge, as it were, the space difficulty by simply not existing in space. Where are they, then? They exist, but are without any spatial extension, which alone enables a thing to be in space. Their cognitive relation is not the kind of event which has to take place or can take place in space. But, since it does take place (or since it exists), there must be an order of existence which is independent of space. This is what I mean by an "elsewhere."

Similarly, with regard to precognition, information known to A at one time can be shared by B (or possibly by A himself) at another time because A's subliminal self and B's subliminal self are in a certain kind of non-temporal cognitive relation with one another; and this fact is signalled to B's consciousness by some created sense-image or the like. The two subliminal selves dodge, as it were, the time difficulty by simply not existing in time. When are they, then? They exist, but have no temporal characteristics; that is all. Their cognitive relation is not the kind of event which has to take place in time. Perhaps it should not be spoken of as an event at all, but rather as some type of non-temporal existent. Even the sense in which it "exists" may be incapable of definition. Yet it is owing to something "happening" or "being" in the subliminal selves that precognition is due. There is a "locus" of "happening" or "being" which is not temporal, at least in our meaning of the term. Language is clearly not competent to deal with the facts presented.

Of course all this does not solve the difficulties of precognition. The "cognitive event" in the subliminal self may be neither an event nor cognitive in the customary meanings of the terms. Extra-sensory faculty may result from the circumstance that subliminal selves are neither singular nor plural, neither one nor many in their nature, but simply inconceivable. I am merely pleading for an "elsewhere" in the sense indicated above in which things can exist which are not comprehended by the familiar world. This idea does seem to be conceivable and to carry the important corollary - the very important corollary, as it seems to me - that the familiar world - order is a limited, highly specialised affair, and not universal. I would even venture to suggest that this is one of the most important conceptions that psychical research is bringing to light. It is an idea to, ponder over more and more. Nature does not come to an end where our senses cease to register it and our minds become incapable of dealing with it. It is vital to grasp this if one is to get one's perspective right. In denying paranormal phenomena because they are unfamiliar, we are like a person who denies that there can be such a thing as a duck-billed platypus in Australia because he never meets one in the English countryside.

I doubt whether at present it is much use asking what the fundamental telepathic relation consists in; we need first to know more about the nature of the subliminal self. A new conception cannot be expressed until there is current coin in terms of which to express it; but it seems possible that the fundamental telepathic and precognitive relations may be standing characteristics of selfhood rather than "events." What we call a telepathic or precognitive event may be the signal to consciousness which occasionally lights up a permanent state.

Whether it be a permanent state or a subliminal event, it exists "elsewhere" and does not interfere, directly, with the familiar order. It is only signalled into the familiar order. But it may interfere indirectly, as when a person takes action on the strength of telepathic or precognitive knowledge. In Chapter 8 some examples of this were cited.

With regard to physical phenomena, a very strange and at present nebulous possibility may here be mentioned. If the reported physical phenomena of psychical research should be certainly confirmed, it might conceivably have to be admitted that, through the physiology of the human organism, some interaction can take place between the one order and the other. It is impossible to forecast what this might entail. Instead of some physical substance supplied by the medium (or in addition to it), there might be observed a direct interaction between a causal and a non-causal order. Perhaps we should find events occasionally taking place in the physical world which were correlated with one another, yet not causally connected. This, to a mind brought up on causality, would seem the essence of the irrational. It would, in fact, be just what the ordinary person means by a "miracle." Any concrete evidence for such happenings would be met with inflexible incredulity. Yet it is not, in the widest sense of the word, unreasonable to suppose that such a state of affairs might exist. The incredulity, would be based on an instinctive rebellion against something which violates custom; not on any knowledge we possess that such a state of affairs is impossible. Why should custom never be violated? If we face up to this question, we shall find that at the bottom of it all lies an intense reluctance to admit that anything can exist which is substantially different from what we are used to, and can comprehend.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that Prof. J. B. Rhine, whose experiments were described in Chapter 12, claims repeated success with an experiment in dice-throwing which, if confirmed, would appear to confront us with this very situation. The work is, however, at too early a stage to be entered into here.

To sum up-in telepathy, a person whose body is in one place can have knowledge of what is in the mind of a person whose body is in another place, without any physical action taking place in the intervening space. Action in the physical world can, moreover, be taken as a result of knowledge so acquired. Thus, something can happen in the ordinary world as the result of telepathy, which would not happen otherwise.

In precognition, the situation is similar if time be substituted for space. Therefore it has here been argued that the order of existence with which our senses make us, familiar is not the whole. There is an "elsewhere" in which the order of things is different. We do not come across this "elsewhere" by exploring the external world. A little reflection shows why we could not expect to. We become aware of the external world by means of our bodily sense-organs, which have been specially developed to reveal it and nothing else. It is only by looking into the personality of man that we discover the existence of this "elsewhere." The living human being is, in fact, the nexus for interaction between the physical order and this other order, which we have called the "elsewhere." This other order we have regarded as a further chamber in the mansion of nature; not as a supernatural world.

Once the idea has been grasped that our organs of sense-perception are narrowly specialised to serve biological and practical ends; that our normal consciousness is also specialised and largely focussed on perception; that our body is highly specialised; that, in fact, as a psycho-physical being, the human individual represents a special adaptation to a special world, it becomes easier to contemplate an "elsewhere," that is to say a continuation of the order of existence beyond the familiar. There is nothing in the least absurd in the suggestion that nature does not come to an end where our senses cease to register it, even when they are assisted by various instruments There is nothing absurd in the suggestion that much of nature may be inaccessible to our senses in principle. This suggestion, nevertheless, arouses intense opposition. We saw in Chapters 26 and 27 what extraordinary forms this opposition takes; nor is it by any means confined to men of science. It is broadly human. With few exceptions, philosophers, divines, literary men, men of business and the general public share it. They betray emotion; they wander as if dazed on some enchanted ground; they mis-state facts; they use absurd arguments; they wriggle in an attempt to escape. This is an extremely interesting and important phenomenon, because obviously it is a vital factor to be taken into account by anyone who is bent on the discovery of truth.

In this resistance to paranormal evidence we see a common human tendency writ large, the tendency to exalt the familiar and to reject and despise the unfamiliar. The tendency is ubiquitous and immensely powerful. It ranges from the habit of ridiculing foreigners to such opposition as was once accorded to the views of Copernicus. To some extent it showed itself when Einstein presented his Relativity Theory. In spite of two or three centuries of "free inquiry" by science, people are still not prepared to admit the possibility of anything radically different from that to which they are accustomed. That this tendency is in essence psychological was shown by the examples which have been given. I suggest that it is largely a result of biological adaptation. It is a mistake to think that biological evolution merely adapted man's body to his environment. Adaptation goes much deeper than that. Nature can influence us from within as well as from without. We are made to "feel in our bones" convictions which serve the interests of practical life. False beliefs of a certain kind, because simple and useful, may be of great service to the man of action, provided they do not falsify any truth it is vital for him to know. But when false beliefs are carried over into the search for truth, they are simply disastrous.

The reference to Copernicus is apt in this connection. Before the time of Copernicus the planet Earth was supposed to occupy the centre of the universe, because that all-important creature, Man, lived on it. Copernicus threw the celestial universe into a new and far wider perspective. He opened up a tremendous vista, which outraged everything familiar; and his views were consequently resisted. I would go so far as to suggest that we are coming in sight of a similar situation today: but this time on an even larger scale. It is not the planet Earth whose centrality is this time in question but the material universe as a whole. We are in the Ptolemaic age with regard to the world of our senses. Psychical research promises to inaugurate a new and vaster Copernican revolution, in which the material universe will be dethroned from its central position and reduced to one of provincial status. The opposition accorded to the paranormal today is of exactly the same kind as that accorded to the views of Copernicus in the past. Now, as then, reason, based on specious assumptions is opposed to fact, and people react just as they did in Galileo's time. The empirical principle of science is thrown to the winds. IS goes to the wall and CANNOT BE wins. That is why in the present pages I have ventured throughout to stress the importance of appealing to facts.

But this psychological resistance to the unfamiliar does not seem to account entirely for the public attitude towards the paranormal. There is an intellectual superstructure built on the psychological foundation. One can see this because the resistance to paranormal facts becomes stronger with the growth of scientific knowledge. By establishing the laws of nature and by clarifying and mapping out the external world, science has enhanced the sense of its reality and importance. It has enhanced its prestige and established it as the universal source of explanation. "Materialism" increases in a scientific age because the psychological tendency to magnify the importance of the familiar is intellectually reinforced.

No doubt it will be pointed out that the tendency to reject the paranormal is by no means universal. On the contrary, it will be said, many people accept it far too readily and without adequate evidence. This is true. It must be admitted that there is a double tendency in the human mind, one of acceptance and one of rejection. Besides the tendency to explain everything in terms of the familiar, there is an opposite tendency in some minds to seek out exceptions to the familiar and to exalt the marvellous - a tendency to seek after sensations, to exaggerate rumours, and generally to believe what seems desirable. It seems to me that while the tendency to reject the unfamiliar is universal and mainly psychological, the type of intellectual belief which is superimposed on this foundation is largely dependent on a person's character. A serious mind, bent on a search for meanings, and trying to make sense of the world, develops an intellectual superstructure which reinforces the primitive foundation; and the tendency to reject all that cannot be clearly understood becomes very strong. A looser, less serious and perhaps more emotional type of mind finds no particular difficulty in accepting things which do not fit together in an intelligible pattern, and develops an intellectual superstructure in keeping with its emotional tendencies. But the primitive foundation is still there. Notice how the latter type of mind tends to interpret paranormal phenomena on materialistic lines.

All this goes to make up a person's estimate of antecedent probability and improbability. The man who feels impelled to deny anything he cannot at once explain will fly to theory before evidence and will base his estimate of what is probable on the theory he holds. He will be unconvinced by brute facts unless they are of an overwhelming kind. He will turn his back on unwelcome facts and ignore them as long as he can, saying that they are outrageously improbable. This is the position taken up with regard to the paranormal by some men of science today. Through and through, their judgment is based on a priori considerations. I would beg the reader to reflect on this situation and not to thrust it hastily aside. It is of the very greatest importance for the apprehension of truth. Our evidence shows that there is a point beyond which few people are prepared to carry the scientific method of experiment and observation. When they reach this point, they no longer behave in a balanced manner. They struggle, like fish out of water, to return to their native element, the familiar. As a result, the researches of science are being pursued, unwittingly, inside a ring-fence. Could any fact be more important than this?

It may not matter for most of the practical purposes of life. Engineers, technicians, workers in applied science, can hold what philosophy of the universe they choose: they do not need to go outside the ring-fence. But nothing could be more vital than that the true facts about man's nature should be known to those who teach philosophy or religion or plan the future of society. And to know these true facts - to suspect them, even - involves looking beyond the ring-fence. Any attempt to improve the lot of mankind which ignores the basic facts about man's personality is doomed to failure. The illusion that the familiar alone is the real; that the corner of the universe visible to us is the whole; that a specialised phase of the human being is its entirety - these beliefs create a totally false perspective. If I might venture to modify a phrase coined by A. N. Whitehead, I should call this false perspective the Fallacy of Misplaced Centrality; for it consists in the illusion that what we are familiar with constitutes the centre of everything. It may seem over-bold to suggest that the majority of people, by adopting this fallacy, are wrong. But majorities can be wrong. Everyone at one time believed that the sun revolved round the earth. Also, in this case, the origin of the fallacy makes its ubiquity intelligible. The fallacy is imposed upon us by nature; and, as far as practical life is concerned, it is a fiction of the greatest utility. We must be adapted to our world in mind as well as in body. Yet, if we wish to attain even an inkling of the truth about our own nature and cosmic situation, we must escape from this fallacy.

Only something very strange - only some ingression of truth from beyond the ring-fence - could reveal how thorough our mental adaptation to the familiar world is. The ring-fence calls to mind the Heaviside layer of the earth's atmosphere, which reflects electro-magnetic radiation back to earth, There is a mental "Heaviside layer;" reflecting human thought back to the practical world to which it is adapted. The slight probings we have made beyond this layer reveal at one stroke that the domain of the real extends beyond the range of ordinary cognitive faculty, and that, human personality comprises a vast hinterland in virtue of which it has part and lot in this extended order. What could be of more vital importance? Yet so strong is the chain with which nature binds us to familiar things that all this is generally regarded as trivial! People laugh at the mere mention of it. It sounds incredible; but the truth is that when we try to acquire a fundamental understanding of our own nature, we are hoodwinked and placed in blinkers. We are invited to turn for information to the external world; while the source of information which holds all the principal secrets is the personality of man.

Not for nothing were the words [ISS note: we are unable to produce Greek letters] inscribed in the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Goethe made a remark which is remarkably appropriate to the present discussion. He described the advice, "Know Thyself," as "a singular requisition with which no man complies, or indeed ever will comply. Man is by all his senses and efforts directed to externals - to the world about him." This is precisely what we have been arguing. It is to externals that we turn for explanations; to theories of "emergence," for example, when we wish to find an explanation for life and mind-emergence from matter. Nature urges us to do so; and meanwhile we miss the principal avenue to knowledge, the human being in its living completeness.

There is another factor which has contributed to the rejection of the paranormal. Centuries of Christian thought have impressed on the mind of Europe the idea that the universe is divided in two by a line running across the middle. On one side of this line is the Natural; on the other side the Supernatural. It had always been believed 'that the two halves interacted with one another under the personal supervision of God. With the rise of science, natural explanations and natural law gained steadily at the expense of supernatural, and scientists took a pride in driving superstition and supernature together out of the field. So strong, however, has been the impress of this dualism that it has left its mark on the scientific thought of today. Of course it has not survived unmodified. The supernatural half of the dichotomy has nearly faded away; but the natural half is still regarded as if it were one member of a duality, and the line which once divided the natural from the supernatural still persists and surrounds what is called "nature" like the rim of a coin. Scientific writers show this by the way they speak of "nature": the aftermath' of the old dualism declares itself. These writers are always emphasising the importance of the appeal to "nature." On the cover of the scientific journal Nature is printed a quotation from Wordsworth: "To the solid ground of Nature trusts the mind that builds for aye." One gets the impression that men of science congratulate themselves on having gone to nature for their information instead of to some rival firm. They speak as if there were a possible alternative way of getting to know things. In this can be seen the ghost, of supernature still haunting their imaginations. This is surely one reason why men of science are so averse to studying the facts about human personality which we have been discussing. In a confused way they seem to think that these facts are not "natural"; they scent their old enemy, the "supernatural," lurking in psychical research, and are afraid it may return, swamp the world with superstition and upset "natural law." All this shows a clandestine survival of the medieval type of thought, which was based on the idea of a sharp boundary marking the limit of nature.

If the evidence of psychical research shows anything, it shows that the phenomena it studies are not "supernatural." They are "natural" in the sense of belonging to an ordered whole. They are evidently governed by different laws from those which govern the physical world; but there is no reason to suppose that they are separated from the latter by any intrinsic boundary. There is probably continuity, the apparent sharp division being the result of the limited character of our sense-perception. We should regard paranormal phenomena as constituting an extension of the sphere of nature; but "nature" with an extended meaning. "Natural" and "Supernatural" are terms so full of unfortunate associations that it would be a good thing if we could discard them both. We need to think just of Reality or Existence or That which Is - whatever term you choose by which to denote the Whole. As commonly used, the term "Nature" has come to mean only that restricted portion of reality which our senses show us. On the other hand, "Nature" is a very convenient term, and has been freely used in its current sense in the above pages. It would be difficult to do without it; but its power to mislead is unfortunately great. We must extend its meaning a great deal in order to give paranormal phenomena a place within it.

A tremendous shock is given to familiar ideas by the suggestion that communications may reach us from the dead. Significantly, this shock seems to be just as great to the religious as to the irreligious. Perhaps this suggestion imparts an even greater shock to psychological habit than does precognition. We saw that these messages cannot be taken entirely at their face value. Some are poor, stupid and unconvincing; some are probably false, and it is clear that all contain psychological subtleties. Suppose, however, that we are obliged to come to the conclusion that in some direct or indirect sense the minds of the dead are really concerned in some of these messages; we not only receive a shock, we are also confronted by many problems. How, for example, could there be a transition from this life to a totally different life which did not produce helpless bewilderment?

I do not intend to discuss this problem at length: but it looks as if it might be connected with a remarkable fact which our evidence has disclosed. As soon as normal consciousness is displaced from its position of control, sense imagery is produced on a prolific scale. So common is this feature that examples are scarcely necessary. Most mediums see vivid and life-like scenes, as we saw in Chapters 16, 18, 19, 20 and 21, the case of Mrs. Willett in Chapter 18 being one of the most striking. Hypnosis produces extraordinarily complete and convincing sense-imagery. So do certain drugs and anaesthetics. In the out-of-the-body cases, cited in Chapter 22, a similar thing happened. Dreams are another example. This sense-imagery, so prolific when consciousness is displaced, occurs also when consciousness is normal, or nearly so; but then it is rare, partial and comparatively inconspicuous. The latter phenomenon was illustrated in Chapter 6, and, occurring like this, it is called a "hallucination." I suggest that there is no intrinsic difference between the sensory hallucination of waking life and the pervasive imagery which occurs in states of conscious displacement. The difference is one of degree; not of kind. We are not now considering why sense-imagery takes the various forms it does: the psycho-analyst is more concerned with this aspect. We are interested in how this sense-imagery comes to be generated and in the extraordinary magnitude which it can assume.

The idea I wish to suggest in barest outline is that sensory hallucinations, which occur on rare occasions in ordinary life, may increase to a vast extent when the psycho-physical relations governing normal conscious existence are relaxed. What, during normal life, is no more than a momentary interpolation into perception may conceivably grow after death until it monopolises the whole field, and can provide a whole world of surroundings. Difficulties indeed arise. Would not such wholesale "hallucinations" be no more than wild, uncontrolled dreams? Not necessarily, I think. They might conceivably settle down into something orderly and permanent. But, even then, would not the percipient be isolated in a world of his own? Not if a whole group of minds were telepathically united in a common image-making theme. That two or more minds could be so telepathically impressed as to share a "hallucinatory" world, each perceiving it from exactly his own point of view, seems at first sight an utterly fantastic idea. But certain cases of telepathic hallucination (omitted in this book for lack of space) show that something of the kind, in a small way, actually occurs. Sometimes these visions are shared by two or more persons.(3) The minuteness of detail and the correlation in these cases is quite extraordinary. If we were to conceive that the dead might create a complete environment in this way and share it in common, possibly in groups only, one can see that environments might arise which would be in keeping more or less with those of the physical world. This would provide continuity, and transition to a higher life. We are prone to think that any such self-created world would be entirely unreal; but it need not be so if its theme were provided by some relatively independent reality. The theme would be, in our language, "psychological" and the common property of a group of subliminal selves. After all, it is extremely difficult to maintain that our present environment, as perceived by us, is entirely independent of ourselves. It must have a considerable subjective element, which we supply. The independent factor - " physical substance", or some causal agency - what is it? What do we know about its intrinsic nature? Sir Arthur Eddington goes far in emphasising our ignorance of it. He says: "But according to our conclusions, the laws of physics are a property of the frame of thought in which we represent our knowledge of the objective content, and thus far physics has been unable to discover any laws applying to the objective content itself."(4)

(3) See Apparitions, p. 285 below.

(4) The Philosophy of Physical Science, p. 217.

Why cry "fantastic nonsense" at the suggestion of a seemingly objective world whose independent factor is a psychological creator of sense-imagery? The everyday world we live in is an enigma beneath the surface, and our mode of perceiving it might almost be described as a fantastic miracle. Is there not, in this seemingly wild suggestion, an, inkling of how an extra-material world might be possible which is neither a second material world on the one, hand nor a pure, subjective creation of our own on the other? In any case, neither psychologists nor philosophers appear to have devoted sufficient attention to sensory hallucinations, normal or paranormal.(5)

(5) See the end of Chapter 6.

Progress in psychical research has been slow on account of an almost universal lack of interest and the presence of profound misconceptions. It is likely to continue to be slow so long as these persist. The percentage of spontaneous cases of telepathy and precognition which reach a satisfactory evidential standard is very small because few people take the precautions needed to make them so. Large numbers of cases probably occur, but are lost as evidential material. To make a case evidential, it is necessary to write it down accurately at the time of its occurrence, sign and date it and get any available witnesses to attest it. Even if it is not written down at the time, it may have value if it is told at once to others. The written account should be sent to the Secretary of the, Society for Psychical Research, 31, Tavistock Square, London, W.C.1. In the event of privacy being desirable, names and addresses can be concealed from the public. If the case is one of apparent precognition, the account should be written, signed, dated (with time) and witnessed before the event is fulfilled. Inaccuracies in fulfillment, partial or even total, should not be regarded as disappointing, since the dream or impression may be derived from mixed sources. The study of inaccuracies is, in fact, very informative More well-evidenced cases of different kinds are needed: by comparing them with one another useful information can be gained.

Some sensitives, who possess good telepathic or other faculties, will not use them for the purpose of advancing knowledge on this subject. This is a great pity and, in view of the value of this information, is surely unjustifiable.

For anything like rapid progress to be made in understanding the depths of human personality, properly organised centres are required in which suitable subjects could be trained and investigators could co-operate in research. It is quite likely that subjects, besides being individually selected on account of an innate faculty, might have to live sheltered lives which included freedom from anxiety and periods of complete quiet. This would, in some way, resemble the training for religious contemplation; but the end in view would be different. Religious contemplatives have said over and over again that at a certain point in their training paranormal faculties appear. These they disregard as distractions from their goal of mystical union. The object of not disregarding them at the present day is that the materialistic philosophy is spreading more and more, and if it is false, as these facts imply, it is of the greatest importance that that should be generally known. Otherwise the world seems likely to destroy itself in an orgy of materialism. It is at the present time doing its best. The appeals of established religion are, clearly proving ineffective in stemming the tide.

The experimental work of psychical research is, however, already beginning to have a slight effect on scientific minds. Far more could be done if public interest were aroused and if even quite modest funds were available for research. Above all, able and intelligent workers are required: but the first necessity is for the true character of psychical research to be understood and appreciated.

Source: "The Personality of Man. New Facts and their Significance" by G. N. M. Tyrrell (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1946).


Other articles by G. N. M. Tyrrell

• Alternatives to Discarnate Theory
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 1
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 2
• What is Psychical Research?
• What is Science?
• The Subliminal Self and the Unconscious
• Psychical Research and Religion
• Is there Anything Besides Fraud in the Physical Sιance Room?
• The Case of Patience Worth: An Outstanding Product of Automatic Writing
• Mrs Willet: Communications Ostensibly Proceeding from the Dead
• What is Science? The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism
• Discarnate Agency: More Evidence on the Discarnate Problem
• Trance Personalities
• Sense-Imagery
• Modus Operandi of the Mediumistic Trance
• The Boundary of the World of Sense
• The Movement of Modern Spiritualism

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