Curt J. Ducasse

C. J. Ducasse

(1881-1969), French-born, highly respected Professor of Philosophy at Brown University. Awardee of the Carus Lectures prize (American Philosophical Association). Contributed to the "Journal Information for Philosophy and Phenomenological Research", "Causation", "Immortality" (Edited by Paul Edwards), "Philosophical Dimensions of Parapsychology" (edited by James M. O. Wheatley). Ex-student of Josiah Royce. Pursued a career in philosophy but retained a strong interest in logic - so much so that he took the initiative to create the Association for Symbolic Logic with its Journal of symbolic logic. Among his many important papers on survival are "How the Case of The Search for Bridey Murphy Stands Today" Journal of the ASPR 54: 3-22, and "What Would Constitute Conclusive Evidence of Survival After Death?" Journal of the SPR 41: 401-406. His books included "A Critical Examination of the Belief in Life After Death", "Paranormal Phenomena, Science and Life After Death" (Monograph), "A Philosophical Scrutiny of Religion", "Nature, Mind, And Death", "Truth, Knowledge and Causation", "Philosophy As a Science: Its Matter and Its Method" and "Philosophy of Art".

A Critical Examination of the Belief in a Life After Death - Part 4

Chapter 19: How Stands the Case for the Reality of Survival

1. What, if not survival, the facts might signify | 2. The allegation that survival is antecedently improbable | 3. What telepathy or clairvoyance would suffice to account for | 4. The facts which strain the telepathy-clairvoyance explanation | 5. What would prove, or make positively probable, that survival is a fact | 6. The conclusion about survival which at present appears warranted

 - Curt J. Ducasse -

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          IN CHAPTS. XVII and XVIII, we considered and to some extent commented upon the chief kinds of paranormal occurrences that appear to constitute empirical evidence of survival. The point has now been reached where we must attempt to say, in the light of the evidence and of the criticisms to which it may be open, how stands today the question whether the human personality survives the death of its body.

1. What, if not survival, the facts might signify

Only two hypotheses have yet been advanced that seem at all capable of accounting for the prima facie evidences of personal survival reviewed. One is that the identifying items do indeed proceed from the surviving spirits of the deceased persons concerned. The other is that the medium obtains by extrasensory perception the facts she communicates; that is, more specifically, obtains them: (a) telepathically from the minds of living persons who know them or have known them; or (b) by retrocognitive clairvoyant observation of the past facts themselves; or (c) by clairvoyant observation of existing records, or of existing circumstantial evidence, of the past facts.

To the second of these two hypotheses would have to be added in some cases the hypothesis that the medium's subconscious mind has and exercises a remarkable capacity for verisimilar impersonation of a deceased individual whom the medium has never known but concerning whom she is getting information at the time in the telepathic or/and clairvoyant manner just referred to.

In cases where the information is communicated by paranormal raps or by other paranormal physical phenomena, the hypothesis that the capacity to produce such physical phenomena is being exercised by the medium's unconscious but still incarnate mind would be more economical than ascription of that capacity to discarnate minds; for these - unlike the medium and her mind - are not independently known to exist.

It must be emphasized that no responsible person who is fully acquainted with the evidence for the occurrences to be explained and with their circumstances has yet offered any explanatory hypothesis distinct from the two stated above. As of today, the choice therefore lies between them. The hypothesis of fraud, which would by-pass them, is wholly untenable in at least some of the cases; notably, for the reasons mentioned earlier, in the case of the communications received through Mrs. Piper. And, in the case of the cross-correspondences, the hypothesis that the whole series was but an elaborate hoax collusively perpetrated out of sheer mischief for over ten years by the more than half-dozen automatists concerned - and this without its ever being detected by the alert investigators who were in constant contact with the automatists - is preposterous even if the high personal character of the ladies through whom the scripts came is left out of account.

Still more so, of course, would be the suggestion that the investigators too participated in the hoax, In this connection the following words of Prof. Sidgwick are worth remembering. They occur in his presidential address at the first general meeting of the Society for Psychical Research in London, July 17, 1882:

"The highest degree of demonstrative force that we can obtain out of any single record of investigation is, of course, limited by the trustworthiness of the investigator. We have done all that we can when the critic has nothing left to allege except that the investigator is in the trick. But when he has nothing else left to allege he will allege that ... We must drive the objector into the position of being forced either to admit the phenomena as inexplicable, at least by him, or to accuse the investigators either of lying or cheating or of a blindness or
forgetfulness incompatible with any intellectual condition except absolute idiocy."(1)

(1) Proc. S.P.R. Vol. L 12, 1882-3. Cf. in this connection an article, Science and the Supernatural, by G. R. Price, Research Associate in the Dept. of Medicine, Univ. of Minnesota. Science, Vol. 122, No. 3165, Aug. 26, 1955 and the comments on it by S. G. Soal, J. B. Rhine, P. E. Meehl, M. Scriven, P. W. Bridgman Vol. 123, No. 3184 Jan. 6156.

2. The allegation that survival is antecedently improbable

The attempt to decide rationally between the two hypotheses mentioned above must in any case take into consideration at the very start the allegation that survival is antecedently known to be improbable or even impossible; or on the contrary is known to be necessary. In a paper to which we shall be referring in the next two sections(2), Prof. E. R. Dodds first considers the grounds that have been advanced from various quarters for such improbability, impossibility, or necessity. In view, however, of our own more extensive discussion of those grounds in Parts I and III of the present work, we need say nothing here concerning Prof. Dodds' brief remarks on the subject. Nothing in them seems to call for any revision of the conclusion to which we came that there is not really any antecedent improbability of survival (nor any antecedent probability of it.) For when the denotation of the terms "material" and "mental" is made fully explicit instead of, as commonly, assumed to be known well enough; and when the nature of the existents or occurrents respectively termed "material" and "mental" is correctly analyzed; then no internal inconsistency, nor any inconsistency with any definitely known empirical fact, is found in the supposition that a mind, such as it had become up to the time of death, continues to exist after death and to exercise some of its capacities. Nor is there any antecedent reason to assume that, if a mind does so continue to exist, manifestations of this fact to persons still living would be common rather than, as actually seems to be the case, exceptional.

(2) Why I do not believe in Survival, Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XLIL 147-72, 1934.

3. What telepathy or clairvoyance would suffice to account for

Prof. Dodds considers and attempts to dispose of ten objections which have been advanced against the adequacy of the telepathy-clairvoyance explanation of the facts. The objections in the case of which his attempt seems definitely successful are the following.

(a) The first is that telepathy does not account for the claim made in the mediumistic communications, that they emanate from the spirits of deceased persons.

Prof. Dodds replies that some of the communications have in fact claimed a different origin; and that anyway the claim is explicable as due to the fact that communication with the deceased is usually what is desired from mediums, and that the medium's own desire to satisfy the sitter's desire for such communications operates on the medium's subconscious - from which they directly proceed - as desire commonly operates in the production of dreams and in the determination of their content.

(b) A second objection is that no independent evidence exists that mediums belong to the very small group of persons who have detectable telepathic powers.

In reply, Prof. Dodds points to the fact that Dr. Soal had in his own mind formed a number of hypotheses about the life and circumstances of the - as it eventually turned out - wholly fictitious John Ferguson (mentioned in Sec. 2 of Chapt. XVIII) and that in the communications those very hypotheses then cropped up as assertions of fact. Prof. Dodds mentions various other instances where things actually false, but believed true by the sitter, have similarly been asserted in the medium's communications and thus have provided additional evidence that she possessed and was exercising telepathic powers.

To this we may add that there is some evidence that the trance condition-at least the hypnotic trance - is favorable to the exercise of ordinarily latent capacities for extrasensory perception(3).

(3) See for instance ESP card tests of college students with and without hypnosis, by J. Fahler and R. J. Cadoret, Jl. of Parapsychology, Vol. 22:125-36, No. 2, June 1958.

(c) Another objection is that telepathy does not account for "object reading" where the object is a relic of a person unknown both to the sitter and to the medium, but where the medium nevertheless gives correct detailed information about the object's former or present owner.

Prof. Dodd's reply is in substance that these occurrences are no less puzzling on the spiritistic than on the telepathic hypothesis. Since much of the information obtained in such cases concerns occurrences in which the object itself had no part, the object can hardly be itself a record of it; rather, it must be a means of establishing telepathic rapport between the mind of the sensitive and that of the person who has the information.

And of course the correctness of the information could not be verified unless some person has it, or unless the facts testified to are objective and thus accessible to clairvoyant observation by the sensitive.

(d) To the objection that no correlation is found between the success or failure of a sitting and the conditions respectively favorable or unfavorable to telepathy, Prof. Dodds replies that, actually, we know almost nothing as to what these are.

(e) Another objection which has been advanced against the telepathy explanation of the communications is that the quantity and quality of the communications varies with changes of purported communicator, but not of sitter as one would expect if telepathy were what provides the information communicated.

The reply here is, for one thing, that, as we have seen in Sec. 3 of Ch. XVIII, the allegation is not invariably true; but that anyway changes of purported communicator imply corresponding changes as to the minds that are possible telepathic sources of the information communicated.

(f) Again, it is often asserted that the telepathy explanation of the facts is very complicated, whereas the spiritistic explanation is simple. Prof. Dodds' reply here is that the sense in which greater simplicity entails greater probability is that in which being "simpler" means "making fewer and narrower unsupported assumptions;" and that the telepathy hypothesis, not the spiritistic, is the one simpler in this alone evidentially relevant sense. For the spiritistic hypothesis postulates telepathy and clairvoyance anyway, but ascribes these to "spirits", which are not independently known to exist; whereas the telepathy hypothesis ascribes them to the medium, who is known to exist and for whose occasional exercise of telepathy or clairvoyance some independent evidence exists.

4. The facts which strain the telepathy-clairvoyance explanation

In the case of the other objections to the telepathy explanation commented upon by Prof. Dodds, his replies are much less convincing than those we have just presented. Indeed, they bring to mind a remark made shortly before by W. H. Salter concerning certain features of the cross-correspondences communications: "It is possible to frame a theory which will explain each of them, more or less, by telepathy, but is it not necessary in doing so to invent ad hoc a species of telepathy for which there is otherwise practically no evidence?"(4)

(4) Journal, S.P.R. Vol. 27:331, 1932. The remark occurs towards the end of a review of C. S. Bechofer Roberts' The Truth about Spiritualism.

The essence of these more stubborn objections is the virtually unlimited range of the telepathy with which the automatist's or medium's subconscious mind has to be gifted. It must be such as to have access to the minds of any persons who possess the recondite items of information communicated, no matter where those persons happen to be at the time. Furthermore, the telepathy postulated must be assumed somehow capable of selecting, out of all the minds to which its immense range gives it access, the particular one or ones that contain the specific bits of information brought into the communications. But this is not all. The immediate understanding of, and apposite response to, allusive remarks in the course of the communicator's conversation with the sitter (or sometimes with another communicator) requires that the above selecting of the person or persons having the information, and the establishing and relinquishing of telepathic rapport with the mind of the appropriate one, be virtually instantaneous. And then, of course, the information thus telepathically obtained must, instantly again, be put into the form of a dramatic, highly verisimilar impersonation of the deceased purported communicator as he would have acted in animated conversational give-and-take. This particular feature of some of the communications, as we saw, was that on which - as the most convincing - both Hyslop and Hodgson laid great stress, as do Mr. Drayton Thomas and also Mr. Salter.

Let us now see how Prof. Dodds proposes to meet these difficulties, which strain the telepathy hypothesis, but of which the spiritistic hypothesis would be free.

For one thing, he points to some of Dr. Osty's cases, where "sensitives who do not profess to be assisted by 'spirits'" nevertheless give out information about absent persons as detailed as that given by the supposed spirits.

Obviously, however, there is no more reason to accept as authoritative what a sensitive "professes" or believes as to the paranormal source of her information when she denies that it is spirits than when she asserts it. Mrs. Eileen Garrett, who in addition to being one of the best known contemporary mediums, is scientifically interested in her own mediumship, freely acknowledges that she does not know, any more than do other persons, whether her controls, Abdul Latif and Uvani, are discarnate spirits, dissociated parts of her own personality, or something else.

Again, Prof. Dodds argues that recognition of the personality of a deceased friend by the sitter has but slight evidential value, since there is no way of checking how far the will-to-believe may be responsible for it; but that even if the reproduction is perfect, it is anyway no evidence that the personality concerned has survived after death; for Gordon Davis was still living and yet Mrs. Blanche Cooper, who did not know him, did reproduce the tone of his voice and his peculiar articulation well enough for Dr. Soal to recognize them.

Prof. Dodd's reply is predicated on the assumption that, although Dr. Soal was neither expecting nor longing for communication with Gordon Davis, nevertheless the recognition was positive and definite. This should therefore be similarly granted in cases where the person who recognizes the voice or manner of a deceased friend is, similarly, an investigator moved by scientific interest, not a grieving person moved to believe by his longing for reunion with his loved one.

Aside from this, however, the Gordon Davis case shows only that, since he was still living, the process by which the tone of his voice and his peculiar articulation were reproduced by Mrs. Cooper was not "possession" of her organism by his discarnate spirit. Telepathy from Dr. Soal, who believed Davis had died, is enough to account for the vocal peculiarities of the communication, for the memories of boyhood and of the later meeting on the railroad platform, and for the purported communicator's assumption that he had died. But this mere reproduction of voice peculiarities and of two memories, in the single brief conversation of Dr. Soal directly with the purported Gordon Davis, is a radically different thing from the lively conversational intercourse Hyslop and Hodgson refer to, with its immediate and apposite adaptation of mental or emotional attitude to changes in that of the interlocutor, and the making and understanding of apt allusions to intimate matters, back and forth between communicator and sitter. The Gordon Davis communication is not a case of this at all; and of course the precognitive features of the communication by Nada (Mrs. Blanche Cooper's control) at the second sitting, which referred to the house Gordon Davis eventually occupied, are irrelevant equally to the telepathy and to the spiritualist hypotheses.

Prof. Dodds would account for the appositeness of the facts the medium selects, which the particular deceased person concerned would remember and which identify him, by saying that, once the medium's subconscious mind is en rapport with that of the telepathic agent, the selection of items of information appropriate at a given moment to the demands of the conversation with the sitter can be supposed to take place in the same automatic manner as that in which such selection occurs in a person when the conversation requires it.

The adequacy of this reply is decreased, however, by the assumption it makes that the information given out by the medium is derived from one telepathic source, or at least one at a time; whereas in the case of Hyslop's communications purportedly from his father, the items of information supplied were apparently not all contained in any one person's memory, but scattered among several. Hence, if the medium's subconscious mind was en rapport at the the same time with those of different persons, the task of selecting instantly which one of them to draw from would remain, and would be very different from the normal automatic selection within one mind, of items relevant at a given moment in a conversation.

But anyway the degree of telepathic rapport which Prof. Dodds' reply postulates vastly exceeds any that is independently known to occur; for it would involve the medium's having for the time being all the memories and associations of ideas of the person who is the telepathic source; and this would amount to the medium's virtually borrowing that person's mind for the duration of the conversation; and notwithstanding this, responding in the conversation not as that person himself would respond, but as the ostensible communicator - constructed by the medium out of that person's memories of him - would respond.

Concerning the cross-correspondences, Prof. Dodds admits that they manifest pattern, but he is not satisfied that they are the result of design. Even if they were designed, however, he agrees with the suggestion others had made that Mrs. Verrall's subconscious mind, which had all the knowledge of the Greek and Latin classics required, could well be supposed to have designed the scheme, rather than the deceased Myers and his associates; for, he asserts, "more difficult intellectual feats than the construction of these puzzles have before now been performed subconsciously" (p. 169). H. F. Saltmarsh, however, suggests "that it may be unreasonable to attribute to the same level of consciousness intellectual powers of a very high order and a rather stupid spirit of trickery and deception."(5)

(5) Op. cit. p. 138.

But in any case, more than the construction of the puzzles would be involved; namely, in addition, telepathic virtual dictation of the appropriate script to the other automatist - whose very existence was, in the case of Mrs. Holland in India, quite unknown at the time to Mrs. Verrall in England. To ascribe the script to "telepathic leakage" will hardly do, for, as Lord Balfour remarked concerning such a proposal made by Miss F. M. Stawell in the Ear of Dionysius case, "it is not at all clear how 'telepathic leakage' could be so thoughtful as to arrange all the topics in such an ingenious way. It seems a little like 'explaining' the working of a motor car by saying that it goes because petrol leaks out of a tank into its front end!"(6)

(6) Proc. S.P.R. Vol. XXIX:270.

5. What would prove, or make positively probable, that survival is a fact

The difficult task of deciding where the various kinds of facts now before us, the rival interpretations of them, and the criticisms of the interpretations, finally leave the case for the reality of survival requires that we first attempt to specify what evidence, if we should have it, we would accept as definitely proving survival or, short of this, as definitely establishing a positive probability that survival is a fact.

To this end, let us suppose that a friend of ours, John Doe, was a passenger on the transatlantic plane which some months ago the newspapers reported crashed shortly after leaving Shannon without having radioed that it was in trouble. Since no survivors were reported to have been found, we would naturally assume that John Doe had died with the rest.

Let us now, however, consider in turn each of three further suppositions.

(I) The first is that some time later we meet on the street a man we recognize as John Doe, who recognizes us too, and who has John Doe's voice and mannerisms. Also, that allusions to personal matters that were familiar to both of us, made now in our conversation with him, are readily understood and suitably responded to by each. Then, even before he tells us how he chanced to survive the crash, we would of course know that, somehow, he has survived it.

(II) But now let us suppose instead that we do not thus meet him, but that one day our telephone rings, and over the line comes a voice which we clearly recognize as John Doe's; and that we also recognize certain turns of phrase that were peculiar to him. He tells us that he survived the disaster, and we then talk with ready mutual understanding about personal and other matters that had been familiar to the two of us. We wish, of course, that we could see him as well as thus talk with him; yet we would feel practically certain that he had survived the crash of the plane and is now living.

(III) Let us, however, now consider instead a third supposition, namely, that one day, when our telephone rings, a voice not John Doe's tells us that he did survive the accident and that he wants us to know it, but that for some reason he cannot come to the phone. He is, however, in need of money and wants us to deposit some to his account in the bank.

Then of course - especially since the person who transmits the request over the telephone sounds at times a bit incoherent we would want to make very sure that the person from whom the request ultimately emanates is really John Doe. To this end we ask him through the intermediary to name some mutual friends; and he names several, giving some particular facts about each. We refer, allusively, to various personal matters he would be familiar with; and it turns out that he understands the allusions and responds to them appropriately. Also, the intermediary quotes him as uttering various statements, in which we recognize peculiarities of his thought and phraseology; and the peculiar nasal tone of his voice is imitated by the intermediary well enough for us to recognize it.

Would all this convince us that the request for money really emanates from John Doe and therefore that he did survive the accident and is still living? If we should react rationally rather than impulsively, our getting convinced or remaining unconvinced would depend on the following considerations.

First, is it possible at all that our friend somehow did survive the crash? If, for example, his dead body had been subsequently found and identified beyond question, then obviously the person whose request for money is being transmitted to us could not possibly be John Doe not yet deceased; and hence the identifying evidence conveyed to us over the phone would necessarily be worthless, no matter how strongly it would otherwise testify to his being still alive.

But if we have no such antecedent conclusive proof that he did perish, then the degree of our confidence that the telephoned request ultimately does emanate from him, and hence that he is still living, will depend for us on the following three factors.

(a) One will be the abundance, or scantiness, of such evidence of his identity as comes to us over the phone.

(b) A second factor will be the quality of the evidence. That is, does it correspond minutely and in peculiar details to what we know of the facts or incidents to which it refers; or on the contrary does it correspond to them merely in that it gives, correctly indeed, the broad features of the events concerned, but does not include much detail?

(c) The third factor will be that of diversity of the kinds of evidence the telephone messages supply. Does all the evidence, for example, consist only of correct memories of personal matters and of matters typical of John Doe's range of information? Or does the evidence include also dramatic faithfulness of the communications to the manner, the attitudes, the tacit assumptions, and the idiosyncracies of John Doe as we remember him? And again, do the communications manifest in addition something which H. F. Saltmarsh has held to be "as clear an indication of psychical individuality as finger prints are of physical,"(7) namely associations of ideas that were peculiar to John Doe as of the age he had reached at the time of the crash?

(7) Evidence of Personal Survival from Cross Correspondences, G. Bell & Sons, London 1938, p. 34.

If these same associations are still manifest, then persistence of them will signify one thing if the communication in which they appear is made not too long after the accident, but a different thing if instead it is made, say, twenty-five years after. For a person's associations of ideas alter more or less as a result of new experiences, of changes of environment, of acquisition of new ranges of information, and of development of new interests. Hence, if the associations of ideas are the same a few months or a year or two after the crash as they were before, this would testify to John Doe's identity. But if they are the same a quarter of a century later, then this would testify rather that although some of the capacities he had have apparently persisted, yet he has in the meantime not continued really to live; for to live in the full sense of the word entails becoming gradually different - indeed, markedly different in many ways over such a long term of years.

Now, the point of our introducing the hypothetical case of John Doe, and of the three suppositions we made in succession as to occurrences that convinced us, of that inclined us in various degrees to believe, that he had not after all died in the plane accident is that the second and especially the third of those suppositions duplicate in all essentials the evidences of survival of the human mind which the best of the mediumistic communications supply. For the medium or automatist is the analogue of the telephone and, in cases of apparent possession of the medium's organism by the purported communicator, the latter is the analogue of John Doe when himself telephoning. The medium's "control," on the other hand, is the analogue of the intermediary who at other times transmits John Doe's statements over the telephone. And the fact recalled in Sec. 2 of this chapter - that survival has not been proved to be either empirically or logically impossible - is the analogue of the supposition that John Doe's body was never found and hence that his having survived the crash is not known to be impossible.

This parallelism between the two situations entails that if reason rather than either religious or materialistic faith is to decide, then our answer to the question whether the evidence we have does or does not establish survival (or at least a positive probability of it) must, in the matter of survival after death, be based on the very same considerations as in the matter of survival after the crash of the plane. That is, our answer will have to be based similarly on the quantity of evidence we get over the mediumistic "telephone;" on the quality of that evidence; and on the diversity of kinds of it we get.

6. The conclusion about survival which at present appears warranted

To what conclusion, then, do these three considerations point when brought to bear on the evidence referred to in Chapters XVII and XVIII?

The conclusion they dictate is, I believe, the same as that which at the end of Chapter XVIII we cited as finally reached by Mrs. Sidgwick and by Lord Balfour - a conclusion which also was reached in time by Sir Oliver Lodge, by Prof. Hyslop, by Dr. Hodgson, and by a number of other persons who like them were thoroughly familiar with the evidence on record; who were gifted with keenly critical minds; who had originally been skeptical of the reality or even possibility of survival; and who were also fully acquainted with the evidence for the reality of telepathy and of clairvoyance, and with the claims that had been made for the telepathy-clairvoyance interpretation of the evidence, as against the survival interpretation of it.

Their conclusion was essentially that the balance of the evidence so far obtained is on the side of the reality of survival and, in the best cases, of survival not merely of memories of the life on earth, but of survival also of the most significant capacities of the human mind, and of continuing exercise of these.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Chapter 25 | Chapter 26

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