James Hyslop

Prof. James Hyslop

The Borderland of Psychical Research
Publisher: G. B. Putnam's Sons
Published: 1906
Pages: 425

Chapter 13: Reservations and Morals

 - James Hyslop -

Contents > Previous

          PREVIOUS DISCUSSIONS have brought us to the boundaries of transcendental things and kept us from stepping beyond the limits which our knowledge imposes upon the temptations of the imagination. We have now to summarize the influences which make for cautiousness in our thinking and which, while they may restrain Our fancies, do not wholly nullify the functions of the mind in its curiosity about what undoubtedly lies beyond the senses. Whether it can ever penetrate the veil that hides what it seeks so impatiently and so passionately is not the problem now. It may or may not have power to make a successful voyage on Kant's foggy ocean, with many a sand-bank or shoal to be avoided, but no amount of self-satisfied wisdom, or intellectual pride, or contempt for the common mind, as in the rejection of stories about meteors and the phenomena of mesmerism, is going to restrain the ambition of bolder adventurers to embark upon discoveries against danger and adversity in a limitless universe of reality, seen and unseen. The duty of the sane and intelligent man is to see that compass and rudder are supplied to the voyager and that the discoverer can always have a way of return to the land from which he sailed. If we could draw a hard and fast line between the known and the unknown there would be no temptations to transgress the limits which we sometimes imagine in our way. But even in physical science the old boundaries of the material world were long since abandoned, until apparently in the present age all the dogmatic metaphysics are in physical science, where its devotees are floundering about in a sea of atoms, ether, ions and electrons, X-rays, N-rays, and the transmutation of the elements, having abandoned every one of the criteria by which they had corrected the aberrations of ancient philosophy. If science thus indulges its own speculative vision with little restraint, it must either extend that liberty to the common mind or assume the duty of directing it toward the proper end. It is not the instinct that is wrong, but the undirected action of its energies, and hence it is the function of the wise to be at the helm.

An apology, however, for an inquiring disposition is not a justification of its conduct. It is only a recognition of its rights, while the admitted dangers to which an untrained intellect is exposed are an equal excuse for caution, and hence the duty of humility and modesty is as much on the side of inexperienced curiosity as are humanity and sympathy upon the side of the wise. We cannot break away from normal experience and ignore its guidance with impunity. We have ever to return to it for our bearings, partly because it is in this that our daily lives have to he passed, and partly because anything that transcends it cannot be utilized unless it has some connection with the present.

These general observations prepare us for recognizing the ineradicable instinct of man to peer into the processes of nature and the forces that are concealed from his ordinary sensible representation. That he is never content with what he sees and feels is apparent in much more than his religion. All physical science is as much an endeavor to penetrate the veil of sensory impressions as is the flight of faith or fancy. The Greek mind would not stop, any more than the savage, with the visible universe, and it set up a vast cosmos of elements and substance with which it could play tricks of explanation quite as freely as theistic speculations. It was not Christianity that first initiated the fascinations of metaphysics. Greek materialism was quite as mystical as later religion, only its mysticism was an a priori play with atoms. Nothing can surpass the weird and fantastic flight of Plato's imagination. His avowed contempt for sense-experience in the interpretation of the nature of things, though guided in his own reflections by the more sober traditions of philosophy, only landed his followers in the maudlin speculations of Neo-platonism, which might not have been so bad had they been tempered by the scientific spirit. It was the materialists that preserved faith in sense-perception while they indulged in metaphysics, and whether they were consistent or not, they were sufficiently intelligible to obtain the direction of human thought. But all schools looked toward the supersensible for the solution of all enigmas.

All the interests in the supersensible were finally concentrated in the immortality of the soul. The organization of speculative metaphysics was made primarily for the defence of this belief, and the belief itself had in its support all the natural passions of human nature. The Greeks, accepting the religious conceptions of their time in regard to the nature of another life, probably derived from phenomena like those which are the subject of psychic research, thought the life after death was not worth living and that their paradise was to be obtained in the world of sense. Christianity came and idealized the transcendental world, neglecting after its rise the evidential aspect of its belief, and contemned the sensory world. Its passions were thus directed wholly toward the future and ideal world. It soon abandoned science and the metaphysics of the materialists, and began a long revelry in a spiritual metaphysics that intensified a passion already strong enough. It educated the human race in an interest which it will not easily sacrifice, and when materialism revived its claims to challenge the belief in a future life, which had for so many centuries been the central feature of thought and hope, it was natural that a life and death struggle should be precipitated between the two rival speculations. That is the situation to-day, and the issue so permeates all other philosophical interests that are not immediately practical that any evasion of it only removes their importance from recognition. This subordination of all metaphysical speculations to the one interest of human personality and its survival may be deplored, and it may have unfortunate consequences, but if this be the fact, we have the passionate hostility of materialism and its ramifications to thank or reproach for it. The interest in a spiritual theory of life may have its abuses, but these do not make materialistic passions any better. The extremes into which the human mind runs are as bad in one direction as the other, and it is only natural, when the finer souls see the degeneracy of both, that they should seek some middle way out of evil tendencies. But such a course never commends itself to those who like issues formulated in clear opposition to each other. Hence the contest between a materialistic and a spiritualistic view of the world always draws a clear line between the known and the unknown, the former being limited to the world of sense, and the latter being extended to all that is beyond.

This boundary, however, never succeeds in keeping itself at any one fixed point. It is forever moving from its arbitrary limits into the territory of a spiritual view, and materialism has lost the well-defined limits of its earlier psychology and speculations, until one does not know the difference between its present claims and the domain of its former antagonist. The transcendental metaphysics of modern physical science are a proof of this contention, and it is but a light step from its ethereal background of nature into the realm of universal personality. And it makes no difference whether the old antithesis between matter and spirit is maintained any longer or not, because physical science has so refined the supersensible world of its speculations that the distinction is lost in the clouds. It was made only in deference to-the need of eradicating the sophisms of the materialist, though it may have given rise to other sophisms as bad. But whether necessary or not, the distinction has lost both its metaphysical and its ethical importance, and there is no excuse but a difference in human interests for the passionate antagonism between the two schools of thought. The supersensible is equally the basis of their views of the cosmos; with the tendency of physical science to speculate more passionately on the supersensible than religion or ethics, which have finally come to recognize the importance of the practical and present in their activities. The resource of religion in the supersensible is faith; that of science is experiment. Both, however, show the same interest in the transcendental. It is not as it once was the question whether knowledge of reality was limited to sensation or mere sensory experience, but whether the transcendental can be assumed without experience of any kind. The opposition is not between what sense gives and what intellect may give, but between what any mental process attests and what is held without evidence of any kind.

In some form or other, therefore, we find mankind interested deeply in what lies beyond immediate knowledge, and in most conditions nothing excites its interest so much as the question whether we shall live again when the bodily life terminates. This issue is the one toward which all other interests in the supersensible move, whether we try to prevent it or not. But leaving this primary moral interest out of account for the present, it suffices to keep in mind the consuming passion for something beyond our ordinary experience. The most of us are not satisfied with what lies before our natural vision. We seek the ever-receding and tantalizing mysteries of the unknown. We are always at the tasks of Sisyphus and Ixion. There are exceptions to this conception of human interest, but they will be noticed in their place. The majority of mankind feel little satisfaction with the world of the present moment, and ever look toward what lies beyond. The passion gives rise to all sorts of illusions, and it requires all the tenacity of skepticism to restrain this natural instinct, which is never more exposed to vagaries and irrational conceptions than when it is in pursuit of a future life. The correction of its follies and errors begins in the cautiousness which we have to maintain even in the conclusions from our normal experience. The phenomena that even suggest such a thing as a soul and its survival are so rare or sporadic that reservations are more obligatory here than in the more common of our experiences. But if illusion and hallucination are so frequent in normal experience, the duty of prudence and suspense of judgment are all the more imperative when that experience is abnormal or supernormal. The reason for this fact will be apparent in the examination briefly again of the limitations of knowledge in sensory phenomena.

The naive mind - and this is often the conception or the implication of even scientific men who ought to know better - thinks its sensations represent things as they are. But we soon learn that our sensations may not even be simulacra of reality. We soon learn that the nature of things is not expressed by the way the organism is affected and that our sensations are subjective affairs, things of the mind's own making on the occasion of external stimuli or impressions on the sensorium. Sense-perception thus appears as non-representative of the external reality which is not expressible in terms of sensory experience. The naive mind supposes that there is nothing more than what it sees. The sensible world is supposed to be the only world of knowledge. But the most superficial examination of sensations reveals the fact that sensations are subjective and that the world of their causes is not like them in kind, but must be conceived as more or less in antithesis to them. That is, they exist with a difference between them that necessitates regarding one of them as supersensible and non-representative in experience and the other as a mode of mental reaction distinct in kind from the thing which it implies externally. Consequently, right in normal experience we find the evidence of the supersensible. This conclusion would not appear to the naive mind. It requires nothing beyond the sensible world, whether with the skeptic this be sensations alone (Idealism) or with the untutored subject it be the identity of sense and reality (Realism). The skeptic, however, must choose between Solipsism, that is, the entire limitation of knowledge to one's mental states, and the admission of something supersensible whether definable in terms of experience or not. The naive mind is the only one that has no need for anything beyond what its senses reveal.

A critical examination of normal sense-perception or sensory experience thus shows the existence of a supersensible world, and owing to the fact that it has to be conceived more or less in negation of what the naive mind at first takes it to be, we have considerable freedom in our interpretation of its nature, if that expression can be permitted. But we are not entitled to conceive or name it as we please. We have been accustomed to call it "matter," and though the new point of view, enforced by the idea that it is really supersensible, might seem to suggest the right to call it immaterial, and many have called it "spirit," yet this is not a legitimate conclusion. All that we are entitled to do in thus ascertaining that it is in some way opposed to the naive conception is to say that it is not like our sensations; that it is a non-sensible or supersensible reality, whose existence we ascertain by an instinctive application of the principle of causality. We may not at first even be qualified to call it matter, as that conception might carry with it the old implication of the naive view, and the facts show that it is not this. Much less are we entitled to call it "spirit," because this implies consciousness, and as sensation is a form of consciousness the antithesis to this, involved in the distinction between reality and sensation, between cause and effect, excludes "spirit" unless we can obtain other evidence of its "nature." In the first stage of knowledge it will be neither "matter" in the sensational sense nor "spirit" in its true sense. If we call it "matter" in the supersensible import of the term, it will be for the reason that it denotes the idea of causality exclusive either of the fact or of the evidence of "spiritual" action. If the uniformity of the relation between this reality or cause and the sensation be unlike that of conscious agency, we may call it "matter" in the sense that it excludes intelligence from its conception, and that is precisely the scientific and philosophic conception of matter, and it is the result of the most critical investigation of the normal phenomena of experience.

Two important truths are involved in this view of normal experience. (1) The existence of a supersensible world of reality evinced by normal phenomena and not requiring the evidence of either the abnormal or the supernormal to prove it. (2) The existence of certain limitations in the judgment of the "nature" of this reality, namely, in the description of it. The older naive view would describe it in terms of sensations: the newer view must describe it, if description be the name of the act, in terms of the uniformity of coexistence and sequence, that is, in terms of its mere law of action, until we learn more about it, if that be possible. But we have in this situation a most important consideration enforced by the limitations indicated. The naive and untrained mind is not qualified to deal with the problem, even of normal experience. It has to accept the results of science and philosophy, that is, the educated and expert mind. The interpretation of even normal experience is not on the surface. It involves scientific and deep reflection, and especially an acquaintance with the laws of the human mind, and any neglect of these conditions only leads to illusion regarding the whole problem of reality. We may satisfy ourselves that there is something beyond the senses, but it will not be so easy to determine what it is, what its nature is. This must be the work of the qualified student, and whether the reality shall be termed "matter" or "spirit" will depend upon a most profound investigation not within the capacities of the ordinary mind. In this, as in all scientific and philosophic problems, the work should be left to the men whose business it is to investigate them. If the idea of "spirit" had not been introduced into human thought, the term "matter" would suffice to name this cause of sensation and other phenomena. It would be endowed with all the attributes or qualities of action that we now attribute to both "matter" and "mind." It would be "dead" and unintelligent in certain forms and conditions, and active and conscious in others. This was, in fact, the Greek conception in all its schools. Matter and mind were the same in kind, in so far as they were substances, as we have seen above. Only when Christianity came was the distinction made radical, and the one made to exclude the other. Matter stood for inert and unconscious substance, mind for conscious and self-active substance. The proof of the existence of mind is more difficult than that of matter. The reason for this will be apparent in the following.

The simplest experience we have of causal action is that of the external world on the senses. It is the first place in which we become acquainted with the fact. It is the most frequent form in which our experience occurs. All that we require for defining it, at least at first, is the uniformity of coexistence and sequence between sensations and a something giving rise to them. We do not discover any traces of intelligence in its action on sense, and when intelligence seems to be associated with material action we find it an additional factor in the totality of our experience. It involves complexity where simple material causality is simple. Hence the existence of matter seems to be the nearest and simplest conviction that we can adopt to explain phenomena showing no indications of accompanying intelligence, and the conception stands for the exclusion of it.

When it comes to evidence for the existence of mind as something other than a bodily function, the problem is a very difficult one. We are directly aware of our sensations and states of consciousness. We are absolutely assured of these beyond the assaults of skepticism. But the certitude that we are conscious does not carry with it the same certitude that our minds are substances other than the brain. We assume or know that we have bodies, material organisms, with which these mental states are associated, and we have no knowledge of ourselves apart from these bodies, so that the evidence seems to favor the treatment of these states as function of the bodily organism. Hence we have no direct evidence normally of anything but the association of consciousness with a material body, and assuming that matter can produce sensation in us and that it is the centre of such functions as digestion, circulation, and secretion, we can very well imagine that consciousness is also a function of the same organism. If it be this we do not need normally to suppose that mind is a name for a substance other than the brain at all. It is only a synonym for mental states or inner phenomena, and these are not independent of matter, in so far as normal experience conceives it. The direct knowledge of mind or consciousness does not exclude the possibility that it is caused by matter alone and so dissolved with the bodily organism.

But how is it with the existence of other minds than our own? If immediate consciousness does not prove the independent existence of mind-substance and if the law of causality does not require us to go beyond matter or material organism to explain the phenomena of consciousness in the subject, may not the existence of other minds than our own lead to a different conclusion? The answer to this question is not so simple.

In the first place we must remember that we have no direct or immediate knowledge of any minds or states of consciousness but our own. I do not know directly that my friend or neighbor is conscious. I know more or less directly that his body is present, but I have to infer from his actions whether he is conscious or unconscious. As I know that I myself am conscious and that my actions are related in a certain way to my mental states, I may safely infer from like actions or movements in my friend or neighbor that he is conscious. But I never know it directly. It is only the difference between the uniformity of actions in inert matter and the adjusted actions in my friend or neighbor that suggests intelligence in the latter. The mind or substance supposed to be the basis of the intelligence is neither visible nor necessarily inferable from the consciousness. From my own experience again I infer that the association of this inferred consciousness is with the bodily organism, which I observe may imply nothing more than that the organism is its cause or subject, and I may not require to suppose that consciousness requires a subject or substance other than the brain to account for it.

The consequence of this position is that normal experience does not attest with any certitude of a scientific kind that mind is anything other than a function of the body. Philosophy generally relies upon the difference between mental and physical phenomena, that is, their real or alleged difference of kind, to support the doctrine that the mind is capable of being independent of bodily functions. But while I concede this difference in nature between mental and physical facts, I do not admit that the evidence is anything like scientific proof, and I reserve the right to demand evidence that they are as distinct in kind as they superficially seem to be. But whether radically distinguishable or not, there is no scientific or philosophic proof of the independent reality of mind but the fact of its isolation and the discovery of its identity, whatever the method be for deciding this.

Let me summarize the result again. We have found that normal experience, when properly interrogated in the light of the principle of causality, assures us of the existence of the supersensible. A world beyond the senses is a settled fact, a fact certified by scientific investigation and without appeal to exceptional phenomena. This conclusion is reinforced by the phenomena of X-rays, wireless telegraphy, and radio-active substances. We do not require traditional beliefs or dogmas to assure us of these. The most general and common experiences of every man, when understood, point certainly to realities which the senses, though they are the medium for the revelation of their existence, do not represent as they are. Consequently, the very conditions which determine a transcendental or supersensible world establish reservations in our judgment of what this world is like. The same facts which prove its existence teach us to reserve our opinions about its nature. Belief and skepticism are thus inevitably associated, the one supplying a basis for our immediate behavior and the other a restraint against hasty assumptions about the meaning of things. And this latter field of the unknown - the unknown, however, in terms of what reality is, not the fact - is the wider one, and offers a large possible range of inquiry. But if normal experience shows how difficult it is to interpret the facts, in spite of their frequency, how much more is the duty to maintain reservations and caution in regard to phenomena that are less common. Here we find in our commonest life phenomena that admonish prudence in regard to our belief about their meaning, and that require the utmost knowledge of the trained mind to reduce to intelligible order. Yet we find untrained minds rushing in where the wise fear to tread. The revelation of nature seems to stop short with the fact of its external existence and to leave every conclusion about its nature and meaning to the most patient toil of expert men. Nature keeps her secrets except in response to an inquisition that only a few of the best trained minds can institute, and the duty of caution and skepticism is quite as imperative as faith or hope.

This view of the matter is all the more evident when we notice the meaning of illusions and hallucinations. Here we have phenomena that impose decided limitations on our judgments about even the very existence of external reality. In the previous observations we have assumed that our natural judgments could be accepted without question in regard to the existence of an external world, even of the naive type supposed to be actually represented in sensations. But illusions and hallucinations come in to disturb our equanimity in such matters. We find that we require a criterion to distinguish between experiences that surely attest objective reality and such as represent only subjective and abnormal states. We have even to assure ourselves that there is anything except our mental phenomena; and to be certain that there is a supersensible reality not represented in its nature in sensation is another conclusion which the utmost care only can attest. We have to run the gauntlet of skepticism in the very field of the most natural and frequent experiences.

If we have to be so skeptical and cautious in our normal experiences, what will be said of our duty in regard to phenomena claiming to be supernormal, and that are so sporadic and rare as to require collection for centuries, perhaps, in order to assure us of their meaning? Every one knows how persistent doubt has been, right within the field of our most natural phenomena. What should it be when we are not assured of what the facts are in real or alleged supernormal phenomena? Sensations are so well defined and so universally recognized that we easily understand what we mean when we talk and think about them as actual occurrences. Phenomena purporting to be supernormal represent but a very small percentage of our experience. In some they never occur at all, and in those with whom they do occur they are so rare as to represent so small a part of their mental life as exposes them easily to the suspicion of being casual illusions and hallucinations, and unless they occur often enough and are collected in sufficient numbers, with credentials that give them scientific weight, they must be treated as the products of chance, that is, of causes which are not beyond normal interpretation. We cannot form hasty conclusions from occasional facts when they are undoubted exceptions to the ordinary course of things. They may be good reasons for instituting inquiry, but until they articulate with the order of our normal experiences they have to be received with caution. Facts have to be complex enough to escape the interpretation of chance before we can do more than suppose them indicative of some agency unusual. What that agency is, as in normal experience even, has to be the subject of much more prolonged inquiry.

I have made my observations general because I intend that they shall apply, not merely to the alleged phenomena of psychic research, but also to all unusual events in our experience. They apply to the belief in meteors, radium, unconscious mental states, evolution, or to any belief introducing new conceptions. The observations apply all the more to such claims as the existence of a soul after death. Not, however, because the idea is new, but because of the moral interests, present and future, involved in the belief, and because of the passions that are associated with it. If we have great difficulty in assuming a soul for normal experience, so much the greater will be this difficulty in the case of alleged supernormal phenomena, not because they are supernormal, but because of the obstacles in the way of proving them to be facts or to be what they apparently are. The settlement of such questions must be left to those who are properly qualified to distinguish between illusory and genuine phenomena and not left to every interested man 'who may decide to study them. In this, as in all other deeply scientific problems, the scientifically trained expert must be the judge. Any one may report his experiences, and possibly even the untrained man may report facts less clouded by theoretical influences, but he cannot be permitted to monopolize explanations. He must learn to defer to the impartial and judicious investigation of men who have dealt with large masses of associated phenomena. The layman is not the man to solve the largest and deepest problems of the universe, as his equipment of psychological and other knowledge is not sufficient to justify his attempt. We must learn to trust the qualified man in this subject as we do in all other matters. We would not think of building our own houses, of investigating wireless telegrams for ourselves, of doing our own plumbing, of assaying our ores without a previous knowledge of the process, of pleading our law cases in the courts, or of doing anything that requires special and technical knowledge. But somehow we all think that any one can investigate and determine the immortality of the soul or dogmatically decide against it. We suppose that the physical problems of the universe require the best knowledge for their solution, but that the psychological problems, which are, in fact, far more abstruse and complicated, can be solved by any man whatever. The presumptiveness of this ought to be apparent to every intelligent man or to any that claim to be intelligent.

The layman would be under no temptation to dabble in these subjects if the scientific man performed his duties. Too often the professional man scoffs at all that he hears from others, and places himself where he has either to reverse his judgment when the case is proved against him or to remain in blissful ignorance of the truth. It is unfortunate for us to have to admit that in all history the great movements for man's intellectual and moral advancement have begun among the laity and not among the scholars. The latter are so identified with aristocratic tastes and beliefs that they are either blind to new ideas or they live in satisfied indifference to the rights of humanity. The scientific man takes the place of the ancient priest, and inherits his duties to the public. He cannot expect the support of that public unless he takes an interest in its education and welfare. When the scientist takes to an aristocratic life and affects to despise those that have taken him for their prophet, he must not be surprised when this public resorts to its own investigations and throws out of authority him who ought to know more than the layman. The sure way to influence with the public is to inspire its confidence, and the only quality that will do this is that of respectful consideration of the great problems which humanity at large wishes solved. You will forfeit its respect and confidence if you do not, and, as in many other great movements, the layman will depend upon himself for the discovery of the truth, though it takes him ages to do what the scientific man might do in a few years. If there are facts upon which an opinion rests, and if those facts repeat themselves from age to age, no skepticism can prevent the necessity for their consideration, though it may prevent the investigation which they deserve. Science cannot imitate bigotry and dogmatism after protesting so long against them in religion, and hence it must either exercise patience and sympathy with what it regards as illusory in the public or undertake the inquiries that will guide the layman into the truth which he is seeking.

What I have said in regard to morbid psychology ought to reinforce these observations beyond measure. it is to he regarded as more than a warning against inexpert dabbling with the problem, and also as containing another set of facts which are extremely important in both the solution of the issue and in limiting the knowledge which we shall have after the solution is effected. Every one, will admit that precautions must be against accepting as evidence of a soul and its survival the phenomena which can be referred to secondary personality. But it does not so often occur to many to remark that these phenomena may be treated as initial stages of mental conditions which may actually lead to the manifestation of the supernormal. I shall not here enter into any elaborate proof of this possibility or of the explanation of it. There is no space for this. I can only suggest this possible view of these mental conditions and proceed to indicate how it determines the limitations of human knowledge concerning the transcendental. The reader must be supposed to have been sufficiently acquainted with abnormal psychology and with the phenomena of subliminal mental states to see and appreciate the point without elaboration, and if he does not see and appreciate it, so much the worse for his disposition to reject the consideration of the matter.

If modern psychology has shown us anything, it has shown us the function of the mind to modify whatever passes through its alembic. It is not a wholly passive transmitter of impressions, but takes them up and moulds them into its own forms and meaning. Now as secondary personality is 'often accompanied by hyperaesthesia, or extremely acute sensibility, it may be the initial stage of that condition which leads to rapport with a spiritual world. This view of it was actually taken by Immanuel Kant, though secondary personality as a systematic mental process was not known in his time. He called it abnormal mental conditions. If rapport with a spiritual world be established in this way, communication with it would be affected by the medium through which it passed, and limited to the same extent. This is one of the most important facts for the layman and public generally to master. The tendency is to assume that, if communication with the discarnate be possible at all, it will guarantee the most free and remarkable revelations. There is no excuse whatever for this except the expectations which traditional theology has created and which our poor newspaper editors in their omniscience like to indulge. It is not a revelation of wonders that man needs. This demand and faith were the characteristics of imperialistic ages when he was governed, not educated. Self-reliance does not flourish in an environment of dependence on a revelation that is not the product of man's own activity. If he is to retain his individuality he must expect his knowledge to express his own mental action, and any access to the outside world, material or spiritual, must reflect the influence of the medium through which its agency passes. When that medium is abnormal, he must expect it to color the revelation which it transmits. A sane man would not be troubled by its triviality and confusion. On the contrary, he ought to welcome them as indicating the limitations which nature places upon curiosity, while it establishes the possibility of invoking hope, as personal experience invokes history in the regulation of conduct. The abnormal medium through which knowledge of another world comes may not exclude the fact of such a life, but it teaches us caution about hasty conclusions in regard to its nature, and we may rely upon the law of evolution as the expression of progress to expect that continued existence will open the way to the realization of a spiritual ideal. To make the revelation intelligible in terms of our usual sensory notions of things would only he to divert human aspirations toward ideals too material for another form of existence; while its passage through the colored medium of conditions not adjusted to the normal character of both worlds reveals all we need and conceals what we do not need.

In previous volumes I have emphasized the importance of a belief in a future life. I qualified this view of it, but did not discuss the limitations of its usefulness at any length. I wanted to place in clear light its function in social and ethical progress. But the belief in a future life is not the only agency that has acted on the moral and political life of the ages in the direction of progress. There have been accompanying influences which have been quite as effective, though they were not always rightly applied. Every one who has read history with an impartial judgment will recognize that the immortality of the soul was a powerful influence in moulding all Occidental life wherever it became a recognized belief. But it was not the mere belief in survival after death that determined the moral and social ideals of these centuries. The accompaniments of that belief did as much or more than the belief itself to fix and protect certain ethical conceptions which now characterize our life and did not characterize Greco-Roman civilization. Along with the brotherhood of man, which was in a measure at least instigated by the belief in a future life, and the sanctity of woman and motherhood, which was directly produced by the belief, came the doctrine of limited probation, which was the most important and the most powerful influence of all these centuries in developing certain habits of mind and will in men. This probation, which was limited to this life, was associated with a system of rewards and punishments that was attractive or frightful enough to make men pause in their conduct if bad, and to invite them onward if good. The Greek and Roman mind had not worked out its system of rewards and punishments as clearly as did Christianity. Or if it had recognized the system, as it did in such productions as Plato and Vergil, it did not limit the probation so definitely to the present life as did one branch of Christian belief. This, with the feeling that the next life was inferior in character to the present, as reflected in the messages of the oracles and similar phenomena, prevented the belief from being as useful and as powerful an incentive to affect conduct as in Christian ages. The idealizing of the next life by Christianity, if we were righteous, and the terrible consequences in the next of sin in this life, brought the problem of conduct so clearly before the conscience that the moral law had a rigidity that no ethics of Greco-Roman civilization ever possessed, except as political laws. These were earthly affairs. There was no connection between the morality due the state and that due to one's future life. In Christianity social and religious duties were the same, and a man's salvation was gained or lost by the character of his relation to his fellow man, as well as by that of his relation to God. When this morality was enforced by an elaborate system of rewards and punishments and the limitation of probation to this life, with added political power of great extent and strength, we can imagine that the belief in a future life, merely as a belief, was not the only influence that gave unanimity to modern social and political ethics. We must not forget, therefore, that there are other influences than a belief in a life after death that are quite as effective in moulding character, and that we must be as careful as Christianity was in its association of social ideals with its doctrine to see that the purely personal element of the belief does not absorb our interest and enthusiasm. It should be nothing more than a means for fixing a basis for that view of human life which protects ideals that materialism cannot protect with all its importance for man's present conditions.

The great abuse to which the belief in a future life was so long addicted was a morbid interest in another life than the present. This interest, however, and its consequences were modified by emphasizing social and individual duties in the present affecting the life of the next state. But with all this, the conceptions which absorbed attention were not of the kind to keep a healthy attitude toward the present life and its more immediate duties. This may have been due to the abandonment of the original social and ethical ideals of the Church. But whatever the cause, and it did involve the properly altruistic and human ethics of the early movement, the other-worldliness of so many centuries was such an abuse of the belief in a future life that the reaction has carried with it as fatal an indifference to its possible importance as the previous ages had maintained an exaggerated estimate of it. All the more danger must attend the establishment of communication with another world of this kind. All the past has been free from any admission of communication, human hopes not resting on this fact, but upon faith. But the present has abandoned its faith and seeks knowledge, and this can be obtained only through communication with a spiritual world. To be convinced of this tends to create a morbid interest much worse than the medieval one in another life. It lets loose all the passions of human nature to explore that aspect of another life which it does not need and to ignore the true aspect of the belief for its illusory one. It is not communication with another and spiritual world at pleasure that we want, but reasons to believe that there is another. Nothing is more unhealthy morally than a morbid interest in communicating with our deceased friends. No doubt it has been this, however, that has kept alive the practice, and with it the phenomena which attract scientific attention. But nevertheless it is the duty of scientific men, while they recognize the importance of the subject, to discourage the emotional passion to communicate for its consolations and to attack the problem from its higher level of indicating the meaning of the universe. I have no doubt that many people imagine that it was a personal interest that attracted my own efforts to experiments of the kind. Nothing can be more mistaken. I have no personal interest in the matter. I would not waste my time and energy in communicating with my deceased friends if I did not believe that the results threw light upon the fundamental problems of science and philosophy. I do not care a penny what the other life is like, nor for the pleasure of communicating with friends there. But I do care for the question whether my duties are commensurate with the possibilities of realizing their ideals. Nor is this view of the matter a reflection on the lack of human interest in one's friends. That may be as strong without as with communication with them. But no one should be dependent on the meagre relations which are exhibited in all alleged communications for his happiness. He only unfits himself for the actual life in which he must pass his days and years. It is only the scientific aspect of the matter that should appeal to our minds, with the ethical reflexes which it brings to our views of the world.

The value of the belief in a future life is in what it indicates about the importance of personality. It implies that nature is quite as careful of personal consciousness as it is of matter and energy. This influence of the doctrine would not have been so clearly felt or seen in the middle ages as in the present age. Antiquity felt it because, with its association of human brotherhood, the logical effect of the belief, the doctrine was a direct assault upon the political institutions of Greece and Rome. But the middle ages had abandoned the eternity of matter and made it a contemptible thing because it was created and ephemeral. Morality and religious aspirations were associated with the eternal and permanent. But the indestructibility of matter and the conservation of energy came in to restore material things to dignity and respect, and consciousness became, with the revival of materialism, the subordinate fact of existence and value. No wonder that materialistic ethics come in to threaten civilization with the same consequences that carried Greece and Rome to their graves. Personality has no permanent value in the materialistic scheme, whether political or ethical, and it needs the belief in a future life to establish at least an equal relative value for consciousness with dead matter and its phenomena. We have been taught so long to respect personality and what is permanent that we cannot expect to retain the modern conception of ethics as based upon it, if we are to suppose that nature cares less for consciousness than it does for matter, especially when our recognized ideals place personality above impersonal phenomena. The doctrine, therefore, of a future life needs recognition, not for the possibilities of communication with a spiritual world, but for the protection of ideals that will not live without it, ideals whose value no one dare question without forfeiting the right to direct men's conduct.

It is no use to say that our duties lie right in the present and that any discussion of a future life, with emphasis of its importance, only distorts the vision. For I am quite willing to admit the truth of the one and the liability of the other. I should agree as emphatically as any one may wish to urge it that our duties pertain directly to this life. I have discussed this in my other allusions to the subject. But we cannot forget the source to civilization of these very duties and the influences which gave them currency and effectiveness. Our morals, when they have once been instigated, partake of the nature of habit, and more especially of the influence of environment. These morals have been the product of Christian thought and teaching with the idea of a future life in view. The decline in that belief in the individual is not followed necessarily and immediately by the same decline in the community, and hence morality survives long in the social environment after it has passed in the individual, and his conduct will often reflect adaptation to it when it does not arise from an inner principle. A change in this environment invariably follows the extension of a change in fundamental beliefs. Hence we cannot expect the ideals based upon the value of personality to long survive its passage. The fact that civilization does not go to the devil on the conversion of one man to materialism is no indication that the belief in a future life has no effect in the world. We simply, as individuals, retain what our environment represents until that environment changes, when we follow it. Let the social order once accept the view that moral personality has no more permanence or value in the world than organic life, and we shall soon see whither things will drift. In fact, some of us see very clearly tendencies which our cultured and independent neighbors do not see at all. The materialistic standard of life has so infected even those who still have an interest in a spiritual order that they do not see the fateful progress of those morals which are moving straight to social perdition.

All this, however, is no reason why we should rush pell-mell into the follies of modern spiritualism. It should only teach us frankness and honesty with regard to the real issues of all reflections on the comprehensive meaning which such an outlook for personality would offer man's hopes and efforts, and the morbid side of those interests could be rationally held in cheek by sober scientific investigation. It is unfortunate that even Christianity has so emphasized the personal and selfish side of salvation as to forget the social aspect of its original founder's teachings. The effect of it has been to see in it nothing but a personal boon to be sought for ourselves instead of using it merely as a means of protecting the highest ideals of social and ethical life. Until this is done the doctrine will have all the objectionable features which any selfish passion has, and nothing has brought spiritualism into more contempt than the insane passion to be always communicating with deceased friends, and asking their advice in the direction of our affairs, or consulting mediums about the stock market and our love-affairs. When it comes to this I think I could justify Providence if he bottled the human race up in Dante's Inferno. We need to keep such possibilities under purely scientific supervision, and utilize the results of it in the same way that we utilize those of physical science. We adapt the results of physical science to our daily wants, but we do not go about investigating their mysteries for ourselves. We have no more business to make a passion of this interest in a future life than we have to make one of inquiry into radium when we are not equipped for the study of it. What we believe and know should be definitely articulated with our normal experience and made assimilable with it. We should improve the opportunities which occasion may offer to scientifically inquire into facts and make records of them, but that duty or privilege should not be interpreted as a license to live in the "supernatural." There is always a middle course in the presence of important facts, and there is no more reason for the extreme of skepticism and contempt than there is for credulity and worship. The one is as reprehensible as the other, and the scientific man who indulges in his extreme only deprives himself of the influence which he might have to direct human interest in better channels.

But if the belief in a future life has any dangers attending its maintenance, and if the habit or interest in trying indiscriminate communication with a spiritual world has any abuses to which it is exposed, these will not be prevented by laughing at the attempts to treat the matter scientifically. Such attempts, if the facts prove it or appear to prove it, will only react on the man who sneers, and result only in the forfeiture of his influence on the community. It is the duty of the qualified man to lead the public, not to let it seek its own information in illegitimate ways. There is no excuse whatever for an aristocratic retirement from these questions simply because they happen to interest the plebs. In a democracy, where we cannot govern, we have to educate and persuade. The failure rightly to do this latter means that we shall have to adopt the political institutions of the ages which we pretend to despise. In our present social institutions the scientific man must choose between the functions of an educator and a tyrant, if he expects to have his own ideas realized. Otherwise he only obtains, but perhaps does not earn, his bread. If it be true that there is a future life, the intelligent man is the one to reveal it to us under the limitations with which it is to be accepted. It it be a question which we cannot solve, this must be as intelligently disseminated. We cannot rest in the mere ipse dixit of any man in regard to it. Whether true or not, the human sympathy of the scholar is the proper inheritance of the world from the scientific man, and any failure to bequeath this property will only insure the loss of one's usefulness.

We are passing through the reactionary period against the exclusive otherworldliness of the past centuries, and as it has become a mark of intelligence to disbelieve all that the religious ages held sacred, we must expect scientific Philistines to parade their peculiar wisdom as the last word of omniscience. When the materialistic cycle has run its course and civilization has ended in repeating the experience of Sodom and Gomorrah, we shall expect sober thinking to begin again. We shall then learn what the larger view of the universe for a spiritual life means, and listen to the advice which experience has always shown us in regard to the value of the belief which may even reconcile men to a life of pain and suffering. The minister and the moralist have to meet situations in the lives of individuals which no skeptic can soothe. Stoicism is a very good thing for the man who has a healthy digestion and all the worldly goods to make him independent of nature and his fellows. But economic success is neither a security for the truth of skepticism nor a substitute for the finer moral qualities which keep the less successful from a policy of confiscation. We shall find as time passes that the social and political movements of the present age are the logical consequence of its materialism, and that the correction of them must come with that larger view of the meaning of man and his duties, which make sacrifice a virtue as well as an interest. I believe that the evidence for a future life is sufficient to make it the only rational hypothesis to account for the facts, but I do not believe that we have reached that amount of scientific proof which is necessary to make the belief general in the minds of the intellectual classes. The duty lies in further investigation, until its perplexities, which are many, have been removed. This is the necessary step in the establishment of a conviction that carries in its flux the destinies of the coming ages in their resurrection from the materialism of all our present life.

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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

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