"How often have men thus feared that Nature's wonders would be degraded by
being closer looked into! How often, again, have they learnt that the truth was higher than their imagination; and that it is man's work,
but never Nature's, which to be magnificent must remain unknown!"
Frederick Myers, Introduction to
Phantasms of the Living
OUR actual experience is strangely limited. We cannot be actually
conscious of more than a single' instant of time. The momentary flash which we call the present, the visual image of which can be
made permanent by the snap of a camera, is all of the external, world that we directly apprehended. But our real existence embraces far
more than that. The present, alone and, isolated, would be meaningless to us; we look before and after. Our memories are
thronged with the past; our anticipations range over the future; and it is in the past and the future that we really live. It is so even with
the higher animals: they too order their lives by memory, and anticipation. It is
under the influence of the future that the animal world performs even the most trivial conscious acts. We eat, we
rest, we work, all with an eye to the immediate future. The present moment is illuminated and made significant, is controlled and
dominated, by experience of the past and by expectation of the future. Without any idea of the future our existence would be purely
mechanical and meaningless: with too little eye to the future - a mere living from hand to
mouth - it becomes monotonous and dull.
Hence it is right that humanity, transcending merely animal scope,
should seek to answer questions concerning its origin and destiny, and should regard with intense
interest every clue to the problems of 'whence' and 'whither.'
It is no doubt possible, as always, to overstep the happy
mean, and by absorption in and premature concern with future interests to lose the benefit and the training of this present life.
But although we may rightly decide to live with full vigour in the present, and do our duty from moment to moment, yet in
order to be full-flavoured and really intelligent beings - not merely with mechanical drift following the line of least
resistance - we ought to be aware that there is a future,- a future determined to some extent
by action in the present; and it is only reasonable that we should seek to ascertain, roughly and approximately, what sort of future it
is likely to be.
Inquiry into survival, and into the kind of experience through
which we shall all certainly have to go in a few years, is therefore eminently sane, and may be vitally significant. It may colour all our
actions, and give a vivid meaning both to human history and to personal experience.
If death is not extinction, then on the other side of dissolution
mental activity must continue, and must be interacting with other mental activity. For the fact of telepathy proves that bodily organs
are not absolutely essential to communication of ideas. Mind turns out to be able to act directly on mind, and stimulate it into
response by other than material means. Thought does not belong to the material region: although it is able to exert an influence on
that region through mechanism provided by vitality. Yet the means whereby it accomplishes the feat are essentially unknown, and the
fact that such interaction is possible would be strange and surprising if we were not too much accustomed to it. It is
reasonable to suppose that the mind can be more at home, and more directly and more exuberantly active, where the need for such
interaction between psychical and physical-or let us more safely and specifically say between mental and material-no longer exists,
when the restraining influence of brain and nerve mechanism is removed, and when some of the limitations connected with bodily
location in space are ended.
Experience must be our guide. To shut the door on
actual observation and experiment in this particular region, because of preconceived ideas and obstinate prejudices, is an
attitude common enough, even among scientific men; but it is an attitude markedly unscientific. Certain people have decided that
inquiry into the activities of discarnate mind is futile; some few consider it impious; many, perhaps wisely mistrusting their own
powers, shrink from entering on such an inquiry. But if there are any facts to be ascertained, it must be the duty of some volunteers
to try to ascertain them: and for people having any acquaintance with scientific history to shut their eyes to facts when definitely
announced, and to forbid investigation or report concerning them on pain of
ostracism,- is to imitate a bygone theological attitude in a spirit of unintended
flattery - a flattery which from every point of view is eccentric; and likewise to display an extraordinary lack of
the Possibility of Prognostication
I do not wish to complicate the issue at present by introducing
the idea of prognostication or prevision, for I do not understand how anticipation of the
future is possible. It is only known to be possible by one of two processes
Inference - i.e. deduction from a wide knowledge of the present;
(b) Planning - i.e. the carrying out of a prearranged scheme.
And these methods must be pressed to the utmost before
admitting any other hypothesis.
As to the possibility of prevision in general, I do not
dogmatise, nor have I a theory wherewith to explain every instance; but I keep an open mind and try to collate and
contemplate the facts.
Scientific prediction is familiar enough; science is always
either historic or prophetic (as Dr. Schuster said at Manchester in the British Association Address for 1915), "and history is only
prophecy pursued in the negative direction." This thesis is worth illustrating:-
That Eclipses can be calculated forwards or backwards is well known. A tide-calculating machine, again, which is used to churn
out tidal detail in advance by turning a handle, could be as easily run backwards and give past tides if they were wanted; but always
on the assumption that no catastrophe, no unforeseen contingency, nothing outside the limits of the data, occurs to
interfere with the placid course of phenomena. There must be no dredging or
harbour bar operations, for instance, if the tide machine is to be depended on. Free-will is not allowed for, in
Astronomy or Physics; nor any interference by living agents.
The real truth is that, except for unforeseen contingencies,
past, present, and future are welded together in a coherent whole; and to a mind with wider purview, to whom perhaps hardly
anything is unforeseen, there may be possibilities of inference to an unsuspected extent. Human character, and action based upon it,
may be more trustworthy and uncapricious than is usually supposed; and data depending on humanity may be included in a
completer scheme of foreknowledge, without the exercise of any compulsion. "The past," says Bertrand Russell eloquently, "does
not change or strive; like Duncan, after life's fitful fever it sleeps well; what was eager and grasping, what was petty and transitory,
has faded away; the things that were beautiful and eternal shine out of it like stars in the night." My ignorance will not allow me to
attempt to compose a similar or rather a contrasting sentence about the future.
to Special Cases
It will be observed that none of those indications or intimations or
intuitions which are referred to in a note on page 34, Part I, if they mean anything, raise the difficult question of prevision. In every case the
impression was felt after or at the time of the event, though before reception of the news. The only question of possible prevision in the
present instance arises in connexion with the 'Faunus' message quoted and discussed in Part II. But even here nothing more than kindly provision, in
case anything untoward should happen, need be definitely assumed. Moreover, if the concurrence in time suggests prognostication, the fact that
a formidable attempt to advance the English Front at the Ypres salient was probably in prospect in August 1915, though not known to ordinary people
in England, and not fully carried out till well on in September, must have been within human knowledge;
and so would have to be considered telepathically accessible, if that hypothesis is considered preferable to the admission of what Tennyson
speaks of as
"Such refraction of events As
often rises ere they rise."
Prognostication can hardly be part of the evidence for survival. The
two things are not essential to each other; they hardly appear to be connected. But one knows too little about the whole thing to be sure even of
this, and I decline to take the responsibility for suppressing any of the facts.
I know that Mr. Myers used to express an opinion that certain kinds of prevision would constitute clear and satisfactory evidence of something
supernormal, and so attract attention; though the establishment of such a possibility might tend to suggest a kind of higher knowledge, not far short of
what might be popularly called omniscience, rather than of merely human survival.