Book: "Raymond or Life and Death"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- (Part 3) - Chapter 11 - Life and Death -

On the Fact of Supernormal Communication


"But he, the spirit himself, may come Where all the nerve of sense is numb."

Tennyson, In Memoriam

          HOWEVER it be accomplished, and whatever reception the present-day scientific world may give to the assertion, there are many now who know, by first-hand experience, that communication is possible across the boundary - if there is a boundary-between the world apprehended by our few animal - derived senses and the larger existence concerning which our knowledge is still more limited.

Communication is not easy, but it occurs; and humanity has reason to be grateful to those few individuals who, finding themselves possessed of the faculty of mediumship, and therefore able to act as intermediaries, allow themselves to be used for this purpose.

Such means of enlarging our knowledge, and entering into relations with things beyond animal ken, can be abused like any other power: it can be played with by the merely curious, or it can be exploited in a very mundane and unworthy way in the hope of warping it into the service of selfish ends, in the same way as old and long accessible kinds of knowledge have too often been employed. But it can also be used reverently and seriously, for the very legitimate purpose of comforting the sorrowful, helping the bereaved, and restoring some portion of the broken link between souls united in affection but separated for a time by an apparently impassable barrier. The barrier is turning out to be not hopelessly obdurate after all; intercourse between the two states is not so impossible as had been thought; something can be learnt about occurrences from either side; and gradually it is probable that a large amount of consistent and fairly coherent knowledge will be accumulated.

Meanwhile broken ties of affection have the first claim; and early efforts at communication from the departed are nearly always directed towards assuring survivors of the fact of continued personal existence, towards helping them to realise that changed surroundings have in no way weakened love or destroyed memory, and urging upon their friends with eager insistence that earthly happiness need not be irretrievably spoiled by bereavement. For purposes of this kind many trivial incidents are recalled, such as are well adapted to convince intimate friends and relatives that one particular intelligence, and no other, must be the source from which the messages ultimately spring, through whatever intermediaries they have to be conveyed. And to people new to the subject such messages are often immediately convincing.

Further thought, however, raises difficulties and doubts. The gradually recognized possibility of what may be called normal telepathy, or unconscious mind-reading from survivors, raises hesitation - felt most by studious and thoughtful people - about accepting such messages as irrefragable evidence of persistent personal existence; and to overcome this curious and unexpected and perhaps rather) artificial difficulty, it is demanded that facts shall be given which are unknown to anyone present, and can only subsequently be verified. Communications of this occasional, and exceptional kind are what are called, by psychic investigators, more specifically 'evidential': and time and perhaps good fortune may be required for their adequate reception and critical appreciation. For it is manifest' that most things readily talked about between two friends, and easily reproducible in hasty conversation, will naturally be of a nature common to both, and on subjects well within each other's knowledge.

The more recent development of an elaborate scheme of cross-correspondence, entered upon since the death of specially experienced and critical investigators of the: S.P.R., who were familiar with all these difficulties, and who have taken strong and most ingenious means to overcome them, has made the proof, already very strong, now almost crucial. The only alternative, in the best cases, is to imagine a sort of supernormal mischievousness, so elaborately misleading that it would have to be stigmatised as v'icious or even diabolical.

In most cases complete proof of this complicated and cold- blooded kind is neither forthcoming nor is necessary: indeed it can hardly be appreciated or understood by non-studious people. Effective evidence is in most cases of a different kind, and varies with the personality concerned. It often happens that little personal touches, incommunicable to others in their full persuasiveness, sooner or later break down the last vestiges of legitimate scepticism. What goes on beyond that will depend upon personal training and interest. With many, anything like scientific inquiry lapses at this point, and communication resolves itself into emotional and domestic interchange of ordinary ideas. But in a few cases the desire to give new information is awakened; and when there is sufficient receptivity, and, what is very important, a competent and suitable Medium for anything beyond commonplace messages, instructive and general information may be forthcoming. An explanation or description of the methods of communication, for instance, as seen from their side; or some information concerning the manner of life there; and occasionally even some intelligent attempt to lessen human difficulties about religious conceptions, and to give larger ideas about the Universe as a whole,- all these attempts have been made. But they always insist that their information is but little greater than ours, and that they are still fallible gropers after truth,- of which they keenly feel the beauty and importance, but of which they realise the infinitude, and their own inadequacy of mental grasp, quite as clearly as we do here.

These are what we call the 'unverifiable' communications; for we cannot bring them to book by subsequent terrestrial inquiry in the same way as we can test information concerning personal or mundane affairs. Information of the higher kind has often been received, but has seldom been published; and it is difficult to know what value to put upon it, or how far it is really trustworthy.

I am inclined to think, however-with a growing number of serious students of the subject - that the time is getting ripe now for the production and discussion of material of this technically unverifiable kind; to be scrutinised and tested by internal consistency and inherent probability, in the same sort of way as travellers' tales have to be scrutinised and tested. But until humanity as a whole has taken the initial step, and shown itself willing to regard such communications as within the range of possibility, it may be unwise to venture far in this more ambitious direction.

It has nevertheless been suggested, from a philosophic point of view, that strict proof of individual survival must in the last resort depend on examination and collation of these 'travellers' tales,' rather than on any kind of resuscitation of the past; because, until we know more about memory, it is possible to conjecture, as I think Professor Bergson does, that all the past is potentially accessible to a super-subliminal faculty for disinterring it. And so one might, in a sceptical mood, when confronted with records of apparently personal reminiscence, attribute them to an unconscious exercise of this faculty, and say with Tennyson

"I hear a wind Of memory murmuring the past."

I do not myself regard this impersonal memory as a reasonable hypothesis, I think that the simpler view is likely to be the truer one, so I attach importance to trivial reminiscences and characteristic personal touches; but I do agree that abstention from recording and publishing, however apologetically, those other efforts has had the effect of making ill-informed people - i.e. people with very little personal experience - jump to the conclusion that all communications are of a trivial and contemptible nature.



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