UNLESS the evidence, of which the merest sample has now been given, be held to constitute a sufficiently strong proof that the performances of this particular "medium" are neither lucky shots nor explicable by cunning and imposture, it is premature to examine further into their significance. But as soon as these preliminary suppositions can be unreservedly dismissed, the best plan is to dismiss them thoroughly and waste no more time over them. The possibility of telepathy from the sitter remains.
The question largely turns upon proof of identity: proof of the genuineness of the identity claimed by the communicator. Now if you met a stranger in a railway carriage who professed to have returned from the Colonies where he had met your friends or relations, of whom he showed knowledge in some decided ways, it would not at first occur to you to doubt his veracity, even though he was a little hazy about the names of relatives, and occasionally mixed things tip; nor would you stigmatise him as a deceiver if lie occasionally made use of information supplied by yourself in course of conversation. But directly it was suggested that he might be a thought-reader, detailing to you the unconscious contents of your own mind, it would not be easy rigorously to disprove the suggestion, especially if subsequent access to the friends chiefly mentioned were denied you. This is, however, very nearly, the problem before us.
Only occasionally does the question forcibly arise most facts asserted are, of course, within the knowledge of the sitter, and none of those are of any use for the purpose of discrimination; but every now and then facts, often very trivial but not within the knowledge of the sitter, have been asserted. and have been more or less clearly verified afterwards; and in order to assist a special study of these data, with the view of examining how far they are really valuable, I made an index to them, which I published in the Proceedings, vol. vi. page. 647, as an Appendix to the Report of the early Piper sittings. To that index a student may refer.
Normally Selected for Identification
Concerning the means of identification naturally adopted by living people who are communicating with each other at a distance by telephone, under conditions in which they are debarred from communicating their names, or, what is the same thing, under conditions in which their names might be understood as being falsely given, Professor Hyslop made some interesting experiments which are thus reported in the journal of the Society for Psychical Research (vol. ix.): -
In an introduction lie explains the object and the method of these experiments, about which there was nothing supernormal at all. A telegraph line was arranged between two buildings of the Columbia University, and a couple of friends or acquaintances were taken independently to each end of the line, only one of them knowing who was at the other end; and this one (the communicator) was to send messages, at first vague but increasing in definiteness, while the other person was to guess until he could guess correctly and assuredly who it was that was at the other end of the line. The replies and guesses were likewise telegraphed by an assistant stationed with the receiver, for the guidance of the sender. Professor Hyslop's objects in carrying out an extensive series of this kind of experiment are thus stated by himself: -
"I. To test the extent to which intelligent persons would spontaneously select trivial and unimportant incidents for the purpose of identification - that is, incidents that were not connected, or not necessarily connected, with the main habits of their lives.
"II. To test the accuracy of the identification in connection with both individual and collective incidents, and especially to test how slight or how definite the incident had to be in order to suggest rightly the person it was intended to represent.
"III. To test the success and personal assurance of the receiver of the messages in guessing who is the true sender, in spite of some messages that are misleading or even false, but the bulk of which involves sufficient cumulative facts to overcome the natural scepticism and confusion caused by incoherence's and contradictions.
"IV. To study the sources of misunderstanding that might arise under such circumstances when one party was ignorant of the intentions of the other, and the causes of illusion in identification, which we can determine in my experiments, and which are likely to occur in the Piper case."
And he proceeds:-
"In regard to the first of these objects, it is very interesting to observe the uniformity with which perfectly intelligent persons spontaneously chose what would generally be considered trivial incidents in order to identify themselves. This seemed naturally to recommend itself to them, perhaps for the reason that trivial circumstances represent far more isolation than any chosen from the main trend of life, though I noticed no consciousness of this fact in any one. It was simply the instinctive method which every one tended to adopt. The records show very distinctly that, if left to themselves, men will naturally select unimportant incidents for proof of their identity, and it is one of the most interesting features of this choice that the individual relied wholly upon the laws of association to recall what was wanted, after deciding on the nature of the incidents to be chosen. Very often there were interesting illustrations of those capricious revivals in memory of remote incidents which not only resemble so much the incidents in the Piper sittings in triviality, but also represent the caprices and incoherence's of associative recall, intelligible to the subject on reflection, but hardly so to the outside observer. At any rate, the results in this regard completely remove all objections to the Piper phenomena from the standpoint of the triviality of the incidents chosen for identification; and that is an accomplishment of some worth."
I may further add that though the incidents serving for identification sounded vague to bystanders or readers of the record, yet when they were explained from the point of view of both sender and receiver they were perceived to be distinct enough, and to justify the leap of identification taken upon them. And this fact is of interest in connection with the Piper record, where it has been often felt by readers or note-takers that sitters identify their relatives too easily and fancifully; for in Professor Hyslop's experiments the identification is often performed on still slighter grounds - often on what would superficially appear no legitimate ground at all-and yet it turns out, when both ends of the line are catechised (as they can
not be catechised in the real Piper case), that these incidents are perceived to be of force adequate to support the conclusion based upon them. I have been constantly struck, while taking notes for a stranger at a Piper sitting, with the apparently meaningless incidents which were being referred to; and yet afterwards, when I saw the annotations, I realised their meaning and appropriateness.
Further, in answer to Professor Sidgwick's tentative objection that the sitters in the Hyslop experiments were only
playing at identification, and therefore were naturally in a more or less frivolous mood, whereas on a spiritistic hypothesis the Piper communicators would be serious and emotional and not so likely to refer to trivial incidents: we may imagine the case of a wanderer not able to return to his home, but able to communicate with it for a few minutes by telephone. In however strenuous and earnest a spirit he might be, - indeed, both ends of the line might be, - yet when asked to prove his identity and overcome the dread of illusion and personation, he would instinctively try, to think of some trifling and absurd private incident; and this might very likely be accepted as sufficient, and might serve as a prelude to closer and more affectionate messages which, previous to identification, would be out of place. And I feel bound to say that my own experience of the Piper sittings leads me to assert that this kind of genuinely dignified and serious and appropriate message does ultimately in many cases come, - but not until the preliminary stages (stages beyond which some sitters seem unable to get) are fairly passed.