W. H. Salter

William Henry Salter

1880-1969. Went to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Classical Scholarship in 1899, took a first class degree in 1901, turned to read Law, and was called to the Barin 1905. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1916, to become a member of its Council three years later. From 1920 to 1931, a very difficult financial period, he served as Honorary Treasurer; and from 1924 to 1948 he was Honorary Secretary. He was President from 1947 to 1948. He made many contributions to the SPR Journal and Proceedings, and published two admirable books, Ghosts and Apparitions (1938) and Zoar (1961).

From Zoar, or The Evidence for Psychical Research Concerning Survival
(1961, Sidgwick and Jackson, London).

Chapter 16: Zoar: "Is it not a Little One?" Gen. XIX

- W. H. Salter -

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          THE EVIDENCE set out in the preceding chapters and the discussion of it would be altogether inadequate as the sole basis of a judgment as to the survival of personality after the death of the body. For such a judgment a man would have to take into account other organised systems of fact and inference from fact, and also the impression left on him by the experiences of his whole life, viewed as objectively as he could manage to view them. These vary so much from person to person as to make it useless to attempt to relate them to the hypothesis of survival put forward in this book.

There is of course a subjective element in the organised systems too. Facts are dry bones. Inference is needed to give them life, and inference implies subjectivity. Different theorists, working on facts accessible to all of them, can and do produce very different systems. This is true of the systems with which psychical research has the closest contacts, science and religion.

As between science and psychical research the point at issue is telepathy, which is accepted as a real faculty by most psychical researchers, including some scientists of great distinction, and is rejected by so large a section of scientists as to justify one, for the sake of brevity, in speaking of it as rejected by science. For other forms of extra-sensory perception than telepathy there is indeed evidence, but in relation to the survival hypothesis put forward in the preceding chapter it is telepathy, as a faculty dependent on the combined activity of more than me intelligence, that is of primary importance.

The conflicting views of telepathy held by scientists in general and by many popular writers present a situation that must strike every student of psychical research as ludicrous. One party rejects and the other accepts telepathy, the only common ground between them being that neither gives any indication of having made a study of the evidence sufficient to justify either a positive or a negative conclusion.

The evidence as to telepathy is voluminous and varied, consisting of records partly of quantitative experiments in extrasensory perception, partly of experiments with "free material", and very largely of sittings with trance mediums and automatic writing in which the experimental element is slight, not to mention reports of apparitions and other "spontaneous cases" in which it is wholly absent. The number of persons who are, or ever have been, well informed as to the whole of this material is extremely small, and I hasten to add I am not one of them. The weight of the evidence cannot he brushed aside by suggestions that. some person of unblemished character faked the results, or that some experienced investigator omitted to follow a procedure favoured by his less experienced critic, or even by proof that somebody somewhere has done a sum wrong. A negative judgment to carry any weight must deal with the whole of the evidence and must rest on a recognition that subject matter so varied requires for its proper study equally varied methods, some of which will be unfamiliar to persons trained in enquiries into material of a different kind.

As to positive judgments, facile acceptance of psychical phenomena by popular writers has also been harmful. The mischief has been worst, perhaps, where the subject has been of a kind lending itself to sensational treatment, haunted houses for instance and the phenomena of the sťance-room. Compared with these, telepathy is, superficially at least, lacking in thrills, but the implications of it are of such far-reaching importance that one at least of the forms in which it appears to manifest itself ought to be studied, and studied intensively, by anyone interested in the mental side of human life. If the study of one form gave a positive result that would suffice to establish the reality of the faculty. Study of the other forms, so long as the enquirer merely wished for proof, would then be unnecessary, but the results would increase his understanding of a problem which is in parts admittedly obscure. If on the other hand either the first form he studied or any he studied later gave negative or inconclusive results, then it would be a case for suspension of judgment until he had examined all the forms, supposing his leisure and patience to hold out long enough.

The common and very natural dislike of entertaining an idea foreign to one's preconceived notions, and perhaps subversive of them, is doubtless at the root of much of the opposition to telepathy and of the unwillingness even to examine the evidence. It is however possible to formulate an argument against it in terms that a reasonable, fair-minded critic might use, somewhat as follows:

"I admit the ability of the investigators whose enquiries have led them to pronounce in favour of telepathy, and I will assume, for the sake of argument, that the evidence for it, taken by itself, is as strong as you claim. I have not given to the study of it the time which you say it requires. But other investigators, of equal ability, and enjoying superior facilities for research, working on other material, have reached conclusions incompatible with the existence of a faculty of the kind you assert. I refer to the inter-relation of physical and mental processes, demonstrated by current research in ever greater detail."

Of this inter-relation everyone is aware, on a small scale, from his own experience if he has attempted to write a difficult letter when suffering from a heavy cold. But as far as a layman can judge from pronouncements of eminent scientists they do not yet claim to he able to account for all mental activity in physical terms. An argument therefore, that no transmissive or transfusive act could take place between two or more intelligences without corresponding activity by the bodies associated with them, involves some admixture of inference with the facts established by research. in the argument for telepathy on the other hand the facts give more direct support and require less assistance from inference, so that in the present state of knowledge the affirmative view is the more objective.

A case is, however, precarious if it rests on the assumption that a vigorous flowing tide will slacken before it is endangered. It may not be idle to speculate how the case for telepathy would stand if research at some future time established so complete an interrelation between bodily and mental processes as to render untenable the inference, at present the rational inference, that the telepathic process is non-physical. Such a hypothetical conclusion might be reached without discovering what physical process in particular was concerned. In that event the position of telepathy as a method of communication between intelligences otherwise than by any of the channels of sense recognised at that time, would remain untouched. There would then have to be cooperation between physiologists and psychical researchers to discover what the physical process was, reviewing for instance the old "wave" hypothesis, which at present seems to run counter to the evidence.

That telepathy, as described above, is a real faculty is placed beyond reasonable doubt if a comprehensive view of the whole evidence for it is taken. Whether it has a physical or a non-physical basis, and, if physical, of what kind, are questions which in their wider implications are interesting and important, but irrelevant as regards the argument for survival set out in this book. The essential point is that telepathy, whatever its basis, as a force working interpersonally among a living group, can give rise to mental activities so distinctively characteristic of a dead member of the group as to he best described as due to his discarnate intelligence: further, that the activities in question include not only revived memories of verifiable events known to few besides himself, and unknown to the person through whom they are communicated, but, of more importance, the initiation and execution of designs of the kind described in the three preceding chapters.

While there are some aspects of psychical research that are naturally repugnant to anyone who meets them, and not least of course to the psychical researcher who is more aware of them than the general public, there are others that he has no reason to like but has learnt to tolerate as inevitable by-products of activities that are on balance of value. In the first group comes fraud, of which no more need be said than that there are in several countries societies pledged to the examination of psychical phenomena "without prejudice or prepossession of any kind", to quote once more the manifesto of the Founders of the SPR, which can put the enquirer on a path free from that pitfall.

The second group consists of the often tedious and apparently pointless maunderings to be found in the "communications" received through trance mediums and automatists. It frequently happens that a sitting or a script, productive of material worth study, shows in its earlier part stuff of this kind. This may be compared with the confused noises an orchestra makes when tuning up before a concert, or it might be said that the subconscious has to clear its throat before it can achieve the enunciation proper to the delivery of its message.

The qualification "apparently pointless" was used advisedly. Much probably is in fact pointless but appearances may be deceptive. Nonsense, as Lewis Carroll showed, may be the most effective vehicle for conveying sense. There is not much surface meaning in the clues of a cross-word puzzle, if taken separately. Crossword devotees confidently hope that in combination the clues will yield them an orderly pattern of intelligible words. The automatic scripts of "the SPR group" are, I have not the slightest doubt, a puzzle on a very large scale indeed, but of a slightly different kind. The clues are there, in the form of recurrent quotations, or recurrent cryptic allusions to various topics. And just as in a crossword puzzle the same letter forms part of two words, one read "down" and the other "across", so in the scripts the same quotation or allusion may serve a dual purpose in relation to two different topics. But while the cross-word gives a pattern of separate and usually unrelated words, the pattern of the scripts, immensely complex as it is, consists in the interconnection of the various quotations, allusions, personal references and topics into a coherent whole.

With subconscious nonsense may be grouped triviality, the occurrence of which in messages purporting to come from the dead has often given. much offence. To take one out of hundreds of instances that have occurred, on her first visit to England Mrs. Piper gave Oliver Lodge a sitting at which a dead uncle of his was the Communicator. As part of the evidence of his identity mention was made of a snake-skin which he was said to have possessed as a boy (Proc. VI, 515). It is an obvious enough criticism that if there is personal survival, the dead will not after many years bother to remember or talk about such trivial childish affairs. But, as has often been pointed out, a man who is prevented by circumstances from free, direct communication with his friends, to whom he can nevertheless send an oral message through a third party, could choose no better way of authenticating the message than by including in it mention of some trifling affair known to himself and the intended recipient, but not to the intermediary or anyone likely to have concocted a spurious message.

That communications contain absurdities and trivialities for which no reasonable justification could be found is highly probable. But communications should not be discredited offhand on account of apparent defects of this kind without careful consideration of the relation of the offending passages to the whole and of the possibility that there is some good reason for their being where they are.

A religiously minded person who reads records of sittings may come across passages that are not only obnoxious in a general way because of their triviality, but are from his standpoint particularly distasteful as cheapening by their shallow assurance the whole question of human existence or as repugnant to the orthodox doctrines of his faith. For examples of the last one need look no further than the Spirit Teachings of Stainton Moses, mentioned in an earlier chapter.

Many religions draw a distinction between two orders of things, natural and supernatural, the latter being an order in which the ordinary methods of enquiry, legal, historical and scientific, have no validity. Without pausing to consider how far the distinction is itself valid, it is convenient to adopt it for the purposes of the present discussion, and psychical research has recognised it in like manner by substituting the word "paranormal" as defining the scope of its enquiries for the earlier "supernormal", which was liable to he confused by the public with "supernatural".

In pursuit of research within the natural order every enquirer must use the methods for ascertaining facts that experience has shown to be useful in relation to facts of the kind he is studying, and must draw what seem to him the most probable inferences from those facts, regardless of whether his facts and his inferences appear to conflict with the facts found and the inferences drawn by enquirers into other departments of the natural order, or with any teachings or beliefs, however based, as to the supernatural. That is both his right and his duty as researcher. But that does not mean that as a human being he must or should form his conclusions on questions of general human interest, such as the survival of personality after the death of the body, solely an his own system of facts and inferences, or indeed solely m the totality of facts proved within the natural order together with such inferences as those who have established the facts have drawn from them. He must of course take all that into account so far as he knows it, being on his guard against the certain intrusion into it of a subjective element. But it is proper for him also to take into account all his own experience of life, including whatever he has learnt from religious leaders, philosophers and poets. Here the subjective element is likely to be greater but more obvious, and therefore less dangerous.

The theory of survival put forward in this book is based on natural, but paranormal, facts of a particular kind and on inferences that can reasonably, I would say that must almost inevitably, be drawn from them. Its relation to another system of natural fact, mainly physiological fact, and inference has already been discussed. It remains to consider its relation to the teachings as to the supernatural of religious systems, especially those that are theistic.

It would be sheer mockery to offer this theory as a satisfaction Of. or an alternative to, the hope of immortality, to ask seekers for Zion to be content with Zoar. 'Me shortcomings of the theory, if taken as, the last word on survival, would from the religious angle be very obvious. It says nothing about the relation of the human soul to the Deity, or as to the effect of conduct in this life on the state of the soul in the life to come. If the evidence on which the theory is based is accepted, there is no assurance of any future existence except of a most impermanent kind, of a duration shorter than the natural term of life in the body.

These criticisms would he to the point, did they not rest on a misconception of what the theory claims to be. No theory founded on facts of the natural order could deal with the matters mentioned in the preceding paragraph without pushing inference much beyond the proper limit. Psychical research, in particular, has no ambition to claim territory that lawfully belongs to revelation or mystical experience, or possibly to metaphysics. The question then is whether the theory, keeping within the proper boundaries of psychical research, is a good neighbour to the occupants of adjacent ground to which it lays no claim. Does it, in other words, not only fall short of religious doctrine, as to the duration and moral aspects of life after death, but run counter to it? There is no uniformity of teaching as to the future life among the different world-religions, or even among the different Christian bodies. Substantial divergences were bound to occur when the philosophic caution with which St. Paul speaks of the spiritual body came to be fused with the perfervid imagery of the Apocalypse. To mention one denomination alone, some ingenuity seems needed to harmonise the views expressed or implied on different pages of Hymns Ancient and Modern.

The Churches are however unanimous in teaching Eternity, a conception which may imply more than an indefinite extension of Time, but is incompatible with anything less, certainly incompatible with the narrow time-limit of the evidence supporting this theory. That evidence covers about sixty years from the first death in the communicating group to the latest of the communications, a period longer. than any covered by any other paranormal evidence that need be taken seriously. One must exclude all the ancient Chinamen and Egyptians who profess to speak their languages with the pronunciation prevalent thousands of years ago, a matter on which scholars disclaim certainty. Nor, of course, am I speaking of any communications for which a supernatural origin is claimed.

The important thing is to keep clearly in mind the distinction between existence, as such, and the ability to give evidence of existence. The ability to give the communications on which this theory is mainly founded depended on there being at the same time two groups of living persons, the automatists and the interpreters, having in different ways and degrees a keen interest in the dead men and women who formed the third group, that of the Communicators. But on the supposition that the scripts do establish their continued existence, the Communicators must have been existing during all the years between their deaths-the first of them died in 1875 - and 1901, when the first communications came through Mrs. Verrall. It was Myers's death a few weeks earlier, and Mrs. Verrall's keen interest in him that activated the group of automatists. Some of the members of that group were however interested in some of the Communicators who had died before Myers, and a similar interest was more widely diffused among living persons who were not members of that group. The conditions for active survival were therefore present before the conditions favouring communication came into being.

The SPR group of automatists is not the only channel through which have come communications deserving serious consideration. Trance mediums such as Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Leonard, to name two who have been investigated with particular thoroughness, should not be overlooked. The particular form in which communications came through the SPR group was due to that group's close connection, in ways already explained, with the communicating and interpreting groups, but, given individual mediums of sufficient power, this theory does not place any difficulties in the way of a person who, during his life, has shared the intellectual and emotional life of his friends being able to give evidence of his continued existence and activity.

Absence of communication does not in any way imply either non-existence or inactivity. Communication depends on friends, still alive on earth, having the desire to receive messages from the friend who is dead, and the good fortune to get in touch with the right sort of medium, of whom there may at any time be few. The friend's active survival depends on the links of friendship he forged when still alive.

It depends, in fact, on the extent to which he has during his life broken out of a closed egocentric circle, and its basis is therefore moral. Men may indeed associate for evil as well as for good. Two proverbs are in point, and both are true. One says, "There is honour among thieves," and the other, "When thieves fall out honest men come by their own". History, and not least recent history, has provided notable examples of political systems which, in flagrant defiance of accepted moral principles, have had none the less a long run. They have gained power and been preserved from collapse through the support of decent people, whose generous emotions of courage, loyalty and comradeship they have successfully exploited.

Harmonious association for a common end does not among the living mean the extinction of differences of opinion or divergencies of personal character, quite the contrary. There is then nothing at variance with what we observe in everyday life in the notion of a survival which is at once personal and interpersonal. If it were asked, "Within what framework is the interpersonal element effective, a group of the dead man's friends still living on earth, or a group of kindred discarnate intelligences?" the answer would be that both the interpersonal and the personal elements are most effective when the two groups interpenetrate in the way of which the various groups concerned with the automatic writings discussed in the three preceding chapters are a complex example.

Zoar is indeed no continuing city. As seen from Pisgah, it lies on the border of the Promised Land (Deut. XXXIV, 3), but from it the further read cannot be discerned by natural sight. Some idea however of that road may perhaps he gained from the direction that the road already travelled has taken. There is, to start with, a personality divided for the convenience of bodily life into two parts, conscious and subconscious, with imperfect though continuous communication between them. Between this personality and other personalities similarly divided communication is for both of them mainly on the conscious level, and is intermittent and liable to misconstruction, notwithstanding such subconscious links between the two as may to a greater or less extent maintain continuity and check misunderstanding.

In place of this state of division the argument founded on the evidence set out in previous chapters offers an integrated intelligence, in which the previous subconscious has absorbed whatever of consciousness served more than the immediate needs of the body, drawing vigour from the friends still in the body with whom it was, and is, united by "the telepathic law", as Myers put it, of love and friendship, and able without let or hindrance to join with other integrated intelligences in furtherance of whatever activities they all, and their living friends, hold of supreme importance. Its existence is at this stage both personal and interpersonal.

Zoar then, for all its smallness, is not wholly insignificant. Its limitations may in fact commend it in quarters that would reject a more detailed plan of the Promised Land with every fenced city accurately sited. Is it certain that if Dante had been born in the nineteenth century instead of the thirteenth and had recorded his vision in the twentieth, in verse of equal magnificence, his poem would have received from the religious world the acclamation that centuries have bestowed on the Divina Commedia?

Up to this point the argument has been kept within the limits of the natural order, the only evidence cited to support it consisting of facts, unfamiliar indeed to most people, but capable of being tested in the same manner as we test the affairs of everyday life. But here evidence of that kind fails us, as it did in Chapter VII when some of the aspects of creative imagination came to be discussed. The purpose there was to consider subconscious activity as it shows itself in contexts not involving paranormal powers of the mediumistic type, as a preparation for understanding the role of the subconscious in mediumship. The examples there quoted showed that inspiration was always the product of subconscious activity of exceptional force but, in the psychical sense, of a normal kind. Consciousness played a part that varied, sometimes as active collaborator, but, where inspiration reached its peak, as mere amanuensis. That state was accompanied by a sensation of contact with some Power or Being external to the percipient and greater than he, called by Milton Urania, sister to the Eternal Wisdom, by Shelley the One, whose attributes are Light, Beauty, Benediction and Love, by Tennyson That Which Is. And it may be significant that both for Shelley and Tennyson, whose philosophies were very different, the experience of contact with the Power is the culmination of the experience of contact with the soul of a dead man.

Every enquiry into the natural order, psychical research included, must restrict itself to evidence falling within that order, but speculation as to the relation of that evidence to matters outside the natural order may be permissible. It is obvious that the experiences set out in Chapter VII, the humbler ones and the more exalted alike, have some connection with the experiences, some trifling and sonic far otherwise, described in the following chapters. Indulging in a little liberty of speculation, I would say that there is a very close connection between the more elaborate forms of trance mediumship and automatism described in Chapters XII-XV and the inspiration of the poets, leaving aside the question of literary merit, which is not here to the point. If so, Zoar, though it is not Zion, may not be so far from it after all.

So much for speculation. To return to the natural order, the problem of survival is only part, though an important part, of the subject matter with which psychical research has to deal. There are other parts less obscure that should arouse less acute emotion. Psychical research grew up in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when "the conflict between Religion and Science" raged furiously. Public interest tended to concentrate on the exchange of incivilities between Bishops and Professors, but there was more at issue than that. Both parties have re-adjusted their fronts. A divine who should, in Father Knox's phrase, make "the credibility of the Bible depend on the edibility of Jonah" would arouse as little enthusiasm among his colleagues as would a physicist who asserted that the universe consisted of nothing but ether and atoms. An uneasy truce has supervened, but not so far a stable entente.

In this controversy psychical research, which has consistently eschewed dogmatism, has never been directly concerned, but it has accumulated a very large body of fact bearing on the points at issue. Perhaps if both sides paid rather more attention to these facts than, with a few honourable exceptions, they have either of them done, a substantial approach might be made to a full and durable agreement. The SPR has numbered amongst its active members in this and other countries a list of men and women distinguished in various branches of science, in philosophy, scholarship and public affairs, that would be no discredit to any society that specialised in any of these subjects. No one therefore, however eminent, he he Archbishop or President of the Royal Society, need be apprehensive lest, if he takes up the study of psychical research, he will be thrust into contact with intelligences inferior to those with which he habitually associates. Nor of course will he be invited to accept any doctrine contrary to his existing state of belief. If however he is to profit from his studies, two things are essential, first, that he should take them up with an open mind, and, second, that it should be psychical research that he studies and not the various substitutes that sometimes pass under that name. He will not go far wrong if he reads what the SPR has published on any branch of the subject, taking both the pros and the cons, and extending his reading to the work of other societies in other countries that conform to the standards the SPR established nearly eighty years ago.

It is as to the first condition, the necessity for an open mind, that the scientist seems to me usually to fail. If, for instance, he takes any notice of telepathy, his reaction will probably be that of the rustic on first seeing a giraffe, "There baint no such animile". Yet much of the varied evidence for telepathy results from the use of quantitative methods that should appeal specially to him, and there are problems connected with it in the solution of which his training would be of immense help. The important bearing of these problems on biology has more than once been emphasised by Sir Alistair Hardy, and the same may be true as to other branches of science.

More vital still is the significance of telepathy with regard to human relations, social and political, national and international. This is a matter that concerns everyone, but the religious world especially, as giving a fuller meaning to the saying that we are all members one of another. That is true, whether the specially close link between man and man that research in telepathy has shown can be assigned to some physical process at present unidentified or, as most psychical researchers hold and as has been argued in this book, the process is non-physical. If the latter view of telepathy is correct, then a materialistic view of the universe is untenable. There are, of course, other arguments against materialism, but none founded on verifiable facts of the natural order that, on the present evidence, are so direct or conclusive.

It is therefore extraordinary that the clergy as a whole should hold aloof from research into a matter that would seem of vital concern to them and to the view of life they expound. When they show any interest in psychical research, as some few of them do, they too often become uncritical enthusiasts for the type of phenomena where fraud has been most rampant, sťance-room materialisations for instance, or where, as in "psychic healing", the results call for interpretation with the help of specialised knowledge that they do not possess. Individual clergymen of various denominations have, it should be recognised, made valuable contributions to the work of the SPR.

Among the sciences psychical research is a comparative newcomer. The Society was founded in 1882 round a nucleus of friends whom Henry Sidgwick, the first President, and Frederic Myers began to collect in 1874. Two years before that Sidgwick had written to Myers:

"I sometimes feel with somewhat of a profound hope and enthusiasm that the function of the English mind with its uncompromising matter-of-factness will be to put the final question to the Universe with a solid, passionate determination to be answered which must come to something."

It will soon be eighty years since the Society was formed, no long period of time when the novelty and obscurity of the subject is taken into account, the fewness of the active workers though now recruited from many countries besides England, the scantiness of the material resources with which they have had to work, the lack of close connection with established academic enquiry, and the absence of support from any of the professions. None of these workers would be so bold as to assert that the "final question" had been put to the Universe, a thing which could not be done until after the complete exploration of human personality, to which they, and only they, are committed. They might however well claim that their "solid, passionate determination to be answered" in face of all their difficulties had made it possible to form some idea what shape that question must take. The world is faced with problems of more immediate urgency, but with none that on a long view is more vital.

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