Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)
Modern Spiritualism" (S243: 1875)
Since my article appeared in the Fortnightly Review, I have seen Dr. Carpenter's important work, The Principles of Mental Physiology. One or two of the learned Doctor's statements have been noticed in foot-notes to this book, but there are a few others calling for remark, which I will now refer to.
At p. 296 Dr. Carpenter says, that the only answer spiritualists give to Faraday's experiments is, that--"Faraday's performers moved the tables with their hands, whereas we know that we do not."--and he then continues--"Those who make this assertion are (of course) scientifically bound to demonstrate it, by showing that in their case the table does go round without any deflection of the index by lateral pressure, but they have uniformly refused to apply this test to their own performance, although repeatedly challenged to do so." But Dr. C. omits to tell us who are the spiritualists whose "only answer" is above given, and who are they who have been "repeatedly challenged" and have "uniformly refused" to accept the challenge. On inquiry, it may be found that it is the men of science who have "uniformly refused" to witness the proof of what they say spiritualists are scientifically bound to demonstrate.
In the spring of 1867, when I had obtained the proofs of force in lifting (not turning) a table (as detailed at p. 141), I invited Dr. Carpenter to attend some sittings with every probability of being able to show the phenomena. He came once. The sitting was not very successful, raps and taps of varying character being alone produced. Although strongly pressed to do so, he never came again. With Professor Tyndall exactly the same thing occurred. He came once, and declined to come again; although informed of phenomena which had repeatedly occurred in my own [[p. 280]] house, which he could not explain, and which I had every reason to believe would occur in his presence if he would only give three or four short sittings to these investigations. More recently Dr. Sharpey and Professor Stokes, Secretaries of the Royal Society, refused the invitation of one of their own Fellows, Mr. Crookes, to witness experiments which formed the subject of a paper offered to the Society. Where we are vaguely and generally accused of "uniformly refusing" to produce certain proofs, it is only right that the public should know how our scientific opponents receive our offers to exhibit even more conclusive proofs. We must also remember that Dr. Carpenter is acquainted with the evidence of the Dialectical Committee, of Serjeant Cox, of Mr. Crookes, of Mr. Varley, and of myself, as to the movement of heavy objects entirely without contact of the medium or any other person; yet in 1874 he can adduce nothing but the utterly exploded and almost forgotten "table-turning" of the time of Faraday as worthy of notice!
The theory of "unconscious cerebration" is Dr. Carpenter's special hobby, yet in his application of it to explaining the phenomena of dreams we find a remarkable amount of contradiction and false reasoning.
At p. 586, for example, he notices the "suspension of our power to form common-sense judgements," the "suspension of our moral sense," and the "entire want of coherence between the ideas that successively present themselves," as characteristics of dreams, and to be explained as the normal result of "unconscious cerebration." But he imputes to the very same cause an exaltation of the imaginative and reasoning powers and their action in strict logical succession, so as to produce results which the whole working powers of the mind were unable to achieve, and in many cases the committal of these results to paper without a single error. And all this is still to be accepted as explained by the magical words "unconscious cerebration."
As an illustration of Dr. Carpenter's mode of reasoning we give the narrative of a student at an Amsterdam University, adduced by him as supporting his views. The Professor having to perform a laborious and difficult mathematical calculation, found that he could not get the correct result, owing to errors occurring in some of numerous figures employed. He therefore gave the problem to ten of his pupils. The narrator worked at it unsuccessfully for three evenings, but always without effect; and after [[p. 281]] sitting up to one in the morning on the third trial, went to bed much disappointed at not having been able to do the work correctly, as it was particularly required the next day. On getting up in the morning, he found to his astonishment, on his writing-table, the problem correctly solved in his own handwriting, not a single figure being wrong, But the important fact is, that the work was done by a shorter and better method than the student had attempted during his three evenings' work. The work he had already done, and with which his mind must have been imbued, was not done over again without error, but an altogether new and better class of work was performed; and the Professor himself was astonished at it, and declared that he "had never once thought of a solution so simple and concise."
Now here is evidently a case in which the ordinary rules of unconscious cerebration do not apply. For something is done in a way the doer never thought of when awake. The student had been trying over and over again to find out the numerical error in his calculation, not to perform the calculation itself by any other method. When asleep, he does not find out this error--which, if done, might have been imputed to the repetition of the former cerebral action, uninfluenced by the disturbing causes which had led to error--but he begins de novo, in a way he had never attempted when awake, and solves the problem by a process which even his mathematical teacher had not thought of! This is exactly analogous to those cases of trance mediums who do in trance what they cannot do when awake--speak languages they have never learnt, for example; and to impute such actions to "unconscious cerebration" is not to explain them, but merely to give a name, and, like a child or a savage, accept the name as a sufficient explanation. It is exactly an analogous case to that of Mr. Lewes (given at page 203), in which preconceived ideas completely shut out the plainest logical consequences of the facts adduced.
I have been informed by some of my correspondents that, because I have not referred to any cases of new information of practical utility having been derived from spiritual communications, I am supposed to admit that such do not exist. This is an error. There are many such instances, but as bearing on the question whether Spiritualism is a reality or a delusion, I did not think them of much importance, and they could not have [[p. 282]] been introduced, with the necessary evidence, without altering the plan and much increasing the length of my article. If Spiritualism is a delusion--that is, if it is a product of known or unknown natural forces plus the minds of the assistants--then no new information of the kind referred to can possibly be derived from it. If, on the other hand, it is a reality--that is, if it proves that intelligent beings of another order of existence that our own can and do communicate with us (whether those beings are the spirits of deceased men or no)--this fact alone is of such vast and overwhelming importance, and involves such tremendous issues, scientific, philosophical, and religious, that the question whether these beings can and will improve our telegraphs or our steam-engines is an altogether subordinate one. Since the question of what is called practical results implies the truth and reality of the spiritual theory, it appears to me to be out of place to bring up that question while the primary question remains unsettled; for I can no more imagine a rational man being influenced in his acceptance of Spiritualism by the probability of his getting out of it such practical results, than I can imagine an earnest inquirer after religious truth being influenced in his acceptance of Christianity by the probability of its ministers being able to affect the weather by their prayers. When once a man is satisfied of the reality of spiritual communications, he will meet with abundant practical results. So long as he is not satisfied, such results, like all the other evidence, will be ignored or explained away.
The Spectator, the Academy, and Pall Mall Gazette thought my paper in the Fortnightly Review worthy of more or less lengthy notice, but they all declined to discuss the nature and bearing of the evidence I have adduced and referred to for the reality of the phenomena, while they made various objections to the moral and historical teachings deduced therefrom. Here I must decline to join issue with them. I hold that spiritualists alone are as yet competent to decide what theory best explains the facts, and what are the teachings which arise out of them, for the sufficient reason that they alone know these facts in their wide range and countless details. I could only sketch generally the nature of the phenomena, and was obliged to omit all the infinitude of characteristic mental details which constitute their [[p. 283]] chief value. My critics also expressed their views as to the contemptible and unsatisfactory nature of the phenomena and of the communications, even if true; but here again they are evidently too ignorant of what they criticise to be enabled to form an opinion. I felt it my duty to give some idea of the teachings which are satisfying to most spiritualists, whatever may have been their previous opinions. Whether those teachings are agreeable to sceptics is of little importance; the facts of Spiritualism remain, and must be dealt with before the critics are in a position to give any opinion worth listening to as to the truth of the theory.
I here give a few extracts strikingly illustrative of our subject. In the following passage from Jamblichus on Divination, quoted in Maurice's Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy, we find mention in a short space of a number of the most startling phenomena of modern Spiritualism:--
"Often at the moment of inspiration, or when the afflatus has subsided, a fiery appearance is seen--the entering or departing power. Those who are skilled in this wisdom can tell by the character of this glory the rank of the divinity who has seized for the time the reins of the mystic's soul, and guides it as he will. Sometimes the body of the man is violently agitated, sometimes it is rigid and motionless. In some instances sweet music is heard, in others discordant and fearful sounds. The person of the subject has been known to dilate and tower to a superhuman height, in other cases it has been lifted into the air. Frequently not merely the ordinary exercise of reason, but sensation and animal life would appear to have been suspended; and the subject of the afflatus has not felt the application of fire, has been pierced with spits, cut with knives, and not been sensible to pain."
The next passage throws much light on what is so often a stumbling-block to sceptics--the action of suspicion, or too rigid inquiry in checking the manifestations. Dr. Frederick L. H. Willis, Professor of Materia Medica in the New York Medical College, thus describes his experience with a musical medium (Spiritual Magazine, 1867, p. 209):--
"One evening the medium went into the dark room alone, and took her seat at the piano. I was in the sitting-room adjoining (the door between was open), the light from which made every [[p. 284]] object in the circle-room distinctly visible. Scarcely had the medium struck the first note upon the piano, when the tambourine and the bells seemed to leap from the floor and join in unison. Carefully and noiselessly I stole into the room, and for several seconds it was my privilege to witness a rare and wonderful sight. I saw the bells and tambourine in motion. I saw the bells lifted as by invisible hands and chimed, each in its turn, accurately and beautifully with the piano. I saw the tambourine dexterously and scientifically manipulated with no mortal hand near it. But suddenly, by a slight turn of the head, the medium became aware of my presence; instantly, like the severing of the connection between a galvanic battery and its poles, everything ceased. Mark this; so long as my presence in the room was known only to the invisibles, so long the manifestations continued in perfection; the moment the medium became aware of it, everything stopped. A wave of mental emotion passed over her mind, which was in itself sufficient to stop the phenomena at once. The incident proved to my mind most clearly that, in most cases, it is the condition of the medium that renders it so difficult for spirits to perform these wonders in the light rather than any lack of power or disposition on their part."From the numerous cases referred to at pages 79 and 215, which have been investigated by the police authorities, I adduce the following taken from La Gazette des Tribunaux (the official organ of the French Police) of February 2, 1849, because in this case a friend of mine, a literary man, has verified the extract at the British Museum, and assures me that the translation is exact:--
My friend informs me that he found a later short notice saying that "the phenomena remain inexplicable," and then the matter seems to have been no further noticed; so we may conclude that, as in the other cases referred to, "it was found impossible to make any discovery."
The sneer of the writer at the people's "credulity," in attributing the phenomena to "mysterious means," is quite amusing, in face of the statement just made that they "are clearly from no mortal hand," and the undoubted fact that they were "mysteries," since it was found "impossible" to discover them in a month's close examination by the police force of Paris. If we read the narrative carefully, giving due weight to all the facts that occurred and the completeness of the investigation into them, we shall be driven to the conclusion that had any human beings with the [[p. 286]] necessary machinery been engaged, they must have been discovered. It is a case strictly analogist to that of Bealing's Bells (see p. 218) and others there referred to, and it by no means stands alone, for Mr. Howitt has published a remarkable collection of cases of "stone-throwing," most of them strictly investigated at the time, without any human agents being in any case discovered.