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MATERIALISTIC AND OTHER OBJECTIONS
REAT BRITAIN is a free country, so far as opin
ion is concerned, and people may think what they like. Accordingly, many people think that Spiritualism is all fraud or hallucination. No harm is done so long as they confine themselves to thinking, but unfortunately these good folk are usually far from silent. In fact they talk and write more than they think. Least of all do they investigate. Their negations are a priori. They know, without experiment, what can and what cannot happen. The scholastics said there were no spots in the sun, because the sun was a perfect orb and could have no spots. They would not look through Galileo's telescope. And the planetary orbits must be circular, because circles were dignified and perfect things. These scholastics first decided what they thought ought to be, then said it was so. Similarly with the materialistic or negatively-dogmatic anti-spiritualists—for a few of them are not exactly materialists. The truth is that it is precisely the things which, according to accepted theories, ought not to happen, that we should be on the look-out for, as Sir John Herschel has said. They are valuable clues to new discoveries. But there are still many who have
not reached that point of wisdom, even among the philosophers.
Said Professor Münsterberg, not long ago, of trancemediumship: “The facts as they are claimed do not exist, and never will exist, and no debate makes the situation better.” Says Mr. Frederic Harrison: "To talk to us of mind, feeling, and will continuing their functions in the absence of physical organs and visible organisms, is to use language which, to us at least, is pure nonsense.” 2
As to Professor Münsterberg, the attitude exemplified is exactly that of the savage who could not believe that water could ever become solid, as he was assured that it did in cold countries; also of those who could not believe in Antipodes because people there would be head downwards and would fall off. In such cases, the disbelievers are merely ignorant.
Mr. Harrison's remark is less naïvely absurd, though it seems to connote an atheism which is now not much held; for “mind, feeling, and will” must be attributed to God if there is one, and He has no "visible organism”—unless the physical universe is supposed to be His body, which is a tenable theory, as we shall see later, but which would damage Mr. Harrison's position; for if the Universe has a soul, parts of it may have proportionate souls, which will transmigrate but not perish, as the matter of their bodies changes but is not annihilated. And the materialism which cannot conceive of soul except as associated with and indeed as some have said-produced by a brain, is not only
not scientific, but is bad metaphysics. As Professor James pointed out in his admirable Ingersoll lecture on Human Immortality, "function” may be of different kinds. The trigger of a crossbow exercises a permissive function, removing an obstacle to the string's motion. A lens or prism exercises a transmissive function, allowing light to pass through. Our brains may be prisms allowing the manifestation of part of our total consciousness, as prisms make visible only part of the ray. If the materialist asks how brains can be conceived as transmitting consciousness, we ask him how they can be conceived as producing it. Function is, strictly speaking, concomitant variation only; anything added about production or transmission is metaphysics. But the transmissive idea is preferable to the productive, because it fits psychical-research facts better, and for philosophical reasons also. It provides a wider scheme than materialism, and is supported by practically all philosophic and religious teachers. It is the root-principle, for instance, of Plato and the Upanishads.
But here, as already said, we get into metaphysics. This the spiritualist tries to avoid. Instead of arguing about whether a spirit can or cannot exist without “organs” or a visible organism, he adopts the more scientific mode of beginning with phenomena and reasoning upwards. "Here,” he says, “is what happens. Make all the tests you like, in order to be sure that the things do happen. Record them carefully, along with the conditions. Then try various explanatory hypotheses. Many of the facts can be explained fairly satisfactorily without going much beyond recognised agencies; but if you investigate long, and with an open mind, willing to follow where the evidence leads, you, will probably find that no theory except the spiritistic one will cover all the facts.”
Does not this sound more sane and more sensible than the dogmatic negations which non-investigators utter so fluently? To take another instance, a reviewer (wisely and modestly remaining anonymous) in the English Review (October, 1910, page 563), says:
'Surely no baser delusion ever obtained dominance over the weak mind of man.' So Tyndall; and there is something refreshing about his downright and sledgehammer style when we compare it with the trimmed and guarded utterances of modern inquirers.” 1
There certainly is. There was also something refreshing about the downright and sledgehammer way in which Stephenson was ridiculed when he thought he could make an engine run thirty miles an hour, on rails. Similar refreshment may be had by reading about the absurd idea (as it was then thought) of lighting houses by sending a sort of smoke into them through tubes. In like manner hypnotism was both laughed at and denied, the orthodox doctors saying, without any first-hand knowledge, that Dr. Esdaile's and Dr. Elliotson's subjects, who went through major operations in the sleep, must have been shamming anæsthesia. Nay, even in a less extraordinary matter, and with the backing of a man like Sir Humphry Davy, the discovery of the properties of nitrous oxide was ignored for half a century; and it took nearly the same time to
* Review of Podmore's "Newer Spiritualism."
convince anthropologists that worked flints were found along with the bones of extinct animals. McEnery's discoveries at King's Hole Cavern, Torquay, were laughed at, but were fully confirmed later, with much more besides. Every new discovery and invention has had to run the same gauntlet of ridicule, more or less. We have now learnt sense enough to be less dogmatic than formerly, and the real leaders in science are openminded, but there is still much ignorance and negative dogmatism. On this point Huxley has some wise words:
Strictly speaking, I am unaware of anything that has a right to the title of an "impossibility,” except a contradiction in terms. There are impossibilities logical, but none natural. A “round square,” a “present past,” “two parallel lines that intersect,” are impossibilities, because ideas denoted by the predicates round, present, intersect, are contradictory of the ideas denoted by the subjects, square, past, parallel. But walking on water, or turning water into wine, or procreation without male intervention, are plainly not impossibilities in this sense.
As Andrew Lang humorously remarks: "To the horror of some of his admirers, Mr. Huxley would not call the existence of demons and demoniacal possession 'impossible.'” 2 Mr. Lang himself, however, expresses his "abhorrence and contempt” 3 for Spiritualism, of which he confessedly had no first-hand knowledge; and he says elsewhere that he would not willingly find himself in the company even of Mrs. Piper. He did once find himself in the presence of a professional me
1«Science and Christian Tradition,” p. 197.