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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 1

Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research.

by Michael Sage, et al.

NOTE

It is obvious that such a body of men, pledged to impartial investigation, as the Society for Psychical Research could not officially stand sponsor to the speculative comments of M. Sage, however admittedly clear-sighted and philosophical that French critic may be.

But the publication of this translation has been actually desired and encouraged by many individuals in the Society, it has been revised throughout by a member of their Council, and it is introduced to the general reader by their President.

The Society, indeed, is prepared to accept M. Sage's volume as a faithful and convenient _resume_ of experiments conducted under its own auspices, and so far as it contains statements of fact, these statements are quoted from authoritative sources. For the comments, deductions or criticisms therein contained, the acute intellect of M. Sage is alone responsible.

It remains only to state in detail the principles on which the original text has been "slightly abridged" by the translator. No facts or comments have been left out that bear directly on the main subject of the book, the omissions are wholly of matters which might be regarded as superfluous for the understanding of the case of Mrs Piper. Occasionally paragraphs have been condensed, a tendency to vague theorising has been checked throughout, and certain irrelevant matter has been altogether omitted. Such omissions are confined, indeed, to single sentences or paragraphs, with only the exception of a somewhat technical discussion of the Cartesian philosophy in Chapter XVII. It had at first been intended to omit the whole of Chapter XI., as containing only fanciful and non-evidential matter; but statements of this kind form an integral part of the communications, and so, on the whole, it was thought fairer to retain M. Sage's chapter on the subject, especially as it may be found of popular interest.

The original appendix has been incorporated, after modifications, in Chapter XII., since the incident here discussed was in progress as M.

Sage wrote and has since been closed. His conjectures as to its possible development are naturally omitted. Finally all references to the _Proceedings_ (or printed reports) of the Society itself have been carefully verified. In every case the words of the reports themselves are given in preference to any re-rendering of M. Sage's translations.

PREFACE

BY THE

President of the Society for Psychical Research

_One of the facts which by general consent in the present stage of psychological science require study is the nature, and if possible the cause, of a special lucidity, a sensitiveness of perception, or accessibility to ideas appearing to arrive through channels other than usual organs of sense, which is sometimes met with among simple people[1] in a rudimentary form, and in a more developed form in certain exceptional individuals. This lucidity may perhaps be regarded as a modification or an exaggeration of the clearness of apprehension occasionally experienced by ordinary persons while immersed in a brown study, or while in the act of waking out of sleep, or when self-consciousness is for a time happily suspended._

_In men of genius the phenomenon occurs in the most dignified form at present known to us, and with them also it accompanies a lapse of ordinary consciousness, at least to the extent that circumstances of time and place and daily life become insignificant and trivial, or even temporarily non-existent; but the notable thing is that a few persons, not of genius at all, are liable to an access of something not altogether dissimilar, and exhibit a kind of lucidity or clairvoyant perceptivity, which, though doubtless of a lower grade, is of a well-defined and readily-investigated type, during that state of complete lapse of consciousness known to us as a specific variety of trance._

_Not that all trance patients are lucid, any more than all brown studies result in brilliant ideas; nor should it be claimed that some measure of lucidity, even of the ultra-normal kind now under consideration, cannot exist without complete bodily trance. The phenomenon called "automatic writing" is an instance to the contrary,--when a hand liberated from ordinary conscious control is found, automatically as it were, to be writing sentences, sometimes beyond the knowledge of the person to whom the hand belongs. Some approach to unconsciousness, however, either general or local, seems essential to the access of the state, and such conditions as ordinarily induce reverie or sleep are suitable for bringing it on; no one, for instance, would expect to experience it while urgently occupied in affairs. Whether it is desirable to give way to so unpractical an attitude, and to encourage the influx of ideas through non-sensory channels, is another question which need not now concern us. It suffices for us that the phenomenon exists, and that it occasionally though very rarely takes on so well marked and persistent a form as to lend itself to experimental investigation. It is true that in these cases nothing of exceptional and world-compelling merit is produced; the substance of the communication is often, though not always, commonplace, and the form sometimes grotesque. It is true also that a complete record of a conversation held under these circumstances--perhaps a full record of a commonplace conversation held under any circumstances--readily lends itself to cheap ridicule; nevertheless, the evidence of intimate knowledge thus displayed becomes often of extreme interest to the few persons for whom the disjointed utterances have a personal meaning, although to the outsider they must appear dull, unless he is of opinion that they help him to interpret the more obscure workings of the human mind, or unless he thinks it possible that the nature and meaning of inspiration in general may become better understood by a study of this, its lowest, but at the same time its most definite and controllable, form. Undoubtedly information is attainable under these conditions from sources unknown, undoubtedly the entranced or semi-conscious body or part of a body has become a vehicle or medium for ostensible messages from other intelligences, or for impersonations; but the cause of the lucidity so exhibited, the nature of the channel by which the information is obtained, and the source of the information itself, are questions which, although they are apt to be treated glibly by a superficial critic, to whom they appear the most salient feature and the easiest of explanation, are really the most difficult of all._

_It was to study such questions as this that a special society--the Society for Psychical Research--was founded some twenty-two years ago._

_Perhaps the most remarkable, and certainly the most thorough, of all the investigations made under the auspices of this Society has been the case of the American lady, Mrs Piper; which, begun in 1887, has continued ever since, with only such intervals as were necessitated by the circumstances of the case. She was already known to the Professor of Psychology at Harvard and to some other American savants, but she was brought to the notice of the leaders of the English Society by Dr Richard Hodgson, who has been for some years, and is still, acting as its representative in America, and Secretary of its American Branch. A complete record of the whole investigation has not yet been published, but large portions of it have appeared from time to time in the Proceedings of the Society._

_It is not to be supposed that the case is unique by any means; on the contrary, it may in some senses be regarded as typical, but its features are exceptionally well-marked, and the record has been more carefully and continuously kept than that of any other case. Accordingly, some emphasis has been given to it, and a general vague notion concerning the case has diffused itself among educated persons beyond the limits of the Society._

_And indeed it is one of really general interest, since the hypothesis of fraud is entirely inapplicable to it, and in the opinion of the most sceptical critics who have made an adequate study of the case, no explanation more commonplace than that of telepathy will bear examination. Other critics--and these are they who have gone into the matter most thoroughly--find the hypothesis of telepathy to be insufficient, and hold that some further explanation is necessary.

Opinions differ as to what that further explanation may be, and so far as I know it has not been scientifically formulated as yet. To me it appears probable that no one explanation will fit all the facts, and that the subject is not yet ripe for theory. Working hypotheses must be made, must be tested, and in all probability must be rejected, but our main duty at the present stage is the careful examination and record of facts. The working hypothesis most widely prevalent among the general public, whether for the purpose of scoffing or for a foundation of belief, is some crude form of the idea that the persistent intelligence of persons who have severed their connection with matter is willing, and occasionally even anxious, to take up temporarily the broken thread, and so to operate as to transmit, through any channel which may be open, to us who are still associated with planetary matter, messages which shall serve as a sign of their continued existence and affection; and that the biological organism or part of an organism of a living but unconscious or semi-conscious person is an instrument which may, though with difficulty, be utilised to that end._

_It is easy to express this hypothesis in such a way that it is repugnant to common sense. It may be possible hereafter to formulate it so that it shall correspond in some measure with the truth. But even though it should turn out that intelligences can exist apart from the surface of planets and the usual material concomitants, it by no means follows that they must all at some period have been incarnate on the earth. The recognition of modes of existence differing greatly from our own, if it can ever be properly effected, will have an illuminating bearing on many fundamental problems of life and death; but this is not the place to attempt to discuss such a question, even if the time were ripe for the discussion at all._

_The Society for Psychical Research, though it has now for some time studied this among other questions, has arrived at no sort of agreement concerning it; the only fact on which its members are generally agreed is as to the reality of some kind of telepathy, an apparently direct influence between mind and mind; and telepathy is no doubt an important fact, but it by no means follows that it is a master-key capable of furnishing the solution of every variety of psychical problem. The chief work of the Society has not been the construction of theories; it has accumulated and sifted a mass of evidence dealing with ultra-normal human faculty, it has published much material and criticism in its Proceedings, has printed more in its private Journal, and its members have written books. To these accessible sources of information students can be referred._

_But it is necessary to get some inkling of a subject before becoming a student of it--people have not time to read a tithe of what is printed; and inasmuch as many erroneous notions and misconceptions are prevalent, even among educated persons, concerning the method and motives of the Society, as well as concerning its ascertained results, it occurred to the Council that perhaps a more popular account of the outline of some of the facts, with abridged examples or illustrations of some of the details, might be of service in spreading the rudiments of a wider knowledge concerning at least one branch of a subject which must certainly be of interest to the human race when it is rightly apprehended._

_A popular statement was perhaps the more desirable since a number of insignificant bodies have recently sprung up, showing considerable energy in the business of advertisement, assuming colourable imitations of our Society's designation, but having very different objects--unscientific always, sometimes frankly pecuniary--so that it was quite likely that a certain amount of confusion might occur._

_The idea of the Council, in the first instance, was to have a short popular account or summary of the Piper case specially written by one of their own members; but it was brought to their notice that a French writer had already issued a small book of a character not very different from that contemplated, and had steered his way cleverly through the intricacies of a subject bristling with difficulty below the surface and choked with detail throughout; so it was thought best to utilise the skilful work of the French writer, and simply see to it that a faithful translation was made, only introducing changes in the direction of still further abbreviation occasionally._

_This is the book for which I consented, though I admit with some misgivings, to write a preface when it was ready to appear; and now that I see it in its English dress I find my misgivings justified._

_The author speaks deprecatingly of his purpose in writing it, describing it as_ "un modeste ouvrage de vulgarisation," _and thereby disarms criticism, for, considered from this point of view, it is successful; but I must guard not only myself but all other members of the Council of the S.P.R. from any endorsement of the sentiments and comments which M. Sage scatters somewhat liberally through his pages.

Taken as they were intended in the original, they were not out of keeping; they seemed to harmonise with the general tone and formed part of a consistent artistic scheme. Translated they appear less appropriate, but to omit them altogether would be to give the book a different character, and probably to spoil it. As it stands, it is readable, more readable than a profounder treatise would be. Let it pass, therefore, as conveying to readers who have neither time nor inclination to enter upon a detailed study some conception of the most remarkable modern instance of the phenomenon to which I began by referring--a phenomenon of which a better, but by no means yet a complete or final, treatment can be studied in the work of Mr Myers called_ Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death.

_OLIVER LODGE._

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Under the name "Second Sight," for instance.

OBJECTS OF THE SOCIETY

The Society for Psychical Research was founded at the beginning of 1882, for the purpose of making an organised and systematic attempt to investigate various sorts of debatable phenomena which are _prima facie_ inexplicable on any generally recognised hypothesis. From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations recently made by scientific men of eminence in various countries, there appeared to be, amidst much illusion and deception, an important body of facts to which this description would apply, and which therefore, if incontestably established, would be of the very highest interest. The task of examining such residual phenomena had often been undertaken by individual effort, but never hitherto by a scientific society organised on a sufficiently broad basis. The following are the principal departments of work which the Society at present undertakes:--

1. An examination of the nature and extent of any influence which may be exerted by one mind upon another, otherwise than through the recognised sensory channels.

2. The study of hypnotism and mesmerism; and an inquiry into the alleged phenomena of clairvoyance.

3. A careful investigation of any reports, resting on testimony sufficiently strong and not too remote, of apparitions coinciding with some external event (as for instance a death) or giving information previously unknown to the percipient, or being seen by two or more persons independently of each other.

4. An inquiry into various alleged phenomena apparently inexplicable by known laws of nature, and commonly referred by Spiritualists to the agency of extra-human intelligences.

5. The collection and collation of existing materials bearing on the history of these subjects.

The aim of the Society is to approach these various problems without prejudice or prepossession of any kind, and in the same spirit of exact and unimpassioned inquiry which has enabled Science to solve so many problems, once not less obscure nor less hotly debated. The founders of the Society have always fully recognised the exceptional difficulties which surround this branch of research; but they nevertheless believe that by patient and systematic effort some results of permanent value may be attained.

Investigating Committees (with the exception of the Committee for Experiments) are not appointed by the Council; but any group of Members and Associates may become an investigating Committee; and every such Committee will, it is hoped, appoint an Honorary Secretary, and through him report its proceedings to the Council from time to time.

The Council, if it accepts a report so made for presentation to the Society, will be prepared to consider favourably any application on the part of the Committee for funds to assist in defraying the expenses of special experimental investigation.

The Council will also be glad to receive reports of investigation from individual Members or Associates, or from persons unconnected with the Society.[2]

Any such report, or any other communication relating to the work of the Society, should be addressed to Miss Alice Johnson (as Editor of the _Proceedings_ and _Journal_), 20 Hanover Square, London, W., or to J. G.

Piddington, Esq., 87 Sloane Street, London, S.W.; or in America to Dr Richard Hodgson, 5 Boylston Place, Boston, Mass.

Meetings of the Society, for the reading and discussion of papers, are held periodically; and the papers then produced, with other matter, are, as a general rule, afterwards published in the _Proceedings_.

The Proceedings of the Society may be obtained directly from the Secretary, 20 Hanover Square, London, W., or from the Secretary of the American Branch, or from any bookseller, through Mr R. Brimley Johnson, 4 Adam Street, Adelphi, London, W.C.

A Monthly Journal (from October to July inclusive) is also issued to Members and Associates. The Journal contains evidence freshly received in different branches of the inquiry, which is thus rendered available for consideration, and for discussion by correspondence, before selections from it are put forward in a more public manner.

Chapter end

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