Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research Part 15

Professor Hyslop has constructed a table for each sitting, and a table of the sittings as a whole. I cannot reproduce these tables for the readers, who would require the notes of the sittings to understand them.

I shall only give the definite results.

Thus, out of 205 incidents, 152 are classed as true, 37 as indeterminate, and only 16 as false. Out of the 927 factors composing these incidents, 717 are classed as true, 167 as indeterminate, and 43 as false.[83]

It should be said that Professor Hyslop has perhaps overestimated the number of false and unverifiable incidents. Many incidents or factors classed as false or unverifiable have been later found to be exact. And besides, the incidents of a transcendental and consequently unverifiable nature might have been omitted from these tables. But in this case again it has been thought better to give the false and doubtful facts full play. The reader must draw from these results whatever conclusion seems to him the most correct.


[80] _See_ Professor Hyslop's Report, _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xvi. p.

90, etc., for "Carruthers."

[81] Name of one of Professor Hyslop's brothers.

[82] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xvi. p. 115.

[83] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xvi. p. 121.


Examination of the telepathic hypothesis--Some arguments which render its acceptance difficult.

I have mentioned in passing what should be understood by the word _telepathy_. I shall repeat my explanation; it is necessary that the reader should have it well in mind, as in this chapter I am about to examine the telepathic hypothesis and endeavour to find out if it will cover the facts which we are studying. By telepathy is here meant, not only the power of obtaining information from the consciousness and subconsciousness of the sitters on the part of the secondary personalities of Mrs Piper, but also their power to read the consciousness and subconsciousness of persons somewhere or anywhere else on earth, no matter where, distance in no way increasing the difficulty of this reading. This is evidently among hypotheses a wide and far-reaching one, and yet, if we reject the spiritualistic hypothesis, there is no other which will cover all the facts.

The following arguments here briefly indicated are, with others, developed at length in Professor Hyslop's book. I shall not again go over those which circumstances have necessitated my explaining with sufficient clearness before in the course of this work.

To begin with, what is the origin of this telepathic hypothesis? Is it justified by the facts of experimental or spontaneous observation among psychologists? Certainly not; if we only reckoned the experiments and observations of official psychology, the hypothesis of telepathy, as we understand it, would be almost unfounded. This hypothesis is in reality founded on our ignorance; we may admit it temporarily, because we are ignorant of the latent powers of the human mind, and because we have every reason to think these latent powers great and numerous. I think that the first wide use of it was made in the famous book by Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, _Phantasms of the Living_. The telepathic hypothesis might very well be admitted as an explanation of the facts recorded in that book, although the spiritualistic hypothesis would explain them as well, or even better. But when we are considering other facts, such as those of Mrs Piper's trance, for example, the telepathic hypothesis, in order to explain them, must be stretched beyond permitted limits.

In the first place, with regard to reading the consciousness of those present, it would seem that, if we were dealing with telepathy, the so-called communicator ought generally to bring out the facts of which the sitters have been thinking most intently. But this hardly ever happens; in Professor Hyslop's sittings it never happens. Certainly many of the incidents related were in the consciousness of the sitters, but the latter were not thinking about them till the communicator recalled them.

For the same way, if we were dealing with telepathy, it is to be supposed that the communicators would be the persons whom the sitters expect. Now this is far from being the case. In the fifteen years during which Mrs Piper's mediumship has been studied, a great number of communicators have appeared about whom nobody was thinking. Professor Hyslop, among others, says that he has met with several communicators whom he did not in the least expect. Others whom he expected did not appear. It is a fact worthy of remark that in Professor Hyslop's sittings only those persons appeared who were capable of telling something of a nature to prove their identity; the others seem to have been systematically put aside by Imperator, even when information concerning them was abundant in the consciousness and subconsciousness of the sitter.

It would seem that, if we were dealing with telepathy, the self-styled communicators would most easily utter the least remote ideas of the sitters' minds; the nearest, most vivid ideas ought to appear first. Now this is far from being the case. It seems to make no difference to the communicator whether the idea is familiar or otherwise to the minds of the living.

When it is a question of facts entirely unknown to the sitters and known only to persons living at a great distance, this distance might be expected to affect telepathic mind-reading; nothing in nature authorises us to neglect this law of distance. We can only conceive the telepathic process as a propulsion of waves through space; these waves should decrease with distance; the contrary is absolutely inconceivable. Now this does not happen; if the fact exists only in the consciousness of a person who is at the time at the far ends of the earth, it makes no difference in the precision of the details. If an analogy should be made between telepathy--as we must conceive it, to explain the phenomena--and wireless telegraphy, Mrs Piper entranced must be regarded as a mere coherer of the telepathic waves. But this analogy is non-existent; wireless telegraphy is far from being unaffected by distance, and besides, when the coherer functions, it is because another instrument is emitting particular waves. When a fact known only to a distant person is reported, as in Mrs Piper's phenomena, it rarely happens that the distant person was actively thinking of the fact, which was lying unnoticed in the lowest strata of his consciousness. When the experimenter makes his inquiries at the conclusion of the sitting, it is often found that a definite effort on the part of the absent person is required before the fact is recalled to memory.

It would be well to reflect before we grant to telepathy a power of omniscience, independent of all known laws.

Another well-observed fact, opposed to the telepathic theory, is the selection made amongst incidents by the communicator. If we were dealing with telepathy, the secondary personalities of the medium would sometimes be mistaken, make blunders, record facts which the so-called communicator could never have known, but which the sitter alone knows well. Now this never happens. The reported facts are always common to at least two consciousnesses, that of the communicator and that of the sitter, or that of the communicator and that of a distant person. The inaccuracies prove nothing against this argument; if they are wilful falsehoods they simply prove that the communicator is a liar, and not that he is a secondary personality of Mrs Piper. If the reported facts are unverifiable, this does not prove that they are inexact.

If the telepathic theory expresses the truth, we must grant an almost infinite power to telepathy. This supposition is indispensable to account for the facts. Then how shall we understand the errors and confusions of the communicators? How can an infinite power seem at times so limited, so finite, when the conditions remain unchanged? On the other hand, the lapses of memory and confusions are quite explicable on the spiritualistic theory; we cannot reasonably think that a change so great as death should not induce some disturbance of mind, at least temporarily, or should not greatly weaken certain groups of memories which, in the new surroundings, have no longer any practical use.

A change of communicators has always been frequent, but was especially so in Professor Hyslop's sittings. Mr Robert Hyslop constantly says to his son, "James, I am getting weak; wait for me, I am coming back." And then another communicator appears on the spot. The telepathic hypothesis cannot explain this fact; it would seem quite natural that the communicator should be always the same. To explain it, another hypothesis--that of suggestion on the part of the sitter--must be added to the telepathic hypothesis. But the spiritualistic hypothesis, on the other hand, explains this perfectly well, even though we may be compelled to reckon with the complications which the admission of the existence of another world may introduce.

The existence of the self-styled intermediaries between sitter and communicator is another fact which does not fit in with the telepathic theory. Formerly Phinuit was the most common intermediary; then George Pelham collaborated with him; in Professor Hyslop's sittings, and, I believe, in all subsequent sittings since the installation of the Imperator _regime_, the intermediary is Rector. It is he who presides at the functioning of the "machine," because he is particularly competent--so say the communicators. These intermediaries have very defined and life-like characters. Phinuit, George Pelham and Rector are as unlike each other as possible. What, on the telepathic hypothesis, has had the power to create them? Mrs Piper's secondary personalities should have incarnated the communicator without intermediary. In order to understand this ephemeral reconstitution of a consciousness which has for ever vanished, we should have to allow that the scattered elements of this consciousness had temporarily grouped themselves around the _point de repere_ formed by the secondary personality of Mrs Piper. We should then see how difficult it is to explain the presence of these intermediaries. But if, on the other hand, we accept the spiritualistic hypothesis as well founded, we must admit that these intermediaries account for their presence very plausibly.

Here is another argument, which, I think, is very strong, against the hypothesis of telepathy. Subjects in the hypnotic state, and the secondary personalities which appear in this hypnotic state, according to the precise and decisive experiments made by modern science, have an extremely definite notion of time. If you tell a hypnotised subject to perform an action in a year, at such an hour and minute, he will never fail, so to speak, although when he is awakened there remains in his memory no trace of the order. Now the communicators, in the phenomena we are studying, have an extremely vague notion of time, because, they say, time is not a concept of the world in which they live. How is it that telepathy, which can do so much, owns itself incapable, or nearly so, of determining the moment when an action has been performed? What prevents it from reading the idea of time, as well as any other idea, in the minds of the persons present, since the notion of time is as clear and precise in them at least as any other notion?

To conclude, I should say that we are entirely ignorant of the point where the powers of telepathy begin and end. What I have just said makes the telepathic hypothesis an unlikely explanation; but, as Boileau said long ago, "Le vrai peut quelque fois n'etre pas vraisemblable"--Truth may sometimes be unlikely.


Some considerations which strongly support the spiritualistic hypothesis--Consciousness and character remain unchanged--Dramatic play--Errors and confusions.

The unity of character and consciousness in the communicators is one of the reasons which most strongly support the spiritualistic hypothesis.

If we were dealing with Mrs Piper's secondary personalities, the first difficulty would be found in their great number. I do not know the exact number of communicators who have asserted their appearance by means of her organism. But several hundreds may be found in the Reports of the Society for Psychical Research, and they are certainly far from being all mentioned. Now each communicator has kept the same character throughout, to such an extent that, with a little practice, it is possible to recognise the communicator at the first sentence he utters, if he has already communicated. Some of the communicators only appear at long intervals, but nevertheless they remain unchanged. But, on the telepathic hypothesis, it is not easy to understand that a self-styled communicator, a merely ephemeral consciousness reconstituted out of the scattered recollections of the sitters, should be thus reconstituted only at long intervals, suddenly, often without apparent cause, and always with the same characteristics. This unity of consciousness and character is particularly evident in the controls--that is, in such of the communicators as have appeared uninterruptedly for years, on account of their acting as intermediaries for others, and helping them with their experience. If it cannot reasonably be admitted that the occasional communicators are only secondary personalities of the medium, the impossibility must be extended to the controls. Either all the communicators are, without exception, secondary personalities, or none of them are; for all give the same impression of intense life-likeness and reality. If they are indeed secondary personalities, science has hitherto studied none like them. I have already sketched Phinuit's character, which has remained consistently the same during twelve years.

The reader should also have a sufficiently clear notion of George Pelham's individuality, which is also consistent; even now, when George Pelham appears, we find him unchanged.

The individualities of the present controls are even more marked, and not less consistent. None of those who, up to the present time, have communicated through Mrs Piper have in the least resembled Imperator and his assistants. The principal traits of Imperator's character are a profound and sincere religious sentiment, much gravity and seriousness, great benevolence, an infinite pity for man incarnate on account of the miseries of this life of darkness and chaos; and with this, an imperious temper, so that he does well to call himself Imperator; he commands, and will be obeyed, but he wills only the right. The other spirits who gravitate around him--Rector, Doctor, Prudens, and George Pelham--pay him profound respect. This character of Imperator is quite the same as we find in the works of Stainton Moses. Those who decline to accept the spiritualist hypothesis on any terms may say that Mrs Piper has drawn the character from this source. She must at least know the book we have mentioned--_Spirit Teachings_. When the effort to communicate with Stainton Moses was made, and nothing was obtained but incoherence and falsehood, Dr Hodgson, wishing to discover what influence the normal Mrs Piper's knowledge of Stainton Moses's works might have upon the secondary personality calling itself Stainton Moses (if we are dealing with secondary personalities), took her a copy of _Spirit Teachings_.

She read it, or it is to be concluded she did so, but there was no result, and no effect upon the communicator who called himself Stainton Moses. Nevertheless, I repeat, it may be asserted with some probability that Mrs Piper took the character of Imperator from this source. But then, from whence did she take the other characters?

Imperator and his friends speak in a distinctive biblical style.

Generally, at the beginning of the sittings, Imperator either utters a prayer himself or dictates one to Rector, who reproduces it. Here is a specimen. "Holy Father, we are with Thee in all Thy ways, and to Thee we come in all things. We ask Thee to give us Thy tender love and care.

Bestow Thy blessings upon this Thy fellow-creature. Help him to be all that Thou dost ask him. Teach him to walk in the path of righteousness and truth. He needs Thy loving care. Teach him in all things to do Thy holy will ... and we leave all else in Thy hands. Without Thy care we are indeed bereft. Watch over and guide his footsteps and lead him into truth and light. Father, we beseech Thee so to open the blinded eyes of mortals that they may know more of Thee and Thy tender love and care."

Among the phrases which ring familiarly to English ears we notice one peculiarity, and one that constantly recurs. Imperator calls God "Father," and yet, when he commends man to God, he calls him God's fellow-creature, His neighbour, and not His creature. Evidently Imperator's idea of God differs from ours; it would seem that he thinks us an emanation from the Divine, eternal as the Divine itself.

Many readers may not be inclined to attach much value to Imperator's prayers. They will take them for one of the diabolical inventions of which secondary personalities are capable. Evidently, if we take them apart from the rest, this is the most plausible explanation; but the character and ideas of Imperator must be considered as a whole. I can assure my readers that there is nothing diabolical about him. If Stainton Moses and Mrs Piper have created him, they have created a masterpiece; Imperator inspires respect in the most sceptical.

There is another aspect of the phenomena which telepathy does not explain; the dramatic play. The personages at the other end of the wire act, as far as we can judge, with all the appropriateness and distinctive characteristics of reality. There are incidents of this dramatic play, which telepathy cannot explain, in nearly all the sittings. I have given some of them in passing, and will now give some more examples. At M. Bourget's second sitting Mrs Pitman, whom I have mentioned before, suddenly appears, and speaks nearly as follows:[84]

"Monsieur, I come to offer you my help. I lived in France and spoke French fairly well when I was living. Tell me what you want, and I can perhaps help you to communicate with this lady." In order to understand the appropriateness of this intervention we must remember that George Pelham, who was acting as intermediary, had complained at the beginning of the sitting that the communicating spirit spoke French and that he did not understand her.

One day George Pelham is asked for information about Phinuit, and is about to give it. But Phinuit, who is manifesting through the voice while George Pelham is doing so in writing, perceives this and cries, "You had better shut up about me!" And the spectators witnessed a sort of struggle between the head and the hand. Then George Pelham writes, "All right, it is settled; we will say no more about it."

During a sitting in which the sitter's wife gave proofs of identity of a very private nature to her husband she said, "I tell you this, but don't let that gentleman hear." "That gentleman" could not be Dr Hodgson, who had left the room; it was the invisible George Pelham who was habitually present at the sittings at this period.

On April 30, 1894, Mr James Mitchell has a sitting.[85] Phinuit begins by giving him appropriate advice about his health. He ends by saying, "You worry, too." Then he adds, "There's a voice I hear as plainly as you would a bell rung, and she says, 'That's right, doctor, tell him not to worry, because he always did so--my dear husband--I want him to enjoy his remaining days in the body. Tell him I am Margaret Mitchell, and I will be with him to the end of eternity, spiritually.'"

The communicators often ask one or more of those present to go out of the room, and they give one or other of the following reasons, according to circumstances. The first is that very private information is about to be given. I have quoted an example in speaking of George Pelham, when James Howard asked him to tell something which only they two knew.

George Pelham, preparing to do so, begins by asking Dr Hodgson to leave the room. How oddly discreet for secondary personalities! On other occasions certain persons are asked to go out temporarily, because, say the controls, "You have relations and friends who want very much to communicate with you, and they prevent all communication by their insistence and their efforts."

On a certain occasion Professor Hyslop rises and goes to the other end of the room, passing Mrs Piper, upon which George Pelham, apparently offended, writes, "He has passed in front of Imperator! Why does he do that?"

It would need a volume to recount all the little analogous incidents which telepathy does not explain. These will do as examples. Will it be said that these small dramas resemble the creations of the same kind which occur in delirium or dreams? But in the first place, in delirium and dreams, the spectator does not realise, as he does here, the presence of persons who have given many details tending to prove their identity. Again, the real cause of these creations of dream and delirium is unknown to us. We might assert, without being fanciful, that sickness is only their opportunity and not their cause. Lastly, a third group of facts, which strongly militates in favour of the spiritualist hypothesis, consists of the mistakes and confusions. This would probably not be the opinion of a superficial observer; many take these errors and confusions as a reason for entirely rejecting the spiritualist hypothesis; generally because they have a strange notion of a "spirit,"

without any analogy in nature. Deceived by absurd and antiquated theological teaching, they imagine that the most pitiable drunkard, for example, becomes a being of ideal beauty and omniscience from the day he is disincarnated. It cannot be so. Our spirits, if we have them, must progress slowly. When they leap into the great unknown they do not at the same time leap into perfection; they were finite and limited, and do not become immediately infinite. Disincarnated man, like incarnated man, has lapses of intelligence, memory and morality. The existence of these lapses very well explains the greater part of the mistakes in the communications. I have no room to develop this idea, but the reader can do it easily. I will only quote one example of lapse of memory. Mr Robert Hyslop said he had a penknife with a brown handle, which he carried first in his waistcoat pocket and afterwards in his coat. On inquiry, it was discovered that he was mistaken, and that he really carried it in his trousers pocket. What man living has not made a hundred such mistakes? In order to explain the phenomena we are studying by the telepathic hypothesis, we must suppose that telepathy has infinite power with which no obstacle can interfere. Then why does it make mistakes? And why does it make just the mistakes that an imperfect, finite spirit would make? Must we suppose that Dame Telepathy is a mere incarnation of the demon of fraud and deceit?


[84] Evidently addressing George Pelham.

[85] _Proc. of S.P.R._, vol. xiii. p. 519.

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