Is Sir Oliver Lodge Right? Yes

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Is Sir Oliver Lodge Right? is an article in two parts, one written by Arthur Conan Doyle titled "YES" and one written by Edward Clodd titled "NO", published in The Strand Magazine in july 1917. Only the Conan Doyle article is reproduced below.

Is Sir Oliver Lodge Right? "Yes"

The Strand Magazine, p. 49 (july 1917)
The Strand Magazine, p. 50 (july 1917)
The Strand Magazine, p. 51 (july 1917)

Is Sir Oliver Lodge right in his opinion that the Dead can communicate with the Living ? Most of our readers have formed their own opinions, but nevertheless they will be interested in reading what is to be said for and against by two such eminent writers as Sir A. Conan Doyle and Mr. Edward Clodd.


I have read Sir Oliver Lodge's statement of the causes which led him to believe in the continuity of life and the possibility of communication. I find myself in complete agreement with it, because my own experiences, which now extend over thirty years, are corroborative of his own, though lately admit that I have never had the same application in examining phenomena, nor the same power of scientific analysis with which to weigh the results. Still, so far as I have been able to go, I have found the road even as he describes it, and as many other travellers who are men of conscience and character have told the same story I cannot doubt that it is true. If human testimony is capable of establishing anything, then it has absolutely proved the fact of survival. If anyone thinks that I exaggerate, let him before expressing his thought read the following books in the order given : Lodge's "Survival of Man," Hill's T. Psychical Investigations," Stead's "After Death," Lodge's "Raymond." No course of reading will profit them more, and when inquirers have finished it they will be in a position to dissent or to agree. At present it is too often an argument where knowledge and experience are on one side while nothing but prejudice or misunderstanding is on the other.

Of all these misunderstandings none more common or more false than the idea that the future of religion is in some way imperilled. Spiritualism will destroy no existing religion, but it will enrich and revive each and all of them. It will assuredly modify details and call attention to the essential things which all hold in common, rather than to the less essential things upon which they differ. To that extent it may offend extremists. " It will be a new kind of Christianity," said the Bishop of Oxford the other day, in the course of an attack upon it. That does, I think, fairly well describe it ; but surely the whole earnest world is looking for a new kind of Christianity which will get more of the real spirit of the Founder, and make impossible for ever such frightful relapses into the Dark Ages as that which our generation has witnessed. So long as the churches are half empty all over the land, it is a new sort of Christianity that is called for. Here we have something definite, something assured, something which will be based upon tangible proof and will combine the most advanced science with the most exalted morality. Such is the spiritual movement as I read it — a fresh influx of inspiration, and far the greatest religious event since the coming of that Great Spirit Who brought, nearly two thousand years ago, the message of gentleness and tolerance from which the world seems to have profited so little.

These remarks, however, may be too grave for these pages. Let me then imitate Sir Oliver and go back in my own memory to some of the stages and experiences which have brought me where I am. My-training was most orthodox in the least elastic of all churches, but after becoming a medical student I found such discrepancies between the new knowledge and the old teaching that my views were greatly changed. Truth at all cost was my motto, and I groped my way through some years of inquiry and doubt towards some definite conclusion. Alas ! that conclusion was only negative, although I never ceased to be a whole-hearted Theist, seeing signs of divine purpose all around me. That the purpose included the prolongation of my own minute personality after death seemed to me to be entirely unlikely and against the whole analogy of Nature, so far as I could understand it. The bodily senses gave us all our impressions. How then could the body dig and the impressions survive ? As well have the electricity going on when the battery was smashed.

Then came my years of reconsideration, amazed and reluctant reconsideration, which gradually, very gradually, changed to absolute conversion as the evidence became stronger and my knowledge fuller. I was an omnivorous reader, and I chanced upon a biography of a Judge Edmonds, of the United States High Court, in which that eminent lawyer claimed to have kept in. close personal touch with his wife for many years after her death. I read the book with the pity which the words of a well-meaning lunatic would inspire. Only cite thing puzzled me. Was the man really mad, or was he for some reason lying ? The account was very circumstantial, and there could be no question of mistake.

My knowledge of the subject at the time was confined to Browning's " Sludge," and to occasional police reports of the exposure of fraudulent mediums. I thought the whole ritual 'consisted of dark seances, floating tambourines, and absurd messages got by very dubious means. The association of our beloved dead with such phenomena seemed impossible, and I could not understand how men of education could believe such nonsense. I tried some table-turning, and got the usual banal messages. This deepened my distrust of the whole subject. If spirits do exist, I thought, they must be something superhuman, whereas these creatures who send such messages, if they really come from outside ourselves, must rather be subhuman. I thought I had the scientific mind, and yet I was really doing, as many of my superiors in science were doing, the most unscientific thing possible, for I was arguing from a supposition instead of from a fact. My duty was not to imagine a. spirit and then judge the messages by that imaginary standard, but it was to study the messages, presuming that they were genuine, and endeavour to learn the nature of those who sent them.

I learned about this time that a considerable number of eminent men had given their endorsement to these phenomena; and this perplexed me, for I was aware that their belief had only come after close investigation. I read Wallace's "Modern Miracles," and an epitome of Crookes' experiments as published in the Quarterly Journal of Science. Here were two men who were unsurpassed, the one as a zoologist, the other as a chemist, and they were both convinced. But I do not readily surrender my opinions. I preferred to imagine that these two eminent men had some blind spot in their mental retina. I could not believe in life without a physical basis. In this I was probably right, but my definition of what is physical was too narrow.

About this time I came into personal contact with General Drayson, one of the pioneers of this movement in England. He was a man of great force of character and with a singular gift of clear exposition. He gave me an interview, in which I laid some at least of my difficulties before him. l still remember the clever analogies with which he tried to clear my mind. "You complain of the low level of spiritual messages," he said. "Are you aware that death causes no change in the character, and that so long as a stream of very undeveloped people are passing from this world the population of the next will contain these folk ? It is they with whom you have been in touch. If a man shut himself in his house in this world all his life, and then in middle age for the first time put his head out of the window, it is probable that his first experience of the outer world might be some rude remark from a passing guttersnipe. If he withdrew his head, shut the window, and argued that the outer world was a very low-down place which contained nothing but guttersnipes, he would argue as wisely as you are doing. What you have to do is to go farther and see whether you cannot get in touch with things higher, not lower, than yourself. If you are worthy it will be given to you."

On many other points General Drayson instructed me. I was interested but not convinced by his remarks. I continued to sit at private circles, however, where we got messages, some of which seemed to be deliberately false, while some were striking and elevated. We were working without paid assistance, which secures one against the trickery of an evil medium, but deprives one of the essential help of a ---one.

At this stage came two new factors. The ---t was that I joined, and closely followed --- work of, the Psychical Society. The ---er, the publication of that great root----ok , "Human Personality," in which Myers ---med up the subject and systematized a --- science. One fact emerged from his ---arches and was recognized by every mind --- to evidence. It was the certainty of ---pathy, or the action of mind upon mind at a distance, which henceforth was generally accepted. I also could not help accepting it, and I confirmed it by some personal experiments. But here was a breach in my wall, for if my spirit here can influence my brother in China, then spirit has certain properties which are distinct from physical matter as we understand it. And if it can operate so far from the body, may it not also operate when the body has ceased to be ? Once grant telepathy, and one has made a step which leads more than half-way to the recognition of survival. No mere analogy of wire-less telegraphy will help where, as is so often recorded, the figure of the distant communicator as well as his message is impressed upon the recipient.

Thus it took me many years to get as far as telepathy. Many more had passed before I could feel that I was sure about survival and communication. I could have reached conviction much earlier had I used the recognized methods. An astronomer who discards a telescope may expect to be handicapped. I pushed caution to an excess. Since then, however, I have had personal experiences which I will not enter into at present which leave no doubt in my mind. It is treacherous and difficult ground, where fraud lurks and self-deception is possible and falsehood from the other side is not unknown. 'I here are set-backs and disappointments for every investigator. But if one picks one's path one can win through and reach the reward beyond — a reward which includes great spiritual peace, an absence of fear in death, and an abiding consolation in the death of those whom we love. It is, I repeat, this religious teaching which is the great gift that has been granted in our time. So long as a man can refer to his witnesses and their testimony, I can see no reason why he may not adopt it and enjoy it without such first-hand experience as may take a lifetime to acquire. There is no necessity for every man to blaze his own trail. All other religious systems have come from the East. Here at last is one from the West, not supplanting but clarifying and strengthening the others. It is the very special glory of England that she has done far more than any other country to rescue this system from being a mere playing with Poltergeists, and to dignify it into a scientific philosophy. Myers, Gurney, Hodgson, Crookes, Wallace, Stead — and, may I add, Oliver Lodge — are names which will be for ever associated with it. The last inspiration took three centuries for its acceptance. Where will this one be three centuries from now ?