Recent Psychic Evidence

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Recent Psychic Evidence is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The New-York Times on 2 september 1923.

Recent Psychic Evidence

The New-York Times (2 september 1923, section 7 p. 10)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Recounts Experiments at Munich and Paris, and Accepts Wilde Communication as Genuine.

To the Editor of The New York Times:

You have occasionally allowed me to use your columns in order to keep the American public informed as to the progress which is being made in Europe upon the all-important subject of psychic evidence. Upon the last occasion I gave some description of Dr. Schrenck-Notzing's experiments with Willy at Munich, and I told how he had demonstrated that mysterious substance ectoplasm to 100 incredulous men of science, including twenty-six professors of universities, and that all without exception had been compelled to accept the evidence of their own senses.

A second similar mass demonstration has just been concluded at Paris and has received far less public attention than it deserves. Indeed, it is one of the curiosities of this controversy that when a negative result is obtained, which means, of course, nothing at all, it goes like wildfire through the press, while the positive results, which mean everything, are received with apathy. One is forced to the conclusion that the human instinct really shrinks from the idea that we do most certainly continue our existence, and do most certainly answer for our action, whether private or public.

The new demonstration has been carried out by Dr. Geley of the Metapsychique Institute of Paris. He assembled thirty-four men of distinction and in successive sittings demonstrated the usual physical phenomena of spiritualism, using as a medium one Jean Gusik, a Pole. The results were perfectly conclusive, and all the observers signed their acquiescence. The signatures include those of Dr. Rehm, scientific editor of the Matin; Cinisty, editor of the Petit Parisien: Huc, editor of the Dépeche de Toulouse: a dozen leading doctors from Parisian hospitals; Marcel Prevost of the French Academy; Bayle of the Prefecture of Police; several men of letters, and finally, three great men of science — Richet, Flammarion and Sir Oliver Lodge.

The phenomena to which these gentlemen subscribe are movements of objects without touch at a distance from the medium and taps received when out of reach of the medium. There were, however, many other phenomena. Their confession of faith ends with the words: "We simply affirm our conviction that the phenomena are not to be explained by illusions and that there was no possible cheating."

They certify to the fact that these various phenomena showed every sign of having an intelligence at the back of them. In fact, they answered requests and obeyed orders. Since these facts are surely indisputable, we are faced by the question, Whose intelligence is it? Is it that of the unconscious medium acting independently? Is it the collective consciousness of the company? Or is it an outside independent intelligence which is directing the experiment?

It is only fair to say that even among the most experienced psychic researchers the answer to their question is a varied one. We have to remember that many of the best Continental minds start from a position of extreme materialism. Sir David Brewster said: "Spirit is the last thing which I would give in to," and though he said it sixty years ago, it still represents a common phase of thought. Such men as Richet or Notzing have been converted from materialism to a sort of super-materialism, which needs one more step, but a very vital one, to elevate them into spiritualism. To get that step they would need, I think, to turn from those physical phases where they have done such splendid work and to examine more carefully the mental and religious sides of the question, without neglecting those methods of analysis and exact thought which they have applied to the lower phenomena. No faith is needed, but simply an extension of their present experimental methods to another class of evidence. As they are already prepared to admit that an ectoplasmic figure can move about a room, can talk and can claim an individuality, it would not seem a great gulf which they have to cross in admitting that claim to be true, and that the discarnate soul can indeed find means to manifest itself in this lower world of matter.

An interesting mental and literary problem has presented itself lately in England by the appearance of a script which claims to be from Oscar Wilde. Wilde was a man with a very peculiar quality of thought and of expression. The latter may be parodied, but the former can hardly be copied in its fullness, for to do so would imply that the copyist had as great a brain as the original. Yet both in thought and in expression this script rings true. There are passages in it which Wilde in his best movements has never bettered. He had in life a very fine cue for colours which often manifested itself in his writings gave them a peculiarly vivid touch. Thus in a private letter to me he spoke of the "honey coloured harvest moon." The script shows this rare quality to a remarkable degree. "In eternal twilight I move, but I know that in the world... red sunset must follow apple-green dawn." Then again, "The rose-flushed anemones that star the woodland ways," or again "Already the May is creeping like a white mist over lane and hedge now, and year after year, the hawthorn bears blood-red fruit after the white death of its May."

The other characteristic of Wilde was his freakish, paradoxical humour. This also is much in evidence in the script. "Being dead is the most boring experience in life, that is if one excepts being married or dining with a school-master!" Those last four words are Wilde all over. "My life was like a candle that had guttered at the end."

I defy any man of real critical instinct to read that script and doubt that it emanates from Wilde. One may imitate a man's features, one may forge his name, but it is impossible to sustain a deception in a prolonged communication from a great writer. Verily, there is no sort of proof under Heaven which has not been accorded to us, and those beyond must despair sometimes of ever penetrating our obtuse intelligence.

London, England, Aug. 15, 1923