Wonders of Psychical Research

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Wonders of Psychical Research is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The Radio Times on 6 june 1924.

Wonders of Psychical Research

The Radio Times (6 june 1924, p. 459)

A Talk From London, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

If the last fifty years have been largely devoted to a protoplasm, the basis of animal life, the next fifty will be largely devoted to ectoplasm, the basis of psychic phenomena.

Many who have not experimented with it will even now deny its existence. As I have repeatedly seen it, and on one occasion had it in my hand. I am as sure of it as I am of anything. The name ectoplasm was given to it by Charles Richet, the Professor of Physiology at the University of Paris, and one of the great thinkers of the world. Such a godfather does not give a name unless he is quite sure that there is a baby. I admit that the facts seem quite incredible, but they are not more incredible than this very wireless which we are now using would have seemed a few short years ago.

An Extraordinary Substance.

There are certain people in the world who have the power under proper conditions of throwing out from their bodies a whitish vapour which is capable of solidifying into a solid substance. That substance, whether vapour or solid, is ectoplasm.

We know now, after exhaustive experiments, certain definite facts about this substance.

The first serious experiments were carried out by a French lady, Madame Bisson, the widow of the well-known journalist, Adolph Bisson. Her subject, or medium, was called Eva Carrère, or Eva C. Madame Bisson took Eva C. completely under her charge, so that she could control her and safeguard herself against fraud. In the experiments which followed she was helped by a German man of science, Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, of Munich. These two worked together for five years, and their results are destined, I think, to be the basis, not of one, but of several new sciences.

The Medium in the Cabinet.

Their method was to make Eva C. change all her garments under supervision, and to dress her in a gown which had no buttons and was fastened at the back. Only her hands and feet were free. She was then taken into the experimental room, to which she had access at no other time. At one end of this room was a small space shut in by curtains at the back and sides and top, but open in front. This is called the cabinet, and the object of it is to concentrate the ectoplasmic vapour in one place and prevent it from diluting itself all over the room.

Eva was placed in a chair, where she went into a trance. The lights were then turned down, save for a small red light. The reason of this was that experience has shown that white light dissolves ectoplasm. It is a purely chemical reason, like that which prevents a photograph from being developed in light. Several photographic cameras were then trained upon the cabinet, and pictures were taken by flashlight without warning so as to show what was going on. A large number of scientific men were admitted to, the experiments that they might confirm the fact that all possible precautions were taken.

Spirit Photographs.

The results are shown in Madame Bisson's wonderful book, which contains some two hundred photographs. First you see fleecy clouds of vapour. Then you see, incredible as it may sound, that these clouds take shape, that they form faces or limbs, sometimes very crude, sometimes perfectly formed. Finally, that a whole body may be built up from the ectoplasm, and that this body may resemble someone who is dead — Mr. Bisson in one instance — and may have the power to move, to walk, and even to speak. All this is shown in the photographs. I have myself talked at some length with ectoplasmic figures, as is detailed in my recent "Second American Adventure."

The fact is beyond dispute. It has been confirmed since by Schrenck-Notzing in the case of the medium Stanisla, the medium Willy S., and several others. Dr. Geley, of Paris, obtained a series of similar results with Eva, which have been published with photographs. Afterwards he got even more wonderful results with Frank Kluski, a Polish gentleman, where the ectoplasmic figures were so solid that he was able to take a mould of their hands in paraffin. These paraffin gloves, which I have seen and handled, are so small at the wrist opening that the hand could not possibly have been withdrawn without breaking the brittle mould. It could only have been done by dematerialization — no other way is possible.

These experiments were conducted by Geley, Richet, and Count Grammont, three very competent men. In the course of these experiments the stuff was examined chemically and microscopically. The former examination gave roughly the constituents of the human body. The latter showed a mucoid substance. It was already known that it was from the mucoid surfaces of the body that it is largely drawn, as is shown in the photographs.

Dr. Crawford's Experiments.

Another series of experiments were carried out by Dr. Crawford, of Belfast, whose name, I think, will live in the science of the future. He got his ectoplasm from a medium named Kathleen Golligher. In this case, the stuff did not take the form of faces, but rather of rods and lines of energy, so that Crawford, a skilful engineer, could work out the laws which govern such phenomena. He took three years over his research and has published it in two volumes which will, I think, be classic. He showed that all the curious physical sounds and effects of the séance room depend upon this substance.

What the intelligence is which directs the substance is, of course, another matter. He conducted his experiments with his medium and occasionally his circle all seated on weighing chairs with dials. In this way he showed two remarkable facts. One that the medium as she extruded ectoplasm lost in weight, even to the extent of twenty or thirty pounds, which returned when the stuff was reabsorbed. The other was that everyone else in the circle also lost weight, showing that all contributed ectoplasm, and that a physical medium is only a person who has more than others.

Why Some Tests Failed.

Since then, ectoplasm has been demonstrated in solid form to fifty picked men, including twenty-six professors, by Dr. Schrenck-Notzing, and to forty representative men by Geley, all being quite satisfied. We can say, then, that there is no doubt of its existence. It cannot, however, be produced to order. It is a delicate operation which may fail. Thus, several experimenters, notably a small committee of the Sorbonne, did fail.

We have learned that it needs the right men and the right conditions, which conditions are mental and spiritual, rather than chemical. Thus, a harmonious atmosphere will help, while a carping, antagonistic atmosphere will hinder or totally prevent its appearance. In this it shows its spiritual affinities and that it differs from a purely physical product.

What is it? It takes shapes. Who determines the shape? Is it the mind of the entranced medium? Is it the mind of the observers? Is it some independent mind? Among the experimenters we have a material school who urge that we are finding some extraordinary latent property of the normal body, and we have another school, of which I am a humble member, who believe that we have come upon a link which may be part of a chain leading to some new order of life.

Known for Sixty Years.

It should be added that there is nothing concerning it which has not been known in a general way, and stated innumerable times, by those derided folk called Spiritualists. Their view as to the causes is still under debate, but as to the phenomena themselves, and their dependence upon a curious plastic substance which solidifies from a vapour, this has been known by them for at least sixty years, and they have been the pioneers of the world's science. It is true that such substance is not spiritual in itself. Neither is a pen spiritual. But a pen may give the thoughts of a Shakespeare, and this stuff also may be an instrument for high purposes.

The future will show.