An Open Letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
In his article, Horace Green asks Arthur Conan Doyle if the so-called spirit phenomenons could rather be explained by teleptahy or thought transference.
An Open Letter to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
My Dear Sir Arthur:
Three times at Carnegie Hall America gave you unfeigned welcome. Big of heart and body you stood before us, suggestive somehow of Phillips Brooks and other great Crusaders, and held out the hope, proven, you sold, by the new science at spiritualism, of life eternal.
You brought consolation to many — the more power to you — and belief to some. None doubted your sincerity. When, scornful of applause, you strode mightily from the stage, dashing the Christian sweat from your brow, 3,500 Americans roared with almost religious fervor.
Your first words hit exactly from the shoulder:
"Either this thing which I preach is the greatest fraud ever practiced on the human race or else it is the greatest revelation."
As you boomed out your conviction that humanity stands dry shod on the shore of a vast ocean of spiritualistic revelation; as you explained the double body which you say exists in every human body (the one solid and the other ethereal); as you told with obvious reticence of communications with your own son's spirit, and particularly as you described the filmy, viscuous ectoplasms which issue from the body of mediums, take human shapes, have in fact been photographed, weighed and chemically analysed, we agreed with you that this was either the greatest fraud ever practiced or else the greatest revelation. Indeed, our inclination was to believe the latter.
But then one pondered further—
Why need it be either great fraud or religious revelation?
Why Dot a new force connected with the human body — a force about to be, though not yet, thoroughly analysed and explained by science? Why supernatural — indicative of a future life? Why not natural?
Like all who have made a serious study of the psychic, you, Sir Arthur, believe as does the writer, that there exists between living persons mental telepathy applied at a distance, as well as thought transference, and often mesmeric powers. You affirm, too, the existence of a subconscious mind in man.
You affirm the conclusions reached in Scotland by the engineer, Dr. William Crawford, in his study "Psychic Structures at the Goligher Circle," and by the German scientist, Baron von Schrenck-Notzing, that in the case of certain mediums who levitate objects at a distance, there issues from the body a putty-like substance, part of which consists of mucoid cells, epithelial cells and other slimy compounds.
These substances, it has been shown, issue from the medium's trunk or legs and extend, in the form of arms or legs, toward the object to be levitated.
There is usually, according to Dr. Crawford, a bend in the substance (near the object which is to be moved) and a sort of elbow, apparently for fulcrum purposes, rests upon the floor. A tripod formation extends towards and underneath the levitated object, and thin slimy shapes, like human fingers, exert pressure underneath.
Dr. Crawford carried on hundreds of experiments with the medium Miss Goligher. He caused her to sit upon an ordinary Fairbanks scales and found that in every case where she lifted a table or chair weighing, let us say, twenty pounds, her own body increased exactly twenty pounds in weight — just as any body would increase In weight if a table were lifted by one's physical arm. He also found that the amount of effort or agony noted in her facial expression during trans corresponded with the weight of the table or other object moved. Furthermore, the amount of ectoplasmic substance issuing from the medium varied according to the size of the object moved, just as a larger muscle in a human body is necessary to move a heavier weight.
You, Sir Arthur, told of similar experiences with the French medium, Mlle. Eva, assisted by Mme. Bisson.
Mlle. Eva was wrapped in a heavy rubber coat in order to protect her body from the light as much as possible. She entered into a trance, and after a short time an aperture was opened in the front of the rubber coat so that I could look within. I saw the ectoplasm in a thick, slimy band encircling her body like some monstrous worm.
"'May I touch it?' I asked Mme. Bisson.
"She replied. 'Yes.'
"I reached Within the aperture and firmly grasped between the thumb and forefinger the belt-like mass, and as I held it I felt it rise — a living, pulsing substance."
You stated your belief that the medium would have died from shock, had any attempt been made to remove this ectoplasm, but that observers finally managed to pinch off a small portion, and this was hurried to a laboratory, where Professor Richet of the University of Paris made a microscopic and chemical examination and that it was found to consist of the substances above stated.
Frankly, Sir Arthur, to our mundane mind this reduction of so-called supernatural powers to the realm of pounds and photographic plates, this amplification of evidence that there can exist communication between minds many miles apart, is extraordinarily interesting. It is more than that. It is altogether convincing.
Yes, convincing. But of what? What of it, Sir Arthur? What concern has that with the supernatural? What does it prove of life after death?
If all the extraordinary ectoplasmic phenomena cited by yourself and Dr. Crawford are true (and for the sake of arriving at the greater truth we shall grant they are), do they not reduce the supernatural to the natural?
Do they not suggest, rather, that certain human bodies contain and control phenomena as yet only partially analysed by man?
The ancients believed that peals of thunder were the voice of God. We know they are caused by brushing clouds. Lightning was supernatural. Franklin harnessed it. Fifty years ago the man in Boston who could talk to President Harding in Florida would have been put down as having communication with the devil. Today we know he has communicated with central. Piloting an airplane during the war, a voice from the clouds which I recognised as well as my own father's said: "Bank 45 degrees to port." I did so, and missed a mountain by thirty yards' margin. Twenty years ago I should have believed a ghost had spoken. Now I know it was my squadron commander using voice control radio.
Ten years ago had you beard the "immortal" Caruso sing "I Pagliacci" three months after his death, you would have believed him truly immortal. Today you believe in Edison.
Because several mediums have been discovered (is there any scientific or physiological significance in the fact that they are all women?) from whose bodies in exalted or trance-like conditions there exude certain controllable vapors or ectoplasms subject to photography and touch, why, therefore, argue that man lives after death? That, Mr Arthur, is the first question which I ask — not in captious spirit, but in ignorance, willing to be taught. That is my reaction to what you call the physical phenomena of spiritualism.
Again, there are those countless messages from the dead with which every investigator of spiritualism is familiar. In such cases, as you explained in your little volume, "The New Revelation," the figure of a dead lad may (1) first appear beside his mother in a photograph, or (2) the message may first come through a medium in trance, or (3) through medium in automatic writing, or (4) as a direct vision or communication.
Virtually every example of message from the dead via medium with which I am familiar can be explained on the ground of thought transference or mental telepathy between living persons, combined at times with activity of the subconscious mind. Dr. Minot J. Savage's "Life Beyond Death," James H. Hyslop's "Contact With the Other World," Baron von Schrench-Notzing's "Materialisations phaenomene," Sir Oliver Lodge's "Raymond: or Life and Death," and your own volume abound in examples.
I quote from my notes of one of your lectures:
"I received one day a letter from a lady begging for help. She had lost her husband. The letter showed her to be in a desperate state of mind. I recommended her to go to a certain medium. She had not long been in the room when the medium said. 'I see standing beside you a shadowy figure of a man. He says he is your husband. He begs you not to do what you have in mind. He begs very earnestly. He says you will join him later, but if you do what you have in mind it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, for you to join him.'
"I received afterward a letter from the lady stating that on the very night she bad gone to the medium she had intended to commit suicide. She was restrained by the message from her spirit husband."
Cannot this be explained on the ground that the medium read the mind of the lady, who was in a highly emotional (and therefore transparent) state, perceived that she had lost her husband and contemplated suicide, and gave her a suitable message? Note that I said "cannot this be explained." Perhaps there is also a supernatural explanation. But where two explanations are possible, why not choose the natural one? It was not necessarily conscious fraud by the medium — none of the cases need be fraud any more than Mary Ellen at Antigonish practiced fraud — merely subconscious activity.
One of the most startling cases cited by you was of the Italian fisherman whose two sons had gone down to sea and never again been heard from. After a frantic lapse of time the father went to a medium; entranced, the medium described the drowning of the lads. The spirit of the older son sent this message; "Do not tell mother this. Just as I was coming over (into the spirit world) I was aware that my younger brother was eaten by a huge fish."
Some time later fishermen on the shore near Genoa cut open a huge shark. The shark's stomach contained shreds of clothing, suspenders, buttons and a gold watch identified as belonging to the younger brother!
Now, granting for the sake of argument that this extraordinary story is true, and granting furthermore that it it was not a case of intelligent guessing by a medium in a region where sharks are not unknown, could the occurrence not be explained on the ground of thought transference before or at the time of death? At such moments are not persons admittedly in an emotional and surcharged state of mind capable of high powers of thought transference? May not this message have been sent to the medium or to the father just before the son's accident, thereupon remaining in the subconscious mind? Since both mental telepathy and subconscious faculties are proved by scientists, why not explain such messages on proved ground rather than taking refuge in the supernatural?
One of the most widely known and convincingly written books, in that it approaches the subject from the strictly evidential angle, is Sir Oliver Lodge's "Raymond."
Both to Sir Oliver himself and to this reader the most convincing, and at first glance inexplicable, manifestation is the one of the group photographed of the deceased son Raymond. The circumstances were, briefly, as follows:
Raymond was killed Sept. 14, 1915. In a sitting by Lady Lodge with the Medium Peters on Sept. 27, 1915, Raymond states, through Peters's control, "Moonstone," that there exist pictures of him taken in a group with other men, and that in one of them his walking stick can be seen. On Nov. 29, 1915, the Lodge family received a letter from a friend at the front stating that such a photograph existed. Thereupon Sir Oliver, not yet having seen the photograph, went to another medium, from whom he received a detailed description of the photograph — that it was not exactly indoors or outdoors; that persons called C and K were in it; that some were sitting, others were standing; that black lines ran up and down the background, and that in one of the pictures some one was leaning on Raymond's shoulder.
In the photograph eventually received all these details are found to be surprisingly correct.
Granting, as one must, that there was no trickery, guesswork or previous knowledge on the part of the medium, this is an extraordinary example. But, again, cannot the test of thought transference between living persons be applied?
It would appear conceivable that having been photographed two weeks before being wounded (he lived for several hours) Raymond thought intently of his father and desired to send some message about the photograph; that the telepathic message was received either by Sir Oliver or by the medium before Raymond's natural death and was stored by one of them in the subconscious mind. It was later brought out at the time of the medium's trance.
Indeed, between the majority of those who have taken refuge in spiritualism there appears to be a pitiful resemblance. Fathers, mothers, husbands, lovers — all who have joined the army of bereaved, all who are governed by the will to believe. Even the teachers, Minot Savage, Lodge and James, were of this company. One can number similar converts among one's friends.
The manifestations which each broken heart receives, at times through table tipping in the family circle, at times through mediums, professional or amateur, are quite in keeping with the character of the departed. Raymond plays just such pranks an he did in life and gives many evidences of his scientific bent; the 12-year-old girl talks to her mother of school and dresses; the lover spirit calls to his earthly mate the pet name sacred between those two; the erring spirit son cries "Pardon, father!" and the father understands. All these manifestations, it would appear, might well be in the mind of the earthly recipient and are given back to him or her in accordance with the strength of his or her desire. Surely, if the medium can read the mind, such desires are yearning to be read. Of visions, for reasons of my own, I am no skeptic.
You yourself, Sir Arthur, recounted your arrival after years of doubtful sailing. Gradually you saw the light. As a medical man you first abhorred, then studied, then embraced. &Who am I," you thought, "to analyse and criticise when greater scientists have studied and believed?"
And who am I — psychic dabbler — to criticise and question when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for thirty years a psychic student, spreads the gospel to material America? You preach faith, hope, religion — and God knows, as of old, we need them. But of the life hereafter has your science proved anything?
Our heart and hopes are with you, but still the mind is rebel. Can you restore it to the union?