Conan Doyle Investigates Spiritism

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Conan Doyle Investigates Spiritism is an article published in The New-York Times on 3 may 1917.

Review of Arthur Conan Doyle's essay: The New Revelation (1918).

Conan Doyle War Prophet

The New-York Times (9 june 1918, section 5, p. 265)
The New-York Times (9 june 1918, section 5, p. 274)

After Years of Study as a Psychical Researcher Describes What He Calls "The New Revelation" — Applying Physics to Psychic Phenomena

THE NEW REVELATION. By Arthur Conan Doyle. New York. $1.

THE REALITY OF PSYCHIC PHENOMENA. By W. J. Crawford. Illustrated. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. $2.

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF THE FUTURE. By Emile Boirac. Translated, with preface, by W. de Kerlor. Illustrated. New York: Frederic A. Stokes Company. $2.50.

Here are three men of authority and achievement — a man of letters who had also scientific training in medicine, a professor of mechanical engineering, and an authority on psychology — who have been investigating and who have now reached certain definite conclusions regarding spiritistic phenomena. All three of them are profoundly convinced of the truth and great importance of these manifestations. Each one has carried on his investigations, come to his conclusions, and made his practical applications from an angle different from that of both the others. While Sir Arthur Conan Doyle investigated phenomena by scientific methods and scrutinized his data with mental powers scientifically trained, his application of the conclusions to which he has come are mainly religious. He looks upon psychic phenomena as offering and establishing a new religion — a "new revelation" — or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say, a rebirth of the Christian religion. Professor Crawford has applied to his investigations the methods of physics and he believes that he has demonstrated by these methods and tests not only the truth of ordinary psychic phenomena but also the existence of a hitherto unknown, or, at least, unproved, manner of the manifestation of energy. Professor Boirac uses the methods of the philosopher, the trained and experienced scientist of mental phenomena, and he makes practical scientific use of his conclusions by laying them down as the foundation for a new psychology, the "psychology of the future," which will deal with and elucidate the now obscure forces of man's nature and discover and apply the laws which govern them. He offers a new scientific system of terminology for all these forces.

So here we have a new religion, a new science of matter and a new science of mind — truly a rapid development of a speedy century in the seventy years since the raps and table tippings of the Fox sisters:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle says that he has been investigating spiritistic phenomena for thirty years. When he began he was a practicing physician and he was, he says, "like many young medical men, a convinced materialist as regards our personal destiny." He continues:

But I believed then, as I believe now, in an intelligent Force behind all the operations of Nature— a fever so infinitely complex and great that my finite brain could get no further than its existence. Right and wrong also I saw as great obvious facts which needed no divine revelation. But when it came to a question of our little personalities surviving death, it seemed to me that the whole analogy of Nature was against it. When the candle burns out the light disappears. When the electric cell is shattered the current stops. When the body dissolves there is an end of the matter. Each man in his egotism may feel that he ought to survive, but let him look, we will say, at the average loafer — of high or low degree — and would any one contend that there was any obvious reason why that personality should carry on? It seemed to be a delusion, and I was convinced that death did end all, though I saw no reason why that should affect our duty toward humanity during our transitory existence.

That was his frame of mind when he began about the middle eighties to examine the happenings of some table-moving séances, and it is worth quoting here because it expresses so accurately the attitude of a vast number of the educated and intelligent young people of that time, and for a quarter century following, of this country as well as of England. But, until the war began, not many of these had followed his later path. In England it is evident that the war has made a great difference. It is not impossible that a similar development will take place here, as mothers and fathers and wives by the hundred thousand think of their dead under the skies of France. He was much interested in the "Reminiscences," of our own Judge Edmunds, though he read it with absolute skepticism." That book, however, seems to have been the chief influence that set hint to investigating seriously. He tells here with some detail how he continued his experiments with mediums of various sorts and with various kinds of spiritistic phenomena, for a lung time with incredulity, but finally with increasing belief that has at last become absolute and profound conviction. This last stage was not reached until the war came and he suddenly saw, he says, the tremendous Importance of this subject with which he had for so long been dallying. Vividly then he realized its religious consequence, and was convinced that "a new revelation seemed to be In the course of delivery to the human race." Sir Arthur believes that this "new revelation," this fresh body of evidence and belief as to the survival of personality after death and its relation to present life, Is Indeed but a rebirth of the original faith and practice of Christ and his immediate followers. With the greatest lucidity and earnestness he compares the Biblical account of the deeds and words of Christ and His disciples with the accumulated testimony concerning death and the afterward offered by spiritistic phenomena. The truth and importance of these phenomena he considers to "have been proved up to the hilt for all who care to examine the evidence," and he recounts briefly the proofs offered by many wellknown men and the conclusions to which they have come an set forth by him in their books. Among these he gives especial attention to Professor Crawford's "The Reality of Psychic Phenomena," reviewed below. But he is chiefly concerned with the religious importance of the st. Sect. and one of the chapters, on "The Coming Life," outlines the experiences of the human personality after death, the conditions and occupations of the period succeeding death, as these things have been reported by occult communications, and dwells with gratification upon what all this will mean for human beings in this life, especially these who have been bereaved. And he sees in this mew revelation a means for the revivifying and unifying of all that is essential, all that Is of real service to humanity, in the Christian religion.

Professor W. J. Crawford, who is mechanical engineer in the Faculty of Queen's University of Belfast, describes in his book on "The Reality of Psychic Phenomena" how he applied to the ordinary happenings of spiritualistic seances the same principles and methods of investigation and test that he would use in his laboratory upon the manifestations of any accepted and understood form of force. The experiments described in his book were carried on in Belfast by means of the voluntary co-operation of a family of seven members of whom one, Miss Kathleen Gollgher, a young woman of twenty years, was the principal medium through whom his results were obtained. All the family, he explains, are Spiritualists and look upon Spiritualism an their religion with the same seriousness and reverence with which up-right people everywhere consider their religious faith. He does not concern himself with the identity of the invisible personalities who apparently, were responsible for the phenomena and does not discuss them in any way. But In a brief preface he says that he Is personally sacs-tied they :ire the spirits of human beings who have passed into the Beyond."

The séances were carried on, the author says, in a room in which a red light gave good visibility and he used also on electric pocket lamp. When, for instance, the table was levitated he could see all around it and satisfy himself that there was physical connection between it and, the medium. He made many experiments of which one of the most important was to seat the medium upon a weighing machine while the manifestations were going on and watch the varying records of her weight. When a table or a stool was levitated there would be an increase in her weight almost exactly corresponding to the weight of the table or the stool. When there were rappings her weight as recorded by the machine would lessen, the amount lost varying with the intensity of the sounds, and would go back to normal when the raps ceased. Many experiments of various kinds are described, with the precautions that Professor Crawford took to eliminate all possibility of conscious or unconscious deception. His methods in the treatment of all of them are those of the scientific investigator. He varied the experiments, tested results by mechanical processes, computed the strength of forces necessary to produce the phenomena and contrived machinery to aid in his tests. All this machinery is fully described, and photographs of it are given.

As the result, mechanically speaking, of his experiments Professor Crawford offers the theory that tiny particles, perhaps molecules, are driven from the nervous systems of those silting in a circle by the action of the invisible spirits upon them and that when thus freed and their inherent latest energy allowed to manifest itself they form a stream flowing round and round the circle and finally collect on or are attached to the nervous system of the medium. Thus she becomes a reservoir of nervous energy which the operating spirits can use. He thinks that this psychic force can be projected from the body of the medium and that it probably takes a rod-like form. As a derivative from this he propounds a theory of cantilever operation by which this red-like, projected psychic energy acts at a distance. He has a long chapter devoted to this theory as an explanation of the phenomena of levitation illustrated with many diagrams and interspersed with tables of weights and measures and computations of forces exerted, And he believes that he has touched and felt this psychic energy with his hands.

Dr. Crawford's is a unique discussion of spiritualistic phenomena. It offers the first investigation of occult matters by the methods with which science deals with material objects and it will probably arouse as much interest among scientific men in this country as it has already done in England.

Emile Boirac, who died last year after suffering the almost complete destruction of his fancily by the war, held a foremost position among French psychologists, his study of occult phenomena in their relation to the "youngest of the sciences" having given him a rather unique position. In another volume, published In America last year, "Our Hidden Forces," he discussed the various manifestations of psychic energy as so many indications of a power which man has not yet learned how to use. In this book he recounts and describes many of his own researches into hypnotism, thought transference, vital radiation, and other forms of psychic force, endeavoring so to classify and correlate his investigations, results, and conclusions as to lay the basis of a new psychology, different in important respects from the psychology that has been heretofore the subject and result of scientific study. He calls it the psychology of the future because he believes that the future development of psychological science will be along these lines, heretofore obscure and usually regarded as not worth the attention of the serious-minded scientist. He makes an eloquent plea for the right of any inchoate science, which can offer for itself only the hope and prospect of future development instead of an existing lardy of important, classified knowledge, to acceptance as a science and to respect and serious investigation. He shows how every science is constantly undergoing enlargement and development and he insists that the title of "science" should be given to those that look to the future as well as to those that face the past. and that the researcher is as much entitled to be called "scientist" as is he who expounds knowledge already safely gained.

In his investigation of the several psychic states which he considers. M. Boirac comes to definite conclusions for which he suggests practical applications In daily life, especially with reference to the treatment of invalids and criminals. Ills conclusions throughout are based upon tho results of experiment. The author examines closely and discards nearly all the usual nomenclature of these obscure psychic forces and suggests in the place of these terms others of Creek derivation which express more clearly and definitely the ideas to be conveyed and which are not hampered by the odium of former and discredited use and by the inadequacy of their description.