Spirits and Super-Materialism

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Spirits and Super-Materialism is an article written by Arthur Conan Doyle published in The New-York Times on 21 may 1922.

Conan Doyle replies to Horace Green and give examples of cases where spirits messages can't be explained by simple thought-transference.

Spirits and Super-Materialism

The New-York Times (21 may 1922)

Mr. Horace Green's open letter to me is so courteous and at the same time so reasonable that I should myself be uncourteous if I did not break my rule and answer him in the press. The only reason why I have ever made such a rule in this country is that the pressure upon me has been rather continuous and gives me little time for literary controversy.

Mr. Green states his case well, and his is substantially the same point of view as that of Professor Richet of Paris. It amounts to a sort of super-materialism. Professor Richet admits that a singular compound with amazing properties named ectoplasm has been proved to exist, that this ectoplasm may take the form of a human body, that in that shape it may walk and talk and lead a brief separate existence, as Katie King did in the classic case of Sir William Crookes (who took forty photographs of the form), but that all this may depend upon natural forces with which we are not yet acquainted. That fairly states Mr. Green's view also. I have long foreseen that the materialists, finding their present position of negation absolutely impossible, will move their whole line back, and will admit all psychic phenomena (only ignorance can now deny them), but will try to prove that the spirits of the dead have nothing to do with them. I believe, however, that we will drive them out of that position, even as we have routed them from their total-denial entrenchments.

In order to do this we have only to prove one single case which cannot possibly be explained by thought transference, sub-conscious memory, or any of those other factors which do undoubtedly exist and have to be eliminated by the careful and conscientious thinker. I think I could marshal not one case, but a hundred, which would supply the needful proof.

Let us take that of the Cushman photograph, which I exhibit in my collection, he being among the audience as a mute witness of my weeds. Dr. Cushman is an American scientific man of high standing. He loses his daughter, aged 15. He comes to London and he hears of psychic photographs. Jumping into a cab, he drives at once to the Psychic College, arrives unannounced, meets Mrs. Dean, the medium, in the hall, just leaving for home, persuades her to return to the studio, and receives beside his own face a presentment of his dead daughter, better than any likeness taken in life and different from any. These are the facts, with, the photograph to prove them. Now, sir, test this by any of these fine-spun theories of unconscious memory, telepathy and the rest. Where is the connection between them? Is it not clear common sense that the dead girl (or some merciful angel) has contrived this consolation for her afflicted father? Is this not the obvious inference and is not any other one tortuous and forced?

I will now take a second case from own experience to what purported to be the spirit of J. J. Morse some years after his death. He spoke by the direct voice, the medium being Mrs. Harris. I said to him, "If you are Morse, where did I meet you last?" He said, "In the office of Light in London." I answered "No, sir, it was at the meeting at Sheffield." On comparing notes afterward with my wife I found that the voice was right and I was wrong. It was in the office of Light and not at the Sheffield meeting that I had seen him last. Here there was no thought transference from me, since my thought was mistaken upon the subject. Clearly it was the dead man, and only the dead man, who was in a position to furnish the information.

I gave the case in my lectures where General Doyle, my dead brother, came back to me in Wales, the medium being Evan Powell, an amateur. My brother gave me the name of a healer in Copenhagen, Sigurd Trice, whom he wished his widow to consult. I knew of no such person, but he was proved to exist. How then came this information? It was in the mind of no one in the circle. If it was not my brother who knew so much of the state of the widow and was anxious that she consult a healer, of whom exigence we were unaware, then who was it? Thought transference will not meet the case, and any explanation save the spiritual one is forced and unnatural.

Let us now consider the shark story which Mr. Horace Green has mentioned, but which he has unintentionally misquoted. Mr. Junor Brown has left the matter on record in a little book called "A Rational Faith." He was a well-known Australian, whose daughter married Mr. Deakin Marmice of Victoria. His sons sank in a yacht near Melbourne, no account of which was ever received. Two days after their disappearance he sent for a medium. Mr. George Sprigge. Sprigge went into trance, and the two young men spoke through him in turn, each of them describing the accident, Hugh, the elder, adding that Frank, the younger, had been eaten by a shark. The father put all this on record. Some days later a shark was taken near Melbourne with articles belonging to Frank in its stomach. This case is really a very conclusive one, for thoughts at the time of death (as put forward by Mr. Green as an explanation) could not possibly have arrived as an utterance from a medium two days later. Spirit return will explain it, and only spirit return.

I quote a case in my "Wanderings of a Spiritualist" which will bear repetition. Lady Dyer told me the story herself. When her husband died she found something among his papers which urgently demanded explanation. She went to London and saw two mediums, with each of whom she established — or seemed to establish — rather vague connections with her husband. Finally she had a message from a third medium, Mrs. Leonard, that her husband wished to see her. Speaking through Mrs. Leonard the husband said that he had already tried twice with poor results, but could do better now. He then spoke for an hour, unraveling the whole question and setting his widow's mind completely at ease. Here the information conveyed was not within the knowledge of any living person.

I could continue for many pages with such examples. As a final one let me take the case where, under the mediumship of Mrs Bessinet. I and my wife clearly saw the face of my dead mother, and found at the close of the séance a note from her on the table, signed with her familiar pet name, unknown to any one but ourselves. How can these objective results, faces and writing, be possibly ascribed to subjective influences, like thought projection?

No, sir, it is mere playing with words to talk about telepathy, cryptomnoesia, hyperoesthesia, and the like. Our opponents have to find a separate explanation for each phenomenon. I believe that St. Paul was a deep student of these matters, and he said that the various manifestations of the spirit are not many, but are all one. That is the absolute truth. There is the great central fact of discarnate intelligence, and when we grasp that we have the clue which solves every mystery, though the methods by which that intelligence acts offer science a great riddle for the future. But to explore the phenomena and to ignore or deny the intelligence is a line of inquiry which is natural to materialists, whose whole life-teaching is otherwise destroyed, but will not commend itself to any one who takes a broad, unprejudiced view of the fact.