Where is the Soul during Unconsciousness? (11 march 1916)
From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
See also his second letter on the same topic: Where is the Soul during Unconsciousness? (13 may 1916).
Where is the Soul during Unconsciousness?
To the Editor of Light.
Sir, — I have had my attention drawn rather strongly to this point by two instances of recent occurrence, one personal and the other in my family.
The first and slighter of the two occurred to myself. A fortnight ago I had laughing gas at the dentist's. I was taken there inside a cab, my wife and two little boys being with me. The cab drove on while I was being operated upon. While under the gas I was intensely conscious that I had returned to the moving cab, and that I could very vividly see the occupants, while well aware that they could not see me. This, of course, might be subjective entirely, but the impression was very clear.
The second incident is more convincing. My son Adrian, aged five, was grievously ill of pneumonia, and was lying half comatose with a temperature of 105°. My wife, who was nursing him, left him for a moment and went to fetch something from the nursery, two rooms away. The elder boy, Denis, was standing on a chair, and on getting down he trod upon some tin soldiers on the ground. My wife, anxious not to leave the invalid too long, hurried into the sick room. The child opened his eyes and said, "Naughty Denis, breaking my soldiers!"
He had never spoken of soldiers during five days of illness, so that the remark was beyond the reach of coincidence. Nor was it thought-transference from my wife's brain, as she is clear that she was thinking only of the invalid. I can only explain it by the supposition, which can be supported by a volume of evidence, that the soul can be, and probably is always, out of the body at such times, and that occasionally under rare conditions which we have not yet been able to define, it can convey to the body the observations which it has made during its independent flight.
Such conditions must have existed in the classic case of Sir Rider Haggard. It will be remembered that he wrote a letter to The Times some years ago giving the circumstances in detail. He had lost a favourite dog. In his sleep he saw it lying near a certain point of the railway. Upon searching it was actually found there. There was no particular reason why this point should have suggested itself to him, more than any other in the neighbourhood.
Another classic case is that of the Red Barn murder in the eighteenth century. In this case the mother dreamed three times that she saw the corpse of her daughter hidden in a certain loft. The loft was examined and the corpse was found. There are a great number of such cases on record. They are all readily explained on the supposition that the soul drifts out like a captive balloon, attached always by some filament which draws it back in an instant to its body. There is nothing supernatural in such a supposition. It is only the unfolding of a fresh law in a region which is still but little known. There is apparently a "switch-off' between the body life and the extra-body life. Should the switch for any reason hang fire, then we have memory of one carried into the other.
The matter is of profound religious significance. There is, as it seems to me, something very surprising in the limited interest which the churches take in psychical research. It is a subject which cuts at the very root of their existence. It is the one way of demonstrating the independent action of soul, and therefore, to put it at the lowest, the possibility of its existence apart from bodily organs. If the balloon can really drift forth upon a filament and retain its own individuality, then it is no great further step to say that when the filament snaps the balloon is still self-sufficient. A fresh unfolding of knowledge — and each such unfolding is in truth a renewed divine revelation — has given us reassurances. Myers, Gurney and Hodgson are messengers of truth from the Beyond as surely as Isaiah or Amos, but, British fashion, they speak coldly and clearly with none of the passion and declamation of the East. Their message has fallen on many ears and strengthened many spirits, but it has never, as it seems to me, had the direct religious effect which one might have expected. Personally I know no single argument which is not in favour of the extinction of our individuality at death, save only the facts of psychic research. But these are so strong that they must outweigh all others, as the positive must always outweigh the negative. A hundred who have examined and tested and seen must always be more convincing than a million who disagree without investigation.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE
Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex. February 28th, 1916.