The Spiritual Delusion/1.1.3

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The Spiritual Delusion/1.1.3/1.1.2 The Spiritual Delusion/1.1.3/1.1.4

3. In its investigations based on assumption.

Scientific investigation is based on a careful and scrutinizing accumulation of facts, until it becomes possible to rise to some generalization and grasp the law underlying them. “Spirit,” says Sir David Brewster, “is the last thing I shall give in to;” and he was right; for, the hypothesis once granted, investigation for critical purposes ceases; inquiry for the cause is no longer needed “When the phenomenon, moreover, occurs in that realm of which he possesses the least accurate knowledge concerning its nature and hidden springs of action, the clear conception of uniformity, that has never as yet failed him in his elucidation of nature’s mysteries, renders him loath to recur to savage forms of thought for an explanation.

He rather queries within himself, “I am as yet ignorant of the workings of the human mind in too many respects to hastily indorse the spirital hypothesis. We know that in former times it was believed most where natural law was understood least: thus patron saints manifested themselves to Catholic believers, fairies and elves to those who had no doubt of their existence, and devils admitted they were obsessing and bewitching mortals when addressed by orthodox interrogators. The interrelation of forces in the domain of psychological science is as yet too little understood; there seems to remain too much room for inference that the mind, though altogether unconsciously, may have much to do with the shaping of these purported communications I must investigate not only the phenomena, but the mental status of the medium through whom these so-called revelations come, before I can decide as to their origin.”

The scientist ascribes any given phenomenon, when the cause is unknown, to the operation of some natural law,—to laws operative here, not to laws peculiar to the spheres,—and never loses sight of this in his attempts to investigate. If a table moves, it must be by the application of force; in what manner it is applied, and the nature of the force, is the problem to be worked out. If scientists had ever lost sight of this aim in their researches, our knowledge of nature would be naught.

When the Greeks first observed the singular phenomenon of electricity induced by rubbing amber, even the philosophers were amazed and marveled much. Investigation but deepened their conviction that some “external influence” was there manifesting itself, and they sapiently concluded that minute spirits dwelt in the amber, who, becoming exasperated, threw out their feelers and claws to seize whatever came in contact with them. “Spirit-influence” thus coming in, the very possibility of scientific explanation vanished, and we had to wait two thousand years for the electric telegraph.

With many spiritists, investigation in any true sense of the word is impossible. By far the larger portion of them having but the most limited knowledge of psychological phenomena, more particularly of disordered intellectual or sensitive action, the marvelousness of the phenomenon in question is sufficient to elicit their full credence in its super-physical origin. Even ordinary cases of imperfect mental action are often sufficient to convince them that they are the result of mediumship. So completely does this preconception control the ardent spiritist, that if a table tips, or crockery breaks, no step can be taken towards an “investigation” until a medium has been sent for to ascertain what the assumed “spirit” wants, or who he or she is. Does a person manifest strange nervous action; “ investigation” first of all requires that a circle be formed! Do certain involuntary movements of the muscles occur; a “spirit” is endeavoring to “manifest”!

Dr. Wigan, in his “ Duality of the Mind” (pages 23T9), cites the case of a young man of distinction, and good disposition, who was “ influenced” by an uncontrollable desire to run up into the organ-loft during divine service, and play some well-known jocular tune, and frequently one of “an indecent character. He always appeared sorry for it, and declared that he used every exertion to prevent it, but in vain, and finally had to abstain entirely from public service, though he would read the prayers at home with apparently sincere and tranquil devotion. If he accidentally passed an open church-door, the temptation was irresistible, and often resulted in serious embarrassment to him. In all other respects he was perfectly sane, but was subject to periodical epileptic fits.

In our midst, such a case would excite no surprise in the mind of the spiritist: he would see therein a convincing “manifestation of obsession.” His theory would lead him to have the young man’s mediumistic powers more fully developed, that “spirits” of a higher grade might be enabled to control him; or by magnetic passes and kind words of advice seek to quiet the restless “influence.” The scientist would see in the young man, not a medium to be developed, but a patient requiring treatment, and if he sent for any one it would be for his physician. He would seek to restore the young man to a state of health, rather than “ develop” a disordered state of the brain into irrecoverable madness, or a more fatal result.

This illustration is given here, not as a type of what is known as “ spirit-control,” but to illustrate the diverse methods by which the scientist and spiritist would be governed in their treatment of the case. The scientist is habituated to co-ordinating facts first, and then seeking to grasp the law underlying them. The one investigates to discover the cause, the other to obtain a “ test” to indorse his preconceived views. In the case given above, the scientist concludes it is imperfect mental action, because similar cases are of not unfrequent occurrence where this can alone explain them, and he has been led by a large collection of facts to associate the presence of epileptic fits with imperfect mental action; whilst to the spiritist, the epileptic paroxysms, if not viewed as additional evidence of “obsession,” would be regarded as extraneous to it.

In any circle for “physical manifestations,” who ever heard of spiritists investigating the connection between the mental powers of the medium and the intelligence evinced in the manifestations? In a circle for “musical manifestations,” for instance, the spiritist investigator takes great pains to see that the medium is securely bound, and that no movement can be made without his knowledge; and then, if the piano plays, or the guitar floats in the room, he is satisfied it is the work of “spirits,” because he knows the medium has not touched an instrument!

Do they ever seek to ascertain whether the compositions played by the “influence” are familiar or not to the mind of the medium? Do they ever question whether the information obtained is such as to be new to all present? Do they ever call for some tune they know to be unknown to the medium or never heard by him? Ropes and bandages have no effect on the exercise of mental faculties, and the readiness with which they are relied on is evidence of the unfitness of the spiritist to conduct a scientific investigation. He is too much concerned in maintaining the requisite “conditions” insisted upon by the medium, to press any question: instead of preparing tests, he is seeking them.

I well remember the first “spiritual séance” I ever attended. Many years since, in Springfield, Massachusetts, I was invited to attend a “test-circle” held for the purpose of investigation. The medium was a Dr. McFadden, a smooth-tongued and stoutly-built gentleman, wearing his hair in long oily ringlets. We all clasped hands in a circle composed of about a dozen individuals; the “doctor” said it was necessary to have a lady sit on each side of him, as ladies were “negative” and he possessed too much “positivism.” On no account, we were charged, were we to withdraw our hands and break the chain of magnetic attraction. Twice through forgetfulness, some one removed a hand from a neighbor’s, and each time the “doctor” fell back with his head on the breast of one of the ladies beside him, giving vent to several groans, as if he had received a severe shock. Anxious to introduce a private test of my own, I slyly loosed my hold on the hand of the person next me, farthest removed from the medium, unknown to him, and, lo! no shock was felt.

We spent- two hours in the “investigation,” and received one “test.” An elderly gentleman in the circle was told that on the side of the great toe of his left foot there was a small mole! The gentleman said he was not aware of it, and the circle broke up, and awaited in breathless expectancy an appeal to the fact. Retiring to one corner, the gentleman proceeded to ascertain if the statement was correct, and informed us that the “doctor” was right. This was glory enough for one night; and in the midst of the general congratulations of the faithful, I deposited my fifty-cent scrip in the medium’s ready hat, and departed to muse over my first lesson in the “spiritual philosophy of the nineteenth century.”

This is an actual fact, and related without exaggeration, and I have no doubt that any who have met the “doctor” in his peregrinations will instantly recognize its inherent probability.