The Field of Labor

Psychical research may be defined as the organized and scientific investigation of certain outlying and hitherto unrecognized phenomena-mental and physical-which are on the borderland between spirit and matter. Psychology deals with the operations of the mind under normal conditions; and many modern psychologists treat the subject from a materialistic point of view, i.e., the mind is not studied apart from organization and bodily structure. The interaction and interpenetration of mind and spirit and resultant phenomena, therefore, form the basic material for psychical investigation, which thus attempts to fill a gap in scientific research. These phenomena may roughly be divided into two groups, physical and mental. Under physical phenomena are classed such manifestations as the movement of physical objects without contact, raps with no apparent cause, Poltergeist phenomena (such as occurred in John Wesley's house, in which bells were rung, crockery broken, and the like, without apparent cause), and so on. Under mental phenomena are classed telepathy, premonition and prevision, clairvoyance, apparitions at the moment of death and after death, trance utterance and automatic writing, and kindred phenomena. In the former class the physical world is affected; in the latter class it is not.

The Problem; the Societies.

Whether such phenomena really exist, or whether they are one and all figments of the imagination, was the question to be settled. A group of earnest thinkers gathered together at Cambridge, England, in 1881 to discuss this question, and in 1882 the English Society for Psychical Research was founded. An American branch was inaugurated in 1888 under the general supervision of Richard Hodgson, LL.D., and continued until his sudden death in 1905, when the present independent American Society, under James Hervey Hyslop, Ph.D., was incorporated. The founders of the English Society were Prof. Henry Sidgwick, Frederic William Henry Myers, Edmund Gurney-all of Cambridge-and, Prof. W. F. Barrett, of the University of Dublin. Prof. Sidgwick was its first president. Since that date, such illustrious names have appeared on the society's membership roll as Sir Oliver Lodge, Sir William Crookes, Prof. Joseph John Thomson, the Rt. Hon. Arthur James Balfour, Prof. William James, Lord Rayleigh, the Rt. Rev. William Boyd Carpenter, Bishop of Ripon, Andrew Lang, Prof. Balfour Stewart, and Mrs. Henry Sidgwick. Some consider it, as Mr. Gladstone said, "the most important work in the world-by far the most important." The reason is obvious. Here and only here are found phenomena that seem to prove scientifically that man possesses a soul capable of existing apart from the body and of exercising its functions in that condition. The resurrection was, after all, a historical fact, to which Christianity points as proof of a future life. In an age of skepticism faith by itself fails to convince; an appeal must be made to actual facts. Such facts are the phenomena studied by psychical students.

Results of Study.

One of the first conclusions drawn by the members of the society was that telepathy-the power of one mind to affect another otherwise than through the recognized channels of sense-was a fact in nature. By an elaborate series of experiments, it was ascertained that such a power exists in man, and that it can and in fact does become operative under certain conditions. Unsuccessful attempts were made to explain the facts. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that "spirit has the power of manifesting to spirit," as F. W. H. Myers expressed it in his monumental work Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death (2 vols., London, 1904). Vibrations do not seem to pass; space and time do not affect it; it would appear to be a true and direct manifestation of spirit. The application of this to spiritual guidance and to prayer may easily be conceived. The next great advance was made when, on the publication of Phantasms of the Living, by E. Gurney, F. W. H. Myers, and F. Podmore (London, 1886), it was first proved that apparitions of the dying occur far oftener than chance would permit. Seven hundred and two cases of a


coincidental nature were published, and it was mathematically proved that the coincidence between the death and the apparition seen was far more than any chance would account for. Further, conducting this inquiry through several years in many countries, it was more conclusively proved in 1894, when the "Census of Hallucinations" was published, in which conclusions drawn from more than 30,000 replies showed that this coincidence was again far more frequent than was mathematically probable. The connection-whatever its nature--was thus conclusively proved. Many cases were produced by both the English and American societies, of clairvoyance, premonitions, and other supernormal phenomena. Generally speaking, it may be said that physical manifestations have yielded but slight and inconclusive results-being proved to be fraudulently produced, almost invariably, while the mental manifestations have proved to be far more productive of results. The most famous case is that of Mrs. Piper, a trance medium of Boston, who has succeeded in affording the strongest evidence ever yet obtained of a future life. Mrs. Piper passes into trance, while sitting at a table, conversing with her sitter (the trance is genuine, and has been tested by various eminent medical men). She then falls forward on the table, and her body is supported by cushions. Her right hand and arm is then apparently "controlled" by an alien intelligence, i.e., a "spirit," and automatic writing is the result. It will be observed that the manner of the production of this writing is not unusual; to all external appearances the medium might be doing it herself. The point to be considered is this: does the writing contain any facts unknown to anyone but the intelligence supposedly giving them? If certain specific incidents are referred to, known only to an individual who has died and who is supposedly communicating; and if, furthermore, it can be shown that the medium had had no means of acquiring this information by any known means; if, finally, it can be shown that telepathy, clairvoyance, and other modes of supernormal operation are excluded, then very fair evidence is adduced that the intelligence who once knew those facts was really " there," referring to them, and reminding his sitters of them, through the entranced organism of the medium. It was as though her soul had been temporarily removed from the body, and her nervous mechanism operated-more or less imperfectly --by a foreign or invading intelligence.

This is the character of the evidence that has been obtained mostly by scientists studying the phenomena; and it will be seen that this is the best and most direct means that could be devised for communing with a soul, granting such to exist. Psychical research is the science of the investigation of the borderland of spirit and matter, and of their inter-communication. Its position is that there are certain definite facts which recur, and which must be included in materialistic philosophy, if the latter is to be a scheme of the universe. If philosophy is incapable of including and explaining them, it is obviously erroneous and non-inclusive. These facts of psychic research indicate that there is a realm of spirit, active and capable of influencing this world more or less directly. Materialism would thus be overthrown, and its theories proved to be erroneous. And it is because of this possibilitybecause a spiritual order of things might thus be proved, that its present workers regard it as the most important work in the world to-day.


BIBLIOGRAHY: The chief sources of information are the Proceedings of the English society, London, 1883 sqq,, and of the American society, New York, 1907 eqq., together with the works named in the text. Consult further: I. K. Funk. The Widow's Mite, New York, 1904; idem, The Psychic Riddle, ib. 1907; J. H. Hyslop, Science and a Future Life, Boston, 1905; idem, Enigmas of Psychical Research, ib. 1908; idem, Psychical Research and the Resurrection, ib. 1908; L. ElbE, Future Life in the Light of Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science, Chicago, 1908; E. E. Fournier d'Albe, New Light on Immortality, New York, 1908; Sir Oliver Lodge, Science and Immortality, ib. 1908; F. Podmore, Naturalization of the Supernatural, ib. 1908: E. T. Bennett, Psychic Phenomena, ib., 1909; E. Katherine Bates, Psychical Science and Christianity, ib., 1909; C. Lombroso, After Death What? Spiritistic Phenomena and their Interpretation, Boston, 1909; H. Carrington, Eusapia Palladino and her Phenomena, London, 1910; and the periodicals, The Annals of Psychical Science, and The Occult Review. A large bibliography of pertinent literature will be found under SPIRITUALISM, SPIRITUALISTS.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 06/03/04. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely