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thought-transference, and you may not. The probability of success cannot be stated because we have no record of the failures, the number of which defies estimation. I have tried to learn whether during the past ten years the Psychical Society has done anything towards elucidating the subject. But nothing bearing on the case is found in its recent published proceedings. Would it be altogether unfair to put the conclusion in the form : possibly you may succeed, but the more pains you take to avoid all sources of error, the less likely success will be ?
During the past fifteen years interest has been transferred from thought-transference to telepathy. The question how, if an impression cannot be conveyed through a space of a few feet, it can yet dart from one city to another is one which, how strongly soever it may present itself, may rest in abeyance while we inquire into the seeming facts. These, as found in the fine volumes, Phantasms of the Living, by Gurney and Myers, and in the publications of the Psychical Society, are too numerous to be summarised. But a typical example which will answer our present purpose is easy to give. A person is struck by a sudden hallucination, or has a vision or dream of a friend or relative, generally in distress. This impression is so vivid that some anxiety may be felt lest it correspond to a reality. Next morning, or as soon as the mail or telegraph can bring the news, it is learned that the friend or relative has either died at the time of the vision or has suffered some violent emotion. Great pains were taken to verify the authenticity of stories of this kind, and none were accepted unless deemed ' veridical.' Taking the hundreds of coincidences as they stand, and regarding each narrative as complete in itself, the conclusion that there must have been some causal connexion between the distant event or emotion and the vision looks unavoidable. But may it not be that causes already known are sufficient to account for the supposed coincidences without introducing telepathy or any other abnormal agency? If such is the case, then the hypothesis of telepathy is purely gratuitous and uncalled-for, on the general principle that we never attribute events to new and unknown causes when we see that they are the natural results of known conditions. This is especially the case when the new causes adduced are so improbable and so far outside the line of our general experience as telepathy must be. The strongest believer in this agency must admit that its acceptance is not without difficulty. Everyone who sleeps in London is surrounded by several millions of minds within a radius of three or four miles. Among these are hundreds in a state of violent action or emotion. Scores are constantly in the throes of death. How do the inhabitants of London sleep on undisturbed by the spiritual tumult ? How is it that in the ordinary experience of life one person cannot divine the most intense feeling of another, even though he be near or dear, except by sight, touch, or hearing? So far as the writer is aware, the advocates of telepathy have evaded rather than grappled with these difficulties.
The question we shall now consider is, whether there are not known causes at play which we should naturally expect to result in phenomena that seem to indicate telepathy. Those which I shall adduce are not all of one kind, but are made up of complex elements, each of which is familiarly known to all who carefully think and observe. First to be mentioned is the element of truth. Then will come the omission of important features from the narrative. I believe that Bacon remarked that men score only the hits, and ignore the misses. We also have unconscious exaggeration ; the faculty of remembering what is striking, and forgetting what is not; illusions of sense, mistakes of memory; the impressions left by dreams; and, finally, deceit and trickery, whether intentional or unconscious. Before reaching a conclusion we must inquire as to what we should naturally expect as the combined result of these agencies in the regular course of experience.
As to the first : error finds support in so entwining itself with truth that it is difficult to separate the two. Double personality, hypnotism, and especially the action of one mind on another by hypnotic suggestion, have been confused with telepathy through a supposed power of the operator to influence the will of his subject at a distance. The mystery which has very generally enveloped the subject of 'animal magnetism' is so fertile in vague theories of abnormality that now, when the whole subject is placed on a scientific basis, the elimination of traditional and baseless ideas is by no means an easy task. The belief that a hypnotic operator influences his subject by telepathy is widely diffused through all classes of the community except professional psychologists. The latter are, I believe, practically ananimous in holding that no influence is exerted on the subject except through the medium of the senses, and that, if the subject is to act in a certain way in the absence of the operator, the latter must make known in advance the time and nature of the expected action. I am aware that Richet and perhaps other operators have found cases which seem telepathic; but a critical reading of their evidence shows it to be wholly inconclusive.
A course of events may appear ever so wonderful and incomprehensible by well-known agencies by mere omission, without deviating from the truth in any particular. I once examined an interesting case of this kind at the request of Dr. Hodgson. A naval ship had been wrecked in a storm off Cape Hatteras some years before, and most of those on board, including the captain, had perished. Before she sailed on her voyage one of her officers was seized with so strong and persistent a presentiment that the ship would be lost that he formally requested to be detached from her. This being refused, he
. left his post of duty and was tried by court martial for desertion.
Dr. Hodgson desired me to see whether this story could be verified by the official records.
This was easily done, and the narrative was found to be substantially correct so far as it went. But it omitted to state that the officer had exhibited symptoms of mental aberration before his presentiment, that the latter was only one of a great number of wild fears which he had expressed to various parties, including his superior officer, and that several months elapsed after this before the ship sailed on her fateful voyage, she having in the meantime made several trips on the coast. When thus completed the story became altogether commonplace.
A coincidence between an emotion experienced by a distant person and the impression of that emotion in another at a distance can indicate a causal relation only when the coincidence is real and the impression unusual. In establishing the facts there is wide ground for error. We are all subject to errors of memory, especially if we have to state the exact time and circumstance of an act or impression. Probably few of us could tell all that we did the day before yesterday, hour by hour, without either some erroneous statement, the omission of some act, or the introduction of an event which belonged to a different day. The longer the time which elapses the greater the liability to error. Writers on telepathy take too little account of these errors of memory. In the vast majority of cases the correction cannot be made, and the error goes on record as truth, when it becomes the basis for some remarkable coincidence. When this is not the case it passes into oblivion. If we set a net for errors which we cannot distinguish from truth, how shall we know that our catch is anything but error? It is only by having some independent test of the accuracy of a remembered event that we can be sure of its correctness. A written and dated document, if genuine, would always suffice for this purpose. But such support is almost if not quite universally wanting in the narratives of wonderful coincidences.
I only recall a single case in which the correctness of a telepathic narrative was tested by independent and conclusive authority. In this Review for July 1884,” an article appeared from Messrs. Gurney and Myers which was justly regarded as affording the most indisputable evidence ever adduced for the reappearance of a dead person. Sir Edmund Hornby, a judge of the Consular Court at Shanghai, had been visited during the night by a reporter desiring a copy of a decision which he was to deliver on the following morning. He rose from his bed, dictated what he had to say, and dismissed the reporter with a rebuke for having disturbed him. Next morning, on going to court, he was astounded by learning that the reporter, with whom he was well acquainted, had died suddenly during the night. Inquiring after the hour of the demise he found it to coincide with that of the
? Apparitions, by Edmund Gurney and Frederic W. H. Myers.
nightly visitation. The authors also informed us in the article that the story was confirmed by Lady Hornby, who was mentioned in it and was cognisant of the circumstances.
This narrative was almost unique in that it admitted of verification. When it reached Shanghai it met the eyes of some acquainted with the actual facts. These were made known in another publication and showed that several months must have elapsed between the reporter's death and the judge's vision. The latter was only a vivid dream about a dead person. When the case was brought to the judge's attention he did not deny the new version, and could only say he had supposed the facts to be as he had narrated them.
I cite this incident not merely to show how the most conclusive case of telepathy ever brought to light was invalidated when the facts were made known, but to elucidate the further fact that a wonderful story may lose the element of surprise by quite natural and easily admitted additions and explanations. All the interest of such stories depends upon the element of wonder.
The looker-on feels most delight
It is positively humiliating to allow an amateur juggler to explain his extraordinary tricks. It humiliates one that he did not himself see how the thing was done. Why should we hesitate to ascribe any number of seemingly supernatural occurrences to the innumerable blunders which we know that nearly every one of us is making in memory every day?
The statistical onesidedness of all evidence in favour of telepathy, apparitions, and other forms of supernormal mental action must be considered, and so far as possible corrected, before any conclusion can be reached. The principle involved and the ease with which we may reach a false conclusion may be illustrated by a very simple example. If a bag of corn contain a million normal grains and a single black one, the probability that a grain drawn at random from the bag would be the black one is so minute that we should justly regard the drawing as practically impossible in all the ordinary affairs of life. If a blindfolded boy, dipping his hand into the bag, drew the black grain on the first trial, we should justly claim that there was some unfairness in the proceeding, or, if we wish to deal in mystery, some attraction between his hand and the black grain. If on a thousand trials of this kind the black grain was drawn several times our suspicion would ripen into practical certainty. And yet, if every inhabitant of Great Britain made such a trial, it is practically certain that there would be about thirty drawings of the black grain without abnormality. In fact, did such drawings number only twenty, the suspicion would be on the other side. We should be sure of some defeat in the enumeration or of some instinct toward evading the black
grain. The whole question turns on the number of unrecorded failures.
Through inquiries made under the auspices of the Psychical Society it would seem that about one person in every ten is more or less subject to hallucinations of some kind. Probably a large majority of people have occasional dreams so vivid that they might be classed under the same head. It follows that in Great Britain alone there must occur annually many millions of cases in which people, during their waking or dreaming hours, see before them images of distant relatives or friends. If, as may well be the case, the chances are millions to one against the illusion coinciding with the death or distress of the person seen, we should still have in all probability many such cases in a year. Thus, when the eminent members of the society instituted their inquiries for such cases, it might have been predicted in advance that, without any bias whatever, they would have been discovered by the hundred.
But the concession of exactness is one of great improbability. Visions and dreams are in all ordinary cases dropped from the mind and speedily forgotten. But let one be connected in any way with a death or other moving event, and the memory, instead of being effaced, grows in the mind, month after month. The event associated with the vision may have occurred days or weeks before or after it, but the general tendency will be to bring them into coincidence and weave them into a story, as we have seen in the case already quoted.
The following case, cited by Mr. Beckles Willson in his recent work, Occultism and Common Sense, may be chosen for study because it is among the most remarkable of its kind. A traveller in a railway carriage is quoted :
‘One week ago last Tuesday, at eleven o'clock at night, my wife, who had just retired to bed upstairs, called out to me, “ Arthur ! Arthur!” in a tone of alarm. I sprang up and ran upstairs to see what was the matter. The servants had all gone to bed.
Arthur,” said my wife, “ I've just seen mother," and she began
* Why,” I said, why, your mother is in Scarborough.” “I know,” she said ; " but she appeared before me just there" (pointing to the foot of the bed) “ two minutes ago as plainly as you do." Well, the next morning there was a telegram on the breakfast table—“Mother died at eleven last night.” Now, how do you account for it ?'
I will try to answer this question. I would not be at all surprised, could the facts be made known, if the wife had said something of the kind to her husband every day or night for a week, especially if the mother were known to be very ill. If any night had been missed, I would not be surprised if it were the fateful Tuesday. Then the problem would have been reversed, and we should have had to explain why it was that the vision failed on the night of the death. The memory of the narrator had more than a week in which to cultivate the wonder. The quotation, it will be noticed, purports to be verbatim,