Paranormal Experiences of Oliver Lodge

Source: Chapter XXIII "Psychical Research" of the Oliver Lodge autobiography Past Years [1931])
 

Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1935)—the aging scientist/physicist/inventor/professor/principal, and Society for Psychical Research President 1901-1903—is shown in his Wiltshire home after having devoted much of his life to what was then sometimes referred to categorically as 'psychical research' and reporting about what he learned to expand the understanding of others.
 

After we had thus established what we considered a prima-facie case for the genuineness of Mrs. Piper's powers, Richard Hodgson, a graduate of Cambridge, England, who wished to devote himself to psychic work, went out to Boston to begin a serious investigation of her.  He began by examining into her normal movements, using an American detective agency to shadow her during the day, and report whether she went about making enquiries, or whether she did anything suspicious, or occupied herself in the way that sceptical people thought she must.  Since she gave so much detail about the relatives of all sorts of people, it was suggested she might get the information through libraries, or tombstones, or that she must employ agents for making enquiries.  Hodgson gradually satisfied himself that she did none of these things, but lived a perfectly normal life with her children.  So gradually he established friendly relations with the ostensible communicators of the other side, who appeared to be controlling her, and was promised that the conditions of the trance would be improved; for at that time she went into trance, and came out of it, with some difficulty, going through contortions which were sometimes painful to watch.  Her chief control or frequent speaker on the other side purported to be a deceased French doctor or herbalist who gave himself the fanciful name of "Phinuit."
 
In the interval an unsuspected sensitive, Mr. Stainton Moses, a master at University College School, had for many years kept a private diary of the teachings of his special communicators,* (*Partly established subsequently in a book called Spirit Teachings, by "M.S. Oxon") who were represented as rather exalted people, giving the names Imperator, Rector, Doctor, and other such fanciful names.  Stainton Moses, though he kept his power private, joined the S.P.R. at its beginning, along with Alfred Russell Wallace; but he soon became tired of its slow and circumspect progress, and resigned.  He initiated the weekly journal called Light, and wrote anonymously under the pseudonym of "M.A. Oxton" for some years.  The relevancy of this to the Piper case is because, soon after the death of Stainton Moses, in the ordinary course of events, communicators giving the same names as his controls began to displace "Phinuit" from his position as the usual control of Mrs. Piper, and began also to write through her hand, instead of habitually speaking through her voice.  This writing method was more troublesome to the sitter; for he had to supply her with paper and pencils, and read what she wrote, or scribbled, as it went on; her head being turned away from the writing, and reclining on a pillow, so that she seemed fast asleep, her hand only being active.  The dramatic activity of this hand was quite remarkable.  Gradually the conditions thus became, as Hodgson thought, more satisfactory; the trance state was much easier to enter and to leave; and the writing method enabled a record to be obtained without any uncertainty and without an amanuensis.  Moreover, the number of sittings which she gave was somewhat reduced, at most only one a day being allowed, instead of two.  A friend that Hodgson had made the acquaintance of in America, whom he called "George Pelham," died about that time, and before his death he promised to send communications through Mrs. Piper.  This he did for many years, discussing philosophical matters with Hodgson, recognising his own friends when they were brought anonymously to the sitting, conversing with each one in an appropriate manner, and establishing his identity in rather striking ways.  All this is narrated in Dr. Hodgson's report to the society.
 
Accordingly, about 1906, we thought it well to have Mrs. Piper over again.  She came with her daughters,  now grown up, and stayed with me and my family at Mariemont, Edgbaston.  A fresh series of communications were now recorded, this time practically all in writing by her hand; so that there could be no uncertainty about what the communicators said.  The few remarks of the sitter were likewise recorded in the margin by the experimenter in charge.  I made a report to the society about this series also; all my previous conclusions were strengthened and verified; in fact, the body of evidence became overwhelming (see S.P.R. Proceedings, vol. xxiii., pp. 127-280).
 
Mrs. Piper was by no means the only person with whom we had sittings.  Several other mediums had been utilised during Myers's lifetime, notably a Mrs. Thompson, through whom we both had striking messages.  After Myers's death in 1901, he too began to come through; so did Gurney.
 
And now the evidence began to take another and more immediately instructive turn.  The genuineness of the mediums having been established beyond reasonable doubt, the only explanation which would evade the spiritistic hypothesis was that the medium in a state of trance had access to the minds of living people.  The possibility of reading the mind of the sitter was always allowed for; but, when we got information which was unknown to anyone present, it still was usually known to somebody, or was recorded somewhere, else it could not be subsequently verified.  It was in order to stem this possible utilisation of a hypothetical and unverified faculty of widespread telepathy or clairvoyance that the efforts of the communicators were directed.  Myers, Gurney, Sidgwick, and others on that side, knew about this hypothesis, and the difficulty that we had in combating it.  Indeed, it was a theory that had to be pressed to the uttermost, before admitting the face value of the communications from dead people as a real explanation; for, if that was once seriously established, a portentous step would have been taken.  The survival of man would have been demonstrated scientifically, and the power or communication with deceased people established, in spite of the lack of their own bodily organisms.
 
Consequently the efforts of what was evidently a sort of S.P.R. on the other side were directed to inventing devices whereby this over-stretched or extended telepathy should be put out of court as a possible explanation.  The first method we found they were using was the one afterwards called "cross correspondence"; that is to say, they referred to some theme in an obscure way through different mediums, and by different sentences, at about the same time, so that no one medium should understand the meaning of what was being transmitted; but yet they appended some distinct sign or mark which later might be interpreted as indicating that there was a connexion between the fragments; so that, when all the messages were sent to a central office and compared, the connexion between the different portions should be apparent, and the meaning of the whole reference become ultimately clear.  This elaborate system of cross reference, through different and independent mediums, was worked out in detail for many years, the mediums used being well separated geographically, one of them being Mrs. Piper in America, another being Mrs. Verrall in England, who had developed the power of automatic writing after Myers's death, and a third being the wife of an officer in India, whom we called "Mrs. Holland."  Fragments of the same message came through all these different channels (and, indeed, through others as well), and were detected at the central office in London when the scripts were compared.  The intention was obvious — namely, to show that one mind [MRB: or the organizing intermediary  spiritual 'Oneness' as another way of considering and expressing this in 2022] was acting on all these mediums; each separate portion of the message being so obscure that there could be no telepathy or any other means of communication between them.  The cross correspondences occupy a great bulk in the reports of the S.P.R. about this time; and they would attract more attention if they were carefully studied, but, for the most part, the purposed obscurity was such as to tender the scripts by no means easy reading.  They are available for students, but are nearly unintelligible to the general reader.  Consequently the value of these communications is not even yet recognised at anything like its full value, except by those who have been engaged in the task of deciphering and interpreting; and even upon them the full meaning of the communications did not at once dawn.   More and more significance was detected in them as time went on.  The whole thing constitutes a very elaborate puzzle, carefully concocted and requiring very close and long-continued study for its elucidation.
 
Another method of demonstrating the real identity of an ostensible communicator was to show scholarship, or a knowledge of literature or of classical lore, far beyond the capacity of the medium through whom the communications came.  Messages were frequently received in Greek and Latin; and Dr. Verrall, who was by this time on the other side, set us puzzles which could only be solved either by a wide knowledge or by reference to some of his unpublished manuscript. These ingenious puzzles of Dr. Verrall's were worked at and reported on by Mr.  Gerald Balfour, especially in two important papers, one called "The Baptism of Statius," the other "The Ear of Dionysius."  But, indeed, the amount of classical reference thus obtained through an educated English lady who had no classical knowledge whatever, whom we called "Mrs. Willett," was overwhelming; and the time will undoubtedly come when this series of messages will engage the serious attention of scholars.  
 
Among other details, I may make reference to the answers to a question about Lethe, which was addressed by Dr. G.B. Dorr in America to "Myers" through Mrs. Piper, and by myself soon afterwards also to "Myers" through "Mrs. Willett" in England.  Suitable classical answers were in both cases obtained, one having reference to a book by Ovid, the other to a book of Virgil; both of them referred to, and one quoted, passages in which the River of Lethe is mentioned; and both passages were concerned with interesting episodes such as were certainly calculated to have stayed in the memory of Myers.  Moreover, to show the connexion which he perceived between the two puttings of the same question to him by different people through different channels, he took pains to answer at once the question I addressed to him through "Mrs. Willett," and showed that he recognised it as the same question that had been put to him through Mrs. Piper by Mr. Dorr in America, by constraining "Mrs. Willett's" hand to write automatically and mechanically the, to her, meaningless word "Dorr," as a first answer to the question; the question being what the word Lethe reminded him of.
 
To the general reader these items may seem trite, and perhaps rather troublesome and beside the point, but they are really not at all beside the point.  The object of the communicator was to establish his own personal identity against all manner of hypotheses that might be suggested as accounting for the communications.  No better means could have been devised upon those he actually made use of.  Myers had devoted his life to the proof of survival, and was now able to clinch that proof in an unmistakable manner.  I have only quoted very briefly a sample of what he achieved.  The whole must be read to be properly understood.  Some idea of it is given in my book Survival of Man, but for the details the Proceedings of the S.P.R. must be studied.  I venture to say that anyone who takes the trouble really to study these things will have no doubt that that the ostensible explanation is the true one, and that they demonstrate first the survival of the personality of F. W. H. Myers, and secondly his power of communication through the bodily organism of a living person endowed with the necessary faculty.  With Edmund Gurney, also, I held at one time long conversations.  The persistence of the mind and memory and character of the deceased individual from whom they purported to come was absolutely demonstrated.
 
Then came the war.  My son Raymond joined up.  After a year, Myers sent me a message through Mrs. Piper to anticipate some calamity, which he said he would take steps to ease.  Shortly afterwards the fatal telegram arrived.  In due time I was put into touch with new mediums, Raymond entered into communication, and told me that Myers was the first person he saw, and that Myers has practically adopted him, until in due time I too should come over.  This is only the last of the many benefits that I have derived from my friendship with that remarkable man.  He it was who first broke down my scepticism, and impressed me with the reasonableness of the hypothesis of survival.  He it was who put evidence in my way such as gradually convinced me of the truth of the doctrine.  He has taken the trouble to guide me in many ways since his departure from earth life.  He has shown noteworthy signs of his continued affection, and I am grateful.

 


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