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- The Making of Religion - 5/68 -


all lands and countries. If _you_ may argue from it, so may we. Some of it is evidence to unusual facts, more of it is evidence to singular beliefs, which we think not necessarily without foundation. As raising a presumption in favour of that opinion, we cite examples in which savage observations of abnormal and once rejected facts, are now admitted by science to have a large residuum of truth, we argue that what is admitted in some cases may come to be admitted in more. No _a priori_ line can here be drawn.'

To the psychologist who objects that our modern instances are mere anecdotes, we reply by asking, 'Dear sir, what are _your_ modern instances? What do you know of "Mrs. A.," whom you still persistently cite as an example of morbid recurrent hallucinations? Name the German servant girl who, in a fever, talked several learned languages, which she had heard her former master, a scholar, declaim! Where did she live? Who vouches for her, who heard her, who understood her? There is, you know, no evidence at all; the anecdote is told by Coleridge: the phenomena are said by him to have been observed "in a Roman Catholic town in Germany, a year or two before my arrival at Goettingen.... Many eminent physiologists and psychologists visited the town." Why do you not name a few out of the distinguished crowd?'[8] This anecdote, a rumour of a rumour of a Protestant explanation of a Catholic marvel, was told by Coleridge at least twenty years after the possible date. The psychologists copy it,[9] one after the other, as a flock of sheep jump where their leader has jumped. An example by way of anecdote may be permitted.

According to the current anthropological theory, the idea of soul or spirit was suggested to early men by their experiences in dreams. They seemed, in sleep, to visit remote places; therefore, they argued, something within them was capable of leaving the body and wandering about.

This something was the soul or spirit. Now it is obvious that this opinion of early men would be confirmed if they ever chanced to acquire, in dreams, knowledge of places which they had never visited, and of facts as to which, in their waking state, they could have no information. This experience, indeed, would suggest problems even To Mr. Herbert Spencer, if it occurred to him.

Conversing on this topic with a friend of acknowledged philosophical eminence, I illustrated my meaning by a story of a dream. It was reported to me by the dreamer, with whom I am well acquainted, was of very recent occurrence, and was corroborated by the evidence of another person, to whom the dream was narrated, before its fulfilment was discovered. I am not at liberty to publish the details, for good reasons, but the essence of the matter was this: A. and B. (the dreamer) had common interests. A. had taken certain steps about which B. had only a surmise, and a vague one, that steps had probably been taken. A. then died, and B. in an extremely vivid dream (a thing unfamiliar to him) seemed to read a mass of unknown facts, culminating in two definite results, capable of being stated in figures. These results, by the very nature of the case, could not be known to A., so that, before he was placed out of B.'s reach by death, he could not have stated them to him, and, afterwards, had assuredly no means of doing so.

The dream, two days after its occurrence, and after it had been told to C., proved to be literally correct. Now I am not asking the reader's belief for this anecdote (for that could only be yielded in virtue of knowledge of the veracity of B. and C.), but I invite his attention to the psychological explanation. My friend suggested that A. had told B. all about the affair, that B. had not listened (though his interests were vitally concerned), and that the crowd of curious details, naturally unfamiliar to B., had reposed in his subconscious memory, and had been revived in the dream.

Now B.'s dream was a dream of reading a mass of minute details, including names of places entirely unknown to him. It may be admitted, in accordance with the psychological theory, that B. might have received all this information from A., but, by dint of inattention--'the malady of not marking'--might never have been _consciously_ aware of what he heard. Then B.'s subconscious memory of what he did not _consciously_ know might break upon him in his dream. Instances of similar mental phenomena are not uncommon. But the general result of the combined details was one which could not possibly be known to A. before his death; nor to B. could it be known at all. Yet B.'s dream represented this general result with perfect accuracy, which cannot be accounted for by the revival of subconscious memory in sleep. Neither asleep nor awake can a man remember what it is impossible for him to have known. The dream contained no _prediction_ for the results were now fixed; but (granting the good faith of the narrator) the dream did contain information not normally accessible.

However, by way of psychological explanation of the dream, my friend cited Coleridge's legend, as to the German girl and her unconscious knowledge of certain learned languages. 'And what is the evidence for the truth of Coleridge's legend?' Of course, there is none, or none known to all the psychologists who quote it from Coleridge. Neither, if true, was the legend to the point. However, psychology will accept such unauthenticated narratives, and yet will scoff at first baud, duly corroborated testimony from living and honourable people, about recent events.

Only a great force of prejudice can explain this acceptance, by psychologists, of one kind of marvellous tale on no evidence, and this rejection of another class of marvellous tale, when supported by first hand, signed and corroborated evidence, of living witnesses. I see only one escape for psychologists from this dilemma. Their marvellous tales are _possible_, though unvouched for, because they have always heard them and repeated them in lectures, and read and repeated them in books. _Our_ marvellous tales are impossible, because the psychologists know that they are impossible, which means that they have not been familiar with them, from youth upwards, in lectures and manuals. But man has no right to have 'clear ideas of the possible and impossible,' like Faraday, _a priori_, except in the exact sciences. There are other instances of weak evidence which satisfies psychologists.

Hamilton has an anecdote, borrowed from Monboddo, who got it from Mr. Hans Stanley, who, 'about twenty-six years ago,' heard it from the subject of the story, Madame de Laval. 'I have the memorandum somewhere in my papers,' says Mr. Stanley, vaguely. Then we have two American anecdotes by Dr. Flint and Mr. Rush; and such is Sir William Hamilton's equipment of odd facts for discussing the unconscious or subconscious. The least credible and worst attested of these narratives still appears in popular works on psychology. Moreover, all psychology, except experimental psychology, is based on anecdotes which people tell about their own subjective experiences. Mr. Galton, whose original researches are well known, even offered rewards in money for such narratives about visualised rows of coloured figures, and so on.

Clearly the psychologist, then, has no _prima facie_ right to object to our anecdotes of experiences, which he regards as purely subjective. As evidence, we only accept them at first hand, and, when possible, the witnesses have been cross-examined personally. Our evidence then, where it consists of travellers' tales, is on a level with that which satisfies the anthropologist. Where it consists of modern statements of personal experience, our evidence is often infinitely better than much which is accepted by the nonexperimental psychologist. As for the agnostic writer on the Non-Religion of the Future, M. Guyau actually illustrates the Resurrection of our Lord by an American myth about a criminal, of whom a hallucinatory phantasm appeared to each of his gaol companions, separately and successively, on a day after his execution! For this prodigious fable no hint of reference to authority is given.[10] Yet the evidence appears to satisfy M. Guyau, and is used by him to reinforce his argument.

The anthropologist and psychologist, then, must either admit that their evidence is no better than ours, if as good, or must say that they only believe evidence as to 'possible' facts. They thus constitute themselves judges of what is possible, and practically regard themselves as omniscient. Science has had to accept so many things once scoffed at as 'impossible,' that this attitude of hers, as we shall show in chapter ii., ceases to command respect.

My suggestion is that the trivial, rejected, or unheeded phenomena vouched for by the evidence here defended may, not inconceivably, be of considerable importance. But, stating the case at the lowest, if we are only concerned with illusions and fables, it cannot but be curious to note their persistent uniformity in savage and civilised life.

To make the first of our two main positions clear, and in part to justify ourselves in asking any attention for such matters, we now offer an historical sketch of the relations between Science and the so-called 'Miraculous' in the past.

[Footnote 1: _Primitive Culture_, i. 156. London, 1891.]

[Footnote 2: _Ueber psychische Beobachiungen bei Naiurvuelkern_. Leipzig, Gunther, 1890.]

[Footnote 3: See especially pp. 922-926. The book is interesting in other ways, and, indeed, touching, as it describes the founding of a new Red Indian religion, on a basis of Hypnotism and Christianity.]

[Footnote 4: Programme of the Society, p. iv.]

[Footnote 5: Tylor, _Primitive Culture_, i, 9, 10.]

[Footnote 6: Ellis, _Polynesian Researches_, ii. p. 240.]

[Footnote 7: _Hallucinations and Illusions_, English edition, pp. 69-70, 297.]

[Footnote 8: Sir William Hamilton's _Lectures_, i. 345.]

[Footnote 9: Maudsley, Kerner, Carpentor, Du Prel, Zangwill.]

[Footnote 10: Coleridge's mythical maid (p. 10) is set down by Mr. Samuel Laing to an experiment of Braid's! No references are given.--Laing: _Problems of the Future._]

II

SCIENCE AND 'MIRACLES'

_Historical Sketch_

Research in the X region is not a new thing under the sun. When Saul disguised himself before his conference with the Witch of Endor, he made an elementary attempt at a scientific test of the supernormal. Croesus, the king, went much further, when he tested the clairvoyance of the oracles of Greece, by sending an embassy to ask what he was doing at a given hour on a given day, and by then doing something very _bizarre_. We do not know how the Delphic oracle found out the right answer, but various easy methods of fraud at once occur to the mind. However, the procedure of Croesus, if he took certain precautions, was relatively scientific. Relatively scientific also was the inquiry of Porphyry, with whose position our own is not unlikely to be compared. Unable, or reluctant, to accept Christianity, Porphyry 'sought after a sign' of an element of supernormal truth in Paganism. But he began at the wrong end, namely at Pagan spiritualistic _seances_, with the usual accompaniments of darkness and fraud. His perplexed letter to Anebo, with the reply attributed to


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