From India to the Planet Mars, by Théodore Flournoy; tr. Daniel B. Vermilye, , at sacred-texts.com
THE translation into English of From India to the Planet Mars has been undertaken in response to the demand created by the widespread and increasing interest which is manifesting itself both in Great Britain and the United States in the phenomena exhibited by its heroinean interest which marks a new era in the progress of human knowledge.
Twentyeven tenyears ago the phenomena which Prof. Flournoy here describes in detail, and of which he offers a keen, skilful, psychological analysis, would have met with the sneers of popular science and the contempt of obscurantist orthodoxy; the book would have found few readers.
Times have greatly changed since the Society for Psychical Research was founded, eighteen years ago, by a few thoughtful men (included among them were those whose names would have conferred honor upon any body of men) interested in the investigation of abnormal mental or psychic phenomena.
In explaining their reasons for organizing that
society, its founders made the following statement:
"From the recorded testimony of many competent witnesses, past and present, including observations accurately made by scientific men of eminence of various countries, there appears to be, among much illusion and deception, an important body of remarkable phenomena which are prima facie inexplicable on any generally recognized hypothesis, and which, if incontestably established, would be of the highest possible value."
The organization of this society constituted the first attempt in the world's history to investigate the phenomena of clairvoyance, automatic writing and speaking, trance conditions, second sight, apparitions of persons at the point of death, alleged spirit messages, etc., by a scientific body formed upon a broad basis.
As was to have been expected, the work and aims of the society were met by a storm of derision and ridicule, and by attacks which poured in from every quarter, the bitterest of which came from the always too numerous class of narrow-minded scientists, whose partisan prejudices, confining them to a narrow rut, hinder their seeing anything from a point of view other than that of their preconceived hypotheses, and prevent them from attaining that open-mindedness which is indispensable to and one of the first requisites of a true scientist in any field of investigation.
The interest shown to-day in the work of psychical researchamong the evidences of which may be noted the reception accorded this work of Prof. Flournoy, which has, within a few months from the date of its publication, attained its third French editiondemonstrates the ultimate triumph of the founders of that society in their efforts to bring the thinking public to a realization of the supreme importance of a systematic scientific study of the mysterious psychic phenomena so long neglected by official science, but which are now beginning to assume their rightful place in the field of study and observation.
Men have come to realize that the facts proved by science have not thus far been adequate to satisfy the needs of mankind, and many are to-day asking whether the scientific investigation of psychic phenomena may not succeed in proving the preamble of all religions.
Already science has disclosed the existence of a hidden, subliminal world within each individual being, and it is the investigation of that part of the individuality of Hélène Smith which our author has undertaken in the following pages.
The importance of the subject and its intense interest lie in the fact that psychical research hints at a possible solution, by means of the same methods which science has been accustomed to use in the physical world, of the great problem of man's future destiny, of an answer to the question asked by Job
four thousand years ago, "If a man die, shall he live again?" and which has been repeated in vain by every generation of men who have since inhabited the earth.
While, it is true, the great majority of men are still skeptical as to the ability of science ever to solve this problem, it is, however, a fact that a continually increasing number of thoughtful men are coming to believe that the hidden subliminal world within us may point to an unseen but spiritual world without, communication with which, if once established, would furnish us with the solution so ardently longed for.
Such men do not believe that it behooves them to be content with the passivity of pure Agnosticism are not willing that Ignoramus et Ignorabimus should be their only creed. They are beginning to search for new facts in the domain of the human mind, just as they have searched for and found them everywhere else they have looked for them.
Mr. F. W. H. Myers, the pioneer and leader of the psychical research movement, in an address recently delivered, says: "Starting from various stand-points, we endeavor to carry the newer, the intellectual virtues into regions where dispassionate tranquillity has seldom yet been known. . . . First, we adopt the ancient beliefimplied in all monotheistic religion, and conspicuously confirmed by the progress of modern sciencethat the world as a whole, spiritual and material together, has in some
way a systematic unity: and on this we base the novel presumption that there should be a unity of method in the investigation of all fact. We hold therefore that the attitude, the habits of mind, the methods by which physical science has grown deep and wide, should be applied also to the spiritual world. We endeavor to approach the problems of that world by careful collection, scrutiny, testing of particular facts; and we account no unexplained fact too trivial for our attention."
This is just what Prof. Flournoy has endeavored to do in regard to the strange phenomena manifested by Mlle. Helene Smith. No fact has been regarded by him as too trivial to escape his keen, careful scrutiny from a psychological point of view.
The first task which the investigators of these obscure mental phenomena set themselves was, naturally, that of separating and sifting the real, actually existent facts from the mass of fraud and deception in which mercenary charlatans, aided by the easy credulity of the simple-minded, had contrived so completely to bury from sight the true phenomena that for a long time the intelligent public refused utterly to believe in the existence of any real phenomena of the kind, but insisted that everything when fully probed would be found to be mere delusion, the result of trickery and fraud.
Probably no scientific fact since the dawn of modern science has required so great a weight of cumulative evidence in its favor to establish the
reality of its existence in the popular mind than have the phenomena in question. The task, however, has been accomplished.
Prof. Flournoy's heroine, although she is a high-minded, honorable woman, regarded by all her neighbors and friends as wholly incapable of conscious fraud, has been subjected to the closest surveillance on the part of a number of eminent physicians and scientists of Geneva for more than five years past, while Mrs. Piper, the famous Boston medium, has been subjected to an even closer scrutiny by the Society for Psychical Research for the past fifteen years. In spite of the fact that this society has announced its willingness to become responsible for the entire absence of fraud in Mrs. Piper's case, and of a similar declaration on the part of Prof. Flournoy and his associates in regard to Mlle. Smith, there still remain a considerable number of ultra-skeptical persons who persist in asserting that fraud and deceit are at the bottom of, and account for, all this species of phenomena.
The well-known gentlemen who have investigated these crises have never been accused of easy credulity in other matters, and have cautiously and perseveringly continued, in their endeavor to satisfy skepticism, to pile Pelion upon Ossa in the way of cumulative proofs of the genuineness of the phenomena and to safeguard their investigations in every possible manner against all possibility of fraud, until they have finally come to feel
that more than sufficient proof has been furnished to satisfy any honest, fair-minded, sensible doubt. They do not feel that they have the right to devote further time to the question of the genuineness of the facts observed by themtime which they believe might be better employed in endeavoring to discover the laws by which the phenomena are governed. They believe that those who are not satisfied with the evidence already offered will not be convinced by any amount of further testimonythat their skepticism is invincible. For persons so constituted this book will have no interest; its perusal will afford them no pleasure.
The endeavor to explain these mysterious phenomena by scientific investigators has resulted in their adoption of one or other of two hypotheses, viz.:
1. That the phenomena are the product of and originate in the subliminal consciousness of the medium; or,
2. That the phenomena are really of supernormal origin and emanate from the disincarnate spirits of the dead, who return to earth and take temporary possession of the organism of the medium, talking through her mouth, writing with her hand while she is in a somnambulistic state.
The first theory involves the crediting of the subliminal consciousness with almost miraculous powers of telepathy, since, on that hypothesis, it is necessary, in order to account for the knowledge possessed by the medium, to suppose that her subliminal
consciousness is able to roam at will throughout the entire universe and read the mind of any being possessing the information sought for.
All open-minded investigators freely admit that either of the above hypotheses may be untrue; that very little is known by them as yet in regard to the nature of the phenomena; that the data are too slight to justify more than a provisional hypothesis, which the discovery of new facts may at any time entirely demolish. But, thus far, the hypotheses above given seem to be the only ones which will in any way rationally account for the facts: in which case, it is evident that each individual observer will be influenced in his choice of a hypothesis by his religious belief, which will greatly affect the point of view from which he approaches the subject, and also by his natural temperament, habits of thought, etc.
Prof. Flournoy states that he has endeavored to keep constantly in mind and to be guided by two propositions, which he designates respectively the "Principle of Hamlet" and the "Principle of La Place," the former being, "All things are possible," the latter, "The weight of the evidence ought to be proportioned to the strangeness of the facts."
Guided by these two principles, Prof. Flournoy has come to the conclusion that Mlle. Smith really possesses the faculty of telekinesisthe ability to move ponderable objects situated at a distance, without contact and contrary to known natural
laws. On the other hand, he does not believe the phenomena manifested by her to be of supernormal origin. The various alleged "spirit" messages, "incarnations," "gift of tongues," and all other apparently supernormal phenomena, in his opinion, spring from Mlle. Smith's subliminal consciousness, and he exercises great skill and ingenuity in his effort to trace the very wonderful and astonishing manifestations with which he has had to deal to natural sources.
Whether the individual reader adopts the author's views and theories, or finds in others a more natural explanation of the facts narrated by Prof. Flournoy, he cannot fail to admire the frankness, candor, and entire freedom from prejudice displayed by him. He evinces a true, open-minded, scientific spirit, never distorting facts in order to make them fit his hypotheses, and freely admitting the possibility of the discovery of new facts at any time, of a nature to compel him to adopt some other hypothesis than that which he has provisionally assumed to explain the phenomena.
A word on another subject before the reader goes on to the perusal of this narrative of strange facts:
One who is interested in Psychical Research,when he has finally succeeded in convincing some obstinate skeptic of the genuineness of the phenomenawhen the doubter has at last yielded to the weight of evidence, then, very frequently, the next question,
which comes as a wet blanket to dampen the ardor of the enthusiastic devotee, is: "Cui bono? Admitting the truth of the facts, what useful purpose is subserved by their study? Science will never succeed in solving the problem of man's future destiny. It is all a waste of time and will end in nothing." And in a review of this very book, which recently appeared in one of our leading metropolitan newspapers, the reviewer asks, "What will science make of all this?" (referring to the phenomena manifested by Mlle. Smith); and then answers his own question by saying, "It is very unlikely that science will ever discover the nature of these mysterious phenomena or the laws which govern them."
From this conclusion the followers of Psychical Research emphatically dissent. It seems passing strange to them that such an opinion should be held by intelligent men at the present stage of development of human knowledge, in view of the mighty discoveries which have been wrested from nature by the laborious process of persevering observation of seemingly trivial facts. An eighteenth-century writer might with some show of reason have made a similar observation in regard to Dr. Franklin and his experiments with kite and key in a thunder-storm. It would indeed, at that epoch, have seemed unlikely that science would succeed in discovering the secret of the electric fluid by such means. But to-day, at the dawn of the
twentieth century, with all the experience of the past to judge from, are not the probabilities all in favor of great results to science from repeated experiments by trained observers, such as Prof. Flournoy, upon cases similar to that of Mlle. Smith?
If the hypothesis that the world as a whole, spiritual and material together, has in some way a systematic unity, be trueand that is the hypothesis accepted by a majority of thinking men at the present timethen the importance of collecting and recording and analyzing such facts as those presented to us in the present narrative cannot be overestimated.
The scientific demonstration of a future life may be one of the great triumphs reserved for the science of the twentieth century to win, and Hélène Smith and Prof. Flournoy may ultimately appear to have contributed largely to its accomplishment.
To those who still persist in asking Cui bono? in reference to such work as that which Prof. Flournoy has here so ably performed, I beg leave to quote further from Mr. Myers the following:
"The faith to which Science is sworn is a faith in the uniformity, the coherence, the intelligibility of, at any rate, the material universe. Science herself is but the practical development of this mighty postulate. And if any phenomenon on which she chances on her onward way seems arbitrary, or incoherent, or unintelligible, she does not therefore suppose that she has come upon an unravelled
end in the texture of things; but rather takes for granted that a rational answer to the new problem must somewhere existan answer which will be all the more instructive because it will involve facts of which that first question must have failed to take due account.
"This faith in the uniformity of material Nature formulates itself in two great dogmasfor such they are;the dogma of the Conservation of Matter and the dogma of the Conservation of Energy. Of the Conservation of Matter, within earthly limits, we are fairly well assured; but of the Conservation of Energy the proof is far less complete, simply because Energy is a conception which does not belong to the material world alone. Life is to us the most important of all forms of activityof energy, I would sayexcept that we cannot transform other energies into Life, nor measure in foot-pounds that directive force which has changed the face of the world. Life comes we know not whence; it vanishes we know not whither; it is interlocked with a moving system vaster than that we know. To grasp the whole of its manifestation, we should have to follow it into an unseen world. Yet scientific faith bids us believe that there, too, there is continuity; and that the past and the future of that force which we discern for a moment are still subject to universal Law.
"Out of the long Stone Age our race is awakening into consciousness of itself. We stand in the
dawn of history. Behind us lies a vast and unrecorded wastethe mighty struggle humanam condere gentem. Since the times of that ignorance we have not yet gone far; a few thousand years, a few hundred thinkers, have barely started the human mind upon the great æons of its onward way. It is not yet the hour to sit down in our studies and try to eke out Tradition with Intuitionas one might be forced to do in a planet's senility, by the glimmer of a fading sun. Daphni, quid antiquos signorum suspicis ortus? The traditions, the intuitions of our race are themselves in their infancy; and before we abandon ourselves to brooding over them let us at least first try the upshot of a systematic search for actual facts. For what should hinder? If our inquiry lead us first through a jungle of fraud and folly, need that alarm us? As well might Columbus have yielded to the sailors' panic when he was entangled in the Sargasso Sea. If our first clear facts about the Unseen World seem small and trivial, should that deter us from the quest? As well might Columbus have sailed home again, with America in the offing, on the ground that it was not worth while to discover a continent which manifested itself only by dead logs."
It is deeply to be regretted that no appeals have availed to persuade Mlle. Smith to consent to the publication of her photograph, in connection with
[paragraph continues] Prof. Flournoy's account of the phenomena manifested by her.
She shrinks from the publicity which her possession of these strange powers has thrust upon her. She dislikes extremely the notoriety given to her mysterious faculties, and refuses to be interviewed concerning them, or to discuss Prof. Flournoy's book.
The name Helene Smith is, as the reader will doubtless guess, merely a pseudonym. The individuality designated by that name, however, is held in highest esteemin veneration evenby a very large circle of friends and acquaintances in the city on the shores of Lake Leman, in which she has passed her life from infancy, for whose benefit she is always ready to exercise her mysterious gifts and to give her services freely to such as seek her aid, refusing always to accept any pecuniary compensation for her services. Attaching, as she does, a religious significance to her powers, she would deem it a sacrilege to traffic in them.
DANIEL B. VERMILYE.
Columbia University, New York,