Theosophy – July 1897


The address to the Society for Psychical Research by its President, Professor William Crookes, F.R.S., in January last, is a notable paper, that will doubtless fail — as usual — to attract from the scientific world the attention it deserves. Professor Crookes has had his experiences in this respect, and has not been cowed by them, while admitting that his individual ardor in disclosing results, may have suffered abatement. A zealous and indefatigable student, an open and sincere mind, and a courageous soul, — the world of science is indebted to him for numerous discoveries of importance in realms that he was almost the first to explore. The demonstration of the fourth or "radiant" condition of matter and the conduct of atoms in a vacuum are among his achievements, and it is, in fact, to the so-called Crookes' tube that the latest disclosure, of the nature and effect of the Rontgen rays are due. His recognized standing in the scientific world, however, did not prevent his being hounded by ridicule and persecution, and his sanity even being challenged when twenty years ago, he ventured to investigate the extraordinary phenomena illustrated by Home, the American medium, and had the nerve to publish the results of his investigations, as conscientious and accurate as any he ever made, indicating the existence of natural laws with which the world is not yet acquainted. Crookes' experience ran parallel with that of the German physicist Zollner, who pursued a similar line of enquiry, and as a reward for his courage and fidelity to truth, was finally driven into a madhouse by the vituperations of his colleagues. Professor Crookes in his address does not hesitate to declare that Psychical Science seems to him "at least as important as any other science whatever," and the "embryo of what in time may dominate the whole world of thought." He states his conviction that no one can possibly declare what does not exist in the universe or even what is not going on about us every day. He therefore deprecates all dogmatism, confesses ignorance, and abides in the cheerful hope and expectation of new and interesting discoveries. We know little or nothing of the conditions that will invest us after death, — or so much of us as shall survive that event, — but it is in the highest degree improbable that spiritual existences are subject to so material a law as gravitation, or that materiality, form, and space are other than temporary conditions of our present existence.

Intelligence, thought and will, of which we may conceive our posthumous constitution to consist, must be untrammelled by space or gravitation, and yet it is difficult to imagine them independent of form and matter. What then must be the constitution of matter that it shall serve its purpose to form at once the solid rock ribs of the earth, and the ethereal moulding of spiritual substance. With Faraday, Crookes considers that the atom must be conceived not as a hard, irreducible, infinitesimal mass, but as a "centre of power," and that "shape" is merely a function of the disposition and relative intensity of the forces.

"This view of the constitution of matter would seem to involve necessarily the conclusion that matter fills all space. ... In that view, matter is not merely mutually penetrable, but each atom extends, so to say, throughout the whole of the solar system — yet always retaining its own centre of force." (Faraday "On the Nature of Matter.") Professor Crookes therefore pictures what he conceives as the constitution of spiritual beings as follows: "Centres of intellect, will, energy and power each mutually penetrable, whilst at the same time permeating what we call space; but each centre retaining its own individuality, persistence of self, and memory. Whether these intelligent centres of the various spiritual forces which in their aggregate go to make up man's character or Karma, are also associated in any way with the forms of energy which, centred, form the material atom — whether these spiritual entities are material, not in the crude gross sense of Lucretius, but material as sublimated through the piercing intellect of Faraday, is one of those mysteries which to us mortals will perhaps ever remain an unsolved problem."

To this the transcriber may be permitted to add that to the earnest and intuitional student of the Secret Doctrine, the mysteries so clearly stated will be resolved into logical and comprehensive facts, and cease to present themselves as discouraging and impossible problems.

The succeeding three or four pages of the address are devoted to pointing out what would be the effect of shrinking man to microscopic dimensions, or enlarging him to those of a colossus. In the former case he would probably find the common laws of nature, as we understand them, quite incomprehensible, since molecular physics would compel his attention and dominate his world. For example, capillarity opposing its action to that of gravity as water rises in a thread or tube; the surface tension of liquids controlling their fluidity, as in a dewdrop; metal bars floating on water, as a sewing needle will do. The study of molar physics, or even chemistry, as we understand them, would be beyond his ken. On the other hand, the colossus would fail to observe the minor natural phenomena — and granite would be as chalk. All his actions involving immense momentum and friction would develop heat, and from this he would imagine most substances to be inconveniently hot-tempered and combustible. These illustrations are given to show how completely we are creatures of our environment and how readily hallucinations and erroneous conclusions can be compelled by it. The suggestion is logically inevitable, that our own boasted knowledge must be largely based upon subjective conditions, and may be as fanciful in fact as the perceptions and convictions of a homunculus. In further evidence of the subjectivity that controls us, Professor Crookes quotes from Professor James, of Harvard, who shows the extraordinary variation in apparent sequence of phenomena that would ensue if our "time scale" or sense of duration were altered. The aspect of nature would be quite changed. We can now take cognizance of, say, ten separate events in a second. To increase the number, makes them indistinguishable. Suppose, as is likely, the period of our lifetime to be capable only of a certain number of impressions, and that we could perceive so many as 10,000 in a second. We should then endure less than a month and individually learn nothing of the changes of the seasons. A day would be two years long and the sun seem almost at a standstill in the heavens. Reverse the hypothesis and imagine our possible perception of events to be but one thousandth of what it is, and our lives consequently be correspondingly extended. The sequence of events as we see them now would be inconceivably rapid. Moving bodies, a District Messenger for example, from swiftness of motion, would become invisible, and the sun a whirling meteor running its course from sunrise to sunset in the equivalent of 43 seconds. The growth of mushrooms would seem instantaneous and plants to rise and fall like fountains. The universe would be completely changed for us, and yet there is reason to believe that there are forms of life for whom existence is quite comparable to either of those imagined for man.

It is the subject of Telepathy however, viz.: the transmission of thought impressions directly from one mind to another, without the intermediation of the recognized organs of sense, that most strongly engages Professor Crookes' attention and is the basis of the most interesting part of his discourse. Noting the reluctance of science to entertain this concept and the aversion and neglect with which, the accumulated evidence of its actuality is treated, and considering how impressions may be conveyed, he takes as a starting point a table of vibrations in successive steps beginning with 2 per second and doubling at each step.

Between the 5th and 15th steps, viz.: from 32 to 32,000 vibrations per second, lies the range of sound audible to the human ear, conveyed by the air. Between the 15th and 35th steps, viz.: from 32,000 to a third of a billion vibrations is the region of the electric rays, the medium being the ether. Between the 35th and 45th steps, we are ignorant of the functions of these vibrations. From the 45th to the 50th — with vibrations from 35 billions to 1875 billions per second, we have the range of the heat and light rays — with red at 450 and violet at 750 billions, a narrow margin of visibility. Beyond this is a region unknown and almost unexplored, and the vibrations of the Rontgen rays may perhaps be found between the 58th and 61st steps, viz.: from a fourth of a trillion to 10 times that number per second. The known areas leave great gaps among them, and as the phenomena of the universe are presumably continuous, we are confronted at once with the narrow limitations of our perceptions and knowledge.

As the vibrations increase in frequency, their functions are modified, until at the 62d step, nearly 5 trillions per second, the rays cease to be refracted, reflected, or polarized, and traverse dense bodies as through they were transparent.

It is in these regions that Professor Crookes discerns the practicability of direct transmission of thought.

"It seems to me that in these rays we may have a possible mode of transmitting intelligence, which, with a few reasonable postulates, may supply a key to much that is obscure in psychical research. Let it be assumed that these rays, or rays even of higher frequency, can pass into the brain and act on some nervous centre there. Let it be conceived that the brain contains a centre which uses these rays, as the vocal cords use sound vibrations (both being under the command of intelligence), and sends them out with the velocity of light, to impinge upon the receiving ganglion of another brain. In this way some, at least, of the phenomena of telepathy, and the transmission of intelligence from one sensitive to another through long distances, seem to come within the domain of law, and can be grasped. A sensitive may be one who possesses the telepathic or receiving ganglion in an advanced state of development, or by constant practice is rendered more sensitive to these high-frequency waves. Experience seems to show that the receiving and the transmitting ganglia are not equally developed; one may be active, while the other like the pineal eye in man, may be only vestigial. By such a hypothesis no physical laws are violated, neither is it necessary to invoke what is commonly called the supernatural."

The obvious objection to this searching supposition is that the mental forces conveying the message would affect all sensitives within their reach and be subject to the law of expansion, and therefore become ineffective at great distances. The reply is also obvious that in the conditions assumed, we are, as with the Rontgen rays, no longer dealing with the common limitations of matter or the narrow concepts of space and time. Nor is it inconceivable that by the exercise of concentrated thought and will, the message can be determined in its direction as a telegraphic signal by its wire, and be delivered at its destination without loss of energy from distance, friction or other physical material sources of impediment or diminution. Intelligence and will here come into play, and these mystic forces are outside the law of conservation and loss of energy as understood by physicists.

It is surprising that the subject of telepathy should be so carefully avoided by scientific investigators and associations, because the overwhelming advantages were it practicable of so direct and swift a means of communication are obvious, and because the evidences of its practicability are of almost daily occurrence. It is not in the least unusual that an attentive listener interested in the sequence of thought conveyed by the speaker is able to divine the conclusion of a sentence or the outcome of the communication. This is in fact a rather common occurrence. It is a parlor game also, to make a blindfolded person discover an object, secretly hidden during his absence, by the concentrated thought and directive mental impulse of those who are cognizant of the hiding place.

It is evident that even now very many people possess the faculties, both of transmission and perception, and that many more might presently acquire them; but it is also probable that the world at large is not yet prepared to use such a formidable power with prudence or advantage to others. The temptations to misuse it, as in the case of hypnotism, would be too great, perhaps, for average humanity to resist, and the evil-disposed would be the first to avail themselves of the power to control others for their own benefit, or for purposes not beneficial to humanity.