Practical Views On Psychic Phenomena
George E. Wright
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Practical Views On Psychic Phenomena is a 1920 book that deals with all manner of spiritualism, as well as other paranormal subjects like telepathy, manifestations, spirit photography, automatic writing, hauntings, and more.
This book has 64 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1920.
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Excerpt from Practical Views On Psychic Phenomena
Before any useful progress can be made in the examination of phenomena it is obviously necessary definitely to decide and fix the rules on which the evidence for such phenomena is to be appraised. It is here that much confusion of thought is encountered.
It is futile to build if the foundations are unstable, to discuss the implications of phenomena, to construct theories on them, unless we are sure that the phenomena themselves are adequately vouched for.
It may be well to clear the ground by emphasizing the distinction between a fact, and the evidence for a fact. This is the more important as people, who have had intimate personal experiences of a certain nature, specially, for example, in communication with the disembodied, fail to realize that such experiences, although absolutely and finally convincing to themselves, may not be evidential. Mr. Constable puts this very clearly when he says—”Many of us know, outside cognition, that this communion is a fact, but the knowledge is purely personal. We have no human evidence to offer of the fact, so that we can offer no proof to others who have not had like experience.”
The above remarks must not be taken as in any way belittling or disparaging such purely “interior” experiences,, for, as Sir Oliver Lodge says, it is best if such experience “can be obtained privately and, with no outside assistance, by quiet and meditation.”
In effect, such experiences are not evidence, because they lie beyond and above evidence. Most certainly they lie beyond the scope of the practical treatment of the subject herein attempted.
The definition of the laws of evidence on this subject is not a simple matter. Firstly, it should be made quite clear that the test of truth which is applicable to those departments of science dealing with inorganic nature, such as physics and chemistry, is not applicable here.
This test is that of repetition. Thus, if a proposition is made that, given certain conditions and certain processes, certain results follow—this proposition can be proved or disproved by simple repetition.
If a chemist states that, by applying certain reagents to certain substances and following certain procedure in the application of heat, pressure, and so forth, he gets a certain result, it is at once possible for any other qualified chemist to verify or disprove his conclusions by repeating the experiment any number of times.
In inorganic science, then, the test of repetition can be applied just as often as it is possible to obtain the same materials and conditions, the necessary apparatus, and the services of a competent experimenter. This, generally, means that the test can be applied at will.
The evidence for the phenomena which we are now considering will certainly not sustain the test of repetition. One reason alone, amongst others, is sufficient to account for this, namely, that we are never in a position to assure identical conditions. Conditions may be approximately equal in many cases, but we are certainly never able definitely to assure that they will so be.
Are we, therefore, to say that the evidence for psychic phenomena is not amenable to scientific analysis, that it is even too uncertain and fickle to be worthy of scientific consideration? Surely not!
When we pass to those departments of science which deal with organic nature we find that the criterion of repetition can, by no means, be rigidly applied. In biology the conditions of experiment are, to a greater or a less degree, uncontrollable. Theories and hypotheses are built up, not on the unvarying results of repetition under identical conditions, but on the average results of experiments and observations where both the conditions of the experiment and the material (vital organisms) experimented upon, are, to a greater or less extent (but always to some extent) uncontrollable. Gurney puts this very clearly. “Biological science . . . is at work not on steadfast substances with immutable qualities like those of the inorganic world, but on substances whose very nature is to change . . . The unconquerable spontaneity of the organic world is for ever setting previous generalization at defiance.”
To some readers the above may seem so obvious as to need, no more than a passing reference. But this can hardly be the case when we find a distinguished physiologist, Dr. Tuckett, laying down as a rule for the consideration of evidence for supernormal phenomena that “In problems where repetition of the process of verification is not possible. . . the only rational attitude is humbly to say “we do not know.”
Of course in the widest sense it is a truism that “we do not know” anything. But, using the words in their ordinary sense, a moment’s reflection will show that, by a rigid application of this rule, very many of the most strongly held and firmly established theories in the organic sciences would be reduced to nothing more than humble speculative opinions.
It is of course, open to the reader to follow Dr. Tuckett’s advice and “to be agnostic about any causal sequence until the phenomena have been repeated under the same conditions a sufficient number of times to convert . . . probability . . . into relative certainty.” If, however, he adopts this attitude in regard to supernormal phenomena he is logically bound to the same attitude in regard to many phenomena in science and “to be agnostic about” very many theories which are universally considered to be so firmly established that no one would venture to argue against them.
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