Dreams of a Spirit-Seer/Part 1/Chapter 4

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The inaccuracy of scales used for commercial measurements, according to civil law, is discovered, if we let the merchandise and the weights exchange pans. So the partiality of the scales of reason is revealed by the same trick, without which, in philosophical judgments, no harmonious result can be obtained from the compared weighings. I have purified my soul from prejudices, I have destroyed any blind affection which ever crept in to procure in me an entrance for much fancied knowledge. I now have nothing at heart; nothing is venerable to me but what enters by the path of sincerity into a quiet mind open to all reasons—be thereby my former judgment confirmed or abolished, be I convinced or left in doubt. Wherever I meet with something instructive, I appropriate it. The judgment of him who refutes my reasons, is my judgment, after I first have weighed it against the scale of self-love, and, afterwards, in that scale against my presumed reasons, and have found it to have a higher intrinsic value. Formerly, I viewed human common sense only from the standpoint of my own; now I put myself into the position of a foreign reason outside of myself, and observe my judgments, together with their most secret causes, from the point of view of others. It is true, the comparison of both observations results in pronounced parallaxes, but it is the only means of preventing the optical delusion, and of putting conceptions in regard to the power of knowledge in human nature into their true places. You may say that this is very serious talk in connection with so trifling a problem as that under consideration, which deserves to be called a plaything rather than a serious occupation, and you are not exactly wrong in thus judging. But although one ought not to make a great ado about a small matter, yet one may perhaps be allowed to make use of such occasions; and unnecessary circumspection in small matters may furnish useful example in important matters. I find no attachment nor any other inclination to have crept in before examination, so as to deprive my mind of a readiness to be guided by any kind of reason pro or con, except one. The scale of reason after all is not quite impartial, and one of its arms, bearing the inscription, “Hope of the Future,” has a constructive advantage, causing even those light reasons which fall into its scale to outweigh the speculations of greater weight on the other side. This is the only inaccuracy which I cannot easily remove, and. which, in fact, I never want to remove. I confess that all stories about apparitions of departed souls or about influences from spirits, and all theories about the presumptive nature of spirits and their connection with us, seem to have appreciable weight only in the scale of hope,44 while in the scale of speculation they seem to consist of nothing but air. If the answer to the problem in question were not in sympathy with a prior inclination, what reasonable man would be doubtful as to whether it were more plausible to assume the existence of a kind of beings which have no similarity whatever with anything taught him by his senses, or to attribute certain alleged experiences to a kind of self-deception and invention which, under certain circumstances, is by no means uncommon.

In fact this seems to be in general the main reason for crediting the ghost-stories so widely accepted. Even the first delusions about presumed apparitions of deceased people have probably arisen from the fond hope that we still exist in some way after death. And then, at the time of the shadows of night, this illusion has probably deluded the senses, and created out of doubtful forms phantoms corresponding to preconceived ideas. From these, finally, the philosophers have taken occasion to devise the rational idea of spirits, and to bring it into a system. You probably will recognise also in my own assumed doctrine of the communion of spirits this trend to which people commonly incline. For its propositions evidently unite only to give an idea how man’s spirit leaves[1] this world, i.e., of the state after death. But how it enters, i.e., of procreation and propagation, I make no mention. Nay, I do not even mention how it is present in this world, i.e., how an immaterial nature can be in an immaterial body and act by means of it.45 The very good reason for all this is that I do not understand a single thing about the whole matter, and, consequently, might as well have been content to remain just as ignorant as before in regard to the future state, had not the partiality of a pet notion recommended the reasons which offered themselves, however weak they were.

The same ignorance makes me so bold as to absolutely deny the truth of the various ghost stories, and yet with the common, although queer, reservation that while I doubt any one of them, still I have a certain faith in the whole of them taken together. The reader is free to judge as far as I am concerned. The scales are tipped far enough on the side containing the reasons of the second chapter to make me serious and undecided ‘when listening to the many strange tales of this kind. But, as reasons to justify one’s self are never lacking when the mind is prejudiced, I do not want to bother the reader with any further defence of such a way of thinking.

As I am now at the conclusion of the theory of spirits, I am bold enough to say that this study, if properly used by the reader, exhausts all philosophical knowledge about such beings, and that in future, perhaps, many things may be thought about it, but never more known. This assumption sounds rather vainglorious. For of such multifariousness are the problems offered by nature, in its smallest parts, to a reason so limited as the human, that there is certainly no object of nature known to the senses, be it only a drop of water or a grain of sand, which ever could be said to be exhausted by observation or reason. But the case is entirely different with the philosophical conception of spiritual beings. It may be complete, but in the negative sense, by fixing with assurance the limits of our knowledge, and convincing us that all that is granted to us is to know the diverse manifestations of life in nature and its laws; but that the principle of this life, i.e., the unknown and only assumed spiritual nature, can never be thought of in a positive way, because for this purpose no data can be found in the whole of our sensations; that therefore we have to resort to negations for the sake of thinking something so entirely different from everything sensuous; but that the possibility of such negations rests likewise neither upon experience nor upon conclusions, but upon invention, to which a reason deprived of all other expedients finally resorts. With this understanding pneumatology may be called a doctrinal conception of man’s necessary ignorance in regard to a supposed kind of beings, and as such it can easily be adequate to its task.

And now I lay aside this whole matter of spirits, a remote part of metaphysics, since I have finished and am done with it.47 In future it does not concern me any more. By thus making the plan of my investigation more concentrated, and sparing myself some entirely useless inquiries, I hope to be able to apply to better advantage my small reasoning power upon other subjects. It is generally vain to try to extend the little strength one has over a wide range of undertakings. It is therefore a matter of policy, in this as other cases, to fit the pattern of one’s plans to one’s powers, and if one cannot obtain the great, to restrict one’s self to the mediocre.


  1. The old Egyptians had as symbol for the soul a butterfly, and the Greek name signifies the same. One can easily see that the hope, which makes death to be only a transformation, has caused such an idea, together with its symbol. But this does not at all invalidate the confidence that the conceptions thence evolved are right. Our inner perception, and the conclusions drawn from it, being like reason, bring us, if they remain uncorrupted, to that point to which reason itself would lead us if it were more enlightened, and of a greater scope.46