Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/41

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29
EPIDEMIC DELUSIONS.

I can only assure you for myself that, having, as I have said, devoted considerable attention to this subject, I have come to the conclusion most decidedly—with, I believe I may say, as little prepossession as most persons, and with every disposition to seek for truth simply—to allow for our knowledge, or I would rather say for our ignorance, a very large margin of many things that are beyond our philosophy with every disposition to accept facts when I could once clearly satisfy myself that they were facts—I have had to come to the conclusion that whenever I have been permitted to employ such tests as I should employ in any scientific investigation, there was either intentional deception on the part of interested persons, or else self-deception on the part of persons who were very sober-minded and rational upon all ordinary affairs of life. Of that self-deception I could give you many very curious illustrations, but the limits of our time will prevent my giving you more than one or two. On one occasion I was assured that, on the evening before, a long dining-table had risen up and stood a foot high in the air, in the house in which I was, and to which I was then admitted for the purpose of seeing some of these manifestations by persons about whose good faith there could be no doubt whatever. I was assured by them—"It was a great pity you were not here last night, for, unfortunately, our principal medium is so exhausted by the efforts she put forth last night that she cannot repeat it." But I was assured, upon the word of three or four who were present, that this table had stood a foot high in the air, and remained suspended for some time, without any hands being near it, or at any rate with nothing supporting it; the hands might be over it. But I came to find, from experiments performed in my presence, that they considered it evidence of the table rising into the air, that it pressed upward against their hands; that they did not rest upon their sense of sight; for I was looking in this instance at the feet of the table, and I saw that the table upon which the hands of the performers were placed, and which was rocking about upon its spreading feet, really never rose into the air at all. It would tilt to one side or to the other side, but one foot was always resting on the ground. And when they declared to me that this table had risen in the air, I said, "I am very sorry to have to contradict you, but I was looking at the feet of the table all the time, and you were not; and I can assert most positively that one of the feet never left the ground. Will you allow me to ask what is your evidence that the table rose into the air?" "Because we felt it pressing upward against our hands." I assure you that was the answer I received; their conclusion that the table rose in the air being grounded on this, that their hands being placed upon the table, they felt, or they believed, that the table was pressing upward against their hands, though I saw all the time that one foot of the table had never left the ground. Now, that is what we call a "subjective sensation;" one of those sensations which arise in our own minds under the influence of an idea. Take,