Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 2.djvu/45

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33
EPIDEMIC DELUSIONS.

movements; and I believe that that is really the clew to the interpretation of—the genuine phenomena. On the other hand, there are a great many which we are assured of for instance, this descent of a lady through the ceiling—which are self-delusions, pure mental delusions, resulting from the preconceived idea and the state of expectant attention in which these individuals are. Here are a dozen persons sitting round a table in the dark, with the anticipation of some extraordinary event happening. In another dark séance one young lady thought she would like to have a live lobster brought in, and presently she began to feel some uncomfortable sensations, which she attributed to the presence of this live lobster; and the fact is recorded that two live lobsters were brought in; that is, they appeared in this dark séance—making their presence known, I suppose, by crawling over the persons of the sitters. But that is all we know about it—that they felt something they say they were two live lobsters, but what evidence is there of that?—the séance was a dark one. We are merely told that the young lady thought of a live lobster; she said they had received so many flowers and fruits that she was tired of them, and she thought of two live lobsters; and forthwith it was declared that the live lobsters were present. I certainly should be much more satisfied with the narration, if we were told that they had made a supper off these lobsters after the séance was ended.

Now, it has been my business lately to go rather carefully into the analysis of several of these cases, and to inquire into the mental condition of some of the individuals who have reported the most remarkable occurrences. I cannot—it would not be fair—say all I could say with regard to that mental condition; but I can only say this, that it all fits in perfectly well with the result of my previous studies upon the subject, viz., that there is nothing too strange to be believed by those who have once surrendered their judgment to the extent of accepting as credible things which common-sense tells us are entirely incredible. One gentleman says he glories in not having that scientific incredulity which should lead him to reject any thing incredible merely because it seems incredible. I can only say this, that we might as well go back to the state of childhood at once, the state in which we are utterly incapable of distinguishing the strange from the true. That is a low and imperfect condition of mental development; and all that we call education tends to produce the habit of mind that shall enable us to distinguish the true from the false—actual facts from the creations of our imagination. I do not say that we ought to reject every thing that to us, in the first instance, may seem strange. I could tell you of a number of such things in science within your own experience. How many things there are in the present day that we are perfectly familiar with—the electric telegraph,for instance—which fifty years ago would have been considered perfectly monstrous and incredible. But there we have the rationale. Any person who chooses