Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/June 1877/Mesmerism, Odylism, Table-Turning, and Spiritualism II
|MESMERISM, ODYLISM, TABLE-TURNING, AND SPIRITUALISM.|
By WILLIAM B. CARPENTER, C.B., M.D., LL.D., F.R.S.
IT was asserted, about thirty years ago, by Baron von Reichenbach, whose researches on the chemistry of the hydrocarbons constitute the foundation of our present knowledge of paraffin and its allied products of the distillation of coal, that he had found certain "sensitive" subjects so peculiarly affected by the neighborhood of magnets or crystals as to justify the assumption of a special polar force, which he termed Odyle, allied to, but not identical with, magnetism; present in all material substances, though generally in a less degree than in magnets and crystals; but called into energetic activity by any kind of physical or chemical change, and therefore especially abundant in the human body. Of the existence of this odylic force, which he identified with the "animal magnetism" of Mesmer, he found what he maintained to be adequate evidence in the peculiar sensations and attractions experienced by his "sensitives" when in the neighborhood either of magnets or crystals, or of human beings specially charged with it. After a magnet had been repeatedly drawn along the arm of one of these subjects, she would feel a pricking, streaming, or shooting sensation; she would smell odors proceeding from it; or she would see a small volcano of flame issuing from its poles when gazing at them, even in broad daylight. As in the magnetic sleep light is often seen by the somnambule to issue from the operator's fingers, so the odylic light was discerned in the dark by Von Reichenbach's "sensitives," issuing not only from the hands, but from the head, eyes, and mouth, of powerful generators of this force. One individual in particular was so peculiarly sensitive, that she saw (in the dark) sparks and flames issuing from ordinary nails and hooks in a wall. It was further affirmed that certain of these "sensitives" found their hands so powerfully attracted by magnets or crystals as to be irresistibly drawn toward them; and thus that if the attracting object were forcibly drawn away, not only the hand, but the whole body of the "sensitive" was dragged after it. Another set of facts was adduced to prove the special relation of odyle to terrestrial magnetism—namely, that many "sensitives" cannot sleep in beds which lie across the magnetic meridian; a position at right angles to it being to some quite intolerable.
Von Reichenbach's doctrine came before the British public under the authority of the late Dr. Gregory, the Professor of Chemistry in the University of Edinburgh; who went so far as to affirm that, "by a laborious and beautiful investigation, Reichenbach had demonstrated the existence of a force, influence, or imponderable fluid—whatever name be given to it—which is distinct from all the known forces, influences, or imponderable fluids, such as heat, light, electricity, magnetism, and from the attractions, such as gravitation, or chemical attraction." It at once became apparent, however, to experienced physicians conversant with the proteiform manifestations of that excitable, nervous temperament, of which I have already had to speak, that all these sensations were of the kind which the physiologist terms "subjective;" the state of the sensorium on which they immediately depend being the resultant, not of physical impressions made by external agencies upon the organs of sense, but of cerebral changes connected with the ideas with which the minds of the "sensitives" had come to be "possessed." The very fact that no manifestation of the supposed force could be obtained except through a conscious human organism should have been quite sufficient to suggest to any philosophic investigator that he had to do not with a new physical force, but with a peculiar phase of physical action, by no means unfamiliar to those who had previously studied the influence of the mind upon the body. And the fact which Von Reichenbach himself was honest enough to admit—that when a magnet was poised in a delicate balance, and the hand of a "sensitive" was placed above or beneath it, the magnet was never drawn toward the hand—ought to have convinced him that the force which attracted the "sensitive's" hand to the magnet has nothing in common with physical attractions, whose action is invariably reciprocal; but that it was the product of her own conviction that she must thus approximate it. So "possessed" was he, however, by his pseudo-scientific conception, that the true significance of this fact entirely escaped him; and although he considered that he had taken adequate precautions to exclude the conveyance of any suggestion of which his "sensitives" should be conscious, he never tried the one test which would have been the experimentum crucis in regard to all the supposed influences of magnets—that of using electro-magnets, which could be "made" and "unmade" by completing or breaking the electric circuit, without any indication being given to the "sensitive" of this change of its conditions. And the same remark applies to the more recent statement of Lord Lindsay, as to Mr. Home's recognition of the position of a permanent magnet in a totally-darkened room; the value of this solitary fact, for which there are plenty of ways of accounting, never having been tested by the use of an electro-magnet, whose active or passive condition should be entirely unknown, not only to Mr. Home but to every person present.
That "sensitives" like Von Reichenbach's, in so far as they are not intentional deceivers (which many hysterical subjects are constitutionally prone to be), can feel, see, or smell, anything that they were led to believe that they would feel, see, or smell, was soon proved by the experimental inquiries of Mr. Braid, many of which I myself witnessed. He found that not only in hysterical girls, but in many men and women "of a highly-concentrative and imaginative turn of mind," though otherwise in ordinary health, it was sufficient to fix the attention on any particular form of expectancy—such as pricking, streaming, heat, cold, or other feelings, in any part of the body over which a magnet was being drawn; luminous emanations from the poles of a magnet in the dark, in some cases even in full daylight; or the attraction of a magnet or crystal held within reach of the hand—for that expectancy to be fully realized. And, conversely, the same sensations were equally produced when the subjects of them were led to believe that the same agency was being employed, although nothing whatever was really done; the same flames being seen when the magnet was concealed by shutting it in a box, or even when it was carried out of the room, without the knowledge of the subject; and the attraction of the magnet for the hand being entirely governed by the idea previously suggested, positive or negative results being thus obtained with either pole, as Mr. Braid might direct. "I know," he says of one of his subjects, "that this lady was incapable of trying to deceive myself or others present; but she was self-deceived and spellbound by the predominance of a preconceived idea, and was not less surprised at the varying powers of the instrument than were others who witnessed the results."
One of Mr. Braid's best "subjects" was a gentleman residing in Manchester, well known for his high intellectual culture, great general ability, and strict probity. He had such a remarkable power of voluntary abstraction as to be able at any time to induce in himself a state akin to profound reverie (corresponding to what has been since most inappropriately called the "biological"), in which he became so completely "possessed" by any idea strongly enforced upon him, that his whole state of feeling and action was dominated by it. Thus it was sufficient for him to place his hand upon the table and fix his attention upon it for half a minute, to be entirely unable to withdraw it, if assured in a determined tone that he could not do so. When his gaze had been steadily directed for a short time to the poles of a magnet, he could be brought to see flames issuing from them of any form or color that Mr. Braid chose to name. And when desired to place his hand upon one of the poles, and to fix his attention for a brief period upon it, the peremptory assurance that he could not detach it was sufficient to hold it there with such tenacity that I saw Mr. Braid drag him round the room in a way that reminded me of George Cruikshank's amusing illustration of the German fairy-story of "The Golden Goose." The attraction was dissolved by Mr. Braid's loud, cheery "All right, man," which brought the subject back to his normal condition, as suddenly as the attraction of a powerful electromagnet for a heavy mass of iron ceases when the circuit is broken.
Similar experiments to these (which I first witnessed about thirty years ago) have been since repeated over and over again upon great numbers of persons, in whom a corresponding state can be induced by prolonged fixation of the vision on a small object held in the hand. It was in the year 1850 that a new manifestation of the supposed "occult" power first attracted public attention, through the exhibition of it by a couple of itinerant Americans, who styled themselves "professors," of a new art which they termed Electro-Biology; asserting that by an influence of which the secret was only known to themselves, but which was partly derived from a little disk of zinc or copper held in the hand of the "subject" and steadily gazed on by him, they could subjugate the most determined will, paralyze the strongest muscles, pervert the evidence of the senses, destroy the memory of even the most familiar things or of the most recent occurrences, induce obedience to any command, or make the individual believe himself transformed into any one else; all this, and much more, being done while he was still wide awake. They soon attracted large assemblages to witness their performances, and seldom failed to elicit some of the most remarkable phenomena from entire strangers to them, whose honesty could not be reasonably called in question. In place of a few peculiarly susceptible "subjects" not always to be met with, and open to suspicion on various grounds, those who took up this practice found in almost every circle some individuals in whom the "biological" state could be self-induced by the steady direction of their eyes to one point, at the ordinary reading-distance, for a period usually varying from about five to twenty minutes; a much shorter time generally sufficing in cases in which the practice had been frequently repeated. In this condition, the whole course of thought is directed by external suggestions, the subject's own control over it being altogether suspended. Yet he differs from the somnambulist, in being awake; that is, he has generally the use of all his senses, and usually, though not always, preserves a distinct recollection of all that has taken place. There is, in fact, a gradational transition from the "biological" to the "mesmeric" state; just as there is a passage from the state of profound reverie or "day-dreaming" to that of ordinary sleep. All its strange phenomena are referable to one simple principle—the possession of the mind by a dominant idea, from which, however absurd it may be, the subject cannot free himself by bringing it to the test of actual experience, because the suspension of his self-directing power prevents him from correcting his ideational state by comparing it with external realities; this suspension being often as complete as it is in dreaming, so that, though the senses are awake, they cannot be turned to account. But it may exist in regard to one sense only, the impressions made on others being truly represented to the mind. Thus I have seen instances in which a "biologized" subject could be made to believe himself to be tasting anything which the operator might assure him that he would taste—such as milk, coffee, wine, or porter—when drinking a glass of pure water, though he was instantly disabused by looking at the liquid; while another would see milk or coffee, wine or porter, as he was directed, but would instantly set himself right when he tasted the liquid. Nothing can be more amusing than to experiment upon a subject who has no misgivings of this kind, but whose perceptions are altogether under the direction of the ideas impressed upon him. He may be made to exhibit all the manifestations of delight which would be called forth by the viands or liquors of which he may be most fond, and these may be turned in a moment into expressions of the strongest disgust, by simply giving the word which shall (ideally) change it into something he detests. Or if, when he believes himself to be drinking a cup of tea or coffee, he be made to believe that it is very hot, nothing will induce him to take more than a sip at a time; yet a moment afterward he will be ready to swallow the whole in gulps, if assured that the liquid is quite cool. Tell him, again, that his seat is growing hot under him, and that he will not be able to remain long upon it, and he will fidget uneasily for some time, and at last start up with all the indications of having found the heat no longer bearable. While he is firmly grasping a stick in his hand, let him be assured that it will burn him if he continue to hold it, or that it is becoming so heavy that he can no longer sustain it, and he will presently drop it with gestures conformable in each case to the idea.
It may, of course, be said that what I have presented to you as real phenomena are only simulated; and as there would be nothing difficult in such simulation, the supposition is of course admissible. But they are so perfectly conformable to the known principles of Mental action, that there is no justification for the suspicion of deceit, when they are presented by persons in whose good faith we have reasonable grounds of confidence. For every one must be conscious of occasional mistakes as to what he supposes himself to have seen or heard, which he can trace to a previous expectancy. Of this I can give you a very striking illustration in a case narrated by Dr. Tuke. A lady, whose mind had been a good deal occupied on the subject of drinking-fountains, was walking from Penrhyn to Falmouth, and thought she saw in the road a newly-erected fountain, with the inscription, "If any man thirst, let him come hither and drink." Some time afterward, on mentioning the fact with pleasure to the daughters of a gentleman whom she supposed to have erected it, she was greatly surprised to learn from them that no such drinking-fountain existed; and, on subsequently repairing to the spot, she found nothing but a few stones, which constituted the foundation on which her expectant imagination had built an ideal superstructure.
The same may be said with regard to the control exercised over the muscular movements of the biologized "subject," by the persuasion that he must or that he cannot perform a particular action. His hands being placed in contact with one another, he is assured that he cannot separate them, and they remain as if firmly glued together, in spite of all his apparent efforts to draw them apart. Or, a hand being held up before him, he is assured that he cannot succeed in striking it; and not only does all his power seem inadequate to the performance of this simple action, but it actually is so as long as he remains convinced of its entire impossibility. So I have seen a strong man chained down to his chair, prevented from stepping over a stick on the floor, or obliged to remain almost doubled upon himself in a stooping position, by the assurance that he could not move. On the other hand, an extraordinary power may be called forth in any set of muscles—as in hypnotized subjects—by the assurance that the action to be performed by them may be executed with the greatest facility. This, again, is quite conformable to ordinary experience; the assurance that we can perform some feat of strength or dexterity nerving us to the effort; while our power is weakened by our own doubts of success, still more by the unfavorable impression produced by a confident prediction of failure. It is only needed for the mind to become completely "possessed" by the one or the other conviction for it to produce the bodily results of this kind which I have over and over again witnessed.
Now the phenomena of the "biological" condition seem to me of peculiar significance, in relation to a large class of those which are claimed as manifestations of a supposed "spiritual" agency. When a number of persons of that "concentrative and imaginative turn of mind" which predisposes them to the "biological" condition sit for a couple of hours (especially if in the dark) with the expectation of some extraordinary occurrence—such as the rising and floating in the air, either of the human body, or of chairs or tables, without any physical agency; the crawling of live lobsters over their persons; the contact of the hands, the sound of the voices, or the visible luminous shapes, of their departed friends—it is perfectly conformable to scientific probability that they should pass more or less completely (like Reichenbach's "sensitives") into a state which is neither waking nor sleeping, but between the two, in which they see, hear, or feel, by touch, anything they have been led to expect will present itself. And the accordance of their testimony, in regard to such occurrences, is only such as is produced by the community of the dominant idea with which they are all "possessed," a community of which history furnishes any amount of strangely-varied examples. And thus it becomes obvious that the testimony of a single cool-headed skeptic, who asserts that nothing extraordinary has really occurred, should be accepted as more trustworthy than that of any number of believers, who have, as it were, created the sensorial result by their anticipation of it.
I have now to show you that the like expectancy can also produce movements of various kinds, through the instrumentality of the nervo-muscular apparatus, without the least consciousness on the part of its subject of his being himself the instrument of their performance; a physiological fact which is the key to the whole mystery of table-turning and table-talking. I very well remember the prevalence in my schoolboy days of a belief that, when a ring, a button, or any other small body, suspended by a string over the end of the finger, was brought near the outside or inside of a glass tumbler, it would strike the hour of the day against its surface; and the experiment certainly succeeded in the hands of several of my schoolfellows, who tried it in all good faith, getting up in the middle of the night to test it, in entire ignorance, as they declared, of the real time. But, as was pointed out by M. Chevreul, who investigated this subject in a truly scientific spirit more than forty years ago, it is impossible by any voluntary effort to keep the hand absolutely still for a length of time in the position required; an involuntary tremulousness is always observable in the suspended body, and if the attention be fixed on it with the expectation that its vibrations will take a definite direction, they are very likely to do so. But their persistence in that direction is found to last only so long as they are guided by the sight of the operator, at once and entirely losing their constancy if he closes or turns away his eyes. Thus it became obvious that, in the striking of the hour, the influence which determines the number of strokes is really the knowledge or suspicion present to the mind of the operator, which involuntarily and unconsciously directs the action of his muscles; and the same rationale was applied by M. Chevreul to other cases in which this pendule explorateur (the use of which can be traced back to a very remote date) has been appealed to for answers to questions of very diverse character.
When, however, "Odyle" came to the front, and the world of curious but unscientific inquirers was again "possessed" by the idea of an unknown and mysterious agency, capable of manifesting itself in an unlimited variety of ways, the pendule explorateur was brought into vogue, under the name of odometer, by Dr. Herbert Mayo, who investigated its action with a great show of scientific precision; starting, however with the foregone conclusion that its oscillations were directed by the hypothetical "odyle," and altogether ignoring the mental participation of the operator, whom he supposed to be as passive as a thermometer or a balance. By a series of elaborate experiments, he convinced himself that the direction and extent of the oscillations could be altered, either by a change in the nature of the substances placed beneath the "odometer," or by the contact of the hand of a person of the opposite sex, or even of the experimenter's other hand, with that from which it was suspended. And he gradually reduced his result to a series of definite laws, which he regarded as having the same constancy as those of physics or chemistry. Unfortunately, however, other experimenters, who worked out the inquiry with similar perseverance and good faith, arrived at such different results, that it soon came to be obvious that what astronomical observers call the "personal equation" of the individual has a very large share in determining them. A very intelligent medical friend of my own, then residing abroad, wrote me long letters full of the detailed results of his own inquiries, on which he was anxious for my opinion. My reply was simply: "Shut your eyes, or turn them away, and let some one else watch the oscillations under the conditions you have specified, and record their results; you will find, if I do not mistake, that they will then show an entire want of the constancy you have hitherto observed." His next letter informed me that such proved to be the case; so that he had come entirely to agree with me as to the dependence of the previous uniformity of his results on his own expectancy.
A curious variation of the "odometer" was introduced by Mr. Rutter, the manager of the gas-works at Brighton, under the name of "magnetometer," which was simply a gallows-shaped frame, mounted on a solid base, having a metallic ball suspended from its free extremity. When the finger was kept for a short time in contact with this frame, the ball began to oscillate, usually in some definite direction, changing that direction with any change of circumstances, after the manner of Dr. Mayo's "odometer." To many persons, as to Mr. Rutter himself, it appeared impossible that these oscillations could have their origin in any movement of the operator; but every one who knows how difficult it is to prevent vibrations in the supporting framework of a microscope or telescope, and who recognizes that the construction of the "magnetometer" is exactly such as will enable the smallest amount of imparted motion to produce the greatest sensible effect, will be prepared to expect that the oscillations of the suspended ball are as much maintained and guided by the expectancy of the operator as they are when it is hung directly from his own finger. Experiment soon proved this to be the case: for it was found that the constancy of the vibrations entirely depended upon the operator's watching their direction, either by his own eyes or by those of some one else; and, further, that when such a change was made without his knowledge in the conditions of the experiment, as ought, theoretically, to alter the direction of the oscillations, no such alteration took place.
A very amusing exposé, of the mystery of the "magnetometer" resulted from its application by Dr. Madden, an homœopathic physician at Brighton, to test the virtues of his "globules," as to which he had, of course, some preformed conclusions of his own. The results of his first experiments entirely corresponded with his ideas of what they ought to be; for when a globule of one medicine was taken into his disengaged hand, the suspended ball oscillated longitudinally; and when this globule was changed for another of opposite virtues, the direction of the oscillations became transverse. Another homœopathic physician, however, was going through a similar course of experiments; and his results, while conformable to his own notions of the virtues of the globules, were by no means accordant with those of Dr. Madden. The latter was thus led to reinvestigate the matter with a precaution he had omitted in the first instance; namely, that the globules should be placed in his hand by another person, without any hint being given him of their nature. From the moment he began to work upon this plan, the whole aspect of the subject was changed; globules that produced longitudinal oscillations at one time gave transverse at another, while globules of the most opposite remedial virtues gave no sign of difference. And thus he was soon led to the conviction, which he avowed with a candor very creditable to him, that the system he had built up had no better foundation than his own anticipation of what the results of each experiment should be; that anticipation expressing itself unconsciously in involuntary and imperceptible movements of his finger, which communicated a rhythmical vibration to the framework when the oscillations of the ball suspended from it were watched.
Thus, by the investigations of scientific experts who were alive to the sources of fallacy which the introduction of the human element always brings into play, the hypothesis of odylic force was proved to be completely baseless; the phenomena which were supposed to indicate its existence being traceable to the physiological conditions of the human organisms through whose instrumentality they were manifested. The principle that the state of "expectant attention" is capable of giving rise either to sensations or to involuntary movements, according to the nature of the expectancy, had been previously recognized in physiological science, and was not invented for the occasion; but the phenomena I have been describing to you are among its most "pregnant instances."
The same principle furnishes what I believe to be the true scientific explanation of the supposed mystery of the divining-rod, often used where water is scarce for the discovery of springs, and in mining- This subject, however, was carefully inquired into more than forty years ago by MM. Chevreul and Biot; and their experimental conclusions anticipated those to which I was myself led in ignorance of them by physiological reasoning. They found that the forked twig cannot be firmly grasped for a quarter of an hour or more in the regulation position, without the induction of a state of muscular tension, which at last discharges itself in movement; and this acts on the prongs of the fork in such a manner as to cause its stem to point, either upward, downward, or to one side. The occasion of this discharge and the direction of the movement are greatly influenced, like the oscillations of bodies suspended from the finger, by expectancy on the part of the operator; so that if he has any suspicion or surmise as to the "whereabouts" of the object of his search, an involuntary and unconscious action of his muscles causes the point of the rod to dip over it.for the detection of metallic veins. This rod is a forked twig shaped like the letter Y, hazel being usually preferred; and the diviner walks over the ground to be explored, firmly grasping its two prongs with his hands, in such a position that its stem points forward. After a time the end of the stem points downward, often, it is said, with a sort of writhing or struggling motion, especially when the fork is tightly grasped; and sometimes it even turns backward, so as to point toward instead of away from the body of the diviner. Now, there is a very large body of apparently reliable testimony, that when the ground has been opened in situations thus indicated, either water-springs or metallic veins have been found beneath; and it is quite certain that the existence of such a power is a matter of unquestioning faith on the part of large numbers of intelligent persons who have witnessed what they believe to be its genuine manifestations.
Again, since not one individual in forty, in the localities in which the virtues of the divining-rod are still held as an article of faith, is found to obtain any results from its use, it becomes obvious that its movements must be due, not to any physical agency directly affecting the rod, but to some influence exerted through its holder. And that this influence is his expectation of the result may, I think, be pretty confidently affirmed. For it has been clearly shown, by careful and repeated experiments, that, while the rod dips when the "diviner" knows or believes he is over a water-spring or a metallic vein the results are uncertain, contradictory, or simply negative, when he is blindfolded, so as not to be aware precisely where he is. The following is a striking case of this kind that has been lately brought to my knowledge:
"A friend of mine," says Dr. Beard, "an aged clergyman, of thorough integrity and fairness, has for many years—the larger part of his natural life, I believe—enjoyed the reputation of being especially skilled in the finding of places to dig wells, by means of a divining-rod of witch-hazel, or the fresh branches of apple or other trees. His fame has spread far, and the accounts that are given by him and of him are, to those who think human testimony is worth anything, overwhelmingly convincing. He consented to allow me to experiment with him. I found that only a few moments were required to prove that his fancied gift was a delusion, and could be explained wholly by unconscious muscular motion, the result of expectancy and coincidence. In his own yard there was known to be a stream of water running through a small pipe a few feet below the surface. Marching over and near this, the rod continually pointed strongly downward, and several times turned clear over. These places I marked, blindfolded him, marched him about until he knew not where he was, and took him over the same ground over and over again; and, although the rod went down a number of times, it did not once point to or near the places previously indicated."
I very well remember having heard, some thirty-five years ago, from Mr. Dilke (the grandfather of the present Sir Charles), of an experiment of this kind which he had himself made upon a young Portuguese, who had come to him with a letter of introduction, describing the bearer of it as possessing a most remarkable power of finding, by means of the divining-rod, metals concealed from view. Mr. Dilke's family being at a summer residence in the country, his plate had all been sent to his chambers in the Adelphi, where he was visited by the Portuguese youth; to whom he said, "Go about the room with your rod, and try if you can find any mass of metal." The youth did so; and his rod dipped over a large standing desk, in which Mr. Dilke's plate had-been temporarily lodged. Seeing, however, that there were circumstances which might reasonably suggest this guess, Mr, Dilke asked the youth if he was willing to allow his divining power to be tested under conditions which should exclude all such suggestion; and, having received a ready assent, he took his measures accordingly. Taking his plate-box down to his country-residence, he secretly buried it just beneath the soil in a newly ploughed field; selecting a spot which he could identify by cross bearings of conspicuous trees, and getting a plough drawn again over its surface, so as to make this correspond precisely with that of the rest of the field. The young diviner was then summoned from London, and challenged to find beneath the soil of this field the very same plate which he had previously detected in Mr. Dilke's desk at the Adelphi; but, having nothing to guide him even to a guess, he was completely at fault. Mr. Dilke's impression was that he was not an impostor, but a sincere believer in his own power, as the "dowsers" of mining-districts seem unquestionably to be. The test of blindfolding the diviner, and then leading him about in different directions, so as to put him completely at fault in regard to his locality, is one that can be very readily applied, when the diviner is acting in good faith; but, as I shall show you in the next lecture, it requires very special precautions to blindfold a person who is determined to see; and, in some of the cases which seem to have stood this test, it seems not improbable that vision was not altogether precluded.
An additional reason for attributing the action of the divining-rod to the muscular movements called forth by a state of expectancy (perhaps not always consciously entertained) on the part of the performer seems to me to be furnished by the diversity of the powers that have been attributed to it; such as that of identifying murderers and indicating the direction of their flight, discovering the lost boundaries of lands, detecting the birthplace and parentage of foundlings, etc. The older writers do not in the least call in question the reality of the powers of the hazel-fork, but learnedly discuss whether they are due to natural or to diabolic agency. When in the last century the phenomena of electricity and magnetism became objects of scientific study, but had not yet been comprehended under the grasp of law, it was natural that those of the divining-rod should be referred to agencies so convenient, which seemed ready to account for anything otherwise unaccountable. But, since physicists and physiologists have come to agree that the moving power is furnished by nothing else than the muscles of the diviner, the only question that remains is. What calls forth its exercise? And the conclusive evidence I have given you that the definite oscillations of suspended bodies depend on involuntary movements unconsciously determined by states of expectancy, clearly points to the conclusion that we have in the supposed mystery of the divining-rod only another case of the same kind. It is well known that persons who are conversant with the geological structure of a district are often able to indicate with considerable certainty in what spot, and at what depth, water will be found; and men of less scientific knowledge, but of considerable practical experience, frequently arrive at a true conclusion on this point, without being able to assign reasons for their opinions. Exactly the same may be said in regard to the mineral structure of a mining-district; the course of a metallic vein being often correctly indicated by the shrewd guess of an observant workman, where the scientific reasoning of the mining-engineer altogether fails. It is an experience we are continually encountering in other walks of life, that particular persons are guided, some apparently by an original and others by an acquired intuition, to conclusions for which they can give no adequate reasons, but which subsequent events prove to have been correct; and I look upon the divining-rod in its various applications as only a peculiar method of giving expression to results worked out by an automatic process of this kind, even before they rise to distinct mental consciousness. Various other methods of divination that seem to be practised in perfectly good faith—such, for example, as the Bible and key test, used for the discovery of stolen property—are probably to be attributed to the same agency; the cerebral traces of past occurrences supplying materials for the automatic evolution of a result (as they unquestionably do in dreams) when the occurrences themselves have been forgotten.
Many of the cases of so-called thought-reading are clearly of the same kind; the communication being made by unconscious muscular action on the part of one person, and automatically interpreted by the other—as in the following instance: Several persons being assembled, one of them leaves the room, and during his absence some object is hidden. On the absentee's reëntrance, two persons, who know the hiding-place, stand one on either side of him, and establish some personal contact with him; one method being for each to place a finger on his shoulder, and another for each to place a hand on his body, one on the front and the other on the back. He walks about the room between the two, and generally succeeds before long in finding the hidden object; being led toward it (as careful observation and experiment have fully proved) by the involuntary muscular action of his unconscious guides, one or the other of them pressing more heavily when the object is on his side, and the finder as involuntarily turning toward that side.
These and other curious results of recent inquiry, while strictly conformable to physiological principles, greatly extend our knowledge of the modes in which states of mind express themselves unconsciously and involuntarily in muscular action: and I dwell on them the more because they seem to me to afford the key (as I shall explain in my next lecture) to some of these phenomena of spiritualistic divination, which have been most perplexing to many who have come in contact with them, without being disposed to accept the spiritualistic interpretation of them.—Fraser's Magazine.
- "The Power of the Mind over the Body," 1846, p. 20.
- I put aside the question of fraud, to which recourse has doubtless often been had for the production of these phenomena; being satisfied that they are often genuinely "subjective."
- See his letters to M. Ampère, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, May, 1833.
- "The Truths contained in Popular Superstitions," 1851.
- I have lately received a pamphlet from an engineer in the United States, giving most circumstantial details of success thus obtained within his own experience.
- Review of Medicine and Pharmacy (New York), September, 1875.
- The experiment succeeds equally well, or perhaps better, with ladies.