Popular Science Monthly/Volume 4/November 1873/Hypnotism in Animals II
|HYPNOTISM IN ANIMALS.|
By Prof. JOSEPH CZERMAK.
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN, BY CLARA N. HAMMOND.
YESTERDAY we proceeded far enough in our study of Kircher's experiment, relative to the imagination of the hen, to establish the fact of the usefulness of the string and chalk-line as necessary parts of the procedure. Indeed, the stretching out of the neck and the depression of the head are the only circumstances left which make any decided impression on us. And, so far as we can see, the gentle extension of certain parts of the brain and spinal cord which is produced, appears to be the cause of the remarkable effect which ensues. Nevertheless, we must not be too hasty in forming our conclusions; we must not, as the unlearned do, remain standing at an "event viewed unequally." For, however apparently useless the string and chalk-line may be, it is yet possible that they are not entirely without influence; and, on the other hand, the extension of the neck and depression of the head are by no means established as necessary circumstances to the perfection of the result. So, to-day, as already announced, we will resume and complete our investigations, and, at the close, I will endeavor to show what relation the whole subject has to natural science, to "spiritualism," etc.
And I must request you to dismiss from your minds the hypothesis that the extension of the neck and depression of the head have any especial significance, for I have been entirely unable to produce in pigeons the hypnotic effect which so readily ensues in hens, although I proceeded in as nearly as possible a similar manner. On the contrary, repeated experiments have shown that the unavoidable pressure exerted upon the animal, as it is held, is of primary importance, and that the apparently insignificant chalk-line is undoubtedly of some moment. It is frequently the case that a hen, which, for a minute, has been in a motionless state, caused by simply extending the neck and depressing the head, awakes and flies away, but, on being caught again immediately, can be placed once more in that condition of lethargy, if we place the animal in a squatting position, and overcome with gentle force the resistance of the muscles, by firmly placing the hand upon its back. During the slow and measured suppression one often perceives an extremely remarkable position of the head and neck, which are left entirely free. The head remains as if held by an invisible hand in its proper place, while the neck is stretched out of proportion, and the body by degrees is pushed downward.
If the animal is left thus entirely free, it remains for a minute or so in this peculiar condition, with wide-open, staring eyes. (The lecturer here caused a hen to be brought, which he placed in this remarkable position by simply stretching out the neck and pressing down the head; the bird, having awakened, gave signs of returning to the same state when it was placed in a squatting position, without moving head or neck.) Here the actual circumstance is only the consequence of the emotion which the nerves of the skin excite, and the gentle force which overcomes the animal's resistance. Certainly, the creature a short time before had been in this condition of immobility, and might have retained some special inclination to fall back into the same, although the awakening, flight, and recapture, together with the refreshment given to the nervous system, are intermediate circumstances. Similar experiments, where the influence and effect of the pressure which is placed on the animal's muscles are manifested upon the cutaneous nerves, are best made upon small birds.
To bird-fanciers, it has been a long-known fact that one can rob gold-finches, canary-birds, etc., of the powers of their nervous systems, so that they remain motionless for a short time, by simply holding them firmly for a moment, and then letting them go.
These experiments, which I will endeavor to perform before you, are particularly striking, on account of the vivacity of the timid animals. Yet I must remind you of a possible failure, due to the unusual circumstances of noise and numbers which may have a disturbing influence on these excitable little creatures.
Here in my hand is a timid bird, just brought from market. If I place it on its back, and hold its head with my left hand, keeping it still for a few seconds, it will lie perfectly motionless after I have removed my hands, as if charmed, breathing heavily, and without making any attempt to change its position or to fly away. (Two of the birds were treated in this manner, without effect, but the third, a siskin, fell into a sleeping condition, and remained completely immovable on its back, until pushed with a glass tube, when it awoke and flew actively around the room.)
Also, in a sitting position, with the head held a little to the back, the birds fall into this sleeping condition, in spite of their open eyes; indeed, I have often noticed that the birds under these circumstances close their eyes for a few minutes, and even a quarter of an hour, and are more or less fast asleep.
I cannot omit to notice, with many thanks, that our assiduous naturalist, Herr Geupel-White, has most kindly placed at our disposal the rich material his zoological garden affords, to assist us in these experiments.
My former experiment with the swan was also performed in Herr Geupel-White's garden. In the experiments with the small birds, the condition of immobility, which can change to actual sleep, is only caused by the effect of the impression made in the animals, through touching the skin and overpowering the resisting muscles. You will see this in the continuation of our experiment. That, however, the exciting of certain cutaneous nerves alone changes the normal functional capacities, and calls forth a singular state of stupidity, is proved by the following highly-interesting experiment with a frog, which Dr. Lewissohn, in Berlin, has suggested, and most thoroughly investigated:
If one places a frog on its back, it does not remain in this unnatural position for an instant, but, on the contrary, turns itself over and escapes. This you may see yourselves, when I endeavor to place this frog on its back. But please notice the astonishing result if we tie its two fore-legs with a string. (The lecturer tied threads around each of the frog's fore-legs, drew the threads tightly, and laid the animal, as before, on its back.) You see that the frog, breathing heavily but otherwise quite motionless, now lies on its back, and does not make the slightest attempt to escape, even when I endeavor to move it. It is as though its small amount of reasoning power had been charmed away, or else that it slept with open eyes; an analogous condition to that which we saw in the crabs, hens, and little birds. The only difference is, that the actual connection of the phenomena is much clearer. Now, I press upon the cutaneous nerves of the frog, while I loosen and remove the threads on the fore-legs. Still the animal remains motionless upon its back, in consequence of some remaining after-effect; at last, however, it returns to itself, turns over, and quickly escapes.
That it is here a matter of restraint upon the nervous centres, in consequence of the pressure on the sensitive cutaneous nerves, Lewissohn has already proved. In this experiment, the impulse of motion on the nervous fibres, which proceeds from the so-called motory centre of the brain and spinal cord, remains quite capable of action on one side, while, as regards the other side, the remarkable condition of stupidity will no longer happen, if we have divided the cutaneous nerves before tightening the threads.
Sometimes it is possible to make the frog lie motionless on its back without the threads; but this proves nothing against the soundness of Dr. Lewissohn's results.
But let us return to our old experimentum mirabile of the hen. According to the analogy of the last experiments with the frog, the tying together of the hen's feet, although not necessary, may contribute something to the effect in Kircher's experiment, not only by keeping the animal firm and quiet, but also by pressing upon the cutaneous nerves. In order to understand the whole subject, we must go further and adduce other facts which bear upon it.
The most interesting part of our investigation still remains, which, as I remarked beforehand, will lead us to the doubtful regions of mesmerism and somnambulism. And the question arises again: Has the apparently unnecessary chalk-line in Kircher's experiment any significance; and, if so, what?
I have already mentioned that I did not succeed in placing pigeons in this motionless state by holding them firmly in my hand, and pressing their heads and necks gently upon the table, as I did the hens.
I therefore endeavored to treat the pigeons as I did the little birds, that is, I held them with a thumb placed on each side of the head, which I bent over a little, while the other hand held the body gently pressed down upon the table.
Even this treatment, which has such an effect on little birds, did not seem to succeed at first with the pigeons. Almost always they flew away as soon as I liberated them and entirely removed my hands. I remarked, however, that the short time, during which the pigeons remained quietly in my fingers, increased visibly, and lengthened several minutes, when I removed the finger of the hand which held the head, only removing the hand very little, or else not at all. The hand holding the body could have been removed much sooner without doing any harm.
While I zealously pursued this trace of new events, I found, to my astonishment, that it led me to the observation of the pigeon's attention, and the fixing of its look upon my finger placed before its eyes. It is this movement which, until now, has not been taken into our consideration, and is the critical period which is of such great importance as a link between the phenomena we have noticed and others to which we are gradually approaching. In order to determine the matter still more clearly, I tried the experiment on a pigeon which I had clasped firmly by the body in my left hand, but whose neck and head were perfectly free, and held one finger of my right hand firmly before the top of its beak—and what did I see? The first pigeon with which I made this attempt remained rigid and motionless, as if bound, for several minutes, before the outstretched forefinger of my right hand!
Yes, I could take my left hand, with which I had held the bird, and again touch the pigeon without waking it up; the animal remained in the same position while I held my outstretched finger still pointing toward the beak. (The lecturer demonstrated this experiment in the most successful manner with a pigeon which was brought to him.)
I have repeated this striking experiment on a number of pigeons, yet I do not know whether suitable animals are frequently found, for, of course, it is to be understood that the experiment cannot always entirely succeed, as it concerns essentially the concentration of the pigeon's attention, and the fixing of its look. Individual, inward relations, as well as outward conditions, must necessarily exercise some disturbing influence, whether the animal will give itself up to the requisite exertions of certain parts of its brain with more or less inclination, or otherwise. You then understand why apparently little circumstances may be responsible for the result of an experiment in which this critical moment plays a part.
We often see, for example, how a pigeon endeavors to escape from confinement by a quick turning of its head from side to side. In following these singular and characteristic movements of the head and neck, with the finger held before the bird, one either gains his point, or else makes the pigeon so perplexed and excited that it at last becomes quiet, so that, if it is held firmly by the body and head, it can be forced gently down upon the table. It is as Schopenhauer says of sleeping, "The brain must bite." I will also mention here, by-the-way, that a tame parrot, which I have in my house, can be placed in this sleeping condition by simply holding the finger steadily before the top of its beak.
But let me hasten, gentlemen, to say to you that, in the remarkable and singular influence which the holding of the finger exercises on pigeons, the influence of the mythical agents may not be removed; agents which may come from the organization of the experimenter, and, perhaps, spring from the outstretched finger. Nevertheless, a glass tube, a cork, a small wax-candle, or any other equally lifeless substance, placed directly on the top of the pigeon's bill, has the same magical effect as when the human finger is used. We must only be careful that the animal be placed so that its attention is fixed for some time on the object. I have seen pigeons sit motionless for some minutes, with open eyes, after I had placed a lucifer-match, or a wax-light, on the top of their bills.
Often, with hens, these experiments succeed in the most astonishing manner. I have repeatedly seized hens with both hands by the body so that their heads and necks were quite free, and forced them gently against a pedestal on which a glass tube was placed, so that it just touched the top of the bill. The animal, when left perfectly free, remained gazing fixedly at the glass tube for more than a minute. The same thing happened when a cork stopper was used, instead of the glass tube.
Finally, I will mention that with the hens I often hung a piece of twine, or a small piece of wood, directly over their crests, so that the end fell before the eyes. I mention this experiment especially, because, when performed, the hens not only remained perfectly motionless, but closed their eyes, and slept with their heads sinking until they came in contact with the table. Before falling asleep, the hens' heads can be either pressed down or raised up, and they will remain in this position as if they were pieces of wax. That is, however, a symptom of a cataleptic condition, such as is seen in human beings under pathological conditions of the nervous system.
After I had discovered the events which I have just communicated to you concerning the hens and pigeons, two things were clear to me; 1. That the drawing of the chalk-line in Kircher's experiment was of some significance. The hand which draws the line, and the line itself, are transferred to an object in which the animal's look and attention are placed, through which a marvelous condition of certain parts of its nervous system is called forth, accompanied by cataleptic phenomena, and which can change to sleep.
2. That it produces soporific phenomena in animals, as has long been conjectured, but, until now, never investigated or proved; a peculiar and mysterious state, resembling sleep, accompanied by cataleptic appearances and a change in the nervous system. This can be produced in many men by a simple fixing of the look on some small object, and through a concentration of the will.
It is well known that, in the year 1851, Mr. Braid, a Scotch surgeon, established in Manchester, who was present at the mesmeric exhibitions of Lafontaine, was first struck with the idea that these phenomena, proclaimed as the effect of a magnetic fluid, were only a natural consequence of the fixed look and entire abstraction of the attention, which present themselves under the monotonous manipulation of the magnetizer. Mr. Braid proved in his experiments the entire dispensableness of a so-called magnetizer, and his supposed secret agents, or fluids, produced through certain manipulations; he taught the subjects of the experiments to place themselves in this sleeping condition, by simply making them gaze fixedly at some object for a long time with strict attention and unmoved gaze. It is therefore clear that this condition of the nerves, caused by the steady look and attraction of attention, in one part of the brain, brings the other parts into action with it and changes the functions, to whose normal activity the phenomena of the will are united. This is the actual, natural, physiological connection of this mysterious appearance. It only remains to us now to ascertain which portions of the brain first and secondly become altered, and in what these changes consist.
According to Braid, for example, on one occasion, in the presence of 800 persons, ten out of fourteen full-grown men were placed in a sleeping condition in this way. All began the experiment at the same time; the former with their eyes fixed upon a projecting cork, placed securely on their foreheads; the others, at their own will, gazed steadily at certain points in the direction of the audience. In the course of ten minutes the eyelids of these ten persons had involuntarily closed. With some, consciousness remained; others were in catalepsy, and entirely insensible to being stuck with needles, and others, on awakening, knew absolutely nothing of what had taken place during their sleep. Even more; three persons of the audience fell asleep without Braid's knowledge, after following the given direction of fixing their eyes steadily on some point.
Braid's experiments, which are designated as the beginning of a scientific investigation of extremely complicated nervous phenomena, did not find at first the esteem and homage due to them, and gradually sank into oblivion. This is explained by the fact that they were associated with mesmerism; and Lafontaine, whose "magnetic" exhibitions were the first cause of Braid's investigations, protested, not without some animosity, that "hypnotism," or "Braidism," was identical with his "mesmerism." Braid himself, in the course of his experiments, seems to have lost his former scientific force as an investigator. Then, in 1848, Mr. Grimes, the American, with his "Electro-Biology," appeared, and took up the intellectual epidemic of mediums and spiritual apparitions, which we witnessed in astonishment, and saw the whole world more or less impressed by it. It was, naturally, then, not at all surprising that hypnotism, or Braidism, remained almost unknown to science. Only once it attracted scientific attention and interest, and then only for a short time. This was in 1859, in December, after Velpeau and Broca, two well-known French surgeons of La Société de Chirurgie, in Paris, caused the most immense sensation by placing twenty-four women in a sleeping condition by Braid's method, and then performing surgical operations without causing them the slightest pain.
Then much was said in the journals about "hypnotism" in hens, the description of which had already been found in one of Father Kircher's works. Although characteristic enough for those days, yet, to my knowledge, no one has been much impressed by the investigation of Kircher's experimentum mirabile, for it treats of a real state of hypnotism; and, with animals, every one feels safe from all thoughts of deception, but yet can bring into application all physiological means of investigation, in order to penetrate the mysteries of the phenomena. This proof of the actual appearance of hypnotism in animals is the scientific result of my above-communicated observations and experiments, which I intend to continue upon mammals, on which I have not yet experimented.
These, however, have still another interest for us. They have strikingly demonstrated how difficult it is to obtain actual facts from "events viewed unequally." They have still further shown us what insight, what strength of demonstration, and sharpness of criticism, scientific investigations demand; and, finally, they have made known to every discerning person how little weight should be attached to the reports of the most honorable and upright people, when these people are not entirely penetrated with the idea of the exact nature of the investigation.
This never-to-be-neglected foresight, in the estimation of reports and testimonies relative to such actual phenomena as appear to exceed the usual events of Nature, is especially justified when, in the sleeping condition of the animal, every trace of visible deception is removed; how much more so are doubt, reserve, and refusal, an irrefragable law and duty, when it treats of phenomena which, on one hand, are a scorn to science, and, on the other, not only give rise to suspicion, but are an actual visible deception! This last double character marks thousands of phenomena which eyes and ears have considered real in mesmerism, clairvoyance, spiritualism, etc.
In the mean while, strict natural science never decides a priori, and the indicated character would never prevent science from drawing phenomena of such a character into the range of its investigation and trial. And yet, the science of our day is placed, in every respect, opposite to spiritualism and its relations. Are not the passionate complaints and reproaches to which the representatives of science, and even science itself, are exposed, from the countless fanatics and believers of this mysterious faith, quite unjustifiable?
By no means! It will be easy, after all you have seen and heard here, to justify the bearing of science. I considered myself unable to withdraw from this ungrateful task, because it is a duty of my especial profession to prepare a true explanation, and because my previous scientific research has led me to the region where superstition, prejudice, credulity, and even worse, absolutely rule. I called the task "ungrateful," because one finds powers in opposition against which, as Schiller says, "the gods themselves struggle in vain."
They who are occupied with the questionable regions, which are made attractive and ensnaring through wonderful and mysterious things, are divided into two classes. The first is formed of persons who care nothing about the confirmation and investigation of remarkable events, but, on the contrary, occupy themselves with those events through sordid but harmless motives. To this class belong the frivolous, and those professionless people who are influenced by vanity, and endeavor to kill time with apparently great industry. Of this class it is not necessary to speak further.
The other class is composed of upright people, who mean honestly; and these have a right to be looked after, and set properly on their course, even if teaching and advice find deaf ears.
In this class are two distinct groups: 1. Good people, but bad investigators; that is, the scientific know-nothings, who have never occupied themselves particularly with natural researches, and their results and methods; 2. Scientific people by reputation, who have performed, for their own special departments, real services for science.
Of those who belong to the first group of this class, and who, without profession or special education, undertake to explore such complicated and puzzling events, we can simply say: If these truehearted people only had an idea of the requirements and difficulties of an exact natural investigation, a slight comprehension of the strength of the proof which science must absolutely command, if it treats of the confirmation of events, and the connection of the simplest circumstances, they would entirely cease from their senseless and fruitless endeavors, and seek to acquaint themselves with the valuable acquisitions of to-day's teachings, without which man—comparable to a ship without a compass or rudder—tossed about on the sea of error and deception—can be perplexed to imbecility! The excellent advice to keep at a distance all mysterious and supernatural manifestations, in spite of their charms and attractions, has already been communicated to you. An instructive maxim says, "There is a virtuous spirit of relinquishment in intellectual as well as in moral power." And here, in order not to be led into temptation, men must carry this relinquishment to the extreme of intellectual "teetotalism." It is more difficult to deal with the second group of this class. It is clear that if the few natural investigators who compose this group were not entirely divested of the spirit of strict research which they may once have possessed, they would have found ways and means to confirm, in a scientific manner, the "events viewed unequally" which they are not ashamed to testify to as though they were actual circumstances, so as to win the confidence and esteem of all natural investigators. As they have by no means succeeded in this, the weight of their testimony sinks, in spite of its truth, to the level of that of the unlearned persons mentioned in the first group of this class.
In reference to the perception and knowledge of natural events one cannot vote, per majora, as in human laws. The votes here must be weighed. However, to give no opportunity for misconstruction, I will say, beforehand, that the natural investigators of whom I speak have not lost all their weight and respectability in science because they vouched for the reality of unheard-of and absolutely incredible events, but because of the foundation on which they placed this testimony.
They refer us triumphantly to the "scientific" investigation of a Hare, a Crookes, a Butterow, and other well-known "natural investigators!" However, he who examines this startling literature, will only become more confirmed in his ideas. The way alone in which these "investigators" perform their experiments, and the manner in which they make their reports, prove very clearly that they are really no investigators at all. To give one striking example, Crookes announces earnestly to the scientific society of London, of which he is a member, that he has discovered a new feature in Nature, which he calls "psychic force." Through the influence of this force, according to Crookes, the weight of a body can be increased or diminished several pounds, without visible interference!
And how do you think Crookes has investigated and established this marvelous circumstance? You will hardly deem it possible, when I tell you he did it simply by noticing, in the presence of certain people, that a spring-balance, of the same kind as one uses to weigh letters, gave movements the causes of which were not apparent.
I will here show you a small drawing, so that you may understand
it better, which illustrates the principle of an apparatus used by Crookes. B is the strong mahogany board, several feet long, one end of which rests on the table, T, by means of a sharp point placed in the under side, while the other end is fastened to the balance, W, which hangs suspended from a rest, G. The index of the balance shows how great the weight is which it has to bear. Every movement backward or forward, any shaking or pushing which is communicated to the board, must be made perceptible through a rising or falling of the index. And now, Crookes assures us that he has perceived such motions of the index, in the presence of others, when Mr. Home, the principal medium, did not move the apparatus at all, but was held firmly by the bands and feet, some distance from it! And that is all! Crookes ventures his monstrous assertion on the ground that the balance made motions which appeared to have no cause whatever! Whoever is satisfied with the general assertions of Crookes, in this respect, manifests such incapability of judgment concerning science, that he has simply no right to speak about such things.
That a balance makes motions is a circumstance very easy to establish. We can accept it, as an actual event in Crookes's evidence, that the balance has really made some motions in the presence of the so-called mediums; but when Crookes represents as an actual event that it was the "psychic force" of the medium which caused this motion, and altered considerably the weight of the body, it is, in spite of all persuasion, no real circumstance, but a well-meant assertion of an "event viewed unequally;" a statement which does not deserve the slightest belief nor the smallest amount of consideration. This assertion does not deserve the latter, simply because it concerns an "event viewed unequally" (for there are many events in this category which deserve the highest esteem), but because the admissible part of Crookes's statement is in itself worthy of no notice, and because not the slightest proof is furnished that the motions only proceeded from the so-called medium, and that they could partake of no heretofore well-known natural cause!
Had such a proof been undertaken in an exact manner, Crookes's assertions would probably have deserved some notice, which would have led to a repetition of his experiment, in order to test more thoroughly his "event viewed unequally;" if this proof had been strictly enforced, Crookes would have discovered one of the most remarkable known events, and his assertions would have at once commanded the utmost respect and consideration from all natural investigators; as, perhaps, with Volta, when he built his pile, which presented no less incredible appearances! But, as the events stand, Crookes's statements, as with hundreds and thousands of "events viewed unequally," concerning moving tables, flying guitars, self-playing pianos, etc., have been regarded with exactly the same claim to science as the best and most astonishing sleight-of-hand performances, which no one can admit to be real natural investigations, although in a psychological respect the real cause of the deception may be very interesting.
Little as it may affect a reasonable man, not to be able to investigate some pretty and striking conjuring trick, so also no one ought to disquiet himself on account of events which hundreds of people have testified to, even when the slightest proof is unproduced, so that every thought relating to the possibility of such an interesting natural phenomenon is removed.
Only through the idea that the phenomena are not visible do these latter present a most remarkable significance in the eyes of the unlearned. But, in this significance, they make no difference between it and conjuring, which is often much more interesting and not less inexplicable. But do they make a distinction in any other respect? As to that we will ask, at first, a little information from the "spiritualists," "natural investigators," and "savants" such as Varley, Wallace, Crookes, Butterow, and others, before we allow them the right to make the slightest reproof concerning science, and the dependence of these things upon it.
These gentlemen have not the shadow of a right to complain of any thing save their own incapability, nor have they the right to make a reproach to any one except themselves, that they did not succeed in establishing their "spiritual manifestations."
I will expressly emphasize the fact that I did not say that one must regard all phenomena, which occur daily, and which are of the greatest significance and importance, as mere conjuring-tricks, although numbers of them could be proved to be such. Remember the Davenport scandal! For me, the first "manifestations" are entitled to as little consideration as the latter, and I selected the best authenticated of them when I communicated Crookes's experiments as a characteristic example of "spiritual" literature to the well-known English savant, the deserving scholar, our great chemist Hoffman, of Berlin, formerly of London. And has any one of the gentlemen who are "investigators" in this department said any thing to the credit of the deceased American chemist and "spiritualist," Dr. Hare? Does not one find in the literature which they have the assurance to refer us to, accompanied by brainless chattering and fanciful effusions, nothing, nothing at all, but childish or idiotic arrangements, supposed to represent a psychological apparatus, and more or less creditable reports as to the reality of "events viewed unequally?"
In the mean while, you may properly ask if these events, which have been witnessed by hundreds of worthy people, are needful of scientific examination and proof, and whether they are worth it? Oh, yes; but not all, and not in a very high degree. Science and its followers have the right to consult their own time and opportunity. They have something more to do than to occupy themselves in answering every question put to them. You all know the old saying relating to the fool and the seven wise men. That which is worthy of no earnest investigation, and which, nevertheless, can awaken esteem and confidence, in spite of all singularity, should raise no claim to consideration on the part of science. In this case, however, the moving tables, flying guitars, mysterious rappings, of course take no part.
The clamors of hundreds and thousands of eye and ear witnesses who triumphantly hint at "scientific investigations," but who are incapable of giving any proof of the experiments, do not change the matter in the least. Whether one or another investigator may consider these things, is entirely dependent on his personal opinion, and on casual circumstances. Whoever has no opinion on the matter, and holds aloof from it, cannot meet with the slightest reproach. My highly-esteemed friend Prof. Sharpey, who formerly was secretary for many years of the Royal Society of London, was perfectly right when he refused Mr. Crookes's invitation to be present at his experiments with Mr. Home; indeed, he acted with great wisdom, for spiritualists and fanatics are very much inclined to trumpet forth men of science as important witnesses on such occasions. The letter of the celebrated astronomer Huggins, written on the 9th of June, 1871, to Mr. Crookes, is nothing but a polite though decided denial of his opinion relative to different phenomena which had taken place in Crookes's house in Huggins's presence. And yet, this letter is triumphantly, and Huggins, probably much against his will, is considered, from all sides, as one of the "scientific authorities" who had delivered their testimony as to the reality of spiritual writings, supernatural manifestations, etc. Judge for yourselves! For the preservation of Huggins's honor, and as a striking example of these gentlemen's proceedings, I feel necessitated to communicate this doubtful letter to you:
|Mr. Crookes:||Upper Sulse Hill, June 9, 1871.|
Dear Sir: The proof-sheets which you sent me seem to contain a correct representation of what took place in your house in my presence. My position at the table did not allow me to witness the removal of Mr. Home's hand from the piano; but this is considered by you, as well as the person sitting on the other side of Mr. Home, to have taken place. The experiments show me the importance of further investigation. I, however, wish it distinctly understood, that I express no decided opinion in regard to the phenomena.
Your obedient servant,William Huggins.
Yet, as we have said, whether one or another scientific investigator examines these things, his personal opinion is entirely dependent on the circumstances. But, in regard to strict science, they simply do not exist at all. Science neither recognizes nor denies them; it simply ignores, and it has a perfect right to do this, because time and work are too precious to be wasted on phenomena which can offer no higher interest than that their causes are not apparent—exactly in the same way as with conjuring. In these days, no one is accused of possessing supernatural power, otherwise we might again begin to burn people for heresy and witchcraft. Heretofore, nothing has compelled us to suppose spiritual manifestations and dubious phenomena to be supernatural, and therefore the whole thing is probably not worth any consideration whatever, except perhaps in a psychological point of view.
The absolute opposition of science to spiritualism, etc., is entirely justifiable, as you, gentlemen, must admit, little as you may be satisfied with our views, or much as you have been deceived in your expectations. I can only say that, possibly in consequence of the long reserve of science, much, perhaps, to the harm of mankind, remained, and still remains, undiscovered; for one, with the modesty to which a natural investigator, more than any other else, is forced, can say with Hamlet: "There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!" In the mean while this must be borne with. The right time will come for every discovery and every step of progress.
- By this phrase Prof. Czermak (pronounced Tshermak) means those cases of observation in which the eyes and ears perform correctly, but the perception is at fault. The reporter tells the truth, but what he reports never actually took place. An event viewed unequally is one that has not been thoroughly tested.
- Admirable experiment.