Science and Spiritualism

14th March 2008 • by Editor

The intention of this article is to highlight some points in history when the paths of science and Spiritualism have crossed. I thought it would be interesting to look back at events which are recorded in history to see if there is anything to learn from them.

Having experienced cynical sceptics who would have me believe that science was the truth and Spiritualism was firmly in the realms of fantasy, I had remained a faithful Spiritualist purely on the strength of the wonderful, and hard to ignore, evidence given by Spiritualist mediums.

Ask a sceptic and they might tell you that the anecdotal evidence of mediumship is not enough to provide proof that spirits exist. To be fair it is not a mediums job to prove anything to the sceptics. But hey, I'm not a medium.

Providing proof of the existence of Spirit to a scientist requires controlled, repeatable, peer reviewed tests of phenomena.

Most people will agree that 1848 is when Spiritualism really took a grip of the western world, to the horror of many scientists, who were trained to understand how the physical world worked and were equipped with the knowledge and methodology to explore what was unknown.

Put yourself in the shoes of a scientist in the mid 19th Century. You would be eager to investigate any alleged phenomena that presented itself in the media, with a view to debunking it. You would feel a responsibility towards the public to disprove anything that went against the laws of physics.

Professor Robert Hare

In 1853 Professor Robert Hare emeritus of chemistry at Pennsylvania University, decided that he was to set about debunking what the scientific fraternity considered to be complete nonsense. He was quoted in the American Press at the time as saying that his investigation was...

“an act of duty to his fellow creatures to bring whatever influence he possessed to the attempt to stem the tide of popular madness which, in defiance of reason and science, was fast setting in favour of the gross delusion called spiritualism.”

The world of science was confident that Hare was an unimpeachable scientific authority, an author of more than 150 scientific papers and the inventor of the oxy-hydrogen blowpipe. They eagerly awaited his exposure of Spiritualism.

Hare carefully devised instruments to assist in his investigations and in 1855 published his findings in a book called "Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestation".
In short, he stated that contrary to his expectations, the evidence conclusively proved that there was an intelligence at work that was not that of those present. In other words, he concluded that Spiritualism was in fact real.

Harvard University professors immediately passed a resolution denouncing Hare, a natural reaction which would not exactly encourage further investigation by other scientists.

Opponents of the Spiritualist movement have sometimes made accusations towards anyone of influence who has endorsed Spiritualism. Accusations like senility or naivety are often used to discredit anyone who supports anything the scientific community considers to be of a supernatural nature. Unfortunately for them the next scientist, at the time of his investigations was at the zenith of his career and continued to prove his intellectual stability long after investigating Spiritualism.

Sir William Crookes

Professor William Crookes was one of the most pre-eminent scientists of his day. If they had curriculum vitaes in the late 1800s, then Professor Crookes would have had one of the most impressive resumes in Britain.

Founder of Chemical News (1859)
Fellow of the Royal Society (1863)
Editor of the Quarterly Journal of Science (1864)
Royal Gold Medal (1875)
The Davy Medal (1888)
Knighted by Queen Victoria (1897)
Sir Joseph Copley Medal (1904)
The Order of Merit (1910)
President of the Royal Society
President of the Chemical Society
President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers
President of the British Association
President of the Society for Psychical Research

If that was not enough, Sir William Crookes also discovered the chemical element of "Thallium" and invented the radiometer, the spinthariscope, the Crookes tube and the cathode-ray tube. The list goes on further, but the point I am trying to make is that Crookes was a truly exceptional scientist and was recognised as such.

Like Professor Robert Hare before him, Crookes was to investigate Spiritualism, believing it to be a sham. Again many of his peers were delighted that such a thoroughly qualifed man was to investigate this phenomena. Before commencing his investigations he wrote...

“It argues ill for the boasted freedom of opinion among scientific men that they have so long refused to institute a scientific investigation into the existence and nature of facts asserted by so many competent and credible witnesses, and which they are freely invited to examine when and where they please. For my own part, I too much value the pursuit of truth, and the discovery of any new fact in Nature, to avoid inquiry because it appears to clash with prevailing opinions.”

In 1869 Crookes started sittings with several mediums including Daniel Dunglas Home, Katie King and Florence Cook. During numerous experiments he experienced positive results with both mental and physical mediumship including ectoplasm, transfiguration and materialisation. He published these results in the Quarterly Journal of Science.

Almost twenty years later Sir William Crookes made the following statements in an interview:-

“ I have never had any occasion to change my mind on the subject. I am perfectly satisfied with what I have said in earlier days. It is quite true that a connection has been set up between this world and the next. ”

He was asked whether Spiritualism had brought into question the materialism of scientists, and he added:-

“ I think it has. It has at least convinced the great majority of people, who know anything about the subject, of the existence of the next world. ”

Sir Oliver Lodge

Sir Oliver Joseph Lodge was an English physicist and writer notable for his work in wireless telegraphy. In 1894 at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford University, he transmitted radio signals. This was significant as this occurred one year before Guglielmo Marconi's first wireless transmission.

Lodge also invented electric spark ignition for the internal combustion engine (spark plugs), the moving coil loudspeaker, the vacuum tube (valve) and the variable tuner. He became professor of experimental physics at Liverpool University College, a position which he held for almost twenty years, before becoming first principal of Birmingham University College.

A firm believer in psychic phenomena, Lodge wrote books on the subject including "The Ether of Space" (1909), "Making of Man" (1924) and My Philosophy (1933).

He attended sittings with the Italian physical medium, Eusapia Paladino, and published his findings in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Nov. 1884). Lodge wrote:-

“ However the facts are to be explained, there is no further room in my mind for doubt. Any person without invincible prejudice who had had the same experience would come to the same broad conclusion, viz., that things hitherto held impossible do actually occur.”

“The result of my experience is to convince me that certain phenomena usually considered abnormal do belong to the order of nature, and as a corollary from this, that these phenomena ought to be investigated and recorded by persons and societies interested in natural knowledge.”

In 1889 Lodge investigated the mediumship of Lenore Piper. He later commented in his book "Survival of Man" (1909):-

“The old series of sittings with Mrs. Piper convinced me of survival for reasons which I should find it hard to formulate. They also made me suspect - or more than suspect - that surviving intelligences were in some cases consciously communicating; though, more usually, the messages came, in all probability, from an unconscious stratum, being received by the medium in an inspirational manner analogous to psychometry.”

“The hypothesis of surviving intelligence and personality - not only surviving but anxious and able to with difficulty to communicate - is the simplest and most straightforward and the only one that fits all the facts.”

Present Day Investigations

It would be laborious to mention every prominent paranormal researcher from Swedenborg to Schwartz; I really didn't want to turn this article into a history lesson. But Robert Hare, William Crookes and Oliver Lodge clearly illustrate my point that Spiritualism has had many scientific endorsements. Above are three endorsements, from three successful and trustworthy scientists. Men who heavily contributed to the development of our modern world. Three undeniably brilliant minds of their time, all of whom investigated mediumship from a sceptical standpoint and came to the conclusion that there was no fakery or fraudulent activity as they first thought.

Science has a responsibility to present the truth. It might be argued that 19th Century science was ill equipped to determine the truth in comparison with 21st Century science. It might also be argued that even with the tightest scientific scrutiny, psychological tricks could still have been employed to fool even the most alert and logical minds.

If we fast forward to the present day, there are now modern scientists who do have a detailed knowledge of psychology and who are still investigating the hypothesis that the human consciousness survives physical death. Triple blind test results were published in "Explore" Journal (2007) which provide evidence of anomalous information reception using protocols which eliminate cold reading, hot reading and mind reading. What possible explanation could be left when all other sceptical arguments have been eliminated?

Unfortunately research in this area is so often ridiculed, as the majority of the scientific community believe that acceptance of such phenomena would be completely out of the question, not to mention a bad career move.

Another question that arises is whether science is capable of measuring mediumship. Some scientists have had inconclusive results when testing mediums. It almost seems that some phenomena reacts differently when observed. Perhaps quantum physics can explain this with the "double slit" theory, in which particles behave differently when they are observed.

A German philosopher called Arthur Schopenhauer once said:-

“Any unexplained phenomenon passes through three stages before the reality of it is accepted: During the first stage it is considered laughable. During the second stage, it is adamantly opposed. Finally, during the third stage, it is accepted as self-evident.”


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