Editorial

Filtering Out the Bosh

Michael Tymn

I have been asked more than a few times why so much of what I write about life after death, psychical research, and related paranormal subjects has to do with stories from a hundred and more years ago – more specifically, with the phenomena and research that took place between 1850 and 1930 – and not more with modern mediums, researchers, and phenomena. Part of the reason, I explain, is that there has been relatively little research aimed at developing evidence of man’s survival after death going on since 1930. Moreover, what limited research has taken place in recent decades has, for the most part, been adequately explained by the researchers in their own books or reports.

More than that, though, I am convinced that the research of yesteryear is so much richer and convincing than any of the current material once a person learns to filter out the bosh and understands it, as Professor James Hyslop, one of the pioneers of psychical research did. “Personally I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved,” wrote Hyslop, a psychologist, philosopher, and a professor of logic and ethics before dedicating himself full time to psychical research. “I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters. But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts. Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved. The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts. History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden or proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.” (Hyslop, 480)

The same certainty was stated by Sir Oliver Lodge, another pioneer of psychical research. “I tell you with all the strength of conviction which I can muster, that we do persist, that people still continue to take an interest in what is going on, that they know far more about things on this earth than we do, and are able from time to time to communicate with us,” Lodge, a world-renowned physicist and inventor, stated in one of his many speeches. “Communication is possible, but one must obey the laws, first finding out the conditions. I do not say it is easy, but it is possible, and I have conversed with my friends just as I can converse with anyone in the audience now.” (Tweedale, 471)

Sir William Barrett, another esteemed physicist, inventor, and pioneering psychical researcher, expressed similar confidence when he wrote: “I am personally convinced that the evidence we have published decidedly demonstrates (1) the existence of a spiritual world, (2) survival after death, and (3) of occasional communication from those who have passed over… It is however hardly possible to convey to others who have not had a similar experience an adequate idea of the strength and cumulative force of the evidence that has compelled [my] belief.” (Barrett, 162)

Beating around the Bush

Today’s parapsychology and consciousness studies, the two significantly overlapping fields which have succeeded psychical research, usually beat around the bush when it comes to the survival issue. Their practitioners make every effort to avoid mention of words like survival of consciousness, life after death, and afterlife. Whatever name is given to it, it is a taboo topic in scientific, academic, and journalistic circles. However, examining the building blocks – all those paranormal things that suggest a non-material or non-mechanistic world ultimately leading to the survival of consciousness – is considered somewhat respectable as long as they can be shown to benefit humankind in this realm of existence. To put it another way, the “building block” being studied by the parapsychologist or consciousness researcher must not be linked to the survival of consciousness if the person wants to be respected by his peers and receive grant funds for research.

But the situation was much the same in 1882 when the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) was organized in England. Educated people at that time had come to believe that Rationalism and Darwinism had nullified all spiritual beliefs because they conflicted with the Bible’s explanation of things. To have suggested that they were trying to put the “ghost” back in the machine and thereby restore meaning to a world which had lost its way, the SPR founders would have been bucking the trend toward a belief in a purely mechanistic universe, one devoid of God, an afterlife, and meaning.

Reading between the lines, however, one can easily infer that the primary objective of the SPR founders was to find “an unseen world” and thereby restore meaning to this world. To avoid inviting the disdain of the “educated” world, the founders camouflaged their efforts by claiming that their objectives were to study such things as telepathy (then called thought-transference), telekinesis, precognition, hypnotism, and hallucinations, apparently hoping that most people would not ponder deeply enough to see the link with survival, i.e., mind-body separation.

“We were led to believe that there was truth in a thesis which at least since Swedenborg and the early mesmerists had been repeatedly but cursorily and ineffectually presented to mankind – the thesis that a communication can take place from mind to mind by some agency not that of the recognized organs of sense,” Frederic W. H. Myers, one of the SPR founders, discreetly explained the motivation of the SPR organizers. “We found that this agency, discernible even on trivial occasions by suitable experiment, seemed to connect itself with an agency more intense, or at any rate more recognizable, which operated at moments of crisis or at the hour of death.” (Myers, 23)

The mediumship of Leonora Piper, which the American branch of the SPR (ASPR) began investigating in 1885, strongly suggested telepathic abilities, but the “intelligent” approach was to hypothesize that this was a subliminal activity on the part of Mrs. Piper rather than spirit related. That is, unbeknownst to her, a “secondary personality” buried in her subconscious was somehow able to telepathically access information from the minds of others, even people not present and thousands of miles away. It wasn’t until 1892 that various members of the ASPR and SPR began to give any real credence to the spirit hypothesis, the result of communication coming from one George Pellew, a member of the ASPR who had died earlier that year. However, there was so much “bosh,” as Professor William James of Harvard called the fragmentary and non-sensical verbiage, mixed in with the meaningful communication coming through Piper, that many, including James, remained skeptical.

Meanwhile, physical mediumship, which involved materializations, levitations, apports, and other strange physical manifestations, was being investigated, primarily on the European continent, by some distinguished men of science. But they encountered even more puzzling and perplexing phenomena than did those researching mental mediumship. To further confuse matters, there were clearly many impostors faking mediumistic phenomena. Because mediumship, whether mental or physical, did not lend itself to strict scientific testing, many researchers abandoned their efforts, some concluding it was all fraudulent, others, like Barrett, Lodge, and Hyslop, accepting the spirit hypothesis, still others accepting it as genuine paranormal activity not extending beyond the subconscious.

After the death of Hyslop in 1920, psychical research, lacking inspirational leadership, began to flounder. Moreover, scientists and scholars engaged in the research began to realize that they were continually reinventing the wheel and would never succeed in producing evidence to satisfy either the scientific fundamentalists or the religious fundamentalists. As strong as the evidence was, it did not offer the absolute proof the skeptics demanded.

A resurgence of physical mediumship research took place during the 1920s with medium Mina Crandon, the wife of a respected Boston, Massachusetts physician. Given the pseudonym “Margery,” she was subject to close examination by a number of members of the ASPR; however, they could come to no agreement – some believing she was a genuine medium, some certain that she was a fraud, and still other concluding that the phenomena were some kind of subliminal creations of Margery’s mind.

Survival Research Doomed

It was the “Margery” mediumship more than anything else that doomed psychical research and resulted in the rise of parapsychology during the 1930s. The new field of parapsychology went back to studying the building blocks, such as telepathy and telekinesis, while almost completely divorcing itself from the spirit and survival concerns and increasingly buying into the subconscious explanation. Sometime around 1990, various scientists and academicians concluded that “consciousness studies” was a more respectable name for their field than parapsychology and further that it broadened the scope of their research.

Just as the SPR seemingly ignored all the research that went on before it was organized in 1882, the parapsychologists seemingly ignored all of the research carried out by the SPR. In both cases, there was too much bosh to deal with and make sense of.

Before the SPR was organized, there was significant individual research going on by some educated men, including Judge John Edmonds, a member of the New York Supreme Court, United States Senator Nathaniel Tallmadge of New York, Professor Robert Hare, a chemist and renowned inventor, Professor August De Morgan, a pioneering logician and mathematician, biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, and others.

When, in 1853, Tallmadge asked a spirit claiming to be his old friend John C. Calhoun, a former vice-president of the United States, the purpose of “spiritualism,” as it came to be called, Calhoun replied, “My friend, the question is often put to you, ‘What good can result from these manifestations?’ I will answer it: It is to draw mankind together in harmony, and convince skeptics of the immortality of the soul.” (Edmonds, 425)

When, a year or so later, Hare put much the same question to his discarnate father, he was told that it “is a deliberate effort on the part of the inhabitants of the higher spheres to break through the partition which has interfered with the attainment, by mortals, of a correct idea of their destiny after death.” (Hare, 85)

A few decades later, William Stainton Moses, an Anglican priest, asked a communicating spirit about the physical phenomena, much of which seemed like tomfoolery. “Such phenomenal manifestations are necessary to reach men who can assimilate no other evidence,” he was told. “They are not any sort of proof of our claims, no evidence of the moral beauty of our teachings; but they are the means best adapted to reach the materialist.” (Moses, Part II)

Hare’s discarnate father explained the difficulties in communicating: “As there are no words in the human language in which spiritual ideas may be embodied so as to convey their literal and exact signification, we are obliged oftimes to have recourse to the use of analogisms and metaphorical modes of expression. In our communication with you we have to comply with the peculiar structure and rules of your language; but the genius of our language is such that we can impart more ideas to each other in a single word than you can possibly convey in a hundred.” (Hare, 96)

Moses was told: “We can only dimly symbolize truths which one day your unclouded eye will see in their full splendour. We cannot speak with clearness when the spirit of our medium is troubled, when his body is racked with pain, or his mental state vitiated by disease. Nay, even a lowering atmosphere, or electric disturbance, or the neighborhood of unsympathetic and unfavorable human influences, may colour a communication, or prevent it from being clear and complete.” (Moses, 87)

These conflicts between celestial and terrestrial forms of communication accounted for much of the bosh. But, as many of the pioneers came to understand, there are various concomitant obstacles and barriers to clear reception of what is sent, much of the time resulting from difficulties in it being filtered through the medium’s brain. That is, what the spirit communicator intends is often distorted and comes out with a different meaning or with no meaning at all.

Charades

“All should remember the parlor game in which a few words are whispered into the ear of the one near you and from him to a third and a fourth person and so on, to find at the end that there is no resemblance to what was started. The same is likely to take place in spirit messages,” Hyslop explained. “The control must put the message through and it will take the color of his or her mind. Then it is doubly colored by the subconscious, sometimes by the normal consciousness of the medium as well. The fact that the incidents prove the personal identity of a deceased person and are not known by the medium suffices to justify the spiritistic hypothesis, though this origin does not prove the purity of the message, or that it came from the communicator directly. It may have been subjected to all sorts of modifications, phonetic, visual, or interpretative.” (Hyslop 2, 214)

But enough got filtered through to convince the pioneers of survival and spirit communication. At the same time, many of the messages – especially those coming through before 1882 – went beyond the trivial aspects of mediumship, those more subject to scientific validation, and offered information about the afterlife environment and the meaning of life. Most of it was swept under the rug when the SPR began to focus on the measurable aspects of mediumship.

The doubter always asks why we don’t have the dynamic phenomena today that the pioneers had. The answer requires an essay in itself, but in a nutshell I believe that the spirits who started it all in the middle of the nineteenth century simply did all they could to convince us that they were around and to offer some answers to those who had lost their faith. However, they reached the point of diminishing returns and saw that many good people were being defamed or hurt by the materialists of the world and even by believers who could not filter out the bosh. Thus, the spirits gradually withdrew.

Most of that early research is filed away in dust-covered cabinets. Like a few others, I wipe away the dust and dig into the cabinets now and then, searching for even more treasure than I have already found. I keep writing about it because I know that it takes time and patience to fully grasp the filtering process involved in inter-dimensional communication, and I hope that others will be able to eventually do so and thereby discover the treasures that I have.

References

Barrett, Sir William (1986) Death-Bed Visions, The Aquarian Press, Northhamptonshire, England

Edmonds, John W & Dexter, George T. (1853) Spiritualism, Partridge & Brittan, Publishers, New York

Hare, Robert (1855) Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations, Partridge & Brittan, New York, NY

Hyslop, James, H. (1919) Contact with the Other World, The Century Co., New York, NY

Hyslop, James, H. (1918) Life After Death, E. P. Dutton & Co., New York, NY (2)

Moses, William Stainton (1924) Spirit Teachings, Arno Press, New York, (1976 reprint from London Spiritualist Alliance

Moses, William Stainton, More Spirit Teachings, Meilach.com, Part II

Myers, Myers, F. W. H. (1961) Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Death, University Books, Inc., New Hyde Park, NY (reprint of 1903 book)

Tweedale, Charles L., Man’s Survival After Death, The Psychic Book Club. (no publication date)


Correspondence should be sent to Michael Tymn at metgat@aol.com