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Leonora Piper: Confusion & Mixed Opinions

Neither the religious nor the scientific [person] can longer afford to ignore the facts presented here, to pass them by.
– Frederic W. H. Myers

By the time Leonora Piper completed her English sittings in February 1890, fraud had been completely ruled out by all who had closely observed her a number of times, and it was clear to them that there was something supernormal going on.  The issue was whether it was spirits or Mrs. Piper’s alter ego – a secondary personality buried in her subconscious – which, unbeknownst to her primary personality, was telepathically picking up the information from sitters or even from people not present (called teloteropathy), or even from some cosmic reservoir or “universal mind.”  As earlier states, the latter explanation still defied the mechanistic laws of accepted science and seemed to many even more fantastic than the spirit/survival hypothesis, but it was more acceptable to many educated men, including Doctors James, Hodgson, and Leaf, as it did not revert to the “silly superstitions” of organized religion, especially spirits of the dead or ghosts. Lodge and Myers were more inclined to accept the spirit/survival explanation, but were not prepared to go public with their views until some years later.

Reading between the lines of the various reports, one might conclude that none of the researchers was willing to publicly oppose the views of Professor James, or at least to go beyond what James had hypothesized.  Such dissent might very well have involved alienation or professional suicide. And yet, James’s theories of the various Piper phenomena often seemed shallow and evasive.  Writing in the November 1919 issue of the ASPR Journal, Dr. James Hyslop, who had been a professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University before becoming a full-time psychical researcher, wrote:

[James’s] interest in psychic research was partly determined by his scientific tendencies, which required him to take into account all the facts, and his difficulties with the spiritistic hypothesis were determined by the extent of his allegiance to scientific hypotheses which he had rejected without realizing that he had done so.  When it came to that one doctrine and the application of his view to it, he halted with more respect than the logic of his pragmatism required…

The fact is that he never clearly understood the problem of psychic research.  This is clearly proved by his anomalous and paradoxical position in the Ingersoll lecture on the immortality of the Soul, delivered at Harvard University.  He had very little to do with the Society’s work, tho the public thought he had much to do with it, and after he had rejected the spiritual body doctrine of Swedenborg it was hard to make him see just what the tendencies of psychic research were.  He returned to what he ought to have regarded as wallowing in the mire of Hegelianism when he felt a leaning toward the cosmic reservoir theory.  But this aside, the main point is that he could never boldly decide between the respectable philosophy of pantheism or monism and the logical tendencies of his pluralism which should have taken him with less evidence into spiritism than would be required to convert the materialist. 

Of course, there were those who were convinced that Mrs. Piper was a charlatan.  As noted in Chapter Two, Dr. O. F. Wodsworth considered his sitting a failure.  Dr. Samuel A. Hopkins called it all “rubbish,” and John F. Brown concluded that it was just good guesswork on Mrs. Piper’s part.  In England, a Professor Macalister claimed that her trance condition was an act and that the whole thing was an “imposture,” and a very poor one.

Well before Mrs. Piper’s mediumship was discovered, Spiritualists recognized that harmony was a very essential part of a good sitting and that negativity somehow defeated phenomena. Séances often began with singing and prayers in order to establish harmony and a rapport with the “spirits.”  Once he came to believe in spirits, Richard Hodgson likened it to a post-accident scene, seeing the communicating spirit, often bewildered and confused by the change in vibrations, much the same as the dazed accident victim, who needs sympathy and consolation more than a cross-examination as to how the accident happened.  When suddenly faced with dozens of factual questions, he is unable to focus or clear his mind. 

A number of Spiritualists reported waiting an hour or longer for conditions to be harmonious enough for the spirits to get through, and there were times when the “spirits” were able to communicate enough to instruct them that a certain person in the room was obstructing communication.  There were also times when the “spirits” asked the sitters to change positions in the room as some kind of flow or balance in polarity was necessary for them to effectively communicate.  As Dr. R. Craig Hogan, a modern-day researcher, understands it, we on the earth plane must raise our vibrations while the discarnates must lower theirs to find just the right channel or “sweet spot” at which we and they can meet. “They spend years trying to find that channel and refine the connection,” Hogan explains. “Raising our vibration requires a harmonious, loving, spiritual atmosphere. However, the energy on the Earth plane today is very dense and negative.  Those living on other planes of life describe coming into the Earth plane’s vibration as like trying to penetrate a deep, dark fog because of the conflict, hatred, greed, and violence in the world today.”

Such negativity and lack of harmony might explain Mrs. Piper’s failures. While skeptics and debunkers find such an explanation self-serving and even humorous, scoffing at the whole idea, some of those studying Mrs. Piper recognized that the attitude of the sitters had a bearing on the quality of the phenomena.  Henry Holt, an SPR member, author, and publisher who sat with Mrs. Piper, put it this way:

People in general, including sitters, fall into two classes: those of the intuitive, humanistic, and sympathetic make-up, and those of the calculating scientific, skeptical make-up – ‘Platonists and Aristotelians.’  The first group, I need hardly say, includes the poets and most of those generally called philosophers – Socrates, Plato, and Goethe.  The second group includes Aristotle, Bacon, and Spencer, all of whom the ‘high priori’ philosophers hardly admit to be philosophers at all.

Now the first group seems to include the dreamers and the mediums.  Socrates with his inner voice and his hours of sleepless unconsciousness, was in all probability a medium; and Plato and Goethe were both great dreamers; while regarding Aristotle, Bacon, and Spencer I cannot recall at the moment any assertion of remarkable dreams.

Now it is noticeable through the reports that scientific men, especially those devoted to the inorganic sciences, get very little out of the sittings, and are disposed to vote them all humbug.

Sir Oliver Lodge is a marked exception.  Sir William Crookes and Sir William Barrett have devoted themselves mainly to the telekinetic phenomena.

I am as far as possible from intimating that either class is superior to the other.  It would be interesting to debate whether we owe more to Shakespeare or to Spencer, although I should hardly take Shakespeare for the mediumistic type of man, but rather (if you and God will forgive me), for the medium-mystic, and he is always in medio tutissimus

Assuming the generalizations in the preceding paragraphs to be well founded, we might risk a much more uncertain one – that as truth is generally indicated first to the intuitive type of mind – Kant with the nebular hypothesis and Goethe with the relations of the vertebrae to the skeleton and the leaves to the plant – so the free appearance of the phenomena of mediumship to the intuitive type of person, and the scant appearance to the scientific type, have a certain correspondence with Nature’s general ways, and so far raise a presumption that the phenomena are normal and deserve study…It is not surprising, then, to be told that Professor Macalister’s sitting was “unsatisfactory,” and it is an amusingly incorrect one throughout. 

Some researchers, including even William James, were turned off by the triviality of most of the messages, apparently assuming that all spirits were advanced enough to communicate meaningful messages.  James wrote:

The prima facie theory, which is that of a spirit-control, is hard to reconcile with the extreme triviality of most of the communications.  What real spirit, at least able to revisit his wife on this earth, but would find something better to say than that she had changed the place of his photograph?  And yet that is the sort of remark to which the spirits introduced by the mysterious Phinuit are apt to confine themselves. I must admit, however, that Phinuit has other moods.  He has several times, when my wife and myself were sitting together with him, suddenly started off on long lectures to us about our inward defects and outward shortcomings, which were very earnest, as well as subtle morally and psychologically, and impressive in a high degree.  These discourses, though given in Phinuit’s own person, were very different in style from his more usual talk, and probably superior to anything that the medium could produce in the same line in her natural state. 
If James was aware of the profound messages which had come through other mediums during the 35 years before he came upon Mrs. Piper, he did not mention them or even allude to them.  Books by Judge John Edmonds, Professor Robert Hare, Allan Kardec, and William Stainton Moses had offered a whole new philosophy of life and death allegedly based on the teachings of advanced or elevated spirits.

In their 1853 book, Spiritualism, Edmonds, Chief Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, and George T. Dexter, a New York physician, set forth the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg and Francis Bacon as communicated through Dr. Dexter’s trance mediumship.  Swedenborg and Bacon eloquently explained the nature of reality and the meaning of life in a manner that appeals to reason.  “It is not for the purpose of showing to the world that spirits can confer with man, or that God’s law obtains in spirit-connection as well as physical, but it is for the purpose of showing you the truths of your spirit-life, after the spirit has left the body, that we leave our high estate and the blissful life of the spheres, and come to teach you,” Swedenborg communicated.. 

Edmonds, who began his investigation of mediums with the intent of debunking them, concluded that there was a high order of intelligence involved – “an intelligence outside of, and beyond, mere mortal agency; for there was no other hypothesis which I could devise or hear of, that could at all explain that, whose reality is established by the testimony of tens of thousands, and can easily be ascertained by any one who will take the trouble to inquire.”

When Edmonds asked what the manifestations were all about, the answer came: “It is the result of human progress, it is in execution, not a suspension of nature’s laws, and it is not now for the first time manifesting itself, but in all ages of the world has at times been displayed.”  He was further informed that the manifestations began a dozen or so years before the “Rochester Knockings” in 1848, but from fear of ridicule or from ignorance they went unrecognized.

Edmonds was also informed by Swedenborg and Bacon that his knowledge of nature was too imperfect to permit him to understand the phenomena and was referred to Karl Von Reichenbach’s Dynamics of Magnetism for a better grasp of the subject.  There, Edmonds learned that Von Reichenbach had discovered an unknown power in nature, which he called Od, or Odic Force, describing it as “an exceeding subtle fluid, existing with magnetism and electricity, found in fire and heat, and produced in the human body by the chemical action of respiration and digestion and decomposition, and issuing from the body in the shape of a pale flame, with sparks, and smoke, and material in its nature, though so much sublimated as to be visible only to persons of a peculiar vision.”  (Von Reichenbach’s od was apparently what was later referred to as teleplasm and ectoplasm.)

Dr. Dexter also began as a skeptic and sat with a number of mediums before he discovered his own mediumistic ability.  He continued to sit with and observe other mediums and wrote:

I have listened to the most elevated thoughts couched in language far beyond [the medium’s] comprehension, describing facts in science, and circumstances in the daily life of the spirit after death, which were corroborated fact by fact, idea by idea, by other mediums with whom she was entirely unacquainted, uttered by a little girl scarce nine years old. The same medium I have heard repeat verse after verse, impromptu, of poetry, glowing with inspiration and sparkling with profound thought and sentiment, and yet this child never wrote a line of poetry before in her life…I have heard an illiterate mechanic repeat Greek, Latin, Hebrew, and Chaldaic, and describe the customs and habits of men living on the earth thousands of years ago.  I have been present when a medium answered many questions in the Italian language, of which she was ignorant, and also uttered several sentences in the same language, and then gave the name of an Italian gentleman of whom she had never heard, but who was when living the friend of one of the party of the circle.”

At one of the séances, Edmonds asked the communicating spirit, Lord Bacon, what it was all about.  Bacon replied through the entranced Dexter:

What, indeed, is the object of this new revelation?  It is certain that a mere belief in the upside-down tipping of a table can be of no vital benefit to any individual or to his race.  Tables may be moved and raps may be heard, but these evidences of a power not materially existing in this world can satisfy no thinking man if there were not something beyond all this worthy of being understood.  Now, what is this?  It is that man has not been taught his true relation even to the life he now enjoys, or his connection with that other state of existence beyond the grave.

Educated after the fashion of some one sect, men imbibe certain notions characterizing that sect, which are not absolute revelations from God, or even predicated on his laws, but are the positive creations of mind materially influenced, and thus do not in the least exemplify the design of our existence or the purpose of death.  If the laws of God had not been instituted for a purpose as important as his character is omnipotent, there probably would have been some different manifestation of life than that which now gives significancy to the whole material creation.  But death was just as much an object following life, as was the gift or establishment of life itself.  Therefore, death was to be understood, or, at least, should be, for one great idea belonging to death has scarcely been apprehended, or, in fact, appreciated.  Death is the continuance-life; it is life without the restraints imposed upon it by the limits of a single planet.  Now, though it is important that the designs of life should be investigated and understood, it certainly is of as much importance that that life in its continuance should be perfectly appreciated, for the one is of short duration, and the other is for eternity.  This, then, is the object of spirit-communication, and it behooves all believers to understand what they believe, that when satisfied themselves they may be able to satisfy others. 
Hare, a professor emeritus of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, scoffed at the whole idea of mediumship before he began investigating the “popular madness” in 1853.  Over a period of some 14 months, he sat with “22 or 23” different mediums and became a convert to Spiritualism.  His 1855 book, Experimental Investigation of the Spirit Manifestations, detailed his investigation and his new-found philosophy, one that held that there were degrees of gradation between the lowest degrees of vice, ignorance, and folly and those of virtue, learning, and wisdom [in the afterlife realms].  One’s initial place in the afterlife environment, he was told, was based on a sort of “moral specific gravity.” Moreover, he was informed that spirits cannot effectively approach a medium who is much above or much below their particular level. 

When Hare asked about the purpose of the mediumship epidemic, he was informed that it was “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.”    To carry out this intention, he was told, a delegation of advanced spirits had been appointed.  He was further informed that lower spirits were allowed to take part in the undertaking because they were better able to make mechanical movements and loud rappings than those on the higher realms.

Hare was told that the spirits encountered much difficulty 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,” his deceased father informed him.  “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.” 

While Edmonds and Hare were investigating mediumship in the United States, Kardec, a French educator, was conducting investigations in his own country.  Among the superior spirits purportedly communicating with Kardec were John the Evangelist, St. Augustine, St. Vincent De Paul, St. Louis, “The Spirit of Truth,” Socrates, Plato, Fénélon, Franklin, and Swedenborg.  They answered questions on every conceivable subject, including God, pantheism, universal space, biblical accounts of creation, reincarnation, relationships beyond the grave, possession, the fate of children beyond the grave, spirit influence, war, capital punishment, slavery, dreams, free will, suicide, and fear of death, to name just some. As an example, on the subject of spirit possession, Kardec asked if a spirit can temporarily assume the physical envelope of a living person.  “A spirit does not enter into a body as you enter into a house,” was the reply. “He assimilates himself to an incarnate spirit who has the same defects and the same qualities as himself, in order that they may act conjointly, but it is always the incarnate spirit who acts at his pleasure on the matter with which he is clothed.”  The communicating spirit further explained that the will-power of an upright man can attract the cooperation of good spirits, which will help him resist the mischievous spirit.

Kardec’s questions were numerous, 1,019 of them detailed in question and answer form in his 1857 book and more to be asked later.  When he asked if spirits ever take part in our occupations and pleasures, the reply came: “Commonplace spirits, as you call them, do so. They are incessantly about you, and take, in all you do, a part which is sometimes a very active one, according to their nature; and it is necessary that they should do so, in order to push men on in the different walks of life, and to excite or moderate their passions.” 

And up in England, beginning in 1872, Moses, an Anglican priest and college educator who was initially opposed to mediumship, began receiving messages from a band of spirits under the direction of one calling himself Imperator.  “I, myself, Imperator Servus Dei, am the chief of a band of forty-nine spirits, the presiding and controlling spirit, under whose guidance and direction the others work,” the words came through Moses at one of the early sittings.  “I come from the seventh sphere to work out the will of the Almighty; and, when my work is complete, I shall return to those spheres of bliss from which none returns again to earth.  But this will not be till the medium’s work on earth is finished, and his mission on earth exchanged for a wider one in the spheres.” 

Imperator added that spirits named Rector and Doctor were his immediate assistants, while Swedenborg was one of the 49. He had come, Imperator said, to explain the spirit world, how it is controlled, and the way in which information is conveyed to humans.  “Man must judge according to the light of reason that is in him.” Imperator voiced through Moses. “That is the ultimate standard, and the progressive soul will receive what the ignorant or prejudiced will reject.  God’s truth is forced on none.”

Initially, the messages came through Moses by trance-speaking and were recorded by several friends who had formed a mediumship circle. On March 30, 1873, the spirit messages started coming through Moses’s hand by means of automatic writing rather than by trance-speaking. This method was adopted, Moses was informed, for convenience purposes and so that he could preserve a connected body of teaching.  Those teachings were compiled in two books, Spirit Teachings, published by Moses in 1883, and More Spirit Teachings, collected and published after his death in 1892.

At one sitting, Imperator communicated:

We have frequently said that God reveals Himself as man can bear it.  It must need be so. He is revealed through a human medium, and can only be made known in such measure as the medium can receive the communication.  It is impossible that knowledge of God should outstrip man’s capacity.  Were we now to tell you – if we could – of our more perfect theology it would seem to you strange and unintelligible.  We shall, by slow degrees, instill into your mind so much of truth as you can receive, and then you shall see your present errors. But that is not yet.  Indeed, since the conception which each frames for himself is to him his God, it cannot be that revelation can be in advance of capacity. It is in the nature of things impossible. 

Moses was informed that Swedenborg and Benjamin Franklin, working together on the spirit side of the veil, figured out how to communicate with the earth realm by means of raps, the initial method of getting messages through.  Imperator communicated that there were barriers to communication, stating: 

The busy world is ever averse from the things of spirit life. Men become so absorbed in the material, that which they can see and grasp, and hoard up, and they forget that there is a future and spirit life. They become so earthly that they are impervious to our influence; so material that we cannot come near them; so full of earthly interests that there is no room for that which shall endure when they have passed away.  More than this, the constant preoccupation leaves no time for contemplation, and the spirit is wasted for lack of sustenance. The spiritual state is weak; the body is worn and weary with weight of work and anxious care, and the spirit is well-nigh inaccessible.  The whole air, moreover, is heavy with conflicting passions, with heart-burnings, and jealousies, and contentions, and all that is inimical to us.

Compared with the teachings recorded by Edmonds, Hare, Kardec, and Moses, the communications coming through Mrs. Piper were indeed “trivial,” as James labeled them.  On the other hand, James also noted that Dr. Phinuit often lectured on serious subjects, but apparently nobody bothered to record Phinuit’s words in those lectures.  James, Hodgson, and the other researchers were looking for evidential communication, not the unverifiable “truths” recorded by Edmonds and the others.  Perhaps, those advanced spirits who saw fit to provide enlightenment decided that, after 35 years, they had given as much “light” as they could and decided to withdraw or turn it over to lower level spirits, as Dr. Phinuit seems to have been, to provide more evidential communication. 

Some of the difficulties of spirit communication were communicated to Sir William Crookes, one of England’s most esteemed scientist, when Crookes investigated the mediumship of Daniel Dunglas Home during the early 1870s.  At a sitting on June 28, 1871, Home went into a trance state and a voice began speaking through him.  One of Crookes’s guests asked who was speaking. “It is not one spirit in particular,” the reply came.  “It is a general influence.  It requires two or three spirits to get complete control over Dan.  The conditions are not very good tonight.”  The communicating spirits were then asked to explain what the conditions should be. “That is a matter in which we cannot help you much,” the spirits responded.  “There are comparatively few spirits who are able to communicate at all with you.  They are constantly working and experimenting to try and render the communication easier.  They practice on some of you when you are asleep and in that way your dreams are influenced.  Sometimes they think they have found out some of the conditions which will lead to success, and the next time something occurs which shows them that they know scarcely anything about it.”  Crookes noted that voices were sometimes heard in which one invisible being seemed to be instructing another invisible being on how to effect a levitation with Home.

The communicating spirits went on to say that it was like trying to get a wayward child to do what one wishes, but they continue to experiment.  They added that some spirits cannot do anything because even though they have the desire they don’t have the knowledge.  “There are two standing here now who would like to communicate, but it would be quite impossible for them to make the slightest manifestation to you.  They will be obliged to get others to tell what they wish to say.  You, William, should not have had that electric light.  It hurt Dan’s head, and we were obliged to entrance him to calm him…It was too dazzling for Dan.”

There apparently was much in the way of profoundness that came through the entranced Home, but very little of it was recorded.  One that was recorded, however, was this:

You do not know the difficulties that have to be overcome in communicating with you.  Supposing now we want to make manifestations, four spirits would perhaps take possession of the four corners of the room, and would begin, as it were, to throw across to each other, and weave together their harmonizing influence, so as to get everything equalized and prepared for the adoption of whatever they want to do.  One spirit will remain in the midst who will manage and direct all that is to be said – of course, if one of the other spirits wishes to communicate he would let him do so, they are not selfish, but one must have the direction of the manifestations to ensure unity of purpose.  That is why it is so bad to wish for the presence of any particular spirit; that spirit might come, and the others not being selfish would admit him into the circle, and he not being in harmony with the others, would destroy the whole thing. 

And this:

Spiritual truth must come; truth is a lighthouse, a beacon, a speck, a point, leading onward to realms of love.  We have no power, we can do so little that we often wonder that we are able to do anything for you. Language is too imperfect, we cannot convey to you our meaning; you cannot understand; our state is so different from your material state, that it is with great difficulty that we can work upon it to make our presence known; not that it is painful to us – no, no, it is a labour of love.  But still it is an actual labour to us.  The earth is still so imperfect – so underdeveloped – that we have much difficulty in dealing with material objects.
It was James who arranged for Hyslop to have his first sitting with Mrs. Piper, in 1892.  Hyslop was so impressed that he later resigned from his teaching position to become a full time psychical researcher.  Perhaps more than any other researcher before him, Hyslop came to understand the dynamics of spirit communication.  He pointed out that if the communicator realized that he had his identity to prove, he would necessarily limit himself to trivial recollections, assuming that he could control his state of consciousness at the time of communication, something apparently very difficult for spirits to do.

Adding to the confusion in the Piper observations was the fact that Phinuit told Hodgson that his full name while in the flesh was Jean Phinuit Sclivellee but that he was known as Doctor Phinuit. He said he had died at the age 70 “about” 1860. He gave his wife’s name as Marie Latimer. However, he later told Professor Lodge that his name had been John Phinuit Schelevelle and his wife’s name was Mary.  He told both Hodgson and Lodge that he was born in Marseilles “about” 1790 and studied medicine at “Metz.” (Metz was French until 1870, when it was ceded to Germany.)  He informed Lodge that he died of leprosy. An attempt to find some documented evidence of Phinuit’s existence was unsuccessful, although modern references give no indication as the extent of the investigation.  It is known that many public records were destroyed in the civil uprisings following the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.

As Hyslop later explained, the information can be distorted or colored as it is filtered through the medium’s mind.  Since Jean/John and Marie/Mary have the same meaning, the confusion there might simply have been a matter of different filtering, and the spelling of the name and other information might have been distorted in the filtering process. Hyslop further explained that the process of getting communication in the trance state is the pictographic or ‘mental picture’ method, at least for certain specific incidents and names and thus it is subject to different interpretations.  He wrote: :

We do not know in detail all that goes on, but we can conceive that a mental picture in the mind of a communicator is transmitted, perhaps telepathically, to the psychic (medium) or to the control; even though we do not know how this occurs, we can understand why the message takes the form that it does in the mind of the psychic and why the whole process assumes the form of a description of visual, or a report of auditory images.  The whole mass of facts is thus systematized as a single process, whose specific form of transmission is determined by the sense through which it is expressed.  It is apparent that the pictographic process introduces into the communication various sources of mistake and confusion, and thus explains much that the ordinary man with his view of the messages cannot understand.  Mental pictures have to be interpreted, either by the control or by the subconscious of the psychic, probably by both. 
While James had difficulty accepting the “fishing” for information by Phinuit, Hodgson and Hyslop seem to have understood it better. “I feel pretty sure that much of Phinuit’s ‘fishing’ was due to the confusions of the more or less comatose communicators whose minds had let loose, so to speak, a crowd of earthly memories,” Hodgson offered.  Of course, James would have had to endorse the spirit hypothesis to believe Hodgson’s theory.  Hyslop later explained it this way:

Fishing and guessing do take place, and yet the phenomena are still genuine.  The fishing and guessing are on the other side.  That is, the psychic is not fishing and guessing to try the sitter’s response, but to try that of the communicator who labors under difficulties analogous to our communication over a telephone or whenever there are obstacles to communication with each other in normal life.  Either the psychic or the control does not receive the messages or impressions clearly and has to guess at what they mean until the communicator assents to the right name or impression. 

In a 1918 book, Hyslop dealt with the secondary personality theory:

We have to reckon with what is always called the control, or the ‘guide,’ as it is sometimes called.  We must remember also that the guide and control may be different personalities.  They are not always, if ever, the same personality.  It depends on circumstances.  If you regard this control as a secondary personality state of the medium, you have all the complications of secondary personality in the case, serving as medium besides the automatic machinery of the living organism in the suspense of the control of the normal consciousness over it.  But if you assume that the control is a spirit, as is more evidently the case for all who have intelligently investigated the problem, you have another mind beside that of the medium with which to deal in the problem.  There is not only the third mind which we have called the medium (the “sitter” and the “communicating spirit” being the first two), but the fourth one complicating all its influences with those already complicated enough to make us wonder that we get any message at all from the dead. 

But before Hyslop gave his view on the whole idea of secondary personalities, Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, was one of the researchers who spoke out against the secondary personality hypothesis. He wrote:

But is this so-called explanation any real explanation, or anything more than a juggle of words which creates more difficulties than it solves? ...we have to suppose that this recondite but worser half of ourselves, while possessing some knowledge we have not, does not know that it is part of us, or, if it knows, is a persistent liar, for in most cases it adopts a distinct name, and persists in speaking of us, its better half, in the third person. 

Wallace added that he could not conceive how this second-self was developed in us under the law of survival of the fittest, a concept he suggested to Darwin before Darwin went public in 1858 with their parallel theories of evolution.
Researcher Minot Savage, whom we met in Chapter One, said much the same thing, mentioning that the only telepathy of which there is any real evidence is much more simple and between two people.

How does it happen that this subconscious self is such an unconscionable, persistent, consistent, and abnormal liar about itself?  Why does it not now and then by some sort of accident tell the truth?  Has there ever been a case on record in which this subconscious self, which is so wise, so wonderful; which is able to travel the earth over in pursuit of facts and select the particular one which is needed; which can build up no end of distinct and consistent personalities, and put into their lips words and expressions and statements of fact and memories which shall come very near to establishing their identity with people who used to live here, – is there, I say, a case on record where this subconscious self has owned up to being a subconscious self?

Savage went on to ask what the motive of all the lying could possibly be and to wonder why this secondary self makes so many mistakes.  He concluded that the secondary-self idea is simply a theory designed to escape the acceptance of another theory. 

There was strong evidence at the time suggesting the reality of both telepathy and teloteropathy, but none of that evidence involved will, intention, emotion, personality, and dialogue as expressed through Mrs. Piper. As Hereward Carrington, an SPR researcher, saw it, we would have to assume that the subconscious mind of the entranced medium could somehow reach into the brain of the sitter, or a person thousands of miles away, find the right engrams, like grooves cut in a phonograph record, interpret them and perceive them to be certain specific “memories,” and then be prepared to carry on a dialogue relating to them.  “The very formulation of such a conception renders it so preposterous as to rule it out from serious consideration,” Carrington offered around 1910. 

Nevertheless, in 1890, some five years after James and the SPR began studying Mrs. Piper, the secondary personality combined with telepathy, teloteropathy, and the cosmic reservoir seems to have been the favored and predominant explanation.  It simply was too difficult or too embarrassing for any educated person to admit to a belief in spirits or “ghosts.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die is published by White Crow Books. His latest book, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife is now available on Amazon and other online book stores. 

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