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Five Different Mind-Sets in the Search for Truth

Posted on 20 October 2014, 11:50

When William Stainton Moses, a Church of England priest, first read about the mediumship of D. D. Home he called it the “dreariest twaddle.”  His good friend, Dr. Stanhope Speer referred to it as all “stuff and nonsense.”  It wasn’t long after their cynical remarks were made that Moses discovered that he had mediumistic abilities, both mental and physical.  In fact, the phenomena produced through Moses’s mediumship approached those of D. D. Home.  It included levitations, floating objects, strange music, the direct voice, the trance voice, and automatic writing.  Suddenly Moses was in the position he once found himself relative to explaining things to others.  He classified the correspondents and inquirers into five groups.  With some abridgements,  I quote directly from Moses’s 1879 book, Spirit-Identity:

Pseudo-Scientific: “One class of correspondents, whom I may call the scientific or pseudo-scientific, take much trouble to explain to me, some with great courtesy, others with great pity, some with patience, and a few with asperity, that I am a fool – they don’t say so, but they mean it none the less – for believing in or troubling myself about these matters.  Mediums they regard as vulgar rogues, doubtless on the ex uno disce omens (From one thing you can tell all) principle; investigators as shallow fools, presumably because they do not employ the scientific method made notorious in a recent celebrated instance.  I get the full benefit of discourses on the laws of nature (all of which are apparently well known to my correspondents) on snapping tendons, cracking toe joints, expectant attention, unconscious Carpenterianism, et hoc genus omne (and all this sort of thing).

“This is, perhaps, the weariest and dreariest reading of all; but it serves to show that the dominant ideas fostered by this ‘science, falsely so called,’ are one great hindrance to the fair and free investigation of Spiritualism.”

Theorists: “A second class are those who have an idea, a plan, a theory – the Trochus of whom the War Office, and many other departments, could tell a tale.  I do not mean those who have mastered facts, and who earn the thanks of all by devoting themselves to the task of suggesting explanations to them.  These merit the enduring gratitude of all lovers of truth.  I refer to those who regard fact as a subsidiary matter altogether, and whose eyes are filled with the fair proportions of their own idea.  Suggest to them that they are not quite acquainted with facts which do not, indeed, accord with their theory and they wave them aside with much dignified complacence, explaining that if their ideas are properly estimated they must be found to be true, and so that, since Nature works according to the law, the facts will, in the end, be found to fit into their place.  One correspondent expounds to me this delightful piece of argument in connections with his idea that simultaneous hallucinations account for all.

“These correspondents lead me to believe that another cause why success does not attend the investigations of some persons, is because their minds are hopelessly darkened to the exclusion of all light by the blind of a false theory.”

The Ignorant:  “A third class is the purely ignorant.  They usually profess themselves to be so; they will even parade what is already sufficiently obvious, as though it were, like the beggar’s rags and professional shiver, an excuse for appealing to the public pity.  Starting from this platform, these persons will propound the most astonishing queries as to things heavenly and spiritual.  They will ask questions which, I presume, an archangel would be unable to answer, simply because that exalted being would find in the questioner no antecedent knowledge which would make a reply intelligible.  They will ask about God and creation, and the nature of the occupations of eternity, demanding with much naïveté, a biography of all the heavenly host, and topographical plan of the spheres.  They will propound simple questions about predestination, and the nature of evil, and the incarnation, and other theological problems, which they seem to suppose become all as clear as mud to the spirit that has been, if only for a few poor years, emancipated from the physical body.

“These impress me with a belief that another cause of failure in some inquirers is that they have not prepared themselves by gathering antecedent knowledge, and clearing away old fallacies, to receive new truth.  The ground has not been ploughed up, harrowed, and cleansed of weeds, so that new seed may have a chance to grow.”

The Captious Critics: “Closely allied in ignorance are those whom I may call the captious; those who ‘want to know’ why such and such conditions are necessary; why such and such things can’t be done in such and such a way; why phenomena can’t be got at the Royal Institution; why there should be any such thing as a medium or a circle; why not abolish them, and let every man be his own medium; in short, why everything is as it is, and why everything isn’t as it isn’t.  These persons, one would declare, know how everything ought to be, and could amend God’s universe to an improved pattern, and run it on entirely new principles.  They may be recommended to begin their improvements by making a clean sweep of Professor Tyndall’s ‘conditions’ in his laboratory at the Royal Institution; and when they have abolished the developing room of the photographer we will begin to talk with them.
“These lead to the belief that there are some, I fear I ought to say many, persons, who carry in their own minds a captious spirit – intolerant, arrogant, and dogmatic – which is a sure barrier to the reception of truth.  They have not merely swept and garnished the chamber, but they have barricaded all points of access with chevaux defrise of foolish objections, and strewed the floor with torpedoes into the bargain.

“It was Mr. Spurgeon who, in describing a captious questioner, declared of him that if the constellation Orion were pointed out to his view, he would immediately suggest that the shape of it was poor, and that the stars might be arranged on a new principle.  Such captious critics are not all outside of Spiritualism.”

The Spiritualist:  “Lastly, there is the large body of Spiritualists whose questions are extremely suggestive.  Some – most of them – are engaged in a search after their departed friends….[But] many, I fear, finding that all is not so plain as they had hoped, that there are laws beyond the grave, even as here; and that these preclude or delay the coveted intercourse – many go back, and impatiently say that Spiritualism is a mockery, an affair of sub-human spirits, a dealing with devils.  This is, after all, but a refined form of selfishness and suggests to us another antecedent difficulty in the inquirers’ way, viz., that a too eager desire for one thing, and a too positive state of the mind, are well-nigh sure to produce failure.  The mind must be at peace, in harmonious balance, and not biased or excited.  The best attitude is one of simple receptivity; an attitude, let me say, quite compatible with the keenest scrutiny, and the most accurate observation.

“The letters of enthusiastic Spiritualists betray a singular inability to understand the laws of evidence.  There are many grounds on which conviction comes to the mind, especially in the matter of intercourse with those who have been dearly loved, and who are lost to us.  It may be that to one has been vouchsafed the proof he craves for through some message, some private test, some little clue that speaks at once to his heart.  But, in recording this occurrence, frequently almost too sacred for publicity, he forgets that others have not the same means of judging that he has, and to them his language of enthusiasm and exaggerated job seem only as the over-wrought utterances of a crazy brain….

“I shall probably command the assent of all reasonable persons when I say that to the uninstructed mind – to the mind that is not familiar with the phenomena of Spiritualism – many of the records must read strangely lax, both in method of observation and in language.  We, who write too frequently, sometimes forget that some who read have no antecedent knowledge, and that what to us is familiar is very strange to them…Much harm has been done on many occasions by injudiciously forcing on unprepared minds what seems to them monstrous narrations of unexplained and inexplicable occurrences…The growth must be gradual, and should be made so.  Forcing is bad in all ways.  The fruit looks well, but it has no flavor.  The plant is luxuriant, but it will not stand the cold wind.  The inquirer so treated is very apt to turn sick…

“[The fact is] that many of the inquirer’s difficulties are of his own making.  They spring, as I have tried to show, from ignorance, from arrogance, from a biased mind, from willful or unconscious one-sidedness of view, form a fixed determination to seek for one (perhaps unattainable) end, from excitement and enthusiasm, and from a lack of calm and dispassionate and patient painstaking investigation.”

It has been 135 years since Stainton Moses wrote those words.  Has anything changed since then? 

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.
His latest book Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I is published by White Crow Books.

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Next blog:  November 3




W. and John,

Thank you for the comments and future recommendations. 

As for the best frame of mind, open-mindedness + harmonious receptivity seems to be key, but, of course, the debunkers sound a loud guffaw at that, suggesting it means that the person gets what he hopes for, etc., etc.  I will try to explore that more in a future post.

Michael Tymn, Fri 31 Oct, 22:55

Hello, Michael, thanks for posting this. When you have the time, to balance “what not to do,” it would be interesting if you could research what afterlife-persons say about the best frame of mind and mental disposition necessary for spiritual advancement. I seem to recall one report somewhere - possibly, it was Charlotte Dresser - which said that a mind given to charitable service along with philosophical curiosity plus fearless independence was the winning excellence of spirit. I’ll bet there are more comments such as this in the many reports, and it would be good to have them in one place in order to consider them. Thanks for your efforts. Wayne

W Becker, Thu 30 Oct, 21:46

Not really a comment on the above blog post but more of a suggestion for a future post, is this article on NPR today:

John W Mumaw, Thu 30 Oct, 15:53

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The Orpheus Motif in North America: The Comanche tradition – To give the reader a general idea of the form taken by the Orpheus tradition in North America, I reproduce the version of the Comanche Indians, here published for the first time. It was communicated to me orally by the late Dr Ralph Linton, who noted it down in the course of his field-studies among the Comanche (1933). Particular interest attaches to the Comanche narrative, for it is the first recorded Orpheus tradition from the more easterly Shoshonean groups. No account is given of it in Wallace and Hoebel’s Comanche monograph, which is otherwise a valuable source for the religion and folklore of this tribe. Read here
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