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Pulitzer Prize winning Author Offers Views on Life After Death

Posted on 20 November 2023, 8:01

If famous American author Booth Tarkington (1889-1946) can still tune in to the earth vibration, my thanks go to him for providing this blog, as extracted, edited and abridged from his introduction to the 1920 book, “Neither Dead Nor Sleeping” by May Wright Sewall. Tarkington, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was referred to as “the most important and lasting writer of his generation.” Clearly, progress has been made since he wrote this, but the “dustheap” he referred to is apparently much more dense than he had realized. 

Striving for Saneness in the Daylight

by Booth Tarkington

tarkington

Man, after a million years of struggle to think, is still refusing to recognize as a fit subject for study that subject which most concerns him – death. Here he remains barbaric; he looks upon death as an ultimate horror which is “unwholesome to dwell upon.” Man is still tribal in his attitude toward war because he is still tribal in his attitude toward death.

Man regards death as so horrible that when he reaches the utmost pitch of his rage he inflicts death upon his enemies. When he feels that life is unendurable he says the worst thing about it that he can think of; he says he prefers death. It is true that individuals, here and there, unbearably anguished by their lives, do long for death; and they think of death as peace, just as in the torrid days of summer we think of January as pleasant; and, seeking peace, they seek it blindly through suicide. But they do not know what they will find.  In their utter ignorance they guess; and usually their guess is that they will find nothing.

We do not know that death is nothing. If death is nothing, then we still know nothing about nothing. We know no more about death than prehistoric man knew. We know more than he did about how to postpone it under certain conditions, and about how to alleviate the physical pain of it; and, using words interchangeably, we can make more definition of it than he could; but our ignorance of death itself is precisely equal to his.  This may be because we have preferred to cling through the ages to the superstition that we could know nothing about it.

There are minds which wrap themselves with satisfaction about a confusion of words, just as tangled thread loves to knot itself always the more inextricably. “Death is negation,” they urge. “Death is merely not life. How can you state positives of a negative? You can know only nothing about nothing, so how can you know something about nothing?” But if they knew that death is nothing, and if they knew that death is not life, they would know more than Moses or Newton or Voltaire knew, and surely that would be knowing something. Enamored of their wanderings with words, they do not even rise to the scientific height of a guess.

In man there is a profound physical distaste for death which extends itself to become a distaste for the investigation of death; he lets his mystics and priests chant of it vaguely on ceremonial days, but he really does not wish to think about it at all. Therefore, he is naturally inclined to throw discredit upon investigations and investigators; in a sense it is his instinct to do so. Moreover, certain thinkers (in their own distaste of the subject) have claimed that this very distaste is the only basis of man’s hope of personal survival after death. They wish to dispose of the matter thus briefly, defining the theory of “immortality of the soul” as merely a by-product of man’s instinct of self-preservation. And there are others who say that man got the notion that he had a soul through his savage ancestor’s dreams; the savage woke from slumber and said: “I have been in strange places, obviously far away from my sleeping body. Therefore there must be two of me – the me of my body, and the me that leaves my body and goes away.  Hence, when my body dies, the me that dreamed may still be alive.”  The civilized man’s dream of survival is only a savage’s dream, after all, the rationalists say.

Thus they claim to have demolished the theory of survival.  But plainly, they may be (for all they know) exactly like the rational argufiers who may have said, in the year 1491 Anno Domini: “The earth is flat. Columbus believes it is round because his grandfather had a passion for round fruit, such as oranges and apples; the love of rotundity is inherent in his blood.”  To imagine the origin of a desire or a conception is not to prove that the thing desired or conceived has no existence, as any hungry child will demonstrate to a doubter’s satisfaction.  But the strangest theorist is he who takes the ground that man is actually indifferent to death (because, as death approaches, some men and most dogs appear to be indifferent to life) and that therefore, since death amounts to so little, it really amounts to nothing and coincides with nothingness.

Cocksureness

Many of the [deniers] are cock-sure, and there is no superstition so superstitious as cock-sureness…Often they speak with a fierceness that betrays them: “Idiot!” they shout. “Don’t you know it’s been proved that you can’t know anything, because there is nothing to know?” They love to make free with the word “proved.” This is the “attitude of civilization” toward death and what may lie beyond death.

[And there are people who] say they “don’t believe in spirits,” but obviously they do – even to the extent of having determined that spirits can never for instance be trivial or humorous; and with primitive naiveté they have so credulously pictured a heaven, or hell, of their own, that evidence of anything different seems to them nonsense. “Why don’t the spirits ever tell us something worthwhile?” they say.  “Why aren’t the spirits more dignified?”  The spirits they believe in, you see, are already constructed out of fancies, imaginary spirits finished in contour, gesture and temperament – and anything purporting to be a spirit, but not fulfilling the ready-made portrait, is dismissed as either fraud or delusion.

[There are] many people who say “We aren’t meant to know” [and] will deny their love of darkness. “We live by faith,” they add. “We believe in the many mansions in His Father’s house, and “If it were not so I would have told you.’” Yet they hold that there is a kind of impiety in seeking to follow this great hint of Christ’s to further understanding of what He meant. He did not forbid it; it is they who forbid. They say, “We are judged by the extent of our faith,” which may easily mean that the harder a thing is to believe, the more credit to him who believes it.

The seeker for the truth about survival (whether the truth be consolation or not) must know that his way lies through a maze, which one enters trying to find a path that will take him out on the opposite side. There are a thousand fraudulent bypaths and he must learn to recognize at their entrances the little marks which show that the way out does not lie there – and yet the true path may be disguised by these same little marks. The seeker’s heart must be steady and his head cool; he will see queer things at which he must remember to laugh, and his elbow will be plucked by hands reaching from many a curious cul-de-sac. If he becomes bewildered he will see things that do not exist, and he may begin to babble nonsense. And though he might never find the true path, he must not deny (if he would claim to have remained reasonable) that a true path may exist.

The child fears the dark, yet there is nothing in the dark that is not in the light – except the light itself – and so there may be nothing in death that is not in life, if we had the light to see. If death is life, with “progress and problems” like those in what we call life, then we should not fear it.  We fear it because we imagine it is darkness – yet that is one thing which it cannot be. Nothing is not darkness.

Strong Evidence for Survival

Now, certain men have said that they have evidence of survival, and some of these men are scientists – even scientists by profession. It they have the evidence which they say they have, then it is going to be possible to establish, before very long, the most important fact that can affect mankind.  There is no doubt that these men believe the evidence; and their critics, unable to assail their sincerity, attack them upon the point of gullibility.

But this leads a person of open mind to suspect the critics of a gullibility of their own; that is, they may be gulled by their prejudices.  They are indeed thus gulled if they declare Sir Oliver Lodge to be gullible because Sir Oliver claims to receive messages from a dead person. To show Sir Oliver gullible, the critics must prove the messages to be fraud or delusion.  They prove only their own superstition which says, by implication: “But spirits do not do thus and so; and they do not speak thus and so.”  No doubt serious investigators have been gulled; that means nothing of importance; secret service men have had lead quarters passed “on” them. The question is, whether or not the investigators have ever found true metal – if it were even a centime! Most of them believe they have; and therein is a circumstance of such significance as may give us strangely to think, if we will take leisure to note it: of all the men professionally of science who have seriously and persistently investigated and studied the alleged phenomena of “spiritualism,” the overwhelming majority have drawn the conclusion, as a result of their patient researches, that there is personal survival of death. 

Only levity sneers at them now – at these patient men who have sought truth in the dust-heap.  They have not yet failed; neither have they shown the truth – if they have found it – so that all men may see it and know that it is indeed truth. Their task is heavy, but it is the greatest one, for it is the task that must be done before civilization can begin. To lift the burden of the unknown from the human soul – to destroy the great darkness; that is the work which engages them.  Men cannot be sane in the daylight until the night becomes knowable.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post: Dec. 4


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William James, the Minister, and the Medium

Posted on 06 November 2023, 9:37

After Professor William James carried out a dozen experiments with Leonora Piper and became convinced that she had supernormal powers, he arranged for 27 of his friends, relatives, and associates to sit with her and report back to him on their experiences.  Twelve of them got nothing, except unknown names or trivial talk, but 15 of them received meaningful information. 

One of them was Dr. Minot J. Savage, a Unitarian minister (top left photo). In his 1902 book, Can Telepathy Explain?, Savage told of his investigations as a member of the American branch of the Society for Psychical Research (ASPR).  “I doubted neither his intelligence nor his honesty, but I did not believe a word of the things he told me,” Savage wrote of his introduction to psychic phenomena. Early in his investigations with other mediums, Savage encountered some physical phenomena, including levitations. “I have seen tables and chairs lifted in a way not to be explained by any ordinary methods, and this a good many times,” he wrote. “On one occasion, when seated in a heavy arm chair, I was myself gently and quietly lifted into the air while a skeptical friend looked on and carefully studied what was taking place.”

savage

Savage felt it was his duty to accept the invitation by Professor James to observe and study Mrs. Piper.  “If there is a great truth here which abolishes death, which wipes away all tears, which heals the broken-hearted, which puts meaning into life, which makes all the long and toilsome process through which we are passing worthwhile, then surely that is something which ought to be known,” he explained.

In his first sitting with Mrs. Piper, Savage’s father was the first to communicate. He had died in Maine at age 90.  “He had never lived in Boston, nor, indeed, had he visited there for a great many years, so that there was no possibility that Mrs. Piper should ever have seen him and no likelihood of her having known anything about him,” Savage related.  “She (or Phinuit, her spirit control, speaking through her vocal cords, artist conception bottom left) described him at once with accuracy, pointing out certain peculiarities which the ordinary observer, ever if he had seen him, would not have been likely to notice.”

Mrs. Piper then said that “He calls you Judson.”  Savage considered this quite evidential as his father had called him Judson, his middle name, when he was a boy. “In all my boyhood all the members of the family except my father and my half-brother had always called me Minot,” he explained, going on to point out that after he had become an adult his father began calling him Minot.
 
“Here is somebody else besides your father,” Savage further recalled Mrs. Piper (or Phinuit) saying.  “It is your brother, no your half-brother, and he says his name is John.”  Mrs. Piper (or Phinuit) then went on to accurately describe John and tell the method of his death. Savage pointed out that this brother was not consciously on his mind and he was not expecting to hear from him.  Moreover, he was certain that Mrs.  Piper knew nothing about him.

On one occasion, Savage’s daughter, Gertrude, visited Mrs. Piper anonymously.  A friend made the appointment for her under an assumed name.  As a test, the friend gave her three locks of hair.  “[My daughter] knew nothing about them, not even as to whether they had been cut from heads of people living or dead,” Savage related. After Mrs. Piper had gone into the trance state, the locks of hair were placed in her hand one at a time.  Mrs. Piper (or Phinuit) gave the name of the friend, the names of the three people whose hair she held, and told whether they were living or dead.  The daughter took notes and then after the sitting verified that Mrs. Piper (or Phinuit) had been correct in every case.

On a much later visit to Mrs. Piper, Savage was told that his son, who had died at age 31 three years earlier, was present.  “Papa, I want you go at once to my room,” Savage recalled his son communicating with a great deal of earnestness.  “Look in my drawer and you will find a lot of loose papers.  Among them are some which I would like you to take and destroy at once.”  The son had lived with a personal friend in Boston and his personal effects remained there.  Savage went to his son’s room and searched the drawer, gathering up all the loose papers.  “There were things there which he had jotted down and trusted to the privacy of his drawer which he would not have made public for the world,” Savage ended the story.

Savage told Admiral W. Usborne Moore, a retired British naval officer turned psychical researcher (bottom right photo), of the sitting with Mrs. Piper and pointed to a picture of his son hanging in his office.  He also gave Moore a letter of introduction to Mrs. Piper. Before visiting Piper, however, Moore sat with Maggie Gaule Reidinger, a New York medium.  She mentioned Moore’s visit with Savage and said that Savage’s son was there at the time.  “He is beside me now,” Reidinger continued, “and he wishes me to tell his father that he was with him in his study this morning when you called upon him.  He says: ‘My father pointed to a picture, and said, “That is my son.” He afterwards showed you another portrait of him.  He gave you a letter, or authorized you to use his name, to assist you to obtain an interview with Mrs. Piper.”  Moore was very much impressed and certain that Mrs. Reidinger did not know his name.  He recontacted Savage to confirm that he had not spoken to Mrs. Reidinger to inform her of his visit that night.

As reported by Savage and further recorded in the records of the ASPR, the Rev. W. H. Savage, Minot’s brother, and a friend of Professor William James’, sat with Mrs. Piper on December 28, 1888.  Phinuit told him that somebody named Robert West was there and wanted to send a message to Minot.  The message was in the form of an apology for something West had written about Minot “in advance.”  W. H. Savage did not understand the message but passed it on to Minot, who understood it and explained that West was editor of a publication called The Advance and had criticized his work in an editorial.  During the sitting, W. H. Savage asked for a description of West.  An accurate description was given along with the information that West had died of hemorrhage of the kidneys, a fact unknown to Savage but later verified.

In a sitting by W. H. Savage two weeks later, West again communicated, stating that his body was buried at Alton, Illinois.  He gave the wording on his tombstone, “Fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”  Savage was unaware of either of these facts, but later confirmed them.
“Now the striking thing about this lies in the fact that my brother was not thinking of this matter and cared nothing about it,” Minot Savage ended the story, feeling that this ruled out mental telepathy on the part of the medium.  “There was no reason for the [apology] unless it be found in simply human feeling on his [West’s] part that he had discovered that he had been guilty of an injustice, and wished, as far as possible, to make reparation, and this for peace of his own mind,” Minot Savage recorded.

Dr. Savage had sittings with a number of other mediums, although for privacy reasons he was reluctant to name them.  One day he was visited at his Boston church by a clerk in a business house some 20 miles from Boston.  The man explained to Savage that he had found himself under the influence of some power that wished to write through his hand.  He was confused and wanted Savage’s advice. “We sat down at the table, and immediately his hand was seized and began to write with a good deal of power,” Savage reported.  The communicating spirit identified himself as George Canning, a name unknown to Savage.  “He stated quite a number of facts concerning himself, some of which I was able to look up and [later] verify.” 

Savage then decided to give George Canning a little test.  He asked him to go to his house and find out what Mrs. Savage was doing at the time.  In fact, Mrs. Savage was not supposed to be home that morning. “We sat in perfect quiet and silence for four or five minutes.  At the end of that time, the hand began to write.  To my surprise, and of course I believed he was all wrong, he said: ‘Mrs. Savage was at home, and when I was there, she was standing in the front hall saying good-bye to a caller.’”  When Savage went home later, he was told by his wife that she had been paid an unexpected call by a friend and that she was bidding her good-bye at the very time the spirit reported.
   
“The number and kind of facts which have been discovered and verified beyond any reasonable doubt are such as to leave fraud and self-delusion and mere coincidence out of the questions,” Savage concluded.  “There are facts, and great numbers of them, which must be treated seriously.”  He added that the question of survival after death may be considered without any regard to the question of theism or atheism.  “Whatever a man may believe concerning God, it is still true that we are here and are what we are.  Some power has produced us, and a power which is adequate to this may, for all we know, be adequate to continuing our personal existence beyond the experience of death.” 

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.
His latest book, No One Really Dies: 25 Reasons to Believe in an Afterlife is published by White Crow books.

Next blog post:  November 20


 

 


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Facing the Final Choice by Michael Grosso – The editor of my first book suggested I call it The Final Choice (1985). I thought the title was overdramatic and a bit grandiose. I did in part write the book in response to what seemed like the growing threat of nuclear war. Read here
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