“Mundane and Extramundane Worlds”
Forum and Century, December 1937
The result of this vast inquiry is a conception of the objective universe as different from Newton’s as Newton’s was from Dante’s. We are in a new era, but one has to ask: Is there any expression of this conception in contemporary literature? We are always hearing at radical writers’ conferences and such places that literature should be the expression of the age. But the very people who make this point have not taken the trouble to comprehend what is new in the age at all or what our age is likely to stand for to future generations.
Is there any sign of any conception different from mid-nineteenth-century materialism and determinism in Ernest Hemingway’s recent novel ? Not at all, though Ernest Hemingway is considered our most advanced novelist and is put forward as an indubitable expresser of the age. While he has written, in and , two remarkable novels, he shows in his newest book that he is retrograding rather than advancing. This retrogression may be due to several causes; one may be (as some of his critics say he has shown recently) that intellectually and emotionally he has come, perhaps temporarily, to a standstill. It is risky to make a statement of this kind, though of course it may be true.
But what is certain about Ernest Hemingway is that his literary philosophy is old-fashioned: it belongs not to the twentieth but to the nineteenth century; it is not a new expression-certainly in this latest novel it is not new. At the same time Ernest Hemingway has a technique that must be called modern – a way of observing that is peculiarly his own, with a power of getting on a page snappy and revealing dialogue that is certainly modern enough. His first two novels convinced many of his readers that here was a novelist who might make discoveries in his art, who might even be able to reveal something of life that was not revealed before. But, like certain other contemporary writers, he has not taken his art quite seriously enough. His well-known interest in bullfighting, in sport, in war, his equally well-known admiration for the hairy-chested man do not do a thing for Hemingway the artist. For art demands a psychic virility, a growth of mind, that develops from a many-sided communication with life. A writer does not grow if he has not acquired the power of meditating.
A number of writers who have refused to try and find out what their art really demanded of them are now, in every country, in middle age, trying to save their souls by getting into radical and revolutionary movements. God alone knows how many writers are rushing into Spain to get away from the haunting thought that they have sunk in a rut or wasted their powers. Maybe Ernest Hemingway was in a better position as an expatriate than he has been as an American resident: the characters in his inter- national novels showed themselves capable of some deep spiritual and emotional experience, but the characters in his latest novel are all (whether they are amongst the Haves or the Have Nots) gangsters, without any affectivity, with a monstrous concentration on what they can grab -whether in sex, drink, or the goods of the earth. They are all acquisitive; they stop at nothing to get what they want. If the ordinary citizen, whether belonging to the Haves or the Have Nots, lived on such a level and with such exclusive intentness on physical possessions and desires, the only thing left for governments to do would be to build fewer homes and more and larger prisons and asylums.
Of the spiritual vacuity and degradation expressed in so much contemporary writing and of the confusion in so many writers’ minds be- tween realism and reality people are getting tired to death. While the literary aesthetic that nothing in life should be alien to literature is at least as salient as any other, the unbalanced concentration by many writers on physiological functions, on crude forms of sex expression, on subhuman occupations produce such a lopsided picture of humanity that all sense of reality is destroyed. This sort of writing is forcing the ordinary reader to welcome with avidity any book that deals with the interior life in any way at all. Nobody can doubt that there is going to be an increasing interest in every sort of writing that deals even in inadequate ways with the life of the spirit, for people in the modern world are starved for such expressions. The wheel of time has made another revolution, but our naturalistic-realistic novelists appear either to be unaware of it or to be angrily and bitterly trying to push it back to where it was.
SCIENTIFIC PSYCHIC RESEARCH
The interest in Professor J. B. Rhine’s investigations into what he has termed extra-sensory perception is now extended to a general public; the danger is that this public is a little too general and that we will soon have parlor games with cards testing everybody’s E.S.P. and that cold-cream advertisers or rubber-tire manufacturers may ask Professor Rhine or some of his students to perform over the radio, with the audience telephoning in its reactions at intervals – in short, we may have an E.S.P. Amateur Hour.
If you have a loaf of bread, said Mohammed, sell half and buy the flowers of the narcissus. At the present time there are numbers of people who are willing to sell the philosophies that they thought they lived by for any symbol of extramundane life. For this reason, among others, such experiments as Professor Rhine’s will attract an interest that is far from scientific and detached. That there is such a thing as extrasensory perception (that is, perception outside the ordinary channels of knowledge, which are in the senses) very few people will deny. But, ,
Quite so, and the value of Professor Rhine’s books, and , is in the recorded experiments which have been checked and measured. At the same time one must make a protest. One would like to ask the “sensible scientist” if he really thinks that high or rare powers of the mind – and extrasensory perception must be a high power- can be produced at will and then scientifically measured.
Could, for example, a composer like Richard Strauss or a poet like W. B. Yeats produce samples of his musical or poetic power at will and in a way that scientists could note, check, measure? An Eddie Guest might be able at will to give samples of his versifying abilities, or a crooner-composer of his rhythmical ones. Persons with a mechanical talent and a good mechanical command of it might be able to display at will samples of their power that could be checked, varied, checked again, and measured. I am quite willing to believe in the existence of extrasensory perception- it is, after all, not uncommon – and in the carefulness of Professor Rhine’s experiments. But is the nature of the extrasensory power that can be measured of great value? And is it not acquiescing a little too much in the demands of the man in the street who, no matter how much his own personal life may be guided by unreasoning emotions and prejudices, the minute there is any question of some privileged attribute of mind, demands at once the facts, proofs, utilitarian possibilities?
Nevertheless, it is easy completely to sympathize with Professor Rhine’s insistence on scientific proof of all extrasensory powers, such proof as would satisfy the man in the street, for how else can we avoid deception and even self-deception? What he has succeeded in measuring is very slight, but its value is in the fact that he has succeeded in measuring it and has put this extrasensory experience in a scientific frame.
Like many of Professor Rhine’s students, I have some telepathic power, even some pre- cognitive power, but I am very dubious about its value. I can, for example, get a limited amount of what is passing in another person’s mind, but, as any mind is made up of so many disparate layers, the little bit I am able to get is a very poor guide to the complex whole. Unconsciously I am inclined to base my estimate of a person’s thought on the little amount I am able to telepathize, whereas, as a matter of fact, I could get a truer estimate if I based my perceptions on a general experience of human nature instead of a momentary intense telepathic impression. What precognitive power I have comes through waking images of the sort where one sees oneself in certain situations; it is so wrapped around with imagination and daydreaming that when the dimly foreseen event takes place it has always turned out to be the part of the image to which I paid the least attention.
PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION
J.W. Dunne, the airplane designer who wrote , had a remarkable precognitive faculty. In dreams he had foresight of events which afterward took place – but always a little differently from the way he had foreseen them. He saw in sleep before it happened and he saw certain other things of less sensational interest. Fearing that he might be abnormal in some way, which nobody wants to be, he asked some friends to keep records of their dreams and he found that they, too, when they took the trouble to remember and record, showed some powers of foreseeing. The conclusion he arrives at in is that time is not a linear dimension made up of past, present, and· future but that present, past, and future exist all together in another dimension which intersects our linear one and to which nearly all of us at one time or another have some access.
Still, it is well to be critical of all such powers; they can easily be deceiving. Moreover, they can easily be simulated. Men are easily led to believe that their wives have some strange psychic powers. I have known three women who succeeded in keeping their husbands in complete thralldom by giving them accounts of their clairvoyances, telepathizings, prophecies. One contrived to open her husband’s mail before it reached him and was consequently able to read off in mystic writing on a wall details which he supposed unknown to her, such as that he was being privately offered a diplomatic post in the East and that he had a correspondent with such and such initials who was very harmful to him. He was so ready to believe in her powers that, even when he came on her opening a letter of his in an expert manner, his faith was not seriously impaired. Another believed that his wife had such communications with ancient sages that almost anything she said while in a pseudotrance had a profound inner meaning. A third was guided by his wife’s waking visions. These three men are all very distinguished – any of my readers would recognize their names if I mentioned them – and yet they were all willing to allow themselves to be fooled thoroughly by the pretended powers of commonplace women who, finding themselves married to unusual men, felt that as compensation they had to lay claim to some mysterious power, the psychic being the readiest. Still, the fact is that women more generally than men appear to have psychic powers – call them powers beyond normal cognition or extrasensory perceptions.
THE MEANING OF MEDIUMSHIP
consists of mediumistic material; it is arranged by Dr. John F. Thomas of Detroit, and it relates how he received information about his dead wife from extraordinary women mediums (sensitives is the name he prefers to give them) with whom he himself had no direct connection. He was an unknown personage to them. His book deals with more dramatic material than do Professor Rhine’s Extra-Sensory Perception and New Frontiers of the Mind, but in Dr. Thomas’ case, too, the experiments were scientifically controlled, and the material examined by Professor Rhine and Professor McDougal.
Dr. Thomas, like many other people interested in psychical research, wanted to get into communication with his dead wife, but he makes no pretense of believing that what the mediums told him really came from the world beyond; he merely claims that what he was told showed extraordinary extrasensory perception on the part of the mediums, and in this fair-minded readers will agree with him. The mediums were able to inform him of an array of things that were known only to him and his wife. But all the things that the mediums in their trances reported were trivial, everyday; there was nothing that one might expect to come from a disembodied intelligence, nothing at all that one might look for as coming from somebody who had passed into a world of immortality. What they show is that certain persons, mediums, have extraordinary powers of telepathy or clairvoyance or both; they convince us that the old belief in oracles, prophets, and seers was not so far astray as the rational intellect would force us to believe.
But of survival after death and hope of immortality has there been any proof at all, has there been any certainty given, outside the revelation of religions? This is the type of in- formation that Dr. Thomas’ mediums communicated- it is given as record L. 1349:
[Note] I had had for about two weeks a trifling abrasion and sore spot back of the lobe of my right ear. To an observer it would look as if I were feeling the jaw. With first or second finger on the spot, the right hand covers the jaw.
All that this proves is that a person of acute telepathic power was able to get into communication with the upper layer of the mind of another person. In fact, what the whole book goes to prove is that persons of such perception are able to get some not very profound memories about a dead person from the mind of a living person. Nevertheless, Beyond Normal Cognition, based as it is on experiments scientifically controlled- it was presented as a thesis for a doctorate in psychology- establishes the fact that persons with high psychic endowment can penetrate another’s conscious- ness and that space offers no hindrance to such activity- the medium in London wrote down the information that was in the mind of the person in Detroit. The illumination of this book is in the conclusion:
THE STRANGE CASE OF KATIE FOX
Compared with Professor Rhine’s and Dr. Thomas’ records of scientifically controlled experiments, the revelations of a medium of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties named Katie Fox, which are published in a couple of volumes, read like daydreamings. Katie Fox was one of three sisters who all claimed to be mediumistic. At one stage in their career, one of the sisters repudiated her communications, and Katie, whose revelations are so ardently believed in by their editor, Dr. Langworthy Taylor, appears to have agreed that some of them were fraudulent. Whether everything communicated was fraudulent or not, it has to be said that the bulk of the stuff now published is obvious nonsense, obviously springing from the imagination of a hysterical woman for the benefit of very credulous people. The Fox communications were made between 1869 and 1898 to (the parents of W. G. Langworthy Taylor, who has edited the records and arranged the volumes) who had lost two children and who lived emotionally on the communications which Katie brought: to them from other relations of theirs and from Benjamin Franklin. The way the family would withdraw to a room several times every week for the purpose of hearing or seeing Katie’s performance is in itself an instance of extranormal behavior. How could people have so little interest in anybody in the world except themselves, their offspring, and their relatives? As a study of an elementary stage of culture, of a closed society riddled with superstition, the Fox-Taylor records deserve the attention of some anthropologist.
The world beyond that Katie glowingly gave revelations of was a replica of this one and was mid-Victorian. She did automatic writing, and the following is a sample of a communication from a relative in the other world:
How beautiful the morning is, nothing to complain of but your own feelings and I see that Em feels heavy. Go to church, Em, or ride and you will come back feeling better. . . . I wish you to meet tomorrow for directions… Katie will come tomorrow by eleven when I am ready to give directions.
There is quite a staggering revelation that came through Katie about Grandma. When Grandma died, Grandpa married again, and there was much curiosity as to what would happen in the other world about Grandpa’s two wives, for, of course, the imagination of no one present went beyond the conception of domesticity. What Katie revealed from the other world was that Grandma had acquired another partner there, but that, just the same, she was preparing a little home for Grandpa. There were drawings transmitted from the other world of which photographs are given in the record. There is one of Grandma and little Leila: one sees the flowing garments, the loosened hair decked with rosebuds which was the ideal of female charm in the ‘seventies.
Then there are communications from Benjamin Franklin. When he was asked for advice about a business in Michigan that was worrying the family, Benjamin shed all his eighteenth-century clearness and became mid- Victorian in his evasiveness:
The credulity of all the persons concerned is staggering. This is not to say but that Katie Fox was an excellent telepathetic and maybe a clairvoyant. But her revelations as far as they concern the other world are nonsense.
The editor of these records has also written a book entitled . There are wise sentences in this book, but in its present incoherent form only the hardiest readers could get through its 6oo pages; the author writes about everything from Mayan civilization to the process of supplying the market with information. Dr. Langworthy Taylor would be well advised to limit himself in his future treatises.
There is one thing evident from the Fox-Taylor records, and that is that the mind of some human beings has a power of controlling matter which is at present inexplicable and which only scientifically controlled investigation such as is recorded in Professor Rhine’s and Dr. Thomas’ books will elucidate. It really appears that the sound of a harp was produced during a séance; it was supposed to display to the mother the progress one of her dead children was making in harp lessons in the other world. Now what powers were in Katie Fox that enabled her to produce this effect?
In another book on psychical material, Dr. Wilson Gill Bailey’s , there is excellent criticism of mediumistic efforts by a man who believes in life outside the body. Of the medium’s supposed communication with the dead, he writes:
He also says that “here and there we obtain genuine evidence that death is not death, merely transition, that we live again.” Now, if, apart from religious belief and religious revelation, there is such evidence obtained under properly controlled conditions, why cannot this be presented to us in some concise way?
Among the interesting ideas in We Live Outside Our Bodies is the theory that the mind is a radiation of rays from the brain and that these rays, once they come into existence, survive all vicissitudes and after death are still capable of energy. We Live Outside Our Bodies is on the whole a level-headed book, and, as I foresee that we are in for a wave of books on the psychic, let us hope that the publishers will take care to bring out only books that are level-headed and sober-minded and only books by men of scientific training. The account of his own experiments given by Dr. Wilson Gill Bailey were not sufficiently controlled to satisfy an exacting mind.