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Mrs. Piper & the Society for Psychical Research by Michael Sage

XVI Examination of the telepathic hypothesis--Some arguments which render its acceptance difficult.

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I have mentioned in passing what should be understood by the word _telepathy_. I shall repeat my explanation; it is necessary that the reader should have it well in mind, as in this chapter I am about to examine the telepathic hypothesis and endeavour to find out if it will cover the facts which we are studying. By telepathy is here meant, not only the power of obtaining information from the consciousness and subconsciousness of the sitters on the part of the secondary personalities of Mrs Piper, but also their power to read the consciousness and subconsciousness of persons somewhere or anywhere else on earth, no matter where, distance in no way increasing the difficulty of this reading. This is evidently among hypotheses a wide and far-reaching one, and yet, if we reject the spiritualistic hypothesis, there is no other which will cover all the facts.

The following arguments here briefly indicated are, with others, developed at length in Professor Hyslop's book. I shall not again go over those which circumstances have necessitated my explaining with sufficient clearness before in the course of this work.

To begin with, what is the origin of this telepathic hypothesis? Is it justified by the facts of experimental or spontaneous observation among psychologists? Certainly not; if we only reckoned the experiments and observations of official psychology, the hypothesis of telepathy, as we understand it, would be almost unfounded. This hypothesis is in reality founded on our ignorance; we may admit it temporarily, because we are ignorant of the latent powers of the human mind, and because we have every reason to think these latent powers great and numerous. I think that the first wide use of it was made in the famous book by Gurney, Myers, and Podmore, _Phantasms of the Living_. The telepathic hypothesis might very well be admitted as an explanation of the facts recorded in that book, although the spiritualistic hypothesis would explain them as well, or even better. But when we are considering other facts, such as those of Mrs Piper's trance, for example, the telepathic hypothesis, in order to explain them, must be stretched beyond permitted limits.

In the first place, with regard to reading the consciousness of those present, it would seem that, if we were dealing with telepathy, the so-called communicator ought generally to bring out the facts of which the sitters have been thinking most intently. But this hardly ever happens; in Professor Hyslop's sittings it never happens. Certainly many of the incidents related were in the consciousness of the sitters, but the latter were not thinking about them till the communicator recalled them.

For the same way, if we were dealing with telepathy, it is to be supposed that the communicators would be the persons whom the sitters expect. Now this is far from being the case. In the fifteen years during which Mrs Piper's mediumship has been studied, a great number of communicators have appeared about whom nobody was thinking. Professor Hyslop, among others, says that he has met with several communicators whom he did not in the least expect. Others whom he expected did not appear. It is a fact worthy of remark that in Professor Hyslop's sittings only those persons appeared who were capable of telling something of a nature to prove their identity; the others seem to have been systematically put aside by Imperator, even when information concerning them was abundant in the consciousness and subconsciousness of the sitter.

It would seem that, if we were dealing with telepathy, the self-styled communicators would most easily utter the least remote ideas of the sitters' minds; the nearest, most vivid ideas ought to appear first. Now this is far from being the case. It seems to make no difference to the communicator whether the idea is familiar or otherwise to the minds of the living.