The Subjective Mind Incapable of Controversial Argument. - A Sceptical Audience demoralizes it. - The Presence of an Avowed Sceptic prevents Successful Exhibition of Subjective Phenomena. - Labouchere and Bishop. - The Royal Academy of Medicine. - Its Offer to Clairvoyants. - Failure to earn Reward. - Harmonious Conditions required by Spiritists. - The Seybert Commission. - Trance-Speaking Mediums. - How demoralized. - Adverse Suggestion the Cause of Failure in All Cases. - Possible Lack of Telepathic Conditions in Bishop's Case. - General Conclusions. - Failure Consistent with Honesty of Mediums.
ANOTHER important peculiarity of the subjective mind is that it is incapable of controversial argument. This subject has been briefly alluded to in a former chapter; but it is of so much importance that a more extended consideration of it is demanded, inasmuch as it affords a clear explanation of various phenomena which have never yet been satisfactorily accounted for. It is well known among hypnotists that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to make satisfactory experiments with a subject in the presence of a sceptical audience. Especially is this true if the scepticism is open, avowed, and aggressive. It is also well known that, when a subject is in a state of lucid somnambulism, no satisfactory results can be obtained if any one disputes him, or attempts an argument, or accuses him of shamming, or of a want of good faith. Such a course always results in great distress of mind on the part of the subject, and generally in restoring him to normal conscious-ness. In the higher phases of hypnotic phenomena this peculiarity is still more marked. In exhibiting the phenomena of clairvoyance and thought-transference, or mind-reading, it is next to impossible to obtain good results in the presence of an avowed sceptic.
The controversy between Washington Irving Bishop and Mr. Labouchere is fresh in the minds of most readers. Mr. Bishop was giving successful exhibitions of his wonderful powers in public assemblies and in private circles in London. He had demonstrated again and again his power to read the thoughts of others and to decipher the contents of sealed envelopes under the strictest test conditions, in the presence of many competent and trustworthy observers. In the height of his success Mr. Labouchere came out in his paper and denounced the whole thing as a humbug. To prove his sincerity he placed a Bank of England note for a large amount in a sealed envelope, and offered to give it to Mr. Bishop if he should correctly read the number. Repeated trials to do so ended in dismal failure. It was a feat that he had successfully performed a thousand times before, and many times afterwards. But the number on that particular bank-note he never could decipher.
In 1831 the Royal Academy of Medicine of France appointed a commission to investigate the subject of animal magnetism. The commission was composed of some of the ablest scientists of the Academy, and it prosecuted its investigations until 1837, when it made its report. Amongst other things it announced that it had demonstrated the fact that some mesmeric subjects possessed clairvoyant power; that such subjects could, with their eyes "exactly closed by the fingers," distinguish objects, tell the color and number of cards, and read lines of a book opened at a chance page. Without entering into the details of the controversy that followed this report, it is sufficient to say that a standing offer of a large sum of money was made to any one who should demonstrate the reality of clairvoyant power in the presence of a committee appointed for the purpose. It is said that many attempts have been made by good clairvoyants to earn this money, but every attempt has ended in total failure. Volumes might be written detailing such tests and such failures.
Exhibitions of the phenomena of spiritism are constantly liable to utter failure in the presence of avowed sceptics. Every one who has attended a "spiritual" seance is aware of the strict regard paid to securing "harmonious conditions;" and all know how dismal is the failure when such conditions cannot be obtained. It frequently happens that some one will inadvertently remark that "spirits never come when I am around;" and in nine such cases out of ten the seance will end in failure when such a remark is made. Any argument against spiritism, especially if addressed to the medium, or any controversy on the subject in his presence, will destroy all chance of a successful exhibition. Investigating committees nearly always fail to observe the promised phenomena when the character and objects of the committee are known to the medium. Thus, the Seybert Commission, a majority of whose members were pronounced sceptics, utterly failed to witness any phenomena which might not be produced by legerdemain. In their report they take occasion to say:-
"Our experience has been . . . that as soon as an investigation, worthy of the name, begins, all manifestations of spiritist power cease. . . . Even the very spirit of investigation, or of incredulity, seems to exercise a chilling effect and prevents a successful manifestation."1
It will be observed that the last sentence betrays the fact that the writer regards "the spirit of investigation" and "the spirit of incredulity" as synonymous terms. It is certain that the Seybert Commission as a body did so regard them, and made no effort to conceal the fact from the mediums who submitted to be examined. Every medium whom they examined was made fully aware of the incredulity of the majority of the Commission, and thus every effort to produce the phenomena failed.
1 Seybert Commission, Report, p. 15.
The same peculiarity is observed in trance-speaking mediums, especially in those who speak in a purely subjective condition. No matter how great is their flow of eloquence, or how perfect their command of their subject, they utterly break down when confronted by an adverse argument. So well is this peculiarity known that their friends never suffer them to be interrupted.
It would be useless to multiply instances of this character. It is sufficiently evident from what has been said that one invariable result follows the one condition. In the investigation of physical phenomena the scientific observer would not hesitate to concede that where a marked result invariably follows a given condition, the two must sustain towards each other the relation of cause and effect. It will not be difficult to establish that relation in this case; and that, too, on principles consistent with the supposition of the absolute integrity of all concerned.
It is, in fact, but another striking illustration of the fundamental principles laid down in preceding chapters of this book. It demonstrates more completely than almost any other phenomenon the absolute amenability of the subjective mind to the power of suggestion. It will not be gain-said that all the phenomena mentioned - clairvoyance, thought-transference, hypnotism, and mediumship - are embraced under the one generic title, subjective or hypnotic; they are therefore governed by the same general laws.
The hypnotic subject who is in the presence of an openly sceptical audience, and who hears some one declare that the subject is shamming, instantly seizes upon the declaration; and it is to him a suggestion that is as potent as the one which induced the hypnotic condition. The suggestion of the operator is thus neutralized, so to speak, by a counter-suggestion, which reduces the subject at once to his normal condition. In such a case the subject cannot be again hypnotized so long as the sceptic is present; his very presence is a standing suggestion of the unreality of the hypnotic condition which cannot be overcome by the operator.
In the case of Bishop, the mind-reader, the same principle applies with equal force. The mental state which enabled him to read the contents of a sealed envelope was self-induced. It was a partially hypnotic condition, induced by auto-suggestion. When Labouchere's envelope was presented to him, the very manner of presenting it - the offer of its contents as a gift if he would read the number of the bank-note within - was a defiance of his power. It was a suggestion of the most emphatic character and potency that, do what he would, he could not read the contents of that envelope. Again, the anxiety engendered in the mind of the clairvoyant was another factor which added force to the suggestion. The offer was not only defiant, it was even public. The whole civilized world was apprised of the controversy. The professional reputation of the man was at stake. His future career depended upon his success; and every dollar of value in that note not only added to his anxiety to win the prize, but contributed its force to the suggestion that he could not succeed.
There is, however, another factor which should be considered in Bishop's case, and which may account for his failure on other grounds than adverse suggestion. Bishop was a professional mind-reader, and, as I understand it, did not profess to have independent clairvoyant powers. If, therefore, no one knew the number of the bank-note, it is obvious that failure was inevitable, for the reason that the fundamental conditions of success were absent. There was no mind in possession of the number, and there was no mind to read. It was, therefore, not a fair test of his professed powers in any view of the case. But if Labouchere did know the number of the note, the failure was easily accounted for, as before remarked, on the principle of adverse suggestion.
It is obvious that the principle of adverse suggestion applies to all phases and conditions of subjective mental activity; and the necessity for harmonious conditions, so constantly insisted upon by spiritists as a condition precedent to the production of their peculiar forms of hypnotic phenomena, is seen to be a scientific fact of immense value and significance, and not a mere subterfuge to enable them to practice a fraud and impose on the credulity of their auditors.