« ПредишнаНапред »
CLASSES OF PHENOMENA.
of the medical profession or of the psychological inquirer.
And for that very reason, inasmuch as many of the phenomena in question, and running through almost all the above examples, resemble, more or less closely, others alleged to have been observed by modern magnetizers, the remarkable concurrence of testimony among the narrators in regard to these becomes the more convincing of the reality, in some shape or other, of the facts narrated.
For, as soon as we find, in a succession of examples, a class of phenomena, no matter how extraordinary or inexplicable they may seem, the chance of their being genuine is very greatly increased. A phenomenon may be deemed improbable so long as it appears to be the only one of its class. But so soon as we havo grouped around it others similar in nature, we have brought to bear one of the strongest arguments to sustain the probability of its existence.
But, besides the inherent probability or improbability of any alleged phenomenon, and besides the general considerations, universally admitted, touching the number and concurrence of witnesses, their usual character for veracity, their freedom from interest in what they affirm,-besides all this, the manner of each individual deposition or narration has, very properly, much to do with the confidence we repose in the narrator. There is, if the testimony be oral, a look and an accent of truth, which inspires instinctive confidence. And though in a written statement simulation is easier, yet even in that case an air of candor, or a sense of the lack of it, commonly attaches so strongly to an author's writing, that we are enabled, if we have some experience of the world, to form a shrewd judgment in regard to his honesty of purpose.
MODESTY ENLISTS CREDENCE.
Modesty and moderation in narrative justly enlist our credence. We incline to believe most that which is least arrogantly asserted. Earnestness of conviction in the testifier is, indeed, necessary to produce a corresponding confidence in his audience; but no two things are more distinct than earnestness and dogmatism. We lose trust in a man who, if you will but take his own word for it, is always in the right,—who makes no calculation that is not verified, attempts no experiment that does not succeed. A partial failure often inspires us with more confidence than a complete success.
Nor does it materially weaken the probability of an observation in itself reliable, that some other experimentalists in search of similar results have not yet obtained them. One successful experiment, sufficiently attested, is not to be rebutted by twenty unsuccessful ones. It cannot disprove what I have seen that others have not seen it. The conditions of success may be difficult and precarious, especially where living beings are the subjects of experiment. And even as to inanimate substances, there is not a naturalist who has reached at last some important discovery who may not have failed a hundred times on the road to it. If even numerous intelligent observers report unobtained results, their negative testimony, unless it approach universality, can amount to no more than an adverse presumption, and may only prove the rarity of the quested phenomenon.*
* In a subsequent portion of this work (on “ Disturbances popularly termed Hauntings") will be found a notice of Glanvil's celebrated story usually entitled “The Drummer of Tedworth.” It attracted so much attention at the time that the king sent some gentlemen of his court to examine into the matter, who spent a night in the house reputed to be baunted, but heard nothing; and this has been adduced as a complete refutation of the narrative. Glanvil (in the third edition of his “ Sadducismus Triumphatus,” p. 337) justly remarks thereon,
“ 'Tis true, that when the gentlemen the king sent were there the house was quiet, and nothing seen or heard that night, which was confidently and with triumph urged by many as a confutation of the story. But 'twas bad logic to conclude in matters of fact from a single negative, and such a one against numerous affirmatives, and so affirm that a thing was never done because not at such a particular time, and that nobody ever saw what this man or that did not. By the same way of reasoning, I may infer that there were never any robberies done on Salisbury Plain, Hounslow Heath, or the oth noted places, because I have often traveled all those ways, and yet was never robbed; and the Spaniard inferred well that said, “There was no sun in England, because he had been six weeks there and never saw it.'
ONE SUCCESS NOT DISPROVED
If to some it seem that this remark is so evident as scarcely to be needed, eminent examples can be adduced to show that it touches upon an error to which men are sufficiently prone.
On the 28th of February, 1826, a commission was appointed from among its members by the Royal Academy of Medicine, of Paris, to examine the subject of Animal Magnetism. After an investigation running through more than five years, to wit, on the 21st of June, 1831, this commission reported, through their president, Dr. Husson, at great length, in favor of the reality of certain somnambulic phenomena; among them, insensibility, vision with the eyes closed, prescience during sickness, and, in one case, perception of the diseases of others : the report being signed unanimously. 'Some years later, namely, on the 14th of February, 1837, the same Academy appointed a second commission for the same purpose; and they, after nearly six months, (on the 7th of August, 1837,) reported, also unanimously, through their chairman, Dr. Dubois, expressing their conviction that not one of these phenomena had any foundation except in the imagination of the observers. They reached this conclusion by examining two somnambules only.
Glanvil properly reminds us that “the disturbance was not constant, but intermitted sometimes several days, sometimes weeks.” Under these circumstances, it is quite evident that its non-appearance during a single night proves nothing.
BY TWENTY FAILURES.
Dr. Husson, commenting before the Academy* on the conclusions of this last report, truly observes that “the negative experiences thus obtained can never destroy the positive facts observed by the previous commissior; since, though diametrically opposed to each other, both may be equally true.”+
It is a fact curious, and worth noticing in this connection, that the same dogmatic skepticism which often acts as a clog to advancement in knowledge may be betrayed, in certain contingencies, into an error the very opposite.
For there are some men who run from the excess of unbelief to the extreme of credulity. Once convinced of their error in obstinately denying one startling fact, they incontinently admit, not that only, but twenty other allegations, unchallenged, in its company. They defend to the last extremity the outer line of fortification; but, that once forced, they surrender, without further effort, the entire citadel. "Such," says Buffon, “is the common tendency of the human mind, that when it has once been impressed by a marvelous object it takes pleasure in ascribing to it properties that are chimerical, and often absurd.” Against this temptation we should be constantly on our guard.
There remains to be touched upon, in connection with the observation of phenomena in themselves improbable, a consideration of some importance. To what extent, and under what circumstances, is it reasonable to distrust the evidence of our senses ?
There are a hundred examples of the manner in which
* During their session of August 22, 1837. M. Husson's discourse is reported verbatim in Ricard's “Traité du Magnetisme animal,” précis hisa torique, pp. 144 to 164.
† I forget who relates the anecdote of a clown who proposed to rebut the testimony of a trustworthy gentleman, who had sworn to the use of certain language, by producing ten men to swear that they had not heard it.
one or other of our senses may, for the time, testify only to deceive us.* The most familiar, perhaps, are what are usually termed conjuring tricks. Those who, like myself, have sat through an evening with RobertHoudin, preserve, probably, a vivid recollection how that wonderful artist enacted what seemed sheer impossibilities, before the very eyes of his mystified audience. But this was on his own theater, with months or years to prepare its hidden machinery and manufacture its magical apparatus; with the practice of a lifetime, too, to perfect his sleight of hand. There is little analogy between such professional performances and phenomena presenting themselves spontaneously, or at least without calculated preparation, in the privacy of a dwellinghouse, or in the open air, often to persons who neither expect nor desire them.
But there suggests itself, further, the contingency of hallucination. This subject will be treated of in a subsequent chapter. Suffice it here to say that, according to the doctrine contained in the most accredited works on the subject, if two or more persons, using their senses independently, perceive, at the same time and place, the same appearance, it is not hallucination; that is to say, there is some actual foundation for it. Both may, indeed,
* Each sense may, in turn, mislead us. We are constantly impressed with the conviction that the moon just after it rises appears of a greater magnitude than when seen on the meridian. Yet if, by means of a frame with two threads of fine silk properly adjusted, we measure the moon's apparent magnitude on the horizon and again on the meridian, we shall find them the same.
So of the sense of touch. If, while the eyes are closed, two fingers of the same hand, being crossed, be placed on a table, and a single marble, or pea, be rolled between them, the impression will be that two marbles, or two peas, are touched.
A popular review of the fallacies of the senses will be found in Lardner's “ Museum of Science and Art," vol. i. pp. 81 to 96.
+ See Chapter 1 of Book IV., on “Appearances commonly called Apparitions."