Popular Science Monthly/Volume 70/February 1907/In Search of Truth
|IN SEARCH OF TRUTH|
AT the January meeting of the Astral Club at Alcalde, Mr. Arthur Grimshaw, of Berkeley, the newly appointed science teacher of the Alcalde Union High School read a curious and interesting though revolutionary paper on the 'source of knowledge.' His title was 'What is Truth?' This paper was highly appreciated by the club as the example of the best results which can be attained on the material plane of thought. The author's failure to rise to the heights of astral conception was however painfully evident. It is plain that in the laboratories where his training was secured all esoteric sources of truth have been ignored. But as the Astral Club of Alcalde, though I say it who should not, is nothing if not open-minded, it shall be the duty of the secretary to transfer to this record the substance of this young man's views on the tests by which truth may be known.
Mr. Grimshaw began by a discussion of the significance of 'philosophic doubt' whereby men question the only things they know to be true, in the hope of proving the reality of things they know are not true. For if you can show that truth and falsehood are identical in the one case, it lends probability to the theory that falsehood is truth in other cases. On this general argument are founded many forms of modern philosophy and of ancient philosophy as well. Mr. Grimshaw said:
"What I mean to show is that all truth is truth so far as it goes. The things we know to be real are real and we are not deceived in believing in them. The proof of the reality of an object, the truth of a proposition lies in the fact that we can accept it and translate it into action, into life. If it were not true we could not act upon it. Acts based upon it would sooner or later put an end to existence.
"The real nature of an object before us may make little importance to us. It may be solid rock or empty vapor, if we choose to let it alone. But the moment we form relations with it its reality becomes a vital matter. If it is a rock or an apple, then rock or apple it is in all its relations. If we view the apple as something essentially different from what it is, there will be similar errors in our thought of other things. If we are deceived as to the rock we shall have unsound notions as to other things.
"Poisons would seem as foods, foods as poisons; pleasures as sins, and sins as pleasures. The whole sanity and accuracy of life would be destroyed. For the security of action is conditioned by the exactness of our perceptions of the relations of external things and by the correctness of our reasoning in regard to these perceptions."
Mr. Grimshaw, falling back on the lore he had learned in school, said:
"In psychology the term reality is sometimes applied to a sense perception which is based on an outside influence acting then and there. In this sense the reality is not the external influence itself, but our direct or normal perception of it. Thus, the impression made by the sound of a gun would be a reality when the pressure' of air waves reached the brain, though the explosion may have taken place some seconds before. This reality as it comes to the brain should bear a definite relation to its source. In other words it must give the mind such information that the actual occurrence may be correctly interpreted. On its correct interpretation the fitness of our response in action must be conditioned. The term 'common sense' is applied to the normal working of these brain processes. An external stimulus produces a reality. The reality is transmitted to the brain where it is considered in its proper relations. Afterwards an impulse to action passes along the motor nerves to the muscles, which are the servants of the brain.
"In simple matters, as those pertaining to the apple, the dictates of common sense are obvious enough. The feelings are not moved by an apple, and our recognition of its nature is clouded by no illusions. But there are many relations in life in which 'common sense' does not find the problem so easy. If we examine the actions of ourselves and of our fellows, we shall find that the 'common sense' of different men does not act in parallel ways, and what seems to one wise or natural becomes grotesque or absurd to another."
Mr. Grimshaw then gave a number of illustrations of thought or action in which the 'common sense' may be deceived:
"You are in a railway train which is waiting on a side-track. Another train comes in sight, its motion seems transferred to your own train, but in the opposite direction. This motion continues until the other train has passed. It ceases suddenly, when you can almost feel the jolt of its stopping. But from other observations you know that your train has not moved in all this time.
"This is a simple illusion, easily corrected by the mind before it passes over into action. Let us look at some others. The story is told of a merchant who, smacking his lips over a glass of brandy, said to his clerk: 'The world looks very different to the man who has taken a good drink of brandy in the morning.' 'Yes,' said the clerk, 'and he looks different to the world, too.' Now, which is right? Is the world different that it looks brighter? So it seems to the man's own 'common sense.' Or is the difference subjective only, in the man himself, who has lost his bearings to the outside world?
"The revered sage of Los Gatos, Brother Ambrose Bierce, tells the story of a man who visited a naturalist in San Francisco, and remained over night as a guest. The naturalist was fond of snakes and had several of them in the house. When the visitor retired at night he looked under the bed and found a great coiled serpent, who watched him with glittering eyes. These eyes made some strange impression on him, and in the morning the people of the house found their guest kneeling on the floor, dead, his open eyes still staring in horror at the thing under the bed. This thing was the stuffed skin of a kingsnake with two shoe-buttons for eyes. The 'common sense' of the man told him that the snake was charming him, and in the belief that he was charmed to a horrible death he must have perished. If he had not believed that snakes have the power to 'charm' and to kill, surely he would not have died.
"It is said that a ship once landed on a barren island in the Pacific Ocean. Its passengers brought with them the materials for a house, which they set up, to the surprise of the natives who had never seen a wooden house before. They put in it blankets and cooking utensils, and after a day or two they set up near the house on a solid foundation a long tube through which they gazed by turns at the sun. After watching the sun for a single day, they hastily returned to the ship, carrying the long tube and the blankets, but leaving the house and everything else of value on the island. The delighted natives took possession of the house and they hold it to this day. But they look in vain for the return of the foolish people who left it there.
"Men who have traveled in Mexico tell me that all along the coasts of Sinaloa, people are engaged in digging for buried treasures under the direction of men or women in San Francisco. These people have never been in Mexico, but they are said to have the power of seeing clearly objects not before them, in any part of the earth. There is a very old legend current which tells that a pirate ship, hard pressed by the Mexican soldiers, landed on the Cape of Camarron near Nazatlan, where the buccaneers hastily buried a vast treasure of silver, after which they all fled. A man is engaged to-day in boring a tunnel into solid granite and lava to find the treasures thus laid away. A woman, in a shabby Sacramento Street boarding house, claims to see in her trances the inner secrets of the mountains and directs all these operations. Our common sense or our experience may condemn the whole operation as ridiculous but the transit of Venus seemed equally absurd to the local critics who occupy its abandoned shelter.
"One man takes a forked rod of witch-hazel, and, going over a tract of land he feels the fork twist downward at a certain point. He digs there and finds a well of living water. If there is much water the rod turns more vigorously or even turns the other way. Another uses the same rod and finds coal, iron, gas or building stone—whatever he may seek. To do this he has only to attach to the branch of the rod a small fragment of that which he would seek. Thus a dime may be attached if one is seeking for silver, a five-dollar gold piece if one looks for gold. In California where there is no witch-hazel the mountain willow serves the purpose best, because there is water in its make up. But even the madrono or the azalea can be used in an emergency. A man once tried to bore for gas on a certain tract of land in southern Indiana. He engaged a soothsayer with a witch-hazel rod. But the wizard, finding the territory too large to be gone over in this way, makes a little rod, parlor size, and taking the map of Vanderburg county, goes over it with the instrument. The result was just as satisfactory. He chooses a point on the map, they bore the well in accordance with the rod's directions. Plenty of gas is found, which proves the accuracy of the method. As Lord Bacon once observed 'men mark when they hit, but never when they miss.' Still another man wishes to find the material of which a star is made. He takes a tube of metal with lenses and prisms of glass and turns it toward the star. Speedily, by means of lines and streaks on the prism he has his answer, and the composition of a vast sun, so far away that the light which left it in the days of Cæsar has never yet reached us, he describes with confidence. Then he turns his tube on the Pole Star and tells us that it is made of two stars, one a great sun which we can see, and the other a smaller sun which we have never seen and which we can never see. Is all this real? If the spectroscope tells the truth where it speaks in such bold fashion, may we not trust the witch-hazel, too, in its more modest claims?
"An astronomer traces the course of a far-off planet and finds that its orbit bends a little from a perfect ellipse. From this fact he concludes that another planet must be coming near it to attract it. He goes to work to determine the size of this other planet and the place in which it ought to be. When his calculation is finished the telescope is turned toward this place, and the unseen planet is there. If the mathematician through his instruments be thus sensitive to far-off matter in infinite space, may not the clairvoyant through her sensitileprojectile astral body be equally sensitive to a mass of silver?
"Once in a trance a finely organized adept or 'medium' wandered in her astral body through the open belt where the souls of the planets wander at will. While there she heard the comet-shriek, the cry of a lost planet soul, the most terrible sound that rings through the heavenly spaces of the zenith. Is not her testimony to be received with that of the other astronomers?
"From shore to shore across the Atlantic Ocean runs a metallic cable. By means of electric batteries, magnets and sparks, a message is conveyed from one end of this to the other. Messages have been sent so many times that the most sceptical can not doubt the fact. By such means a wanderer in any part of the world may be found and called home, or if need be, sent still further on. Most of us have seen this done and all have heard of it. Because it has grown familiar it seems real to us, and its mystery is dissipated. But why use the metallic cable at all? What occult power lurks in metal? Why must we work always on the material plane? Why not use the air? And indeed the air has been used and with wonderful success. But let us not stop here. Why not use the invisible ether, along which so many forms of energy are propagated? Why not use the boundless sympathy of life? In Europe there is a large species of snail which runs up and down the cabbages feeding on their leaves and is very fond of its mate. It too has been used in telegraphy. Leave your sweetheart in Italy when you come back home but leave her with a large piece of cardboard and take another like it for yourself. On each of these write a number of sentences of sentiment and affection—quotations from the poets, the finest possible to your literary taste, Browning, Tennyson, Wordsworth, or the latest topical song—any of these will do. Then take for yourself one of a devoted pair of snails, leaving the other with her. At an agreed moment (standard time, making allowances for differences of longitude) place your snail upon the card and she will do the same with hers. Your snail will creep to any sentiment you choose as you direct it. Hers is left free in its movements, but it will follow the same course that its mate has chosen. Thus the sweetest messages can be sent across the ocean. The last word of the snail in America, 'All's well,' or 'Non ti scordar di me,' can be made to echo sweetly on a far-off shore. This is the Parasilinic Telegraph, no invention of mine, but the actual work of an ingenious 'psychic adept.'
"But why use the snails? Surely their cold slimy bodies are not more forceful than the throbbing heart and eager brain of man. Surely they are not more sensitive than his astral form. Let the snails go. They belong to the crude beginning of astral science. You have only to sit in your room alone in darkness, and by intense thought and irresistible volition you may set the whole ether of the world in palpitation with your dreams and desires.
"To your thought the 'sensitive' you love will respond. Her astral brain will register your ether throbs. 'It is my wish': that is enough for her. But you can do more than that, if we may trust the records. Your own astral body may be sent across the ocean on the tremulous ether and it will appear to her in her dreams or as part of her realities. While the absence of this body may be a slight inconvenience to you, for you must sleep or suffer while it is gone, it will be a source of joy to her. It may plead your cause for you in a way which protoplasmic bodies can never imitate. That this is not imagination or illusion we have abundant testimony, if the word of man unverified by instruments of precision is convincing to you. Thought and ideas, we are told, may be 'impressed on consciousness in solid chunks without waiting for words or clicks or other means of expression or for a lightning train to convey them,' and there are thousands of records to show how this is done.
"But you do not stop with the expression of your power over the ether and the astral messages it is the function of the ether to carry. You may exert control over matter itself. Mind is matter's king. Matter is the vassal of mind. Then under the force of mind, matter will change or vanish. Recent experimenters claim that by gazing at a photographic plate in the dark, an impression can be made on it. This is the mind flashing out through the human eye. Then whatever is in this 'mind's eye' should appear on the sensitive plate of the camera. But greater deeds than these were done long ago, as our honored president once pointed out, and to my mind they are told in records better authenticated. The sagas tell us that Odin wished to secure the golden mead of the giants that men might drink it and be strong as they. After great labors he came to the mead. He found that the giant Suttung had concealed it in a great stone house, to which Odin could get no key. So Odin and his friend the giant Bauge sat down before the house and gazed at its walls all day. By this means they made a small hole in the rock, and changing himself into an angle worm Odin entered the hole and at last carried the golden mead away in triumph. The influence of this golden mead is, no doubt, still potent in Odin's descendants whose glances have marvelous power.
"There was once a California nurseryman who had a good business and was making money, as the phrase is. So he put aside all the fruit trees which would sell and devoted himself to making others which would not. Each year he trimmed his plums and apricots and lilies and poppies, taking away the pollen which nature had provided and putting it on flowers to which it did not belong. Each year he planted thousands of seeds of many kinds, and when the plants came up, he pulled up nearly all of them and burned them in a great bonfire. Meanwhile he made no money, and lost little by little all that he began with. Then men began to see that all fruits and nuts and flowers changed under his hands. The plums grew very large and very juicy, red, blue and white and more on the tree than men had ever seen before. The lilies and the poppies and all the other flowers grew larger, the cactus lost its thorns and the onion its odor, the chestnut bore its fruit with its second crop of leaves and all things which he touched turned into something better or handsomer, and every year he pulled up nearly all that he had and burned it in great windrows. And foolish people said that he was a wizard and they came from great distances to see him at his work. And there were a few who thought that they understood.
"There was once an old white-haired man who came to an assemblage of scholars, bringing with him two bars of wood connected by bands of iron. Fifty-three years before he had left his home on the bay of Quinté, in Ontario, to show these bars to the world and to give to mankind what it never had before, control over 'The Unconditioned Force of the Universe.' This force through this little machine would 'revolutionize human industry, economize human labor and relieve human want.' 'Gentlemen,' said the old man, 'I gave up the free and easy life of the Canadian forests, I sought my home among the dwellers of cities, I have sacrificed fifty-three years of my life upon the altar of my desire to benefit mankind. In three weeks more my invention will be perfected and through these bars the unconditioned force of the universe will do its works for you and for me. The time has gone by,' he said, 'when the recognition of my principle would have pleased my ambition. I love my race, and I wish to do them good.' Two years more went by, the unconditioned force lacked but a few days—just one more week—of accomplishment, and in that week the old man died in the poorhouse of Monroe County, Indiana, and in the dust and cobwebs in an attic of a neighboring college the model of the machine to be controlled by the unconditioned force of the universe still awaits the touch which for the first time shall make it run; and there were some who called the old man a 'wizard,' and some a 'philosopher,' and because fame has forgotten his name, I speak it here—Robert Havens. And in both these cases, and in all cases, what is our test of truth?
"Not long ago, on the plains of Texas, by order of the government of the United States, tons of gunpowder were exploded. A great noise was made, the smoke arose to the skies, and then all was as before. The purpose of this was to produce rain under conditions in which common sense said rain was impossible. While these conditions remained there was no rain, but the wisdom of the experiment has the official stamp of the United States.
"Not long ago, and I am sure that the good people of Alcade will remember this, some enterprising men had bought the dry bed of a river in southern California. It is filled with winter floods in the rainy season, while in summer it is white with granite sand and barren stones. At best its boulders can only produce a scant growth of chapparal and cactus. Yet when it was announced that a city was to be built on this land, men grew wild at the thought. All night they stood in the streets of Los Angeles, each to take his turn in buying its town lots. And the people who bought these lots were guided in one way or another by what they termed their 'common sense.' The sense of great wealth was in the air, and even the wisest were carried away by it. 'The millionaire of a day' takes the breath of his brother millionaires.
"At Denver not long ago a man insisted that he had the gift of healing. A wild hermit from the plains; some called him crazy and some called him a prophet. But the gift he had, or seemed to have, and thousands of sick people and well crowded around him to be touched and healed. He could not touch them all so he blessed their handkerchiefs, and his power passed over to them. Men and women whose ills gallons of patent medicines had failed to assuage were healed at once by these pieces of soiled cloth. And testimonials such as they had once written for these same patent medicines, they now freely wrote for him.
"But, after all, is there such a thing as disease? Surely man 'made in the image of God' is made in the image of perfection, and what is perfect can not be marred or destroyed. May not disease be the greatest of illusions? May not all pain be a nightmare dream from which we should escape if we were once awakened?
"Many a school of healing has been based in one way or another on these propositions. In a hundred different ways at a hundred different times men and women have found that they could heal pain by the suggestion that pain does not exist. If pain is disease, then shall we not heal all diseases in this way? But some say that pain is not a disease, only a warning that disease is present or coming. Pain is the signal that something is going wrong in the mechanism of the human body. The signal may be unnoticed it is claimed. We then feel no pain but the injury remains, for it is the cause of the pain and not the pain itself. By persistently turning the mind away from these signals of distress sent up by the bodily organs, we may come at last to be incapable of receiving them. We are then free from pain, and our minds may be filled with a sweet serenity very satisfactory to ourselves. Now, which of these is true? Are we ill when we feel pain, well when we do not? Or do we feel pain because we are ill and does the illness pass when our feeling is gone? May it not be true that this is a dangerous and selfish serenity? If it does not mean the checking of disease, but only the closing of our eyes to its ravages, then have we really gained anything? To turn from pain is to turn from all outside impressions. To close the mind to the information given by the senses is to destroy reality, to make activity impossible, to cease to do our duty in the world. This is to cease to grow and to become a burden to our friends and a cumberer of society. There is nothing more noble than serenity amid trouble and distracting effort. There is nothing more selfish than the serenity which is bred by immunity from pain. But to many people, existence without pain, without sensation and without action represents an ideal of the soul. Many well-to-do women of leisure are devoting their lives to the cultivation of this condition, and incidentally neglecting their children and driving their husbands wild by the process. It is not alone faith in a theory of disease or a theory of non-existence which may produce this result. Faith in a celery-compound, an electric belt, or a mud idol may produce the same sweet serenity, the same maddening indifference to all that is real or moving in life. The walls of certain churches in Mexico are covered with the offerings and pictures of those who were saved by their vows or by appeals to some saint. 'But where,' said Lord Bacon, long ago, 'are the pictures of those who were lost in spite of their vows?'
"It is true that to cultivate a cheerful temper, to look on the bright side of things, to laugh when we can and be hopeful under all conditions is good for the body. The food is better assimilated, the blood runs faster, one can do more and better things, and come in closer relations with the realities of life. But conversely, when one meets most manfully the needs of life, his pulse beats more quickly, his brain works better, his liver gives him less trouble and he is naturally cheerful and hopeful. The cheerful man does not dodge pain, he overcomes it. He does not selfishly shrink from reality and turn to introspection and dreaming. He faces the world and makes it his own and takes manfully the pain his efforts cause or which in the progress of life he can not avoid.
"It is possible to go much farther in the direction of the banishment of pain through the thought that pain does not exist. Then take more pain and it will become at last an intense pleasure; when the mind is in the grasp of absolute torture, it is possible for the brain to feel it as with spasms of absolute delight. It is not easy to do this but can be produced by excessive belief in the unreality of common things. The brain half-maddened by pain is open to suggestions from other maddened brains till a fierce wild ecstasy is the final result. This fact explains the strange rites of those sects of self-destroyers which rose in the middle ages, the flagellantes, penitents and the rest. Even yet, the last of the penitent brothers at San Mateo in New Mexico in the passion week torture themselves in the most revolting fashion by crucifixion, whipping and the binding of huge cactuses on their backs. By hideous tortures they expiate in one week their many heinous sins of the whole year. Just as the suggestion that disease is an illusion may conceal pain, for those who give up everything else for healing, so does the suggestion of infinite pleasure conceal for a time the most exquisite pain. But in the one case, as I believe, the disease goes on unchecked, so in the others, the wounds of the whip and the cactus stab remain as realities when the illusion of joy has passed by.
"In Orange County, California, there is a religious sect which finds the old Bible of our race, the Bible of Moses and Job and Jesus and Paul, an outworn book, no longer fitted for the aspirations of man. This bible is still tinctured with the gospel of selfishness, for it recognizes private ownership of land, and goods and men. 'To honor thy father and mother' implies special ownership of them, and the higher life demands that there should be no respect of persons. There can be no personal claims of any sort if all are to be as 'angels in heaven.' Its command 'thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods' implies the neighbor's ownership of material things, a relation which must degrade all who submit to it. 'To render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's' is an outworn recognition of powers that be but which ought not to be. Clearly a new bible is needed, and one of the members of the sect sat down by a typewriter (presumably not his own property) and wrote a bible. It was not his own composition, but that of the Almighty, for the writer simply lent the hands with which divine power did the work. As his fingers played over the Remington keys, he thought of anything or everything except his writing. The result was the book of Oahspe, the Bible of this new dispensation. And the name of the book arose naturally. One looks up to Heaven, and he says 'Oh,' then he looks down to earth and says 'Ah,' and between Heaven and earth is Spirit,—Oahspe!
"In the City Park of San Francisco is the wooden image of some monstrous creature carved by the Indians of Queen Charlotte Sound to express some phase of their mystic devotions. This image was stolen by a Norwegian sailor. Its makers resented its loss by a series of incantations so horrible that they took effect in the image itself. The idol came to San Francisco, bringing sickness, shipwreck or failure to all who touched it. Even now while it rests on a shelf in the Park Museum in apparent quiet, its evil power is shown at night in the smashing of vases and the overturning of bottles. Something of this, kind takes place whenever the image is left unguarded. A man who had charge of it for some time avers that one night the creature rose up in living form and seized him in its clutches, and only by the most violent efforts could he make his escape.
"When an electric current, whatever that may be, is passed through a glass tube from which most of the air has been exhausted, various peculiar phenomena are shown. There is an appearance of bluish light, and from certain parts of the apparatus peculiar rays are given off which do not appear as rays at all. Ordinary light rays pass readily through water, glass or crystal, and we call these objects transparent. Through wood or cloth or stone they will not pass; hence these objects are said to be opaque. And the rays of light may be diverted from their course by passing at an angle from one transparent body to another. This property, known as refraction, is the cause of the formation of images by convex transparent bodies or lenses. But, strangely, the rays of light above mentioned do not act like ordinary light. All objects are transparent to them, though not in equal degree. Not being stopped by dense bodies they are not refracted. Not being affected by lenses they do not produce vision in the eye. As we can not see them to the eye they are not light. But their effect on chemical decomposition is the same as that of light. Hence while not available for vision they can be used in photography. But not being refracted they produce no definite image on the sensitive plate. But they may give rise to shadows. They do not pass through all opaque objects with equal readiness. Hence to place an opaque body between the rays and a sensitized plate would be to cast some kind of a shadow on that plate. The shadow means an arrest of the chemical changes which are the basis of photography. Then if the opaque body be not in all parts of equal density the shadow becomes deeper in some places than in others. This gives on the photographic plate some idea of the intimate nature of the object photographed. For the density is not merely a matter of the surface of bodies. It pertains to the interior, which in an opaque object can not be seen, but which nevertheless may be photographed in this fashion by these peculiar rays.
This line of investigation was lately developed in experiment by Professor Eontgen, and the strange character of the 'X-rays' or 'cathode rays' is now a matter known to every one. By means of these non-refracting rays, shadow photographs can be made showing the bones of the skeleton, imbedded bullets, the contents of a pocket-book, or any similar hidden object which has a nature or a density unlike that of its containing surface. These experiments of Röntgen have been varied and verified in every conceivable way. A wonderful mythology is growing up around them, to the confusion of those who have not paid attention to the series of experiments which made Röntgen's discoveries simple and inevitable.
"For example, in a thousand places the Röntgen rays and the bacilli of disease are made to work together to fill the purse of the enterprising physician. The doctor examines the internal organs of the patient with the fluorescent tubes. He finds out how and where the germs of disease are working their devastation. Then he turns the mysterious X-rays upon these germs and they are checked in their career of ruin: shrivelled up, it may be, under this marvelous light, as caterpillars shrivel on a hot shovel. Another physician I know of distributes his remedies by electric wire, one end in the bottle and the other in the mouth of the patient, miles away. Still other physicians, wise in their generation, use the X-rays and the microbes and the electric currents with other mysterious agencies equally for their own profit or comfort. Now that the X-rays have become somewhat familiar and matter of course, the still more wonderful emanations of radium are made to do the same things and in a fashion equally regardless of the lessons of chemistry and of physiology. The medicine man of the Modocs by other incantations of his own calls up the microbe of disease which he finally spits out, a trout perhaps, or a wood-boring grub or a small lizard—from his own mouth. There have been occult and esoteric methods in medicine since the first Old Man of the Mountains learned to look wise. The rabbit's foot for good luck, the cold potato for rheumatism, celery for the nerves and sarsaparilla for the blood are typical methods as old as humanity. But quackery and pretense does not diminish our debt to honest medicine and surgery however much it may tend to obscure it. Some one asked Dr. Mesmer, the great apostle of animal magnetism, which was the form taken by 'faith cure' in the last century, why he ordered his patient to bathe in river water rather than in well-water. His answer was that 'the river water was exposed to the sun's rays.' When further asked what effect sunshine had other than to warm the water he replied, 'Dear doctor, the reason why all water exposed to the rays of the sun is superior to other water is because it is magnetized—since twenty years ago I magnetized the sun!'
"I see in the Alcalde Gazette that Madame de Silva, a prophetess and seer of visions, seventh daughter of a seventh daughter, born with a caul, down at the American House, is prepared to diagnose all diseases from the examination of a lock of hair, and that Wong Chang, the Chinese doctor, is prepared to do the same and ask no questions. How does this differ from the power of Cuvier to draw a bird from a simple claw or that of Agassiz who could restore a whole fish from one scale?
"Throughout the middle ages experimenters of all grades were engaged in the task of finding the means by which base metals could be transmuted into gold. It was possible in the chemical laboratory to do many things which seemed equally difficult and to the common mind far more mysterious. In the philosophy of the day, and perhaps in our own time as well, there was every reason to believe that the transmutation of metals was possible. But it never was accomplished and many a learned alchemist went to his grave, the work of his life a confessed failure.
"Yet this very day, the daily press, which is responsible for so much of spurious science and mental confusion, gives the record of successful alchemy. One famous metallurgist of world-wide reputation (all these men have 'a world-wide reputation with one another'), has subjected silver to great pressure till it becomes yellow, soft and heavy just like gold. All the difference is in the density—16 to 1. Condensed silver is gold, so the newspaper maintains, and the problem of alchemy is solved at last. By these experiments, six ounces of silver make but four ounces of gold, one third of the substance being somehow lost in the process. But with improved appliances this third should be saved and the finances of the world may be reconstructed on a basis of genuine bimetallism, gold being made when wanted from the condensation of silver. Yet all-important as this discovery should be, neither chemistry nor finance pays any attention to it. It belongs to the science of the newspaper having only the validity of a 'fake advertisement,' 'Common sense' demands that the experiments be verified and the steps which led to them be made known before considering for a moment the probability that there is any truth in the newspaper statement.
"Now how amid all the wonders of science, non-science dreaming, fakery and insanity is the common man to find his way? How shall he recognize the claims of science among all the other voices and noises in this vociferous world?
"This is my answer, and I believe that it is the answer of science. As to many things the common man may not know at all. Where he is not concerned in any way so that error and truth are alike to him because they can not affect his action, he may be powerless to decide. It is not always important that he should decide. 'I do not know' is the affirmation characteristic of the wise man. It is safe to believe mildly in mahatmas and norms and hoodoos and voudous if one does not regulate his life according to this belief. The vague faith in protoplasm, in natural selection or in microbes which the average man possesses will serve him no better if it is put to no test. The difference appears when one acts upon his belief. The nearer one's acquaintance with molecules or protoplasm, the more real and more natural do they appear. The microbe is as authentic as the cabbage to one engaged in dealing with it. Protoplasm is as tangible a thing as wheat or molasses. But the astral body and the telepathic impulse become the more vague the nearer we approach them. They are figments of the fancy, and their names serve only as a cover for our ignorance of the facts. The charm of such words as Karma, Avatar and Kismet lies in the fact that most of those who use them have no idea of what they mean. Lack of meaning or ignorance of meaning lies at the foundations of most occultism. Scientific induction in its essence is simply common sense. The homely maxims of human experience are the beginnings of science. To know enough 'to come in when it rains' is to know something of the science of meteorology. By scanning the clouds we may know how to come in before it rains. By observing the winds we may tell what clouds are coming. By studying the barometer we may know from what quarter the winds and clouds may be expected.
"The discoveries of science are made by steps which are perfectly simple to those trained to follow them. No discovery is made by chance in our day. None come to contradict existing laws or to discredit existing knowledge. The whole of no phenomenon is known to man. The whole truth never can be. Ultimate truth was never in any man's possession. The unknown surrounds on all sides all knowledge in man's possession. The beginning, the end and the ramifications are beyond his reach. He was not present when the foundations of the universe were laid. He may not be present when they are destroyed. But scientific knowledge, though limited, is practical and positive so far as it goes. It rests on experiment and observation alone. Every step in observation, experiment or induction has been tested by thousands of bright minds. He is already a master in science who can suggest even one new experiment. There is nothing occult or uncanny in scientific methods. The e magic wand 'which creates new species of horses or cattle lies in the hand of any stock-breeder. The magic key of the electrician by which the foam of the cataract becomes the light of the city may be held by any municipal council. To take the illustrations given above, 'there is such a thing as a squash,' because the assumption that the squash exists constitutes a safe basis for action. On that hypothesis you can plant squashes or raise squashes or make them into pies. The brightness of the brandy-colored world we can not trust. It requires no scientific instruments of precision to record the failure of the man who guides his life on a basis of impressions made by drugs or stimulants.
"The transit of Venus is no product of fancy. To the astronomer the coming of the planet between the earth and the sun is as certain a thing as the coming of the earth into its own shadow at night. The one incident is more common than the other, but not more mysterious. And to go to that part of the earth which is turned toward the sun at the moment of transit is the simple common sense thing to do if one wishes to see the transit. The island, the abandoned hut and the cooking utensils were only incidents to the astronomer. To the natives these were the only realities and the purposes of sciences were to them unknown or absurd. To the man of common sense the digging for treasure under the direction of clairvoyants seems ridiculous. The operation does not become more wise when we see it through the eye of science. Tested by instruments of precision, 'clairvoyance' becomes a myth and such truth as its phenomena contains is explainable in simple ways.
"The spectroscope grows more real and more potent as we study its methods and results. The divining rod is only successful through ignorance or fraud. The process of weighing planets is open to all who will continue their studies till they understand it. The test of knowing is doing. The oceanic cable in the service of all who have concerns in another continent. It hides no mystery save the one eternal mystery of matter and force. The phenomena of telepathy have fled before every attempt at experiment. The study of the 'X-rays' is as far from occultism or spiritism as the manufacture of brass is from the incarnation of mahatmas. The mind healer, the faith healer, the curative theories of 'neminism,' the sale of the patent medicine, the medical marvels of radium, the wonders of the electric belt and the power of animal magnetism are all witnesses of the potency of suggestion in the untrained mind. To the same class of phenomena the witch-hazel rod belongs. Experiment shows that its movements are the involuntary muscular contractions and that these follow simply the preconceived notions of the holder of the rod.
"If, as some one has lately said, all men sought healing from the blessed handkerchief of the lunatic or from contact with old bones or old clothes, if all physicians used 'revealed remedies' for the remedies nature suggests for each disease, if all the supposed 'natural rights' of men were recognized in legislation, the insecurity of such actions would speedily disappear. The long and bloody road of progress through fool-killing would for centuries be traversed again. Without the instruments and methods of precision which belong to science we should find ourselves in the weakness and babyhood which was the heritage of the common man through the middle ages.
"In the degree that 'organized common sense' or science, has been a factor in the lives of men and nations, men and nations have been happy and effective. The ultimate function of science is the regulation of human conduct.
"Not long since one of our sciosophical friends proposed the theory that the chemical elements were each of them forms of 'latent oxygen.' This theory he defended by the argument that the business of science was to propose all sorts of theories. As some apples on a tree will be sound so will some of these theories be true. To make every conceivable guess is the way to hit on the truth. Some such notion as this is common among cultured people of all countries. To accept it is to ignore the whole history of science. No advance in real knowledge has come from guessing, dreaming or speculating. If we want a picture taken we find a man who has a camera and who knows how to use it. If we want the truth on any subject we must find a man who has the instruments or methods of precision and who knows how to use them. There is no other way. As well expect a man without a camera and who knows not how to use it if he had one to take a photograph as to trust to a speculator, guesser or dreamer to find the truth. To work without tools, in the world of objective reality, can yield only illusion and fraud."
At the conclusion of the address, President Marvin expressed the thanks of the Astral Club for the bold and straightforward declaration of materialistic principles. But at the same time he could not refrain from reminding Mr. Grimshaw that he was still very young and that there were many things in heaven and earth and Devachan which are not yet taught in the schools.
- Being further extracts from the Journal of the Astral Club of Alcalde.