From India to the Planet Mars, by Théodore Flournoy; tr. Daniel B. Vermilye, , at sacred-texts.com
THIS volume reminds me of the mountain which gave birth to a mouse. Its length would be excusable if only it marked a step in advance in the field of psychology or physiology, or as to the question of the supernormal. As such is not the case, it is unpardonable, and nothing more is left me to do except to make clear its deficiencies in this triple aspect.
First: From the physiological point of view, it is apparent that Mlle. Smith, as is doubtless true of all mediums, presents during her visions and somnambulisms a plenitude of disturbances of motility and sensibility, from which she seems entirely free in her normal state.
But these trifling observations do not suffice to solve the neuropathological problem of mediumship, and the question still remains open as to whether that term corresponds to a special category of manifestations and to a distinct syndrome, or whether it merely constitutes a happy euphemism for various scientific denominations already in use.
To endeavor to fix the connections of mediumship with other functional affections of the nervous system,
it would first be necessary to possess exact intelligence on a number of important points still enveloped in obscurity. In regard to some of these, such as the phenomena of periodicity, of meteorological and seasonal influences, of impulses, and of fatigue, etc., we have only very vague and incomplete hints. And we know almost nothing of other still more essential questions, such as the relations of equivalence and substitution between the various modalities of automatism (nocturnal visions, crepuscular states, complete trances, etc.), the effect of spiritistic exercises, and especially of that of the seances upon nutrition or denutrition (variations of temperature, of urotoxicity, etc.), which would permit the comparison of spontaneous seizures and those excited by mediumship with those of the more serious nervous affections, the phenomena of heredity, similar or reversed, etc.
Let us hope that a near future will establish some good mediums and their observers in practical conditions favorable to the elucidation of these various problems, and that the day will come when the true place of mediumship in the framework of nosology will be discovered.
Secondly: Front the psychological point of view, the case of Mlle. Smith, although too complex to be reduced to a single formula, is explicable grosso modo by some recognized principle, the successive or concurrent action of which has engendered her multiple phenomena. There is, in the first place, the influence, so often verified, of emotional shocks and of certain psychic traumatisms upon mental dissociation. By
means of these the birth of hypnoid states may become the germ either of secondary personalities more or less strongly marked (we have seen that the first manifestations of Leopold in the childhood of Hélène are attributable to this cause) or of somnambulistic romances, which hold the same relation towards the normal state as does that exaggeration of stories and indulgence in reveries to which so many are addictedperhaps all of us.
We must also take into consideration the enormous suggestibility and auto-suggestibility of mediums, which render them so sensitive to all the influences of spiritistic reunions, and are so favorable to the play of those brilliant subliminal creations in which, occasionally, the doctrinal ideas of the surrounding environment are reflected together with the latent emotional tendencies of the medium herself. The development of the personality of Leopold-Cagliostro, starting from the moment at which Mlle. Smith began her seances, is easily explained in this manner, as well as the Martian dream and the previous existences of the Hindoo princess and the queen of France.
And, finally, we must note the phenomena of cryptomnesia, the awakening and setting to work of forgotten memories, which easily account for the elements of truth contained in the great preceding constructions and in the incarnations or casual visions of Mlle. Smith in the course of her seances.
But besides this general explanation how many points of detail there are which remain obscure! For example, the precise origin of Hélène's Sanscrit, and many of her retrocognitions, for want of information
concerning the thousand facts of her daily life whence the ideas which nourish her somnambulism may have been drawn! And how difficult it is to gain a correct idea of her case as a whole, on account of the crudity of our actual notions as to the constitution and organization of the human being, of our almost total ignorance of psychological ontogeny!
Without mentioning Hélène's ephemeral incarnations (in which I have shown there is no reason far seeing anything beyond the imitations due to autosuggestion), the divers more stable personalities which manifest themselves in her hypnoid lifeLeopold, Esenale, and the actors of the Martian romance, Simandini, Marie Antoinette, etc.are only, in my opinion, as I have hinted on many occasions, the varied psychological states of Mlle. Smith herselfallotropic modifications, as it were, or phenomena of polymorphism of her personality. For no one of these personalities corresponds sufficiently with her ordinary personality by intellectual faculties, the moral character, separation of memories, to justify the hypothesis of a foreign possession.
But the theory of psychic polymorphism is still very imperfect, and inadequate to explain the embryological shades which shine forth in Hélène's subliminal productsthe retrograde perspective which they open as to the different stages or periods of her evolution. The Martian cycle, with its unknown language, evidently betrays an eminently puerile origin and the display of an hereditary linguistic aptitude, buried under Hélène's ordinary self; whereas the Hindoo romance denotes a more
advanced age, and that of Marie Antoinette seems to have sprung from still more recent strata, contemporaneous with the actual normal personality of Mlle. Smith. The primitive nature and different ages of the various hypnoid lucubrations of Mlle. Smith seem to me to constitute the most interesting psychological fact of her mediumship. It tends to show that the secondary personalities are probably, in their origin, as the idea has been sometimes suggested, phenomena of reversion of the ordinary actual personality, or of momentary returns of inferior phases, long since passed, and which normally should have been absorbed in the development of the individuality, instead of breaking forth again in strange proliferations.
Thirdly: As to the supernormal, I believe I have actually found a little telekinesis and telepathy. As to lucidity and spiritistic messages, I have only encountered some brilliant reconstructions, which the hypnoid imagination, aided by latent memory, excels in fabricating in the case of mediums. I do not complain of this, since for psychology, which is not specially enamoured of the marvellous, these admirably successful imitations are also interesting and instructive on account of the light which they throw upon the inward workings of our faculties.
Of course Mlle. Smith and her friends see things in a very different light. With Hélène everything, or almost everything, is supernormal, from the reminiscences of her lives as Marie Antoinette and Simandini, to the Martian and the incarnations of Cagliostro, of Mlle. Vignier, or of the curé of Chessenaz.
And now let us admit, hypothetically, that I have not been able to see the supernormal, which was plainly before my eyes, and that it is this blindness of mine alone which has prevented me from recognizing the real presence of Joseph Balsamo, my own mother, the Hindoo princess, etc.or, at all events, the presence of real, disincarnate, independent spirits. It is, of course, to be regretted, but then it is I alone who will be in disgrace on the day when the truth shall be made manifest.
For, as to progress in our knowledge of things, everything is to be feared from easy credulity and obstinate dogmatism, but that progress will not be arrested or seriously retarded by possible errors, committed in good faith, through an exaggerated severity of application and a too strict observance of the principles themselves of all experimental investigation: while, on the contrary, the obstacles and the difficulties which the necessities of the method multiply along its path have always been a strong stimulant, producing new movements forward and more durable conquests based on better demonstrations.
It is better, then, to follow my advicein the well-understood interest of and for the advancement of science, in a domain where superstition is always ready to give itself free playit is better to err through excess of caution and strictness of method than to run the risk of being sometimes deceived; it is better to allow some interesting fact to escape for the moment, rather than to open the door to the follies of the imagination by a relaxation of necessary caution.
As to Mlle. Hélène Smith, supposing that I have failed to recognize in her phenomena which are really supernormal (which, in that case, will some day be better set forth by other observers), she will, nevertheless, accomplish more in the way of discovering the real truth, whatever it may be, in submitting herself disinterestedly to my free criticisms, than by doing as so many useless mediums have done, who, afraid of the light, in their foolish eagerness for the triumph of a cause very dear to their hearts, have shunned close investigation, and would have us rely upon their word alone.
They forget the saying of Bacon, which is ever being confirmed: "Truth is the daughter of time, not of authority."