O'Neill's Electronic Museum

Penn Valley California


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This delicate task needs a rigorous employment of the method of exclusion-a constant setting aside of irrelevant phenomena that could be explained by known causes, including those far too familiar causes, conscious and unconscious fraud. The inquiry unites the difficulties inherent in all experimentation connected with mind, with tangled human temperaments, and with observations dependent less on automatic record than on personal testimony. But difficulties are things to be overcome even in the elusory branch of research known as experimental psychology. It has been characteristic of the leaders among the group of inquirers constituting the Society for Psychical Research to combine critical and negative work with work leading to positive discovery. To the penetration and scrupulous fair-mindedness of Prof. Henry Sidgewick and of the late Edmund Gurney is largely due the establishment of canons of evidence in psychical research, which strengthen while they narrow the path of subsequent explorers. To the detective genius of Dr. Richard Hodgson we owe a convincing demonstration of the narrow limits of human continuous observation.

It has been said that "Nothing worth the proving can be proved, nor yet disproved." True though this may have been in the past, it is true no longer. The science of our century has forged weapons of observation and analysis by which the veriest tyro may profit. Science has trained and fashioned the average mind into habits of exactitude and disciplined perception, and in so doing has fortified itself for tasks higher, wider, and incomparably more wonderful than even the wisest among our ancestors imagined. Like the souls in Plato's myth that follow the chariot of Zeus, it has ascended to a point of vision far above the earth. It is henceforth open to science to transcend all we now think we know of matter and to gain new glimpses of a profounder scheme of Cosmic law.

An eminent predecessor in this chair declared that "by an intellectual necessity he crossed the boundary of experimental evidence, and discerned in that matter, which we in our ignorance of its latent powers, and notwithstanding our professed reverence for its Creator, have hitherto covered with opprobrium, the potency and promise of all terrestrial life." I should prefer to reverse the apothegm, and to say that in life I see the promise and potency of all forms of matter.

In old Egyptian days a well known inscription was carved over the portal of the temple of Isis: "I am whatever hath been, is, or ever will be; and my veil no man hath yet lifted." Not thus do modern seekers after truth confront nature-the word that stands for the baffling mysteries of the universe. Steadily, unflinchingly, we strive to pierce the inmost heart of Nature, from what she is to reconstruct what she has been, and to prophesy what she yet shall be. Veil after veil we have lifted, and her face grows more beautiful, august, and wonderful with every barrier that is withdrawn.

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