SIR WILLIAM CROOKES ON PSYCHICAL RESEARCH.
II.-ADDRESS BEFORE THE SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH.1
The task I am called upon to perform today is to my
thinking by no means a merely formal or easy matter. It
fills me with deep concern to give an address, with such
authority as a president's chair confers, upon a science
which, though still in a purely nascent stage, seems to me
at least as important as any other science whatever.
Psychical science, as we here try to pursue it, is the
embryo of something which in time may dominate the whole
world of thought. This possibility-nay, probability-does
not make it the easier to me now. Embryonic development is
apt to be both rapid and interesting; yet the Prudent man
shrinks from dogmatizing on the egg until he has seen the
Nevertheless, I desire, if I can, to say a helpful word.
And I ask myself what kind of helpful word. Is there any
connection between my old-standing interest in psychical
problems and such original work as I may have been able to
do in other branches of science?
I think there is such a connection-that the most helpful
quality which has aided me in psychical problems and has
made me lucky in physical discoveries (sometimes of rather
unexpected kinds) has simply been my knowledge-my vital
knowledge, if I may so term it- of my own ignorance.
Most students of nature sooner or later pass through a
process of writing off a large percentage of their
supposed capital of knowledge as a merely illusory asset.
As we trace more accurately certain familiar sequences of
phenomena we begin to realize how closely these sequences,
or laws, as we call them, are hemmed round by still other
laws of which we can form no notion. With myself this
writing off of illusory assets has gone rather far and the
cobweb of supposed knowledge has been pinched (as some one
has phrased) into a particularly small pill.
I am not disposed to bewail the limitations imposed by
human ignorance. On the contrary, I feel ignorance is a
healthful stimulant; and my enforced conviction that
neither I nor anyone can possibly lay down beforehand what
does not exist in the universe, or even what is not going
on all round us everyday of our lives, leaves me with a
cheerful hope that something very new and very arresting
may turn up anywhere at any minute.
Well, it was this attitude of a mind "to let" which first
brought me across Mr. D. D. Home, and which led to my
getting a glimpse of some important laws of matter and
energy of which I fear many of my fellow physicists still
prefer to be un cognizant.
1Address by the president, William Crookes, to
the Society for Psychical Research, January 29, 1897.
Reprinted from Proceedings of the Society for Psychical
Research, London, Vol. XII, March, 1897, pp. 338-355.