Classic EssaysRevilo P. Oliver

Is There Intelligent Life on Earth? (part 2)

Arthur Conan Doyle

by Revilo P. Oliver

Scientific Suckers

IT IS TRUE that quite a few men who attained competence, and some who attained distinction, in some one of the sciences have evinced remarkable gullibility, but that was almost always a susceptibility to some superstition about the supernatural that promised survival after death. That was a potent incentive. All mammals instinctively fear death, and our species of mammals, having the power to perceive how inexorable are the forces of nature, fears it most of all.

On pain of death, let no man name death to me:
It is a word infinitely terrible.

Christianity for so many centuries promised immortality to our people that the hope of perdurance after death is the dulcet illusion that it is most difficult, most painful to surrender. And as Nietzsche saw, it is the noblest and most active minds that are least content to become nothingness:

Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit,
Will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit.

And he himself was consoled and even exalted by his revival and elaboration of Aristotle’s theory that in a closed universe the nexus of cause and effect must, in infinite time, produce a cyclical and endless recurrence (Ewige Wiederkehr) of all physical phenomena (including himself).

We feel a certain compassion, even sympathy, for the able men who, though otherwise rational, had a weakness that made them sitting ducks for the sleight-of-hand and sleight-of-tongue of even third-rate conjurors. Everyone knows the pathetic story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, an ophthalmologist who wrote two excellent historical novels and created the perennially fascinating Sherlock Holmes, and who eventually became so silly that a pair of adolescent girls in a mischievous mood doubtless astonished themselves by convincing him that they consorted with fairies and gnomes. Sir Oliver Lodge, justly honored for his work on electrons and the nature of light and electro-mechanical waves, had retained from his boyhood an incurable itch to meet ghosts and be assured he could still become one. Sir William Crookes, who discovered thallium, invented the Crookes tube, identified the cathode rays it made visible, and did some of the basic work on radioactivity, seems to have been a sucker for “psychic research,” although we have recently been offered an explanation more creditable to Sir William’s intelligence, though not to his morality as a man of science (the morality that really counts): the beauteous young spook-raiser, Florence Cook, whom he so lavishly preconized, was in fact the aging man’s mistress and her non-psychic charms may have induced him to bolster her psychic glamor by lending prestige to the whole spiritualistic business, even when practiced by less amiable and pulchritudinous “mediums.” (That also helped to keep wifey unsuspicious while she stayed home with her numerous brood. Victorian gentlemen of modest means often were sorely tried when “society’s propriety became a damned satiety.”) Whatever the truth about Sir William’s worldly and other-worldly infatuations, there were many less famous examples of yearning for endless life, for which see the new book by Ruth Brandon, The Spiritualists, the Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (London, 1983).2

One of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fairies, here shown dancing before the nose of one of the two girls who took the photographs that proved the existence of fairies and gnomes.

If, as I prefer to do, we give Sir William the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was the dupe, rather than the accomplice, of his luscious young lady, we can sympathize with all the Victorian men of science who were fooled by clever conjurors and (especially) conjuresses. Sir Oliver Lodge’s beaming satisfaction, when he learned that his dead son was supplied with the best cigars in the spirit world and had regrown the tooth he lost here below, arouses only pity. We smile tolerantly at the gallant Sir William Crooke’s naive pleasure when his dear mistress (who must have been above the besetting vice of female jealousy — and there’s a real miracle for you!) summoned from the realm of spirits sweet young ghosts who materialized themselves long enough to be enfolded in Sir William’s eager arms and to kiss his whiskered lips.

In the Eighteenth Century, educated men had to discard the Biblical myths, but they replaced the three-headed Jesus with a more acceptable and admirable god, the one mentioned in our Declaration of Independence, the Stoics’ animus mundi, who was imminent in nature and discoverable by reason and observation of such things as the mathematical precision of planetary and stellar movements and the supposed generic difference between his choice creation, human beings, and other mammals. Men could still revere a personal god and hope that He would not suffer a human mind to perish as perish the midges that swarm for an hour above a stagnant pool. In the Nineteenth Century, however, the increase of scientific knowledge sent the Deists’ succedaneous Creator away to join Zeus, Marduk, Osiris, Yahweh and all the motley multitude of divinities that men have created and discarded throughout history. That left a deep and agonizing void in the human spirit as men found themselves alone on a speck of planetary dust in an infinite and infinitely terrible universe — alone for their too few days under the sun and ineluctably doomed to vanish as vanishes the shadow of a cloud on the moor, as vanishes the sound of a wave that breaks on the shore. It is no wonder that in the first shock of that ultimate bereavement even men of scientific attainments could desire passionately to resuscitate the corpse of Nature’s God.

Sir William Crookes, holding his most famous invention, the Crookes Tube.

They could, furthermore, assure themselves that they were not irrational, they were not credulous rustics who believe the tales told by old wives and clergymen. They relied, as all rational men must do, on the evidence of their own experience. Had they not witnessed with their own eyes ectoplasm, the very stuff of spirits, become phosporescently luminous as it issued from the mouth of an unconscious ‘medium’? Had they not themselves beheld pretty spooks make themselves visible and even palpable for fleeting moments in the darkness of a séance? Had they not heard spirits rap on tables and ring bells that were beyond the reach of human hands? Had they not ascertained by experiment that invisible phantoms could read messages secretly written on cards and sealed in envelopes that remained unopened? Had they not seen the authentic signatures of Napoleon and von Moltke and Edgar Allan Poe that those disembodied gentlemen obligingly inscribed on the inner surfaces of slates that were securely glued together so that no mortal could conceivably have touched those surfaces — slates, moreover, that were always under the vigilant eye of the scientific investigator? Had they not seen a ten-year-old girl, highly charged with psychic powers, read and spell correctly words arbitrarily selected on a page of a book they held in their own hands on the opposite side of a large room? Had they not heard musical ghosts play lively tunes on an accordion that had been wired shut before it was enclosed in a locked box? Who could doubt such empirical proofs of immortality? Must not the most hard-headed sceptic be convinced? So, Glory be! When we “pass on,” we can spend eternity unravelling the mysteries of the cosmos and chatting with the great men who have “gone before” — and perhaps (who knows?) we can enjoy forever the comforts of choice Havana perfectos and complaisant damsels.

But that was a hundred years ago, and by this time we should have ceased to mourn our lost illusions. The masses, no doubt, will always want and perhaps need a Big Daddy up in the stratosphere who will keep his paternal eye on them and encourage them to hope that he may do something for them someday, if they catch his fancy. But strong minds should have learned something in a century. All the Victorian scientists who so zealously conducted “psychical research” were hoaxed by clever conjurors and conjuresses.3 The methods of some of the spook-raisers were so crude they succeeded only because their dupes had so strong a conscious or subconscious yen to believe. A few seem to have invented tricks that had not yet been used by professional magicians on the stage.4 The most expert among them were not able to produce “psychic phenomena” that could not be duplicated and improved by a professional, such as Houdini, or even an amateur magician, such as Joseph Rinn. The great ‘spiritualist’ swindle, which began when the little Fox girls, resenting an enforced stay in bed, scared the daylights out of their silly mama, was thoroughly exposed and collapsed like a punctured balloon. And the end of that epidemic of delusions should have taught thinking men a conclusive lesson.

Every story about praeternatural beings and supernatural events, whether written by an exuberantly imaginative Hindu (e.g., Gunādhya) or a Jewish forger or a competent literary artist, such as Bulwer-Lytton or Montague James or Edgar Allan Poe or J. R. R. Tolkien, is fiction. Every person who claims to have himself witnessed or experienced “psychic phenomena” is either a liar or the dupe of rogues (including priests) or the victim of his own hallucinations, induced by drugs or auto-hypnosis or mental disorders. Every observed miracle that is said to prove the existence of praeternatural forces or beings is prestigious, a trick, an illusion produced by sleight-of-hand or sleight-of-tongue or some hidden mechanical or electrical device. There never has been, and never will be, a violation of the known and immutable laws of nature. That may make tender minds, long addicted to their spiritual dope, howl with pain or rage, but that is what the uniform experience of mankind has shown throughout recorded history, and it is time that minds strong enough to confront reality accept the facts and close the books on miraculous claptrap and psychic hokum.

There should be no need to digress at this point, but it may be well to avert possible misunderstanding by reiterating with emphasis what was said in the foregoing paragraph. If we, as rational men, try to understand the real world and to act in it in some way for our own benefit, we must take account only of facts that have been empirically verified and necessary deductions therefrom, excluding everything that is supernatural (now often called ‘paranormal,’ by a meeching synonym) or hypothetical.

It goes without saying that there are many facts that have not yet been ascertained, but we can act only on the basis of what we know now. There are epistemological speculations which cannot be disproved because their very premises make verification impossible, and which, no matter how improbable, therefore cannot be categorically rejected as hypothetical possibilities, beginning with solipsism, which is probably as good as any. They are, at best, the amusements of an idle hour. We must rely only on our common sense and logic, for if they be illusory, our species is only a biological error that nature will soon correct. Admittedly, our senses do not perceive all of reality, for there are phenomena that are imperceptible to our organs but are perceived by other mammals. It may be that our causality does not operate in subatomic phenomena or that the almost infinitesimal constituents of matter respond to a force of which we have no conception. But all of these things, if they exist, are irrelevant to the reality with which we must deal in our world. And every effort to distract us from a coldly objective appraisal of this world must be regarded with strong suspicion as probably hostile.

If it pleases any to believe that they are reincarnations of princes/princesses who lived on Atlantis, or that Jesus loves them, or that they have souls that will continue to exist after the earth has become no longer habitable for our species, we have no wish to deny them such consolations, so long as they do not demand that we commit the folly of ignoring reality. There is now, for example, what seems to be an alarming prevalence of abortions, and the great pickpockets in the Salvation-racket have excited a din of squawking that abortion is wrong because Jesus said, “Mustn’t do or Papa spank.” That is not only silly; it is pernicious. The problem must be considered exclusively in terms of our racial and national survival, and that means (a) that we must inhibit by all possible means the breeding and multiplication of our domestic parasites and enemies, and (b) that men and women of sound racial stock and intelligence must be made to desire progeny who will not be condemned to Hell on earth that our present masters are preparing to impose on our people. Until that is done, yelling for legislation is imbecile, and when it is done (assuming that it can be), legislation about abortions will be unnecessary. No one can even estimate how many potentially valuable or even great members of our race are never conceived or are aborted because their parents are sufficiently intelligent to see the direction in which the nation is now being driven at a constantly accelerated rate, and are too humane to expose children whom they would love to the degradation and horrors that lie ahead.

So long as they do not endanger our dwindling chances of survival, one does not argue with the aficionados of transcendental mysteries and celestial patrons. Argument with emotional fixations is likely to be futile, and when it is not, it is cruel, for the withdrawal symptoms are always painful. Gentlemen will be particularly tender toward women, whose sex gives them an emotional need for a succedaneous father, and will especially honor women who have surmounted a natural weakness.5

I cannot here consider the extremely complex and obscure question whether or not George Washington and many others were right in believing that the morality indispensable in an organized society cannot be maintained without a generally accepted religion. I have touched on that point in The Uses of Religion and several earlier publications, but I do not know the answer. Still less can I surmise what religion would be feasible, assuming that one is requisite, except that it must be one consonant with our racial instincts and directly conducive to our race’s confidence in its own superiority. Those interested in the problem should consider carefully the phenomenal success of the Jews, which has largely been made possible by the cohesive force of a religion in which many of them do not believe, but which authorizes their faith in the generic superiority of their race over all others and justifies all means of attaining the dominion to which that superiority gives them an indefeasible right.

* * *

Source: Liberty Bell publications; transcribed by Racial Idealism

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