A cor­re­spon­dence course

The prime min­is­ter and So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search mem­ber be­lieved his dead lover and other early mem­bers were send­ing him mes­sages

Fortean Times - - Reviews / Books - Alan Murdie

Arthur Bal­four’s Ghosts Trevor Hamil­ton Im­print Aca­demic 2017 336pp. £14.95 ISBN ISBN ISBN

Arthur Bal­four’s Ghosts is the most sig­nif­i­cant book on the ev­i­den­tial as­pects of medi­u­mistic com­mu­ni­ca­tions in sev­eral years. Trevor Hamil­ton ex­am­ines the cross-cor­re­spon­dence medi­umship gen­er­ated by a small group of medi­ums in the early decades of the 20th cen­tury. These vo­lu­mi­nous com­mu­ni­ca­tions were con­sid­ered of out­stand­ing im­por­tance by an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion of psy­chi­cal re­searchers but have been ne­glected in the last 70 years. Scep­tics have al­most wholly ig­nored them, if they are aware of them at all.

In rec­om­mend­ing this book to any­one in­ter­ested in sur­vival af­ter death, I must em­pha­sise it is not one for ca­sual read­ers: it is aimed at aca­demics and ded­i­cated re­searchers. The reader com­ing fresh to the cross-cor­re­spon­dences should have some fa­mil­iar­ity with many of the clas­sics and foun­da­tion texts of Western lit­er­a­ture, and the works of Ro­man­tic poets.

De­spite its ti­tle, this book has lit­tle to do with ghosts as pop­u­larly con­ceived, but is an anal­y­sis of 3,000 plus texts and scripts gen­er­ated over many years by widely sep­a­rated medi­ums. They in­clude Mar­garet Ver­rall, Mrs Coombe-Ten­ant, Alice Flem­ing, the sis­ter of Rud­yard Ki­pling, and the Amer­i­can medium Mrs Piper.

Rather than the sim­plis­tic mes­sages of pop­u­lar plat­form medi­umship, ma­te­rial was pro­duced by au­to­matic writ­ing in English, French, Latin and clas­si­cal Greek, and is packed with lit­er­ary ref­er­ences and al­lu­sions. In­di­vid­u­ally, the mes­sages of­ten lacked the co­her­ence of typ­i­cal trance out­pour­ings. How­ever, when por­tions were com­bined, they ap­peared to re­veal a com­plex set of coded mean­ing­ful com­mu­ni­ca­tions sug­ges­tive of dis­car­nate per­son­al­i­ties con­tact­ing the liv­ing.

Prime min­is­ter Arthur Bal­four’s in­volve­ment came through his membership of the So­ci­ety for Psy­chi­cal Re­search and the be­lief that some of the mes­sages came from his de­ceased lover May Lyt­tle­ton, and from found­ing mem­bers of the SPR such as Fred­eric My­ers and Ed­mund Gur­ney.

Hamil­ton’s book is an in­for­ma­tive guide to many as­pects of the cross­cor­re­spon­dences open­ing up the scripts to what many con­sider the best ev­i­dence ac­cu­mu­lated for prov­ing the sur­vival of con­scious­ness af­ter bod­ily death. Cru­cially, he went back to the source ma­te­rial and ap­plied the com­puter anal­y­sis and com­par­i­son tech­niques to their con­tents that an ear­lier gen­er­a­tion of schol­ars were un­able to. As­sess­ment is dif­fi­cult since it is a pri­mar­ily a qual­i­tive ex­er­cise, in­volv­ing ex­am­in­ing their lit­er­ary rather than their sta­tis­ti­cal as­pects.

In con­sid­er­ing the ques­tion of sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the widely sep­a­rated scripts, he looks at al­ter­na­tives such as co­in­ci­dence, or­di­nary sen­sory trans­mis­sion, psy­cho­log­i­cal self­de­cep­tion or the pos­si­bil­ity of ‘group-think’ by an Ed­war­dian elite.

These may have played a part, but can­not ac­count for all the cor­re­spon­dences. The ev­i­dence is con­sis­tent with the hy­poth­e­sis that “a scrip­tic in­tel­li­gence and mem­ory” is mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion and could ex­ist in the same nar­ra­tive space as the au­toma­tists’ and in­ter­preters’ work. Some of the ma­te­rial was also prophetic and sug­ges­tive of para­nor­mal cog­ni­tion of events which sub­se­quently oc­curred.

As Hamil­ton ad­mits there are draw­backs and lim­i­ta­tions to both his ex­am­i­na­tion and to any ob­jec­tive anal­y­sis; to fully ex­am­ine and ap­pre­hend the cross-cor­re­spon­dences is be­yond the time and re­sources that even the most in­dus­tri­ous lone scholar can rea­son­ably be ex­pected to ap­ply.

Hamil­ton recog­nises that a proper anal­y­sis would re­quire in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary teams. Of course, any anal­y­sis whether from a sci­en­tific or hu­man­i­ties back­ground would also be sub­ject to cul­tural and per­sonal as­sump­tions; he recog­nises that the scripts have the po­ten­tial to “ir­ri­tate and un­set­tle those for whom ob­jec­tive anal­y­sis in terms of clear out­comes cal­cu­lated against chance is cru­cial’.

In pro­vid­ing such an out­line of the con­tents of the scripts and their mean­ings, Arthur

Bal­four’s Ghosts demon­strates that the im­por­tance of the cross­cor­re­spon­dences goes be­yond psy­chi­cal re­search and so­cial his­tory, but is also ma­te­rial that po­ten­tially has pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for the­o­ries in other fields in­clud­ing phi­los­o­phy, con­scious­ness stud­ies, lin­guis­tics, cul­tural dis­course and lit­er­ary crit­i­cism.

As this book demon­strates, the cross-cor­re­spon­dences pro­vide a case to an­swer on the is­sue of sur­vival of con­scious­ness af­ter bod­ily death.

The prac­ti­cal ques­tion is whether schol­ars from other dis­ci­plines have the courage to take up the chal­lenge.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.