A Visitor - I must tell you, sir, that my reason refuses to
accept the reality of the strange phenomena attributed to spirits,
which I am convinced exist only in the imagination. However, one
would have to bow down before the evidence and that is what I
will do if presented with uncontestable proof. Hence, not wanting
to impose, I have come to ask for your kind permission to watch
just one or two experiments in order to be convinced if possible.
Allan Kardec - Well, if your reason refuses to accept what
we consider to be established facts, it is because you believe it to
be superior to the reason of all other persons who do not share
your opinion. I have no doubts about your worthiness, nor
would I claim that my own intelligence is greater than yours.
So, let's accept the fact that I am in the wrong - since your
reason says that I am — and therefore there is nothing more to
be said on the matter.
Visitor —Nevertheless, I am widely recognized as an
opponent of your ideas, and if you were to convince me, it would
be a miracle eminently favorable to your cause.
A.K. - I'm sorry, sir, but I don't have the gift of performing
miracles. Do you really think that one or two sessions would be
enough to convince you? That indeed would be a tour de force.
It took more than a year of study for me to become convinced,
which goes to show that if I now am, it was not done thoughtlessly.
Besides, I don't offer public sessions and it seems that you may
be mistaken about the purpose of our meetings, since we do not
perform experiments in order to satisfy people's curiosity.
Visitor - So you do not try to win converts?
A.K. - Why would I want to win you over as convert if you
do not want to become one? I can't make anyone believe. When
I meet individuals who sincerely desire to learn, and who give me
the honor of asking for explanations, it is my pleasure and duty
to respond to them within the limits of my knowledge. However,
as for opponents who, like yourself, are set in their ways, I do
not make any effort to dissuade them because I can find plenty
of persons who are willing to be convinced. I don't have to waste
my time on those who are not. Conviction will inevitably come
sooner or later, and the most disbelieving will be swept along by
the current. For now, a few more or a few less adherents will not
tip the scales. That is why you will never see me worrying about
attracting to our ideas those who, like yourself, have such good
reasons to keep their distance from them.
Visitor - Nevertheless, there could be more interest in
convincing me than you might think. Would you allow me to
explain myself honestly and promise me that you won't be
offended? These are my thoughts on the matter itself and not the
person I'm addressing. I can respect the person without having to
share his opinion.
A.K. - Spiritism has taught me to place little value on the
petty susceptibilities of self-esteem, and not to feel offended by
mere words. If your statements overstep the limits of civility and
propriety, I will conclude that you are an impolite person, that's
all. As for myself, I prefer to leave others in their errors instead of
sharing in them. So, from that alone you can see that Spiritism is
good for something.
As I have already stated, I have no intention of making you
share my opinion. I respect yours if it is sincere, just as I want you
to respect mine. Because you treat Spiritism as a hollow dream,
you must have said to yourself on your way here: "I'm going
to see a lunatic." Admit it frankly, I won't be upset. That all
Spiritists are crazy is an established thing. Fine, then! Since you
regard this as a mental illness, I would feel guilty in transmitting
it to you, and I'm surprised that with such a thought in mind
you would seek to acquire a conviction that would place you
amongst lunatics. If you were persuaded beforehand that you
cannot be convinced, your effort is futile since its only objective
is curiosity. So I ask of you, let's be brief, because I don't have
time to waste on pointless conversations.
Visitor - But a person can be mistaken and deluded without
being crazy because of it.
A.K. - To put it plainly, you are saying, like so many others,
that Spiritism is a fad whose time will pass. But you must agree
that a fad, which has taken only a few years to win millions of
adherents in every country, which includes learned individuals of
every order amongst its followers, and which is spreading especially
amongst the educated classes, is a peculiar mania that is worthy of
a little examination.
Visitor - True, I do have my own ideas on the matter;
however, they are not so unyielding that I wouldn't be willing to
sacrifice them to the evidence. That is why I said that you might
have a certain interest in convincing me. I must confess that I plan to publish a book, in which I propose to demonstrate ex professo
what I regard as an error. The book would have a far-reaching
impact and deal a blow to the Spirits, but if I were to be convinced
otherwise, I won't publish it.
A.K. - I would feel awful if I were to deprive you of the
profits from a book that must be so far-reaching. Besides, I have
no interest in keeping you from publishing it; on the contrary,
I hope it will be well-received, because it will serve to publicize
and advertise us. When something is attacked, attention is drawn
to it; there are a lot of people who like to see its pros and cons,
and criticism makes it known to those who hadn't even thought
about it. That is why often, and without meaning to, publicity
ends up benefiting those it was meant to harm. Moreover, the issue
of spirits is so interesting and arouses so much curiosity that it is
enough to merely draw attention to it and people will want to
examine it more profoundly.
Visitor - So, in your opinion, criticism is useless and public
opinion doesn't count for anything?
A.K. - I don't regard criticism as an expression of public
opinion, but as a personal opinion that may be mistaken. Look
at history and you will see how many masterpieces were criticized
when they first appeared; but that did not keep them from being
masterpieces. When something is bad, all the praise in the world
will not make it good. If Spiritism is an error, it willfall by itself; if
it is a truth, all the diatribes in the world will not render it a lie. Your
book will be a personal appraisal from your own point of view
- true public opinion will decide whether or not you are right.
Thus, people will want to examine the matter for themselves, and
if they realize that you were wrong, your book will be ridiculed
like the one published not too long ago against the theories on the
circulation of the blood, on vaccine, etc.
But I have forgotten that you are going to treat the issue ex
professo, which means that you have studied it from every angle;
that you have seen all there is to see and have read everything
that has been written on the matter; that you have analyzed and
compared all the different opinions; that you were in the best
position to observe for yourself; that you have dedicated your
waking hours to the subject for years; in other words, that you
have neglected nothing to arrive at the truth. I must believe that
you have done so if you are a trustworthy person, because only one
who has done all those things has the right to say that he speaks
with full knowledge of the facts.
What would you think of someone who claimed to be a
critic of a literary work but who had no knowledge of literature, or
of a painting but who had never studied art? It's only logical that
critics must understand, not superficially but in depth, what they
are discussing; otherwise, their opinion is worthless. To disprove
a calculation, one must oppose it with another calculation, but
in order to do so one must know how to calculate. Critics must
not limit themselves to saying that a certain thing is good or
bad. They must justify their opinion with a clear and categorical
demonstration based on the very principles of art or science. How
can they do so if they do not know what such principles are? Could
you evaluate the qualities or defects of a machine if you didn't
know anything about mechanics? No, you couldn't. Well then!
Since you know nothing about Spiritism, your opinion would
be no more valuable than your opinion about that machine. At
each step you would, be caught in your ignorance, because those
who have studied Spiritism would see right away that you are not
knowledgeable on the matter, which would lead them to conclude
either that you are not serious or that you are acting in bad faith.
In either case, you would be exposing yourself to being disavowed,
which would hardly be flattering to your self-esteem.
Visitor — It is precisely to avoid such a pitfall that I have
come to ask you to allow me to watch a few experiments.
A.K. - And. you. think that that would be enough for you
to be able to speak exprofessoabout Spiritism? How could you
comprehend such experiments - let alone judge them - if you
haven't studied the principles upon which they are based? How
could you rightly or wrongly evaluate the result of metallurgical
experiments, for instance, ifyou don't even know the fundamentals
of metallurgy? Allow me to say that your plan is exactly the same
as if, in spite of knowing neither mathematics nor astronomy,
you were to say to one of the members of the Observatory: "Sir,
I would like to write a book on astronomy, and what is more, I
would like to prove that your theory is wrong. But since I don't
know the first thing about the science, I need you to let me look
through your telescope once or twice. That should be enough for
me to know as much about it as you do."
It is only by extension that the verb to critique becomes
synonymous with the verb to censure. In its proper meaning and
according to its etymology, the term to critique means to judge,
to appraise; hence, a critique may be approving or disapproving.
To critique a book is not necessarily to condemn it. Those who
undertake the job should do so without any preconceived ideas.
But if they have already condemned the book in their minds before
having even opened it, their appraisal cannot be impartial.
Such is the case with the majority of those who have spoken
about Spiritism. They formed an opinion based solely on the name,
and they proceeded like a judge who has passed sentence without
having taken the time to study the documentary evidence. The
result was that their judgment was incorrect, and instead of being
persuasive, they aroused scorn. As for those who seriously studied
the subject, most changed their mind, and a good number of
adversaries became adherents once they realized it was something
different from what they had thought.
Visitor - You speak of the appraisal of books in general. Do you
really think it is materially possible for journalists to read and study
everything that passes through their hands, especially if it deals with
new theories that require their in-depth verification? That would be
like requiring printers to read all the books that leave their presses.
A.K. - In light of such judicious reasoning I have nothing to
answer, except that, if one does not have the time to do something
conscientiously, one should not get involved with it, and that it is
better to do only one thing well than ten things badly.
Visitor - Please don't think that I arrived at my opinion
lightly. I have seen tables turn and produce raps; I have seen
persons who were supposedly writing under the influence of spirits.
Nevertheless, I'm convinced that charlatanism, was involved.
A.K. - And how much did you pay?
Visitor - Why, nothing, of course.
A.K. -Well, they must have been an odd breed of charlatans
and they will give a new meaning to the word. Until now, no one
has ever seen a charlatan who wasn't in it for the money. If some
mischievous hoaxer happened to want to entertain himself once,
would it follow that other persons were in association with him?
Moreover, what would they hope to gain by being accomplices to
a hoax? To amuse people, you. will say. I will admit that someone
might pull a hoax once, but if a hoax goes on for months and even
years, I would say that it is the hoaxer who is being duped. Would
someone sit tediously at a table for hours on end for the sheer
pleasure of making others believe in something he or she knows to
be false? The pleasure would not be worth the effort.
Before concluding that something is a fraud, we must first
ask ourselves what might be gained from such deceit. You will
agree that there are situations that exclude all suspicion of fraud
and that there are individuals whose character alone is a guarantee
It would be a different matter if it involved speculation,
because the attraction of profit is a bad advisor. However, even if
we were to accept the fact that in such a case a fraudulent operation
might be entirely possible, it would prove nothing against the
reality of the principle, because anything can be misused. Just
because there are persons who sell adulterated wines, that doesn't
mean that there is no such thing as pure wine. Spiritism is no
more responsible for those who misuse its name and exploit it
than medical science is responsible for the charlatans who sell their
snake oils or religion for the clergy who abuse their ministry.
Due to its newness and its very nature, Spiritism may lend
itself to abuses. However, it has provided the means of recognizing
them by clearly defining its true character and by refusing to
have anything to do with those who exploit it or divert it from
its exclusively moral objective in order to make it a trade, an
instrument of divination or pointless experimentation.
Since Spiritism sets its owns boundaries, determines what it
says and what it doesn't say, what it can and what it cannot do, what
attributes it does or doesn't entail, and what it accepts and what
it rejects, the error lies with those who, not having put forth the
effort to study it, judge it by appearances, and because they have
met entertainers employing the name Spiritist in order to attract
passers-by, they gravely state, "This is what Spiritism is." In the
end, upon whom does ridicule fall? Not upon the entertainers, who
are only performing their act, nor upon Spiritism, whose written
doctrine belies such assertions. It falls upon convinced critics, who
either talk about what they do not know, or who consciously twist
the truth. Those who attribute to Spiritism what is contrary to its
very essence do so either out of ignorance or deliberately. As for
the former, it is thoughtlessness; as for the latter, it is bad faith.
In the latter case, they resemble certain historians, who, in the
interest of a party or an opinion, twist the historical facts. A party
always discredits itself by employing such means, and will fail to
reach its objective.
Please take note of the fact that I don't mean that critics
must necessarily approve of our ideas, even after having studied
them. We in no way reproach those who do not think as we do.
What is obvious to us might not be to everybody else. People judge
matters from their own point of view, and not all draw the same
conclusions from the most obvious facts. For example, if a painter
puts a white horse in his painting, someone might very well say
that the horse produces a bad effect, that a black one would have
been more suitable. It would be an error, however, to state that the
horse is white when it is black - which is exactly what most of our
To sum it all up, people are perfectly free to approve of or
criticize the principles of Spiritism, to deduce the good or bad
consequences from them as they please; however, conscience
imposes a duty on every trustworthy critic not to state the opposite
of what Spiritism is. Thus, the first requirement of being a critic is
not to talk about things one knows nothing about.
Visitor - Could we go back to the moving and talking
tables? Mightn't they have been rigged beforehand?
A.K. - It's the same question of good faith, and I have already
answered it. The second that fraud is demonstrated, I will be the
first to admit it to you. If you can point out confirmed incidents
of fraud, charlatanism, exploitation or abuse of trust, I will deliver
them to your whip, and I'll tell you right now that I'll not take
up their defense, since real Spiritism is the first to repudiate them.
Pointing out such abuses helps to prevent them and renders a service
to Spiritism. But to generalize such accusations, to cast over a large
number of respectable individuals the reproof that only a few isolated
individuals deserve is an abuse of a different sort - it is slander.
Even if we were to suppose that the tables had been rigged,
there would have to be a sufficiently ingenious mechanism to make
them produce such varied movements and noises. But why hasn't
anyone found out who the skillful manufacturer is that builds
them? He should be enjoying great fame by now since his devices
are scattered all over the five continents. We also must agree that his
technique is highly ingenious since it can be successfully adapted
to the first table at hand without any exterior traces. Why is it that
from Tertullian ' - who spoke of turning and talking tables - down
to the present, no one has ever seen or described such a mechanism?
Visitor - You are mistaken. A well-known surgeon has
discovered that when certain individuals contract a tendon in
their leg, they can produce a noise similar to what you attribute to
the tables, from which he concluded that your mediums entertain
themselves at the expense of others' gullibility.
A.K. - Well, if it's the tendon that crackles, then it's not the
table that has been rigged. Since everyone explains this so-called
fraud in their own way, that in itself is the most obvious proof that
neither they nor anyone else knows the true cause.
I respect the erudition of this learned surgeon; however there
are a number of problems with applying his theory to the talking
tables. First, until now, this ability has been regarded as exceptional
and has been seen as pathological, and it's remarkable that it has
suddenly become so common. Second, one would have to have a
profound desire to deceive to warrant crackling one's tendon for
two or three hours straight because it produces nothing but pain
and fatigue. Third, I can't see how the tendon makes contact with
the doors and walls in which raps have been heard. Fourth and
finally, the crackling tendon would have to be endowed with the
marvelous ability of moving a heavy table, lifting it and keeping
it suspended in the air without any point of support, and then
finally smashing it back onto the floor. Certainly, no one could
have dreamed that this tendon had so many abilities!
Did the celebrated surgeon of whom you are speaking study
the phenomenon of typtology in those who produce it? No. He
observed an abnormal physiological condition in a few individuals
who had never even concerned themselves with rapping tables.
After having drawn a certain analogy between this condition and
the effect produced by the tables, he didn't bother with a more in-
depth examination, and using all the authority of his knowledge,
he concluded that all who cause tables to talk must possess the
ability to crack the short peroneal tendon, and that they are
nothing more than tricksters, whether they are princes or artisans,
and whether they receive payment or not. Did he at least study
the phenomenon of typtology in all its expressions? Did he check
to see if every one of the typtological effects could be produced
by means of this crackling tendon? If he had, he would have been
convinced of the insufficiency of his approach. But that didn't
keep him from proclaiming his discovery to the Institute. For a
scholar, he really expounded quite a serious conclusion! And what
has become of him? I must confess that if I had to have surgery,
I would be very hesitant to entrust myself to this practitioner
because I would be afraid that he hadn't diagnosed my problem
with any more precision than he did in this case.
Since his opinion is one of the authorities upon which you
want to support your attack against Spiritism, it gives me a good
idea of the strength of your other arguments, if they have not been
drawn from a more reliable source.
Visitor - Nonetheless, you can see that the turning table
fad has passed; it was all the rage for a while, but nowadays no
one cares about it anymore. Why not, if it has to do with such a
A.K. - Because the turning tables led to something even more
serious; they led to an entire science, an entire philosophical doctrine,
which is of much greater interest for thinking individuals. When
they no longer had any more to learn by watching tables turn, they
were no longer concerned about them. For frivolous persons, who
do not delve more deeply into anything, they were a pastime, a game
that they put aside once they had had enough. Such individuals
are not taken into account by science. The time of curiosity had its
day; the time of observation followed. Spiritism has thus entered
the realm of serious individuals, who do not entertain themselves
with it but seek enlightenment. Moreover, persons who regard it as
a serious matter do not lend themselves to any experiment out of
mere curiosity, and even less to persons who would approach it with
hostile thoughts. Since they do not amuse themselves, they do not
try to amuse others; I count myself among them.
Visitor - Even so, nothing is as convincing as experimentation,
even if at first its purpose is mere curiosity. If you operate solely in
the presence of persons who are already convinced, allow me to say
that you are preaching to the converted.
A.K. - It is one thing to be convinced and another to be
willing to be convinced. I address the latter, and not those who
think they are humiliating their reason by coming to hear about
what they call reveries; I concern myself very little with these. As
for those who say they have a sincere desire to be enlightened, the
best way they can prove it is by demonstrating perseverance. They
can be recognized by other signs besides the desire to watch one or
two experimental sessions: they are willing to work seriously.
Conviction is acquired only over time, through continual
observation and special attention. Spirit phenomena differ
essentially from those displayed in the exact sciences: they cannot
be produced at will; we must seize them when they occur. Only
by observing them a great deal and for a long time can we discover
a drove of proofs that are not apparent at first glance, especially
if we are not familiar with the conditions in which they might
occur, and even more so when we come with a biased attitude. For
diligent and thoughtful observers, the proofs abound: for them, a
word, an apparently insignificant incident, may be a ray of light,
a confirmation. For superficial and one-tirne observers, for the
simply curious, such incidents are nothing. That is why I do not
lend myself to experiments without plausible results.
Visitor - But everything must start somewhere, after all. As
for beginners, who are blank, slates, who have not seen anything
but who want to be enlightened, what can they do if you do not
provide the means?
A.K. - I make a big distinction between the disbeliever
out of ignorance and the systematic disbeliever. Whenever I see
individuals with a favorable disposition, it takes me very little to
enlighten them. However, there are individuals whose desire to learn
is only a pretense. They are a waste of time because if they do not
immediately find what they seem to be looking for and what would
perhaps displease them if they did find it, the little they do see isn't
enough to erase their prejudices. It's a futile endeavor because they
draw the wrong conclusions and make it an object of ridicule.
I will say to someone who truly wants to learn: "One cannot
take a course in experimental Spiritism as if it were a course in
physics and chemistry, because spirit phenomena cannot be
produced at will, and the intelligences that are their agents often
thwart all our expectations. What you might see by chance without
presenting continuity or any necessary connection will be of little
understanding to you. So learn the theory first; read and ponder
the literature that deals with this science. That is where you can
learn the principles; you'll find a description of all the phenomena
and you'll understand their plausibility by the explanation that is
provided and by the accounts of a large number of spontaneous
phenomena, which you yourself might have witnessed without
knowing it, and which will come back to your memory. You will
brace yourself against all the problems that might surface, and you
will thus form a preliminary moral conviction. Then, when the
circumstances arise to observe or act by yourself, you'll understand
them unhampered by the order in which the phenomena occur
because nothing will be strange to you,"
That, sir, is what I advise all who say they want to learn,
and by their response it is easy to tell if they are motivated by
something other than mere curiosity.