The Spiritist Review - Journal of Psychological Studies - 1860

Allan Kardec

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(by Mr. Figuier)

II *

Talking about Mr. Louis Figuier, in our first article we tried to verify, before all, what his point of view was and the basis of his argumentation, and we demonstrated that in his own words that he denies any force of extra-corporeal origin.

His premises must indicate his conclusions. His fourth volume in which he should discuss the subject of turning tables and the mediums had not been published yet and we waited to see if he would give to those matters a more satisfactory explanation than that of Mr. Jobert (de Lamballe).

We read it carefully concluding that there is clear evidence that the author dealt with a subject that he absolutely does not know. We don’t need an additional proof of that other that the two initial lines written in the following terms: “Before touching the history of the turning tables and the mediums, whose manifestations are entirely modern, etc…”

How can the author ignore that Tertullian explicitly talks about the turning and speaking tables? How can he ignore that the Chinese knew this phenomenon since immemorial times; that it is practiced by the Tartarus and Siberians; that there are mediums among the Tibetans;that there were mediums among the Assyrians, Greeks and Egyptians; that every fundamental principle of Spiritism is present in the Sanskrit philosophies?

Hence, it is false to say that these manifestations are “entirely modern”. Modern people have invented nothing about it and spiritists are supported by ancient knowledge and in the universality of their Doctrine, which should be known by Mr. Figuier, before having the pretension of creating an “ex profeso” (deliberate) treaty about it. This has not precluded his work from receiving a distinction from the press that has promptly paid tribute to this champion of materialistic ideas.

A reflection is in order here whose reach will escape nobody. It is said that nothing is more brutal than a fact. Well, here is one that has a lot of value: it is the incredible progress of the spiritist ideas, to which certainly no press, large or small, has given their contribution. When it decided to speak of those poor ignorant individuals who think to have a soul that is still in some relationship with the living beings after death, this is an outrage! An outrage against them and to those sent to the asylums, a bleak perspective to the general public that ignores the subject.

Spiritism has not played the trumpet of publicity; it has not filled up the newspapers with expensive ads. How can it be then that without noise, without shining, without the support of those who turn themselves into judges of the general opinion, how can it infiltrate into the masses and according to the graceful expression of a critic whose name we don’t remember, saying: after having infested the educated classes it now penetrates the working classes?

Tell us then how come, without employing the normal means of propaganda, the second edition of The Spirits’ Book has sold out in four months. They say that people are enthusiastic about the most ridiculous of things. That may be but people are excited about entertaining things like a story, a romantic novel. Well then, The Spirits’ Book has no intention of being amusing. Wouldn’t that be because public opinion finds in those beliefs something that challenges criticism?

Mr. Figuier found the solution to the problem: it is, he says, the love for the marvelous. And he is right. Let us use the word “marvelous” with the meaning he gives it and we will agree. In his opinion, since nature is only material, every phenomenon that is supernatural is marvelous. There is no salvation outside matter. Consequently, the soul and everything else that is attributed to the soul, its state after death, all that is marvelous. Like him, let us call it marvelous. The remaining question is to determine if such marvelous exists or not.

Mr. Figuier, who does not like the marvelous and admits in the story of Bluebeard, it does not exist. However, if Mr. Figuier does not wish to outlive his body; if he neglects his soul and his future life, not everybody shares his taste and he does not need to displease others because of that. There are a lot of people to whom the perspective of nothing is not attractive, and who expect to find up there or somewhere, their father, mother, sons and friends. Mr. Figuier does not appreciate those things. It is a matter of taste and it should not be questioned.

The human being is instinctively horrified by the idea of death, and we must agree that the desire to live on forever is very natural. One can even say that it is a general weakness. Well, how can we outlive the body if we don’t have that marvelous called soul? If we do have a soul it must have some properties, since without properties it would not be something. To certain people, unfortunately, these are not chemical properties and one cannot hold it in a flask to keep it in the museums of anatomy, like it is done with a skull. The Great Creator made a real mistake here for not having made it tangible. It is likely that he did not know Mr. Figuier.

Nevertheless, it must be one out of two possibilities: that the soul, if the soul does exist, lives or does not live after the death of the body; it is something or nothing; there is no midterm. Does it live forever or just for some time? If it is supposed to disappear at some point, it is the same as disappearing immediately; a little bit sooner or a little bit later, and yet man would not have advanced more. If it lives, it does something or nothing. But how can one admit an intelligent being that does nothing, and for the whole eternity? Without any activity future life would be very boring. By not admitting that something accessible to the senses may produce any effect, Mr. Figuier is led, due to his starting point, to this conclusion that every effect must have a material cause. That is why he places in the domain of the marvelous, or out of pure imagination, its properties, its effects and its acts from beyond the grave. The simple minded ones who are foolish enough to want to survive death are naturally inclined to everything that may satisfy their desires, confirming their hopes. That is why they love the marvelous. Up until now hearing satisfied them: “Not everything dies with the body; rest assured; take our word for that.” This would be undoubtedly comforting but a small proof would not do it any harm.

Well then, Spiritism comes to give them that proof with its phenomena, and they gladly accept it. That is the whole secret of its speedy propagation. In reality, Spiritism pumps up a hope with reality: the hope of living, or even more, the hope of living happier. Meanwhile, you Mr. Figuier, you struggle to demonstrate to them that all that, is nothing more than an illusion; Spiritism gives encouragement while you abate. Do you still believe that there is any doubt about the choice to be made?

The human being’s desire to revive after death is then the source of his love for the marvelous, that is, for everything that links him to life beyond the grave. If some people are seduced by sophisms were capable of doubting the future, don’t you think that they have given a lot of thought to that? No, because such an idea horrifies them and it is with that horror that they probe the depths of the emptiness.

Spiritism sooths their inquietudes and dissipates their doubts. What was vague, indecisive, and uncertain, takes a form and becomes a consoling reality. That is why in a few years it has gone around the world, for everybody wants to live and every person will always prefer the doctrines that comfort him or her to those that frighten them.

Let us return to Mr. Figuier’s work and say for starters that his fourth volume, dedicated to the turning tables and to mediums, has three quarters full of stories that have nothing to do with the subject, so that the principal part becomes the accessory in that work. Cagliostro and the issue of the necklace are there for an unknown reason; the electrified girl and the sympathetic snails, all these things occupy thirteen out of the eighteen chapters. It is true that those stories are treated with profusion of details and erudition, which will make them read with interest, leaving aside any spiritist opinion.

As his objective is to demonstrate the passion of the human being for the marvelous, he seeks every story that has already been given a fair value over time, struggling to demonstrate their absurdities, and to what nobody objects.

He then exclaims: “There you have Spiritism annihilated!” Hearing this, it is possible to believe that Cagliostro’s prowess and the tales of Hoffmann are articles of faith to the spiritists, and that the sympathetic snails have all their sympathies.

Mr. Figuier does not reject all facts, far from that. Contrary to other critics, who systematically deny everything, since it is easier to dismiss any explanation, he totally admits the turning tables and mediumship but with wide margin to deception. The Fox sisters, for example, are notable conjurers because ungallant American journalists derided them. He even admits magnetism as a material agent, let us have it well understood; the fascinating power of the will, of the eyes, somnambulism, catalepsy, hypnotism, and all other phenomena of Biology. Be aware! He is going to be taken by someone illuminated to the eyes of his companions. But he is consistent with himself since he wants to reduce everything to the laws of Physics and Physiology. It is true that he cites some authentic witnesses and of the greatest respectability that support the spiritist phenomena, but expands with satisfaction about every contrary opinion, particularly of the scholars like Mr. Chevreul and others who sought proofs of the subject. He thinks highly of the theory of the cracking muscle from Mr. Jobert and his accomplices. His theory, like the magical lantern in the fable, fails in a capital point: it gets lost in a warren of explanations that need other explanations to be understood. Another defect is that at each step it is contradicted by facts that he cannot explain and which he remains silent, for a very simple reason: he doesn’t know them. He saw nothing or saw very little on his own. In short, he did not deepen anything “de visu”, with the sagacity, patience and the independence of ideas of a conscious observer. He was satisfied with reports more or less fantastic found in books that are not well known for impartiality. He does not take into account the progress made lately by science, since he takes it from its beginning, in a period where science was still trial and error; when each one used to bring a premature and uncertain opinion, and that it was still far from knowing all facts, as if he wanted to assess contemporary Chemistry based on what it was over Nicolas Flamel’s time. In our opinion, Mr. Figuier, however wise he may be, he lacks the first quality of a critic: that of having an in-depth knowledge about the discussed subject, an even more necessary condition when one wants to explain the subject.

We will not follow him in all his arguments. We prefer to recommend his work that spiritists may read without any danger to their convictions. We will only cite the passage in which he explains his theory for the turning tables that more or less summarizes the theory of every other phenomenon:

“Then comes the theory that explains the movement of the turning tables by the spirits. If the table turns after a quarter of an hour of reverence and attention from the part of the experimenters, it is because, they say, the spirits, good or bad, angels or demons, have gotten inside the table, making it oscillate. Does the reader expect us to discuss such hypothesis? We don’t think so. If we decided to prove, with great effort of logical arguments that the devil does not enter into the furniture to make it dance, we would also have to demonstrate that it is not the spirits that, inserted in our bodies, make us act, speak, feel, etc. ** All these facts are of the same kind, and someone that admits the intervention of the devil to make a table turn must resort to the same supernatural influence to explain actions resulting from our will and with the support of our organs. Nobody has ever seriously wanted to attribute the effects of human will upon our organs, however mysterious may be the essence of that phenomenon, to the action of an angel or a demon. It is, however, to that consequence that those who want to connect the rotation of the tables to a superhuman cause arrive.”

“Let us say that, to cut this discussion short, reason forbids reaching out to a supernatural cause whenever there is a sufficient natural cause. Can a natural, normal and physiological cause be evoked to explain the movement of the tables? That is the whole question.”

“Here we are then to lead and lay down the arguments that seem to explain the phenomenon studied in the latter part of the book.”

“The explanation of the facts of the turning tables, considered in its simplest form, seem to come from those phenomena whose name has changed up until now, but whose bottom line nature is identical, and hence successively called hypnotism by Dr. Braid; biologism by Mr. Philips and suggestion by Mr. Carpenter. Let us keep in mind that as a consequence of the strong cerebral stress, resulting from the long lasting contemplation of a given object, the brain falls into a particular state which has successively received the names magnetic state, nervous sleep and biological state, different names which designate certain variations of a generally identical state.”

“Once arrived at that state, through the passes of a magnetizer, as it is done since Mesmer, or by the contemplation of a shiny object, as operated by Braid, later imitated by Mr. Philips, and how it is still operated by the Arabic and Egyptian sorcerers; or finally simply through a strong moral contention that we have provided more than one example, the individual falls into that automatic passivity that constitutes the nervous sleep. He looses the strength to drive and control his own will and remains in the domain of a foreign will. A glass of water is presented and he is told that it is a delicious drink, and he drinks thinking that it is wine, liquor or milk, according to the wishes of the one that has strongly taken his being over. Thus, denied of his own judgment, the individual remains almost foreign to his own actions, and returning to his natural state he loses the memory of his actions during that strange and transient withdrawal of himself. He is under the influence of suggestion, accepting a constant idea, imposed by a strange will, he then acts and is forced to act unwillingly, and consequently unconscious.”

“This system raises a great question of Psychology, because the individual loses free-will when influenced in such a manner and no longer has responsibility for his actions. He acts under the influence of intruding images that obsess his brain, analogous to those visions that Cuvier proposes is permanent in the sensorial of bees that represent the forms and proportions of the cell, driven to be built by the instinct. The principle of the suggestion explains perfectly the phenomena, so varied and sometimes so replete with terrible hallucinations, and at the same time shows the short interval that separates the hallucinated from the monomaniac. It will not come as a surprise if in a large number of table turners hallucination survived the experiences but converted into definitive madness.”

“The principle of suggestion under the influence of the nervous sleep seems to provide us with the explanation of the phenomenon of the rotation of the tables, considered in its simplest form. Let us consider now what happens in the case of a group of people gathered for that kind of experience. Those persons are attentive, worried, strongly moved by the expectation of the phenomenon that is about to be produced. A strong concentration, a total spiritual reverence is recommended to them. As the wait drags on and the moral contention retains for a long time, their brains experience fatigue and the thoughts are slightest altered. When we took part in the experiences of Mr. Philips in the winter 1860; when we saw the ten or twelve person to whom he entrusted a metallic disc, with the request that the person should have their eyes fixated on the disc, placed on the palm of their hands for half-hour, we could not avoid seeing in those activities everything that is needed for the manifestation of the so called hypnotic state, the same image portrayed by those who form the so called chain of thoughts in order to make the tables turn. In one as in the other there is a strong concentration of the mind, a single idea that is strongly sought for a considerable amount of time. The human brain cannot withstand the excessive pressure for a long period, producing an abnormal accumulation of nerve impulses. From the ten or twelve people dedicated to the experiment the majority gave up, forced to quit by their nervous fatigue. It is only one or two that persevere, tied to the hypnotic or biological state, then giving rise to the multiple phenomena that we have discussed all along in this book when we discussed hypnotism and the biological state.”

“In such a meeting when people remain focused for twenty or thirty minutes, forming a chain, hands stretched out on the table, without the freedom of getting distracted from the operation for any instant, the majority does not feel any particular effect. However, it is very difficult that at least one of them would not fall prey of a hypnotic or biological state for some time. Such state does not need to last more than a second for the expected phenomenon to take place. The element of the chain that falls into that nervous half-sleep unconsciously produces the effect of turning the furniture, without any other thought but the fixed idea of doing it. A considerable muscular strength may develop at that point and the table moves. Given such impulse realized by the unconscious act, there is nothing left to be done. Hence, temporarily bio-energized, the individual may return to his normal state because as soon as the mechanical movement begins all components of the chain stand up and follow its path, or on other words, make the table march, thinking that they just follow it. As for the individual, involuntary and unconscious cause of the phenomenon, since he keeps no memory of his actions carried out in that nervous-sleep state, totally ignores his deeds and becomes outraged when accused of having pushed the table. He even suspects that the other members are kidding him, with a tasteless joke, given their accusation. Hence, the occurrence of frequent discussions and even serious squabbles that passes the time which the turning tables have caused.”

“This is the explanation that we consider appropriate for the turning tables, in its simplest mode. As for the motion of the table responding to questions, the feet, which lift up under command, responding by the number of hits, the same system is applicable if we admit that among the members of the chain there is one that can keep the nervous sleep for longer periods. Such individual, unwillingly hypnotized, responds to questions and obeys orders addressed to him, inclining the table or making it lift up and hit back the floor, according to the request. Returning to the normal state it will all be forgotten like any other hypnotized individual would lose memory of their actions during that state. The person who is unconsciously taken to that role is a kind of sleepy-awaken; is not absolutely sui compos (legally competent state); it is in a mental state which is part of somnambulism and fascination. The person does not sleep; they are enchanted or fascinated given the imposed strong moral concentration: that person is a medium. Since the latter is of superior order compared to the former, it cannot be obtained in all groups. In order to have the table responding to the framed questions by lifting one of its feet and hitting the floor, it is necessary that the individuals who are used in the process have practiced the phenomenon of the turning table a number of times, and that there is one among them susceptible to fall onto that state, falling faster with practice and may remain in that state longer: in short, an experienced medium is required.”

“However, some will say that twenty minutes or half hour is not always needed to obtain the phenomenon of rotation of a “guéridon” or a regular table. Several times the table starts to turn after four or five minutes. We respond to this observation by saying that when a magnetizer works with his usual sensitive or with a professional somnambulist, he leads the subject into the somnambulistic state in a couple of minutes, without passes or devices and by a simple stare. Then, it is the habit that makes the phenomenon easier and faster. Trained mediums can also reach that nervous-half-sleep that induces the rotation of the table or any other movement, according to the request.”

We don’t know how Mr. Figuier would apply his theory to the movements, to the noises that are heard, to the motion of objects, without any contact of the medium, without the participation of their will, even against their will. But there are other things that he does not explain. As a matter of fact, even accepting his theory we would have an extraordinary physiological phenomenon, worthy of receiving the attention of the scholars. Why have they neglected it then?

Mr. Figuier finishes his Dissertation of the Marvelous providing short instructions about The Spirits’ Book. He judges it from his point of view, naturally; “the philosophy, he said, is outdated and the moral part is sleep-inducing.” I would undoubtedly rather have a mocking and lively moral. What can one do? It is a moral to be used by the soul; as a matter of fact, it would always have an advantage: make people sleep. It is a recipe in case of insomnia.”

* See the September 1860 issue of The Review
** It is not the spirits that make us act and think but one single spirit that is our soul. Denying the spirit is the same as denying the soul; denying the soul is the same as proclaiming pure materialism. Mr. Figuier apparently thinks that everybody else thinks like him and believes that they don’t have an immortal soul or he believes that he is everybody else.

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