Tyndall, John – Science and the Spirits – 07 I feel them at this moment shaking my chair
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
SCIENCE AND THE "SPIRITS”
A species of mental scene-painting, with which my own pursuits had long rendered me familiar, was employed to figure the changes and distribution of spiritual power. The spirits, it was alleged, were provided with atmospheres, which combined with and interpenetrated each other, and considerable ingenuity was shown in demonstrating the necessity of time in effecting the adjustment of the atmospheres. A rearrangement of our positions was proposed and carried out; and soon afterward my attention was drawn to a scarcely sensible vibration on the part of the table. Several persons were leaning on the table at the time, and I asked permission to touch the medium's hand.
"Oh! I know I tremble," was her reply.
Throwing one leg across the other, I accidentally nipped a muscle, and produced thereby an involuntary vibration of the free leg. This vibration, I knew, must be communicated to the floor, and thence to the chairs of all present. I therefore intentionally promoted it. My attention was promptly drawn to the motion; and a gentleman beside me, whose value as a witness I was particularly desirous to test, expressed his belief that it was out of the compass of human power to produce so strange a tremor.
“I believe,” he added, earnestly, “that it is entirely the spirits’ work."
“'So do I," added, with heat, the candid and warm-hearted old gentleman A. “Why, sir," he continued, “I feel them at this moment shaking my chair." I stopped the motion of the leg. "Now, sir," A. exclaimed, "they are gone." I began again, and A. once more affirmed their presence. I could, however, notice that there were doubters present, who did not quite know what to think of the manifestations. I saw their perplexity; and, as there was sufficient reason to believe that the disclosure of the secret would simply provoke anger, I kept it to myself.
Spiritualism: A Narrative with a Discussion – Patrick Proctor Alexander
APPENDIX. Professor Tyndall 'on science and spirits: ‘
To proceed to another instance illustrative of Dr. Tyndall's Scientific procedure.
‘My attention,’ he says, ‘was drawn to a scarcely sensible vibration on the part of the table. Several persons were leaning on the table at the time, and I asked permission to touch the Medium's hand.
" Oh ! I know I tremble," was her reply.
Throwing one leg across the other, I accidentally nipped a muscle, and produced thereby an involuntary vibration of the free leg. This vibration I knew must be communicated to the floor, and thence to the chairs of all present. I therefore intentionally promoted it. My attention was promptly drawn to the motion; and a gentleman beside me, whose value as a witness I was particularly desirous to test, expressed his belief that it was out of the compass of human power to produce so strange a tremor.
" I believe," he added earnestly, " that it is entirely the Spirits’ work."
"So do I," added, with heat, the candid and warm-hearted old gentleman, "Why, sir," he continued, "I feel them at this moment shaking my chair."
I stopped the motion of the leg.
"Now, sir," A. exclaimed, "they are gone."
I began again, and A. once more ejaculated. I could, however, notice that there were doubters present, who did not quite know what to think of the manifestations. I saw their perplexity ; and as there was sufficient reason to believe that the disclosure of the secret would simply provoke anger, I kept it to myself.
In one sense Dr. Tyndall’s procedure was judicious. Had he spoken out — as clearly he ought to have done — whether or no he had provoked anger, he would certainly have provoked inquiry : his ‘free leg,’ as vera causa of the tremors, would instantly have been called in question ; he would have been asked to bring it out, with the other, from under the table ; to ‘nip a muscle' as before ; and thus, or otherwise, as before, produce the tremors. And had he been asked to do so, it might perhaps have been found that the ‘uniformity of Nature,' on which he so much relies, in this instance also failed him; the miracle (in Professor Tyndall's sense a miracle) might possibly have been made manifest to the company, that Professor Tyndall could not successfully repeat his experiment. And it seems to me really very doubtful whether he could have done so. The vibration of Dr. Tyndall’s ‘free leg' no one, of course, will question, seeing he himself asserts it. As to the vibration of the floor as an effect of it, and as an effect of this the vibration, such as that implied ‘of the chairs of all present,' I confess I have some little difficulty.
Precisely on the ground on which I before impeached the asserted vibration of the wine-glass at a mere touch of Dr. Tyndall's whisker (!). I have made rather careful experiment, and see reason to think that Dr. Tyndall, in the use of his legs as of his whiskers, merely illustrates what he himself would call the ‘ Scientific use of the Imagination' (had not Dr. Tyndall been so really Scientific a person, I should have preferred to say its unscientific use).
‘I knew,' he says, ‘that this involuntary vibration of the leg, caused by nipping a muscle, must be communicated to the floor, and thence to the chairs of all present.'
What I for certain know is, that no such involuntary or automatic vibration of a leg freely swinging from the knee would be perceptibly communicated to the floor, and thence to the chair of any one present ; and that no such repetition or 'promotion’ of it merely, as that indicated by Dr. Tyndall, could possibly produce the effects he attributes to it. The truth might seem to be that, as in the case of the wine-glass, a mere relation of co-existence became in the imaginative mind of Dr. Tyndall a relation of cause and effect. As to his telling us that when the leg stopped the tremors stopped, to begin again when the leg began, this is not the least inconsistent with such a supposition, particularly if we surmise in Dr. Tyndall a little of the laxity of observation natural to a person who has jumped to a theory and sees pretty much what he wants to see in support of it. And had not Dr. Tyndall been so careful to 'keep the secret to himself,' it is just possible that all this might have promptly on the spot been made manifest. As it is, we must remain pretty much in the dark as to the whole matter. Knowing little or nothing as to the special intensity of tremor to be accounted for, and not very much of the vibrations of Dr. Tyndall's ‘free leg,' we are quite incompetent to judge as to the adequacy of the last, assigned as cause, to produce as an effect the first.
And surely nothing can be much more odd than Dr. Tyndall's notion, that having, as he thought, discovered the sufficient natural cause of phenomena announced as Spiritual, he was entitled to 'keep it to himself,' and then go away and publish it ! It amounts in point of fact to this, that though everything else may be investigated, Dr. Tyndall’s investigations must not be ; as on the spot, at least, on this occasion, he took very good care they should not.
The tremors, as experienced at the Seance before alluded to [which Alexander himself attended] , were extremely peculiar, ….. That Mr. Home may have somehow produced them, is quite possible ; that he could do so with his legs, in Dr. Tyndall's manner, I do not the least believe. Had any one present come to me afterwards and said, 'Oh ! I was vibrating my free leg all the time, and so producing, in the simplest way, the tremors that seemed to puzzle you so much,' I must needs have held him, I don't say untruthful, but in error, unless he could convince me of his accuracy by once more effecting with his legs the same precise results ; and the question of precision and identity might in such a case be more or less a nice one to decide ; on which ground I must have held the gentleman injudicious in not speaking out on the spot.
That some sort of tremor, more or less violent, may readily be communicated to a floor by certain uses of one's legs, is of course a familiar point of knowledge to everyone. Let us, in the light of this knowledge, accept without criticism, and in its full integrity, the statement of Dr. Tyndall ; it is clearly still quite inconclusive of the point at issue. For supposing Spirits to exist, and to have a whim, as alleged, of certifying their presence by inducing certain tremors in a room — supposing the thing a fact (and, whatever its seeming absurdity, to decline to admit it possible is really to set up a stupid claim of omniscience) — would this fact, ‘super-natural’ so-called, in the least be invalidated by the other fact, that by natural agency we could produce very much the same sort of tremors ? Only a blockhead will say so. That natural causes were shown to be adequate to the production of very similar effects to those alleged due to supernatural, would indeed justify a very strong rational suspicion that the so-called supernatural causes were in truth only natural ones deceptively hid away from us. But the strongest rational suspicion is still some little way short of proof; and until this suspicion became certainty in the exposure of the modus deceptionis — no very hopeless matter, one should say, where the thing is merely a deception, — no accurate person would consider that the question was thoroughly and finally disposed of.