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Tyrrell, G N M - The Significance of the Whole – The main task of psychical research is to induce the right psychological conditions in the most promising types of individual



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

The Significance of the Whole - G. N. M. Tyrrell

It is natural to ask why, if the phenomena of psychical research are genuine, they should be so elusive. Why, after six thousand years of civilisation, are we still in doubt about them? Why, if they can be experienced at all, can they not be experienced certainly and at will? Why can we not test them, become familiar with them by daily experience and deal with them in the scientific laboratory?

Men of science incline to the view that if they are to be expected to take these phenomena seriously, they must be provided with an experimental technique by means of which they can observe and repeat them at will. They demand that they be put on 'a par in this respect with ordinary laboratory phenomena. Why is this demand so difficult to meet? Does the difficulty imply that the phenomena in question are really illusory?

The answers to these questions have, I think, been substantially given …. Roughly, the situation is as follows. the physical sciences we are dealing with events directly open to the inspection of the senses. Such events can be accurately and continuously observed and, moreover, by the direct intervention of our bodies, we can control them and vary their conditions. In such cases the demand for controllable and repeatable experiments is easily met. Even in the psychological laboratory, where we are dealing with mental and not with physical events, this is fairly true.

But when we come to events which occur neither in the physical world nor in the conscious mind, the situation is different.

Our only means of getting to know about events taking place in the subliminal portion of the personality is by watching for symbolical signals to arrive at consciousness. This is a totally different situation from that obtaining in normal psychology or physics. All we can do is to put the human subject into the psychological state in which experience shows that these signals are likely to occur. That is what we do in hypnosis, automatism or trance. We displace the normal consciousness and allow the deeper levels of the personality to send signals indicating what is passing in them.

The main task of psychical research is to induce the right psychological conditions in the most promising types of individual. Its ultimate hope is to control these conditions. At present we are at the state of observation to a considerable extent, groping like explorers on the verge of an unknown continent. The demand for immediate and complete control comparable with that-exercised in the physical laboratory is, on the face of it, unreasonable. We must not be dictatorial: our business is to question nature, not to attempt to coerce her.


There seems little promise that the completely controlled, mathematical method of research will ever lead to the heart of the subject. The very fact that the percipient is required to retain conscious control of the conditions, and to adjust his behaviour to the rules of the experiment, would seem to negative it. We can have the customary type of scientific control at the price of paddling in the, shallows

The source of the experience

Tyrrell, G N M

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps