William Crookes Icon

February 1, 2022

The second eminent adept among English natural scientists is Mr. William Crookes.

  • He discovered the chemical element thallium and the radiometer.
  • He began to investigate spiritualistic manifestations about 1871.
    • For this, he used physical and mechanical appliances, spring balances, electric batteries, etc.

Mr. Crookes was just as completely captivated as Mr. Wallace:

For some years, a young lady, Miss Florence Cook, has exhibited remarkable mediumship, which latterly culminated in the production of an entire female form purporting to be of spiritual origin, and which appeared barefooted and in white flowing robes while she lay entranced in dark clothing and securely bound in a cabinet or adjoining room.

This spirit called itself Katie and looked remarkably like Miss Cook, was one evening suddenly seized round the waist by Mr. Volckmann – the present husband of Mrs. Guppy – and held fast in order to see whether it was not indeed Miss Cook in another edition.

The spirit proved to be a quite sturdy damsel, it defended itself vigorously, the onlookers intervened, the gas was turned out, and when, after some scuffling, peace was reestablished and the room re-lit, the spirit had vanished and Miss Cook lay bound and unconscious in her corner.

Nevertheless, Mr. Volckmann is said to maintain up to the present day that he had seized hold of Miss Cook and nobody else. In order to establish this scientifically, Mr. Varley, a well-known electrician, on the occasion of a new experiment, arranged for the current from a battery to flow through the medium, Miss Cook, in such a way that she could not play the part of the spirit without interrupting the current. Nevertheless, the spirit made its appearance.

It was, therefore, indeed a being different from Miss Cook. To establish this further was the task of Mr. Crookes. His first step was to win the confidence of the spiritualistic lady. This confidence, so he says himself in the Spiritualist, June 5, 1874, “increased gradually to such an extent that she refused to give a séance unless I made the arrangements. She said that she always wanted me to be near her and in the neighbourhood of the cabinet.

I found that – when this confidence had been established and she was sure that I would not break any promise made to her – the phenomena increased considerably in strength and there was freely forthcoming evidence that would have been unobtainable in any other way.

She frequently consulted me in regard to the persons present at the séances and the places to be given them, for she had recently become very nervous as a result of certain ill-advised suggestions that, besides other more scientific methods of investigation, force also should be applied.”

The spirit lady rewarded this confidence, which was as kind as it was scientific, in the highest measure.

She even made her appearance – which can no longer surprise us – in Mr. Crookes’ house, played with his children and told them “anecdotes from her adventures in India,” treated Mr. Crookes to an account of “some of the bitter experiences of her past life,” allowed him to take her by the arm so that he could convince himself of her evident materiality, allowed him to take her pulse and count the number of her respirations per minute, and finally allowed herself to be photographed next to Mr. Crookes.

“This figure,” says Mr. Wallace, “after she had been seen, touched, photographed, and conversed with, vanished absolutely out of a small room from which there was no other exit than an adjoining room filled with spectators” – which was not such a great feat, provided that the spectators were polite enough to show as much faith in Mr. Crookes, in whose house this happened, as Mr. Crookes did in the spirit.

Unfortunately, these “fully authenticated phenomena” are not immediately credible even for spiritualists. We saw above how the very spiritualistic Mr. Volckmann permitted himself to make a very material grab.

And now a clergyman, a member of the committee of the “British National Association of Spiritualists,” has also been present at a séance with Miss Cook, and he established the fact without difficulty that the room through the door of which the spirit came and disappeared communicated with the outer world by a second door. The behaviour of Mr. Crookes, who was also present, gave “the final death blow to my belief that there might be something in the manifestations.” (Mystic London, by the Rev. C. Maurice Davies, London, Tinsley Brothers).[6] And, over and above that, it came to light in America how “Katies” were “materialised.” A married couple named Holmes held séances in Philadelphia in which likewise a “Katie” appeared and received bountiful presents from the believers. However, one sceptic refused to rest until he got on the track of the said Katie, who, anyway, had already gone on strike once because of lack of pay; he discovered her in a boarding-house as a young lady of unquestionable flesh and bone, and in possession of all the presents that had been given to the spirit.

Meanwhile the Continent also had its scientific spiritseers. A scientific association at St. Petersburg – I do not know exactly whether the University or even the Academy itself – charged the Councillor of State, Aksakov, and the chemist, Butlerov, to examine the basis of the spiritualistic phenomena, but it dbes not seem that very much came of this. On the other hand – if the noisy announcements of the spiritualists are to be believed – Germany has now also put forward its man in the person of Professor Zöllner in Leipzig.

For years, Herr Zöllner has been hard at work on the “fourth dimension” of space. He has discovered that many things that are impossible in 3D space are a simple matter 4D space.

Thus, in 4D space:

  • a closed metal sphere can be turned inside out like a glove, without making a hole in it
  • a knot can be tied in an endless string or one which has both ends fastened
  • 2 separate closed rings can be interlinked without opening either of them
  • etc

According to the recent triumphant reports from the spirit world, it is said now that Professor Zöllner has addressed himself to one or more mediums in order with their aid to determine more details of the locality of the fourth dimension.

After the session the arm of the chair, on which he rested his arm while his hand never left the table, was found to have become interlocked with his arm, a string that had both ends sealed to the table was found tied into four knots, and so on.

In short, all the miracles of the 4th dimension were performed by the spirits with the utmost ease. I believe in the correctness of the spirit bulletin.

If, however, it reproduces the experiences of Herr Zöllner without falsification, then it obviously signifies a new era both in the science of spiritualism and that of mathematics.

The spirits prove the existence of the 4th dimension, just as the 4th dimension vouches for the existence of spirits.

And this once established, an entirely new, immeasurable field is opened to science.

All previous mathematics and natural science will be only a preparatory school for the mathematics of the fourth and still higher dimensions, and for the mechanics, physics, chemistry, and physiology of the spirits dwelling in these higher dimensions.

Has not Mr. Crookes scientifically determined how much weight is lost by tables and other articles of furniture on their passage into the fourth dimension – as we may now well be permitted to call it – and does not Mr. Wallace declare it proven that fire there does no harm to the human body?

And now we have even the physiology of the spirit bodies! They breathe, they have a pulse, therefore lungs, heart, and a circulatory apparatus, and in consequence are at least as admirably equipped as our own in regard to the other bodily organs.

Breathing requires carbohydrates which undergo combustion in the lungs. These carbohydrates can only be supplied from outside. hence, stomach, intestines, and their accessories – and if we have once established so much, the rest follows without difficulty.

The existence of such organs, however, implies the possibility of their falling a prey to disease, hence it may still come to pass that Herr Virchow will have to compile a cellular pathology of the spirit world. And since most of these spirits are very handsome young ladies, who are not to be distinguished in any respect whatsoever from terrestrial damsels, other than by their supra-mundane beauty, it could not be very long before they come into contact with “men who feel the passion of love"; and since, as established by Mr. Crookes from the beat of the pulse, “the female heart is not absent,” natural selection also has opened before it the prospect of a fourth dimension, one in which it has no longer any need to fear of being confused with wicked social-democracy.

The most certain path from natural science to mysticism is not the extravagant theorising of the philosophy of nature, but the shallowest empiricism that spurns all theory and distrusts all thought.

It is not a priori necessity that proves the existence .of spirits, but the empirical observations of Messrs. Wallace, Crookes, and Co.

If we trust the spectrum-analysis observations of Crookes, which led to the discovery of the metal thallium, or the rich zoological discoveries of Wallace in the Malay Archipelago, we are asked to place the same trust in the spiritualistic experiences and discoveries of these two scientists.

We say that we can verify the one but not the other. But the spirit-seers argue that they can let us verify also the spirit phenomena.

Dialectics cannot be despised with impunity.

However great one’s contempt for all theoretical thought, nevertheless one cannot bring two natural facts into relation with one another, or understand the connection existing between them, without theoretical thought. The only question is whether one’s thinking is correct or not, and contempt of theory is evidently the most certain way to think naturalistically, and therefore incorrectly.

But, according to an old and well-known dialectic law, incorrect thinking, carried to its logical conclusion, inevitably arrives at the opposite of its point of departure. Hence, the empirical contempt of dialectics on the part of some of the most sober empiricists is punished by their being led into the most barren of all superstitions, into modern spiritualism.

It is the same with mathematics. The ordinary metaphysical mathematicians boast with enormous pride of the absolute irrefutability of the results of their science.

But these results include also imaginary magnitudes, which thereby acquire a certain reality. When one has once become accustomed to ascribe some kind of reality outside of our minds to √-1, or to the fourth dimension, then it is not a matter of much importance if one goes a step further and also accepts the spirit world of the mediums. It is as Ketteler said about Döllinger[7]: “The man has defended so much nonsense in his life, he really could have accepted infallibility into the bargain!”

In fact, mere empiricism is incapable of refuting the spiritualists because:

  1. The “higher” phenomena always show themselves only when the “investigator” concerned is already so far in the toils that he now only sees what he is meant to see or wants to see – as Crookes himself describes with such inimitable naivété.

  2. The spiritualist cares nothing that hundreds of alleged facts are exposed as imposture and dozens of alleged mediums as ordinary tricksters.

As long as every single alleged miracle has not been explained away, they have still room enough to carry on, as indeed Wallace says clearly enough in connection with the falsified spirit photographs.

The existence of falsifications proves the genuineness of the genuine ones.

Empiricism is compelled to refute the importunate spirit-seers not through empirical experiments, but by theoretical considerations. , and to say, with Huxley[8]: “The only good that I can see in the demonstration of the truth of ‘spiritualism’ is to furnish an additional argument against suicide.

Better live a crossing-sweeper than die and be made to talk twaddle by a ‘medium’ hired at a guinea a séance!"

Notes

  1. From a manuscript of Engels probably written in 1878, and first published in the “Illustrierter Neue Welt-Kalender für das Jahr 1898.”

  2. As already said, the patients perfect themselves by practice. It is therefore quite possible that, when the subjection of the will has become habitual, the relation of the participants becomes more intimate, individual phenomena are intensified and are reflected weakly even in the waking state. [Note by F. Engels.]

  3. See Appendix II, p. 368.

  4. The spirit world is superior to grammar. A joker once caused the spirit of the grammarian Lindley Murray to testify. To the question whether he was there, he answered: “I are.” (American for I am.) The medium was from America. [Note by F. Engels.]

  5. See Appendix II, p. 369.

  6. See Appendix II, p. 370.

  7. A catholic scholar who did not accept the dogma of papal infallibility.

  8. See Appendix II, p. 370.