Thursday, January 20, 2011

The tangled roots of spiritualism

John Gray, commenting on humanity's quest for immortality, reminds us
The séance that Charles Darwin attended in January 1874 at the house of his brother Erasmus brought the pioneering biologist together with Francis Galton, eugenicist and one of the founders of modern psychology, and the novelist George Eliot. All three were anxious that the rise of spiritualism would block the advance of scientific materialism. They were unimpressed with what they witnessed – Darwin found the experience "hot and tiring" and left before sparks were seen and rapping heard – but they would have been seriously concerned had they known the future career of a fourth participant in the séance, the classical scholar and psychologist FWH Myers. (Guardian, 08 January 2011)
It gets better:
Scientists who had passed to "the other side" were fashioning an exceptional human being, a posthumously designed messiah-child who would deliver humankind from chaos and bring peace to the world.

A child was in fact born – the offspring of Balfour's brother and the medium who transcribed the scripts, the wife of a much older man who took up automatic writing under the cover of a pseudonym after her daughter died in infancy – but seems to have known nothing of the role he had been assigned until late in life, and then probably less than the whole truth. Featuring a spell in MI6 (where for a time he worked alongside Kim Philby) followed by life in a monastery, the career of the supposed messiah was certainly unusual. But he had no impact on the world at large, which continued its normal course of conflict and drift.
And still better. H. G. Wells - whose friends rated him a truly dreadful man, and they were no angels - gets involved. Ah, the stories we don’t hear from Book HypeCentral.

Better we stick with spirituality.