Human Personality and its Survival of Bodily Deathby Frederick W. H. Myers
Maior agit deus, atque opera la maiora remittit. —VIRGIL. IN the long story of man's endeavours to understand his own environment and to govern his own fates, there is one gap or omission so singular that, however we may afterwards contrive to explain the fact, its simple statement has the air of a paradox. Yet it is strictly true to say that man has never yet… See more details below
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Maior agit deus, atque opera la maiora remittit. —VIRGIL. IN the long story of man's endeavours to understand his own environment and to govern his own fates, there is one gap or omission so singular that, however we may afterwards contrive to explain the fact, its simple statement has the air of a paradox. Yet it is strictly true to say that man has never yet applied to the problems which most profoundly concern him those methods of inquiry which in attacking all other problems he has found the most efficacious.
The question for man most momentous of all is whether or no he has an immortal soul; or—to avoid the word immortal, which belongs to the realm of infinities—whether or no his personality involves any element which can survive bodily death. In this direction have always lain the gravest fears, the farthest-reaching hopes, which could either oppress or stimulate mortal minds.
On the other hand, the method which our race has found most effective in acquiring knowledge is by this time familiar to all men. It is the method of modern Science—that process which consists in an interrogation of Nature entirely dispassionate, patient, systematic; such careful experiment and cumulative record as can often elicit from her slightest indications her deepest truths. That method is now dominant throughout the civilised world; and although in many directions experiments may be difficult and dubious, facts rare and elusive, Science works slowly on and bides her time,—refusing to fall back upon tradition or to launch into speculation, merely because strait is the gate which leads to valid discovery, indisputable truth.
I say, then, that this method has never yet been applied to the all-important problem of the existence, the powers, the destiny of the human soul.
Nor is this strange omission due to any general belief that the problem is in its nature incapable of solution by any observation whatever which mankind could make. That resolutely agnostic view—I may almost say that scientific superstition—"ignoramus et ignorabimus"—is no doubt held at the present date by many learned minds. But it has never been the creed, nor is it now the creed, of the human race generally. In most civilised countries there has been for nearly two thousand years a distinct belief that survival has actually been proved by certain phenomena observed at a given date in Palestine. And beyond the Christian pale—whether through reason, instinct, or superstition—it has ever been commonly held that ghostly phenomena of one kind or another exist to testify to a life beyond the life we know.
But, nevertheless, neither those who believe on vague grounds nor those who believe on definite grounds that the question might possibly be solved, or has actually been solved, by human observation of objective facts, have hitherto made any serious attempt to connect and correlate that belief with the general scheme of belief for which Science already vouches. They have not sought for fresh corroborative instances, for analogies, for explanations; rather they have kept their convictions on these fundamental matters in a separate and sealed compartment of their minds, a compartment consecrated to religion or to superstition, but not to observation or to experiment.
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