Interview with Professor Wundt
Interview with Professor Fechner
Interview with Professor Scheibner
Interview with Professor Weber
facts, and that they were not to be attributed to imposture or prestidigitation. He also mentions the presence of Professor Wundt at at least one of the sittings.
The phenomena narrated by Zoellner -- the bursting of the wooden screen, the passages of coins out of closed boxes, the abnormal actions of the solid wooden rings, the tying of knots in the endless cord, the prints made upon smoked paper by the feet of four-dimentional beings -- all these have become classic in Spiritistic literature, and the accounts may be obtained in convenient form collected, arranged and translated into English by Mr. C. C. Massey, of Lincoln's Inn, London.
Of these phenomena themselves, verification is, at this late date, manifestly out of the question. The only published accounts are those made by Zoellner, and in the absence of notes made at the time, all descriptions of phenomena given now by the other persons present would be valueless, except as indicating the impression made upon them at the time by the occurrences.
But, though the phenomena themselves cannot be satisfactorily sifted, the men who were engaged in the investigation are, with the exception of Zoellner himself, still living, and it occurred to me when in Germany during the past summer, that a conference with each of these men, and an inquiry into their qualifications for making such an investigation into the phenomena of Spiritism, might be of no small value.
These men are: William Wundt, Professor of Philosophy in the University of Leipsic; Gustav Theodore Fechner, now Professor Emeritus of Physics in the University of Leipsic; W. Scheibner, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Leipsic; and Wilhelm Weber, Professor Emeritus of Physics in the University of Goettingen -- all of them men of eminence in their respective lines of scholarship.
Professor Wundt said:
1. That at the seances at which he himself was present (and he was present at two or three of them) the conditions of observation were very unsatisfactory. All hands had to be kept on the table, and no one was allowed to look under it.
2. That all that he saw done looked as if it might have been done by jugglery.
3. That the writing on slates was very suspicious -- the German was bad, just such German as Slade spoke.
4. That Professor Weber, who was present at the sittings, was a very old man at the time, and presumably not an acute observer.
5. That Professor Fechner, another of those present, was afflicted with an incipient cataract, and could see very little.
6. That Professor Zoellner himself was at the time decidedly not in his right mind; his abnormal mental condition being clearly indicated in his letters and in his intercourse with his family.
7. That he (Professor Wundt) had not a high respect for the scientific judgment of Professor Ulrici, of Halle, who had been so much impressed by the report made by Professor Zoellner; Professor Ulrici he thought literary and poetical, but not scientific.
It will be seen that some of the points mentioned by Professor Wundt are suggestive; but I will postpone an examination of his statements, as of those of each of the others, until they have all been given and can be compared.
1. That he himself was present at but two sittings, and that these were not very decisive.
2. That he did not look upon Slade as a juggler, but accepted the objective reality of the facts; that he did this, however, not on the strength of his own observations, for these were unsatisfactory, but because he had faith in Professor Zoellner's powers of observation.
3. That what he saw might have been produced by juggling.
4. That the sittings at which he was present were held at night, and that he could not remember what sort of a light they had.
5. That Zoellner's mental derangement came on very gradually, so that it would be difficult to say when it began; but that from the time of his experiments with Slade it was more pronounced. He (Fechner) did not think, however, that it incapacitated Zoellner as an observer, the derangement being emotional; but, such as it was, it was clearly shown in his family and in his intercourse with friends.
6. Professor Fechner referred me to Professors Scheibner and Weber for information, saying that these two were present at most of the sittings.
The copy which he corrected and returned to me I place at length in this Report, merely translating his corrections (very literally), and inserting them at the points indicated by himself. They are enclosed in quotation marks. In some instances, my desire for exactitude in the translations has resulted in very bad English; the shape of my own paragraphs is due to the time and manner of their framing, and to a reluctance to making any changes in their form afterwards.
The copy reads as follows:
On July 3d, 1886, I visited Professor W. Scheibner, at his rooms, in Leipsic, and obtained from him the following information concerning Professor Zoellner's Spiritistic experiments with Dr. Henry Slade, the American Medium:
1. Professor Scheibner thinks that he was present at three or four of the regular seances with Slade. Slade came to Professor Zoellner's rooms; they sat around a table for perhaps half an hour, and then, after the seance was over, they spent an hour or two sitting informally in the same room, or in the next room, and talking. During these informal conversations surprising things would occur. Raps would now and then be heard, and objects would unexpectedly be thrown about the room. In these conversations Professor Scheibner was present perhaps five or six times. Some of these took place during the day, and some in the evening.
2. Professor Scheibner said that each single thing that he saw might possibly have been jugglery, "although he perceived nothing that raised a direct suspicion."
The whole number of incidents taken together, however, surprised him, and seemed scarcely explicable as jugglery, for there did not seem to be the necessary time or means for preparing so many tricks, "which often connected themselves surprisingly with desires casually expressed in momentary conversations."
Professor Scheibner said, however, that he did not regard himself as competent to form an opinion which should have scientific weight, because:
(a) He knows nothing about jugglery;
(b) He was merely a passive spectator, and could not, properly speaking, make observations -- could not suggest conditions, "or gain the control which seemed necessary;" and
(c) He is short-sighted, "and might easily have left unnoticed something essential."
He says merely, that to him, subjectively, jugglery did not seem a good "or sufficient" explanation of the phenomena.
3. Professor Scheibner said that he had never seen anything of the kind before. He had never even, since his childhood, seen any exhibitions of jugglery; he does not go to see such things, because he is so short-sighted that if he went he would see nothing. In this connection he repeated his statement that from this, among other causes, he did not regard himself as competent to give an opinion. He said that many persons in Germany had demanded his opinion, but that he had refused it because he regarded his subjective impression, without objective proofs, as scientifically valueless.
4. Professor Scheibner said that he did not believe in these things before. He came to the seances because Professor Zoellner was a personal friend. He has seen very little of the sort since.
That little has been in the presence of a lady in Leipsic through whom raps occurred, and psychography. This last phenomenon consisted in communication through a little contrivance, furnished with an index or pointer, which answered questions by pointing to letters laid out before it. This it did when the lady placed her band on the machine. The questions were "usually" not asked mentally, but spoken out. There were no tests applied to these phenomena, no conditions of exact investigation. Professor Scheibner "holds suspicion of conscious deception to be out of the question."
5. Professor Zoellner was, said Professor Scheibner, a man of keen mind, but in his investigations apt to see "by preference" what lay in the path of his theory. He could "less easily" see what was against his theory. He was childlike and trustful in character, and might easily have been deceived by an impostor. He expected everyone to be honest and frank as he was. He started with the assumption that Slade meant to be honest with him. He would have thought it wrong to doubt Slade's honesty. Professor Zoellner, said Professor Scheibner, set out to find proof for four-dimentional space, in which he was already inclined to believe. His whole thought was directed to that point.
6. Professor Scheibner thinks that the mental disturbance under which Zoellner suffered later, might be regarded as, at this time, incipient. He became more and more given to fixing his attention on a few ideas, and incapable of seeing what was against them. Towards the last he was passionate when criticized. Professor Scheibner would not say that Professor Zoellner's mental disturbance was pronounced and full-formed, so to speak, but that it was incipient, and, if Zoellner had lived longer, would have fully developed. Zoellner himself, "whose brothers and sisters frequently* suffered from mental disease, often feared lest a similar fate should come upon him."
7. Professor Scheibner gives no opinion on Spiritism. He can only say that he cannot explain the phenomena that he saw.
8. Professor Weber, said Professor Scheibner, "attended the Zoellner-Slade experiments under the same circumstances as he (Scheibner) himself."
9. Professor Zoellner's book, said Professor Scheibner, would create the impression that Weber and Fechner and he agreed with Zoellner throughout in his opinion of the phenomena "and their interpretation;" but this, he said, is not the case.
HALLE a. S., July 5th, 1886.
1. That he thought the things he saw in the seances with Slade were different from jugglery.
2. That he did not think there was time or opportunity for Slade to prepare deceptions.
3. That he himself knew nothing of jugglery, nor did Professor Zoellner.
4. That he can testify to the facts as described by Zoellner, and that he could not himself have described the occurrences better than they are described in Zoellner's book: -- to the facts he is willing to testify, the means he declares unknown to him, but does not regard jugglery as a sufficient explanation. If another can understand, he said, how jugglery can explain the facts, well and good -- he can not.
5. That he had never seen anything of the kind before, and has not since; it being his only experience of Spiritualism.
6. That he had the greatest freedom to experiment and set conditions, and that the conditions were favorable to observation.
7. That he regarded Professor Fechner as one of the best observers in the world, and Professor Scheibner as an excellent observer.
8. That Professor Zoellner was not at that time, in any sense, in an abnormal mental condition.
Professor Weber seemed unwilling to speak decidedly on the subject, but indicated that he leaned to the Spiritistic interpretation of the facts. He said that the things done indicated intelligence on the part of the doer.
1. As to Professor Wundt, who is by profession an experimental psychologist, and an observer. Professor Wundt did not regard the investigation, so far as he participated, as in any respect thorough or satisfactory. The conditions of observation were not present. When called upon by Professor Ulrici to describe the occurrences as he saw them, he said he would not willingly describe what he had not had opportunity to observe.
2. As to Professor Zoellner, the chief witness and author of the book published, a number of points are worthy of note.
(1.) The question of his mental condition at the time of the investigation. It is asserted by his English translator, Mr. Massey, that he was
of sound mind. I inquired of Mr. Massey, when in London, upon what authority he makes the statement; and found that it is based upon a letter from a Spiritistic correspondent of Zoellner, and upon no other authority. Of the four men mentioned as connected with him, Wundt, Weber, Fechner and Scheibner, three (all except Weber) are decidedly of the opinion that his mental condition was not normal.
The opinion of Wundt, as of a man whose profession would not permit him to speak hastily upon this topic, I would regard as of special value; but if we rule that out upon the ground that Wundt was not impressed by the investigation, and might naturally be inclined to underrate Zoellner, who was, we have left the opinions of Fechner and Scheibner, both Zoellner's colleagues at Leipsic, both particular friends of Zoellner, and both inclined to agree with him as to the reality of the facts he describes. Both of them regarded Zoellner at the time as of more or less unsound mind. His disease, as described by them, seems to have been chiefly emotional, showing itself in a passionate dislike of contradiction, and a tendency to overlook any evidence contrary to a cherished theory.
To the general change in his nature due to his disease Professor Scheibner testifies; and Professor Fechner's belief as to his mental condition is specially worthy of note from the fact that, although recognizing it to be abnormal, he still holds his powers of observation to be sound, and upon this ground is inclined to assent to the facts described. If anyone could be tempted to make Zoellner as sane as possible, it would be one in the position of Professor Fechner. Professor Weber's testimony I will examine later. Upon the question whether the peculiar form of Zoellner's disease would be likely to affect his powers of observation, the following points may throw some light.
(2.) It is evident, both from what Zoellner has himself printed and from what Professor Scheibner has said, that Zoellner's interest in the investigation centered in his attempt to prove experimentally what he already held to be speculatively true as to a fourth dimension of space. In a paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Science, for April, 1878, he says:
"At the end of my first treatise, already finished in manuscript in the course of August, 1877, I called attention to the circumstance that a certain number of physical phenomena, which, by 'synthetical conclusions a priori,' might be explained through the generalized conception of space and the platonic hypothesis of projection, coincided with so-called Spiritualistic phenomena. Cautiously, however, I said : -- 'To those of my readers who are inclined to see in Spiritualistic phenomena
an empirical confirmation of those phenomena above deduced in regard to their theoretical possibility, I beg to observe that from the point of view of idealism there must first be given a precise definition and criticism of objective reality,' " etc. Now this reference to Spiritualistic phenomena was made before Zoellner had seen anything of the kind, and his attitude was evidently a receptive one. Moreover, we have Professor Scheibner's testimony to the fact that during the whole investigation his attention was entirely directed towards the subject of the fourth dimension, and an experimental demonstration of its existence.
Bearing in mind, therefore, the mental attitude in which, and the object with which, Zoellner approached this investigation, we cannot look upon any subjective, or emotional, mental disturbance, which results, as described, in making him narrow his attention more and more upon a few ideas, and disregard or find it difficult to observe what seems contrary to them, as without objective significance, particularly where we know the man to be a total stranger to investigations of such a nature as this one, and not only quite ignorant as to possible methods of deception, but unwilling to doubt the integrity of the Medium.
(3.) There are things in Zoellner's own accounts which indicate a certain lack of caution and accuracy on his part, and tend to lessen one's confidence in his statements. As an instance of inaccuracy, I may mention the statement he makes in his article in the Quarterly Journal of Science as to the opinions of his colleagues. Professor Zoellner says:
"I reserve to later publication, in my own treatises, the description of further experiments obtained by me in twelve seances with Mr. Slade, and, as I am expressly authorized to mention, in the presence of my friends and colleagues, Professor Fechner, Professor Wilhelm Weber, the celebrated electrician from Goettingen, and Herr Scheibner, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Leipsic, who are perfectly convinced of the reality of the observed facts, altogether excluding imposture or prestidigitation".
Here the attitude of the four men is not correctly described, and Professor Zoellner's statement does them injustice, as Professor Scheibner remarked. At least two of the men were merely inclined to accept the facts, and to these two the words "perfectly convinced" will not apply.
As one out of numerous instances of lack of caution, I may refer to Zoellner's statements, that at certain times writing was heard upon the slates, giving no proof whatever to show that the writing was really
done at the time of hearing the sounds, and apparently quite ignorant of the fact that deception may readily be practiced on this point.
3. As to Professor Fechner. The fact is admitted that he was, at the time of the investigation, suffering from cataract, which made all observation extremely defective. Moreover, he was present at but two of the sittings, and has stated that he did not regard these as very decisive. His attitude towards the phenomena described is based on his faith in Professor Zoellner's powers of observation, and not on what he saw himself. He does not, therefore, as an independent witness would, add anything to the force of Professor Zoellner's testimony.
4. As to Professor Scheibner. His position is simply that he cannot see how the whole series of phenomena can reasonably be attributed to jugglery, though he admits that each single thing he saw, alone considered, might possibly be. He does not regard himself, however, as able to give an opinion which should have objective value; because he was merely a passive spectator, and could not, properly speaking, make observations -- could not suggest conditions, -- because he knows absolutely nothing about jugglery, and the possibilities of deception, and because he is so short-sighted that he may easily have overlooked something of importance -- so short-sighted that he never goes to see a juggler, because he sees nothing.
5. As to the last witness, Professor Weber, his testimony agrees more decidedly with that of Professor Zoellner. He was present at eight seances, declares the occurrences to have been as represented by Professor Zoellner, and denies that Zoellner was in any sense insane.
But Professor Weber is from Goettingen,and was at the time of the investigation in Leipsic on a visit; it is not improbable that those of Professor Zoellner's colleagues, who lived and worked at the same University with him, may have had better opportunities for judging as to his mental condition than one who only saw him occasionally. Moreover, Professor Weber's opinion as to the qualifications of the men with whom he was associated does not seem to have been always sound. One who could look upon Professor Fechner as one of the best observers in the world, and Professor Scheibner, as for the purpose in hand, an excellent observer, neglecting entirely to note that one was partly blind and that the other could not see well, might readily overlook the fact of a not very pronounced mental aberration on the part of a third person. And as to Professor Weber's opinion of the phenomena, it is well to note that Professor Weber was seventy-four years old at the time, had had no previous experience in investigations of this kind and was quite ignorant of the arts of the juggler. Whatever may be
a man's powers of reflection at seventy-four, it is natural to suppose that his powers of perception, especially when exercised in a quite new field, are not at that age what they were some years previously.
Thus it would appear that of the four eminent men whose names have made famous the investigation, there is reason to believe one, Zoellner, was of unsound mind at the time, and anxious for experimental verification of an already accepted hypothesis; another, Fechner, was partly blind, and believed because of Zoellner's observations; a third, Scheibner, was also afflicted with defective vision, and not entirely satisfied in his own mind as to the phenomena; and a fourth, Weber, was advanced in age, and did not even recognize the disabilities of his associates. No one of these men had ever had experiences of this sort before, nor was any one of them acquainted with the ordinary possibilities of deception. The experience of our Commission with Dr. Slade would suggest, that the lack of such knowledge on their part was unfortunate.
A consideration of all these circumstances places, it seems to me, this famous investigation in a somewhat new light, and any estimate of Zoellner's testimony, based merely upon the eminence in science of his name and those of his collaborateurs, neglecting to give attention to their disqualifications for this kind of work, cannot be a fair or a true estimate.
In concluding this Report, I give sincere thanks to all of these gentlemen for their courtesy and frankness -- a frankness which has alone made it possible for me to collect this evidence; and which, considering the nature of the evidence, must be regarded as most generous. To Professor Scheibner, especially, my thanks are due for the trouble he has taken in helping me to make my notes exact and truthful.
GEO. S. FULLERTON.