Saturday, June 15, 2013

Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science (2)

As noted in the earlier posting, I don't want to give the impression that Nandor Fodor's Encyclopaedia of Psychic Science is just a collection of brief, intriguing squibs. Fodor takes on the big paranormal phenomena that have fascinated and baffled people for centuries. Nobody can claim definitive explanations, but Fodor does one hell of a job of collecting facts, theories, speculation, and anecdotes.

To show how he goes about examining a subject, consider his entry on xenoglossis. It's about five pages of near-microscopic print. I'm getting eyestrain from transcribing parts of it.

Ophthalmologist: "I don't like the look of that eye."
Me: "Why not? I'm just looking at the light you're shining in it."
Ophthalmologist: "Actually I don't like the look of the other eye either. Are they causing you pain?"
Me: "Well, actually, Doctor, I've just been keying in some passages on levitation from The Encyclopaedia of  Psychic Science ... "

The typography is the edition's least attractive feature -- but given the amount of content, it would be hard to increase the font size without creating a huge and weighty printed book. An online edition would seem to be the answer.

Fodor begins with a definition, and we are already in unavoidably murky waters:
Speaking in tongues unknown to the medium. According to certain classifications the term should cover writing in tongues and glossolalia should be employed for speaking them; but others, like Ernesto Bozzano, reserve the term for speaking non-existent pseudo-languages. Professor Richet uses xenoglossis inclusively. [Today glossolalia is the generally accepted word for all such phenomena.]
His scientific temper is evident in the introductory paragraph:
Speaking in an unknown language is a far more impressive phenomenon than writing in it. Sub-conscious visual memory may account for occasional reproduction of foreign sentences but the explanation becomes more difficult if the problem of intonation is superadded as it necessitates an auditive memory, the subconscious retention of strange languages actually heard somewhere sometime.
And conversing in a language unknown to the speaker is even more bizarre since it obviously demands more than visual or auditory memory. These cases now go by the term "responsive glossolalia." Skeptics are wont to dismiss all evidence of mediums delivering information they could not be expected to know by ordinary means as the springing up of long-forgotten, unconscious memories ("cryptomnesia"). Recall of buried memories undoubtedly can explain some such instances, but hardly all.

The entry continues: "The paramount question ... is what is the evidence for xenoglossis." Fodor traces various accounts back to the Middle Ages, when spontaneous speaking in foreign languages was considered "one of the four principal signs of the presence of a demon," and was one of the charges laid against the Ursuline nuns in the notorious Loudun persecution. At other times, though, "speaking in tongues" was accepted as a spiritual gift, albeit when the foreign phrases were tactfully perceptible as deriving from Scripture.
The "interpretation of tongues" does not always occur even when when it is prayed for. When it occurs the speakers may either see the translation written before them, or hear it inwardly, or perceive directly the meaning of the foreign words.
Fodor doesn't say that the old stories or true. He doesn't say they are false. He simply presents the surviving record.

If we're inclined to dismiss historical records, including Swedenborg's account of the language of angels (a subject Fodor goes into at some length), there are also relatively modern cases. For instance, that of Laura Edmonds.

Miss Edmonds was the daughter of an American judge, who testifies to the phenomenon in a letter of October 1857. We can perhaps give some credence to the word of such a pillar of the community, particularly a man whose wits were sharpened by a long experience of listening to trial lawyers. (A trial, George Bernard Shaw said, was an attempt to arrive at the truth by comparing the words of two liars.) That aside, there seems no possible motive for his making up the story.

In short, a guest in the household named Mr. Evangelides, a native of Greece, spoke little English. Laura began by uttering a few Greek phrases ("when some 12 or 15 persons were in my parlour") and eventually Mr. Evangelides inquired if he could be understood if he spoke in Greek. Laura not only did not know the language, she had never even heard it spoken.
"The residue of the conversation [wrote Judge Edmonds], for more than an hour, was, on his part, entirely in Greek, and on hers sometimes in Greek and sometimes in English. At times Laura would not understand what was the idea conveyed, either by her or him. At other times she would understand him, though he spoke in Greek, and herself when uttering Greek words ...

"One day my daughter and niece came into my library and began a conversation with me in Spanish, one speaking a part of a sentence and the other the residue. They were influenced, I found, by a spirit of a person whom I had known when in Central America, and reference was made to many things which had occurred to me there, of which I knew they were as ignorant as they were of Spanish. ... Laura has spoken to me in Indian, in the Chippewa and Monomonie tongues. I knew the language, because I had been two years in the Indian country." 
Chris Carter gives an account of the Edmonds phenomena in a recent book, Science and the Afterlife Experience (2012), p. 199. Carter adds a few words from Edmonds which Fodor omitted: "After the conversation [with Laura] ended, [Evangelides] told us that he had never before witnessed any Spirit manifestations, and that he had, during the conversation, tried experiments to test that which was so novel to him. These experiments were in speaking of subjects which he knew Laura must be ignorant of, and in frequently and suddenly changing the topic from domestic to political affairs, from philosophy to theology, and so on. In answer to our inquiries -- for none of us knew Greek -- he assured us that his Greek must have been understood, and her Greek was correct."

Fodor cites more examples of xenoglossy. For example, "According to Emma Hardinge's Modern American Spiritualism, the gift was demonstrated, besides Miss Edmonds, at an early period by Miss Jenny Keyes who sang in trance in Italian and Spanish, and by Mrs. Shepherd, Mrs. Gilbert Sweet, Miss Inman, Mrs. Tucker, Miss Susan Hoyt, A. D. Ruggles and several others whose names she was not permitted to make public. They frequently spoke in Spanish, Danish, Italian, Hebrew, Greek, Malay, Chinese and Indian. In 1859 nineteen people testified in the Banner of Light [a spiritualist publication] to 34 cases of persons who occasionally spoke or wrote in tongues."

The somewhat antiquated language of these quotations, and the date of the reported events, might be off-putting to some modern readers. Of course, they were hardly so far in the past when Fodor described them.

But he also includes one up-to-the minute anecdote.
In The Two Worlds [another spiritualist publication], March 31, 1933, Dr. F. H. Wood writes of Rosemary and Lady Nona, her ancient Egyptian control [a person in spirit who acts as an intermediary between the Other Side and a medium in our world]: "The fact is now established beyond disproof that over 140 Egyptian word-phrases which were in common use when the great Temple of Luxor in Egypt was built, have been spoken fluently through an English girl who normally knows nothing about the ancient tongue."

Mr. Howard Hulme of Brighton, the translator of the Egyptian phrases, after a preliminary test by post which resulted in an unexpected but correct Egyptian answer, has also heard Lady Nona speak. After an amazing dialogue in the dead tongue of the pyramid builders, "Nona cleared up many points of pronunciation, gave her own earth-name and explained the full meaning of some of her previous language tests."
Fodor gives many further cases, including the supposedly Martian language delivered by a Mlle. Helene Smith. ("The exhaustive analysis of Professor Flournoy, however, clearly proved that the originator of this language modelled it after French and that this marvel of subconscious activity cannot be ascribed to extra-terrene sources," Fodor says, for once letting his critical faculty get the better of his pure descrptivism.)

I hope I have suggested the thoroughness with which Fodor immerses the reader in the psychical phenomena he investigates. In general, you are invited to weigh the purported facts for yourself. He doubtless believed in the importance of the larger world of which our daily reality is only a fraction, but there's no special pleading on his part. He deserves a much wider recognition for his contribution to providing, if not the answers to our questions, at least the raw material to work with in seeking them.

1 comment:

Stogie said...

Very interesting. I would hope the psychic encyclopedia will be made available in a more readable form in the near future.