Montague’s speech for a debate on Scole, given December 11, 1999
This is the nub of the issue. Some of us — certainly I myself — have tended to regard
as a lamentable waste of time and resources the concentration on fraud or non-
That being so, ought we not now to get on with the more important and challenging
question: from whence do the messages emanate: can we eliminate the role of the mediums’
What follows is based on the assumption that we are dealing with something genuine. The issue is whether that evidence points to discarnate intelligence or whether we are entitled to go no further than to argue that it may be attributable only to subliminal activity on the part of human beings. Do our experiences with the Scole Group take us any further into these treacherous waters of speculation and deduction: deeper than we have previously felt justified in venturing from earlier evidence. And how, if at all, does it differ from earlier evidence?
Although this part of our discussion day is billed as “mental mediumship”, it must
be apparent from the Report that the mental and physical are interlocked. Those who
may in the future have the privilege and opportunity to read through the verbatim
transcripts of some of our sittings will see that, once a rapport had been established
between sitters and communicators, much of the talk relates to forthcoming, current
or recent demonstrations of physical phenomena, if that term can for this purpose
be applied equally to the performance of lights and accompanying ethereal forms,
and to the breezes and touches, table vibrations, trumpet blasts, drum-
It became apparent quite early on, and especially when there were references to Frederic Myers and the founding fathers of the Society, that the intention of the communicators — and indeed the whole point of the exercise — was to provide better evidence of posthumous communication than had hitherto been obtained. Although what follows must to some extent be deduction, or inference, it was implicit that the communicators acknowledged the failure of what must now be accepted as the principal effort to provide proof of survival in a calculated, organised form rather than through the sporadic, ad hoc messages from individual mediums to individual sitters, impressive though a good deal of that evidence had proved to be.
This may be familiar meat and drink to old SPR hands, but I don’t think the Scole exercise can be intelligently interpreted except by looking at the historic background; because this fits in neatly with so much of what we heard and discussed.
By the beginning of this century, those members of the SPR who had not already drifted
off towards the spiritualists’ camp were broadly divided between those who found
the evidence from, in particular but not exclusively, Mrs Leonore Piper to be clear
enough proof that the information she was transmitting could have come only from
beyond the grave; and those who thought that proposition not proved, since all the
communications were capable of an alternative explanation, one based on the knowledge
that the extra-
This belief, later to become known under the generic title of the Super-
It is well known that the start of these cross-
Be that as it may, the fact is that these efforts at communication effectively ended over 60 years ago. Great volumes of scripts and learned analyses gather dust today. Those in the celestial realm who appear to have been at such prolonged pains to show that they are still around seem until now to have confined themselves to soliloquies through mediums attended by such authors as Sir Oliver Lodge, Maurice Barbanell, Geraldine Cummins and Paul Beard.
If, as we have reason to suspect, the Scole experience was an effort to present fresh
evidence which would be simpler, more direct, and more tangible than even the most
ingeniously impressive of the cross-
It is not for us to condemn or ignore evidence because the communicators appear to
us to be behaving oddly, or choosing what we think are the wrong sorts of evidence,
or even because they decline to undertake the experiments we suggest. We have to
acknowledge, albeit with some reluctance, that there is a certain logic in their
rejection of Arthur Ellison’s proposal that they should read the numbers lodged on
the top of his wardrobe at home; or undertake a book test by telling us what was
on line five of page 239 of the sixth book on the second shelf in someone’s library.
The communicators argued that this was old hat. It had been done before; and it hadn’t
got them anywhere. Now this is true, and if, as they said, they were determined to
produce something new, using a form of energy which had none of the associations,
shortcomings and dangers of old-
This does give rise to one of the many little puzzles that bears upon the issue discarnate versus incarnate. At one stage, when a new male personality was struggling to come through as a direct voice from the centre of the table, he suddenly interrupted himself by saying “This gentleman here [MK] is making notes. Is that allowed?” He was assured that it was, and that all was being recorded. So how did he, or it, know that I was making notes? Mrs Bradshaw had earlier commented with some asperity when we were asking for book tests: “We can’t see; we don’t have eyes.” Well, obviously, spirits don’t have physical senses or dimensions. Yet David Fontana never tired of marvelling how they managed to locate our fingers with unerring accuracy in the dark. One can reasonably ask at this point whether this is another characteristic one can pile on to the somewhat overburdened subliminal mind.
It is easy to overlook the fact that these sittings differed fundamentally from the
normal sittings with mediums, where the sitter is there primarily either to contact
some deceased person or, no less frequently, for advice and guidance on matters troubling
them. Although from time to time one or other of us might ask after a particular
person, a missing colleague or a former professional associate, for example, this
was not the object of our visit; nor did it appear to be the purpose or intention
of the communicators. Nevertheless it is noteworthy that Emily, the chief communicator
(you will find this at the end of Appendix F), speaking through Diana as ever, and
with an almost entirely new audience gathered in a room several thousand miles from
home territory, suddenly identified and described a recently dead young man, his
driving accident, his blue-
They came into the same category as many of the seemingly throwaway remarks by Emily
Bradshaw, who appears to have carried on into the next world her earthly role as
a society hostess as various deceased members of the SPR’s turn of the century notabilities
dropped in for a drink or a cap-
But it is when we come to examples like the Ruth films that the subliminal notion begins to come apart at the seams. It presupposes that both the mediums, because both contributed to the several discussions we had about these two films – had carefully studied the introductory explanation and the reproductions of Dorothy Wordsworth’s handwritten amendments to the poem Ruth, having fortuitously come across a copy of the catalogue of a Christies miscellaneous book sale 30 years earlier, and then forgotten all about it: forgotten that either of them had ever seen it. And yet the conversations we record in Chapter VII show very clearly that, whoever is communicating had a pretty good idea of the origin and history of the amendments which form the subject of the Ruth puzzle. We can ascribe a great deal to the subliminal mind, but hardly something as memorable as this feat.
But before probing further into the sort of messages which were conveyed during our sittings with the Scole Group, and whether they were all platitude and generalisation, let us look more closely at the alternative posed in the title of this session. Does the evidence fit the hypothesis of subliminal origin, no matter whether it emerges from the mind of the medium or from the Group, or the Group plus the collective investigators, or from the whole lot of them plus humanity in general. Is there a necessary extraneous element, something which could not possibly have originated from humankind?
I think the answer which I would give, and I believe this represents the considered view of my colleagues too, is that there is nothing which absolutely proves anything, certainly not survival. But there is a great deal which places what many will consider almost intolerable strains on any form of purely terrestrial interpretation, which I believe to be the only viable alternative to survival.
We can accept, because we do have respectable precedents for doing so, that the human
psyche, meeting collectively and generating heaven-
Now this is not the place to evaluate these two conflicting interpretations, but
as far as evidence goes, the drop-
We must also accept that there is respectable evidence that the human mind can project
If admittedly exceptional human beings can somehow imprint thought-
Well we could, but it would have to be an exceptionally vigorous push. Previous thought-
We had actually invited the spirit Team to produce a film of something we would think of there and then. But they made it clear that their aim was to get their thoughts, not ours, nor those of the Group, on to films. They had a point. The question is whether the films, taken as a whole, can be regarded as unlikely at the least, or impossible at the best, to have emerged from the human mind.
Well, look at the pictures and judge for yourselves. There can be no definitive conclusion.
One can reasonably contend, however, that if these are all from the Group’s sub-
If we have reached the stage of accepting that all was not invention and deception,
then we have no alternative than to conclude that it is pushing improbability beyond
reasonable limits to argue that something as obscure and emotionally charged as was
the Ruth amendment, was likely to have originated from the subliminal minds of any
or all of the Scole Group. Then take the Schnittger poem. No-
The plain truth is that any theory of subliminal activity, no matter how extensive
one assumes the field of that activity to be, simply does not square with the fact
that careful research and artistic preparation are required for physical effects
like apports or, more relevantly, film strips. It is a theory based entirely on mental
evidence, not physical. Let us grant that the phenomenon of psychokinesis has been
established. [I note that a paper published in our Journal as long ago as 1945 by
our present President considered the case to have already been made out, on statistical
grounds, although he and most others have been discussing very marginal movements
apparently controlled by the mind operating at a distance.] But since there’s also
plenty of evidence that quite massive movements can occur, especially and notoriously
in poltergeist cases where heavy pieces of furniture can be moved around, and household
articles can be made to disappear and re-
A few weeks ago in this hall, when we were considering the question of what constitutes evidence of the paranormal acceptable to the scientific mind, I broadly endorsed the dictum of David Hume, that only if the alternative explanation was less plausible than the apparent miracle it purported to explain would he accept the miraculous. If you put the messages and manipulations of discarnate entities in the category of miracles, and then consider the alternative explanations I have explored, you can perhaps see why I am somewhat reluctantly and cagily, on the side of the miraculous.