This lecture was originally published by Sir Oliver Lodge in The Queen’s Hospital Annual in 1933.
Lodge had a brilliant mind and was a highly regarded physicist. He was the first to demonstrate wireless transmission of waves through telegraphy – a year before Marconi – but he didn’t believe that there was enough demand for the technology to refine it. Although Marconi is known as the father of radio, Lodge is the one who discovered the mechanism. He applied Hertz to EMF waves and also created the first spark plug for ignitions.
Sir Oliver Lodge was also a spiritualist and served as the President of the Society for Psychical Research (SPR). This lecture references another pillar of the SPR, F.W.H. Myers and his early research into telepathy. Moreover, this lecture attempts to reconcile what is known of particle physics with the notion spirit. His arguments against the reductive materialism of science is still being echoed today by the likes of Sheldrake, Chalmers, Lanza and so many other scientists who realize that mind/consciousness/spirit cannot be reduced to constituent material pieces.
Because of his background, Lodge was uniquely qualified to lecture on this topic with authority.
The Mode of Future Existence
When we consider the question of Survival from the physical point of view we are up against the ancient problem of the connection between mind and body. The body is certainly made of matter, but matter is inert, it never does anything, it is completely controlled by the forces acting upon it, which forces exist in the empty space surrounding the atoms. Left to itself, matter merely continues in whatever state it was last made to accept. If it was spinning, it continues to spin with constant angular momentum. It has no power of changing its state or of stopping. If it was in a state of locomotion, that motion also continues unaltered. This is called the law of inertia, and to it all material atoms are absolutely obedient, whether they form part of an engine or of a clockwork mechanism or of an animated body. There is no exception. All matter is inert.
If any change is observed in atomic or material behaviour, it is a sign of some activity, some energy apart from matter, demonstrating its existence by acting upon matter, and causing some acceleration or retardation proportionate to the force exerted. This is called the second law of motion. Furthermore, every kind of energy known to us exists in the empty space between the atoms and exerts equal force upon the boundary atoms at either end of that space, so that every action is accompanied by an equal opposite reaction. This is called the third law of motion, or it might be called the law of energy. Energy only makes itself manifest by its effect on material bodies, but its main existence is in space. We have no sense organ for perceiving energy itself, our senses tell us of nothing but matter. We can see the results of energy as expended upon matter, but we have no direct apprehension of the energy. We are not acquainted with anything in the Universe save by its effect upon matter, and that is the origin of our tendency to philosophic materialism; we are liable to doubt whether things not apparent to the senses can have a real existence, though there is no justification for such a doubt.
The physical Universe does not consist of matter alone. If it did, it would be absolutely inert, no change would ever occur. Experience shows us constant change, constant activity, and, when analysed, the source of this activity is always found in the field or space between the atoms. That is where the energy exists, that is where it is stored; and we can gradually realise that it is through interaction between the void and the material particles that every change or activity is accomplished. A field of force always exists in what we call vacuum or Ether, what the Ancients called ‘void’; never does it exist in matter. Yet force is only made manifest by matter. It is only by observing the behaviour of material bodies that we can become aware of the existence of a field of force or of a seat of energy. Energy is constant in amount, but it takes various forms. The form with which we are best acquainted is the form of motion, and that is the only form ever associated with matter. All the other forms are hidden and make no impression upon us, save when they encounter material particles and thus display their existence. No one, for instance, could experience a magnetic field without a bit of iron to test it with. No one has any knowledge of the broadcast waves which now surround us unless he has a suitable detecting apparatus in the form of a wireless set and a telephone. And, strange to say, we can only appreciate light when it impinges upon some piece of matter and thence is deflected into the eyes. When we see a lighthouse or searchlight beam tracking its way across space, it is not the beam that we observe, but the dust particles which are illuminated by it. We can only see material objects: we have no sense for radiation itself, nor for an electric current, only for its activity in affecting various kinds of matter. These are only instances of a quite general law.
We cannot understand the activity of the material Universe without taking energy into account, and this energy exists in the space between the particles. Matter is discontinuous, consisting of isolated particles, they are connected only through space. But inasmuch as this space is impregnated with energy, it must be something more than mere emptiness. It makes no impression on our senses, and yet it is full of energy, and is the reservoir of all activity; hence we have agreed to call it the Ether. A magnetic field exists wholly in the Ether, iron filings are only used to demonstrate it and map it out. An electric, a gravitational, field is in the same predicament. Cohesion, too, and indeed every action between material particles, is an affair of the Ether. In no other way can one piece of matter act on another. Every kind of physical action is really transmitted across space – that is, through the Ether – just as really, though not so obviously, as electric and magnetic attraction, gravitation, and light. Atoms and their constituents are never in contact. Ether forces or Ether strains have to be appealed to, when we try really to understand the most ordinary activities in daily life. Even a simple push is exerted through an infinitesimal layer of Ether. Every variety of potential energy exists in the Ether: matter has no energy except kinetic; and recently an ethereal explanation of even that kind of energy shows signs of emerging from the theory of relativity.
Animated matter differs in no respect from every other kind of matter, except that it is subject to animation.
So when we say that life only exists in a material organism, we ought to say that life only manifests itself in association with such an organism, and that when it is dissociated from matter we know nothing of its existence. We have no right to say that it is extinct. All that we know is that it is no longer manifest it has gone out of our ken. But the same may be said of every form of energy in itself, it has no power of becoming known to us but by its effect on material bodies. A body under the action of life can do many things, can initiate spontaneous movements, can build up an organism, can operate on the physical Universe, and leave structures behind it of interest and beauty, but it is not the material body that does these things; they are due to the life or animation of the body.
If, then, we can adduce any evidence that life or mental activity exists in space, and only sporadically makes itself evident by some material activity, the state of our present knowledge of physics renders our acceptance of the fact entirely harmonious. We have to do no violence to our physical conceptions if we admit the fact of survival. Life and mind never were functions of the material body, they only displayed themselves by means of the material organism. The organism was not essential to their existence, but only to their display – that is, to our apprehension of them. If they ever find means of operating in a novel or unusual manner on a physical organism, then they may still manifest their continued existence; and that is exactly what they do. Why should we decline to receive the evidence?
Telepathy shows that mind can act on mind without the use of any bodily organs, hence certain people may have a faculty of apprehending a spiritual world direct; and this may account for genius and inspiration. This has been well argued by F.W.H. Myers, and I shall not labour it now.
If you have evidence of the existence of a spiritual world, a world of help and guidance and sympathy, then you can hold to it in spite of every denial of the materialists, who can only base their denial on the absence of any sensory stimulus to their material organism. Such a world may exist all round us, and yet can only be spiritually discerned. The faculty of discernment does exist in some people, and their positive evidence overweighs a wilderness of negation from people whose perceptions are limited to the bodily senses. One of the most elementary forms of discernment is (rather absurdly) called Psychometry. An object put into their hands may convey more information than the senses can give: a psychometrist can tell something of its history, something of its association, something of its possessor. By special faculty they can tell far more than could be arrived at by chemical tests. They can tell, for instance, that a bit of stone has formed part of a pyramid, or that a ring has taken part in a scene of slaughter, or that a piece of writing or drawing has been done by a certain person normally quite unknown to them, and can even tell what the circumstances of that person were at the time, and what they were doing.
The existence of a spiritual world throughout the depths of space is becoming to me a great and fundamental, even a physical, reality. The manifestation of that world in connection with material organisms on one or other of the planets is a comparatively trifling and temporary episode, of great importance doubtless in the history of evolutionary development, but our real existence is not dependent on a material organism. Our spiritual and real home is in the Ether of space.
Chemists and biochemists are liable to limit themselves unduly to the purely material aspect of things. A chemist’s business is to deal with matter in its various forms; that is his job, and he need not be expected to go beyond it. A physicist takes into account the Ether as well, though he may, for a time, prefer to call it space. He is not limited to material particles, but studies the fields of force which connect them and make them active. The psychologist goes further still, and studies the action of the mind. I would I could say that the biologist is a student of life, but at present the tendency is for him only to study animated organisms and their behaviour, limiting his attention to what is manifested by the material processes brought about by life, and not thinking that life has any existence apart from its instrument of manifestation. We shall never understand the Universe by attending to matter alone and ignoring everything which makes it active and interesting. We cannot even understand the bending of a steel spring or the fall of a raised weight without implicitly taking the Ether into account. We are continually making experiments on the Ether and realising the consequences of its abundant qualities. If we make the assumption that it is a physical vehicle of life and mind too, we are only extending our generalisation in the same direction.
A supplementary and semi-physical treatment of Survival is now becoming possible; a treatment which is well calculated to replace the old materialistic view that man had only a material body, and that when that body died and decayed, the animation, the personality, and the individual, necessarily ceased to exist. It is also well calculated to replace the popular idealistic notion that any spirit which survives the death of the material body must survive in an entirely disembodied condition, and be out of relationship with the physical Universe. Many people suppose that it then belongs to another order of existence, or, as some would say, of non-existence; that it is likely to be free from any relationship even with Space and Time, and must have departed entirely out of our ken; so that communication or intercourse with it is no longer possible, until perhaps at some future day when the material body shall have been somehow resuscitated and restored to its old function, in glorified form, so that the spirit can resume its active control. That this superstitious idea has been prevalent is testified to by popular modes of expression, such as:
‘On the Resurrection morning, all their dead the graves restore. Father, mother, sister, brother meet once more.’
This depressing notion of future existence – if it can be called existence in the interim – is not a scientific or psychological view at all; but it has been the religious, or at least the ecclesiastical, view through medieval times; hymns and liturgies are saturated with it, and it continues to this day the chief representation of what, by strictly orthodox people, is meant by Survival.
A modern theory which seeks to provide the emancipated spirit with any kind of organism related to the physical world might thus be ranked as a return to a modified form of materialism. For though, when properly understood, the view I advocate ought to emancipate us from materialistic bugbears, and although it wholly condemns the idea that flesh and blood or any particles of terrestrial matter are revivified and inherit Eternal Life, yet popular ignorance of what is meant by the Ether, and of the certain fact that the Ether is a part of the physical Universe and has definite properties which can be experimented on and ascertained, may well suggest all manner of difficulties in understanding the hypothesis I am trying to expound. Wherefore it will probably be considered unsatisfactory, both by the scientific materialist and by the theologian; possibly also by some spiritualists.
The necessity for some kind of organ or instrument or habitation for an emancipated spirit has been intuitively felt by many inspired writers. The most ancient classical idea was that of a condition rather melancholy – unhouseled, wistful, shadowy and sad – but this notion was improved upon even in later classical times. And towards the end, ‘Not unclothed, but clothed upon,’ ‘God giveth it a body,’ are modes of expression very familiar to modern ears.
The existence of a spiritual body is an idea, in one form or another, at least as old as St. Paul. It has been upheld by some of the Greek Fathers of the Church; it has been vaguely in the mind of many modern investigators; sundry obscure and super-normal facts seem to lend it strong support. And recently an etheric version of such a body has been approved – and if not inculcated, at any rate, regarded as a step in the right direction – by some of the more thoughtful and philosophically minded communicators ‘on the other side’.
What they know by experience is that, though discarnate, they are certainly not disembodied; they feel no more disembodied than we do. They tell us that they still have substantial instruments of manifestation which serve for intercourse among each other, and that it is through this permanent instrument that they are able, occasionally and under certain conditions, to operate indirectly, through our organisms, on the matter of this planet. They operate with more difficulty than in the old days, partly because they have to make use of other people’s mechanism; but still, subject to many restrictions, they exert influence in a somewhat similar way, and thereby are able occasionally to know what we are doing; and they claim sometimes to succeed in helping and stimulating us, not only mentally but physically.
Now, although the departed may not understand fully and completely of what their present body is composed, or how they operate on it so as to produce the results they desire and aim at, they are still only in the same predicament as they were when here, and as we are now. For we do not know how we control our bodies of matter, nor what the nature of the connection between mind and matter is. We know that we have muscles and nerves and brain centres. We can dissect and describe this part of the mechanism. But how a physiological instrument – how any kind of mechanism – can think and feel and plan and will and remember and hope and love, we certainly cannot explain. And probably we shall never be able to explain how such a thing can happen; for the thing to be explained does not happen, it is only imagined to happen through a misapprehension. The truth is that it is we ourselves who really do all the psychical things; we employ our bodies only as instruments for recording and transmitting our thoughts and for exercising muscular action on matter. The body itself neither thinks nor wills nor sees nor feels. It is an instrument, a channel, a medium.
Although full explanations about our method of controlling of a body are not yet forthcoming – either on this side or on that – yet those ‘on the other side’ are quite willing to accept the suggestion that their bodies, which to them feel so substantial, and all the surroundings in which they exist, are related to the thing which we here call the Ether, very much in the same way as they used to be related to the familiar thing known as Matter.
That Ether is a very substantial entity, far denser than any form of matter, has been gradually becoming clear to physicists. At first, we only said that it must be denser than lead or gold or platinum, but now we find that it must be out of all proportion denser. I have made an estimate of its density, in the light of electromagnetic theory, and it comes out inevitably huge. Every cubic millimetre contains as much substance as what, if it were matter, we should call a thousand tons. As the Ether is not matter in the ordinary sense of the term, our ordinary units of measurement are inappropriate; but on the analogy of matter, the Ether is of the order a million million times as dense as water. All its properties are of supernormal magnitude. Its rate of vibration which enables us to see any ordinary object is five hundred million million per second: a number so great that to try to conceive such a number of vibrations per second simply dizzies us. The number of seconds which have passed since ancient geological periods of twenty million years ago is about this number. Yet we familiarly make use of these vibrations. Our wonderful organ, the eye, is constructed so as to cope with them, in the easiest possible manner. And most people are ignorant – as ignorant as are the animals – of the strange ethereal environment amid which we all live, and of which the vibrations convey to us so much information, and awaken so keenly our sense of beauty.
Until instructed, we can hardly help thinking of matter as dense, and of Ether as tenuous, but that is a poetic illusion associated with the term ‘ethereal’. It is an illusion based on the testimony of our senses, which, as so often happens, have to be corrected by deeper insight into the real nature of things. Matter appeals to us so strongly, not because it is anything but a gossamer-like or milky-way existence in the vast continuity of Ether, but because our obvious bodies are made of matter, and because our animal sense organs are specially adapted to existence in association with matter, and give us information about nothing else. Even light, which we know is an Ether vibration, tells us nothing about itself without study; what it tells us familiarly is – not about light, but – about the material objects which have emitted or scattered or differentially absorbed it. We get this information by lifelong, indeed age-long, inherited and instinctive experience. We interpret the luminous indications without difficulty, and we forget the strangely complex nature of the processes which underlie all our channels of information; we only find their true nature out when phenomena are fundamentally analysed and seriously cross-questioned. When we have pursued this line of investigation for many years, we find that the important thing in the physical Universe is Ether, and that matter is trivial in comparison. Yet we can freely admit that matter takes such splendid and beautiful forms that it is worthy of the continued study of generations of scientific men; and we need not wonder that they become so enthusiastic over its properties that they are able to imagine it the sole reality in existence. That, however, is a mistake; it constitutes a mechanism actuated and wielded by mental and spiritual power, which is dominant and supreme.