Can We Foretell the Future?
An Account of Some Remarkable Warnings and Premonitions
NOTHING IS so significant in the scientific world to-day as the change of attitude in the scientist towards all phenomena outside the physical plane which thirty years ago were generally regarded as the imaginings of the superstitious. To-day, all that is changed and it is not sufficient to treat seemingly supernatural prophecies and warnings as mere coincidences. Writing in the London Magazine, Mr. Shaw Desmond gives us an account of several well authenticated instances of the kind referred to.
The scientist of to-day, he says, who refuses to believe in the power of thought-transmission, or telepathy, is regarded as old-fashioned and unscientific, thought nearly all scientists of note sneered at it a short thirty years ago. The power of prophecy, yesterday, in common with most other phenomena outside the physical plane, was regarded by scientists as baseless superstition. Today, some of the world’s most eminent men of science, like Cesare Lombroso, after exhaustive experiments, have even avowed their belief in the power accurately to foretell the future.
The last avowal is the most staggering attack of all upon material science. If prophecy be possible, we are on the border of a revolution in our daily lives.
It must be remembered that practically all these great scientists were sceptics who, naturally, at the commencement of their investigations regarded the whole thing as humbug.
Convinced in Spite of Themselves
The conclusions they have reached, they have reached absolutely upon hard, clear demonstrations of fact. They have been convinced in spite of themselves, and, with Shakespeare and some of the wisest men of all time, have come to the conclusion that “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy."
So insistent and numerous have been the prophecies fulfilled in our time that the Society for Psychical Research was founded in 1882 in this country, under the presidency of Professor H. Sidgwick, to find out, in business-like fashion, whether, amongst other things, there was any truth in the theory of premonitions. Many other investigation societies have also been formed here and abroad.
The Psychical Research Society consists largely of scientific and public men of absolute probity, as is evidenced by its Presidents, who have included such men as the Right Hon. Arthur Janies Balfour, M.P.. F.R.S.; Professor Balfour Stewart, F.R.S.; and Professor William James, of Harvard University, U.S.A.
The evidence collected and carefully sifted and checked seems overwhelming in its apparent proof that premonitions which come true are of constant occurrence, and that we are surrounded by forces, the nature of which is at present
unknown, which watch over and influence us, though in the society itself the conclusions arrived at vary, of course, with the observer.
But, you will ask, how is it that so little is known about the new science of prophecy? The answer is simple. The scientific men who have investigated these things preferred, upon the whole, to keep back the results until absolutely in a position to confound the untrained doubter, and the derision which is usually meted out to such investigators. They wanted overwhelming evidence, and they seem to have got it.
Premonitions appear to come under two well-defined heads:
1. Warnings at the moment the tragedy or occurrence is taking place.
2. Warnings before—sometimes many years before, sometimes a minute before —of events to come, predicting them to the moment, and so minutely describing them as to destroy the “coincidence” theory, which at one time was used to scout all such phenomena.
It is with the latter we are here concerned.
There is nothing wild and irregular about prophecy, for there would appear to be certain clearly defined channels for conveying warnings. The chief channels are:
1. Voices and knocks.
There are also variations of the above channels, such as death-lights, funeral processions, symbolic animals, crystalgazing, and visions whilst awake.
Warnings by Knocks
One of the best attested cases of warnings through knocks is the wellknown one of the Wood familyHere is a case where the knocks have been heard in no fewer than seven instances since the seventeenth century, the three most recent cases being within the last few years, and exceptionally well substantiated according to the records of Mr. Frank Podmore and the Psychical Research Society. The knocks are always followed by a death immediately or soon afterwards. One could understand coincidence or hallucination playing a part in one or two cases, but this could not apply to two hundred years of phenomena.
There are literally hundreds of cases of similar knockings, starting with the famous “Rochester knockings” of 1848, which really marked the revival throughout all civilized countries of investigation into what men used to call the “supernatural.”
The Law Which Spirits Obey
The evidence for warnings conveyed by apparitions, many of them in broad daylight, is conclusive, minute and voluminous. The Psychical Research as well as other societies have many such cases in their records, most of which go to show that there is some natural law in the spiritual world which causes apparitions usually to be followed by
The Rev. JH-, a clergyman,
who had nothing to gain by dissimulation, wrote that the nurse of his little girl, whilst seated in the day nursery, saw an apparition of the child walk in. The child, though then in perfect health, died suddenly a few days later. Mrs.
Mrecords that she saw her sister’s
apparition come into her bedroom, and speak to her at five one morning. The sister died at the same hour a week later.
There is a similar case of a Mrs. C-,
who, being undressed by her maid, saw the girl’s double standing about two feet off. A week later, at the same hour, the maid died.
There is one case which is exceptionally minute and vivid. A London lady, Mrs. Alger, was walking in broad daylight from Victoria to Westminster, in March, -when she felt herself touched on the shoulder. Turning round, she plainly saw the apparition of her husband’s mother. Later that evening, when telling Mr. Alger about the extraordinary event, she heard a voice say plainly: “ Come, both of you, on the 22nd.” On March 22nd, Mr. Alger’s mother died.
I have before me many instances, collected from various quarters, where the warning of the apparition’s appearance has been accentuated by its speaking.
One can imagine one’s own feelings if a vision predicted one’s death within a week. Yet such was the case of Captain
B-, who, after the funeral of a lad
whom he knew, saw a vision of the boy, who spoke to him, and told him he would die within a week. This vision he related to Dr. Beddoe, F.R.S., who records that the captain actually died on the appointed day. This incident has been checked independently. There is also another and almost exactly similar case, vouched for by a doctor of standing, in which the doctor was informed beforehand of the prediction.
Here is another case in which the apparition spoke, and which seems to indicate that there are “intelligences” for whom the veil of the future does not exist, watching over us earth-bound humans and caring for us. It is a case personally tested by the famous investigator Myers, who relates that, between eleven and twelve, Mrs. Dadeson, lying awake, heard herself clearly called by name three times, and saw the form of her mother (sixteen years dead), with two babies on her arm. She said: “Take care of them, for now they are going to lose their mother.” Next day she heard that a relative had died after giving birth to a second son, leaving the children to her care.
Of premonitions by dreams which have come true there is such a formidable array of evidence—for the dream is the most common of all channels for the conveyance of warnings—that I will content myself with giving a summary of the cases examined over a period of fifteen years by the Psychical Research Society
It is interesting to note that in three of these cases the person having the premonition foretold his or her own death. An uncanny property, this of prediction of one’s own death, but not so uncom-
mon. Out of some forty or fifty cases, I take that of a schoolmaster who, whilst walking along the road, felt his stick turn in his hand. Holding it loosely, it wrote in Latin in the dust: “Turn back; your father died this morning. You will meet R-, who will give you informa-
tion about it.” He turned back, met
R-as predicted, and learned that his
father had died that morning. Later he fell ill and wrote with a pencil: “Will die day after to-morrow, at three.” He died at the hour named. This is vouched by Gibier.
This forecasting of one’s own death is so common in India as scarcely to arouse comment. I myself have come across several cases in Ireland, where also it is not an unusual phenomenon.
Of fifty first-hand cases of dream premonitions, examined by various experts, no fewer than twenty-eight are independently corroborated by a relative, five by a member of the household, and seventeen from an absolutely independent source by someone not living in the house.
Another type of premonition, of which there is a long series recorded, is that which is made by subjects under violent mental emotion, sometimes forcing the percipient over the border-line into madness, which seems to show that, just as the dividing line between genius (first cousin of prophecy) and insanity is slight, so, under mental exaltation (a characteristic of genius), the human mind takes new powers, breaking through the ordinary laws of space and time. So accurate and eminent an observer as Cesare Lombroso, himself originally a pronounced sceptic, gives many of these cases which came under his own observation. One of the most interesting of these is that of CS-, the four-
teen-year-old daughter of, as he says, “one of the most intelligent men in Italy,” and a witness to the phenomena.
Quite healthy until she reached the age of puberty, her senses became transposed, her sense of smell passing from the nose to the chin, and then to the back of one foot. (This phenomenon of the transposition of the senses was one of those formerly scouted by scientific men, though now generally admitted.)
Then prophecy showed itself. Lombroso vouches with others for the fact that she predicted minutely, two years before the events, certain happenings to her father and brother, all accurately fulfilled.
The Seer and the'Scientist
In the whole domain of recorded facts nothing is more certain or has been more carefully checked than the case of the famous Dr. C-, one of the most dis-
tinguished of Europe’s younger savants, which comes into the same category as that of CS-, the percipient be-
ing highly strung. In this case t .he recorder, Lombroso, was able to watch his patient closely, for he had the young man under his care.
He suffered from a highly strung nervous system. At moments, when overstrung, he would prophesy, frequently
md with unerring certainty, a hundred trifling events, such as that a visitor ¡vhom he had never seen, but minutely lescribed, would call.
One of his most singular predictions ¡vas made on February 4th, 1904, when íe said that the Como Exposition would tie burned down on July 6th, which duly lappened. His family, knowing the acjuracy of his prophecies, at last were so mpressed by his constant assurance of ¡he burning to come that they sold all ¡heir shares in the Milan Fire Insurance Jo. for 149,000 lire (£6,000), though the shares stood high in the market. This is >ne of many recorded cases where substantial monetary loss has been saved ay prophecy.
Here is the curious point. Even to the man himself, the prediction seemed so preposterous that, in his waking moments, he felt he must be mistaken, but nevertheless he at times automatically repeated the prediction, especially on the morning of the fire. After the burning he was asked by scientific men how he did it. He simply replied that it was “an absolute certainty in his mind, like a thunderbolt, about which there could be no argument.” Here there can be no question about the value of the evidence. The statement was made repeatedly for a period of five months before various people, including some most distinguished men who would not lend themselves to a lie.
This feeling of “absolute certainty” in the foretelling of events was vividly illustrated in a ease which came under my own observation. On March 28th, 1912, a London journalist, who, incidentally, is a normal, healthy man, called upon the late Mr. W. T. Stead at The Review of Reviews office, and walked with him down Kingsway to the Strand, Mr. Stead, curiously enough, as it happened, speaking of his coming trip in the Titanic, and more especially about her invulnerability to the chances of the sea. At the moment when they were about to cross to Norfolk Street he looked at Mr. Stead, and instantly, in his own words, “felt the overwhelming certainty, though apparently in good health, that he would soon meet with his death.” Going home, he informed his wife of the occurrence, making a note in his diary. Eighteen days afterwards Stead lost his life in the ill-fated Titanic. I can vouch for this, as I was present when the prediction was made.
But, as has been mentioned, prophecy often concerns itself with the most ordinary affairs of life. Thus, the late W. T. Stead related that in a dream he had seen the motor-car of the Countess of X-—— lose a wheel at a certain spot. More for fun than anything else, he wrote a letter informing the lady of what lie had dreamed. A short time afterwards her car lost a wheel exactly as described. The lady has confirmed this independently to me.
A very strong prima facie case can be made out for the existence of “intelligences” which help mankind to avoid disaster by conveying warnings. One of these, which is vouched by, amongst others, a well-known scientist who was
once a sceptic, is the case of Mrs. F-
J-, a lady whose maid had a soldier-
lover who came every evening to see her. One evening, when he knocked, Mrs.
J-, for no apparent reason, was
seized with terror, feeling that the man meant to kill her and rob the house. She barred the door, and would not admit him. That night the house was broken into, the maid afterwards confessing that her lover had plotted to kill Mrs.
J-, seize the money, and fly with her
Amongst the records of the Psychical Research Society is the circumstantial account of a lady who was summering with her little girl at Trinity, near the sea. One day, when the child was playing in a favorite spot by the sea, and near the railway, an internal voice urged her to fetch the child, or something dreadful would happen. She fetched her. Half an hour afterwards a train was derailed at the exact spot where the child used to play, and where she certainly would have been if not sent for. Three trainmen were killed outright.
To say that the coincidence theory does not explain is not to say that we have to seek a supernatural explanation. Upon one thing all scientific observers are agreed, and that is that there is no suspension of natural law throughout the universe, so far as man has been able to observe it. In a word, “miracles do not happen.” But that is not to say that man, who is always an investigating animal, has learned everything about or has discovered the bounds of natural law.
However that may be, *ne thing is certain from the evidence accumulating throughout the world, and that is, we are on the threshold of a new science—the Science of Prophecy. If it should prove possible to control or evoke at will a power which at present only shows itself infrequently and in apparently arbitrary fashion, then the whole of our lives will be changed.
Titanic disasters will be foreseen, approaching deaths or accidents will be known, and, in lesser affairs, the “picking of winners” and the secrets of the Stock Exchange will be revealed.
Man and His Destiny
That opens up another problem—that is the oldest problem in the world—the problem of how far man can interfere with destin y.
That, within limits, what is known as “fate” can be interfered with is, I think, shown by records like those of the child who was saved from death by the railway accident, and by that of the lady who saved her own life by heeding the voice of warning. But that we can steer the ear of Fate from its course is too much to say in the present stage of the investigation. All one can say with certainty is that the science of prophecy is rapidly taking its place within the realm of ascertained facts, and that with it new possibilities and unexplored channels of human thought are being opened up, and with them a new conception of life itself.