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January 14th 1920
New York Times
Having created a national industry which bids fair to rival that in chewing gum, the ouija board is now developing a new form of nervous prostration. From various seats of learning comes the report that the green tables of the undergraduate no longer clink with colored chips, having become the centre of an even more breathless suspense as “spirit” messages are spelled out. At Ann Arbor the faculty foresees a swelling of the “home” and “warned” lists unless studies are quickly resumed with a view to the approaching examinations. One professor dolefully proclaims that “the lure of the ouija is becoming a serious national menace.” Local medical authorities, meanwhile, report an increase of nervous diseases and prostrations.
Mediumistic performances of all sorts are a strain upon the nervous forces, and the strain increases in proportion as the results are vivid and interesting. The most powerful mediums are often hysterics; and, if they are not so at the outset, they eventually become so. When their sacrifices are made under skilled and responsible investigators they are doubtless justifiable. Phenomena of the most extraordinary nature have been recorded by Sir WILLIAM CROOKES and Sir OLIVER LODGE in England; by FLAMMARION in France; by SCHIAPARRELLI and LOMBROSO in Italy; by REICHENBACH in Austria. Their results have been studied and checked by a host of less celebrated investigators. Few who have read far in this new “science” will doubt that the subconscious mind has many marvelous faculties, not the least of which is that of splitting up into numerous “personalities” which display absolute memory, a high degree of inventive ability, telepathy, mind reading, and originality in music and poetry. But scientific investigation is one thing and amateur dabbling is quite another. The human mind is not a mechanism which sensible folk will wish to take apart to see the wheels go round.
The difficulty of establishing definite results is almost inconceivably great. Some years ago two trance mediums, one in Geneva, and one in New York, developed “spirits” purporting to be from the planet Mars. Each spoke a strange language having a vocabulary of several hundred words, and both spoke fluently with never a variation. The languages were different, to be sure, and the descriptions of life on the planet varied widely. But the same might have been the case in Mars with two spirits from earth. One fact, however, proved sadly disillusioning. The “Martian” tongue of the French medium followed the French syntax, that of the American medium followed the English syntax. The conclusion seems warranted that both “subconscious personalities” were clever impostors.
Few investigators have been more persistent and open-minded than FRANK PODMORE of the Society for Psychical Research. Toward the end of his life he wrote that he was still in doubt as to whether the manifestations he studied sprang from a rudimentary faculty which was destined to develop new powers of the spirit or from a merely vestigial faculty inherited from our remote ancestors — who, not yet having developed the orderly, conscious mind, existed by means of powers analogous to the instincts of animals.