"The most beautiful thing-we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science”
The strange and bizarre, the revolutionary and outrageous, the factual and fraudulent, the ancient and the modern, all hold interest, however briefly, in the sprawling storehouse of the unknown. Yet there exists in this remarkable repository, so rich in odd occurrence, unusual claims and provocative theories, a constant presence...the human mind. For nearly all that is embraced by the unknown, no matter how fantastic, is related to the perceptions and insights of us and our awareness of our individual consciousness and mortality.
In the past, men and women believed that the world around them had a miraculous dimension where angels and demons were real, that prayers were efficacious, and that we all had a special place in the universe. Today fewer and fewer people believe in such a world. For many, existence has become something defined by politics, economics and science. There has never been, nor is there likely to be, a shortage of authorities ready to explain all observed, phenomena and to provide solutions for the mysteries of the universe. And yet there are events that seem to say that our rules, our beliefs: even our common sense may sometimes let us down.
By 1900 investigations into the strange and unexplained came under the heading of Psychical Research. The mid-nineteenth century marked one of those historic junctures when faith and reason threatened to run afoul of each other to the detriment of both. The Industrial Revolution had brought with it social upheaval and confusion, as well as a full flood of interest in science. Sometimes old truths withstood the torrent, other times they were swamped. Against this tumultuous backdrop, spiritualism raged across America and parts of Europe. Eventually it even came to intrigue the intelligentsia, some of whom saw a rare chance to wed rationalism to belief. What if, they thought, the newest methods of science could be brought to bear on the oldest riddles of metaphysics?
So thinking, Eminent Britishers' organised the Society for Psychical Research in London in 1882 followed by the American Society for Psychical Research in 1885. The membership of these two institutions has had the participation of many outstanding scientists, philosophers and free thinkers.
The unknown is a tricky and beguiling realm curiosity about an afterlife, delight in unexplained forms in the sky, the instinct to ask why and why not have characterised the best minds in history. Progress owes much to the willingness of such men and women to pursue unthinkable thoughts down seemingly non-existent avenues. The unknown did not send them scurrying for cover but drew them onward to find the truth and let the facts speak for themselves.
One of the most reasonable approaches to the unexplained may have been that suggested more than 150 years ago by the French mathematician and astronomer, Marquis Pierre Simon de Laplace. He wrote: "We are so far from knowing all the, forces of nature and their various modes of action that it would be unworthy of the philosopher to deny phenomena simply because they are inexplicable at the present state of our knowledge. The more difficult it is to acknowledge their existence, the greater care with which we must study these phenomena."
In this spirit we journey into the unknown...
Copyright © 2011 by Peter Jessop