11 NOVEMBER 1949, Page 28

Ghosts Today

FOR hundreds of years " true " ghost stories have been part of the underworld or demi-monde of religious literature ; today they have prudently attached themselves to the underworld of popular science. The change is in itself very significant ; the mythology of evil spirits and restless souls is no longer acceptable, and must be replaced by allusions to the uncertainty principle, atomic energy and the collective unconscious. It is the same old appeal to ignorance and credulity, but a new set of unseen forces and mysterious universes is evoked ; the scientist has replaced the evangelist or saint as con- ferring respectability and credibility on the old stories, still essen- tially the same in pattern in spite of their new setting.

The new formula is easily learnt and applied—a few selected quotations to show that eminent scientists have rejected simple materialism or are interested in psychical research ; allusions to the mysteries of space-time or the relation of mind and body, then straight ahead with what happened to Mrs. X and her little daughter Y, confirmed by three independent witnesses, including, if possible, the late Harry Price. It is a good thing also to include some general reflections on the philosophical implications of these events, but written very judicially and moderately, to the effect that there is more in the universe than meets the eye, and that science is not enough. And perhaps in a final chapter the existence of ghosts and para-normal phenomena generally may be connected with prospects of world peace and understanding ; for it is important to offer all the consolations and to play upon all the fears.

These two books came from the underworld with the lightest of pretensions, and arc more likely to amuse than to mislead ; they are cheaply produced and overtly sensational. Around the very small centre of serious psychical research there inevitably develops a fringe of sensationalism with a scientific colouring. This is the new form in which popular superstition is to be supplied.