Electric and Magnetic Affinities Between Man and Nature
Theosophist, February, 1881
Without going too deeply into certain vexed questions based upon what the orthodox men of science please to term the “hypothetical” conclusions of the Psychological School, whenever we meet with discoveries made by the former, coinciding perfectly with the teachings of the later, we think ourselves entitled to make them known to the world of skeptics. For instance, this psychological, or spiritual, school holds that “every being and naturally-formed object is in its beginning, a spiritual or monadial entity” which, having its origin in the spiritual or monadial plane of existence, must necessarily have as many relations with the latter as it has with the material or sensuous plane in which it physically develops itself. That “each, according to the species, evolves from its monadial centre an essential aura, which has positive and negative magnetoid relations with the essential aura of every other, and that, mesmeric attention and repulsion exhibiting a strong analogy with magnetic attraction and repulsion, this analogous attraction and repulsion obtains not only between individuals of the same, but of different species, not only in animate but in inanimate nature.” (Clairvoyance, Hygienic and Medical, by Jacob Dixon, L.S.A.L.)
Thus, if we give our attention but to the electric and magnetic fluids in men and animals, and the existing mysterious but undoubted interrelation between those two, as well as between both of them and plants and minerals, we will have an inexhaustible field of research, which may lead us to understand more easily the production of certain phenomena. The modification of the peripheral extremities of nerves by which electricity is generated and discharged in certain general of fishes, is of the most wonderful character, and yet, to this very day its nature remains a mystery to exact science. For when it has told us that the electric organs of the fish generate the electricity which is rendered active by nervous influence, it has given us an explanation as hypothetical as that of the psychologists whose theories it rejects in toto. The horse has nerves and muscles as well as a fish, and even more so; the existence of animal electricity is a well-established fact, and the presence of muscular currents has been found in the undivided as well as in the divided muscles of all the animals, and even in those of man. And yet by the simple lashing of its feeble tail a small electrical fish prostrates a strong horse! Whence this electric power, and what is the ultimate nature and essence of the electric fluid? Whether as a cause or effect, a primary agent or a correlation, the reason for each of its manifestations is yet hypothetical. How much, or how little has it to do with vital power? Such are the ever-recurring and always unanswerable queries. One thing we know, though, and that is, that the phenomena of electricity as well as those of heat and phosphorescence, within the animal body, depend on chemical actions; and that these take place in the system just as they would in a chemist’s laboratory; ever modified by and subjected to this same mysterious Proteus—the Vital Principle of which science can tell us nothing.
The quarrel between Galvani and Volta is well known. One was backed by no less an authority than Alexander Humboldt, the other by the subsequent discoveries of Matteucci, Dubois Reymond, Brown-Sequard, and others. By their combined efforts, it was positively established that a production of electricity was constantly going on in all the tissues of the living animal economy; that each elementary bundle of fibrils in a muscle was like a couple in a galvanic battery; and that the longitudinal surface of a muscle acts like the positive pole of a pile, or galvanic battery, while the transverse surface acts like the negative pole. The latter was discovered by one of the greatest physiologists of our century—Dubois Reynolds: who, nevertheless, was the greatest opponent of Baron Reichenback, the discoverer of the Od Force, and ever showed himself the most fierce and irreconcilable enemy of transcendental speculation, or what is best known as the study of the occult, i.e., the yet undiscovered forces in nature.
Every newly-discovered power, each hitherto unknown correlation of that great and unknown Force of the Primal Cause of all, which is no less hypothetical to skeptical science than to the common credulous mortals, was, previous to its discovery, an occult power of nature. Once on the track of a new phenomenon science gives an exposition of the facts—first independent of any hypothesis as to the causes of this manifestation; then—finding their account incomplete and unsatisfactory to the public, its votaries begin to invent generalizations, to present hypotheses based upon a certain knowledge of principles alleged to be at work by reasserting the laws of their mutual connection and dependence. They have not explained the phenomenon; they have but suggested how it might be produced, and offered more or less valid reasons to show how it could not be produced, and yet a hypothesis from their opponents’ camp, that of the Transcendentalists, the Spiritualists and Psychologists, is generally laughed down by them before almost these latter have opened their mouths. We will notice a few of the newly-discovered electro-magnetic phenomena which are still awaiting an explanation.
In the systems of certain people the accumulation and secretion of electricity, reach under certain conditions, to a very high degree. This phenomenon is especially observed in cold and dry climates, like Canada, for instance; as well as in hot, but at the same time, dry countries. Thus—on the authority of that well-known medical journal, the Lancet—one can frequently meet with people who have but to approach their index fingers to a gas-beak from which a stream of gas is issuing, to light the gas as if a burning match had been applied to it. The noted American physiologist, Dr. J. H. Hammond, possesses this abnormal faculty upon which he discourses at length in his scientific articles. The African explorer and traveller Mitchison informs us of a still more marvelous fact. While in the western part of Central Africa, he happened at various times in a fit of passion and exasperation at the natives, to deal with his whip a heavy blow to a negro. To his intense astonishment the blow brought out a shower of sparks from the body of the victim; the traveller’s amazement being intensified by his remarking that the phenomenon provoked no comments, nor seemed to excite any surprise among the other native who witnessed the fact. They appeared to look upon it as something quite usual and in the ordinary run of things. It was by a series of experiments that the ascertained at last, that under certain atmospheric conditions and especially during the slightest mental excitement it was possible to extract from the ebony-black body of nearly every negro of these regions a mass of electric sparks; in order to achieve the phenomenon it sufficed to gently stroke his skin, or even touch it with the hand. When the negroes remained calm and quiet no sparks could be obtained from their bodies.
In the American Journal of Science, Professor Loomis shows that “persons, especially children, wearing dry slippers with thin soles, and a silk or woolen dress, in a warm room heated to at least 70°, and covered with a thick velvet carpet, often become so electrically excited by skipping across the room with a shuffling motion, and rubbing the shoes across the carpet, that sparks are produced on their coming in contact with other bodies, and on their presenting a finger to a gas-burner, the gas may be ignited. Sulphuric ether has been thus inflamed, and in dry, cold weather sparks, half an inch in length, have been given forth by young ladies who had been dancing, and pulverized resin has been thus inflamed.” So much for electricity generated by human beings. But this force is ever at work throughout the all nature; and we are told by Livingstone in his Travels in South Africa, that the hot wind which blows during the dry seasons over the desert from north to south “is in such an electric state that a bunch of ostrich feathers, held a few seconds against it, becomes as strongly charged as if attached to a powerful electric machine, and clasps the advancing hand with a sharp crackling sound… By a little friction the fur of the mantles worn by the natives gives out a luminous appearance. It is produced even by the motion communicated in riding; and a rubbing with the hand causes sparks and distinct crepitations to be emitted.”
From some facts elicited by M. J. Jones, of Peckham, we find them analogous to the experiments of Dr. Reichenbach. We observe that “a magnetoid relation subsists between subjects of a nervous temperament and shells—the outgrowth of living entities, and which, of course, determined the dynamical qualities of their natural coverings.” The experimenter verified the results upon four different sensitive subjects. He says that he “was first drawn to the enquiry by the fact of a lady looking at a collection of shells, complaining of pain while holding one of them. His method of experimenting was simply to place a shell in the subject’s hand; the purpura chocolatum, in about four minutes, produced contraction of the fingers, and painful rigidity of the arm, which effects were removed by quick passes, without contact, from the shoulders off at the fingers.”
Again, he experimented with about thirty shells, of which he tried twelve, on May 9, 1853; one of these causing acute pain in the arm and head followed by insensibility.
He then removed the patient to the sofa, and the shells to a sideboard. “In a short time,” says Mr. Dixon, from whose book we quote the experiment, “to his astonishment the patient, while still insensible, gradually raised her clasped hands, turning them towards the shells on the sideboard, stretching the arms out at full length, and pointing to them. He put down her hands; she raised them again, her head and body gradually following. He had her removed to another room, separated from that containing the shells by a nine-inch wall, a passage, and a lath and plaster wall; the phenomenon, strange to say, was repeated. He then had the shells removed into a back room, and subsequently into other places, one of which was out of the house. At each removal the position of the hands altered to each new position of the shells. The patient continued insensible..for four days. On the third of these days the arm of the hand that had held the shells was swollen, spotted, and dark-coloured. On the morning of the fourth day, these appearances has gone, and a yellow tinge only remained on the hand. The effluence which had acted most potently, in this experiment, proceeded from the cinder murex and the chama macrophylla, which was most wonderful; the others of the twelve were the purpurata cookia, cerethinum orth., pyrula ficordis, sea urchin (Australia), voluta castena, voluta musica, purpura chocolatum, purpura hypocas tanum, melanatria fluminea and monodonta declives.”
In a volume entitled “The Natural and the Supernatural” M. Jones reports having tested the magnetoid action of various stones and wood with analogous results; but, as we have not seen the work we can say nothing of the experiment. In the next number we will endeavour to give some more facts and the proceed to compare the “hypotheses” of both the exact and psychological sciences as to the cause of this inter-action between man and nature, the Microcosm and the Macrocosm.