“I have been at work for some time building an apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities which have left this earth to communicate with us.”
THOSE ARE THE words of the great inventor Thomas Edison in an interview in the October, 1920 issue of The American Magazine. And in those days, when Edison spoke, people listened. By any measurement, Thomas Edison was a superstar in his time, a brilliant inventor during the height of the Industrial Revolution when man was mastering machine. Called “The Wizard of Menlo Park” (which has since been renamed Edison, New Jersey), he was one of history’s most prolific inventors, holding 1,093 U.S. patents. He and his workshop were responsible for the creation or development of many devices that changed the way people lived, including the electric light bulb, the motion picture camera and projector, and the phonograph.
GHOST OF A MACHNINE
But did Edison invent a ghost box – a machine to talk to the dead?
It has long been speculated in paranormal circles that Edison did indeed create such a device, though it must have been somehow lost. No prototypes or schematics have ever been found. So did he build it or not?
Another interview with Edison, published in the same month and year, this time by Scientific American,quotes him as saying, “I have been thinking for some time of a machine or apparatus which could be operated by personalities which have passed on to another existence or sphere.” (Emphasis mine.) So in two interviews conducted around the same time we have two very similar quotes, one in which he says that he has been at work “building” the device, and in the other that he has merely been “thinking” about it. Somewhat contradictorily, the Scientific American article says, despite Edison’s quote, that “the apparatus which he is reported to be building is still in the experimental stage…” as if there is a prototype.
However, since we have no evidence of such a device having been constructed or even designed by Edison, we have to conclude that it was an idea that never materialized.
Although Edison seems to have gotten ahead of himself with this idea in The American Magazineinterview, it’s quite clear that he had a genuine interest in the idea. While the Industrial Revolution was rolling along with a full head of steam, the Western world was also entertaining another movement of a very different sort – the Spiritualist movement. Operating at opposite ends of the philosophical spectrum – the logical, scientific, and mechanical versus the spiritual and ephemeral – the two movements were perhaps counterweights to each other.
FILLING A NEED
So why would Edison the scientist be interested in such a thing? Psychic mediums were all the rage, and they were conducting séances and spewing ectoplasm faster than Harry Houdini could debunk them. Phony mediums notwithstanding, it was becoming increasing popular to think that it might be possible to communicate with the dead. And if it was at all possible, Edison reasoned that it could be accomplished through scientific means – a device that could do the job that mediums advertised.
“I don’t claim that our personalities pass on to another existence or sphere,” he told Scientific American. “I don’t claim anything because I don’t know anything about the subject. For that matter, no human being knows. But I do claim that it is possible to construct an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there are personalities in another existence or sphere who wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere, the apparatus will at least give them a better opportunity to express themselves than the tilting tables and raps and ouija boards and mediums and the other crude methods now purported to be the only means of communication.”
Edison’s was a scientist’s approach: If there was a popular need or desire, an invention might be able to fill it. “I believe that if we are to make any real progress in psychic investigation,” he said, “we must do it with scientific apparatus and in a scientific manner, just as we do in medicine, electricity, chemistry, and other fields.”
WHAT DID EDISON HAVE IN MIND?
Edison revealed very few details about the device he intended to build. We can only speculate that he was either being a cautious businessman who didn’t want to say too much about his invention to potential rivals or he didn’t really have many concrete ideas. “This apparatus,” he told Scientific American, “is in the nature of a valve, so to speak. That is to say, the slightest conceivable effort is made to exert many times its initial power for indicative purposes.” He then likened it to the mere turning of a valve that starts a huge steam turbine. In the same way, the barest whisper of effort from a spirit could influence the highly sensitive valve, and that action would be greatly magnified “to give us whatever form of record we desire for the purposes of investigation.”
He refused to divulge any more than that, but clearly Edison had in mind a ghost hunting tool. He went on to say that one of his employees who was working on the device recently died and that if the invention worked, “he ought to be the first to use it if he is able to do so.”
Again, we have no evidence for the device having been built, yet it is possible that it was constructed and then destroyed along with all the paperwork – perhaps because it didn’t work and Edison wanted to avoid embarrassment after his proclamations in the interviews.
NOT LIKE FRANK’S BOX
The machine that Edison describes sounds nothing like today’s “ghost boxes,” and it is a mistake to assume that devices such as Frank’s Box were derived from Edison’s work. In fact, Frank Sumption, the inventor of Frank’s box, has made no such claim. In 2007, he told Rosemary Ellen Guiley in an interview for TAPS Paramagazine that he was inspired by an article about EVP in Popular Electronics magazine. According to Sumption, his device is a simple of method of “supplying ‘raw’ audio that spirits and other entities can use to form voices.” It does so with a specially modified radio that sweeps its tuning across AM, FM, or shortwave bands. “The sweep can be random, linear or even done by hand,” Sumption says. The theory is that the spirits piece together words and phrases from these broadcasts to relay messages.
Ghost hunting groups from all over are creating and using their own ghost boxes, called Shack Hacks (because they employ modified Radio Shack portable radios), that work in the same way. (I have one, but have had very little success with it.)
Although some respected researchers, including Guiley, seem convinced of the reality of this phenomenon, the jury is still out, as far as I am concerned, regarding the authenticity of the communication. Although I have heard interesting bits and pieces from ghost boxes, I’ve yet to experience or hear recordings of ghost box sessions that are unambiguous and thoroughly convincing. Virtually everything that is heard (like many low-grade EVP) is open to interpretation.
EDISON AND LIFE AFTER DEATH
As revealed in these interviews, Edison did not subscribe to conventional notions of life after death. He surmised that life was indestructible and that “our bodies are composed of myriads and myriads of infinitesimal entities, each in itself a unit of life.” Moreover, he saw the interconnectedness of all living things: “There are many indications that we human beings act as a community or ensemble rather than as units. That is why I believe that each of us comprises millions upon millions of entities, and that our body and our mind represent the vote or voice, whichever you wish to call it, of our entities…. The entities live forever…. Death is simply the departure of the entities from our body.”
“I do hope that our personality survives,” Edison said. “If it does, then my apparatus ought to be of some use. That is why I am now at work on the most sensitive apparatus I have ever undertaken to build, and I await the results with the keenest interest.”
Considering the remarkable track record of this incredible mind, we can only wonder how the world would be different had Edison succeeded.
What did Edison think about the human soul and afterlife?
From his autobiography:
THE REALMS BEYOND XXXIII – LIFE AFTER DEATH
The thing which first struck me was the absurdity of expecting “spirits” to waste their time operating such cumbrous, unscientific media as tables, chairs, and the ouija board with its letters. My convinced belief is merely that if ever the question of life after death, or psychic phenomena generally, is to be solved, it will have to be put on a scientific basis, as chemistry is put, and withdrawn from the hands of the charlatan and the “medium.”
My business has ben, and is, to give the scientific investigator—or, for that matter, the unscientific- an apparatus which, like the compass of the seaman, will put their investigations upon a scientific basis. This apparatus may perhaps most readily be de- scribed as a sort of valve. In exactly the same way as a megaphone increases many times the volume and carrying power of the human voice, so with my “valve”, whatever original force is used upon it is increased enormously for purposes of registration of the phenomena behind it. It is exactly on the lines of the tiny valve which in a modern power-house can be operated by the finger of a man and so release a hundred thousand horse-power.
Now, I don’t make any claims whatever to prove that the human personality survives what we call “death.” All I claim is that any effort caught by my apparatus will be magnified many times, and it does not matter how slight is the effort, it will be sufficient to record whatever there is to be recorded. Frankly, I do not accept the present theories about life and death. I believe, rightly or wrongly, that life is undestructible, it is true, and I also believe that there has always been a fixed quantity of life on this planet, and that this quantity can neither be increased nor decreased. But that does not mean that I believe the survival of personality has been proved—as yet. Perhaps it may be one day. Perhaps some apparatus upon the lines of my “valve” may prove it, but that day is not yet, nor have I as yet secured any results to definitely prove such survival.
What I believe is that our bodies are made up of myriads of units of life. Our body is not itself the unit of life or a unit of life. It is the tiny entities which may
be the cells that are the units of life. Everything that pertains to life is still living, and cannot be destroyed. Everything that pertains to life is still subject to the laws of animal life. We have myriads of cells, and it is the inhabitants in these cells, inhabitants which themselves are beyond the limits of the microscope, which vitalize and “run” our body.
To put it in another way, I believe that these life units of which I have spoken band themselves together in countless millions and billions in order to make a man. We have too facilely assumed that each one of us is himself a unit, just as we have assumed that the horse or dog is each a unit of life. This, I am convinced, is wrong thinking. The fact is that these “life-units” are too tiny to be seen even by the most high-powered microscope, and so we have assumed that the unit is the man which we can see, and have ignored the existence of the real life-units, which are those we cannot see.
There is nothing to prevent these entities from carrying on the varied work of the human body. I have had the calculations made, and the theory of the electron is, in my view, satisfactory, and makes it quite possible to have a highly organized and developed entity like the human body made up of myriads of electrons, themselves invisible.
Further, I believe that these life-units themselves possess in exactly the same pattern again, and with the same lines as the hand originally had before the accident. Now, it would be quite impossible for those hundreds of fine lines to be meticulously reproduced if there were no memory for detail behind the rebuilding of them. The skin does not grow that way and in exactly the same pattern again “by chance.” There is no chance.
But are all these life-units, or entities, possessed of the same memory, or are some, so to speak, the builders’ labourers?
It may be that the great mass of them are workers and a tiny minority directors of the work. That is not a matter about which we can speak with any certainty. But what one can say with some assurance is that these entities cannot be destroyed, and that there is a fixed number of them. They may assemble and reassemble in a thousand different forms from a starfish to a man, but they are the same entities.
No man today can set the line as to where “life”
begins and ends. Even in the formation of crystals we
see a definite ordered plan at work. Certain solutions
variation. It is not impossible that these life-entities
are at work in the mineral and plant, as in what we
call the “animal” world.
In connection with the problem of life after death,
the thing that matters is what happens to what one
may call the “master” entities—those that direct the
others. Eighty-two remarkable operations on the brain
have definitely proved that the seat of our personality
lies in that part of the brain known as the fold of
Broca. It is not unreasonable to suppose that these en-
tities which direct reside within this fold. The supreme problem is what becomes of these master entiies after what we call death, when they leave the
The point is whether these directing entities remain
together after the death of the body in which they
have been residing, or whether they go about the uni-
verse after breaking up, If they break up and no
longer remain as an ensemble, then it looks to me
that our personality does not survive death; that is,
we do not survive death as individuals.
If they do break up and do not remain together
after the death of the body, then that would mean
that the eternal life which so many of us earnestly
desire would not be the eternal life and persistence
the individual, as individual, but would be an imper-
sonal eternal life—for, whatever happens to the life-
units, or whatever forms they may assume, it is
at least assured that they themselves live forever.
I do hope myself that personality survives and that
we persist. If we do persist upon the other side of the
grave, then my apparatus, with its extraordinary deli-
cacy, should one day give us the proof of that per-
sistence, and so of our own eternal life.
XXXIX – LIFE”S FLASHBACKS
We Do Not Remember, A certain group of our little
people do this for us. They live in that part of the
brain which has become known as the “fold of Broca.”
Broca discovered and proved that everything we call
memory goes on in a little strip not much more than a
quarter of an inch long. That is where the little people
live who keep our records for us.
Some of the little peoples who enable us to remem-
ber things do nothing else during our entire lives but
watch moving picture shows. Everything that comes
in through the eyes comes in the form of moving pc-
tures. These pictures come so rapidly that, like the
pictures on a screen, they seem to be but one picture,
but in fact they are millions. The optic nerves bring
the pictures through the small holes in the front of
our skulls into our brains where the little peoples
whose function it is to remember can see them. We
do not remember everything we see because every-
thing is not worth remember. Little Peoples, like
“big peoples,” are of various degrees of intelligence.
Some will choose to remember what others will choose
to forget. But whatever their intelligence, they all
seem to be impressed by the startling and the unusual.
The thing is remembered that makes an impression.
When a human being is young and his little memory-
people have empty record cases, many things make an
impression. That is why so many childhood memories
linger throughout our lives.
A man was here the other day who had recently
visited the school-house he attended when he was five
years old. He told me that as he approached the place
everything seemed much as he had left it almost half
a century before: the hill down which he used to
coast had somewhat flattened out; it was not the little
Matterhorn, the memory of which he had carried
with him so many years, but a very gentle slope. As
he drew nearer the little building his mind was was flooded
with memories; this thing, that thing, and the other
thing—there they were just as he had left them. But
when he approached one of the side windows and
looked into the room where he learned the alphabet,
he got a great shock. Something was wrong with the
windows! They were too low. As he looked through
the little panes of glass he became distinctly uncom-
fortable. What was the matter? Then the answer
came to him. The last time he had looked through
that window he was so short that he had to grab hold
of the sill to pull himself up. He had grown so tall that
his eyes were perhaps three feet above the sill.
Now see what had happened. For more than forty
years some of the little people in this man’s brain had
carried about with them a certain recollection about
those window sills. The recollection was that the sills
were so high one could not look through the windows
without pulling himself up. Waking or sleeping,
wherever he went during those forty-odd years, that
recollection was with the man, though he did not
know it. During this time, the substance of his body,
including his brain, had changed several times, but
the little peoples that live in the cells had not changed.
The moment the little peoples in that man’s optic
never began to see moving pictures of those old win-
dow sills and sent the message back to the brain, some
of the little people in the fold of Broca began to stir.
they had heard about those window sills before.
they were so high that nobody could look through
them without pulling himself up!
There may be twelve or fifteen shifts that change
about and are on duty at different times like men in
a factory. I infer this from the fact that we sometimes
have to send for the particular ones that have the rec-
ords we want. That is what we do, I think, when we
cudgel our memories for the things we want to recall.
We have forgotten a man’s name, for instance. We
ask the shift of little peoples who happen to be on
duty, “What is that man’s name?” They were not on
duty when the name was given to them to remember
and they don’t know. After a while, suggestion or
something else summons the shift that has the name
and they give it. I therefore take it that the posses-
sion of what is called a good memory really means the
possession of the ability to summon the particular
groups of little peoples who have the records we want.
Haven’t you noticed that when you get in touch with
the right group the thing you want to recall comes
crashing into your consciousness with no evidence
whatever of impaired vitality? The little peoples, who
have remembered perfectly, seem almost to shout at
you the information you want. Therefore it seems
likely that remembering a thing is all a matter of
getting in touch with the shift that was on duty when
the recording was done.
These little intelligences inhabit human bodies just
to get experience. They seem to crave it. As I see it,
something like this happens: Billions of little peoples,
perhaps, come together in a certain individual. Some
want to do one thing and some another. Some have
high ideals and some have not. For a while, they fight
out their differences and then the stronger group takes
charge and this group dominates the man’s life. If the
minority is willing to be disciplined and to conform
there is harmony or at any rate something that ap-
proximates it. But oftentimes the minority is not will-
ing to conform. It is outraged at what it conceives to
Minorities then sometimes say, “To hell with this
place; let’s get out of it.” They refuse to do their ap-
pointed work in the man’s body, he sickens and dies,
and the minority gets out, as does too, of course, the
majority. They are all set free to seek new experience
I should like to think that the recollections of ex-
periences in one human life are carried forward
through an endless succession of other lives. If the
same little peoples were forever grouped together we
should then have immortality and, what is perhaps
more important, we should be able to begin each new
experience with all the wisdom that we had gained
during the ones that precceded it. This, however, is
not what happens. Each generation is not able to
profit from the mistakes of its ancestors. Each genera-
tion commits most of the same follies that have been
committed since the beginning of time.
Nevertheless, I believe that some of our experi-
ences are carried forward into succeeding generations.
How else shall we account for what we may call in-
herited wisdom? Put your finger in a sleeping baby’s
hand. What does the baby do? It closes its hand on
your fingers. Why? Because some of the little peoples
in this baby remember the time when their fore-
fathers lived in trees and it was neccessary, to keep
from falling and breaking their necks, to close their
hands. upon the limbs of trees.
What we call “inborn traits” are recollections of
earlier experiences that the little peoples have brought
along with them. Take an Indian baby, for instance.
No matter how hard or how long you may try, you can
never make a white man out of that baby. The little
peoples in the baby will not permit you to do so. They
have their ideas, gained from preceding experiences,
of what a human being should do. You may repress
these little peoples to the point where you believe you
have made an Indian into a white man, but, when you
least expect it, they will jump out at you and startle
you with a war whoop. Of course, what you do to the
red little peoples will constitute part of the recollec-
tions that they will carry on into their next life-experi-
ence; and when there have been enough such experi-
ences the Indian’s “inborn traits” will have been
That is about the way I look at it. I do not see how
there could be any such thing as carrying from one
person to another the bulk of the recollections that
the little peoples have as they go along. These minute
intelligences that carry our records would become so
burdened, if they did not forget most of their experi-
ences, that they would have no further capacity for
memorizing. And inasmuch as the same little peoples
never reassemble in another body, there can be no
such thing as the perpetuation of the individual in
another earth-life. Such things can happen, as they
say, “only in the movies” or in literature. Rudyard
Kipling, in one of his best stories, had a London bank
clerk get a glimpse of a former incarnation when he
was a Greek galley slave. That was literature, but it
was not science.
xxx ∙ MEMORY UNITS
IF MY THEORY IS CORRECT—-that the machine called
man is only a mass of dead matter and that the real
life is in the millions of individual units which navi-
gate this machine, and if on the destruction of the
machine these individual units keep together, includ-
ing those which have charge of memory (which is our
personality)—then I think it is possible to devise ap-
paratus to receive communication, if they desire to
make them. It will be very difficult, as each individual
unit, as to size, is beyond the limit of our present mi-
When I was a little boy, persistently trying to find
out how the telegraph worked and why, the best ex-
planation I ever got was from an old Scotch line re-
pairer who said that if you had a dog like a dachshund
long enough to reach from Edinburgh to London, if
you pulled his tail in Edinburgh he would bark in Lon-
don. I could understand that. But it was hard to get at
what it was that went through the dog or over the
XXXXI – THE MYSTERY OF LIFE
I believe all the old and accepted theories of the
origin of life to be fundamentally wrong.
Down in Florida, where I have a place, there is
a bush which grows in the ocean—that is, it seems to
be a bush. Really it is animal matter built into bush
form by the efforts of thousands of insects; it is the
work of highly organized individuals massed in a
crowd for the purpose of the building. The unin-
formed who see it, native whites and negroes, believe
this insect-aggregate to be a vegetable individual—a
Almost all men, even those whom we accept as
best informed, make a similar mistake with regard to
that which we denominate as a cat, or an
elephant. We think the man a unit, that he is just a
man; we think the cat a unit, that he is just a cat; we
think the elephant a unit, that it is just an elephant.
I am convinced that such thinking is basically in
error. Like the “bush” in the sea near my Florida
home, the man, the cat, the elephant are collections of
units. The man does. The cat does. The elephant
does. But it is only seeming.
Each is made up of many individuals gathered in a
community, and it is the community. The unit which
makes it up may be too small even for the microscope
to see. Everything which we can see is a manifesta-
tion of community, not of individual effort.
The mystery of life would be inexplicable were it
not for this. We say a man dies. Perhaps, in a sense,
the term is accurate when the aggregate which we
have called a man ceases to function as an aggregate
and therefore no longer can be called a man; but the
expression is not at all accurate if by it we mean that
the life which kept that man at work or at play ceases
to exist. Life does not cease to exist.
The life-units which have formed that man do
not die. They merely pass out of the unimportant
mechanism which they have been inhabiting, which
has been called a man and has been mistaken for an
individual, and select some other habitat or habitats.
Perhaps they become the animating force of some-
thing else or many other things.
The theory which generally maintains about the
origin of life seems to me to be unreasonable. We can’t
get something out of nothing. Life can’t make life.
Life is. It is not made.
Another thing which continually puzzled me, for a
long time, was that nature seemed to be so horribly
cruel. I could not acount for it . Finally, I have come
to the conclusion that it is not true.
It is only apparent. Really those things which seem
to be manifestations of nature’s cruelty are merely
episodes of competition between groups which covet
one another’s machines, one feeling that the possession
of another’s might help it better to meet the
exigencies of the environment with which it finds
itself surrounded. Take the supposed cruelty of the
shark toward the cod for example; it probably is
the effort of the vast swarm of individuals which
make up the shark to obtain for its own purposes
the mechanism of the group which inhabits the
cod, has built the cod, and has given it the appear-
ance and the functions of what we call “individual
life.” Real life is not lost at all in such a struggle.
Thus, I believe that really it is not cruelty at all
when the battle brings a complete and not merely a
partial victory, when the victim is “killed,” as we er-
roneously say and think, and not wounded and left
“living” and in pain.
That is the only theory which seems reasonable to
me with regard to that which we have denominated
the “life-and-death struggle.”
Then, if the individual is not the unit, what is? Ob-
viously, the unit must be the smallest complete entity
among those which make up the aggregate which we
erroneously have called the individual. Very well.
Then how small can a unit be and how complicated?
That must depend upon the fineness of matter.
Smallness of units must accord with the ultimate fine-
ness of matter. And life is individual to the unit and
not to the aggregate of units. It is probable that the
units are so small that, as yet, no microscope powerful
enough to distinguish them as individuals has been
If we accept this as fact, another question arises:
Is matter fine enough to permit units of such minute
size to be very complicated?
We need not worry about that. The electron theory
gives to it a reply which is wholly satisfactory. I have
had the matter roughly calculated mathematically
and have at hand the data of the calculation. I am
sure that a highly organized entity, consisting of mil-
lions of electrons, still remaining too small to be vis-
ible through any existing microscope, is possible.
Ink your fingers, as the police might that of a crimi-
nal, and then press it upon paper, thus recording the
many tiny whorls which indent its skin. Then seriously
burn it, so as to take the skin all off, and when it
heals—-that is, when the forms anew—ink it
again and again press it upon paper. It will record
whorls precisely similar to those which you had burned
away. Who built the new in duplicate of the old?
No. Nature would not take the trouble to remem-
ber such unimportant details. The new were built by
thev units of the swarm, and the exactness with which
the old were reproduced is due to the fact that the
swarm has memory.
If a bridge falls, we rebuild it. If there should come
along an outsider, say, a man from mars with eyes
so coarse in their functioning (a reasonable thought)
that he could not see anything so small as a human
workman, but acute enough so that he could see the
the ruins of the old bridge and the new structure
erected to take its place, he would say that the old
bridge had died and nature had grown a new one.
Again, If this creature, unable to see anything as
small as a man, but able to see big things, like our
larger ships and say, sky-scrapers, were to examine
our world, he would think the ships and sky-scrapers
were natural growths. He never would dream that
man had built them, for he never would be able to
see man. The fact that we attribute to nature so many
creative achievements is proof of our ignorance and
the inadequacy of our power of observation.
The individuals in the aggregate which we call a
“man,” the members of the swarm which (to some
extent by chance) have collected to make that man,
are ninety-five per cent workers and five per cent
directors. The workers cannot loaf or stop, even
though something may compel them from their
habitat, that which has been the “body.” of a “man.”
They must go to something else to build, as, for in-
stance, to corn, a tree, grass—whatever may be—al-
ways working under the direction of the higher type
among them. These, by the way, will be responsible,
as they dominate or fail to, or in accordance with their
aspirations, for the character of that which now is
In the case of a “man,” for example, he may be
“bad” or “good,” in accordance with the trend of
these dominant individuals or in accordance with the
majority quality of the individuals which have gath-
ered, more or less by chance, in the swarm which
makes him up. He is “good” if “good” individuals are
more numerous in it and dominate, and “bad” if the
reverse occurs. The theory explains many things.
Among these is the hitherto mysterious force called
the “subconscious mind.”
Instances of startling ability, such as that, for e
ample, which characterizes a Rockefeller, are begin
ning to indicate to me the chance gathering into
swarms of individuals in which qualities of a certain
kind are paramount.
In the institute which bears the Rockefeller name,
and which, by the way, was endowed with some of
the millions which the collective genius of the assem-
bled Rockefeller intelligence has gathered, parts of
a chicken “killed” years ago—that is to say then dis-
membered so completely that,werethe oldbeliefs
accurate, the process must have caused death and
must have been followed by decay unless some method
of artificial preservation had been resorted to—-still
“live” and “grow” in gelatine-filled glass jars pro-
vided for the purpose of the experiment. The cells–
that is, the communes or groups of individuals which
originally built that chicken—still are sending out
workers, and these continue building. This is because
the environment surrounding them is kept constantly
favorable to their work despite the “death” of the
“individual”—-the aggregate called a “chicken”s.
Now, let us think about that chicken’s origin. The
accepted age-old theory is that it was the develop-
ment of an egg to which the life of the mother hen
had imparted part of itself, and that this developed
until, within the egg, an embryonic chick was formed,
which, growing, became perfect and strong, broke
the shell, and appeared, a fully developed baby fowl.
As a matter of fact, if the theory upon which I work
is accurate, the egg from which the chicken came held
the nucleus indeed, but held nothing which could
be responsible for all that afterward brought about
the formation of the chicken. That, I am beginning
to believe, entered this egg from the outside.
It is generally contended that all which is neccessary
in order that a chicken may be built is fertilized egg,
and that, under favorable conditions, this egg devel-
ops into the chicken through the working of forces
within itself. I do not believe this. I believe that what
I have called a “swarm,” liberated from something
else, finds this nucleus from the outside, and, accept-
ing it as its new home, goes into it and starts to build
this or that kind of chicken according to the indica-
tion of the nucleus.
Then comes the inevitable question: “Can life
come out of life in unlimited reproduction?” Already
I have expressed a negative opinion, with regard to
this by saying: “Life can’t make life. Life is.” I do not
believe the affirmative reply, which so generally is
accepted. Had that affirmative theory been accurate,
the earth long since would have been covered and
smothered with all kinds of life. It is obvious that
there must be some limit to reproduction. “Bad years”
and “good years” for corn, for instance, could not
explain the situation as it really is.
We don’t know what the units of life are or what
the requisites of their existence. It maybe that they
can live and prowl about in the ether of space and do
not in the least require our atmosphere or soil. If so,
earth-life can have accessions from the mysterious
realms beyond our atmosphere. Probably that is how
we got here in the first place, how life got here. The
thought that life originated on this insignificantly
little and comparatively unimportant sphere to me
seems inconceivably egotistical.
As a matter of fact, the manner of the genesis of
life upon this earth, I think, was this: After the earth
cooled of the great heat of its assemblage,life-units
came to it through space, into which they had been
thrown from some other more developed sphere or
spheres. Reaching the earth, they adapted themselves
to the environment they found here; and then began
the evolution of the various species as we have them,
each “growing” individual being a collection of cell-
I think this theory will explain special abilities
better than any other. It will rid the world of harmful
superstitions such as those of spiritualism. It will
bring order out of the chaos of much of that puzzle-
ment which we endeavor to accept as reasoning with
regard to the creation and the genesis of man.
I have spoken about extraordinary developments
of so-called genius in individuals. Special ability must
result if, by some fortuitous chance, a collection, or
swarm (I find myself accepting that word as de-
scriptive) chances to be made up of entities of vary
high class along one particular line. Affinity, the at-
traction of like for like, probably plays its part i the
formation of such collection. There have been hun-
dreds of cases of extraordinary significance.
Another question which must be answered before
I can proceed on the intelligent development of this
theory is: “Could such a little thing as I have in mind
travel through the ether of space or only through the
air?” If it could travel through the air only, then its
progress would be slow. If it could travel through the
ether, it could proceed at the rate of a hundred and
eighty thousand miles a second, going, a distance
equivalent to the circumference of the earth in one-
four-hundred-and-twentieth of a minute. There, as
elsewhere in the general problem, is work for a math-
ematician who is very expert.
There is work here, also, for an expert botanist,
because the line between animal and vegetable life
is so very narrow. And there remains for determina-
tion the line between “live” and “dead” matter and
between movable and fixed life.
In the early moments of this paper, I spoke about
what seems to be but is not a “sea-bush” that grows
in the water near my winter place in Florida. A cer-
tain class of organized, living beings, large enough
even to be seen with the naked eye, builds structures
which appear to be but are not plants, being nothing
more nor less than swarms of insects gathered in that
form in order that they may get food conveniently.
Consider the sponge. It seems vegetable, but is ani-
mal. Investigate further, and you will find it to be an
aggregate which has been built by a group of insects.
It is impossible to accept as fact all the apparent
testimony of appearances. In geological ages, all of a
certain type of crustacean creatures suddenly dis-
appeared, and quite a different type came into being.
The swarms that had built the first had not been
annihilated, but the environment had changed, and,
in order to meet its new conditions, they built mecha-
nisms of another pattern. One mechanism has been
replaced by another of a different type many times
in the world’s history. Changed conditions not only
require but force new forms. When a new evniron-
ment replaces an old one, old forces build in new
ways, in order to adapt themselves to altered circum-
Doubtless something of the sort will happen many
times again. Certain animals that we know much
about have been changed entirely in order to meet
altered environment, and of this we have incontro-
vertible evidence. For instance, the elephant used to
be a woolly beast. He ceased to be. He didn’t change
himself. The animal doesn’t know anything about
such changes. It is the group which changes him,
working quite beyond his consciousness. The indi-
vidual members of the swarm—that is, its leaders—
realize the new necessities and begin to meet them
gradually and with invariable intelligence. They stop
building the old forms; they stopped building wool
on the outside of the elephant when the elephant’s
environment became tropical. When the swarm finds
wool unnecessary, wool, then, is dispensed with.
Swarms do it all. The daisy has been the same for,
say, fifty thousand years. Then comes a variation.
Perhaps the daisy becomes blue. How could one daisy
do that? Some disturbance of the swarm that built
that daisy must be responsible for the change.
The absurdity of our present theories seems pitiful
to me. “Nature does it!” What of that remark? It
really means nothing, takes us nowhere. Botanists
and allied scientists may prove me to be all wrong
in saying that. That will not worry me if they will
produce something which really will be reasonable.
It will take thought, deep thought, and that high
mathematical skill which I have mentioned to dis-
cover how many individuals can live in each cell;
for a cell cannot be the unit of organized matter; it
must be a group of organisms—a fixed commune.
I want some one to start along a new line of
thought with regard to these and kindred subjects.
We have been accepting old-established theories
a complacency unworthy even of our present imper-
fect mental grasp. We need fresh brain-energy among
our scientists, new bravery, new initiative. Einstein
has shown the world the sort of thought it needs, and
it needs it along many lines. The more Einsteins we
can get, the better . I wish we had an Einstein in every
branch of science.
Many great discoveries remain to be made. We
must start anew in many things, rejecting the old
theories as Einstein did, building along new lines as
Einstein did, fearing nothing any more than Einstein
It is not impossible that, when we find the ultimate
unit of life, we shall learn that the journey through
far space never could harm it and that there is very
little that could stop it. Remember that it is smaller,
infinitely, than anything the microscope can see . I
believe the ultimate life-particle could go through
glass with the greatest case, and that not the highest
or the lowest temperature known to human science
could harm it. Such units of life could have come,
and possibly still are coming, without injury through
the cold of space. We know of microbes which will
endure through four degrees above absolute zero, and
some are so small that they can be forced through
We human beings are colloids, not crystals; and we
are in the best possible general environment for col-
loids. We never use crystals in our body-building if
we can avoid them.
It is quite conceivable that these entities with which
life starts have intelligence sufficient for the initiation
of new lines of endeavor from time to time, as occa-
sion or necessity for new lines arises. There is that
hairless elephant; there is that blue daisy; there are
countless changed and changing forms. That is the
De Vries theory, which opposes the Darwinian theory
of the origin of species.
The little entities are fine chemists. They can make
an alkali so strong that it will displace from its salts
the chemist’s master alkali, potassium, and they must
be close to ultimate matter, for they decompose
salt into sodium and hydrochloric acid. Obviously,
will take great chemical as well as great mathemati-
cal knowledge to cope with the problems which they
offer, but the world has, or will have, men who can
do it. Even now there is the wonderful Japanese,
Takamini, who discovered adrenalin, that extraordi-
nary astringent which is manufactured by a gland
and controls blood-pressure.
There is a significant instance, an illustration! It
is the product of a gland not an effort of intelligence,
which controls blood-pressure. The brains of men
have little to do with the control of the bodies of
men. Tell me that our brains are the sole seat of
our intelligence? Why, seven-tenths of the action of
our bodies is quite automatic—that is, entirely be-
yond and dissociated from brain—control. The brain
does not control the circulation of the blood, the
action of the lungs, stomach, or bowels, growth of
any of the vital processes. It is controlled by them.
Nothing could be more absurd than to regard the
brain as the exclusive seat of knowledge. Knowledge
is everywhere throughout our being and throughout
all other beings, inanimate, perhaps, as well as ani-
It is everywhere. In the animal, human or other-
wise, the head is merely the chief office in which
orders are originated and from which they are dis-
tributed. The five senses realize, understand, and
meet the conditions which exist outside the body.
The brain is occupied by the high-class workers.
They have charge. The balance are, I might say, the
proletariat. But it is dangerous (as many politicians
have discovered ) to assume that any proletariat is
without intelligence. Those among this proletariat
who show special ability may achieve promotion,
moving upward to the higher tasks, I think, as men
developing special talents in industry may move up-
ward. Perhaps it is this process which slowly is mak-
ing us more civilized.
Now, I shall express another thought which may
seem startling. I believe these swarms, or, at least,
the individuals which make up these swarms, live
forever. Individuals among the entities which form
them may change their habitat, leaving one swarm
and joining another, so to speak, building corn, for
instance, to-day and chickens to-morrow, in accord-
ance with the material which they find at hand to
work with. It is not impossible that the chief workers
may keep together, from time to time changing their
environment as circumstances may dictate, but I
think evidence exists that the workers separate when
a job on which they have been occupied is finished,
and go to find new tasks with little or no regard for
old companionships. This simply is a repetition, and
perhaps the fundamental pattern of those processes
which we find necessary in our ordinary lives. The
personality-swarm abides within the fold of Broca,
which, from eighty-two surgical operations, is known
to be the seat of memory. If this swarm keeps together
after body-death, our personality still lives.
It is the most complicated of subjects, opening up
very novel lines of reflection. That thought of the
swarms is fascinating. A swarm, any swarm, easily
might contain beings which knew how to build us as
we were when we were chimpanzees or even as we
were when we were fishes; I understand that in one
period while we are in embryo we have the gills of
fish, which slowly slough away before our actual
I think it is certain that, if our environment in
future changes as materially as it has in the past,
alterations as great as that from fish to man and
from gills to noses will occur in the course of future
ages. Then what shall we be?
I have very vivid recollections of a motor journey
through Switzerland not long before the World War
began. As it progressed, I saw the effect of environ-
ment upon myself. If we went to a hotel in a small
town far from steam- or water-power,and therefore
without electric light, we found everyone in it going
to bed at half-past eight or nine o’clock. In other
towns, where there was electric light, product of
developed water-power from the Alps, the people
didn’t go to bed till half-past eleven or midnight .
They were alive and very likely out on the streets
during those extra hours. We are virtually dead when
we are asleep; that is, that is, we then have no productive
mental life,and no mental life which is not produc-
tive counts. Where there was light, we lived longer
in the same length of time. Put a developed human
being into an environment where there is no efficient
artificial light and he must degenerate. Put an un-
developed human being into an environment where
there is artificial light and he will improve.
Environment makes immense changes in animals,
and it is interesting and hopeful to note that the en-
vironment of human beings is improving more rap-
ily than that of other animals. Perhaps, for an ant
or a gnat, it is not changing at all, although primary
changes are progressing in the world itself. Earth-
quake shocks, like those which recently occurred in
Mexico, prove that the world is shrinking . They are
the convulsions attending permanent alterations in
the earth’s size and shape, and indicate the release
A Great Deal is being written and said about spiritu-
alism these days, but the methods and apparatus
used are just a lot of unscientific nonsense. I don’t
say that all these so-called mediums are simply fakers
scheming to fool the public and line their own
pockets. Some of them may be sincere enough. They
may really have gotten themselves into such a state
of mind, that they imagine they are in communication
I have a theory of my own which would explain
scientifically the existence in us of what is termed
our “subconscious minds.” It is quite possible that
those spiritualists who declare they receive communi-
cations from another world allow their subconscious
minds to predominate over their ordinary, everyday
minds, and permit themselves to become, in a sense,
hypnotized into thinking that their imaginings are
actualities, that what they imagine as occurring,
while they are in this mental state, really has occurred.
But that we receive communications from another
realm of life, or that we have—any means, or
method through which we could establish this com-
munication is quite another thing. Certain of that
methods now in use are so crude, so childish, so un-
scientific, that it is amazing how so many rational
human beings can take any stock in them. If we ever
do succeed in establishing communication with per-
sonalities which have left this present life, it certainly
won’t be through any of the childish contraptions
which seem so silly to the scientist.
I have been at work for some time building an
apparatus to see if it is possible for personalities
which have left this earth to communicate with us.
If this is ever accomplished, it will be accomplished,
not by any occult, mysterious, or weird means, such
as are employed by so-called mediums, but by sci-
entific methods. If what we call personality exists
after death, and that personality is anxious to com-
municate with those of us who are still in the flesh
on this earth, there are two or three kinds of appa
ratus which should make communication very easy.
I am engaged in the construction of one such appa-
ratus now, and I hope to be able to finish it before
very many months pass.
If those who have left the form of life that we
have on earth cannot use, cannot move, the appa-
ratus that I am going to give them the opportunity
of moving, then the chance of there being a hereafter
of the kind we think about and imagine goes down.
on the other hand, it will, of course, cause a tre-
mendous sensation if it is successful.
I am working on the theory that our personality
exists after what we call life leaves our present ma-
terial bodies. If our personality dies, what’s the use
of a hereafter? What would it amount to? It wouldn’t
mean anything to us as individuals. If there is a
hereafter which is to do us any good, we want our
personality to survive, don’t we?
If our personality survives, then it is strictly logical
and scientific to assume that it retains memory, in-
tellect, and other faculties and knowledge that we
acquire on this earth. Therefore, if personality exists,
after what we call death, it is reasonable to conclude
that those who leave this earth would like to com-
municate with those they have left here. Accord-
ingly, the thing to do is to furnish the best con-
ceivable means to make it easy for them to open
up communication with us, and then see what
I am proceeding on the theory that in the very
nature of things, the degree of material or physical
power possessed by those in the next life must be
extremely slight; and that, therefore, any instrument
designed to be used to communicate with us must
be super-delicate —as fine and responsive as human
ingenuity can make it. For my part, I am inclined
to believe that our personality hereafter will be able
to affect matter. If this reasoning be correct, then,
if we can evolve an instrument so delicate as to be
affected, or moved, or manipulated—-whichever term
you want to use—by our personality as it survives
in the next life, such an instrument, when made
available, ought to record something.
I cannot believe for a moment that life in the first
instance originated on this insignificant little ball
which we call the earth—little, that is, in contrast
with other bodies which inhabit space. The particles
which combined to evolve living creatures on this
planet of ours probably came from some other body
elsewhere in the universe.
I don’t believe for a moment that one life makes
another life. Take our own bodies. I believe they are
composed of myriads and myriads of infinitesimally
small individuals, each in itself a unit of life, and
that these units work in squads—or swarms, as I pre-
fer to call them—and that these infinitesimally small
units live forever. When we “die” these swarms of
units, like a swarm of bees, so to speak, betake them-
selves elsewhere, and go on functioning in some other
form or environment.
These life units are, of course, so infinitely small
that probably a thousand of them aggregated to-
gether would not become visible under even the ultra-
microscope, the most powerful magnifying instrument
yet invented and constructed by man. These units, if
they are as tiny as I believe them to be, would pass
through a wall of stone or concrete almost as easily
as they would pass through the air.
The more we learn the more we realize that there
is life in things which we used to regard as inanimate,
as lifeless. We now know that the difference between
the lowest-known forms of animal life and trees or
flowers or other plants is not so very great.
Small as these units of life are, they could still
contain a sufficient number of ultimate particles of
matter to form highly organized entities or indi-
viduals, with memory, certain varieties of skill, and
other attributes of living entities. We, in our igno-
rance of all that pertains to life, have come to imagine
that if certain things happen to a human being or
an animal its whole life ceases. This notion has been
repeatedly disproved in recent years.
The probability is that among units of life there
are certain swarms which do most of the thinking
and directing for other swarms. In other words, there
are probably bosses, or leaders, among them, just as
among humans. This theory would account for the
fact that certain men and women have greater in-
tellectuality, greater abilities, greater powers than
others. It would account, too, for differences in moral
character. One individual may be composed of a
larger percentage of the higher order of these units
of life than others. The moving out of myriads of
what we may call the lower type of units of life and
the influx of myriads of units of a higher order would
explain the change which often takes place in the
personality and character of individuals in the course
of their existence on this earth.
The doctors long ago told us that our whole bodies
undergo complete transformation every seven years,
that no particle that entered into the composition of
our bodies at the beginning of one seven-year period
remains in our bodies at the end of seven years later.
this means that matter is discarded, new matter
being replaced by the working life-units or individ-
uals. This rough-and-ready way of describing the dis-
carding of defective matter that is constantly going
on in our make-up would not be inconsistent with the
theory I have evolved.
A common saying is, “We are creatures of environ-
ment.” This is true, at least up to a certain point.
We have seen how environment has wrought changes
upon animals, and even wiped out certain species
altogether—as the discovery of numerous skeletons
of mammoth animals of prehistoric days has proved.
Units of life, it is perfectly reasonable to deduce,
require certain environment to function in certain
ways, and when environment undergoes complete
change, they seek other habitats, other dwellings, so
to speak, for the carrying on of their functions.
Numerous experiments conducted by medical sci-
entists have revealed that the memory is located in
a certain section of the human brain called the fold
of Broca. Now, to return to what is called “life after
death.” If the units of life which compose an indi-
vidual’s memory hold together after that individual’s
“death,” is it not within range of possibility, to say
the least, that these memory swarms could retain the
powers they formerly possessed, and thus retain what
we call the individual’s personality after “dissolution”
of the body? If so, then that individual’s memory, or
personality, ought to be able to function as before
I am hopeful, therefore, that by providing the
right kind of instrument, to be operated by this per-
sonality, we can receive intelligent messages from it
in its changed habitation, or environment.
I CANNOT conceive of such a thing as a spirit.
Imagine something that has no weight, no material
form, no mass; in a word, imagine nothing. I cannot
be a party to the belief that spirits exist and can be
seen under certain circumstances, and can be made
to tilt tables and rap chairs and do other things of a
similar and unimportant natures. The whole thing is
I have been thinking for some time of a machine
or apparatus which could be operated by personalities
which have passed on to another existence or sphere.
Now follow me carefully; I don’t claim that our per-
sonalities pass on to another existence or sphere. I
don’t claim anything because I don’t know anything
about the subject. For that matter, no human being
knows. But I do claim that it is possible to construct
an apparatus which will be so delicate that if there
are personalities in another existence sphere who
wish to get in touch with us in this existence or sphere
this apparatus will at least give them a better oppor-
tunity to express themselves than the tilting tables
and raps and ouija boards and mediums and the
other crude methods now purported to be the only
means of communication.
In truth, it is the crudeness of the present methods
that makes me doubt the authenticity of purported
communications with deceased persons. Why should
personalities in another existence or sphere waste
their time working a little triangular piece of wood
over a board with certain lettering on it? Why should
such personalities play pranks with a table? The
whole business seems so childish to me that I frankly
cannot give it my serious consideration. I believe that
if we are to make any real progress in psychic in-
vestigation, we must do it with scientific apparatus
and in a scientific manner, just as we do in medicine,
electricity, chemistry, and other fields.
Now what I propose to do is to furnish psychic
investigators with an apparatus which will give a
scientific aspect to their work. This apparatus, let me
explain, is in the nature of a valve, so to speak. That
is to say, the slightest conceivable effort is made to
exert many times its initial power for indicative pur-
poses. It is similar to a modern power house, where
man, with his relatively puny one-eighth horse-power,
turns a valve which starts a 50,000-horse-power steam
turbine. My apparatus is along those lines, in that the
slightest effort which it intercepts will be magnified
many times so as to give us whatever form of record
we desire for the purpose of investigation. Beyond
that I don’t care to say anything further regarding
its nature. I have been working out the details for
some time; indeed, a collaborator in this work died
only the other day. In that he knew exactly what
I am after in this work, I believe he ought to be the
first to use it if he is able to do so. Of course, don’t
of personality; I am not promising communication
with those who have passed out of this life. I merely
state that I am giving the psychic investigators an
apparatus which may help them in their work, just as
optical experts have given the miscroscope to the
medical world. And if this apparatus fails to reveal
anything of exceptional interest, I am afraid that I
shall have lost all faith in the survival of personality
as we know it in this existence.
I believe that life, like matter, is indestructible.
There has always been a certain amount of life on
this world and there will always be the same amount.
You cannot create life; you cannot destroy life; you
cannot multiply life.
The question has been raised that if these life en-
tities are so small, they cannot be large enough to
include a collection of organs capable of carrying on
the tasks which I am about to mention. Yet why not?
There is no limit to the smallness of things, just as
there is no limit as to largeness. The electron theory
gives us a reply which is wholly satisfactory. I have
had the matter roughly calculated and have at hand
the data of the calculation. I am sure that a highly or-
ganized entity, consisting of millions of electrons yet
still remaining too small to be visible through any
existing microscope, is possible.
There are many indications that we human beings
act as a community or ensemble rather than as units.
That is why I believe that each of us comprises mil-
lions upon millions of entities, and that our body and
our mind represent the vote or the voice, whichever
you wish to call it, of our entities.
Of course, you say, it is nature. But what is nature?
That seems to me to be such an evasive reply. It
means nothing. It is just a subterfuge—a convenient
way of shutting off further questioning by merely giv-
ing an empty word for an answer. I have never been
satisfied with that word “nature”.
The entities are life, I again repeat. They are
steady workers. In our bodies these entities constantly
rebuild our tissues to replace those which are con-
stantly wearing out. They watch after the functions
of the various organs, just as the engineers in a power
house see that the machinery is kept in perfect order.
Once conditions become unsatisfactory in the body,
either through a fatal sickness, fatal accident or old
age, the entities simply depart from the body and
leave little more than an empty structure behind.
Being indefatigable workers, they naturally seek
something else to do. They either enter into the body
of another man, or even start work on some other
form of life. At any rate, there is a fixed number of
these entities, and it is the same entities that have
served over and over again for everything in this uni-
verse of ours, although the various combinations of
entities have given us an erroneous impression of new
life and still new life for each generation.
The entities live forever. You cannot destroy them,
just the same as you cannot destroy matter. You can
change the form of matter; but of gold, iron, sulfur,
oxygen and so on, here was the same quantity in
today. We are simply working the same supply over
and over again. True, we change the combinations
of these elements, but we have not changed the rela-
tive quantities of each of the elements with which
we started. So with the life entities, we cannot destroy
them. They are being used over and over again, in
different forms, to be sure, but they are always the
The entities are so diversified in their capabilities
that it is difficult to identify their handiwork in all
instances. Thus today the scientists admit the diffi-
culty of drawing a line of demarcation indicating
where life ends and inanimate things begin. It may
be that life entities even extend their work to minerals
and chemicals. For what is it that causes certain
solutions to form crystals of a very definite and in-
tricate pattern? Nature! But what is nature? Is it not
fair to even suspect that life entities may be at work
building those crystal? They don’t simply happen.
Something must cause certain solutions always to
form certain kinds of crystals.
Now we come to the matter of personality. The
reason why you are you and I am Edison is because
we have different swarms or groups or whatever you
wish to call them, of entities. After eighty-two re-
markable surgical operations the medical world has
conclusively proved that the seat of our personality
is in that part of the brain known as the fold of Broca.
Now it is reasonable to suppose that the directing
entities are located in that part of our bodies. These
entities, as a closely-knit ensemble, give us our mental
impressions and our personality.
I have already said that what we call death is
simply the departure of the entities from our body.
The whole question to my way of thinking, is what
happens to the master entities—those located in the
fold of Broca. It is fair to assume that the other en-
tities, those which have been doing purely routine
work in our body, disband and go off in various direc-
tions, seeking new work to do. But how about those
which have been directing things in our body? Do
they remain together as an ensemble or do they also
break up and go about the universe seeking new tasks
as individuals and not as a collective body? If they
break up and set out as individual entities, then I
very much fear that our personality does not survive.
While the life entities live forever, thus giving us the
eternal life which many of us hope for, this means
little to you and me if, when we come to that stage
known as death, our personality simply breaks up
into separate units which soon combine with others
to form new structures.
I do hope that our personality survives. If it does,
then my apparatus ought to be of some use. That is
why I am now at work on the most sensitive appa-
ratus I have ever undertaken to build, and I await
the results with the keenest interest.