John Gray: Immortality


From The Guardian:

The séance that Charles Darwin attended in January 1874 at the house of his brother Erasmus brought the pioneering biologist together with Francis Galton, eugenicist and one of the founders of modern psychology, and the novelist George Eliot. All three were anxious that the rise of spiritualism would block the advance of scientific materialism. They were unimpressed with what they witnessed – Darwin found the experience “hot and tiring” and left before sparks were seen and rapping heard – but they would have been seriously concerned had they known the future career of a fourth participant in the séance, the classical scholar and psychologist FWH Myers.

The inventor of the word “telepathy” and the writer who first introduced the work of Freud into Britain, Frederic Myers went on to become one of the founders of the Society for Psychical Research. Supported by some of the leading figures of the day, including the Cambridge philosopher Henry Sidgwick and Arthur Balfour, president of the society and later prime minister, the psychical researchers believed human immortality might prove to be a scientifically demonstrable fact. 

Their quest for an afterlife was partly driven by revulsion against materialism. Science had revealed a world in which humans were no different from other animals in facing oblivion when they died and eventual extinction as a species. For nearly everyone the vision was intolerable. Not fully accepted by Darwin himself, it led the biologist and explorer Alfred Russel Wallace – acknowledged by Darwin as the co-discoverer of natural selection – to become a convert to spiritualism. Wallace insisted he did not reject scientific method. Like Sidgwick and Myers, he was convinced science could show the materialist view of the world to be mistaken.

“John Gray on humanity’s quest for immortality”, The Guardian