Poe’s “Mesmeric Revelation”

astral_-bodyEdgar Allen Poe wrote many great horror stories, plenty of which are still effective today. One which does not fair so well is the “Mesmeric Revelation”. This is the story of a conversation between a mesmerist (what we would today call a hypnotist) and a dying man. The dying man’s revelation is full of out-of-date cosmology. For example, he refers to the luminiferous ether, a substance which people believed filled outer space. His philosophy of relativism is equally terrible.

I’ve taken in upon myself to try to bring the story up to date by modernizing the language, bringing the pseudoscience into the twenty-first century, and slightly altering the philosophy to make it less jarring to those who, like me, find relativism to be morally bankrupt, and no basis for an ultimate form of existence. If you have any thoughts on the result, please let me know in the comments.

Whatever doubt may still envelop the mechanism of hypnotism,its startling effects are now almost universally admitted. Those who doubt these are mere doubters by profession—an unprofitable and disreputable group. There would be no more absolute waste of time to attempt to prove, at the present day, the following truths.

A man, by mere exercise of will, can so impress his fellow as to cast him into an abnormal condition that very closely resembles death, or at least more nearly than it does any other normal condition within our understanding. While in this state, the person so impressed employs only with effort, and then feebly, the external organs of the senses, yet perceives, with keenly refined perception, and through channels supposed unknown, matters beyond the scope of the physical organs. Moreover, his intellectual faculties are wonderfully enhanced and invigorated, his sympathy with the person who has hypnotized him is profound, and, finally, his susceptibility to hypnosis increases with its frequency, while, in the same proportion, the peculiar phenomena elicited last longer and are more pronounced.

It would be more work than necessary to demonstrate the laws of hypnotism and its general features. I will not inflict upon my readers so needless a demonstration, today. My purpose at present is very different indeed. I am impelled, even in the teeth of a world of prejudice, to detail without comment the very remarkable substance of a conversation, occurring between a man under hypnosis and myself.

I had been long in the habit of hypnotizing the person in question, Mr. Vankirk, and the usual acute susceptibility and exaltation of the hynotic perception had occurred. For many months he had been laboring under confirmed tuberculosis, the more distressing effects of which had been relieved by my manipulations. And on the night of last Wednesday, for the fifteenth time, I was summoned to his bedside.
Vankirk was suffering with acute pain in the area of the heart, and breathing with great difficulty, having all the ordinary symptoms of asthma. In spasms such as these, he had usually found relief from the application of mustard to the nerve centers, but tonight this had been attempted in vain. As I entered his room he greeted me with a cheerful smile, and although evidently in much bodily pain, appeared to be, mentally, quite at ease.

“I sent for you to-night,” he said, “not so much to administer to my bodily ailments as to satisfy me concerning certain psychic impressions which, of late, have given me much anxiety and surprise. I need not tell you how skeptical I have previously been on the topic of the soul’s immortality. I cannot deny that there has always existed, as if in that very soul which I have been denying, a vague half-sentiment of its own existence. But this half-sentiment at no time amounted to conviction. It had nothing to do with reason. All my attempts at logical inquiry resulted, indeed, in leaving me more sceptical than before. I had been advised to study Victor Cousin. I studied his works as well as those of his European and American echoes. ‘Charles Elwood’ by Orestes Brownson, for example, was placed in my hands. I read it with profound attention. I found it logical throughout, but the portions which were not merely logical were unhappily the initial arguments of the disbelieving hero of the book. From his summation, it seemed evident to me that the reasoner had not even succeeded in convincing himself. In his conclusion, he had plainly forgotten his earlier argument. If man is to be intellectually convinced of his own immortality, it will never be by the mere abstractions which have so long been fashion of the moralists of England, France, and Germany. Abstractions may amuse and exercise the mind, but they take no hold on it. Here upon earth, at least, philosophy, I am persuaded, will always fail to have us to look upon qualities as things. The will may assent, but the intellect, never. I repeat, then, that I only half felt, and never intellectually believed in the soul. But lately, there has been a deepening of the feeling, until it has come so nearly to resemble fact to me that I find it difficult to distinguish between the two. I am able to trace this effect to the influence of hypnosis. I cannot explain what I mean other than by the hypothesis that the hypnotic enhancement enables me to perceive a train of thought that, while under hypnosis, convinces me, but which, in full accordance with hypnotic phenomena, does not extend, except through its effect, into my normal state. While under hypnosis, the reasoning and its conclusion—the cause and its effect—are present together. In my natural state, the cause vanishes, and the only effect only, and perhaps only partially, remains. This leads me to think that some good results might be achieved if you asked me a series of well-directed questions while I’m hypnotized. You have often observed the profound self awareness exhibited by the hypnotized man—the extensive knowledge he displays upon all points relating to the hypnotic condition itself. From this self awareness, you may be able to deduce hints for the proper conduct of a catechism.”

I consented of course to perform this experiment. A few passes threw Mr. Vankirk into a hypnotic trance. His breathing immediately became more easy, and he seemed to suffer no physical uneasiness. The following conversation then ensued.

“Are you asleep?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied, then, “no. I would rather sleep more soundly.”

After a few more passes, I asked “Do you sleep now?”

“Yes.”

“What do you think the outcome of your present illness will be?” I asked.

After a long hesitation and speaking as if with effort, he replied “I will die.”

“Does the idea of death distress you?” I asked.

“No—no!” he replied, very quickly.

“Are you pleased with the prospect?” I asked.

“If I were awake, I would wish to die, but now, it is of no matter,” he replied.

“The hypnotic condition is so near death as to content me.”

“I wish you would explain yourself, Mr. Vankirk,” I said.

“I am willing to do so, but it requires more effort than I feel able to make,” he said. “You do not question me properly.”

“What then shall I ask?” I asked.

“You must begin at the beginning,” he said.

“The beginning! but where is the beginning?” I muttered.

“You know that the beginning is God,” he said, in a low, fluctuating tone, with every sign of the most profound veneration.

“What then is God?” I asked.

After hesitating for many minutes, he replied “I cannot tell.”

“Is God a spirit?” I asked.

“While I was conscious, I knew what you meant by ‘spirit,’” he replied, “but now it seems only a word—like truth, or beauty—a quality, I mean.”

“Is God immaterial?” I asked.

“There is no immateriality—it is a mere word,” he replied. “That which is not matter, is not at all—unless qualities are things.”

“Is God, then, material?” I asked.

“No,” he replied, startling me very much.

“What then is he?” I asked.

After a long pause, he muttered “I see—but it is a thing difficult to tell.” After another long pause, he continued “He is not spirit, for he exists. Nor is he matter, as you understand it. But there are gradations of matter of which man knows nothing. The courser presses on the finer, the finer pervades the courser. The earth’s core, for example, generates the electromagnetic field, while the electromagnetic field permeates the earth. These gradations of matter increase in rarity or fineness, until we arrive at matter without particles—indivisible—and here the laws of physics are modified. The ultimate, or unparticled matter, not only permeates all things but impels all things—and thus is all things in itself. This matter is God. What men attempt to embody in the word ‘thought’ is this matter in motion.”

“Metaphysicians maintain that all action is reducible to motion and thought, and that the latter is the origin of the former,” I said.

“Yes, and I now see the confusion that led to the idea. Motion is the action of mind—not of thinking. The unparticled matter, or God, at rest, is as nearly as we can conceive it what men call mind. And the power of self-movement, equivalent in effect to human volition, is, in the unparticled matter, the result of its unity and omniprevalence; how I do not know, and now clearly see that I shall never know. But the unparticled matter, set in motion by a law, or quality, existing within itself, is thinking.”

“Can you give me no more precise idea of what you term the unparticled matter?” I asked.

“The matters of which man is aware escape the senses in gradation. We have, for example, metal, a piece of wood, a drop of water, the atmosphere, a gas, plasma, electricity, and light. We call all these things matter, and embrace all matter with one general definition. But despite this, there can be no two ideas more essentially distinct than that which we attach to a metal, and that which we attach to light. When it comes to light, we feel an almost irresistible inclination to class it with spirit, or with empty space. The only consideration which restrains us is our conception of its particle nature. Even here, we have to seek aid from our notion of a photon as something possessing in infinite minuteness, solidity, palpability, weight. Destroy the idea of light as particles and we should no longer be able to regard it as an entity, or at least as matter. For want of a better word we might term it spirit. Take a step beyond light—conceive of a kind of matter as more rarefied than light as light is more rarefied than metal, and we arrive at a unique kind of matter—an unparticled matter. For although we may admit that despite the minuteness of atoms themselves, they are composed of yet smaller particles, the idea that there are an infinitude of smaller particles that make them up is an absurdity. There will be a point—a scale at which all particles are as vast as the universe is to us—where all matter is one, and all forces are unified. Here, the nature of matter inevitably equates to what we conceive of spirit. It is clear, however, that it is as fully matter as before. The truth is, it is impossible to conceive of spirit, since it is impossible to imagine what is not. When we flatter ourselves that we have conceived it, we have merely a confused understanding of infinitely rarefied matter.”

“There seems to me an insurmountable objection to the idea that all matter is one and that at that level, it is the mind of God, and that is the fact that nothing can travel faster than light,” I said. “In a mind that spans the universe, a thought impulse would take thousands of millennia to go from one side to the other. Such a mind would be unable to comprehend us as, to it, the entire existence of the human race would be less than an instant.”

“Your objection is answered with an ease proportional to its apparent unanswerability,” he replied. “Quantum theory has long predicted the phenomenon of quantum entanglement, where a change in one of two particles separated by potentially vast distances is reflected in the other instantaneously. Recent experiments have confirmed this effect is real. Moreover, string theory holds that there are higher dimensions, such that points that, in the three spatial dimensions that we perceive, are separated by vast distances, can be brought close in higher dimensions beyond our ability to observe.”

“But isn’t this—the identification of mere matter with God—irreverent?” I asked, and then had to repeat the question before Vankirk fully comprehended my meaning.

“Can you tell me why matter should be given less reverenced than mind?” he asked in reply. “But you forget that the matter of which I speak is, in all respects, the very ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ of philosophy, so far as regards its high capacities, and is, moreover, the ‘matter’ of these schools of thought at the same time. God, with all the powers attributed to spirit, is but the perfection of matter.”

“You assert, then, that the unparticled matter, in motion, is thought?” I asked.

“In general, motion is the universal thought of the universal mind,” he replied.

“This thought creates. All created things are but the thoughts of God.”

“You say, ‘in general,’” I said.

“Yes. The universal mind is God. For new individualities, matter is necessary,” he said.

“But you now speak of ‘mind’ and ‘matter’ as metaphysicians do,” I said.

“Yes—to avoid confusion,” he said. “When I say ‘mind,’ I mean the unparticled or ultimate matter; by ‘matter,’ I imply everything else.”

“You were saying that ‘for new individualities matter is necessary,'” I said.

“Yes; for mind, existing incorporeal, is merely God,” he said. “To create individual, thinking beings, it was necessary to incarnate portions of the divine mind. Thus man is individualized. Divested of corporate investiture, he would be God. The motion of the incarnated portions of the unparticled matter is the thought of man, and the motion of the whole is that of God.”

“You say that divested of the body, man will be God?” I asked.

“I could not have said that,” Vankirk replied after a long pause. “It is an absurdity.”

“You did say that ‘divested of corporate investiture man would be God,’” I said, after referring to my notes.

“And this is true,” he said. “Man thus divested would be God—would be unindividualized. But he can never be so divested—at least never will be—or we must imagine an action of God returning upon itself—a purposeless and futile action. Man is a creature. Creatures are thoughts of God. It is the nature of thought to be irrevocable.”

“I do not comprehend,” I said. “You say that man will never cast off the body?”

“I say that he will never be bodiless,” he replied.

“Explain,” I said.

“There are two bodies—the rudimentary and the complete,” he said. “They are like the two conditions of the worm and the butterfly. What we call ‘death’ is merely the painful metamorphosis. Our present incarnation is progressive, preparatory, temporary. Our future is perfected, ultimate, immortal. The ultimate life is the full design.”

“But of the worm’s metamorphosis we are fully aware,” I said.

“We, certainly—but not the worm,” said Vankirk. “The matter of which our rudimentary bodies are composed is within the understanding of the organs of that body. More distinctly, our rudimentary organs are adapted to the matter which forms the rudimentary body, but not to that of which the ultimate is composed. The ultimate body thus escapes our rudimentary senses, and we perceive only the shell which falls away, in decaying, from the inner form, but not that inner form itself. The inner form, as well as the shell, is appreciable by those who have already acquired the ultimate life.”

“You have often said that the hypnotic state very nearly resembles death,” I said.

“How is this?”

“When I say that it resembles death, I mean that it resembles the ultimate life,” he replied. “For when I am entranced, the senses of my rudimentary life are suspended, and I perceive external things directly, without organs, through the means that I shall employ in the ultimate, unorganized life.

“Unorganized?” I asked.

“Yes,” he replied. “Organs are contrivances by which the individual is brought into sensible relation with particular classes and forms of matter, to the exclusion of other classes and forms. The organs of man are adapted to his rudimentary condition, and to that only. His ultimate condition, being unorganized, is of unlimited comprehension in all points but one—the nature of the volition of God—that is to say, the motion of the unparticled matter. You can get a clear idea of the ultimate body by conceiving it to be entirely brain. It is not, but this idea will bring you close to an understanding of what it is. A luminous body emits vibrations into space. The vibrations generate similar ones within the retina. These communicate similar ones to the optic nerve. The nerve conveys similar ones to the brain. The brains waves are mirrored in the unparticled matter which permeates it. The motion of this latter is thought, of which perception is the first undulation. This is the mode by which the mind of rudimentary life communicates with the external world. The external world is, to rudimentary life, limited, due to the idiosyncrasies of its organs. But in the ultimate, unorganized life, the external world reaches the whole body, which is a substance similar to the brain, as I have said, with no intervention. The whole body vibrates in unison with space itself, setting the unparticled matter which permeates it in motion. It is due to the absence of idiosyncratic organs that we must attribute the nearly unlimited perception of the ultimate life. To rudimentary beings, organs are the cages necessary to confine them until they become fully fledged.”

“You speak of rudimentary ‘beings.’” I said. “Are there rudimentary thinking beings other than man?”

“The vast conglomeration of matter into nebulae, planets, suns, and other bodies which are neither nebulae, suns, nor planets, exists for the sole purpose of supplying nourishment for the idiosyncrasy of the organs of an infinity of rudimentary beings,” he replied. “If it weren’t for the necessity of the rudimentary, prior to the ultimate life, there would have been no bodies such as these. Each of these is tenanted by a distinct variety of organic, rudimentary, thinking creatures. Their organs vary with the features of the place tenanted. At death, or metamorphosis, these creatures, enjoying the ultimate life—immortality—and cognizant of all secrets but the one, are one with all things and pass everywhere by mere volition—dwelling not upon planets, among the stars, which to us seem the only tangible things, for the accommodation of which we blindly deem space created—but throughout space itself—that infinity of whose true vastness swallows up the star-shadows—blotting them out as non-entities from the perception of the angels.”

“You say that ‘only because of their necessity for rudimentary life’ were there stars,” I said. “But why are they necessary?”

“In inorganic life, as well as in the inorganic matter generally, there is nothing to impede the action of one simple unique law—the Divine Volition,” he replied. “To create resistance, organic life and matter, complex, substantial, and law-encumbered, were contrived.”

“But again,” I said, “why did resistance have been created?”

“The result of spiritual law is perfection, rightness, and happiness,” he replied.

“The result of material law is imperfection, wrong, and pain. Through the obsticles afforded by the number, complexity, and substantiality of the laws of organic life and matter, violation of the law is rendered, to a certain extent, practical. Thus pain, which in inorganic life is impossible, is possible in the organic.”

“But what good is pain?” I asked.

“All growth comes from opposition,” he replied. “A sufficient analysis will show that lasting pleasure, in all cases, is the result of effort. Unearned pleasure is always fleeting. To be happy requires that one learn the hard lessons that give an understanding of what true happiness is. To never to suffer is never to have been blessed. In the ultimate life, pain cannot be experienced, hence the necessity for the organic. The pain of the primitive life of Earth is the sole basis of the bliss of the ultimate life in Heaven.”

“There is one of your expressions which I still find impossible to comprehend,” I said, “’the truly substantive vastness of infinity.'”

“This is probably because you have an insufficiently generic conception of the term ‘substance’,” he said. “We must not regard it as a quality, but as a concept—it is the perception, in thinking beings, of the adaptation of matter to their organization. There are many things on the Earth that would be nothing to the inhabitants of other world, and many things visible and tangible on those worlds to we could not be brought to appreciate as existing at all. But to inorganic beings—to angels—the whole of unparticled matter is substance. That is to say, the whole of what we term ‘space’ is to them the truly substantial. The stars, in the meantime, due to what we consider their materiality, escape the angelic senses, just as unparticled matter, through what we consider its immateriality, eludes the organic.”

As Vankirk pronounced these last words, in feeble tones, I observed on his countenance a singular expression, which somewhat alarmed me, and induced me to awaken him at once. No sooner had I done this, than, with a bright smile illuminating all his features, he fell back upon his pillow and expired. I noticed that in less than a minute afterward his corpse had all the stern rigidity of stone. His brow was as cold as ice. Ordinarily, this should have occurred long after death. Had he, actually, during the latter portion of his discourse, been addressing me from beyond death?

If you enjoyed this adaptation, please consider purchasing my modern English adaptation of Poe’s great detective story Murders in the Rue Morgue for kindle reader on Amazon.

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About jimbelton

I'm a software developer, and a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, and I blog about movies, books, and philosophy. My interest in religious philosophy and the search for the truth inspires much of my writing.
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