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William Crookes (1832 – 1919)


English chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, in London, and worked on spectroscopy.
William Crookes
The task I am called upon to perform today is to my thinking by no means a merely formal or easy matter. It fills me with deep concern to give an address, with such authority as a president's chair confers, upon a science which, though still in a purely nascent stage, seems to me at least as important as any other science whatever. Psychical science, as we here try to pursue it, is the embryo of something which in time may dominate the whole world of thought. This possibility — nay, probability — does not make it the easier to me now. Embryonic development is apt to be both rapid and interesting; yet the Prudent man shrinks from dogmatizing on the egg until he has seen the chicken.
Crookes quotes
Popular imagination presupposes spiritual beings to be utterly independent of gravitation, while retaining shapes and proportions which gravitation originally determined, and only gravitation seems likely to maintain.
When and if spiritual beings make themselves visible either to our bodily eyes or to our inward vision, their object would be thwarted were they not to appear in a recognizable form; so that their appearance would take the shape of the body and clothing to which we have been accustomed. Materiality, form, and space, I am constrained to believe, are temporary conditions of our present existence. It is difficult to conceive the idea of a spiritual being having a body like ours, conditioned by the exact gravitating force exerted by the earth, and with organs which presuppose the need for food and necessity for the removal of waste products. It is equally difficult, hemmed in and bound round as we are by materialistic ideas, to think of intelligence, thought, and will existing without form or matter and untrammeled by gravitation or space.
Crookes
In old Egyptian days a well known inscription was carved over the portal of the temple of Isis: "I am whatever hath been, is, or ever will be; and my veil no man hath yet lifted." Not thus do modern seekers after truth confront nature — the word that stands for the baffling mysteries of the universe. Steadily, unflinchingly, we strive to pierce the inmost heart of Nature, from what she is to reconstruct what she has been, and to prophesy what she yet shall be. Veil after veil we have lifted, and her face grows more beautiful, august, and wonderful with every barrier that is withdrawn.




Crookes William quotes
It can scarcely be denied that the fundamental phenomena which first led mankind into chemical inquiries are those of combustion. But, as we have just seen, minimized beings would be unable to produce fire at will, except by certain chemical reactions, and would have little opportunity of examining its nature. They might occasionally witness forest fires, volcanic eruptions, etc.; but such grand and catastrophic phenomena, though serving to reveal to our supposed Lilliputians the existence of combustion, would be ill suited for quiet investigation into its conditions and products. Moreover, considering the impossibility they would experience of pouring water from one test tube to another, the ordinary operations of analytical chemistry and of all manipulations depending on the use of the pneumatic trough would remain forever a sealed book.
Crookes William
An omnipotent being could rule the course of this world in such a way that none of us should discover the hidden springs of action. He need not make the sun stand still upon Gibeon. He could do all that he wanted by the expenditure of infinitesimal diverting force upon ultra-microscopic modifications of the human germ.
William Crookes quotes
The structure of brain and nerves being similar, it is conceivable there may be present masses of such nerve coherers in the brain whose special function it may be to receive impulses brought from without through the connecting sequence of ether waves of appropriate order of magnitude. Rφntgen has familiarized us with an order of vibrations of extreme minuteness compared with the smallest waves with which we have hitherto been acquainted, and of dimensions comparable with the distances between the centers of the atoms of which the material universe is built up; and there is no reason to suppose that we have here reached the limit of frequency. It is known that the action of thought is accompanied by certain molecular movements in the brain, and here we have physical vibrations capable, from their extreme minuteness, of acting direct on individual molecules, while their rapidity approaches that of the internal and external movements of the atoms themselves.
Confirmation of telepathic phenomena is afforded by many converging experiments and by many spontaneous occurrences only thus intelligible. The most varied proof, perhaps, is drawn from analysis of the subconscious workings of the mind, when these, whether by accident or design, are brought into conscious survey. … This is not the place for details, but the vis medicatrix thus evoked, as it were, from the depths of the organism, is of good omen for the upward evolution of mankind.
William Crookes
It has been said that "Nothing worth the proving can be proved, nor yet disproved." True though this may have been in the past, it is true no longer. The science of our century has forged weapons of observation and analysis by which the veriest tyro may profit. Science has trained and fashioned the average mind into habits of exactitude and disciplined perception, and in so doing has fortified itself for tasks higher, wider, and incomparably more wonderful than even the wisest among our ancestors imagined. Like the souls in Plato's myth that follow the chariot of Zeus, it has ascended to a point of vision far above the earth. It is henceforth open to science to transcend all we now think we know of matter and to gain new glimpses of a profounder scheme of Cosmic law.
Crookes William quotes
At the time of his death Crookes was called the greatest of British scientists in the realm of exact knowledge. Knighted in 1897, he also received the Order of Merit in 1910; the Royal Society elected him president from 1913-15. Ubi Crookes ibi lux!
Crookes
A formidable range of phenomena must be scientifically sifted before we effectually grasp a faculty so strange, so bewildering, and for ages so inscrutable as the direct action of mind on mind. This delicate task needs a rigorous employment of the method of exclusion — a constant setting aside of irrelevant phenomena that could be explained by known causes, including those far too familiar causes, conscious and unconscious fraud. The inquiry unites the difficulties inherent in all experimentation connected with mind, with tangled human temperaments, and with observations dependent less on automatic record than on personal testimony. But difficulties are things to be overcome even in the elusory branch of research known as experimental psychology.
Crookes William
The human creature represents the most perfect thinking and acting machine yet evolved on this earth, developing through countless ages in strict harmony with the surrounding conditions of temperature, atmosphere, light, and gravitation. The profound modifications in the human frame, which any important alteration in either of these factors would occasion, are strangely unconsidered. It is true there have been questionings as to the effects that might be occasioned by changes in temperature and atmospheric composition, but possible variations in gravitation seem almost to have escaped notice. The human body, which long experience and habit have taught us to consider in its highest development as the perfection of beauty and grace — "formed in the image of God " — is entirely conditioned by the strength of gravitation on this globe. So far as has been possible to ascertain, the intensity of gravity has not varied appreciably within those geologic ages covering the existence of animated thinking beings.
William Crookes
Crookes received the high British distinction of the Order of Merit in 1910, and in 1913 he was elected President of the Royal Society. Crookes was esteemed not only in scientific circles but by the general public, and the tag Ubi Crookes, ibi lux reflected popular feeling.




William Crookes quotes
The production of motion, molar or molecular, is governed by physical laws, which it is the business of the philosopher to find out and correlate. The law of the conservation of energy overrides all laws, and it is a preeminent canon of scientific belief that for every act done a corresponding expenditure of energy must be transformed.
No work can be effected without using up a corresponding value in energy of another kind. But to us the other side of the problem is even of more importance. Granted the existence of a certain kind of molecular motion, what is it that determines its direction along one path rather than another?
William Crookes
Sir William Crookes was a great experimenter. His material discoveries are of lasting and fundamental value, though his theoretical speculations have not stood the test of time so well. While it is true that all scientific theories serve primarily only for the suggestion of further research, it must be admitted that Crookes's analytical power hardly equalled his gift as an investigator of new facts. His excursions into psychical research have been strongly criticized, and they certainly led him into some very curious situations, but they show that he thought all phenomena worthy of investigation, and refused to be bound by tradition and convention. He was a man of science in the broadest sense, an influential personality, and a doyen of his profession.
Crookes quotes
A view of the constitution of matter which recommended itself to Faraday as preferable to the one ordinarily held appears to me to be exactly the view I endeavor to picture as the constitution of spiritual beings. Centers of intellect, will, energy, and power, each mutually penetrable, while at the same time permeating what we call space, but each center retaining its own individuality, persistence of self, and memory. Whether these intelligent centers of the various spiritual forces which in their aggregate go to make up man's character or karma are also associated in any way with the forms of energy which, centered, form the material atom — whether these spiritual entities are material, not in the crude, gross sense of Lucretius, but material as sublimated through the piercing intellect of Faraday — is one of those mysteries which to us mortals will perhaps ever remain an unsolved problem. My next speculation is more difficult, and is addressed to those who not only take too terrestrial a view, but who deny the plausibility — nay, the possibility — of the existence of an unseen world at all. I reply we are demonstrably standing on the brink, at any rate, of one unseen world. I do not here speak of a spiritual or immaterial world. I speak of the world of the infinitely little, which must be still called a material world, although matter as therein existing or perceptible is something which our limited faculties do not enable us to conceive. It is the world — I do not say of molecular forces as opposed to molar, but of forces whose action lies mainly outside the limit of human perception, as opposed to forces evident to the gross perception of human organisms. I hardly know how to make clear to myself or to you the difference in the apparent laws of the universe which would follow upon a mere difference of bulk in the observer. Such an observer I must needs imagine as best I can.
Crookes William
I will point out a curious, inveterate, and widespread illusion — the illusion that our earthly bodies are a kind of norm of humanity, so that ethereal bodies, if such there be, must correspond to them in shape and size.
When we take a physical view of a human being in his highest form of development, he is seen to consist essentially of a thinking brain, the brain itself, among its manifold functions, being a transformer whereby intelligent will power is enabled to react on matter. To communicate with the external world, the brain requires organs by which it can be transported from place to place, and other organs by means of which energy is supplied to replace that expended in the exercise of its own special functions.
Crookes William quotes
If a possible — nay, reasonable — variation in only one of the forces conditioning the human race, that of gravitation, could so modify our outward form, appearance, and proportions as to make us to all intents and purposes a different race of beings; if mere differences of size can cause some of the most simple facts in chemistry and physics to take so widely different a guise; if beings microscopically small and prodigiously large would simply as such be subject to the hallucinations I have pointed out, and to others I might enlarge upon, is it not possible that we, in turn, though occupying, as it seems to us, the golden mean, may also by the mere virtue of our size and weight fall into misinterpretations of phenomena from which we should escape were we or the globe we inhabit either larger or smaller, heavier or lighter? May not our boasted knowledge be simply conditioned by accidental environments, and thus be liable to a large element of subjectivity hitherto unsuspected and scarcely possible to eliminate?
William Crookes
I am not disposed to bewail the limitations imposed by human ignorance. On the contrary, I feel ignorance is a healthful stimulant; and my enforced conviction that neither I nor anyone can possibly lay down beforehand what does not exist in the universe, or even what is not going on all round us everyday of our lives, leaves me with a cheerful hope that something very new and very arresting may turn up anywhere at any minute. … I shall try to utilize this temper of mind today by clearing away, so far as I can, certain presuppositions, on one side or on the other, which seem to me to depend upon a too hasty assumption that we know more about the universe than as yet we really can know.
William Crookes quotes
Ordinarily we communicate intelligence to each other by speech. I first call up in my own brain a picture of a scene I wish to describe, and then, by means of an orderly transmission of wave vibrations set in motion by my vocal chords through the material atmosphere, a corresponding picture is implanted in the brain of anyone whose ear is capable of receiving such vibrations. If the scene I wish to impress on the brain of the recipient is of a complicated character, or if the picture of it in my own brain is not definite, the transmission will be more or less imperfect; but if I wish to get my audience to picture to themselves some very simple object, such as a triangle or a circle, the transmission of ideas will be well-nigh perfect, and equally clear to the brains of both transmitter and recipient. Here we use the vibrations of the material molecules of the atmosphere to transmit intelligence from one brain to another.
William Crookes
It is curious that the popular conceptions of evil and malignant beings are of the type that would be produced by increased gravitation — toads, reptiles, and noisome creeping things — while the arch fiend himself is represented as perhaps the ultimate form which could be assumed by a thinking brain and its necessary machinery were the power of gravitation to be increased to the highest point compatible with existence — a serpent crawling along the ground. On the other hand, our highest types of beauty are those which would be common under decreased gravitation.
The "daughter of the gods, divinely tall," and the leaping athlete, please us by the slight triumph over the earthward pull which their stature or spring implies.
Crookes William
When Crookes moved on into the crowd, a professor of physics told an anecdote of the last meeting: when a motto on the wall of one room, reading Ubi Crookes, Ibi Lux, had been altered to Ubi Crookes, Ibi Spooks. Wonder was expressed that a man of Crookes's attainments should believe in ghosts. "I'm not so sure," Conan Doyle said unexpectedly, "there is nothing in Crookes's belief."


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