Hereward Carrington.

Death: its causes and phenomena. With special reference to immortality online

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renders possible the presence and growth of that germ !
If the body were healthy, no germs could live in such
an organism, no matter how many were introduced —
they would be instantly killed, and they could not exist
therein for an instant. We need not bother about the
germs ; keep the body sound, well, strong, and full of
energy, and nature will take care of the rest — including
the germs ! They are quite incapable of doing any
harm in a healthy body. The sounder the body the
less danger of infection, and the longer and the healthier
the life. Now, as fruitarianism, or the practice of living
upon fruits, is one of the best possible means of keeping
the body in this desirable condition, it will readily be
seen that, if we live on raw fruit, and those simple foods
that tend to keep the body in the best possible health ;
and if we are careful, at the same time, not to eat too

^ See his Investigations among Fruitarians, U.S. Dept. of Agr. Report.


much, we shall keep the intestinal canal free from all
obnoxious microbes — for the simple reason that their
growth and presence there would be an utter impossi-
bility. No matter if we do introduce into it such
micro-organisms with the food, the body would speedily
dispose of them. The state of the body is everything ;
the number of microbes introduced of very small
moment. Eat those foods, therefore, that keep the body
in the best possible health, and do not worry in the
least about the micro-organisms, that may or may not
exist in the intestines. They will soon be disposed of.
The food is the all-important factor ; and fruit — man's
natural food — should be eaten almost exclusively if we
wish to avoid old age, premature death, and all the ills
that exist before both these conditions. It will thus
be seen that I have been forced to agree with Drs.
Bostwick and Evans, previously mentioned, as this was
their contention precisely. M. MetchnikofP has failed to
make sufficient allowance for the germicidal and anti-
septic properties of the body, when maintained in the lest
of health hy means of natural, uncooked foods. He has
studied the effects of these micro-organisms upon bodies
badly nourished with cooked food, and food more or less
diseased. Let him study bodies nourished and main-
tained by their natural food— fruits and nuts, in their
uncooked, primitive form — and then report the results !
There can be no doubt that M. Metchnikoff will have to
materially alter his theories as to the causation of old
age and natural death, and will be forced to the con-
clusion that, after all, these states are caused by the
running down of the vital forces in consequence of
the altered chemical condition of the body, and of its
blockage by mal-assimilated food-material ! These ideas
will, however, be elaborated further on, in our discussion
of the causes of natural death. — H. C]



Having failed to derive any satisfactory explanation of
death from the literature upon the subject and from
historic research, it occurred to us to sound the opinion
of the scientific world at the present time, and endeavour
to ascertain, if possible, the opinions of a number of
eminent scientists, philosophers, and others entitled to
a hearing upon this question. By doing so we hoped to
arrive at some more definite conclusion as to the real
nature of this mysterious process, so fancifully and so
inaccurately described by the majority of writers in the
past. It is true that various speculations have been
advanced from time to time by writers upon this subject,
some of which are certainly ingenious and well worthy
of the most serious consideration. Yet, objections to the
theories may be found in almost every case. We shall
return to this presently. Certain it is that the scientific
world as a whole has arrived at no definite conception of
the process, and the attitude of the majority of men
might perhaps be expressed in the following significant
extract. Professor Joseph Le ContC; writing in Balfour
Stewart's Consei-vation of Energy, says : —

"... But death? Can we detect anything returned to the
forces of nature by simple death? What is the nature of the
difference between the living organism and a dead organism ? We
can detect none, physical or chemical. All the physical and
chemical forces withdrawn from the common fund of nature and
embodied in the living organism seem to be still embodied in the



dead, until little by little it is returned by decomposition. Yet the
difference is immense, is inconceivably great ! What is the nature
of this difference expressed in the formula of material science?
What is it that is gone, and whither is it gone ? There is some-
thing here which science cannot understand. Yet it is just that
loss which takes place in death and before decomposition, which
is in the highest sense vital force" (pp. 200-1).

In order to arrive, if possible, at some definite conclu-
sion in the matter, therefore, we devised and sent to a
number of men whose opinion would be well worth hear-
ing, a circular letter asking the following question : —

" What do you consider to be the real nature of
DEATH ? ( JVe mean hy this, of course, nahtral death ;
and not death due to disease, accident, or other causes
of a like nature.) "

We received a number of most interesting answers to
this question from men and women of various types
of mind — some of which we give below. Not the least
interesting and significant fact elicited by our inquiry,
however, is that it showed an almost complete lack of
previous thought on the subject ! It is astonishing to
find the complete indifference that is manifested, not
only by the public but also by scientists, on this subject
of death. Eloquent testimony of this is evidenced by
the fact that so little has been written about the sub-
ject; and in talking to any one about it one soon finds
that he displays the completest indifference to the whole
question ! \ Things of real worth, such as the mental life
of the ant or the crab, fill psychological and scientific
literature ; but such a thing as death, which involves the
whole human race more intimately than anything else
possibly can — since all must die — is regarded as hardly
worthy of serious discussion ! ) Professor F. C. S. Schiller
showed the complete lack of interest of the public in
the question of immortality in his statistical inquiry con-


ducted some years ago, the results of which were printed
in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research,
vol. xviii. pp. 416-53. A similar indifference as to the
subject of death was pointed out and insisted upon by
Mr. Joseph Jacobs in his little booklet Tlie Dying of Death.
Perhaps we can best illustrate this lack of interest in the
subject by the following letter, which we quote verbatim,
omitting: the name in order to save the feelino^s of the
writer. Suffice it to say that the author of this letter is a
well-known — in fact quite a famous — physician, to whom
we had written, asking him to state his views as to the
nature of death. If any one ought to take an active
and intense interest in this subject, surely that man ought
to be the physician, and yet this is what he wrote in
answer to our question : —

Dear Sir, — . . . I do not take the slightest interest in either
the physiological or psychological aspects of the death question.
Metchnikoff, however, has considerable to say on the subject. I
have no theories as to the cause of natural death, nor, in fact, on
any other subject. — Yours very truly, .

Metchnikoff and others have insisted over and over
again that old age is a pathological process, and that
death is also due to certain obscure physiological and
pathological causes and processes. All sickness bears
the very closest resemblance to these processes, therefore,
and will frequently terminate in death if not properly
treated. And yet here is a man who professes " not the
slightest interest " in any of these vital questions ! Is
this not tantamount to admitting that, although his
practice may bring him in a good living, he has not the
slightest intellectual interest in any of the philosophical
questions that underlie his work and render it of use
and benefit to the world ?


We regret to say that this same attitude has been
taken by other men who, one would think, should take a
special interest in this question, bearing, as it does, upon
the work that forms their most important life-study.
The following letter is an example of this :—

From Professor James H. Hyslop, Ph.D., LL.D., New York, U.S.A.

My dear Mr. Carrington, — lu reply to your inquiry about
my opinion of death, I can only say that I have no theory or con-
ception of it whatever. I have never bothered my head about its
nature for five minutes. I really do not know, and do not care, what
it is. The cessation of life is all I know or believe about it. —
Very sincerely, James H. Hyslop.

It is remarkable that such a stand should be taken by
this investigator, since the whole question of psychic
research hinges about the point of death, and whether
life persists after it or not. Inasmuch as Dr. Hyslop
believes in the persistence of consciousness after death —
or " the spiritistic hypothesis " — it is certainly an inaccu-
racy on his part to say or infer that the " cessation of life "
is the chief factor of death. Further, a man who devotes
his whole life to the study of psychic problems should
certainly, of all others, be most vitally and fundamentally
interested in this question, since much depends upon the
interpretation given to the phenomenon called death.
We prefer to think that this letter represents the hastily
expressed view of this authority rather than his carefully-
worded opinion of " the real nature " of the process.

A letter of somewhat similar type, though more
cautious, is that of Dr. James J. Putnam, the well-known
neurologist, whose letter follows : —

Fro7n Dr. James J. Putnam, Boston, Mass.

My dear Sir, — I have no special ideas to express upon the sub-
ject of death. — Yours truly, James J. Putnam.



One curious fact elicited by our circular letter is
that so many men expressed their complete ignorance
of the subject, and, what is still more curious, stated
that they had, so far, never had time to think seriously
upon it 1 One sample letter of this kind may be of
interest : —

From Nikola Tesla, New York, U.S.A.

Dear Sir, — Replying to your favour of the 16th inst., I agree
with you that the subject is most interesting. But to express
myself in regard to it would require a concentration of thought
which, in the midst of my present labours, is impossible for me.

Regretting my inability, and thanking you for your courtesy, I
remain. Very truly yours, N. Tesla.

Astonishment at the lack of interest in this question
is expressed by one or two of our correspondents who
have thought and written upon these subjects. Thus,
Professor Schiller writes : —

From Professor F. C. S. Schiller, Oxford, England.

Corpus Christi College, Oxford.

Dear Sir, — In reply to your inquiry about death, I can only
repeat the commonplace, that. Death is a mystery. Two aspects
of this mystery have, however, always excited my astonishment, —
the one physiological, the other psychological.

The physiological mystery consists in the fact that the body,
being a machine which has somehow learned to repair itself,
should not continue to do so indefinitely. The psychological
mystery consists in the fact that people manage to think so little
about death, and to care so little about what happens to them in
that crisis. For the rest, I may refer those desirous of speculating
upon the subject to Riddles of the Sphinx (Ch. xi.), Humanism
(Ch. xiii.-xv.), and Studies of Humanism (Ch. xvii.). — I remain,
yours truly, F. C. S. Schiller, M.A., D.Sc,

Fellow and Tutor, Corpus Christi College, Oxford.


One or two of our correspondents were rather more
naive in their expressions of ignorance as to the cause
of natural death ; one writer, for instance, expressing him-
self as follows : —

From Horace Fletcher, Esq., Neiu York, U.S.A.

Dear Sir, — The real nature of death is as obscure to me as is the
real nature of life itself.

I am enjoying life immensely, and more immensely the more I
learn to get pleasure of the constructive sort out of it.

If the span which is now revealed to us is all there is of it for
our present consciousness, I am enormously glad I have inherited
it, and I shall esteem it all clear profit in advance of losing con-
sciousness — a sort of " thanking you in advance," with a return
stamp attached for autograph reply.

If there is persistence of this same consciousness beyond the
curtain called death, I feel quite certain that it will be evolutionary
in character. I am sure to be more comfortable as gas or ether
than when compelled to wear fashionable clothing.

For my best pleasure of thinking I accept the common idealism
which gives human souls persistence of existence, and to the souls
who gave me this blessed life I delight to attribute all of the direction
of my energies which I know would give them pleasure were they
still here to express it.

However ; sufficient unto the day is the opportunity thereof, and to
make the most of passing opportunities, to do good and gain pleasure
thereby, is my most important business oT the moment. — Optimis-
tically yours until death and forever thereafter,

Horace Fletcher.

Apparent hopelessness of ever finding a rational solu-
tion of this problem is expressed in the following letter
from an eminent Dutch physician : —

From Frederick van Eeden, M.D., Holland.

Dear Sir, — As you ask me to answer your question as a scien-
tific man, you will excuse me for being rather scrupulous and


precise in my answer. Nobody can say what something is. We
can only express a fact in different terms. A scientific answer
cannot be given before we agree entirely upon the meaning and
significance of all the terms of a question. What do you mean by
"the real nature of death"? And how can I say tvhat I consider
this to be ? Death is a very well known fact. Has it something
which you call its " real nature " and which cannot be expressed in
terms more familiar, standing for better known facts, so that we feel
that the thing itself is now clearer to us, is now explained ?

You will get many answers which seem to the point. But these
answers will all be more or less poetical, fanciful, and metaphorical.
Death will be called a Birth, an Extinction, a Sleep, a Transition.
All this is more or less metaphor. Now metaphorical language is
poetical language, and not strictly scientific. The great poets have
said more true and beautiful things about death than any of us can
do now. But it is Science you want, and Science can give you only
the bare observations, and can tell you nothing about what you
call their " real nature " and what I should probably call their

Yet it is possible to give you a somewhat more satisfactory reply
by saying, that the well known fact. Death, can also be expressed
in these terms : a profound and simultaneous change leading to
disintegration, in all the directly perceptible elements of what tee
used to call a living entity (man, animal, plant, or part of plant).
This is only a definition, but it excludes many prevalent errors.
To say that this change is a total disintegration would be more
than exact science can allow, because we cannot have a clear and
complete knowledge of the former integrity. But most imjDortant
of all, a correct definition can only speak of the directly (i.e. sen-
sorially) perceptible elements. The extreme limitation of our
perceptive (sensorial) powers makes it highly probable that the
unperceptible part (commonly called the Soul) of every living
entity far excels its perceptible part (the body). And that this
larger part may remain untouched by the said apparent disintegra-
tion is a possibility, even a probability, acceptable to what I
consider a sound scientific judgment. — I am, dear Sir, yours very
truly, F. VAN Eeden.


In spite of Dr. van Eeden's extreme accuracy of
statement, Ave cannot feel that he has supplied us with
an exact definition of death. Dr. van Eeden, it will be
observed, limits the " profound and simultaneous change "
to the directly ;pcrce23tiUe parts or elements of the body.
But we think that there is no evidence whatever that
death may not be due to the action of some purely im-
perceptible parts, or to some non-material elements
altogether. It may be due to the disturbance of the
body's vital energy ; to modifications or chemical changes
in one particular point or spot of the cerebral cortex,
which would not involve the whole body, but which
might be called a purely " local " action. Dr. van
Eeden says that this change takes place in " Avhat
we used to call a living entity," which infers that this
entity or body is now dead. Unless we completely
change our conception of death, however, we cannot
agree that this is in any way a definition, since, it
will be observed, it practically states that death occurs
in a dead body, whereas it occurs in a living body,
and the change is supposedly the cause of death. We
cannot see, therefore, that Dr. van Eeden has supplied
us with a definition of death that can be said to fulfil
all of the fundamental requirements necessary for a
satisfactory explanation.

The following letter is from Professor Charles S.
Minot : —

Hakvard Medical School,

Boston, Mass.,

Jan. 31, 1910.

My dear Sir, — I have received your circular of Jan. 25th.
My views on the subject of death, so far as they can be formulated,
are recorded in my work. Age, Groivth and Death, ^ pubHshed by

^ Quotations from this book will be found elsewhere in this volume.


Putnam's, in New York. You v:i\\ find in this ])Ook all the
information I can give you. — Yours truly,

Charles S. Minot.

Dr. Minot's theory of death should be recorded in this
place, as he is an author who has given long and serious
attention to this question of death. Writing in Age,
Growth and Death, pp. 214, 215, he says: —

" Death is not a universal accompaniment of life. In many of
the lower organisms death does not occur, so far as we at present
know, as a natural and necessary result of life. Death with them
is purely the result of an accident, some external cause. Our
existing science leads us, therefore, to the conception that natural
death has been acquired during the process of evolution of living
organisms. Why should it have been acquired? You will, I
think, readily answer this question, if you hold that the views
which I have been bringing before you have been well defended,
by saying that it is due to differentiation, that when the cells
acquire the additional faculty of passing beyond the simple stage to
the more complicated organisation, they lose some of their vitality,
some of their power of growth, some of their possibilities of per-
petuation ; and as the organisation in the process of evolution
becomes higher and higher, the necessity for change becomes more
and more imperative. But it involves the end. Differentiation
leads, as its inevitable conclusion, to death. Death is the price
we are obliged to pay for our organisation, for the differentiation
which exists in us. Is it too high a price 1 To that organisation
we are indebted for the great array of faculties with which we are
endowed. To it we are indebted for the means of appreciating
the sort of world, the kind of universe, in which we are placed.
... It does not seem to me too much for us to pay. We accept
the price. . . . Death of the whole comes, as we now know,
whenever some essential part of the body gives way — sometimes
one, sometimes another ; perhaps the brain, perhaps the heart,
perhaps one of the other internal organs may be the first in which
the change of cytomorphosis goes so far that it can no longer
perform its share of work, and, failing, brings about the failure of


the whole. This is the scientific view of death. It leaves death
with all its mystery, with all its sacredness ; we are not in the
least able to the present time to say what life is — still less, per-
haps, what death is. We say of certain things — they are alive ;
of certain others — they are dead ; but what the difference may be,
what is essential to those two states, science is utterly unable to
tell us at the present time. It is a phenomenon with which we
are so familiar that perhaps we do not think enough about it."

In the following letter from Professor Max Dessoir,
some points of great interest are raised. As, however,
Professor Dessoir treats the question from the philo-
sophical and psychological points of view, rather than
from the biological standpoint, it is evident that his letter
requires no extended criticism in this place. It reads as
follows : —

Beklin, W. Goltzste. 31,
Feb. 17, 1910.

My dear Mr. Carrington, — If I understand your question
as to the nature of death to mean the signification of that event,
I should, as a philosopher, reply as follows : —

I see in death a universal and sublime law. The thought that
men and animals cannot continue in their life-form — as known to
us — is to me unbearable ; and the certainty that no one is an
exception to the law is at least gratifying. The meaning of death
lies also in this : that all the organic forms of being, not excepting
the highest, bear upon them the seal of their own doom ! And
this has also a far wider meaning. With every man who dies
goes, not only his personality, but also the world which he has
imagined, and which only he possesses — a world of thoughtful
ideals — memories, creative conceptions, and so forth. Every death
means, therefore, the death of that man's inner reality. So many
men die : so many worlds are thus annihilated !

Another question is whether immortality exists under change
of form, or whether death changes the appearance, but leaves the
being of man untouched. If the being and appearance are as
closely related as is certainly the case with man, he will continue


to imagine a continuation of personal identity in that form. It is,
to him, a scientific probability. . . .

Still one more thought. We know that one of the things
taught by hypnotism and psychopathology is this : In some cases
when in this condition, a larger personality is exhibited. One
need only remember Janet's Felida X., or Miss Beauchamp, tfcc.
Which of these iDersonalities shall exist after death? This same
question holds good for normal man — though in a lesser degree.
We all have passed through many changes — have been young and
old, gay and sad, good and bad, heroic and cowardly. And of all
these characteristics, shall only those particular ones live further
which exist at the accidental moment of death 1 Immortality in its
highest sense includes the contents of all these moments ; and yet
we cannot conceive this to be the case. . . . Yours sincerely.

Max Dessoir.

The following letter is representative of the theo-
logian's point of view : —

From Rev. James F. Driscoll, D.D., New York, U.S.A.

Dear Sir, — The notion of natural death as set forth in Catholic
theology and in the traditional Christian philosophy is very simple.
Death consists in the separation of the soul from the body, which
separation is aptly termed " dissolution." The soul is held to be
a spiritual substance, capable of existing independently of the
body, though naturally fitted to be united with it, after the resur-
rection, in some form of new life compatible with personal identity.
I have never been confronted with any facts or reasons which
seemed to call for any mode of conceiving of, or formulating, the
phenomenon called death in any other than this simple notion,
which is the one held by the vast majority of Christians. Neither
have I ever attempted to analyse scientifically the processes that
may be involved in this separation of the soul and body, or to
picture to myself just how it takes place. Some light on this
aspect of the problem, I trust, may be derived from your forth-
coming book. — Sincerely yours, James F. Driscoll.

Online LibraryHereward CarringtonDeath: its causes and phenomena. With special reference to immortality → online text (page 13 of 44)