The Montague and Veronica Keen Foundation
Dedicated to love, truth and simplicity

Written in 1999

Agreements between two or more people that whoever is the first to die will attempt to establish his posthumous identity in some specified manner are probably commonplace, particularly between married couples. Indeed it would be surprising if it were not the general rule among Spiritualists or in cases where the pair share a common belief in the survival of human personality. But it is rare for any of these to be in a form which has evidential value beyond that to the participants themselves. Such pacts would normally be intended to satisfy a intensely personal wish; rarely are they designed to demonstrate anything to the outside world.

A pact is more specific than a post-mortem message, and a couple of examples of the latter may both illustrate the difficulties involved, and perhaps account in part for the reluctance of pairs to submit to the disciplines of a uniform and evidential procedure. Perhaps the best known, and surely the most subtle, is that written in 1891 and left in an envelope by Frederic Myers to his good friend Oliver Lodge. Nearly four years after Myers' death in January, 1901, Lodge and his friends concluded that there had been enough hints dropped in mediumistic messages to indicate the nature of the confirmatory message appearing to emanate from Myers' spirit. Indeed, more than hints. Mrs Verrall, through whom the messages had come, had received in July, 1904 what seemed to have been a very specific reference to the envelope entrusted to Sir Oliver, and to the nature of its contents. Although the communication was incorrect about the place where the envelope had been deposited, this seemed good enough to warrant an opening ceremony. It duly took place on December 14, 1904.

On the face of it the experiment failed totally. The message referred not (as expected) to a passage in Plato's Symposium, but to Hallsteads, a location in the Lake District to which earthly scene a reborn Myers would wish to return. But a close analysis of a series of messages received through Mrs Verrall during the preceding three or four years (Salter, 1958) makes out a strong argument that they are clear references to the joys of Hallstead, the red syringes of its garden, his unconsummated love for Annie Marshall Phyllis) and its complex links with the first of the many cross-correspondences related to the interpretation of love which the prophetess imparted to Socrates in Plato's fictional Symposium.

If there is a lesson to be derived from this type of sealed envelope experiment it is that unambiguity and simplicity are essential if reasonably secure conclusions on evidentiality are to be drawn. Either Myers was too dedicated to labyrinthine complexity or, more likely, his ethereal personality was simply unable to remember precisely what he had written 12 or 13 years earlier but could recall only the emotions associated with it. We tend to assume that the entire personality, complete with detailed memories, survives, although not necessarily in a form available for total recall. The evidence so far strongly suggests that even the most successful, coherent and unambiguous communicators, having overcome the unknown difficulties inherent in discarnate communication, often fail what to most of us would seem to be the simple test of reciting names and addresses or remembering carefully conned formulae.

That appears to have been the case with one of the tests prepared by a former SPR President who laboured long to determine a means of posthumous communication which could not be readily explained away by human ESP. Dr R H Thouless had a two word code which only he could break, posthumously. Unfortunately not long after, communications via a medium showed that Dr. Thouless in spirit simply couldn't remember the formula, and some ingenious code breaker produced the answer. Although Dr Thouless's main original tests still stands, the episode has prompted Peter Mulacz to examine the alternative of a combination padlock which requires the recitation of the correct number of digits in the correct order to open.

However, a successful answer could be regarded, by those inclined to attribute near miraculous powers to the human psyche, as an act of clairvoyance, based on a recognition of the relationship of tumbler gates to pegs, or wheel to adjoining cams, in a particular lock, and its interpretation in numerical form. Difficult though this hypothetical process may be to swallow, it illustrates the problem facing all who attempt to devise fool-proof survival tests: that second stage sceptics can extend the super-PSI hypothesis pretty well indefinitely rather than concede survival (the first stage sceptic is one who denies the very existence of PSI, and hence would not wish to interest himself in this inherently ridiculous problem). This comment applies whether one is dealing with padlock combination numbers or some message of significance to a particular designated recipient.

In practice it is unrealistic to expect individuals motivated by personal rather than detached scientific motives to construct codes in forms known to have defeated the experts, when all they are looking for is a message which carries a uniquely personal meaning. It has to be admitted that the Survival Joint Research Committee Trust, which has sought to promote the use of a fairly simple do-it-yourself form for survival pacts, has enjoyed very little success. It could be that, with what appears to be mounting public interest in the survival issue, and more widespread publicity, more couples will be encouraged to formalise what might otherwise have been little more than a mutual agreement to seek to establish some sort of post-mortem contact.

The simple recommendations of the Trust are essentially these:

Make an agreement with your partner or close friend that whoever dies first will attempt to communicate. A simple message on a personal, emotional theme is probably best. Notify the Trust (or the SPR) of the essential facts - names, date of agreement, category of relationship, etc, and agree to notify the Trust or the SPR of the outcome, no matter whether positive or negative. Ensure that both parties keep a record of the plan and the address relevant to the scheme. It is important to ensure that, immediately a message is received, a third party is informed, and a record is made independently by both the survivor and the third party. These should be promptly sent to the Trust or SPR.

It may be objected that any such message, however detailed and personally convincing, could be ascribed to a telepathic reading by a medium of the wishes or expectations of the sitter. Alternatively, if the message takes the form of automatic writing, that it is little but the direct product of the survivor's subliminal or unconscious thoughts. There is no way of escaping this difficulty, but the view of the SPR's Survival Committee is that this ought not to deter potential pact-makers. The resulting evidence may not be perfect, but if there enough good quality examples, where the simple rules described above have been obeyed, their cumulative impact could prove quite formidable, and of value to both participants and the wondering world outside.

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Post-Mortem Pacts by Montague Keen