Professor Smythe's Challenger Lecture

The Imperial Institute’s Challenger Lecture Event commences when most of the guests have been seated. Dinner begins with an appetizer of Stuffed Mushrooms followed by a light beet salad, then a delicious mushroom bisque. The main entrée is beef bourguignon with glazed asparagus and rice pilaf. Dessert, for those interested, will be served after the lecture.

Over the din of the crowd there is heard the tapping of a silver spoon upon a crystal glass as the Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Rainier calls the challenger gathering to order. He leads off with a “Please, return to your seats” notice, and after everyone has had a few minutes to do so, he continues his introduction. After general recognitions are given to the many and various contributors to The Imperial Institute, Mr. Rainier Speaks of illustrious past lecturers such as Pasteur and Zeppelin. He then lists the many academic achievements of the guest of honor.

Tonight our speaker is Dr. Julius Smythe. His rigorous skepticism and methodical analysis earn him high reputation as a debunker of mediums, spiritualists, fortune-tellers, prophets, holy sites, apparitions, and so on.

Even more so, his steadfast refusal to give any hint of his topic for tonight have earned him the respect of enquiring minds!

{Audience laughter}

Please give a warm welcome to this years Challenger lecturer, Professor Julius A. Smythe!

Professor Smythe rises from his seat at your table and walks up onto the stage. He shakes the hand of Mr. Rainier and turns to the podium where he arranges his notes. He thanks the audience for their kind applause, he thanks Mr. Rainier for his kind introduction. As he speaks, he is droll, an entertaining and precise man who recounts with relish the clever deceits (and his cleverer exposures) of occult charlatans and pretenders.

{Laughter is general and ongoing.}

There proves to be, however, categories of repetitious phenomenon offering no simple elucidation.

I refer to the ‘poltergeist,’ to the ‘traveler’ who suddenly finds himself dozens or thousands of miles or years from where he stood moments before, and to the ‘haunting.’ My presentation tonight concerns the last. I say ‘haunting’ and not ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit’ because alone of such epiphenomena, haunters can be buildings, lanterns, coaches-and-fours, swords, and so on, as well as men, women, dogs, bears, processions, even armies. World-wide, the store of casual anecdote concerning haunters is enormous.

And I say ‘epiphenomena’ because the haunters are not linked with specific observers, and the haunting presumably occurs with or without human witnesses, as we shall see. Thus perception of such an event is secondary to the event itself.

The essential characteristics of haunters are simple: the person or thing must have existed, must have disappeared in some sense, and then must reappear once or many times. The location of the phenomenon may stay the same, or may change; that which reappears may be partial and insubstantial, or be as solid and real-seeming as any member of tonight’s illustrious gathering. No other conditions are needed.

Dr. Smythe then projects slides of three hauntings in detail— a London hansom cab driving down an alleyway, a Norwegian woman descending a staircase, and a very familiar Racing Yacht, the Valkyrie II sitting in a pond just outside of Bolton, Massachusetts.

Each incident was studied and photographed simultaneously from at least three positions, allowing accurate scaling of the apparitions.

The good doctor is able to demonstrate several characteristics shared by the three.

The three apparitions do not coalesce from points, as most tales describe, but slowly emerge whole from invisible planes, as if passing through what Smith terms the ‘curtains of perception.’

Each is semi-transparent. He traces the clear passage of a wave through the Valkyrie II for instance, and shows that the image causes no froth or ripples: it does not resist the water and is, in fact, slightly above the water. In other slides, the audience sees the second or third photographers through the image of the apparition.

Each apparition glows appreciably, as Smythe demonstrates by isolating the reflections from nearby objects. Sampling attributes part of the glow to ionization, but not all. Careful indexing of the reflections indicates that the level of ionization varied randomly during each event.

The rate at which these three apparitions manifested motion was in comparison to normal movement slowed by a consistent half in each case. Smith points out a ripple passing across the sail of the fishing boat; when a 16mm cinematograph (Sin a MAT a graph) film of it is speeded appreciably, the ripple seems normal while the movements of the photographers become ridiculous. So does the staircase descent of the Norwegian woman seem less unusual when speeded up. The horse drawing the hansom cab switches her tail casually, as if discouraging flies, rather than making seemingly malevolent and mysterious gestures.

Historically, each of these three apparitions was held to have disappeared, not to have been killed or destroyed, though this observation could not be said true of every apparition.

Comparatively, instances of touchable, solid apparitions rarely occur.

One might wait many lifetimes for a chance. Such apparitions seem not to be uniformly preserved. The south of England, for example, has been settled by man for many thousands of years, yet the vast majority of haunting seem to have been produced in the past five or six centuries. Only a handful survive from Roman times.

Smythe concludes by observing that in the past thirty years science has begun to learn about that which cannot be seen or normally sensed, and that some behavior on the atomic level is impossible in the greater world. He has come to think that hauntings offer clues to so-far indefinable ways of arriving at or opening a way into other dimensions.

It is my belief that such hauntings represent clues concerning a natural universe much larger and much stranger than we imagine. The walls of what we perceive as normality have a subtle flexibility. The spectral hauntings I have discussed represent attempts—perhaps random, perhaps purposeful, certainly unsuccessful—to return to this time and space by elements of it
somehow removed.

If we are energetic, and not a little lucky in our observations, students of paraphysicality may one day be able to move up and down time, or to travel globally with minor effort, or to perceive that which at present lies completely beyond our senses. What waits beyond remains the supreme question which, for the present, each must answer for himself.

Thank you.

Professor Smythe's Challenger Lecture

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