07 May 2007

Purely for the money

Letter to a philosophy professor

Dear ...

From what I have told you by now about how I found myself at the Society for Psychical Research when I was thrown out into the wilderness, you may be able to see that no belief system entered into it. I went there purely for money, as I remember saying to an undergraduate two or three years later, when I had returned to Oxford to do my would-be D.Phil which turned into a B.Litt (on account of the hostility, actually, because it would have been quite easy to work out what would have constituted an acceptable D.Phil thesis — if anyone had wanted my thesis to be accepted).

The undergraduate to whom I was talking had asked why I had gone to the SPR, and I said, truthfully, ‘Only for money.’ Like many other people in the modern world, he prided himself on never doing anything that was not ‘interesting’ or pretentious, and he said, a bit shocked and contemptuous, ‘I hope I shall never do a job that I am only doing for money.’ Nevertheless, he also prided himself on the money which he expected soon to be paid for doing something pretentious, saying (when I lent him some money, which I never got back, to ease his financial problems) that his problems would soon be over, and in a year’s time he expected to have a four-figure bank balance (which would be the equivalent of a five or six-figure one nowadays).

However, money was my only motive when I went to the SPR, and as I came to know about them, I considered the potential fields of research which might be subsumed under the heading of psychical research in exactly the same way as any other potential field of scientific research. Provided it had any realistic content it would be as good as any other field of science for making a return to an academic career, social status and the circumstances of an adequate life.

It was, however, extremely underdeveloped and would require large scale work with several streams of information coming in from the work of at least one research department before I could hope to establish any intellectual structures that could lead to real progress.

This fitted quite well with the fact that I needed a full-scale academic institution anyway, large and complex enough to incorporate a residential college with full hotel facilities. The best Oxbridge colleges still have these facilities, although the benefit of them is reduced by their residents being more burdened than they used to be with administrative chores and the need to keep producing publishable ‘research’ which sounds as if it is based on, and takes seriously, other ‘research’ which has been published by socially appointed ‘academics’.

When I first went to the SPR I did at first find some motivation to support me on the part of a few people, so I planned to set up a research institute with the all-important associated residential (hotel) college.

However, the hostility that had gone into depriving me of opportunity throughout my supervised ‘education’ soon re-asserted itself. Thereafter I was slandered for decades as a person who was so extremely enthusiastic about this particular field of research that I had freely chosen to ‘do’ it — although I was doing it only in whatever sense it was possible to do anything at all, living in extreme poverty and social degradation.