Time travel, a sense of timelessness, survival of the individual after death, a deep sense of purpose and meaning to existence — these, it may be objected, are all wishes that have been nursed by mankind since the dawn of time. And it has been argued — by Dr Susan Blackmore for example — that an OOBE is perhaps a creation of the mind, a world of thought and imagination. It springs, in other words, from the same deep sources as our most ancient desires, and is another expression of the longing to be free of the limitations of earthly existence.
Yet this will not explain such phenomena as the ability to travel ‘astrally’ — under laboratory conditions — and accurately read a number out of sight of the physical body. Yet this happened during an experiment conducted by Charles Tart: against massive odds the subject read the number 25132 while being monitored by EEG and other equipment.
So the out-of-the-body experience remains an enigma. The psychological theories do not account for the abilities of an Ingo Swann to leave his body and describe distant places. And such scientific data as we have for instance that changes in brain waves are registered by EEG devices when an ()OBE takes place — are descriptions of events and not explanations for them.
The Great Toad Mystery
In the 19th century numerous toads were found encased in rock and — inexplicably — alive. How did they get there, and how did they survive? FRANK SMYTH investigates the controversy that threw Victorian scientists into disarray
IN THE WINTER of 1856, French workmen were blasting a tunnel to carry the railway line from Saint-Dizier to Nancy when they came across a ‘monstrous form’ in the darkness. They had just split open a huge boulder of ‘has’, or Jurassic limestone, when the thing staggered from a cavity within the rock, rattled its wings, gave a hoarse cry, and died without further ado.
It was the size and shape of a large goose, though its head was ‘hideous’ and its mouth contained sharp teeth. Four long legs ended in hooked talons and were joined by a batlike membrane, and the skin itself was black, leathery, thick and oily.
Somewhat gingerly, the workmen carried the carcase to the nearby town of Gray where, according to a report in the Illustrated London News of 9 February, 1856, ‘a naturalist, versed in palaeontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus (sic) Pterodactylus anas.’
The rock strata from which it had come tallied with the era in which pterodactyls flourished, and it was noted that the cavity whence it had emerged formed an ‘exact hollow mould of its body, which indicates that it was completely envoloped With the sedimentary deposit.’
The story of the French pterodactyl was perhaps the most dramatic of a series of accounts concerning living creatures immured for thousands of years in solid rock that set the fringe of Victorian science in quiet disarray and caused more entrenched taking of sides than, for instance, even physicist William Crooke’s experiments with psychical research. Its nearest modern,equivalent is the UFO question and, like this, it simmered for decades without any satisfactory conclusion being reached.
The foundations of the ‘suspended animation’ controversy were laid in 1761 with the publication of the Annual Register, which that year devoted its pages to accounts — some from antiquity, some from more recent times — of living creatures, usually small reptiles or shellfish, having been found sealed in stone. Among other things, it reported that the stones used for paving Toulon harbour were often broken open to yield up living shellfish of ‘exquisite taste’, and quoted the writings of such as Francis Bacon, Baptist Fulgosa, Agricola and Horstius in seeking to show that snakes, crabs, lobsters, toads and frogs could all live indefinitely while apparently deprived of food, air, light and moisture.
It also retailed the first known personal observation on the subject, by Ambroise Pare, who was principal surgeon to Henry III. Pare stated that, in the late 16th century, while at his house in Meudon, he was watching a quarryman break ‘some very large and hard stones, in the middle of one we found a huge toad, full of life and without any visible aperture by which it could get there . . .
With only minor alterations, Pare’s story was to be echoed over and over again during the Victorian era — sometimes well documented, sometimes not, but always rather impressively consistent in detail.
There can have been few more academically respectable accounts, for example, than that given by the geologist Dr E. D. Clarke during a lecture at Caius College, Cambridge, in February 1818. Dr Clark had been supervising the digging out of a chalk pit in the hope of finding fossils, and at a depth of 45 fathoms had uncovered a layer of fossilised sea urchins and newts. Three of the latter appeared to be in perfect condition, and Dr Clarke carefully excavated them and placed them on a piece of paper in the sunlight. To his astonishment, they moved. Although two of them died shortly afterwards, the third was placed in pond water and ‘skipped and twisted about, as well as if it had never been torpid’ and became so active that it escaped. Dr Clarke immediately began collecting examples of all the live newts in the area in the hope of matching them with the disinterred bodies, but none resembled the long-buried ones. The Reverend Richard Cobbold, who attended the lecture and saw the newts, said `They are of an entirely extinct species, never before known.’
On 31 October 1862 a paragraph in the Stamford Mercury anticipated criticism when it told of a living toad found 7 feet (2 metres) down in bedrock during the excavation of a cellar in Spittlegate, Stamford. ‘No fact,’ insisted the anonymous reporter sternly, ‘can be more fully or certainly established by human evidence, let the sceptics on this subject say what they will.’