Whately Carington

Mathematician, philosopher, and respected psychical researcher. Gardner Murphy described him as, "a man of warmth, generosity, intensity, excitement, and enthusiasm." In 1934, Carington set out to discover whether trance personalities were real, autonomous individuals, or merely phases of the medium's own personality using quantitative testing. Among other books, he wrote "Telepathy, an Outline of facts, theory and implications of telepathy" (New York: Creative Age Press, 1946), and, "Matter, Mind and Meaning" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949).

Psychology in General

Physiological Psychology: Behaviourism | Mind and Brain | Possibilities of Mathematical Treatment | Psychon Groups within the Mind | Multiple Personalities | Apparent Demonic Possession | Non-insulation of 'Individual' Minds | Mediumistic Controls | Interim Discussion

 - Whately Carington -

Physiological Psychology: Behaviourism [top]

          IT HAS been well said, if a trifle unkindly, that "There are many psychologies but no Psychology", and the implied reproach is by no means wholly without foundation. Psychology is certainly a queer subject, but I think its queerness is not only pardonable but inevitable in the circumstances, themselves again inevitable, of its development.

I suppose the popular definition of Psychology would be "the study of the mind" or something very like this; and it is obvious at first sight that special difficulties are likely to arise in studying the mind, by means of which alone you can study anything at all, as compared with studying potatoes, or the properties of magnesium, which at least seem to exist independently of the mind which studies them. Many people must have had an uneasy feeling, and psychologists perhaps not least, that study of the mind by the mind is altogether too suggestive of a foot-rule trying to determine its own coefficient of expansion without any external standard for reference. Philosophers, who are nothing if not courageous - it is by no means the least valuable of their qualities - have never been daunted by this difficulty, and have rightly not hesitated to extend their inquiries (as indeed they could scarcely avoid doing) to the nature and properties of the mind; and of course they have made many important contributions to the subject, notably as regards analysing the problems to be solved, stating them correctly, and showing that the solutions naively given by the plain man will not withstand criticism.

Psychologists, on the other hand - at any rate modern psychologists - despairing of finding anything reasonably to be called 'a mind', have tended to concentrate on behaviour, so that Psychology has come to be regarded as concerned more with the question, "Why do people behave as they do?" than with "What are the properties of the mind, and how does it work?" This question they have mostly attempted to answer in terms of physics and physiology - in terms that is to say, exclusively of physical stimuli falling on nerve endings, impulses travelling up nerve fibres, across junctions, and down to muscles, etc., and the effects produced by chemical changes in the body, by the secretions of glands, and so forth. This tendency, greatly strengthened by the successes, prestige and materialistic outlook of physicists, reached its climax in the 'Behaviourist' school, which at one time exerted a great influence on the subject, and still does so in America, the land of its birth. Few of the exponents of this line of thought were quite so insane as to deny the existence of consciousness, or the fact that they were themselves conscious; but they did contend that they found no need to use the concept in order to explain behaviour, and that it would therefore be misleading to introduce it. All behaviour, they declared, could be quite sufficiently accounted for in terms of 'conditioned reflexes', and so forth; man was but an automatic machine on a very complex scale; his alleged mind was an illusion - not even that indeed; his supposedly profoundest thinking was no more than the operation of "the Language Habit". As Bertrand Russell observes, "It is humiliating to find how terribly adequate this hypothesis turns out to be."

No sensible person will deny that a great deal of this work has been highly valuable. As a result of it we know enormously more than we once did about a great variety of activities and processes of the utmost importance to human life; but the danger has lain in the tendency to maintain that what suffices to account for the part must be sufficient to account for the whole. It is quite illogical to argue that because we can account for 99 per cent of a slug's behaviour, and 5 per cent of a man's behaviour, by means of reflex arcs, etc., we should necessarily be able to account for 100 per cent of both if only we knew more about reflex arcs. If we accept this conclusion, and are wrong in doing so, then our attempts completely to explain behaviour in these terms will not only fail, but will become increasingly misleading, so that the oddest and most disastrous results are likely to ensue.

It is perfectly proper, and indeed obligatory, to push physiological psychology as far as it will go, but it is not less important to recognize that there may be a point beyond which it won't go, and to stop when one gets to it. And physiological psychology will certainly not go so far as telepathy; so that the psychologist of the future must reckon on the operation of some factor other than the sense organs and nerves and glands with which he has been accustomed to deal.

This conveniently introduces a point on which I should like to touch before going further. The psychologist not infrequently objects to telepathy, etc., on the natural if not very logical ground that, if it be true, then most of his experiments are liable to error and he cannot even rely on the work of the past. If there be telepathic communication between experimenter and subject, he will urge, then all experiments involving the performance of some task (I speak rather loosely) to which the experimenter knows the answer will be void, because the subject's performance may have been determined or influenced by telepathy from the experimenter.

I do not think there is any serious danger here, except possibly in very special cases, for it is all a matter of degree. It might just as well be urged that all weighings made prior to the discovery of electrostatic attraction and repulsion were invalid, because the scale-pans, etc., may have been electrically charged and thus subject to forces other than the weights of the objects weighed. So no doubt they were, and it is possible that a few very delicate weighings may have been affected to some small extent; but we don't worry about electrostatic charges when we are weighing pounds of butter or even grams of drugs, and there is no indication at present that telepathic effects are likely to exert any appreciable effect in psychological experiments - if only they were it would be much easier to study them.

Mind and Brain [top]

All this, however, is no more than preliminary. The real question of interest in the context of ordinary psychology is that of the relation of mind and brain. So far, I have written this book almost as if the brain did not exist, and it might reasonably be asked whether I propose to ignore it altogether and contend that it has no part to play in mental life, or, if not, what I conceive its function and influence to be.

It seems to me that in this regard psychologists ought to extend a hearty welcome to the view of the mind I have been advancing, for it should enable them to relieve the overladen brain of quite a number of functions which have been assigned to it, simply because there was no other way of dealing with them and quite regardless of whether that unfortunate mechanism was even theoretically capable of performing the work required of it. Quite apart from its sufficiently complicated job of transmitting sensory stimuli, controlling the body and regulating movement, it was supposed to be the 'organ of thought', the storehouse of memories (in the form of 'traces', etc.) and the 'seat of consciousness'.

In a sense, it was easy enough to relegate all this work of thinking and remembering to the brain. On the one hand, there seemed nothing else to be done with it, so that psychologists said that it must be due to the organizational patterns of nerve paths in the brain tissues, or whatever the phrase might be; on the other hand, not enough is yet known about brain cells and their interconnexions, etc., to enable us to set an upper limit to their potentialities and say positively that these can not account for the facts. But I am sure that many psychologists must have had uneasy qualms from time to time about the extent to which they were relying on assumed powers of which they knew so little.

On my view, it is legitimate and necessary to transfer to the mind or psychon-system a large part of these functions previously thrust upon the brain.

I do not regard the brain as the seat of consciousness; as I have explained, I consider consciousness to be a matter of the system of 'forces' existing between the constituents of a psychon group. I do not think the brain has anything to do with it, except in so far as, by occasioning the incursion of sensa into the group, it may alter the system of forces.

And I do not think that the revival of pure memory images as such has necessarily anything whatever to do with traces, or nerve paths, or the like in the brain. It seems to me perfectly explicable, in its main outlines at least, by the recall through association of the images corresponding to past sensa; though complications are doubtless often introduced by the accompanying excitation of nerve paths in the kind of way to which I shall refer shortly.

As for the brain being the 'organ of thought', I am inclined to say, that on the contrary, one of its most important functions is to save us the trouble of thinking.

Let me try to explain this somewhat paradoxical remark. When we first learn to perform some relatively difficult and complicated process, such as playing the piano, or knitting, we are forced to concentrate closely (I am using colloquial language) on every movement, to think deliberately about what to do next, and no small effort is required to ensure the right movements instead of the wrong; we cannot allow our attention to wander for a moment from what we are doing, or the strangest cacophonies and tangles will result. But a practised pianist can play a familiar piece of music while talking and thinking about something entirely different, and can even read unfamiliar music while talking, etc., provided it is not too difficult. It is only when he wishes to give something better than a merely mechanical performance, or comes to a difficult passage, that he has to recall his attention and concentrate on what he is doing. On a lesser scale the same is true of innumerable actions, from walking or riding a bicycle onwards, which start by being deliberate and thought-about and end by being virtually automatic.

This, it seems to me, is the kind of work that it is the duty of the brain, in its executive capacity(1), to perform, thereby leaving the mind free to indulge in 'thinking' properly so called. And by 'thinking' here I mean the succession in consciousness of groups of ideas, etc., under the influence of the associative linkages and (we may now say) of any contributions from other minds - and these evidently might be very important - that telepathic processes may make. If it were not for this beneficent function of the brain we should be obliged to devote all our attention to the most humdrum actions of daily life and be unable to spare any for more interesting activities.

(1) I deliberately refrain from discussing the brain in its 'receptive' or 'transmissive' capacities. In so far as these are concerned with the pure physiology of the sense organs, etc., they do not concern us here; in so far as they are concerned with the genesis of sensa, they are at present wholly mysterious, though Thouless gives a most interesting and valuable account of the way contemporary thought is tending.

There is, of course, nothing new in most of this, for all psychologists would agree about the delegation of functions to 'lower' centres of the brain, and would speak of 'higher' centres being freed for other work; but the suggestion that the mind, while remaining the kind of ordered mechanism that the psychon theory suggests, should be capable of 'thinking' on its own, so to say, and more or less independently of the body, opens up interesting possibilities. There is evidently a limit to the number of discreet objects of finite size (i.e., brain cells) that can be packed into a given space (the skull) and to the number of worth-while connexions that can be made between them; so that, if thought were a matter of these alone, there would be a limit to the number of thoughts a man could think, i.e., to the number of idea-patterns, so to call them, which could form his field of consciousness, though this limit would doubtless be high - as it clearly is. But if there be no limit to the number of associations a psychon can form - and there is no sort of indication that there is one - then there is no corresponding limit either to the content of his mind (the number of linked psychons constituting it) or to the patterns into which these may arrange themselves. In other words, there is no limit either to the amount of knowledge he may make his own or to his thinking, except such as arises from the finite number of sensa and images he may experience in the course of his life or may otherwise become available to him.

Most of the raw material, of course, is supplied in the form of sensa, and here the sense organs and brain play an all-important part; but we may take it as certain that the stock may be in some degree increased by telepathic linkage with other minds. Moreover, thought may lead to action, and the action to increase of experience, and this again to thought, so that a kind of regenerative effect is produced; thus, to a certain extent, the greater the capacity of the body for varied action, the greater the opportunities of the mind for varied thought. I suspect that it is mainly-perhaps wholly - the limit imposed on the range and variety of experience by the nature of its body and nervous system that is responsible for the low mental development of even the highest animals, not anything to do with their psychon systems. In particular, I surmise they suffer from the virtually complete absence of that experience by proxy and power of creating a kind of experimental situation in miniature which is given us by the power of speech, though I have no idea why it should be evolutionarily impossible (as it apparently is) for animals to develop speech centres. But this is digression.

At any rate it looks as if (assuming the psychon theory of mind to be correct) there need be no virtually limit to the mental development of man arising from the finite size of his brain (as suggested by Wells and others) and that we need not worry, as does Tilney, about whether there is any chance of increasing it.

Possibilities of Mathematical Treatment [top]

I will now turn to a matter which seems to be to be of great importance in principle, though at present very little work has been done on it and I can illustrate only by a small and incomplete example. This is the possibility which the psychon theory offers of being able to bring theoretical methods of investigation, notably mathematical, to bear on problems which do not seem amenable to such treatment on any 'brain-cell' theory, or, at any rate, have not been so treated.

Consider the only too familiar process of forgetting(2). It is a matter of common knowledge that the longer it is since we experienced or learned anything, the less likely, in general, we are to remember it, though of course we may remember some very distant events very vividly. Experiment shows that, when a subject learns a batch of suitable material used, the amount he remembers at successive attempts to reproduce it falls off in a particular sort of way, relatively more rapidly at first and then more slowly(3). This is the kind of thing one would expect on general grounds, because all manner of other quantities have been found to decay in the same sort of way. But when one tries to explain it in terms of assumed properties, etc., of nerve paths or the like, it is by no means easy to do so. If one supposes that the ability to remember depends on the preservation of some sort of physical 'trace' in the brain, and that forgetting is due to the gradual obliteration or filling-up of these traces, then one would expect (for example) that the remembering of a relatively long-ago item would be not so much less probable as feebler; and this seems contrary to experience, for we all know how vividly circumstances may recall an incident we thought we had quite forgotten. And if it were a matter of the sudden, all-or-none, breaking of some nervous connexion, then we should expect that an item once forgotten would be for ever forgotten, and this again is contrary to fact. Moreover, Jenkins and Dallenbach showed that the process of forgetting is either suspended or very much slowed down during sleep, so that it cannot be a matter of some steady chemical change taking place, which goes on regardless of whether we are psychologically active or not.

(2) This account is deliberately simplified at a slight cost in accuracy; it is therefore to be taken as no more than illustrative of the principle involved.
(3) The particular way it goes is known as 'exponential decline', but the now does not matter here.

In short, it looks as if (to use a rather crude metaphor) the items were not so much lost or worn out as mislaid; or, better, as if they became increasingly inaccessible, like plums stirred into a pudding.

Now, the position of psychons being constantly brought by association into new fields of consciousness, and thereby linked associatively with other psychons, is not at all dissimilar from that of plums being stirred into a pudding. If psychon E, for example, is first linked only with A and B, say, but later with C and D also, and later again with F and G, then the chance of it being followed by A, say, after the first linkage will be one-half; but only a quarter after the second linkage, and only a sixth after the third. That is to say, the chance of getting A when E is presented will gradually decline with decreasing rapidity, which is roughly the same sort of effect (though not quite the same) as we get with the forgetting of learned material, or in my displacement effect discussed on page 31, above.

I do not want to anticipate the results of work which has only just begun, but it already seems reasonably certain that, by making the necessary minimum of plausible assumptions about the associative properties of psychons and the kind of way in which the ideas concerned are likely in practice to be presented, etc., it will be possible to deduce the observed facts of forgetting and displacement effects from these assumed properties, etc., alone. Probably more than one set of assumptions will be found which is capable of yielding the observed result; if so, one will of course try to deduce other consequences than these, and test them by experiment.

This does not sound terribly exciting as stated, but I think it is. It means that we shall be able to investigate the general properties of psychon systems as such, on the basis only of the assumed (and tested) properties of the psychons themselves and of the linkages between them, just as one can investigate the properties of, say, systems of waves, electrical charges, or gravitating masses.

In particular, it should prove possible to investigate the stability of psychon systems, and to determine under what conditions they will tend to become more and more close-knit and coherent on the one hand, or to split or sub-divide or disintegrate on the other. The great importance of being able to study this kind of problem theoretically will become apparent very shortly, and I shall have still more to say about it when we come to discuss the meaning, prospects, and probable conditions of Survival.

Psychon Groups within the Mind [top]

Once the notion of the mind as a system or structure of psychons held together by associative linkages is firmly grasped, a large number of more or less familiar facts begin to drop into place as parts of the general picture; at least, this is true so soon as we realize that some psychons are bound to be more closely linked together than are others, so that groups are formed within the main system.

It is not disputed that repeated co-presence in a field of consciousness will strengthen the associative 'link' or 'tie' or 'force' between two or more psychons, so that if one of these is again presented the other or others are more likely to accompany or follow it than if they had been co-present less frequently. This is all that we mean (and I think all that we can mean) by talking about the 'strength of a link'. There may, of course, be other factors which affect the strengths of linkages, such, for example, as the intensity of the stimuli responsible for any sensa that may be involved; and there can be little doubt that the emotional constituents play an important part, though I suspect that they do so only by providing a greater number of psychons in one part of the group for the others to hook on to, so to say. Be this as it may, the important thing is that groups of ideas, etc., are bound to be formed, and in fact are formed, under the conditions of everyday life.

These groups or systems may, of course, be of almost every imaginable degree of complexity, from very simplest, such as two nonsense-syllables I might learn for the purpose, to the rich mass of images which comes to my mind when the word 'France' is mentioned. It is also evident in principle and as a matter of common experience that they may differ greatly not only as regards numerical size and content, but also in coherence, in their emotional quality, and in the degree of their isolation from the remainder of the total system.

Examples of the kind of thing that happens are common enough, on a mild scale, in the life of almost every one. We have one group of 'interests' as we call them centred round our work, another round our home, a third round our relaxations, and so forth; and it is a commonplace that a man may exhibit very different characteristics in these different contexts. In these cases we may think of the groups of ideas, etc., as held together by their frequent recurrence in conjunction with the sensa given by the actual external situations - the office or factory, the house and family, the golf-links or football field, etc.

We also have 'moods' of cheerfulness and depression, irritability or co-operativeness; here no doubt the environment is again a factor, but the chief constituents of the nucleus are likely to be particular clusters of bodily feelings consequent upon the state of our health.

Usually, each of these moods or different sides to the character, as we call them, will have plenty of connexions with other parts of the total system, and the mind as a whole is reasonably coherent and 'well integrated' as the phrase is. But it seems quite clear that this is not always the case, and that sometimes a group of ideas may become, as it were, exiled, and may set up a semi-independent existence on its own.

There is much work waiting to be done on the precise nature of the mechanisms we must postulate in order to account for this, but I think it is possible to see fairly clearly at least one way in which it might come about.

No one, I think, can reasonably doubt that to recall or think of a situation is at least partially equivalent to being actually confronted with that situation in fact, though naturally the memory or imagining is heavily diluted, so to say, by the sensa of the actual environment; and to a corresponding extent the mechanisms of the body are activated or adjusted to meet it. This, as might be expected, is especially noticeable as regards the expression of emotional states; it is common enough to hear people say, "I go hot all over (with shame) whenever I think of it," or "The very thought of so-and-so makes my blood boil." To a lesser extent the muscles of the body tend to prepare for action appropriate to the remembered or imagined situation; there is no overt action, but it is as if the body had been given the order, 'Stand by for kicking', or whatever the appropriate action might be.

It is easy to see that actions appropriate to one situation may be the reverse of appropriate to another, and therefore even the feeble preliminary adjustments prompted by one set of ideas may be incompatible with those prompted by another set. It would clearly not be very difficult - indeed, I think it has already to some extent been done - to explain on such lines as these how it might come to be impossible, or virtually so, for two ideas or psychon groups, A and B, to be co-present in the same field of consciousness; and this would give the basis for the building up around each as nucleus of a system isolated from the other. In such a case we might find well-marked alternations of 'A-ness' and 'B-ness'; or, under somewhat different conditions, it might happen that some particular system, X, could not enter the field of consciousness at all, or only very exceptionally.

I suggest that if this kind of process operates only on a small scale, but intensely, we get the 'repressed complex' of the psychoanalysts; if it operates on a wider scale, but less intensely, we get moods, etc.; if it operates both widely and intensely, we may get, according to the particular circumstances, any of the various types of 'dissociation', from the mild and largely controllable version responsible for such activities as automatic writing, up to full-blown cases of 'multiple personality', such as the Beauchamp case, the Doris Fischer case, and others.

Multiple Personalities [top]

I think I ought to devote a few paragraphs to phenomena of these types for the benefit of those who are quite unfamiliar with them, just to indicate the kind of thing I am talking about, though it would need much more space than I can afford here to give more than a very superficial account of them.

Some quite normal people find that, if they take pencil and paper as if for writing, and sit down and relax their minds, after a time the hand holding the pencil will begin to move without their conscious control, and may write intelligible words or sentences apparently of its own volition(4). The writing usually purports to emanate from some personality other than the owner of the hand, and, with but little encouragement, to be inspired by a departed 'spirit' or other discarnate entity of some sort; but there seems no reason to suppose that the immediate operator at least is anything more than a partially isolated fragment of the normal personality - i.e., some kind of a psychon sub-system. In the slighter cases the normal personality may be inappreciably affected, or there may be no more than a somewhat distrait condition; but at the other end of the scale the person concerned may pass into deep trance, as in one phase of the career of Mrs. Piper, the celebrated medium. This kind of thing is known as 'automatism', because the activity in question (e.g., the writing) appears to be automatic in the sense that the normal personality does not know what is being written and cannot control it

(4) The same kind of thing is observable in Planchette, the Ouija board, or the 'glass and letters game'.

Another form is that of automatic speech, which may range from, 'inspirational speaking', with the speaker in a normal state or nearly so, but not in full control of what is being said, to the full trance states commonly associated with spiritualistic 'mediumship'.

These two forms of automatism have provided most of the evidence adduced in favour of human survival of death, because (as is well known) the writings or utterances often contain information which, on the face of it, could not be known to the automatist, but is characteristic of some deceased person. The serious literature of the subject, notably the Proceedings of the English and American Societies for Psychical Research, is crammed with elaborate and intensive studies of these cases, mainly from this point of view; but I am only concerned with them here as instances of mutation of personality without reference to the possible origin of some of the remarks made.

In all, or nearly all, these cases, it will be understood that, although the content of the writing, etc., is not controlled by the automatist, the starting of it, or the onset of the trance, is a matter of deliberate decision in the ordinary way(5). But there is another class of case, obviously not wholly dissimilar, in which, either as the result of an accident or other shock, or for no apparent reason at all, the whole personality may suddenly alter, sometimes in a very marked degree. Sometimes there is a more or less complete loss of memory up to a certain point in the person's life and a new personality is, so to say, built up from the point at which memory ceases; sometimes two or more distinct personalities alternate, and these may not only differ, but may actually be antagonistic to each other. In these cases it is rare, though not altogether unknown, for the secondary personality to claim to be other than the owner of the body, or to produce 'communications' purporting to come from a discarnate source. Again, there is an extensive literature, and I do not propose to go into details here.

(5) I have, however, known one case in my personal experience, and they are not uncommon, where the urge to write automatically became so strong as to make the victim get up in the middle of the night to do it. I mention this merely as a warning to any who may light-heartedly embark on such activities.

Apparent Demonic Possession [top]

It is evident that this kind of case easily could be, and probably was, largely responsible for the belief in demonic 'possession', and in this regard it seems to me to link up very intimately with the extremer cases of moods. I do not think that anyone who has closely observed a well-marked case of pathological jealousy, for example, could doubt either the essential continuity of moods with secondary personalities, or the naturalness of speaking of 'demonic possession' in such cases on the part of any one who had the concept of demonic possession at his disposal. I shall have more to say about this later, for it leads to very important considerations; but I must leave it on one side for the moment.

My own view is that all these various mutations of personality, from minor automatisms to mediumistic trance states, and from the lesser variations of mood to full-fledged secondary personalities, are of the same basic nature and origin, namely, that all arise from the operation of a smaller or larger, less or more isolated, sub-system of psychons within the main system which makes up the mind or personality as a whole. The great and varied differences between them will depend on the nature and number of the psychons, forming the sub-system, on the closeness of their linking, and on the degree of their isolation (i.e., on the number and nature of their direct or indirect linkages with the remainder of the total system), and not on any fundamental difference of kind.

Thus the psychon theory of mind provides us with the means of dealing with a wide range of phenomena which it is extremely difficult to discuss at all usefully in terms of physiological psychology.

Let us turn back to the demons. Unsophisticated man would say "So-and-so is possessed by a demon"; we profess not to believe in demons, but we might very well say, "So-and-so behaves as if he were possessed by a demon". This, however, tacitly presupposes that there are such things as possessive demons and that we are conversant with their properties; otherwise we might as well say, "So-and-so is glubbed by a twink", or any other form of meaningless words. And few people to-day would admit the existence of independent entities equipped with horns and tails and the other insignia sported by the well-dressed demon of tradition. It might be objected here that this proves that such remarks are meaningless and unworthy of further discussion; but I think this might cause us to miss a point worth making.

It is not the horns and tails that are the relevant properties of demons, but their malignant propensities, which cause their victims to behave in violent and irrational ways. But we have just decided that it is a particular sort of psychon sub-system that does this. That is to say, such a system has all the relevant properties of the traditional 'demon' or 'evil spirit', and may therefore be logically substituted for it, so far as the behaviour of the victim is concerned. Apart from the horns, hoofs, etc., which are wholly irrelevant, it fails to replace the traditional evil spirit or demon only as regards the features of (a) occasional perceptibility, (b) existence independently of any mind, and (c) permanence.

As regards the first, I see no reason why very disagreeable psychon systems, largely compounded of psychons representing hate, greed, jealousy, rage, etc., should not become closely associated with particular persons or places, in much the same way as I have suggested is the basis of 'haunting'; if so, they will tend to be called up by the sight of these places, etc., in much the same way as those forming apparitions or ghosts, and there seems no special reason why, provided they were accompanied by visual images in the first instance, they should not sometimes be eidetically externalized. This would account for a good deal of the folk-lore, etc., of the subject, and for some of the stranger remarks of occultists, without requiring us to write them all off as unqualified nonsense.

The question of permanence is evidently to a great extent a matter of the stability of the system, of which I shall have more to say later. The transient moods of everyday life, no two of which are quite alike, can hardly be said to have any stability or permanence at all; whereas recurrent states closely resembling each other on successive appearances, such as the trance personalities of mediumship, etc., clearly have both in considerable measure. It looks, therefore, as if the essential difference, if any, between the psychon group and the demon of tradition is one of independent existence or autonomy(6).

(6) All that I have said in this connexion applies equally, of course, to benign ('angelic') conditions, etc., as to malignant.

This raises an exceedingly important question which I want to discuss with some care, both for its own sake and because of its bearing on other matters to be discussed later.

Non-insulation of 'Individual' Minds [top]

Until comparatively recent years our attempts to think intelligently about the human mind and its relation to the rest of the universe - one might almost say 'about human beings and their relation, etc.' - was handicapped by the almost universal acceptance of the view that the so-called individual mind, character, or personality was an essentially self-contained entity - highly complex and variable, no doubt, but none the less of a kind which it was appropriate and indeed necessary to think of as a unit. Your mind, despite the magnificent efflorescences of its nobility, was one unit; mine, despite the nastinesses of its hidden recesses, was another unit; that queer tangle of illogicality that misleads poor Jones was a third unit; and so forth. And communication between them was possible only by the roundabout methods of speech and writing, etc.

This view is fast vanishing, never, I think, to return. Study of the kind of phenomena I have just been mentioning, together with the whole of the work of the psycho-analytic schools, makes it perfectly clear that, whatever else the so-called individual mind may be, it is certainly not unified and only sometimes even decently unitary. At the best it seems to be much more in the nature of a federation of semi-autonomous republics, with all too many clamorous minorities into the bargain, than that serene and sovereign state with which we prefer to compare it. I think there can be no doubt at all about this.

On the other hand, it is obvious that, the moment we accept Telepathy as a fact, and any theory of it which does not place it on precisely the same level as speech or writing, we are at once breaking down the walls of the watertight compartments once thought to separate one mind from another. If an idea which is 'accessible to' my mind (i.e., a part of it) is rendered accessible to yours by virtue of its association with a K-idea common to both, then that idea becomes a part of your mind as well as a part of mine, and it is no use talking any longer about our minds being altogether separate. It may be perfectly true that the linkage may be very slight and tenuous compared with the linkages which bind together the constituents of your mind and mine respectively inter se, but that is not the point. The point is that 'separateness' and 'individuality' henceforth cease to be discussable in all-or-none terms, and become matters of degree. The degree will depend, presumably, on the number of constituents in our two minds linked with effective K's, and this as a rule will be (indeed, manifestly is) small compared with the number and strength of the internal linkages(7); but the conclusion seems unescapable that, in principle, precisely the same kind of relationships subsist between different individual minds as between the sub-systems of what we call the same mind.

(7) I have inserted the word 'effective' before 'K's' in this sentence in order to evade the necessity of discussing why there is not a greater degree of apparent unity than there seems to be. This would take us too far into purely technical matters, but I think it will be found to be roughly the kind of 'cancellation effect' I had in mind when I spoke of the effect of being able to hear every one talking at once being precisely equivalent to hearing nobody talking at all.

Let us get this clear. I suggest that Mind in general consists of the whole aggregate of all existing pyschons; that individual minds consist of relatively large and closely associated clusters of these gathered around certain nuclei; and that the moods, secondary personalities, etc., said to be within an individual mind are essentially similar, but, generally speaking, smaller and weaker clusters grouped around other nuclei.

Moreover, any psychon system or aggregate, large or small, within a mind or between minds, will possess precisely that degree of autonomy and independence, intelligence, purposivity, and so forth as is in fact given by the nature and inter-relations of its constituent psychons, and by the nature and extent of their linkages with other systems, and by nothing else whatever.

I know I have said this before, but I make no apologies for saying it again, because I believe it to be a key of profound and fundamental importance to the whole of our understanding of a host of major problems.

If these contentions be not nonsense, it becomes idle to argue about whether a 'demon' or 'angel' is, or a 'psychon system' is not, of its nature 'independent' or 'autonomous'. The question is whether, as a matter of fact, the psychon system (which we have seen will do all the work we could ask any traditional demon or angel to do) is or is not more closely linked with the individual mind from which it originated than are individual minds in general with each other. In most, if not all, cases the answer is presumably that it is; but I do not see any reason of principle why it necessarily should be.

Mediumistic Controls [top]

Bearing these considerations in mind, let us turn to a more interesting case of the doubtful independence of a psychon sub-system.

When a spiritualistic medium goes into trance, she becomes 'controlled', as the phrase is, by some personality other than her normal one, which usually represents itself to be the surviving 'spirit' of some once-living human being, though sometimes just a 'discarnate entity' with no mundane antecedents. These 'controls', as they are called, purport to act as intermediaries between the inquirer (quaintly known as the 'sitter') and the supposed 'spirit' (e.g., of a deceased friend or relative) with whom he seeks to communicate, or who is alleged to seek communication with him. The fact that they often give themselves very odd names, and make even odder remarks is not relevant to the present discussion, which is concerned with them solely as psychological manifestations. Well-known examples of unimpeachable integrity(8) are the 'Phinuit', 'Rector', and 'Imperator' of Mrs. Piper's trance states, Mrs. Leonard's 'Feda', Mrs. Garrett's 'Uvani', and Mrs. Warren Elliot's 'Topsy'.

(8) By this I do not mean that the 'controls' are necessarily what they purport to be, but that there is no question as to the bona fides of the ladies in whose trance states they appear.

Now, between spiritualists and their critics there has been (I need hardly say) extremely violent controversy on the question of whether these controls are or are not the discarnate entities they profess to be. Leaving on one side, as is proper, the fanatical ignoramuses of both parties (i.e., about 95 per cent of the disputants), I think that most serious students of the subject would agree that the evidence strongly favours the view that these 'controls' are in the nature of secondary personalities of their mediums, with little or no claim to independent existence as ordinarily understood. Speaking for myself, I thought (and still think) I had pretty well clinched the secondary personality part of this view, in the case of Feda at least, by some experiments on trance personalities I did a few years ago. Cutting a complicated story to the bare bones, the way this kind of experiment is worked is roughly as follows: You give your normal medium an ordinary word-association test, that is to say, you call out one by one a list of a hundred words, and instruct her to reply to each as quickly as possible with the first word that comes into her head; you note the replies, of course, but particularly you measure with a stop-watch the time that elapses between your calling out the word and her reply (i.e., the 'reaction time'). You do this on several occasions, so as to get good average reaction times. There is reason to believe that prolongation of reaction time beyond the average is an indication that the word called out has struck a group of ideas of more than usual emotional interest to the victim, i.e., a 'complex' or something of the kind, so that, if you exclude from your list, so far as possible, all words of universal emotional interest, your set of times will be more or less characteristic of the subject's mental make-up.

You do the same thing with the medium when in trance and with the 'control' in possession, and obtain another set of times. You then compare the two sets(9). Obviously, if the control gives substantially the same reaction-time pattern as the normal medium, you will conclude that he or she is no more than the medium thinly disguised; whereas if the patterns were no more than randomly related, you would feel that the control's claim to independence had received some measure of at least permissive support.

(9) I am confident that this general type of investigation, namely applying suitable batteries of psychological tests to normal and trance personalities is basically sound and capable of wide and fruitful applications. The experiments referred to here, taken as a whole, were something of a fiasco, mainly owing to my own statistical ineptitudes; but I think there is little doubt as to the soundness of the particular conclusion concerning Mrs. Leonard and Feda in which alone I am interested for present purposes.

Now, when I tested Mrs. Leonard (normal) and Feda in substantially this way, I obtained a very odd and unexpected result. Feda's reaction times did not show what the mathematicians would call a significant positive correlation with those of normal Leonard; that is to say, Feda did not tend to give extra long and short times on the same words as those on which Mrs. Leonard gave extra long and extra short; nor were the two sets randomly related, as those of two quite different people might (ideally speaking) be expected to be. Queerly enough, Feda's times tended to be long when Leonard times were short, and short when Leonard times were long. To use a homely illustration, they were related more or less like the irregularities on the two halves of a broken biscuit. And this, I think, is even stronger evidence that the Feda personality is not independent of the Leonard personality than if they had shown a positive long. to-long and short-to-short correspondence in the obvious way. It would not be terribly difficult to cook up a reasonably plausible story to the effect that the personality of Mrs. Leonard might 'impose, its own pattern on Feda's personality supposed to be working 'through' it; but I'll be blest if I can see how it could contrive to impose the converse or mirror-image of itself, so to say, on anything at all!

I therefore concluded, not, I think, without reason, that Feda was only a secondary personality of Mrs. Leonard. I still think she is a secondary personality, and I don't believe she has ever been nearer India than one of Mrs. Penny's amiable novels; but I am no longer so sure that the word 'only' should be used quite without reservation.

Feda is certainly a perfectly good psychon system, with fairly well-defined characteristics - amiability, co-operativeness, etc. though of a rather childish type. I have no doubt at all that she has been 'budded off', so to say, from the main structure of normal Leonard by mechanisms closely akin to those of Freudian repression, and is therefore truly a secondary personality. But it seems to me possible that a question of the form, "Is Feda a 'real person' or only a secondary personality?" - which is the way in which it would usually be put-may be a false question not to be met by a Yes-or-No answer. She might perfectly well be, in a sense, both. The proper question, I suspect, would be more on the lines, "If the linkage of the Feda system with the normal-Leonard system were reduced to the level of that between ordinary 'individual minds', would Feda be capable of carrying on on her own?" I should think, myself, that the answer here would be "No"; but, if it is, then it is because the Feda system is deficient in whatever constituents or relationships are needed to give stability to a psychon system, not because there is anything inherently 'unreal' in a system formed in this way rather than in any other.

The notion at least opens up interesting possibilities.

Interim Discussion [top]

I fear the reader may well have felt that the last few pages have been altogether too speculative. I would not agree, because I think that even the boldest (I will not say 'wildest') speculations are quite in order, provided we clearly realize that they are speculations and not assertions of fact; and I would be quite content to leave it at that. But I think it worth while to try to make quite clear here just what has been my motive behind all this rashness.

I most emphatically do not want to repopulate the psychic hinterland with angels and devils and assorted spirits and all the menagerie of superstitious monstrosities which science has been carefully eradicating for the last couple of centuries or so, though I must! She purports to be a young Indian girl, deceased confess to thinking it possible that we may find, in considerations of the kind I have advanced, a reasonable basis for and explanation of persistent legends and the like not easily dealt with by mere mockery and denial. Still less, if possible, do I want to suggest that automatists and mediums are perpetually cluttering up the psychonic world with their dissociated mind-spawn - I should think it most improbable. But I do want to drive home the point that, if we concede (and I see no way out of it) that sensa and images are real things, and that they may be linked into groups of greater or less coherence, etc., by associative bonds (and other forces, if any), then questions which assume the clear-cutness, yes-or-no-ness, all-or-noneness of minds or personalities cease to be apposite and may become, for this very reason, actively misleading. If the kind of view I have been propounding is anything like correct, then the psychical working unit, so to speak, is not the mind but the psychon, much as the chemical working unit is the atom or radical and not the complex substance. And if we go on thinking in terms of 'minds' as units, we are likely to go as far astray as the early philosophers who tried to deal with substances in terms of the four elements of Earth and Air and Fire and Water.

I shall now turn to the problem of Survival of Death, which in certain respects occupies a position midway between the 'dissociative' phenomena of the mind I have just been discussing and the 'agglomerative' or 'co-sociative' phenomena - group minds and the like - to which I propose to devote the last part of the book.


The article above was taken from Whately Carington's "Telepathy, an outline of its facts, theory and implications" (New York: Creative Age Press, 1946)


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