ARTICLES

Gerald N. M. Tyrrell

G. N. M. Tyrrell

Educated at Haileybury and London University. In 1923 he decided to devote himself entirely to Psychical Research. Wrote several highly acclaimed works. Joined the Society for Psychical Research in 1908 and became President in 1945.

Sense-Imagery

 - G. N. M. Tyrrell -

Perception with and without the Imagery of Sense

         IN CHAPTER II we noted that spontaneous cases of telepathy frequently reach the consciousness of the percipient in the form of hallucinatory sense-pictures, which represent the gist of a telepathic message in more or less symbolical form. The 'pillow' case(1) was an example, where the telepathic intimation of the death of a friend reached the percipient in the form of a message apparently written on half a sheet of notepaper, and lying on the pillow. The notepaper and its message were created, visual sense-imagery, for which some stratum of the percipient's personality must have been responsible. At the same time, it was pointed out that all the five senses could be subject to similar hallucinatory treatment, creation of such imagery being evidently possible on demand. Further illustrative cases were quoted.

(1) p. 24.

In his book, Phantasms of the Living, Gurney had long ago given a discussion to this question, saying that, 'all that is veridical in it [the telepathic apparition] is packed into the telepathic impulse in the form of "a nucleus of a deferred impression"; the embodiment is the percipient's own creation.' These are Lord Balfour's words, and he adds, 'In the main I do not dissent from this view.'

In Chapter X we saw that the creation of sense-imagery was by no means confined to states of the self which might be described as 'supernormal,' but that in normal and everyday perception, what appear to be the qualities of physical objects are really the qualities of our own private 'sense-data,' causally linked with an independent world in some obscure and roundabout fashion which we do not understand, and not simply and directly as we invariably believe. Moreover, many self-suggested illusions produce sense-imagery indistinguishable from that which we call 'normal,' and believe to be simply veridical, and these blend with the latter with perfect ease. There was also the curious example, mentioned in Chapter X, of Mrs. Verrall's attempt to recognize playing-cards by the sense of touch. When the attempt began to be successful, the fact of contact gave direct rise to visual imagery. Again, in the phenomenon of eidetic imagery, the normal act of perception was, as it were, prolonged after the perceived object had been removed. All these facts go to show that experiences which we believe to be descriptive of an outer world originate within ourselves to a far greater extent than we are wont to believe.

When we turn to the states of consciousness associated with trance, we find that an extraordinary wealth of sense-imagery accompanies it. It will be remembered that, in the account of the A. V. B. case given in Chapter XIII, Feda gave a description of Daisy's father, the purporting communicator, as follows(2):

(2) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxx. pp. 526-7.

M. R. H. - Would he like to give any message to Daisy

R. - He wants to give a description first; he's got a square forehead, and it looks to Feda as though the hair receded on the temples, or else that he brushes it back very much. He wears a soft sort of hat; Feda doesn't think it's a cap with a peak, it looks like a hat with a brim, and the brim seems to be turned up more on one side than the other. He's showing a suit that he thinks Daisy would recognize; it's a sort of browny coloured suit, and has what looks like a check pattern, but it's a mixed-up pattern, not a decided check, and there seem to be other shades in it as well as brown.

Actually, Daisy did recognize the 'soft sort of hat,' which had been known as 'the old hat,' and the browny-coloured suit as well. But the point is that, after the communicator is stated to be going to give a description of himself, Feda describes a figure which is evidently the communicator as present to her visual sense. And this figure is altered to exhibit any feature desired, first the square forehead and receding hair; then the old hat, evidently being worn. Then the brown suit. The communicator must therefore have the power of transmitting ideas to Feda which take on the form for her of something very like visual perception. At other times the senseimagery is auditory, as in the reception of names, for example, in Feda's attempts to get hold of the word 'Sporkish.' Also in Mrs. Willett's struggle with the word 'Deucalion' above, when the communicator says to her, 'The sound is DEW.' Or the imagery may be tactual, as in Feda's description of the Baranca del Anavingo, where she said that the lava road felt like' walking on cinders.' Feda also said on at least one occasion that the communicators could make her feel a thing as hot or cold g exactly as if she felt it with her fingers,' and added, 'you know how hypnotized people can be made to feel like that.'

This comparison with hypnosis is, I think, highly significant. It brings home to us the fact that in all trance and supernormal experiences we are dealing with sense-situations which have been created within, wherever the influence to create may have come from. The Willett trance further confirms this.

In a D. I. on March 5, 1912, Gurney W says:

"... Inspiration may be from within, but it may be from Without. Oh, he says, Every moment I gave to the study of hypnotic states and post-hypnotic states I feel was among the best spent of all my time.

(G. W. B. Yes, Gurney, those were splendid papers of yours.)

Oh, he says, It's not only what I learnt then, but what I've been able to apply here. For instance: Say, using the words in their rough way, that a mutual selection is made-mutually from her mind and mine. It's possible for me to suggest I to her subliminal that at a given time such and such an idea shall, as it were, be recovered out of the sediment - and come to the top...' Gurney had, actually, during his lifetime done a good deal of work on hypnotism and written much about it.

During some sittings with Mrs. Leonard in 1917, Mrs. Salter obtained from Feda a very good description of her father, Dr. A. W. Verrall, who died in 1912. In the first sitting he was described as having a beard. In the second sitting Feda says: 'The mouth is a bit large, the lips are pink, not red. The chin is more rounded' - statements which are inconsistent with a description of a bearded face. Mrs. Salter says:

'Now this description, in which the communicator's face is apparently viewed sometimes from the front, sometimes in profile ... is on the whole distinctly good, but it contains details which seem to imply that the man described is beardless, the size and colour of the mouth, the shape of the chin. It is impossible to suppose that any one who was describing in detail a man visibly present could be mistaken as to whether or no he had a beard. Against the interpretation that Feda is seeing my father as a quite young man, clean shaven, is first her own statement that he is "towards middle life, hardly that," and secondly the fact that at the sitting of January 29, 1917, the man afterwards identified with my father is stated to be bearded. My own interpretation of what occurred is that Feda was not really "seeing" anything, but that on this, as on other occasions, she was receiving a series of mental impressions which she translated into visual terms. Her statements that my father had a rather large mouth and a face not rounded but too broad to be oval, are in fact correct, as early photographs show.'

In fact, the sense-imagery is private to Feda, created in or by her, in correspondence with ideas which she receives in non-sensuous terms.

At a sitting on January 29, 1917, Mrs. Salter received from Feda a description of her mother, Mrs. Verrall, who had died in the preceding year, in which several of the features described were correct as witnessed by a photograph. But Feda added several details which were not true, such as that Mrs. Verrall wore 'a made bodice,' 'bands at the wrists,' and an 'oval brooch with a gold rim.' Mrs. Salter comments:

'The general inference which I should draw from the above extract is that a certain amount of veridical information about my mother was woven by Feda into an imaginary picture of an elderly widow, based on preconceived ideas of the appearance such a picture might be expected to present. The "bands at the wrist" are presumably widow's bands, which my mother never wore. She was, in fact, a widow at the time the photograph was taken'(3).

(3) 'Some Incidents occurring at Sittings with Mrs. Leonard which may throw Light on their Modus Operandi,' by Mrs. W. H. Salter, Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxxix. pp. 306 ff.

There is no doubt that Feda 'gags' to a certain extent when doubtful, sometimes adding points which are really inferences drawn by herself. But in view of the curious way in which her information takes sensuous shape, she may not always be aware that she is doing so. It is interesting to reflect that, in such a case as this, recorded by Mrs. Salter, some of the correct constituent features in the picture which Feda drew of Mrs. Verrall evidently came from a source external to Feda, while others came from Feda's own imagination. Yet the items from the two sources, when translated into sense-imagery, blend into a single picture in such a way as to be indistinguishable from one another. This would seem to go far to show that all the sense-imagery, including that which is veridical and expresses true information coming from an external source, is of Feda's own creation. The imagined idea and the telepathically received idea would seem to set in operation the same sensory mechanism, so that sense-items from the two sources arise in the same manner and blend into an indistinguishable whole.

Statements by Feda about Life in Another World. - In the control type of trance, though not in the Willett trance, the communicators are usually reported as representing the scenes and events of the so-called 'spirit' world in terms which are almost the exact equivalents of scenes and events in this world. It is certainly startling when such a communicator as A. V. B., having correctly described through Feda the things she used to do in this world, goes on to state that she does them still.

In the sitting of October 2, 1916, Feda describes A. V. B. as with a brown, sleek horse looking over her shoulder(4). At a later sitting, she says that A. V. B. has her arm round his neck, that A. V. B. is keeping the horse for M. R. H., that she has been learning to ride in her present state of existence, that there are plenty of horses that love to be exercised, and that the ground is so springy. Miss Radcliffe Hall quotes these passages as evidence of A. V. B.'s memory of the incidents of her earthly life, for they were true in that respect - A. V. B. was a poor horse-woman; M. R. H. possessed a hunter, and so on. But obviously they constitute a puzzle, in that they are interspersed with very good veridical material, which the communicator shows intelligence in selecting, and are proffered without any suggestion that either the control or the communicator expect the sitters to find them surprising.

(4) On a Series of Sittings with Mrs. Osborne Leonard,' Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxx. pp. 361-2.

Another passage of a similar kind occurs when Feda is describing A. V. B.'s fondness for playing and singing to her guitar. (A. V. B. in life had actually been an extremely expert performer on the guitar.)

'Feda says: "And now she's showing Feda something that you can pull strings to, she's going tum, tum, tum." (Here Feda gives an exact imitation of the sound of notes picked on a guitar, imitating with her hand the plucking of the strings.) "Mrs. Twonnie" (Feda's name for M. R. H.) "she's plucking them." M. R. H. answers: "That's splendid, you are making the exact noise." Feda says: "She's making the noise, and Feda can always imitate what she can do, she says it does make your fingers sore too... She says, do you know, she sees them in the spirit world plucking those string things and singing softly to them."'

At six separate sittings, Feda represents A. V. B. as enjoying bathing, of which she used to be very fond. Feda states that she now has a bathing-pool in her garden, and that she had had a bathe just before one of the sittings. She also states through Feda that the dog Billy, before referred to, is with her now.

Feda's descriptions of happenings, which, she states, are now taking place in the other world, are indistinguishable from her descriptions of what are evidently (like the brown suit) the ideas or memories of the communicators, thrown into perceptual form. There is nothing to suggest that what is happening is in any way different in the two cases. When Feda states that she sees them in the 'spirit-world' plucking guitars and singing softly to them, is not this A. V. B.'s memory decked out in Feda's sense-imagery with some embellishments?

On the other hand, if Feda is entirely responsible for the transference of earthly scenes and occupations to the other world, why does not such a clear communicator as A. V. B. correct Feda's statements when she assumes control herself, as Dr. Verrall. afterwards corrected Feda's mis-description of him as being without a beard?(5) On the contrary, Feda purports to be quoting A.V.B.'s own words when she says: 'Then I bathe; you know, don't you, that I always loved that part of it.' These things strongly suggest that A. V. B., at least while communicating, is subject to sense-experiences of the same kind as Feda's, and accepts them us veridical.

(5) p. 268.

Perhaps we do not realize how copious and compelling this sense-imagery must be for minds in states other than that which we regard as 'normal.' The following extract from a sitting held on February 24, 1922, with Mrs. Brittain by Mrs. and Miss Dawson-Smith is worth quoting(6). The communicator was ostensibly Mrs. Dawson-Smith's son, Frank, who had been killed in the War. As the medium was beginning to come out of trance, she suddenly interjected: 'Have you a St. Bernard dog? There's a big one standing by you. It died of distemper. It is with Frank, he found it waiting for him.' The sitter's note on this is as follows:

(6) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xxxvi. pp. 307-8.

'That is a brief paragraph and not written entire because we thought the sitting was over and Belle had gone. We had put our pencils and notebooks away and sat quietly waiting for the medium to wake. What followed was this: Mrs. Brittain opened her eyes and suddenly stared over my shoulder, looking startled and alarmed. I was sitting in a low chair facing her. She said with a gasp, "Oh I don't growl like that - oh, how dreadful!" Then she grew calmer and said, "Have you a St. Bernard dog? It is a big one. He died of distemper." My daughter at once said, "No, we haven't a St. Bernard. Our dog is an Airedale." Mrs. Brittain instantly said, "You never saw him; it was long before you were born. The dog is standing by your mother-he loves her and is very jealous of everybody who goes near her."

'This was all perfectly correct. We had a St. Bernard, and he died of distemper when my boy was four months old. The dog was devoted to me and to my baby (Frank) but would not allow anybody to come near us.
'KATIE DAWSON-SMITH.'

Here information must have been telepathically acquired, either from the sitters or from the communicator, about the existence of the St. Bernard, about his having died of distemper before Miss Dawson-Smith was born, and about his fondness for her mother and his jealousy. But some element in Mrs. Brittain's personality embodies these facts, or most of them, in the form of a sense-image of the dog - one might almost call it a cinematograph 'talkie' of the dog-growling in so vivid and life-like a way, that the awakening Mrs. Brittain is for a moment almost terrified by it. The idea suggested by incidents such as these is that somewhere below the conscious level of the personality, there is a mechanism which is capable of producing all kinds of sense-imagery with such pervasiveness and completeness as to persuade the experient of the literal reality of the persons or objects which it represents. A striking instance is recorded in Mrs. Willett's case, which is worth quoting in full:

Perception and Sense-Imagery in the Willett Phenomena. - On December 17, 1913, Mrs. Willett, in a state more or less akin to her customary trance, but which Lord Balfour considers to have presented some differences from the ordinary D. I., dictated a contemporary experience:(7)

(7) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xliii. p. 60.

'It's a picture - a picture that I love and often see. Marble pillars everywhere - a most heavenly scene. A company of mensmall company, discussing everything in heaven and earth, and really reaching the heights of reason - almost unconscious of their visible surroundings. It is a sort of parable of life.

'There was such intercourse of the human mind going on in that room, and I know it so well I almost fancy I must have been there, though it happened a long time ago.

'Fred uses the expression somewhere - a small company of like-minded men. That's how those men were; and, you know, they never die. (Here I asked for the dictation to be a little slower.) Oh, I wish I could say it quickly, because it's all floating past me.

'There's a poem of Matthew Arnold's about Christ, that whenever the feet of mercy move up and down where poverty is, Christ is actually present in them now.

'Oh, how I wish I could tell what I know. You know, to ordinary people those men who sat talking there long ago are just historical figures, interesting from a hundred points of view, but dead men. Do you know, there's nothing dead in greatness, because there can't be, because all greatness is an emanation from the changeless Absolute. That's why I know these people as if they were alive to-day. I know them much better than many of the people I live with-especially the older man, the Master. He had disciples, you know, and whenever- What I said about that Matthew Arnold poem was because I wanted to say that what was true of Christ is true of the man I'm speaking about.

'Oh, do you know that Knowledge isn't the greatest faculty of the human mind. There's a deeper faculty, deriving its - something or other, I missed that-through a more central zone. It's Intuition. It's in Intuition that the Soul acts most freely, and it's by Intuition that it best demonstrates its freedom. There's something about that in Paracelsus. Paracelsus is a great allegory.

'What a long way I've got from my picture that I like to look at, or rather from my room where I choose to walk. The meal is for the most part over, and there's a sort of hush of the spirit; because in that quick interchange of thought new ideas have arisen, and the man that they all look up to, he's borne very far aloft on the wings of the Spirit. And suddenly on the quiet of it all there bursts the sound of revelling coming nearer and nearer - flute-players! (ecstatically). Oh, is it Bacchus and his crew? Anyhow there's something rather Bacchanalian about it. They're getting nearer and nearer, and they're hammering on the door, and then in they come. My people are all disturbed, and there's great toasting. They take it all in very good part, and they revel away. There are wreaths of flowers, and cups passing, loud jokes. And then, do you know, by degrees some of the crowd melt away, and some of the people go to sleep. And then the whole thing ends up with such a majestic thing, I think; just that one figure, when the interruption is over, he stays there, like some great beacon shining out above the clouds, walking on the heights of thought; and the absolute silence reigns, and there he sits.

'Do you know that man's as real to me as if I could touch him! He's an ugly man, only I feel he's sublimely great. You know I've not got to be tied up always to myself. I can get up and walk about in other worlds; and I very often like to walk through the room where that scene took place.

'Have you ever seen the shadow of the Parthenon? Oh! (Pause.) It's all very beautiful there. Do you know Edmund would have been very happy in that world. It was the sort of world he wanted, and he strayed into such a hideous age.

(A disturbing noise occurred, which upset Mrs. Willet.)

Oh !-oh !-oh! (Pause.)

I've quite lost the thread, I've quite lost the thread.

(A further noise occurred, and Mrs. Willett resumed in writing.)

I've lost the thread. It's all gone. I was so happy I was seeing visions and I did not ever want to leave. Fred was with me, F. W. H. M. I also saw Henry Sidgwick, he had a white beard.

'Do you know who the young man was I only just caught sight of him for a moment.

'HOW NOTHING time is

'All human experience is One. We are no shadows nor do we pursue shadows. Pilgrims in Eternity

'We few we few we happy band of BROTHERS.'

On this Lord Balfour notes:

'During the greater part of this sitting Mrs. Willett, although not in a condition of trance, was certainly further removed than usual from a normal state of consciousness. On my showing her, about an hour later, the part which I had taken down from dictation, she said, "I haven't the faintest recollection of all this, nor do I know what it means." I then told her that it described a famous scene in Plato's Symposium, to which allusion had already been made in another script of hers, nearly three years ago ... The word Symposium, however, seemed to convey no meaning to her, though I reminded her that she must have seen it in Mrs. Verrall's account ... of the attempt to reproduce Myers's posthumous message.'

It is a remarkable fact that states of consciousness, which, to outward appearance, are not so very far removed from the normal, may yet be completely amnesic. Whether we choose to say that Mrs. Willett was here in trance, or even whether she is in trance during her D. L's seems to be a matter of choice in terminology. What we call 'normal' consciousness is really a fluctuation about a mean condition with every one, and with a few individuals the extremes of fluctuation are greater. It is these extreme fluctuations which open the door to the study of so-called 'psychical' phenomena.

In the above passage there are several literary allusions, as for example, 'Bacchus and his crew,' which appears to refer to a verse in Keats's Endymion; 'What shadows we are and what shadows we pursue,' occurred in a famous speech of Burke's; and the final quotation, of course, is from Henry V.

It cannot be said in this case, that we are taking the unverified word of a trance-personality. Mrs. Willett herself experiences the Symposium scene. She has not even undergone a very profound mental readjustment, yet her new world is extremely real to her. 'Do you know that man's as real to me as if I could touch him!' And again, 'I know them much better than many of the people I live with.' The idea, therefore, suggests itself that in the A. V. B. case quoted above, the communicator may be living in a world of self-created sense-imagery, something like this of the Symposium scene, but which contains horses, bathing-pools, and guitars. If we feel inclined to say: How can any sane, well-balanced, and critically-minded individual live in such a state of illusion without being aware of it? let us reflect for a moment on our own condition in this present world. We, also, are living in a world of sense-imagery. Of course we feel inclined to say that we live in a world of real objects; not in a world of illusions. But let us reflect on the very important considerations touched on in Chapter X, where several reasons were given for supposing that the world of normal sense-perception is in reality a world of appearance, though correlated in some way which we do not understand with a reality which is not ourselves. Not a world of subjective illusion, but still, in a very real sense, more a human construct than a presentation of the intrinsic character of reality. Suppose that the sense-imagery of trance-communicators (self-created like our own), were correlated with independent reality in some looser and more flexible fashion than is the case with us; would not this give us some inkling into the possibility of life in other finite worlds? The world of experience would be a function of the percipient's personality. But is not this true of our own present world? We might further suppose that in temporary or unstable states of personality (as in the somewhat arbitrary complex which constitutes a communicator), the sense-imagery would tend to be unstable and wild: and that in proportion as the personal complex became more stable the sense-imagery would become more self-consistent, and its appearance of independence more convincing.

Mrs. Willett's sense-experiences are by no means confined to the visual and, auditory senses. In deep trance, D. L, on February 28, 1914, the following passage occurred:

' ... Somebody said something about Father Cam walking arm in arm with the Canongate. What does that mean? Oh! (Sniffs.) What a delicious scent! No rosebud yet by dew empearled...'

'"Father Cam," and "The Canongate," walking arm in arm symbolizes the co-operation of the two friends Verrall and Butcher (Cambridge and Edinburgh). The automatist is wondering what the meaning can possibly be, when suddenly she stops and sniffs. She is smelling something, declares it to be delicious, and finally recognizes it as the scent of roses.' The rose, for a personal reason, was symbolical of S. H. Butcher, and this was readily understood by his friends, but Mrs. Willett was quite ignorant of it. But the point is here the hallucination of the sense of smell.

Physical feelings and pain, telepathically transmitted to Mrs. Willett, also invoke in her the appropriate imagery. In the stage of awakening from trance on May 11, 1912, Mrs. Willett had been speaking of a communicator, known as The Dark Young man; then she said:

'Oh! I fell down, I fell down. Oh I my head, my head, my head. Oh, oh, oh. (Groans.) Oh, oh, oh, I bumped my head. oh, it's all here (putting her hands to her head below and behind the ears).

'(Pause: heavy breathing.) Oh, 1 wish my head would get empty.'

Lord Balfour notes All this was so dramatically uttered that for the moment I thought Mrs. Willett had really hurt her head. Apparently, however, it was only the idea of the Dark Young Man's fall and consequent injury passing into a sympathetic feeling so strong that the automatist imagines it to have happened to herself.

Is There Such a Thing as Supernormal Sense-Imagery? - The most obvious criticism of the idea here suggested, that in abnormal or supernormal states of consciousness, self-created sense-imagery could form a realistic world linked in some more or less distant way with an external reality, is that in all these states the imagery described is of our own normal type. It might be said that we are here dealing with hallucinations, which clothe different types of fantasy, but that all are drawn from a remembered stock of sense-imagery, ultimately derived from the normal senses of this present world. This is very likely true, especially in intermediate and unstable states of consciousness, and certainly true in dreams. But is it always true? Are the descriptions of scenes given by trance-personalities sometimes translations made for our benefit into our sense-imagery from imagery of a very different kind? I will quote some further examples from Mrs. Willett, relevant to this point:

In the D. I. of February 18, 1909, occurs the following:

About 11.30 to-day ... I began to feel that very restless feeling ... At 11.45 I sat down, close to a cheerful window, with a feeling of "heavy" impression that F. was waiting. I felt as if it were somebody else's impatience.

'The first words that came to my mind were Myers yes now take a sheet of paper-only for notes no script but make notes of what I say" I enclose the notes I made ...

'The whole conversation ended by F. saying he did not want to tire me, and so "farewell." I just got a flash of an impression of E. G. wanting to make a joke and F. not letting him - but it is all very dim that, I am clear up to "farewell."'

On February 1, 1910, occurs:

'Gurney it is quite a short script I want to write Myers says a note made re D. I. of Friday may give rise to ... inaccurate deductions ... Myers wishes the record AMMENDED (sic) by a note

Myers yes let me go on...

Mrs. Willett notes: "During all this script I felt very muddled and confused. The writing came in bits. Just before the [name Myers] I got a sense of F. being there and then of his brushing E. G. away and starting off the script himself with great impatience and in a very peremptory mood."'

Note the dual aspect of these passages: (i) Mrs. Willett herself feels restless, impatient, etc., but (ii) she also refers these emotions to their sources. In other words, her experiences are in some way cognitive. The suggestion is, I think, that something akin to sense-imagery enters into these cases, but imagery of a different kind from anything which we experience in normal life-imagery which cannot be directly turned into terms of normal thought-imagery which immediately conveys knowledge of somebody in the state of wanting to make a joke, of being in a peremptory mood, etc.

Mrs. Willett wrote in a letter to Mrs. Verrall on September 27, 1909:

'I got no impression of appearance, only character, and in some way voice or pronunciation (though this doesn't mean that my ears hear, you know!). That is always so in D. I. [i.e. in silent D. I.] I don't feel a sense of "seeing," but an intense sense of personality, like a blind person perhaps might have-and of inflections, such as amusement or emotion on the part of the speaker. If you asked me how I know when E. G. is speaking and not F. W. H. M., 1 can't exactly define, except that to me it would be impossible to be in doubt one instant - and with E. G. I often know he is there a second or two before he speaks ... I then sometimes speak first ... To me, by now, there isn't anything strange in D. L's except when I try to explain anything about them; then I realize suddenly they are unusual! But otherwise it gives me no more sense of oddness to be talking to these invisible people than it does to be talking to my son, for instance. But I don't think I mentally visualize any sort of "appearance" with regard to them - it is as "minds" and
"characters" that they are to me, and yet not at all intangible or
non-solid realities...'

This subjective light thrown on the nature of the trance processes by the experient herself is of the very highest value. Another most interesting example occurred when the communicator, Gurney W, [E. G.], attempted to throw his memory of himself as he was when living on to the sensitive's mind, so that she might pass on the description of it to Sir Oliver Lodge. It seems to be intended to illustrate the process for his benefit. The date was September 24, 1910:

'[Mrs. W.] E. G. is talking.

E. G. Don't feel oppressed. You're going to do well. (To O.J. L.) I want you to see the passage of thought, not ocular or aural. Mediums. (To Mrs. W.) Now come, how does it seem to you now? Answer out loud. What he says, do you often say? Well, say it to Lodge.

Mrs. W. I see what he wants. I'm to tell you what I feel, my thoughts. He's very very near. I feel him just there (in front near face). I can only think of those words, they come running in my head: 'Nearer he is than breathing, closer than hands and feet.' I'm all as if I was in the light. I'm not seeing with my eyes (eyes closed all the time), but it feels as if he was holding both my hands and looking down at me. I'm not seeing his face by - I'm feeling it there. It's always got that look of having known pain. And he says to me, go over it just as it strikes you. I think it's the eyes, the lids are so -

E.G. Stop a moment, and tell Lodge the thought ... I'm throwing in the recollection of what I took my bodily semblance to be, incarnate; see how she catches it. How dangerous analogies are, and yet you could get something by thinking of a magic-lantern slide. Dependence on the vividness of my recollection; it's a calling up on my part, a conscious effort, not involuntary. Lodge, are you seeing?

O.J.L. Yes.
E. G. Go on.
Mrs. W. I see the lids drooping over the eyes, and how very restful they are to see, like something strong, something that makes me not afraid. Very sad, and yet at the back of that sadness something else; strength and something else. Next thing I think about, it seems, the delicate backward sweep of the nostrils and the mouth, not quite straight, but oh, how humorous it can look. Not with the eyes, this sight.
E. G. Go on, go down.
Mrs. W. And it's a, yes, how thin his face is; then the ears rather low on the head, and how the chin balances all the face, and such -
E. G. Yes, it was my chiefest attitude to life, that compassion. Mrs. W. And then -
E. G. Yes, say it out loud, that's what I want Lodge to know. Mrs. W. It's what I feel, I feel it's good to be here.'

Lord Balfour says:

'Evidently what we have here is an attempt to illustrate the telepathic transmission of a memory-image from the communicator to the percipient. The impression is without doubt meant to be understood as a deliberately communicated impression involving not only intention on the part of the agent but effort.'

Again, when Dr. Butcher introduced himself to Mrs. Willett as 'Henry Butcher's ghost'(8), she felt his personality, including his 'piercing glance,' with no suggestion that there was sense-imagery of the normal kind. Take this in conjunction with, 'Not with the eyes, this sight,' just mentioned, and it looks very much as though Mrs. Willett, in her nonnormal states of consciousness, experiences an entirely unfamiliar kind of sense-imagery which conveys, not only features of character, such as 'sweetness and strength,' but also those features we call 'physical.' I suggest that in this direct way she was acquiring knowledge of Gurney's appearance and that she was translating this knowledge into visual senseimagery in her description. It does not follow that sensitives in non-normal states experience only normal sense-imagery; but it does follow that they must translate their experiences into such normal imagery if we are to understand them.

(8) p. 257

Telepathic Possession. - In connexion with the theory of telepathy, it has been pointed out that there is no need to suppose that the actual experience of the agent is ever shared by the percipient(9). In cases of thought-transference it may always be supposed that the mechanism of telepathic action is such as to cause the percipient to undergo an experience of his own which is similar to the agent's but not identical with it. In this way the privacy of experiences would be maintained. It might be said that to share an experience with another mind is an impossibility, because it would dissolve the distinction between one mind and another.

(9) Proc. S.P.R., vol. xliii. pp. 397-438.

I will conclude the present chapter by quoting three cases which have a significant bearing on this question and which Lord Balfour classes as instances of 'Telepathic Possession,' or of telepathy leading up to it.

In the waking stage of a D. I. on February 7, 1915, Mrs. Willett said:

'I've seen this room before, but I can't remember where it is. (Points to a water-colour picture representing the Firth of Forth and the coast of East Lothian, seen from some point in Fife.) I'm not accustomed to the view from that side, I generally see it from the other side. Why has that man painted it from behind to fore, so to speak? Do you see what I mean? He's stood in the wrong place stupid idiot! You see, why I like my view best is because I'm accustomed to it, and I've seen it all my life from the other side. It makes me quite giddy seeing it the wrong way about. You can't reverse pictures so that they stay right, can you? I'm looking at it where I generally stand; and that's what's bothering me, you see. (Gets up and goes to the fireplace.) That's where I used to stand-just about there. (Points with finger to the spot.)'

The Dark Young Man had been the communicator who, ostensibly, had just departed as the waking stage came on, and a footnote is here added, saying: 'The point indicated was on the southern side of the Firth of Forth, and might quite well represent the position of the Dark Young Man's Scottish home. The automatist herself had no personal knowledge of the neighbourhood.' In his remarks about this incident, Lord Balfour remarks:

'The personality of the automatist appears to merge so completely into that of the communicator as to lead one to suspect the latter of a desire to give a practical illustration of that reciprocal interweaving of two minds which he had described earlier in the D. I., and which, without being "possession" in full sense of the term, may yet reproduce some of the characteristics of "possession." I regard it, in fact, as an illustration of what I call telepathic possession.'

One sees, too, how difficult it is to discuss telepathy on the assumption that it is a mode of communication between two atomically distinct selves. The nature of the self is the central problem in psychical research, bound up with which is the nature of telepathy, and it is evident that we have to learn to form ideas which will fit the facts, and not to force the facts into our preconceived ideas. For instance, in a further portion of the script dealing with the transferred pain of the Dark Young Man's fall, occurs the following:

'Oh, I feel so giddy, I'm tumbling down. (Rests her head on the table.) I can't remember who I am. I know I'm somebody; and I'm coming together, you know, and the bits don't fit.'

And on October 31, 1908, the day after Myers had claimed to have succeeded in getting into Mrs. Willett's mentality, the latter notes to her script:

'I had had other confused dreams the previous night, as well as an intensely vivid impression of Fred's presence. I can only describe it by saying I felt myself so blending with him as almost to seem to become him.'

Note also the script above referred to in which Mrs. Willett says: 'It was as if barriers were swept away and 1 and they became one.'

In the waking stage of the trance-script of April 19, 1918, Mrs. Willett said:

'Oh! (pause) Fred, Fred. So strange to be somebody else. To feel somebody's heart beating inside, and some one else's mind inside your mind. And there isn't any time or place, and either you're loosed or they're entered, and you all of a sudden know everything that ever was. You understand everything. It's like every single thing and time and thought and everything brought down to one point...'

Compare above also' How nothing time is.'

It is clear that if this is telepathy, it is a very different kind of thing from the simple thought-transference of the early experiments. The evidence leads us on to cases like these which suggest a sharing of experience, and even a sharing of selfhood, which we cannot understand. It is reminiscent of religious mystical experience. The same thing inspired Tennyson's poem, 'In Memoriam,' and particularly the verse beginning with the words, 'The living soul was flashed on mine.' Theories of telepathy must take these facts into account, as well as the simpler ones.

In the next chapter we will go on to consider briefly the light which these trance-phenomena throw on the nature of personality.

Source: "Science and Psychical Phenomena" by G. N. M. Tyrrell (New York: University Books, 1961).

 

Other articles by G. N. M. Tyrrell

• Alternatives to Discarnate Theory
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 1
• Attitude to Psychical Research. Part 2
• What is Psychical Research?
• What is Science?
• The Significance of the Whole
• The Subliminal Self and the Unconscious
• Psychical Research and Religion
• Is there Anything Besides Fraud in the Physical Sιance Room?
• The Case of Patience Worth: An Outstanding Product of Automatic Writing
• Mrs Willet: Communications Ostensibly Proceeding from the Dead
• What is Science? The Opposition Between Science and Rationalism
• Discarnate Agency: More Evidence on the Discarnate Problem
• Trance Personalities
• Modus Operandi of the Mediumistic Trance
• The Boundary of the World of Sense
• The Movement of Modern Spiritualism

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