Book: "Raymond or Life and Death"

Author: Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

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- (Part 3) - Chapter 13 - Life and Death -

On the Manner of Communication


          PERHAPS the commonest and easiest method of communication is what is called 'automatic writing' - the method by which the above examples were received - i.e. writing performed through the agency of subconscious intelligence; the writer leaving his or her hand at liberty to write whatever comes, without attempting to control it, and without necessarily attending at the time to what is being written.

That a novice will usually get nothing, or mere nonsense or scribbling, in this way is obvious: the remarkable thing is that some persons are thus able to get sense, and to tap sources of information outside their normal range. If a rudiment of such power exists, it is possible, though not always desirable, to cultivate it; but care, pertinacity, and intelligence are needed to utilise a faculty of this kind. Unless people are well-balanced and self-critical and wholesomely occupied, they had better leave the subject alone.

In most cases of fully-developed automatism known to me the automatist reads what comes, and makes suitable oral replies or comments to the sentences as they appear: so that the whole has then the effect of a straightforward conversation of which one side is spoken and the other written-the speaking side being usually rather silent and reserved, the writing side free and expansive.

Naturally not every person has the power of cultivating this simple form of what is technically known as motor automatism, one of the recognised subliminal forms of activity; but probably more people could do it if they tried; though for some people it would be injudicious, and for many others hardly worth while. The intermediate mentality employed in this process  seems to be a usually submerged or dream-like stratum of the automatist whose hand is being used. The hand is probably worked by its usual physiological mechanism, guided and controlled by nerve centres not in the most conscious and ordinarily employed region of the brain. In some cases the content or subject - matter of the writing may emanate entirely from these nerve centres, and be of no more value than a dream; as is frequently the case with the more elementary automatism set in action by the use of instruments known as 'planchette' and 'ouija,' often employed by beginners. But when the message turns out to be of evidential value it is presumably because this subliminal portion of the person is in touch ' either telepathically or in some other way, with intelligences not ordinarily accessible,-with living people at a distance perhaps, or more often with the apparently more accessible people who have passed on, for whom distance in the ordinary sense seems hardly to exist, and whose links of connexion are of a kind other than spatial. It need hardly be said that proof of communion of this kind is absolutely necessary, and has to be insisted on; but experience has demonstrated that now and again sound proof is forthcoming.

Another method, and one that turns out to be still more powerful, is for the automatist not only to take off his or her attention from what is being transmitted through his or her organism, but to become comprehensively unconscious and go into a trance. In that case it appears that the physiological mechanism is more amenable to control, and is less sophisticated by the ordinary intelligence of the person to whom it normally belongs; so that messages of importance and privacy may be got through. But the messages have to be received and attended to by another person; for in such cases, when genuine, the entranced person on waking up is found to be ignorant of what has been either written or uttered. In this state, speech is as common as writing, probably more common because less troublesome to the recipient, i.e. the friend or relative to whom or for whom messages are being thus sent. The communicating personality during trance may be the same as the one operating the hand without trance, and the messages may have the same general character as those got by  automatic writing, when the consciousness is not suspend but only in temporary and local abeyance; but in t trance state a dramatic characterisation is usually impart to the proceedings, by the appearance of an entity called 'Control,' who works the body of the automatist in t apparent absence of its customary manager. This personality is believed by some to be merely the subliminal self of the entranced person, brought to the surface, liberated and dramatised into a sort of dream existence for the time. By others it is supposed to be a healthy and manageable variety of the more or less pathological phenomenon known to physicians and psychiatrists as case of dual or multiple personality. By others again it is believed to be in reality the separate intelligence which claims to be.

But however much can be and has been written this subject, and whatever different opinions may held, it is universally admitted that the dramatic semblance of the control is undoubtedly that of a separate person, a person asserted to be permanently existing on the other side, and to be occupied on that side in much the same functions as the medium is on this. The duty of control ling and transmitting messages seems to be laid upon such a one-it is his special work. The dramatic character most of the controls is so vivid and self-consistent, that whatever any given sitter or experimenter may feel the probable truth concerning their real nature, the simplest way is to humour them by taking them at the face value and treating them as separate and responsible and real individuals. It is true that in the case of so mediums, especially when overdone or tired, there a evanescent and absurd obtrusions every now and then, which cannot be seriously regarded. Those have to be eliminate and for anyone to treat them as real people would be ludicrous; but undoubtedly the serious controls show a character and personality and memory of their own, a they appear to carry on as continuous an existence anyone else whom one only meets occasionally for conversation. The conversation can be taken up at the point where it left off, and all that was said appears to be remark ably well remembered by the appropriate control; while usually memory of it is naturally and properly repudiated by another control, even when operating through the same medium; and the entranced medium knows nothing of it afterwards after having completely woke up.

So clearly is the personality of the control brought out, in the best cases, so clear also are the statements of the communicators that the control who is kindly transmitting their messages is a real person, that I am disposed to accept their assertions, and to regard a control, when not a mere mischievous and temporary impersonation, as akin on their side to the person whom we call a medium on ours.

The process of regular communication-apart from the exceptional more direct privilege occasionally vouchsafed to people in extreme sorrow-thus seems to involve normally a double medium of communication, and the activity of several people. First there is the 'Communicator' or originator of ideas and messages on the other side. Then there is the 'control' who accepts and transmits the messages by setting into operation a physical organism lent for the occasion. Then there is the 'Medium' or person whose normal consciousness is in abeyance but whose physiological mechanism is being used. And finally there is the 'Sitter' - a rather absurd name - the recipient of the messages, who reads or hears and answers them, and for whose benefit all this trouble is taken. In many cases there is also present a Note-taker to record all that is said, whether by sitters or by or through the medium; and it is clear that the note-taker should pay special attention to and carefully record any hints or information either purposely or accidentally imparted by the sitter.

In scientific and more elaborately conducted cases there is also some one present who is known as the Experimenter in charge- a responsible and experienced person who looks after the health and safety of the medium, who arranges the circumstances and selects the sitters, making provision for anonymity and other precautions, and who frequently combines with his other functions the duties of note-taker.

In oral or voice sittings the function of the note-taker is more laborious and more responsible than in writing sittings; for these latter to a great extent supply their own notes. Only as the trance-writing is blindfold, i.e. done with shut eyes and head averted, it is rather illegible without practice; and so the experimenter in charge frequently finds it necessary to assist the sitter, to whom it is addressed, by deciphering it and reading it aloud as it comes-rather a tiring process; at the same time jotting down, usually on the same paper, the remarks which the sitter makes in reply, or the questions from time to time asked. Unless this is done the subsequent automatic record lacks a good deal of clearness, and sometimes lacks intelligibility.

For a voice-sitting the note-taker must be a rapid writer, and if able to employ shorthand has an advantage. Sometimes a stenographer is introduced; but the presence of a stranger, or of any person not intimately concerned, is liable to hamper the distinctness and fulness of a message; and may prevent or retard the occurrence of such emotional episodes as are from time to time almost inevitable in the cases-alas too numerous at present-where the sitter has been recently and violently bereaved.

It is perhaps noteworthy-though it may not be interesting or intelligible to a novice - that communicators wishing to give private communications seldom or never object to the presence of the actual 'medium' - i.e. the one on our side. That person seems to be regarded as absent, or practically non-existent for a time; the person whose presence they sometimes resent at first is the 'control,' i.e. the intelligence on their side who is ready to receive and transmit their message, somewhat perhaps as an Eastern scribe is ready to write the love-letters of illiterate persons.

As to the presence of a note-taker or third person on our side, such person is taken note of by the control, and when anything private or possibly private is mentioned - details of illnesses or such like - that third person is often ordered out of the room. Sometimes the experimenter in charge is likewise politely dispensed with, and under these circumstances the sitting occasionally takes on a poignant character in which note-taking by the deeply affected sitter becomes a practical impossibility. But this experience is comparatively rare; it must not be expected, and cannot wisely be forced.

Another circumstance which makes me think that the more responsible kind of control is a real person, is that sometimes, after gained experience, the Communicator himself takes control, and speaks or writes in the first person, not only as a matter of first-person-reporting, which frequently occurs, but really in his own proper person and with many of his old characteristics. So if one control is a real person I see no reason against the probability of others being real likewise. I cannot say that the tone of voice or the handwriting is often thus reproduced-though it is, for a few moments, by special effort sometimes; but the unusual physiological mechanism accounts for outstanding or residual differences. Apart from that, the peculiarities, the attitudes, the little touches of manner, are often more or less faithfully reproduced, although the medium may have known nothing of the person concerned. And the characteristic quality of the message, and the kind of subjects dealt with, become still more marked in such cases of actual control, than when everything has to be transmitted through a kindly stranger control, to whom things of a recondite or technical character may appear rather as a meaningless collocation of words, very difficult to remember and reproduce. 

Note on the Difficulty of Remembering Names

When operating indirectly in the ordinary way through a control and a medium, it usually appears to be remarkably difficult to get names transmitted. Most mediums are able to convey a name only with difficulty.. Now plainly a name, especially the proper name of a person, is a very conventional and meaningless thing: it has very few links to connect it with other items in memory; and hence arises the normally well-known difficulty of recalling one. Conscious effort made to recover a name seems to inhibit the power of doing so: the best plan is to leave it, and let subconsciousness work. An example occurred to me the other day, when I tried to remember the name of a prominent statesman or ex-Prime Minister whom I had met in Australia. What I seemed to recollect was that the name began with "D," and I made several shots at it, which I recorded. The effort went on at intervals for days, since I thought it would be an instructive experiment. I know now, a month or two later, without any effort and without looking it up, that the name was Deakin; but what my shots at it were I do not remember. I will have the page in the notebook looked up and reproduced here, as an example of memory-groping, at intervals, during more than one day. Here they are:-D. Dering, Denman, Deemering, Derriman, Derring, Deeley, Dempster, Denting, Desman, Deing'.

Now I knew the name quite well, and have known it for long, and have taken some interest in the gentleman who owns it; and I am known by some members of my family to have done so. Hence if I had been on 'the other side' and could only get as far as D, it would have seemed rather absurd to anyone whose memory for names is good. But indeed I have had times when names very much more familiar to me than that could not on the spur of the moment be recalled-not always even the initial letter; though, for some reason or other, the initial letter is certainly easier than the word.

The kind of shots which I made at the name before recalling it - which it may seem frivolous to have actually recorded - are reminiscent of the kind of shots which are made by mediums under control when they too are striving after a name; and it was a perception of this analogy which caused me to jot down my own guesses, or what, in the case of a medium, we should impolitely call 'fishing.' I think that the name was certainly in my memory though it would not come through my brain. The effort is like the effort to use a muscle not often or ever usedsay the outer ear-one does not know which string to pull, so to speak, or, more accurately, which nerve to stimulate, and the result is a peculiarly helpless feeling, akin to stammering. In the case of a medium, I suppose the name is often in the mind of the communicator, but it will not come through the control. The control sometimes describes it as being spoken or shown but not clearly caught. The communicator often does not know whether a medium has successfully conveyed it or not.



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