THE phenomenon upon a consideration of which we shall shortly enter is that exhibited in several forms and known under various names, of which the simplest perhaps is
automatic writing - that is, writing executed independently of the full knowledge and consciousness of the
operator - the hand acting in obedience either to some unconscious portion of the operator's mind, or else responding to some other psychical influence more or less distinct from both his normal and his hypernormal personality. Sometimes it takes the form not of writing, but of subconscious speech; and occasionally the person whose hand or voice is being used is himself completely entranced and unconscious for one or two hours together. There is evidently a great deal to be learned about this phenomenon, and many surmises are legitimate respecting it, but it is useless and merely ignorant to deny its occurrence. It is often quite clear that parts of the writings or speech so obtained do not represent the normal knowledge of the automatist: but whence the information is derived is uncertain, and probably in different cases the source is different. The simplest assumption, and one that covers perhaps a majority of the facts, is that the writer's unconscious intelligence or subliminal self - his dream or genius stratum - is at work - that he is in a condition of unconscious and subliminal lucidity, or subject to a sort of
It has long been known that in order to achieve remarkable results in any department of intellectual activity, the mind must be to some extent unaware of passing occurrences. To be keenly awake and "on the spot" is a highly valued accomplishment, and for the ordinary purposes of mundane affairs is a far more useful state of mind than the rather hazy and absorbed condition which is associated with the quality of mind called genius; but it is not as effective for brilliant achievement.
When a poet or musician or mathematician feels himself inspired, his senses are-at least his commonplace and non-relevant attention is - dulled or half asleep; and though probably some part of his brain is in a state of great activity, I am not aware of any experiments directed to test which that part is, nor whether, when in that state, any of the more ordinarily used portions are really dormant or no. It would be interesting, but difficult, to ascertain the precise physiological accompaniments of that which on a small scale is called a brown study, and on a larger scale a period of inspiration.
It does not seem unreasonable to suppose that the state is somewhat allied to the initial condition of anaesthesia - the somnambulic condition in which, though the automatic processes of the body go on with greater perfection than usual, the conscious or noticing aspect of the mind is latent, so that the things which influence the person are apparently no longer the ordinary events which affect his peripheral organs, but either something internal, or else something not belonging to the ordinarily known physical universe at all.
The mind is always in a receptive state, perhaps, but whereas the business-like wide-awake person receives impressions from every trivial detail of his physical surroundings, the half-asleep person seems to receive impressions from a different stratum altogether; higher in some instances, lower in some instances, but different always from those received by ordinary men, in their every-day state.
In a man of genius the state comes on of itself, and the results are astounding. There are found occasionally feeble persons, usually young, who seek to attain to the appearance of genius by the easy process of assuming or encouraging an attitude of vacancy and uselessness. There may be all grades of result attained while in this state, and the state itself is of less than no value unless it is justified by the results.
By experiment and observation it has now been established that a state not altogether dissimilar to this can be induced by artificial means, e.g., by drugs, by hypnosis, by crystal gazing, by purposed inattention; and also that a receptive or clairvoyant condition occurs occasionally without provocation, during sleep and during trance. All these states seem to some extent allied, and, as is well known, Mr. Myers has elaborated their relationship in his series of articles on the subliminal consciousness.
Well now, the question arises, What is the source of the intelligence manifested during epochs of clairvoyant lucidity, as sometimes experienced in the hypnotic or the somnambulic state, or during trance, or displayed automatically?
The most striking cases of which I am now immediately or mediately cognisant, are the trance state of Mrs. Piper and the automatism of such writers as Mrs. Verrall and Mrs. Holland. Without any apparent lulling of attention at all I am experimentally assured of the possibility of conveying information between one mind and another without the aid of ordinary sense organs; but the cases mentioned are especially striking, and will serve to narrow the field to what, after all, may be considered at present the main points.
Mrs. Piper in the trance state is undoubtedly (I use the word in the strongest sense; I have absolutely no more doubt on the subject than I have of my friends' ordinary knowledge of me and other men), - Mrs. Piper's trance personality is undoubtedly aware of much to which she has no kind of ordinarily recognised clue, and of which in her ordinary state she knows nothing. But how does she get this knowledge? She herself when in the trance state asserts that she gets it by conversing - or, it may be, by telepathic communion - with the deceased friends and relatives of people present. And that this is a genuine opinion of hers, i.e. that the process feels like that to her unconscious or subconscious mind - the part of her which used to call itself Phinuit and now calls itself "Rector" - I am fully prepared to believe. But that does riot carry us very far towards a knowledge of what the process actually is.
Conversation implies speaking with the mouth, - and when receiving or asking information she is momentarily in a deeper slumber, and not occupied in normal speech. At times, indeed, slight mutterings of one-sided questions and replies are heard, or are written, very like the mutterings of a person in sleep under-going a vivid dream.
Dream is certainly the ordinary person's nearest approach to the entranced condition; and the fading of recollection as the conscious memory returns is also paralleled by the waking of Mrs. Piper out of the trance. But, instead of a nearly passive dream, it is more nearly allied to the somnambulic state; though the activity, far from being chiefly locomotory, is mainly mental and only partially muscular.
She may be in a state of somnambulism in which mind is more active than body; and the activity is so different from her ordinary activity, she is so distinctly a different sort of person, that she quite appropriately calls herself by another name.
It is natural to ask, Is she still herself? But it is a question difficult to answer unless "herself" be defined. It is her mouth that is speaking, or her hand which is writing, and I suppose her brain and nerves are working the muscles; but they are not worked in the customary way, nor does the mind manifested thereby at all resemble her mind. Until, however, the meaning of identity can be accurately specified, I find it difficult to discuss the question whether she or another person is really speaking.
On this point the waking experience of Mrs. Newnham - an automatic writer quoted in
Phantasms of the Living, vol. i., p. 63 - is of assistance. In her case the hand wrote matter not in the writer's mind and which she did not feel that she was writing. Her hand wrote while she was taking the attention of her own conscious mind away from her hand and letting it be guided by her subconscious or by some other mind.
The instructive feature about this case was that the minds apparently influencing the hand were not so much those of dead as of living people. The advantage of this was that they could be catechised afterwards about their share in the transaction; and it then appeared that they either knew nothing about it or were surprised at it; for though the communication did correspond to something in their minds, it did not represent anything of which they were consciously thinking, and was only a very approximate rendering of what they might be wishing to convey. They did not seem able to exercise control over the messages, any more than untrained people can control their thoughts in dreams. But we must not jump to the conclusion that this will always be the case; that the connexion is
never reciprocally conscious, as when two persons are talking; but it shows that at any rate it need not be so. Since the living communicant is not aware of what is being dictated, so the dead person need not be consciously operative; and thus conceivably the hand of the automatist may be influenced by minds other than his own, minds both living and dead (by, one apparently as readily as by the other), but not always by a portion which is consciously active.
That this community of mind or possibility of distant interchange or one-sided reception of thoughts exists is to me perfectly clear and certain. I venture further to say that persons who deny the bare fact, expressed as I here wish to express it without any hypothesis, are simply ignorant. They have not studied the facts of the subject. It may be for lack of opportunity, it may be for lack of inclination; they are by no means bound to investigate it unless they choose; but any dogmatic denials which such persons may now perpetrate will henceforth, or in the very near future, redound to the discredit, not of the phenomena thus ignorantly denied, but of themselves, the over-confident and presumptuous deniers.
We must not too readily assume that the apparent action of one mind on another is really such an action. The impression received
may come from the ostensible agent, but it may come through a third person or messenger; or again it may, as some think more likely, come from a central mind - some Anima Mundi - to which all ordinary minds are related and by which they are influenced. If it could be shown that the action is a syntonic or sympathetic connexion between a pair of minds, then it might be surmised that the action is a physical one, properly to be expressed as occurring directly between brain and brain, or body and body. On the other hand, the action may conceivably be purely psychological, and the distant brain may be stimulated not by the intervention of anything physical or material but in some more immediate manner, - from its psychological instead of from its physiological side.
The question is quite a definite one if properly expressed: Does the action take place through a physical medium, or does it not?
a priori likelihood are worthless; if the question is to be answered it must be attacked experimentally.
ordinary way in which A communicates with B is through a certain physical mechanism, and the thought of A may be said to exist for a finite time as an etherial or aerial quiver before it reproduces a similar thought in the mind of B. We have got so accustomed to the existence of this intermediate physical process that instead of striking us as roundabout and puzzling it appeals to us as natural and simple; and any more direct action of A on B, without physical mechanism, is scouted as absurd or at least violently improbable. Well, it is merely a question of fact, and perhaps it is within the range of a crucial experiment.
But it may be at once admitted that such an experiment is difficult of execution. If the effect is a physical one it should vary according to some law of distance, or it should depend on the nature of the intervening medium; but, in order to test whether in any given case such variation occurs, it is necessary to have both agent and percipient in an unusually dependable condition, and they should if possible be unaware of the variation which is under test.
This last condition is desirable because of the sensitiveness of the sub-consciousness to suggestion: self-suggestion and other. If the percipient got an idea that distance or interposed screens were detrimental, most likely they would be detrimental; and although a suggestion might be artificially instilled that distance was advantageous, this would hardly leave the test quite fair, for the lessened physical stimulus might perhaps be over-utilised by the more keenly excited organism. Still that is an experiment to be tried among others; and it would be an instructive experience if the agent some day was, say, in India when the percipient thought he was in London, or vice versa.
It is extremely desirable to probe this question of a physical or non-physical mode of communication in cases of telepathy; and if the fact can be established beyond doubt that sympathetic communication occurs between places as distant as India or America and England, or the terrestrial antipodes, - being unfelt between, or in the neighbourhood of the source, - then I should feel that this was so unlike what we are accustomed to in Physics that I should be strongly urged to look to some other and more direct kind of mental relationship as the clue. Some of the recent experiments conducted by Miss Miles and Miss Ramsden (Proc., vol. xxi. pp. 60-93), mentioned in Chapter IV. above, tend to support such a contention.
This then, is the first question on which crucial experiments are desirable though difficult.
(l) Is the mechanism of telepathy physical or not?
The second question of which I am thinking is one less easy to stale and far less easy (as I think) to resolve. It may be stated thus, in two parts, or as two separate questions:
(2) Is the power of operating on the minds of terrestrial persons confined to living terrestrial people?
(3) Is the power of operating on or interfering with the rest of the physical universe confined to living material bodies?
I should conjecture that an affirmative answer to Question l would render likely an affirmative answer to Questions 2 and 3; but that a negative answer to Question l would leave 2 and 3 entirely open; because, so far as we at present know, terrestrial people, and people, with material bodies, may be the only people who exist.
It is this possibility, or, as many would hold, probability or almost certainty, that renders the strict scientific statement of Questions 2 and 3 so difficult. Yet they are questions which must be faced, and they ought to be susceptible, in time, of receiving definite answers.
That there are living terrestrial people we know; we also know that there is an immense variety of other terrestrial life;- though if we were not so familiar with the fact, the luxuriant prevalence and variety of life would be surprising. The existence of a bat, for instance, or a lobster, would be quite incredible. Whether there is life on other planets we do not know, and whether there is conscious existence between the planets we do not know; but I see no
a priori reason for making scientific assertions on the subject one way or the other. It is only at present a matter of probability just because we know that the earth is peopled with an immense variety of living beings, I myself should rather expect to find other regions many-peopled, and with a still more extraordinary variety. So also, since mental action is conspicuous on the earth, I should expect to find it existent elsewhere. If life is necessarily associated with a material carcase, then no doubt the surface of one of the many planetary masses must be the scene of its activity; but if any kind of mental action is independent of material environment-being satisfied for instance with an etherial body, if a body is necessary, - then it may conceivably be that the psychical population is not limited to the surface of material aggregates or globes of matter, but may luxuriate either in the interstellar spaces or even perhaps in some undimensional form of existence of which we have no conception.
Were it not for the fact of telepathy the entire question would be an idle one, - a speculation based on nothing and apparently incapable of examination, still less of verification or disproof. But granted the fact of telepathy the question ceases to be an idle one, because it is just possible that these other intelligences, if they in any sense exist, may be able to communicate with us by the same sort of process as that by which we are now learning to be able to communicate with each other by non-physical means, - by means apparently independent of material sense organs. Whether it be true or not, it has been constantly and vehemently asserted as a fact that such communications, mainly from deceased relatives, but often also from strangers, are occasionally received by living persons.
The utterances of Phinuit, the handwriting of Miss A., Mr. Stainton Moses, and others, abound with communications purporting to come from minds not now associated with terrestrial matter.
Very well then; is a crucial or test experiment possible, to settle whether this claim is well founded or not?
Mere sentimental messages, conveying personal traits of the deceased, though frequently convincing to surviving friends, cannot be allowed much scientific weight. Something more definite or generally intelligible must be sought.
Of such facts the handwriting of the deceased person, if reproduced accurately by an automatist who has never seen that handwriting, seems an exceptionally good test if it can be obtained. But the negative proof of ignorance on the part of the writer is difficult.
At first sight facts known to the deceased but not known to the automatist, if reported in a correct and detailed manner so as to surpass mere coincidence, would seem a satisfactory test. But here telepathy, which has stood us in good stead so far, begins to operate the other way; for if the facts are known to nobody on earth they cannot perhaps be verified; and if they are known to somebody still alive - however distant he may be - it is necessary to assume it
possible that they were unconsciously "telepathed" from his mind.
But a certain class of facts may be verified without the assistance or knowledge of any living person, - as when a miser having died with the sole clue to a deposit of "valuables" an automatist's hand, over the miser's signature, subsequently describes the place; or when a sealed document, carefully deposited, is posthumously deciphered. The test in either of these cases is a better one. But still, living telepathy of a deferred kind is not excluded (though to my thinking it is rendered extremely improbable), for, as Mr. Podmore has often urged, the person writing the document or burying the treasure may have been
ipso facto an unconscious agent on the minds of contemporaries.
of Apparently Posthumous Activity
One of the most remarkable instances of this kind, and one which fortunately received the attention of the Philosopher Kant is one in which Swedenborg acted as the Medium, and is thus described by Kant in a letter published as an Appendix to his cautious little book on clairvoyance which has been translated into English under the title,
Dreams of a Spirit Seer.
Madame Herteville (Marteville), the widow of the Dutch Ambassador in Stockholm, some time after the death of her husband, was called upon by Croon, a goldsmith, to pay for a silver service which her husband had purchased from him. The widow was convinced that her late husband had been much too precise and orderly not to have paid this debt, yet she was unable to find this receipt. In her sorrow, and because the amount was considerable, she requested Mr. Swedenborg to call at her house. After apologising to him for troubling him, she said that if, as all people say, he possessed the extraordinary gift of conversing with the souls of the departed, he would perhaps have the kindness to ask her husband how it was about the silver service. Swedenborg did not at all object to comply with her request. Three days afterward the said lady had company at her house for coffee. Swedenborg called, and in his cool way informed her that he had conversed with her husband. The debt had been paid several months before his decease, and the receipt was in a bureau in the room upstairs. The lady replied that the bureau had been quite cleared out, and that the receipt was not found among all the papers. Swedenborg said that her husband had described to him, how after pulling out the left-hand drawer a board would appear, which required to be drawn out, when a secret compartment would be disclosed, containing his private Dutch correspondence, as well as the receipt. Upon hearing this description the whole company arose and accompanied the lady into the room upstairs. The bureau was opened; they did as they were directed; the compartment was found, of which no one had ever known before; and to the great astonishment of all, the papers were discovered there, in accordance with his description.
It is difficult to attribute this apparently posthumous activity to deferred telepathy from the living burgo-master - i.e., deferred from the time when he was engaged in storing the papers - perhaps still more in this case because they were not stored with any view of subsequently- disclosing their hiding place. Postponement of the apparently posthumous action for more than a century, so that all contemporaries are necessarily dead, strains this sort of telepathic explanation still more - in fact to breaking point; but such an event is hardly within the reach of purposed experiment. The storage of objects or messages is; and responsible people ought to write and deposit specific documents, for the purpose of posthumously communicating them to some one if they can; taking all reasonable precautions against fraud and collusion, and also, - which is perhaps a considerable demand, - taking care that they do not forget the contents themselves.
If telepathy ever occurs from a supra-mundane and immaterial region, that is to say, from a discarnate mind not possessed of a brain, it may be difficult or impossible to distinguish it from clairvoyance. And, indeed, probably no discrimination would be necessary: that may be what "second-sight" or clairvoyance really is. But from the scientific point of view there is clearly all the difference in the world between recognised telepathy, such as has been proved to occur between one living person and another, and that other more hypothetical kind which has been suspected as occurring between discarnate intelligences, if there are any, and living people. If the process of ordinary experimental telepathy were ever ascertained to be a direct action of brain on brain, then acceptance of the other more hypothetical kind of telepathy would be almost forbidden - at any rate, would be rendered extremely difficult. If, however, the process of transmission should turn out to be a purely psychical one, - that is a psychological action directly between mind and mind, so that the brains at each end are only the instruments of record and verification, - then the possibility of a transfer of thought between minds unprovided with these appliances - or between one such mind and an embodied mind-is not at all inconceivable. It still has to be established, of course, and the difficulty of proof is still very great; but the effort towards such a proof is a legitimate one. It is that effort which for some years now the Society has been patiently making, and specimens of some of the results so far attained will be dealt with in Section IV.
Meanwhile, I can refer students to a careful Report drawn up by Mrs. Sidgwick in Proceedings, S.P.R., vol. iii., on cases of apparitions of persons so long deceased that the telepathic impression generated - if it is done by telepathy at all - must be attributed to the persistent activity of a discarnate mind. These are what have to be called Phantasms of the Dead.