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actual devil-worship and of so much more of vague supernatural fear ; all
this insensibly melts from the mind as we study the evidence before us.

Hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
Non radii solis neque lucida tela diei
Discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

Here surely is a fact of no little meaning. Our narratives have been
collected from men and women of many types, holding all varieties of
ordinary opinion. Yet the upshot of all these narratives is to emphasise
a point which profoundly differentiates the scientific from the superstitious
view of spiritual phenomena. The terror which shaped primitive theologies
still tinges for the populace every hint of intercourse with disembodied
souls. The transmutation of savage fear into scientific curiosity is of the
essence of civilisation. Towards that transmutation each separate fragment
of our evidence, with undesigned concordance, indisputably tends. In
that faintly opening world of spirit I can find nothing worse than living
men; I seem to discern not an intensification but a disintegration of
selfishness, malevolence, pride. And is not this a natural result of any
cosmic moral evolution? If the selfish man (as Marcus Antoninus has
it) " is a kind of boil or imposthume upon the universe," must not his
egoistic impulses suffer in that wider world a sure, even if a painful,
decay ; finding no support or sustenance among those permanent forces
which maintain the stream of things ?


754. I have thus indicated one point of primary importance on which
the undesignedly coincident testimony of hundreds .of first-hand narratives
supports a conclusion, not yet popularly accepted, but in harmony with
the evolutionary conceptions which rule our modern thought. Nor does
this point stand alone. I can find, indeed, no guarantee of absolute and
idle bliss ; no triumph in any exclusive salvation. But the student of
these narratives will, I think, discover throughout them uncontradicted
indications of the persistence of Love, the growth of Joy, the willing
submission to Law.

These indications, no doubt, may seem weak and scattered in com-
parison with the wholesale, thorough-going assertions of philosophical
or religious creeds. Their advantage is that they occur incidentally in the
course of our independent and cumulative demonstration of the pro-
foundest cosmical thesis which we can at present conceive as susceptible
of any kind of scientific proof. Cosmical questions, indeed, there may be
which are in themselves of deeper import than our own survival of bodily
death. , The nature of the First Cause ; the blind or the providential order-
ing of the sum of things ; these are problems vaster than any which affect
only the destinies of men. But to whatever moral certainty we may attain
on those mightiest questions, we can devise no way whatever of bringing
them to scientific test. They deal with infinity; and our modes of
investigation have grasp only on finite things.

But the question of man's survival of death stands in a position
uniquely intermediate betweeji matters capable and matters incapable of
proof. It is in itself a definite problem, admitting of conceivable proof
which, even if not technically rigorous, might amply satisfy the scientific
mind. And at the same time the conception which it involves is in itself
a kind of avenue and inlet into infinity. Could a proof of our survival be
obtained, it would carry us deeper into the true nature of the universe
than we should be carried by an even perfect knowledge of the material
scheme of things. It would carry us deeper both by achievement and by
promise. The discovery that there was a life in man independent of blood
and brain would be a cardinal, a dominating fact in all science and in all
philosophy. And the prospect thus opened to human knowledge, in this
or in other worlds, would be limitless indeed.

I do not venture to suppose that the evidence set forth in these volumes,
even when considered in connection with other evidence now accessible
in our Proceedings, will at once convince the bulk of my readers that the
momentous, the epoch-making discovery has been already made. Nay,
I cannot even desire that my own belief should at once impose itself upon
the world. Let men's minds move in their wonted manner : great con-
victions are sounder and firmer when they are of gradual growth. But
I do think that to the candid student it should by this time become
manifest that the world-old problem can now in reality be hopefully
attacked ; that there is actual and imminent possibility that the all-impor-


tant truth should at last become indisputably known ; and, therefore, that
it befits all " men of goodwill " to help toward this knowing with what
zeal they may.

755. And this leads me to conclude this chapter with one urgent
word at once of gratitude and of appeal. To the informants, to whose
care and kindness we owe the evidence collected in this work, I must
express the cordial acknowledgment of the whole group of inquirers to
whom their indispensable aid has been given. Especial thanks are due
to those exceptionally gifted persons who have permitted us to witness
and to test their supernormal powers. Viewed from the standpoint of
our own personal claim, or absence of claim, upon our informants' time
and attention, the amount of collaboration offered to us has been
generous indeed.

But another point of view must be considered. The research on
which my friends and I are engaged is not the mere hobby of a few
enthusiasts. Our opinions, of course, are individual and disputable ; but
the facts presented here and in the S.P.R. Proceedings are a very dif-
ferent matter. Neither the religious nor the scientific reader can longer
afford to ignore them, to pass them by. They must be met, they must
be understood, unless Science and Religion alike are to sink into mere
obscurantism. And the one and only way to understand them is to learn
more of them ; to collect more evidence, to try more experiments, to bring
to bear on this study a far more potent effort of the human mind than the
small group who have thus far been at work can possibly furnish. Judged
by this standard, the needed help has still to come. Never was there a
harvest so plenteous with labourers so few.


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800. In the pursuit of the vast and inchoate inquiry to which this
work is devoted, we are inevitably driven to push on in several directions
in turn, along an irregular line of advance. And it will be well to look
back for a moment from this point on the paths by which we have thus
far travelled, to realise what we have already achieved, and to make a
preliminary survey of the ground which still lies before us.

Our main theme, I repeat once more, is the analysis of human per-
sonality, undertaken with the object of showing that in its depths there lie
indications of life and faculty not limited to a planetary existence, or to
this material world.

In the first chapter this thesis was explained, and each chapter that has
followed has advanced us a step towards its establishment. In the second
chapter we found that the old-fashioned conception of human personality
as a unitary consciousness known with practical completeness to the
waking self needed complete revision. We began by tracing instances in
which that consciousness was disintegrated in various ways ; and even
among those morbid cases we found traces of the action of a profounder
self. In the third chapter, dealing with the phenomena of so-called
genius, we found further indications of a deeper self possessing habitually
a higher degree of faculty than the superficial self can readily employ. In
the fourth chapter certain phenomena connected with sleep manifesta-
tions of supernormal faculty both telsesthetic, telepathic, and premonitory
led us on to the conception of a highly evolved subliminal self operating
with unknown faculty in an unknown environment. Nay, we have thus
been led to think that this subliminal self represents, more fully than the
supraliminal self, our central and abiding being, so that, when the slumber
of the supraliminal self leaves it comparatively free, it performs two
functions of profound importance ; in the first place restoring and
rejuvenating the bodily organism by drafts upon the energy of the spiritual
world with which it is in communion, and in the second place itself

VOL. II. 8 1 F


entering into closer connection with that spiritual world, apart from the
bodily organism.

Qm fifth chapter, on Hypnotism, served as an experimental illustration
of this view. We there found that we could, by empirical processes,
deepen the sleeping phase of personality, and thus increase both the
subliminal self s power of renovating the organism, both in familiar and in
unfamiliar ways, and also its power of operating in a quasi-independent
manner in the spiritual world. In the hypnotic trance, moreover, that
hidden self was able to come to the surface, to speak and to answer ; to
present itself as an independent agent with which we could directly deal.
We seemed to see here an opening which might lead us far, if we could
learn to intensify the trance, and at the same time to keep the subliminal
self sufficiently alert and near to us to be still able to describe its experiences
as they occur. If, then, my evidence had ended at this point, I should
already have ventured to say, not indeed that my far-reaching theses had
received adequate proof, but yet that I had offered an intelligible and
coherent hypothesis which would be found to cover a multitude of pheno-
mena which at present stand in the text-books with no adequate explana-
tion, as well as a multitude of phenomena which the text-books altogether

But the evidence has not in fact ended with my fifth chapter. On the
contrary it has from that point taken a fresh start ; has become more
explicitly and manifestly corroborative of my initial thesis. For we have
gone on to find that this subliminal self, whose more remarkable workings
had thus far mainly been apparent in the sleeping phase of our personality,
is active, at any rate at occasional moments, during waking hours as well.
We proceeded in the sixth chapter to the study of automatisms, that is to
say, of manifestations of submerged mental processes, which do not enter
into ordinary consciousness. For convenience' sake I have divided these
automatisms into sensory and motor: on the one hand, the sights and
sounds which we see and hear through some subliminal faculty rather than
through the ordinary channels of sense ; on the other hand, the motions
which we perform, the words which we utter, moved in like manner by
some unknown impulse from the deeps within.

The sensory automatisms with which the sixth chapter dealt might be
regarded, then, as messages transmitted from the subliminal to the supra-
liminal self. Many of those sensory messages seemed plainly to have been
originated in the automatist's own mind. These illustrated in a new way
the coexistence of different series of thought and expressions of thought in
the same organism, but did not add to the evidence of supernormal
operations. Other sensory messages, however, there were which the
agency of a second person also was manifestly needed to explain. Such
were the telepathic or coincidental hallucinations for which so much
evidence has been adduced. These definitely indicate, I should rather
say that they distinctly prove^ a communication between the minds of


living persons, independently of the action of the recognised organs of

But this was not all. In the seventh chapter I went on to show that
there was no valid reason to suppose that bodily death put a stop to the
despatch of telepathic messages. By a long series of narratives I endea-
voured to prove that departed spirits, perhaps as frequently as incarnate
spirits, have communicated with incarnate spirits, with living persons,
by telepathic sensory messages of the same general type.

Here then we found a class of evidence the ghost-story of all ages
which has always hung loosely present in human belief, but which now at
last attains to a real cogency, partly by the improvement in its quality as
well as in its quantity, but largely also by its juxtaposition with all that
other telepathic evidence with which it is in fact of kindred type, and
which shows the old ghostly stories as no supernatural anomaly, but as
merely an advanced term in a progressive series of incidents dependent on
some coherent, though as yet incomprehensible, law.

At this point, one may broadly say, we reach the end of the pheno-
mena whose existence is vaguely familiar to popular talk. And here, too,
I might fairly claim, the evidence for my primary thesis, namely, that
the analysis of man's personality reveals him as a spirit, surviving death,
has attained an amplitude which would justify the reader in accepting that
view as the provisional hypothesis which comes nearest to a comprehensive
co-ordination of the actual facts. What we have already recounted seems,
indeed, impossible to explain except by supposing that our inner vision
has widened or deepened its purview so far as to attain some glimpses of
a spiritual world in which the individualities of our departed friends still
actually subsist.

801. The reader, however, who has followed me thus far must be
well aware that a large class of phenomena, of high importance, is still
awaiting discussion. Motor automatisms, though less familiar to the
general public than the phantasms which I have classed as sensory auto-
matisms, are in fact even commoner, and even more significant.

Motor automatisms, as I define them, are phenomena of very wide
range. We have encountered them already many times in this book. We
met them in the first place in a highly developed form in connection with
multiplex personality in Chapter II. Numerous instances were there
given of motor effects, initiated by secondary selves without the knowledge
of the primary selves, or sometimes in spite of their actual resistance. All
motor action of a secondary self is an automatism in this sense, in relation
to the primary self. And of course we might by analogy extend the use
of the word still further, and might call not only post-epileptic acts, but
also maniacal acts, automatic ; since they are performed without the
initiation of the presumedly sane primary personality. Those degenera-
tive phenomena, indeed, are not to be discussed in this chapter. Yet it
will be well to pause here long enough to make it clear to the reader just


what motor automatisms I am about to discuss as evolutive phenomena,
and as therefore falling within the scope of this treatise ; and what
kind of relation they bear to the dissolutive motor phenomena which
occupy so much larger a place in popular knowledge.

802. In order to meet this last question, I must here give more
distinct formulation to a thesis which has already suggested itself more
than once in dealing with special groups of our phenomena.

// may be expected that supernormal vital phenomena will manifest them-
selves as far as possible through the same channels as abnormal or morbid
vital phenomena, when the same centres or the same synergies are involved.

To illustrate the meaning of this theorem, I may refer to a remark
long ago made by Edmund Gurney and myself in dealing with " Phan-
tasms of the Living," or veridical hallucinations, generated (as we main-
tained) , not by a morbid state of the percipient's brain, but by a telepathic
impact from an agent at a distance. We observed that if a hallucination
a subjective image is to be excited by this distant energy, it will prob-
ably be most readily excited in somewhat the same manner as the morbid
hallucination which follows on a cerebral injury. We urged that this is
likely to be the case we showed ground for supposing that it is the case
both as regards the mode of evolution of the phantasm in the percipient's
brain, and the mode in which it seems to present itself to his senses.

And here I should wish to give a much wider generality to this prin-
ciple, and to argue that if there be within us a secondary self aiming at
manifestation by physiological means, it seems probable that its readiest
path of cxtcmalisation its readiest outlet of visible action, may often lie
along some track which has already been shown to be a line of low
resistance by the disintegrating processes of disease. Or, varying the meta-
phor, we may anticipate that the partition of the primary and the secondary
self will lie along some plane of cleavage which the morbid dissociations of
our psychical synergies have already shown themselves disposed to follow.
If epilepsy, madness, &c., tend to split up our faculties in certain ways,
automatism is likely to split them up in ways somewhat resembling these.

This argument might be illustrated by various physical analogies. Let
us choose as a simple one a musical instrument of limited range. The
consummate musician can get effects out of this instrument which the
ordinary player cannot rival. But he does this at the risk of evoking
occasional sounds such as only the most blundering of beginners is wont
to produce.

Savages take epilepsy for inspiration. They are thus far right, that
epilepsy is (so to speak) the temporary destruction of the personality in
consequence of its own instability, whereas inspiration was assumed to be
the temporary subjugation of the personality by invasion from without. The
one case (if I may use the metaphor) was a spontaneous combustion ; the
other an enkindlement by heavenly fire. In less metaphorical language,
explosion and exhaustion of the highest nervous centres must have some-


what the same look, whatever may have been the nature of the stimulus
which overcame their stability.

803. But in what way then, it will be asked, do you distinguish the
supernormal from the merely abnormal? Why assume that in these aber-
rant states there is anything besides hysteria, besides epilepsy, besides
insanity ?

The answer to this question has virtually been given in previous chap-
ters of this book. The reader is already accustomed to the point of view
which regards all psychical as well as all physiological activities as neces-
sarily either developmental or degenerative, tending to evolution or to dis-
solution. And now, whilst altogether waiving any ideological speculation,
I will ask him hypothetically to suppose that an evolutionary nisus, some-
thing which we may represent as an effort towards self-development, self-
adaptation, self-renewal, is discernible especially on the psychical side of
at any rate the higher forms of life. Our question, Supernormal or abnor-
mal? may then be phrased, Evolutive or dissolutive? And in studying
each psychical phenomenon in turn we shall have to inquire whether it
indicates a mere degeneration of powers already acquired, or, on the other
hand, the " promise and potency," if not the actual possession, of powers
as yet unrecognised or unknown.

Thus, for instance, Telepathy is surely a step in evolution. 1 To learn
the thoughts of other minds without the mediation of the special senses,
manifestly indicates the possibility of a vast extension of psychical powers.
And any knowledge which we can amass as to the conditions under which
telepathic action takes place, will form a valuable starting-point for an in-
quiry as to the evolutive or dissolutive character of unfamiliar psychical
states. 2

For example, we may learn from our knowledge of telepathy that the
superficial aspect of certain stages of psychical evolution, like the super-

1 To avoid misconception, I may point out that this view in no way negatives the
possibility that telepathy (or its correlative telergy) may be in some of its aspects com-
moner, or more powerful, among savages than among ourselves. Evolutionary processes
are not necessarily continuous. The acquirement by our lowly-organised ancestors of the
sense of smell (for instance) was a step in evolution. But the sense of smell probably
reached its highest energy in races earlier than man ; and it has perceptibly declined
even in the short space which separates civilised man from existing savages. Yet if,
with some change in our environment, the sense of smell again became useful, and we
reacquired it, this would be none the less an evolutionary process because the evolution
had been interrupted.

2 I do not wish to assert that all unfamiliar psychical states are necessarily evolutive
or dissolutive in any assignable manner. I should prefer to suppose that there are states
which may better be styled allotropic ; modifications of the arrangements of nervous
elements on which our conscious identity depends, but with no more conspicuous
superiority of the one state over the other than (for instance) charcoal possesses over
graphite or graphite over charcoal. But there may also be states in which the (meta-
phorical) carbon becomes diamond ; with so much at least of advance on previous states
as is involved in the substitution of the crystalline for the amorphous structure.


ficial aspect of certain stages of physiological evolution, may resemble mere
inhibition, or mere perturbation. But the inhibition may involve latent
dynamogeny, and the perturbation may mask evolution. The hypnotised
subject may pass through a lethargic stage before he wakes into a state in
which he has gained community of sensation with the operator ; somewhat
as the silkworm (to use the oldest and the most suggestive of all illustra-
tions) passes through the apparent torpor of the cocoon-stage before evolv-
ing into the moth. Again, the automatist's hand (as we shall presently see)
is apt to pass through a stage of inco-ordinated movements, which might
almost be taken for choreic, before it acquires the power of ready and in-
telligent writing. Similarly the development, for instance, of a tooth may
be preceded by a stage of indefinite aching, which might be ascribed to
the formation of an abscess, did not the new tooth ultimately show itself.
And still more striking cases of a perturbation which masks evolution might
be drawn from the history of the human organism as it develops into its
own maturity, or prepares for the appearance of the fresh human organism
which is to succeed it.

Analogy, therefore, both physiological and psychical, warns us not to
conclude that any given psychosis is merely degenerative until we have
examined its results closely enough to satisfy ourselves whether they tend
to bring about any enlargement of human powers, to open any new inlet
to the reception of objective truth. If such there prove to be, then, with
whatever morbid activities the psychosis may have been intertwined, it
contains indications of an evolutionary nisus as well.

804. These remarks, I hope, may have sufficiently cleared the
ground to admit of our starting afresh on the consideration of such motor
automatisms as are at any rate not morbid in their effect on the organ-
ism, and which I now have to show to be evolutive in character. I
maintain that we have no valid ground for assuming that the movements
which are not due to our conscious will must be less important, and
less significant, than those that are. We observe, of course, that in the
organic region the movements which are not due to conscious will are
really the most important of all, though the voluntary movements by
which a man seeks food and protects himself against enemies are also
of great practical importance he must first live and multiply if he
is to learn and know. But we must guard against confusing import-
ance for immediate practical life with importance for science on which
even practical life ultimately depends. As soon as the task of living and
multiplying is no longer all-engrossing, we begin to change our relative
estimate of values, and to find that it is not the broad and obvious
phenomena, but the residual and elusive phenomena, which are oftenest
likely to introduce us to new avenues of knowledge. I wish to persuade
my readers that this is quite as truly the case in psychology as in physics.

I may say at once that some of the automatic movements with which
we shall have to deal certain utterances and writings given in a state of

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 13 of 89)