Frederic William Henry Myers.

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805] MOTOR AUTOMATISM 87

" possession " must rank, in my view, among the most important pheno-
mena yet observed by man. For their proper study we need far more of
introductory matter than in these volumes I can possibly give. I shall at
any rate, therefore, make no apology for the ambages et longa exorsa the
long and tortuous approach through which my reader, I fear, must follow
me, if he is at last to discover any connection and congruity between those
trance-messages and the structure of his own previous knowledge. I shall
at any rate not attempt to conceal my own ignorances and uncertainties ;
but shall grope about, so to say, before my reader's eyes, indicating again
and again where our insight at present ends, and repeating again and
again, from different points of view, and with fresh illustrations, those im-
perfect, yet important, fragments of knowledge which I hold that we have
in fact attained.

805. As a first step in our analysis, we may point out certain main
characters which unite in a true class all the automatisms which we are
here considering greatly though these may differ among themselves in
external form.

In the first place, then, our automatisms are independent phenomena ;
they are what the physician calls idiognomonic. That is to say, they are not
merely symptomatic of some other affection, or incidental to some pro-
founder change. The mere fact, for instance, that a man writes messages
which he does not consciously originate will not, when taken alone, prove
anything beyond this fact itself as to the writer's condition. He may b
perfectly sane, in normal health, and with nothing unusual observable
about him. This characteristic provable by actual observation and
experiment distinguishes our automatisms from various seemingly kindred
phenomena. Thus we may have to include in our class the occasional
automatic utterance of words or sentences. But the continuous exhausting
vociferation of acute mania does not fall within our province ; for those
shouts are merely symptomatic ; nor, again, does the cri hydrocephalique
(or spontaneous meaningless noise which sometimes accompanies water on
the brain) ; for that, too, is no independent phenomenon, but the direct
consequence of a definite lesion. Furthermore, we shall have to include
in our class certain simple movements of the hands, co-ordinated into the
act of writing. But here, also, our definition will lead us to exclude
choreic movements, which are merely symptomatic of nervous mal-nutri-
tion ; or which we may, if we choose, call idiopafhic, as constituting an
independent malady. But our automatisms are not idiopathic but idio-
gnomonic ; they may indeed be associated with or facilitated by certain
states of the organism, but they are neither a symptom of any other malady,
nor are they a malady in themselves.

Agreeing, then, that our peculiar class consists of automatisms which are
idiognomonic, whose existence does not necessarily imply the existence
of some profounder affection already known as producing them, we have
still to look for some more positive bond of connection between them



88 CHAPTER VIII [806

some quality common to all of them, and which makes them worth our
prolonged investigation.

This we shall find in the fact that they are all of them message-bearing
or nundative automatisms. I do not, of course, mean that they all of
them bring messages from sources external to the automatist's own mind.
In some cases they probably do this ; but as a rule the so-called messages
seem more probably to originate within the automatist's own personality.
Why, then, it may be asked, do I call them messages ? We do not usually
speak of a man as sending a message to himself. The answer to this
question involves, as we shall presently see, the profoundest conception
of these automatisms to which we can as yet attain. They present them-
selves to us as messages communicated from one stratum to another
stratum of the same personality. Originating in some deeper zone of a
man's being, they float up into superficial consciousness as deeds, visions,
words, ready-made and full-blown, without any accompanying perception
of the elaborative process which has made them what they are.

806. Can we then (we may next ask) in any way predict the possible
range of these motor automatisms ? Have we any limit assignable a priori,
outside which it would be useless to look for any externalisation of an
impulse emanating from sub-conscious strata of our being?

The answer to this must be that no such limit can be with any con-
fidence suggested. We have not yet learnt with any distinctness even
how far the wave from a censavusfy-perceived. stimulus will spread, or what
changes its motion will assume. Still less can we predict the limitations
which the resistance of the organism will impose on the radiation of a
stimulus originated within itself. We are learning to consider the human
organism as a practically infinite complex of interacting vibrations ; and
each year adds many new facts to our knowledge of the various trans-
formations which these vibrations may undergo, and of the unexpected
artifices by which we may learn to cognise some stimulus which is not
directly felt.

A few concrete instances will make my meaning plainer. And my
first example shall be taken from those experiments in muscle-reading
less correctly termed mind-reading with which the readers of these
Proceedings are already familiar. Let us suppose that I am to hide a pin,
and that some accomplished muscle-reader is to take my hand and find
the pin by noting my muscular indications. 1 I first hide the pin in the
hearth-rug; then I change my mind and hide it in the bookshelf. I fix
my mind on the bookshelf, but resolve to make no guiding movement.
The muscle-reader takes my hand, leads me first to the rug, then to the
bookshelf, and finds the pin. Now, what has happened in this case?
What movements have I made ?

Firstly, I have made no voluntary movement ; and secondly, I have
made no conscious involuntary movement. But, thirdly, I have made an
1 See, for instance, Proceedings S.P.R., vol. i. p. 291.



807] MOTOR AUTOMATISM 89

unconscious involuntary movement which directly depended on conscious
ideation. I strongly thought of the bookshelf, and when the bookshelf
was reached in our vague career about the room I made a movement
say rather a tremor occurred in my hand, which, although beyond both
my knowledge and my control, was enough to supply to the muscle-
reader's delicate sensibility all the indication required. All this is now
admitted, and, in a sense, understood ; we formulate it by saying that my
conscious ideation contained a motor element ; and that this motor
element, though inhibited from any conscious manifestation, did yet
inevitably externalise itself in a peripheral tremor.

But, fourthly, something more than this has clearly taken place.
Before the muscle-reader stopped at the bookshelf he stopped at the rug
I was no longer consciously thinking of the rug ; but the idea of the pin
in the rug must still have been reverberating, so to say, in my sub-con-
scious region ; and this unconscious memory, this unnoted reverberation,
revealed itself in a peripheral tremor nearly as distinct as that which
(when the bookshelf was reached) corresponded to the strain of conscious
thought.

This tremor, then, was in a certain sense a message-bearing auto-
matism. It was the externalisation of an idea which, once conscious, had
become unconscious, though in the slightest conceivable degree namely,
by a mere slight escape from the field of direct attention.

807. Having, then, considered an instance where the automatic
message passes only between two closely-adjacent strata of consciousness,
externalising an impulse derived from an idea which has only recently
sunk out of consciousness and which could easily be summoned back
again ; let us find our next illustration in a case where the line of
demarcation between the strata of consciousness through which the
automatic message pierces is distinct and impassable by any effort
of will.

Let us take a case of post-hypnotic suggestion say, for instance, an
experiment of Edmund Gurney's (see Proceedings S.P.R., vol. iv. p. 319).
The subject had been trained to write with planchette, after he had been
awakened, the statements which had been made to him when in the
hypnotic trance. He wrote the desired words, or something like them,
but while he wrote them his waking self was entirely unaware of what his
hand was writing. Thus, having been told in the trance, " It has begun
snowing again," he wrote after waking, " It begun snowing," while he read
aloud, with waking intelligence, from a book of stories, and was quite
unconscious of what his hand (placed on a planchette behind a screen)
was at the same time writing.

Here we have an automatic message of traceable origin ; a message
implanted in the hypnotic stratum of the subject's self, and cropping up
like a fault in the waking stratum, externalised in automatic move-
ments which the waking self could neither predict nor guide.



90 CHAPTER VIII [808

808. Yet once more. In the discussion which will follow we shall
have various instances of the transformation (as I shall regard it) of
psychical shock into definite muscular energy of apparently a quite alien
kind. Such transformations of so-called psychical into physical force
of will into motion do of course perpetually occur within us. But the
nature of these is commonly much obscured by the problem as to the
true efficacy of the will ; and it seems desirable to cite one or two
examples of such transmutation where the process is what we call auto-
matic, and we seem to detect the simple muscular correlative the motor
equivalent to some emotion or sensation which contains no obvious
motor element at all.

An easy, though a rough, way of testing transmutations of this kind
is afforded by the dynamometer. It is necessary first to discover the
amount of pressure which the subject of experiment can exert on the
dynamometer, by squeezing it with all the force at his command, in his
ordinary condition. After he has had a little practice his highest attain-
able force of squeeze becomes nearly constant ; and it is then possible to
subject him to various stimuli, and to measure the degree of response ;
that is, the degree in which his squeeze becomes either more or less power-
ful while the stimulus is applied. The experiments are, in fact, a sort of
elaboration of a familiar phenomenon. I take a child to a circus ; he sits
by me holding my hand ; there is a discharge of musketry and his grip
tightens. Now in this case we should call the child's tightened grip
automatic. But suppose that, instead of merely holding my hand, he is
trying with all his might to squeeze the dynamometer, and that the sudden
excitation enables him to squeeze it harder are we then to describe that
extra squeeze as automatic? or as voluntary?

However phrased, it is the fact (as amply established by M. Fe>e"
and others 1 ) that excitations of almost any kind whether sudden and
startling or agreeable and prolonged do tend to increase the subject's
dynamometrical power. In the first place, and this is in itself an impor-
tant fact, the average of squeezing-power is found to be greater among
educated students than among robust labouring men, thus showing that it
is not so much developed muscle as active brain which renders possible a
sudden concentration of muscular force. But more than this ; M. Fe>6
finds that with himself and his friends the mere listening to an interesting
lecture, or the mere stress of thought in solitude, or still more the act of
writing or of speech, produces a decided increase of strength in the grip,
especially of the right hand. The same effect of dynamogeny is produced
with hypnotic subjects, by musical sounds, by coloured light, especially red
light, and even by a hallucinatory suggestion of red light. " All our
sensations," says M. F6r6 in conclusion, "are accompanied by a develop-
ment of potential energy, which passes into a kinetic state, and externalises

1 Sensation et Mouvement, par Ch. Fere. Paris : Alcan, 1887.



809] MOTOR AUTOMATISM 91

itself in motor manifestations which even so rough a method as dynamo-
metry is able to observe and record."

I would beg the reader to keep these words in mind. We shall pre-
sently find that a method apparently even rougher than dynamographic
tracings may be able to interpret, with far greater delicacy, the automatic
tremors which are coursing to and fro within us. If once we can get a
spy into the citadel of our own being, his rudest signalling will tell us
more than our subtlest inferences from outside of what is being planned
and done within.

809. Further illustrations might easily be here given. But for brevity's
sake I pass on to the automatic messages which form our special subject,
trusting that the specimens above given of motor cxternalisations of unex-
pected kinds may have led the reader to feel that experiment alone can
tell us how far such delicate motor indications may in fact be traceable ;
how much of information may pass from one stratum of our consciousness
to another, and in a form how strangely transmuted. And having now to
deal with what I define as messages conveyed by one stratum in man to
another stratum, I must first consider in what general ways human mes-
sages can be conveyed. Writing and speech have become predominant
in the intercourse of civilised men, and it is to writing and speech that we
look with most interest among the communications of the subliminal
self. But it does not follow that the subliminal self will always have
such complex methods at its command. We have seen already that it
often finds it hard to manage the delicate co-ordinations of muscular move-
ment required for writing, that the attempt at automatic script ends in a
thump and a scrawl. Does the history of animal communication suggest
to us to try any easier, more rudimentary plan ?

The first communications of animals are by gesture ; and even when
sound is added this is at first only a specialised kind of gesture. The
higher animals discriminate their calls ; man develops speech ; and the
message-giving impulse parts into the main channels of movement move-
ment of the throat and movement of the hand. The hand-gestures
" high as heaven," " horned like a stag," and so forth develop in their
turn into the rude drawing of objects ; and this graphic impulse again
divides along two channels. On the one hand it develops into the
pictorial and plastic arts, conveying its messages through what may be
termed a direct, as opposed to an arbitrary symbolism. On the other
hand it assimilates itself to the laws of speech, it becomes ideographic ;
and gradually merging direct into arbitrary symbolism it becomes alpha-
betical script, arithmetic, algebra, telegraphy.

But the word telegraphy suggests to us that in recent times a fresh
beginning has had to be made in human communication ; modes have
had to be invented by which a civilised man, disposing only of a few
simple movements, the deflections of the indicating needle, might attain
to the precision of grammatical speech. This, as we know, has been easily



92 CHAPTER VIII [809

effected ; and the mere repetition of one or two simple movements at
varied intervals suffices, to eye or ear, for all the purposes of an alphabet.

Now we shall find, perhaps, among the communications of the sub-
liminal self parallels to all these varying modes of communication. But
since the subliminal self, like the telegraphist, begins its effort with full
knowledge, indeed, of the alphabet, but with only weak and rude command
over our muscular adjustments, it is a priori likely that its easiest mode
of communication will be through a repetition of simple movements, so
arranged as to correspond to letters of the alphabet.

And here, I think, we have attained to a conception of the mysterious
and much-derided phenomenon of " table-tilting " which enables us to
correlate it with known phenomena, and to start at least from an intelligible
basis, and on a definite line of inquiry.

A few words are needed to explain what are the verifiable phenomena,
and the less verifiable hypotheses, connoted by such words as " table-
turning," "spirit-rapping," and the like.

If one or more persons of a special type, at present definable only
by the question-begging and barbarous term " mediumistic," remain
quietly for some time with hands in contact with some easily] movable
object, and desiring its movement, that object will sometimes begin to
move. If, further, they desire it to indicate letters of the alphabet by its
movements, as by tilting once for a, twice for b, &c., it will often do so,
and answers unexpected by any one present will be obtained.

Thus far, whatever our interpretation, we are in the region of easily
reproducible facts, which many of my readers may confirm for themselves
if they please.

But beyond the simple movements or table-turning and the intelli-
gible responses or table-tilting both of which are at least primd facie
physically explicable by the sitters' unconscious pressure, without postu-
lating any unknown physical force at all, it is alleged by many persons
that further physical phenomena occur ; namely, that the table moves in a
direction, or with a violence, which no unconscious pressure can explain ;
and also that percussive sounds or " raps " occur, which no unconscious
action, or indeed no agency known to us, could produce. These raps
communicate messages like the tilts, and it is to them that the name of
" spirit-rapping " is properly given. But spiritualists generally draw little
distinction between these four phenomena mere table-turning, responsive
table-tilting, movements of inexplicable vehemence, and responsive raps
attributing all alike to the agency of departed spirits of men and women,
or at any rate to disembodied intelligences of some kind or other.

I am not at present discussing the physical phenomena of Spiritualism,
and I shall therefore leave on one side all the alleged movements and
noises of this kind for which unconscious pressure will not account. I do
not prejudge the question as to their real occurrence ; but assuming that
such disturbances of the physical order do occur, there is at least no



810] MOTOR AUTOMATISM 93

facie need to refer them to disembodied spirits. If a table moves when
no one is touching it, this is not obviously more likely to have been
effected by my deceased grandfather than by myself. We cannot tell how
/ could move it ; but then we cannot tell how he could move it either.
The question must be argued on its merits in each case ; and our present
argument is not therefore vitiated by our postponement of this further
problem.

810. Before M. Richet 1 1 believe that no writer, outside the Spiritual-
istic group, so much as showed any practical knowledge of this phenomenon,
still less endeavoured to explain it. Faraday's well-known explanation of
table-turning as the result of the summation of many unconscious move-
ments obviously true as it is for some of the simplest cases of table-
movement does not touch this far more difficult question of the
origination of these intelligent messages, conveyed by distinct and repeated
movements of some object admitting of ready displacement. The ordinary
explanation I am speaking, of course, of cases where fraud is not in
question is that the sitter unconsciously sets going and stops the move-
ments so as to shape the word in accordance with his expectation. Now
that he unconsciously sets going and stops the movements is part of my
own present contention, but that the word is thereby shaped in accordance
with his expectation is often far indeed from being the case. Several
of the examples in the Appendices to this chapter illustrate the bizarre
capriciousness of these replies their want of relation to anything antici-
pated or desired by the persons in contact with the table. Similar
instances might be indefinitely multiplied ; but any one who is really
willing to take the requisite trouble can satisfy himself on this point by
experiment with a sufficiently varied list of trustworthy friends. To those
indeed who are familiar with automatic written messages, this question as
to the unexpectedness of the tilted messages will present itself in a new
light. If the written messages originate in a source beyond the auto-
matist's supraliminal self, so too may the tilted messages ; even though
we admit that the tilts are caused by his hand's pressure of the table
just as directly as the' script by his hand's manipulation of the pen.

One piece of evidence which I have cited (in 830 A) in order to
show that written messages were not always the mere echo of expectation,
was a case where anagrams were automatically written, which their writer
was not at once able to decipher. Following this hint, I have occasionally
succeeded in getting anagrams tilted out for myself by movements of a
small table which I alone touched. I should add that although, as I have
elsewhere mentioned, I have never succeeded in writing automatically, I
have nevertheless, after some hundreds of trials, continued over many
years, attained the power of eliciting by unconscious pressure tilted re-
sponses which do not emanate from my own conscious self. That they do,

1 La Suggestion Mentale (see Proceedings S.P.R., vol. ii. pp. 239 sqq.).



94 CHAPTER VIII [811

however, emanate from some stratum of my being from that fragmentary
and incoherent workshop where dreams are strung together seems to me,
as already indicated, the most probable hypothesis.

The anagrams or rather jumbles of letters forming a short word
which I have myself obtained, have been of the simplest kind. But occa-
sionally I have not at once recognised the word thus given, but have been
aware of a distinct interval before the word which my own unconscious
muscular action had thus confusedly " tilted out " was grasped by my
conscious intelligence. This is a kind of experiment which might with
advantage be oftener repeated ; for the extreme incoherence and silliness
of the responses thus obtained does not prevent the process itself from
being in a high degree instructive. Here, again (as in the automatic
writing of the "Clelia" case, 830 A), a man may hold colloquy with his
own dream may note in actual juxtaposition two separate strata of his
own intelligence.

I shall not at present pursue the discussion of these tilted responses
beyond this their very lowest and most rudimentary stage. They almost
immediately suggest another problem, for which our discussion is hardly
ripe, the participation, namely, of several minds in the production of the
same automatic message. There is something of this difficulty, even in
the explanation of messages given when the hands of two persons are
touching a planchette ; but when the instrument of response is large, and
the method of response simple, as with table-tilting, we find this question
of the influence of more minds than one imperatively recurring.

811. Our immediate object, however, is rather to correlate the differ-
ent attainable modes of automatic response in some intelligible scheme
than to pursue any one of them through all its phases. We regarded the
table-tilting process as in one sense the simplest, the least-differentiated
form of motor response. It is a kind of gesture merely, though a gesture
implying knowledge of the alphabet. Let us see in what directions the
movement of response becomes more specialised, as gesture parts into
pictorial art and articulate speech. We find, in fact, that a just similar
divergence of impulses takes place in automatic response. On the one
hand the motor impulse specialises itself into drawing; on the other hand
it specialises itself into speech. Of automatic drawing I have already said
something (Chapter III. 324). Automatic speech will receive detailed
treatment in Chapter IX. At present I shall only briefly indicate the
position of each form of movement among cognate automatisms.

Some of my readers may have seen these so-called " spirit-drawings,"
designs, sometimes in colour, whose author asserts that he drew them
without any plan, or even knowledge of what his hand was going to do.
This assertion may be quite true, and the person making it may be per-
fectly sane. 1 The drawings so made will be found curiously accordant

1 See the quotations from Mr. Wilkinson's book in 811 A. But, of course, like



Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 14 of 89)