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the ordinary course of terrene history.

In the second place, we have no warrant for the assumption that the
phantom seen, even though it be somehow caused by a deceased person,
is that deceased person, in any ordinary sense of the word. Instead of
appealing to the crude analogy of the living friend who, when he has
walked into the room, is in the room, we shall find for the ghost a much
closer parallel in those hallucinatory figures or phantasms which living
persons can sometimes project at a distance. When Mr. Kirk, for in-
stance, caused by an effort of will an apparition of himself to a waking per-
cipient out of sight (see 668 B), he was himself awake and conscious in
the place where, not his phantom, but his body, stood. Whatever, then,
that phantom was however generated or conditioned we cannot say
that it was himself. And equally unjustifiable must be the common
parlance which speaks of the ghost as though it were the deceased person
himself a revenant coming back amongst living men.

All this, of course, will be already familiar to most of my readers, and
only needs repetition here because experience shows that when as with
these post-mortem phantoms the deceased person has gone well out of
sight or reach there is a fresh tendency, so to say, to anthropomorphose
the apparition ; to suppose that, as the deceased person is not provably
anywhere else, he is probably here ; and that the apparition is bound to
behave accordingly. All such assumptions must be dismissed, and the
phantom must be taken on its merits, as indicating merely a certain
connection with the deceased, the precise nature of that connection
being a part of the problem to be solved.

And in the third place, just as we must cease to say that the phantom is
the deceased, so also must we cease to ascribe to the phantom the motives
by which we imagine that the deceased might be swayed. We must


therefore exclude from our definition of a ghost any words which assume
its intention to communicate with the living. It may bear such a relation
to the deceased that it can reflect or represent his presumed wish to
communicate, or it may not. If, for instance, its relation to his post-
mortem life be like the relation of my dreams to my earthly life, it may
represent little that is truly his, save such vague memories and instincts
as give a dim individuality to each man's trivial dreams.

703. Let us attempt, then, a truer definition. Instead of describing
a " ghost " as a dead person permitted to communicate with the living,
let us define it as a manifestation of persistent personal energy, or as an
indication that some kind of force is being exercised after death which is
in some way connected with a person previously known on earth. In this
definition we have eliminated, as will be seen, a great mass of popular
assumptions. Yet we* must introduce a further proviso, lest our definition
still seem to imply an assumption which we have no right to make. It
is theoretically possible that this force or influence, which after a man's
death creates a phantasmal impression of him, may indicate no con-
tinuing action on his part, but may be some residue of the force or
energy which he generated while yet alive. There may be -veridical after-
images such as Gurney hints at (Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. p. 417)
when in his comments on the recurring figure of an old woman seen on
the bed where she was murdered he remarks that this figure suggests
not so much " any continuing local interest on the part of the deceased
person, as the survival of a mere image, impressed, we cannot guess how,
on we cannot guess what, by that person's physical organism, and per-
ceptible at times to those endowed with some cognate form of sensitive-
ness." (I quote the case referred to in 733 B, and a second similar one
in 745 B.)

Strange as this notion may seem, it is strongly suggested by many
of the cases of haunting which are referred to later in this chapter.
We shall presently find (see 745-751) that there is strong evidence
for the recurrence of the same hallucinatory figures in the same
localities, but weak evidence to indicate any purpose in most of these
figures, or any connection with bygone individuals, or with such trage-
dies as are popularly supposed to start a ghost on its career. In
some of these cases of frequent, meaningless recurrence of a figure in a
given spot, we are driven to wonder whether it can be some deceased
person's past frequentation of that spot, rather than any fresh action of
his after death, which has generated what I have termed the veridical
after-image veridical in the sense that it communicates information,
previously unknown to the percipient, as to a former inhabitant of the
haunted locality.

Such are some of the questions which our evidence suggests. And I
may point out that the very fact that such bizarre problems should present
themselves at every turn does in a certain sense tend to show that these


apparitions are not purely subjective things, do not originate merely in
the percipient's imagination. For they are not like what any man would
have imagined. What man's mind does tend to fancy on such topics
may be seen in the endless crop of fictitious ghost stories, which furnish,
indeed, a curious proof of the persistence of preconceived notions. For
they go on being framed according to canons of their own, and deal with
a set of imaginary phenomena quite different from those which actually
occur. The actual phenomena, I may add, could scarcely be made
romantic. One true " ghost story " is apt to be very like another, and
most of them to be fragmentary and apparently meaningless. Their
meaning, that is to say, lies in their conformity, not to the mythopceic
instinct of mankind, which fabricates and enjoys the fictitious tales, but
to some unknown law, not based on human sentiment or convenience
at all.

And thus, absurdly enough, we sometimes hear men ridicule the
phenomena which actually do happen, simply because those phenomena
do not suit their preconceived notions of what ghostly phenomena ought
to be ; not perceiving that this very divergence, this very unexpectedness,
is in itself no slight indication of an origin outside the minds which
obviously were so far from anticipating anything of the kind.

704. And in fact the very qualities which are most apt to raise deri-
sion are such as the evidence set forth in the earlier chapters of this work
might reasonably lead us to expect. For I hold that now for the first time
can we form a conception of ghostly communications which shall in any
way consist or cohere with more established conceptions ; which can be
presented as in any way a development of facts which are already experi-
mentally known. Two preliminary conceptions were needed conceptions
in one sense ancient enough ; but yet the first of which has only in this
generation found its place in science, while the second is as yet awaiting
its brevet of orthodoxy. The first conception is that with which hypnotism
and various automatisms have familiarised us, the conception of multiplex
personality, of the potential co-existence of many states and many memories
in the same individual. The second is the conception of telepathy ; of
the action of mind on mind apart from the ordinary organs of sense ; and
especially of its action by means of hallucinations ; by the generation of
veridical phantasms which form, as it were, messages from men still in the
flesh. And I believe that these two conceptions are in this way connected,
that the telepathic message generally starts from, and generally impinges
upon, a subconscious or submerged stratum in both agent and percipient. 1
Wherever there is hallucination, whether delusive or veridical, I hold
that a message of some sort is forcing its way upwards from one stratum
of personality to another, a message which may be merely dreamlike and
incoherent, or which may symbolise a fact otherwise unreachable by the
percipient personality. And the mechanism seems much the same whether
1 See Phantasms of the Living, vol. i. p. 231.


the message's path be continued within one individual or pass between
two ; whether A's own submerged self be signalling to his emergent self
or B be telepathically stimulating the hidden fountains of perception in A.
If anything like this be true, it seems plainly needful that all that we know
of abnormal or supernormal communications between minds, or states of
the same mind, still embodied in flesh, should be searched for analogies
which may throw light on this strangest mode of intercourse between
embodied and disembodied minds. Our steps on this uncertain ground
must needs be short and wavering. But they may help to mark the right
direction for future inquiry, and to dispel certain vulgar preconceptions
which can only mislead.

A communication (if such a thing exists) from a departed person to a
person still on earth is, at any rate, a communication from a mind in one
state of existence to a mind in a very different state of existence. And it
is, moreover, a communication from one mind to another which passes
through some channel other than the ordinary channels of sense, since
on one side of the gulf no material sense-organs exist. It will apparently
be an extreme instance of both these classes of communications between
state and state, 1 and of telepathic communications ; and we ought, there-
fore, to approach it by considering the less advanced cases of both these

On what occasions do we commonly find a mind conversing with
another mind not on the same plane with itself? with a mind inhabiting
in some sense a different world, and viewing the environment with a
difference of outlook greater than the mere difference of character of the
two personages will account for?

The first instance of this sort which will occur to us lies in spon-
taneous somnambulism, or colloquy between a person asleep and a
person awake. And observe here how slight an accident allows us to
enter into converse with a state which at first sight seems a type of incom-
municable isolation. " Awake, we share our world," runs the old saying,
" but each dreamer inhabits a world of his own." Yet the dreamer,
apparently so self-enclosed, may be gently led, or will spontaneously enter,
into converse with waking men.

The somnambulist, or rather the somniloquist for it is the talking
rather than the walking which is the gist of the matter is thus our first
natural type of the revenant.

And observing the habits of somnambulists, we note that the degree in
which they can communicate with other minds varies greatly in different

1 Some word is much needed to express communications between one state and
another, e.g. between the somnambulic and the waking state, or, in hypnotism, the
cataleptic and the somnambulic, &c. The word " methectic " (neQeKrutAs) seems to me
the most suitable, especially since /ue'flefjj happens to be the word used by Plato (Farm.
132 D.) for participation between ideas and concrete objects. Or the word " inter-state "
might be pressed into this new duty.


cases. One sleep-waker will go about his customary avocations without
recognising the presence of any other person whatever; another will
recognise certain persons only, or will answer when addressed, but only
on certain subjects, his mind coming into contact with other minds
only on a very few points. Rarely or never will a somnambulist spon-
taneously notice what other persons are doing, and adapt his own actions

Next let us turn from natural to induced sleep-waking, from idiopathic
somnambulism to the hypnotic trance. Here, too, throughout the different
stages of the trance, we find a varying and partial (or elective) power of
communication. Sometimes the entranced subject makes no sign what-
ever ; sometimes he seems able to hear and answer one person, or certain
persons, and not others ; sometimes he will talk freely to all ; but, however
freely he may talk, he is not exactly his waking self, and as a rule he has
no recollection, or a very imperfect recollection, in waking life of what he
has said or done in his trance.

Judging, then, from such analogy as communications from one living
state to another can suggest to us, we shall expect that the communication
of a disembodied or discarnate person with an incarnate, if such exist, will
be subject to narrow limitations, and very possibly will not form a part of
the main current of the supposed discarnate consciousness.

705. These preliminary considerations are applicable to any kind of
alleged communication from the departed whether well or ill evidenced ;
whether conveyed in sensory or in motor form.

Let us next consider what types of communication from the dead our
existing evidence of communications among the living suggests to us
as analogically possible. It appears to me that there is an important
parallelism running through each class of our experiments in automatism
and each class of our spontaneous phenomena. Roughly speaking, we
may say that our experiment and observation up to this point have
comprised five different stages of phenomena, viz., (I.) hypnotic sugges-
tion; (II.) telepathic experiments; (III.) spontaneous telepathy during
life; (IV.) phantasms at death; (V.) phantasms after death. And we
find, I think, that the same types of communication meet us at each
stage ; so that this recurrent similarity of types raises a presumption that
the underlying mechanism of manifestation at each stage may be in some
way similar.

Again using a mere rough form of division, we shall find three main
forms of manifestation at each stage : (i ) hallucinations of the senses ; (2)
emotional and motor impulses ; (3) definite intellectual messages.

(I.) And first let us start from a class of experiments into which tele-
pathy does not enter, but which exhibit in its simplest form the mechan-
ism of the automatic transfer of messages from one stratum to another of
Jthe same personality. I speak, of course, of post-hypnotic suggestions.
Here the agent is a living man, operating in an ordinary way, by direct


speech. The unusual feature lies in the condition of the percipient, who
is hypnotised at the time, and is thus undergoing a kind of dislocation of
personality, or temporary upheaval of a habitually subjacent stratum of
the self. This hypnotic personality, being for the time at the surface,
receives the agent's verbal suggestion, of which the percipient's waking
self is unaware. Then afterwards, when the waking self has resumed its
usual upper position, the hypnotic self carries out at the stated time the
given suggestion, an act whose origin the upper stratum of consciousness
does not know, but which is in effect a message communicated to the
upper stratum from the now submerged or subconscious stratum on
which the suggestion was originally impressed.

And this message may take any one of the three leading forms men-
tioned above ; say a hallucinatory image of the hypnotiser or of some
other person ; or an impulse to perform some action ; or a definite word
or sentence to be written automatically by the waking self, which thus
learns what order has been laid upon the hypnotic self while the waking
consciousness was in abeyance.

(II.) Now turn to our experiments in thought-transference. Here
again the agent is a living man ; but he is no longer operating by ordinary
means, by spoken words or visible gestures. He is operating on the
percipient's subconscious self by means of a telepathic impulse, which he
desires, indeed, to project from himself, and which the percipient may
desire to receive, but of whose modus operandi the ordinary waking selves
of agent and percipient alike are entirely unaware.

Here again we may divide the messages sent into the same three main
classes. First come the hallucinatory figures always or almost always of
himself which the agent causes the percipient to see. Secondly come
impulses to act, telepathically impressed, as when the hypnotiser desires
his subject to come to him at an hour not previously notified. And thirdly,
we have a parallel to the post-hypnotic writing of definite words or
figures in our own experiments on the direct telepathic transmission
of words, figures, cards, &c., from the agent, using no normal means of
communication, to the percipient, either in the hypnotised or in the
waking state.

(III.) We come next to the spontaneous phantasms occurring during
life. Here we find the same three broad classes of messages, with this
difference, that the actual apparitions, which in our telepathic experimen-
tation are thus far unfortunately rare, become now the most important
class. I need not recall the instances given in Chapters IV. and VI.,
&c., where an agent undergoing some sudden crisis seems in some way to
generate an apparition of himself seen by a distant percipient. Important
also in this connection are those apparitions of the double, where some one
agent (Mrs. Stone, Mrs. Beaumont, &c., see 645 B and C), is seen re-
peatedly in phantasmal form by different percipients at times when that
agent is undergoing no special crisis.


Again, among our telepathic impressions generated (spontaneously,
not experimentally) by living agents, we have cases, which I need not
here recapitulate, of pervading sensations of distress ; or impulses to return
home (see, e.g., the case of Mr. Skirving in 825 A), which are parallel to
the hypnotised subject's impulse to approach his distant hypnotiser, at a
moment when that hypnotiser is willing him to do so.

And thirdly, among these telepathic communications from the living
to the living, we have definite sentences automatically written, communi-
cating facts which the distant person knows, but is not consciously
endeavouring to transmit.

(IV.) Passing on to phantasms which cluster about the moment of
death, we find our three main classes of cases still meeting us. Our
readers are familiar with the visual cases, where there is an actual appari-
tion of the dying man, seen by one or more persons ; and also with the
(motional and motor cases, where the impression, although powerful, is
not definitely sensory in character. And various cases also have been
published where the message has consisted of definite words, not always
externalised as an auditory hallucination, but sometimes automatically
uttered or automatically written by the percipient himself, as in the case
communicated by Dr. Libeault (see section 866), where a girl writes
the message announcing her friend's death at the time when that friend is,
in fact, dying in a distant city.

706. (V.) And now I maintain that in these post-mortem cases also
we find the same general classes persisting, and in somewhat the same
proportion. Most conspicuous are the actual apparitions, with which,
indeed, the following pages will mainly deal. It is very rare to find an
apparition which seems to impart any verbal message ; but a case of
this kind has been given in 429 E. As a rule, however, the apparition
is of the apparently automatic, purposeless character, already so fully
described. We have also the emotional and motor class of post-mortem
cases (as Mr. Cameron Grant's, given in 736 B) ; and these may, perhaps,
be more numerous in proportion than our collection would indicate;
for it is obvious that impressions which are so much less definite than
a visual hallucination (although they may be even more impressive to
the percipient himself) can rarely be used as evidence of communication
with the departed.

But now I wish to point out that, besides these two classes of post-
mortem manifestations, we have our third class also still persisting; we
have definite verbal messages which at least purport, and sometimes, I
think, with strong probability, to come from the departed.

I have, indeed, for the reader's convenience, postponed these motor
cases to a subsequent chapter, so that the evidence here and now pre-
sented for survival will be very incomplete. Yet, at any rate, we are
gradually getting before us a fairly definite task. We have in this
chapter to record and analyse such sensory experiences of living men


as seem referable to the action of some human individuality persisting
after death. We have also obtained some preliminary notion as to the
kind of phenomena for which we can hope, especially as to what their
probable limitations must be, considering how great a gulf between
psychical states any communication must overpass.

707. Let us now press the actual evidential question somewhat
closer. Let us consider, for it is by no means evident at first sight,
what conditions a visual or auditory phantasm is bound to fulfil before it
can be regarded as indicating prima facie the influence of a discarnate
mind. The discussion may be best introduced by quoting the words in
which Edmund Gurney opened it in 1888.* The main evidential lines as
there laid down retain their validity, although the years which have since
passed have greatly augmented the testimony, and in so doing have illus-
trated yet other tests of true post-mortem communication, to which we
shall presently come.

Those who have followed the records and discussions printed in the Pro-
ceedings and the Journal of this Society will not need to be informed how little
the evidence which has not infrequently led even educated persons to believe
in the actual reappearance of dead friends really justifies any such belief. The
reason can be given in a single sentence. In most of the cases where persons
have professed to have seen or to have held communication with deceased
friends and relatives, there is nothing to distinguish the phenomenon which
their senses have encountered from purely subjective hallucination. Simple as
this statement seems, the truth which it embodies remained for centuries un-
guessed. It is only in comparatively modern days that the facts of sensory
hallucination have been at all understood, and that the extreme defmiteness
which the delusive object may take has been recognised ; and even now the
truth of the matter has not had time to penetrate to the popular mind. The
reply of average common sense to any account of an apparition is usually either
that the witness is lying or grossly exaggerating, or that he was mad or drunk
or emotionally excited at the time ; or at the very most that his experience was
an illusion a misinterpretation of some sight or sound which was of an entirely
objective kind. A very little careful study of the subject will, however, show
that all these hypotheses must of ten be rejected ; that the witness may be in good
health, and in no exceptional state of nervousness or excitement, and that what
he sees or hears may still be of purely subjective origin the projection of his
own brain. And among the objects thus fictitiously presented, it is only natural
to expect that a certain percentage will take the form of a human figure or
voice which the percipient recognises as that of a deceased person ; for the
memory of such figures and voices is part of his mental store, and the latent
images are ready to supply the material of waking hallucination, just as they
are ready to supply the material of dream.

It is further evident that in alleged cases of apparitions of the dead, the
point which we have held to distinguish certain apparitions of living persons
from purely subjective hallucinations is necessarily lacking. That point is
coincidence between the apparition and some critical or exceptional condition
of the person who seems to appear ; but with regard to the dead, we have no

l Proceedings S.P.R., vol. v. pp. 403-408.


independent knowledge of their condition, and therefore never have the oppor-
tunity of observing any such coincidences.

There remain three, and I think only three, conditions which might estab-
lish a presumption that an apparition or other immediate manifestation 1 of a
dead person is something more than a mere subjective hallucination of the per-
cipient's senses. Either (i) more persons than one might be independently
affected by the phenomenon ; or (2) the phantasm might convey information,
afterwards discovered to be true, of something which the percipient had never
known ; or (3) the appearance might be that of a person whom the percipient
himself had never seen, and of whose aspect he was ignorant, and yet his de-

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 89)