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ampler memory which we must suppose to exist, in some potential form
at least, imprinted upon our organism. The faint and crude recollections
of sensations and movements, which are all that we can call into ordinary
consciousness, would be far from enabling us to recognise sensations, or
to repeat movements, as we actually do recognise and repeat them. The
study of hypnotic suggestion, moreover, has shown us how these potential
or latent memories may be grasped and used. The increased power over
the organism which the subject under suggestion shows necessarily implies
an increased memory of the organism's past ; the hyperboulia, as I have
termed it, is hypermnesia as well. That wider will-power, indeed, is
probably no more aware of the exact mechanism which it employs in its
control of secretions, &c., than I am of the exact mechanism by which I
raise my hand to my head. And, similarly, the hypnotic memory is
probably itself very shallow as compared to what a complete summation of
all the lapsed memories of the organism might be. But already we find
it descending deeply to gland and blood-vessel, implicated as these are in
stigmatisation and similar phenomena, and we can draw no clear line
below which all organic consciousness must cease, and memory must
become no more than a metaphor.

We cannot draw such a line, I say, either on the basis of smallness of
magnitude or of remoteness in time. We cannot assert that organic
memory may not inhere in a single cell or neuron, or even in a single
living molecule. Neither can we assert that organic memory cannot be
prolonged backwards before birth. Birth, indeed, is but an incident in
each organism's history ; that organism has an embryonic life before birth,
and a pre-embryonic life in countless lines of ancestry. Although we
no longer say with the " traducianist " schoolmen that Adam's body
included not only his own soul but the souls of all his descendants, we
still trace to ancestors more remote than Adam characteristics which even
now influence our psychical life.

It is a moot point how far the life-experiences of each organism modify
by what we regard ats purely physiological transmission the characteristics
of its descendants. The rude suggestion (so to term it) of the amputated


limb, or other injury, is commonly not accepted by the offspring ; the
embryo develops unaffected by the shock which the parent has undergone
previously to the act of union. But if that shock fall upon the mother
during the embryo's life, and if it chance (in post-natal suggestions also
there seems much of what we must needs call chance in this) if it chance
to reach the mother's, subliminal self in effective fashion, it may then
transfer itself to the embryo, and imprint upon the child the organic
memory of the mother's emotion of admiration, disgust, or fear. No one
doubts this form of heredity when it is exhibited on a striking scale, as
with children born during the alarms of a siege, or of the Reign of Terror
in France. And I believe that there is evidence enough to show that
isolated and momentary suggestions as the sight of a crushed ankle or
missing finger may produce a definite localised effect on the embryo in
much the same way as a hypnotic suggestion may produce a localised
congestion or secretion. 1

If, then, we thus find imprinted on the child's organism such a con-
spicuous, specialised memory of perhaps an almost instantaneous emotion
of the mother's, we must surely suspect that his organism may contain
also some inborn memories less conspicuous and more purely cerebral
than such a gross phenomenon as a mark on the face or a deformed finger.
And by this new route we shall come round again to something like the
innate ideas of certain philosophical systems. Nor can we absolutely
limit such influence to the actual parent organism alone. For aught we
know, the "germ-plasm" whatsoever may be the continuous link of all
generations may be capable of reacting to psychical suggestions as sensi-
tively as the embryo. The shaping forces which have made our bodies
and our minds what they are may always have been partly psychical forces,
from the first living slime-speck to the complex intelligences of to-day.

This view is not inconsistent with the suggestion which I have made
elsewhere, that the human spirit's supernormal powers of telepathy and
telaesthesia are survivals from the powers which that spirit once exercised
in a transcendental world. It may well be that the spirit, already modified
by cosmic experiences dating back to infinity, may inform the body already
modified by terrene experiences dating back to the first appearance of life
on our planet. Both the old traducianist and the old transmigration ist
view would thus possess a share of truth ; and the actual man would be
the resultant not only of intermingling heredities on father's and mother's
side, but of intermingling heredities, one of planetary and one of cosmic

Passing on from hereditary or pre-natal memories, through the various
other types, e.g. the organic memory of impressions received by each man
during his own past life ; the occasional sudden revival of a series of life-
memories both swifter and fuller than conscious effort could have supplied ;
cases of ecmnesia, where the recent impressions are suppressed in favour
1 See vol. i., 526 and 526 A, B, and C.

268 CHAPTER IX [983

of the old ; cases where the hysteric under skilful hypnotic treatment can
recall and reveal the long-forgotten incident which started her malady ;
we may place next cases of clairvoyant insight into the organic condition
of an absent person. Here we come to a definitely supernormal power ;
and it is a power which claims to involve both backward and forward
knowledge such as actual medical examination of the patient could not
attain. There are further cases in which a definite fact in a man's life has
become known supernormally ; or sometimes a recent event unconnected
with the percipient is revealed ; and there are, of course, numerous trance
communications where knowledge of the past is claimed to proceed from
some more or less definite disembodied intelligence. Supernormal retro-
cognition depends, it appears, on the perception by us of knowledge
contained in other minds, embodied or disembodied, and possibly on the
absorption by us of knowledge afloat, so to say, in the Universe ; which
may be grasped by our spirit's outreaching, or which may fall on us like

983. Coming now to precognitions, we must first observe that there
are many where what looks like knowledge of the future can be analysed
into an enlarged knowledge of what actually exists.

There are, indeed, certain phenomena " monitions " as we may term
them which in common parlance are often spoken of as /ranonitions, and
used as a type of knowledge of the future, where it is nevertheless plain
that all that is needed is a somewhat extended perception of near facts.

These monitions of which several instances were given in 818-825,
range from incidents so trivial and momentary that it would seem absurd
to ascribe them to anything more dignified than a barely subliminal
stratum of the percipient's own consciousness, up to important warnings
which claim the authority of some departed but still watchful friend.

At the lower end of this series come the obscure intimations which
restrain us from action on grounds which perhaps are only just forgotten
and still by effort recoverable. The chess player, returning after various
trains of calculation to the temptation of a specious move, will dimly feel
a sense of restraint ; " I must not do that, though I cannot recollect
why" Sometimes this subliminal warning presents itself as a physical
hesitation ; the hand refusing to execute an order which is really un-
reasonable ; and which is felt to be such so soon as some trivial recent
fact is remembered. (See 818 A.)

One step further, and we have an actual externalised hallucination of
touch checking the inconsiderate action. (See 818 B.)

Next we come to monitions based upon a fact apparently not forgotten
merely, but never known ; a fact lying demonstrably beyond the normal
sensory cognisance of the percipient.

A fact beyond his normal sensory cognisance, I say ; but obviously
before we assume that he has perceived that fact in a transcendental or
telsesthetic fashion, we must make the fullest allowance for hyperaes-


thesia, for an extension of the bodily senses which may include this
strange knowledge within its range. Nay, more ; our search for possible
hypersesthesia is bound to be much wider than any search which the
physiologist is likely thus far to have found worth his pains. His interest
has lain in definite measurable extensions of the higher senses, rather
than in obscure and novel sensations which led to no clear end. It is
for these last, on the other hand, that it is our special duty to search.
We have obscure and novel facts to explain, and before we confidently
assign them to psychical and transcendental causes, we must try and
think of everything which the human body might conceivably discern
or discover.

I say " the body " rather than " the senses " ; for we must go back in our
inquiry (though of course without expectation of immediate success) to an
ancestral condition far anterior to any senses which we now know. We
must go back to the first germ of life, and in place of merely crediting it
with " irritability," which is all the power of reaction which it can actually
show us, we must credit it with all the potentialities which the history of
its descendants teaches us to infer as already latent in it. We know into
how wide a gamut of feeling the germ's vague internal sensation, its vague
external sensation, have diffused and specialised themselves in man. We
dimly conjecture into what other rays the spectrum of that dim primal
gleam of consciousness has been fanned out in animals other than man.
And we may feel assured also, as I have already pointed out, that all the
known or guessed sensations of men and animals are but a small selection
from the range of sensations potentially educible from the vague panas-
thesia, so to term it, of the primal germ. Average experience within
average limits that is all that our known senses cover. If the stimulus
be too weak, we are liable to mistake the sense through which it comes to
us ; if it be too strong, we are liable to feel a mere distress or bewilder-
ment, not referred to any definite sense. It is surely conceivable, then,
that all our known sensibilities may form merely a kind of bull's eye ;
the place where outer and inner influences oftenest touch our central
sensorium ; while round this bull's-eye all kinds of unclassified obscure
sensations probably scatter.

It follows that when we have to explain very strange perceptions we
must be on the look-out, not only for the hyperaesthesia of known senses,
but also for that more generalised form of hyperaesthesia which may involve
senses (peripheral or central) as yet incipient and unrecognised, although
still depending on the material world, a wider selection from the potential
panaesthesia of the primal germ. There may there must be evolution
still going on in us in relation to our material as well as to our transcen-
dental environment, and we must not claim phenomena for the latter
without taking account of the former as well.

Once more, we must remember that the assumed new sensitivities,
physical and transcendental, may be linked together in ways quite unknown


to us. The synaesthesiae, which have only of late years been noted
between the ordinary senses of which " coloured audition," or sound-
seeing, is the accepted type may be carried yet further, and may connect
in unlooked-for ways man's responses to his physical and to his trans-
cendental environments. There will be nothing to surprise us if the same
percipient should receive a number of subliminal intimations, of which
some are to be referred to hyperaesthesia and some to telaesthesia, or to
telepathy from the living or from the dead.

I have said that hyperaesthesia may be peripheral or central ; that is to
say, that it may consist in the heightened perception of sensations coming
from outside our organism, or from within the brain. I have already
given (820-823) some cases of apparent telaesthesia, or of apparent pre-
vision, which may possibly, though by no means certainly, be referable to
an extension of the external senses.

From these cases of possible hyperaesthesia of the external senses we
may make our transition to central hyperaesthesia, a heightening of inner
sensations to a point where the future history of the organisation can be
guessed or divined with unusual distinctness. This is virtually but another
aspect of the knowledge of intimate processes which self-suggestion has so
often shown. If the subliminal self can induce or arrest changes in the
organism, it may well be able also to foresee such changes when they are
approaching through natural causes. In whatever direction we have seen
suggestion operate, in that direction may we expect to see organic predic-
tion operate also. Thus, for instance, suggestion has produced fainting,
and also bleeding at the nose, and we have cases of precisely similar
predictions (see Proceedings S.P.R., vol. viii. p. 339 ; and vol. xi. p.
426), or even predictions of death (see 425 A).

984. This seems to show that a man's subliminal self may sometimes
perceive his own approaching death, and may transmit this knowledge to
the empirical self, sometimes by aid of a hallucination. Now we know
that the subliminal self may sometimes communicate to other persons
knowledge which it cannot or does not communicate to its own empirical
self. This is familiar enough in hypnotic experiments, or in spontaneous
automatic script, which script may be (for instance) written in a position
turned away from the automatist, and may remain unknown to him,
although its content must have come from, or passed through, his own
deeper being. We know also that an agent has sometimes succeeded in
transmitting a phantasmal image of himself to a percipient at a distance,
without knowing whether he has, in fact, been successful or no.

It is natural, therefore, to ask whether there is anything to show that
the subliminal self ever reveals the approach of death, not to its own
empirical self, but to other persons ; showing, perhaps, by a phantasmal
image, the source from which the information comes.

To this question we have some ground for returning an affirmative
answer, for my readers will remember that there are various cases where


the phantom of a person destined soon to die has been seen by a per-
cipient at a distance ; nor does it seem that such an apparition depends
upon the decedent's own supraliminal effort. On the contrary, it often
appears while he is asleep or in a comatose condition (see, e.g., cases in
Proceedings S.P.R., vol. xi. pp. 440-454).

While there are thus many precognitions which are in various ways
explicable without postulating any direct knowledge of the future, since
they may be due only to some kind of inference from a knowledge of
existing facts wider than our own, it is possible that other cases may be
due to inference of some supernormal kind, some perception of the
future more direct than any which our ordinary minds enjoy. Such are
some of the dream-predictions quoted in the Appendices to section 425
(see vol. i. pp. 402-413). It is conceivable that predictions of these and
other types may be communicated by disembodied spirits, to whom may
also be attributed the cases that suggest an unseen guidance or protection
(see 824 and the cases given at the end of 663 A).

985. Finally, we must admit the possibility of a knowledge which
comes to a man from no individuated, or at least from no human source ;
which is no longer inference but the reflection of Reality itself; of the
World-Soul as the Future ; of a pre-existent Cosmorama of infinite fates.

But before turning to this last line of reflection, I must say a few
words as to the relation of our evidence to the problem of Free Will.
Here I have a suggestion to make which even in this time-worn con-
troversy is, I think, absolutely novel. It is that we have now a possibility
of making the question between liberty and determination a matter of
actual experiment.

Let us put that old question in this specific form : " Is there evidence
that any power can show me a picture involving my own (so-called)
voluntary actions in the future, which picture I cannot by any effort in
the smallest degree hinder from becoming actual fact?"

For mere ordinary prevision this would of course be impossible. But
we have here certain foreshadowings which depend on no ordinary pre-
vision, and which are more wholly outside ourselves than any information
of equally definite character which we can otherwise receive. The scenes
or statements thus given in complete detail seem sometimes to be fulfilled
with equal completeness. But must they, or must any of them, inevitably
be thus fulfilled ? Here it is that a possibility of experiment comes in.
The experiment indeed cannot be conclusive either way. But suppose
that as in some folklore story we were to make vigorous effort to avert
some incident, and were yet to find that incident fulfil itself, perhaps by
dint of that very effort, exactly after the dreaded fashion, should we not
then have some reason to infer that earth-life was not really modifiable by
anything which we feel as free-will ?

Assuming such a result of our experiment, analogy would at once
suggest a further possibility. For our life on earth would then be seen to

272 CHAPTER IX [985

resemble the experience of the hypnotised subject, fulfilling unwittingly in
waking hours the suggestions previously made to him in the trance. We
should ask whether in our own history some epoch may have existed in
which a self-suggestion may have been given which could similarly domi-
nate our earthly career. Our complex organism, the result of a long pre-
vious history, is felt to restrict our so-called voluntary action within narrow
limits ; and if we possess also a soul independent of the body, it is surely
likely that the soul's previous history also for some previous history any
entity so highly specialised as a man's soul must have had may exercise
a determining influence, even more profound than the organism's influ-
ence, upon the thoughts and actions of this incarnation. There may, in
short, be a kind of alternating personality, expressing itself first in an in-
corporeal and then in a corporeal state, in such a way that the incorporeal
state is the deeper and the more permanent, and that suggestions thence
derived influence corporeal life, although the empirical consciousness
which governs that life may never know it.

This idea, of course, is not new to religion or to philosophy, in East
or West, and it has long since been suggested that our earthly exist-
ence may be the inevitable sequel of our past eternity ; a predestined
pilgrimage on which our true soul looks with calm content, since not one
of earth's phantom sorrows can find her unwilling or strike her unaware.
The soul foretaught, the body forewrought, these will move onwards as
they must and may ; but meanwhile the problem of Liberty and Necessity
will no longer be one for earthly experience to discuss ; it will be lifted
into a pre-natal region, among the secrets of the transcendental world.

All this must be conceived as possible ; yet I do not think that our
evidence thus far collected does in fact make for this view of pre-deter-
mined earthly fates. Rather we have seen that in many cases monitions
have averted incidents which would doubtless have occurred had the per-
cipient received no warning. And where dangers have been foreshown
and yet not averted, this seems often to have been because no adequate
effort was made to avert them. The problem which our narratives more
urgently suggest is how to reconcile so much foreknowledge with so much
freedom. I have suggested elsewhere that this problem of free human
wills amid the predictable operations of unchanging law may resemble the
problem of molecular motion amid molar calm. Clear and stable is for
us the diamond ; the dewdrop is clear and still ; yet within their tranquil
clarity a myriad molecules jostle in narrow orbits, or speed on an uncom-
puted way. So to " the spectator of all Time and of all Existence "
may the Cosmos be " as one entire and perfect chrysolite " ; and yet
man's petty hopes and passions may make endless turmoil among its
minutest elements and in its infinitesimal grains. Those movements, too,
must be ruled by unknown law ; yet on a wide view they will average out,
and will admit of predictions fulfilled immutably, and overriding the small
Wills of men.


986. Once more, and from a different standpoint. Few men have
pondered long on these problems of Past and Future without wondering
whether Past or Future be in very truth more than a name whether
we may not be apprehending as a stream of sequence that which is an
ocean of co-existence, and slicing our subjective years and centuries
from timeless and absolute things. The precognitions dealt with here,
indeed, hardly overpass the life of the individual percipient. Let us keep
to that small span, and let us imagine that a whole earth-life is in reality
an absolutely instantaneous although an infinitely complex phenomenon.
Let us suppose that my transcendental self discerns with equal directness
and immediacy every element of this phenomenon ; but that my empirical
self receives each element mediately and through media involving dif-
ferent rates of retardation ; just as I receive the lightning more quickly
than the thunder. May not then seventy years intervene between my
perceptions of birth and death as easily as seven seconds between my per-
ceptions of the flash and peal? And may not some inter-communication
of consciousness enable the wider self to call to the narrower, the more
central to the more external, " At such an hour this shock will reach you !
Listen for the Hearing roar ! "

And thinking thus of the Universe as no mere congeries of individual
experiences, but as a plenum of infinite knowledge of which all souls form
part, we come to count less and less upon having to deal exclusively with
intelligences individualised like our own. Our limitations of personality
may less and less apply to spirits drawing more directly upon the essential
reality of things. The definite intelligences which have crystallised, so to
say, out of the psychical vapour may even for us become again partly sub-
limated, may again be diffused for a moment amid such knowledge as our
organisations cannot receive except in ecstasy and bewilderment, or retain
except in vanishing symbol and obscure and earthly sign.

If then all these phenomena form part of one great effort by which
man's soul is striving to know his spiritual environment, and his spiritual
environment is striving to become known, how little can it matter what
the special incident foretold or foreshadowed may be ! What signifies
it whether this or that earthly peril be averted, or earthly benefit secured,
whether through this or that petty channel shall flow some stream of
mortal things ? The prime need of man is to know more fully, that he
may obey more unhesitatingly, the laws of the world unseen. And how
can this great end be attained save by the unfoldment from within, in
whatsoever fashion it may be possible, of man's transcendental faculty;
by his recognition of himself as a cosmic being and not a planetary, as
not a body but a soul ? Surely even that special premonition which is
sometimes spoken of as a thing of terror, the warning or the promise of
earthly death, should to the wise man sound as a friendly summons, and
as a welcome home. Let him remember the Vision which came to Socrates
in the prison-house ; then, and then only, showing in an angel's simili-
VOL. n. s

274 CHAPTER IX [987

tude the Providence which till that hour had been but as an impersonal
and invisible Voice ; but now the " fair and white-robed woman," while
friends offered escape from death, had already spoken of better hope than
this, and had given to Achilles' words a more sacred meaning, " On the
third day hence thou comest to Phthia's fertile shore."

Online LibraryFrederic William Henry MyersHuman personality : and its survival of bodily death (Volume 2) → online text (page 37 of 89)