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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

© 1898. New York, D. Appleton and Company.




        THE phenomena of abnormal states reviewed by us clearly reveal the presence of a subwaking self below the threshold of the waking self-consciousness. Turning now to a different class of phenomena, we find still further confirmation of the same truth. There is a great class of phenomena in which the subwaking self is brought to the light of day, but so as not to suppress the primary self. The two streams of consciousness run parallel to each other, the two selves coexist. The primary personality enters into direct intercourse with the risen lower, subwaking self. The phenomena I mean here are those of automatic writing.

        Usually, as the automatic writer begins his practice on the planchette, the pencil brings out but mere scrawls and scratches; but as the practice continues, letters, figures, words, phrases, and even whole discourses, flow from under the automatic pencil. It takes some time before there occurs a cleavage between the subwaking self and the waking personality. Gradually the subwaking self rouses itself from its trance, begins to bring out latent memories, starts to lisp, attempts to think coherently, gathers more intelligence and reason, attains even some degree of self-consciousness, gives itself a name, becomes at times eloquent, pouring forth fiat discourses on metaphysics and religion.

         To induce the first stages of automatic writing the same conditions are requisite as those of normal suggestibility. The subject starting his first lesson in automatic writing must strongly concentrate his attention on some letter, figure, or word; he must distract his attention from what is going on in his hand; he must be in a monotonous environment; he must not be disturbed by a variety of incoming sense impressions; he must keep quiet, thus limiting his voluntary movements; his field of consciousness must be contracted; no other ideas but the requisite ones should be present in the mind; and if other ideas and images do enter his mind, they' must be inhibited. These conditions, as we know, are favourable to dissociation, disaggregation of consciousness. In the phenomena of automatic writing we have a disaggregation of consciousness―the secondary subwaking consciousness is severed from the primary, waking self-consciousness. Both selves coexist; one does not interfere with the freedom of the other. Once the cleavage is accomplished the further observance of the conditions is, of course, superfluous―the phenomena of automatic writing manifest themselves freely, the subwaking self cheerfully discourses on all sorts of subjects whenever it is in the mood, and as long as it continues its independent life.

         There are, of course, different stages of cleavage. The incipient stage of automatic writing is described by Mr. P. Myers in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.1 The account is given by Mr. H. Arthur Smith: "I think I have observed that when my hand was on it [on the planchette], the wrist being grasped by the other hand, a word on which I concentrated my attention was written without any conscious volitional effort. I am doubtful as to this, as it is a difficult thing to be sure of the absence of volition, but such is my decided impression." The cleavage here between the two selves was faint, shadowy; nothing further occurred.

         Then, again, we have the case (given by Mr. F. Myers in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, November, 1884) of Mr. A., who can write words by mere attention (fixation), without any muscular effort whatever. He fixes his mind on a word, and his hand writes it with an involuntary spasm, while he is studiously avoiding all intentional impulse.

         A case of a more advanced stage of automatic writing is given in the Psychological Review for July, 1895. The subject knows beforehand what the hand is going to write, and he is not quite sure from whom the writing proceeds, whether from himself or from some "other." The cleavage is incomplete, partial.

         The highest stage of cleavage, when the subwaking self gathers round its being masses of intelligence and discourses on philosophical and religious questions, may be well illustrated by a very interesting and very instructive case of automatic writing given by Prof. W. James in his Psychology:

         "Some of it [automatic writing]," writes Mr. Sidney Dean to Prof. W. James, "is in hieroglyph or strange compounded arbitrary characters, each series possessing a seeming unity in general design or character, followed by what purports to be a translation or rendering into mother English. I never attempted the seemingly impossible feat of copying the characters. They were cut with the precision of a graver's tool, and generally with a single rapid stroke of the pencil. . . . When the work is in progress I am in the normal condition, and seemingly two minds, intelligences, persons, are practically engaged. The writing is in my own hand, but the dictation not of my own mind and will, but that of another, upon subjects of which I can have no knowledge, and hardly a theory; and I myself consciously criticise the thought, fact, mode of expressing it, etc., while the hand is recording the subject-matter, and even the words impressed to be written. . . .

         "Sentences are commenced without knowledge of mine as to their subject or ending.

         "There is in progress now at uncertain times, not subject to my will, a series of twenty-four chapters upon the scientific features of life, moral, spiritual, eternal. Seven have already been written in the manner indicated. These were preceded by twenty-four chapters relating generally to the life beyond material death, its characteristics, etc. Each chapter is signed by the name of some person who has lived on earth, some with whom I have been personally acquainted, others known in history. . . . I know nothing of the alleged authorship of any chapter until it is completed and the name impressed and appended. I am interested not only in the reputed authorship―of which I have nothing corroborative―in the philosophy, thought, of which I was in ignorance until these chapters appeared. It is an intelligent ego that writes, or else the influence assumes individuality, which practically makes the influence a personality. It is not myself; of that I am conscious at every step of the process."

         When the cleavage of the two selves from each other occurs, and the subwaking self begins to express himself and gets into possession of some organ which was before under the control of the waking personality, this organ becomes anæsthetic. The upper waking self does not get any more the peripheral sense impressions coming from that organ. It is now the subwaking self who possesses himself of these sense impressions and becomes conscious of them. The secondary self may extend its range of activity in its intercourse with the external world; it may go on enriching itself with the spoils got by plundering the waking self. Amaurosis, hysterical anæsthesia, and analgesia are facts in point. Anæsthesia is found not only in hysteria, but also in such cases in which the cleavage is but transitory, and the possession of the organ into which the subwaking self comes is but momentary. Such anæsthesia is, of course, fugitive, and lasts only as long as the organ is possessed or possessed by the subwaking self. Prof. W. James beautifully demonstrated this truth in the case of automatic writing:2

         "William L. Smith, student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, aged twenty-one, perfectly healthy and exceptionally intelligent, …sat with Hodgson and myself, January 24, 1889, with his right hand extended on the instrument [planchette], and his face averted and buried in the hollow of his left arm, which lay along the table. Care was taken not to suggest to him the aim of the inquiry (i. e., to test for anæsthesia induced in healthy subjects by the mere act of automatic writing).

         "The planchette began by illegible scrawling. After ten minutes I pricked the back of the right hand several times with a pin; no indication of feeling. Two pricks on the left hand were followed by withdrawal, and the question, 'What did you do that for?’ to which I replied, ‘To find whether you were going to sleep.' The first legible words which were written after this were, ‘You hurt me.' . . . After some more or less illegible writing I pricked the right wrist and fingers several times again quite severely, with no sign of reaction on S.'s part. After an interval, however, the pencil wrote, 'Don't you prick me any more.' S. then said, 'My right hand is pretty well asleep.' I tested the two hands immediately by pinching and pricking, but found no difference between them, both apparently normal. S. then said that what he meant by 'asleep' was the feeling of 'pins and needles' which an insensible limb has when 'waking up.'

        "The last written sentence was then deciphered aloud. S. laughed, having become conscious only of the pricks on his left hand, and said, 'It is working those two pin pricks for all they are worth.' I then asked,

        "’What have I been excited about to-day?"

        "'May be correct, do not know, possibly sleeping.'

        "'What do you mean by sleeping?'

        "'I do not know. You ↓ (the subject's right hand made this figure evidently to indicate pricking) me 19, and think I'll write for you.'"

        We find here local anæsthesia induced in the hand possessed or obsessed temporarily by the subpersonal self. And when, on a later day, the pencil was placed in the left hand instead of the right, the left hand took up the memories of the right hand's previous pains. No wonder the memory was the same, for it was the same subwaking self possessed or obsessed of different organs. The last experiment may be regarded as an experimentum crusis of the significant truth that what the subwaking self obsesses of that the waking self is deprived. The latter may, however, be informed of the particular experience by reading the automatic writing, or by gazing into a crystal. Once the cleavage occurred, we may say that, as a rule, the growth, the development of the individualized subwaking self is in inverse ratio to that of the waking consciousness.



1.  November, 1884.
2.  Proceedings of the American Society for Psychological Research, vol. i.


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