Sir Oliver Lodge

Sir Oliver Lodge FRS

President of the Radio Society, Physical Society, British Society, Society for Psychical Research and Rontgen Society. Professor of Physics in the University of Liverpool, Principal of the University of Birmingham. Knighted. Sent a radio message one year before Marconi.

On the Subliminal Self and on the Book Human Personality

 - Oliver Lodge -

          MR. MYERS' great conception of the subliminal self has been adopted, explained, parodied, and paraded, by several writers, usually in the garbled and misleading form that man has a dual nature or duplex soul, that sometimes the more usual, and sometimes the less usual aspect of his personality comes to the front and influences his actions and thoughts. In the form of a contest between two rival principles, this idea is extremely old; and in the form of a divided soul or bifurcated personality, a version of the conception has been elaborated by Mr. Thomson Jay Hudson in an ambitious book extensively read in America called The Law of Psychic Phenomena(1), wherein it is sought to explain everything, from the Christian miracles downwards, by a crudely stated hypothesis of duplex personality or a double soul: an idea which seems to have been borrowed, without acknowledgment, from Mr. Myers' papers in the Proceedings, and spoiled in the borrowing.

(1) Reviewed in Proceedings SPR., Vol. ix, p. 230.

And in a 1903 number of the Nineteenth Century Mr. Mallock, getting hold apparently of this version of Mr. Hudson's, has skilfully set it forth as if it were an explanation or summary of Mr. Myers' own theory; and has pointed a flippant finger of scorn at the triviality of the evidence, and at the futility of a life-work which has this conclusion for its result. Few essays which bear a superficial resemblance to the truth could readily be more misleading or less illuminating than this article of Mr. Mallock's, and I am content to caution any student not to accept that ostensible summary as giving any adequate or true idea of Mr. Myers' comprehensive treatise.

The doctrine which Mr. Myers arrived at, after years of study, is that each individual as we perceive him is but a small fraction of a larger whole, is as it were the foliage of a tree which has its main trunk and its roots in another order of existence; but that on this dark inconspicuous and permanent basis, now one and now another system of leaves bud, grow, display themselves, wither, and decay, while the great trunk and roots persist through many such temporary appearances, not independently of the sensible manifestations, nor unassisted by them, but supporting them, dominating them, reproducing them, assimilating their nourishment in the form of the elaborated sap called experience, and thereby growing continually into a more perfect and larger whole. Many metaphors could be suggested, but this is the one which occurs to me now, and it carries us a certain distance.

As the tree periodically buds and blossoms into an aerial life, so we bud and blossom in a terrestrial life, clothing ourselves with material particles for a time, assimilating and utilising the sunshine and the dew, realising the existence and the neighbourhood of other organisms in a like stage of development, and joyfully availing ourselves of the consequences that flow from proximity and contemporaneous specialised existence.

The mystery of incarnation and of gradual development, of the persistence of existence beyond bodily death and decay, and even some glimmerings of the possible meaning of the vague dream of so-called re-incarnation, all become in some sort intelligible on a basis of this kind - the basis of a full and never wholly manifested persistent self, from which periodically sprouts a terrestrial manifestation, though never twice the same. Each terrestrial appearance flourishes and assimilates mental and moral nutriment for a time, and the result of each is incorporated in the constant and growing memory of the underlying, supporting, but inconspicuously manifesting, and at present barely recognised, fundamental self.

And whereas we, the visible manifestations, exposed to sun and air, can signal to each other and receive impressions through rays of light and sound and heat, our transcendental portions with roots in another order of being must be supposed capable of communication too; they are individualised but not isolated, being welded into the framework of things in such way as to receive nutriment from subterranean moisture and from dying relics of the past, even from things which to the aerial portion seem useless or noxious; and they may thus send up to the leaves strange streamings of sap laden with the common wealth of mother earth.

The metaphor constantly breaks down, as all metaphors must sooner or later; for some purposes it would seem better that the tree should be inverted. The adjective "subliminal" contains no reference to what is beneath, except in the sense of foundation and support; in every other aspect the subliminal is probably the more real and more noble, more comprehensive, more intelligent, self, of which the supraliminal development is but a natural and healthy and partial manifestation.

The products of the subliminal are to be regarded as "higher," in a definite sense, than those of the supraliminal. The supraliminal is that which is the outcome of terrestrial evolution, and so is able to manifest itself in a planetary manner; the subliminal has a cosmic existence, which may play a part in terrestrial evolution hereafter, but at present only shows signs of doing so in the supernormal uprushes which are known as the inspirations of genius; signs which may be taken as anticipatory of the course of evolution in the future.

In this way sleep, death, genius, insanity, hysteria, hypnotism, automatism, clairvoyance, and all other disintegrations, abnormalities, and supernormalities of personality, fall into a consistent comprehensive scheme; and it is the object of Myers' book to elaborate this hypothesis and to unify all these strang features of human personality, features which have so long afforded an exercise alternately to resolute credulity and to blatant scepticism, and have so perennially perplexed mankind.

The book begins with an explanatory and properly prosaic Introduction, and closes with a more poetic Epilogue.

Successive chapters deal with the following subjects:

First. Disintegration of personality, such as Multiple personality, and other hysterical and pathological cases.

Second. Genius; which is one of the most illuminating and brilliant chapters in the book, where the man of genius so far from being regarded as afflicted with any form of nascent insanity is regarded as the standard or norm of the race - a product of a higher stage of evolution than the average man has yet attained.

Clearly a genius is one who can draw more than others on his central and sustaining subliminal organisation, one who can breathe out products obtained not from sun and air alone, but from roots driven deep into the heart of the universe: one whose existence is not planetary merely, but cosmic, and in whom subliminal uprushes of fructifying sap are frequent.

The next chapter deals with sleep, or the state when the supraliminal activities are dormant: when the sun has ceased to awaken full activities, when the whole self is more massed together and partially withdrawn from its active planetary existence; and when by dreams and visions some reminiscence of a wider though dimmer purview can sometimes be retained for a time and carried over into the waking or terrestrially conscious existence.

This leads up to the chapter which deals with the artificial or experimental induction of this state, the chapter on Hypnotism; a process whereby the deeper strata of personality can be reached, and suggestion and other influences implanted, which may subsequently bear fruit in waking life. One may liken this to gardening operations, such as grafting and manuring and other systems of treatment, applied not to the leaves or flowers of a tree direct, but to its branches and roots; operations which nevertheless influence those leaves and flowers in a subsequent and unmistakable manner.

The chapter on Sensory Automatism deals with those conditions of hallucination of the senses under which clairvoyance or pseudo-sense-impressions of various kinds are generated: furnishing avenues whereby telepathy, crystal vision, and other perceptions, not received through the normal organs of sense but by some ill-understood subliminal reaction, become possible.

And chapter viii. in the second volume, on Motor Automatism, expands this same region into the muscular or efferent output of the same kind of faculty; resulting in automatic writing, and other physical manifestations of subliminal activity, whether of the nature of inhibition or of propulsion, up to such strenuously active but subliminally guided lives, as for instance those of Socrates and Joan of Arc. Between these two is interpolated a chapter on Phantasms of the Dead: those hallucinatory appearances or visions of departed persons, which are here treated as an example of sensory automatism on the part of the percipient, excited however in many cases veridically by external influence, and capable of conveying real information.

And the chapter on Motor Automatism is similarly followed by a chapter on the developed form of the same, viz., a chapter headed "Trance Possession, Ecstasy," in which certain well-known cases of veridical trance utterance are partially included, though with many serious omissions, due to the recent occurrence of some of the cases, so that insufficient time had been afforded for their complete digestion and for a final decision as to their place and purport. This, together with sensory and motor automatisms, may be regarded as the part of the subject-matter which has attracted most popular attention, and the part which when stated by itself seems to excite nothing but scepticism on the one hand and superstition on the other. It was Mr. Myers' plan to so gradually build or lead up to these strange phenomena that when reached they should be realised as a fitting and natural consequence of what had gone before, leaving them no longer as an inaccessible or aerial structure without foundation, but as the upper storey of a large and lofty building through which a fairly sound staircase had been constructed.

Myers' life-work either achieves this unification or it does not. If it does, this book, as I suggested last January in my Presidential Address to the Society, will stand as a Novum Organon in psychical science. If it does not, it may mean either that the attempt is impossible, or that it still remains for some future pioneer to achieve a task which for the present generation has turned out too difficult.

Myers himself took a modest, but I think hopeful, view of his labours. He must have felt, at any rate his friends felt for him, that by the industry of himself and Gurney and the other founders of the Society, he had, amassed and ready to his hands, a fund of material to draw upon, such as no philosopher or psychologist had ever had before; and although he himself would have seriously deprecated any comparison with the sages of the past, some of us felt that, building on their foundation, utilising their work, and fortified with such a vast mass of modern information, aided also by his classical learning and by a great natural scientific insight, with the opportunity of consulting many scientific men, some hostile, some sympathetic to his researches, and with the nineteenth century of science behind him, gifted also with considerable leisure, persistent enthusiasm, and industry, he was a man supremely fitted to push back the barriers of ignorance in this region farther than had been accomplished before, and to give to the human race an insight into the hidden faculties and destiny of man such as not even the gigantic genius of Plato, nor the profound insight of Kant had been able to bestow.

It is not a matter on which an opinion of mine would be of value, nor would I be understood as expressing one; but the glorious sense of having accomplished a work worthy of the serious attention of humanity has blossomed in an Epilogue where the cosmic import and religious significance of the whole vista of human faculty is eloquently set forth. This specially written epilogue is happily completed and supplemented by his one Presidential Address to the Society, and this is further supplemented by two, short essays, one on the "Decline of Dogmatism," wherein the ultimate upshot of the messages which claim to come from another order of existence are briefly summarised, and another on "Prayer and Supplication," regarded from the illuminating point of view of the telepathic law. From this last I extract the following quotation:

"In the law of telepathy, developing into the law of spiritual intercommunication between incarnate and discarnate spirits, we see dimly adumbrated before our eyes the highest law with which our human science can conceivably have to deal. The discovery of telepathy opens before us a potential communication between all life. And if, as our present evidence indicates, this telepathic intercourse can subsist between embodied and disembodied souls, that law must needs lie at the very centre of cosmic evolution. It will be evolutionary, as depending on a faculty now in actual course of development. It will be cosmic; for it may - it almost must -, by analogy, subsist not on this planet only but wherever in the universe discarnate and incarnate spirits may be intermingled or juxtaposed."

One other portion of the book must be mentioned, for it was a laborious attempt at a synthesis or conspectus of the whole, viz., his "Scheme of Vital Faculty" - sadly buried by the arrangement of the book between pages 505 and 555 of the second volume - a scheme wherein the usual orthodox view of the tripartite nature of man is utilised, and each vital faculty is displayed under the aspects appropriate to the three heads, somatic, psychic, and pneumatic; or, as he styles them, supraliminal, subliminal, and spiritual. The scheme was the result of a great deal of thought, but it is open to question in many points of detail, and Myers would have been the last to insist that each subject is classified precisely in the most appropriate manner, or that it always fits the niche provided for it. At the same time it would be well for future students to realise that Myers had a reason for his system of classification, and that though it may be changed, it is worthy of being changed not lightly, but after due consideration.

How far such a scheme as this soars above the range of the orthodox science of to-day is apparent from the fact that few of the faculties catalogued and classified in it, beyond those in the first category, are as yet generally recognised as existing at all. A few from the second or middle category are coming into recognition - such as suggestion, hyperaesthesia, psycho-therapeutics, and telepathy - but the greater part even of this second list is still only on the outskirts of recognised knowledge; while in Myers' view it is the third and at present wholly ultra-scientific category which lies in the path of future knowledge and development, and constitutes the most pregnant portion of his message to mankind.

It is not to be claimed for a moment that these volumes will convince a reader of the survival of personality beyond bodily death, if he was previously hostile to or otherwise fortified against such an idea. Perhaps they will convince nobody: I see no reason why they should. The main object of the book is not edification and finality, but stimulation to enquiry; convictions of any value are seldom attained by mere reading: they can only be formed by soaking one's mind in a subject for years, by "continually thinking unto it," as Newton said. As the outcome of such a process it became Myers' undoubted belief that intelligence and human personality persist beyond bodily death; and that, between the two states or conditions of being, intercommunication though extremely difficult was not altogether impossible. But this conclusion of his has been popularly seized and over-emphasised till to many contemporaries it seems that an easy credulity on this point was his characteristic attitude. Nothing could be further from the truth. Easy credulity does not lead to a life-long labour and evolution of a comprehensive scheme such as this. To those who have not been through it, the assured conviction which was the outcome of his long training may seem like easy credulity; just as the physicist is often twitted for believing in the reality of an "ether," which to the onlooker is a mere hypothesis - a blank form to be filled up arbitrarily at pleasure, and with no more reality than the figment of a dream.

This is one of those cases, and there are several, where the onlooker does not see most of the game, where the man in the street with all his conspicuous ability is not an ultimate authority, and where the profound gibes of the clubs, or of a monthly magazine, are not the conclusion of the whole matter.

For people who are immersed in such an atmosphere it is difficult to realise the strenuously-acquired full-bodied certitude, or the clear-visioned perception and what one can hardly help calling, in some sense, knowledge, whether it be concerning the "ether" or concerning the problem of what is known as human "immortality," which may be possessed by a specially trained man of science. That is the position in which the author of these two volumes seems to me definitely to have acquired the right to range himself; and in this estimate of his position I believe that scientific posterity will acclaim agreement. It is by the name of Man of Science that I wish to hail our late chief and leader, Frederic Myers.


Other articles by Oliver Lodge

In Memory of Prof. Frederic W. H. Myers

Psychic Science

The Mode of Future Existence

What Science Means For Man

The Possibility of Survival from a Scientific Point of View

The Mechanism of Survival

Problems Raised by the Idea of Survival

On the Asserted Difficulty of the Spiritualistic Hypothesis from a Scientific Point of View

Do We Survive?

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