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On the centenary of Frederic W.H. Myers's Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.

The purpose of this book ... aims ... at the satisfaction of scientific curiosity as to man's psychical structure....

(Myers, 1903, Vol. 1, p. 68)

A hundred years ago several interesting works were published related to psychical research psychical research: see parapsychology. . These included Ernesto Bozzano's Ipotesi Spiritica e Teoriche Scientifiche (1903) and Joseph Maxwell's Les Phenomenes Psychiques (1903). Both authors, who emphasized mediumistic phenomena and their explanation, were influential in European circles. However, 1903 also saw the publication of a far more important and influential book said to "probably prove ... to be a more or less epoch-making work in its field, no matter what may become of [its] conclusions" (Hyslop, 1905, p. 20). I am referring to Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (1903), by Frederic W.H. Myers (hereinafter abbreviated as Human Personality). In these comments I would like to discuss briefly this important book. My purpose is to bring to the attention of contemporary readers the content of the book as well as aspects of its intellectual context, reception, and current implications.


Frederic William Henry Myers Frederic William Henry Myers (February 6, 1843 - January 17, 1901), was an English poet and essayist. He was the son of Frederic Myers (the author of Lectures on Great Men (1856) and Catholic Thoughts (first collected 1873)).  (1843-1901) was an English classical scholar Noun 1. classical scholar - a student of ancient Greek and Latin

humanist - a classical scholar or student of the liberal arts

Latinist - a specialist in the Latin language
 and a poet. In 1864 he placed second in the first class of both the Classical Tripos The Classical Tripos at Cambridge University is equivalent to Literae Humaniores at Oxford. It is traditionally a three year degree, but for those who have not studied Latin and Greek at school a four year course has been introduced.  and the Moral Sciences Tripos at Cambridge University Cambridge University, at Cambridge, England, one of the oldest English-language universities in the world. Originating in the early 12th cent. (legend places its origin even earlier than that of Oxford Univ. . A year later he held a fellowship and a college lectureship lec·ture·ship  
1. The status or position of a lecturer.

2. An endowment or foundation supporting a series or course of lectures.

[Alteration of lecturership.
 in classics at Trinity College Trinity College, Ireland: see Dublin, Univ. of.
Trinity College

Private liberal arts college in Hartford, Conn., founded in 1823. It is historically affiliated with the Episcopal church, though its curriculum is nonsectarian.
 (Gauld, 1968). On a more practical matter, Myers was employed as an inspector of schools. While his background did not include scientific nor psychological training, Myers educated himself in science over the years with special attention to psychology and psychiatry. For the purposes of this paper I focus on his far more important role as a psychologist and psychical researcher. (1)

Myers was one of the founders and early researchers of the London-based Society for Psychical Research The Society for Psychical Research (SPR) is a non-profit organization which started in the United Kingdom and later acquired branches in other countries. Its stated purpose is to understand "events and abilities commonly described as psychic or paranormal by promoting and  (SPR spr Spring
SPR Strategic Petroleum Reserve
SPR Surface Plasmon Resonance
SPR Suomen Punainen Risti
SpR Specialist Registrar (UK doctor who supports a consultant)
SPR Society for Psychical Research
SPR Stop Prisoner Rape
). In terms of theoretical developments, Myers was the most important of the nineteenth-century British psychical researchers. More than any other psychical researcher in his times, he contributed to the expansion of psychology and the establishment of a connection between psychology and psychical research. This was clearly developed in a series of papers on automatisms published in the 1880s (e.g., Myers, 1884, 1885) and in important discussions of the functions of the subliminal subliminal /sub·lim·i·nal/ (-lim´i-n'l) below the threshold of sensation or conscious awareness.

1. Below the threshold of conscious perception. Used of stimuli.
 or subconscious mind Noun 1. subconscious mind - psychic activity just below the level of awareness

mind, psyche, nous, brain, head - that which is responsible for one's thoughts and feelings; the seat of the faculty of reason; "his mind wandered"; "I couldn't get
 that appeared in the 1890s (e.g., Myers, 1892b, 1893). The culmination and final articulation of this work appeared in his Human Personality.

Soon after Myers's death in 1901 many eminent figures were already praising the importance of his work. Oliver Lodge (1903, p. 6) compared Myers to Francis Bacon, and William James Noun 1. William James - United States pragmatic philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910)
 (1903) stated that Myers "shows ... a genius not unlike that of Charles Darwin for discovering shading and transition, and grading down discontinuities in his argument" (p. 30). These comparisons came from the fact that Myers had an unusual talent to conceptualize con·cep·tu·al·ize  
v. con·cep·tu·al·ized, con·cep·tu·al·iz·ing, con·cep·tu·al·iz·es
To form a concept or concepts of, and especially to interpret in a conceptual way:
 and synthesize a wide range of features and qualities of the mind so as to order existing knowledge and create new connections and relationships. In this context it is significant that Myers's colleague Edmund Gurney Edmund Gurney (March 23, 1847 - June 23, 1888), English psychologist, was born at Hersham, near Walton-on-Thames.

He was educated at Blackheath and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a high place in the classical tripos and obtained a fellowship.
 once told Frank Podmore Frank Podmore (5 February 1856 - 14 August 1910) was an English author, founding member of the Fabian Society, and writer on psychic matters.

Born at Elstree, Hertfordshire, Podmore was the son of Thompson Podmore, headmaster of Eastbourne College.
 (1901): "Whilst I am reading a book Myers will master a literature" (p. 30).

Myers's work was identified so much with the goals and work of the SPR that in his 1905 Presidential Address to the Society, French physiologist Charles Richet stated that he considered Myers to be the soul of the SPR (Richet, 1905, p. 4). Perhaps Richet's statement meant that Myers was the central figure of the SPR because he painted such a wide range and far reach of the features, weaknesses, and potentialities of the human mind as to personify per·son·i·fy  
tr.v. per·son·i·fied, per·son·i·fy·ing, per·son·i·fies
1. To think of or represent (an inanimate object or abstraction) as having personality or the qualities, thoughts, or movements of a living being:
 the best of the Society. His writings (e.g., Myers, 1884, 1892b) publicized and articulated the subject matter of psychical research in influential ways. Much of this work, not to mention Human Personality, gave cohesion and a theoretical structure to the then-new enterprise of psychical research.


Human Personality came out in 1903 in two massive volumes with 1,360 pages. Not counting an introduction, epilogue, and several appendices, there were eight chapters entitled: "Disintegrations of Personality," "Genius," "Sleep," "Hypnotism hypnotism (hĭp`nətĭzəm) [Gr.,=putting to sleep], to induce an altered state of consciousness characterized by deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility. ," "Sensory Automatism automatism

Method of painting or drawing in which conscious control over the movement of the hand is suppressed so that the subconscious mind may take over. For some Abstract Expressionists, such as Jackson Pollock, the automatic process encompassed the entire process of
," "Phantasms of the Dead," "Motor Automatism," and "Trance, Possession and Ecstasy." Each of these chapters had an appendix devoted to cases and observations Myers compiled from the psychological, psychiatric, and psychical research literatures to support the arguments he presented in the book. The topics of the book were a mix of the normal, the abnormal, and what Myers called the supernormal su·per·nor·mal  
1. Greatly exceeding the normal or average but still obeying natural laws.

2. Paranormal.

Adj. 1.
, or a phenomenon "which goes beyond the level of ordinary experience, in the direction of evolution, or as pertaining to a transcendental world" (Myers, 1903, Vol. 1, p. xxii). This included telepathy telepathy, supposed communication between two persons without recourse to the senses. The word was formulated in 1882 by Frederic William Henry Myers, English poet, essayist, and a leading founder of the Society for Psychical Research in London. , clairvoyance clairvoyance (klâr'voi`əns), alleged power to perceive, as though visually, objects or persons not discernible through the ordinary sense channels. , hauntings, and other phenomena of psychical research.

Although Myers had died in 1901, he had made arrangements to have the book prepared for publication in case of his death. The book was put in order for publication by Richard Hodgson and Alice Johnson. It incorporates sections of papers Myers published in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, such as those cited above. These papers clearly show that many of Myers's ideas had appeared before his book was published and that he had expressed belief in survival of death as early as the 1880s (e.g., Myers, 1889a). Soon after its publication Human Personality was translated into French (Myers, 1905, abridged edition) and Italian (Myers, 1909).

Myers stated his main concern clearly and openly on the first page of Human Personality: "The question for man most momentous of all is whether or not he has an immortal soul; or ... whether or not his personality involves any element which can survive bodily death" (Vol. 1, p. 1). Such interest was an outgrowth of Spiritualism spiritualism: see spiritism.

Belief that the souls of the dead can make contact with the living, usually through a medium or during abnormal mental states such as trances.
, whose main tenet was survival of bodily death and its study through reports of apparitions, haunted houses, and most specially, mediumship. But in addition, Myers's early background, full of existential concerns and crises of faith (Gauld, 1968; Turner, 1974), had prepared him to explore Spiritualism for possible answers to such issues. (2)

In this exploration Myers insisted that if it were possible to study a spiritual world, this should be accomplished through empirical means. Inquiry, he stated in his book, must be based on the assumption that "if a spiritual world exists, and if that world has at any epoch been manifest or even discoverable, then it ought to be manifest or discoverable now" (Vol. 1, p. 7, Myers's italics).

In the book Myers analyzed many cases that he thought supported survival. He stated in chapter 9 in relation to apparitions and mediumship:

(a) In the first place, they prove survival pure and simple; the persistence of the spirit's life as a structural law of the universe; the inalienable Not subject to sale or transfer; inseparable.

That which is inalienable cannot be bought, sold, or transferred from one individual to another. The personal rights to life and liberty guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States are inalienable.
 heritage of each several soul.

(b) In the second place, they prove that between the spiritual and the material worlds an avenue of communication does in fact exist; that which we call the despatch and the receipt of telepathic te·lep·a·thy  
Communication through means other than the senses, as by the exercise of an occult power.

 messages, or the utterances and the answer of prayer and supplication.

(c) In the third place, they prove that the surviving spirit retains, at least in some measure, the memories and the loves of earth. Without this persistence of love and memory should we be in truth the same? To what extent has any philosophy or any revelation assured us hereof till now? (Vol. 2, pp. 256-257)

Myers discussed the mediumship of Mrs. Leonora Piper in chapter 9, arguing that it provided evidence for discarnate dis·car·nate  
Having no material body or form: a discarnate spirit.

[dis- + (in)carnate.
 communication. Another evidence was the nature of telepathy. He argued that if telepathy were seen as the action of the incarnate in·car·nate  
a. Invested with bodily nature and form: an incarnate spirit.

b. Embodied in human form; personified: a villain who is evil incarnate.
 spirit, a principle independent of the material body, perhaps this would support the idea of the existence of spirits without a body. Myers saw no logical reason to separate the existence of telepathy "and the conclusion that such faculty is exercised by somewhat within us which is not generated from material elements, nor confined by mechanical limitations, but which may survive and operate uninjured in a spiritual world" (Vol. 1, p. 24). Telepathy, Myers believed, was a law of the "metetherial," a term that he created to designate the "spiritual or transcendental world in which the soul exists" (Vol. 1, p. xix). Later in the book he said that telepathy and telaesthesia (clairvoyance) were basically spiritual faculties, "survivals from the powers which that spirit once exercised in a transcendental world" (Vol. 2, p. 267). In Myers's view, "so soon as man is steadily conceived as dwelling in this wider range of powers, his survival of death becomes an almost inevitable corollary" (Vol. 2, p. 274). The assumption here was that the presence of spiritual powers while the person was alive indicated an element of human personality that continued after death into the spiritual world.

Another important argument for survival was what Myers referred to as psychical excursion. In his words, this "should involve not only the migrant spirit's perceptions from that point, but also perception of that point by persons materially present near it. That point may become a phantasmogenetic centre, as well as a centre of outlook" (Vol. 1, p. 232). This idea was used by Myers to discuss a variety of apparitions of the living that he saw as gradations of the same basic experience. Some of them were without consciousness of the person represented by the apparition apparition, spiritualistic manifestation of a person or object in which a form not actually present is seen with such intensity that belief in its reality is created.  (e.g., most arrival cases and "experimental" apparitions) while others had awareness of being in other locations, what we refer to today as out-of-body experiences. In addition, the cases also ranged from those in which the experiencer did not obtain veridical ve·rid·i·cal   also ve·rid·ic
1. Truthful; veracious: veridical testimony.

2. Coinciding with future events or apparently unknowable present realities:
 information and was not perceived at the remote location, to those in which information was obtained and someone perceived the experiencer (called reciprocal apparitions in SPR literature) (e.g., Gurney gurney /gur·ney/ (gur´ne) a wheeled cot used in hospitals.

n. pl. gur·neys
A metal stretcher with wheeled legs, used for transporting patients.
, Myers, & Podmore, 1886, Vol. 2, pp. 153-167). To refer to this separation or detachment of a psychical component of human beings, Myers coined the term "psychorrhagy," and referred to the propensity for this experience as a "psychorrhagic diathesis diathesis /di·ath·e·sis/ (di-ath´e-sis) an unusual constitutional susceptibility or predisposition to a particular disease.diathet´ic

n. pl.
" (Vol. 1, p. 264). In the higher end of the excursive ex·cur·sive  
Of, given to, characterized by, or having the nature of digression.

ex·cursive·ly adv.
 or psychorrhagic spectrum Myers speculated on the possibility of ecstasy, or the entrance to a spiritual world and to "communities higher than any which this planet knows" (Vol. 2, p. 194). Furthermore, and still emphasizing the importance of gradations or series of cases, Myers conceptualized these "self-projections" as "the one definitive act which it seems as though a man might perform equally well before and after bodily death" (Vol. 1, p. 297). (3)

In spite of all of these conclusions, Myers was to some extent conservative within Spiritualism. This is because he believed that most supernormal phenomena were "due to the action of the still embodied spirit of the agent or percipient himself" (Vol. 1, p. 6). (4)

The phenomena considered by Myers in his discussion were normal (e.g., sleep), abnormal (e.g., hysteria), and supernormal (e.g., telepathy) manifestations. These three types of phenomena were seen by Myers to be functions of the subliminal (subconscious) mind. In this conception Myers presented a comprehensive unified model to explain both psychological and parapsychological par·a·psy·chol·o·gy  
The study of the evidence for psychological phenomena, such as telepathy, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis, that are inexplicable by science.
 phenomena. This effort led William James (1903) to state that in Human Personality Myers "made a sort of objective continuum of what, before him, had appeared so pure a disconnectedness that the ordinary scientific mind had either disdained to look at it, or pronounced it mostly fictitious" (p. 22).

Myers clarified his use of "subliminal":
   The word subliminal ... has already been used to define those
   sensations which are too feeble to be individually recognized.
   I proposed to extend the meaning of the term, so as to make
   it cover all that takes place beneath the ordinary threshold,
   or say, if preferred, outside the ordinary margin of
   consciousness;--not only those faint stimulations whose very
   faintness keeps them submerged, but much else which
   psychology as yet scarcely recognises; sensations, thoughts,
   emotions, which may be strong, definite, and independent,
   but which, by the original constitution of our being, seldom
   emerge into that supraliminal current of consciousness which
   we habitually identify with ourselves. Perceiving ... that these
   submerged thoughts and emotions possess the characteristics
   which we associate with conscious life, I feel bound to speak
   of a subliminal or ultra-marginal consciousness.... Perceiving
   further that this conscious life beneath the threshold or
   beyond the margin seems to be no discontinuous or
   intermittent thing; that not only are these isolated subliminal
   processes comparable with isolated supraliminal processes (as
   when a problem is solved by some unknown procedure in a
   dream), but that there also is a continuous subliminal chain
   of memory (or more chains than one) involving just that kind
   of individual and persistent revival of old impressions, and
   response to new ones, which we commonly call a Self,--I
   find it permissible and convenient to speak of subliminal
   Selves, or more briefly of a subliminal self. I do not indeed by
   using this term assume that there are two correlative and
   parallel selves existing always within each of us. Rather I mean
   by the subliminal Self that part of the Self which is commonly
   subliminal; and I conceive that there may be,--not only
   co-operations between these quasi-independent trains of
   thought,--but also upheavals and alternations of personality of many
   kinds, so that what was once below the surface may for a time,
   or permanently, rise above it. And I conceive also that no Self
   of which we can here have cognisance is in reality more than
   a fragment of a larger Self,--revealed in a fashion at once
   shifting and limited through an organism not so framed as to
   afford it full manifestation. (Vol. 1, pp. 14-15)

Myers believed that the subliminal self The phrase "subliminal self," which is one that has figured largely of recent years in discussions of the problems of "Psychical Research," owes its wide currency to the writings of FWH Myers, especially to his posthumous work Human Personality and its survival of Bodily Death.  was involved in the production and guidance of normal processes such as creative acts, dreams, the effects of hypnotic suggestion hypnotic suggestion Psychiatry The modification of unconscious thought through hypnosis, which may be useful for specific/simple phobias, but rarely for agoraphobia, social phobia, or anxiety and panic disorders. See Hypnosis. , and a variety of vital physiological regulatory processes. In terms of the abnormal or the pathological, the subliminal also controlled hallucinations and hysteria (including double and multiple personality). Finally, supernormal manifestations such as telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition, telekinesis telekinesis /tele·ki·ne·sis/ (-ki-ne´sis)
1. movement of an object produced without contact.

2. the ability to produce such movement.telekinet´ic
 and other processes were linked to this unifying principle. Myers stated that "the telepathic message generally starts from, and generally impinges upon, a subconscious or submerged stratum in both agent and percipient" (Vol. 2, p. 5).

The range of the subliminal was very wide not only in terms of phenomena or processes but in terms of type of phenomena: "Hidden in the deep of our being is a rubbish-heap as well as a treasure-house;--degenerations and insanities as well as beginnings of higher development; and any prospectus which insists on the amount of gold to be had for the washing should describe also the mass of detritus detritus /de·tri·tus/ (de-tri´tus) particulate matter produced by or remaining after the wearing away or disintegration of a substance or tissue.

n. pl.
 in which the bright grains lie concealed" (Vol. 1, p. 72).

The creative act was the result of subliminal "uprushes." In genius, as Myers wrote in the third chapter of his book, we see a "power of appropriating the results of subliminal mentation mentation

mental activity, state of mind.
 to subserve sub·serve  
tr.v. sub·served, sub·serv·ing, sub·serves
To serve to promote (an end); be useful to.

[Latin subserv
 the supraliminal stream of thought" (Vol. 1, p. 71). In both hypnosis and hysteria the subliminal self acquired a notion such as anesthesia or paralysis that was then conveyed to the supraliminal. Hypnosis provided "access into subliminal knowledge and power" (Vol. 1, p. 67). To some extent Myers followed the Nancy school The Nancy School was an early French suggestion-centred school of psychotherapy founded in 1866 by Ambroise-Auguste Liébeault, a follower of the theory of Abbé Faria, in the city of Nancy.  of hypnosis in terms of accepting the power of suggestion. (5) In his view suggestion was the "successful appeal to the subliminal self" (Vol. 1, p. 169).

In hysteria, dream-like and incoherent subliminal material was postulated by Myers to intrude into the supraliminal by passing through a permeable barrier. In his view the main characteristic of hysteria was the "instability of psychical threshold" (Vol. 1, p. 66) separating the supraliminal from the subliminal. As Myers described the hypothetical process: "The morbid subliminal activity attracts or sucks down scraps of supraliminal activity ... and deprives the supraliminal self of thus much of its due scope of control" (Vol. 1, p. 46). However, phenomena such as secondary personalities, generally considered to be hysterical phenomena and marks of degeneration by the medical profession (e.g., Janet, 1889), were, according to according to
1. As stated or indicated by; on the authority of: according to historians.

2. In keeping with: according to instructions.

 Myers, not necessarily pathological. Sometimes they "may even appear to be in some ways an improvement on the primary" personality (Vol. 1, p. 62). Such was the case, Myers pointed out, with the secondary personalities of Mary Reynolds Mary Reynolds (10 October, 1889 – 29 August, 1974) was an Irish Cumann na nGaedhael and Fine Gael politician. She was first elected to Dáil Éireann as a Cumann na nGaedhael TD in the 1932 general election for the Leitrim-Sligo constituency.  and Felida X, well known nineteenth-century cases (Vol. 1, pp. 333-335, 336-338; on these cases see Azam, 1887 and Plummer, 1860). Similarly, Myers cautioned us not to conclude that psychosis was degenerative until careful study had ruled out the possibility of an enlargement of powers (Vol. 2, p. 86).

Many of these phenomena came to the supraliminal by way of messages from the subliminal conveyed by sensory and motor automatisms, Myers believed. Sensory automatisms referred to "inner vision or inner audition externalized into quasi-percepts," and were mainly hallucinations (although also intuitions, impulses, crystal visions, and dreams) that conveyed supernormal knowledge to consciousness. However, sensory automatisms did not have to be supernormal (veridical). They could also be after-images, hypnagogic imagery hypnagogic imagery Hypnagogic hallucination Neurology A pseudo-hallucination that occurs when a person is asleep Sleep disorders Vivid sensory images occurring at sleep onset but especially vivid with sleep-onset REMS periods; feature of narcoleptic REMS naps , or memory images with subliminal material that was not veridical. Motor automatisms were the "movement of limbs or hand or tongue, initiated by an inner motor impulse beyond the conscious will" (Vol. 1, p. 222, for both quotes). This included trance speaking, table tilting and automatic writing and drawing, among other phenomena. Similar to the sensory automatisms, the motor ones expressed considerable nonsupernormal material from the subliminal. Both kinds of nonveridical automatisms were illustrated by the manifestations of medium Helene Smith, who Myers said showed "every kind of automatic irruption ir·rup·tion
The act or process of breaking through to a surface.
 of subliminal into supraliminal life" (Vol. 2, p. 132). (6)

The expression of subliminal messages came through what Myers referred to as the "readiest path of externalization The ability to easily connect to and transfer information between business partners. Increasingly, information systems are designed to make their data available to outside partners and customers. This type of collaboration is expected to be a vital part of IT in the 21st century. See EDI. " (Vol. 2, p. 84). These were pathways characteristic to each person that may in addition reflect the ways taken by pathological processes. "If epilepsy, madness, &c., tend to split up our faculties in certain ways, automatism is likely to split them up in ways somewhat resembling these" (Vol. 2, p. 84). As Myers put it, the situation was similar to that of a gifted musician who used an instrument of limited range. The ability of the musician could come through, but it could do so together with the flaws of the instrument. The manifestation depended on the nature of the specific path the mind used to externalize externalize

see exteriorize.
 its communications.

Also related to the externalization of subliminal content was Myers's view that the content of mediumistic communications could be affected by the use of the medium's brain-centers that expressed the habits and turns of speech of the supraliminal. Consequently the use of pathways by which the medium's conscious mind expressed itself could contaminate con·tam·i·nate
1. To make impure or unclean by contact or mixture.

2. To expose to or permeate with radioactivity.

con·tam·i·nant n.
 the communications in different ways (Vol. 2, p. 249).

Myers believed that telepathy and telaesthesia "cannot have been acquired by natural selection, for the preservation of the race, during the process or terrene ter·rene  
Of or relating to the earth; earthly.

[Middle English, from Latin terr
 evolution" (Vol. 1, p. 118). Neither evolution nor heredity heredity, transmission from generation to generation through the process of reproduction in plants and animals of factors which cause the offspring to resemble their parents. That like begets like has been a maxim since ancient times. , Myers believed, shaped the nature of the subliminal self. These faculties were part of our pre-terrene heritage, part of our spiritual nature. Nonetheless, both evolution and heredity could affect the manifestation of these faculties by bringing on the development of vents in the threshold separating the subliminal from the supraliminal.

The physical phenomenon of mediumship was one of the areas that did not receive much attention in Human Personality, at least not as much attention as the mental phenomena. However, the topic was not completely neglected, as seen in discussions of mediums D.D. Home and William Stainton Moses The Reverend William Stainton Moses (born Donnington, near Lincoln, England, in 1839, died 1892), was an English clergyman and spiritualist.

Educated at Bedford School, University College School, London and Exeter College, Oxford, he was ordained as a priest of the Church of
 (Vol. 2, pp. 515, 533-537, 540-541, 578-582). In Myers's view telekinesis was a variant of motor automatisms directed by the subliminal self (Vol. 2, p. 207). In addition, physical phenomena were discussed by Myers in the context of his vitalistic vi·tal·ism  
The theory or doctrine that life processes arise from or contain a nonmaterial vital principle and cannot be explained entirely as physical and chemical phenomena.
 speculative exercise entitled "Scheme of a Vital Faculty" (Vol. 2, pp. 505-554), where he argued that the subliminal mind and discarnate spirits could use the vital functions (Physiol.) those functions or actions of the body on which life is directly dependent, as the circulation of the blood, digestion, etc.

See also: Vital
 of the body to create luminous and materialization phenomena. Myers referred to what he called ectoplasy, "the power of forming, outside some special organism, a collection or reservoir of vital force or of vitalised matter, which may or may not be visible, may or may not be tangible, but which operates in like fashion as the visible and tangible body from whence it is drawn" (Vol. 2, p. 545). (7)

It is clear throughout the book that Myers believed the brain and the nervous system did not produce consciousness but consciousness (or the spirit) used the nervous system to manifest. In active telepathy, for example, Myers postulated what he called a "telergic" effect. In his view "the percipient's motor or sensory centres must receive an excitation;--which excitation may be communicated, for aught we know, either by his own mind in the ordinary way, or by the agent's mind in some direct way,--which I may call telergic" (Vol. 2, p. 197). These telergic effects on the brain may be "movements in matter;--even though that matter be organised matter and those movements molecular" (Vol. 2, p. 204). Myers thought these molecular actions of the brain take place as we control our own brain and as we affect others at a distance telepathically.

Telergic effects were part of what Myers called the achievement of the will, phenomena that he considered as starting inside the body and ending with their emergence from it to affect other bodies, both organic and inorganic:
   In the first place we have hyperboulia;--the extension of the
   Will's power over tissues in the organism which its mandates
   have ordinarily failed to reach. In the second place, we have
   telergy;--the extension of its power over the brain molecules
   of an organism other than that with which it is primarily in
   connection. And in the third place we shall have "telekinesis"
   and the like;--a group of phenomena involving control over
   inorganic matter, and over organic matter both within and
   without its own organism. (Vol. 2, p. 522)

All this control assumed the supremacy of the mind (or the spirit) over the material and the organic realms. This was further illustrated by speculations on how a discarnate spirit communicated through a medium by using this individual's brain resources: "The spirit selects what parts of the brain-machinery he will use, but he cannot get out of that machinery more than it is constructed to perform" (Vol. 2, pp. 190-191). While Myers thought that the medium could produce veridical information unknown to her, he did not think it possible for a medium to produce "mathematical formulae or Chinese sentences, if the automatist is ignorant of mathematics or of Chinese" (Vol. 2, p. 191). (8)

In Human Personality Myers discussed survival of death and the functioning and dynamics of the subliminal mind, and he called for an expanded outlook of the mind in terms of recognizing the supernormal and the view that the mind was a causal agent Noun 1. causal agent - any entity that produces an effect or is responsible for events or results
causal agency, cause

physical entity - an entity that has physical existence
 independent of the body. Furthermore, the book served at least two other functions. First, Myers's discussion was also a reminder of the need to expand the range of psychology. As he wrote, his discussions covered "a multitude of phenomena which at present stand in the text-books with no adequate explanation, as well as a multitude of phenomena which the text-books altogether ignore" (Vol. 2, p. 82). Second, the book was to some extent an overview of the state of the art in psychical research at the turn of the century. This was particularly true of work regarding telepathy, mental mediumship, and apparitions of different sorts, with emphasis on SPR work.


Human Personality was crafted within several intellectual contexts. One of them was Spiritualism, especially British Spiritualism (Oppenhein, 1985). This movement clearly influenced the SPR and later parapsychology parapsychology, study of mental phenomena not explainable by accepted principles of science. The organized, scientific investigation of paranormal phenomena began with the foundation (1882) of the Society for Psychical Research in London.  in important ways (Alvarado, 2003), not to mention psychology and psychiatry (Ellenberger, 1970; Le Malefan, 1999; Has, 2000). Many of Myers's ideas were discussed by spiritualists before the publication of Human Personality. This included the concepts of a basic spiritual nature in humankind, the transcendental nature of supernormal phenomena, the supernormal powers of the living, ideas of projection of the spirit during life and at death, the influence of spirits in mediumship, apparitions and haunting phenomena, the projection of vital force from the medium's body, and the concept of spiritual evolution (e.g., Ballou, 1853; Crowe, 1848; De Morgan, 1863; Kardec, 1863). Myers cited little of this literature to put his ideas in context. Perhaps he was trying to separate his efforts from those of the spiritualists, whom he probably perceived as having low evidential ev·i·den·tial  
adj. Law
Of, providing, or constituting evidence: evidential material.

 standards. We certainly see more acknowledgments to the psychological, psychiatric and psychical research literatures than to the writings of the spiritualists.

Other than the influence of Spiritualism, the content of Human Personality should be seen in the context of two important literatures: the joint literatures of psychology and psychiatry and that of psychical research. Concerning psychology and psychiatry, Myers drew heavily from French studies. Regarding dissociative dissociative /dis·so·ci·a·tive/ (-so´se-a´tiv) pertaining to or tending to produce dissociation.  phenomena, most of these workers focused on degeneration, pathology, and maladjustment maladjustment /mal·ad·just·ment/ (mal?ah-just´ment) in psychiatry, defective adaptation to the environment.

1. Faulty or inadequate adjustment.

 and were generally hostile to the concept of normal dissociation (Crabtree, 1993; Le Malefan, 1999). This is clear in Pierre Janet's (1889) classic L'automatisme psychologique, the subtitle of which states that Janet's topic was "inferior forms of human activity." That Myers was aware of this tradition is clear from his review of Janet's book (e.g., Myers, 1889b) and from the works he cited in his book. In chapter 2 (and the corresponding appendix) of Human Personality, entitled "Disintegrations of Personality," Myers cited the work of authors such as Eugene Azam, Alfred Binet, Henri Bourrou and Prosper Burot, Ernest Mesnet, and Jules and Pierre Janet. These, and other authors, provided the basis for what Jules Hericourt (1889) simply referred to as the unconscious activity of the mind, a specialty based on the study of hypnosis and secondary personalities in which the French made notable contributions.

In addition, we should also remember that Myers's familiarity with French work came from personal contacts as well. He traveled more than once to France, where he observed telepathic hypnosis (Myers, 1886c) and transfer phenomena with magnets (Myers, 1886b). In addition, Myers (1886a) stated: "I have, through the kindness of Drs. Charcot, Fere, Bernheim, and Liebeault, myself witnessed typical [hypnosis] experiments at the Salpetriere in Paris, in the Hopital Civil at Nancy, and in Dr. Liebeault's private clinic; [and] have been allowed myself to perform experiments (with the aid of Mr. Gurney and Dr. A. T. Myers) on the principal subjects whose cases are recorded" (p. 6). (9)

The other major tradition informing Human Personality was psychical research. The main influence was the work of the SPR, some of whose members (Myers being a leading one) had made important contributions to the study of thought-transference, apparitions, hauntings, and mediumship, not to mention phenomena such as the stages of hypnotic memory and the psychology of automatic writing and hallucinations (Alvarado, 2002; Gauld, 1968, 1992). Many of the early SPR workers had a different goal from the reductionistic concerns of nineteenth-century psychiatry and psychology, and seriously considered the mind as a causal agent separate from the body. As stated by Oppenheim (1985): "Their goals were enormous, for they sought to resolve the mind-body puzzle by finding a via media between Cartesian dualism and a monism monism (mō`nĭzəm) [Gr.,=belief in one], in metaphysics, term introduced in the 18th cent. by Christian von Wolff for any theory that explains all phenomena by one unifying principle or as manifestations of a single substance.  that threatened to eliminate mind entirely" (p. 266).

In addition to SPR work, Myers discussed in Human Personality psychical research work conducted in countries other than England. Examples of this are his citations of the work of Justinus Kerner in Germany (Vol. 2, pp. 570-571), William James in the United States (Vol. 2, pp. 599-602), Giovanni Battista Ermacora in Italy (Vol. 2, pp. 624-627), Alfred Backman in Sweden (Vol. 1, pp. 554-555), and Charles Richet in France (Vol. 1, pp. 486-487).

Myers's background in the last two mentioned literatures led him to try to balance the realities and miseries of life seen in hysteria and the like with optimal functioning as seen in creativity and in telepathy. In this synthesis, one that gave its place to the normal, the abnormal and the supernormal, Myers was a pioneer and clearly an innovator. In addition, he saw parapsychological phenomena in the general context of human functioning and not as isolated anomalies. That is to say, the supernormal was connected to hysteria, hypnosis, multiple personality, dreams, hallucinations, and creativity because all of those phenomena were the province of the subliminal mind.

Attempts to relate the subconscious to the supernormal and to other psychological phenomena such as creativity and secondary personalities have been presented in previous books such as The Law of Psychic Phenomena (Hudson, 1893) and L'etre subconscient (Gyel, 1899). However, neither of these works had the scope of Human Personality. While Myers presented many detailed and well investigated cases to illustrate the powers of the subconscious mind and its connections and continuities with a variety of phenomena, the previously mentioned authors limited themselves to short descriptions and few illustrative cases. The depths of subliminal life were well illustrated by Myers and, in comparison, poorly described by his predecessors. Myers also had a wider and farther-reaching concept of subconscious functions than the two mentioned authors. This was particularly true of Hudson, who talked about a "subjective" (or subconscious) mind that was dependent on the conscious for reasoning.


Regardless of the virtues of Human Personality, there were several problems with Myers's presentation. One of them was his writing style. William James (1903, p. 30) thought that in some parts it was too lyrical, while Alan Gauld (1968) described it as being sometimes "a kind of Cosmic chant" (p. 276). My own impression after reading the book is that some concepts are not described as clearly as one wishes and that some important ideas are not discussed in a focused way but instead are found throughout the book. However, it may be argued that Myers died before he could develop his ideas in more detail.

In addition, for many of us now (as well as for some of Myers's contemporaries) it is important to make a distinction between "subliminal psychology, as such, and the philosophico-religious system which Myers tried to outline" (Flournoy, 1911, p. 66). There is no question that Myers goes beyond the evidence in his speculations about the spiritual world, something that may alienate some of his readers. But before we discount his work we must remember that every general theory has parts that are frankly speculative, and Myers was aware of the boldness of his speculations.

It has been said that Myers did not develop well his ideas of the subliminal in Human Personality and that he got sidetracked on the issue of survival of bodily death (E. Taylor, 1996, p. 147). To say that Myers was sidetracked from his emphasis on the subliminal to a concern with survival of bodily death perhaps may be understood by some as a suggestion that Myers lost his way. But such a view comes from an interest in and emphasis on the subconscious that was not Myers's and does not take into consideration the particular goals of some of the British nineteenth-century psychical researchers nor Myers's goals. Myers's explorations of the subliminal mind were embedded in the wider context of his attempts to determine if we as human beings could transcend physical limitations, particularly death (e.g., Cook, 1994). Survival of death was not a side issue, as an examination of Myers's life and work clearly shows (Cook, 1992; Gauld, 1968). This was instead a central concern in his system of thought and to argue the opposite is to misunderstand Myers completely. (10)

The evaluation of Myers's work soon after it came out must be seen in the context of the general skepticism of nineteenth-century science to the veridical (supernormal) phenomena of psychical research, particularly by students of the workings of the mind (for overviews see Coon coon: see raccoon. , 1992; Le Malefan, 1999; Oppenheim, 1985). The work of the SPR was widely criticized. One anonymous writer described it as "pseudo-psychology" (Review, 1888, p. 20). Psychologist James McKeen Cattell Noun 1. James McKeen Cattell - American psychologist and editor (1860-1944)
 (1898/1986) stated that the SPR had done injury to psychology, while physician Charles Sedgwick Minot Charles Sedgwick Minot (1852-1914) was an American anatomist, born at Roxbury, Massachusetts.

He graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1872, studied biology at Leipzig, Paris, and Würzburg.
 (1895) thought the whole thing was a "psychical comedy" carried on by literary men lacking scientific training. Following these trends it is not surprising that Myers's work, or parts of it, were considered controversial before the publication of Human Personality. As William James stated about Myers in a 1901 letter to English psychologist James Sully, he was aware of "how much psychologists as a rule have counted him out from their profession" (James, 1960, p. 69). We find authors such as Henry Goddard (1899), Pierre Janet (1889) and Boris Sidis (1898) praising Myers for some ideas but separating themselves from parts of his work they regarded too mystical or metaphysical. Such mixed feelings were also expressed later in regard to Human Personality. Myers himself was of course aware of how he was perceived by the psychological community. In a letter he wrote to Charles Richet, Myers (1891) made reference to his "psychological heterodoxy."

Still, there was some praise for Myers from Pierre Janet, who later criticized him. Janet (1886) called Myers "an English psychologist of talent" (p. 588). In the same paper Janet described one of Myers's (1885) studies as a "very ingenious work demanding serious study" (p. 588). Both Jules Hericourt (1889, p. 268) and William James (1890, p. 173) also mentioned Myers in the context of important work on the concept of a secondary self. Alfred Binet (1892) stated that Myers was one of the authors who understood spiritistic phenomena. In Binet's view, Myers "summarized very accurately the theory of multiple personalities at a moment when the studies of M. Janet about somnambulism SOMNAMBULISM, med. juris. Sleep walking.
     2. This is sometimes an inferior species of insanity, the patient being unconscious of what he is doing. A case is mentioned of a monk who was remarkable for simplicity, candor and probity, while awake, but who during
 and ours on hysterical insensibility in·sen·si·ble  
a. Imperceptible; inappreciable: an insensible change in temperature.

b. Very small or gradual: insensible movement.
 ... had not yet begun" (Binet, 1892, p. 299). Praise for Myers also came from the widely cited J.P. Durand (de Gros), who argued in 1900 at the Fourth International Congress of Psychology that among the many skillful skill·ful  
1. Possessing or exercising skill; expert. See Synonyms at proficient.

2. Characterized by, exhibiting, or requiring skill.
 and courageous men studying the subconscious mind two had distinguished themselves: Pierre Janet and F.W.H. Myers (Durand [de Gros], 1901, p. 650).

While some, such as Lodge (1903), had nothing but praise and admiration for Human Personality, others had more balanced views. Both Theodore Flournoy (1903) and William James (1903) believed Myers had presented a good map to serve as a guide for further explorations, but they were aware that the system needed further empirical support. As James wrote about Myers's facts: "Myers has ascribed a universality and an extension to them for which he has no warrant, ... he has drawn his rules from the exceptional cases, and made his spiritual universe too continuous" (p. 30).

English psychologist George Frederick Stout (1903) felt that many of the facts Myers presented to support his idea of the subliminal self could be explained in other ways. Janet (1904) stated that in Human Personality Myers showed "exaggerated generalizations and adventurous hypotheses" but also "remarkable descriptions and useful indications" (p. xiv). Another long-time critic of psychical research, American psychologist Joseph Jastrow (1906), also felt that Myers's concept of the subliminal was supported by data of questionable origin.

Another example of outright rejection of Myers came from American psychopathologist Morton Prince. Although he made no reference to Human Personality, the comments that follow most probably referred to the book. In a letter written on November 26, 1910, Prince wrote to psychoanalyst James Jackson Putnam that he considered Freud's ideas to be "based on carefully observed data arrived at by scientific methods," in contrast to those of Myers, which he considered to be "a philosophy not science" (Hale, 1971b, p. 324). Most probably these were reactions to Myers's interests in survival of death and, more generally, in the supernormal.

Psychical researchers from different countries also had objections to Myers's conclusions. In England, Frank Podmore (1910) argued in his book The Newer Spiritualism that Myers's system was based on insufficient data and on phenomena still not accepted by science. In the United States, James H. Hyslop (1913) considered Myers's subliminal to be over-inclusive, grouping with mental processes physiological ones that should not be part of the subliminal. In France Rene Sudre (1926) stated in his textbook Introduction a la Metapsychique Humaine in reference to survival that Myers's ideas were not supported because the facts indicated survival of memories, not of the conscious self. In Germany Rudolf Tischner (1924) did not find Myers's evidence of survival convincing.

To be fair to Myers, I have so far emphasized the negative reactions to his work and have not mentioned more positive comments in some of the writings I have cited (e.g., James, 1903) and also in some of the spiritualist spir·i·tu·al·ism  
a. The belief that the dead communicate with the living, as through a medium.

b. The practices or doctrines of those holding such a belief.

 publications not reviewed here to keep the discussion brief (e.g., The Myers book, 1903).

On a different issue, the reception of Human Personality is one thing, but its influence is quite another. Myers did not revolutionize psychology and psychical research in the sense that historians of science conceptualize scientific revolutions (e.g., Cohen cohen
 or kohen

(Hebrew: “priest”) Jewish priest descended from Zadok (a descendant of Aaron), priest at the First Temple of Jerusalem. The biblical priesthood was hereditary and male.
, 1985), as evidenced by the fact that he is missing from discussions of the intellectual history of psychology (e.g., Robinson, 1986). Nonetheless, this is far from saying that Myers had no influence. (11) Myers did have a wide influence within psychical research similar in some ways to Sigmund Freud's influence on psychology. Freud encountered much resistance, but his system was adapted and assimilated in a variety of ways, sometimes in the form of general, nonspecific nonspecific /non·spe·cif·ic/ (non?spi-sif´ik)
1. not due to any single known cause.

2. not directed against a particular agent, but rather having a general effect.


 concepts that were not connected to its originator, as it happened in the United States (Hale, 1971a; Shakow & Rapaport, 1964). So while there was no general agreement with all of Myers's ideas, and frequently he did not get credited at all for his influence, many of his concepts were widely influential.

Rene Sudre (1956/1962) called Myers's book "the Bible of British psychical researchers" (p. 378). Although Sudre's statement is an exaggeration, there is no question that many British researchers were deeply influenced by Myers. This was evident in William Barrett's On the Threshold of the Unseen (1917) and in G.N.M. Tyrrell's The Personality of Man (1947b). These authors referred to the subliminal self as an important concept in psychical research.

More than anyone else, Myers gave psychical research the idea that ESP (1) (Enhanced Service Provider) An organization that adds value to basic telephone service by offering such features as call-forwarding, call-detailing and protocol conversion.  and other phenomena were subconscious functions of personality. (12) As he said about telepathy, the agent "is operating on the percipient's subconscious self by means of a telepathic impulse" (Vol. 2, p. 8). The concept has filtered down in the literature to our days. A few years after the publication of Myers's book, Usher and Burr (1909) were speculating that telepathy was a process between the subliminal minds of two individuals. Carrington (1914) stated that a medium's subliminal mind "acts as a sort of matrix in which the whole mould of the supernormal is cast" (p. 79). Years later Tyrrell (1947b) wrote: "Telepathy is a relation between the subliminal portions of two personalities" (p. 70). Different forms of the concept can be found among French researchers such as Sudre (1926) and Warcollier (1938) as well as in more recent writings (e.g., Tart, 1976; R. Taylor, 2003). In Hoyt Edge's (1982) words, "the theory is widely accepted that psi information is received on the level of the unconscious and that it is then transferred to the conscious mind by a variety of mechanisms" (p. 193).

The last part of Edge's comment is precisely what Myers referred to as sensory and motor automatisms. This idea has come to our days through the works of many researchers and writers, including Eleanor Sidgwick (1922), Jean Charles Roux Roux , Pierre Paul Émile 1853-1933.

French bacteriologist. His work with the diphtheria bacillus led to the development of antitoxins to neutralize pathogenic toxins.
 (1937), Hereward Carrington (1940), Ernesto Bozzano (1942), G.N.M. Tyrrell (1947a), and Louisa E. Rhine (1953), among others. L.E. Rhine was influential in keeping this concept in the minds of modern parapsychologists both in her early 1953 paper and in later publications (e.g., L.E. Rhine, 1981). She did not cite Myers, relying instead on Tyrrell (1947a). But Tyrrell's concept came directly from Myers and from other SPR work (e.g., Gurney, Myers & Podmore, 1886). As sometimes happens to the discussion of overarching concepts in science, over time the origins and early influential work supporting an idea are forgotten although the idea becomes a common assumption that is part of the canon.


Human Personality can still speak to modern psychology and parapsychology in different ways. Nonetheless, several aspects limit both the interest in and acceptance of Myers's ideas today. Contemporary students of the mind in general do not believe the mind is independent from the body, that human beings have "supernormal" powers, that these powers prove humankind have a spiritual nature, nor that survival of death is an idea worth taking seriously. As a philosopher stated about the survival hypothesis, this "contains metaphysical presuppositions so bizarre, and so at odds with ordinary scientific and empirical concepts, as to be, for most people--including me--close to incomprehensible" (Radden, 2000, p. 58). Until the current worldview world·view  
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.

2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
 changes, Myers's Human Personality, like the field of parapsychology, will not find widespread acceptance within psychology.

Furthermore, in recent times parts of psychology have changed from emphasis on models assuming subconscious selves to models of the mind based on a variety of cognitive mechanisms, as seen in discussions of the cognitive unconscious (Bowers & Meichenbaum, 1984; Kihlstrom, 1987). In other words Adv. 1. in other words - otherwise stated; "in other words, we are broke"
put differently
, we have lost the older emphasis on what James (1890) called the hidden self. Modern cognitive psychology has emphasized a computer-like model of the mind, discussing how information is processed by human beings and how it is perceived, organized, recognized, encoded, analyzed, and integrated into memory (Baars, 1986; Tallis, 2002). The emphasis is on preconscious preconscious /pre·con·scious/ (-kon´shus) the part of the mind not present in consciousness, but readily recalled into it.

See foreconscious.
 processing, a concept different from Myers's subliminal self. These psychologists, Tallis (2002) points out in his brief account of the development of cognitive psychology and its relationship to the concept of the unconscious mind, "were using the more restrained vocabulary of computer science. The new model did not require unconscious agencies or submerged secondary personalities.... All that was needed was a hierarchy of processing stages, processing from lower to higher levels" (p. 95). (13)

Explorations of those sub-selves or independent cognitive systems that Hilgard (1986) has called the "hidden observer" in hypnosis, and that Watkins and Watkins (1986) referred to as ego states, could be related to the concept of the subliminal self or at least explored with that viewpoint in mind. But we should bear in mind that those concepts are not meant to be such a basic aspect of human nature as Myers's subliminal, a construct much wider than mere fragmentation states or cognitive sub-systems.

Topics such as implicit learning (Frensch & Runger, 2003), executive control of thoughts, skills, and habits (Logan, 2003), and unconscious perception (Merickle & Daneman, 1998) are discussed today without reference to the subconscious as conceptualized by Myers. Similarly, modern research and theorization the·o·rize  
v. the·o·rized, the·o·riz·ing, the·o·riz·es

To formulate theories or a theory; speculate.
To propose a theory about.
 on hallucinations (Bentall, 2000), hypnosis (Fromm & Nash, 1992), and creativity (Sternberg, 1999), for example, do not depend for the most part on the concepts of sensory automatisms, suggestions on the subliminal self, or subliminal uprushes. Instead there is interest in developmental, personality, cognitive, situational, and psychophysiological variables. Psychology and psychiatry have become a multivariate enterprise in which there is less reliance on a single explanatory concept such as the subliminal. In other words, the study of psychological phenomena is more complex today than in Myers's days.

Following psychologists, many parapsychologists today do not emphasize the subconscious as much as Myers did. If anything, they consider it as a factor but not necessarily the main one. Many discussions of psychological processes related to ESP rely on the interaction of different psychological variables (Irwin, 1979b; Schmeidler, 1988).

The issue of survival of death is not the main concern of parapsychology today. So Myers's analyses of apparitions and mediumship may not attract much attention. Furthermore, most of the main contemporary discussions on the topic do not follow Myers's approach in Human Personality: that is, the study of gradations of a variety of normal, abnormal, and supernormal phenomena. Instead there are examinations of different parapsychological lines of evidence (e.g., Braude, 2003) and studies of specific spontaneous experiences (e.g., Fontana, 2003) or mediumship (e.g., Schwartz, Geoffrion, Jain, Lewis, & Russek, 2003) that do not have the wide scope of Myers's approach.

Nonetheless, Myers has relevance for present-day concerns. He still inspires us to pay attention to the possibility of having a psychology based on optimal functioning. Furthermore, Myers's subliminal and his wide conception of human nature reminds us that our materialistic assumptions can always be questioned. In his system the mind (and the spirit) were clearly independent of the body. Myers saw the brain as a mechanism through which a more subtle principle had to go through in order to communicate. However, in doing so there were limitations in that communication could be distorted due to the set patterns of the brain: that is, both the pathological and the supernormal depended on the same pathways of expression, on the available resources in the brain.

Although written in a style different from ours, the concepts expressed by Myers in Human Personality have resonance in the ideas of those that have speculated later on the use the mind makes of the nervous system. Myers did not expect that the mind could produce complete modifications in the brain and felt that body control was increased in trances and similar states because "the supraliminal processes are inhibited, and the lower organic centres are retained more directly under the spirit's control" (Vol. 1, p. 217).

There are few discussions in the modern academic literature about consciousness of the possibility that mind can act on the brain as a separate causal agent (for an exception see Popper & Eccles, 1977). Even those that oppose simple reductionism reductionism(rē·dukˑ·sh·niˑ·z  do not come close to Myers's ultimate hopes. As stated by Roger Sperry (1993), in the new cognitive revolution mental states are not seen as the product of simple brain function:
   Reductive microdeterministic views of personhood and the
   physical world are replaced in favor of a more holistic, top-down
   view in which the higher more evolved entities
   throughout nature ... gain their due recognition along with
   physics and chemistry.... The new position is mentalistic
   [but] does not mean that it is dualistic. In the new synthesis,
   mental states, as dynamic emergent properties of brain activity,
   become inseparably interfused with and tied to the brain
   activity of which they are an emergent property. Consciousness
   in this view cannot exist apart from the functioning brain.
   (p. 870)

In parapsychology, thinkers such as J.B. Rhine (1947), Robert Thouless and B.P. Wiesner (1947), Charles T. Tart (1979) and John Beloff (1990) have upheld the independence of the mind from the nervous system. But there have been almost no attempts to directly test such an assumption, no doubt due to the complexity of the problem (for an exception see Honorton, 1979).

Myers's idea that psychic phenomena are not shaped by biological evolution because of their spiritual nature may seem incongruent in·con·gru·ent  
1. Not congruent.

2. Incongruous.

in·congru·ence n.
 at first sight with modern parapsychological thinking (e.g., Taylor, 2003). (14) Nonetheless Myers accepted that evolution could affect the aspects related to its manifestation as opposed to the actual phenomena themselves. Both evolution (and heredity) could have an influence on the permeable barrier between the subliminal and the supraliminal by producing individuals with more permeable barriers than others. This idea may be compatible with the more recent discussions of evolution in parapsychology (Taylor, 2003), as well as heredity (Cohn, 1999).

In addition, it is possible to relate some relatively recent findings to Myers's ideas. Some recent theoretical concepts rely on the idea that some individuals have more permeable cognitive barriers than others, thus allowing the first to have more emotional, creative, dream, imagery, parapsychological, and other experiences than the second. This is the case of boundary thinness (Hartman, 1991) and transliminality (Thalbourne & Delin, 1994). Both constructs can be conceptualized through Myers's view of a permeable threshold allowing more access to the subconscious in different situations or in some persons more than others. The same may be said of the relationship of ESP and subliminal perception (Roney-Dougal, 1986).

Other findings consistent with this idea include a variety of studies that have related lower perceptual thresholds or fewer defenses to creativity (Shaw & Conway, 1990), magical ideation ideation /ide·a·tion/ (i?de-a´shun) the formation of ideas or images.idea´tional

The formation of ideas or mental images.
 (Parker, 1999) and ESP (Watt & Morris, 1995). Perhaps ideas to explain schizophrenia based on hypothetical cognitive deficits that allow the experience of normal thought processes that are usually below the level of awareness (Frith frith  
n. Scots
A firth.

[Alteration of firth.]

Frith woods or wooded country collectively. See also forest.
, 1979) are related to the same general concept of threshold mentioned by Myers. Research has shown that high schizotypal individuals have more access to preconscious activation to the point that Evans (1997, p. 93) has referred to the "leaking" of material from these regions to explain hallucinations and other intrusive experiences. While it could be argued that these ideas may be interpreted following Myers's subliminal, we need to keep in mind that there are ways to explain this other than through the subliminal self (such as cognitive interference).

The same may be said of a variety of research findings in which positive interrelationships have been found between different variables. This includes hypnotic suggestibility sug·gest·i·bil·i·ty
Responsiveness or susceptibility to suggestion.
 and intrusive thoughts (Bryant & Idey, 2001); dissociation and dream variables such as vividness, lucidity, and dream recall (Alvarado & Zingrone, 1997); absorption and magical ideation (Parker, 1999); fantasy experiences in relation to dissociation and absorption (Merckelbach & Maastricht, 2001); dream recall in relation to absorption, fantasy, and openness to experience Openness to experience is one of five major domains of personality discovered by psychologists (Goldberg, 1993; McCrae & John, 1992). Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity  (Watson, 2003); and synesthesia synesthesia /syn·es·the·sia/ (sin?es-the´zhah)
1. a secondary sensation accompanying an actual perception.

 and eidetic eidetic /ei·det·ic/ (i-det´ik) denoting exact visualization of events or objects previously seen; a person having such an ability.  imagery (Glicksohn, Salinger & Roychman, 1992).

Similar to the above-mentioned psychological work showing positive relationships between different phenomena, we find in the last two decades much questionnaire work relating self-reported parapsychological experiences such as ESP, apparitions, and out-of-body experiences to other parapsychological experiences (e.g., Palmer, 1979) as well as to hypnotic susceptibility (Pekala, Kumar & Cummings, 1992), dissociative experiences (Richards, 1991), openness to experience (Alvarado, Zingrone & Dalton, 1998-1999), dream recall (Palmer, 1979), and hypnagogic hypnagogic /hyp·na·gog·ic/ (hip?nah-goj´ik)
1. hypnotic (1, 2).

2. occurring just before sleep; applied to hallucinations occurring at sleep onset.
 and hypnopompic imagery (Sherwood, 1999). All of these relationships make sense from the point of view of Myers's system. For example, he expected that the same person would experience various subliminal phenomena, some of which "are to be referred to hyperaesthesia and some to telaesthesia, or to telepathy from the living or from the dead" (Vol. 2, p. 270). Because all these phenomena came from the subliminal mind, perhaps a tendency to manifest one would be associated with a tendency to manifest others. This does not mean the subliminal is the only important variable, nor that all the above-mentioned interrelationships are to be explained in this way, but it suggests areas in which we could further systematically explore Myers's heritage.

Phenomena such as dissociative identity disorder dissociative identity disorder: see multiple personality.
dissociative identity disorder
 formerly multiple personality disorder

Rare condition indicated by the absence of a clear and comprehensive identity.
 (DID) may be profitably studied following Myers's suggestion that some alterations may represent an improvement, as opposed to simple pathology (Vol. 1, p. 62). But with the exception of writings outside of the psychological and psychiatric tradition (e.g., Temple, 2002), this is not the current trend in the DID literature. Another possibility is to study dissociation in terms of abilities, as argued by Stephen Braude (2000) in a recent article. Myers believed that the subliminal could express creatively arranged subconscious stories that did not have to be veridical, a point discussed also by Flournoy (1900). Both Flournoy and Myers influenced later students of the subconscious into considering how a variety of secondary personalities and romances could come through mediums. As Charles Richet (1922/1923) wrote referring to all kinds of subliminal romances produced by mediums: "The talents of the unconscious show even more variety than those of consciousness" (p. 44). This seems to have been a common interest as well as common knowledge among those writing relatively soon after the publication of Human Personality, including psychiatrists and psychologists (e.g., Grasset, 1904; Jastrow, 1906) as well as psychical researchers who studied "interplanetary in·ter·plan·e·tar·y  
Existing or occurring between planets.


of or linking planets

Adj. 1.
" mediumistic communications (Hyslop, 1918) and who classified and theorized about personation phenomena in mediums (Sudre, 1926). Unfortunately the empirical study of these phenomena is not only ignored by the majority of current students of dissociation, but also by most present-day parapsychologists. The few that study mediums currently are concerned only with veridical mediumistic productions and do not pay attention to the wide range of mediumistic phenomena emphasized by Myers.

We could follow up Myers's initiative in his analysis of sensory automatisms such as intuitions and all kinds of imagery-based psi-mediating vehicles. Some work has been conducted on the problems of ESP reception (L.E. Rhine, 1962a, 1962b; Sidgwick, 1923) and of specific forms of manifestation such as veridical impressions (Stevenson, 1970). Another line of research that could be explored further is the experimental attempt to induce ESP by using ambiguous stimuli, techniques that may elicit sensory automatisms. Some pioneering efforts were reported by Dale, Taves and Murphy (1944) and more recently by Braud, Shafer and Mulgrew (1983). Perhaps the ganzfeld ganzfeld (gyanzˑ·fld),
 may be seen as a technique to induce sensory automatisms, to judge from the rich mentation reports some researchers have collected (Parker, Persson & Haller, 2000).

There is also much to explore regarding the use of motor automatisms as an expression of ESE ESE

Noun 1. ESE - the compass point midway between east and southeast
east southeast
 Certainly there have been many studies in psychical research of the automatic writing of mediums (Stevenson, 1978). Furthermore, many special individuals express ESP through automatic speaking. This was the case of medium Gladys Osborne Leonard (Thomas, 1922) and psychic Pascal Forthuny. The latter showed what Eugene Osty (1926/n.d.) referred to as impulsive talking, or "the use of the centers of spoken language by an intelligence different from that we know as conscious" (p. 214). With a few exceptions (e.g., Braud, 1980; Braud & Jackson, 1982; Edge, 1982; Palmer, 2001), not much has been done in recent times to study ESP in the laboratory using motor automatisms. Perhaps the use of physiological responses, as seen in the early work of Charles T. Tart (1963) and more recently by Dean Radin (1997), may be seen as a motor automatism in which the motor response is not clearly visible without instrumental amplification. This is consistent with Myers's statement that the subliminal can manifest as "deep organic modifications--of changes in the vaso-motor, the circulatory, the respiratory systems" (Vol. 2, p. 103).

In addition, there are other topics that connect Myers with modern parapsychology. These include studies showing relationships between ESP and creativity (Schlitz & Honorton, 1992) and altered states of consciousness altered states of consciousness, the various states in which the mind can be aware but is not in its usual wakeful condition, such as during hypnosis, meditation, hall-ucination, trance, and the dream stage. See also alternative states of consciousness.
 (for an overview see Alvarado, 1998).

While all of the above-mentioned topics are connected to Myers's ideas as expressed in Human Personality, I have mentioned only the exploration of topics showing similarity. The usefulness of Myers today will be limited if we do not actively test his ideas, or at least explore them further empirically. Perhaps psychophysiological studies could test for the concept of telergic action. Myers suggested that our mind affects our brain in the same way that we affect a distant mind. Maybe causing an effect on a distant brain is accompanied by a decrease in the control (or activity) of the agent's own brain. This may be supported by many of the veridical cases cited by Myers that took place when the presumed agent was ill, distracted, dying, or going through some alteration of consciousness. We could monitor brain activity of both agent and percipient and postulate postulate: see axiom.  a reduction or some other change of activity in the agent at times when a synchronized response is observed. Furthermore, and as suggested by Gauld (1968, p. 293), instead of a distant human brain we may try an effect on a fragment of cortical tissue detached from a brain (presumably pre·sum·a·ble  
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster.
 an animal brain). Such a line of research is consistent with the distant mental influence work summarized by Braud (2003). Could we perform studies to explore the concept of psychorrhagic diathesis? This could be done by analyzing cases as E Thomas Bret (1939) did with published accounts and as Rend Laurentin and P. Maheo (1990) did with the bilocations of Mother Yvonne-Aimee. But we may also follow a more active approach in trying to induce experimental apparitions and in conducting further OBE detection studies, provided we find individuals showing the propensity in question. Closely related to this is the possibility of using hypnosis to actively induce "self projections." While Tart (1997) did not report success in producing veridical OBEs using hypnosis, some of the older, apparently successful, attempts to achieve veridical experiences suggest the issue should be explored further. (15) Perhaps the success of the earlier studies was due to the fact that special participants were used. Consequently, we need to pay closer attention to the participant's level of hypnotic susceptibility or to work with the so-called hypnotic virtuosi. This line of research should be followed up considering there is evidence that even among individuals classified as highly suggestible sug·gest·i·ble
Readily influenced by suggestion.
 there are degrees of hypnotic susceptibility so that the higher inside the highly suggestible have claimed more psychic experiences than the less high (Pekala, Kumar & Cummings, 1992).

How could we test Myers's ideas that there are preferred pathways in the manifestation of ESP? (See also Gurney, Myers & Podmore, 1886, Vol. 2, pp. 171-172.) One possibility is to postulate that perception and ESP share similar ways of processing information. We could follow the approach of Ed Kelly and colleagues, who reported finding similar mistakes both in visual and in ESP tests in a single-participant study (Kelly, Kanthamani, Child, & Young, 1975). Another is to explore whether our normal preferred mode of thinking, say a visual or verbal style, is part of the ESP channel. We could follow up Harvey Irwin's (1979a) study of self-reported ESP experiences and cognitive coding preferences. Furthermore, we could explore whether those with a predisposition to visual hallucinations in daily life or to vivid dreams would also express ESP mainly as visual hallucinations and as vivid dreams. The prediction behind this work is that ESP uses some of the same mechanisms of perception or of information processing, thus providing empirical support for Myers's ideas of shared pathways in the normal and the supernormal.

Other interesting ideas that could be tested today include Myers's suggestion that we should explore crystal visions to see if they follow optical laws (Vol. 1, p. 239). Perhaps we may find psychophysiological correlates of crystal gazing. Following Schatzman's (1980) report of changes in evoked potential Evoked potential
A test of nerve response that uses electrodes placed on the scalp to measure brain reaction to a stimulus such as a touch.

Mentioned in: Spinal Stenosis

evoked potential,
 when there was interference in front of a hallucinatory hal·lu·ci·na·to·ry
1. Of or characterized by hallucination.

2. Inducing or causing hallucination.
 figure, we may explore whether there is a physiological reaction when something is put between the gazer's eyes and the reflecting surface. Furthermore, we could also test for Myers's speculation on the possible existence of a "transition from hyperaesthesia to telaesthesia, so that when peripheral sensation is no longer possible, central perception may be still operating across obstacles otherwise insurmountable" (Vol 1, p. 276). The latter could be explored following the assumptions of those who have argued that, under certain conditions, both sensory-motor functioning and ESP may complement each other (Rao, 1993; Rush, 1964).


Considering current conceptual trends in parapsychology, and particularly in psychology, it is unlikely that the concepts presented by Myers in Human Personality will be generally accepted as Myers intended them. On the positive side, Human Personality helps us to keep open the possibility of a psychology in which the mind is seen as more of a causal agent than is generally assumed. Myers's system also defined the subject matter of parapsychology as one intimately related to psychology in terms of the workings of the subliminal mind. In addition, he questioned the medical model that assumed pathology in most of the unusual. As a hundred-year-old book, Human Personality can do much by reminding us of possibilities and providing us with ideas for further research. These ideas need to be followed up considering the variety of methodological and conceptual developments that have taken place since Myers's times. One hopes that the challenge is taken, not only by parapsychologists, but also by those engaged in hypnosis, creativity, dream, and dissociative identity disorder studies, to name a few.


Thanks are due to Eberhard Bauer and Peter Mulacz for references and translations from German. Useful references were also provided by William Braud, Emily Kelly and Pierre Macias.


(1.) The longest and most detailed discussion of Myers's psychology and psychical research is Emily Cook's (1992) unpublished doctoral work. See also Gerullo (1982, pp. 46-50, 98-103), Cook (1994), Crabtree (1993, chapter 16; 2003), Gauld (1968, pp. 38-44, 89-114, 116-136, Chapters 12-13), Kelly (2001), Oppenheim (1985, pp. 153-155, 254-266), and Williams (1985). Beer (1998, chapter 4) discusses Myers's literary work and aspects of his personal life.

(2.) Gauld (1968, pp. 103-114, 125-133) discusses Myers's involvement with Spiritualism before the founding of the SPR. The influence of Spiritualism on the phenomena studied by psychical researchers and on the issue of survival of death is evident in studies such as Inglis's (1992; see also Alvarado, 2003).

(3.) There were many precedents to these ideas of projection (and variants of it) that Myers was probably aware of, although he does not provide citations. Some came from the pre-nineteenth-century religious and philosophical literatures (Poortman, 1954/1978). The concept was also present in the spiritualist literature as seen in the writings of Crowe (1848), Harrison (1879), Nehrer (1874) and Oxon (1874).

(4.) This is not to say that nineteenth-century spiritualists did not admit human agency to explain some psychic phenomena, something they saw as the powers of the incarnate spirit (Alvarado, 2003). Myers referred to spiritualists such as Alfred Russel Wallace who emphasized discarnate agency more frequently than incarnate agency (Vol. 1, p. 6).

(5.) Gauld (1992, chapter 16) summarizes the history and main tenets of the Nancy school of hypnosis. Its main representative, Hyppolyte Bernhein (1884), explained hypnosis as "the influence of an idea suggested to and accepted by the brain" (p. 73; this, and other translations, are mine). This conception did not involve the subliminal self nor Myers's (Vol. 1, pp. 206-209) positive views about the existence of a mesmeric mes·mer·ism  
1. A strong or spellbinding appeal; fascination.

2. Hypnotic induction believed to involve animal magnetism.

3. Hypnotism.

[After Franz Mesmer.
 effluence ef·flu·ence  
1. The act or an instance of flowing out.

2. Something that flows out or forth; an emanation:
 (animal magnetism animal magnetism,
n theory advanced and practiced by Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer in the late 18th century as a healing technique, according to which a natural fluid exists throughout the universe, in and between all people and earthly and heavenly bodies.
) and telepathic hypnosis (for a short overview of the latter see Caratelli, 1996, chapter 7).

(6.) For this case see Myers (Vol. 2, pp. 132-144) as well as Flournoy (1900). Although this medium is better known for her motor automatisms (automatic speaking, writing and drawing), she also produced sensory automatisms, as seen in her hallucinations.

(7.) Myers's concept of ectoplasy is very similar to previous ideas recorded in the spiritualist literature (e.g., Aksakow, 1894-1895/1896; Cox, 1872).

(8.) Myers was not original in these speculations, as seen in previous commentaries by Kardec (1863, p. 281).

(9.) During the International Congress of Physiological Psychology physiological psychology

Study of the physiological basis of behaviour. Traditional specializations in the field cover perception, motivation, emotion, learning, memory, cognition, or mental disorders.
 held at Paris in 1889 Myers discussed SPR studies looking for evidence of a mesmeric influence in the context of a discussion about hypnosis in which figures such as Hyppolyte Bernhein, Joseph Delboeuf, August Forel, and Charles Richet participated (De la sensibilite hypnotique, 1890, pp. 61-62). In other discussions about hysteria, hypnosis, and hallucinations, Myers mentioned SPR work on thought-transference (Discussion Remarks, 1890, 138-139; Statistique des hallucinations, 1890, pp. 152-153). Myers presented papers in later congresses (Myers, 1892a, 1901) and was appointed vice-president of the second congress (International Congress, 1892, p. iii).

(10.) Another questionable evaluation is Spitz's (1997, p. 77) statement that in his early papers on automatisms Myers went astray by accepting that telepathy was part of subconscious processes. This opinion seems to be based on the belief that telepathy could not be real.

(11.) I will not discuss Myers's influence on psychology except to point out that recent work is starting to give due credit to his contributions to the study of dissociation and the subconscious (Alvarado, 2002; Crabtree, 1993) and to his influence on figures such as James (E. Taylor, 1996) and Janet (Crabtree, 2003). See also the earlier publications of Ellenberger (1970) and Powell (1979).

(12.) Other nineteenth-century theoreticians who linked supernormal phenomena and the subconscious included Edmund Gurney (Gurney, Myers & Podmore, 1886), E. Gyel (1899), Thomson Jay Hudson Thomson Jay Hudson born Windham, Ohio, USA, February 22, 1834, Chief Examiner of the US Patent Office and Psychical researcher, known for his three laws of psychic phenomena, which were first published in 1893.  (1893), and Eduard von Hartmann (1885). The functioning of the subconscious was also used to reduce the apparent supernormal to nonveridical processes (e.g., Janet, 1889). Myers (1884, 1885) himself contributed to this literature.

(13.) There have been many conceptualizations of the subconscious different from Myers's in the history of psychology (e.g., Janet, 1889; Jastrow, 1906; Sidis, 1898; Von Hartmann, 1869/1877; for overviews see Ellenberger, 1970; Fuller, 1986; and Tallis, 2002).

(14.) Spiritualistic-oriented writers such as Ernesto Bozzano (1906) and Gustave Geley (1919/1920) also argued that psi phenomena did not follow biological evolution.

(15.) This includes the early "travelling clairvoyance" work of Haddock (1851) and the latter studies of Durville (1909) and Cornillier (1920/1921), among others.


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Author:Alvarado, Carlos S.
Publication:The Journal of Parapsychology
Article Type:Biography
Date:Mar 22, 2004
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