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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/October 1900/Scientific Literature

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 57‎ | October 1900

Scientific Literature.
MENTAL AUTOMATISM.

A recent work by Prof. Th. Flournoy, entitled 'Des Indes à la Planète Mars,'[1] contains an account of a remarkable case of mental automatism, or subconscious personality. The subject is a young woman of about thirty years, apparently in good health, but always of a nervous and imaginative type. She developed tendencies towards lapses of consciousness, hallucinations and automatic actions; and these developed later, under the inspiration of spiritualistic séances, into a series of cycles, or automatic dramas, in which the medium speaks or writes and acts under the influence of several diverse subordinate personalities. In one of these cycles—which, it must be understood, are continued from one sitting to another, although in her intermediate normal life she knows nothing of what she has said or done in the trance—she becomes Marie Antoinette, and is said to act the part with unusual dramatic skill. In another and far more elaborate cycle the scene is transferred to the planet Mars, and the houses, scenery, plants and animals, peoples, customs and goings-on of the planet are described; sketches are made, and reproduced in the volume, of these extra-mundane appearances. Still more remarkable is the appearance of the Martian language, which in successive séances the subject hears, speaks, sees before her in space, and, in the end, even writes. From the mystery of Mars we are taken to the equally mysterious Hindu cycle; here the medium becomes an Indian princess of the fifteenth century, reveals her history and that of her associates in the Oriental life, tells of herself as Simandini; of Sivrouka, her prince, who reigned over Kanara and built in 1401 the fortress of Tschandraguiri. Wonderful to relate, these names are not fictitious, but are mentioned by one De Marlès in a volume published in 1828; the author, however, does not enjoy a high reputation as a historian. When occasional utterances of the Hindu princess are taken down, they are found in part to have close resemblance to Sanskrit words; while in her normal condition the medium is as ignorant of Sanskrit as she is of any language except French, and is entirely ignorant of both De Marlès and the people of India five hundred years ago. Surely this is a tale, bristling with mystery and improbability, which, if told carelessly or with a purpose, we should dismiss as a willful invention! M. Flournoy has been unusually successful in revealing the starting points of the several automatisms and of connecting them with intelligible developments of the medium's mental life; and the manifestations, though they remain as remarkable examples of unconscious memory and elaboration of ideas, nowhere transcend these limitations. The sketches of Martian scenery are clearly Japanesque or vaguely Oriental; the Martian language is pronounced an 'infantile' production, and is clearly modeled after the French, the characters being the result of an attempt to make them as oddly different from our own as possible; the Sanskrit goes no farther than what one could get from a slight acquaintance with a Sanskrit grammar; and while there is a copy of De Marlès in the Geneva Library (where the medium lives), no connection can be established between either De Marlès or the grammar and the subject of this study. Most of this knowledge of these remarkable sub-conscious states would have been impossible were it not for 'spirit control' of one Leopold, who, in accordance with the doctrine of reincarnation which permeates the several cycles, was in his life the famous Cagliostro. By suitable suggestion, Leopold can be induced to make the entranced subject speak, write, draw, or interpret her strange messages from other worlds; and where Leopold says 'nay' all progress is stopped. This case has many analogies with other cases that have been recorded, but goes beyond most of them in the complexity and bizarre character of the unconscious elaborations and in the feats of memory and creative imagination which it entails. These accomplishments, it should be well understood, never appeared suddenly or fully developed, but only after a considerable period of subliminal preparation, and then only hesitatingly, and little by little, just as is the case with the acquisitions of normal consciousness; and all these acquisitions bear unmistakable marks of belonging to the same person. The special value of this account thus lies in the accuracy of the description and the success with which the account has been made thoroughly intelligible and significant.

 

THE MOSQUITOES OF THE UNITED STATES.

Dr. L. O. Howard, the entomologist of the United States Department of Agriculture, has just published a bulletin entitled, "Notes on the Mosquitoes of the United States: Giving some Account of their Structure and Biology, with Remarks on Remedies." The author has, for some years, been interested in the general subject of the biology of mosquitoes and of remedies to be used against them, and has brought together in this bulletin all the published and unpublished notes which he has been collecting during this period. The bulletin contains synoptic tables of all North American mosquitoes, prepared by Mr. D. W. Coquillett, and gives detailed facts regarding the geographical distribution of the different species mentioned. All the five North American genera are illustrated and full, illustrated accounts are given of the life history of the two principal genera, Culex and Anopheles, as studied in Culex pungens and Anopheles quadrimaculatus. The author calls special attention to the two genera of large mosquitoes, Psorophora and Megarhinus, and urges the importance of the study of these two genera, especially by physicians in the South, in regard to their possible relation to the spread of malaria. Considerable space is given to the subject of remedies, the principal ones considered being kerosene on breeding pools, the introduction of fish in Ashless ponds, the artificial agitation of water and general community work. It is clearly shown not only that the mosquito may be, in many localities, readily done away with at comparatively slight expense, but that by careful work many malarious localities may be made healthy. The subject of mosquitoes and malaria is not discussed in the bulletin, which contains simply references to available papers on this subject, like the article by Dr. Patrick Manson, published in The Popular Science Monthly for July, the aim of the author being to bring together all available facts about the mosquitoes of the United States, in order to assist physicians who are studying the malarial relation from the point of view of local conditions.

  1. The book has just been published by the Harpers in an English version, under the title 'She Lived in Mars.'