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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 64/January 1904/A Case of Automatic Drawing

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 64‎ | January 1904

THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

JANUARY, 1904.




A CASE OF AUTOMATIC DRAWING.
By Professor WILLIAM JAMES,

HARVARD UNIVERSITY.

'AUTOMATISMS' have recently been made a frequent topic of investigation by psychologists, and although the exact reason why some persons have them and others do not remains as little explained as does the precise character and content which they may affect in a given individual, yet we are now so well acquainted with their variety that we can class them under familiar types.

The rudiment of all the motor-automatisms seems to be the tendency of our muscles to act out any performance of which we may think. They do so without deliberate intention, and often without awareness on our part, as where one swings a ring by a thread in a glass and finds that it strikes the number of times of which we think; or as when we play the willing game, and, laying our hands on the blindfolded 'percipient,' involuntarily guide him by our checking or encouraging pressure until he lays his hands upon the object which is hid.

The next higher grade of motor automatism, involving considerable subconscious action of intelligence, is found in the various alphabet using forms of amateur mediumship, such as table tipping, the 'Ouija-board,' and certain other devices for making our muscles leaky and liable to escape from control.

'Graphic' automatisms, of which planchette-writing is the most popularly known example, is a more widespread accomplishment than ordinary people think. We have no statistics, but I am inclined to suspect that in twenty persons taken at random an automatic writer of some degree can always be found.

The messages are often elaborate, and surprise the writer quite as much as they do the bystanders by their content. The upper consciousness seems sometimes to cooperate in a faint way, sometimes merely to permit, and sometimes to be entirely ignorant of what the hand is doing. Occasionally the subject grows abstracted, and may go into a sort of reverie or trance if the writing or drawing is prolonged. Sometimes, but apparently in a minority of cases, the hand becomes insensible to pricking and pinching. Of the matters set down and their peculiarities I will say nothing here, these words of mine being merely introductory to a case of automatic drawing which may be interesting to the general reader from its lack of complication and its oddity.

The subject, C. H. P., married, fifty years old, made his living as a bookkeeper until the autumn of 1901, when he fractured his spine in an elevator accident. Since the accident he has been incapable of carrying on his former occupation.

For several years previous to the accident, automatic hand-movements, twitchings, etc., had occurred, but having no familiarity with automatic phenomena Mr. P. thought they were mere 'nervousness,' and discouraged them. He thinks that 'drawing' would have come earlier had he understood the premonitory symptoms and taken a pencil into his hand.

The hand movements grew more marked a few months after the elevator accident, but the subject sees no definite reason for ascribing to the accident any part in their production.

They were converted into definite movements of drawing by an exhibition which he witnessed in February, 1903. The account which follows is in Mr. P. 's own words.

A friend who was interested in hypnotism introduced me to a man who had some power as a hypnotist, and this man gave for our amusement a sample of automatic drawing, a man's face in dotted outline, no shading or detail.

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The movement of his hand reminded me of the way my own hand frequently acted, so the next day I sat down to a table with a pencil and paper, and tracings were directly made; but it was some days before I made an object that could be recognized, and I have never made dotted outlines like the man who
 
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performed before me. For some days the movements were violent, and the traces left by the pencil were erratic, the lines being drawn with seemingly no aim, but finally rude forms of objects were executed.

Gradually my hand moved with more regularity and the pictures produced became interesting. Among these were dark-skinned savages, animals and vases of ancient type usually ornamented fantastically with curious faces.

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A large proportion of the drawings were human heads, at first very crude in design and execution.

In the course of about two months the pictures assumed an artistic appearance, especially the heads. Most of the heads were quite small and dim in outline and detail.

My hand executed these without volition or direction from my natural self. My mind directed neither the design nor the execution. A new power usurped for the time being the functions of my natural or every-day mind. This power directed the entire performance.

Many times I tried to produce pictures of familiar faces, or scenes familiar to me by long association. I could produce nothing in this direction, but confusion was the result of the attempt. My hand continued to be guided by the unknown power. Weird, fantastic pictures were produced in abundance, many of them artistic in execution, but mostly of ancient type.

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Sometimes the face would be so covered with strange devices as scarcely to be recognized as being intended for a face. Frequently a rock would be drawn with faces hewn in it.

While drawing these pictures I became drowsy, so much so that after finishing an artistic one I would sometimes go into an hypnotic sleep, and always would, after a long sitting, if I did not combat the influence.

My pencil moved sometimes so rapidly as to make it difficult to follow it with my eye. At other times it moved slowly. Some of the best effects were produced by rapid movements. I never knew what my pencil would make PSM V64 D203 Drawings created by automatism 1.png when it commenced, and often did not know until finished. Sometimes a design would be entirely changed. Small pictures were frequently produced by a few rapid movements of the pencil from side to side, the pencil apparently not being lifted, yet the features of the face and general contour of the subject in hand would appear plainly. Voluntary suggestion has little effect on the drawings. After repeated suggestions I have sometimes been able to obtain an allegorical picture, as for instance when I asked for a message from my son, who resided at a distance, a carrier pigeon, having a ribbon around its neck with a letter attached, was produced.

I have tried hard to account for the power or directing mind that produces these pictures, but so far with no satisfactory result. I must say, however, that evidence to me is strong that, in order that the unknown power should have sway, the natural or earthly mind must be for the time being set aside, either entirely, or (what seems to me more reasonable) the unknown power is for the time being the dominant one, but acts in conjunction with the earthly mind. Although while drawing I feel more or less drowsy, my senses seem in some respects to be very keen. To my eyes the pictures usually appear highly exaggerated in beauty as well as in distinctness.

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So much is this the case that on the completion of a picture and having taken it up to examine it, the distinctness and beauty which were so apparent while drawing, have departed. Frequently, while drawing, the picture will be illuminated by delicate colors; and a feeling of great disappointment occurs when, on the completion of the picture, I find that not only the colors have disappeared, but the fine points of the picture also.

One strong feeling is left in my mind that whatever directs the pencil is all-powerful, and that nothing is too difficult for its performance if it only chooses to assert its power.

I ought to add that the style of design which my hand draws is strange to me. I have never observed anything like them anywhere. Neither do I know of any influence, suggestive or otherwise, that could have given me this power, with the exception (as I have stated) of having seen a man make a slight exhibition of automatic drawing, but this exhibition was long after I had noticed movements of my own hand. However, that exhibition gave me the idea of taking a pencil into my hand to try for results.

One point I might state clearly. While drawing, my eyes are fastened intently on the point of the pencil in contact with the paper, following the course of the pencil as if they were fascinated by it.

Of automatic writing I have done little. Occasionally the name of a near relative will appear, sometimes with figures attached. Sometimes an incoherent sentence will be commenced, but not finished. The name and figures usually appear either on a face or under or over it. Occasionally a word or

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line is written in (as I suppose) some ancient language, under or close to a drawing. I have never been able to discover what language this is. Perhaps it is, like the drawings, imperfect.

I had never been interested in hypnotism or kindred subjects before, nor ever attended any meetings or exhibitions in these lines, having always had a disbelief in anything of the kind.

P. S. Three months having elapsed since writing the above, I have but little to add in explanation. Pictures are still produced by the same mysterious power. The artistic appearance is better and the human form is more in evidence. I still think the drawings come from involuntary suggestion, that is, suggestion from the inner mind. Perhaps it would be better to call it impulse rather than suggestion.

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I saw Mr. P. make one drawing. His hand on that occasion moved very slowly in small circles, not leaving the paper till the drawing had, as it were, thickened itself up. He seemed to grow very abstracted before the close of the performance, but on testing his hand with a needle, it showed no anesthesia.

It is evident that with a little more system, a little more handwriting, and possibly some speaking under 'control,' this gentleman (whose narrative seems absolutely sincere) would exemplify a case of mediumship of what one might call the 'Martian' type. It would then remind •one somewhat of the case so admirably studied by Professor Flournoy in his book 'From India to the Planet Mars.' As the case stands, it is peculiar only for the monotony and oddity of the designs drawn by the hand. As in many other cases, we have no means of guessing why the subject in his drawings follows so peculiar a type. His own statement that he never saw anything like them before, must be taken with a grain of salt; for memories which have lapsed entirely from the upper consciousness of a subject have again and again been proved to actuate his hand in automatic writing. This case may be one of such a memory simply developing and confirming its habits. It may possibly on the other hand be the expression of a 'secondary personality' of some sort, in which (or in whom), if we could make exploration, a systematic context of ideas would be found.