AND ITS SURVIVAL OF
FREDERIC W. H. MYERS
Cessas in vota precesque,
Tros, ait, Aenea, cessas? Neque enim ante dehiscent
Adtonitæ magna ora domus.—VIRGIL.
“Nay!” quoth the Sybil, “Trojan! wilt thou spare
The impassioned effort and the conquering prayer?
Nay! not save thus those doors shall open roll,—
That Power within them burst upon the soul.”
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Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death by Frederic W. H. Myers, published in London by Longmans, Green in 1903, is a major classic of early psychical research and indeed of psychology in general. Although it was published two years after Myers's death, most of it had been finished and was ready for publication at the time of his passing. The book consists of 10 chapters plus lengthy appendices that present empirical data and case reports supporting the primary material. Myers begins by outlining his overall purposes and introducing his unifying conception of the nature of human personality—the Subliminal Self. Chapters 2 and 3 begin fleshing out this theory by discussing hysteria and genius, two seemingly different phenomena that Myers believed are closely related psychologically. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss the emergence of subliminal functioning in sleep and hypnosis. Chapters 6 through 9 present a wide variety of evidence, both spontaneous and experimental, for psychological automatisms, conceived as messages sent up to everyday consciousness by the subliminal consciousness in sensory or motor form. The final chapter is an epilogue assembled by the editors from some of Myers's more speculative writings, consisting largely of a "Provisional Sketch of a Religious Synthesis" and several related appendices in which Myers outlines his hope and belief that science and religion will ultimately come together so that the methods of science can be applied to the great questions of life that the religions alone have thus far asked.
Myers's work was extraordinary in its scope, character, and content. His friend and colleague William James declared that "through him for the first time, psychologists are in possession of their full material, and mental phenomena are set down in an adequate inventory." Gardner Murphy praised the heroic accumulation of data and amazing integration that the work represents. Henri Ellenberger, the historian of dynamic psychiatry, described Myers as one of the great systematizers of the notion of the unconscious mind and his book as an unparalleled collection of source material on the topics of somnambulism, hypnosis, hysteria, dual personality, and parapsychological phenomena, containing a complete theory of the unconscious mind, with its regressive, creative, and mythopoetic functions. Aldous Huxley found Myers's conceptual scheme far more congenial than those subsequently propounded by Freud and Jung and their followers, and declared, "How strange and how unfortunate it is that this amazingly rich, profound, and stimulating book should have been neglected in favor of descriptions of human nature less complete and of explanations less adequate to the given facts." The fundamental soundness of Myers's work has been abundantly confirmed by a century of further empirical research on its central topics, as demonstrated in a companion volume, recently produced under the auspices of Esalen's Center for Theory and Research, entitled Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century.
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THE book which is now at last given to the world is but a partial presentation of an ever-growing subject which I have long hoped to become able to treat in more adequate fashion. But as knowledge increases life rolls by, and I have thought it well to bring out while I can even this most imperfect text-book to a branch of research whose novelty and strangeness call urgently for some provisional systematisation, which, by suggesting fresh inquiries, further accumulation of evidence may tend as speedily as possible to its own supersession. Few critics of this book can, I think, be more fully conscious than its author of its defects and its lacunæ; but also few critics, I think, have yet realised the importance of the new facts which in some fashion the book does actually present.
The help derived from these departed colleagues, Henry Sidgwick and Edmund Gurney, although of a kind and quantity absolutely essential to the existence of this work, is not easy to define in all its fulness under the changed circumstances of today. There was indeed much which is measurable;—much of revision of previous work of my own, of collaborative experiments, of original thought and discovery. Large quotations purposely introduced from Edmund Gurney indicate, although imperfectly, how closely interwoven our work on all these subjects continued to be until his death. But the benefit which I drew from the association went deeper still. The conditions under which this inquiry was undertaken were such as to emphasise the need of some intimate moral support. A recluse, perhaps, or an eccentric,—or a man living mainly with his intellectual inferiors, may find it easy to work steadily and confidently at a task which he knows that the bulk of educated men will ignore or despise. But this is more difficult for a man who feels manifold links with his kind, a man whose desire it is to live among minds equal or superior to his own. It is hard, I say, for such a man to disregard altogether the expressed or implied disapproval of those groups of weighty personages to whom in other matters he is accustomed to look up.