Friday, June 2, 2017

The Psychology of the Ouija Board by J. Allen Gilbert, Ph.D., M.D. 1920

The Psychology of the Ouija Board by J. Allen Gilbert, Ph.D., M.D. 1920

See also Communicating with the Dead (Spirit World), 100 Books on DVDrom - For a list of all of my disks and digital books click here

THE Ouija Board is based upon a thoroughly scientific and defensible principle. The same principle is manifest in many of the phenomena of life that are accepted without question, though explanation of the same is shrouded in the same mystery attributed to the Ouija. Ouija has the advantage of novelty and advertisement. The commercial aspects of the board will be ignored in this paper.

As introductory to the point at issue, let us select two rather fundamental principles: (1) Every act that we perform is preceded by an imaginary picture of the completed action; and (2) every psychic state tends to its duplication in its physical complement. In fact, both are one and inseparable in experience. It is impossible to separate the physical from the psychical. For present discussion the above principles might be appropriately combined into the one statement that any psychic state proceeds automatically or reflexly to its natural physical equivalent, and vice versa.

Take, for example, so simple an act as picking up a pencil from the desk. If the act is analyzed into its fundamental elements it will be found that the first element in the process is an imaginary picture of the hand grasping the pencil, plus the sensations involved in the act. This imaginary picture is then automatically reproduced by the physical organism and the imaginary experience is replaced by the real experience unless there is something to prevent or inhibit the act as such. Those functions which are not under control of the inhibitive centers are purely automatic and can be counted upon with a certainty in proportion to their freedom from disturbing and inhibiting influences. We can find illustrations of this fact in great number. While the normal metabolic processes are largely automatic they are dependent to a marked degree upon the mental attitude of the individual. The stomach, for example, is fooled into secretion even more thoroughly by the concept of food than by the concrete reality of a foreign substance in the stomach, even though that substance be the best of food. The ingested meal handicapped by the inhibitive influences of strong emotion “lies on the stomach like a lump of lead,” while the appropriate psychic state will call out the secretions of both mouth and stomach, even in complete absence of food as such.

The inhibitory influences of the emotions upon the gastrointestinal tract are too common to need emphasis. They have found their way into medical nomenclature under the term "nervous dyspepsia."
Ancient literature--pre-eminently, the Bible-—speaks of “bowels of mercy and compassion.” The effect of the emotions upon the intestines was so manifest that the abdomen was looked upon as the seat of the emotions. Every emotion finds its reflection in every metabolic phase of the physical organism. Syncope, diuresis, enuresis, diarrhea, the various forms of shock, et cetera, present themselves as flagrant examples of the principle in question.

The individual who is scared “stiff,” or “white as a sheet” is the victim of an inhibitory obliteration of an automatic process. Fright as a stimulus to peristalsis to the point of overcoming the retaining sphincters has won for itself an expression familiar to all and quite common in street-waif parlance but incompatible with polite society, though extremely eloquent so far as expression of the psychophysical principle involved is concerned.

Automatic action, uninfluenced by the higher centers, is always natural and directed strictly to the purpose for which it was intended. We walk naturally so long as we pay no attention to the process, but as soon as a superimposed conscious state is admitted as an element in the process it becomes unnatural and awkward, even to the point of absolute collapse. The very essence of true stage acting consists in living the part so thoroughly psychologically that there is nothing for the physical organism to do but follow automatically. In proportion as Self-consciousness is allowed to intrude itself on the program, to that extent do the shaking trouser, the stiffened muscles, the dry mouth and the quivering lip betray the underlying stagefright. The young man who could enjoy the evening party if he could only leave his feet and hands at home has merely reached that stage in development in which the upper and lower neurons have not as yet learned the necessary team work. He has allowed his consciousness to creep into his hands and feet and it is out of place there. Naturally, it is like a fish out of water.

The stiff-legged walk of the youngest member of our family in the presence of strangers became proverbial in the home. All we older brothers had to do was to glance furtively at his feet as he started across the floor and the picture was complete. The whole musculature was thrown out of gear. Physical and psychical confusion was complete with an eifervescence of emotion that was amusing in the extreme.

Back of such situations is to be found a principle which has been appropriately called the motor power of an idea. Take, for example, one of the simplest experiments that can be performed in psychology. Let the attempt be made to hold a suspended plumb-bob steadily and accurately over a dot on the floor. Now, while holding the hand steady in a continuous effort to keep the bob directly over the spot, let your imagination depict the plumb-bob first to the left and then to the right of the spot. If you will continue this imaginary picturing of the bob alternately to the left and right, eventually the bob will start swinging in spite of your effort to keep it directly over the spot on the floor. In this simple experiment is to be found the whole principle of the Ouija in its simplest form. Any flash of consciousness, momentary or of minimal intensity though it be, tends to objectify itself in its physical equivalent. A perfect poker face is an impossibility.

Even our dreams manifest the same principle unmistakably. It is in sleep that the subconscious has fullest play. My memory pictures are very vivid of a dream in which I was actively engaged in a foot-ball game. I can see the ball yet as it came at me in my dream. With one lunge I threw myself upon it with the stern reality of the floor as my only reward for my vigorous tackle. The subconscious dream picture had objectified itself in muscle activity until I was bodily out of bed on the floor. Subconscious life, as well as conscious life, has its physical counterpart in proportion to the vividness of the psychic states which act as the correlate of the physical concomitant.

One of our confreres refuses to have an office higher from the ground than the fourth story because of a strong tendency for him to jump when looking out of the window. While standing on the top of Baker Theater with a companion during the passing of a recent parade, I detected him standing with one foot propped against the bottom of the parapet and his head and body leaning somewhat backward. He explained the fact by saying that the advanced protecting foot gave him some feeling of assurance against a tendency to jump which he admitted was very strong in him. Everybody has this tendency in proportion to the intensity of the imaginary picture relative to jumping and for some the situation is not without danger. In such the tendency becomes uncontrollable and occasionally reports of suicide by jumping from a window or precipice creep into our papers, whereas, if the facts were known, in many of these cases we would recognize, not a real suicide, but an automatic transplantation of a subconscious state into its complementary overt act.

This principle invades the realm of conscious life also. We all tend to do the thing that our imagination depicts or that is suggested to us, whether that suggestion be an autosuggestion or one initiated from without. It is often difficult to separate the conscious from the unconscious response to stimuli. Fresh from college and the examination in psychology, a friend suggested that we try out this principle on a farmer who was strolling leisurely down the platform of the depot. In a sharp strident voice, my friend cried out, “Sit down." As though shot, the farmer dropped but
caught himself before falling completely. The subconscious reaction was practically instantaneous. In the meantime, consciousness gained time to analyze the situation and he became the very picture of anger that he should have been taken so unawares. His lower neurons had simply stolen a march on him while the upper neurons with their voluntary control were at a minimum, or, at least, belated.

Bed-wetting comes under the same category. The bladder becomes full. The message goes to the cord asking for relief and if the inhibitory centers are off duty, as they are in early life or in sound sleep, the whole process is confined to the lower neuron as a mere reflex and the message goes back releasing the sphincter and evacuating the bladder, shunting, as it were, the collateral activity of the upper neuron. When the upper inhibitive centers are on duty, the inhibition is in proportion to the intensity of the psychic state represented by the upper neuron. When the upper neurons are only sufficiently active to accomplish partial inhibition of the lower neurons, the stimulus from the lower neurons is not entirely lost and the day may yet be saved by the subconscious. The stimulus frequently serves as the framework of a dream which depicts the boy in an appropriate place for evacuation of the bladder. This dream picture naturally tends to objectification, thus reducing the inhibitive powers and the lower neurons are able to break through the weaker inhibition and a wet bed is the result. In the great majority of cases, if not in all, the wetting of the bed is but the objectification of subconscious states as represented in dream life. As the upper and higher inhibitive powers are more and more developed the habit is gradually broken by a more and more complete control of the upper over the lower neurons. However, even in adult life the stimulus from the bladder combined with an extremely vivid dream picture will break down the controlling inhibition and even we adults are embarrassed at times by a partial evacuation of the bladder under the deceptive trickery of a vivid dream. Full consciousness usually intervenes to head off the process before the bladder has emptied itself sufficiently to carry the incriminating evidence over to the next morning. Unless we show the good sense to rise and empty the bladder voluntarily the same program will be repeated.

It requires a process of education to be able to read to onesself without moving the lips in the process because of the universal tendency for psychic states to repeat themselves in their physical equivalents. The man who goes muttering along the sidewalk betrays by every expression the mental attitude he is in. Even the character and speed of his gait reflect the general mental picture that betrays itself in his muttering speech. Such an individual merely follows the line of least resistance which allows every emotion to be translated completely into its physical correlate without obstruction or inhibition. If he will pull himself together, as it were, and analyze the situation he will find that his mental pictures are carrying him through the experience which his lips are depicting to an imaginary audience. Strictly speaking, he is not talking to himself but to the object of his imagination and his imagination is running riot both in the stimuli that it gives out and the rat-atat-tat which he is playing on the physical organism without interference from without.

The crystal gazer entertains himself with the same sort of phantasmagoria. The pictures he sees are but objectifications of his subconscious states in response to the meager stimuli offered by the crystal. He sits gazing listlessly into the crystal with conscious effort reduced to a minimum and immediately in the crystal appears a genuine panoramic objectification of his own subconscious thoughts and imaginary pictures, which he reads off as though they had all the objective reality of the world of things. A bed of red-hot coals in the fireplace will often give better results than the crystal, and many are the individuals who reap extreme pleasure from this form of entertainment as they loll listlessly in front of the open fire.

The description of faces by mediums is probably a duplicate of the same principle.

Not everybody is able to throw himself into that spirit of reverie which is necessary to results in the tapping of the subconscious by various methods such as cited above. Everyone, however, does have a storehouse of subconscious knowledge from which he draws when the proper association appears or when the conscious subsides sufficiently to allow the subconscious to strut upon the stage. No conscious experience is ever forgotten; it is in the subconscious; all it needs is the proper association or the subordination of consciousness to a sufficient degree to allow the subconscious to appear. This is exactly what happens in dreams and trances.

As we advance into the higher types of such phenomena we encounter the automatic writer, the somnambulist, presentiments, so-called “hunches,” prophetic dreams, clairvoyance, et cetera, all of which are to be explained on the same basis, viz., displacements of the conscious by the subconscious which has gained temporary control of the physical mechanism common to both.

Those human alarm clocks who are able to set their mental machinery to wake at any set hour of the night, those animated compasses who retain an infallible sense of direction, those vivified barometers who are always able to sense an oncoming storm, and similar enigmata from the standpoint of scientific explanation are but exemplification of an underlying subconscious store of knowledge varying with the individual.

There is a more or less general belief in the instinctive intuition of woman as compared with the more logical conclusions of man. On a snap judgment she is more likely to be right than man. Her only reason for her opinion is the proverbial “because.” She has no other but she does have “hunches” and these “hunches” are but the outcroppings of the subconscious which is undoubtedly less under the domination of the conscious in woman than is the case with men. So-called “hunches” are of value. If in doubt on two opinions not subject to logical proof, always take the first—it is more liable to be right. For example, if in writing a letter you write a word and then doubt as to whether you spelled it correctly, the chances are that it is spelled correctly. If you stop to discuss it or consider it at length, you might as well go to the dictionary and look it up. Final decision gets harder and harder unless some logical reasoning offers the solution. So-called “hunches” or presentiments are not accidents or coincidences by any means. They are outcroppings of the subconscious, and are often of value.

Practically all of us have had experiences such as are detailed in this paper. Comparatively few — possibly none — have had experiences as automatic writers or somnambulists, merely because we are unable to dissociate various groups of experiences and deal with them on a separate basis. Degrees of success with these various phenomena must of necessity vary with the individual.

The somnambulist (sleep-walker) rises in his sleep, walks about as though awake, performs remarkable feats that are impossible in his waking self and returns to bed with total amnesia for the period of time in question. Mental tasks that were impossible before retiring are now performed with ease and, to his surprise, he finds an hitherto incomplete task finished on his desk, his own handwriting and the testimony of his friends being guarantee for the fact that he himself performed the task. There is but one explanation to be offered. The subconscious has taken the field and, through the agency of the physical organism, has carried out the process, which, so far as self-conscious personality is concerned, represents a true and more or less complete dissociation of personality.

The automatic writer presents a condition of even greater complexity and yet even more to the point in the explanation of Ouija. With his mind absorbed in some book or mental process which engrosses his attention, it will be seen that the hand of the genuine automatic writer is completely anesthetic, grows restless, and makes aimless indefinite motions —a sort of abortive attempt at writing. The hand, in addition to being anesthetic, seems entirely out from under the control of the consciousness. If the hand is now screened from his view, the aimless movements become somewhat more definite. If a pencil is put in the hand, it will begin to move and write with an aimless scrawl or semblance of writing. Ask the hand a question and it will write off hastily an answer to your question. Extended conversations can thus be called out from the anesthetic hand. After the sitting is over, the subject is completely unaware of having written anything and denies authorship of the things written.

It is exactly as though some highly musical member of the family has temporarily deserted the piano, giving an opportunity for one of the younger and less skilled members of the household to mount the stool and inflict upon us his special improviso strains which are a peculiar mixture of discords with just sufficient chords to remind you that it is music.

In such facts as these we are face to face with the principle underlying Ouija. Automatic writing, planchette, and ouija are all based upon the same principle. They are all forms of automatic writing in which the subconscious uses the mechanism at its disposal to strut upon the stage and delineate facts which are otherwise crowded out of full conscious life. No one is more surprised at the results than the individual who is operating the board. Not understanding himself, he naturally attributes it all to external agencies. To be sure, there are all grades of fakes but there are also true automatic writers who can successfully use this means of tapping the subconscious. If not understood, there is little wonder that the phenomena are attributed to spirit control, messages from the dead, or communications of the supernatural. The true writer swears he is not manipulating the ouija board. His statement is only partially true. He is not moving it consciously but is certainly moving it subconsciously. He is as unconscious of the process as is the man who goes to bed and is unconscious of the dissociated personality that rises in the somnambulistic perambulation and does all sorts of feats without conscious recognition of the experiences when in his normal waking self. After a sitting with the automatic writer he does not identify himself with the writing performed by the anesthetic hand. The only way that ouija differs from this process is in the fact that ouija spells out while the automatic writer writes out the dictations of the subconscious.

Not every man can manipulate ouija. For some it does nothing. For others, merely to touch it and ask it a question will insure prompt answer to the same. It varies with the individual. The highest success in the manipulation of ouija requires two main elements in the individual: (1) The power to dissociate various groups of experiences; and (2) a marked tendency for psychic states to go over automatically into their physical correlate. Variations in these elements furnish the multitudinous degrees of success to be found in various individuals. Where both of these elements are present to their maximum intensity in the same individual, the ouija furnishes a valuable method of tapping the subconscious. Ouija does not move of its own accord nor is it moved by powers outside the individual manipulating the same. The answers you get from ouija are but the embodiment of subconscious states, significant or insignificant in proportion to the intimacy of the relation that can be established between conscious and subconscious states.

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