Automata




I’m pretty bad at following up on suggestions that people give me, either through word of mouth, or right here on this blog, but I’ve finally gotten around to reading some suggested selections out of William James’ Principles of Psychology.

The first thing which struck me was the importance of automatic writing, something I first learned of in my undergraduate Modern Art class when we were studying Andre Breton and the other surrealists. I wrote an essay on the concept and role of the surrealist muse, and one of the activities which I had come across and mentioned in passing is the automatic writing. I did not, however, do very much research into what it actually was, and so, James’ comments were very interesting to me.

Now M. Janet found in several subjects like this that if he came up behind them whilst they were plunged in conversation with a third party, and addressed them in a whisper, telling them to raise their hand or perform other simple acts, they would obey the order given, although their talking intelligence was quite unconscious of receiving it. Leading them from one thing to another, he made them reply by signs to his whispered questions, and finally made them answer in writing, if a pencil were placed in their hand. The primary consciousness meanwhile went on with the conversation, entirely unaware of these performances on the hand’s part. The consciousness which presided over these latter appeared in its turn to be quite as little disturbed by the upper consciousness’s concerns.

I found this conclusion especially interesting:

It must be admitted, therefore, that in certain persons, at least, the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist but mutually ignore each other, and share the objects of knowledge between them. More remarkable still, they are complementary.

These two passages brought me back to the thinking I was doing back in (I think)Summer/Fall of 2006 when I was amidst Proust and just finishing Orlando. Also to the image or concept of a constellatory personality conglomerate.

The passage is actually a quote from B.P. Browne’s Metaphysics:

No thoughts leave the mind of one and cross into the mind of the other. When we speak of an exchange of thought, even the crudest mind knows that this is a mere figure of speech. . . . To perceive another's thought, we must construct his thought within ourselves; . . . this thought is our own and is strictly original with us. At the same time we owe it to the other; and if it had not originated with him, it would probably not have originated with us.