On the subject of the mechanism of automatic writing, I may be allowed to reprint the following article which appeared in the ' British Medical Journal ' of November 4, 1893 :—
The 'Pall Mall Gazette' published recently an able article on this subject by ' Hypnos,' and we are inclined to think the subject is advanced one step by this writer. It is to be feared that not even a Commission would satisfy the believers in the spook origin of the automatic writing that it can be more readily explained in simpler ways. The writer of the article points out that the chief elements are unconscious movements, gradual education, and faith.
The result produced bears internal evidence of being very like the ordinary thoughts of the instrument—that is, the automaton. To explain how the unconscious scrawling can become intelligible sentences, he calls in two laws of suggestion, which come to this, that the conditions most suited for the writing are a weak-minded receptivity, a dominant idea, and the power of the dominating idea on the brain (? mind) through faith, training, and education. We agree with this as a whole, and we think the interpretation must be sought through sleep and hypnotic conditions. We all agree that an enormous mass of impressions are received by the senses; many never become perceptions, yet they may have been recorded, and may under certain conditions be called into use. In delirium and in hypnotic states we see this. Disease may bring to a level of consciousness things which have never been reckoned as knowledge. In dreams we have clear revivals of impressions which seem altogether new things to us. Thus many a person has believed that he or some companion in his dreams has spoken a foreign language much better than he himself could speak it, and we have met with persons suffering from hallucinations of hearing, who have used it as an argument that the voices they heard were not their own imaginings, for, as they have said, they speak French better than they ever could.
There are, then, stories of impressions, more or less organically connected with each other in the brain, which under certain diseased states may be brought to light, and it seems to be not only probable but certain that what is morbid in one person may be natural in another, so that the poet in his half-sleeping moments may compose and seem to commune with other beings. In some, probably, there is—by habit assisting a peculiar nature—a power to draw upon the unconscious store—the dream-stuff, to use a convenient phrase—of the brain, and once having granted this, it is not hard to suppose that the mechanical expression through the machine may be got very readily to work.
The whole evolution of the writing, the slow beginning, the steady progress are all like the other mechanical developments; once start a train of thought the line is followed, without control, readily enough, as most men know who have allowed their thoughts to run away with them—the expression of these thoughts may be allowed to run more conspicuously through the machine, one movement readily leading to the next, and so on. This is true of thought, and is pretty certainly true of the established methods of expression. We are inclined, with the writer in the ' Pall Mall Gazette,' to think that this removal of higher control may be cultivated, but that there is danger in thus yielding up the reins. Many persons have begun earnestly to investigate spiritism only to be led away by their own fancies. This, of course, is not an argument against investigation, but it is an argument for exhausting every reasonable explanation before calling in spirits from the vasty deep or elsewhere.