PERFECT MEMORY OF THE SUBJECTIVE MIND

Confirmed by Hypnotic Phenomena.–Opinions of Psychologists.–Sir
William Hamilton’s Views.—Observations of Dr. Rush.–Talent for
Poetry and Music developed by Abnormal Conditions.–Talent for
Drawing evolved by Madness.–Resuscitation of Knowledge in the
Insane.–Extraordinary Feats of Memory during Illness.–A Forgotten
language recovered.–Whole Pages of Greek and Hebrew remembered
by an Illiterate Servant Girl.–Speaking in Unknown Tongues
explained.–The Result of the Operations of Natural Law.

One of the most striking and important peculiarities of the subjective
mind, as distinguished from the objective, consists in its prodigious
memory. It would perhaps be hazardous to say that the memory of the
subjective mind is perfect, but there is good ground for believing that
such a proposition would be substantially true. It must be understood
that this remark applies only to the most profoundly subjective state
and to the most favorable conditions. In all degrees of hypnotic sleep,
however, the exaltation of the memory is one of the most pronounced
of the attendant phenomena. This has been observed by all hypnotists,
especially by those who make their experiments with a view of studying
the mental action of the subject. Psychologists of all shades of belief
have recognized the phenomena, and many have declared their conviction
that the minutest details of acquired knowledge are recorded upon the
tablets of the mind, and that they only require favorable conditions to
reveal their treasures.

Sir William Hamilton, in his “Lectures on Metaphysics,” page 236,
designates the phenomenon as “latent memory.” He says:–

“The evidence on this point shows that the mind frequently contains
whole systems of knowledge, which, though in our normal state
they have faded into absolute oblivion, may, in certain abnormal
states–as madness, febrile delirium, somnambulism, catalepsy,
etc.–flash out into luminous consciousness, and even throw into
the shade of unconsciousness those other systems by which they
had, for a long period, been eclipsed, and even extinguished. For
example, there are cases in which the extinct memory of whole
languages was suddenly restored; and, what is even still more
remarkable, in which the faculty was exhibited of accurately
repeating, in known or unknown tongues, passages which were never
within the grasp of conscious memory in the normal state.”

Sir William then proceeds to quote, with approval, a few cases which
illustrate the general principle. The first is on the authority of Dr.
Rush, a celebrated American physician:

“The records of the wit and cunning of madmen,” says the doctor,
“are numerous in every country. Talents for eloquence, poetry,
music, and painting, and uncommon ingenuity in several of the
mechanical arts, are often evolved in this state of madness. A
gentleman whom I attended in an hospital in the year 1810, often
delighted as well as astonished the patients and officers of our
hospital by his displays of oratory in preaching from a table in
the hospital yard every Sunday. A female patient of mine who became
insane, after parturition, in the year 1807, sang hymns and songs
of her own composition during the latter stage of her illness,
with a tone of voice so soft and pleasant that I hung upon it with
delight every time I visited her. She had never discovered a talent
for poetry or music in any previous part of her life. Two instances
of a talent for drawing, evolved by madness, have occurred within
my knowledge. And where is the hospital for mad people in which
elegant and completely rigged ships and curious pieces of machinery
have not been exhibited by persons who never discovered the least
turn for a mechanical art previous to their derangement?

“Sometimes we observe in mad people an unexpected resuscitation
of knowledge; hence we hear them describe past events, and speak
in ancient or modern languages, or repeat long and interesting
passages from books, none of which, we are sure, they were capable
of recollecting in the natural and healthy state of their mind.”[2]

It must be remembered that when these events occurred, the profession
knew little of the phenomena of hypnotism. In the light of present
knowledge on that subject it is easy to understand that the phenomena
here recorded are referable to one common origin, whatever may have
been the proximate cause of their manifestation. There are many ways by
which the subjective mind may be caused to become active and dominant
besides deliberately producing hypnotic sleep. Diseases of various
kinds, particularly those of the brain or nervous system, and intense
febrile excitement, are frequently causes of the total or partial
suspension of the functions of the objective mind, and of exciting the
subjective mind to intense activity.

The next case quoted by Sir William is from “Recollections of the
Valley of the Mississippi,” by an American clergyman named Flint:–

“I am aware,” he remarks, “that every sufferer in this way is apt
to think his own case extraordinary. My physicians agreed with all
who saw me that my case was so. As very few live to record the
issue of a sickness like mine, and as you have requested me, and
as I have promised, to be particular, I will relate some of the
circumstances of this disease. And it is in my view desirable,
in the bitter agony of such diseases, that more of the symptoms,
sensations, and sufferings should have been recorded than have
been; and that others in similar predicaments may know that some
before them have had sufferings like theirs, and have survived
them. I had had a fever before, and had risen, and been dressed
every day. But in this, with the first day I was prostrated to
infantine weakness, and felt, with its first attack, that it was a
thing very different from what I had yet experienced.

“Paroxysms of derangement occurred the third day, and this was to
me a new state of mind. That state of disease in which partial
derangement is mixed with a consciousness generally sound, and
sensibility preternaturally excited, I should suppose the most
distressing of all its forms. At the same time that I was unable
to recognize my friends, I was informed that my memory was more
than ordinarily exact and retentive, and that I repeated whole
passages in the different languages which I knew, with entire
accuracy. I recited, without losing or misplacing a word, a passage
of poetry which I could not so repeat after I recovered my health.”

The following more curious case is given by Lord Monboddo in his
“Ancient Metaphysics”:[3]–

“It was communicated in a letter from the late Mr. Hans Stanley,
a gentleman well known both to the learned and political world,
who did me the honor to correspond with me upon the subject of my
first volume of Metaphysics. I will give it in the words of that
gentleman. He introduces it by saying that it is an extraordinary
fact in the history of mind, which he believes stands single,
and for which he does not pretend to account; then he goes on to
narrate it: ‘About six-and-twenty years ago, when I was in France,
I had an intimacy in the family of the late Maréchal de Montmorenci
de Laval. His son, the Comte de Laval, was married to Mademoiselle
de Manpeaux, the daughter of a lieutenant-general of that name, and
the niece of the late chancellor. This gentleman was killed at the
battle of Hastenbeck. His widow survived him some years, but is
since dead.

“‘The following fact comes from her own mouth; she has told it
me repeatedly. She was a woman of perfect veracity and very good
sense. She appealed to her servants and family for the truth.
Nor did she, indeed, seem to be sensible that the matter was so
extraordinary as it appeared to me. I wrote it down at the time,
and I have the memorandum among some of my papers.

“‘The Comtesse de Laval had been observed, by servants who sat up
with her on account of some indisposition, to talk in her sleep
a language that none of them understood; nor were they sure, or,
indeed, herself able to guess, upon the sounds being repeated to
her, whether it was or was not gibberish.

“‘Upon her lying-in of one of her children she was attended by a
nurse who was of the province of Brittany, and who immediately knew
the meaning of what she said, it being in the idiom of the natives
of that country; but she herself when awake did not understand a
single syllable of what she had uttered in her sleep, upon its
being retold her.

“‘She was born in that province, and had been nursed in a family
where nothing but that language was spoken; so that in her first
infancy she had known it, and no other; but when she returned to
her parents, she had no opportunity of keeping up the use of it;
and, as I have before said, she did not understand a word of Breton
when awake, though she spoke it in her sleep.

“‘I need not say that the Comtesse de Laval never said or imagined
that she used any words of the Breton idiom, more than were
necessary to express those ideas that are within the compass of a
child’s knowledge of objects.'”

A highly interesting case is given by Mr. Coleridge in his “Biographia
Literaria.”[4]




“It occurred,” says Mr. Coleridge, “in a Roman Catholic town in
Germany, a year or two before my arrival at Göttingen, and had
not then ceased to be a frequent subject of conversation. A young
woman of four or five and twenty, who could neither read nor write,
was seized with a nervous fever, during which, according to the
asseverations of all the priests and monks of the neighborhood, she
became possessed, and as it appeared, by a very learned devil. She
continued incessantly talking Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, in very
pompous tones, and with most distinct enunciation. This possession
was rendered more probable by the known fact that she was, or
had been, a heretic. Voltaire humorously advises the devil to
decline all acquaintance with medical men; and it would have been
more to his reputation if he had taken this advice in the present
instance. The case had attracted the particular attention of a
young physician, and by his statement many eminent physiologists
and psychologists visited the town and cross-examined the case
on the spot. Sheets full of her ravings were taken down from her
own mouth, and were found to consist of sentences, coherent and
intelligible each for itself, but with little or no connection with
each other. Of the Hebrew, a small portion only could be traced to
the Bible; the remainder seemed to be in the Rabbinical dialect.
All trick or conspiracy was out of the question. Not only had the
young woman ever been a harmless, simple creature, but she was
evidently laboring under a nervous fever. In the town in which
she had been resident for many years as a servant in different
families, no solution presented itself. The young physician,
however, determined to trace her past life step by step; for the
patient herself was incapable of returning a rational answer. He
at length succeeded in discovering the place where her parents had
lived; travelled thither, found them dead, but an uncle surviving;
and from him learned that the patient had been charitably taken by
an old Protestant pastor at nine years old, and had remained with
him some years, even till the old man’s death. Of this pastor the
uncle knew nothing, but that he was a very good man. With great
difficulty, and after much search, our young medical philosopher
discovered a niece of the pastor’s who had lived with him as his
housekeeper, and had inherited his effects. She remembered the
girl; related that her venerable uncle had been too indulgent, and
could not bear to hear the girl scolded; that she was willing to
have kept her, but that, after her parent’s death, the girl herself
refused to stay. Anxious inquiries were then, of course, made
concerning the pastor’s habits; and the solution of the phenomenon
was soon obtained. For it appeared that it had been the old man’s
custom for years to walk up and down a passage of his house into
which the kitchen-door opened, and to read to himself, with a loud
voice, out of his favorite books. A considerable number of these
were still in the niece’s possession. She added that he was a very
learned man and a great Hebraist. Among the books were found a
collection of Rabbinical writings, together with several of the
Greek and Latin Fathers; and the physician succeeded in identifying
so many passages with those taken down at the young woman’s bedside
that no doubt could remain in any rational mind concerning the true
origin of the impressions made on her nervous system.”

The reader will not fail to observe that in all these cases the
subjects reproduced simply what they had seen, heard, or read. The
impressions upon the objective mind, particularly in the case related
by Coleridge, must have been superficial to the last degree; but the
result demonstrated that the record upon the tablets of the subjective
mind was ineffaceable.

These are not isolated cases. Thousands of similar phenomena have been
recorded by the most trustworthy of observers. Their significance
cannot be mistaken. In their light the wonderful mental feats of
trance-speakers are easily explicable, without invoking the aid of
a supernatural agency. Speaking “in unknown tongues” is seen to be
merely a feat of subjective memory.

When we consider what a prodigy of learning the average man would be if
he could have at his command all that he had ever seen, heard, or read;
when we remember that the subjective mind does record, and does have
at its command, all the experiences of the individual, and that, under
certain abnormal conditions, in obedience to the initial impulse of
suggestion, all its treasures are instantly available,–we may marvel
at the wonderful gifts with which the human mind is endowed; but we
may rest assured that the phenomena displayed are the results of the
operations of natural law.

The reader should distinctly bear in mind that there is a wide
distinction between objective and subjective memory. The former is
one of the functions of the brain, and, as has been shown by recent
investigations, has an absolute localization in the cerebral cortex;
and the different varieties of memory, such as visual memory, auditory
memory, memory of speech, etc., can be destroyed by localized disease
or by a surgical operation. Subjective memory, on the other hand,
appears to be an inherent power, and free from anatomical relations; or
at least it does not appear to depend upon the healthy condition of the
brain for its power of manifestation. On the contrary, the foregoing
facts demonstrate the proposition that abnormal conditions of the brain
are often productive of the most striking exhibitions of subjective
memory. The late Dr. George M. Beard of New York, who was the first
American scientist clearly to recognize the scientific importance of
the phenomena of hypnotism, who was the formulator of the “Six Sources
of Error” which beset the pathway of the investigator of that science,
and the one who did more than any other American of his time to place
the study of hypnotic phenomena on a scientific basis, evinces a clear
recognition of this distinction when he says:–

“To attempt to build up a theory of trance [hypnotic phenomena]
on a basis of cerebral anatomy is to attempt the impossible. All
theories of trance based on cerebral anatomy or physiology–such as
suspension of the activity of the cortex, or half the brain–break
down at once when brought face to face with the facts.”[5]

All the facts of hypnotism show that the more quiescent the objective
faculties become, or, in other words, the more perfectly the functions
of the brain are suspended, the more exalted are the manifestations
of the subjective mind. Indeed, the whole history of subjective
phenomena goes to show that the nearer the body approaches the
condition of death, the stronger become the demonstrations of the
powers of the soul. The irresistible inference is that when the soul
is freed entirely from its trammels of flesh, its powers will attain
perfection, its memory will be absolute. Of this more will be said in
its proper place. In the mean time, it may be proper here to remark
that subjective memory appears to be the only kind or quality of
memory which deserves that appellation; it is the only memory which is
absolute. The memory of the objective mind, comparatively speaking, is
more properly designated as recollection. The distinction here sought
to be made can be formulated in no better language than that employed
by Locke in defining the scope and meaning of the two words: “When
an idea again recurs without the operation of the like object on the
external sensory, it is _remembrance_; if it be sought after by the
mind, and with pain and endeavor found, and brought again into view, it
is _recollection_.”