Part VI: The Subconscious and the
Forgiveness of Sins
What Are the Books That Will Be
IN WHAT IS probably
his best known work, Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson
had a beautiful description of mind as a housing for memory:
Memory is not a faculty of putting
away recollections in a drawer; there is not even, properly speaking,
a faculty. For a faculty works intermittently when it will and
when it can, while the piling up of the past upon the past goes
on without relaxation.
In reality, the past is preserved
by itself automatically. In its entirety, probably, it follows
us at every instant; all that we have felt, thought, and willed
from our earliest infancy is there, leaning over the present
which is about to join it, pressing against the portals of consciousness
that would fain leave it outside. The cerebral mechanism is arranged
so as to drive back into the unconscious almost the whole of
this past, and to admit beyond the threshold only that which
can cast light on the present situation or can further the action
now being prepared -- in short, only that which can give useful
work. At the most, a few superfluous recollections may succeed
in smuggling themselves through the half-open door. These memories,
messengers from the unconscious, remind us of what we are dragging
behind us unawares.
wrote, a great deal of exploratory work has been carried out
upon animals by neurophysiologists and upon people by neurosurgeons.
In connection with human beings the work of Wilder Penfield is
of particular importance. He has shown that if certain areas
of the brain are exposed and gently stimulated by an electrode,
the subject may suddenly be transported in a fully conscious
state into some past experience which is recalled with such vividness
that he does not seem to himself to be merely remembering but
rather to be experiencing all over again the original occasion.
The re- lived experience thus produced stops mid-stream, as it
were, shortly after the electrode is withdrawn. (3)
2. Bergson, Henri, Creative Evolution,
translated by Arthur Mitchell, Modern Library, New York, 1944,
1 of 6
3. Penfield, Wilder, and Phanor Perot, The Brain's Record
of Auditory and Visual Experience: a Final Summary and Discussion,
Macmillan, London, 1963, reprint from Brain, vol.
86, Pt.4, 1963, p.595-696.
curious thing is that if the electrode is again contacted near
the original site the experience is often re-lived all over again
as a kind of re-run. There is not a continuation where the last
scene finished off, but a repeat performance. In one subject
this occurred 62 successive times! (4) This seems to indicate a rather precise localization
within the cortex, like setting the needle down in the same spot
on a record. Disconcertingly, however, it is often quite otherwise.
One subject, stimulated in the same area, had four apparently
unrelated experiential responses. First he heard "footsteps";
secondly, "a company of people in the room"; thirdly,
"like being in a gymnasium," and finally "a lady
talking to a child at the seashore." (5) But in the case of repetitious recall, nothing has
been lost, nor has anything been added. Penfield said, "Events
are not a bit fancifully elaborated as dreams are apt to be when
Nothing whatever is added provided the episode is the same one.
And again, elsewhere, Penfield wrote: (7)
The vividness or wealth of detail
and the sense of immediacy that goes with its evoked responses
serves to set them apart from the ordinary process of recollection,
which rarely displays such qualities. Thus with stimulation at
Point No.11 in Subject J. V. (Case No.15) the patient said "There
they go -- yelling at me. Stop them!"
upon stimulation in this way, re-lives his own experience and
it seems reasonable to assume on the basis of present evidence
that in man at least, a sufficiently sophisticated experimental
procedure would allow, perhaps, the re-living of a whole life
up to that moment. As Bergson says, it is indeed all somehow
tucked away; and if God who made man's brain wished to have an
individual judge his own life, there is no question that the
record has been preserved in full so that he could review it.
The curious thing is that in some
of Penfield's experiments, indeed in many of them, the individual
was able consciously to identify the meaning of the rel-ived
experience, not as a kind of hallucination but as something as
real as life, from which he nevertheless stood apart. A woman
listening to an orchestra under Penfield's stimulating electrode,
hummed the tune she heard, verse and chorus, thus accompanying
by an act of conscious effort the very music which was somehow
being recalled from the subconscious so vividly. Furthermore,
4. Ibid., p.685.
5. Ibid., p.682.
6. Penfield, Wilder, "Epilepsy, Neurophysiology and Some
Brain Mechanisms Related to Consciousness," in Basic
Mechanisms of the Epilepsies, edited by Jasper, Ward, and
Pope, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, 1969, p.796.
7. Ibid., p.679.
recallings were entirely
involuntary. They are not memories voluntarily brought to the
surface. They are more detailed and more vivid than such memories
ever are. Penfield reported the experience of one patient who
re-experienced an occasion upon which she was sitting in a room
and listening to the children playing outside. The sounds of
motor traffic and all the other noises of urban living provided
the "natural" background. She discussed all this with
Dr. Penfield while it was happening, and so real was the experience
that it took some time to convince her afterward that he had
not actually arranged the whole thing, including the noises outside
at the time. Needless to say, he had not done so: it was entirely
a vividly re-lived experience complete with all sound effects.
Sometimes the re-lived experience
is so complex that the patient has to explain the background
of it later. One twenty-three-year-old woman re-lived what she
called a "fabulous" event, when she smashed a plate
at dinner time with her elbow and tremendously enjoyed the experience.
(9) She wanted
to explain why she so enjoyed it. Another patient suddenly found
herself sitting on the right hand rear seat of a car, with the
window slightly down, waiting at a level crossing for a train
to pass. She could even count the carriages as they went by,
and all the characteristic sounds and noises were there, complete.
After the train had passed and they crossed the tracks into town,
even the old familiar smells were experienced. Penfield says
this was the only case of a re-experienced smell that he came
across in over a thousand patients whose brain surface was exposed
in this way, in an effort to locate the cause of epileptic attacks.
Penfield from the evidence believed
that the memory record continues intact in the person's mind
even after his ability to recall it has disappeared. More than
this, he found that if the cortical area which had been the site
of stimulation for the re-living of some experience was subsequently
operatively removed (when it was believed to be for the benefit
of the epileptic patient), the patient could still voluntarily
recall the experience afterwards. Evidently, therefore, the memory
itself was not stored at this point, but in some area to which
the site was connected. Severing connections to the area made
it impossible to obtain recall by electrical stimulation, but
it did not eradicate the memory itself, which could therefore
still be recalled voluntarily. When experience is recalled by
this technique, the individual is not aware of any
8. Ibid., pp.645-46.
9. Ibid., p.643.
10. Ibid., pp.648-49.
process of recall. Only afterwards, at the conclusion of the
experiment, is it recognized as a vivid memory from the past.
The process of recall is in no
sense disorderly as it may be in a dream. As Penfield put it,
"It is a little like the performance of a wire recorder
or a strip of cinematographic film on which are registered all
those things of which the individual was once aware. . . . Time's
strip of films runs forward, never backward." (11) In psychiatry, seemingly
forgotten memories can be recalled by means of free association.
Drugs and hypnosis can also somehow open up these connecting
pathways from the conscious to the subconscious. And there is
some reason to believe that individuals who have established
for themselves a reputation of having a prodigious memory, like
Lord Macaulay, did not have in fact a memory any better than
anyone else, but only some faculty of getting at the filed-away
portions: to most of us, the records in the subconscious filing
cabinet are just out of reach.
In exceptional individuals the
faculty of recall can in fact be so acute that it becomes a positive
embarrassment. Recently a book was reviewed in Science entitled,
The Mind of a Mnemonist. (12) The author, a Russian named A. R. Luria, for many
years collected experimental data from a so-called "professional
mnemonist," i.e., a man who made his living by entertaining
with his powers of recall. It is interesting to note that the
man is described not as a genius, but only as "reasonably
intelligent." He had in fact been a misfit in many tasks
because of his very capacity to remember details rather than
meanings. The reviewer points out that "while with many
people the problem is how to remember, this subject's problem
was how to forget". In other words, his conscious mind was
cluttered up with unwanted recollections which had to be somehow
pushed to one side, a situation which is precisely the reverse
of what most of us have to do. Probably the Lord knew what He
was doing when He so designed man's mind as to provide him with
the filing cabinet he has, which can be "closed for the
day" but nevertheless preserves everything in proper order!
At the present moment it is not
clear whether all forms of provoked re-lived experience occupy
the same amount of time that the original experiences did, though
this seems to be the case with electrode stimulation of the cortex.
If in the Judgment each man's case occupied, as it were, a full
lifetime, even if all men under judgment were being reviewed
simultaneously, it might be supposed that at least
11. Penfield, Wilder, "Mnemonic Mystery,"
MD Canada, vol.10, Nov., 1969, p.154.
12. Luria, A. R., "The Mind of a Mnemonist,"
translated from the Russian by L. Solotaroff, Basic Books, New
York, 1968, reviewed by Gardner Murphy in Science, vol.161,
nine hundred years would
be required for the film to run itself through in the case of
those who had lived before the Flood. This figure would, of course,
be reduced presumably by all the time spent in sleep: but even
so, it is a little difficult to think of the Judgment at the
Great White Throne as occupying "time" in this sense
at all. And probably it is quite unnecessary to make such an
assumption. In an experiment conducted a few years ago, one subject
under hypnosis was able to count 862 objects in a period of time
which was measured as only three seconds. As the report rightly
points out it is impossible in a normal waking state to count
862 of anything in three seconds. (13) So presumably the process could be accelerated until
time was not really involved at all. If it can be reduced to
seconds, why not to milliseconds? And if to a millisecond, why
not to being instantaneous?
The acceleration of time seems
to be involved in the mental processes of some of the "prodigious
calculators," whose mental arithmetic has been a constant
source of amazement. Such individuals may be asked to multiply
a ten-figure number by itself or by some other ten-figure number,
and they can come up with the answer within a second or two.
(14) This suggests
that, in the subconscious, information can be fed in and treated
at an unbelievable rate, which it would be quite impossible for
the same individual to handle at such a speed in the conscious
part of his memory. Thus the question of time may not actually
enter into the processes of retrieval in this lifetime filing-cabinet.
In short periods of great emergency people may re-live in rapid
succession and in great detail large segments of their past life
in a moment. A few of those who have nearly drowned have apparently
experienced this, and because they were rescued were able to
tell about it. In a car accident, on the contrary, experience
may suddenly slow up in a remarkable way, so that what happened
in a few seconds seems at the time to occupy minutes. Everything
seems to be occurring very slowly.
Some evidence that the subconscious
memory is a vastly "superior" mechanism to the conscious
memory seems to be borne out by the fact that under hypnosis,
as Dr. Ralph Gerard put it, "Men remember and recall innumerable
details never consciously perceived." Elsewhere Gerard
Anyone asked to recall what
he had just seen in a room or in a picture does a less complete
job than a subject under hypnosis even years later. I
13. Cooper, L. F., reported in Science
News Letter, May 15, 1948.
14. Hadamar, Jacques, The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical
Field, Dover Publication, New York, 1954, p.58.
15. Gerard, Ralph, "What is Memory," Scientific
American, Sept., 1953, p.118.
have been told of a bricklayer who, under
hypnosis, described correctly every bump and grain on the top
surface of a brick which he had laid in a wall twenty years before.
what "idle words" which we have spoken may yet be brought
to light (Matthew 12:36) in the Judgment unless there is some
way in which the record can be erased. It is the erasing
of the record that is so crucial to the whole question of forgiveness
in the biblical sense: which brings us to the second aspect of
the subject, namely, How much, if anything, can be expunged by
experimental techniques; and by what method? And is there some
other means available to man by which he can rid himself
of painful memories of evil deeds and wicked thoughts, which
he unfailingly carries as a burden, conscious or unconscious
throughout his life? Can these memories be so completely removed
that in the Judgment, when a man's life is reviewed, they will
somehow prove to have been absolutely obliterated from the film,
as though they had never been?
Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights
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