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Table of Contents

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

Part VI

Part VII



Part VI: The Subconscious and the Forgiveness of Sins

Chapter 1

What Are the Books That Will Be Opened?

     IN WHAT IS probably his best known work, Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson had a beautiful description of mind as a housing for memory: (2)

     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.

     Since Bergson 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 The re- lived experience thus produced stops mid-stream, as it were, shortly after the electrode is withdrawn.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, p.7.
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.

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     The 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 recalled." (6) 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!"

     Each patient, 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, such

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.

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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. (8)
     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. (10)
     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.

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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, 1968, p.349-50.

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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 remarks:

     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.

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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.

     One wonders 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?

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Copyright © 1988 Evelyn White. All rights reserved

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