Symbolic Life CW 18

The Levitation of Human Beings

 This has occurred in my presence on four occasions in darkness.

The test conditions under which they took place were quite satisfactory, so far as the judgment was concerned; but ocular demonstration of such a fact is so necessary to disturb our preformed opinions as to “the naturally possible and impossible,” that I will here only mention cases in which the deductions of reason were confirmed by the sense of sight.

On one occasion I witnessed a chair, with a lady sitting on it, rise several inches from the ground.

On another occasion, to avoid the suspicion of this being in some way performed by herself, the lady knelt on the chair in such manner that its four feet were visible to It then rose about three inches, remained suspended for about ten seconds, and then slowly descended.

t another time two children, on two separate occasions, rose from the floor with their chairs, in full daylight, under (to me) most satisfactory conditions; for I was kneeling and keeping close watch upon the feet of the chair, and observing that no one might touch them.

The most striking cases of levitation which I have witnessed have been with Mr. Home.

On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room.

Once sitting in an easy chair, once kneeling on his chair, and once standing up.

On each occasion I had full opportunity of watching the occurrence as it was taking place.

There are at least a hundred recorded instances of Mr. Home’s rising from the ground, in the presence of as many separate persons, and I have heard from the lips of the three witnesses to the most striking occurrence of this kind—the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay, and Captain C. Wynne—their own most minute accounts of what took place.

To reject the recorded evidence on this subject is to reject all human testimony whatever; for no fact in sacred or profane history is supported by a stronger array of proofs.

The accumulated testimony establishing Mr. Home’s levitations is overwhelming. It is greatly to be desired that some person, whose evidence would be accepted as conclusive by the scientific world—if indeed there lives a person whose testimony in favour of such phenomena would be taken—would seriously and patiently examine these alleged facts.

Most of the eye-witnesses to these levitations are now living, and would, doubtless, be willing to give their evidence.

But, in a few years, such direct evidence will be difficult, if not impossible, to be obtained.

It is obvious from the tone of this passage that Crookes was completely convinced of the reality of his observations.

I refrain from further quotations because they would not tell us anything new.

It is sufficient to remark that Crookes saw pretty well everything that occurred with these great mediums.

It is hardly necessary to stress that if this unprecedented happening is an actual fact, the world and science have been enriched by an experience of the most tremendous importance.

For a variety of reasons, it is not possible to criticize Crookes’s powers of apprehension and retention during those years from the psychiatric point of view.

We only know that at that time Crookes was not manifestly insane. Crookes and his observations must remain for the present an unsolved psychological enigma.

The same is true of a number of other observers whose intelligence and honesty one does not wish to disparage without good reason.

Of numerous other observers, noted for their prejudices, lack of criticism, and exuberant imagination, I shall say nothing : they are ruled out from the start.

One does not have to be particularly beset by doubts as to whether our knowledge of the world in the twentieth century has really attained the highest possible peak to feel humanly touched by this forthright testimony of an eminent scholar.

But, in spite of our sympathy, we may leave out of account the question of the physical reality of such phenomena, and instead turn our attention to the psychological question: how does a thinking person, who has shown his sober-mindedness and gift for scientific observation

to good advantage in other fields, come to assert that something

inconceivable is a reality?

This psychological interest of mine has prompted me to keep track of persons who are gifted as mediums.

My profession as a psychiatrist gave me ample opportunities for this, particularly in a city like Zurich.

So many remarkable elements converging in so small a space can perhaps be found nowhere else in Europe.

In the last few years I have investigated eight mediums, six of them women and two of them men.

The total impression made by these investigations can be summed up by saying that one must approach a medium with a minimum of expectations if one does not want to be disappointed.

The results are of purely psychological interest, and no physical or physiological novelties came to light.

Everything that may be considered a scientifically established fact belongs to the domain of the mental and cerebral processes and is fully explicable in terms of the laws already known to science.

All phenomena which the spiritualists claim as evidence of the activity of spirits are connected with the presence of certain persons, the mediums themselves.

I was never able to observe happenings alleged to be “spiritual” in places or on occasions when no medium was present. Mediums are as a rule slightly abnormal mentally.

Frau Rothe, for example, although she could not be declared non compos mentis by forensic psychiatrists, nevertheless exhibited a number of hysterical symptoms.

Seven of my mediums showed slight symptoms of hysteria (which, incidentally, are extraordinarily common in other walks of life too).

One medium was an American swindler whose abnormality consisted chiefly in his impudence.

The other seven acted in good faith.

Only one of them, a woman of middle age, was born with her gifts; she had suffered since earliest childhood from alterations of consciousness (frequent and slightly hysterical twilight states).

She made a virtue of necessity, induced the change of consciousness herself by auto-suggestion, and in this state of auto-hypnosis was able to prophesy.

The other mediums discovered their gift only through social contacts and then cultivated it at spiritualistic seances, which is not particularly difficult.

One can, with a few skillful suggestions, teach a remarkably high percentage of people, especially women, the simple spiritualistic manipulations, table-turning for instance, and, less commonly, automatic writing.

The ordinary phenomena met with in mediums are table-turning, automatic writing, and speaking in a trance.

Table-turning consists in one or more persons laying their hands on a table that can move easily.

After a time (a couple of minutes to an hour) the table begins to move, making turning or rocking movements.

This phenomenon can be observed in the case of all objects that are touched.

The automatically swinging pendulum and the divining rod are based on the same principle.

It was, then, a very childish hypothesis to assume, as in earlier decades, that the objects touched moved of themselves, like living things.

If a fairly heavy object is chosen, and one feels the arm muscles of the medium while the object is moving, the muscular tension is immediately apparent, and hence also the effort of the medium to move the object.

The only remarkable thing is that the mediums assert they feel nothing of this effort, but, on the contrary, have a definite feeling that the object is moving of its own accord, or else that their arm or hand is moved for them.

This psychological phenomenon is strange only to people who know nothing of hypnosis.

A hypnotized person can be told that, on waking, he will forget everything that happened under the hypnosis, but that at a certain sign he will, without knowing why, suddenly raise his right arm.

Sure enough, en waking, he has forgotten everything; at the sign he raises his right arm, without knowing why—his arm “simply rose up in the air of its own accord.”

Spontaneous phenomena can occasionally be observed in hysterics, for instance the paralysis or peculiar automatic movements of an arm.

Either the patients cannot give the reasons for these sudden symptoms, or they give the wrong reasons; for instance, the symptom came from their having caught cold, or from overstrain.

One has only to hypnotize the patient in order to discover the real reason and the significance of the symptom.

For instance, a young girl wakes up in the morning to find that her right arm is paralysed. She rushes in terror to the doctor and tells him she doesn’t know how it happened, she must obviously have overstrained herself doing the housework the day before.

That is the only reason she can think of.

Under hypnosis it turns out that the day before she had a violent quarrel with her parents, and that her father grabbed her by the right arm and pushed her out of the door.

The paralysis of the arm is now clear; it is connected with the unconscious memory of yesterday’s scene, which was not present in her waking consciousness. (The existence of “unconscious ideas” is discussed in my paper “The Reaction-time Ratio in the Association Experiment.”)

It is evident from these facts that our bodies can easily execute automatic movements whose cause and origin are not known to me.

And if science had not drawn our attention to it, we would not know, either, that our arms and hands are constantly making slight movements, called “intended tremors,” which accompany our thoughts.

If, for instance, one vividly imagines a simple geometrical figure, a triangle, say, the tremors of the outstretched hand will also describe a triangle, as can be demonstrated very easily by means of a suitable apparatus.

Hence, if we sit down at the table with a lively expectation of automatic movements, the intended tremors will reflect this expectation and gradually cause the table to move.

But once we have felt the apparently automatic movement, we are immediately convinced that “the thing works.”

The conviction (suggestion) clouds our judgment and observation, so that we do not notice how the tremors, very slight at first, gradually build up into muscular contractions which then naturally produce stronger and stronger and still more convincing effects.

Now if an ordinary table, whose simple construction we know, can execute movements apparently of its own accord and behave as if it were alive, then human fantasy is quite ready to believe that the cause of the movement is some mystic fluid or even the spirits of the air.

And if, as usually happens, the table composes sentences with an intelligible content out of the letters of the alphabet, then it seems proved beyond a doubt that an “alien intelligence” is at work.

We know, however, that the initial, automatic tremors are in large measure dependent on our ideas.

If they are capable of moving the table, they can equally well guide its movements in such a way that they construct words and sentences out of the alphabet. Nor is it necessary to visualize the sentence beforehand.

The unconscious part of the psyche which controls the automatic movements very soon causes an intellectual content to flow into them.

As might be expected, the intellectual content is as a rule on a very low level and only in exceptional cases exceeds the intelligence of the medium.

A good example of the poverty of “table-talking” is given in Allan Kardec’s Buck der Medien.

“Automatic writing” follows the same principles as table-turning.

The content of the writing is in no way superior to that of “table-talking.”

The same considerations apply to talking in a trance or ecstasy.

Instead of the muscles of the arm and hand, it is the muscles of the speech apparatus that start functioning independently.

The content of trance communications is naturally on the same level as the products of the other automatisms.

These phenomena are statistically the ones most commonly observed in mediums. Clairvoyance is much rarer.

Only two of my mediums had the reputation of being clairvoyant.

One of them is a well-known professional, who has already made a fool of herself in various cities in Switzerland.

In order to assess her mental state as fairly as possible, I had nearly thirty sittings with her over a period of six months.

The results of the investigation, so far as clairvoyance is concerned, can be put very briefly: nothing that quite unquestionably exceeded the normal psychological capacities was observed.

On the other hand, she did in some instances display a remarkably fine gift for unconscious combination.

She could combine “petites perceptions” and guesses and evaluate them in a very skilful way, mostly in a state of slight clouding of consciousness.

There is nothing supernatural about this state; on the contrary, it is a well-known subject of psychological research.

How delicate is the capacity for unconscious apprehension could be demonstrated experimentally with my second medium.

The experiments were conducted as follows.

The medium sat opposite me at a small table that stood on a thick soft carpet (to assist greater mobility).

Both of us laid our hands on the table.

While the medium’s mind was occupied by her engaging in conversation with a third person, I thought intensively of a number between o and 10 —for instance, 3.

The arrangement was that the table had to indicate the number thought of by the same number of tilts.

The fact that the number was indicated correctly each time when I kept my hands on the table throughout the experiment is not remarkable.

What is remarkable is that in 77 per cent of the cases the correct number was also given when I removed my hands immediately after the first tilt.

If my hands did not touch the table at all, there were no correct scores.

The results of numerous experiments showed that by means of intended tremors it is possible to communicate a number between o and 10 to another person, in such a way that though this person could not recognize the number, he could nevertheless reproduce it by automatic movements.

I was able to establish to my satisfaction that the conscious mind of the medium never had any inkling of the number I had communicated. Numbers above were reproduced very uncertainly, sometimes only one of the numerals being given.

If I thought of the numbers in Roman instead of Arabic numerals, the results were considerably worse.

The aforesaid 77 per cent correct scores applies only to experiments with Arabic numerals.

From this one can conclude that my unconscious movements must have communicated a pictorial image of the numbers.

The more complicated and less customary images of Roman numerals fared worse, as was also the case with numbers above 10.

I cannot report these experiments without recalling a curious and instructive observation I made one day when all the psychological experiments with the medium went wrong.

Even the experiments with numbers failed to come off, until I finally hit on the following expedient: In an experiment conducted along much the same lines, I told the medium that the number I was thinking of (3) was between 2 and 5.

I then got the table to answer me a dozen times.

The numbers it reproduced with iron consistency were 2, 4, and 5, but never 3; thus indicating, negatively but quite clearly, that the table, or rather the unconscious of the medium, was well aware of the number I was thinking of and avoided it out of mere caprice.

The capriciousness of the unconscious is something the spiritualists could tell us a good deal about, only in their language it would be said that the good spirits had been supplanted by mischievous mocking spirits who had ruined the experiment.

The sensitive apprehension of the unconscious, shown by its capacity to translate another person’s tremors into numbers, is a striking but by no means unprecedented fact.

There are numerous corroborative examples in the scientific literature.

But if the unconscious, as my experiments prove, is capable of registering and reproducing something without the conscious mind knowing anything about it, then the greatest caution is necessary in evaluating clairvoyant performances.

Before we jump to the conclusion that thought flies through time and space detached from the brain, we should seek to discover by meticulous psychological investigation  the hidden sources of the apparently supernatural knowledge.

On the other hand, any unprejudiced investigator will readily admit that we do not stand today on the pinnacle of all wisdom, and that nature still has infinite possibilities up her sleeve which may be revealed in happier days to come.

I shall therefore confine myself to pointing out that the cases I observed of supposed clairvoyance might easily be explained in another and more intelligible way than by the assumption of mystic powers of cognition.

The apparently inexplicable cases of clairvoyance I know only by hearsay, or have read of in books.

The same is true of that other great class of spiritualistic manifestations, the physical phenomena.

Those I saw were reputed to be such, but in fact were not. Generally speaking, among the countless believers in miracles of our days very few will be found who have ever seen anything manifestly supernatural. And among these few there will be still fewer who do not suffer from an overheated imagination and do not replace critical observation by faith.

Nevertheless, we are left with a residue of witnesses who ought not to be cavilled at. Among these I would include Crookes.

All human beings are bad observers of things that are unfamiliar to them. Crookes, too, is a human being.

There is no universal gift for observation that could claim a high degree of certainty without special training. Human observation achieves something only when trained in a definite field.

Take a sensitive observer away from his microscope and turn his attention to wind and weather, and he is more helpless than any hunter or peasant.

If we plump a good physicist down in the deceptive, magical darkness of a spiritualistic séance, with hysterical mediums plying their trade with all the incredible refinement many of them have at their command, his observation will be no more acute than a layman’s.

Everything will then depend on the strength of his prejudice for or against.

In this respect the psychic disposition of a man like Crookes would be worth investigating. If as a result of environmental influence and education, or his innate temperament, he is not disinclined to believe in miracles, he will be convinced by the apparition.

But if he is disinclined from the start to believe in miracles, he will remain unconvinced in spite of the apparition, just as did many other people who witnessed similar things with the same medium.

Human observation and reporting are subject to disturbance by countless sources of error, many of which are still quite unknown.

For instance, a whole school of experimental psychology is now studying the “psychology of evidence,” that is, the problem of observation and reporting.

Professor William Stern, the founder of this school, has published experiments which show man’s powers of observation in a bad light. And yet Stern’s experiments were conducted on educated people!

It seems to me that we must go on working patiently for a few more years in the direction of the Stern school before we tackle the difficult question of the reality of spiritualistic phenomena.

So far as the miraculous reports in the literature are concerned, we should, for all our criticism, never lose sight of the limitations of our knowledge, otherwise something embarrassingly human might happen, making us feel as foolish as the academicians felt over Chladni’s meteors, 14 or the highly respected Bavarian Board of Physicians over the railway.

Nevertheless I believe that the present state of affairs gives us reason enough to wait quietly until more impressive physical phenomena put in an appearance.

If, after making allowance for conscious and unconscious falsification, self-deception, prejudice, etc., we should still find something positive behind them, then the exact sciences will surely conquer this field by experiment and verification, as has happened in every other realm of human experience.

That many spiritualists brag about their “science” and “scientific knowledge” is, of course, irritating nonsense.

These people are lacking not only in criticism but in the most elementary knowledge of psychology. At bottom they do not want to be taught any better, but merely to go on believing—surely the naivest of presumptions in view of our human failings. 717-740

It may be worth our while to examine more closely, from this point of view, certain experiences which seem to indicate the existence of psychic processes in what are commonly held to be unconscious states.

Here I am thinking chiefly of the remarkable observations made during deep syncopes resulting from acute brain injuries.

Contrary to all expectations, a severe head injury is not always followed by a corresponding loss of consciousness.

To the observer, the wounded man seems apathetic, “in a trance,” and not conscious of anything.

Subjectively, however, consciousness is by no means extinguished.

Sensory communication with the outside world is in a large measure restricted, but is not always completely cut off, although the noise of battle, for instance, may suddenly give way to a “solemn” silence.

In this state there is sometimes a very distinct and impressive sensation or hallucination of levitation, the wounded man seeming to rise into the air in the same position he was in at the moment he was wounded.

If he was wounded standing up, he rises in a standing position, if lying down, he rises in a lying position, if sitting, he rises in a sitting position.

Occasionally his surroundings seem to rise with him—for instance the whole bunker in which he finds himself at the moment.

The height of the levitation may be anything from eighteen inches to several yards. All feeling of weight is lost.

In a few cases the wounded think they are making swimming movements with their arms.

If there is any perception of their surroundings at all, it seems to be mostly imaginary, i.e., composed of memory images.

During levitation the mood is predominantly euphoric.

“‘Buoyant, solemn, heavenly, serene, relaxed, blissful, expectant, exciting’ are the words used to describe it. … There are various kinds of ‘ascension experiences.’”

Jantz and Beringer rightly point out that the wounded can be roused from their syncope by remarkably small stimuli, for instance if they are addressed by name or touched, whereas the most terrific bombardment has no effect.  ~Carl Jung, CW 8, Page 949

These experiences seem to show that in swoon states, where by all human standards there is every guarantee that conscious activity and sense perception are suspended, consciousness, reproducible ideas, acts of judgment, and perceptions can still continue to exist.

The accompanying feeling of levitation, alteration of the angle of vision, and extinction of hearing and of coenaesthetic perceptions indicate a shift in the localization of consciousness, a sort of separation from the body, or from the cerebral cortex or cerebrum which is conjectured to be the seat of conscious phenomena.

If we are correct in this assumption, then we must ask ourselves whether there is some other nervous substrate in us, apart from the cerebrum, that can think and perceive, or whether the psychic processes that go on in us during loss of consciousness are synchronistic phenomena, i.e., events which have no causal connection with organic processes.

This last possibility cannot be rejected out of hand in view of the existence of ESP, i.e., of perceptions independent of space and time which cannot be explained as processes in the biological substrate.

Where sense perceptions are impossible from the start, it can hardly be a question of anything but synchronicity.

But where there are spatial and temporal conditions which would make perception and apperception possible in principle, and only the activity of consciousness, or the cortical function, is extinguished, and where, as in our example, a conscious phenomenon like perception and judgment nevertheless occurs, then the question of a nervous substrate might well be considered.

It is well nigh axiomatic that conscious processes are tied to the cerebrum, and that the lower centres contain nothing but chains of reflexes which in themselves are unconscious.

This is particularly true of the sympathetic system.

Hence the insects, which have no cerebrospinal nervous system at all, but only a double chain of ganglia, are regarded as reflex automata. ~Carl Jung, CW 8, Para 955

In the preceding part of the dream the dreamer’s bed had stood close to the garden wall.

In her dream, therefore, she had slept under the open sky and been exposed to the free influences of Nature, which means psychologically the impersonal, collective unconscious, for this forms the counterpart to our natural environment and is always projected upon it.

The wall denotes a barrier separating the immediate world of the dreamer from a more distant one (administrative building).

A round metallic object appears, described as a flying spider. This description fits the Ufos.

As regards the designation “spider,” we are reminded of the hypothesis that Ufos are a species of insect coming from another planet and possessing a shell or carapace that shines like metal.

An analogy would be the metallic looking, chitinous covering of our beetles.

Each Ufo is supposed to be a single insect, not a swarm.  In the preceding part of the dream the dreamer’s bed had stood close to the garden wall. ~Carl Jung, CW 10, Para 667

In reading the numerous reports I must admit that I, too, was struck by the thought that the peculiar behaviour of the Ufos was reminiscent of certain insects.

To the speculative mind there is  nothing inherently impossible in the idea that under other conditions

Nature could express her “knowledge” in quite other ways than those mentioned earlier; for instance, instead of light-producing insects she might evolve creatures capable of “anti-gravity.”

In any case our technological imagination often lags a long way behind Nature’s.

Everything in our experience is subject to the law of gravity with one great exception: the psyche, which, as we experience it, is weightlessness itself.

The psychic “object” and gravity are, to the best of our knowledge, incommensurable.

They seem to be different in principle.

Psyche represents the only opposite of gravity known to us.

It is “anti-gravity” in the truest sense of the word. In corroboration of this we could cite the parapsychological experience of levitation and other psychic phenomena, denied only by the ignorant, which relativize time and space. ~Carl Jung, CW 10, Para 667

This critical state, when the conscious mind is liable to be submerged at any moment in the unconscious, is akin to the “loss of soul” that frequently attacks primitives.

It is a sudden abaissement du niveau mental, a slackening of the conscious tension, to which primitive man is especially prone because his consciousness is still relatively weak and means a considerable effort for him.

Hence his lack of will-power, his inability to concentrate and the fact that, mentally, he tires so easily, as I have experienced to my cost during palavers.

The widespread practice of yoga and dhyana in the East is a similar abaissement deliberately induced for the purpose of relaxation, a technique for releasing the soul.

With certain patients, I have even been able to establish the existence of subjectively experienced levitations in moments of extreme derangement.

Lying in bed, the patients felt that they were floating horizontally in the air a few feet above their bodies.

This is a suggestive reminder of the phenomenon called the “witch’s trance,” and also of the parapsychic levitations reported  of many saints. ~Carl Jung, CW 16, Para 477