Automatic Writing

When I took a mandatory Art class in High School, one of the exercises we performed was to take charcoal and while staring at the person across from us, draw a full-size portrait without ever looking down at the paper in front of us. I was amazed at how the deep inner spirit of the person was captured in the nuances of the charcoal portraits.

Actually, I’m lying:  most of these drawings were unrecognizable as even being of a human being and unless their inner spirit was similar to a dark scramble of meaningless, unconnected smudges, then I don’t think the exercise was a success. We also did a similar exercise where we stared at the subject for way too long and then with closed eyes took charcoal in hand and drew a similar smudge.

So I mentioned that John Dos Passos experimented in Automatic Writing. The key point of my comment was that the author experimented with extending the process of writing fiction. Automatic Writing itself is generally considered a technique to tap the deep inner spirit of the author but despite the more surrealistic examples, the result is more often a verbal smudge.

Interestingly, The Skeptic’s Dictionary has something to say about Automatic Writing:

Automatic writing is writing allegedly directed by a spirit or by the unconscious mind. It is sometimes called “trance” writing because it is done quickly and without judgment, writing whatever comes to mind, “without consciousness,” as if in a trance. It is believed that this allows one to tap into the subconscious mind, where “the true self” dwells. Uninhibited by the conscious mind, deep and mystical thoughts can be accessed. Trance writing is also used by some psychotherapists who think it is a quick way to release repressed memories. There is no scientific evidence that trance writing has any unique therapeutic value.

Advocates of automatic writing claim that the process allows them to access other intelligences and entities for information and guidance. They further claim that it permits them to recall previously irretrievable data from the subconscious mind and to unleash spiritual energy for personal growth and revelation. According to psychic Ellie Crystal, entities from beyond are constantly trying to communicate with us. Apparently, we all have the potential to be as clairaudient as James Van Praagh and John Edward.

One 19th century medium, Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller), specialized in automatic writing and even invented a Martian alphabet to convey messages from Mars to her clients in the Martian language. Martian has a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith’s native language, French, according to Théodore Flournoy, a psychology professor who investigated her claim.

Flournoy concluded that Helen Smith’s revelations were merely ‘romances of the subliminal imagination’, derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child). He subsequently coined the term cryptomnesia to describe the phenomenon. Flournoy also concluded that Helen Smith’s spirit guide, Leopold, was merely an unconscious sub-personality.

Skeptics consider automatic writing to be little more than a parlor game, although sometimes useful for self-discovery and for getting started on a writing project. While it is likely that many unconscious desires and ideas are expressed in automatic writing, it is unlikely that they are any more profound than one’s conscious notions. There is no more evidence that the true self is in the unconscious than there is that the true self is revealed while drunk or in a psychotic break. Automatic writing may enhance personal growth if it is evaluated reflectively and with intelligence. By itself, automatic writing is no more likely to produce self-growth or worthwhile revelation than any other human activity. In fact, some people have had such bad experiences doing automatic writing that they are convinced that Satan is behind it. For some minds, apparently it is better not to know what’s lurking in the cellar. Others may be disappointed to find that the cellar is empty.

The Skeptic’s Dictionary is available online and there is even an App so you can access the online dictionary from your iPad or iPhone.

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