Automatic writing  

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"Two years before his death Adrian Borlsover developed, unknown to himself, the not uncommon power of automatic writing. Eustace made the discovery by accident. Adrian was sitting reading in bed, the forefinger of his left hand tracing the Braille characters, when his nephew noticed that a pencil the old man held in his right hand was moving slowly along the opposite page. He left his seat in the window and sat down beside the bed. The right hand continued to move, and now he could see plainly that they were letters and words which it was forming."

--"The Beast with Five Fingers" (1919) by W. F. Harvey

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Automatic writing or psychography is writing which the writer claims to be produced from a subconscious, and/or external and/or spiritual source without conscious awareness of the content.


Automatic writing as a spiritual practice was reported by Hyppolyte Taine in the preface to the third edition of his "De l'intelligence, published in 1878. Besides "etherial visions" or "magnetic auras", bilingual writer Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935) claimed to have mediunic experiences of automatic writing. In his own words, he felt "sometimes suddenly being owned by something else" or having a "very curious sensation" in the right arm which "was lifted into the air without" his will. George (Georgie) Hyde-Lees, the wife of William Butler Yeats, claimed that she could write automatically. In 1975, Wendy Hart of Maidenhead claimed that she wrote automatically about Nicholas Moore, a sea captain who died in 1642. Her husband, who did research on Moore, affirmed that this person had resided at St Columb Major in Cornwall during the English Civil War.

William Fletcher Barrett wrote that "Automatic messages may take place either by the automatist passively holding a pencil on a sheet of paper, or by the planchette, or by the 'ouija board'." In spiritualism, spirits are claimed to take control of the hand of a medium to write messages, letters, and even entire books. Automatic writing can happen in a trance or waking state. Arthur Conan Doyle in his book The New Revelation (1918) wrote that automatic writing occurs either by the writers subconscious or by external spirits operating through the writer. As a spiritualist Doyle chose to believe in the spirit hypothesis. Many psychical researchers however such as Thomson Jay Hudson have claimed that no spirits are involved in automatic writing and that the subconscious mind is the explanation.

Alleged examples of automatic writing via external spirits include Helen Schucman's A Course in Miracles (1975) and Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God (1996).

Skeptical analysis

A 1998 article in Psychological Science described a series of experiments designed to determine whether people who believed in automatic writing could be shown that it might be the ideomotor effect. The paper indicated that "our attempt to introduce doubt about the validity of automatic writing did not succeed." The paper noted that "including information about the controversy surrounding facilitated communication did not affect self-efficacy ratings, nor did it affect the number of responses that were produced. In this sense, illusory facilitation appears to be a very robust phenomenon, not unlike illusory correlation, which is not reversed by warning participants about the phenomenon."

Psychology professor Théodore Flournoy investigated the claim by 19th-century medium Hélène Smith (Catherine Müller) that she did automatic writing to convey messages from Mars in Martian language. Flournoy concluded that her "Martian" language had a strong resemblance to Ms. Smith's native language of French and that her automatic writing was "romances of the subliminal imagination, derived largely from forgotten sources (for example, books read as a child)." He invented the term cryptomnesia to describe this phenomenon.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Automatic writing" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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