Tonicity and the Image

To Michael

March 31, 2012

Hi Michael.

It’s nice to hear from you, and especially to hear about the various themes that you are into. As for me I’m very well, work wise, we’re pitching shows but don’t have anything in production right now.
I was very interested to hear about your experience listening to the audio recordings of those Corfu meetings. I haven’t listened to them in years but the material they deal with is, as you note, both fundamental and interesting. 

As for translations, the rumors are true; Roberto and I have been working on revising the translation of Silo’s Complete Work Volume 2. The existing translation of this work is certainly adequate for those who can’t read the original but unlike Volume 1 the second volume was done in a rush to make it available and could use some polishing. Even starting with a pretty good translation it’s slow going, but we have just about finished our revisions of Psychology 1 (those famous Corfu talks). This kind of translation work is always a tricky, energy intensive and time-consuming. Certainly translating any text presents its own peculiarities and difficulties. In this case one aspect of the situation is foreshadowed in the title, “Psychology Notes” and these are indeed, notes.

The meetings in Corfu took place over a number of months. If I recall correctly each cohort or session (camada i.e. litter, brood) lasted about a month. The focus of each camada varied, as did the works carried out and the talks which Negro gave. This was especially true at the beginning of the process. I think the recorded talks were from the third or fourth session. One of our friends like Paul, or Nicole, Fernando or Mary probably remember these things more accurately than I do. We were there together (for the 2nd Camada?) but I have a terrible memory for (dates, numbers, etc) – on the other hand I can recall the details of the talks quite well.

The form of presentation bears on the issue of translation because they did not start of as written works and they retain the characteristics of notes based on things that were said and heard. At the time the talks given at one of the month-long sessions was recorded and also notes were made and circulated under the title Corfu 75. I think that these were the primary source, which years later were, used produce Psychology I.

A similar approach gave us Psychology II and III where a selection of talks from later meetings (Canaries I, etc) acted as the base for compiling notes of what had been talks, experiments and interchanges. In addition to the difficulties of the note-like form and technical subject matter translators of this book also have to deal with the appended material (which was in Corfu, 75) on neurophysiology. As Negro always pointed out, these empirical “facts” (in contrast to the descriptive, phenomenological psychology of the School) were provisional, and often changed in fundamental ways as the sciences advanced.

So much for the context of the translations, but you wanted to know about muscular tonicity (the psychologist William Carpenter noticed the mechanism in the mid-19th century and called it ideomotor phenomenon). It was and remains a very important theme, which over the years Silo explained from diverse points of view and with terminology that corresponded to the kind of explanation that he was giving whether theoretical, historical, practical, etc. Muscular tonicity refers to the relation between image (not necessarily visual) and variations in muscle tone (perceived by internal senses of kinesthesia, coenesthesia, etc). Therefore everything that has to do with the theory of impulses, and our psychophyisical structure (the relation of psychism and centers of response, etc) is part of that subject. And it’s a subject with wide-ranging practical and theoretical ramifications.

There’s lots of information scattered through Silo’s works about different aspects of all this. Among the most important in theoretical terms is Psychology of the Image, which you can find in Collected Works Volume I.  A short but very suggestive discussion can be found in footnote 1 in the Energetic Discipline section of the material on the Four Disciplines. But since you can find the explanations in various materials, let me contribute with a few anecdotes rather than explanations.

There is a little “party trick” you may know about or even have tried. One version is called the sex detector. You give someone a small pendulum. It can be almost anything from a needle hanging from a thread, to a ring tied to a string to a specially made device. Have the person hold it over someone’s hand. Tell them it will circle to the right if it is a male and to the left if it’s a female. After a moment – with no intervention, or effort, from the person holding the pendulum —  the pendulum will circle in the corresponding direction. You should try this yourself if you never have. A version of this is played at “baby showers” or other events for pregnant women where the pendulum suspended over their belly is used to reveal the sex of the fetus.

If you experiment with this you will be able to confirm that the pendulum responds but you are totally unaware of controlling it. Further testing will confirm that nonetheless you are “controlling” it, i.e. your muscle tone varies in a precise way that corresponds to your images (visual and non-visual). This phenomena is discovered and rediscovered in dowsing rods, psychic pendulums, table tilting, muscle reading, Ouija boards, facilitated communication, etc. So for anyone hoping to understand paranormal phenomena these possibly pseudo-paranormal phenomena are important. But these misunderstandings about, or ignorance of, this important and central mechanism does not make it less wonderful or reduce its real magic. In that it is like the phenomenon of the copresence, so central to our lives, yet totally invisible and unacknowledged by most people and definitely magical in the best and deepest sense.

When I first found my way to a Siloist meeting in the spring of 1974 we still used some of the materials and practices of earlier times. One of these was a series of experiments or demonstrations with muscular tonicity.

For example, two people stand facing each other at a distance where if one extends their arm the other can take it by the wrist. The first person imagines a horizontal line at the level of their arm. They then imagine it’s an arrow pointing right or left. The second person gently moves the arm and tries to determine which way the arrow points. Since the muscles follow the image (tonicity) there will be less resistance or a tugging in the direction of the imagined arrow.

It happens that this wasn’t my first exposure to these ideas or works. Since my childhood I had been fascinated by various aspects of magic, from sleight of hand to tricks of the mind.

In my study of how performers could apparently read minds I had discovered something of the practices and history of ideomotor activity in what magicians refer to by various names: contact mindreading, muscle reading, Hellstromism, etc. In the footnote to the Discipline material we find a little bit of this history. Talking about Tibetan Buddhism, Tantra and then the psychology of Wilhelm Wundt it continues… “During that same era J. Randal Brown of the United States began to give demonstrations of what he claimed was mindreading. He showed a remarkable ability to detect hidden objects, and carry out tasks imagined by his audience. Brown’s demonstrations were made possible by his ability use touch to detect the internal muscular movements generated by the subjects as they imagined various scenarios. The charge carrying images moved their body in one direction or another depending on where the image was placed. If it was placed on the z axis, it moved towards the outside or towards the inside. Not only the body but also the intrabody followed the action of the image. His assistant Washington Irving Bishop eventually learned Brown’s secret and became a rival in the mindreading business. Over time other performers learned the secret and this kind of “mindreading” became known by various names. Cumberlandism (after Stewart Cumberland, Bishop’s assistant), Hellstromism (after Alex Hellstrom), etc. This was the discovery of muscular tonicity.”

I used to perform magic for my friends. Sometimes I did card tricks and at other times demonstrations of apparent paranormal powers. I occasionally performed tricks using muscular tonicity. Most often this would involve me asking the spectators hide a pin, a coin or other small object while I was out of the room and then taking someone’s hand (who knew its position) I would, without asking a question, guide them to it.

In 1981 I was at a retreat in California. This was one of the very rare occasions Silo was in the States and more than that he had actually accompanied our little group at this retreat. One evening at the retreat our friends asked me to perform and I decided to show them some “mind reading”. And that’s what I did to the amusement and I hoped astonishment of my friends.

 I hadn’t noticed but while all this was going on Silo was standing watching from the doorway. He spoke up and said (more or less) “that’s not bad but this is the way to do it”. He then asked a couple of people to accompany him to the next room to guarantee that he couldn’t hear or see anything. He told us that when he was out of the room one of us was to pick a book from the floor to ceiling bookshelves that covered the walls – open it to any page and agree on one sentence on the page and then one word in that sentence. We were to remember the book, the page number and so on, and then to put if back in such a way that no one could tell that it was the chosen book. We did that and called him back. He returned along with the “look outs”. Without hesitating he asked someone who knew what our selection was to stand behind but not touching him. As soon as they were in place he moved unhesitatingly to face one of the walls. He shifted his weight from foot to foot then his arm shot out he reached up, pulled a book from the shelf and put it spine down decisively on the table. He opened the book and shift pages back and forth until it seemed that he was satisfied. He then started to move his finger up and down. “There” he said, pointing to a word – “it’s not a paranormal phenomena” he said “ but a demonstration of muscular tonicity.” I forgot to mention but I think you guessed, he was completely correct.

If you review the literature on contact mind reading you will discover (as I did) that magicians have for a long-time discussed the possibility of “non-contact mindreading”. Some specialists in muscle reading claim to have done it – or at least to have seen it done. Others say that it is impossible and you would have to employ other tricks to give the impression that you were using some form of contact mind reading without physical contact. Not only did Silo do it successfully but he encouraged us to try it then and there. Only Petur tried. He stood there for a few minutes. Silo was laughing and joking and told Petur that he was taking too long. Amazingly, though it was not as elegantly done as Silo’s demonstration, he eventually succeeded! It was one extraordinary thing after another. Here’s one more; years later I asked a number of people who were there about the events I’ve just recounted. Almost none of them remembered the event at all. I might have doubted my memory – why not after all it is wrong quite often. However, I wasn’t quite alone; when Karen and I compared notes our recollections of this truly unusual situation were precisely the same.

 warmest greetings,

Danny