Recently I found myself trying to recall the name of the Universal Studios makeup artist who designed the makeup for the original Frankenstein's Monster (Boris Karloff) and the Wolf Man (Lon Chaney, Jr.). There was no pressing urgency about it, but it annoyed me that I couldn't remember. As a kid, I was fascinated by movie makeup, and the name of the Universal guy would have come easily to me. Over the years, it had been misfiled somewhere in my memory banks. Rather than look it up, I tried to see if I could retrieve it.
Boris Karloff and What's-His-Name
I put myself into a light meditative state and tried to see if the name would float to the surface of my mind. I don't remember the exact order in which these things occurred to me, but over the course of at least twenty minutes I got a variety of impressions.
At some point I found myself thinking of Jack Paar and Jack Palance.
I felt that the overall name was something short and simple.
The first name probably was Jack. That felt right.
For the first letter of the last name, I ran through all the letters of the alphabet to see if something would ring a bell. The letter P seemed best.
And there seemed to be an R sound in the last name.
Again I found myself thinking of Jack Paar. That was really close. Not quite it, but almost …
Finally I figured I'd gone as far as I could, so I stopped meditating and Googled it. The name was Jack Pierce.
The completed effect
Now, obviously this process had no paranormal or psychic component, since I was simply struggling to retrieve a datum that had gotten lost somewhere in my subconscious. But I do think the episode sheds some light on the behavior of mediums who also struggle with names and other specific facts.
A medium trying to get a name may go through the same kinds of mental contortions. She may see images related to the name (in this case, Jack Paar and Jack Palance). She may get an impression that the overall name is short, or common. A particular sound of the alphabet may impress itself on her - "I'm getting a P sound."
The similarities, I suggest, are attributable to the fact that the channeled information is piped through the medium's subconscious and thus must be retrieved in the same way that I was trying to recover my lost memory.
Mediums are frequently accused of fishing for information, and certainly the fakes do just that. But my own process of memory retrieval was also a form of fishing. I kept asking questions of myself, trying out different letters and sounds, pursuing certain leads. In effect I was fishing for clues in my own subconscious. I wonder how much mediumistic "fishing" is of this type - fishing in the subconscious in an effort to bring the message through.
Imagine that I'd conducted this experiment in the company of someone who knew the name Jack Pierce but was not willing to tell me, and suppose I'd spoken all my thoughts aloud. A skeptic could easily contend that I hadn't pulled the information from my own mind at all, but instead had played off the other person's body language and facial expressions, consciously or unconsciously following his lead.
The skeptic might also ask why I couldn't just give the name Jack Pierce. Why did I have to go through all these dramatics? This question is also asked about mediums: Why can't they just tell you whatever you need to know, with no hemming and hawing? Either they're in communication with the spirits, or they're not.
But the vagaries of retrieving information from the nether regions of the mind - whether by an exercise of memory or mediumship - seem to be more complicated than that.
On the subject of mediums, Julie Beischel of the Windbridge Institute has put out a short ebook called Meaningful Messages: Making the Most of Your Mediumship Reading. It's more of an essay than a book, and can be read in about twenty minutes. The material is pretty basic, but I enjoyed it and think it would be a useful guide for anyone thinking of using a medium. The price is only 99 cents.