Hypnotism

THE acceptance of the phenomena of hypnotism as facts forces upon us the attempt to answer the question, ” What is hypnotism? ”

Mesmer’s theory (1766) of animal magnetism, a fluid which was transferred from the operator to the subject, seems to have been held in more or less modified form by Esdaile and Eliotson.

William Gregory, professor of chemistry, Edinburgh University, published in 1851 his classic on animal magnetism. In this no mention is made of the influence of the heavenly bodies, but he states in no uncertain terms his belief that some subtle fluid emanates from the body of the operator. For this he adopts the name odylic force, which had just been brought forward by Baron Reichenbach. This force resided, he believed, in numerous physical substances, especially in magnets, in which later it could be seen by sensitives as a red light at the north pole and a blue light at the south pole.

Gregory devotes a chapter to the confirmation of phrenology, stating the ” facts ” as follows : ” It is really, in many cases, like touching the keys of an organ when the bellows are full of wind, and the sound instantly follows. If Tune be the organ touched, the subject forthwith breaks into song. If it be Self-esteem, he throws back his head, struts with immense dignity, and declares himself superior to the rest of mankind. Touch the organ of the Love of Children, and he dandles an imaginary babe, with most paternal affection. Touch Benevolence, the expression changes to that of compassion; his hand is thrust into his pocket, and held forth with all his store. Touch Acquisitiveness, the griping miser instantly appears, and with appropriate look and speech the money is restored to its original receptacle; it is well if the nearest object, however bulky, be not ` boned,’ to use a slang but expressive phrase. If Caution be the stop touched, the music is the most distressing, often appalling pantomime of fear or of misery. But if Hope be played on, the clouds vanish and joyous sunshine gilds every feature. Such are a few of the effects produced. It is un-necessary to say that I have done so in cases when no deception was or could be practised.”

Nevertheless, he states that a Mr. Lewis, a man ” whose will is singularly powerful,” can call out the same faculty by touching many different parts.

So while there are many cases where ” suggestion or the will of the operator or sympathy with him will suffice to explain the facts,” ” there are other cases in which the explanation does not apply.” But the student of today suspects that he had not ” taken all precautions to avoid the possibility of deception.”

One of his conclusions is ” that not only the human body, but inanimate objects, such as magnets, crystals, metals, etc., exert on sensitive persons an influence identical, so far as known, with that which produces mesmerism.”

Altho he recognized the principle of suggestion, he evidently had no conception of its tremendous scope. It should be remembered that Braid’s ” Neurypnology ” had been published eight years previously, in fact Gregory mentions Braid’s ” methods ” as something different from animal magnetism. Evidently Braid did not appear so revolutionary to his contemporaries as he does to us. At first his principal claim was for the physical basis that mesmerism was the result of well defined physical causes and not dependent upon any animal magnet-ism or odylic force. He shared with many eminent men of his time a belief in phrenology. He con-tended that manipulations of the cranium produced mental and physical phenomena according to the part touched.

Braid certainly was imbued with the scientific spirit, he was a good example of the growing man. As new facts developed he adapted his theories till soon he had dropped the physical basis entirely. But it was this misconception which gained him a hearing with the scientific world. This with the new name made it ” worthy of further investigation.”

Altho Braid’s theories were a regular development, yet they may be divided into three epochs, the first being that promulgated in ” Neurypnology.” The second was the repudiation of the term hypnotism on discovering that fixed gaze was sufficient to produce the state. Evidently this was not sleep, but concentration. Therefore he substituted the term monoideism, but hypnotism as a name had come to stay.

He proved that the phenomena were the result of dominant ideas, of which there are two classes, the preconceptions of the patient, and the direct and indirect suggestions of the operator.

He showed that wooden magnets were as efficacious as steel if the patient supposed them to be steel. He discovered that metals possess no characteristic mesmeric properties, but are merely vehicles of suggestion.

About this time there was considerable discussion about the efficacy of medicine in sealed glass tubes. The evidence of medicinal value was proved, but it was also found that water could be substituted for the medicine, and if the patient were unaware of the change the same therapeutic results followed. That Braid advanced beyond this position was not generally known till Bramwell discovered some of his later writings, which either were never published or were but slightly circulated. The third phase of Braid’s theory was the idea of double consciousness, which we shall see later is the most generally accepted to-day. While the modern theories exhibit minor differences, yet there is almost a consensus of opinion on the cardinal points.

This harmony is marred by one discordant note — Charcot and the Salpêtrière. Bramwell says : “The theories of this school are now almost universally discredited by those practically engaged in hypnotic work. Even as far back as the second International Congress of Psychology (London, 1892), they had almost ceased to attract attention.” Nevertheless, Charcot has been very widely read, and I have yet to find an instance where a modern author refers to the ” dangers of hypnotism,” and its ” hysterical nature,” which is not directly traceable to Salpêtrière.

For example, in Church and Peterson, ” Nervous Disease ” (1903), is the statement in reference to susceptibility : ” Those of mediocre self-consciousness, those accustomed to unquestioningly obey — hence children and some hysterics — are the most ready subjects. . . . There is no longer any doubt that its frequent repetition is harmful to the individual. It tends to destroy self-reliance, and to make patients imaginative, weak-minded, and neurasthenic. It also has a tendency to bring discredit upon its employer.” The adoption of Charcot’s classification shows the source of the information on which these misstatements are based. The question of susceptibility has been sufficiently considered, and the ” disrepute ” is evidently being fostered by the Charcot theory.

It is therefore important to state this in some detail, in order to refute its various dogmas.

1. Hypnosis is a morbid condition which can be induced only in the hysterical.

2. Hypnosis can be produced by purely physical means, that is, a person could be hypnotized without his being aware of the fact.

3. Hysteria may be produced in trying to induce hypnosis.

4. Magnets and metals induce characteristic phenomena.

In order to understand the ” hysterical ” bias, it should be borne in mind that the patients at Salpêtrière are probably all hysterical, and very naturally they might under hypnosis exhibit many of the symptoms of their abnormal state, not of the normal state of healthy individuals. Then, again, it seems strange, if hysterics are alone susceptible, that the data should have been so largely drawn from ” one patient who had long been an inmate of the institution.” One would suppose that hypnosis would have been successful in every case. Does not this very paucity of cases prove the insusceptibility of hysterics?

The testimony of almost all other experimenters is that over seventy-five per cent. of healthy individuals are susceptible. One needs but to read the history of Braid’s life, and note how he proved the only virtue in magnets, metals, etc., was due to the suggestion imparted by the operator or the preconceived ideas of the patient, to be somewhat wearied at the rejuvenation of the error at Salpêtrière.

That hysteria might be caused by lack of caution, seems, a priori, not to be impossible, but I have yet to learn of an authentic case. The widespread influence of these false ideas is simply another illustration that a falsehood travels so much faster than its refutation that the latter never catches up.

With the ground thus cleared we are ready to consider the tenable theories. The key-note of the Nancy school, or rather of Bernheim, is suggestion. ” Every one is suggestible, and if you take some one and suggest to him to become more suggestible, that is hypnotism. You suggest to the patient to go to sleep, and he obeys and is asleep.”

The trouble with this theory is that there is an alert stage, in which the subject reasons and evidences hightened sense perception. Increased suggestibility is certainly a manifestation of hypnosis, but this depends upon increased sensitivity.

Sidis has studied the laws of suggestibility in both the normal and hypnotic state, and formulates them as follows :

In the waking state. — Suggestion is successful in direct proportion to its indirectness, and the subject’s inattention. That is, if preoccupied, he can be more easily influenced to do unconsciously the thing suggested.

In the hypnotic state. — Suggestion is effective in direct proportion to its directness and subject’s attention.

The only conception with which the phenomena can be harmonized is the idea of subliminal consciousness so ably brought out by the late W. H. H. Myers. Sidis has elaborated this, and it is now — shall we say established ? — well, certainly a good working hypothesis. Altho it was mentioned in the chapter on ” Consciousness,” it may not be amiss to emphasize it by repetition. Every sight, sound, smell, taste, or tactile sensation which the nerve end organs are capable of appreciating, is conveyed to the brain, there to be stored away as a memory. A large part of these facts never rise into consciousness, or if consciously perceived at the time, are soon relegated to the subconscious. This subliminal consciousness presides over most of the body functions, some of which have passed absolutely beyond conscious control, like the inhibitory control of the heart-beat. Others, like respiration, are still subject to conscious control, if the conscious sees fit to exercise it.

The conscious self decides which of the many sense perceptions are relevant to the subject upon which the attention is concentrated, and ignores the remainder. That is, the human will not only decides whether or no it will accept as motives to action certain sense perceptions, but, moreover, refuses to listen to many.

It is well known that a willingness to be hypnotized is absolutely essential. Now this willingness is a throwing off one’s normal seclusion, and inviting the senses to bring in their retainers. This willingness to listen to suggestions implies the probability of accepting them, unless they offend the moral sense.

One has temporarily established the operator as the doorkeeper of his mental sanctuary, and has agreed to be polite to his guests, so long as they do not transgress the laws of good breeding. This condition explains why, at first, most hypnotists supposed their subjects to be unable to resist suggestions, but afterward discovered that volition was only suspended, not lost. The volition seems to be able to refuse improper suggestions either by arousing the subject or by changing the alert stage into one of lethargy.

Amnesia in the waking state of the events of the hypnotic does not prove that the subject was unconscious at the time of their occurrence. In fact, at a subsequent hypnosis the memory of all that transpired in the former hypnosis is perfect, which proves quite the opposite of unconsciousness.

It must be admitted that our modem conception of the hypnotic state as one in which the subject knowingly accepts ludicrous suggestions, forgets his own name, accepts hallucinations, and then forgets it all on waking, necessitates some seeming contra-dictions. It involves a deal of subtle reasoning.

A number of instances are on record where this double consciousness has become so dissociated as to give rise to double personality — two individuals using the same brain and each unconscious of the other. The case of the Rev. Mr. Hanna is a sample.

Dr. Morton Prince = has reported a case where hypnosis revealed four distinct aggregations of consciousness, all of which were sufficiently characteristic to be called personalities.

The problem of personality is manifestly beyond our scope, but we must consider the implication of the theory of double consciousness. The subconscious appreciation of time has been referred to. The ability to wake at a certain time is a very common experience. Many eminent men have stated that they habitually prepare speeches by a process which necessitates what Carpenter called unconscious cerebration.” The essential data are noted and then the mind — the conscious mind — drops the matter. When the occasion arrives the speech is made or the paper is written with a lucidity which indicates that some power has been at work during the subject’s conscious neglect. Not only does hypnotism reveal a hightened moral sense in the sub-conscious, but Sidis has proved by the sphygmograph and pneumograph a hyperesthesia of all the senses.

Concerning the possibility of clairvoyance, clair-audience, prevision, and telepathy, an endless amount of study and investigation is required before one has any right to an opinion or can have an intelligent opinion. The Society for Psychic Research has accumulated a vast amount of evidence which has convinced a portion of the members of these supra-normal occurrences. Another portion still feels that the evidence is insufficient.

One point should never be lost sight of, that any of these questionable phenomena, to be of evidential value to a third party, should be carefully recorded and attested at the time. Any case of prevision should be so recorded and witnessed prior to the time of fulfilment.

Hypnotism at a distance is, I believe, unproved. A subject might be given a post-hypnotic suggestion that at a certain time he would fall asleep, and in this sense hypnotism beyond the range of personal contact of operator and subject is quite possible.

The believers in animal magnetism were wont to claim that the operator’s will was obeyed quite as perfectly as his spoken commands. I do not remember seeing this claim put forth by modern hypnotists.

The greatest caution is here necessary lest one betray his feelings by inflection or gesture. Many of the errors of recent experiments have arisen from the erroneous conception that the subject was unconscious. The fact that he is hyperesthetic should be constantly borne in mind.