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The Rationale Of Hypnotism

( Originally Published 1904 )

SINCE the time when Mesmer first brought his discoveries to the attention of the scientific world, the students of the phenomena which he evoked have been hopelessly at variance with each other. That diverse theories of causation should be entertained regarding phenomena so strange and full of mystery is inevitable ; but it is rare that scientists disagree concerning the demonstrable facts of a subject under investigation. That of mesmerism, however, seems to form an exception to the general rule. After more than a century of research, the students of that subject are still divided into schools which wage war upon each other's theories and dispute each other's facts. The most care-fully conducted experiments of one school are followed by opposite results when repeated by another. Experiments innumerable have been made and recorded with conscientious care and scientific accuracy by members of all the schools. Many facts have thus accumulated and a few important principles have been discovered. In this sense some progress has been made. But in the larger sense, — in the sense of being able to appreciate these facts and to understand the significance of these discoveries, progress, until very recent years, has been slow.

It is self-evident that no fact in nature is inconsistent with any other fact. It follows that there must be some underlying principle, or principles, heretofore overlooked, which will harmonize the facts of mesmerism. It is the purpose of this paper to invite attention to a few such principles.

In doing so it will first be necessary to review briefly the salient points in the modern history of the subject, beginning at the time when Mesmer appeared in Paris and threw that capital into a state of wild excitement over the marvellous effects of his manipulations.

The principal use to which Mesmer applied his power was that of curing disease. This, of course, called forth the anathemas of the medical profession; but the people flocked to his rooms and many wonderful cures were effected. His methods were unlike any practised now. He surrounded himself with mysticism. He seated his patients in dimly lighted rooms pervaded by sweet odors and mysterious music. In the midst was a caldron in which simmered various chemical ingredients. Joined together by cords, or holding each other's hands, his patients sat in silent expectancy. Then Mesmer would enter, dressed in the garb of a magician, and glide softly among the throng, touching one, making passes over another, and bestowing a look upon a third. The effects were as violent as his methods were mysterious. Ladies would faint or go into hysterics, and strong men would be seized by convulsions. All such symptoms were considered salutary, however, and they were frequently followed by wonderful cures.

His theory was that a certain magnetic fluid pervaded the universe, but was most active and potent in the human nervous organization, and enabled one person, charged with the fluid, to exert a powerful influence over another.. This he termed animal magnetism. The scientists of the day attacked the theory and ignored the importance of the phenomena. The Academy of Sciences investigated the subject through a commission. The report of the commission admitted the leading facts claimed by Mesmer, but held that his theory was untenable. They admitted the existence of a force capable of controlling man's physical organization ; that this force is amenable to control, and that this control can be reduced to an art. The name they gave to the force was "Imagination" ; and the conclusion they arrived at was that the subject was not worthy of further scientific investigation.

It is difficult at this day to conceive the process of reasoning by which that learned body could have arrived at such a conclusion. They had in reality made a very important discovery,— the most important which science has contributed toward a solution of the great problem. They were the first to discover that the phenomena of mesmerism are purely subjective. That they should content themselves with the glory of having disproved Mesmer's theory of causation, and after having themselves made the discovery of the true theory, should announce that their own discovery was not worth the trouble of scientific investigation, is inexplicable. It seems probable that they were deceived by their own loose nomenclature. That word " imagination" is still used by the average physician to cast discredit upon the so-called mind-cure and all cognate phenomena. He demonstrates the fact that, by exciting the imagination of a patient, bread pills will cause purging, and colored water will have the effect of an emetic; but he ignores or derides the inference from his own demonstration, that this same " imagination" is capable of exercising a curative effect upon the body.

Soon after the promulgation of the learned report of the Academy, Mesmer was driven into exile, followed by the execrations of a majority of the medical profession. He left many disciples, however, among whom were a few able scientists, such as the Marquis de Puysegur, Deleuze, and others, who pursued the investigation. These gentlemen revolutionized the art of inducing the mesmeric state and made many valuable and startling discoveries. Instead of the mysticism and violent methods which Mesmer employed, they would gaze into the patient's eyes, make gentle passes over his head, face, and body, and thus induce a profound sleep. In this state the patients were oftentimes cured of disease, anaesthesia was produced, and surgical operations were performed without pain. The therapeutic value of the power was thus fairly established. They also discovered that their patients could be made apparently to see with-out the use of the natural organs of vision. They could be made to read when perfectly blindfolded, and they could be caused to obey mental orders. These facts were attested by so many men of learning and probity that the French Royal Academy of Medicine felt compelled to order a new investigation. A committee was appointed, composed of some of the ablest and most cautious scientists in that institution. For 'nearly six years that committee pursued its investigation with the utmost care and circumspection. Its report admitted the therapeutic value of the process and declared that the power of thought-transference and clairvoyance had been demonstrated by indubitable tests. The advocates of mesmerism had scored a triumph. Its opponents were simply exasperated. The Academy refused to print the report and ordered a new investigation. Another committee was appointed, headed by one who had openly sworn eternal hostility to the doctrine. The result was inevitable. After the examination of two subjects, they made their report. It embraced two points equally conclusive. One announced their failure to witness the occult phenomena, and the other impugned the intelligence of the former committee. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to say that this report was accepted by the average scientist of the day as embracing the whole gospel of mesmerism.

For some years subsequent to this, the investigation of the subject was confined to its psychological and therapeutic features; but every scientist who dabbled in it was tabooed by the majority of his associates. Many able works were written on the subject, but none of them attracted the attention of the Academicians until Dr. Braid, of Manchester, undertook to demonstrate the theory that the hypothetical magnetic fluid had nothing to do with the production of the phenomena.

Braid made two important discoveries. The first was that by placing a bright object before the eyes of the subject, and causing him to gaze upon it with persistent attention, he could be thrown into the mesmeric sleep, during which many of the well-known phenomena ascribed to magnetism could be produced. The fact that this could be done independently of personal contact with another, or of his personal influence, seemed to disprove the magnetic theory and to indicate that the subject matter was susceptible of a physiological explanation.

His second discovery was that the sleep could be induced by his method independently of suggestion. The significance of this discovery has never been appreciated by any of the schools. Indeed, Braid himself seems to have attached to it no special importance. It is, however, of transcendent interest, as I ,shall attempt to show hereinafter.

To the first of these discoveries more than its due share of importance was given; but it opened the door for the admission of mesmerism within the domain of inductive science. It mollified the Academicians, for it seemed to disprove the magnetic theory, and it promised a physiological explanation. The method was simple and easily applied. Better still, no one claimed to be able to produce the phenomena of thought-transference or clairvoyance by that method. Best of all, it had been given a new name.

Many new names had been bestowed upon it by different writers, but with the exception of " mesmerism," each implied a theory of causation. " Mesmerism " was obviously improper because Mesmer was neither the discoverer of the force nor the inventor of the practical method of evoking it. Besides, his name was a- stench in the nostrils of the medical profession for the reason that he had threatened them with a universal remedy for disease. So when Braid denominated it " Hypnotism," from the Greek word signifying sleep, it was hailed as a compromise sufficiently non-committal to entitle it to recognition.

Braid is entitled to great credit for his original researches and discoveries; but the fact remains that he has been the indirect means of retarding true progress in psychology. It is a remarkable fact that since his method of hypnotizing has been generally adopted, the higher phenomena,—thought-transference and so-called clairvoyance, — have fallen into disrepute. Indeed, the production of such phenomena has been, until recent years, practically a lost art. The cause of this will receive attention in the proper place. Beyond the two discoveries above noted, his work is practically valueless for the reason that he never understood the subtle role which suggestion plays in all hypnotic phenomena.

For some years after the appearance of Braid's work there was but little progress made in the study of hypnotism. His methods were, however, generally adopted. The value of his discoveries was not appreciated by his own countrymen, and it was not until the Continental scientists extended his researches that he obtained recognition. Liebault was the first to confirm his theories, and he became the founder of what is known as the Nancy school of hypnotism.

The theory of that school is that the different physical conditions characterizing the hypnotic state are determined by mental action alone; that this mental action and the consequent physical and psychological phenomena are the result, in all cases, of suggestion in some form ; that the phenomena can be produced in healthy as well as in diseased organisms, and that the explanation of the phenomena must be found by a study of their psychological features.

The Paris school, or school of the Salpetriere, on the other hand, holds that hypnotism is the result of a diseased condition of the nerves, - a neurosis ; that suggestion plays but a secondary role in the production of the phenomena, a great proportion of which can be produced without any form of suggestion; that the true hypnotic condition is only found in persons whose nerves are diseased, and that the whole problem is explainable on the basis of cerebral anatomy or physiology.

I have now briefly noted a few of the salient features of the history of hypnotism and the theories of its leading schools since the time of Mesmer, purposely leaving out that large class of amiable people who believe that the hypnotic subject treads. the border land between this world and the next. It now remains to outline a few fundamental principles which, though lying on the surface, seem to have been overlooked in the microscopic search for the ultimate cause of the phenomena. I will then attempt to point out a few sources of error which beset the pathway of the investigator and cause the facts of hypnotism to seem to contradict one another.

It may be said, briefly, that hypnotism is correctly defined as an induced quiescence of the objective faculties, followed by increased activity of the subjective faculties. It is common for writers on this subject to divide the hypnotic state into grades. Thus the Nancy school gives us six, and the Paris school three grades. I will not attempt any classification of grades, for the simple reason that there are none beyond what may be embraced in the terms partial and complete hypnosis. There are various conditions, it is true, which are clearly defined: such as lethargy, catalepsy, and anaesthesia; but each is a condition which may be induced at the will of the operator, at any stage, by simple suggestion. The grades of hypnosis, if such a term may be employed, are innumerable and shade into each other by imperceptible degrees, ranging from the state in which the objective and subjective faculties act synchronously, up to the condition of lucid somnambulism.

The synchronous action of the objective and subjective faculties is the result of partial abeyance of the action of the former. It is a phase of hypnotism which has never received the slightest attention at the hands of students of the subject, although it is not an uncommon phenomenon and is of immense practical importance. It may be defined as a condition of subjective mental activity controlled by auto-suggestion. This state is generally self-induced, and it may be said to be the natural mental condition of a favored few. It may, however, be induced by the hypnotic processes. It is a condition of partial hypnosis in either case. The subject is just sufficiently hypnotized to rouse the subjective faculties to action without decreasing the power and activity of the objective faculties. The two minds then operate synchronously. All the best qualities of both are in a state of intense and harmonious activity, the reasoning powers of the objective mind being reinforced by the prodigious memory of the subjective mind. This phenomenon is occasionally illustrated in so-called trance speakers. It may generally be recognized by the fact that in this condition they speak with their eyes open, — literally as well as figuratively, — but the character of their reasoning process is a sure criterion. It is most strikingly illustrated in men of genius. It is the source of the wonderful power over their fellows possessed by such men as Patrick Henry, Clay, Webster, and all that class of men known as " magnetic speakers." It is the " inspiration " of the great artist, who paints well only when the " mood " seizes him. It is the " fine frenzy " of the poet, whose pen —

"As imagination bodies forth
The form of things unknown,...
Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name."

It is the grand secret of the power which certain men have over the brute creation. It is the partially hypnotic condition often unconsciously self-induced, which enables men to enter a den of tigers, which gave Rarey his power over wild horses, protected Daniel in the lions' den, enables the adepts of India to sleep unarmed and unharmed in the tiger-infested jungles, and gives the snake-charmer the power to control and render harmless the most venomous of reptiles.

Closely allied to this branch of the subject is that of auto-suggestion. This has been dimly recognized as a possible factor in hypnotism, but its importance seems never to have been fully understood, nor has the doctrine been formulated. It may be defined as the control which the objective mind of an individual exercises over his own subjective mind. This control is as absolute in certain conditions as is that of the hypnotist over his subject. Many can produce local anaesthesia in their own persons by auto-suggestion without the aid of even partial hypnosis; but those who have been in the habit of being hypnotized can, by this means, produce wonderful curative effects upon themselves. The principle runs through all hypnotic phenomena, and is at all times liable to affect the results of experiments if the possibilities of auto-suggestion are not intelligently eliminated.

It now remains to point out some of the causes which have conspired to produce conflicting results in various lines of experiment. The question will first be considered why it is that hypnotists of the present day rarely produce the phenomenon of thought-transference.

The first proposition to which attention is invited is that when two or more persons are in the hypnotic state, and are en rapport with each other, there is an inter-communion of thought independent of objective means of communication. Owing to the nature of ordinary experiments and the methods now employed, it is comparatively seldom that this is demonstrated. I have, however, observed it with sufficient frequency to be assured of the fact; and Professor Carpenter, of Boston, who is one of the most careful and successful hypnotists of this country, tells me that he has frequently witnessed phenomena which can be accounted for on no other rational hypothesis. The early hypnotists demonstrated it beyond question in a thousand different ways. My limit of space, however, permits only a statement of the fact.

It follows from this proposition that if the hypnotist is himself partially hypnotized and his subject is completely subjective, the best conditions are established for enabling the one to control the other by silent volition. I undertake to say that this condition necessarily resulted from the early methods of producing hypnosis.

It will be remembered that Braid demonstrated two propositions : 1. That hypnosis could be induced by causing the subject to gaze intently upon an object. 2. That suggestion was not essential to the production of this result. It will be further remembered that the old method of hypnotizing was by steady and persistent gazing into the eyes of the subject, accompanied by gentle passes and intense concentration of mind. The inference is irresistible that by this gazing into the eyes of the subject the operator partially hypnotized himself at the same time that he was hypnotizing his subject. If Braid's experiments prove anything they demonstrate the correctness of this conclusion.

How this power was lost is obvious. The moment Braid proved that a subject could be hypnotized by the easy, simple, and sure process of causing him to gaze upon an inanimate object, every one discarded the old process as a relic of the past, too cumbersome and laborious to be of further use. It was much easier to let the subject do all the gazing, and no one had the slightest idea of the effect which the old method produced upon the operator.

Curiously enough, the very next important discovery conspired with the other to produce the same result. It was soon after Braid's time that the potency of suggestion as a factor in hypnotism began to be realized. It was discovered that sensitive subjects could be hypnotized by suggestion alone, independently of either the theoretical magnetism or Braid's shining object. This was even easier than Braid's method. It required no gazing by either party. All that was required was the confidence of the subject, and this could be acquired by any mysterious manipulation that would appeal to his imagination. It was inevitable that this method would be as barren of results as the other in the production of the higher phenomena.

Thus it happened that the two great modern discoveries, each of the most transcendent importance, conspired to retard the progress of the research in its higher branches, and caused a retrograde movement which has now lasted half a century.

Contemporaneously with the height of the excitement on the subject of hypnotism, the phenomena of spiritism arrested public attention. It found the country well sup-plied with material for " mediums." Every hamlet had been visited by lecturers on hypnotism, and every hypnotic subject was a ready-made medium. The fact was readily recognized that there was something in common between the two classes of phenomena; and the skeptics of the day sought to explain the wonderful character of the " communications " by referring them to clairvoyance. But spiritists seized upon clairvoyance, made it their own, and proceeded to explore the domain of Heaven. The result was that the skeptic retired in disgust and has ever since refused to believe in clairvoyance. Thus prejudice conspired with the other causes named to retard the progress of the study of hypnotism.

In the meantime the followers of Braid on the one hand, and advocates of the theory of suggestion on the other, still persist in misunderstanding the facts which separate them into hostile schools. The former hold that because the sleep can be induced without the aid of suggestion, it follows that suggestion is not a necessary factor in the production of the subsequent phenomena. The latter hold that suggestion is a necessary factor in the production of all phenomena subsequent to sleep, and it follows that suggestion is a necessary factor in the production of the sleep. The truth will be found as usual, on the median line. The sleep can be induced by Braid's method either with or without the aid of suggestion, and by suggestion either with or without Braid's method; but suggestion is a necessary factor in the production of all subsequent phenomena. When the sleep is induced by suggestion alone its cause is a mental impression. When it is induced by Braid's method without suggestion, it is caused by " exhausting the nervous centres in the eyes and their appendages," — in short, by physical weariness. Both will be recognized as potent factors in the production of ordinary sleep.

The physiological explanation of Braid's method of inducing hypnosis was regarded by many as an evidence that all the phenomena were susceptible of explanation on the basis of physiology. The Paris school, of which Professor Charcot is the acknowledged leader, hold this theory. I will attempt to point out a few of the sources of error which render the experiments of that school of doubtful value.

The first and most prominent of these consists in the assumption that hypnotism is a nervous disease, and that it is found in its most pronounced form in hysterical women. Hence, their experiments are confined to that class of subjects. The absurdity of this assumption will be apparent when it is known that the best subjects are perfectly healthy persons. At least that is the testimony of every experimenter outside of the Salpetriere.

Another source of error lies in the fact that they ignore suggestion as a necessary factor in hypnotism, and hold that many of the phenomena can be produced with-out its aid. The effects which they produce in this way are purely physical, such as causing any muscle of the body to contract by pressing upon the corresponding nerve, and releasing the tension by exciting the antagonistic muscle. The condition necessary for the production of this phenomenon is called by Charcot " neuro-muscular hyperexcitability." In a recent work by MM. Binet and Fere, pupils of Charcot, a chapter is devoted to this subject. They detail with scientific exactitude many curious results of their experiments in this line; and then add, with charming ingenuousness, that precisely the same effects can be produced in many hysterical patients in ' their waking state.

After such an admission it seems superfluous to re-mark that this class of experiments proves nothing which can be said to be characteristic of hypnotism; and the Nancy school wastes its time in taking the trouble to demonstrate that the symptoms cannot be reproduced in healthy persons without the aid of suggestion.

Another serious error into which the Charcot school has fallen consists in the assumption that subjects in the lethargic state know nothing of what is happening around them. No greater mistake is possible. There is no such thing as subjective unconsciousness. The objective mind sleeps, — the subjective, never. No matter how profound the lethargy which locks the objective senses, the subjective faculties are ever alert, and comprehend, with preternatural acuteness, every word uttered. This is a primary fact in hypnotism, ignorance of which has caused a deal of trouble and needless alarm to many an experimenter. It is safe to say that nine-tenths of all the difficulty experienced in managing hypnotic subjects, especially in awakening them from profound lethargy, arises from ignorance of this law. It is obvious that experiments made without a knowledge of it are valueless when made with the view of eliminating suggestion as a factor in hypnotism.

Another source of error consists in the fact that they disregard the possibility that their subjects may read the thoughts of those en rapport with them. But, leaving this out of consideration, it goes without saying that little credit can be accorded to a series of experiments conducted in disregard of any one of the primary principles governing the subject matter.

Again, MM. Binet and Fere imagine that they have demonstrated the peripheral character of the phenomena by various experiments pertaining to visual hallucinations. For instance, they observe that if a subject is caused to see an imaginary object through a prism, the image will be doubled precisely as if the object were real. The Nancy school, undertakes to disparage the verity of this experiment by showing that the result will not follow if it is tried in a dimly lighted room. This answer at best seems very inconclusive. I am inclined to accord full credit to the experiment for the reason that it seems but an additional evidence of the power which the mind exerts over the functions and sensations of the body.

A word concerning so-called tests of mind-reading and kindred phenomena. It is proverbial that tests of such phenomena, made at the instance of a pronounced skeptic, generally fail. A striking instance was that of a noted mind-reader in London, a few years ago. He was giving, in public and in private, indubitable evidence of his power to read writing or print in a sealed envelope. In the height of a successful career he was confronted by a prominent British statesman who placed a bank note for a large sum in an envelope, and offered it to the mind-reader if he would read the number correctly. Repeated trials resulted in dismal failure. A similar offer was made through a skeptical committee of the Royal Academy of Medicine many years ago, and the failure was complete. The literature of skepticism is full of such instances of failure by subjects who had often performed the same feats in presence of persons of undoubted probity and intelligence. These facts have given rise to the opinion which prevails very generally among scientists, that those who have witnessed successful experiments of this kind are deficient in intelligence or integrity, and that these attributes of mind and qualities of character are confined to those who have not witnessed them.

The explanation of these failures will be obvious to any one who will stop to consider the power of suggestion over the subjective mind. The presence of an avowed skeptic who aggressively declares his disbelief operates as an all-powerful suggestion that the experiment is destined to fail. Every dollar staked adds emphasis and potency to the suggestion. Failure under such circumstances is a necessary consequence, and could only be avoided by a suspension of the first law of subjective mental action. Hence, the harmonious conditions " so constantly insisted upon by spiritists as a necessary prerequisite to the successful production of their peculiar phenomena, will be seen to possess a scientific value and importance.

The therapeutic value of hypnotism has long been known and acknowledged, especially in the cure of nervous and functional diseases, the morphine habit, chronic alcoholism, etc. Its reputation has suffered much at the hands of ignorant enthusiasts, who believe it to be a universal cure-all, and of the superstitious, who imagine that it can be successfully employed in the invocation of spiritual aid in the cure of disease. Like every other remedy, it can only be successfully employed by those who understand alike its powers and its limitations. The fact that the faith and confidence of the patient are required has led many to imagine that the benefits of mental therapeutics are limited to the ignorant and credulous. The intelligent student will see in the law of auto-suggestion another evidence that nature's laws are universal in their application ; and that the benefits arising from their operation are never lost by acquiring a knowledge of them.

A word regarding the mooted question whether a subject can be caused, by means of suggestion, to commit crime. The danger from this source has been greatly exaggerated. It is true that many experimental murders and imaginary robberies have been committed ; but real crime is a very remote possibility. Experiments made with a view of testing the question prove nothing, for the simple reason that they are experiments. The subject yields himself to control knowing that no real harm can befall him. Under such circumstances he will be very likely to do the bidding of the operator. He would plunge an imaginary dagger into a hypothetical enemy, and he might plunge a real dagger into a man ; but, as experiments are not likely to be carried to an extent so eminently practical, it is impossible to say what would be the result. To provide for the commission of real crime we must presuppose (1) a hypnotist of criminal character; (2) an unsophisticated subject, alone with the hypnotist; and (3) a criminal tendency in the subject himself. Every practical hypnotist knows that it is difficult, if not impossible, to cause a subject to transgress his own code of morals. It is here that auto-suggestion erects an insuperable barrier for the protection of innocence and virtue against criminal suggestion. Con-science, or a resolution formed previously to entering the hypnotic state, operates as an auto-suggestion which cannot be overcome by the hypnotist. Persistence in criminal suggestion in such a case would be sure to restore the subject to his normal condition. It is evident that these remarks apply with equal force to sexual crimes. I am, of course, not prepared to say that there may not be exceptions to the rule here laid down, but the possibility must be very remote.

I would say in conclusion that the importance of hypnotism and hypnotic suggestion as a remedial agent in nervous, mental, and moral derangements can hardly be overestimated. Its value for the correction of aberrations due to neurasthenic and neurotic conditions has long been recognized by European alienists and neuropathologists, as well as its efficacy for-the reformation of childish and youthful offenders. Some of the dangers connected with its practice have been exaggerated in the popular mind, and all those dangers may be avoided when the law of suggestion is fully understood.

For further information about hypnotism:
Hypnosis @ Wikipedia
The Nature Of Hypnotism
Is Hypnotism Humbug?
Hypnotism And Suggestion
The Therapeutic Value Of Hypnotism


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