THE subject of Hypnotism forms a natural, and indeed indispensable, link between the more or less systematic sciences of medicine and experimental psychology on the one hand, and the study of occult phenomena on the other. Fifty years ago hypnotism was not regarded differently from clairvoyance or prevision; it was still all humbug in the eyes of the scientific authorities. To-day it has been adopted into official medical practice, and the man who boldly denied the possibility of inducing "sleep" would be regarded as an ignoramus. Yet hypnotism still remains essentially occult, and still presents the same transcendental problems; only our present-day practitioners tacitly agree to pay no attention to these.
The history of hypnotism is so instructive that no one who is interested to see the kind of fate which awaits new discoveries in a scientific age should omit to study it. Mesmer, who was born in 1734 and graduated at Vienna (that home of epoch-making discoveries, which in our generation has given us Rejuvenation and Psycho-analysis) in 1776, learned from a Jesuit named Hehl that magnetized plates affected the human body; and from another cleric, Gassner, that "passes" made by moving the hands downwards also had an influence. From these hints he discovered that he could influence patients profoundly, relieving them of pain and inducing sleep in them, by these apparently magical methods. In 1778, being turned out of Vienna, where his methods were regarded as charlatanism and sorcery, he went to Paris, where he met with considerable success. Eventually he settled in Spa, and died there in 1815.
Needless to say, Mesmer's success in curing patients of all descriptions led to the adoption of his methods by some disciples, of whom the Marquis de Puysegur, who seems to have discovered the so-called somnambulistic stage, was one of the most important. But in the main his success only provoked the doctors to hostility. A commission was appointed by the Royal Academy of Medicine to investigate Mesmer's work, and it reported in effect that his results were due to the imagination of his patients. A second commission, in 1825, investigated the subject for six years and then reported favourably, confirming all the main claims of the mesmerists, including the fact of clairvoyance during the mesmeric trance. But this report was never printed, and the Academy appointed a further committee, composed of open antagonists of mesmerism, which, in 1837, reported unfavourably on the whole subject.
Meanwhile in England mesmerism was being practised by a few individuals; Elliotson (the first physician to employ a stethoscope), Gregory (a Fellow of the Royal Society), Esdaile (an Anglo-Indian doctor), and James Braid were practically the sole protagonists for half a century.
Elliotson (1791-1868) was a professor at University College, London, and his mesmeric researches and demonstrations aroused so much hostility from his colleagues that he eventually resigned his appointment. We need not be surprised to learn that most of the doctors who condemned mesmerism out of hand refused also to attend any of Elliotson's demonstrations or see his experiments. It was the same, we remember, with the Paduan professors when Galileo invented a telescope; they would not look through it, lest they should see what he said was in the sky, and be made to swallow their own dogmas. I cannot resist quoting the following facts, taken from Dr. Milne Bramwell's book, as they illustrate so perfectly the unfairness with which the subject was treated for a century.
"In Nottinghamshire, in 1842, Mr. Ward, surgeon, amputated a thigh during mesmeric trance; the patient lay perfectly calm during the whole operation, and not a muscle was seen to twitch. The case, reported to the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, was badly received; and it was even asserted that the patient had been trained not to express pain. Dr. Marshall Hall suggested that the man was an impostor, because he had been absolutely quiet during the operation; for if he had not been simulating insensibility he should have had reflex movements in the other leg. Eight years afterwards Dr. Marshall Hall publicly stated at a meeting of the society that the patient had confessed that he had suffered during the operation. The doctor was promptly challenged to give his authority, and replied that he had received his information from a personal acquaintance, who, in his turn, had received it from a third party, but that he was not permitted to divulge their names, and would not give any further information on the subject. The man was still living, and signed a solemn declaration to the effect that the operation had been absolutely painless. Dr. Ashburner attended the next meeting and asked permission to read this statement in opposition to Dr. Marshall Hall's, but the society would not hear him."
This being the attitude of the medical profession, it is not surprising that hypnotism was so long in gaining ground. When people deliberately refuse to see experiments and listen to evidence, and when they content themselves with stories at third hand, they cannot possibly acquire new knowledge. The point, however, of this historical digression lies in its application to the present situation of the allied psychic sciences. We find to-day precisely the same refusal to look through the telescope, precisely the same preference for third-hand stories by the Cons over first-hand evidence by the Pros.
James Esdaile (1808-1859) adopted mesmerism in his practice when head of a native hospital in India. He was so successful that the Government gave him a small hospital in Calcutta, and appointed medical officers to report on his work, which they did very favourably. Nevertheless, and in spite of the numerous major operations which he performed painlessly, the medical journals attacked him and refused to publish his papers.
James Braid (c. 1795-1860) is in many ways the most important name in this field. Mesmer, Elliotson, and Esdaile had been wonderful practitioners, but had contributed little to the theoretical explanation of the subject. They believed that a vital fluid passed from the operator to the subject, and there explanation ceased. It was this semi-magical character of mesmerism that aroused all the hostility of the medical profession, for people of a rationalizing, but not truly scientific, turn of mind never will admit facts for which they can see no explanation. Braid, however, gradually abandoned the use of passes, concentrated gazing, and other physical means of inducing the trance, and substituted direct verbal suggestion for them. It is true that he only replaced one kind of magic by another, for the psychological action of "suggestion" is quite as baffling as any vital fluid or animal magnetism. But this emphasis on the mental rather than the physical aspect of the subject, combined with the invention of a new word, Hypnosis, gradually had its effect in diminishing prejudice; and the fact that Braid disbelieved in clairvoyance, which had hitherto been so often affirmed by the mesmerists, made people the more ready to listen to him.
Since Braid's time a considerable number of men, notably Liebault, Charcot, Richet, Bernheim, Gurney, Janet, de Rochas, Schrenck-Notzing, Milne Bramwell, Boirac, and Alrutz have contributed to the theory and practice of hypnotism, but, as Bernard Hollander points out, the majority of modern hypnotists, in discarding the methods of the earlier mesmerists, have also failed to reproduce many of their effects. It is an easy reply to say that those effects, of clairvoyance, telepathy, or prevision, were merely deceptive, and due to mal-observation; but the force of this retort is lessened when we consider the evidence for these phenomena, and notably for their spontaneous occurrence. It is at least arguable, in view of the definite expressions of opinion by many of the practitioners, that they have not confirmed clairvoyance because they have taken very good care not to look for it.
We must now turn to a study of the phenomena involved in hypnotism, and to the psychological theories to which these give rise; and in view of the many contradictory opinions and statements to be found in the literature of the subject this is no light or straightforward task. In the first place there is little agreement as to what are the best or most necessary methods of inducing hypnosis. Mesmer and his followers used to make passes over the body of the patient, and also gazed fixedly into his eyes. Often also metallic plates were applied, as the supposed magnetic virtue of these was held to influence various diseases. James Braid at first made his patients gaze slightly upwards at any small bright object, but finding that this sometimes caused eye-strain and conjunctivitis he gradually abandoned the method, and relied on verbal suggestions. This method was also followed by Liebault, who practically founded in France the modern school of hypnotism. From him Bernheim learnt the efficacy of suggestion, and proceeded to explain the whole subject by that one word. Wetterstrand and de Rochas, although employing direct suggestion, combined it with magnetic passes over the patient's body; while Richet combined suggestion with strong and steady pressure on the patient's thumbs. Almost all the advocates of the
Suggestion Theory, according to which everything, from the induction of the hypnotic trance to the various phenomena produced during it, is sufficiently explained as the effect of suggestion, use in fact some physical modes of inducing hypnosis in addition to their verbal suggestions.
In support of the vital fluid theory Boirac(1) cites several observations and experiments which show that he could exert a real physical influence at a distance, independently of any suggestion. For example, by holding his right hand near any limb of a blindfolded, hypnotized subject, the latter soon felt that this limb was being attracted to something, and in fact the limb would move towards Boirac's hand. When the left hand was presented no attraction resulted, but a burning or prickly sensation was felt in the part covered by the hand. Ochorowiez has also described the same phenomenon. Boirac also verified Moutin's "pendulum" experiment, in which a blindfolded subject is irresistibly drawn sideways or backwards, to follow the operator's hand which is slowly moved away from the subject. He also confirmed the fact that the operator, by holding his hand over the (blindfolded) subject, can anaesthetize the part of the body covered by the hand. All these and other similar experiments have been done with definite exclusion of suggestion and have been confirmed by Drs. Barety and de Rochas.
(1) See his "Psychic Science", p. 175, etc.
The work of these French investigators has been confirmed by some very careful and scientifically devised experiments by Dr. Alrutz,(2) who set himself to show:
(2) Summarized by him in a paper, "Problems of Hypnotism", in Part 83 (Vol. 32) of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.
(1) That there exists a certain nervous effluence from the human body which can affect other human bodies provided that these are of a certain type and in a certain condition;
(2) That this effluence can be absorbed by certain substances (e.g. cardboard, flannel) and is transmitted through other substances (e.g. glass and metals);
(3) That this effluence is not in the nature of a vibratory radiation, as light is, but is more analogous to a corpuscular or fluid emission. It can be conducted along rods and wires, as also Boirac had proved.
Dr. Alrutz's experiments are of particular value on two counts; first, by reason of their precision, and, secondly, by reason of the precautions taken to exclude all suggestion, whether due to expectation, to autosuggestion arising from faint sense perceptions (by the subject) of the operator's movements, or even to telepathically transmitted suggestions. Generally speaking, the subject was first lightly hypnotized, and then, his face being covered with a black cloth and his ears sometimes plugged, was submitted to experiment. In order to investigate the effect of passes, Dr. Alrutz enclosed the subject's two arms in light wooden boxes which had glass tops, and which were fixed on the arms of the chair in which he sat. One of these boxes might be wholly or partially covered with a sheet of metal, of cardboard, of paper, flannel, or of some other material. Under these conditions the subject was quite ignorant (a) as to which arm was being subjected to passes, (b) whether this arm was screened or not, (c) what substance was used as a screen, (d) whether the passes were up or down. In other experiments Dr. Alrutz arranged matters so that he himself did not know which arm was screened, nor which portion of it was screened; and in still other cases, third parties, who were ignorant of the various results to be expected, did the actual process of making passes or of arranging the screens in the absence of Dr. Alrutz, who afterwards came in and investigated the subject's sensibility, deducing from this the nature of the screens and passes which had been used. In this way all possibility of telepathic suggestion was removed.
The results obtained by these experiments definitely showed that when downward passes were made the sensibility of the part thus "magnetized" was notably diminished; while upward passes increased the sensibility. Also that screens of card, paper, flannel, etc., effectively cut off the effluence, while screens of glass or metal transmitted it.
Dr. Alrutz was able, by the use of passes, to anaesthetize one side of the patient while increasing the sensibility of the other side, and he investigated the degree of sensibility with regard to pain, warmth, cold, pressure, smell, and sight, as well as the knee-jerk reflex, using instrumental methods as far as possible. He found, what has also been found by other investigators, that in
light hypnosis there is some degree of hyper-sensibility and hyper-irritability (with regard to the senses and muscles respectively), both of which may be increased by upward passes; while in deep hypnosis there is diminution of the sensibility and iritability.
From all these observations and experiments we see that there is indubitably a physical influence which can be exerted by one person on another, without any direct contact between the two, and without the knowledge of the subject. The chief phenomena of hypnosis, namely hyper-aesthesia and anaesthesia, can certainly be produced by means of this influence, and in all probability the hypnotic state itself can be so produced. We may note also in this connection that the traditional methods adopted by the Indian Yogi to achieve a trance condition which is essentially analogous to hypnosis are very largely physical, although, of course, there is here plenty of auto-suggestion as well. The chief methods of Yoga appear to be control of the respiration, combined with a fixed
"Asana" posture (usually involving the compression of some nerve centre) and concentration of the gaze either on the navel or on the tip of the nose - i.e. some form of squinting similar to that first used by Braid. All this is also to be accompanied by absolute concentration of thought, or, in advanced cases, by its deliberate obliteration.
Moreover, with regard to gazing (which Dr. Alrutz considers to have an influence similar to that of the passes made with the hands, since two large nerves terminate at the eyes) we may note that crystal-gazers commonly fall into a trance analogous to the hypnotic trance. The mystic, Jacob Boehme, experienced his first ecstasy, it is said, as a result of looking intently at the bright reflection of light from a metal bowl. These facts must be borne in mind when psychologists wish us to consider the claims of the Suggestionist school to give us the key to the mystery.
The Suggestion theory may be summarized somewhat as follows: "The human mind is so constituted that any idea presented to it from outside tends to be accepted; and any idea which is accepted tends to fufil itself, or expresses itself in
reality." Thus, for example, the mere reiterated assertion of an idea (e.g., the idea that suggestion explains everything) tends to make people believe it.
Of course, it is manifest that in practice, owing to the enormous multitude of ideas presented to any one mind, any one specific suggestion will probably find that its tendency to acceptance and fulfilment is frustrated by the previous acceptance of numerous other suggestions. The individual, in fact, has such a train of mental pre-judgments, habits of thought, memories, desires, and impulses, that a particular suggestion given now will not be accepted unless it can fit in without opposing this system. Thus we must modify the original statement, and say:
"Suggestions which in the light of the mind-content of the subject seem plausible or agreeable are likely to be accepted; but those which oppose his present system of ideas and impulses will be rejected." Particularly strong are those suggestions which find a ready support and motive power in one of the main instincts, of self-preservation, sex, hunger, or gregariousness.
This, it will be seen, does not promise to carry us very far towards an explanation of hypnosis. Any ordinary suggestion given to a man in his waking state may be accepted or rejected, according to the choice of the man concerned. But how does invoking the power of suggestion help us to explain why a subject, who is fully awake, and under the influence of convincing auto and external suggestions to that effect, should nevertheless accept the manifestly untrue suggestion that he is falling asleep, his eyelids closing, his limbs feeling heavy, etc.?
Moreover, it is a matter of common knowledge that a suggestion is the more readily accepted if the subject believes in its probability. Yet we find that Milne Bramwell says, in discussing susceptibility to hypnosis:
"Faith alone has apparently little effect on susceptibility. I have failed with subjects who firmly believed I could hypnotize them, and that they were specially susceptible. On the other hand I have succeeded with many who have been convinced that they could not be influenced."
He also quotes Foreland Liegeois as holding similar opinions.
A second point, which I have not seen discussed by the suggestionists, is this. Why, when it is suggested that a patient is drowsy and he is told to sleep, should he not sleep? Why should he, instead of fulfilling the suggestion, pass into a quite different condition, and one which is only superficially akin to sleep? When Liebault stretched forth his hands and said "Sleep," his patients did not sleep; they became hypnotized instead. Moreover, when Mesmer, du Potet, Esdaile, and the rest first began their work in different places and at different times not one in a hundred, indeed at the commencement not one, not even Mesmer, knew what would happen - there was not the possibility of suggesting analgesia, hyperaesthesia, amnesia, enhanced memory, echolalia, catalepsy, rapport or increased suggestibility, in the initial cases, and even after all these manifestations had been noticed they reappeared spontaneously in the absence of any suggestions to excite them. Esdaile remarked that he could not have taught his Indian patients to produce the phenomena which they did produce, as he himself was ignorant of them until he had seen them appear.
All this, however, does not lead to the conclusion that the idea of suggestion is empty of meaning, but only that it has been applied too indiscriminately, and used to prevent thought. We must admit the fact that people do tend to accept some suggestions quite irrationally (see, for example, Trotter's well-known book on
"Instincts of the Herd") and that some people, notably children, are more suggestible than others. Moreover, we can take it as an agreed fact that everyone is much more suggestible when in an hypnotic trance than when awake, and that consequently suggestion can be used to increase the manifestation of any particular phenomenon during hypnosis. But this does not help us to understand how the state arises, nor why, in the face of many contradictory internal and external suggestions, a particular one should be accepted; still less why certain typical suggestions - pain, absence of pain, anaesthesia, hyperaesthesia, catalepsy, and change of Personality - should be provoked so easily and so unerringly in almost every case.
To sum up the methods of inducing hypnosis, we may say that probably there may be a real physical influence which, emanating from the operator, can by itself cause hypnotic trance; further, that "shock" methods, or loud noises, or bright lights (see e.g. Voisin's method, Charcot's, and others) can sometimes bring about the same result; and finally, that pure suggestion - even telepathic suggestion (Janet, Ochorowicz, Gibert and Myers) - may sometimes be sufficient. In practice, however, it is obviously best to combine passes, gazing and suggestion, so as to get the maximum effect(3)
(3) Boirac has argued that certain people are very susceptible to the physical "nervous effluence," while others are susceptible to suggestion and are little affected by the so-called "magnetic" influence.
It is not easy to define the characteristics of hypnosis, as here again the authorities, perhaps largely because they use different methods and wish to provoke different phenomena, disagree. There are certainly different shades or depths of hypnosis, from a light "fascination" stage, in which the subject has a somewhat increased sensibility and irritability but seems to have lost his alertness of mind, through stages of lethargy in which the subject is inert, and catalepsy, in which his muscles may be made rigid and there is general loss of sensibility, to somnambulism, in which the subject is more than usually alert in some ways, being capable of developing great hyperaesthesia and showing greatly increased intuition, but is
en rapport with the operator, and retains no memory on awakening. But these stages are not in any way sharply marked, nor are they definitive in any sense, nor do they appear necessarily in the order given above. Generally speaking there is amnesia after hypnosis, perhaps because of a self-suggestion on the part of the patient (as Milne Bramwell thinks; though the idea seems a little unnecessary), but the degree of forgetfulness varies according to the depth of the hypnosis. In any case during subsequent hypnosis all that happened during previous trances can be recalled.
It is difficult to know how far the subject is conscious during hypnosis, and what his consciousness comprises. Milne Bramwell maintains, with considerable show of reason, that during hypnosis the subject remains quite conscious, and has full will-power to refute any suggestions which are distasteful e.g. immoral and criminal ones, or such as conflict with the subject's sense of fairness and decency. On the other hand Boirac insists on the absolute automatism of his subjects, and asserts that they have no power to resist the suggestions of the operator, however much these conflict with their moral sense. This contradiction is a beautiful example for the suggestionist school, seeing that each authority finds the phenomena which, as his writings show in many places, he was looking out for! From a perusal of his book one can guess that Bramwell's patients felt that he wished to be able to affirm that a hypnotized subject can resist criminal suggestions; while Boirac's subjects probably felt that he wished for absolute control.
If we survey the large number of different accounts by the various authorities, and put on one side all those cases in which the course of things has been deliberately interfered with by suggestion, it would seem that the natural effects of hypnosis, and their spontaneous progression, are usually as follows:
First State. Light Hypnosis (state of Fascination). The subject is inert and passive, but his general sensibility and muscular irritability are increased somewhat. He is in a peculiar condition of
rapport with the operator, who can make him feel, or believe, or do almost anything by suggestion, although the subject still apparently retains his own will-power if he but choose to exert it. He generally does not remember what has been done during the trance when he wakes up.
Second State. Cataleptoid. (State of Waxy Rigidity.) General anaesthesia and insensibility appear spontaneously. Moreover, if his limbs are put into any posture, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable, they remain there with hardly any tendency to move; while if a limb is pushed, the motion continues as if it were an ordinary lump of dead matter that moved. The subject does not reply, or scarcely replies, to questions.
Third State. Deep Hypnosis. (Somnambulistic state.) Here the phenomena of
rapport are markedly strong. The operator has almost complete control over the subject's motor and nervous system, and can paralyse him, or produce great hyperaesthesia, or hallucinations, by simple verbal suggestion. Often a new, and deeper, mental content is revealed in this state, but there is amnesia on awakening. Many experimenters, notably Gurney and Milne Bramwell, have shown that in spite of the apparent loss of memory of what occurs during hypnosis, suggestions given in this state are remembered subconsciously, and can and do affect the behaviour of the subject when awake, although he is not in the least conscious of them. Good examples of post-hypnotic suggestions are given by these writers and also by Dr. S. Wilkinson.(4) Their value lies in the fact that they demonstrate the reality of unconscious processes involving memory, purpose, intelligent thought, mathematical calculation, imagination - in a word, everything we associate with a conscious intelligence. They also, incidentally, confirm Freud's analytical interpretation of morbid, compulsive, and obsessive acts as having a purely psychological, though unconscious, cause, since the subject during his waking conscious life fulfils a suggestion previously implanted in his mind without being at all aware of its origin or its purpose, but feeling that something inside him compels him to act thus. They are, in fact, compulsive acts experimentally produced.
(4) See a paper in Part 69 of P.S.P.R.
When we sum up the main phenomena which characterize hypnosis in its various degrees we find that, even though some of them appear at first sight to be wholly physiological, they may all be fundamentally psychological in origin. Hyperaesthesia, anaesthesia and analgesia, together with diminished or increased muscular irritability, are in general secondary effects, due to the action of the subject's own will, although he may not recognize the fact. We see clear examples of this in hysteria, and it will suffice to quote one, taken from Binet's "Alterations in Personality" (p. 133):
"Monocular blindness was suggested to a hysterical patient - the suppression of the vision of the right eye. The left eye of the patient was then closed, and a book placed before her right eye, and although she declared she saw nothing, the pencil placed in her hand reproduced the words of the book. How could this automatic writing be possible if the monocular centre of vision, which alone is called upon to act in this experiment, were paralysed?"
These alterations in sensibility, in fact, are one result of a much wider phenomenon which, though present in all living beings, is greatly intensified during hypnosis - namely, the control of the organism by the mind. It is on this that the whole medical value of hypnotism rests, since surgeons and physicians simply hypnotize a patient in order that he may dismiss a pain, recognize and repair diseased tissues, or restore the normal functioning of a morbid part. It is as if the consciousness of the hypnotized subject were in closer contact with his physical organism, and regained a primitive, voluntary control over it which has been lost in the development of the normal waking consciousness.
The other characteristics of hypnosis, namely, alteration of the available memory content, loss of memory on awakening, greatly increased suggestibility and
rapport with the operator, are wholly psychological. The phenomenon of rapport is perhaps the most puzzling and the most important. As far as I am aware, the only attempt at a psychological explanation of it is that made by Freud. Arguing from the closely analogous
transference which occurs during a certain stage of psycho-analysis, when the patient shows extraordinary esteem for and docility towards the analyst, and often ultimately falls in love with him, Freud suggested that in the condition of
rapport the hypnotized subject had transferred his libido to the operator and voluntarily paid exclusive attention to him and obeyed his suggestions, while disregarding all other people. This explanation at least enables us to see why the suggestions of the operator should be adopted by the subject and embodied in his will, and it provides an explanation for their potency by allying them to the sex instinct. It also conforms to our knowledge of the very various powers of different hypnotists in producing effects on their patients. Sufficient attention has not yet been given to the operator in the literature of hypnotism, which tends to obscure the obvious fact that, while patience and practice will do much to cultivate one's hypnotic ability, there is also a purely personal and individual factor which enables one man to influence his subjects to a degree to which another never attains.
It remains for us now to attempt an investigation of the nature of the subject's personality during hypnosis, and in order to do this we must review briefly the main facts relating to the unconscious mind and alterations of personality.
Milne Bramwell "Hypnotism; its History, Theory, and Practice"
Boirace "Psychic Science" and "The Psychology of the
B. Hollander "Hypnotism and Suggestion"
Myers "Human Personality"
McDougall "Abnormal Psychology" (chap. on Hypnotism).
Alrutz "Problems of Hypnotism" P.S.P.R., Part 83.
Wilkinson "Recent Experiences in Hypnotic Practice" P.S.P.R., Part 69.
The initials P.S.P.R. are used to denote the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical