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CHAPTER III

EXPLANATION OF HYPNOTISM

Considering that we possess little or no knowledge of what mind itself is, it can cause no wonder that all the explanations offered hitherto for the phenomena of hypnotism are still unsatisfactory. Because in the deeper states of hypnosis we notice a condition similar to sleep, hypnotists have identified hypnosis with a peculiar form of sleep. But, as will be shown in succeeding chapters, most of the phenomena can be produced in the waking state.

The word "hypnosis" conveys the idea of sleep, but for the present we have no other term to take its place. This is a pity, for even the deepest hypnosis is not really sleep. The subject becomes more or less unconscious that he has a body, and, if his attention is drawn to it, it will feel heavy and immobile, so long as no suggestion is made to the contrary; but the mind is always awake, only concentrated almost exclusively on the operator, his words and actions. If we ask the subject whether he is asleep he will invariably deny it. Indeed, some subjects interrupt the proceeding with the exclamation: "Doctor, I am still wide awakel" unless we have explained to them beforehand that hypnosis and sleep are not identical.

We may induce hypnosis by suggesting that sleep will come; but the fact that belief in sleep and the expectation of it bring with them the hypnotic state is not a proof that the state itself is sleep. The hypnotic state may be brought about by fascination, as by staring at a glaring light, or by passes made with the operator's hands over the subject's face or body; in either case without the person knowing that the intention is to send him to sleep or produce hypnosis.

The hypnotic state in some ways resembles sleep, but that does not justify us in regarding it as such. It can be brought about by the same influences and conditions that produce sleep, such as the withdrawal of all strong stimuli, a restful position, the monotonous, gentle stimulation of one or more of the special sense organs, expectation, banishment of certain thoughts, or the concentration of attention on some unexciting object or sense impression. In hypnosis, as in sleep, the subject is inert and passive. On the other hand, normal sleep is often induced in the same manner as hypnotic sleep. Children, when their sleep does not come naturally, are often talked or sung to, or rocked to sleep. Grown-up people, too, produce the hypnotic state in themselves by concentrating their minds upon the thought and expectation of sleep, or at least by excluding all disturbing and exciting thoughts.

As far as we know, in natural sleep consciousness is lost completely, in hypnotic sleep it is not; for though the subject may not remember on waking what has occurred, he recollects everything when he is again hypnotized, so that the recollection from one hypnotic sleep to another is continuous.

In all probability hypnosis is purely a psychical state, whereas natural sleep is dependent on changes in the circulation and chemistry of the brain, or at least on physiological processes. Under hypnotic suggestion people fall asleep without fatigue to help them, and may be made to sleep so deeply that even surgical operations on them do not waken them, while ordinary sleep needs to be helped on by fatigue and other physiological changes, and is often hindered by pain and pathological inhibitions.

During sleep, the pulse, respiration, and other bodily functions are modified, but they are not in hypnosis, save in exceptional circumstances. In hypnosis the subject remains en rapport with the operator or some other person who may make suggestions; whereas in ordinary sleep, as soon as consciousness is lost, the subject loses connections with the outside world. Ordinary sleep is too deep to make the influence of suggestion possible, though cases are on record in which dreams have been suggested to persons in light sleep, so that their natural sleep was converted into hypnotic sleep. When falling into ordinary sleep the mind passes from one idea to another indifferently, and the subject is unable to fix his attention on any regular train of thought, or to perform any act requiring much voluntary effort. On the other hand, the concentration of attention, which is the result of means employed for inducing hypnosis, is continued into the state itself, and verbal suggestions or sensory impressions excite definite trains of thought or physical movements instead of dreams.

In both normal and hypnotic sleep only part of the brain may be at rest, while the remainder, if not actually awake, may be easily aroused. Thus a mother may sleep peacefully in spite of her husband's worst snores, yet wake at the slightest whisper from her infant. The same partial sleep can be produced in hypnosis. For example, Forel, when director of the Asylum for the Insane at Zurich, was able to induce deep sleep in certain attendants, and yet make them notice any movement on the part of patients dangerous to themselves or others. The slightest activity would immediately wake them.

The hypnotic state has been compared with the dream state; but in dreams the mind is relaxed, the thoughts are confused, and events and sensations pass through the mind in kaleidoscopic succession. In hypnosis, on the other hand, the concentration of attention, which is the result of the means employed for inducing hypnosis, is continued into the state itself, and verbal suggestions or sensory impressions excite definite trains of thought or physical movements instead of dreams. Another difference is that the intellectual activity of the dream consciousness is marked by an absence of logical consistency and moral censorship; whereas in hypnosis the capacity for logical thought is preserved, and moral consciousness is not only retained but heightened.

On the other hand, there are certain analogies between dream consciousness and the hypnotic state. It is a characteristic of dreams that the most improbable things are accepted by us without question. We have become so credulous that all the images which present themselves to our minds, however absurd they may be, are received as real without difficulty. In normal waking life a man can convince himself of the inaccuracy of a statement by means of his senses; and, apart from this, an idea in itself has the same tendency that it has in dreams and in deep hypnosis to develop into a hallucination which dims the judgment. In dreams we believe that what we see or feel are real objects; our sense impressions do not procure normal perceptions but illusions, and the power of judging the experiences of which we are conscious is essentially altered. These peculiarities are also common to consciousness in hypnosis.

In deep hypnosis the resisting consciousness is absent. True, a subject may resist the suggestion of an operator, and frequently does so; but it is a subconscious resistance through the habits which have been formed by him, which the suggestion has, so to say, offended. The existing consciousness being absent, the suggestion is at once transformed into action. The hypnotized person in that state may, therefore, be compared to a somnambulist.

When a subject in hypnosis has accepted a suggestion, he will still use whatever there is within range of his own knowledge or experience, whatever he has seen, heard, or read, which confirms or illustrates that idea; but he is apparently totally oblivious of all facts or ideas which do not confirm, and are not in accord with, the one central idea. A hypnotized person in that state never uses inductive reasoning; his reasoning is always deductive.

There are other analogies between dream consciousness and the phenomena of hypnotism. For instance, it is well known that the recollection of what occurred during hypnotic sleep is in exact inverse proportion to the depth of the sleep. If the sleep is light, the remembrance of the subject is perfect. If the sleep is profound, he remembers nothing, no matter what the character of the scenes he may have passed through. The same is true of dreams. We remember only those dreams which occur during the period when we are just going to sleep or are just awakening. Profound sleep is dreamless, so far as the recollection of the sleeper informs him. Further, as in dreams we often assume a different personality, so in deep hypnosis a subject can be made to change his identity—that is to say, he can be made to forget who he is, and whatever name or character is suggested to a subject is at once assumed and carried out with all the deductive logical attitude characteristic of subjective reasoning. It is also well known that the subject can be made to assume any number of characters by the same process.

The prevalent theory is that the state of hypnosis is due to suggestion, and the power of suggestion is explained by the suggestibility of the subject. This explanation leads us nowhere. It is comparable with the reason given why opium produces sleep, because opium has a sleep-producing virtue.

Under suggestion have been grouped the invocation of the gods by the Egyptian priests; the sympathetic powder of Paracelsus; the King's touch for the cure of special diseases; the wonderful "cures" at Lourdes; the miraculous power supposed to reside in the relics of the saints; the equally miraculous cures of such men as Greatrakes, Gassner, and of the Abbot Prince of Hohenlohe, and all the modern systems of mind and faith cure.

The word "suggestion" has been too generally adopted as if it explained all mysteries. When the subject obeys it is by reason of the operator's suggestion ; when he proves refractory, it is in consequence of an auto-suggestion which he has made to himself. Even the chemical and physical action of medicinal remedies is sometimes denied, and their results traced to suggestion. That which explains everything explains nothing. What really needs explanation is that in a certain condition of the subject suggestions operate as they do at no other time, and that through them functions are affected which ordinarily elude the action of the waking will.

There is one vastly important fact with regard to all psychic healing, and that is the marvellous cures which are constantly effected through its agencies.

To the casual observer it would appear self-evident that underlying all there must be some one principle —the operation of mind on the body—which, once understood, would show them to be identical as to cause and mode of operation. It will be seen from the evidence which will be given that, just as spontaneous healing sometimes takes place when light hypnosis is induced purely through emotional agencies, so "miraculous healing" is sometimes apparently accomplished by the calming of disturbing emotions which hinder the normal working of the nervous system, and the stimulation of elevating emotions which increase the trophic and healing power of the nervous system.

Hypnotism is not all subjective, all due to sugestion, and therefore a mere extension of the ordinary influence which one mind has over another. Suggestion alone does not explain the influencing of subjects without their knowledge; nor is it compatible with the definite physiological effects upon the muscles, the circulation, and the secretions which have been proved to take place; nor does it explain how children too young to understand what is expected of them, and animals of various kinds, can he hypnotized.

In hypnosis suggestibility is greatly increased. A similar suggestible state is also met with in persons as the result of certain conditions, such as great bodily fatigue. People are always more suggestible at the beginning of sleep, and it is also known that in the first stages of chloroform narcosis the patient can be influenced by suggestion. But hypnosis is not necessarily conditioned by suggestion. I have frequently left boys alone in a room gazing at a glass crystal, making no other remarks but that I would come back in ten or twenty minutes—would they meanwhile keep their eyes fixed on the crystal—and when I returned I found them in the cataleptic state. It is possible, of course, that these boys may have had the knowledge that crystal-gazing may induce sleep; but so far as I could ascertain they had no such knowledge or expectation. Indeed, I have found that those who are acquainted with the procedure and its effects are more difficult to hypnotize and some resist entirely. Moreover, I shall quote a series of most extraordinary results in specially gifted subjects, which were obtained free from any suggestion, every precaution having been taken by myself and the witnesses present to exclude such possibility.

Suggestion implies an involuntary or automatic obedience of the person to the idea which has been presented to him. The subject cannot resist it, even if he should have the desire to do so, and he obeys it as the effect of an abnormal credulity or docility. No doubt there are weak-minded individuals who can be made to do almost anything. We have seen them in the degrading exhibitions by "professors" of hypnotism which used to be common years ago. That is not the kind of hypnotism with which modern medicine and psychology are concerned. It is as different from it as the methods of the various healing cults are from scientific psychotherapy.

Braid (1843) coined the word hypnotism because he law a similarity between the mesmeric state and sleep; but Mesmer himself and his disciples used the term animal magnetism for the same order of facts, and supplied thereby an explanation which did not appeal to the scientists, who rejected the facts together with the theory. Braid in his own time was no more successful. Not until Bernheim was hypnotism as a means of treatment recognized by the medical profession. Bernheim held hypnosis to be all suggestion, and nothing but suggestion; thus advancing a theory which does not explain all the facts. Increased suggestibility is a consequence of, but not the cause of, the phenomena produced. Nearly all modern hypnotists are followers of Bernheim. If they had not this preconceived idea that the subject must sleep, and would not impose it upon him, or cause him to inculcate the idea on himself, most of the phenomena called hypnotic could just as well be produced in the waking state.

The hypnotic state, it will be shown presently, is largely a condition of more or less profound abstraction. The attention, which in the full waking state is divided by the sense organs and through them by all the impressions received from the external world, is concentrated on a single object and all thought held in abeyance. In this respect the hypnotic state resembles the state of ecstasy. In both there is self-absorption, muscular inactivity, and insensibility to bodily sensations. In both states the person ignores all external objects and takes no account of the lapse of time. Both strengthen the activity of the senses in the direction desired by a flowing together of all that energy which is usually divided between the different sensations. The visions of ecstatics may become realities to their minds; the same as the visions suggested to persons in a state of hypnosis.

The hypnotized person may also be compared to a man engrossed in a play. He is perfectly conscious, and yet in a sense he is hypnotized. One might also compare the consciousness of a hypnotized person with that, say, of a business man who does not think all day of his home, and when at home may not give a single thought to his business; but he is conscious all the time. There is, however, in the hypnotized person a more definite division between his state and the waking state. This will be made clearer to the reader when we deal with the exalted mental powers produced in hypnosis.

The subconscious actions of a hypnotized subject may be compared to those of an absent-minded person, who, though wide-awake, will yet do things with an apparent purpose while not really knowing what he is doing.

Absent-mindedness in a normal person is a spontaneous phenomenon; in hypnosis it is artificially produced. Absent-mindedness is a temporary mental dissociation of a normal kind and terminates suddenly, whether we will or not; whereas hypnosis can be indefinitely protracted by the operator until a suggestion is given to awaken. Because of this resemblance the hypnotic state has been described as a state of dissociation. This is not quite correct, for dissociation in hypnosis is produced only when tricks or tests are practised—that is to say, when things are suggested that are not natural to the subject. When hypnosis is light and restricted to proper therapy it is strictly in accordance with the personality and the desires of the subject, and there is no dissociation, at least no pathological dissociation. There is, therefore, no ground for protest. What such objectors have in their mind is the pathological variety of which they saw so much in the recent war; but the shell-shocked patients, whom they saw and treated, were already diissociated from other causes.

Freud believes that the effects of hypnosis are due to the affection which the subject feels for the operator. McDougall traces the readiness of the subject to accept orders to his being thrust into a state of self-abasement. With our present knowledge of mental processes it would be best to keep to the facts observed and not indulge too much in theories. There can be no question that in hypnosis we have to do with a supernormal concen-tration of attention on one object or subject, with complete unconsciousness of the rest of the external world and of all other sensations. The hypnotic state isa special one, as distinct from the waking state as that is from sleep. There exists a peculiar condition of consciousness which has a specific therapeutic action upon the organism. In hypnosis a person becomes capable of influencing all his bodily functions, increasing or delaying their activity, producing anaesthesia or hyperesthesia as desired, and having his muscular forces increased or lessened at will. It will be shown that all the senses and mental powers are exalted or can be so enhanced that works are produced which the subject could not accomplish in the normal waking state, and that this exalted activity of the mental powers can be rendered permanent to the great advantage of the subject without any further hypnotic practices. They become part of the subject's natural gifts and personality.

We have to continue to use the term "hypnosis" until a better one is invented. But it is my conviction that the phenomena induced are not due to any special procedure, called hypnotic for the present, but are due to some inherent capacity which varies with different subjects. They are produced by the subject himself, exercising his own powers under the direction of the operator, who does not force his will upon the subject, as many people believe; indeed, the operator does not know how they come about.

The effect of hypnotic influence depends on the fact that the mind of man is largely subconscious, and that this subconscious store of ancestral and individual experience, and of inherited instincts and emotions, can be reached by certain procedures. The subconscious mind supplies the stimulus to thought and action. That is why mere persuasion in the conscious state often fails, for words themselves possess no magic power. Their effect depends on the feelings they arouse. Few men are convinced by logical argument, but their feelings are changed by one who can appeal to their emotions and instincts. If the operator has a knowledge of the world and human nature and speaks with conviction, he can induce the subject to feel and think in unison with him, and since the idea conveyed really corresponds to the subject's own inclination and desire, it will be accepted and acted upon by him as if it originated within himself.

The spontaneous cures of bodily disorders, of which we shall give numerous examples, are also effected by the subconscious mind being accessible in hypnosis. The subconscious mind keeps the wonderful and extraordinarily complicated mechanism of the body in working order, as we have already explained, largely through the sympathetic nervous system which connects the brain with the various bodily organs, and which seems to dominate the life-force. Now, since during hypnosis the conscious mind is in abeyance, the value of hypnotism lies in the fact that it opens a direct road by which suggestion may reach its sphere of action without passing through the conscious mind.

The methods of reaching the subconscious mind will be described in the succeeding chapter. But the good results of hypnosis do not depend on such preliminary procedures, which vary a great deal, but on making the right appeal and suggestion to the subject, who, in most cases, has already made many futile attempts to regain his former mental or bodily state by his own conscious efforts.



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