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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUGGESTION
Boris Sidis, Ph.D.
© 1898. New York, D. Appleton and Company.
THE INTERCOMMUNICATION OF THE TWO SELVES
THE two selves in normal man are so co-ordinated that they blend into one. For all practical purposes a unity, the conscious individual is still a duality. The self-conscious personality, although apparently blended with the subwaking self, is still not of the latter. The life of the waking self-consciousness flows within the larger life of the subwaking self like a warm equatorial current within the cold bosom of the ocean. The swiftly coursing current and the deep ocean seem to form one body, but they really do not. The one is the bed in which the other circulates. The two do not mingle their waters; and still, separate and different as the two are, they nevertheless intercommunicate. The warmth of the Gulf Stream is conducted to the ocean, and the agitation of the ocean is transmitted to the Gulf Stream. So is it with the two selves. Apparently one, they are, in fact, two―the warm stream of waking self-consciousness does not mingle its intelligence with that of the subwaking self. But though flowing apart, they still intercommunicate. Messages come from the one to the other; and since the range of sensibility―life―is wider and deeper in the case of the subwaking self, the messages, as a rule, come not from the waking to the subwaking, but, on the contrary, from the sub waking or secondary to the waking or primary self. The two streams of consciousness and their intercommunication may be represented thus:
We find such messages in the case of hysteria. Ask the hysterical patient to think of a number, and if he holds a pen or a pencil in the anęsthetic hand he will write down the number, or if he has a dynamometer in his hand he will press distinctly as many times as there are units in the number, not being aware of what he is doing. In these cases the message is transmitted from the primary to the secondary self.
"L., an hysterical patient totally anęsthetic," says Binet,1 "gazed fixedly at a blue cross; the position and arrangement of the cross by simultaneous contrast caused the production of a yellow colour about the cross. During this time the right hand, into which, without the patient's knowledge, a pen had been slipped, did not cease to write, 'Blue, yellow, blue, yellow, etc.'" Here once more we have the message transmitted from the primary to the secondary self.
On the other hand, "let us seize the anęsthetic hand," says Binet,2 " and let us cause it to trace behind a screen the word 'Paris.' We know that this word will be repeated several times. Then, upon addressing ourselves to the principal subject (that is, to the waking self-consciousness) we will ask him to write the word 'London.' The subject, entirely ignorant of what has just taken place, eagerly seizes the pen with the intention to carry out our wish, but to his utter astonishment the indocile pen, instead of writing 'London,' writes 'Paris.' "Here we have a motor message transmitted from the secondary to the primary self.
The following experiments, also made by Binet3 on hysterical subjects, are still more striking:
"Let us make ten punctures in the anęsthetic hand, and thereupon let us ask the subject, who, as a matter of course, has not seen his hand, which is hidden behind a screen, to think of some number and to name it; frequently the subject will answer that he is thinking of the number ten. In the same manner let us put a key, a coin, a needle, a watch, into the anęsthetic hand, and let us ask the subject to think of any object whatsoever; it will very often happen that the subject is thinking of the precise object that has been put into his insensible hand."
If we turn to hypnosis, we find again the frequent occurrence of such messages.
I hypnotized Mr. A. F., and told him two stories; then I suggested to him that when he wakes up he shall remember nothing at all of what I had told him―that is, the memory shall remain only in possession of the subwaking self. I then awakened him. My friends who were present at the séance asked him if he knew what I told him. He was surprised at the question; he could not remember anything. A few minutes later I went up to him, put my hand on his brow, and said: "You can remember now everything that passed during hypnosis. Try hard; you can!" He thought some time, and at once, as if he received sudden information, told us the two stories in detail. Another time I made him pass through a' series of actions, again giving the suggestion of oblivion, and again with the same results. He thought he slept deeply for about half an hour. As soon as I put my hand to his forehead the subwaking self sent at once a despatch of the detained information to the waking consciousness. Once I made Mr. A. F. pass through a series of scenes and different complicated events of life. The suggestion of oblivion was again enforced. When he was awakened he remarked that he slept very long―for about an hour and a half; he could not remember anything. I put my hand to his brow, gave the suggestion of recollection, and the hypnotic self at once sent up the intelligence.
Now, if the hyperęsthetic, subwaking self and the waking self-consciousness, their interrelations and intercommunications, subsist also in normal life, as they most certainly do in the states of hypnosis, automatic writing, and crystal-gazing―if they subsist, I say, also in the life of every man, we ought to find it out by experiments. We ought to find that sensory impressions that lie outside the range of sensibility of the waking self, but within the range of the subwaking self, that such sensory impressions will still be transmitted to the primary self. The guesses of the subject must rise far above the dead level of chance―probability. And such is actually the case.
The first set of experiments I made on myself. My right eye is amblyopic; it sees very imperfectly; for it, things are enshrouded in a mist. When the left eye is closed and a book is opened before me I am unable to tell letter from figure; I see only dots, rows of them, all indistinct, hazy, oscillating, appearing and disappearing from my field of vision. When a single letter or figure is presented to my right eye, I see only a black dot, as a kernel surrounded by a film of mist.
I asked Mr. B. to make twenty-five slips and write down on each slip four characters―letters, figures, or both―in different combinations, but so that in all the twenty-five slips the number of letters should equal the number of figures. When a slip was presented to my right eye, the other being closed, I had to guess which of the characters was letter and which was figure. When the first series of twenty-five was ended the slips were shuffled, and a second series began. Later on, the same slips were used for two more series. I made two groups of experiments with two series in each group. Each series consisted of a hundred experiments, so that there were four hundred experiments in all.
In this class of experiments, named Class A, the results are as follows:
In the first series of the first group, out of one hundred characters sixty-eight were correctly guessed. Since there were only two guesses―letter or figure―fifty per cent must be subtracted, as so much might have been due to mere chance (we shall find, however, from our other experiments that the percentage subtracted is too high); eighteen per cent thus remains in favour of messages coming from the secondary self―in other words, eighteen per cent is left in favour of secondary sight.
In the second series of the first group, out of one hundred characters seventy-two were guessed aright; here again we must subtract fifty per cent which might have been due to chance; thus twenty-two per cent remains in favour of secondary sight.
In the first series of the second group, seventy characters were guessed out of one hundred shown; subtracting fifty, we have twenty per cent in favour of secondary sight.
In the second series of the second group, out of one hundred characters shown seventy-six were guessed rightly; subtracting fifty, we have twenty-six per cent in favour of secondary sight.
Out of four hundred experiments made, the general character was guessed two hundred and eighty-six times, which gives 11.5 per cent; subtracting fifty per cent, we have 21.5 per cent in favour of secondary sight.4
Figures often speak more eloquently, more convincingly, than volumes. The results of the correct answers as to the general nature of the character due to secondary sight arc far below the actual one, for in subtracting fifty per cent we subtracted too much, as our experiments will show farther on; still they were so striking that I communicated them to Prof. James, and he was kind enough to encourage me in my work, and advised me to pursue the inquiry further in the same direction.
The experiments were now somewhat modified. Five different letters, and as many different figures, were chosen. The letters were A, B, E, N, T; the figures, 2, 4, 5, 7, 9. Each capital or figure was written on a separate card. I knew the characters, and had to guess none but these. I had not to name merely letter or figure, thus having only two guesses, as the case was in the experiments of Class A, but I had to name one of the ten characters shown; in short, I had always to give the particular name. Now here each guess could either be general, or both particular and general, or fail altogether. When I took letter as letter, or figure as figure, but gave the wrong name―for instance, I took 5 for 7, or E for N―I guessed rightly the general nature only of the character shown. When I gave the correct name, I guessed, of course, both the particular and the general nature. When, however, I mistook a letter for a figure or a figure for a letter, I failed, and failed completely. As the series of ten was finished the cards were shuffled and a new series was started. But few experiments were made at a time, as I had to keep my left eye closed, and looked only with my right eye, which soon became extremely fatigued.
These experiments, named Class B, give the following results:
Out of four hundred experiments made, the general character was guessed correctly two hundred and seventy-three times, of which the particular character was guessed correctly one hundred and eighty-eight times.5
The remarkable success of these last experiments led me to try the same on people with normal vision. The experiments were carried on in the following way: Ten cards were taken; on each one was put down in faint outlines a small capital or figure, the number of figures being equal to that of the letters, so that there were five cards with a different letter on each, and again five cards with a different figure on each. The subject in these experiments was put at such a distance that the character was outside his range of vision; he saw nothing but a mere dot, blurred, and often disappearing altogether. The subject was told that there were ten cards in the pack, that the number of letter cards was equal to that of the figure cards, but he was not told thc particular names of the characters. Each time a card was shown the subject had to give some particular name of character he took that dot to be. "They are all alike, mere blurred dots," complained the subjects. "No matter," I answered; "just give any letter or figure that rises in your mind on seeing that dot."
The number of subjects was eight. I worked with each separately, giving five rounds to each subject, making the number of experiments fifty, and four hundred in all.
In this class of experiments, named Class C, the results are as follows:
Out of four hundred experiments two hundred and fifty-five correct guesses were as to general character, of which ninety-two were also correct as to the particular character.6
In the last experiments of Class C the characters were written in print; still I could not succeed to have the letters well formed: the characters were not made of exactly the same thickness and size. I therefore made other sets of experiments, and this time with twenty quite different subjects. I took ten cards and pasted on them letters and numerals of the same size. Each card had a different letter or figure of the following size: K
The number of figure cards being equal to that of letter cards (five figure cards and five letter cards), I told the subject that I had a series of ten cards, a letter or a numeral on each, and that the number of figure cards equalled that of the letter cards, but I did not tell him the particular names of the characters.
I worked with each subject separately, making only two series with ten experiments in each. The subject was placed at such a distance from the card that the character shown was far out of his range of vision. He saw nothing but a dim, blurred spot or dot. The subject had to name some character which that particular dot shown might possibly be. "It is nothing but mere guess," commented the subjects.
At the end of the first series the cards were shuffled and the second series was given. Each subject Raw the same card but twice. The number of the subjects being twenty, all the first series form a group of two hundred experiments, and so do the second series.
The results in Class D are as follows:
In the first group, out of two hundred characters, one hundred and thirty were guessed as to their general character, of which the particular gave forty-nine.
In the second group, out of two hundred, one hundred and forty were of a general character, of which the particular was fifty-four.7
I then made with the same number of subjects another set of experiments that should correspond to Class B, made on myself―namely, to tell the subjects the particular characters used, which were:
Letters. . . . . . . . . . . . . . B, Z, K, U, H.
Figures. . . . . . . . . . . . . 2, 4, 5, 7, 9.
The characters were all of the same size, printed, and the letters were all capitals. The subject had to name only one of these characters. Only two series of ten each were made with each subject, thus giving two groups of two hundred experiments each.
The results in Class E are as follows :
In the first group, out of two hundred characters, one hundred and forty were guessed correctly as to their general character, of which sixty-eight were correct particular guesses.
In the second group, out of two hundred, one hundred and fifty-one were guessed correctly as to the general character, of which seventy-one were particular guesses.8
As I remarked above, the subjects often complained that they could not see anything at all; that even the black, blurred, dim spot often disappeared from their field of vision; that it was mere "guessing"; that they might as well shut their eyes and guess. How surprised were they when, after the experiments were over, I showed the how many characters they guessed correctly in a general way, and how many times they gave the full name of the particular character shown!
Now all these experiments tend to prove the presence within us of a secondary subwaking self that perceives things which the primary waking self is unable to get at. The experiments indicate the interrelation of the two selves. They show that messages are sent up by the secondary to the primary self.
Furthermore, the results seem to show that, in case the particular message fails, some abstract general account of it still reaches the upper consciousness. An inhibited particular idea still reaches the primary self as an abstract idea. An abstract general idea in the consciousness of the waking self has a particular idea as its basis in the subwaking self.
The great contention of nominalism and conceptualism over the nature of abstract general ideas thus may find here its solution. The conceptualists are no doubt right in asserting that a general abstract idea may exist in consciousness apart from the particular idea or perception perceived, but they do not say that this consciousness is that of the waking self. The nominalists, again, are right in asserting that a general abstract idea or concept has a particular idea or percept as its basis; but they do not add that this percept may be totally absent from the waking consciousness and only present in the subwaking consciousness. No general abstract idea without some particular percept as basis.
To return, however, to my work in hand. While the above-mentioned experiments on secondary sight were under way another set of experiments was carried out by me, the purpose of which was to tap directly the suggestibility of the secondary self, and to find out the influence the subconscious has on the primary consciousness.
The mechanism of the experiments was as follows:
On slips of paper I made a series of complicated drawings. Each slip had a different pattern. The subject had to look at the pattern of the drawing for ten seconds, and then the slip was withdrawn and he had to reproduce the drawing from memory―a task extremely difficult. It took him about fifteen seconds and more before he could make anything bearing the slightest resemblance to the drawing shown. When he finished the drawing an elongated cardboard with eight digits pasted in a row was shown to him and the subject had to choose whichever digit he pleased. Now, on the margin of each slip was written a digit contained in the number of digits on the cardboard from which the subject had to choose. The subject, not having the slightest suspicion of the real purpose of the experiment, being perfectly sure that the whole matter was concerning imitation of the drawings, and being assured by me that the choosing of the digits on the cardboard was nothing but a device "to break up the attention" in passing from one drawing to another, and being besides intensely absorbed in the contemplation and reproduction of the drawing, which was extremely complicated―the subject, I say, wholly disregarded the figure on the margin―he did not even notice it. I so fully succeeded in allaying all suspicions and distracting the attention of the subjects that when Prof. James interrogated one of them, an intelligent man, he was amazed at the latter's complete ignorance as to what was actually going on.
The purpose of these experiments, as I slid, was to address myself directly to the subwaking consciousness, and to see whether it sent up suggestion-messages to the primary consciousness, which by the very mechanism of the experiments was thrown off its guard. In the previous suggestion-experiments, in spite of all precautions taken, the subject was more or less conscious of what was going on. I could not completely banish all suspicions, and success, therefore, could only be assured by the many conditions favourable to normal suggestibility, and especially that of immediate execution, so that no time was given to the upper self to inhibit the carrying out of the suggestion. In the present experiments, on the other hand, the suggestion was addressed directly (of course, as far as this was possible in the normal waking state) to the subwaking self. The upper primary self, being completely absorbed with the drawing, did not notice the figure, or, if he did, he soon learned to disregard it, because he thought it insignificant, and because it would only distract his attention. But although the figure was not noticed and fully disregarded (a fact I was careful to find out from the subjects in an indirect way), it still impressed the sense organ, reached the secondary self, which took it as a suggestion, sending it up as a message to the primary self or personality and influencing the latter's choice.
This choice suggestion is strikingly analogous to post-hypnotic suggestion. I hypnotized, for example, Mr. J. F., and told him that ten minutes after awakening he will put out the gas. He was awakened, and ten minutes later he put out the gas. On my asking him why he did it, he answered he did not know why, but somehow the idea came into his mind, and he enacted it and did put out the gas. The post-hypnotic suggestion rises up from the depths of the secondary self as a fixed, insistent idea. A similar state of mind it was of interest to find in the case of the subjects in the present experiment; under consideration. The suggestion given was to be carried out only after the imitation of the drawing―that is, some fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five seconds later. Now, when the suggestion was eight, and the subjects chose eight, they very often told me that they did not know why, but that number came at once into their mind on being presented with the cardboard of figures. We have not to wonder at it, for the same psychical elements are here at work as in the state of post-hypnosis. In hypnosis the suggestion is taken up by the secondary, subwaking, suggestible self, and then afterward this suggestion breaks through the stream of the waking consciousness, coming up as an insistent idea; so here, too, in these choice experiments the suggestion was impressed on the sub waking self directly and firmly, and this suggestion was then sent up to the waking consciousness. And just as we find in the case of post-hypnotic suggestion, that not always and not all suggestions given during hypnosis are successful in being carried out, so here, too, in our experiments, the suggestions―messages from the subconscious regions―were not always taken by the upper consciousness of the subject. We cannot possibly expect invariably success in a state when the waking self is in full swing and possesses all the power of inhibition. Still the success was remarkable.
Before giving the results let me say a few words as to the classification of the experiments. When I started my first experiments of this kind a suspicion crept into my mind that it might be fully possible that in case a suggestion given did not succeed it might still succeed partially as mediate suggestion, by arousing some association which will be obeyed. For instance, in giving 6 as a suggestion, 6 itself might not be chosen, but some number that succeeds or precedes it, such as 5 or 7, or possibly a numeral next to the suggested one in place, say 1 or 2, for I arranged my figures on the cardboard in such a way as to break up the natural succession of the digits. I was therefore careful to make two separate classes for these two kinds of association suggestions―namely, suggestion by locality and suggestion by numbers, which we may term as locality and number suggestions. The results of my experiments showed me the mediate suggestion was here of but little importance.
I made one thousand experiments and operated with twenty subjects, of which sixteen were fresh ones, not having taken part in any of my other experiments.
The figures on the cardboard were arranged thus:
2 6 4 7 1 5 3 8
In suggesting number 6 the subject could have taken by number suggestion―that is, either 5 or 7; or by locality suggestion―that is, either 4 or 2.
The results are as follows:9
Immediate suggestion. . . . . . . . . 32.1
Mediate suggestion: locality. . . . . . . . . 6.2, number. . . . . . . . 3.3
How shall we explain the fact that in our experiments the percentage of correct guesses is far above the one due to chance alone? Two theories are on the field to account for this fact: one is the well-known unconscious cerebration, and the other is my own point of view, or what I may call the psycho-physiological theory.
On the theory of unconscious cerebration, each figure shown outside the range of vision made an impression on the retina. This impression was transmitted to the sensorium, to the central ganglia of the brain, the occipital lobes, exciting there physiological processes that are not strong enough to rise above the threshold of consciousness. In short, each figure stimulated the peripheral sense organ, giving rise to a central but unconscious physiological process. Now, according to the theory of unconscious cerebration, it was this unconscious physiological proce8s that helped the subject to form correct guesses.
The psycho-physiological theory, while agreeing with the theory of unconscious cerebration as to the physiological account, makes a step further. Each figure certainly made an impression on the peripheral sense organ and induced central physiological processes, but these processes had their psychical accompaniments. Far from being mere mechanical, unconscious work, these physiological processes were accompanied by consciousness; only this consciousness was present not to the upper, but to the lower subconscious self.
If we analyze the theory of unconscious cerebration we find it deficient in giving a full account of the matter. No doubt each figure started some central physiological process, but a physiological process without any psychical accompaniment can not possibly serve as a clew to the psychical process of correct guessing; for as long as a material process remains material, it is from a psychical standpoint as well as nonexistent―that is, it can not possibly be taken cognizance of by an already existing consciousness, but, by hypothesis itself, it does not and it can not give rise to a consciousness. It is only in so far as physiological processes have psychical accompaniments that they can serve at all as a clew for correct guessing. In short, the percentage of correct guesses in our experiments can not be accounted for on the theory of unconscious cerebration; there must therefore have been conscious perception.
Furthermore, to have a correct general idea of a scarcely perceptible dot as being letter or figure, there must evidently be some perception of the particular traits of the dot; there must be a subconscious perception of the particular letter or figure.
Moreover, to be still more sure that subconscious perception is a vera causa in correct guessing, I made the following experiments:
On five cards were put five proper names, one name on each card. The cards were then shown to the subjects, who were put at such a distance that they could see only some faint dots. The subject was told that there were five cards, and that on each card there was some proper name―the name of a river, of a city, of a bird, of a man, and of a woman―but he was not told the proper name itself. Now each time a card was shown the subject had to guess which is city, river, bird, man, or woman. The number of subjects was ten. The total number of experiments made was five hundred.
Of these five hundred experiments, three hundred and six were wrong guesses and one hundred and ninety-four were correct guesses. Since there were five names to guess, one fifth, or twenty percent, of the total number of guesses might have been due to chance―that is, one hundred guesses may be put down to chance, but there still remains a residuum of ninety-four guesses, or 18.8 per cent of the total number of experiments.
This residuum must be explained by something other than chance. Now, on the theory of unconscious cerebration the fact of this residuum is almost incomprehensible. How can one guess correctly what one does not see―that it looks like man, river, or city―unless one actually perceives the proper name shown?
On the psycho-physiological or on the subconscious perception theory we can fully see the reason or this residuum. The names were actually perceived. The lower, secondary self, or the subconsciousness, perceived the proper names, but only some of them could be communicated to the upper consciousness.
The facts and experiments discussed above seem to point, by mere force of cumulative evidence, to the presence within us of a secondary, reflex, subwaking consciousness―the highway of suggestion―and also to the interrelation and communication that subsist between the two selves.
1. A. Binet, On
3. A. Binet, On Double Consciousness.
4. See Appendix C.
5. See Appendix D.
6. See Appendix E.
7. See Appendix F.
8. See Appendix G.
9. See Appendix H.
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