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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

Boston: R. Badger, 1914




THE hypnotic state was studied by me many years ago in my "Psychology of Suggestion." I give here a few brief statements sufficient for our present purposes: The hypnotic state requires the following conditions:

      (I) The first condition is that of fixation of attention. Thus Braid used to hypnotize his subjects by fixing their attention on some brilliant object or point. He considered a steady attention indispensable, if hypnosis were to be obtained; the subject must look steadily at the object, he must think only of the thing he is fixating, and must not allow his attention to be diverted from it. The ability to direct one's thought in one particular direction is very favorable to hypnosis. They who cannot fix their attention, who are absentminded, introspective or scatter-brained or hopelessly stupid cannot be hypnotized.

      (II) Monotony of impressions is another condition of the hypnotic state. The subject must be put into a relatively uniform environment and subjected to a series of monotonous stimulations. My method of hypnotization consists in forming monotonons surroundings; the light is lowered, a profound silence reigns in the room; then monotonously stroking the skin of the subject's forehead and in a low, muffled, monotonous voice go on saying: "sleep, sleep, sleep" until the subject falls into a hypnotic state.

      (III) Limitation of voluntary movements is also a condition of hypnosis. The subject sits down on a chair in a comfortable position and is asked to be as motionless as possible. The subject is directed to abstain from all sorts of movements, not to move his limbs, not even to wink if possible; in fact, not even to attempt the slightest motion of the limbs, not even to think of a change of position. Muscular activity must remain completely relaxed.

      (IV) Limitation of the field of consciousness must be brought about in order to induce hypnosis. The consciousness of the subject should be narrowed to one idea of sleep. Wundt defines the very nature of hypnosis as limitation of the field of consciousness; and to a certain extent he is justified in his assertion. We know that a strong emotion narrows down the field of consciousness. We often find that people under intense excitement lose their senses, so to say; their mind seems to be paralyzed, or rather to say the one idea accompanied by the intense emotion banishes all other ideas and a state of monoideism is thus effected. People are often run over by carriages, automobiles, on account of sudden great fright. The one idea of danger, the emotion of fright, reverberates in the mind like a sudden powerful clap of thunder, confusing and stunning all other ideas and emotions. The mind is brought into a contracted cataleptic state, the field of consciousness is narrowed down to one idea, to one emotion, to a single point. This mode of hypnotization in which this particular condition is specially emphasized is successful with people of an intensely emotional nature, but who are not introspective in character.

      (V) Inhibition is another important condition in the induction of the hypnotic state. The subject must inhibit all ideas, all images, all emotions that may arise in his mind. The subject must think only of the brilliant point, of the tips of the hypnotizer's fingers, of the passes, of the idea of falling asleep. The subject must be able to inhibit all movements, all tendencies to action, all desires and cravings.

      All such conditions bring about that particular state of abnormal suggestibility known as the hypnotic state. Hypnotization produces a deep cleft in the mind of the subject, a cleft by which the waking, controlling consciousness becomes separated from the great stream of conscious life-activity. That is why we have the strange accounts of hypnotic subjects, especially of those who were on the verge of somnambulism, that during hypnosis they were indifferent to the actions of their body, the latter acted by itself; that they were mere spectators of all the experiments performed on them; that it seemed to them that "they themselves," their personality, retreated far, far away. The hypnotic state is specially characterized by the fact that associations and dissociations of muscular, sensory, glandular, neural, ideational, emotional and will activities can be brought about.

      Hypnotic trance is again characterized by the extent of memories which may be widened or contracted. Motor, sensory, glandular, ideational, emotional, memory-changes may be effected, and transformations of personality may be brought about.

      We must however emphasize the fact which is too often forgotten that all such changes are really and ultimately dependent on the changes produced by suggestion in the ideas and beliefs of the subject, all the other changes are produced indirectly. The modification is essentially central, ideational, and emotional.

      The emotion of belief is specially affected. The hypnotized subject is a person in whom faith can be stirred to its very depths. The will is affected. The subject must be of an obedient temperament. The waking, controlling, critical consciousness is practically suspended in the hypnotic state. As I expressed it in another place: "Hypnosis with its allied states can modify, undermine, create belief, and important modifications may be brought about in the total mass of representative life activity."

      When the patient sinks into a deeper and deeper hypnotic condition, when the state is so profound as to verge on somnambulism, the waking, controlling consciousness hangs on a thread, so to say, to the rest of organic life; and when that thread too is cut off by suggestion, the waking guiding consciousness loses all contact with the stream of life.

      Some writers attempt to explain hypnosis by the fanciful theory that the hypnotic state is due to the awakening of so-called "complexes" or mental experiences of childhood. Where the maternal complexes predominate there the tendency is hypnotization by patting, petting, quieting and so on, while where the complexes of the more stern father predominate there the tendency is present to hypnotization by command and authority.

      This theory assumes suggestibility as a basal fact, but refers it back to infancy. To push back or "repress" an unexplainable fact into infancy is not to explain the fact. What sort of experiences in childhood gives rise to suggestibility? Is suggestibility an acquired state or is it a condition fundamentally characteristic of human nature? Psychological studies go to confirm the fact that suggestibility is a fundamental trait of human nature as much as is association of ideas. All that we can say is that certain experiences predispose to certain lines of suggestions, but suggestibility itself is a fundamental characteristic of man, both in his individual and social capacity, whether infant, child, adult, man, or woman.

      Once, however, we assume suggestibility the whole parental theory is useless, there is no need of dragging in father and mother in order to fit them on Procrustes' bed of some fad theory. The facts of hypnosis can be far better explained by the fundamental fact of suggestibility which under conditions of removal of the critical, controlling consciousness stands revealed as the essential characteristic of the subconscious. Alcoholic drinks, various drugs, intense emotions, and even a blow on the head may do the same thing.

      Moreover, the adherents of the theory show little acquaintance with the most elementary facts of hypnosis. The sensori-motor manifestations such as catalepsy, rigidity, of which the patient or subject is not capable in his waking state, the increase of motor activity in certain directions which the subject is unable to perform in his waking state, the anaesthesias and hyperaesthesias which the subject cannot manifest in his normal condition, the hallucinations, the transformations of personality, the extreme mimicry which the hypnotic somnambulist manifests, a condition of which he is absolutely incapable in his waking condition, the amnesias characteristic of deep hypnosis, the post-hypnotic suggestions that can be delayed for many days, weeks, and months, the presence of dissociated states which subconsciously keep the suggestions, states that can be manifested as hypnoid or co-conscious states of which the subject remains unaware, all these phenomena and a host of others are completely ignored by the paternal, sexual, or incest theory.

      They who have studied closely the phenomena of hypnosis cannot help coming to the conclusion that hypnosis is a state of dissociation brought about under special psychological and physiological conditions, such as concentration of attention, monotony of stimulation, inhibition of psychomotor activities. In this respect most of the students in normal and abnormal psychology, though they may differ widely in other respects, agree that the hypnotic state is an inhibition of the upper consciousness, or the inhibition of "the organ of apperception" as Wundt puts the same view. Recently other writers came to a similar conclusion. Hypnosis is a cerebral dissociation brought about by the factors of concentration of attention and monotony of stimulation.

      The hypnotic state is a state of increased suggestibility, it is a reflex consciousness. A changed physiological state must be assumed in hypnosis. This change consists in the disaggregation of the superior from the inferior centres, in the segregation of the controlling consciousness from the reflex consciousness. Strong persistent impressions or suggestions made directly on the reflex consciousness of the inferior centres may modify their functional disposition, produce sensory, motor, and glandular changes and thus affect trophic functions. Disaggregation, dissociation is what specially characterizes the hypnotic state.

      In the hypnotic state the subconscious is laid bare to the influence of the external environment. We get access through the subconscious to man's sensory, motor, and glandular activities, affecting his ideas, feelings and emotions. We can thus produce profound changes in man's life. The hypnotic consciousness is a reflex consciousness, unprotected by the reasoning, critical, controlling consciousness. Once the subconscious is freed from the controlling, guardian consciousness, profound modifications may be effected in man's mental constitution.

      From a practical therapeutic standpoint hypnosis is of the utmost importance. Whenever it is possible the hypnotic state should be used for the alleviation of nervous and mental suffering. Not to avail oneself of hypnosis in the treatment of mental troubles and claim the omnipotence of some other method as a panacea for mental affections is to show undue enthusiasm not justified by experience. Many psychopathic cases have been treated by me and cured permanently by means of hypnosis alone. Some of the cases were of severe character, and the employment of other states and methods would have required months, if not years of treatment with possibly no chance of recovery, on account of the dragging character of the treatment. Treated by hypnosis the patients became permanently well after a few treatments.

      Some severe cases that went into a deep state benefited after the very first treatment, and became permanently cured after three or four treatments. This can hardly be affirmed of any method no matter how enthusiastic one may be about it. Whenever therefore it is possible to obtain a deep hypnosis the latter should by all means be used. Hypnosis is a powerful instrument in the armamentarium of Psychotherapy and the medical man who wishes to get successful results should cultivate its use.

      It is greatly to be deplored that the use of hypnosis is abandoned by some medical enthusiasts for some new theory and is regarded with neglect and even with scorn. It is acting too deliberately in the interest of some hobby, to cut oneself from the use of one of the most powerful weapons of controlling the aberrations of the subconscious, the source of psychopathic maladies.

      The hypnotic state is of no less importance from the standpoint of psychognosis, that is, from the standpoint of the finding out the patient's condition, learning the history of the case and following the evolution of the mental malady from its earliest beginnings. We can trace the various symptoms of the disease down to the very roots of early childhood and watch the stages of the development of the malady, since in some interesting and instructive cases the patient can be actually made to live over the experiences that have gradually developed the present morbid condition. The most difficult, the most inaccessible recesses of the subconscious life can be searched in the hypnotic state.

      It is foolhardiness and mental blindness on the part of the physician to deprive himself of such an efficient instrument of research. It is to play into the hands of various superstitions and prejudices of the vulgar and the Christian Science sectarians, as well as of other would be "scientists" who claim that the hypnotic state causes infinite harm to the human soul. As far as I am concerned, and I may possibly say it also for some of my colleagues who have devoted years to the study of hypnotic state and its effects, hypnosis is one of the greatest discoveries made in the domain of Psychopathology. It is much to be regretted that medical men who devote their life to Psychopathology should disparage the, use of hypnosis for psychognostic purposes. Hypnosis yields us one of the most powerful searchlights for the psychognosis of the subconscious.

      At the same time we must point out an important fact often overlooked by investigators of hypnosis. The hypnotic consciousness is reflex in character. This led to the misunderstanding that the time element of the actions such as simple reaction time or association and choice time must necessarily be shortened. This, however, is not correct, the act or the idea suggested may be carried out, although the time which they take may even be lengthened.

      Some investigators have shown that reaction time is increased in hypnosis, while others come to the conclusion that reaction time is decreased. As a matter of fact in some subjects there may be a lengthening and in others there may be a shortening of the reaction. The results are by no means contradictory. We must bear in mind the fact that we deal here with a state of high suggestibility. While certain suggestions meet with no resistance others meet with increased resistance, due to the same factor of suggestibility. Such in reality we find the facts to be. Some subjects show a marked increase of reaction time, some show a decrease, and some show almost no variation.

      They who have had long experience with hypnosis expect no other results. It would have been far more difficult to understand the hypnotic states had there been a uniform lengthening or shortening of reaction time in hypnosis. The thresholds of the mental systems of the hypnotic consciousness are not uniformly reduced, but, they vary in different directions, some fall, others rise, while again other systems remain unchanged.

      The heightening of thresholds 'of many systems in hypnosis is brought as an argument against the employment of the hypnotic state for psychognostic and psychotherapeutic purposes. This however should not be in the way of the experienced physician. A physician who finds difficulty in overcoming the rise of thresholds and the increase of resistance should give up his practice. As a matter of fact there is always a way of lowering the thresholds of mental systems in the hypnotic state.


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