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to exploit provoked sleep, or the power of suggestion,
in order to facilitate surgical operations, or to aid
certain treatments for the cure of nervous affections
and other maladies. Or often, also, they wished to
entertain or strike the imagination of the participants
in their spectacular experiments. They have accumu-
lated a great quantity of facts of which indirect obser-
vation can and should make the fullest use. But per-
haps it is not exaggerating to say that the real expert-


mental study of hypnoidal phenomena yet remains to
be made.

However, we except a certain category of hypnoidal
phenomena — that which may be designated by the
name of cryptopsychism, and which Dr. Pierre Janet
has exhaustively studied under the name of dissociation
of the personality. Here we find ourselves in the
presence of a systematic investigation, carried as far as
can be possible, by means of the processes and accord-
ing to the spirit of the true experimental method.

There exists a whole ensemble of special means for
the provocation of cryptopsychic phenomena : subse-
quent somnambulism, suggestion by distraction, auto-
matic writing, and vision in the crystal. By these
means it is possible to institute preordained experi-
ments, as Dr. Pierre Janet has done, so as to solve such
particular problems as are relative to parapsychic phe-


The study of magnetoidal phenomena, also, lends it-
self to experimentation, especially if the experimenter
possess, in a sufficient degree, the force or special apti-
tude necessary to produce them.

Perhaps, it is quite true, subjects capable of present-
ing these phenomena and of reacting under the influence
of this force — subjects really magnetic — are more
rare than hypnotizable or suggestionable subjects. On
the other hand, phenomena of animal magnetism are
much less easy to simulate than phenomena of sugges-

Unfortunately, in almost all experiments up to the


present time, little effort has been made to dissociate
these two orders of phenomena, which accompany each
other almost inevitably, and are, moreover, capable of
counterfeiting and substituting each other. Sugges-
tion, in particular, tends to slip surreptitiously into
all the parapsychic phenomena. This is why it is nec-
essary to have a special technique which shall rigorously
exclude suggestion from all experiments having for
their real object the study of the magnetic force and
its diverse manifestations.

In Our Hidden Forces we indicated the essential
principles of that technique. They can be summarized
by saying that they consist in the complete isolation of
the subject upon whom the experiment is being made:

First, by removing all possibility of his seeing what
happens about him.

Second, by observing, and having others observe,
before, during, and after the experiment, an absolute

Third, by acting only at a distance, without con-
tact, through the supposed radiation of some organ of
the operator, principally the hand.

And if vital-radiation does exist, nothing can prove
that human beings alone are sensible to it. It is possi-
ble that it acts also — in an objective, therefore observ-
able, manner — upon animals, upon plants, and upon
certain material objects. Thus there arises the possi-
bility of a new series of experiments, either to estab-
lish the reality of this force, or to determine its effects
and conditions.

What a vast field this study of magnetoidal phe-
nomena offers to the experimenter !


The subject shown here is in the waking state, writing under the
influence of the magnetic radiation from the operator's hand.


There is, however, in this field of research, a part to
which access seems almost entirely closed. It is that
of telepsychism, or at least of its most characteristic
forms : clairvoyance, mental suggestion, and telepathy.

What position can the experimenter take in regard
to clairvoyance? Once having provoked it by his sug-
gestions, his role becomes nothing more than that of
an observer. As yet we cannot see how he could in-
tervene in the phenomenon so as to take its mechanism
apart and place it together again.

In the same way it would appear that, as mental
sugge'stion usually works between the subconsciousness/
of the operator and the subconsciousness of the sub-
ject, the will of the experimenter, in making an effort
to provoke the phenomenon, thereby hinders its produc-
tion. The old saying: " Seek it, it runs away from
you; run from it, it will seek you! " may be applied to
this case. If this is actually its nature, as those who
suspect its latent presence in almost all the parapsychic
phenomena affirm, then mental suggestion (thus im-
properly named) not only refuses to lend itself to ex-
perimentation, but introduces an element of uncertainty
in all parapsychic experimentation in general. It still
remains to be known, it is true, if this conception of
mental suggestion entirely conforms to reality.

As to the facts of telepathy, we are compelled to
register them as they occur. There does not seem to
exist, as yet, in spite of numerous attempts made, posi-
tive and reliable means which experimenters can use
for the provocation of telepathy at will.

It is easy to understand, however, that experimenta-
tion has a marked place in hyloscopy; for it is a ques-


tion there of studying the effects produced by material
agents upon the nervous system of subjects apt to re-
veal them because of their exceptionally fine sensibility.


The spiritoidal phenomena, in spite of their con-
trary appearances, do not lend themselves well to ex-
perimentation. They are, above all, spontaneous phe-
nomena — which, it is true, we can try to provoke at
will in certain conditions: for example, in assembling
a number of persons about a table upon which they put
their hands in a state of expectation. But they are
merely waiting for the phenomenon, without knowing
if it will be produced or how it will be produced. Is
this really the way to experiment? Is it not rather to
observe, or simply to seek to observe? This is the
staging of almost all the pretended experiments in

It is precisely this spontaneity of the spiritoidal phe-
nomena — spontaneite irreductible — which causes
spiritists to attribute them to the action of intelligent
entities, of invisible operators residing in the world of
the Beyond. If this hypothesis be admitted, is it not
evident that the role of experimenter belongs effectively
to these entities, in which case our role must be con-
fined to that of simple observer?

Perhaps this situation is only temporary. It may
be that future discoveries will reverse these roles. In
the present state of our knowledge, however, it must
be admitted that our experimental capacity in the mat-
ter of spiritism is singularly limited. In the case of
" haunting " phenomena it is reduced to zero. In


mediumistic phenomena it is limited to placing the
mediums in the conditions supposed to be the most fa-
vorable for the manifestation of their powers, noting
and observing the phenomena, more especially when
they are of an intellectual order. Experimentation
can then be of positive value when considering phe-
nomena of a physical order, especially if, as is probable,
these phenomena obey the great law of psychic conduct-

To summarize: It is possible to experiment in the
fields of hypnotism, cryptopsychism, animal magnetism,
and hyloscopy. Experimentation is impossible, or
extremely difficult, in the domains of metagnomy, men-
tal suggestion, telepathy, and spiritism, where indirect
observation plays too great a part.

And we shall remain in this position until some prac-
tical means of producing these phenomena at will shall
be discovered.




The hypothesis, as Claude Bernard has definitely
established, is the great pivot of the experimental
method. All real experimentation is brought into be-
ing and directed by an hypothesis, the aim of which is
to verify it. In natural science, however, the hypothe-
sis is legitimate only when its purpose is primarily to
arouse and direct experimentation.

This is the modern conception of the experimental
method, so essentially different from that which Bacon
and even Stuart Mill had previously elaborated.

We have shown, in the preceding chapter, that the
application of this method is not possible — at least
at the present time — in all branches of the psychical
sciences, inasmuch as a general condition of it is the
possibility for the savant to intervene actively in the
production of the phenomena which he studies — either
in order to create them, or to modify them, from the
point of view of quantity as well as from that of qual-
ity. Now, this condition is not actually fulfilled in
many branches of psychical research, where the savant
is reduced to mere observation, and often, indeed, to
indirect observation.

Where this condition does exist, however, let us
examine the connections between the four processes of

6 4


the experimental method in the psychical sciences.
And especially let us note the place and the role which
should be assigned to the hypothesis.


To illustrate our point, we shall give an example
which we already have used :

We have seen a man place his hands, for several
moments, against the shoulder-blades of another per-
son, then withdraw them slowly; and this latter has
appeared to be attracted backward more or less vio-

This is an observation. We have repeated it many
times; we have tried to apperceive the different partic-
ularities as exactly and completely as possible; and we
have given a full and faithful description of it. We
might easily multiply ad infinitum observations of this
kind ; but in so doing we could not go beyond the limits
of pure empiricism.

Wishing to ascertain if we too can produce this phe-
nomenon, we apply our hands to the shoulder-blades of
another, and establish the fact that it determines a sort
of attraction.

Strictly speaking, this might be called an experiment;
but this experiment has, in reality, the same signification
and the same value as an observation ; it is what we may
call a provoked observation. Nevertheless, it has a
very great importance. For it is this which makes
possible the application of the experimental method to
the study of this phenomenon; it is this which leads the
way to true experimentation.

What must we do, in order to pass from this first


stage — the stage of observation — to the second, and
enter effectively the domain of the experimental

First of all, it is necessary that a question be formed
in our mind, and then that we imagine an answer to
that question.

That one person attracts, or appears to attract, an-
other by the imposition of the hands upon the shoulder-
blades is a fact that we have proved, or, better, that we
ourselves have provoked. But if this fact is not
changed by us into a problem, it remains sterile, use-
less, from the point of view of scientific and experi-
mental research.

How is this attraction possible? On what condi-
tions does it depend? By what mechanism is it pro-

This problem, in its turn, must suggest to us a pos-
sible solution; and it is this possible solution which is
really the experimental hypothesis.

For example, we can suppose that the attraction, real
or apparent, is caused ( I ) by the fatigue of the indi-
vidual, resulting from the more or less prolonged
standing — that he unconsciously leans against the
hands of the operator; or (2) by the loss of equilibrium
which the withdrawing of the hands determines; or
(3) by the involuntary suggestion which results from
the conditions of the experiment; or (4) by an effec-
tive action, of a nature yet unknown, but really radiant,
which the hands have the property of projecting.

If we hesitate to compare these hypotheses among
themselves, to enumerate them, to weigh the reality


and the unreality of each of them, or even if, in choos-
ing one to the exclusion of all the others, we endeavor,
by reasoning only, constructing and complicating it by
additional hypotheses, to demonstrate that this is the
sole possible solution to the problem, we shall only
turn our back upon the real experimental method, and
we shall not arrive at any positive result.

How, then, shall we proceed?

First of all, it is evident that, among the diverse
solutions or hypotheses possible, we must choose one,
at least tentatively. This once chosen, we must de-
termine by deductive reasoning, the consequences which
we may be able then to submit to the control of the
experiment. This phase — of capital importance —
is what Claude Bernard called experimental reasoning.
It is at this moment that the mind decides upon the
plan of future experiments: (1) If the phenomenon
depends upon certain supposed conditions, it cannot be
produced if these conditions be suppressed. (2) The
phenomenon can be produced if these specified condi-
tions be realized, regardless of all other circumstances.
(3) If the conditions be modified in a given way, the
phenomenon will be found modified correspondingly.

The savant can at the beginning write down on
paper an outline of the combinations, and then try to
realize them, one by one. These, according to the
extent of his success, will either confirm or refute the
hypothesis being put to the test.

There is here wholly an intellectual work, where
the imagination plays as great a part as, and sometimes
greater than, reasoning; as is the case also in mathe-


matics, where the solution of the problem is often a
matter of imaginative ingenuity as much as, or more
than, of deductive rigor.

This ingenuity, this sagacity of the savant, is mani-
fested in the choice, among a more or less large num-
ber of hypotheses, of that one which will lead him
most directly and surely to some important and de-
cisive discovery. " It is," said Claude Bernard, " a
particular sentiment, a quid proprium, which consti-
tutes the originality, the invention, or the genius of
each experimenter."

Thus, in the example cited a moment ago, an ex-
perienced researcher will not waste much time in con-
sidering the hypotheses of fatigue or of the loss of
equilibrium; he will devote his attention immediately
to the hypothesis of suggestion or that of magnetoidal
action, and all his effort will be bent upon deciding,
by a series of appropriate experiments, which of these
two accord, to the exclusion of the other, with all the
particularities of the fact.


According to Claude Bernard, there are no rules
that will enable us to create in the brain, apropos of an
observation made, a just and fruitful idea which may
be for the experimenter a sort of intuitive anticipation
of the mind toward a successful research. When the
idea is once gained, we can show how it is necessary to
submit it to definite precepts and precise and logical
rules. But its conception has been wholly spontaneous
and its nature wholly individual.

Although it is not possible to anticipate the details


of the hypotheses that will cause the savant to observe
a certain particular fact, it seems possible to us, at least
in psychical research, to determine the order in which
these hypotheses will range themselves; and conse-
quently the foreknowledge of this order will itself serve
to guide the researcher through the labyrinth of the

They constitute, in effect, the general hypotheses im-
plicitly included in the particular hypotheses which up
to this point have been the only ones regarded. They
are, it might be said, the abstract and schematic for-
mulae to which these latter can be reduced and which
are found again in them, but clothed in concrete cir-
cumstances which complicate and diversify them.

We shall not consider here these general hypotheses
in their rapport with the experimental method; but it
is certain that they have been and are still considered
by many from a wholly different point of view — as
theories subsisting and having value of themselves,
without necessary relation to the experimental method,
as explanations permitting the rational coordination of
a whole ensemble of phenomena which otherwise would
remain an enigma incomprehensible to the human mind.

Is it necessary to state once more that such a point
of view, although admissible when it is a question of
sciences relatively far advanced in experimental knowl-
edge of the facts being studied, seems absolutely un-
tenable in an order of researches as imperfect, as rudi-
mentary, as that which has for its object the para-
psychic phenomena?

Theories of this nature can find a place only at the
point of arrival of investigations patiently and success-


fully conducted. In the parapsychic sciences we have
scarcely left the point of departure.

Let us guard, then, against theorizing, and not take
these general hypotheses for more than they really are
— simple tools to be employed in the field of experi-
mentation, and utterly valueless if put to any other


It will not be without interest to review these differ-
ent hypotheses, as they are encountered at each step,
immediately the domain of the psychical sciences is
entered. It is comparatively easy to recognize each of
them under the modifications brought about by the
diversity of uses to which each is susceptible.

Most often, these hypotheses consist in an extension
to new facts of a general law or proposition of which
the truth has already been recognized by other facts.
It may be, for example, the hypotheses of illusion and
simulation, which are frequently invoked by a number
of savants in order to produce the most marvelous, the
most improbable, phenomena. There are numerous
and circumstantiated narrations of these in the litera-
ture of mesmerists, occultists, and spiritists. That in a
given case there may be illusion or simulation is not
an hypothesis; it is a fact already proved. But that
in other cases, in all cases, there may be nothing more
than illusion or simulation — this cannot be affirmed
without forming in itself an hypothesis; and it is justly
this hypothesis which it will be well to prove, not
merely by the logic of reasoning, but, if possible, by
experimental verification.


Similarly, suggestion, cryptopsychism, and even, al-
though less surely, the transmission of thought (com-
monly called mental suggestion) are not, when taken in
themselves, hypotheses. They are facts, in the sense
that it has been positively established, in definite cases,
that suggestion, cryptopsychism, the transmission of
thought, really exist. But they become hypotheses
when one supposes their intervention in other cases
where their existence is not at all manifest and where
it can only be believed that it is possible.

At other times, the hypothesis consists in the intro-
duction of a new general law or proposition, of which
the truth is entirely problematic, but which is more or
less analogous to some general law or proposition of
which the truth is incontestably known in another order
of knowledge. Thus we know, in physics, that the
magnet attracts iron; but we have no proof in physiol-
ogy that a human organism can similarly exert an at-
tractive action upon another organism. If, then, in
order to explain the process of Moutin, we suppose a
magnetic action emanating from the operator and influ-
encing the nervous system of the subject, we shall have
an hypothesis bearing not only upon the existence of
a law already known but upon the introduction of a
law still unknown.

In a similar way, we know that the human intelli-
gence and the human will produce, through the medium
of human organs, certain effects directly observable;
but we have no proof that these same effects can be
produced by other intelligences and other wills, with-
out organs or through the medium of other organs.
To suppose that this happens in certain cases is to in-


troduce a new law, and not simply to extend an old
law to these new cases.

There can, then, it seems, be distinguished in this
order of researches two categories of hypotheses :

( I ) Inductive hypotheses. Those that lead hypo-
thetically from certain facts to other facts which ap-
pear to be of the same kind.

(2) Analogical hypotheses. Those that consist in
applying by analogy to a certain order of facts a law
similar to that which governs another order of facts.

Looked at from the point of view of strict logic, it is
evident that the inductive hypotheses must be pre-
ferred to the hypotheses by analogy. Recourse to the
latter, a logician would readily say, is not permissible
except when it is absolutely impossible to make the
facts agree with the inductive hypotheses. And with-
out doubt the experimenter would be wrong in dis-
regarding the logician's indication. But from the
point of view of the experimental method, which is
necessarily his own, the fecundity of the hypotheses is
a quality as valuable as their truth. The discovery of
new facts and of new rapports is much more important
in the experimenter's eyes than the explanation of the
facts and the rapports already known.

It would seem, therefore, that analogical hypotheses,
which permit us to open new chapters in the book of
Nature, are from this point of view — all things being
equal — more favorable to the enlargement of science
than inductive hypotheses, which permit us merely to
add new paragraphs, new " items," to the chapters al-
ready open.



These hypotheses, however, appear to us to be
purely logical, and to lend themselves badly to the reg-
ular applications of the experimental method. In their
relation to this method they are, it might be said, re-
strictive and negative hypotheses : such, for example, as
those hypotheses which ally all the parapsychic phe-
nomena to illusion or simulation.

Certainly the experimenter must always have in
mind the possibility of one or the other of these hypoth-
eses; but they must be excluded after control, as it is
only after this exclusion that he can effectively experi-
ment under the direction of positive hypotheses. If he
undertook his researches with the intention of reduc-
ing systematically to illusion or to simulation all the
facts which he will study, he would close to himself the
road to experimentation. Would not such disposition
of mind be equivalent, in effect, to declaring that, inas-
much as the parapsychic phenomena are all illusory
and simulated, these pretended phenomena do not
really exist, and that consequently it is useless and even
impossible to make them the object of scientific inves-
tigation ?

This appears evident to us regarding the hypothesis
of illusion.

As to the hypothesis of simulation, it is true that
the experimenter could aim to see if it is not possible
to simulate experimentally the different hypnoidal,
magnetoidal and spiritoidal phenomena, reported by
other observers or experimenters as authentic. Here,


certainly, is a whole series of attempts which it will
well be worth the trouble to undertake, especially in
order to be able to determine precisely which are, in
the ensemble of these phenomena, those which can be
simulated and those which cannot; and also in what
conditions and to what extent this simulation is pos-
sible, when it is present. It is certain, for example,
that the greater part of the phenomena of hypnotism
and of suggestion can be simulated with the utmost
ease; although there exist, perhaps, means (of which
it would be interesting to make a special study) to dis-
tinguish the " paste " from the " diamond." But the
conclusions which could be drawn from this work, even
in supposing them favorable to the hypothesis, would
advance the question but little; for the fact that a
certain phenomenon can be simulated does not neces-
sarily mean that it cannot equally exist also in an
authentic form.

Yet the partizans of the hypotheses of illusion and
simulation refrain ordinarily from entering the experi-
mental field, being content to reason in the abstract and

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Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 5 of 22)