Emile Boirac.

The Psychology of the Future online

. (page 6 of 22)
Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 6 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a priori; they treat the problem not as experimenters
but as dialectitians. Their argumentation consists first
in showing, by the analysis of a certain number of cases
reported by other observers, the presence of illusion or
fraud; and then in inferring, without any further infor-
mation, that all other cases of the same kind could be
analyzed in the same way, that an identical result would
be arrived at infallibly in all cases similar to the one
under discussion. According to this stereotyped-reas-
oning, the troublesome obligation to examine the enig-
mas raised by the parapsychic phenomena is removed


once for all. This " simple previous question " is all
that is required to bring these phenomena en bloc to the
door of science.

But those who employ this convenient artifice of pro-
cedure must fully realize that it has nothing to do with
the experimental method.


It is necessary that we review the principal positive
hypotheses to which the psychical sciences can and do
have effective recourse, in order to apply to the diverse
orders of phenomena the processes of the experimental

These hypotheses, which are indissolubly linked to
experimentation, in place of being, as the preceding,
mere matter for argumentation, require a certain pre-
vious knowledge, both theoretical and practical, not
only of the most general difficulties opposed to experi-
mentation by the very nature of the phenomena, but
also, and above all, a knowledge of the best means to
overcome these difficulties.

Before beginning the study of the positive hypoth-
eses, we shall discuss this necessary preliminary knowl-
edge of the difficulties and of the means of overcoming



The first, and not the least, of the difficulties pre-
sented by the study of the parapsychic phenomena is
that these phenomena are not produced in an ordinary
way, but allow themselves to be perceived only rarely
and in. exceptional and abnormal circumstances. The
truth is that, in order to study them, it usually is neces-
sary for us to provoke them ourselves, artificially. But
here experimentation encounters a new difficulty. The
same processes do not succeed with all subjects, nor in
all circumstances.

The most disconcerting character of these phenom-
ena is their irregularity. One may well endeavor to
observe, each time, identical conditions; but sometimes
the phenomena manifest themselves at the least effort,
while at other times they obstinately remain invisible,
to the extent that we almost doubt their possibility.
We are here, it seems, in the domain of the unexpected
and the indeterminate.

If we consider, in particular, the simplest phenomena,
those which are as the first links of the parapsychic
series — the phenomena of hypnotism and suggestion
— we establish the fact that, although they are more
frequent and in some ways more accessible than the



others, they are themselves also subject to the most
incoherent exceptions and inexplicable caprices. 1

The School of Nancy claims, it is true, that all human
beings are suggestionable and hypnotizable. But that
assertion remains purely theoretical; practise shows us
that the same maneuvers, applied to different individ-
uals, with the aim of suggestioning or hypnotizing
them, produce immediate and surprising results with
some, while with others they fail miserably.

Let us remember, however, that electrical phenomena
presented the same appearance at the beginning. The
laws which regulated them could be ascertained only
when they could be produced experimentally: that is,
when the savants could distinguish among natural
bodies those which conserve and condense electricity,
once produced, and those which conduct it and disperse
it instantaneously.

So, among human beings, it is an incontestable al-
though still inexplicable fact that some are naturally
apt to present the phenomena of hypnotism and sug-
gestion immediately they are submitted to the influ-
ence, while others are, or appear to be, incapable of
this mode of reaction.

How can we explain this difference in the effects of
causes apparently identical?

Undoubtedly, it is due to some profound difference
in the physical and moral constitution of the human
beings submitted to the experiment; but its nature is

1 Charles Richer, in L'homme et V intelligence, says: "All that is
observed is inconstant, irregular, mobile. There is no fixed rule; the
phenomena observed vary with each observer and with each subject.
That which is announced is not produced, and that which is not an-
nounced is produced."


absolutely unknown to us, and the words hysteria, nerv-
ousness, weakness of temperament or of will, often
heard in popular phraseology, serve only to mask our
ignorance. Not until we shall know precisely in what
this difference consists, until we shall know in an ac-
curate and positive manner the necessary and sufficient
conditions which determine the special sensibility of
certain individuals and the apparent insensibility of
others — not until then will the science of psychical
phenomena be definitely established. It will then
cease to be in great part empirical and become really

But while waiting for this decisive evolution, it
would be very useful to be able to distinguish at once,
from among a certain number of individuals, those
who are susceptible of presenting the parapsychic phe-
nomena, at least in its elementary forms, and those who
are not. Really, these phenomena exist in many more
people than is ordinarily believed. But we do not
know, or we know only imperfectly, how to discern
that potentiality when it does exist; and it is this
which hinders us from actualizing it at will.

The first question, then, which arises when the ex-
perimental study of the psychical sciences is begun, is

How shall we discover, from among human beings,
those zvho are capable of manifesting the parapsychic
phenomena, — those who are "subjects "?

In other words, the first point to be considered is the
finding of the subjects themselves.

There is no special term to designate the quality of
the subjects: that is, the condition or the ensemble of


conditions which makes them subjects. In spiritoidal
phenomena, we have the word mediumistic, which cor-
responds to the word medium; but usage does not per-
mit us to employ the word subjectivity (used in philos-
ophy with a wholly different meaning) to correspond to
the word subject. As a special term seems to us abso-
lutely indispensable, and as the most general charac-
teristic that the subjects present is their more or less
great obedience to suggestion, we shall employ, for
want of a better term, the word suggestibility, to desig-
nate in a general manner the aptitude to manifest the
parapsychic phenomena — the most complex as well as
the most elementary.

Two objections can be made to the choice of this
word : one of a simple form, another which goes much

First of all, it can be observed, with Durand de
Gros, that the word suggestible cannot be applied cor-
rectly to persons. An act — flight, for example, or
murder — can be suggested, and is therefore suggesti-
ble; but when it is a question of a person, it must be
said that he can be suggestioned or that he is sugges-
tionable. The correct term, then, would be sugges-
tionability. But this word seems too ponderous, too
cumbersome; and, moreover, the question has less in-
terest for us than for grammarians and lexicographers.

The second and more serious objection is that any
such denomination seems to belong to the three or
four great theories which have been proposed by the
interpretation the phenomena present in the subjects,
and about which opinion is still divided among the
savants engaged in this study. These theories are:


suggestion, hypnotism, animal magnetism, and telep-
athy or mental suggestion.

We believe that each of these four interpretations
has its share of reality. Each of them responds more
particularly to a certain category of phenomena.
There are subjects, perhaps the most numerous, in
whom all happens in conformity with the theory of sug-
gestion as professed by the School of Nancy. There
are others who verify the assertions of the School of
the Salpetriere, which has especially defended the the-
ory of hypnotism. There are still others in whom are
observed certain phenomena inexplicable by the hypoth-
eses of these two Schools and which seem to justify
those of the partizans of animal magnetism and telep-

From this, at least four types of subjects would be

i. The suggestible (or suggestionable).

2. The hypnotic (or hypnotizable) .

3. The magnetic or mesmeric (magnetizable or


4. The telepathic subject.

But in practise, let us hasten to say, it is very rare
to find subjects who offer each of these types in a state
of absolute purity: almost always a suggestible subject
is also hynotizable, and vice versa; in an experiment
where the operator believes he is employing nothing
but suggestion or hypnotism, very often animal mag-
netism or telepathy intervenes unconsciously. Unless
special measures of extraordinary precision and deli-
cacy be employed, it is almost impossible to determine


in each particular case the exact part of each of these

In employing the word suggestibility to designate the
quality of the subjects, we shall use the word in the
most general sense; it will signify for us susceptibility
to hypnotic, magnetic (mesmeric), or telepathic influ-
ences, as well as to suggestive influences, except to dis-
tinguish, in its place, the different specific modalities
of that general susceptibility.


Are there any signs or processes, any reactives,
which enable us to discover suggestibility thus under-
stood : that is to say, the general aptitude to present the
parapsychic phenomena?

First, let us consider the easily observable physiog-
nomic signs.

( 1) Subjects, it is sometimes said, are individuals of
nervous or lymphatic temperament. In admitting that
this may be true, it would be necessary to know by what
indications these two temperaments may be recognized.
The question thus is carried back a step, not solved.
Then, if subjects are most often nervous or lymphatic,
does it follow that all people who are nervous or lym-
phatic may be subjects?

(2) The magnetizer, Charles Lafontaine, claims to
have discovered that all persons who have bulging eyes
are subjects; but, lacking necessary proof to the con-
trary, it is very difficult to know that this generaliza-
tion is true.

(3) The impression is received, in the presence of


many subjects, that there is a particular characteristic
in the look in their eyes. But it is more easy to feel
this peculiar characteristic, this something, than it is
to define it; it is, it might be said, a humid and cloudy
eclat, a light shining behind a darkened glass. But
how could we make practical use of an indication so
vague ?

(4) It is claimed that any one whose ear, deprived
of the lobe, is directly fastened to the cheek, is infal-
libly a subject. It does not appear, however, that an
extended observation would verify this generaliza-

(5) There is a similar pretension regarding a cer-
tain form of thumb : thick, short, and rounded.

(6) It is often claimed that subjects have moist
hands; or have the habit of biting their nails. But can
it be concluded that all those who have the habit of
biting their nails are subjects?

11 Certain favorable conditions," says Charles Richet
in L'homme et V intelligence, " can be determined with
sufficient precision. Women are more sensitive than
men. Regarding the age, I believe that children can
be put to sleep; but I have never attempted the ex-
periment with very young subjects, as I did not wish
to create in them a nervous state that would not be
without inconvenience. ... I have put to sleep young
girls of seventeen to eighteen. But that age would not
seem to be the most favorable. It appears that the
best age would be from twenty-five to forty years. As
to the very old, I believe that they are extremely re-
bellious to magnetism. I have succeeded in putting
to sleep a woman sixty years old; but in her the sleep


has never been complete, and the symptoms have had
little interest. Nervous temperaments are, as will
easily be concluded, more susceptible than others. In
general, small women, brunettes, with black eyes, black
hair, heavy eyebrows, are the most favorable subjects.
However, experiments have succeeded very well with
pale and lymphatic women, and have failed with very
nervous persons. In sleep, the delicate women, nerv-
ous, languid, afflicted with a chronic malady or con-
valescent, are certainly, more than all others, apt to
react to the influence of magnetism."

It can be seen that these indications, although given
by one of the leading scientists in this field, are never-
theless vague, and difficult to utilize in practise. Be-
sides, it does not seem to us absolutely sure that women
may be, as is affirmed, more sensitive than men. Ex-
periments which have been made up to the present time
have been, in the great majority, with women, and it is
consequently very natural that those who made the
experiments have considered women more sensitive
than men. To obtain certainty in this matter, it would
be necessary to have experiments and comparative sta-
tistics infinitely more numerous and more precise than,
all those which have existed thus far.

In view of the lack of easily observable signs, vari-
ous kinds of apparatus have been devised to reveal sug-
gestibility, as the thermometer reveals temperature.

Dr. Ochorowicz has proposed his hypnoscope, a
magnetic steel tube which is put on the finger like a
ring. Any one who feels marked sensations of chill,
of numbness, etc., is, it is said, suggestible and hypno-
tizable. But Dr. Crocq, Jr., of Brussels, declares


that he has never observed any constant action with
this apparatus, and that everything has always de-
pended upon autosuggestion.

The sensitivometer of Durville, a curved magnetic
steel bar which is placed round the wrist, the negative
pole being put beside the thumb, does not appear to
give many very sure indications.

Dr. Gaston Durville has conceived an ingenious em-
ployment of a dynamometer to reveal, and at the same
time measure, the suggestibility. Under the name of
suggestometer, he describes an ordinary medical dyna-
mometer, a simple ellipsoidal steel spring, provided on
one side with a needle, on the other with a " scale of
sensibility." This scale was established after numer-
ous experiments (560), and permitted the classification
of people into five categories, according as their sensibil-
ity is neuropathic, very great, great, medium, or nil.
The subject takes the apparatus in his strongest hand
and squeezes it with his maximum effort. After a few
moments of rest, the suggestion is given him, during
almost a minute or two, that his arm becomes weak,
numb; and he is then asked to squeeze the apparatus
again. According as the muscular force sinks to zero,
decreases three-fourths, one-half, one-quarter, or re-
mains constant, he is placed in one of the five categories

Unfortunately, the employment of this apparatus is
not always practical, because it is hardly possible to
have recourse to it without the subject's being aware of
the proof to which he is to be submitted, and without
his giving his consent. It would be necessary for us to


have a method which would permit us to recognize
subjects without their knowledge.


What we need, then, is a reactive which can be ap-
plied easily, without the subject's knowledge, almost
without attracting his attention, and which will reveal
his latent susceptibility, positive or negative, with re-
gard to psychical influences.

We should be able thus to divide individuals into
good and bad conductors of these influences, just as in
physics material bodies have been divided into good
and bad conductors of electricity.

This reactive has been found to exist. It was dis-
covered by Dr. Moutin (of Boulogne-sur-Seine), a
well-known observer and experimenter of the highest
order. Scientists, however, are not sufficiently famil-
iar with it; and physicians, in particular, who should
employ it constantly, are wholly ignorant of its exist-
ence, or know it only vaguely and attach no importance
to it.

Here, briefly, is the process of Moutin:

The experimenter stands behind the person in whom
he wishes to determine the sensibility, and applies
against his back, on a level with the shoulder-blades,
the palms of his two hands, fully extended, the two
thumbs meeting over one of the vertebrae of the spinal
column. After a few seconds of application, the hands
are slowly drawn backward. If the person follows the
movement of the hands, to which his back seems to
adhere, or which appear to attract it with an irresist-


ible force, he can be considered as " presenting the sign
of Moutin," at least in the first degree. In a greater
degree, he is drawn and forced backward, even when
the hands do not touch the shoulder-blades and are
separated by a distance of 10, 20, 30, or 40 centimeters.
If this application of the hands be prolonged, a sensa-
tion of intense heat, almost of burning, will be experi-
enced by some individuals. Also, if instead of apply-
ing the two hands, only the palm of the right hand
be applied at the nape of the neck, the effect produced
will be essentially the same.

Dr. Moutin has related, in his thesis, he diagnostic
de la suggestibilite, how he discovered his process :

One day, in 1878, he was walking with a friend in
the outskirts of the town of Orange. The two stopped
at the edge of a field, and, in leaning over to watch
an insect, Dr. Moutin unconsciously put his hand on
the back of his friend's neck. Suddenly the friend ex-

" Take your hand away ! You are burning my neck
with your cigarette."

Surprised, Dr. Moutin answered: " But I have no

And after showing his empty hand, he placed it once
again on his friend's neck.

" This," said he, " is the position in which we were
a moment ago."

" It is strange," replied the friend, " but I still feel
your hand burning me."

Removing his hand, Dr. Moutin, with increasing sur-
prise, saw his friend totter, as if he had lost his equi-
librium, and almost fall backward.



Being already acquainted with hypnotism and ani-
mal magnetism, he suspected the probable signification
of this singular phenomenon, and asked the brother of
his friend, the director of a large paper factory, to let
him try some experiments upon a number of the work-
ers. Two hundred subjects, men and women, were
put at his disposal. Out of about fifty upon whom he
experimented, thirty presented, in varying degrees, the
same symptoms of attraction, of sensations more or
less abnormal, etc., and were thus revealed to be sug-
gestible or hypnotizable in different degrees. Dr.
Moutin was able also to note the opposition, the
strongly characterized duality, of the individual reac-
tions provoked by his process, and the relation existing
between a distinctly positive reaction and the real sus-
ceptibility to suggestion or hypnotic influence.

An objection to the current employment of this
method might be that, when the person in whom the
research is made knows in advance the object of the ex-
perimenter, it is possible for him either to simulate or at
least to exaggerate the action, or, on the contrary, to
suppress it by voluntary resistance. And how can he
be prevented from knowing the purpose of the opera-
tion, when he sees that the observer stands behind him
and places his hands upon his shoulder-blades?

This objection loses its value when the process of
Moutin, which should be called the neurocritic process,
is applied by a physician. For he can always combine,
without informing the patient, the application of this
process with that of the classical and customary proc-
esses of auscultation, percussion, palpation, etc. Not
seeing in the neurocritic process anything more than a


phase of a general examination to which he is sub-
mitted, and not having any reason to distinguish it
especially from the others, the patient will react with
entire spontaneity and good faith.

A variation of this process, which I recently discov-
ered, escapes this objection entirely. It may be ap-
plied not only to patients by physicians, but, to some
extent, to every one and by any one. It is this :

Standing face to face with the person with whom you
are conversing, place your right hand on his left shoul-
der (or inversely), either as a gesture of friendly fa-
miliarity or under the pretext of examining more closely
some part of his features. Think, then, as strongly as
possible that he will lean forward or backward. In
the well-known experiment of the pendulum of Chev-
reul, it suffices to " think " the movement of the pen-
dulum in a certain direction; and so, in order to move
the subject unconsciously in the direction thought, an
infinitesimal push given to the body of an individual
whose nervous system is particularly sensitive becomes
immediately intensified a hundredfold and determines
in the subject an irresistible movement of attraction or
of repulsion, as if he were a veritable living pendulum.
This experiment will be still more convincing if the
attraction or the repulsion continues to be produced
even without contact, following the movements of the
hands of the operator held some centimeters above the

Can it be concluded from this that there exist in
human beings, from the particular point of view of par-
apsychic susceptibility, two opposed types of tempera-
ment: (i) the moutinien or pendular type, which is


that of subjects suggestible and hynotizable in varying
degrees; and (2) the non-moutinien or rigid type, that
of individuals more or less completely refractory to all
hypnotic or suggestive influence?


The discovery of Dr. Moutin has been very little
utilized, except by professional hypnotists and mesmer-
ists, whom it served to show quickly in a mass of spec-
tators the subjects susceptible of experimentation.

But it has a much greater importance, if we con-
sider the part that it may play in psychical research;
not to mention other manifold applications that could
be made of it, whether to ordinary psychology, to his-
tory, pedagogy, to the diverse moral sciences, or to
psycho-therapeutics and medicine in general.

Viewed as an instrument of research, the process of
Moutin opens to those who employ it methodically an
unlimited field of experimentation, as it permits them
to find an indefinite number of subjects in a manner ex-
tremely simple and rapid. A few seconds of light
pressure of the hand upon the back or upon the shoul-
der suffices to reveal the parapsychic potentialities, pos-
itive or negative, of any person whatsoever, thus pre-
venting delay in the preliminary attempts at hypnotiza-
tion, which are often unfruitful, and are fatiguing for
the operator as well as for the subject.

One of the most interesting problems that arises at
the beginning of psychical research is this :

In what proportion are individuals apt to present
the parapsychic phenomena — at least under the most
elementary forms, suggestion and hypnotism — en-


countered in the human race? And how is this apti-
tude apportioned among them according to sex, age,
temperament, state of health or illness, etc. ?

It is, we believe, through the general and systematic
employment of the process of Moutin, only, that the
establishment of statistics bearing upon a great num-
ber of individuals will give us an exact solution to the

Even, however, at the same time that this process
constitutes for researchers a valuable instrument of
study, it can and must itself be for them the object of
a special study; for it opens up a whole series of prob-

1 2 3 4 6 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 6 of 22)