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Nancy, which imagines that all questions can be an-
swered by this abstract word, just as the scholastics
imagined that all things could be explained by their
entities and their occult powers.

As long as this substratum subsists without notable
change, the state continues; immediately that the sub-
stratum ceases to be, or is modified in its essential ele-
ments, the state vanishes, is resolved into a different

How many patient and minute researches still re-
main to be undertaken in the psychical sciences in order
to elucidate these problems !




The work of the School of Nancy has definitely put
beyond ail doubt the important role that suggestion
plays in the greater part of the parapsychic phenomena.

That suggestion is a fact, is a point already acquired
to science; but we have yet to understand, in an abso-
lutely definite and precise way, the nature and the con-
ditions of this fact. We have yet to determine, with
sufficient rigor, the cases in which suggestion intervenes,
without any possible doubt as to its effective presence,
and the cases in which this presence is simply supposed
as the more or less true explanation or interpretation.
In other words, we must determine when suggestion is
really a fact, immediately proved by its very consta-
tation, and when it is simply an hypothesis, of which
the proof remains to be made.

It is important, first of all, to specify precisely what
must be understood by suggestion, in the particular
order of researches which we are now considering; for
the term can be understood in many ways.

As we have shown in Our Hidden Forces, there is
suggestion each time that one individual evokes —
usually by word — in the mind of another individual, an



idea that would not have occurred to him in the natural
course of his thoughts, an idea capable of influencing
his sentiments or his conduct.

But in this sense one cannot by any means foresee
the final effect of the idea thus evoked. It may be
that it will determine sentiments and actions conform-
ing to it. It may be, also, that it will be deflected,
either immediately or after examination, by the person
to whom it is suggested. But in either of these cases
the word does not imply necessarily the idea of an
irresistible influence.

On the contrary, the word suggestion implies an in-
voluntary or automatic obedience of the person to the
idea which has been suggested to him; and the re-
markable part of the phenomenon is precisely this im-
possibility when the person is found not to do or not to
believe what is said to him.

From this comes the name subject, generally given to
the individual thus suggestioned, to indicate the state
of subjection in which he is actually placed toward
the one who gives him a suggestion of this nature.
Also, we have the name hypotaxy (literally: subordina-
tion, submission) given by Durand de Gros to the sup-
posed state of the nervous system which permits of
this forced obedience of the subject to the suggestion.

There would be suggestion in this sense if I were to
say to a person, for instance : " In five minutes your
legs will not be able to support you; you will fall to
your knees," and he would fall, in spite of his incredu-
lity and his resistance. Or, " That chair attracts you;
you will be forced to go to it and sit down," and he
would go. Or, " You have forgotten your name, your


profession, your address," and he could not remember
them. Or, " You are very warm, very cold; you are
about to laugh, to cry, to run," and he experienced all
these sensations. Or, " You are going to sleep — to
sleep ! " and he fell asleep.

However singular these phenomena may appear to
those who have never witnessed them, it is not possible
to doubt their reality. Of course, in some particular
cases, it can evidently be asked if the individual is really
suggestioned or if he is not simulating suggestion; but
this would be to advance skepticism so far as to pre-
tend, with a certain contemporary neurologist, that one
cannot be sure that there was ever any case of authentic

In order to distinguish suggestion thus comprised
from ordinary suggestion, it is often called hypnotic

Ordinary suggestion — that which the individual
can normally resist, or else which he obeys because of
a more or less deliberate consent or as an effect of his
credulity and his natural docility — is produced in the
waking state, while he is fully conscious and has com-
plete use of all his faculties.

Hypnotic suggestion, on the contrary, — that which
the subject cannot resist, even if he should have the
desire to do so, and which he obeys outside of all delib-
erate consent, as the effect of a credulity and a docility
in some way artificial and abnormal — is produced dur-
ing hypnosis, or during an apparent waking state more
or less fundamentally analogous to hypnosis.

From this point of view, the characteristic of the
second kind of suggestion would be its liaison with a


state or disposition sul generis of the nervous system,
a hypnotic state or disposition. In other words, sug-
gestion thus comprised would be a function of hypno-
tism, which could then be defined, at least partially:
" A state which develops a special and an absolutely
automatic and irresistible suggestibility."

In order to define hypnotism more completely, it
would be necessary to be able to characterize it in itself,
disregarding all relation with suggestion and suggesti-
bility; but in the actual state of our researches, we do
not yet possess a sufficiently complete knowledge of its
characteristics and its effects to be able to establish this

The name given to it, and which likens it to sleep,
shows that it is generally conceived as " a state of tor-
por or of cerebral stupor, when the greater part of the
superior functions are suspended or inhibitive," while
an exceptional dynamogenic state is produced in the in-
ferior centers of the cephalo-rachidian axis.

This seems to us to be the conception of hypnotic
suggestion resulting from the simple description of facts
such as all the world can observe. Yet it conflicts
with a conception wholly different, which pretends to
come from observation, but which seems to be the
product of a systematic spirit, and in which it is diffi-
cult for us to see anything but pure construction a priori.
This conception is that of the School of Nancy.

According to Professor Bernheim, who is the theo-
rist of that School, hypnotic suggestion does not differ, in
reality, from ordinary suggestion; or, more properly
speaking, there is only one kind of suggestion, which is


defined: " The act by which an idea is introduced into
the brain and accepted by it." Then, there is sugges-
tion whenever an idea, being introduced into the mind
of an individual, is accepted by him, believed and
obeyed, and he feels and acts accordingly. From that,
suggestion is everywhere in human life — example,
education, eloquence, moral authority, so many forms
of suggestion which do not differ essentially from hyp-
notic suggestion.

This, wholly as the other, depends directly and exclu-
sively upon a general and normal property of the human
brain — suggestibility ; that is to say, upon that credu-
lity and natural docility, common to all human beings,
which causes them to believe and to do what is told
them, under the immediate impression of all idea that
is presented to them with sufficient force or insistence.

It is, then, useless, from this point of view, to sup-
pose that suggestion has for a preliminary condition a
certain state of the nervous system, more or less analo-
gous to sleep, and named hypnotism. Far from sugges-
tion being a function of hypnotism, it is hypnotism
which is a function of suggestion. " Suggestion," said
Dr. Bernheim, " is the key to all the phenomena of
hypnotism." In other words, there is no hypnotism,
there is only suggestion. The so-called hypnotic sleep
is no more than suggested sleep, identical in essence
with ordinary sleep. In the same way that laughing,
dancing, nausea, etc., can be produced by suggestion,
so sleep can be produced; but there is no reason for
according a preponderant importance to this particu-
lar effect of suggestion and for considering it more


characteristic than any other. Once more, let us re-
peat, it is suggestion which explains all, while suggestion
itself is self-explanatory.

From the very opposition of these two conceptions, it
can be concluded that if suggestion is, in certain re-
spects, a fact, it is in certain other respects an enigma
which presents a problem, or many problems, to be
solved. Consequently, before employing it, or in
order to be able to employ it with some certainty as an
hypothesis, it must be minutely studied in its different
forms, and analyzed by all the processes of the experi-
mental method.

It does not seem to us that, up to the present time,
this preliminary work has been done, or at least that it
has been carried sufficiently far.

Whatever the School of Nancy may say, the differ-
ences which separate hypnotic suggestion from ordinary
suggestion are too striking for it to be possible to make
them disappear by a pure and simple negation. Will-
ingly or unwillingly, this problem presents itself to the
mind : How does it happen that in the case of hypnotic
suggestion the subject loses all control over his sen-
sations, his ideas, even his acts, and becomes an autom-
aton in the hands of the one who suggestioned him?

The artifice to which the School of Nancy has re-
course in order to suppress the difficulty consists, on
the whole, in abusing the principle of continuity. As
we have shown in the preceding chapter, it is always
possible, from the philosophic or scientific point of
view, to claim that all things in nature continue insensi-
bly and are mingled one in another. Between two ex-


treme states, such as the abnormal state and the state of
hypnotic suggestibility, there can be imagined an infinity
of intermediary states by which the passage is made
from one extreme to the other. But this is true also in
all the orders of natural facts, and nevertheless this
universal continuity does not prevent science from estab-
lishing in all these facts the distinctions and the opposi-
tions without which it would not be possible for us to
submit them to the influence of our thought and our

On the other hand, the doctrine of the School of
Nancy, if we understand it correctly, sees in sugges-
tion nothing but an exclusively psychological phenom-
enon. In any case, if it does not deny that there may
be in suggestion extra-psychological elements, it disre-
gards it completely. The definition given by Bernheim,
which we have mentioned above, speaks, it is true, of
the brain, and that gives it a physiological appearance.
But it is nothing more than an appearance.

This formula : " Suggestion is the act by which an
idea is introduced into the brain and accepted by it,"
should not be taken literally. From a strictly physio-
logical point of view, there is no idea in the brain, but
cells, fibers, blood, diverse humors, perhaps also cur-
rents and discharges more or less analogous to elec-
trical currents and discharges. Therefore, it cannot
be seen how the brain could accept or reject an idea, in
the same way that the stomach accepts or rejects food.
The word " brain " is used here improperly instead of
the word " mind," and the definition that it gives us is,
in reality, purely psychological. It does not contain


any indication, it does not throw any light upon what
can happen simultaneously in the brain when an idea is
introduced into the mind and accepted by it.

The analyses — too rare and too superficial, more-
over — which the School of Nancy has made of sugges-
tion, remain always confined within the psychological
field. It is a question of belief, of persuasion, of ex-
pectant attention, of imagination, etc. — all terms which
are connected exclusively with the states of conscious-
ness. Also, the processes employed habitually by the
School of Nancy to produce suggestion are, or at least
pretend to be, of purely moral order. It peremptorily
states that the subject is gazed at more or less fixedly,
that his forehead, his eyelids, etc., are touched lightly;
but all these gestures have no importance : they are
simply to fix the attention of the subject and to strike his
imagination. The true agent, the only one which is
really efficacious, is the word of the operator, which in-
culcates or imposes the idea; and suggestion is realized
finally when the mind believes.

The essential thing would be, then, to induce the sub-
ject to believe; belief once installed in his mind dis-
penses with all the rest.

Let us note that the theory of the masters of the
School of Nancy is the expression of their personal
practise and technique. They are not scientists who
experiment in laboratories in entirely disinterested re-
searches; they are physicians who work in clinics for the
purpose of curing or relieving patients. The patients
themselves come to them knowing that they come to be
treated by suggestion, being already convinced of the


efficacy of the treatment, and impressed by the mysteri-
ous power which they attribute to these physicians.

One can understand that, in these conditions, not em-
ploying — or not believing that they employ — any-
thing but persuasion, the School of Nancy actually
imagines that there is no other process. Looking else-
where, however, we will find that their formula is really
too restricted to agree with all the ensemble of facts

First of all, a large number of operators claim that,
by purely physical processes, without the intervention
of any idea, they obtain a particular condition called the
hypnotic state, which is usually accompanied by an ab-
normal suggestibility. It is thus that Braid claimed to
have provoked hypnosis by the prolonged fixation of a
brilliant point, independently of all suggestion. He

I called one of my domestic servants who knew nothing of
mesmerism, and in the instructions which I gave him I made
him believe that his fixed attention was necessary in order to
watch a chemical experiment dealing with the preparation of a
medicine. As I had frequently asked him to do this, he ex-
pressed no surprise.

Two minutes and a half later his eyelids closed slowly, with
a vibratory movement; his head fell forward on his chest; he
heaved a sigh, and was instantly plunged into a deep sleep.

However this fact may be explained, it is wholly
impossible to discover in it the elements of true sugges-
tion; for Braid had not suggested to his servant that he
should gcto sleep but, quite the contrary, he had told


him to pay strict attention in order to watch a chemical

Here is another instance, reported by Dr. Lajoie, of
Nashua, New Hampshire:

I was called to a twelve-year-old child who had slept for
twenty hours. Greatly alarmed, the parents asked me what
this meant. I woke the child, but not easily, by suggesting to
him the idea of waking. And this boy showed me a shining
crystal bowl on the table. " I was amusing myself watching
the sun shine on that bowl," he said ; " I felt tired ; and I
do not remember anything else."

It is true that Dr. Lajoie added: " There is no evi-
dence there of any suggestion other than that due to
fatigue." He may have said this, however, to be in
accord with the doctrine of suggestion.

And this does not explain how the sensation of
fatigue was able to suggest to the child the idea that he
must go into a sleep that would last twenty hours and
be so deep that his parents could not wake him — a
sleep which, however, was able to cease merely by the
suggestion of waking.

Another case of the same kind has been observed by
Dr. Auguste Voisin. It is that of a young girl,
twenty years old, affected with convulsive attacks, whom
he hypnotized by means of Dr. Luys' rotative mirror,
without any suggestion whatsoever.

Similarly, Dr. Crocq asserts that he has hypnotized
an hysterical patient in the hospital of Molenbeek by
the simple fixation of the gaze. No one knew at the
time that Dr. Crocq studied these questions, and previ-
ous to this experiment none of the kind had ever been


made there. This patient presented, after the first
seance, true somnambulism, with complete insensibility.

" In these conditions unconscious suggestion is not
possible," says Dr. Crocq. And he adds: "Since
then, at any instant, I have succeeded in putting to
sleep, by the fixation of a brilliant object, subjects abso-
lutely ignorant of what was required of them."

Finally, hypnotization in animals is scarcely ex-
plained by the hypothesis of suggestion. When a
cockerel is hypnotized by the process of Father Kircher
— in having his beak fixed for several minutes over a
white line drawn on the ground — it is easy to under-
stand that there is no suggestion there: that is, no
effect produced by an idea, as if the cockerel understood
that it was intended that he should go to sleep, and
persuaded himself ipso facto that it was impossible not
to go to sleep.

It would be better to be resigned to establishing the
fact, and to confess that the mechanism is not yet
known. But nothing is harder for certain minds, even
though trained by scientific culture, than to acknowl-
edge, ingenuously, their ignorance.

It seems to us, then, extremely probable that there
exists a particular state of the nervous system — hyp-
notism — undoubtedly connected by close rapports
with suggestion, but which cannot be made to coin-
cide with it completely.

This state resembles sleep, and appears to be accom-
panied, as sleep also is, by a sort of stupor or torpor
of the psychological activity of the individual, a dimi-
nution of his mental energy, a contraction of his con-
sciousness, a more or less complete paralysis of his


will — all of this being perhaps originally produced
by purely physical causes. It possesses, as an ordinary
though not constant effect, the apparition of an abnor-
mal and excessive suggestibility, which, once deter-
mined, can react on its own cause and produce the
hypnotic state, or can strengthen it.

The School of Nancy pretends, it is true, that hyp-
notic sleep — meaning hypnosis under the classical
form of somnambulism — does not differ from ordi-
nary sleep; that it is no more than a sleep provoked by

But this assertion is absolutely contradicted by the

In ordinary sleep the individual does not understand
what is said to him, or, if he understands, he wakes;
his tactile sensibility may be lessened, but it remains,
and if he is touched roughly, pinched, or pricked, he
reacts in his sleep.

How is it that in hypnotic sleep the subject continues
to understand his hypnotizer, to answer him, and espe-
cially to obey him by executing all his suggestions, even
the most absurd and extravagant? How is it that he
often presents complete insensibility, to such an extent
that he can be touched, pinched, pricked, etc., without
appearing to feel anything? How is it that he wakes
only when ordered to do so by his hypnotizer, and
that, as a general rule, he has, after waking, no rec-
ollection of anything that has happened during his
sleep, and even sometimes of anything that has immedi-
ately preceded it? It is true, also, — and we have
many times observed this — that when once awakened
the subject cannot even remember having been asleep,


and declares, in perfectly good faith, that he has victo-
riously resisted the processes of the hypnotizer. In
order to convince him, it is necessary to put him to
sleep again, and to produce, either in him or about him,
some visible change which will prove to him, when he
is again awakened, that he has actually been asleep.

Let us note, moreover, one prominent characteristic
of hypnotic sleep which is foreign to ordinary sleep.
It is that there is present sometimes, in certain sub-
jects, the phenomenon called rapport. By this is meant
that the subject hypnotized seems to be in relation with
no one but his hypnotizer: it is his hypnotizer only that
he understands, and it is to him only that he responds.
All other individuals are, for the subject, as if they
did not exist, at least unless they put themselves en
rapport with the hypnotizer by touching him; but the
instant the contact ceases, they cease to be en rapport
with the subject.

The situation is, then, entirely different from that
which would be observed if the subject were to sleep
as the effect of his own conviction that he was going to
fall into an ordinary sleep; for, in this case, he could
not hear the one who suggested that he go to sleep, or
else he could hear all other persons as well. He would
dream spontaneously; he would snore — if he had that
habit; he would, in a word, present in this state all the
symptoms of his ordinary sleep. It is well authenti-
cated that subjects in the hypnotic state are not con-
scious of being asleep. We have found that a large
number who, while in a deep hypnotic state, were asked :
" Are you asleep?" have answered us with an expres-
sion of astonishment: " Why, no; I am not asleep ! "


The partizans of suggestion will endeavor to meet
the question by alleging that all the differences which
apparently distinguish hypnotic sleep from ordinary
sleep are, in reality, the effects of suggestion. If the
subject, so-called hypnotized, continues to understand
his hypnotizer, to answer him, to obey him, it is because
he has suggested this to himself. If, on waking, he
remembers nothing of his sleep, it is because this
amnesia has been suggested to him. In the same way,
the phenomenon of rapport, if it really exists (for sug-
gestionists would prefer on the whole to deny it rather
than give an explanation even conforming to their
theory) can be only the effect of previous suggestion.

Unfortunately, all the assertions are, we repeat,
wholly contradicted by the facts.

The first case of authentic somnambulism constated
and described by mesmerists is, it seems, that of the
famous Victor Vielet, who went to sleep spontaneously
under the passes made by the Marquis de Puysegur, and
who at the very beginning, to the great surprise of de
Puysegur, presented all the symptoms of hypnotic sleep.

I have more than once operated upon subjects who
were wholly ignorant of hypnotism, not in the least sus-
pecting the purpose of the processes I practised upon
them (passes, contact of the hands upon the shoulder-
blades, etc.), and who, moreover, have fallen immedi-
ately into a deep sleep, with anesthesia, amnesia, ex-
clusive rapport, etc. On the other hand, I have very
frequently operated upon subjects who were well
versed in hypnotism and were very desirous of being
hypnotized, but who remained completely refractory
to all my attempts at hypnotization and suggestion, or


who would go only into an incomplete hypnotic sleep.

One subject conserves his sensibility intact, and does
not lose it even if he is suggestioned to do so. Another
subject, although in appearance also easily suggestible,
continues to feel the contacts, pinches, pricks, etc.,
executed upon him, even if it is suggestioned to him
that he will not feel them. Almost all, once awakened,
have no recollection of what happened during their
sleep, even though amnesia had not in any way been
suggested to them. Certain others, who are told:
" You do not remember anything! " have very faithful
and clear recollections. Many are en rapport not only
with the operator but also with all the assistants;
some, on the other hand, communicate only with the
operator or with persons in contact with him, without
any suggestion intervening. It is often due to chance
that the operator himself discovers this fact, one of the
assistants having taken the initiative to speak to the
subject, who, by his immobility and his silence, brings
them to recognize, then to verify, that he has not under-

What causes these inequalities, these differences be-
tween different individuals in the manner of reacting

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Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 8 of 22)