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to hypnotic or suggestive processes and of realizing

It would be playing with words to invoke suggestion
here, even under the form — easy to suppose but diffi-
cult to prove — of autosuggestion.

The School of Nancy would say that if a subject, in
spite of his desire to be put to sleep, in spite of the
willingness with which he lends himself to the attempts
to hypnotize him, remains rebellious to all suggestion,


it is undoubtedly because he is suggestioned uncon-
sciously that he will not sleep, that he will not be sug-
gestioned. If a certain other subject, even though put
to sleep, retains his sensibility, it is because he has un-
consciously suggested to himself that he will remain
sensitive. And so forth.

With this manner of reasoning, anything can be ex-
plained and proved, without the trouble of observing
and experimenting.

Let us, however, place ourselves in the position in
which the School of Nancy is fortified, and try to follow
the consequences of its theory to the end. Sugges-
tion, we claim, owes its power to the natural suggesti-
bility of the brain, or, more properly speaking, of the
human mind. It is a normal consequence of the credu-
lity and the docility natural to the entire human race.
It is a consequence of that psychological law in virtue
of which all ideas tend to be affirmed and realized, un-
less hindered by the equal tendency of other contradic-
tory ideas — a law which Spinoza seems first to have
stated, and which has been repeated since by many au-
thors, such as Herbart, Dugald-Stewart, and Taine,
and which might be called, with the French philosopher
Fouillee, the law of idea-forces.

However, we must not disregard the fact that this
law, which renders suggestion possible, renders auto-
suggestion equally possible; and the latter can — must,
even, in many circumstances — be in oppositior to the

Every human individual is, it might be said, autosug-
gestioned in a great many ways: by his innate or hered-
itary inclinations, his habits, his recollections, the


education he has received, the experiences he has had in
the course of his past life; and all these autosugges-
tions can constitute so many countersuggestions with
regard to some particular suggestion coming from an-
other individual.

Among these permanent autosuggestions, should
be included faith in the testimony of our senses and
our memory, confidence in the constancy of the order
of nature, at least in a broad sense, the instinct of con-
servation and of self-preservation, which forms the
basis of all that which we call, in practise, our will and
our liberty.

If a suggestion coming from the outside does not
contradict, does not clash with, these fundamental
autosuggestions, it has a chance of being accepted by
us, of prevailing upon our belief, our consent, or even
our obedience. For all suggestion of this kind we
would propose the term plausible suggestion.

A suggestion to which might be applied the term
paradoxical suggestion is that, for example, which
would be able to make us believe it is night when it is
midday; or that some one we know has been dead for
a long time has come to pay us a visit; or that a
candle is lighted simply by blowing upon it; or that we
cannot open nor shut our eyes, fold our arms, move our
legs, etc., merely because we have been told that we
cannot do so. Any such suggestion cannot fail to wake
in us an immediate and energetic countersuggestion re-
sulting from our fundamental autosuggestions.

Normally, to any one who gave me a suggestion of
this kind, I should respond either by laughing at him, or
by demanding if he were not mocking me, or if he had


not lost his reason. But in the case of a hypnotized
subject, normal countersuggestion does not apply. The
fundamental autosuggestions are, as it were, inert, the
subject believing the improbable, the impossible.

The problem of hypnotic suggestion lies in knowing
precisely why this suggestion does not encounter the
opposition of the habitual reducteiirs of all paradoxical
suggestion: and it is very evident that this " why" is
not to be found in suggestion. All happens as if an
unknown influence had momentarily made a void in the
mind, so as to give free rein to the idea suggested and
enable it thus to be developed without obstacle. It is
this unknown influence, without which suggestion could
not exist, that Durand de Gros called hypotaxy, and
that is known more generally as hypnotism. Thus, we
have had only to follow the doctrine of suggestion far
enough in order to go beyond it and become convinced
that suggestion itself presupposes another principle.

This appears more evident still if we consider the
cases where the habitual reducteiirs of paradoxical sug-
gestion, even though awake and active, find themselves
powerless to reduce it. In the practise of the School
of Nancy these reductions are, so to speak, out of play:
the patients are informed of the power of the sugges-
tioner, and disposed in advance to submit to the effects;
the suggestions which will be given them — knowing,
as they do, that they are for the curing or relieving of
their ailment — are, in their eyes, not paradoxical
but plausible. It happens wholly otherwise with an
operator acting upon the first persons who come to him,
and who lend themselves to his action out of simple


curiosity, but with the idea well determined that he
will not obtain any effect.

How may we explain the elements of suggestion, as
defined by the School of Nancy, in such a case as that
of " Laverdant," curiously analyzed by Durand de
Gros in his Cours de Braidismef 1

The subject assisted for the first time at a seance of hypno-
tism ; and in placing himself at the disposition of the experi-
menter, he did so in order to " fill a gap " and nothing more.
He was not actually under the influence of any idea of sug-
gestion; he did not expect in any way to be suggestioned ; he
did not know, even, precisely what the experiment would be;
his whole thought was to take advantage of the occasion to get
his customary short nap. An instant after gazing intently upon
the object placed in his hand, he became hypnotized. Not hav-
ing ceased to be fully awake, he did not believe possible the
realization of the hypnotizer's affirmations. It was almost
with indignation that he resented the latter's suggestion that
he did not know one of the letters of his name. And when
this fact was realized, he showed stupefaction and consternation
no less than any of the assistants.

Durand de Gros believes it can be concluded that, in
a like case, the subject who obeys suggestion is not the
same as one who, receiving it, struggles against it with
all his power.

" On the one hand," he says, " the real will of the
subject, the will of which he has consciousness, remains
intact, since he intends to resist the mysterious experi-
ment, and he wills it energetically to the end. On the

1 Cours theorique et pratique de Braidisme, published under the
pseudonym of Dr. Philips.


other hand, that which causes an act of faith and obedi-
ence in the subject is not the subject himself, properly
speaking; it is another ego than his ego."

In other words, suggestion, in facts of this kind, re-
veals to us a mechanism much more complicated than
the simplistic doctrine which the School of Nancy builds
and pulls to pieces with such assurance. There are
more mysteries in suggestion than dreamed of by that
School. We have shown in Our Hidden Forces the
very important role played by crytopsychism in sug-
gestion; and it does not seem to us that the partisans of
suggestion, as understood by Bernheim, could doubt

But what conclusion can we draw from all this dis-

First of all, the method which consists in explaining
concrete facts by abstract terms, such as suggestion and
suggestibility, seems to us antiscientific in the highest
degree; it is an old remnant of the scholastic method,
a recourse to entities, to qualities, and occult virtues.

There is a subject to whom I give, at will, hallucina-
tions of the most impossible order, whose organs I
paralyze at pleasure. What can be the cause of effects
so extraordinary? It is very simple: it is all sugges-
tion. But this suggestion, how is it explained? From
whence comes its power? That is very simple also: it
is a consequence of suggestibility, a natural property of
the human brain.

Thus it is believed that facts are explained in muffling
them in a name, just as the scholastics believed that they
explained sleep produced by opium in saying that opium
has a sleep-producing virtue !


According to this reasoning, it would be useless to
seek the particular cause of each of the maladies from
which humanity suffers; it would be sufficient to say,
" It is a malady," or, upon insistence, to evoke morbid-
ity, that is to say, the natural property which every
human organism possesses to become diseased.

In this question, as in all others, the true scientific
method consists in seeking the cause of a phenomenon
in its material conditions, in its physical antecedents or
concomitants. Suggestion and suggestibility are not
real causes; they are simply names to designate the
facts themselves of which we must seek the causes. In
other words, they are the verbal causes, provisional,
conventional, behind which are hidden the real causes,
which remain to be discovered, and which, when we
know them, will permit us not only to understand their
effects but even to foresee them, and to control them at
our will.

Inasmuch as experience shows us that all human in-
dividuals are not suggestible, or all at least are sug-
gestible in different degrees, and also that an individual
suggestible to-day in certain circumstances will not be
suggestible later in apparently identical circumstances, 2
it is very necessary to admit that suggestion is not a
fact subsisting in itself, an absolute fact, of which it is
useless to seek the cause, and which can only itself be
evoked as the cause of all the particular suggestions;
but it is, on the contrary, an effect depending upon con-
ditions still unknown, the knowledge of which is pre-
cisely the aim of scientific research.

2 There are some subjects who might be called intermittent*.
(Charles Richet: De quelques phenomenes de suggestion sans hypnot-


However, we are sufficiently well acquainted with the
general laws of the physiological life to know that this
life has, at least in part, its conditions in the organism,
notably in the nervous system and the brain.

There are certain cases where psychological phe-
nomena appear to complement one another, and it is
not necessary, in order to render them intelligible, to
separate them from their series. Such is, for example,
a long algebraic or geometric demonstration, in which
the mind seems to be concerned only with itself and to
obey exclusively its own laws.

But this appears not to be the case with hypnotic sug-
gestion. In order that the idea introduced into the
subject's consciousness by means of the spoken word
may produce automatically the hallucinations, amnesia,
paralysis, etc., it is necessary to seek the cause of these
effects outside of the mind itself, in some modification
— the nature of which is still unknown — of the circu-
latory and nervous state of the brain centers and of all
the cerebro-spinal system.

So long as this modification is not produced, if I were
to say to a subject : " You cannot open your eyes ; you
cannot fold your arms, nor bend your knees," he would
ridicule my suggestions. When, however, this modifi-
cation is produced, in spite of his credulity, in spite of
his efforts to resist me, he is forced to obey (as was
shown in the case of La verdant).

In this nervous and cerebral modification, in this
hypotaxic state of the subject's organism, resides the
true cause of the phenomena of which the sugges-
tion of the operator is but the occasion, the determi-
nant condition.


There is, however, no reason to suppose a priori
that this modification, of a physical or physiological
nature, can be produced only by suggestion, which is
of a psychological order. Where suggestion is possi-
ble, it seems that it can be produced by a large number
of different causes — as is shown in the case of the
numerous and diverse processes of hypnotization; by all
those causes, at least, which sufficiently disturb the cus-
tomary equilibrium of the system.

On the other hand, as we have already shown, ex-
perience proves that purely physical processes — such
as the prolonged fixation of the gaze upon a certain
spot (experiments of Braid, Grimm, and Dr. Philips),
not to mention passes — produce the state very rapidly
in a large number of subjects, and prepare them for
the effects of suggestion.

Therefore, it is not true that hypnotism, which is
confused with the hypotaxic state, is nothing but sug-
gestion. Quite the contrary, suggestion, in the great
majority of cases, has hypnotism for a preliminary con-

Hypnotism and suggestion are two connected but dis-
tinct facts, not necessarily existing in the same propor-
tion. There are subjects who are suggestible in the
highest degree, and in whom the hypnotic state is pro-
duced only with great difficulty and remains more or
less superficial. On the other hand, there exist certain
individuals who can be hypnotized with the utmost ease,
and upon whom suggestion has but little influence. 3

3 We readily believe that the apparition of suggestibility is a char-
acteristic of hypnotism, but only in its initial or middle phase, and
that, in the measure that suggestion becomes stronger, hypnotism
grows weaker and tends finally to disappear. This is only an hypoth-


It would be interesting to study all these anomalies,
not at random from observations made in a clinic, but
by experimental researches methodically pursued in a

In the absence of this study, suggestion will remain,
for a long time to come, a certain but enigmatical fact;
and its use as an hypothesis must be accompanied by
many precautions and reservations.


We have distinguished two different uses of the hy-
pothesis : one theoretical, the other experimental, ac-
cording to whether we make it serve to explain facts
already known, or to experiment in order to discover
new facts or to prove a new law.

Suggestion also can play this double role in the
parapsychic sciences, and we must look upon it first as
a theoretical hypothesis, and then as an experimental

It is especially, and perhaps even exclusively, with
the first of these two points of view that the School
of Nancy has ranged itself. Suggestion has been in its
hands, above all else, a process of explanation by means
of which it has tried to account for the various hyp-
notic phenomena and their different characteristics. In
other words, it has tried to systematize these phenom-
ena by having them all derived from a sole principle;
and to accomplish this it resorted much more to reason-
ing than to experimentation.

esis; but it would be worth the trouble, we think, to verify it, and,
in any case, it could serve as the fil conducteur of experimental re-


One may be surprised at this assertion, and may
contest its exactness by observing that the partizans of
this School use suggestion constantly in their practise.
It is by means of suggestion that they put their subjects
to sleep ; it is by this means that they obtain all kinds of
phenomena — of a physical or physiological order as
well as of a mental order; and by this means they de-
vise treatments for all the most varied affections.

This practical use of suggestion has nothing to do
with the experimental hypothesis, which is quite a dif-
ferent thing from a simple operative process.

Knowing that suggestion produces certain specific
effects, it is quite natural for it to be employed when
these effects are desired. There does not enter into
that any kind of hypothesis — at least so long as the
operator does not try to obtain, by means of sugges-
tion, some effect which he does not know that it is really
capable of producing.

However, for the clarity of this study, it will be
helpful to look upon suggestion as an operative process
before regarding it as an hypothesis, either theoretical
or experimental. This preliminary consideration will
have the advantage of clearing up the field for the dis-
cussion which will follow.

The first and principal use of suggestion made by the
School of Nancy — especially by Dr. Liebeault, the
founder of the School — had for its aim the curing or
the alleviation of pain. When Dr. Liebeault asked his
patients why they came to him, each of them invariably
answered: " I came to be cured." Similarly, in the
clinic of Bernheim it was, above all else, a question of


From this it seems that the Nancian operative tech-
nique contains two successive processes, the first serving
simply to prepare and, so to speak, induce the second.
It is always necessary to put the patient to sleep, or at
least to influence him, in order to put him in a state in
which he will be able to receive the suggestion and
realize it. Then, once the way is open, the idea is im-
pressed upon his mind; and this idea itself, by means of
a mysterious process, will provoke in the organism the
reactions which will result in the recovery of health.

It is evident that in this second operation, suggestion
alone is used, in its more authentic form — verbal and
direct. " Your fever will decrease," the patient is told.
" You will no longer have excessive perspiration."
11 You will have a good appetite," etc.

In the first operation, suggestion can be reinforced by
aids which sometimes completely disguise it. This is
what is called reinforced suggestion.

Upon a patient who is already influenced by his repu-
tation, the environment, etc., the operator acts not only
by means of words, but still more so by means of the
gaze, the slight touches upon the eyelids and temples,
and even by the passes. In his own mind all this is
nothing more than suggestion, indirect and tacit, whose
purpose is to complete the direct suggestion — that
which is made by word and consists in the enumeration
of the symptoms the operator wishes to produce :
" You are thinking only of sleep — your eyelids are
heavy — they are about to close — they are closing
already," etc.

Therefore, when it is a question of obtaining a prac-
tical result, the nature of the process employed — theo-


retically known or unknown — is of little importance ;
the essential thing is that it be efficacious. In order to
use suggestion, it is not necessary to know what it is,
after all — no more than in the case of electricity.
Often, even, if one process does not succeed, it can be
replaced by another; according to the popular expres-
sion, " An arrow can be made of any wood."

It is thus that Liebeault and Bernheim, having vainly
tried to cure a patient of pain by means of direct sug-
gestion, did not hesitate to take recourse to passes, at-
tributing their success, however, to suggestion.

Similarly, the exclusive partisans of animal magnet-
ism or of hypnotism use suggestion in many cases when
they try, not to prove a certain theory, but merely to
obtain a result; the important thing with them then is
to succeed.

However, if the School of Nancy has employed sug-
gestion especially for therapeutic or medical purposes,
it has employed it also, although less frequently, for
experimental purposes; for instance, in its controversies
with the School of Paris. But this second use, as well
as the first, is possible only because it gives informa-
tion, in advance, by means of sufficiently repeated and
varied observations, of the list of principal effects that
it is capable of producing.

It is useless to have recourse to suggestion to pro-
duce in a subject a certain physical or mental modifica-
tion, if it is known in advance that suggestion is inca-
pable of provoking it. On the other hand, it will be
deliberately employed if it is a question of an effect
that comes within its field of action. It is, then,
extremely interesting for the operator to know exactly


how far the power of suggestion extends, and where it
stops; for, evidently, however extensive it may be, it
must have its limits.

Suggestion undoubtedly is limited by the possibilities
and the necessities resulting from natural laws; cer-
tainly it cannot perform miracles. For instance, if I
suggest to a subject that he will never die, I can make
him believe absolutely in his own immortality and
imagine that in the future he will be safe from death;
but shall I be able to make him actually immortal? If
I suggest to a subject that he is very cold, or very warm,
he will really feel, subjectively, these sensations; but it
is not certain that the temperature of his body will
become higher or lower in proportion, and that a ther-
mometer put in contact with his skin will indicate forty
degrees (Centigrade) or zero; with greater reason, it
cannot be supposed that the temperature of the room
is raised or lowered in accordance with the imaginations
and beliefs of the subject.

Perhaps the question will be made clearer by dis-
tinguishing two great classes of effects of suggestion,
even though in practise they are inseparably linked to-
gether. These are :

(i) The effects of a subjective order.

(2) The effects of an objective order.

Being given the nature of suggestion, such as we
have denned it after the School of Nancy, for instance
in a state of conviction, persuasion, absolute faith, there
is nothing surprising, it seems, in that it may have sub-
jective effects of a power in some ways illimited; but its
objective effects are not equally easy to understand.

Thus, if I suggest to a subject that he feels an in-



tense cold, a cold ten degrees below zero, it seems nat-
ural that the subject would believe what I say to him,
and that he would feel, or imagine he feels, a sensa-
tion of cold so intense as to cause him to shiver, his
teeth to chatter, etc. 4 But there is in that only a
subjective effect: that is, a belief and a sensation, or
rather an hallucination involved in the belief. It is
true that the chill, the chattering of teeth, etc., are ob-
jective phenomena; but are these phenomena the direct
effects of suggestion ? Are they not immediately linked
to sensation and consequently also to the hallucinatory
image, in a way that causes this to appear in the mind
with or without suggestion?

It would, on the contrary, be an incontestable objec-
tive effect if the thermometer, put in contact with the
subject's body, registered a noticeable lowering of the
temperature, especially a lowering to ten degrees below
zero. As no such effect is observed ordinarily, it would
be very necessary in this case to attribute it to sugges-
tion. But then it would be necessary to admit at the
same time that suggestion develops in the human being
new powers really extraordinary by which the custom-
ary relations of the subjective and the objective are
greatly modified.

In fact, it is really this that we establish in the major-
ity of cases of suggestive therapeutics. We do not
seem to have, in the normal state, the faculty of regulat-
ing at will our different physiological functions; or, in

4 We must note, however, that one subject who, under the effect of
such a suggestion, could not avoid shivering, chattering his teeth,
etc., declared all the while that he did not subjectively feel a cold
sensation; this remaining in the state of a simple idea. (Charles
Richet: De quelques phenomenes de suggestion sans hypnotisme.)


any case, this faculty remains latent and inactive in us.
But when an individual is put into the hypnotic state —
or, if you prefer, into the state of effective suggestibility
— he then becomes capable of determining at will, upon
a simple word of the hypnotizer or the suggestioner,
the complete anesthesia of certain of his organs, or of
his entire organism — unless this be a hyperesthesia
akin to the miraculous — the paralysis of all his muscu-

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Online LibraryEmile BoiracThe Psychology of the Future → online text (page 9 of 22)