Ludwig Büchner.

Last words on materialism and kindred subjects online

. (page 14 of 23)
Online LibraryLudwig BüchnerLast words on materialism and kindred subjects → online text (page 14 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

hj^pnotism the experimenter alone can provoke
muscular contractions, the stimulations of other
persons being without effect, or when the subject only
hears or feels the man who has hypnotised him, and
quite ignores others, such a proceeding is quite unin-
telligible without a division of consciousness, or
without admitting that most or all of the hypnotic
phenomena are of a psychic character. Even M.
Hirsch, who has himself conducted many experiments,
is of opinion that ' the subject only tldnks he sleeps
and has an illusion of sleep, hut does not really
sleep.' "

This admission is of the first importance in an


examination of the hypnotic phenomena. It reveals
a sahjcctire element in them, which cannot be
scientifically controlled, and may thus occasion the
wildest illusions. To this must be added, to increase
the confusion, the subjectivity of the experimenter or
observer, which also is subject to no other control
than his own. Thus we can understand, from the
concurrence of these two subjective factors, the
innumerable confusions, contradictions, and diver-
gences we find in the work of various observers or in
the results they allege. Whilst one found only one or
two persons in a hundred susceptible of hypnotism,
others succeed with 30, 50, 70, 80, even 90 and more
per cent, of their subjects. Whilst most experi-
menters have found that hypnotic susceptibility
increases with the frequent repetition of the experi-
ment, others are supposed to have observed the
contrary. Some distinguish three, six, or even nine
degrees of hypnotic sleep ; others find that there are
all possible stages, and that it would not be difficult
to distinguish a hundred different degrees of hypnotism.
Whilst some observers find hysterical and nervous
people especially good subjects, others find the
contrary, and would rather experiment on robust,
full-blooded persons. Even with regard to the
phenomena observed during hypnotism the reports of
the observers vary exceedingly. There is the same
variety in their interpretations of the phenomena,
particularly with regard to the manner and extent of
the psychic division ; more varied still are their
opinions as to the danger or harmlessness of hypnotism.
Whilst some fear an excitation of the cortex of the
brain, others maintain that the action of the cortex
is suspended. Some take oftence at the mystical


character of hypnotism, others find its great healing
value precisBly in this. At one time it is admitted
that there is hyperaesthesia of the sense-organs in the
hypnotic condition — which would explain many diffi-
culties ; at other times the contrary is asserted ; and
so forth.

There is only one point on which they are pretty
well agreed, although it is a point which is not
calculated to inspire confidence. It relates to
hypnotic education or educability — to use a term
which frequently occurs in hypnotic literature —
hypnotic training. Hypnotic subjects, with few
exceptions, are not found ready-made ; in order to
have them thoroughly compliant, they have to be
educated, drilled, or trained.

The word "training " may seem too strong, but it
is really borrowed from the authorities on hypnotism.
" The question of training," says Moll (and others),
" is extremely important. As the hypnotic conditions
are apparently so diverse, many have suspected
pretence. The diversity is really for the most part
the effect of different training. The training is the
chief source of the experimenter's faults, because the
subject is disposed to follow his intentions, and so
unconsciously leads him astray in the end. Through
the training the subject is apt to have a presentiment
of the experimenter's will. Frequently advanced
hypnotism only sets in when a certain training has
been given in a number of seances ; moreover, the
training makes the hypnotism not only deeper, but
also set in more rapidly." Forel (in his Hi/p)wtism)
admits that every subject is weak and obliging, and
seeks to divine the views of the hypnotiser in order to
follow him. He thinks that a zeal for the operation


is an important factor on both sides. He then speaks
of taking susceptible persons " by surprise," and says
a practised experimenter is able to devise all kinds
of tricks for the purpose of breaking the resistance of
a refractory subject. There is quite a formal process
of breaking-in to go through, and a number of
methods to be applied, to attain the desired end. It
is easy to understand that this gradually paralyses the
resistance of the subject. When Moll tells us he
sometimes has to make fovtii fruitless attempts before
reaching a result, we feel constrained to think that the
poor fellow who was tortured forty times at length
made a virtue of necessity, and abandoned his will to
the experimenter. And when another of Moll's
subjects, who had been told by suggestion that a
tiger was present, admits, on awakening, that he only
said '' 3'es " for convenience, but saw no tiger at all ;
or when Moll admits that a hypnotised person to
whom it was suggested that a towel was an enemy
made an attack on it, but refrained from attacking
a person present who was indicated as an enemy ; we
can only conclude that in these cases fancy and truth
approach very close to each other.

Benedict (in his Ilijpnotism and Siirjgcstion) very
rightly attacks artificial or deliberate training for
hypnotism, as it is practised by the majority of
experimenters. He openly calls it " immoral," and
proves that a scientific control of such experiments
is impossible. We are bound to agree with him when
he declares that all experiments on mediums, or
artificially-trained and practised subjects, have no
scientific value whatever, and says that, if a really
critical standard were applied to the vast accumula-
tions of cases in modern literature, at least ninety per


cent, of them would have to be removed from the
category of facts. Only experiments on impartial
individuals, unacquainted with the mysteries of hypno-
tism, can claim a probable value. This is especially
true of the female sex, which supplies by far the largest
contingent to the army of subjects, particularly
mediums, and who are so apt to be influenced by the
thought of becoming interesting.

Numbers of striking instances show to what an
extent even distinguished scholars may be led astray
by the comedies of these mediums. When, a few
years ago, sensational reports were spread by the
English press of the remarkable success of Dr. Luys,
a physician and medical writer of repute, in his
hospital at Paris, a London physician. Dr. E. Hart,
was induced to go and study the events on the spot.
He succeeded in proving that Dr. Luys had been
grossly deceived by his subjects. Nothing shows this
better than a very badly-written letter of one of the
best subjects — a woman — to Dr. Hart, in which she
boasts that it was easy to produce in her all the
classical stages of hypnotism (which she enumerates
with no slight knowledge) , including clairvoyance and

The letter was elicited by jealous}' of a younger
colleague, whom she threatens to cut out by her
ability, and who had been, she said, her own subject
for eight months. She calls her a miserable actress
and impostor, who has learnt all she knows from her,
and offers herself for experiments. Dr. Hart gave
a full account of his observations in the Nineteenth
Century, and his paper was afterwards published
separately (London, 1893).

The famous psychic investigator, Krafft-Ebing, of


Vienna, whose experiments with the medium, Caroline

P , and her hypnotic transference into earlier

periods of life or the eliciting of earlier personalities,
created such a sensation a few years ago, seems to be
another victim of these impostors. This Caroline P.
was a young woman of thirty-three years, who had
been frequently hypnotised by a ''noble" amateur
during the preceding ten years, and could not on that
account be taken as a purely scientific subject of
experiment. We need not determine whether Herr
Benedict is right or not when he says that his colleague,
Kraft't-Ebing (who seems to have withdrawn in the
meantime from the scene of his delusions), has " no
idea of the cunning, hypocrisy, and dramatic instinct
of women." At all events, this estimate is not easily
reconciled with that of Moll, who thinks Krafft-Ebing
*' a very objective investigator."

At the same time it must not be thought that all is
deception in the performance of mediums. It is pos-
sible that profound disturbances of consciousness may
take place in them, which are connected with an
abandonment of will to the hypnotiser. But there is
an extraordinary temptation to pass on into the region
of comedy, especially where the social condition of
the subject favours a subordination to the will of the
hypnotiser. After m}^ own experience in a series of
odyllic-magnetic experiments in the 'fifties at the
Tiibingen Hospital, with Professor Kapp and Dr.
Ranke, I was able to show that all hypnotic experi-
ments made on the inmates or servants of the hospital
(and they were numerous) were devoid of scientific
value. People of this kind are so anxious to please
their superiors and make themselves interesting to
them, and their intelligence so utterly loses its


independence, that you can get them to do anythmg.
The}^ very soon guess what you want or expect of
them, and meet you half way ; it gives them pleasure,
amusement, and a certain satisfaction to their vanity.
Moreover, the excitement of their imagination, not
properly kept in check by the understanding, plays an
important part. Not less is the importance of the
simple obedience of persons of particularly weak mind
or will, which they cannot really account for them-
selves. Moll, in spite of his prejudice and credulity,
admits, ajyrojws (A the innumerable " stories " which
are current in literature, that the passage from
pretence to hypnotism is so gradual that even an
experienced observer ma}^ be deceived, and that it is
often impossible to determine where pretence begins
or ends. How many subjects act, not with a view to
deceiving the experimenter, but simply from a desire
to gratify him ! Moll even says that we must not
credit it if the subjects sa}^ after the experiment that
they only pretended, whereas they iiad really been
under constraint.

But it is most difficult of all to discriminate in
hypnotism between fancy and truth, imposture and
self-deception, imagination and reality, in the province
of the effect — partly physiological, partly pathological,
partly psychological — of suggestion on the organism
itself. If we were to take literally all that is said in
this matter by different observers, we should have to
admit an action of the psychic on the physical which
puts in the shade all that has hitherto been done, and
which, if it were established, would open out extra-
ordinary possibilities in the domain of medicine. Not
only the most violent pain, such as toothache, is sup-
posed to be cured almost instantaneously by suggestion,


but even physiological functions, such as bodily tem-
perature, and certain excretions, such as menstruation,
defaecation, and micturition, are supposed to be
influenced, arrested, or stimulated at will. Haemor-
rhage and diarrhoea are said to be caused or arrested.
Keddening of the skin, perspiration, cold shivers,
itching, goose-skin, trembling — even blisters, burns,
and local haemorrhage from the skin, bloody tears, and
bloody sweat, are said to have been observed as a
result of hypnotic suggestion, or an hypnotically
stimulated imagination. Hunger and thirst are sup-
posed to be excited or quieted in the same way. Not
only all kinds of nervous disorders, but even deeper-
seated maladies, such as emphysema, severe asthma,
dyspepsia, rheumatism, dipsomania, and insomnia,
are supposed to have been produced by suggestion.
Definite dreams, the forgetting of a language that has
been learned, catalepsy, changes of age and personality,
changes into animals (lions, tigers, dogs, etc.), with
corresponding behaviour — in a word, illusions and
hallucinations of every, even the most ridiculous, kind
are supposed to be produced by suggestion. Young
ladies are changed into their drunken fathers or
uncles, or made to strip themselves with unconscious
immodesty. "I caused," saj^s Florel, ''some long-
deceased relatives to appear post-hypnotically to one
of my subjects, and she entertained herself with them
for a long time. Others I caused to walk on the sea,
like Peter, or on a river. I changed others into
hungry wolves and lions, and they rushed on me
barking (!), and tried to bite me. On one occasion
I was bitten until the blood flowed (!)'. I changed a
man into a 3'oung woman, and he began to think of
menstruation ; another time I changed a girl into an


officer. In the case of good (!) subjects speech and
writing are changed in proportion when it is suggested
that they are children."

No less wonderful are the results which Moll
attained with his subjects : *' The hypnotised thinks
at one moment he is in my room, and the next
moment he fancies he is lying in bed, or swimming
in the water. At one moment he believes he is ninety
years old, and in the next he returns to his tenth
year. He thinks at one time he is Napoleon I., and
the next minute he is a waiter, a dog, and so on."

In opposition to these experiences, in which, as
Florel says, the experimenter plays on the subject as
on a piano, others confess that the hypnotised persons
often fall out of the part they are playing, and that
you cannot suggest anything to them which is out of
keeping with their character and general thoughts.
A good Catholic, for instance, can never be induced
to do or say anything which conflicts with his faith or
subjection to the Church. You can never induce a
peaceful or timid man to make an attack on others, or
by post-hypnotic suggestion compel a man who enjoys
life to jump into the water the next day, or, by the
same means, cause a vain man to do something in his
waking condition which is entirely opposed to his
vanity, and so on. On the other hand, the most
stupid and ridiculous actions, for which no particular
resolution is required, such as putting a flower-pot on
the sofa, dreaming of the devil, going to sleep or
awaking at a certain hour, embarrassment, meaning-
less laughter, disarranging things, and so on, are
readily produced by post-hypnotic suggestion, without
the subject being able to give an account of his action.
Nevertheless, the temptation to make pretence is


greater in the case of post-hypnotic suggestion than
in other forms of hypnotism. When, for instance, a
person post-hypnotically dances a polka to a tune
which he is supposed to hear ; or when, on entering
the physician's room a week afterwards, he cannot
speak a word, or repeats a certain phrase, because this
was suggested to him a week before ; or when, for the
same reason, he has forgotten his name ; or when
hypnotised people converse quietly together after the
physician has left the room ; it is very difficult in such
cases to think of anything else than a deliberate
ohseqicioiisness or submission of the subject to the will
of the experimenter, or an auto-suggestion (self-
hypnotism) in favour of the experiment.

To sum up all that has been said, we come to the
conclusion that in this department of knowledge
imposture and confusion are possible and inevitable
to such an extent that we can scarcely draw the line
between truth and fancy, imagination and reality.
In particular, the innumerable cases and reports of
various observers, when they have no independent
support, have, as I said, no weight whatever of
scientilic proof. Moll (and others) closes his work
with the hope that people will not allow themselves to
be led away by any authority into accepting facts
without proof. Yet he himself sins most grievously
against this rule by gathering from all sides a mass
of unproved and uncontrolled observations without
further inquiry, and does not hesitate to aj)peal to
such alleged authorities as Du Prel, or Leixner, or the
London Society for Psychical Research. He even
goes so far in his prejudice and credulity as to speak
with some doubt and indecision, instead of giving
them for what they really are, of things that are


physiologically and physically impossible, and as to
which no honourable scientist can have the slightest
doubt, such as clairvoyance, telej^athj^ telepathic
therapeutics, magnetic rapport, the magnetic fluid,
and so forth. He might have taken an example from
the famous founder of hypnotism, Braid, who cleared
the system of all its fantastic and unscientific
additions, and showed, in his excellent work on the
influence of the mind on the body, what an important
part is played in these things by imagination, the
instinct of imitation, and nervous excitement. He
expressly states that he had encountered nothing in
his experiments that could not be reconciled with
the recognised principles of physiology and psychology ;
neither an indication of higher inspiration nor super-
natural powers, but merel}^ an exaltation of natural
capacities, was to be found in the h3^pnotic condition.
"A clairvoyant," says Benedict, "never sees anything
which she has not seen before. A thoughtful psycho-
logist will scarcely ever be at a loss to explain a
striking phenomenon or unmask a fraudulent clair-
voyant who likes to pass herself off as a ' superior
being.' " Even Florel, who is not particular to a
little credulity in hypnotic questions, speaks with
reserve on these matters, if not as clearly as we
should like.

In this state of things the greatest caution is
necessary, as Benedict rightly says, to separate truth
from fancy in hypnotic experiments. This is scarcely
possible as long as an experimenter works alone, as
the subjective element on both sides cannot be satis-
factorily controlled. To bring out the latent nucleus
of truth in all its purity and clearness there should
be a commission of experts, or informed and utterly


impartial men ; and they should, paying attention
to every possible precaution against imposture or
self-deception, and excluding all previously trained
and practised subjects, hold an inquiry similar to
that \Yhich the Paris Commission held on mesmerism
under Bailly in 1784. Such an investigation would
have not only a scientific, but also an almost greater
practical value, in view of the importance which
hypnotism has assumed on its medical and legal
sides. For if it is possible to get rid of diseases
by suggestion, as the hypnotisers contend, it should
also be possible to induce them by the same means,
even eventually to cause death, directly or indirectly.
Such a power placed in the hand of a physician
with regard to his patients must involve the gravest
danger for them, and prove a standing menace to
society in general. This danger is still greater, if
crimes against life or j)i'operty may be suggested
post-hypnotically in such a way that they will really
be carried out afterwards without the subject knowing
the reason. If post-hypnotic suggestions are possible
when there is question of actions or omissions which
are easy to perform, it is difficult to see why they
should be impossible as regards more important
actions. Attempts have often been made, though
without success, to extenuate or exculpate criminal
conduct on the ground of post-h3'pnotic influence.
Hence a scientific determination of what is true or
untrue in these matters should be demanded, not
only in the name of science, but also in that of
humanity, medicine, and jurisprudence.

I said at the beginning of this essay that every-
thing new and marvellous was apt to lead to
exaggeration and precipitation at first, and that it is



only the more tranquil later period that can sift the
wheat from the chaff, truth from fiction. This
period does not seem to have dawned yet for
hypnotism, as the m^^stical character that dominates
our time is only too well calculated to foster its
excesses. But the day cannot be long delayed when
the psychological gain from this group of phenomena,
reduced to scientific formulae, will be more useful to
our posterity than it has been to us, who still suffer
from its exaggerations and have to fight against


The whole life of the animal and human organism is
concentrated in the blood. When Menenius Agrippa,
in his celebrated parable, represented the stomach as
the centre of the life of the body, receiving all the
food from without, and distributing it to the various
organs, he might have chosen the blood for the
purpose with more effect, but less obviousness. No
kind of food can give strength and life to the body
unless it is first converted by familiar processes into
the nourishing stream of the blood. The action of
the heart drives this stream through innumerable
canals or membranous tubes to every — even the
smallest — part of the system, for the purpose of
maintaining, on the one hand, their constant change
and renewal of structure, and on the other of removing
the waste products of the life-process. These pro-
cesses have been called by the name of " metabolism,"
and it is now well known that the health, strength,
and energy of the body depend most of all on the
proper and unimpeded continuance of this meta-
bolism. Nothing more quickly brings it to an end,
and causes death, than an excessive loss of this
invaluable vital fluid. But even mere obstructions in
its ceaseless ebb and flow involve grave danger to
health and life. A little coagulation or clot forming


in the blood-vessel may cause instantaneous death.
Even a simple obstruction in the peripheral distribu-
tion of the vascular system, or an accumulation in
the T\Tong place, is extremely injurious to health, and
may sooner or later lead to disease or death. The
brisker the exchange between centre and periphery, or
between the general reservoir in the heart and the
various parts or organs, the stronger and more
energetic is the entire system.

There is just the same, or an analogous, relation
between the whole and the parts which constitute it —
the individuals — in the social organism. It is true
that some ill-informed people might object that there
is no resemblance between the individuals that
compose the State, with their profoundly differing
natures and aims, and the parts of the bodily
organism, so thoroughly subordinate to the whole.
But modern physiology has, with the aid of the
cellular theory, revealed an independence of the parts
of which we had formerly no suspicion ; it has
shown that nearly every one of the innumerable
cells or groups of cells which make up the system
has its own life, only limited by the purposes it has
to fulfil in the life of the whole. This goes so far
that a distinguished medical man of the time seeks
the nature of disease precisely in a modification of
the cells, and thinks such modification as is found, for
instance, in the cancer-cell may lead to the most
baneful and menacing growths in one or other part of
the system. Each organ, again, has its special indi-
viduality and place within the whole, but must not
give a preponderance to this place to the detriment of
the whole. Too large a heart, liver, spleen, etc., is
just as prejudicial to the life and health of the whole


as a railway monopoly is, for instance, in the social
organism ; or an excessive growth of cells in a par-
ticular part of the body is just as dangerous to its
health as an excessive accumulation of private means,
withdrawn from commercial circulation, is to the
health of the social body. The whole secret of health
in both cases consists in a normal equilibrium between
centre and periphery, the interest of the whole and of
the various parts.

It cannot be questioned that the State does not
consist of a mere sum of individuals, or, as Lassalle
thought he could conclude from the Prussian taxation -
returns, of a great association of the poor and needy

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryLudwig BüchnerLast words on materialism and kindred subjects → online text (page 14 of 23)