A peculiar altered state of consciousness distinguished by certain marked symptoms, the most prominent and invariable of which are the presence of continuous alpha waves on the electroencephalograph, hypersuggestibility in the subject, a concentration of attention on a single stimulus, and a feeling of "at oneness" with the stimulus. Hypnotic states may be induced by various techniques applied to oneself or by another.
The hypnotic state may be induced in a large percentage of normal individuals, or may occur spontaneously. It is recognized as having an affinity with normal sleep, and likewise with a variety of trance-like conditions, among which may be mentioned somnambulism, ecstasy, and the trances of Hindu yogis and fakirs, and various tribal shamans. In fact, in one form or another, hypnosis has been known in practically all countries and periods of history.
Hypnotism, once classed as an occult science, has gained, though only within recent years, a definite scientific status, and no mean place in legitimate medicine. Nevertheless, its history is inextricably interwoven with occult practice, and even today much hypnotic phenomena is associated with the psychic and occult, so that a consideration of hypnotism remains a necessary component in any mature understanding of the occult world science of both our own time and the past.
The Early Magnetists
As far back as the sixteenth century, hypnotic phenomena were observed and studied by scientists, who attributed them to "magnetism," an effluence supposedly radiating from every object in the universe, in a greater or lesser degree, and through which objects might exercise a mutual influence on one another. From this doctrine was constructed the "sympathetic" system of medicine, by means of which the "magnetic effluence" of the planets, of the actual magnet, or of the physician was brought to bear upon the patient. Paracelsus is generally supposed to be the originator of the sympathetic system, as he was its most powerful exponent. Of the magnet he states,
"The magnet has long lain before all eyes, and no one has ever thought whether it was of any further use, or whether it possessed any other property, than that of attracting iron. The sordid doctors throw it in my face that I will not follow the ancients; but in what should I follow them? All that they have said of the magnet amounts to nothing. Lay that which I have said of it in the balance, and judge. Had I blindly followed others, and had I not myself made experiments, I should in like manner know nothing more than what every peasant sees—that it attracts iron. But a wise man must inquire for himself, and it is thus that I have discovered that the magnet, besides this obvious and to every man visible power, that of attracting iron, possesses another and concealed power."
That power, he believed, was of healing the sick. And there is no doubt that cures were actually effected by Paracelsus with the aid of the magnet, especially in cases of epilepsy and nervous affections. Yet the word "magnet" is most frequently used by Paracelsus and his followers in a figurative sense, to denote the magnes microcosmi, man himself, who was supposed to be a reproduction in miniature of the Earth, having, like it, his poles and magnetic properties. From the stars and planets, he taught, came a very subtle effluence that affected human intellect, while earthly substances radiated a grosser emanation that affected the body. The human Mumia (body of vitalism) especially was a "magnet" well suited for medical purposes, since it draws to itself the diseases and poisonous properties of other substances. The most effective Mumia, according to Paracelsus, was that of a criminal who had been hanged, and he suggests the manner of its application:
"If a person suffer from disease, either local or general, experiment with the following remedy. Take a magnet impregnated with Mumia, and combined with rich earth. In this earth sow some seeds that have a likeness to, or homogeneity with, the disease; then let this earth, well sifted and mixed with Mumia, be laid in an earthen vessel, and let the seeds committed to it be watered daily with a lotion in which the diseased limb or body has been washed. Thus will the disease be transplanted from the human body to the seeds which are in the earth. Having done this, transplant the seeds from the earthen vessel to the ground, and wait till they begin to flourish into herbs. As they increase, the disease will diminish, and when they have reached their mature growth, will altogether disappear."
The quaint but not altogether illogical idea of "weaponsalve"—anointing the weapon instead of the wound—was also used by Paracelsus, his theory being that part of the vital spirits clung to the weapon and exercised an ill effect on the vital spirits in the wound, which would not heal until the ointment was first been applied to the weapon. This also was an outcome of the magnetic theory.
Towards the end of the sixteenth century, Paracelsus' ideas were developed by J. B. van Helmont, a scientist of distinction and an energetic protagonist of magnetism. "Material nature," he writes, "draws her forms through constant magnetism from above, and implores for them the favour of heaven; and as heaven, in like manner, draws something invisible from below, there is established a free and mutual intercourse, and the whole is contained in an individual."
Van Helmont also believed in the power of the will to direct the subtle fluid. There was, he held, in all created things a magic or celestial power through which they were allied to heaven. This power or strength is greatest in the human soul, resides in a lesser degree in the body, and to some extent is present in the lower animals, plants, and inorganic matter. It is by reason of their superior endowment in this respect that humans are enabled to rule the other creatures, and to make use of inanimate objects for their own purposes. The power is strongest when one is asleep, for then the body is quiescent, and the soul most active and dominant, and for this reason dreams and prophetic visions are more common in sleep. He notes,
"The spirit is everywhere diffused, and the spirit is the medium of magnetism; not the spirits of heaven and of hell, but the spirit of man, which is concealed in him as the fire is concealed in the flint. The human will makes itself master of a portion of its spirit of life, which becomes a connecting property between the corporeal and the incorporeal, and diffuses itself like the light."
To this ethereal spirit he ascribed the visions seen by "the inner man" in ecstasy, and also those of the "outer man" and the lower animals. In proof of the mutual influence of living creatures he asserted that a human being could kill an animal merely by staring hard at it for a quarter of an hour.
That Van Helmont was not ignorant of the power of imagination is evident from many of his writings. A common needle, he declared, may by means of certain manipulations and the willpower and imagination of the operator, be made to possess magnetic properties. Herbs may become very powerful through the imagination of the person who gathers them. And he adds,
"I have hitherto avoided revealing the great secrets, that the strength lies concealed in man, merely through the suggestion and power of the imagination to work outwardly, and to impress this strength on others, which then continues of itself, and operates on the remotest subjects. Through this secret alone will all receive its true illumination—all that has hitherto been brought together laboriously of the ideal being out of the spirit—all that has been said of the magnetism of all things—of the strength of the human soul—of the magic of man, and of his dominion over the physical world."
Van Helmont also gave special importance to the stomach as the chief seat of the soul, recounting an experience of his own. Upon touching some aconite with his tongue, he found all his senses transferred to his stomach. Several centuries later, seeing with the stomach was to become a favorite accomplishment of somnambules and cataleptic subjects.
A distinguished English magnetist was Robert Fludd, who wrote in the first part of the seventeenth century. Fludd was an exponent of the microcosmic theory and a believer in the magnetic influence. According to Fludd, not only were these emanations able to cure bodily diseases, but they also affected the moral sentiments. If radiations from two individuals were flung back or distorted, negative magnetism, or antipathy resulted. However, if the radiations from each person passed freely into those from the other, the result was positive magnetism, or sympathy. Examples of positive and negative magnetism were also to be found among the lower animals and among plants. Another magnetist of distinction was the Scottish physician William Maxwell, author of De Medicina Magnetica (1679), who is said to have anticipated much of Mesmer's doctrine. He declared that those who are familiar with the operation of the universal spirit can, through its agency, cure all diseases, at no matter what distance. He also suggested that the practice of magnetism, though very valuable in the hand of a well-disposed physician, is not without its dangers and is liable to many abuses.
The Healers Valentine Greatrakes and J. J. Gassner
While the theoretical branch of magnetism was thus receiving attention at the hands of the alchemical philosophers, the practical side was by no means neglected. There were, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a number of "divine healers," whose magic cures were without doubt the result of hypnotic suggestion.
Of these perhaps the best known and most successful were Valentine Greatrakes, an Irishman, and a Swabian priest named John Joseph Gassner. Greatrakes was born in 1628, and on reaching manhood served for some time in the Irish army, thereafter settling down on his estate in Waterford. In 1662 he had a dream in which it was revealed to him that he possessed healing by touch, a gift which could cure the king's evil (scrofula). The dream was repeated several times before he paid heed to it, but at length he experimented, his own wife being the first to be healed by him.
Many people who came to him from the surrounding country were cured when he laid his hands upon them. Later the impression came upon him strongly that he could cure other diseases besides the king's evil. News of his powers spread far and wide, as patients came by the hundreds to seek his aid. Despite the fact that the bishop of the diocese forbade the exercise of these apparently magical powers, Greatrakes continued to heal the afflicted people who sought him. In 1666 he proceeded to London, and, though not invariably successful, he seems to have performed there a surprising number of cures, which were testified to by Robert Boyle, Sir William Smith, Andrew Marvell, and many other eminent people.
His method of healing was to stroke the affected part with his hand, thus (it was claimed) driving the disease into the limbs and finally out of the body. Sometimes the treatment acted as though by magic, but if immediate relief was not obtained, the rubbing was continued. Only a very few cases were dismissed as incurable. Even epidemic diseases were healed by a touch. It was noted that during the treatment the patient's fingers and toes remained insensible to external stimuli, and frequently he or she showed every symptom of such a "magnetic crisis" as was afterward to become a special feature of mesmeric treatment.
Personally, Greatrakes was a simple and pious gentleman, persuaded that his marvelous powers were a divinely-bestowed gift, and most anxious to make the best use of them.
The other healer mentioned earlier, J. J. Gassner (1727-1779), belongs to a somewhat later period—about the middle of the eighteenth century. He was a priest of Bludenz in Vorarlberg, Austria, where his many cures gained for him a wide celebrity. All diseases, according to him, were caused by evil spirits possessing the patient, and his mode of healing thus consisted of exorcising the demons.
Gassner, too, was a man of kindly disposition and piety, and made reference to the Scriptures in his healing operations. The ceremony of exorcism was a rather impressive one. Gassner sat at a table, the patient and spectators in front of him. A blue red-flowered cloak hung from his shoulders. The rest of his clothing was "clean, simple, and modest." On his left was a window, on his right, the crucifix. His fine personality, deep learning, and noble character, which inspired the faith of the patient and his friends, doubtless played no small part in his curative feats. Sometimes he made use of "magnetic" manipulations, stroking or rubbing the affected part, and driving the disease, after the manner of Greatrakes, into the limbs of the patient. He generally pronounced the formula of exorcism in Latin, with which language the demons seemed to show a perfect familiarity.
Not only could Gassner control sickness by these means, but the passions also were amenable to his treatment,
"Now anger is apparent, now patience, now joy, now sorrow, now hate, now love, now confusion, now reason—each carried to the highest pitch. Now this one is blind, now he sees, and again is deprived of sight, etc."
These curious results suggest what in the nineteenth century was termed "phreno-magnetism," where equally sudden changes of mood were produced by touching with the fingertips those parts of the subject's head which phrenology associated with the various emotions to be called forth.
Hitherto it will be seen that the rational and supernatural explanations of magnetism had run parallel with one another, the former most in favor with the philosophers, the latter with the general public. It was reserved for Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), the Swedish philosopher and seer to unite the doctrine of magnetism with that of spirit agency—i.e., the belief in the action in the external world of the discarnate spirits of deceased human beings. That Swedenborg accepted some of the theories of the older magnetists is evident from some of his mystical writings, where, for example, he states,
"In order to comprehend the origin and progress of this influence [i.e., God's influence over man], we must first know that which proceeds from the Lord is the divine sphere which surrounds us, and fills the spiritual and natural world. All that proceeds from an object, and surrounds and clothes it, is called its sphere.
"As all that is spiritual knows neither time nor space, it therefore follows that the general sphere or the divine one has extended itself from the first moment of creation to the last. This divine emanation, which passed over from the spiritual to the natural, penetrates actively and rapidly through the whole created world, to the last grade of it, where it is yet to be found, and produces and maintains all that is animal, vegetable, and mineral. Man is continually surrounded by a sphere of his favorite propensities; these unite themselves to the natural sphere of his body, so that together they form one. The natural sphere surrounds every body of nature, and all the objects of the three kingdoms. Thus it allies itself to the spiritual world. This is the foundation of sympathy and antipathy, of union and separation, according to which there are amongst spirits presence and absence.
"The angel said to me that the sphere surrounded man more lightly on the back than on the breast, where it was thicker and stronger. This sphere of influence peculiar to man operates also in general and in particular around him by means of the will, the understanding, and the practice.
"The sphere proceeding from God, which surrounds man and constitutes his strength, while it thereby operates on his neighbour and on the whole creation, is a sphere of peace, and innocence; for the Lord is peace and innocence. Then only is man consequently able to make his influence effectual on his fellow man, when peace and innocence rule in his heart, and he himself is in union with heaven. This spiritual union is connected with the natural by a benevolent man through the touch and the laying on of hands; by which the influence of the inner man is quickened, prepared, and imparted. The body communicates with others which are about it through the body, and the spiritual influence diffuses itself chiefly through the hands, because these are the most outward or ultimum of man; and through him, as in the whole of nature, the first is contained in the last, as the cause in the effect. The whole soul and the whole body are contained in the hands as a medium of influence."
Mesmerism or Animal Magnetism
In the latter half of the eighteenth century, a new era was inaugurated in connection with the doctrine of a magnetic fluid, due in large measure to the works of Franz Anton Mesmer, the physician from whose name mesmerism was taken. Mesmer was born at Wiel, near Lake Constance, in 1733, and studied medicine at the University of Vienna, receiving his medical degree in 1766. In the same year he published his first work, De Planetarum Influxu (The Influence of Planets on the Human Body). Although he claimed to have thereby discovered the existence of a "universal fluid," to which he gave the name of magnétisme animal, there is no doubt that his doctrine was in many respects identical to that of the older magnetists mentioned above.
The idea of the universal fluid was suggested to him in the first place by his observation of the stars, which led him to believe the celestial bodies exercised a mutual influence on each other and on the Earth. This he identified with magnetism, and it was but a step (and a step which had already been taken by the early magnetists) to extend this influence to the human body and all other objects, and to apply it to the science of medicine.
In 1776, Mesmer met with J. J. Gassner, the Swabian priest. Mesmer set aside the supernatural explanation offered by the healer himself, and declared that the cures and severe crises that followed his manipulations were attributable to nothing but magnetism. Nevertheless this encounter gave a new trend to his ideas. Hitherto he himself had employed an actual magnet in order to cure the sick, but seeing that Gassner dispensed with that aid, he was led to consider whether the power might not reside in a still greater degree in the human body. Mesmer's first cure was performed on an epileptic patient by means of magnets, but the honor of it was disputed by a Jesuit, Fr. Hell (a professor of astronomy at the University of Vienna), who had supplied the magnetic plates, and who claimed to have discovered the principles on which the physician worked.
Thereafter for a few years Mesmer practiced in various European cities and strove to obtain recognition for his theories, but without success. In 1778, however, he went to Paris, and there attained an immediate and triumphant success in the fashionable world, although the learned bodies still refused to have anything to say to him.
Aristocratic patients flocked in hundreds to Mesmer's consulting rooms hung with mirrors, which the physician theorized would augment the magnetic fluid. He himself wore, it was said, a shirt of leather lined with silk, to prevent the escape of fluid, while magnets were hung about his person to increase his natural supply of magnetism. The patients were seated round a baquet, or magnetic tub, a description of which was left by Seifert, one of Mesmer's biographers:
"The receptacle was a large pan, tub, or pool of water, filled with various magnetic substances, such as water, sand, stone, glass bottles (filled with magnetic water), etc. It was a focus within which the magnetism was concentrated, and out of which proceeded a number of conductors. These being bent pointed iron wands, one end was retained in the baquet, whilst the other was connected with the patient and applied to the seat of the disease. This arrangement might be made use of by any number of persons seated round the baquet, and thus a fountain, or any receptacle in a garden, as in a room, would answer for the purpose desired."
For the establishment of a school of animal magnetism Mesmer was offered 20,000 livres by the French government, with an annual sum of 10,000 livres for its upkeep; he refused. Later, however, the sum of 340,000 livres was subscribed by prospective pupils and handed over to him.
One of Mesmer's earliest and most distinguished disciples was Charles D'Eslon, a prominent physician, who laid the doctrines of animal magnetism before the Faculty of Medicine in 1780. Consideration of Mesmer's theories was, however, indignantly refused, and D'Eslon was warned to rid himself of such a dangerous doctrine.
Another disciple of Mesmer who attained distinction in magnetic practice was the Marquis de Puységur, who was the first to observe and describe the state of induced somnambulism, now well known as the hypnotic trance.
Puységur's ideas on the subject began to supersede those of Mesmer, and he gathered about him a distinguished body of adherents, among them the celebrated Lavater. Indeed, his recognition that the symptoms attending the magnetic sleep were resultant from it was a step of no small importance in the history of mesmerism.
In 1784, a commission was appointed by the French government to enquire into the magnetic phenomena. For some reason or another its members chose to investigate the experiments of D'Eslon, rather than those of Mesmer himself. The commissioners, including Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier, and Jean Bailly, observed the peculiar crises attending the treatment, and the rapport between patient and physician, but decided that imagination could produce all the effects, and that there was no evidence whatever for a magnetic fluid. The report, edited by Bailly, offers a description of the crisis,
"The sick persons, arranged in great numbers, and in several rows around the baquet (bath), received the magnetism by means of the iron rods, which conveyed it to them from the baquet by the cords wound round their bodies, by the thumb which connected them with their neighbours, and by the sounds of a pianoforte, or an agreeable voice, diffusing magnetism in the air.
"The patients were also directly magnetised by means of the finger and wand of the magnetiser, moved slowly before their faces, above or behind their heads, or on the diseased parts.
"The magnetiser acts also by fixing his eyes on the subjects; by the application of his hands on the region of the solar plexus; an application which sometimes continues for hours."
Meanwhile the patients present a varied picture.
"Some are calm, tranquil, and experience no effect. Others cough and spit, feel pains, heat, or perspiration. Others, again, are convulsed.
"As soon as one begins to be convulsed, it is remarkable that others are immediately affected.
"The commissioners have observed some of these convulsions last more than three hours. They are often accompanied with expectorations of a violent character, often streaked with blood. The convulsions are marked with involuntary motions of the throat, limbs, and sometimes the whole body; by dimness of the eyes, shrieks, sobs, laughter, and the wildest hysteria. These states are often followed by languor and depression. The smallest noise appears to aggravate the symptoms, and often to occasion shudderings and terrible cries. It was noticeable that a sudden change in the air or time of the music had a great influence on the patients, and soothed or accelerated the convulsions, stimulating them to ecstasy, or moving them to floods of tears.
"Nothing is more astonishing than the spectacle of these convulsions.
"One who has not seen them can form no idea of them. The spectator is as much astonished at the profound repose of one portion of the patients as at the agitation of the rest.
"Some of the patients may be seen rushing towards each other with open arms, and manifesting every symptom of attachment and affection.
"All are under the power of the magnetizer; it matters not what state of drowsiness they may be in, the sound of his voice, a look, a motion of his hands, spasmodically affects them."
Although Mesmer, Puységur, and their followers continued to practice magnetic treatment, the report of the royal commission had the effect of quenching public interest in the subject, although from time to time a spasmodic interest in it was shown by scientists. M. de Jussieu, at about the time the commission presented its report, suggested that it would have done well to inquire into the reality of the alleged cures, and to endeavor to find a satisfactory explanation for the phenomena they had witnessed, while to remedy the deficiency he himself formulated a theory of "animal heat," an organic emanation that might be directed by the human will. Like Mesmer and the others, he believed in action at a distance, i.e., what is today termed absent healing.
Mesomeric practitioners formed themselves into Societies of Harmony until the political situation in France rendered their existence impossible. Early in the nineteenth century Pététin and Jean Deleuze published works on animal magnetism. But a new era was inaugurated with the publication in 1823 of Alexandre Bertrand's Traité du Somnambulisme, followed three years later by a treatise Du Magnétisme Animal en France.
From Animal Magnetism to Phreno-Magnetism and Hypnotism
Alexandre Bertrand was a young physician of Paris, and to him belongs the honor of having discovered the important part played by suggestion in the phenomena of the induced trance. He had observed the connection between the magnetic sleep, epidemic ecstasy, and spontaneous sleepwalking, and declared that all the cures and strange symptoms that had formerly been attributed to animal magnetism, animal electricity, and the like, resulted from the suggestions of the operator acting on the imagination of a patient whose suggestibility was greatly increased.
It is probable that had he lived longer (he died in 1831, at the age of 36), Bertrand would have gained a definite scientific standing for the facts of the induced trance, but as it was, the practitioners of animal magnetism still held to the theory of a "fluid" or force radiating from magnetizer to subject, while those who were unable to accept such a doctrine ignored the matter altogether, or treated it as vulgar fraud.
Nevertheless Bertrand's works and experiments revived the flagging interest of the public to such an extent that in 1831 a second French commission was appointed by the Royal Academy of Medicine. The report of this commission was not forthcoming until more than five years had elapsed, but when it was finally published, it contained a definite testimony to the genuineness of the magnetic phenomena, and especially of the somnambulistic state, and declared that the commission was satisfied of the therapeutic value of "animal magnetism."
The report was certainly not of great scientific worth. The name of Bertrand was not even mentioned therein, nor his theory considered. On the other hand, a good deal of space was given to the more paranormal or "supernatural" phenomena, clairvoyance, action at a distance, and the prediction by somnambulistic patients of crises in their maladies. This is the more excusable, however, since these ideas were almost universally associated with somnambulism. A community of sensation was held to be a feature of the trance state, as was also the transference of the senses to the stomach. Thought-transference was suggested by some of these earlier investigators, notably by J. P. F. Deleuze, who suggested that thoughts were conveyed from the brain of the operator to that of the subject through the medium of the subtle "magnetic fluid."
Meanwhile the Spiritualist theory, i.e., the activity of spirit entities, was becoming more and more frequently advanced to explain the "magnetic" phenomena, including both the legitimate trance phenomena and the multitude of supernormal phenomena that was supposed to follow the somnambulistic state. This will doubtless account in part for the extraordinary animosity the medical profession showed toward animal magnetism as a therapeutic agency. Its anesthetic properties they ridiculed as fraud or imagination, notwithstanding that serious operations, even of the amputation of limbs, could be performed while the patient was in the magnetic sleep.
Thus John Elliotson was forced to resign his professorship at the University College Hospital, and James Esdaile, a surgeon who practiced at a government hospital at Calcutta, had to contend with the derision of his professional colleagues. Similar contemptuous treatment was dealt out to other medical men who were really pioneers of hypnotism, against whom nothing could be urged but their defense of mesmerism.
In 1841, James Braid, a British surgeon, arrived independently at the conclusions Bertrand had reached some 18 years earlier. Once more the theory of abnormal suggestibility was offered to explain the various phenomena of the so-called magnetic sleep, and once more it was largely ignored, alike by the world of science and by the public.
Braid's explanation was essentially that which is offered now. He placed the new science, which he called "hypnotism," on a level with other natural sciences, above the mass of medieval magic and superstition in which he had found it. Yet even Braid did not seem to have entirely separated the chaff from the grain, for he countenanced the practice of phrenomesmerism, a combination of mesmerism and phrenology wherein the entranced patient whose head was touched by the operator's fingers exhibited every sign of the emotion or quality associated with the phrenological organ touched.
Braid asserted that a subject, entirely ignorant of the position of the phrenological organs, passed rapidly and accurately from one emotion to another, according to the portion of the scalp in contact with the hypnotist's fingers. His physiological explanation is a somewhat inadequate one, and we can only suppose that he was not fully appreciative of his own theory of suggestion.
In 1843, two periodicals dealing with magnetism appeared: the Zoist, edited by John Elliotson and a colleague, and the Phreno-Magnet, edited by Spencer T. Hall. The first, adopting a scientific tone, treated the subject mainly from a therapeutic point of view, while the latter was of a more popular character. Many of the adherents of both papers, and notably Elliotson himself, afterward became Spiritualists.
In 1845, an additional impetus was given to animal magnetism by the publication in that year of Baron von Reichenbach 's research. Reichenbach claimed to have discovered a new force, which he called od, odyle, or odylic force, and which could be seen in the form of flames by sensitives, i.e., psychics. Reichenbach meticulously classified the indications of such sensitivity as a more acute form of normal human faculty.
In the human being these emanations might be seen to radiate from the fingertips, while they were also visible in animals and inanimate things. Different colors issued from the different poles of the magnet. Reichenbach experimented by putting his sensitives in a dark room with various objects—crystals, precious stones, magnets, minerals, plants, animals—which they could unerringly distinguish by the color and size of the flame visible to their clairvoyant eye. These emanations appeared so invariable and so permanent that an artist might paint them and, indeed, this was frequently done. Feelings of temperature, heat or cold, were also experienced in connection with the force.
Baron von Reichenbach's experiments were spread over a number of years, and were made with every appearance of scientific care and precision, so that their effect on the mesmerists of the time was very considerable. But notwithstanding the mass of dubious and occult phenomena which was associated with hypnotism at that time, there is no doubt that the induced trance, with its therapeutic and anesthetic value, would soon have come into its own had not two other circumstances occurred to thrust it into the background.
The first was the application of chloroform and ether to the purposes for which hypnotism had hitherto been used, a substitution which pleased the medical faculty greatly. Both work to induce sleep even in persons only lightly or totally unaffected by hypnotism. At about the same time, the introduction of the movement known as modern Spiritualism emphasized the occult associations of trance phenomena and drove many people from any study of anything closely tied to it.
Later Views of Hypnotism
But if the great body of medical and public opinion ignored the facts of hypnotism during the period following Braid's discovery, the subject did not fail to receive some attention from scientists in Europe. From time to time investigators took upon themselves the task of inquiring into the phenomena. This was especially the case in France, where the study of mesmerism or hypnotism was most firmly entrenched and where it met with least opposition. In 1858, one Dr. Azam of Bordeaux investigated hypnotism from Braid's point of view, aided by a number of members of the Faculty of Paris. An account of his research was published in 1860, but cast no new light on the matter. Later the same set of facts was examined by E. Mesnet, M. Duval, and others. In 1875, the noted psychical researcher Charles Richet also studied artificial somnambulism.
It was, however, from the Bernheim and the Nancy school that the generally accepted modern view of hypnotism is taken. H. Bernheim was himself a disciple of A. A. Liébeault, who, working on independent lines, had reached the same conclusion as Bertrand and Braid and once more formulated the doctrine of suggestion. Bernheim's work De la Suggestion, published in 1884, embodied the theories of Liébeault as well as the result of Bernheim's own research.
According to this view, hypnotism is a purely psychological process, and is induced by mental influences. The "passes" of Mesmer and the magnetic philosophers, the elaborate preparations of the baquet, the strokings of Valentine Greatrakes, and all the multitudinous ceremonies with which the animal magnetists used to produce the artificial sleep were only of service in inducing a state of expectation in the patient, or in providing a soothing and monotonous, or violent, sensory stimulus. And so also the modern methods of inducing hypnosis—the fixation of the eyes, the contact of the operator's hand, the sound of his voice—are only effective through the medium of the subject's mentality.
Other investigators who played a large part in popularizing hypnotism were J. M. Charcot, of the Salpêtrière, Paris, a distinguished pathologist, and R. Heidenhain, professor of physiology at Breslau. The former taught that the hypnotic condition was essentially a morbid one, and allied to hysteria, a theory which, becoming widely circulated, exercised a somewhat detrimental effect on the practice of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes, until it was at length proved erroneous. As a result, prejudice lingered against the use of the induced hypnotic trance in medicine until relatively modern times.
Heidenhain laid stress on the physical operations to induce somnambulism, believing that thereby a peculiar state of the nervous system was brought about wherein the control of the higher nerve centers was temporarily removed, so that the suggestion of the operator was free to express itself automatically through the physical organism of the patient. The physiological theory also is somewhat misleading, nevertheless its exponents did good work in bringing the undoubted facts of hypnosis into prominence.
Besides these theories there was another to be met with chiefly in its native France—the old doctrine of a magnetic fluid. But it rapidly died out.
Among the symptoms which may safely, and without reference to the supernatural, be regarded as attendant on hypnotism are: the rapport between subject and operator, implicit obedience on the part of the former to the smallest suggestion (whether given verbally or by look, gesture, or any unconscious action), anesthesia, positive and negative hallucinations, the fulfillment of post-hypnotic promises, and control of organic processes and of muscles not ordinarily under voluntary control.
Other phenomena which have been allied from time to time with magnetism, mesmerism, or hypnotism and for which there is not the same scientific basis, are clairvoyance, telekinesis, transference of the senses from the ordinary sense organs to some other part of the body (usually the fingertips or the pit of the stomach), community of sensation, and the ability to commune with the dead.
The majority of these, like the remarkable phenomena of phreno-magnetism, can be directly traced to the effect of suggestion on the imagination of the patient. Ignorant as were the protagonists of mesmerism with regard to the great suggestibility of the magnetized subject, it is hardly surprising that they saw new and supernormal faculties and agencies at work during the trance state. To the same ignorance of the possibilities of suggestion and hyperesthesia may be referred the common belief that the hypnotizer can influence his subject by the power of his will alone, and secure obedience to commands which are only mentally expressed. At the same time it must be borne in mind that if belief in telepathy be accepted, there is a possibility that the operation of thought transference might be more freely carried out during hypnosis. It is notable, in this respect, that the most fruitful of the telepathic experiments conducted by psychical researchers and others have been made with hypnotized percipients.
An Extraordinary Experiment
One of the most bizarre and dangerous experiments in hypnotic telepathy is related in M. Larelig's biography of the celebrated Belgian painter Antoine Joseph Wiertz (1806-1865) and also in the introductory and biographical note affixed to the Catalogue Raisonné du Musée Wiertz, by Dr. S. Watteau (1865). Wiertz was the hypnotic subject and a friend, a doctor, was the hypnotizer.
Wiertz had long been haunted by a desire to know whether thought persisted in a head severed from the trunk. His wish was the reason for the following experiment being undertaken, this being facilitated through his friendship with the prison doctor in Brussels and another outside practitioner. The latter had been for many years a hypnotic operator and had more than once put Wiertz into the hypnotic state, regarding him as an excellent subject.
About this time, the trial for a murder in the Place Saint-Géry had been causing a great sensation in Belgium and the painter had been following the proceedings closely. The trial ended in the condemnation of the accused. A plan was arranged and Wiertz, with the consent of the prison doctor, obtained permission to hide with his friend, Dr. D., under the guillotine, close to where the head of the condemned would roll into the basket.
In order to carry out more efficiently the scheme he had determined upon, the painter desired his hypnotizer to put him through a regular course of hypnotic suggestion, and when he was in the sleep state to command him to identify himself with various people and tell him to read their thoughts and penetrate into their psychical and mental states. An account appeared in Le Progrés Spirite:
"On the day of execution, ten minutes before the arrival of the condemned man, Wiertz, accompanied by his friend the physician with two witnesses, ensconced themselves underneath the guillotine, where they were entirely hidden from sight. The painter was then put to sleep, and told to identify himself with the criminal. He was to follow his thoughts and feel any sensations, which he was to express aloud. He was also 'suggested' to take special note of mental conditions during decapitation, so that when the head fell in the basket he could penetrate the brain and give an account of its last thoughts.
"Wiertz became entranced almost immediately, and the four friends soon understood by the sounds overhead that the executioner was conducting the condemned to the scaffold, and in another minute the guillotine would have done its work. The hypnotized Wiertz manifested extreme distress and begged to be demagnetized, as his sense of oppression was insupportable. It was too late, however—the knife fell.
"'What do you feel? What do you see?' asks the doctor. Wiertz writhes convulsively and replies, 'Lightning! A thunderbolt falls! It thinks; it sees!' 'Who thinks and sees?' 'The head. It suffers horribly. It thinks and feels but does not understand what has happened. It seeks its body and feels that the body must join it. It still waits for the supreme blow for death, but death does not come.'
"As Wiertz spoke, the witnesses saw the head which had fallen into the basket and lay looking at them horribly; its arteries still palpitating. It was only after some moments of suffering that apparently the guillotined head at last became aware that is was separated from its body.
"Wiertz became calmer and seemed exhausted, while the doctor resumed his questions. The painter answered: 'I fly through space like a top spinning through fire. But am I dead? Is all over? If only they would let me join my body again! Have pity! give it back to me and I can live again. I remember all. There are the judges in red robes. I hear the sentence. Oh! my wretched wife and children. I am abandoned. If only you would put my body to me, I should be with you once more. You refuse? All the same I love you, my poor babies. Miserable wretch that I am I have covered you with blood. When will this finish!—or is not a murderer condemned to eternal punishment?'
"As Wiertz spoke these words, the witnesses thought they detected the eyes of the decapitated head open wide with a look of unmistakable suffering and of beseeching.
"The painter continued his lamentations: 'No, such suffering cannot endure for ever; God is merciful. All that belongs to earth is fading away. I see in the distance a little light glittering like a diamond. I feel a calm stealing over me. What a good sleep I shall have! What joy!' These were the last words the painter spoke. He was still entranced, but no longer replied to the questions put by the doctor. They then approached the head and Dr. D. touched the forehead, the temples, and teeth and found they were cold. The head was dead."
In the Wiertz Gallery in Brussels are to be found three pictures of a guillotined head, presumably the outcome of this gruesome experiment.
Theory of Hypnotic Action
Among numerous explanations of the physiological conditions accompanying the hypnotic state there is one, the theory of cerebral dissociation, which was generally accepted by science, and which may be briefly outlined as follows. The brain is composed of innumerable groups of nerve cells, all more or less closely connected with each other by means of nervous links or paths of variable resistance. Excitement of any of these groups, whether by means of impressions received through the sense organs or by the communicated activity of other groups, will, if sufficiently intense, occasion the rise into consciousness of an idea.
In the normal waking state, the resistance of the nervous association-paths is fairly low, so that the activity is easily communicated from one neural group to another. Thus the main idea which reaches the upper stratum of consciousness is attended by a stream of other, subconscious ideas, which has the effect of checking the primary idea and preventing its complete dominance.
Now the abnormal dominance of one particular system of ideas—that suggested by the operator—together with the complete suppression of all rival systems, is the principal fact to be explained in hypnosis. To some extent the physiological process conditioning hypnosis suggests an analogy with normal sleep. When one composes oneself to sleep there is a lowering of cerebral excitement and a proportionate increase in the resistance of the neural links. This is apparently what happens during hypnosis, the essential passivity of the subject raising the resistance of the association-paths.
But in normal sleep, unless some exciting cause be present, all the neural dispositions are at rest, whereas in the hypnotic state such a complete suspension of cerebral activities is not permitted, since the operator, by means of voice, gestures, and manipulations of the patient's limbs, keeps alive that set of impressions relating to himself. One neural disposition is thus isolated, so that any idea suggested by the operator is free to work itself out in action, without being submitted to the checks of the sub-activity of other ideas.
The alienation is less or more complete according to the degree of hypnotism, but a comparatively slight raising of resistance in the neural links suffices to secure the dominance of ideas suggested by the hypnotizer.
Hyperesthesia, mentioned so frequently in connection with the hypnotic state, really belongs to the doubtful class, since it has not yet been decided whether or not an actual sharpening or refining of the senses takes place. Alternatively it may be suggested that the accurate perception of faint sense-impressions, which seems to furnish evidence for hyperesthesia, merely reclass the fact that the excitement conveyed through the sensory nerve operates with extraordinary force, being freed from the restriction of sub-excitement in adjacent neural groups and systems.
In putting forward this viewpoint it must be conceded that in the conscious, awakened state, feeble sensory stimuli must act on nerve and brain just as they do in hypnosis. However, in the former case they are so stifled amid a multitude of similar impressions that they fail to reach consciousness. In any case the occasional abnormal sensitivity of the subject to slight sensory stimuli is a fact of hypnotism as well authenticated as anesthesia itself. The term "hyperesthesia," if not entirely justified, may for want of a better term, be practically applied to the observed phenomenon.
The hypnotic state is not necessarily induced by a second person. "Spontaneous" hypnotism and "autohypnotization" are well known. Certain yogis, fakirs, and shamans can produce in themselves a state closely approximating hypnosis by a prolonged fixation of the eyes, and by other means. The medium-istic trance is also, as will be shown hereafter, a case in point.
Hypnotism and Spiritualism
The association of spirits and what is today called hypnotism was advocated by the magnetic philosophers of medieval times, and even earlier by astrologers and magi. It has been shown that at a early date, phenomena of a distinctly hypnotic character were ascribed to the workings of spirit agencies, whether angelic or demonic, by a certain percentage of the observers. Thus Greatrakes and Gassner believed themselves to have been gifted with a divine power to heal diseases. Witchcraft, in which the force of hypnotic suggestion seems to have operated to a large degree, was thought to result from the witches' traffic with the devil and his legions. Cases of ecstasy, catalepsy, and other trance states were given a spiritist significance, i.e., demons, angels, elementals, and so on, were supposed to speak through the lips of the possessed. Even in some cases the souls of deceased men and women were identified with these intelligences, although not generally until the time of Swedenborg.
Although the movement known as modern Spiritualism is properly dated from 1848, the year of the Rochester rappings, its roots lead directly to the animal magnetists. Additionally, Swedenborg, whose affinities with the magnetists have already been referred to, exercised a remarkable influence on the Spiritualist thought of America and Europe, and was also a precursor of that faith. Automatic phenomena were even then a feature of the magnetic trance, and clairvoyance, community of sensation, and telepathy were believed in generally, and regarded by many as evidences of spiritual communication.
In Germany, Professor Jung-Stilling, C. Römer, Dr. Werner, and the poet and physician Justinus Kerner, were among those who held opinions on these lines, the latter pursuing his investigations with a somnambule who became famous as the Seeress of Prevorst— Frederica Hauffe. Hauffe could apparently see and converse with the spirits of the deceased, and she gave evidence of prophetic vision and clairvoyance. Physical phenomena were witnessed in her presence, knockings, rattling of chains, movement of objects without contact, and, in short, such manifestations as were characteristic of a poltergeist. She was, moreover, the originator of a "primeval" language, which she declared was that spoken by the patriarchs. Hauffe, although only a somnambule or magnetic patient, possessed all the qualities later associated with successful Spiritualist mediums.
In England also there were many circumstances of a supernatural character associated with mesmerism. Dr. Elliotson, one of the best-known of English magnetists, became in time converted to a Spiritualist theory as offering an explanation of the clairvoyance and similar phenomena he thought he observed in his patients.
France, the headquarters of the rationalist school of magnetism, had indeed a good deal less to show of Spiritualist opinion. Nonetheless even in that country the latter doctrine made its appearance at intervals prior to 1848. J. P. F. Deleuze, a capable scientist and an earnest protagonist of magnetism, who published his Histoire Critique du Magnétisme Animal in 1813, was said to have embraced the doctrines of Spiritualism before he died.
It was however, Louis-Alphonse Cahagnet, a man of humble origin who began to study induced somnambulism about the year 1845 and experimented with somnambules, who became one of the first French Spiritualists of distinction. So good was the evidence for spirit communication furnished by Cahagnet and his subjects that it remains among the most impressive the movement produced.
In the United States, La Roy Sunderland, Andrew Jackson Davis, and others who became pillars of Spiritualism were first attracted to it through the study of magnetism. Elsewhere we find hypnotism and the consideration of the work of spirits identified with each other until 1848, when a definite split occurs, and the two go their separate ways. Even so, however, the separation is not quite complete. In the first place, the mediumistic trance is obviously a variant of spontaneous or self-induced hypnotism, while in the second, many of the most striking phenomena of the séance room have been matched time and again in the records of animal magnetism.
For instance, the diagnosis of disease and prescription of remedies dictated by the control to the "healing medium" have their prototype in the cures of Valentine Greatrakes, or of Mesmer and his disciples. Automatic phenomena—speaking in tongues and so forth—early formed a characteristic feature of the induced trance and kindred states.
Even some of the physical phenomena later associated with Spiritualism, movement without contact, apports, and rappings, were witnessed in connection with magnetism long before the movement known as modern Spiritualism was so much as thought of. In some instances, though not in all, it is possible to trace the operation of hypnotic suggestion in the automatic phenomena, just as we can perceive the result of fraud in many of the physical manifestations.
Hypnotism and Psychical Phenomena
In the 1890s, psychical researcher Paul Joire described the three classical states of hypnotism:
" Lethargy, the state of complete relaxation with variable amount of anesthesia, with neuro-muscular excitation as its fundamental characteristic. In this state the subject has the eyes closed and is generally only slightly open to suggestion.
" Catalepsy, the eyes are open, the subject is as though petrified in the position which he occupies. Anesthesia is complete, and there is no sign of intelligence. Immobility is characteristic of this state.
" Somnambulism, the condition of the eyes varies, the subject appears to sleep. Simple contact, or stroking along any limb is sufficient to render that limb rigid. Suggestibility is the main characteristic of this state. The somnambulistic state presents three degrees:
- Waking somnambulism, slight passivity with diminution of the will and augmentation of suggestibility.
- The second personality begins to take the place of the normal one. Torpor of consciousness and memory. Sensibility decreases.
- Complete anesthesia. Disappearance of consciousness and memory. Inclination to peculiar muscular rigidity."
It is likely that the depth of hypnotic sleep may vary infinitely. Distinct trains of memory may correspond to each stage, presenting alternating personalities of a shallow type.
The means to induce the hypnotic state differ. In many cases simple suggestion will do, even from a distance; in others, passes and the close proximity of the hypnotizer will be necessary. Some subjects feel the old "mesmerizer" influence, some do not.
The implicit obedience to suggestion has great therapeutical and psychological significance. Bad habits may be improved, phobias, manias, criminal propensities, and diseases cured, inhibitions removed, pain banished, the ordinary working of defective senses restored, the ordinary senses vivified, intelligence and ability in professional pursuits increased, and new senses of perception developed.
Subconscious calculation discloses flashes of mathematical genius, and once the rapport is established, the possibility is open for the development of supernormal faculties. The subject may see clairvoyantly, give psychometric descriptions, see into the future, read the past, make spiritual excursions to distant places and hear and see events occurring there, and give correct medical diagnoses.
Eugèn Osty believed that the number of hypnotizable subjects was getting smaller and smaller, and in support of his contention, he refers in the Revue Metapsychique (November-December 1930) to the similar experiences of Berillon, Richet, and Emile Magnin. However, modern hypnotists have shown that there is no shortage of subjects and that a high percentage of ordinary individuals are susceptible to hypnosis.
The exact nature of the hypnotic trance is still somewhat unknown, although it has received additional attention as new techniques and instrumentation for measuring brain activity has been developed. The electroencephalograph (EEG), for example, can measure brain activity by detecting small electronic currents emitted by the brain. During the awakened state beta waves, at a frequency of 13-35 Hz, are discharged. Similarly, sleep emits brain waves oscillating at 4-8Hz, known either as delta or theta waves. However, the hypnotic state—the state of dreams and somnambulism—is characterized by alpha waves, which oscillate at 8-13 Hz. This state is typified by muscular relaxation, focused concentration, and hyperactivity of the senses.
Goldberg (1998) asserts the hypnotic trance is actually a natural-occurring state which transpires regularly during the day for everyone.
"We experience four hours of daydreams or natural hypnotic states during our waking day. Our nighttime dreams are another form of hypnosis occurring during the REM (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep. We dream approximately three hours every night. Projecting this out, we experience seven hours of natural hypnosis during every twenty-four-hour day cycle—approximately 2500 hours in a year!"
The relation of hypnotic trance to the mediumistic trance is of absorbing interest to spiritualists (though of minuscule concern to modern scientists). The medium's trance differs in that it tends to be voluntary and self-induced, although hypnotism, for the purpose of relieving the medium from the attendant physiological suffering, is sometimes employed to bring it about.
Julien Ochorowicz saved the medium Stanislawa Tomczyk much exhaustion by hypnotizing her. The Didier brothers were always accompanied by a magnetizer and the mediumship of Andrew Jackson Davis was initiated by hypnotic clairvoyance. Juliette Bisson facilitated the materialization phenomena of Eva C., and Kathleen Goligher was hypnotized by W. J. Crawford, though we are now aware of the fraud inherent in Eva C.'s and Goligher's work.
The hypnotized subject has great powers of personation. But he or she does not claim, unless so suggested, communication with the dead. In the mediumistic trance such suggestion is already assumed, but works in a confined territory. Often, those whose appearance is yearned for do not communicate at all; many strangers come and go, and all the controls seem to exhibit a distinct personality far surpassing in variety the imitative efforts of any hypnotized subject. If they were subjective creations of the medium's mind, Spiritualists argue, they would not exhibit those special peculiarities by which the sitters establish their identity with their departed friends.
The hypnotic self does not normally exhibit such cunning as the personation of hundreds of individuals and the acquisition of facts deeply buried in the subconscious or totally unknown to the sitters, although there is evidence that the subconscious mind may sometimes invent plausible personalities, just like the waking consciousness of a novelist.
The hypnotic personality usually has an uncanny sense of time. Spirit controls, on the other hand, are generally vague and uncertain on this point. Their messages are not exactly located in time, and are sometimes borne out by past or near future happenings.
William James made many attempts to see whether Leonora Piper 's medium-trance had any community of nature with ordinary hypnotic trance. The first two attempts to hypnotize her failed but after the fifth attempt, he noted, she had become a good hypnotic subject:
"… as far as muscular phenomena and automatic imitations of speech and gesture go; but I could not affect her consciousness, or otherwise get her beyond this point. Her condition in this semi-hypnosis is very different from her medium-trance. The latter is characterized by great muscular unrest, even her ears moving vigorously in a way impossible to her in her waking state, but in hypnosis her muscular relaxation and weakness are extreme. She often makes several efforts to speak before her voice becomes audible; and to get a strong contraction of the hand, for example, express manipulation and suggestion must be practised. Her pupils contract in the medium-trance. Suggestions to the control that he should make her recollect after the medium-trance what she had been saying were accepted, but had no result. In the hypnotic trance such a suggestion will often make the patient remember all that has happened."
Current Issues in Hypnosis
From time to time hypnotism has been used in an attempt to validate theories of reincarnation. In hypnotic regression, a hypnotized subject is made to recall experiences that progressively regress to birth and then (allegedly) to memories of former births. An early experimenter in this technique was Albert Rochas from France.
In modern times, the hypnotist Morey Bernstein created a sensation with his book The Search for Bridey Murphy (1956). The book was based on his experiences with the subject "Ruth Simmons" (Mrs. Virginia Tighe), alleged to have recovered memories of a previous life as an Irish girl named Bridey Murphy. Another modern experimenter is Denys Kelsey, who hypnotized his wife, novelist Joan Grant. Their book, Many Lifetimes (1969), presents Joan Grant's claimed memories of former lives. Many of these memories were given in a series of novels by Grant.
Past life regression is a therapeutic technique of hypnosis said to be used to resolve conflicts between souls which may have originated in a lifetime prior to the last birth. Several different types of phenomena can reportedly occur during such regressive episodes:
Xenoglossy is the speaking or writing during a hypnotic trance, in a language previously unknown by the subject.
Soul loss is said to be the forfeiture of vital energy experienced as a result of any kind of physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual trauma. In the regressive practice of soul retrieval, the therapist seeks to disentangle the subject's soul from another entity, freeing each soul of its dysfunctional attachment to the other.
Possession occurs when flashes of an attached entity's past infiltrate the subject's own past life memories, while depossession seeks to remove the traces of the separate entity from the current life experience.
Future life progression examines the effect of interacting paranormal entities which originate in the future.
Even with subjects who do not believe in past lives and spiritual entities, these hypnotic regressions are said to be effective projective exercises—a kind of internal role playing—for resolving emotional conflict.
Related to past life regression is the phenomenon of age regression. Through hypnotic techniques, the subject is made to relive experiences of an earlier age in the current lifetime, in order to resolve trauma or conflict which originated in that age period. Age regression is related to a controversial practice called Repressed Memory Therapy (RMT). Considerable media attention has focused on accusations of severe and ritual child sexual abuse which have emerged from Repressed Memory Therapy, and other hypnotic techniques reclaiming regressed memories. Critics of RMT assert that the memories of the sexual abuse which the subjects claim to retrieve are often actually imaginative ideas suggested, often unwittingly, by the hypnotist. Although amnesia and delayed recall are documented among sex abuse victims, critics warn reconstruction of the memories cannot be thought of as empirical evidence of abuse, but rather part of a theoretical construct used to explain the given disorder.
Apart from its use in paranormal episodes, hypnotism remains an often effective technique in the treatment of emotional and behavioral disorders. In addition to psychotherapeutic sessions, hypnotism is now being utilized in other realms of health and education. For instance, hypno-birthing is a technique founded by Marie Mongan. Hypnotic techniques are reportedly utilized to create a calm state for the birth mother. This alledgedly enables the mother to draw upon natural birthing muscles, bodily anesthesias, and inherent instincts to facilitate a trauma-free birth.
Another modern derivative of hypnotic techniques is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), developed by John Grinder and Richard Bandler of the University of California at Santa Cruz. NLP is the study of how communication effects and is effected by subjective experience, which can be used to determine how different kinds of persons learn. It explores relationships between neurology, linguistics, and observable patterns of behavior, incorporating hypnotic techniques of Milton Erickson. NLP unlocks secrets of highly effective communication, some of which might be outside the realm of conscious awareness.
Both age regression and past life regression, however, point to the heart of the debate concerning using hypnotism to access memory, or for facilitating occult and parapsychological encounters. The controversy revolves around determining the exact nature of what the somnambulistic subject experiences and, subsequently, expresses. Perhaps the subject actually encounters entities, communications, and experiences originating in alternative planes of existence. Or maybe these phenomena are merely the result of imagination heightened by suggestion, whether intentional or incidental. It is possible that these experiences merely reflect images and information that have accumulated in the unconscious, often escaping the awareness of the sentient mind.
Since it is often difficult for the subject themselves to differentiate between these kind of stimuli, the debate is likely to continue indefinitely.
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Hypnosis is a term frequently used to refer to any trance state and probably equally frequently to any condition in which an unusual degree of suggestibility is found. The term was originally introduced by James Braid in 1841 specifically to denote a sleeplike state presumably brought about in an individual by his intense and protracted visual fixation on a bright spot of light placed in a specific position relative to him. Subsequently the term came to refer to a group of presumably related conditions brought about in an individual by well-specified physical procedures. At a still later date, on the assumption that these various conditions were suggested artifacts, hypnosis once more was applied to a single condition that can best be described as an altered state of awareness characteristically accompanied by increased suggestibility, which is brought about in some individuals, the subjects, through the use of certain procedures by another person, the hypnotist. Characteristically this hypersuggestibility is initially selective, that is, the subject responds only to the hypnotist until told to do otherwise. By and large this has become the most widely accepted popular and scientific meaning of the term “hypnosis” as a concept.
By extension the term with the added qualification of “animal” has been used to denote a variety of conditions of abnormal immobility of varying durations and characteristics which can be brought about in animals by means of a number of physical procedures, including optical fixation. This so-called animal hypnosis covers such conditions as have also been variously termed cataplexy, catalepsy, death feint, hypertonicity, tonic immobility, inhibitory state, and other names, which may or may not all refer to one and the same thing.
The term “hypnosis,” like its associated terms “suggestion” and “trance,” has been greatly abused, overused, and misused by both laymen and professionals and has at times been given such a broad denotation as to render it meaningless. In particular there has been and still is extensive confounding between matters of definition, observation, theory, and plain belief. Because of the impossibility of clearly separating purely hypnotic from purely suggestive phenomena in many instances, it seems best to use the expression “hypno-suggestive” in such cases.
“Hypnotism” was the term originally used by James Braid to denote that which he otherwise called “nervous sleep” and which is today known as “hypnosis,” the term hypnotism now having supplanted the term “Braidism” at first employed to denote the study and use of hypnosis. Hypnotism proper then began with Braid in 1841 as a consequence of his attempts to elucidate the true nature of mesmeric phenomena (after Franz Anton Mesmer). It is generally agreed today that mesmeric phenomena most probably were a combination of hypno-suggestive and psychopathological manifestations mistakenly ascribed to the effects of a vital fluid called animal magnetism. It is reasonable to assume that hypno–suggestive phenomena have a wide cultural and temporal distribution; nevertheless, much of what has been written in this regard is a matter of sheer speculation. This is the case, for instance, in regard to claims such as the ones that Moses induced mass hypnotic hallucinations in the Egyptians, that Christ healed, and that witches hexed through the “power” of suggestion, or that the dancing mania of the Middle Ages was the result of mass suggestion or mass hypnosis. Braid’s chief scientific contribution was the isolation from mesmeric phenomena of that component which he named “hypnotism.” About forty years later, Jean Martin Charcot introduced the next important development. He asserted that hypnosis was not a single entity but consisted of a group of three distinct nervous states which he named catalepsy, lethargy, and somnambulism. Each was capable of being separately induced by specific physical means. To these Paul Beémaud added a fourth state, fascination. Two other important claims of Charcot were that these states had a somatic neurological basis and that they could be elicited only in individuals suffering from grande hystérie, of which it was symptomatic, a notion that was to be carried into Pierre Janet’s basic work on hysteria. About 1884, however, Charcot’s position began to be openly and vigorously challenged with increasing success by Hippolyte Bernheim, who had followed up some ideas proposed somewhat earlier by A. A. Liébeault. Bernheim maintained that hypnosis and all of its attendant phenomena were not pathological manifestations and were entirely the result of suggestion. He did not claim, however, as he is often misinterpreted to have done, that hypnosis as a mental state does not exist; but he did firmly believe that it was functional in nature and brought about through the effects of suggestion, as were all other hypnotic manifestations. For the sake of historical accuracy it should also be noted that the idea of suggestion playing a major, if not essential, role in mesmeric and hypnotic phenomena was recognized and pointed out not only by Braid himself but even earlier by Alexandre Bertrand, a leading authority on mesmerism, and quite emphatically by the French royal commission that investigated Mesmer’s claims in 1784. No doubt the experiments performed by Bernheim to support his thesis had some influence in establishing his views, but Braid and the royal commission too had reported clear-cut experiments in support of their views on suggestion. One must suspect that forty years of progress in the development of the scientific method and the temper of the respective times were probably of considerable influence in assuring the success of Bernheim’s suggestion theory. [SeeCharcot.]
Although the notion that hypnotic or suggested phenomena represent a continuum and may be scaled had been discussed earlier by others, our modern scales of hypnotic depth, hypnotic susceptibility, and suggestibility are most directly derived from scales proposed first by Liebeault and later by Bernheim. The years between about 1885 and 1905 represent maximal interest and activity in hypnotism, mainly in France and Germany, not to be equaled again until the 1950s.
By 1910 scientific and medical interest in hypnotism had about completely died down. It has frequently been asserted that Freud and psychoanalysis were responsible for this loss of interest. It has also been said that the decline of interest was caused by the widespread use of hypnotism by charlatans and vaudeville artists. A careful examination of the existing records shows little support for either hypothesis. The increasingly obvious and disappointingly limited success of hypnosis and suggestion as then used was bound to give way to any other more promising psychiatric and medical technique and certainly to lead to a search in other directions. Furthermore, besides the fact that most of the past research had been done by medical men whose interest was then being redirected, the cultural and social forces which were inevitably to lead to behaviorism, operationism, and logical positivism were very likely a strong influence in the temporary abandonment of hypnotism as a topic for research. Then, too, it may well be that after more than half a century of intensive study of its phenomena, culminating in the widespread acceptance of Bernheim’s view, it may have seemed to most investigators that there was little else to be found or said. Be that as it may, sporadic research went on during the next thirty years or so, with a temporary and limited renewal of interest in the psychiatric uses of hypnosis during World War I. The beginning of the next and current widespread interest in hypnotism appears to be in the early 1930s. Under the tutelage of Clark L. Hull a relatively sophisticated scientific and broad attack upon hypnotic phenomena was instigated. It came to an abrupt end following legal complications, but not before sufficient data had been collected to allow the publication of a book that may be considered as opening the way to current research on hypnotism (Hull 1933). In retrospect it cannot be said that the work of Hull, who essentially followed in the footsteps of Bernheim, threw much more light upon what hypnosis is. It did, however, show that hypno-suggestive phenomena are fit material for scientific study and that they can be studied alongside of other psychological phenomena. It also threw considerable light upon the limitations of suggestion. In spite of Hull’s work, active interest in hypnotism remained at a relatively low ebb for the next twelve years or so. Since World War II, however, there has been a renewal of intense research activity in this field, at first primarily in the United States and then in other parts of the world. Here again it is doubtful that the work of any single man, such as Hull, was responsible for the current revival of interest. It appears more likely to be due to the same social forces that once again have made the study of subjective phenomena and the problems of consciousness acceptable topics for scientific investigation. In spite of this upsurge of interest remarkably few advances over those attained as of 1910 have thus far been made toward answering fundamental questions in the field.
Typically, an individual, the subject, is asked by another person, the hypnotist, to gaze intensely at a small, bright object held in front of, at some distance from, and somewhat above his eyes. While the subject does this, the hypnotist tells him in a repetitious manner that he is becoming relaxed and drowsy; that his eyes are getting heavy and closing; that he is falling asleep; and, eventually, that he is asleep. An onlooker usually sees, especially if the subject is sitting, clear evidence of increasing relaxation; and eventually the subject does appear to fall asleep. However, in contrast to a person who is normally asleep, the subject seems to be selectively in sensory contact with the hypnotist and with him alone, and in general to be selectively and unusually able and willing to carry out all commands, requests, or suggestions of the hypnotist, no matter how unusual and even outlandish these may be. In consequence the subject is said to be in a selective rapport with and selectively hypersuggestible to the hypnotist. The subject’s behavior most closely resembles that of the sleepwalker or somnambule, hence the alternate designation of artificial or induced somnambulism which has been given to hypnosis as thus conceived. The popular picture of the hypnotized person is one of an individual without volition who will not only believe, experience, and do whatever the hypnotist wishes along these lines but who is also capable of producing on demand behavior and phenomena out of the ordinary and bordering on the miraculous or supranormal. All of his physical and intellectual faculties and capacities are often said to be remarkably enhanced; and new ones such as psi-faculties (extrasensory perception, clairvoyance, etc.) are even said to appear. Spontaneously occurring un-awareness during hypnosis and posthypnotic amnesia are also among the classical symptoms of hypnosis. In the common conception of hypnotic behavior there is no clear-cut distinction between suggestion proper and requests or commands. For all intents and purposes they are one and the same for the hypnotized subject. On the other hand, a clear separation is made between hypnosis and suggestion, hypnosis being considered as a state induced by the procedures outlined above and responsible for a remarkable enhancement of suggestibility, which in turn makes all other phenomena possible. Suggestibility, however, is also seen as existing separately from hypnosis, with the consequence that one distinguishes between hypnotic and waking suggestions, the latter sometimes being associated with a presumed condition inappropriately called walking hypnosis. Modern research (since about 1930) has aimed mainly at determining answers to the following questions: (1) Is there a state of hypnosis distinct from suggestibility and what are its criteria? (2) What procedures and conditions promote and enhance hypnosis and/or suggestibility? (3) What are the properties and nature of hypnosis and/or suggestibility? (4) What kind of effects can be brought about through hypnosis and/or suggestions, and what is their nature? Since, as will be seen in a moment, hypnosis as a state has remained a very illusive entity, research falling in the last three areas has primarily been about suggestion and suggestibility and about effects induced by suggestions.
Somewhere close to ten thousand articles and about one thousand books have been published to date on the subject matter. In spite of this the sum total of our knowledge about the phenomena in question remains remarkably meager.
Hypnosis versus suggestion
Is there a condition of the individual different from the normal waking state which is associated with and/or responsible for so-called hypnotic phenomena? To date, physiological and psychological tests have been unable to detect any difference between individuals who are in a state of normal wakefulness and those who have been hypnotized and are overtly responding to suggestions. It has also been clearly demonstrated that the suggestion and exhibition of sleeplike characteristics are quite unnecessary for the production of hypnotic behavior. However, since hypnosis is defined as a state associated with the subject’s ability to carry out essentially the same kinds of activities as a normal and fully awake individual, such findings are not particularly surprising and cannot be considered satisfactory evidence that hypnosis as an altered state of awareness does not exist. The bases currently available for believing that there is a condition which may be called hypnosis are the following: (1) After submitting to procedures aimed at producing hypnosis, certain individuals show an appreciable increase in suggestibility. (2) Their behavior and self-report consistently indicate the presence of an altered awareness. (3) Certain labile observable characteristics are frequently and consistently seen immediately following the presumed appearance of hypnosis. Among the more obvious one may list a tonic immobility including a characteristic fixity of stare (“trance stare”); an economy of movement when movement is induced; and a lack of motor, affective, and ideational spontaneity. Admittedly the last two groups of signs could be the result of implicit and unwitting suggestions or of self-suggestions and thus remain equivocal. On the whole the appearance of hyper-suggestibility remains the one and only clear-cut criterion.
Suggestion. In any event, whether or not hypnosis exists as a distinct state of consciousness, it is generally agreed that suggestion and suggestibility, the capacity for responding to suggestions, are the all-important elements in both the production of the presumed state as well as of the associated phenomena. Suggestion itself has been a poorly defined and controversial concept often confounded with suggestibility. A careful examination of the various existing examples of suggestion seems to show one common characteristic: conceptually speaking they can all be described as ideas which produce a response on the part of an individual that does not appear to be initiated or mediated by all or any of the ego processes normally operative in voluntary or intentional behavior. As such the resulting behavior belongs to the class of automatisms. Suggestions (and suggestibility) have been variously categorized based on their linguistic and grammatical features, their source of origin, the nature of the stimulus used, the shape of the distribution curves of the responses to them, the context in which they are given, and on factor analysis. The typical suggestion used in connection with hypnotic phenomena has been variously and accordingly called a “personal,” “direct,” “prestige,” or “primary” suggestion. Response to this type of suggestion is essentially unrelated to response to other types. In particular social suggestion, that is, the indirect influence by a group over an individual, is unrelated to it.
Suggestion has also been classified as hetero-suggestion and autosuggestion (self-suggestion) depending on whether the suggestor is a person other than the suggestee or is the suggestee himself. A hypnotic suggestion given so as to be carried out after the subject is no longer hypnotized is called a posthypnotic suggestion. Finally, suggestions given to a group of people rather than to one individual are called mass (group) suggestions. [SeeSuggestion.]
Suggested phenomena—real or pretended?
Bernheim raised the question whether hypnosis as a syndrome existed independently of suggestion. Some modern investigators have gone one step further and asked whether there even is such a thing as suggested behavior in the sense of an automatism. Stated another way, they propose that all hypno-suggestive behavior is voluntary or intentional activity fully initiated and mediated by the ego processes and that basically the subject is knowingly “pretending,” “simulating,” “play acting,” or “role playing (taking).” That some subjects pretend or role play some suggested behavior, and sometimes all, is not to be questioned. That all subjects simulate all suggested behavior is anything but well demonstrated. It is in fact extremely difficult, for one thing, to consider as instances of mere role playing the many well-attested cases of individuals undergoing major surgery under hypno-anesthesia alone. In any case one of the most common arguments for the above view, namely, that all suggested phenomena, including unawareness of pain, can be exhibited by some individuals in the absence of suggestions or hypnosis is anything but conclusive. For not only must one ask whether suggestions can produce phenomena that completely transcend all known human potentialities but also whether suggestions can make it possible for a given individual to behave in a manner or at a level that transcends his own best output when presumably in a nonhypnotic, normal wakeful state. It appears that this last question can be answered positively, although in a much more limited way than was once believed. In any event, those who uphold the notion of role taking as the answer seem blatantly to ignore the fact that the situation surrounding such role playing appears to have an unusual power to selectively elicit role playing of an unusual kind in certain individuals. If role playing it is, it appears to stand out in a particular subcategory all its own among the totality of possible role-playing behaviors. In particular it would still appear true that having role-played becoming hypnotized as a result of submitting to certain procedures, some individuals become able to act as if they were in possession of an often remarkably greater ability to role play, whereas others do not. In the final analysis there does not seem as yet to be much gained, if anything, by substituting “elicited role playing” for “suggested behavior.” To speak of role-taking ability in place of speaking of suggestibility with respect to certain kinds of instruction in no way makes the behavior any more understandable. [SeeRole, article onpsychological aspects.]
Suggestibility and hypnotizability
Who can be hypnotized? What makes a person suggestible? Much time and effort has gone into an attempt to find answers to these questions, with very little success thus far. Various scales purporting to measure suggestibility as well as susceptibility to hypnosis have been devised. They are all based upon sampling a person’s responsiveness to various test suggestions. If the subject is tested without the prior use of a procedure aimed at inducing hypnosis, the scale is considered to measure his suggestibility. If he has submitted to an induction of hypnosis prior to its administration the scale is considered to measure the depth of hypnosis attained. If such a test is considered as a predictive sampling of his behavior with regard to future inductions of hypnosis, it is considered a measure of hypnotic susceptibility or hypnotizability. Since none of these scales possesses an independent criterion for establishing whether or not the induction procedure had any effect at all, there is an obvious confounding of suggestibility with hypnosis. It has, however, been shown that following such an induction procedure some individuals do exhibit a definite increase in suggestibility as measured by these scales. At least such individuals are presumably hypnotized.
Results obtained with these scales and simpler tests indicate that, on the whole, children are more suggestible (and probably more hypnotizable) than adults. Women and girls are probably slightly more suggestible (and hypnotizable) than men and boys. Neurotics, as a whole, are also more suggestible (and hypnotizable) than normal individuals. Contrary to a common belief, psychotics are probably as suggestible (and hypnotizable) as normal individuals, and hysterics are neither more nor less suggestible (and hypnotizable) than other neurotics. Finally, there appears to be a slight positive correlation between suggestibility or hypnotizability and intelligence. Attempts to establish a relationship between suggestibility or hypnotizability and personality factors have generally been unsuccessful. Attitude, motivation, expectation, and emotions can enter as factors but are clearly not essential determinants of suggestibility or hypnotizability. Little is known regarding race and cultural differences. Depressants of the central nervous system, such as the barbiturates, can increase suggestibility (and hypnotizability) provided the subject is already suggestible. Satisfactory data regarding the effects of hallucinogenic drugs and the effects of stimulants are as yet unavailable. In general there does not appear to be any proven drug or device which by itself—that is, entirely through a physical action—can bring about an outstanding state of hypersuggestibility.
It needs to be remarked that the answers to many questions with regard to hypnotizability or hypnotic susceptibility are very much dependent upon (a) the criterion used to establish that a person is hypnotized, and (b) the “degree” or “depth” of hypnosis one has in mind. One of the main weaknesses in all of the studies reported by Hull, for instance, consists in the fact that closing of the eyes following suggestions to this effect is taken by him as a criterion of being hypnotized, this apparently being an all-or-none affair. There are, however, good reasons for questioning just how many subjects thus closing their eyes are really hypnotized—suggestible, yes; but whether hypnotized or not remains a moot question. To say, for instance, that 40 per cent, 2 per cent, and so on of individuals can or cannot be hypnotized is quite meaningless unless these figures are related to a clear criterion of what being hypnotized consists of. According to modern views hypnosis is on a linear continuum assumed to be isomorphic if not identical with a continuum of suggestibility. The questions “how hypnotized” or “how hypnotizable” can therefore be answered only in relation to a specified point on this continuum. A great many writers, particularly medical men, are willing to consider any sign of suggestibility, no matter how small, as a sign of hypnotizability. By this token just about everyone is hypnotizable. Others, like Braid and Charcot, insist on a full-scale manifestation of suggestibility before they consider a person hypnotizable. By this criterion only a very small percentage of individuals are susceptible to hypnosis. The majority of investigators, like Bernheim, prefer, however, to think of individuals as falling within ranges or intervals on the suggestibility continuum and speak of individuals as being insusceptible (5-30 per cent), light (33-50 per cent), medium (12-35 per cent), and deep or somnambulistic (5-29 per cent) subjects. Whether any of these are, however, actually hypnotized at the time they are ranked remains a difficult question to answer.
The effectiveness of suggestions
If it exists as a state, whatever other properties hypnosis may have were long ago pushed far into the background by the presumed hypersuggestibility that accompanies its presence. Although there may be some question whether exactly the same processes underlie the action of both waking and hypnotic suggestions, in their outward manifestations both seem to lie on the same continuum, there simply being more or less suggestibility. On the basis of the observed behavior and the reports of subjects, suggestions are apparently extremely effective in the cognitive domain. The most outstanding of these effects are hallucinations, delusions, anesthesias, paresthesias, amnesias, and paramnesias. These are functional effects that can be said to have the same kind of reality as similar functional manifestations associated with various psychopathologies. Suggestions appear to be able to bring about appreciable affective changes, particularly when these are indirectly brought about in association with hallucinations and delusions. On the other hand the power of suggestions to bring about improved sensory, motor, and intellectual performance is quite limited. Such enhanced performance as is usually observed appears to be most readily obtained as side effects of other suggested effects. The same is true of suggestions aimed at affecting the vegetative functions. Excluding improved performance, suggestions appear to be able to affect appreciably and directly all voluntary behavior, particularly at the motor level. On the whole, suggestions appear to be much more limited in their effectiveness than is commonly believed.
Regression and somatic effects. One of the more widely advertised suggested phenomena is hypnotic regression, whereby an individual is presumably caused to re-experience past events vividly, especially those of his childhood, and in the process is made to produce appropriate behavioral and even somatic manifestations. Individuals have been said by reliable sources to have thus “returned” to the first weeks of life. The matter remains controversial. Unquestionably in many cases much role playing is present, and in many instances one is dealing at best with some hypermnesia often mixed with confabulation. However, there do appear to be cases that seem to indicate the reliving of past experiences in a much more complete sense than that of a hypermnesia. By and large the matter remains unsettled.
Can somatic tissue changes, such as heat blisters, be brought about by suggestion? There are indications that this is probably possible but not readily so and perhaps only in individuals with special diatheses. The question of control of bleeding and removal of warts by suggestion remains on the whole unsettled.
Hypnosis and volition. Two perennial questions with regard to hypnosis are whether an individual can be hypnotized against his will and whether a hypnotized person can be made to act in certain ways against his will. No one can give an absolute negative answer to either question. In a general way the answer is negative, and if these effects are at all possible, they would be so only under rather unusual circumstances. It must be clearly understood that this assertion is made on the assumption that the subject is fully aware that efforts are being made to hypnotize him or that the act is one he cannot abide. There is evidence that if the situation in question can be so structured as to prevent the subject from being aware of the true nature of the acts involved, a person who otherwise would not want to be hypnotized can be hypnotized, and a hypnotized person who otherwise would not agree to perform a certain act will perform it. Thus in this sense it would appear possible, in a manner of speaking, to bring about through hypno-suggestive procedures effects that are against the will of the person. It might be added that for rather obvious ethical reasons, if for no others, a decisive experimental test of the matter is not likely to be done.
Moreover, and contrary to popular misconception, a hypnotized individual usually is not unconscious or bereft of all intellectual faculties. On the contrary, he is capable of perceiving, evaluating, reasoning, deciding, and carrying out his decisions; but he does appear to be limited in these respects by the nature of the suggestions he has been given.
Whether or not it has a reality of its own, hypnosis as it has been popularly and scientifically conceived is a presumed state that appears to fall into a much larger class of altered states of awareness best subsumed under the heading trance states. The term “hypnosis” is best reserved to denote only those trance states that are associated with an initially selective hypersuggestibility and that are intentionally brought about in one individual by means of specific psychological and physical procedures and agents used by another individual. Such a definition appears overrestrictive to some writers for it tends to exclude from the class of hypnotic phenomena such occurrences as have been called “animal hypnosis,” “spontaneous (or accidental) hypnosis,” and “self-hypnosis.” The facts, however, are that, at best, known cases of animal hypnosis could probably be identified with Charcot’s induced human catalepsy when brought about by sudden stimulation. They have never been shown to have any but a very limited resemblance to the most generally accepted conception of heterohypnosis with which, incidentally, of Charcot’s three syndromes, only his “somnambulism” can be identified. Additionally, there is some evidence that animal hypnosis, better referred to as an induced state of immobilization, is physiologically distinguishable from the usual form taken by hypnosis in humans. Finally, a study of the literature shows that the coining of the expression “animal hypnosis” has come entirely out of an unwarranted generalization of the term “hypnosis” under the influence of theoretical speculations. The same is largely true of “spontaneous (accidental) hypnosis,” a phenomenon largely theorized but never clearly demonstrated to exist. The most recent abuse of the term “hypnosis” along this line is to be found in so-called “highway hypnosis,” a highly speculative notion behind which there exists but the vaguest of factual evidence. As for “self-hypnosis,” its existence has been obfuscated by the fact that “self” can be used in this case to refer to a number of different processes. The two most common and only practical so-called techniques of self-hypnosis are basically cases of heterohypnosis. In one the subject listens to a recording specially prepared by a hypnotist, and in the other he makes use of posthypnotic suggestions given to him at a previous time by a hypnotist. As for hypnosis induced without such aids by an individual acting as both hypnotist and subject and using solely a recognized technique equivalent to one used for the induction of heterohypnosis, no clear-cut cases of it have been reported. Such reported cases as those presumably seen among Tibetan monks, Hindu yogis, and Bal-inese dancers, to name only a few, have not been satisfactorily demonstrated to meet all the essential criteria of hypnosis previously mentioned. Considerable evidence exists showing that even in these instances the reported condition is brought about only after the individual involved has gone through specific and often intensive training with at least one teacher; hence there is a serious question of how free of hetero-influences these situations really are. Thus the exclusion of such rather nebulous and largely speculative entities by the definition that has been given does not present any real problem. This is not to say that some individuals probably do not spontaneously enter states of altered awareness under various conditions, as, for instance, when concentrating intensely upon a problem. It is essentially a foregone conclusion that they do. But is it hypnosis? It is clearly so only if one essentially defines hypnosis as any state of altered awareness. If, however, one retains the historical and popular meaning of the term, there does not as yet appear to be any justification for calling such conditions “spontaneous (accidental) hypnosis” or, even less, “self-hypnosis.”
AndrÉ M. Weitzenhoffer
[Directly related are the entriesPersuasionand Suggestion. Other relevant material may be found inAttention; Attitudes, article onattitude change; Pain; Role, article onpsychological aspects; Sleep; and in the biographies ofHulland Mes-mer.]
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A temporary narrowing of conscious awareness.
Practiced since ancient times, hypnosis or hypnotism remains difficult to define accurately and completely. Although the word hypnosis comes from the Greek word hypnos, for sleep , hypnosis is actually an intense state of concentration.
There are three degrees of hypnosis. Under light hypnosis, the subject becomes sleepy and follows simple directions; under deep hypnosis, the person experiences dulling of sensory perception , similar to that of anesthesia. Under deep hypnosis, the subject can move about, open his or her eyes, and can even undergo medical procedures with no additional anesthetic. Magicians and illusionists use deep hypnosis to make a subject behave in unusual ways, such as to suspend the subject's body between two chairs in a posture that is completely stiff. The magician suggests that the subject's body become stiff and rigid, and the result is muscle tension powerful enough to support the body completely. Many researchers contend that the key factor in hypnosis is the subject's willingness to cooperate with the hypnotist, combined with the subject's belief that hypnosis works. People who are easily hypnotized are described as "suggestible"; in fact, if the subject expects to be successfully hypnotized, it is much more likely that he or she will.
Hypnotic induction is the process by which hypnosis is accomplished. In most situations, an individual performs the induction on a willing subject. Classical hypnotic induction involves a series of steps. First, sensory input to the subject is restricted, and the subject is instructed to stop moving. Second, the subject's focus of attention is narrowed. This may be accomplished by asking him or her to focus on a specific point of light or a spot on the wall. Finally, the hypnotist begins a pattern of monotonous repetition. The hypnotist may repeatedly tell the subject to relax, to breathe slowly and deeply, and to focus attention on a fixed point. It is estimated that about 70 percent of all people can be hypnotized at some level. Within that group, an estimated 30 percent are in the low range, 60 percent in the middle, and 10 percent are highly hypnotizable using the classical approach to hypnotic induction. The claim that a person could be hypnotized against his or her will is controversial in the scientific community. Many scientists feel that an unwilling subject would be difficult to hypnotize, and most scientists raise ethical questions about any attempts to do so.
While in an hypnotic trance, some subjects are able to recall forgotten experiences. This can be useful in treating amnesia or milder forms of memory loss. Interestingly,
|MYTHS ABOUT HYPNOSIS|
|Hypnosis places the subject in someone else's control.||Magicians and other entertainers use the illusion of power to control their subjects' behavior. In reality, people who act silly or respond to instructions to do foolish things do so because they want to. The hypnotist creates a setting where the subject will follow suggestions—but the subject must be willing to cooperate.|
|A subject can become "stuck" in a trance.||Subjects can come out of a hypnotic state any time they wish. The subject has control of the process of hypnosis, with the hypnotist simply guiding him or her.|
|The hypnotist can plant a suggestion in the subject's mind—even for something to be done in the future.||It is impossible for anyone to be implanted with suggestions to do anything against his or her will.|
|Hypnosis may be used to improve accuracy of the subject's memory.||Memories recovered under hypnosis are no more reliable than others.|
many subjects do not recall anything that happened while they were in the hypnotic trance; the hypnotist may direct the person to perform some act or engage in a specific behavior after the trance state has ended. This is termed post-hypnotic trance or post-hypnotic suggestion, and it is successful in only a small percentage of people who are able to be hypnotized. The post-hypnotic suggestion only works for behaviors that the subject is willing and able to perform; an unscrupulous hypnotist could not enlist an unwilling subject in criminal activity, for example, by post-hypnotic suggestion. Ending the trance is usually accomplished by a preset signal given by the hypnotist. On occasion, the subject may wake from the trance without the signal being given. It is unusual for a hypnotist to have difficulty ending the induced trance. Some people are able to hypnotize themselves in a process called autohypnosis or self-hypnosis.
Doctors also employ hypnosis as a method of pain management for chronic headaches, backaches, severe burns, and during childbirth. In cancer treatment, hypnosis is used to control the side effects of chemotherapy and as a self-healing adjunct to chemotherapy. Hypnosis is also used for autoimmune diseases, sleep disorders , and skin ailments, including warts and rashes. Some surgeons use hypnosis in the operating room, not only to reduce the amount of anesthesia patients need, but also to lessen anxiety and postoperative swelling and bleeding. A patient in an hypnotic trance can remain immobile for extended periods of time, avoiding aggravation of the injury. Victims under a state of shock are also more responsive to hypnotic induction. Dentists use hypnosis to complete dental work on a relaxed patient without the need for anesthesia. Some psychotherapists employ hypnotic induction to treat phobias, sexual dysfunction , stress , eating disorders , selfdestructive habits (such as smoking and other addictions) and to improve progress on positive behavioral changes. Hypnosis is a primary tool to gain access to memories, a controversial issue in the mental health field. In working with children, psychotherapists use hypnosis for enuresis, thumb-sucking, behavioral problems and improving academic performance, among others. Psychiatrists and psychologists may also use hypnosis to learn more about the human mind, and to help patients understand their own emotional and personality development. This application of hypnosis is termed hypnotherapy. In law enforcement, victims of and witnesses to crimes are sometimes hypnotized to help them remember important clues.
Patients who are responsive to being hypnotized must, first of all, be willing participants in the hypnosis process. One psychiatrist, Dr. Herbert Spiegel, developed the Hypnotic Induction Profile (HIP) to determine whether an individual is a good prospect for hypnosis. When the subject rolls his or her eyes back into the head, Dr. Spiegel suggests that person is likely to be successfully hypnotized if a great deal of white is visible on the eyeball. Other qualities included in Dr. Spiegel's profile include a trusting personality, preference for emotional rather than rational thinking, high empathy for others, and an intense capacity for concentration. Other researchers have studied the hypnotic situation and theorize that creating a setting where the subject is more likely to believe that hypnosis will work is a key to successful hypnosis. These scientists contend that the situation, combined with the subject's motivation, has greater influence than any personality trait or physical characteristic.
A number of professional organizations offer training and advanced training in hypnosis. Among these are the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis, the American Board of Medical Hypnosis, the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis, the American Board of Hypnosis in Dentistry and the American Hypnosis Board for Clinical Social Work. The American Psychiatric Association , the American Psychological Association , and the American Dental Association have all endorsed the technique. Mental health professionals have used hypnosis to treat sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, smoking and other addictions, enuresis and thumb-sucking.
Hammond, D. Corydon. Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.
Manfred, Erica. "The New Uses of Hypnosis." Cosmopolitan (February 1996): 104+.
Rossi, E. L. The Psychobiology of Mind-Body Healing: New Concepts of Therapeutic Hypnosis. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1993.
Hypnosis is the altered state of consciousness brought on by a hypnotist using various techniques (staring at an object, verbal commands, etc.). The English physician James Braid, in his Neurhypnology (1843), popularized, or may even have coined, the word "hypnotism." "Hypnosis" appears to have come into use later.
Braid sought to replace unscientific ideas and practices with a scientific conception of a "peculiar state of the nervous system induced by a fixed and abstracted attention of the mental and visual eye." He also hoped to do away with what magnetizers called "rapport." In the mid-nineteenth century, the English physiologist William Carpenter provided scientific support for "Braidism" by making hypnosis the paradigm of the reflexive and automatic activity that he called "unconscious cerebration." Introduced to the topic by the young physiologist Charles Richet, Jean Martin Charcot experimented with hypnosis on hysterical patients in his clinic starting in 1878, basing himself on Braid's and especially Carpenter's neurological approach. In 1882, in an article that was noted by the Académie des Sciences, he identified a pathology unique to hysterics, the "grand hypnotism" characterized by three specific nervous states (catalepsy, lethargy, and somnambulism).
Starting in 1860 in Nancy, where he had set up a "clinic," Ambroise Liebeault also made use of hypnotism, employing methods established by J.-P. Durand de Gros, one of the proponents of Braidism in France. He paid special attention to Braid's experiments with suggestion, using hypnotic suggestion for therapeutic purposes, unlike Charcot, whose practice was almost purely experimental. Hippolyte Bernheim went even further and treated hypnosis as a particular type of suggestion. He also popularized the term "psychotherapy," which he borrowed from the Briton Hack Tuke, and practiced psychotherapy by means of suggestion with and without hypnotism. After 1884 two opposing schools of hypnosis developed around Charcot and Bernheim. In Paris, the emphasis was on the idea of a pathological nervous state; in Nancy, on that of a link or psychological influence that was not necessarily pathological.
Nonetheless, although they often took their cue from a particular school, some practitioners and researchers tried to look beyond prevailing theoretical and therapeutic dogmas. The psychotherapist could thus refuse merely to issue commands, and attempt through hypnosis, to discover memories forgotten during waking life that could be at the root of neurotic symptoms (see the case of Pierre Marie in L'Automatisme psychologique by Pierre Janet, 1889). Several stories of cures associated with the return of forgotten memories were published at the end of the nineteenth century.
In discussions of hypnotic suggestion the question of "rapport" was again raised. Joseph Delboeuf introduced the idea of reciprocal suggestion. Pierre Janet and Alfred Binet spoke of "electivity," of "somnambulant passion" and "experimental love." Additionally, there was interest in the psychology of hypnotic states of consciousness. These were described in terms of dissociation (Janet) or hypnoid states (Sigmund Freud and Josef Breuer). Finally, contrary to the dominant medical view at the time, the idea arose that the unconscious was not only reflexological but psychological. Experiments with post-hypnotic suggestion, in which a subject, while awake, obeys an order given during a hypnosis that he has apparently forgotten, seemed to the philosopher Henri Bergson to prove the existence of unconscious ideas and a psychological unconscious. Freud the psychoanalyst undoubtedly emerged from this plethora of research and debate: 1885-1886 (Paris), 1889 (Nancy), and 1895 (publication of the Studies on Hysteria ).
Hypnosis refers both to a state of consciousness (or unconsciousness) and to a relationship. True to the legacy of Charcot and Bernheim, present-day proponents of hypnology are still divided into "statists" and "relationists." Some points of view, especially within the relationist school, draw on psychoanalysis, while others seek to reinstate hypnotism as part of an anti-psychoanalytic tendency. For hypnosis, like animal magnetism before it, does not refer only to a state or to a relationship. Since the nineteenth century it has become a magical word with strong negative or positive connotations and as many staunch advocates as militant opponents—a tireless vector of fascination and stigma.
The practice, phenomenology, and theory of hypnosis have evolved, of course, since the time of James Braid, and hypnosis can now be seen as a largely cultural phenomenon. All the same, some questions, contradictory and probably unanswerable, seem to remain after more than a century. Is the hypnotic state akin to sleep and dreaming, or to wakefulness and lucidity? Does it imply an unconscious dispossession, or is it a form of playacting? And is "hypnosis" a functional concept that can explain certain phenomenon, or a word that precipitates the very state it is supposed to account for?
See also: Alienation; Anna O., case of; Autosuggestion; Bernheim, Hippolyte; Cäcilie M., case of; Cathartic method; Charcot, Jean Martin; Chertok, Léon (Tchertok, Lejb); Cinema and psychoanalysis; "Confusion of Tongues between Adults and the Child"; Congrès international de l'hypnotisme expérimental et scientifique, Premier; Cure; Delboeuf, Joseph Rémi Léopold; Emmy von N., case of; Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis ; Freud's Self-analysis; Freud, the Secret Passion ; Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego ; Hypnoid states; Janet Pierre; Liebault Ambroise Auguste; "Lines of Advance in Psycho-Analytic Therapy"; Look, gaze; Masochism; Negative hallucination; Psychoanalytic treatment; Psychotherapy; Relaxation psychotherapy; Repression, lifting of; Resistance; Self-consciousness; Studies on Hysteria ; Suggestion; Trance; Qu'est-ce que la suggestion? (What is suggestion?).
Carroy, Jacqueline. (1991). Hypnose, Suggestion et Psychologie: l'invention de sujets. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
Chertok, Léon, and Stengers, Isabelle. (1992). A critique of psychoanalytic reason: Hypnosis as a scientific problem from Lavoisier to Lacan (Martha Noel Evans in collaboration with the authors, Trans.). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. (Original work published 1989)
Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970). The discovery of the unconscious: The history and evolution of dynamic psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.
Freud, Sigmund. (1921c). Group psychology and the analysis of the ego. SE, 18: 65-143.
The ‘mesmeric passes’ sometimes had side-effects, for instance convulsions or sleep. One of Mesmer's pupils, the Marquis de Puységur (1751–1825) discovered that certain subjects would pass through a sleep-like state into a state of ‘somnambulism’ (later called ‘trance’ or ‘sleep-waking’). ‘Somnambulic’ subjects might converse with the operator; diagnose and prescribe for their own ailments or those of others; have visions of distant persons, places, and scenes; show enhanced powers of memory; and carry out prescribed actions, including postdated ones. Afterwards they would remember nothing of this until again put into the somnambulic state.
There were thus two therapeutic methods at the animal magnetists' disposal: the ‘mesmeric passes’, and the diagnoses and recommendations offered by magnetic somnambules. In the early nineteenth century these practices, and the associated theory of ‘animal magnetism’, spread widely across Europe, and by the 1840s they had established themselves in Britain and the US. The movement reached its peak in the late 1840s when public attention was caught by numerous reports of major surgical operations carried out painlessly on patients put into a sleep-like state by mesmeric procedures.
Magnetic practitioners were mostly well-intentioned individuals, and sometimes medically qualified (though the medical profession was generally hostile). But there also appeared numerous public demonstrators who would put on mesmeric shows for the entertainment of large audiences. These popular demonstrators played a significant part in transforming the ‘mesmeric’ movement of the first half of the nineteenth century into the more respectable ‘hypnotic’ movement of the second. For a scientist or medical man might sometimes attend a public demonstration, and realize that, however implausible the fluidic theory, the phenomena required investigation and explanation. Among persons whose interest was thus aroused were James Braid (1795–1860), a Manchester physician, who introduced the word ‘hypnotism’, and Charles Richet (1850–1935), the French physiologist and Nobel Prize winner. Both influenced the hypnotic school which developed in the late 1870s at the Salpêtrière in Paris, under the leadership of J. M. Charcot (1825–93), the neurologist. Charcot held that fully-fledged hypnosis is a pathological state with physiologically definable stages initiated by specific physical stimuli. This view was undermined in the middle 1880s by the ‘Nancy School’ of hypnotists under A. A. Liébeault (1823–1904) and H. Bernheim (1840–1919), whose work brought about a widespread, though incomplete, convergence of opinion among interested scientists and medical men. The key term was ‘suggestion’. Hypnosis is a state of partial sleep induced by repetitive sleep suggestions. Mesmeric passes in their setting constituted such suggestions, but sleep and other suggestions can more conveniently be given verbally. Part of the otherwise sleeping brain remains alert to the voice and commands of the hypnotist. Through this channel, ideas instilled by the hypnotist can take root and may develop with great rapidity and force owing to the quiescence of potentially competing brain systems. Hence ‘good’ subjects may be made to hallucinate, to obey commands automatically, to playact or regress to childhood, to remember some things and forget others, to block out pain, and to display transiently enhanced mental or even physiological powers. Neurotic disorders, which arise from self-suggestions, can be treated by countervailing suggestions, and sometimes physical disorders can be indirectly helped.
Views of these kinds, with their roots mainly in clinical observation and practice, held sway with many variations and some dissentients well into the twentieth century. But thereafter non-clinical influences became increasingly prominent. Experimental psychologists emphasized methodological problems. Many have questioned whether there is any ‘special state’ of hypnosis. No generally agreed objective markers of such a state (such as a certain EEG pattern) have been uncovered, and ‘hypnotic’ phenomena, it is claimed, can often be obtained with unhypnotized subjects when their motivational level and degree of ‘imaginative involvement’ are appropriately manipulated. Dispute continues. Methodological questions have also been raised over the supposed benefits of hypnotherapy. Few studies of the outcome of such therapy have utilized matched control groups or have correlated therapeutic success with patients' ratings on scales of hypnotic susceptibility. Thus, even when hypnotherapy is apparently successful, it often remains unclear what part has been played by the hypnotic procedures as such, though it does seem that they may particularly benefit certain psychosomatic disorders.
The methodological arguments have been linked to a multiplication of theoretical positions. The ‘neodissociationist’ view of Ernest Hilgard (b. 1904), which explains hypnotic phenomena in terms of the partly autonomous functioning of ‘cognitive control systems’ in the brain, has some dedicated followers, as does the ‘socio-cognitive’ school of Nicholas Spanos (1942–94), which holds that ‘hypnotized’ subjects use ‘cognitive strategies’ to enact the social role of ‘good hypnotic subject’. However, many theorists present not so much a unitary theory of hypnosis as a multipronged approach to the phenomena traditionally labelled ‘hypnotic’.
Meanwhile many hypnotherapists adhere to older paradigms (which patients can easily grasp), and continue to practice with little regard to recent methodological and theoretical arguments; but in this respect hypnotherapy is perhaps little different from other forms of psychotherapy.
Forrest, D. (1999). The Evolution of Hypnotism. Black Ace Books, Forfar.
Gauld, A. (1992). A History of Hypnotism. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Hypnosis is a passive, relaxed state during which a person’s memory and perception are altered and the person is more responsive than usual to suggestion. A hypnotic state typically is caused by the monotonous repetition of words and gestures by the hypnotist.
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“Look deep into my eyes,” said the hypnotist to his newest subject, 15-year-old Juan. “You are feeling very relaxed,” he repeated over and over again in a low, calming voice. It was Spirit Week at Juan’s high school, and this assembly was one of the highlights. Much to the delight of his classmates, Juan really did appear to be hypnotized after a couple minutes of listening to the hypnotist’s voice. When the hypnotist suggested that Juan recall an event from his childhood, Juan acted as if he were blowing out the candles at his fifth birthday party and then playing with one of his gifts, a fire truck. When asked to think about his favorite kind of music, Juan acted as if he were playing the drums. And when the hypnotist suggested to Juan that he was caught in a snowstorm, he started shivering uncontrollably. Juan’s friends roared with laughter as they watched him respond to the hypnotist’s suggestions.
Was Juan really hypnotized? Probably not, if we define hypnosis as a state in which a person is unaware of what he or she is doing. More likely, Juan was feeling relaxed and open to suggestions from the hypnotist, and he knew that he was part of the show. So behavior that might have seemed strange in other contexts was perfectly acceptable in this setting. When his friends asked him later if he remembered what had happened, he said that he did.
Many people think that hypnotism is something done just for fun, but actually it often is used as a way of helping people deal with various behavioral and emotional problems. Experts disagree about how valuable this technique is, and no one has been able to explain exactly how it works. Nevertheless, there is evidence to suggest that hypnosis might be quite helpful in some cases for the treatment of pain, depression, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, and many other problems.
Health care professionals who use hypnosis, sometimes called “hypnotherapists,” are very different from the “stage hypnotists” who put on entertaining shows at theaters and schools. Typically hypnotherapists are licensed physicians, psychologists (sy-KOL-o-jists), or social workers who have received considerable training in the uses of hypnosis. Unlike entertainers, their goal is not to persuade a person to act strangely or be silly, but instead to produce feelings of relaxation, calmness, and well-being. Usually, they will begin the session by suggesting these states of mind and instructing the person to imagine or think about pleasant experiences. Some people are more easily hypnotized than others, but most people who experience hypnosis report changes in the way they feel, think, or behave. They may feel as if they have entered a different level of consciousness (inner awareness), or they may simply feel more focused, attentive, relaxed, and therefore better able to concentrate on their inner thoughts and feelings without being distracted.
Getting “Mesmerized” In The Eighteenth And Nineteenth Centuries
Today we use the term “mesmerize” to mean “fascinate” or “amaze.” For example, we might say, “The child was mesmerized by the colorful new toy,” or “I am mesmerized by your smile.” This modern word is derived from the name of Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician who introduced the “healing art” of mesmerism in the late 1700s. Mesmer claimed that certain people (including himself) had special powers over the “invisible fluid” he believed was contained within the human body. Mesmer thought that disease was the result of blockages in the flow of this fluid through the body and that he and other special people could use the power of their touch and their gaze to restore healthy flow of this fluid in sick people.
Mesmer used his so-called powers to produce a trancelike state in his patients, who often experienced convulsions (intense shaking) or delirium (confusion and an overly excited state) by the end of the healing session. Many people claimed to have been healed by Mesmer, but the authorities in France, where he was living at the time, soon called his practice into question. In fact, the American statesman Benjamin Franklin was a member of a committee of physicians and scientists appointed by the king of France, Louis XVI, to investigate Mesmer in the 1780s. Nevertheless, mesmerism spread to England, France, and other European countries in the 1800s and became quite popular. While Mesmer’s methods may seem questionable to us today, he is credited for his role in the eventual development of hypnotism as a practice that can help some people deal with physical and psychological conditions.
Suggestion and Choice
Contrary to popular belief, people who are hypnotized do not lose control over what they are doing. While they may be more likely to respond to the therapist’s suggestions, they can choose whether to follow these instructions. People remain aware of what they are doing and are likely to remember everything after the session is over. Hypnosis is not the same as the sleeplike trance that often is portrayed in movies and television shows, and it does not have the magical powers that sometimes are associated with it. Within limits, hypnosis can make a person much more likely to believe in or cooperate with another person (the hypnotist) and do what he or she asks. In other words, it seems that hypnosis is all about the power of suggestion.
See also 334. PSYCHOLOGY .
- autohypnotism, autohypnosis
- 1. the process of hypnotizing oneself.
- 2. the resulting state.
- 1. animal magnetism, or the power that enables some people to induce a hypnotic state in others.
- 2. physical attraction between members of opposite sexes. —biomagnetic , adj.
- psychoanalysis of a patiënt while he is under hypnosis. —hypnoanalytic, hypnoanalytical , adj.
- the process of inducing a state of hypnosis. —hypnogenetic , adj.
- psychotherapy employing hypnosis. —hypnotherapeutic , adj.
- the science that studies hypnosis and the process of inducing a hypnotic state. —hypnotist , n.
- 1. hypnosis as induced by Dr. F. A. Mesmer through “animal magnetism,” a 19th-century therapy.
- 2. hypnotism.
- 3. a compelling attraction; fascination. —mesmerization , n. —mesmerist, mesmerizer , n.
- an obsession with hypnosis.
- the focusing of the attention on a single thing, especially as a result of hypnosis.
- hypnosis with the aid of drugs.
- the theory of od, a hypothetical force formerly held to pervade all nature and to reveal itself in magnetism, mesmerism, chemical action, etc. —odylic , adj.
- Rare. the state of being in a hypnotic trance.
- a state of sleep induced by hypnosis or mesmerism. —somnipathist , n.
hyp·no·sis / hipˈnōsis/ • n. the induction of a state of consciousness in which a person apparently loses the power of voluntary action and is highly responsive to suggestion or direction. Its use in therapy, typically to recover suppressed memories or to allow modification of behavior by suggestion, has been revived but is still controversial. ∎ this state of consciousness.
hyp·no·tism / ˈhipnəˌtizəm/ • n. the study or practice of hypnosis.DERIVATIVES: hyp·no·tist n.