Help support New Advent and get the full contents of this website as an instant download. Includes the Catholic Encyclopedia, Church Fathers, Summa, Bible and more all for only $19.99...
(Greek hypnos, sleep)
By Hypnotism, or Hypnosis, we understand here the nervous sleep, induced by artificial and external means, which has in our days been made the subject of experiment and methodical study by men of science, physicians or physiologists. It does not differ, however, essentially from the "animal magnetism" which for a hundred years achieved such remarkable success in drawing-rooms without reaching the point of forcing the doors of the scientific academies, nor from the "Mesmerism" or the "Braidism" which will have to be explained in the course of the historical exposition of the subject. The causes of hypnotism have been discussed and are still open to discussion; but what has been ascertained beyond possibility of questioning is the existence of a special kind of sleep, artificially brought on by means of "passes", of acute or prolonged sensations, of a sustained attention, or of an effort of the will. The belief in a subtile, impalpable fluid, analogous to that of mineral magnetism, but peculiar to living beings the "magnetic" or "vital fluid" does not date from the eighteenth century, as some have thought, but goes back to a high antiquity. Pliny, Galen, and Aretæus bear witness to its existence. In the fifteenth century, Pomponacius remarks that "certain men have salutary and potent properties which are borne outward by evaporation and produce remarkable effects upon the bodies that receive them". Ficinus, on his part, says that "the soul, being affected with passionate desires, can act not only upon its own body, but even upon a neighbouring body, above all if the latter be the weaker". Lastly, it is Paracelsus who for the first time (in "De Peste") gives body to the doctrine by the hypothesis of a fluid emanating from the stars and placing living beings in communication, as well as a power of attraction which enables persons in sound health to draw the sick to them; this force he compares to that of the loadstone and calls it magnale. And this is the original, fundamental constituent of "magnetism". The doctrine of Paracelsus is later on taken up and developed by a number of writers Bartholin, Hahnemann, Goclénius, Roberti, and Van Helmont, the champion of "magnetic medicine", Robert Fludd, Father Kircher, author of a famous treatise "De arte magneticâ", Wirdig, Maxwell, Greatrakes, Gassner, and others. They do not all experiment in the same way; some use munies (talismans, or magic boxes) to direct the fluid, others operate directly by touch, rubbing, or "passes".
But no complete theory is found until we come to Mesmer (1733-1815). The Viennese physician supposes that there exists a universally diffused fluid, so continuous as to admit of no void, a fluid subtile beyond comparison and of its own nature qualified to receive, to propagate, and to communicate all the sensible effects of movement. He proposes to apply the name of animal magnetism to that property of the living body which renders it susceptible to the influence of the heavenly bodies and to the reciprocal action of those that surround it, a property which is manifested by its analogy with the magnet. "It is by means of this fluid", he says, "that we act upon nature and upon other beings like ourselves;, the will gives motion to it and serves to communicate it" (Mémoire sur la découverte du magnétisme animal). Mesmer came to Paris in 1778, publicly expounded his system, and soon gained name and fame. He next set up as a healer, and obtained some successful results; the sick soon flocked to him in such numbers that he could not treat them individually, but had to group a number of them around a baquet and magnetize them all together. The magnetic baquet worked admirably. It was an ordinary tub, closed with a lid, from which issued a number of polished iron rods, bent back, and each ending in a dull point. These iron rods, or branches, conducted the magnetic fluid to the patients who stood in the circle. The baquet was the most famous and most popular means of producing the magnetic condition, but not the only one. Mesmer used other methods very much like those employed by hypnotizers today: movements of the finger or a small iron rod before the face, fixing the patient's eyes on some object application of the hands to the abdomen, etc. Mesmer, unfortunately, dealt with sick people, and around his baquet he had the opportunity of observing more fits and hysterical convulsions than somnambulistic states. But these "convulsionaries" of a new kind, far from injuring the magnetizer or discrediting his method, added to his credit and his renown. The Academy, prejudiced against the innovator, and ill-pleased at the noisy advertisement he was receiving, could not remain heedless of the results he produced; it soon had to yield to the pressure of an excited and enthusiastic public opinion. A commission was named in 1784 to examine Mesmer's theory and practice; among its members were the most illustrious savants of the time Bailly, Lavoisier, Franklin, de Jussieu. To surrender to the evidence presented, and to recognize the reality of the facts, was inevitable; but all the members of the commission, with the single exception of de Jussieu, refused to attribute the facts to any cause but imagination or imitation.
This direct blow at Mesmerism did not retard its progress. It made many adepts, among whom must be mentioned Deslon, Père Hervier, and above all the Marquis de Puységur, founder of the "Harmonie", one of the most celebrated magnetic societies. It was on his estate of Busancy, under the "magnetized tree", that M. de Puységur achieved his most splendid successes and renewed the marvels of his master's baquet. He did better; he discovered the curious phenomenon of somnambulism. But the hour of this science had not yet come, and, in spite of positive results and incontestable cures, magnetism did not recover its vogue; it was neglected or forgotten during the Revolution and the Empire. It was reserved for an Indo-Portuguese priest, a man of strange bearing, the Abbé Faria, to recall public attention to animal magnetism and to revive the science. The Abbé Faria was the first to effect a breach in the theory of the "magnetic fluid", to place in relief the importance of suggestion, and to demonstrate the existence of "auto-suggestion"; he also established the truth that the nervous sleep belongs only to the natural order. From his earliest magnetizing séances, in 1814, he boldly developed his doctrine. Nothing comes from the magnetizer, everything comes from the subject and takes place in his imagination. Magnetism is only a form of sleep. Although of the moral order, the magnetic action is often aided by physical, or rather by physiological, means fixedness of look and cerebral fatigue. Here the Abbé Faria showed himself a true pioneer, too little appreciated by his contemporaries, and even by posterity. He was the creator of hypnotism; most of the pretended discoveries of the scientists of today are really his. We need only recall here that he practised suggestion in the waking state and post-hypnotic suggestion. General Noizet, who was the immediate disciple of the Abbé Faria, had for his intimate friend a young magnetizer, Dr. Alexandre Bertrand, who believed in the existence of the magnetic fluid. Between the extreme and mutually exclusive doctrines of his master and of his friend, he had the intelligence and the courage to form his own opinion half-way, recognizing equally the share of the imagination and that of the magnetic fluid. We are inclined to think that his view of the matter was a just one, and apt to lead up to the definitive solution.
Thanks to the labours of those just mentioned, the revival of magnetism was assured. A number of writers Virey, Deleuze, the Baron du Potet, Robouam, Georget, and others aroused contemporary thought by their published works, their lectures, and their experiments; one of them, Dr. Foissac, in 1826, succeeded in bringing about the appointment by the Academy of Medicine of a commission to examine and register the strange, but positive, facts of magnetism. This second commission of the Academy took its work seriously, and for five years conscientiously studied the question. Dr. Husson was charged with the preparation of the report, which appeared in June, 1831. He describes the properties of magnetism at length and with great impartiality, proclaims its virtues, and concludes by asking the Academy to encourage the study of the subject as one of importance for physiology and therapeutics. This victory of magnetism, in a quarter where it had until then met only with disdain and rebuffs, was highly prized, but it had no sequel. The academicians were afraid of the truth, they preserved an obstinate silence, and the report of Husson was thrust away in the archives without being accorded the honours of type. Shortly after this, a violent attack on magnetism by Dubois (of Amiens) met with a cordial reception from the Academy, in spite of Husson's protests. At last, on 1 Oct., 1840, after some unprofitable tests, the learned assembly definitively buried the question, declaring that thenceforward no reply would be given to communications on animal magnetism. Cast out by science, magnetism fell, by inevitable necessity, into commerce on the one hand and spiritism on the other. Clever adventurers exploited it, opening deposits of the fluid in Paris and in the country to heal the ills of humanity. Others had recourse to "table-turning" to know the past and foretell the future. Superstition and quackery put an end to all honest scientific research. Nevertheless, the ideas of the Abbé Faria were not abandoned, they had been collected and clarified by a number of experts, and they soon found in James Braid (1795-1860), an intelligent and prudent commentator.
Resuming the old experiments, this plain Manchester doctor set himself to destroy completely the Mesmerian edifice; he only succeeded in developing it. No doubt he absolutely rejects the transmission of any magnetic or vital fluid, but he recognizes that the magnetic sleep is mainly of a nervous kind. Most authors have thought and on all sides repeated that he attributes this sleep to suggestion alone; this is a grave misapprehension against which Braid protested energetically. He is generally considered the founder of hypnotism, and that splendid title is sufficient for his fame. His contemporaries disregarded him and did not appreciate his doctrine as they should. They refused to see in nervous and sensory concentration the cause of the sleep, and they maintained that, like Faria and Bertrand, the Manchester surgeon acted only on the imagination of his subjects. Braid's decisive answer to his detractors was: "Faria and Bertrand act, or pretend to act, by the aid of a moral impression; their means is of the mental order; mine is purely physical, and consists in fatiguing the eyes and, by the fatigue of the eyes, producing that of the brain." In fact, as Dr. Durand de Gros has justly remarked, Braid was an ingenious discoverer who did not know how to make his discovery appreciated at its true worth: he brought to the art of Mesmer and of Faria its necessary complement, its superb capstone, and thus in very truth transformed it. Be recognized that the act of gazing fixedly at one point for a certain length of time induces not only sleep, as physiologists before him had observed, but "a profound modification of our whole being which renders it apt to receive the magnetic influence and mental suggestion". From Braid to our own days hypnotism has grown and developed without interruption. The partisans of magnetism, momentarily discomfited, have not laid down their arms, and, while accepting the new theories of nervous fatigue and suggestion, have continued to maintain the existence of a fluid. The theories of Grimes on electro-biology (1848), and of Dr. Philipps (pseudonym of Dr. Durand de Gros) on vital electrodynamism (1855) deserve to be recalled in this connexion. But theoretical schemes have little attraction for the masses, and the greater number of writers have established themselves on the ground of experiment and clinical practice, multiplying experiments in order to reconnoitre the vast field of hypnosis. We may mention, from amongst these, Dr. Liébeault of Nancy, Dr. Azam of Bordeaux, Professor Charcot of Paris, Dr. Bernheim of Nancy. Theoretical discussions could not, however, remain forever apart on their own ground, since every effect demands a cause; they naturally followed the discovery of facts and soon brought on a notable division of opinions. Two clear-cut schools, as is known, divided the world of science: the school of Nancy, and the Salpêtrière, or Paris, school. The former, represented by Drs. Liébeault, Bernheim, Beaunis, and others, recognizes, under different forms, but one cause of hypnosis, and deliberately pronounces it to be suggestion. The latter, of which Chareot was the renowned chief, believes in a physical cause, and not a moral. It attributes hypnosis to a nervous or cerebral modification of the subject, which modification it attributes to a malady of the nervous system hysteria.
Both of these doctrines are supported by arguments and facts the force and value of which it would be vain to contest in either case. But, if both views are equally worthy of consideration, they are too absolutely opposed and mutually exclusive to be both completely true. Suggestion does not explain all the phenomena of hypnosis, any more than does neurosis account for them. The nervous sleep, with the strange and manifold phenomena which accompany it, is beyond comprehension in the light of our actual knowledge. The intimate nature of that cerebral and nervous modification which Charcot regards as a necessary condition is not known, and there is nothing to prevent its reconciliation with the hypothesis of the nervous or magnetic fluid. As to the theory of suggestion, so dear to the Nancy school, it belongs to the psychical order, and is manifestly insufficient to account for the physiological disturbances of the nervous sleep. Professor Beaunis himself does not hesitate to confess its weakness. All this being so, it would seem opportune to inquire if the two hostile or, rather, rival schools of Paris and Nancy, either of them singly incapable of explaining hypnosis, might not find additional light and a welcome means of reconciliation in that hypothesis of animal magnetism which science in its earlier days too readily abandoned. The problem is only indicated here; its solution belongs to the future.
Hypnotism, we have said, is an artificial nervous sleep. It is brought on in many ways: by fixity of look, by visual concentration upon a brilliant object, by convergence of the axes of vision, by a sustained and monotonous sensation, by a vivid sensory impression such as that produced by the sound of a gong, by a brilliant light, etc. All these means produce the effect only upon one vitally important psychic condition the consent of the subject, the surrender of his will to the hypnotist. No one can be hypnotized against his will; but once a person has given himself up to an operator, and gone through the exercises by which the effect is obtained, the operator can put him to sleep at pleasure, and even without the subject's knowledge. More than this, hypnosis can be induced without warning during natural sleep, though the feat is rare and is performed only with predisposed subjects. Not all persons are equally hypnotizable. Most persons who are sound in body and mind resist hypnosis or are affected only very superficially. Idiots and lunatics are absolutely refractory. Neuropaths and hysterical persons, on the other hand, are very susceptible and make ideal subjects. It is through their failure to make this capital distinction that writers come to such widely different conclusions. Dr. Liébeault estimates the proportion of hypnotizable persons at 95 per cent; other scientists are content with a smaller proportion, 50 to 60 per cent; Dr. Bottey admits for women a proportion of only 30 per cent. ln short, the Nancy experts have greatly exaggerated the figures by including in their statistics all cases, both the slightly marked and the complete. The sleep induced may last for a long period for some hours but ordinarily is of rather short duration. Some hypnotized persons awake spontaneously, others at the departure of the operator, or at some noise. Most often the return to the waking state is brought about by a command or by blowing lightly on the subject's eyes. Once hypnotized, the subject may pass through three distinct phases: catalepsy, lethargy, somnambulism. On this point there have been lively debates between the Paris school and the Nancy school. The latter contends that these three states do not exist, and that suggestion suffices to explain all the phenomena; in this it is gravely mistaken. But the Paris school, too, has been wrong in maintaining, contrary to observed facts, that every hypnotized subject passes successively, and always in the same order, from catalepsy into lethargy, and from lethargy into somnambulism. This order is not always followed; some hypnotized persons fall directly into somnambulism, or into lethargy, without passing through catalepsy. We will consider the three states separately.
Catalepsy reduces the subject to the state of an inflexible corpse; it is characterized by impassibility and muscular rigidity; the subject keeps every position into which the experimenter puts him. He can be caught and thrown this way or that, pinched, pricked, slapped, without showing the least sign of sensibility. He is so rigid that he can remain indefinitely supported on the backs of two chairs, touching them only with the back of his neck and his heels, without betraying the least weakness or the slightest fatigue. The experimenter can climb upon his body without causing it to diverge from the horizontal straight line. Certain movements communicated to the patient are continued automatically and without variation. Even words are sometimes repeated mechanically. But what is still more curious is the reaction of a gesture upon the facial expression, and vice versa. If the subject is placed in a pugilistic attitude, his features, until then impassive, straightway express determination and defiance. If his eyebrows be drawn downward and inward (by the operator) his whole countenance becomes sad and gloomy. Let the hands be taken up and applied to the lips, and the corners of the mouth move apart and communicate a tender and smiling air to the whole physiognomy. Make the subject kneel as for prayer, and immediately the hands clasp, and the face expresses recollection and adoration.
To bring the cataleptic into lethargy it is sufficient to close his eyes or to gently rub his elbow or the top of his head. in the waking state this hypnotic condition is produced by pressing the eyeballs under the closed lids. In lethargy, the head falling back as if wearied, the flaccid limbs and the whole body present the phenomena of profound slumber; there is no longer either consciousness or intelligence, memory or sensation. The contraction of the muscles responds with extreme readiness to the least excitation.
A gentle friction or pressure applied to the top of the head brings on somnambulism. Here the sleep is lighter. The subject's eyes are open; he is insensible to pain, but his muscular strength and the power of his senses are increased to a remarkable degree; he sees, hears, speaks, and walks with uncommon vigour, and avoids the obstacles in his way. He has the appearance of being awake, but is not in possession of himself; he is only an automaton, with the operator pulling the strings at his pleasure. All the activity of the somnambulist is under the operator's control by means of verbal suggestion. If a suggestion be made to the hypnotized subject that it is cold, he straightway shivers. Tell him it is hot, he pants and fans himself, wipes his forehead, and tries to take off his coat. Hand him a glass of cold water and say "Drink this glass of good Bordeaux", and he sips and smacks his lips. Tell him it is vinegar; he barely tastes it, and puts it away in disgust. Persuade him that he is listening to a beautiful piece of music, and he hears it so well that he beats time to it. The somnambulist sees and hears in imagination all that it is possible to suggest, and nothing is more amusing than his animated conversations with his absent relations and friends. Just as the absent can be made present to him, so a person who is really present can be made to disappear can be eliminated. "By suggestion", says M. Beaunis, "we can lay an interdict on an object or a person actually present, so that the person or object shall be, for him, non-existent. . . . More than this, we can make a person disappear partially; the subject will not see him, but will hear him; or he will be able to see and hear him, but not be aware of him by contact." Charcot often performed this experiment at the Salpêtrière: "When you awake", he would say, "you will not see M. X." He awoke the subject, and, in fact, the interdicted individual was invisible to him. M. X. places himself directly in his path, and he takes no notice of the obstruction; M. X. stands between him and the window, and he sees only a cloud shutting out the daylight. A hat is put on the head of M. X., and the subject halts in astonishment at seeing a hat suspended in the air without anything to support it. A still more complicated experiment is possible: out of ten cards, all exactly alike, one is pointed out to the somnambulist which he is told will be invisible to him, and another on which he is shown an imaginary portrait. The ten cards are mixed up, and the somnambulist discovers the non-existent portrait on the same card on which it was previously shown to him, while the other of the two indicated cards passes absolutely unperceived.
Cutaneous insensibility is general, but the hypnotist can remove it or localize it at his own pleasure; he can trace a circle, for example, on an arm and make that portion of the limb insensible, while the other part of the arm continues normal. Dr. Barth makes a pretence of touching an hysterical subject on the forearm with a lighted cigar, and immediately a white spot develops on the skin, as large as a bean and surrounded by a circle of red. Itchings and inflammations can be produced. On the other hand, the appearance of water blisters, or phlyctœnœ, vesication, and cutaneous hæmorrhages (experiments of Focaehon, Bourru, and Burot) are among the most seriously questioned and most questionable experiments; they have never been verified, even in the case of subjects affected with dermographism. Suggestion not only works upon the sensibility, but also acts very powerfully on the motive faculty of the subject. It determines either contractions or paralyses, the rigidity of one member, the flaccidity of another. The subject is told: "Your fingers are glued together; separate them if you can." The man makes strenuous efforts to separate his fingers, but cannot. The arm is forbidden to make this or that movement, the hand to write certain letters, the larynx to pronounce a vowel, and the prohibition is effectual; a subject can be made to stutter, to fall dumb, or be afflicted with aphasia at the operator's discretion. The consciousness, the personality, or, more precisely, the memory, may be subjected to strange metamorphoses. "I say to a subject: 'C., you are six years old, you are a little child. Go and play with the other children.' And up he jumps, leaps, goes through the motion of taking marbles out of his pocket, sets them in the proper order, measures the distance with his hand, takes aim carefully, runs and puts them in a row, and thus keeps up his game with an attention and precision of detail most astonishing. In the same way he plays at hide-and-seek and at leap-frog, vaulting over one or two imaginary playmates in succession and increasing the distance each time all with an ease of which, considering his illness, he would be incapable in the waking state. He transforms himself into a young girl, a general, a curé, an advocate, a dog. But when you saddle him with a personality above his ability, he tries in vain to realize it" (Bernheim).
The hypnotist can modify his subject, can make him believe that he is changed into another person, and even set side by side in the same person two existences one real, the other suggested which are parallel and mutually inconsistent. M. Gurney calls out a word or a number before a hypnotized subject, or tells some story, then he awakens her and shows plainly that she remembers nothing about it. Then taking her hand he puts a pencil in it and interposes a screen so that she cannot see it. Presently the hand begins to move about and, without the knowledge of the awakened subject, writes the word, or number, or story that was pronounced in the presence of the sleeping subject. It is a trick of the under-self, an automatic act of memory. Suggestion does not always produce its effects immediately; the operator can retard development; he can defer the execution for many weeks or months after the subject's awakening. "I give an order to L. like this: 'At the third stroke your hands will be raised, at the fifth they will be lowered, at the sixth the thumb of one hand will be applied to the tip of your nose, and the four fingers extended (un pied de nez), at the ninth you will walk into the room, at the sixteenth you will fall asleep in an arm-chair.' There is no memory of all this, when the awakening takes place, but all the acts are performed in the order desired" (Janet). The idea of the act suggested remains buried in the memory and revives only at the period assigned and upon the given signal; and when the subject then acts he knows nothing about the origin of the impulse, but thinks he is following his own initiative; he is, without knowing it, the puppet of a brain function. Retroactive suggestions are no less curious. A subject can be made to believe that at such and such a time he has seen a certain event take place, heard a sermon, or performed some action, and the illusory memory becomes so firmly fixed in his mind as to pass for truth and carry conviction with it; he is persuaded when he awakes that he really has seen and heard these things in one word, that the things have taken place.
Are all suggestions possible and realizable? Can a suggestion once given be resisted? The answer is nowadays no longer in doubt; but for a long time the quacks fostered a belief that they absolutely controlled their subjects, and that there was no such thing as an impossible suggestion. This is an error. Whenever a thing is displeasing or repugnant to him, the hypnotized person yields slowly and with difficulty; if the act proposed is a forbidden or a culpable one in the sight of his conscience, he refuses point blank. An honest woman in the hysterical condition will not permit the least trespass on decency. Of course perverted subjects show no respect for good morals, nor do those who in their normal state are victims of evil habits and yield to the lowest instincts. Nevertheless, there is a certain danger that the clever, powerful hypnotist, who is also unscrupulous, may obtain his ends if he presents reprehensible acts to his subject as innocent and permissible; the will, in hypnosis, is so weak and so unstable that the idea of duty based upon good habits may not always counterbalance the operator's action, and the repetition of alluring suggestions may at last result in drawing the subject into evil. Such cases are not purely hypothetical; we shall come back to their consideration in connexion with the dangers of hypnosis. Fanatical partisans of the suggestion method do not see its dangers, while they vaunt its merits and its practical applications. Has it the therapeutic virtues with which the Nancy school credits it? With the leaders of the Paris school and with Professor Grasset of Montpellier, we decidedly question this. That hypnosis easily conquers hysteria, especially the more localized and circumscribed manifestations of it, no one can deny. The connexion between these two abnormal states has been established, and it is so intimate that Gilles de la Tourette could say: "Hypnotism is only an induced paroxysm of hysteria." It is not wonderful that symptoms of monoplegia and of limited anæsthesia should be made to disappear by suggestion, but the cure cannot be counted on in any given case, nor is it enduring when it does result. As to neurasthenia, Bérillon and Bernheim affirm that just as good results have been obtained in it as in hysteria, but Pitres, Terrien, and other hypnotists strongly question this.
Writers also note the curative action of hypnosis in a certain number of more or less localized nervous states (St. Vitus's dance, tic, incontinence of urine, sea-sickness, vertigo, menstrual troubles, constipation, warts, etc.), but this action is in fact observed only in hysterical cases, and it is not constant. Is hypnotism applicable to the treatment of psychosis of the divers forms of mental alienation in a word, of madness? Forel, Pitres, Terrien, Lloyd, Tuckey, all agree in confessing its impotence. Auguste Voisin alone believed in its power, and he was obliged to admit that only ten per cent of the mentally deranged were hypnotizable. Even this was too much to say; for mania is characterized by the loss of volition, and we know that hypnosis is produced by a fixing of the attention. Against the widespread vices of alcoholism, morphinism, the ether habit, etc., hypnotism has been successfully employed, but it has not prevented speedy and fatal relapses. Still, when all other means have failed, this method could not be altogether ignored. It may be doubted whether organic maladies are amenable to hypnotic treatment. Bernheim claims to have remedied nervous and spinal affections. Wetterstrand declares that he has cured or relieved patients afflicted with "rheumatism, hæmorrhages, pulmonary phthisis, maladies of the heart, Bright's disease", etc. As to Liébeault, he knows no malady that has resisted its suggestions. It is needless to remark that these marvellous cures have not been demonstrated, and that physicians refuse to believe in them. The beneficiaries of the hypnotic method are nervous and hysterical sufferers, and permanency of cure is not assured in their cases. Besides, it is incontestable that hypnotists have forced the note and outrageously exaggerated their successes.
The applications of hypnosis in surgery, as a means of inducing anæsthesia, have not been frequent, but the cases are remarkable. As early as the year 1829, Cloquet amputated the breast of a hypnotized woman. At Cherbourg, in 1845, Dr. Loysel performed the amputation of a leg; at Poitiers, in 1847, Dr. Ribaud took out a very large tumor of the jaw; Broca, in 1859, opened an abscess on the border of the anus. It was Guérineau who amputated a thigh; and, later, Tillaux performed with hypnosis a serious operation of colporrhaphy. Hypnotism began to be applied in obstetrics less than thirty years ago. Pritzel performed an accouchement in this way in 1885. Dr. Dumontpallier had less success with a first cbild-birth, but secured complete painlessness for his patient in the earlier stages of labour. Liébeault, Mesnet, Auvard and Secheyron, Fanton, Dobrovolsky, Le Menant des Chesnais, Voisin, Bonjour, Joire, and Bourdon have published observations which leave no doubt as to the reality of the anæsthesia produced by hypnosis. But here, as in surgery, it is an exception, a mere object of curiosity. No one dreams of setting up a comparison between hypnosis and chloroform, or of substituting the one for the other. Besides, hypnosis is successful only with nervous and hysterical subjects, and that not uniformly.
Hypnotism has not only been cried up as a therapeutic resource, it has also been applied in pediatry and in pedagogy. Durand (of Gros) is the true initiator of this method, but it is Bérillon who has claimed a place for it in science, failing to distinguish between pediatry, which is related to medicine, and pedagogy, which is the province of the directors of free and conscious education. Suggestion would be in place for serious perversions or inveterate vices kleptomaniac impulses, impulses to lying, debauchery, sloth, indecency, indocility, onanism, etc. Without going so far as Bérillon, Liébeault and Liégeois of Nancy claim to have reformed vicious and depraved children in this way and to have made excellent persons of them. They have cited some cures, but have not stated how long the good effects lasted. Education by hypnosis alone is not to be taken seriously; it does not correspond to the essential demands of education, which is the joint work of two an intelligent, voluntary, effective collaboration of pupil and teacher.
Hypnosis is not only powerless to effect a moral or physical cure, to heal radically any malady whatever, but it is also, and above everything else, a dangerous method. It is right that this point should be insisted on. In the practice of hypnotism there are physical or physiological, psychic or intellectual, and above all moral, dangers. The wonders of hypnosis as achieved in the laboratories at the Salpêtrière are astounding and incontestable, but one must not fail to consider the price at which they are obtained. Hypnosis is not a casually improvised thing, it is an induced, artificial state, prepared for in advance; an "intensive culture" is necessary, a scientific and patient preparation at least in so far as the aim is to obtain anything more than the common nervous sleep. Hysteria is the true soil for its growth it supplies the best subjects, those who respond to the most difficult suggestions and exhibit the most striking effects. Experimentation on those affected in this way, when carried to extremes, is calculated to bring on the most harmful results. Their sensibility, already perverted and exaggerated by neurosis, cannot fail to become completely unbalanced and lead to madness as a sequel of the long and arduous séances. Many of them halt on the road, having ceased to be capable subjects. But, even when it succeeds, hypnotic education finds as its reward a corresponding failure of the psycho-sensitive life, a growing disturbance of the emotional or general sensibility. We may point to the case of a nervous young girl, whose malady was aggravated by hospital séances until restraint in an asylum became necessary. Hypnosis is a two-edged weapon, capable of doing more harm than good. Disturbance and perversion of the higher faculties follow those of the sensitive. The cerebral mechanism is of the most delicate kind, and the intensive practice of hypnosis has the effect of throwing that mechanism out of gear. Hypnotic suggestions set ideas and sentiments, senses and reason, in conflict, and vitiate the functioning of the mind. This effect is all the more fatal as the subjects are, to begin with, enervated and predisposed to lose their mental balance.
Hypnotism, therefore, is a dangerous, if not a morally detestable, practice. In the process of suggestion the individual alienates his liberty and his reason, handing himself over to the domination of another. Now, no one has any right thus to abdicate the rights of his conscience to renounce the duty towards his personality. It has been objected to this view that there is the same effect in intoxication or in the use of chloroform; but the argument is of no validity. Drunkenness is not justifiable; it is a grave sin against temperance. As for chloroform, it has its precise indications strictly marked. It is only lawfully employed in medicine to make insensible sick people who are about to undergo a surgical operation. Can hypnotism be employed in the same way as chloroform? Has it any social utility, or does it play a humanitarian rôle in any way? Its supporters have vainly endeavored to endow it with practical uses, in order to give it a scientific turn, but in spite of all their efforts, hypnotism remains, not only an idle curiosity, but a dangerous game. Such is the certain conclusion to which we are led by a study of hypnotism in its relation to civil and criminal law. It is a generally recognized fact that criminal or unlawful acts have been, or can be, committed on sleeping subjects. Even without proceeding to actual crime, the hypnotist may make insidious and improper suggestions. Many have boasted of having obtained delicate secrets from young girls, humiliating avowals which they certainly would not have made had they been awake; such procedure is an odious abuse of confidence. We pass on to the consideration of crimes due to hypnosis: women have been made the victims of attempts on their honour, and even of actual rape. Sometimes, too, by means of suggestion, the subject is made to consent to the crime, as criminal records show. We have no properly ascertained cases of fraud or theft successfully practised by means of hypnosis, but such things are nevertheless possible. The evidence given in all such cases should be regarded with mistrust; the subject may be deliberately trying to deceive, or he may be in good faith mistaken, and so accuse an innocent person. Of this the famous La Roncière case (1834) is a sad illustration.
The hypnotized person is not always a victim; he may be the criminal. But it is necessary to know the circumstances of each case, and not confound hospital patients with normal subjects. The suggestion of intra- and post-hypnotic acts is a usual operation of hypnotists, and the existence of "laboratory crimes" i.e., crimes suggested in the course of experiment no longer needs demonstration. But from these jocose crimes we cannot infer the existence of real crimes. Hypnosis, moreover, is complete or partial; only in the former (true somnambulism) is there a total absence of responsibility; in the latter, responsibility is only lessened (auto-suggestion, suggestion, persuasion). Then, too, resistance to suggestion is frequent; there is an inward struggle, a mental debate, proportioned to the standard of education imparted to the subject, the moral strength of the individual. In the administration of justice the testimony of those who have been subjected to hypnotic influence should be accepted only with the most decided reservations. Apart from the hypnosis, the subject can lie and deceive like any other hysterical person. Another cause of unconscious lying is retroactive amnesia: the subject, on awakening from hypnosis, may manifest a complete forgetfulness of what took place, not only in the hypnosis, but also in the period preceding it (Bernheim). Writers are divided on the question of spontaneous falsehood in hypnosis, but they are at one in recognizing the frequency of suggested lies and false testimony. It is doubtful if any one could succeed in causing a will or a deed of gift to be made by mere suggestion, but it is a sufficiently serious thing that the possibility of such a crime should even be thought of. It has been proposed to use hypnosis as a means of examining prisoners. In this connexion Liégeois has formulated the following conclusions:
The Church has not waited for the verdict of science to put the faithful on their guard against the dangers of magnetism and hypnotism, and to defend the rights of human conscience; but, ever prudent, she has condemned only abuses, leaving the way free for scientific research. "The use of magnetism, that is to say, the mere act of employing physical means otherwise permissible, is not morally forbidden, provided that it does not tend to an illicit end or one which may be in any manner evil" (Response of the Holy Office, 2 June, 1840). The encyclical letter of the Sacred Penitentiary, Tribunal of August, 1856, only confirms this, and Père Coconnier has referred to it in his famous work "L'Hypnotisme franc", in which he studies the subject apart from all extraneous considerations. Taking up the latest teachings of Rome, Canon Moureau, of Lille, writes: "Hypnotism is tolerated, in theory and in practice, to the exclusion of phenomena which would certainly be preternatural." This is the opinion of most theologians, and it is the utterance of reason.
After the spiritual, the civil authority was concerned at the accidents resulting from the use of hypnotism, and has sought to regulate the practice and prevent its abuses. The task was not an easy one, and the French Government has found it above its powers to effect. Some efforts have been made in other countries, but without result or harmony of opinion. In Austria, Italy, and Belgium, in consequence of serious complaints, the police have forbidden public séances. In Denmark and Germany they have done better: laws have been passed making the diploma of Doctor of Medicine a necessary condition for the practice of hypnotism. These are excellent measures, but they do not provide for the possible malpractices of a dishonest or avaricious physician. There is no solid basis of duty except in the conscience, and of this the civil law cannot take cognizance. Many of the United States have proscribed hypnotism under the severest penalties, but even there no uniform and efficacious legislation exists. Public opinion demands of the various nations some concerted action to put a stop to the crying abuses of hypnotism, but a respect for human liberty and human conscience will never be secured except by the observance of religious morality. Meanwhile the scientific world contemplates with interest the phenomena of hypnotism, though it is evident that those phenomena move always in the same narrow circle. It cannot be denied that they have lost much of their novelty and their vogue. Philosophers confess that psychology has derived but little illumination from hypnotism, and physicians recognize that, from a therapeutic view-point, suggestion is almost void of results. In the hospitals the practice of hypnotic methods is manifestly on the decline. It is regarded rather as a source of social amusement, a game attended with some risk, than as a clinic process. The masters of the art themselves rarely employ it, and the successors of Charcot at the Salpêtrière tend more and more to have recourse only to "waking suggestion", a surer and less dangerous means of obtaining the same results.
General and theoretical: DESSOIR, Bibliographie d. modernen Hypnotismus (Berlin, 1888, 1890); BALDWIN, Dict. of Philosophy and Psychology (New York, 1905), III; FARIA, De La cause du sommeil lucide (Paris, 1819); BERTRAND, Traité du somnambulisme (Paris, 1823); BRAID, Neurhypnology (London, 1843); FISCHER, Der sog. Lebensmagnetismus oder Hypnotismus (Mains, 1883); CULLERRE, Magnétisme et hypnotisme (Paris, 1885); LAFONTAINE, L'art de magnétiser (Paris, 1847; 6th ed., 1886); BINET AND FÉRÉ, Animal Magnetism (tr. New York, 1888); BJORNSTROM, Hypnotism (tr. New York, 1889); DELBŒUF, Le magnétisme animal (Paris, 1889); JANET, L'automatisme psychologique (Paris, 1889, 1899); LIÉBAULT, Le sommeil provoqué (Paris, 1889); CHARCOT, Œuvres, IX (Paris, 1893); KRAFT-EBING, Eine experimentelle Studie, etc. (Stuttgart, 1893); MOLL, Der Hypnotismus (Berlin, 1889; tr. New York, 1893); DURAND, Le merveilleux scientifique (Paris, 1894); EFFERTZ, Studien u. Hysterie, Hypnotismus, Suggestion (Bonn, 1894); HAAS, Ueber Hypnotismus u. Suggestion (Augsburg, 1894); GREGORY, Animal Magnetism (4th ed., London, 1896); SIDIS, The Psychology of Suggestion (New York, 1898); JASTROW, Fact and Fable in Psychology (New York, 1901); FOREL, Der Hypnotismus (5th ed., Stuttgart, 1907).
Legal aspect: LADAME, L'hypnotisme et la médecine légale (Paris, 1881); LIÉGEOIS, De La suggestion hypnotique dans ses rapports avec le droit civil et dus droit criminel (Paris, 1884); IDEM, De la suggestion et du somnamnbulisme dans leurs rapports avec la jurisprudence et la médecine légale (Paris, 1888); DU PREL, Das hypnotische Verbrechen u. seine Entdeckung (Munich, 1889); CAMS, The Dangers of Hypnotism in Open Court, IV (Chicago, 1890); CROCQ, L'hypnotisme et le crime (Brussels, 1894); "cenotes">Medical: AUVARD AND SECHEYRON, Hypnotisme et suggestion en obstétrique in Arch. de tocologie, XV (Paris, 1888): DELBŒUF, De l'étendue de l'action curative de l'hypnotisme (Paris, 1890); FELKIN, Hypnotism or psycho-therapeutics (Edinburgh, 1890); TUCKEY, Psycho-therapeutics or treatment of hypnotism and suggestion (3rd ed., London, 1891); IDEM, The value of hypnotism in chronic alcoholism (London, 1892); COCKE, The value of hypnotism in surgery in Arena, X (1894); KIERNAN, Hypnotism in American psychiatry in Amer. J. of Insanity, LI (1895); WETTERSTRAND, Der Hypnotismus u. seine Anwendung in der praktischen Medicin (Vienna, 1891; tr. New York, 1897).
Hypnotism and the Law in Alienist and Neurologist, XVI (1895); DAWSON, Hypnotism and its scientific and forensic aspects in Arena, XVIII (1897).
Catholic authors: FRANCO, L'ipnotismo tornato di moda (Prato, 1887); MÉRIC, Le merveilleux et la science (Paris, 1888); LELONG, La vérité sur l'hypnotisme in Ann. de philosophic chrétienne, XXI (Paris, 1889); SCHNEIDER, L'hypnotisme (Paris, 1894); COCONNIER, L'hypnotisme franc (Paris, 1897) ; LAPPONI, Ipnotismo e Spiritismo (2nd ed., Rome, 1906); O'MALLEY AND WALSH, Essays in Pastoral Medicine (New York, 1907); MASOIN, Les dangers du magnétisme in Bulletin de l'Acad. royale de Médecine de Belgique (1888); IDEM, Etude sur le magnétisme animal in Revue des Quest. scientifiques (1890); GASQUET in Dublin Rev., CVIII (1891); HOLLAND, Physiological and Moral Aspects of H. in Am. Eccl. Rev., XII, 25, 123; SURBLED, Spiritualisme et Spiritisme (Paris, 1898); IDEM, La morale dans ses rapports avec la médecine et l'hygiéne, IV (Paris, 1891); IDEM, Le sous-moi (Paris, 1907); IDEM, Pour ou contre l'hypnotisme (Paris, 1898); IDEM, L'hypnotisme guérisseur in Science Catholique (15 May, 1903),
APA citation. (1910). Hypnotism. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07604b.htm
MLA citation. "Hypnotism." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07604b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
Contact information. The editor of New Advent is Kevin Knight. My email address is webmaster at newadvent.org. Regrettably, I can't reply to every letter, but I greatly appreciate your feedback — especially notifications about typographical errors and inappropriate ads.