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Criminal Suggestion

Laboratory Crimes.--Dr. Cocke's Experiments Showing
Criminal Suggestion Is not Possible.--Dr. William James' Theory.--A Bad
Man Cannot Be Made Good, Why Expect to Make a Good Man Bad?

One of the most interesting phases of hypnotism is that of post-hypnotic
suggestion, to which reference has already been made. It is true that a
suggestion made during the hypnotic condition as to what a person will
do after coming out of the hypnotic sleep may be carried out. A certain
professional hypnotizer claims that once he has hypnotized a person he
can keep that person forever after under his influence by means of
post-hypnotic suggestion. He says to him while in the hypnotic sleep:
Whenever I look at you, or point at you, you will fall asleep. No one
can hypnotize you but me. Whenever I try to hypnotize you, you will fall
asleep. He says further: Suggest to a subject while he is sound asleep
that in eight weeks he will mail you a letter with a blank piece of note
paper inside, and during the intervening period you may yourself forget
the occurrence, but in exactly eight weeks he will carry out the
suggestion. Suggestions of this nature are always carried out,
especially when the suggestion is to take effect on some certain day or
date named. Suggest to a subject that in ninety days from a given date
he will come to your house with his coat on inside out, and he will most
certainly do so.

The same writer also definitely claims that he can hypnotize people
against their wills. If this were true, what a terrible power would a
shrewd, evil-minded criminal have to compel the execution of any of his
plans! We hope to show that it is not true; but we must admit that many
scientific men have tried experiments which they believe demonstrate
beyond a doubt that criminal use can be and is made of hypnotic
influence. If it were possible to make a person follow out any line of
conduct while actually under hypnotic influence it would be bad enough;
but the use of posthypnotic suggestion opens a yet more far-reaching and
dangerous avenue.

Among the most definite claims of the evil deeds that may be compelled
during hypnotic sleep is that of Dr. Luys, whom we have already seen as
being himself deceived by professional hypnotic subjects. Says he: You
cannot only oblige this defenseless being, who is incapable of opposing
the slightest resistance, to give from hand to hand anything you may
choose, but you can also make him sign a promise, draw up a bill of
exchange, or any other kind of agreement. You may make him write an
holographic will (which according to French law would be valid), which
he will hand over to you, and of which he will never know the existence.
He is ready to fulfill the minutest legal formalities, and will do so
with a calm, serene and natural manner calculated to deceive the most
expert law officers. These somnambulists will not hesitate either, you
may be sure, to make a denunciation, or to bear false witness; they are,
I repeat, the passive instruments of your will. For instance, take E.
She will at my bidding write out and sign a donation of forty pounds in
my favor. In a criminal point of view the subject under certain
suggestions will make false denunciations, accuse this or that person,
and maintain with the greatest assurance that he has assisted at an
imaginary crime. I will recall to your mind those scenes of fictitious
assassination, which have exhibited before you. I was careful to place
in the subject's hands a piece of paper instead of a dagger or a
revolver; but it is evident, that if they had held veritable murderous
instruments, the scene might have had a tragic ending.

Many experiments along this line have been tried, such as suggesting the
theft of a watch or a spoon, which afterward was actually carried out.

It may be said at once that these laboratory crimes are in most cases
successful: A person who has nothing will give away any amount if told
to do so; but quite different is the case of a wealthy merchant who
really has money to sign away.

Dr. Cocke describes one or two experiments of his own which have an
important bearing on the question of criminal suggestion. Says he: A
girl who was hypnotized deeply was given a glass of water and was told
that it was a lighted lamp. A broomstick was placed across the room and
she was told that it was a man who intended to injure her. I suggested
to her that she throw the glass of water (she supposing it was a lighted
lamp) at the broomstick, her enemy, and she immediately threw it with
much violence. Then a man was placed across the room, and she was given
instead of a glass of water a lighted lamp. I told her that the lamp was
a glass of water, and that the man across the room was her brother. It
was suggested to her that his clothing was on fire and she was commanded
to extinguish the fire by throwing the lighted lamp at the individual,
she having been told, as was previously mentioned, that it was a glass
of water. Without her knowledge a person was placed behind her for the
purpose of quickly checking her movements, if desired. I then commanded
her to throw the lamp at the man. She raised the lamp, hesitated,
wavered, and then became very hysterical, laughing and crying
alternately. This condition was so profound that she came very near
dropping the lamp. Immediately after she was quieted I made a number of
tests to prove that she was deeply hypnotized. Standing in front of her
I gave her a piece of card-board, telling her that it was a dagger, and
commanded her to stab me. She immediately struck at me with the piece of
card-board. I then gave her an open pocketknife and commanded her to
strike at me with it. Again she raised it to execute my command, again
hesitated, and had another hysterical attack. I have tried similar
experiments with thirty or forty people with similar results. Some of
them would have injured themselves severely, I am convinced, at command,
but to what extent I of course cannot say. That they could have been
induced to harm others, or to set fire to houses, etc., I do not
believe. I say this after very careful reading and a large amount of

Dr. Cocke also declares his belief that no person can be hypnotized
against his will by a person who is repugnant to him.

The facts in the case are probably those that might be indicated by a
common-sense consideration of the conditions. If a person is weak-minded
and susceptible to temptation, to theft, for instance, no doubt a
familiar acquaintance of a similar character might hypnotize that person
and cause him to commit the crime to which his moral nature is by no
means averse. If, on the other hand, the personality of the hypnotizer
and the crime itself are repugnant to the hypnotic subject, he will
absolutely refuse to do as he is bidden, even while in the deepest
hypnotic sleep. On this point nearly all authorities agree.

Again, there is absolutely no well authenticated case of crime committed
by a person under hypnotic influence. There have been several cases
reported, and one woman in Paris who aided in a murder was released on
her plea of irresponsibility because she had been hypnotized. In none of
these cases, however, was there any really satisfactory evidence that
hypnotism existed. In all the cases reported there seemed to be no doubt
of the weak character and predisposition to crime. In another class of
cases, namely those of criminal assault upon girls and women, the only
evidence ever adduced that the injured person was hypnotized was the
statement of that person, which cannot really be called evidence at all.

The fact is, a weak character can be tempted and brought under virtual
control much more easily by ordinary means than by hypnotism. The man
who overpersuades a business man to endorse a note uses no hypnotic
influence. He is merely making a clever play upon the man's vanity,
egotism, or good nature.

A profound study of the hypnotic state, such as has been made by Prof.
William James, of Harvard College, the great authority on psychical
phenomena and president of the Psychic Research Society, leads to the
conviction that in the hypnotic sleep the will is only in abeyance,
as it is in natural slumber or in sleepwalking, and any unusual or
especially exciting occurrence, especially anything that runs against
the grain of the nature, reawakens that will, and it soon becomes
as active as ever. This is ten times more true in the matter of
post-hypnotic suggestion, which is very much weaker than suggestion
that takes effect during the actual hypnotic sleep. We shall see,
furthermore, that while acting under a delusion at the suggestion of the
operator, the patient is really conscious all the time of the real facts
in the case--indeed, much more keenly so, oftentimes, than the operator
himself. For instance, if a line is drawn on a sheet of paper and the
subject is told there is no line, he will maintain there is no line; but
he has to see it in order to ignore it. Moreover, persons trained to
obey, instinctively do obey even in their waking state. It requires a
special faculty to resist obedience, even during our ordinary waking
condition. Says a recent writer: It is certain that we are naturally
inclined to obey, conflicts and resistance are the characteristics of
some rare individuals; but between admitting this and saying that we are
doomed to obey--even the least of us--lies a gulf. The same writer says
further: Hypnotic suggestion is an order given for a few seconds, at
most a few minutes, to an individual in a state of induced sleep. The
suggestion may be repeated; but it is absolutely powerless to transform
a criminal into an honest man, or vice versa. Here is an excellent
argument. If it is possible to make criminals it should be quite as easy
to make honest men. It is true that the weak are sometimes helped for
good; but there is no case on record in which a person who really wished
to be bad was ever made good; and the history of hypnotism is full of
attempts in that direction. A good illustration is an experiment tried
by Colonel de Rochas:

An excellent subject * * * had been left alone for a few minutes in an
apartment, and had stolen a valuable article. After he had left, the
theft was discovered. A few days after it was suggested to the subject,
while asleep, that he should restore the stolen object; the command was
energetically and imperatively reiterated, but in vain. The theft had
been committed by the subject, who had sold the article to an old
curiosity dealer, as it was eventually found on information received
from a third party. Yet this subject would execute all the imaginary
crimes he was ordered.

As to the value of the so-called laboratory crimes, the statement of
Dr. Courmelles is of interest: I have heard a subject say, he states,
'If I were ordered to throw myself out of the window I should do it, so
certain am I either that there would be somebody under the window to
catch me or that I should be stopped in time. The experimentalist's own
interests and the consequences of such an act are a sure guarantee.'

Next: Dangers In Being Hypnotized

Previous: Simulation

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