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Theories Of Hypnotism

We have now learned some facts in regard to hypnotism; but they leave
the subject still a mystery. Other facts which will be developed in the
course of this book will only deepen the mystery. We will therefore
state some of the best known theories.

Before doing so, however, it would be well to state concisely just what
seems to happen in a case of hypnotism. The word hypnotism means sleep,
and the definition of hypnotism implies artificially produced sleep.
Sometimes this sleep is deep and lasting, and the patient is totally
insensible; but the interesting phase of the condition is that in
certain stages the patient is only partially asleep, while the other
part of his brain is awake and very active.

It is well known that one part of the brain may be affected without
affecting the other parts. In hemiplegia, for instance, one half of the
nervous system is paralyzed, while the other half is all right. In the
stages of hypnotism we will now consider, the will portion of the brain
or mind seems to be put to sleep, while the other faculties are,
abnormally awake. Some explain this by supposing that the blood is
driven out of one portion of the brain and driven into other portions.
In any case, it is as though the human engine were uncoupled, and the
patient becomes an automaton. If he is told to do this, that, or the
other, he does it, simply because his will is asleep and suggestion,
as it is called, from without makes him act just as he starts up
unconsciously in his ordinary sleep if tickled with a straw.

Now for the theories. There are three leading theories, known as that of
1. Animal Magnetism; 2. Neurosis; and 3. Suggestion. We will simply
state them briefly in order without discussion.

Animal Magnetism. This is the theory offered by Mesmer, and those who
hold it assume that the hypnotizer exercises a force, independently of
suggestion, over the subject. They believe one part of the body to be
charged separately, or that the whole body may be filled with magnetism.
They recognize the power, of suggestion, but they do not believe it to
be the principal factor in the production of the hypnotic state. Those
who hold this theory today distinguish between the phenomena produced by
magnetism and those produced by physical means or simple suggestion.

The Neurosis Theory. We have already explained the word neurosis, but we
repeat here the definition given by Dr. J. R. Cocke. A neurosis is any
affection of the nervous centers occurring without any material agent
producing it, without inflammation or any other constant structural
change which can be detected in the nervous centers. As will be seen
from the definition, any abnormal manifestation of the nervous system of
whose cause we know practically nothing, is, for convenience, termed a
neurosis. If a man has a certain habit or trick, it is termed a neurosis
or neuropathic habit. One man of my acquaintance, who is a professor in
a college, always begins his lecture by first sneezing and then pulling
at his nose. Many forms of tremor are called neurosis. Now to say that
hypnotism is the result of a. neurosis, simply means that a person's
nervous system is susceptible to this condition, which, by M. Charcot
and his followers, is regarded as abnormal. In short, M. Charcot places
hypnotism in the same category of nervous affections in which hysteria
and finally hallucination (medically considered) are to be classed, that
is to say, as a nervous weakness, not to say a disease. According to
this theory, a person whose nervous system is perfectly healthy could
not be hypnotized. So many people can be hypnotized because nearly all
the world is more or less insane, as a certain great writer has

Suggestion. This theory is based on the power of mind over the body as
we observe it in everyday life. Again let me quote from Dr. Cooke. If
we can direct the subject's whole attention to the belief that such an
effect as before mentioned--that his arm will be paralyzed, for
instance--will take place, that effect will gradually occur. Such a
result having been once produced, the subject's will-power and power of
resistance are considerably weakened, because he is much more inclined
than at first to believe the hypnotizer's assertion. This is generally
the first step in the process of hypnosis. The method pursued at the
school of Nancy is to convince the subject that his eyes are closing by
directing his attention to that effect as strongly as possible. However,
it is not necessary that we begin with the eyes. According to M.
Dessoir, any member of the body will answer as well. The theory of
Suggestion is maintained by the medical school attached to the hospital
at Nancy. The theory of Neurosis was originally put forth as the result
of experiments by Dr. Charcot at the Salpetriere hospital in Paris,
which is now the co-called Salpetriere school--that is the medical,
school connected with the Salpetriere hospital.

There is also another theory put forth, or rather a modification of
Professor Charcot's theory, and maintained by the school of the Charity
hospital in Paris, headed by Dr. Luys, to the effect that the physical
magnet and electricity may affect persons in the hypnotic state, and
that certain drugs in sealed tubes placed upon the patient's neck during
the condition of hypnosis will produce the same effects which those
drugs would produce if taken internally, or as the nature of the drugs
would seem to call for if imbibed in a more complete fashion. This
school, however, has been considerably discredited, and Dr. Luys'

conclusions are not received by scientific students of hypnotism. It is
also stated, and the present writer has seen no effective denial, that
hypnotism may be produced by pressing with the fingers upon certain
points in the body, known as hypnogenic spots.

It will be seen that these three theories stated above are greatly at
variance with each other. The student of hypnotism will have to form a
conclusion for himself as he investigates the facts. Possibly it will be
found that the true theory is a combination of all three of those
described above. Hypnotism is certainly a complicated phenomena, and he
would be a rash man who should try to explain it in a sentence or in a
paragraph. An entire book proves a very limited space for doing it.

Next: How To Hypnotize

Previous: What Is Hypnotism?

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