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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.'