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Dangers In Being Hypnotized

Condemnation of Public Performances.--A.

Common Sense View.--Evidence Furnished by Lafontaine.--By Dr.

Courmelles.--By. Dr. Hart.--By Dr. Cocke.--No Danger in Hypnotism if

Rightly Used by Physicians or Scientists.

Having considered the dangers to society through criminal hypnotic

suggestion, let us now consider what dangers there may be to the

individual who is hypnotized.

citing evidence, let us consider the subject from a rational

point of view. Several things have already been established. We know

that hypnotism is akin to hysteria and other forms of insanity--it is, in

short, a kind of experimental insanity. Really good hypnotic subjects

have not a perfect mental balance. We have also seen that repetition of

the process increases the susceptibility, and in some cases persons

frequently hypnotized are thrown into the hypnotic state by very slight

physical agencies, such as looking at a bright doorknob. Furthermore, we

know that the hypnotic patient is in a very sensitive condition, easily

impressed. Moreover, it is well known that exertions required of

hypnotic subjects are nervously very exhausting, so much so that

headache frequently follows.

From these facts any reasonable person may make a few clear deductions.

First, repeated strain of excitement in hypnotic seances will wear out

the constitution just as certainly as repeated strain of excitement in

social life, or the like, which, as we know, frequently produces nervous

exhaustion. Second, it is always dangerous to submit oneself to the

influence of an inferior or untrustworthy person. This is just as true

in hypnotism as it is in the moral realm. Bad companions corrupt. And

since the hypnotic subject is in a condition especially susceptible, a

little association of this kind, a little submission to the inferior or

immoral, will produce correspondingly more detrimental consequences.

Third, since hypnotism is an abnormal condition, just as drunkenness is,

one should not allow a public hypnotizer to experiment upon one and make

one do ridiculous things merely for amusement, any more than one would

allow a really insane person to be exhibited for money; or than one

would allow himself to be made drunk, merely that by his absurd antics

he might amuse somebody. It takes little reflection to convince any one

that hypnotism for amusement, either on the public stage or in the home,

is highly obnoxious, even if it is not highly dangerous. If the

hypnotizer is an honest man, and a man of character, little injury may

follow. But we can never know that, and the risk of getting into bad

hands should prevent every one from submitting to influence at all. The

fact is, however, that we should strongly doubt the good character of

any one who hypnotizes for amusement, regarding him in the same light as

we would one who intoxicated people on the stage for amusement, or gave

them chloroform, or went about with a troup of insane people that he

might exhibit their idiosyncrasies. Honest, right-minded people do not

do those things.

At the same time, there is nothing wiser that a man can do than to

submit himself fully to a stronger and wiser nature than his own. A

physician in whom you have confidence may do a thousand times more for

you by hypnotism than by the use of drugs. It is a safe rule to place

hypnotism in exactly the same category as drugs. Rightly used, drugs are

invaluable; wrongly used, they become the instruments of the murderer.

At all times should they be used with great caution. The same is true of


Now let us cite some evidence. Lafontaine, a professional hypnotist,

gives some interesting facts. He says that public hypnotic

entertainments usually induce a great many of the audience to become

amateur hypnotists, and these experiments may cause suffocation. Fear

often results in congestion, or a rush of blood to the brain. If the

digestion is not completed, more especially if the repast has been more

abundant than usual, congestion may be produced and death be

instantaneous. The most violent convulsions may result from too complete

magnetization of the brain. A convulsive movement may be so powerful

that the body will suddenly describe a circle, the head touching the

heels and seem to adhere to them. In this latter case there is torpor

without sleep. Sometimes it has been impossible to awake the subject.

A waiter at Nantes, who was magnetized by a commercial traveler,

remained for two days in a state of lethargy, and for three hours Dr.

Foure and numerous spectators were able to verify that the extremities

were icy cold, the pulse no longer throbbed, the heart had no

pulsations, respiration had ceased, and there was not sufficient breath

to dim a glass held before the mouth. Moreover, the patient was stiff,

his eyes were dull and glassy. Nevertheless, Lafontaine was able to

recall this man to life.

Dr. Courmelles says: Paralysis of one or more members, or of the

tongue, may follow the awakening. These are the effects of the

contractions of the internal muscles, due often to almost imperceptible

touches. The diaphragm--and therefore the respiration--may be stopped in

the same manner. Catalepsy and more especially lethargy, produce these


There are on record a number of cases of idiocy, madness, and epilepsy

caused by the unskillful provoking of hypnotic sleep. One case is

sufficiently interesting, for it is almost exactly similar to a case

that occurred at one of the American colleges. The subject was a young

professor at a boys' school. One evening he was present at some public

experiments that were being performed in a tavern; he was in no way

upset at the sight, but the next day one of his pupils, looking at him

fixedly, sent him to sleep. The boys soon got into the habit of amusing

themselves by sending him to sleep, and the unhappy professor had to

leave the school, and place himself under the care of a doctor.

Dr. Ernest Hart gives an experience of his own which carries with it its

own warning. Says he:

Staying at the well known country house in Kent of a distinguished

London banker, formerly member of Parliament for Greenwich, I had been

called upon to set to sleep, and to arrest a continuous barking cough

from which a young lady who was staying in the house was suffering, and

who, consequently, was a torment to herself and her friends. I thought

this a good opportunity for a control experiment, and I sat her down in

front of a lighted candle which I assured her that I had previously

mesmerized. Presently her cough ceased and she fell into a profound

sleep, which lasted until twelve o'clock the next day. When I returned

from shooting, I was informed that she was still asleep and could not be

awoke, and I had great difficulty in awaking her. That night there was a

large dinner party, and, unluckily, I sat opposite to her. Presently she

again became drowsy, and had to be led from the table, alleging, to my

confusion, that I was again mesmerizing her. So susceptible did she

become to my supposed mesmeric influence, which I vainly assured her, as

was the case, that I was very far from exercising or attempting to

exercise, that it was found expedient to take her up to London. I was

out riding in the afternoon that she left, and as we passed the railway

station, my host, who was riding with me, suggested that, as his friends

were just leaving by that train, he would like to alight and take leave

of them. I dismounted with him and went on to the platform, and avoided

any leave-taking; but unfortunately in walking up and down it seems that

I twice passed the window of the young lady's carriage. She was again

self-mesmerized, and fell into a sleep which lasted throughout the

journey, and recurred at intervals for some days afterward.

In commenting on this, Dr. Hart notes that in reality mesmerism is

self-produced, and the will of the operator, even when exercised directly

against it, has no effect if the subject believes that the will is being

operated in favor of it. Says he: So long as the person operated on

believed that my will was that she should sleep, sleep followed. The

most energetic willing in my internal consciousness that there should be

no sleep, failed to prevent it, where the usual physical methods of

hypnotization, stillness, repose, a fixed gaze, or the verbal expression

of an order to sleep, were employed.

The dangers of hypnotism have been recognized by the law of every

civilized country except the United States, where alone public

performances are permitted.

Dr. Cocke says: I have occasionally seen subjects who complained of

headache, vertigo, nausea, and other similar symptoms after having been

hypnotized, but these conditions were at a future hypnotic sitting

easily remedied by suggestion. Speaking of the use of hypnotism by

doctors under conditions of reasonable care, Dr. Cocke says further:

There is one contraindication greater than all the rest. It applies

more to the physician than to the patient, more to the masses than to

any single individual. It is not confined to hypnotism alone; it has

blocked the wheels of human progress through the ages which have gone.

It is undue enthusiasm. It is the danger that certain individuals will

become so enamored with its charms that other equally valuable means of

cure will be ignored. Mental therapeutics has come to stay. It is yet in

its infancy and will grow, but, if it were possible to kill it, it would

be strangled by the fanaticism and prejudice of its devotees. The whole

field is fascinating and alluring. It promises so much that it is in

danger of being missed by the ignorant to such an extent that great harm

may result. This is true, not only of mental therapeutics and hypnotism,

but of every other blessing we possess. Hypnotism has nothing to fear

from the senseless skepticism and contempt of those who have no

knowledge of the subject. He adds pertinently enough: While hypnotism

can be used in a greater or less degree by every one, it can only be

used intelligently by those who understand, not only hypnotism itself,

but disease as well.

Dr. Cocke is a firm believer that the right use of hypnotism by

intelligent persons does not weaken the will. Says he: I do not believe

there is any danger whatever in this. I have no evidence (and I have

studied a large number of hypnotized subjects) that hypnotism will

render a subject less capable of exercising his will when he is relieved

from the hypnotic trance. I do not believe that it increases in any way

his susceptibility to ordinary suggestion.

However, in regard to the dangers of public performances by professional

hypnotizers, Dr. Cocke is equally positive. Says he:

The dangers of public exhibitions, made ludicrous as they are by the

operators, should be condemned by all intelligent men and women, not

from the danger of hypnotism itself so much as from the liability of the

performers to disturb the mental poise of that large mass of ill-balanced

individuals which makes up no inconsiderable part of society. In

conclusion he says: Patients have been injured by the misuse of

hypnotism. * * * This is true of every remedial agent ever employed for

the relief of man. Every article we eat, if wrongly prepared, if stale,

or if too much is taken, will be harmful. Every act, every duty of our

lives, may, if overdone, become an injury.

Then, for the sake of clearness, let me state in closing that hypnotism

is dangerous only when it is misused, or when it is applied to that

large class of persons who are inherently unsound; especially if that

mysterious thing we call credulity predominates to a very great extent

over the reason and over other faculties of the mind.