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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 definit
on 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.