Sunday, May 20

A Scientific Explanation of Hypnotism.–Dr. Hart's Theory

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In the introduction to this book the reader will find a summary of the theories of hypnotism. There is no doubt that hypnotism is a complex state which cannot be explained in an offhand way in a sentence or two. There are, however, certain aspects of hypnotism which we may suppose sufficiently explained by certain scientific writers on the subject. First, what is the character of the delusions apparently created in the mind of a person in the hypnotic condition by a simple word of mouth statement, as when a physician says, “Now, I am going to cut your leg off, but it will not hurt you in the least,” and the patient suffers nothing? In answer to this question, Professor William James of Harvard College, one of the leading authorities on the scientific aspects of psychical phenomena in this country, reports the following experiments: “Make a stroke on a paper or blackboard, and tell the subject it is not there, and he will see nothing but the clean paper or board.

Next, he not looking, surround the original stroke with other strokes exactly like it, and ask him what he sees. He will point out one by one the new strokes and omit the original one every time, no matter how numerous the next strokes may be, or in what order they are arranged. Similarly, if the original single line, to which he is blind, be doubled by a prism of sixteen degrees placed before one of his eyes (both being kept open), he will say that he now sees one stroke, and point in the direction in which lies the image seen through the prism. “Another experiment proves that he must see it in order to ignore it. Make a red cross, invisible to the hypnotic subject, on a sheet of white paper, and yet cause him to look fixedly at a dot on the paper on or near the red cross; he wills on transferring his eye to the blank sheet,xsee a bluish-green after image of the cross.

This proves that thas impressed his sensibility. He has felt but not perceived it. He had actually ignored it; refused to recognize it, as it were.” Dr. Ernest Hart, an English writer, in an article in the British Medical Journal, gives a general explanation of the phenomena of hypnotism which we may accept as true so far as it goes, but which is evidently incomplete. He seems to minimize personal influence too much–that personal influence which we all exert at various times, and which he ignores, not because he would deny it, but because he fears lending countenance to the magnetic fluid and other similar theories. Says he: “We have arrived at the point at which it will be plain that the condition produced in these cases, and known under a varied jargon mask the design of impressing the imagination and possibly prey upon the pockets of a credulous and wonder-loving public–such names as mesmeric condition, magnetic sleep, clairvoyance, electro-biology, animal magnetism, faith trance, and many other aliases–such a condition, I say, is always subjective. It is independent of passes or gestures; it has no relation to any fluid emanating from the operator; it has no relation to his will, or to any influence which he exercises upon inanimate objects; distance does not affect it, nor proximity, nor the intervention of any conductors or non-conductors, whether silk or glass or stone, or even a brick wall. We can transmit the order to sleep by telephone or by telegraph.

We can practically get the same results while eliminating even the operator, if we can contrive to influence the imagination or to affect the physical condition of the subject by any one of a great number of contrivances.

“What does all this mean?

I will refer to one or two facts in relation to the structure and function of the brain, and show one or two simple experiments of very ancient parentage and date, which will, I think, help to an explanation. First, let us recall something of what we know of the anatomy and localization of function in the brain, and of the nature of ordinary sleep. The brain, as you know, is a complicated organ, made up internally of nerve masses, or ganglia, of which the central and underlying masses are connected with the automatic functions and involuntary actions of the body (such as the action of the heart, lungs, stomach, bowels, etc.), while the investing surface shows a system of complicated convolutions rich in gray matter, thickly sown with microscopic cells, in which the nerve ends terminate.

At the base of the brain is a complete circle of arteries, from which spring great numbers of small arterial vessels, carrying a profuse blood supply throughout the whole mass, and capable of contraction in small tracts, so that small areas of the brain may, at any given moment, become bloodless, while other parts of the brain may simultaneously become highly congested. Now, if the brain or any part of it be deprived of the circulation of blood through it, or be rendered partially bloodless, or if it be excessively congested and overloaded with blood, or if it be subjected to local pressure, the part of the brain so acted upon ceases to be capable of exercising its functions. The regularity of the action of the brain and the sanity and completeness of the thought which is one of the functions of its activity depend upon the healthy regularity of the quantity of blood passing through all its parts, and upon the healthy quality of the blood so circulating. If we press upon the carotid arteries which pass up through the neck to form the arterial circle of Willis, at the base of the brain, within the skull–of which I have already spoken, and which supplies the brain with blood–we quickly, as every one knows, produce insensibility. Thought is abolished, consciousness lost.

And if we continue the pressure, all those automatic actions of the body, such as the beating of the heart, the breathing motions of the lungs, which maintain life and are controlled by the lower brain centers of ganglia, are quickly stopped and death ensues.

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