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HYPNOTISM


another by the assumption that every human organism comprises two mental selves or personalities, a normal one and one which only comes into activity during sleep and hypnosis. Most of these “theories” would, even if true, carry us but a little way towards a complete understanding of the facts. There is, however, one theory or principle of explanation which is now gradually taking shape under the hands of a number of the more penetrating workers in this held, and which does seem to render intelligible many of the principle facts. This is the theory of mental dissociation.

It is clear that a theory of hypnosis must attempt to give some account of the peculiar condition of the brain which is undoubtedly present as an essential feature of the state. It is therefore not enough to say with Bernheim that hypnosis is a state of abnormally increased suggestibility produced by suggestion; nor is it enough, though it is partially true, to say that it is a state of mono-ideism or one of abnormally great concentration of attention. Any theory must be stated in terms of physiological psychology, it must take account of both the psychical and the nervous peculiarities of the hypnotic state; it must exhibit the physiological condition as in some degree similar to that obtaining in normal sleep; but principally it must account for that abnormally great receptivity for ideas, and that abnormally int-nse and effective operation of ideas so received, which constitute e abnormally great suggestibility. The theory of mental dissociation may be stated in purely mental terms, or primarily in terms of nervous structure and function, and the latter mode of statement is probably the more profitable at the present time. The increased eliectiveness of ideas might be due to one of two conditions: (I) it might be that certain tracts of the brain or the whole brain were in a condition of abnormally great excitability; or (2) an idea might operate more effectively in the mind and on the body, not because it, or the underlying brain-process was more intense than normally, but because it worked out its effects free from the interference of contrary or irrelevant ideas that might weaken its force. It is along this second line that the theory of mental dissociation attempts to explain the increased suggestibility of hypnosis. To understand the theory we must bear in mind the nature of mental process in general and of its nervous concomitants. Mental process consists in the interplay, not merely of ideas, but rather of complex dispositions which are the more or less enduring conditions of the rise of ideas to consciousness. Each such disposition seems capable of remaining inactive or quiescent for long periods, and of being excited in various degrees, either by impressions made upon the sense organs or by the spread of excitement from other dispositions. When its excitement rises above a certain pitch of intensity, the corresponding idea rises to the focus of consciousness. These dispositions are essential factors of all mental process, the essential conditions of all mental retention. They may be called simply mental dispositions, their nature being left undefined; but for our present purpose it is advantageous to regard them as neural dispositions, complex functional groups of nervous elements or neurones. The neurones of each such group must be conceived as being so intimately connected with one another that the excitement of any part of the group at once spreads through the whole group or disposition, so that it always functions as a unit. The whole cerebrum must be conceived as consisting of a great number of such dispositions, inextricably interwoven, but interconnected in orderly fashion with very various degrees of intimacy; groups of dispositions are very intimately connected to form neural systems, so that the excitement of any one member of such a system tends to spread in succession to all the other members. On the other hand, it is a peculiarity of the reciprocal relations of all such dispositions and systems that the excitement of any one to such a degree that the corresponding idea rises to consciousness prevents or inhibits the excitement of others, i.e. all of them are in relations of reciprocal inhibition with one another (see MUSCLE AND NERVE). The excitement of dispositions associated together to form a. system terfds towards some end which, either immediately or remotely, is an action, a bodily movement, in many cases a movement of the organs of speech only. Now we know from many exact experiments that the neural dispositions act and react upon one another to some extent, even when they are excited only in so feeble a degree that the corresponding ideas do not rise to consciousness. In the normal state of the brain, then, when any idea is present to consciousness, the corresponding neural disposition is in a state of dominant excitement, but the intensity of that excitement is moderated, depressed or partially inhibited by the sub-excitement of many rival or competing dispositions of other systems with which it is connected. Suppose now that all the nervous connexions between the multitudinous dispositions of the cerebrum are by some means rendered less effective, that the association-paths are partially blocked or functionally depressed; the result will be that, while the most intimate connexions, those between dispositions of any one system remain functional or permeable, the weaker less intimate connexions, those between dispositions belonging to different systems will be practically abolished for the time being; each system of dispositions will then function more or less as an isolated system, and its activity will no longer be subject to the depressing or inhibiting influence of other systems; therefore each system, on being excited in any way, will tend to its end with more than normal force, being freed from all interferences; that is to say, each idea or system of ideas will tend to work itself out and to realize itself in action immediately, without suffering the opposition of antagonistic ideas which, in the normal state of the brain, might altogether prevent its realization in action.

The theory of mental dissociation assumes that the abnormal state of the brain that obtains during hypnosis is of this kind, a temporary functional depression of all, or of many of the associations or nervous links between the neural dispositions; that is, it regards hypnosis as a state of relative dissociation. The lighter the stage of hypnosis the slighter is the degree of dissociation, the deeper the stage the more nearly complete is the dissociation.

It is not essential that the theory should explain in what change this stage of dissociation consists, but a view compatible with all that we know of the functions of the central nervous system may be suggested. The connexions between neural dispositions involve synapses or cell-junctions, and these seem to be the places of variable resistance which demarcate the dispositions and systems; and there is good reason to think that their resistances vary with the state of the neurones which they connect, being lowered when these are excited and raised when their excitement ebbs. Now, in the waking state, the varied stimuli, which constantly rain upon all the sense-organs, maintain the whole cerebrum in a state of sub-excitement, keep all the cerebral neurones partially charged with free nervous energy. When the subject lies down to sleep or submits himself to the hypnotize he arrests as far as possible the flow of his thoughts, and the sensory stimuli are diminished in number and intensity. Under these conditions the general cerebral activity tends to subside, the free energy with which the cerebral neurones are charged ebbs away, and the synaptic resistances rise proportionally; then the effect of sensory impressions tends to be confined to the lower nervous level, and the brain tends to come to rest. If this takes place the condition of normal sleep is realized. But in inducing hypnosis the operator, by means of his words and manipulations, keeps one system of ideas and the corresponding neural system in activity, namely, the ideas connected with himself; thus he keeps open one channel of entry to the brain and mind, and through this one open channel he can introduce whatever ideas he pleases; and the ideas so introduced then operate with abnormally great effect because they work in a free field, unchecked by rival ideas and tendencies.

This theory of relative dissociation has two great merits: in the first place it goes far towards enabling us to understand in some degree most of the phenomena of hypnosis; secondly,

we have good evidence that dissociation really occurs in deep