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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/775

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HYPNOTISM: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT.

HYPNOTISM: WHAT IT IS AND WHAT IT IS NOT.
By Dr. CHRISTIAN A. HERTER.

IT has so long been the custom of the world, and of scientific men, to look upon Mesmer as a charlatan, and upon mesmerism as a delusion, that it is surprising to many persons to find that men of ability and repute are now engaged in investigating the phenomena which are still known under the vague title of "animal magnetism." The fact is that the teachings of Mesmer contained a certain element of truth, although it was seriously obscured by self-deception and intentional fraud, and that this kernel of truth has already been so far isolated as to show that it is deserving of serious study.

In the pages that follow I propose to give a concise account of the present state of our knowledge about "animal magnetism," or, as it is more properly termed, hypnotism, and shall endeavor to present certain facts in their real light, which have long been misunderstood in consequence of the teachings of Charcot and his pupils. While it can not be said with certainty that there may not exist some kind of "magnetic fluid" as the cause of the phenomena I shall describe, it is certain that a large proportion of them can be much more satisfactorily explained in other ways. Moreover, there is not at present a single well-substantiated fact, so far as I am aware, which requires the supposition of a magnetic fluid, or other similar mysterious influence, as an explanation. There being, therefore, no actual evidence of the existence of any such force as "animal magnetism," the expression may justly be objected to as a misnomer, and we must seek to replace it by a more suitable term. The word "hypnotism," proposed by Braid, of Manchester, is a very good substitute, and has at least the merit of being noncommittal.

It is not easy to define hypnotism sharply. It is probably sufficiently accurate to say that it is a condition of induced sleep almost identical with ordinary sleep, in which the brain is highly and peculiarly receptive of impressions from the outer world. Ordinary sleep is often disturbed by dreams. These dreams, as every one knows, vary greatly in vividness and character. Not infrequently the objects dreamed of are of the most fantastic and unreal nature, but they are nevertheless accepted by the unconscious individual as realities, and indeed have the subjective psychological value of perceptions. The stimuli which give rise to dreams arise as a rule within the brain of the sleeper; they are spontaneous. Let us now suppose that the stimuli come from the outer world, instead of from the brain of the sleeper, and we have