Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/365

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By Professor H. W. CHASE


ONCE upon a time it was the fashion to demonstrate witchcraft by sticking pins into the unlucky suspect. If any spots were found that appeared insensitive to pain, the unfortunate was forthwith declared a witch, with dire consequences to herself. Now-a-days such anesthesias are recognized, not as signs of a compact with the devil, but as symptoms of that mysterious disease of personality, hysteria.

This reversal of the point of view is typical. We have come to look upon many phenomena that were formerly ascribed to supernatural agencies—crystal gazing, second sight, hallucinations, double personality, possessions, ghosts, even mediumship—not as manifestations of supernatural powers, but as due to an abnormal condition of mind in the subject. In less enlightened days the Miss Beauchamp of whom Prince tells us in his "Dissociation of a Personality," who was several personalities by turns and had, as a rule, as one personality no recollection of the acts she performed as another, might have been burned as a witch. To-day she is a problem for the psychologist.

As knowledge of the psychological nature of such abnormal phenomena has grown, the need has increasingly been felt for some comprehensive explanation of their character. Here, for example, we have a girl (in a case reported by Janet) who has nursed her mother through a painful illness from consumption, resulting in death. The poverty of the family would not allow her even proper nourishment for her suffering mother. Her grief and despair may be imagined. But after the funeral she has apparently forgotten the whole series of events; the entire "complex" has dropped from consciousness. She is bewildered by any mention of the circumstances. But, on occasion, she falls into a trance-like state, in which she rehearses the circumstances of the illness and death of her mother with the utmost fidelity. And then, suddenly, she is normal again, but again she has no recollection of the crisis through which she has just passed. Here is a series of events apparently split off from her conscious personality altogether, yet instinct with energy that at time brings it to the surface. Here is another hysterical patient who has forgotten all about the shock that the physician suspects must have occurred as the starting point of her dis-disease, and yet in hypnosis the whole thing comes out as vividly as ever. Consciously it could not be recalled, and yet it was existing and