Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/September 1873/Hypnotism in Animals I




GENTLEMEN: I propose in two lectures to bring to your notice a subject which, in very many respects, is one of great and increasing interest.

The physiological facts which I shall demonstrate and discuss, as they occur in various animals, are remarkably surprising. They will afford us opportunities for making deductions which are interesting in their historical relations, and they will also serve to demonstrate to us how man, uneducated in natural science, is deficient in judgment when he comes to view unfamiliar incidents of Nature. They will show us that such a man examines natural phenomena in a way which is certain to deceive him, by convincing him that he has observed events which in reality never occurred.

The obstinacy and lack of discernment which he thus brings to bear on his investigations are truly astonishing; and it is not surprising, therefore, that the intelligent inquirer into the operations of Nature should place little reliance on the testimony of highly-honorable persons whose minds are untrained to the work they have undertaken. Even when such persons are possessed of great culture—even perhaps in natural science—but are not infused with that spirit of exact investigation so necessary to the discovery of truth in Nature, we are justified in regarding their statements with hesitation and suspicion. Often, very often, we are obliged to listen to relations of unusual or dubious natural events, and cannot avoid feeling irritated at the assertions—which the speaker regards as putting an end to all argument—"I was there. I saw it all with my own eyes, and heard it with my own ears. What I report is actually true!"

The relator has really been present; he has seen and heard every thing of which he speaks; he is in real earnest, and he tells the truth; and yet what he reports has never taken place, and the real investigator of Nature is perfectly right in disregarding his testimony, while, at the same time, his truthfulness is not questioned.

This may strike you as paradoxical. It is so, however, only in appearance, for the discrepancy disappears when we come to make the discovery that it is the perception of the observer which is at fault, and that the eyes and ears have been correct, so far as their functions were concerned. The circumstance is what I call an event viewed unequally.

In the want of discernment in which such an observer is placed, when investigating Nature, he regards the temporary coincidences and consequences of certain real events as in themselves real. He accepts these circumstances at once, and without thorough investigation, as having an intimate and direct relation with real events. He, therefore, forms a conception of something which is not real, and he reports as an actual occurrence that which, in the way he means, never in fact took place. Such a circumstance constitutes an event not thoroughly tested, or an incident unequally investigated, and, I believe, we are not merely logically justified, but morally forced, to distinguish, among events in the perception of Nature, a new and especial category, that of events viewed unequally. In this category are embraced circumstances which play a most extensive rôle in the history of the development of the human mind. Without the conception of this class of supposed incidents, we would never be capable of understanding and explaining certain obscure appearances and tendencies of the human mind, and the persistency with which they rise and maintain themselves as often as they are overthrown, and when they have scarcely even had time to disappear.

Nothing strengthens the mind like a habit of investigating natural events with thoroughness and strictness. Without this habit, credulity and superstition can neither be broken nor restrained.

We children of the nineteenth century are not a little proud of our civilization, culture, and enlightenment. And yet, if a comparison were made between the ruling mind of the middle ages and that which now reigns, no great progress would be perceived. In fact, we have no right to plume ourselves on the material development of our era, so long as certain tendencies of the mind remain as they were ages ago, and while we are no more capable, than we were then, of investigating natural events, so as to deduce the truth from them.

It would carry me too far from my subject if I were to give even a hasty glance at all those tendencies and false appearances which, so to say, calumniate our enlightened and cultivated life. It will suffice merely to mention the manias of table-turning, spirit-rapping, spiritual apparitions, animal magnetism, and clairvoyance. To-morrow, at the conclusion of the second lecture, I will give a more detailed account of these subjects, as they appear in the light of facts. In what I have said this morning, I wished principally to prepare your minds for the facts I am about to state, and for the proper consideration of certain apparently wonderful physical phenomena which, though partially known for some time, have received no scientific investigation, and which, therefore, have not been awarded their proper place in the domain of nervous physiology.

During the autumn of the past year, while sojourning in Bohemia, I made the acquaintance of a gentleman who, in the course of one of our scientific discussions, communicated to me the striking information that he had not only seen others magnetize crawfish, but had himself succeeded in the attempt. On being asked for fuller particulars as to what he meant, the gentleman told me that the whole thing was uncommonly simple.

You hold the crawfish firmly in one hand, and with the other make magnetic strokes from the end of the animal toward the head. If, in the mean while, when making these passes in the given direction, and carefully avoiding any other movement, the tips of the fingers are placed at the animal's back, it forms an arch as the hand is withdrawn. Under this manipulation the crawfish, in a short time, becomes quiet, places itself on its head in a vertical position, using its feelers and the two claws, which are pushed inward, as a support. In this peculiar and unnatural position the animal remains motionless, until passes are again made in the opposite direction, beginning at the head, at which it begins to move once more, tries to lose its equilibrium, at last falls, and crawls away.

As my informant was known to be an intelligent man, and of a most credible, honorable character, of course I could entertain no doubt respecting the veracity of this simple, clear, though remarkable statement, and least of all could I have expressed such a doubt to him; but my knowledge of Nature led me to say to him that, although I placed the utmost belief in his communication, I was of the opinion that he had related to me an "event viewed unequally."

Indeed, that the crawfish placed itself on its head, and remained motionless in this position after having the passes made over it, was certainly an actual circumstance, inasmuch as he testified to it; but that the so-called "magnetic" strokes with the finger-tips, and the action of magnetizing, were the actual cause of the crawfish's condition, was, for me, in spite of his testimony, and without wishing to presume upon him, no real incident, that I could accept on faith and belief, or, above all, consider worthy of an earnest inspection; because this was in no way the object of his perception and examination.

I desired him to show me the experiment—not that I expected a demonstration, nor that I doubted his facts—but mainly because I had nothing better to do, and I thought I would be able to promise him on this occasion a clearer idea of moderate perceptions in Nature, as a slight service on my part, and show him, with an example, what an "event viewed unequally" was. No sooner said than done. The order was given to procure crawfish from a neighboring brook, and we soon had a basketful before us.

What then happened I will illustrate to you in the same way that we performed the experiment then, for I have here in this vessel a number of crawfish all ready. My friendly companion, sure of the result of his experiment, seized one of the animals and began his "magnetic" strokes, from the end toward the head, exactly as I am doing now. The crawfish, which at first resisted, gradually became calm; and now, indeed, his crooked tail high in the air, he places himself on his head, and remains motionless, as if asleep, in this forced and unnatural position; while he finds his support in his feelers and two under claws.

It is really a surprising sight! While we then, as now, saw the conclusion of the experiment with satisfaction and interest, I, on my part, had seized an animal with the intention of endeavoring to place it on its head, without the magnetic strokes, and thereby to remove the reasonable thought of a secret "magnetic" influence contained in the strokes.

And see!—my crawfish, after in vain struggling in my firm grasp, actually stood just as motionless on its head as the one which my compainion had magnetized, and as this one here which I have placed before you on its head, without all that deceptive magnetism. And how was it with the opposite strokes, beginning from the head? My friend worked zealously with these strokes upon his crawfish, while I represented the opposite experiment. It lasted some time, until the crawfish began to move, and at last fell over and crawled away.

You see that my strokes here with this crawfish have so far no result, and I fear you will lose all patience. Indeed, let us confidently interrupt this opposite manipulation, and let us rather place the rest of the crawfish, without magnetism, on their heads, in order to confirm this striking circumstance again. The longer we wait before resuming the magnetic strokes from the head, the more sure we are at last to reap the benefit. It is the same with this as with the solemn request of a Catholic parish in Austria to their priest, which was, to send rain from heaven upon their parched fields, to which, however, the enlightened "Joseph," in order to postpone it a little, said: "Yes, willingly, children!—but not just yet, the barometer has been much too high for some time past!" Let us then follow the good advice of the wise pastor; you will see yourselves, if you wait, that gradually all the crawfish, standing motionless on their heads, move again of their own accord, without any mysterious manipulation! In regard to the influence of the other motion, it is nothing at all. We are able to act upon the altered nervous system of the crawfish by mechanical means, through the influence of a stream of air, through a sudden coolness or warmth, or through the natural disturbance previous to the awakening; that is, the restoration of the normal functional capacities.

You also see, gentlemen, our experiment then and now has terminated exactly as I predicted, and I hope that you will now be convinced, as my companion was, that the so-called "magnetizing" of the crawfish is an actual event; but, as I say, one "viewed unequally," and, therefore, not one! At the same time, the idea will become clear and distinct to you, which I have associated with the description of "events viewed unequally," and the reason that I have chosen this particular description, to demonstrate something which is not an event at all, will be apparent to you.

The only actual fact in the "magnetism" of the crawfish is the motionless state which follows the strokes in the air. While one considers this actual succession, without any examination, to be a mysterious connection of the "magnetic" influence, so one thinks this non-existing connection to be a real event, and decidedly true. Therefore, I call such events which never took place, none the less circumstances, but, in order to distinguish them from actual ones, I designate them as "viewed unequally." I do this in order to indicate the characteristic circumstance that, in the foundation, something of actuality exists, and thus gives them an appearance of reality. This immediately strikes the person whose judgment is not altogether exact, and can only be removed by a close examination and inspection. This last, however, is not the case with every one, and thus the great powers of reason and prudence which execute these events explain themselves, and also explain the immense rôle which they play in the history of human error.

In the so-called magnetizing of the crawfish, the only actual incident is the one already mentioned. This is simple enough, as the crawfish possesses the remarkable quality of being able to lose the normal excitation and power of acting belonging to its nervous system, and is also capable of supporting itself, when it is placed gently in some particular position, in spite of its former resistance. As to the magnetic strokes, they have certainly no significance.

That, however, the actual change of posture in the crawfish does not depend upon a mysterious magnetic fluid, which proceeds from the fingers and hands of the experimenter, is proved by the attempt in which the crawfish is not touched and held by the hand in any way. In this experiment the crawfish is held by a string, and that striking condition of immobility, which lasts some time and then disappears, is just as apparent in it as in the others.

I will place a loose string around the tail of this crawfish, without moving the animal, draw the ends lightly together, and hang the crawfish by means of it on this frame. You see how the animal, with its head downward, in vain strives to free itself from its unnatural position. This, however, does not last long. It becomes quiet, and finally hangs completely motionless, as though it had been held firmly in my hand. This continues until it sooner or later begins again to move of its own accord.

With a glass tube I will roll this second crawfish on its back; it endeavors to regain its proper position; but, in consequence of being prevented with the glass tube, it does not succeed. The animal's resistance is fruitless; the tube holds it firmly, and see! it now remains quiet on its back, and will sooner or later move again of its own accord.

Now, as in the former experiment, we can no longer speak of a magnetic influence, proceeding from the experimenter, but, nevertheless, in both cases, the crawfish remained motionless after its first resistance was made unsuccessful, by means of the tube and pure mechanical force. But crawfish, which crawl briskly in their course backward, often remain for some time motionless, a result which is caused .by no visible circumstance. We thus learn that normal, unmolested crawfish can become motionless, just as well as the ones we experiment with, only the mysterious character of these experiments does not lose all its interest, for we see that the immobility which we occasion by our preparation cannot be prevented, while the crawfish which is not subjected to our manipulations becomes motionless through no demonstrable or extraordinary circumstance. Again, we see that the experimental crawfish become immobile, and remain so, notwithstanding that, in consequence of the unnatural positions in which they are placed, they are exposed to a powerful inducement to move, and cannot be quite determined as to the normal condition and degree of excitability of their nervous systems. The unmolested crawfish, however, experiences no such emotion.

Of the latter, which fall into a motionless state and remain so, two kinds may be seen. Either the crawfish is in a normal and wakeful condition, and does not move because it has no motive for doing so, and consequently does not wish to move, or else it cannot move because it is exhausted, or finds itself in a state of lethargy and sleep. In regard to our experimental animals there is no doubt, as already stated, that they are placed in positions in which they would move if they could, that is, if they were in a condition capable of working their nervous system.

And thus you see how, through a minute and scientific inspection, we have arrived at the fact that, instead of finding the actual circumstance by magnetizing the crawfish, the animals in winter and autumn, when their instinct is duller than at other seasons, possess the remarkable quality of losing the normal excitability of their nervous systems, even in the most forced positions; also that they are again able to maintain their equilibrium in spite of resistance made at first, after they have been held firmly a certain time.

I remember once seeing a like effect in hens which had been experimented upon in the same way. I had already known of this fact, but had never possessed the opportunity or occasion to give it a strict investigation. I therefore concluded to experiment upon the poultry-yard of my hospitable country-friend with whom I was then staying. Many of you, no doubt, have been told, or else know from your own experience, that wild, frightened hens which one has had great difficulty in catching and holding, are liable to become completely motionless as if enchanted by some magical spell, after being held with gentle force upon the floor or table where a chalk-line has been drawn the length of the beak or diagonally from each eye. Now, although this sounds very incredible, it is an actual fact and I will endeavor to demonstrate it to you. Yet, I am obliged to say expressly beforehand that I cannot promise you this experiment will succeed, in consequence of this large assembly, the light, and the room, which, in spite of the quiet and attention, is not wholly free from noise. I have never performed this experiment under such circumstances, and therefore cannot say whether any disturbing influence would affect my hen.

I must call to your remembrance, for my own safety as a careful and circumspect experimenter, that we are making a new experiment, or, in fact, an old one under somewhat altered circumstances. Therefore we must be fully prepared to make a new discovery, which will probably undeceive us in no agreeable manner, if it robs us of the pleasure of confirming, now and here, the wonderful accounts relative to the condition in which a timid hen can be placed after such apparently insipid and senseless preparations.

(The lecturer caused one of his assistants to bring him a hen and hold it fast upon the table. This was done after much resistance and many cries from the frightened bird; then with his left hand he held the head and neck of the hen upon the table, and with his right hand drew a chalk-line, beginning from the end of the beak, on the flat surface, which was of a dark color. Left entirely free, the hen, though breathing heavily, remained entirely quiet upon the table; then, without moving, it allowed itself to be placed on its back, and remained in this unnatural position until the close of the lecture. It only awoke when the audience began to leave.)

When I performed this experiment for the first time and with the same result as you now see, I was for the moment dumb with astonishment, for the hen not only remained motionless in its unnatural and forced position, but did not make the slightest attempt to fly away or to move in any manner whatever when I endeavored to startle it. It was clear the hen had lost the entire normal functional capacities of its nervous system under the apparently indifferent and useless arrangement of the experiment, and had been placed in this remarkable condition as though by magic. This state is characterized by a greater or a less suspension of its intelligence or will.

But nil admirari is the first maxim of the moderate investigator of nature. We must now ascertain the actual connection of these phenomena, so as not to stand still at an "event viewed unequally," like old Athanasius Kircher, the celebrated savant and Jesuit from Fulda, who affirmed this mysterious result in one of his works which appeared in Rome about 1646, "Ars magna lucis et umbrœ" as a positive corroboration of the immense imagination of hens. Kircher performed the experiment (which he called "experimentum mirabile de imaginatione gallinœ" and illustrated excellently with a fine woodcut) in the following way:

He first tied the hen's feet together with a narrow ribbon and laid the animal on the ground, where after many cries and violent struggling it became quiet, "as if," he says, "despairing of escape through the fruitlessness of its motions, it gave itself up to the will of its conqueror." Then Kircher drew a chalk-line in a diagonal direction from one eye to the other, loosened the ribbon, and the hen, although left perfectly free, remained immovable, even when he attempted to rouse it.

Therefore Kircher affirms that the hen thinks the chalk-line a string by which it is bound as at its feet, notwithstanding that the ribbon has been loosened. This he attributes to the force of the animal's imagination.

In this way Kircher reports something which never took place, although his confirmation partakes of reality. He also places his assertions in that fatal category of "events viewed unequally," which plays such an important rôle in the history of human error.

As soon as I had recovered from my extreme astonishment at the magical effect which I perceived at the first experiment I made, I immediately rubbed out the chalk-line. My astonishment, mingled with satisfaction, returned for a moment, as I saw the hen remain motionless although the chalk had entirely disappeared. The chalk-line appeared just as unnecessary as at the first and following experiments. Certainly this might have resulted from an after-effect of the line. In order to inspect this more clearly, I performed my experiment so that I held the hen firmly for some time, and stretched out the head and neck as if I were going to draw the chalk-line, bat in reality did not do it. And lo! the hen remained just as immovable as if the line had really been there!

It is therefore an actual fact that the chalk-line and ribbon are entirely unnecessary. What Kircher affirms relating to the imagination of the hens in regarding the chalk-line as a band which holds them, is only an "event viewed unequally," consequently no event at all. Observe that the only actual fact in Kircher's report is the motionless condition of the hen after the line has been drawn. While he takes this temporal coincidence without further investigation for an actual event caused by the hen's power of imagination, he reports a circumstance which really never happened, at least not in the way he thinks.

Through my simplified arrangement, without either chalk or string I have not only placed hens in this stupefied condition, but also geese, ducks, turkeys, and even a timid, unruly swan. This state makes the animals incapable of escaping, or even of changing their forced positions. This strange condition lasts often for a minute, indeed, frequently a quarter of an hour and longer, and is so intense that the animals can only be roused after repeated blows. Yes, the animals—as you have seen yourselves—can be turned over on their backs without awaking or showing the least resistance. When they are thus moved one can frequently perceive that the head of the hen, as though held by an invisible hand, keeps its proper position, while the neck is twisted. At the same time, the foot on the side which did not come in contact with the floor when the animal was moved, is drawn up with the claws cramped, while the foot on the other side is stretched downward. So the hens remain, just as ours is here on the table, for a long time, breathing heavily, but otherwise completely motionless on their backs, until at last either by themselves or by some other means they are aroused and fly away.

My experience with simply holding down the necks and heads of the hens on the ground did not prove efficacious with all hens, and was more or less so with the same ones at different times and under different circumstances. "Wild hens seem better for this experiment than those which have already been used and which are accustomed to be near people. Under all circumstances the success of my simplified experiment proves that the tying of the hen's feet, and the drawing of the chalk-line, as Kircher did, are entirely unnecessary. The moment when the remarkable change takes place concerning the capabilities of the hen's nervous system, appears to be at the stretching out of the head and neck, where possibly a slight mechanical extension of certain parts of the brain may take place, apart from the fear which the animal experiences at being held forcibly.

The chalk-line and the oppression of the tight band which are actually quite dispensable, appear, on the other hand, open to pure deception. I myself was deceived at first. We must only be careful not to stand still at "an event viewed unequally," as the unlearned do. For the complete dispensableness of the string and chalk-line does not prove its absolute indifference and ineffectiveness; and, on the other hand, the gentle, mechanical extension of the brain and spinal marrow, in consequence of the equalization of the curvature which takes place in the vertebral column at the forcible stretching out of the head and neck, is a very plausible thought, though not exactly a thoroughly well-founded one. There is nothing else to be done. We must patiently and circumspectly continue our investigation and experiment, in order to find the actual connection of the phenomena.

You see that firm, strict, natural investigation is no child's play. It demands simple and proportionate incidents, an insight, a circumspection and criticism, which the people who proclaim and testify to the reality of moving tables, flying guitars, self-playing pianos, rappings, etc., as spiritual manifestations, do not possess. Yes, if it were so easy and simple to discover new features of Nature, or only to find out natural scientific incidents, certainly every one could be an "investigator."

I might have occasion here to express the just indignation which the unscientific and frivolous man infuses into the mind of an investigator of Nature. But our limited time to-day has passed so quickly that I will close with this remark: Above all, it is not my intention to express different frames of mind and subjective feelings, but—the next time—to complete the investigation of Kircher's "experimentum mirabile." I do this, finally, in order to be able to follow it with a general experimental investigation of spiritualism and spiritual manifestations, which all those who are capable of an unprejudiced deliberation may find clear and comprehensible. Till to-morrow, then.

  1. These lectures were delivered by Professor Czermak (pronounced Tshermak) in the private physiological laboratory of the University of Leipsic, on the 24th and 25th of January, 1873.