It can be laid down as a fundamental principle that there is nothing unnatural or occult in the phenomena of hypnotism; what may appear mysterious to us at present will be found to be quite in conformity with the laws of nature when the facts are more carefully determined.
The essential factors in most phenomena of hypnotism may be said to be first, the production of a sleepy or dazed condition in which the subject is unusually sensitive to suggestions given by the hypnotized, and second, the giving of suggestions that are followed by actions, hallucinations, etc.
It is my belief that most of the phenomena of hypnotic suggestion can be produced in sane persons in a perfectly normal condition, by merely choosing the appropriate suggestions.
Here is an experiment that can be performed by anyone; I perform it regularly every year on classes of twenty to twenty-five pupils. The current from a battery (or a dynamo) is sent through a thin wire, the strength being regulated so that the wire very slowly becomes warm. Each person takes such a wire be tween thumb and finger. He is told to say "Now" at the very first instant he feels the wire begin to become warm. After the warning "All ready" the switch is turned on with a loud snap; in a short time the heat is faintly felt and the subjects begin to say, "now" one after another. The experiment is then to be repeated a second time. The warning "All ready" is given as before but a secret, noiseless switch is turned so that, when the other switch is snapped, no current passes through the wires. The subjects soon call out "Now" as before, although no heat whatever Is developed in the wires. In this way a pure hallucination is developed on the basis of a mere suggestion without any of the preliminary manipulations common to hypnotism.
It is especially remarkable that this can be done with a large class - the larger the better. I would hardly wish to say that a whole class can be hypnotized, because the word "hypnotism" has still a mysterious tinge, but perhaps I may be allowed to use the word "suggestionized." Such "suggestionizing," with or without the preliminary hypnotizing, can be carried out on groups of persons in various ways. Possibly some of the impossible tricks of the Hindoo jugglers may be due to a "suggestionizing" of the entire body of on-lookers. Stockton has made use of this idea in a fanciful tale of a whole theater-full of people who were first hypnotized by dazzling objects.
This "suggestionizing" of whole bodies of people is part of the power possessed by certain orators, preachers, and singers. They have certain tones and modulations of the voice that appeal to the hearers irresistibly, often overpowering the judgment entirely. We have probably all felt this power of certain speakers over us and have perhaps been rather ashamed of it afterwards. Possibly I can best illustrate the case by repeating an incident that actually occurred in a London court. The prisoner had confessed himself guilty in an accusation of theft. The judge appointed a rising young lawyer to defend his case at the trial. The lawyer induced the prisoner to withdraw his confession and enter a plea of "not guilty," and then conducted the case with such skill and eloquence that the jury brought in a verdict of "not guilty," although they knew of the prisoner's own confession. The only explanation seems to lie in attributing a hypnotizing or suggestionizing effect to the lawyer's eloquence.
Quite a long series of experiments on hallucinations by simple suggestion has been carried out under my direction by C. E. Seashore, who has in this way produced hallucinations of sounds, smells and even of actual objects in large numbers of perfectly normal persons without any preliminary hypnotizing.* In one experiment the subject was told to approach from the farther side of the room until he could see a blue bead on a black circle; when he saw it, he was to look down at a tape measure beside him and read off the distance. The experiment would be repeated about ten times, the subject seeing the bead every time and reading off the distance, thereafter the bead was secretly removed.
*See studies from the Yale Psychological Laboratory, 1895, Vol. 3.
The subject would continue to repeat the experiment, seeing the bead every time, although no bead was present. The suggestion of the previous experiments was thus enough to produce a distinct hallucination of sight. This experiment was repeated on many persons without a single failure. In another experiment the subject was warned by a click of a telegraph sounder when to expect a faint sound; he was to press a key when he heard the sound. The sound was actually produced for a few times. After that it was unnecessary; the sounder would click and shortly afterwards the subject would press the key to show that he had heard the sound, although no sound was present.
In still another experiment a few trials at smelling a bottle with a faint perfume in it was sufficient to cause the subject to always perceive a perfume in a bottle of odorless water.
The cause of this suggestibility lies undoubtedly in a strong concentration of the attention on one thing, whereby the suggestions from outside are enabled to influence the subject without his being able to control the effect.
The method of hypnotizing used in Paris by the Abbe de Faria and in Nancy by the later hypnotizers showed an under-standing of the power of this principle of direct suggestion. The Abbe de Faria was accustomed to throw his subjects into the hypnotic condition by the command "Dormez." The men of the Nancy school would tell the subject that he was becoming sleepy, that his lids were already drooping, etc.
With very susceptible persons and with those who have been often hypnotized, it is frequently sufficient to simply say "Sleep" or to make some sudden ejaculation, or even to look fixedly into the eyes. Here we have again the strong concentration of attention that leaves the subject without full control of his faculties.
We ought, perhaps, to restrict the term "hypnotizing" to the production of the sleepy condition and to use the term "suggestionizing" for the phenomena produced by suggestion with or without preliminary hypnotizing. The hypnotizing is for the purpose of gaining fixation of attention; it is unnecessary when the concentration of attention can be gained in some other way. In some such suggestionizing as this without hypnotizing, I believe we shall find the explanation of the cures that have been actually performed at religious shrines, such as the Grotto of Lourdes. It is undoubtedly the secret of the beneficial effect of some physicians on the health of their patients, and of the inspiring contact of certain great preachers and leaders of men.
By a strikingly impressive appearance, by a well modulated but firm voice, or by a pleasing manner, a natural leader of men gains the attention and confidence of others and makes them susceptible to his suggestion.
Among the many uses to which suggestionizing may be put, I will mention only two whose importance will at once strike the reader. Various bad habits can be cured. I know of several boys, victims of an uncontrollable desire for cigarettes, who were cured by hypnotizing and receiving the suggestion that they did not like cigarettes any more. I also know of a number of drunkards cured in the same way. The same result can frequently be attained by suggestion without hypnotizing; this occurs at revivals, temperance meetings, salvation army meetings and the like. Various defects of character can be remedied. Inattentive, willful, malicious, untruthful or violent boys can frequently be so modified by hypnotic suggestion as to become sound and healthy-minded fellows. But what can be done in a brief time by first hypnotizing the boys it is the duty of parents and teachers to accomplish slowly and patiently by years of direct suggestion. Our fundamental principles of character are, after all, mainly the results of suggestions received from our environment.
Defects of timidity, bashfulness, terror of darkness and the like can be likewise cured.
ref. Hypnotism and Suggestion by E. Virgil Neal and Charles S. Clerk