The Youngest of the Sciences

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

This undated manuscript written by Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 and 1891 at Bush Villas, Southsea, is an unpublished essay about hypnotism, the different stages of hypnosis, the power of suggestion in the hypnotic state, and the importance of further research and scientific study in order to fully understand these phenomena.

There is an alternate title on the manuscript: "The Development of Hypnotism".

The manuscript is held at the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library.

The Youngest of the Sciences

If any science be traced back to its original inception it will be found as a rule to spring from some most trivial incident. It is astonishing upon how small a base a pyramid of knowledge may be erected. A frog's leg twitches in a storm and electricity is discovered. An apple falls from a tree and the brain of Newton discerns a principle which adjusts the balance of the Universe. Galileo watches a lamp swinging in the Baptistry at Pisa, and the idea of a pendulum flickers vaguely up into his mind. A pensive Watts sits by the fire gazing at a (sic) overheated kettle, and a thought is conceived which has revolutionised the commerce of the world and brought all men nearer to each other. Every science in its earliest stage is represented by a simple impression in the mind of one observant man.

From this germ stage the development of any line of human knowledge is usually steadily progressive. Where one investigator has laid down his work another takes it up. Each generation draws compound interest upon the knowledge of its predecessor, and leaves a larger accumulation to its successor. Galvani and Volta give place to Franklin, who in turn hands on his results to be perfected and amplified by Wheatstone and Edison. Astronomy is richer both in facts and in inferences than it was when the laws of gravity were propounded. There has been a constant improvement in our knowledge of steam and the mechanical appliances for its use have become steadily more complex and more efficacious. In almost every science and art a gradual and unceasing process of evolution has been at work.

There is one branch of knowledge however which is a striking exception to this general rule. Although it has been under discussion for a hundred years it is only very recently that it has ceased to be a nebulous collection of inexplicable and questionable phenomena, and has shown signs of solidifying into a concrete science. If vitality and the power of resisting all attempts at suppression may be taken as a proof of truth then the remarkable subject known as Animal Magnetism has amply made good its claim to the respectful consideration which it has recently met with. Cursed at by the Church, ridiculed by the science of the day, tabooed by the French Academy it has still persisted in shooting up its head from time to time, in defiance both of priest and philosopher. Driven from lecture rooms and laboratories it has taken refuge in the booth of the conjuror, and on the platform of the charlatan. Only now at the end of three generations does orthodox Science show a disposition to welcome back this Ishmael, to rescue it from the sordid uses to which it has been put, and to instal it in its rightful place as an approved fact. So slow even now is the growth of a truth.

The reason why Animal Magnetism — to use the clumsy and misleading name which has been tacked to it — has had this hard fight with prejudice, is not far to seek. The human mind is intensely conservative in all that relates to itself. However receptive to new views as to the composition of a chrystal or of an amoeba it shuts directly and assumes the defensive when the matter is one which is concerned with the strange latent power which lies within itself. The question ceases to be abstract and becomes personal. It cuts at the base of all established beliefs, and even of individuality itself. Again scepticism was fostered by the vague and extravagant claims of the early mesmerists. Instead of insisting upon the simpler and more elementary phenomena they drew attention to the more theatrical and less reliable effects which could only be produced in rare subjects and which could not therefore be readily demonstrated to scientific inquirers. Savants and experimenters having failed to reproduce these results naturally found their confidence shaken in the whole matter, including in their condemnation those simpler phenomena which they might easily have verified. Even now beyond a solid core of ascertained fact there extends a large field where the enthusiast claims far more than the exact observer will allow. It must be admitted however that the enthusiast has some grounds for his confidence since he has already constrained science to accept facts which she had so long ridiculed and denied. It is the purpose of this article however to deal solely with those phases of the subject which have been tested and retested by men whose capacity for forming a scientific opinion is beyond all question, avoiding all contentious matter, and as far as possible all theory. A few words as to the history and development of the subject are necessary in order to make its present position intelligible.

Franz Anton Mesmer who was born in 1734 at Merseburg in South Germany has the merit of having first drawn attention to certain obscure nervous conditions which appeared to depend upon the influence exerted by one human organisation upon another. His view was that just as a magnet is capable of transferring its own peculiar qualities to any piece of iron with which it may come in contact so a human being who was endowed with this property could transfer a portion of his power to anyone exposed to his influence. Hence the name of animal magnetism which is still applied to the whole subject, though Braid's term of hypnotism has recently become familiar to English ears through the labours of a talented band of Frenchmen who have retained this name to describe an important phase of the mesmeric state.

Mesmer being a physician it was only natural that he should at once turn his attention to the influence of this new power upon disease. Many startling cures are reported to have been effected by his treatment but our knowledge of the cases is not sufficient to enable us to say how far they were real permanent cures, or how far they were the effect of some temporary state of mental exaltation, to be followed by a corresponding reaction. He journeyed to Paris where his treatment became the fashionable rage and where, unlike most discoverers, he accumulated a large fortune. Unfortunately instead of slowly reasoning from well ascertained fact to theory he began by laying down twenty seven aphorisms of the wildest and vaguest description, which have ceased to be defended by his most enthusiastic followers. This dogmatism together with the charlatan robes in which he received his patients and other eccentricities of the sort did much to discredit him, and he eventually fled from Paris on the eve of the revolution. A scientific committee with Bailly the astronomer at its head investigated Mesmer's pretensions, and reported unfavourably upon them. Their report however was not unanimous, more than one of the members being sharp sighted enough to see that in spite of faulty deductions and questionable uses a new fact had been added to the world's stock of knowledge. The commission is memorable on historical grounds. On it sat Dr Guillotin, Bailly, and Lavoisier, the first the philanthropic inventor of the instrument which was to shear off the heads of the other two. Franklin the American was also one of the investigators.

Mesmer with his charlatanry, his money bags and his twenty seven aphorisms floated away out of the worlds (sic) history but his germ of truth remained behind firmly planted in many hearts. The Marquis Armand de Puységur had heard something of the strange doings in Paris, and being a man of a thoughtful and withall (sic) practical turn, he beguiled the tedium of his provincial chateau by practising this new art upon the rustics. His ardour was rewarded by new discoveries. Mesmer's treatment had usually ended in severe convulsive seizure or 'crisis' as he called it. Puységur's induced a tranquil and refreshing sleep, but a sleep which he found to his surprise to differ in many respects from natural slumber. This was the famous magnetic or mesmeric sleep since reproduced in countless music halls and a few clinical wards, now at last after the lapse of a century in a fair way towards being scientifically and systematically examined.

Puységur found that his subjects in favourable cases, although unconscious and deprived both of sensation and of memory, would still answer any question which he chose to put to them. These answers showed a quickness and intelligence which was wanting in the normal state. To use his own pithy summary "The physical faculties were suspended and the mental were enlarged". Under the influence of this strange power the sullen man became aimiable (sic), the shy man became garrulous, the stupid man waxed bright and clear. A fresh individuality appeared to have superseded their former one. Yet this brightness and responsiveness was only shown towards the operator. A whisper from him would produce instant reply from a subject who was deaf to all other sounds. There was a 'rapport' between them. Contact with a third person would produce shudders and even convulsions.

Here then was a fresh fact, — a door which promised to lead into an entirely new domain of knowledge. France at the time was ripe for new facts. A reaction had set in against precedent which was as unreasoning as the conventionality which it superseded. In politics and in religion, even in the divisions of time and the measures of space the old landmarks were swept away. Puységur's experiments were repeated everywhere. Societies for mesmeric investigation sprang up through the length and breadth of the country. For a time it looked as if Animal Magnetism would become conspicuous among the sciences not for the slowness of its growth, but for the speed with which it gained general recognition.

But the inevitable reaction set in. France was in arms against Europe and men had graver matters to think of than these obscure nervous questions. Twenty three years of incessant warfare sapped the energies and the intellect of the nation. In Europe the subject had failed to excite much interest and but for a few scattered enthusiasts the knowledge gained might have been allowed to die completely out. This reaction was largely due to the extravagant and intemperate claims of many of the Mesmerists and to the number of dishonest quacks who simulated phenomena for purposes of their own.

In 1825 public interest in the matter was again aroused by the writings of several scientists of repute, confirming the previous results, and especially by the publication of Deleuse's "Histoire critique du magnétisme animal". In this year a Commission of the School of Medicine reported after a prolonged examination that there was such a force as Animal Magnetism. This report was accompanied by a detailed account of several cases of apparent clairvoyance and of correct medical diagnosis arrived at by subjects who were in the Mesmeric trance. Other investigations however were less favourable. A child which was said to have the power of reading without the aid of her eyes was shown to be a clever young imposter. This faculty of perception without vision has been claimed from time to time as being one of the phenomena produced in suitable subjects when in the mesmeric trance. It has never yet however been satisfactorily demonstrated in public under test conditions*. In 1840 M. Burdin of the French Academy offered a prize of three thousand francs to anyone who could read an inscription contained in a sealed box. This prize was never claimed, and the French Academy somewhat illogically decided that this failure to make good the alleged power of clairvoyance proved finally that the whole subject was a delusion, and an elaborate imposture depending upon a conspiracy between crafty operators and deceitful subjects. By solemn decree the name of the obnoxious thing was never again to be mentioned within the august walls of the Academy, and it was to be relegated in future to those subscientific planes of thought where gentlemen labour to square the circle, or to prove that the earth is a flat surface suspended like a platter in the sky. To complete the discomfiture of the Mesmerists the Holy See in the year 1856 declared solemnly that any power exercised by one human being over another was an illegal and accursed thing. For the first time in history the scientists and the theologians found themselves in absolute accord.

Yet in spite of this consensus of opinion Animal Magnetism increased and flourished. It had been transplanted from France to England and throve the better for its transplantation. Mr Thomas Braid, a surgeon of Manchester, had his attention drawn to the subject by the performance of a travelling charlatan. Being a man of strong mental fibre he set to work to sift truth from error, careless alike of the apathy of the public, and of the ridicule of his professional brethren. The results of his twenty years (sic) labour are such as to associate his name for ever with the history of the subject. They may be briefly and imperfectly summarised in this way.

  1. That it is possible by certain processes to throw a suitable subject into a peculiar nervous condition characterised by torpor of the body and by increased activity of the senses.
  2. That this condition may be brought about by the influence of one human being over another, with or without passes.
  3. That it may also be effected by the stimulation of the eye of the subject by prolonged gazing at a bright light. Also by a constrained position of the eye without a light. This observation is of the greatest importance as eliminating the influence of the operator.
  4. That the state of the subject differs according to the means taken to affect him. Where human influence is used there is a sympathy or rapport between mesmerist and subject. Where other means are used there is none of this.
  5. That any suggestion made to a person in this mesmeric or (as Braid first called it) hypnotic state, appeals most forcibly to him, and is liable to be acted upon.

A host of minor points of interest were brought forward by Braid, but these five headings embody his chief results. He first put Mesmerism to an incontestably practical purpose by using it with complete success as an anaesthetic in the case of small operations. Braid's own theory upon the matter was that it was all due to the concentration of the attention upon any object. One curious fact which he adduces in favour of his view is that lunatics cannot be hypnotised — having, according to him, no attention which they can fix. On the other hand the visions of the Monks of Mount Athos, and of the Indian fakirs were according to Braid hypnotic phenomena depending upon their mental absorption.

While Braid was investigating the subject in England, an American named Grimes had published a volume upon it under the name of electro-biology. In France also numerous earnest inquirers were at work. Azam of Bordeaux, the famous Broca, Demarquay and Durand de Gros all wrote or lectured upon it without however adding anything of importance to our knowledge upon the subject. British savants were for the most part hostile or apathetic. Esdaile and Elliotson incurred considerable obloquy by their gallant championing of an unpopular subject.

In 1866 Liébault (sic) of Nancy took the matter up. He may be said to be the father of the modern systematic French school of investigators into hypnotism. Without breaking any new ground he did good work by accumulating evidence and by treating the whole subject in the patient careful manner of a scientific inquirer. Fiery zeal in such cases is apt to do more harm in the long run than absolute scepticism and incredulity. Liébault confirmed the results of his predecessors and laid much stress upon the importance of the phenomenon known as hypnotic suggestion. His theory was that the one-ideaed state concentrates all the nervous energy into the brain, leaving none for the use of the body which becomes torpid accordingly. He held also that by suggestion all this nervous energy could be concentrated upon one or other sensory centre so as to produce abnormal quickness of perception.

In 1875 another eminent Frenchman, Charles Richet the physiologist turned his attention to this subject and has worked at it unremittingly ever since. In the June number of the Proceedings of the Psychical Society he furnishes an account of his own most recent results, which shows the extreme scientific care and laborious accuracy with which his researches were conducted. In some cases the same experiment has been performed many hundreds of times to do away with all possibility of fallacy. Richet's results coincide in the main points with those obtained by his colleagues at the Salpetriére (sic). In some respects he has gone further than they. His elaborate tests of clairvoyance appear to show, incredible as it may appear, that it may be possible for a suitable subject when in the hypnotic state to describe the contents of a sealed envelope even when the operator himself is ignorant of them. If the mesmeriser were aware of what was in the envelope the phenomenon might be set down as a case of thought-transference, but where he is himself in the dark the experiment becomes inexplicable, and opens up a vast vista of possibilities. Richet is of opinion that there is no human being who is not amenable to the action of mesmerism, and that by continuous sittings the most refractory subject can be eventually reduced to the hypnotic state. Both Richet and Czermak have given much attention to the action of mesmerism upon animals, and have succeeded in magnetising cocks, sparrows, crabs, rabbits, guinea pigs and other creatures. The manner in which the snake fascinates its victim appears to be nothing else than a practical use of mesmerism among the lower forms of life.

Mesmer discovered Animal Magnetism. Puységur confirmed it. Deleuse wrote about it. Braid made it useful. Azam, Broca, Demarquay, Elliotson, Durand de Gros, Liébault and Charles Richet have extended and developed it. This leads us up to the time when Charcot turned his attention to it, and succeeded by the help of his unrivalled opportunities at the Salpetriére and of the zealous cooperation of his colleagues and assistants in establishing some system and order amid the chaos of facts and theories which had grouped themselves under the vague term of Mesmerism. Charcot has done more than any other man to place the science of Animal Magnetism upon a sound basis, and all future investigators of the subject will find that up to a certain point at least it has been accurately and systematically explored.

The Salpetriére is the great Paris hospital for nervous diseases and contains many of these hysterical and epileptic subjects who live in a state of nervous hyperaesthesia, and are therefore peculiarly sensitive to mesmeric impressions. Working with such material it was not long before the French surgeon obtained important results some of which confirmed the observations of Liébault and Braid, while others opened up new and fascinating lines of enquiry. These researches are described in Binet and Ferré's "Animal Magnetism" (now issued as one of the International Science series), from which they are here condensed into the limits of a short article.

In the first place as to the mode of producing the hypnotic sleep. The conclusion drawn from innumerable experiments is that any excitement of any sensory nerve may produce the trance state in a sensitive subject, especially when coupled with the idea or expectation of such a result. It may arise from the stimulation of the nerves of the eye either strongly and abruptly, as in the flash of a powerful light, or more slowly and gradually by staring at a bright coin or stud, or by direct compression of the eyeball. Again it may come from stimulation of the sense of hearing, of tasting and of smelling. Lastly any continued excitement of the sense of touch, whether arising from changes of temperature, or from the current of air produced by passes will produce the same effect. Thus it is the shining eye of the operator and the wind which he makes over the subject's face which produces trance, and it has little or nothing to do with strength of will, or any other mental quality. How little the latter has to do with it becomes evident when we consider that the effect may be as effectually produced by the use of a bright sixpence without any operator at all. It is unquestionable however that an operator who has an assured manner and a commanding presence will have better result than one who has neither, for the reason that he impresses the subject with the idea that he is going to succeed, which is usually, in this as in other matters, half way towards doing it.

These are the peripheral causes of hypnosis. There are however central ones, the action of which has not been so clearly made out. The imagining of a bright light for example may be as efficacious as the light itself. This appears however only to hold good with subjects who have been frequently hypnotised and whose systems are abnormally sensitive in consequence. The frequent attempts which have been made to produced hypnosis by will power from a distance have never yet yielded anything but negative results. Where any success has been attained it appears to have arisen from the subject knowing the hour at which the experiment was to be tried, which would be enough in itself to put her off without any other agency whatever. The effects which have been produced by drinking magnetised water, sitting under magnetised trees and so forth may all be put down to expectation upon the part of the sensitive.

After putting the subject off the French observers have found that there are three different mesmeric states each of which possesses its own characteristics. In a suitable sensitive all three may be produced one after the other, and the operator may change one into the other at will. These various conditions have the great advantage that the symptoms by which they are recognised are such as to defy simulation. They are named the lethargic, the cataleptic, and the somnambulic.

The lethargic stage of mesmerism is characterised by torpor and heaviness on the part of the subject. The limbs are slack. There is no change in the respiration. The intellect is obscured. If the muscles be stimulated they gather into a hard knot or contracture. If a magnet be held over this it will presently dissolve, and transfer itself to the corresponding muscle upon the opposite side of the body. This neuro-muscular hyperexcitability is the distinguishing feature of the lethargic state.

Of the cataleptic state immobility is the chief characteristic. The eyes are open, the gaze fixed, and the face expressionless. The limbs remain in any position in which they are placed. If the arm be extended it will after a time sink gradually down but muscle-tracings have shown that this fall is perfectly steady and gradual, unaccompanied by the succession of small jerks which are visible when a subject voluntarily holds out her arm until it drops from fatigue. The intellect is still obscured, but is brighter than in the lethargic state. Closure of the eyes will at once bring on the latter condition.

In both the foregoing states the senses are under an eclipse. It is very different in the third or somnambulic stage, where as a rule the organs of touch, of sight, of hearing, and of smell are abnormally active, while the mind is extraordinarily quick and intelligent. This is the true hypnotic state which is as interesting from a psychical as from a physical point of view. On waking from this state the subject forgets all which has occurred to her, but during the trance she can remember all about her previous trances, as well as what has happened during her everyday life. The mind is so stimulated that the sensitive may sing songs, or speak languages which she has long forgotten, just as in natural sleep a man may remember an event which had escaped his waking memory. The somnambulic state appears almost to be the development of a secondary entity within ourselves which differs widely from the ego to which we are accustomed. The radical points of character are however according to Binet and Ferré seldom altered by hypnotism.

The hypnotic state when produced by a bright disc or any other nerve stimulation differs from that which is caused by the agency of the human touch. In the latter cases there is undoubtedly an affinity between the operator and the subject. In one experiment tried at the Salpetriére the right side of the sensitive was acted upon by one experimenter, and the left side by another. As long as each remained upon his own side the subject appeared to be comfortable, but when they attempted to cross and change places her resistance and nervous struggles became so great that the attempt had to be abandoned.

Of all the phenomena which have been investigated in connection with the somnambulic state there are none which are more curious than those of hypnotic suggestion. An idea suggested to a hypnotised subject becomes to her no longer an idea but a fact. A word conjures up a danger before her and she shrieks for help. Another one assures her of safety and raises her to the height of Joy. She becomes the pope, the queen, a general, a lawyer or an actor. Not only does the suggestion affect her at the time but it influences her future actions months after she is restored to her normal state. During these months she may never have given a thought to what occurred during her trance. She may have no idea that anything was given her to do. Yet at the appointed day and hour she will infallibly carry out the behest of the operator without in the least knowing that the impulse which drives her comes from without. No matter how grave the matter may be, or how far it may clash with her own interests she will carry it out like an automaton to the bitter end. In some experiments, which I cannot but think are unjustifiable, subjects have been known to treasure up some powdered sugar for months under the impression that it was arsenic, and eventually at the suggested time mix it with the food of their dearest friend. It is evident that from this point of view the subject is of extreme medico-legal importance. Repeated experiments vouch for the fact that a designing villain could accomplish any deed of violence by using as his agents hypnotic sensitives who would carry out his suggestion without hesitation, and without being able themselves to say whence the impulse came which acted upon them. In France at least the possibility of such a thing has been long acknowledged by scientific jurists.

It is curious to see a suggested hunger satisfied by a suggested bun, or a suggested pain removed by a suggested draught. Even more remarkable however are what may be called the negative suggestions. A hypnotises a subject in the presence of B. He then suggests to her that she cannot see B when she awakes. She comes to and is apparently unconscious of B's presence. When he speaks to her she gazes round in astonishment and asks where the voice comes from. She walks up against him, and then staggers back in horror at having encountered an unseen obstacle. Or it is suggested to her that she cannot use this or that limb, and a paralysis ensues which is not only complete for the time, but is marked by all the clinical and anatomical features which would distinguish that particular paralysis. Traumatic paralysis is, according to Charcot, occasionally of this nature. The victim of a railway accident having got it strongly into his or her head that such a shock ought to produce a paralysis actually brings on a paralysis by the conviction.

There are other even more curious examples of the action of suggestion and the production of a material effect through what appear to be purely psychic means. The fixing of a piece of postage stamp upon a subject's arm with the assurance that it was a sinapism, has had the effect of raising a blister. The application of a harmless object with the suggestion that it was red hot has produced a wheal as from a burn. Dumontpallier has raised the temperature of a part several degrees by the same means. Burot claims to have traced his name with a probe upon a subject's arm, and to have afterwards brought it out in red lines by means of suggestion. Wild as such results seem they have been confirmed and reconfirmed by German and Italian as well as by French experimenters. So subtle is the influence of suggestion that the operator has to be keenly on his guard lest he unwittingly call it into play. Thus the mere words "we shall now see whether the subject's limb is stiff," may by an involuntary influence have the effect of stiffening the limb. It is a remarkable fact that the suggested object in the case of a visual hallucination is always so real that the subject never for an instant doubts its presence however strange its nature may be, or however often she may have previously been taken in. She will tell you that she sees a scorpion, but she will never say that she sees a scorpion because you suggested the idea of one during the hypnotic sleep.

Some of these experiments upon suggestion appear to bring the physical and the metaphysical into very close relations. They raise the question as to whether we may not have to reconsider all our present ideas as to the nature of thought and the effects of the imagination. Objective and subjective cease to be antagonistic terms. The following experiment is suggestive of novel ideas. Take fifty blank cards all exactly like each other. Suggest to the subject that there is a landscape upon one of them. Mark this card on the reverse side so that you may know it again. Now take the fifty cards, mix them all up together upon the table, and having awoken the sensitive ask her what she sees. She will look over the cards, pick out the one upon which you had impressed the idea of a landscape, and recognise the other forty nine as being blank. The experiment has also been performed with equal success using new postage stamps instead of cards to insure their being all absolutely similar. How the subject can recognise which is the surface upon which the idea is impressed is a question upon which the science of the day can return no answer.

Another experiment bears upon this point, and is even more suggestive. Let the idea of an object be conjured up upon a real colourless screen. Hand the subject an opera glass which shall be so fitted into a cardboard frame that although she can see through it, she cannot tell whether she is looking through the eyepiece or through the broad end. If the subject be requested to look at the visionary object she will tell at once whether she is looking through the magnifying or the minimising end, although the colourless screen behind could afford her no indication. In the one case she declares that she sees the suggested object large, and in the other small. If she be requested to look through a prism at it she will describe the refraction correctly and place the doubled images in the position in which they would actually be. Pressure upon the eye produces a duplication of the imaginary object. In fact there is no test which could be applied to an objective things which will not be fulfilled by this subjective one, save only that the microscope though it enlarges it is unable to reveal the details of its composition. It has been shown also by Marie and Azoulay in a series of painstaking researches which are reported in the proceedings of the Société de Biologie (July 31, 1885) that it takes rather longer to see an imaginary than a real image. The difference though constant is not great ordinary vision taking .18 of a second, while a hallucination at the same distance became visible in .23

Some observers wish to explain these remarkable facts by supposing that the hallucinatory image is associated with certain external indications or markings. The modifications produced therefore by optical instruments upon these marks might suggest to the subject the effect which they would have upon the imaginary object. It is however difficult to imagine when the object is called up upon a colourless screen how the subject can find anything to guide her, nor is it easy to see what external markings there could be upon a plain card to enable it to be picked out from fifty others. This attempt at an explanation is therefore undoubtedly inadequate. The real reason appears to be entirely beyond our present knowledge but it promises to throw a startling light upon the nature of thought and to cause us to reconsider what we mean by the term hallucination.

Parinaud the oculist at the Salpetriére examined into colour phenomena apparent in the hypnotic state at the same time as Charcot was treating the subject from a more general point of view. His results are curious. No amount of suggestion can cause a colourblind person to see a colour which he or she as been unable to see in the waking state. If a white piece of paper be divided by a dark line and the colour red be suggested on one side of the line, the subject will at once see the complementary colour green upon the other side. Experiments of this sort form a final argument against simulation, since an ignorant woman knows not of the chromatic laws.

The action of a magnet upon a hallucination is another curious result adduced by the Salpetriére experiments. Let the image of a bird be suggested. Now hold a magnet behind the subject's head without her seeing it. The bird image will become blurred, and speedily vanish away. It may be generally stated that the presence of a magnet has always an inhibitory action in all hypnotic phenomena.

These results have evidently an important bearing upon the problem of free will. A man is impelled to do some act by the irresistible action of a hypnotic suggestion which may have been made some months before. Yet to him the action appears to emanate from himself, and however outré it may be he will always invent some plausible reason why he has done it. He would scout the idea that the impulse came from without, and yet we know that it is so. How can we tell that all our actions are not of this nature? What appears to us to be our own choice may prove really to have been as unalterable and inexorable as fate — the unavoidable result of the sum total of suggestions which are acting upon us. As Spinoza remarks "the consciousness of free will is only ignorance of the causes of our acts".

The various conclusions enumerated above cannot be set down as the dreams or imaginings of any faddist or enthusiast for they have been arrived at by separate groups of workers in different countries and under different conditions. In their present form they stand forth as isolated phenomena but it is impossible to doubt that some great common principle underlies them. Only patient research, the collection of new facts and the collation of old ones, can give us the real significance of these strange nervous conditions. Many keen observers are engaged upon the work. In France the very cream of the intellect of the country is devoting itself to physiological psychology. Provincial scientists as Professor Pitres of Bordeaux or Fontan of Toulon are fully abreast of Richet and Charcot. In Germany Haidenhain (sic), Czermak, Preyer and many others are working on the same lines. In Italy scientific attention is being drawn more and more in the same direction. In England in spite of good work done by Russell Reynolds, Hack Tuke and a few others the subject is generally tabooed by the profession. The best results and the most carefully recorded observations have come from Mr F.H.W. Myers and the late Mr Gurney who was engaged up to the very day of his untimely death in exploring this vast and fascinating subject. It is not drawing room experiments, or after dinner mesmerizings which are needed. It is too serious a subject to be trifled with. Only long series of minutely recorded researches done under test conditions with the same scrupulous care and accuracy which characterises all other scientific processes will enable us to move our frontier line a little further into this dark and unexplored country. It is possible that this imperfect sketch of some of the results already obtained may help to awaken interest in the subject and turn the attention of readers to Binet and Ferré's volume where every information may be obtained.

A. Conan Doyle MD
Bush Villa

(*) Since writing the above a remarkable case has been recorded by Professor Fontan of Toulon where a blindfolded subject arranged variously coloured wools correctly under test conditions.

  • Manuscript transcript by Edith Pounden.