WHAT IS HYPNOTISM?
We have seen that so far the history of hypnotism has given us two manifestations, or methods, that of passes and playing upon the imagination in various ways, used by Mesmer, and that of physical means, such as looking at a bright object, used by Braid. Both of these methods are still in use, and though hundreds of scientific men, including many physicians, have studied the subject for years, no essentially new principle has been discovered, though the details of hypnotic operation have been thoroughly classified and many minor elements of interest have been developed. All these make a body of evidence which will assist us in answering the question, What is hypnotism?
Modern scientific study has pretty conclusively established the following facts:
1. Idiots, babies under three years old, and hopelessly insane people cannot be hypnotized.
2. No one can be hypnotized unless the operator can make him concentrate his attention for a reasonable length of time. Concentration of attention, whatever the method of producing hypnotism, is absolutely necessary.
3. The persons not easily hypnotized are those said to be neurotic (or those affected with hysteria). By "hysteria" is not meant nervous excitability, necessarily. Some very phlegmatic persons may be affected with hysteria. In medical science "hysteria" is an irregular action of the nervous system. It will sometimes show itself by severe pains in the arm, when in reality there is nothing whatever to cause pain; or it will raise a swelling on the head quite without cause. It is a tendency to nervous disease which in severe cases may lead to insanity. The word neurotic is a general term covering affection of the nervous system. It includes hysteria and much else beside.
On all these points practically every student of hypnotism is agreed. On the question as to whether any one can produce hypnotism by pursuing the right methods there is some disagreement, but not much. Dr. Ernest Hart in an article in the British Medical Journal makes the following very definite statement, representing the side of the case that maintains that any one can produce hypnotism. Says he:
"It is a common delusion that the mesmerist or hypnotizer counts for anything in the experiment. The operator, whether priest, physician, charlatan, self-deluded enthusiast, or conscious imposter, is not the source of any occult influence, does not possess any mysterious power, and plays only a very secondary and insignificant part in the chain of phenomena observed. There exist at the present time many individuals who claim for themselves, and some who make a living by so doing, a peculiar property or power as potent mesmerizers, hypnotizers, magnetizers, or electro-biologists. One even often hears it said in society (for I am sorry to say that these mischievous practices and pranks are sometimes made a society game) that such a person is a clever hypnotist or has great mesmeric or healing power. I hope to be able to prove, what I firmly hold, both from my own personal experience and experiment, as I have already related in the Nineteenth Century, that there is no such thing as a potent mesmeric influence, no such power resident in any one person more than another; that a glass of water, a tree, a stick, a penny-post letter, or a lime-light can mesmerize as effectually as can any individual. A clever hypnotizer means only a person who is acquainted with the physical or mental tricks by which the hypnotic condition is produced; or sometimes an unconscious imposter who is unaware of the very trifling part for which he is cast in the play, and who supposes himself really to possess a mysterious power which in, fact he does not possess at all, or which, to speak more accurately, is equally possessed by every stock or stone."
Against this we may place the statement of Dr. Foveau de Courmelles, who speaks authoritatively for the whole modern French school. He says:
"Every magnetizer is aware that certain individuals never can induce sleep even in the most easily hypnotizable subjects. They admit that the sympathetic fluid is necessary, and that each person may eventually find his or her hypnotizer, even when numerous attempts at inducing sleep have failed. However this may be, the impossibility some individuals find in inducing sleep in trained subjects, proves at least the existence of a negative force."
If you would ask the present writer's opinion, gathered from all the evidence before him, he would say that while he has no belief in the existence of any magnetic fluid, or anything that corresponds to it, he thinks there can be no doubt that some people will succeed as hypnotists while some will fail, just as some fail as carpenters while others succeed. This is true in every walk of life. It is also true that some people attract, others repel, the people they meet. This is not very easily explained, but we have all had opportunity to observe it. Again, since concentration is the prerequisite for producing hypnotism, one who has not the power of concentration himself, and concentration which he can perfectly control, is not likely to be able to secure it in others. Also, since faith is a strong element, a person who has not perfect self-confidence could not expect to create confidence in others. While many successful hypnotizers can themselves be hypnotized, it is probable that most all who have power of this kind are themselves exempt from the exercise of it. It is certainly true that while a person easily hypnotized is by no means weak-minded (indeed, it is probable that most geniuses would be good hypnotic subjects), still such persons have not a well balanced constitution and their nerves are high-strung if not unbalanced. They would be most likely to be subject to a person who had such a strong and well-balanced nervous constitution that it would be hard to hypnotize. And it is always safe to say that the strong may control the weak, but it is not likely that the weak will control the strong.
There is also another thing that must be taken into account. Science teaches that all matter is in vibration. Indeed, philosophy points to the theory that matter itself is nothing more than centers of force in vibration. The lowest vibration we know is that of sound. Then comes, at an enormously higher rate, heat, light (beginning at dark red and passing through the prismatic colors to violet which has a high vibration), to the chemical rays, and then the so-called X or unknown rays which have a much higher vibration still. Electricity is a form of vibration, and according to the belief of many scientists, life is a species of vibration so high that we have no possible means of measuring it. As every student of science knows, air appears to be the chief medium for conveying vibration of sound, metal is the chief medium for conveying electric vibrations, while to account for the vibrations of heat and light we have to assume (or imagine) an invisible, imponderable ether which fills all space and has no property of matter that we can distinguish except that of conveying vibrations of light in its various forms. When we pass on to human life, we have to theorize chiefly by analogy. (It must not be forgotten, however, that the existence of the ether and many assumed facts in science are only theories which have come to be generally adopted because they explain phenomena of all kinds better than any other theories which have been offered.)
Now, in life, as in physical science, any one who can get, or has by nature, the key-note of another nature, has a tremendous power over that other nature. The following story illustrates what this power is in the physical world. While we cannot vouch for the exact truth of the details of the story, there can be no doubt of the accuracy of the principle on which it is based:
"A musical genius came to the Suspension Bridge at Niagara Falls, and asked permission to cross; but as he had no money, his request was contemptuously refused. He stepped away from the entrance, and, drawing his violin from his case, began sounding notes up and down the scale. He finally discovered, by the thrill that sent a tremor through the mighty structure, that he had found the note on which the great cable that upheld the mass, was keyed. He drew his bow across the string of the violin again, and the colossal wire, as if under the spell of a magician, responded with a throb that sent a wave through its enormous length. He sounded the note again and again, and the cable that was dormant under the strain of loaded teams and monster engines--the cable that remained stolid under the pressure of human traffic, and the heavy tread of commerce, thrilled and surged and shook itself, as mad waves of vibration coursed over its length, and it tore at its slack, until like a foam-crested wave of the sea, it shook the towers at either end, or, like some sentient animal, it tugged at its fetters and longed to be free.
"The officers in charge, apprehensive of danger, hurried the poor musician across, and bade him begone and trouble them no more. The ragged genius, putting his well-worn instrument back in its case, muttered to himself, 'I'd either crossed free or torn down the bridge.'"
"So the hypnotist," goes on the writer from which the above is quoted, "finds the note on which the subjective side of the person is attuned, and by playing upon it awakens into activity emotions and sensibilities that otherwise would have remained dormant, unused and even unsuspected."
No student of science will deny the truth of these statements. At the same time it has been demonstrated again and again that persons can and do frequently hypnotize themselves. This is what Mr. Hart means when he says that any stick or stone may produce hypnotism. If a person will gaze steadily at a bright fire, or a glass of water, for instance, he can throw himself into a hypnotic trance exactly similar to the condition produced by a professional or trained hypnotist. Such people, however, must be possessed of imagination.