What is the hypnotic force or influence? What really happens when a hypnotic experiment is performed? What is proved by it? What force is exerted that, after making a man sleep, rouses him to a false wakefulness in which he obeys a suggestion, seems to lose his identity, becomes apparently another person, speaks a language he knows nothing of, sees imagined pictures as real ones? How is it that in this state his physical body follows the operator's suggestion and becomes blistered by a piece of paper which possesses no blistering power, sneezes when there is no actual titillation of the olfactory nerves, shivers over a hot stove, and perspires if it be suggested that a block of ice is a mass of fire?
All this and very much more has been done in hypnotic experiments, just as it was done many years ago by mesmerizers, electro-biologists, and wandering fascinators of all sorts. Then it was outside the pale of science, but now since physicians renamed a part of it "hypnotism" it is settled to stay among the branches of psychology theoretical and applied. The new schools, of course, went further than the first did or could. They added a species of witchcraft to it by their latest claim to be able to externalize and localize the nerve-sensitiveness and hence mental impressionability of the subject; to put it in his photograph or within a glass of water, so that if the former be scratched or the latter touched, the patient at once jumped or screamed. This is the old way of making a wax image of your form and sticking pins in it, whereupon you pined and died; men and women were burned for this once. This, while interesting and important if true, possesses the interest of a nightmare, as it suggests how in the near future one's picture may be for sale to be blistered and stabbed by an enemy, provided the extraneous localization of sensibility is first provided for. But the other experiments touch upon the great questions of identity, of consciousness, of soul, and of personality. They raise an issue as to whether the world be physical and mechanical, as Descartes thought, or whether it is fleeting and a form of consciousness existing because of thought and dominated by thought altogether, as the Theosophists modern and ancient always held.
Professor James of Harvard has published his conclusion that experiments in hypnotism convince him, as they have convinced many, of the existence of the hidden self in man, while the French schools dispute whether it is all due to one personality mimicking many, or many personalities wrapped up in one person and showing one phase after another. Facts are recorded and wonderful things done, but no reasonable and final explanation has been made by the modern schools. Except here and there they, being ignorant of man's hidden real nature and powers, or denying the existence of such, see no cause for alarm in all these experiments and no danger to either society or the individual. As the true evolution of man's inner powers at the same rate and time concurrently with all other racial and planetary evolution is not admitted by these schools, they cannot perceive in the future any possibly devilish use of hypnotic powers. The Theosophist, however, suggests an explanation for the phenomena, points to similar occurrences through history, and intimates a danger to come if the thinking world does not realize our true nature as a being made of thought and consciousness, built in and on these, and destructible by them also so far as his personality is concerned. The danger is not in knowing these things and processes, but in the lack of morality and ethics in the use of them both now and in the future.
One theory for use in explaining and prosecuting hypnotic research is about as follows. Man is a soul who lives on thoughts and perceives only thoughts. Every object or subject comes to him as a thought, no matter what the channel or instrument, whether organ of sense or mental center, by which it comes before him. These thoughts may be words, ideas, or pictures. The soul-man has to have an intermediary or connecting link with Nature through and by which he may cognize and experience. This link is an ethereal double or counterpart of his physical body, dwelling in the latter; and the physical body is Nature so far as the soul-man is concerned. In this ethereal double (called astral body) are the sense-organs and centers of perception, the physical outer organs being only the external channels or means for concentrating the physical vibrations so as to transmit them to the astral organs and centers where the soul perceives them as ideas or thoughts. This inner ethereal man is made of the ether which science is now admitting as a necessary part of Nature, but while it is etheric it is none the less substantial.
Speaking physically, all outer stimulus from nature is sent from without to within. But in the same way stimuli may be sent from the within to the without, and in the latter mode is it that our thoughts and desires propel us to act. Stimuli are sent from the astral man within to the periphery, the physical body, and may dominate the body so as to alter it or bring on a lesion partial or total. Cases of the hair turning grey in a night are thus possible. And in this way a suggestion of a blister may make a physical swelling, secretion, inflammation, and sore on a subject who has submitted himself to the influence of the hypnotizer. The picture or idea of a blister is impressed on the astral body, and that controls all the physical nerves, sensations, currents, and secretions. It is done through the sympathetic nervous plexus and ganglia. It was thus that ecstatic fanatical women and men by brooding on the pictured idea of the wounds of Jesus produced on their own bodies, by internal impression and stimulus projected to the surface, all the marks of crown of thorns and wounded side. It was self-hypnotization, possible only in fanatical hysterical ecstacy. The constant brooding imprinted the picture deeply on the astral body; then the physical molecules, ever changing, became impressed from within and the stigmata were the result. In hypnotizing done by another the only difference is one of time, as in the latter instances the operator has simply to make the image and impress it on the subject after the hypnotic process has been submitted to, whereas in self-hypnotization a long-continued ecstasy is necessary to make the impression complete.
When the hypnotic process — or subjugation, as I call it — is submitted to, a disjunction is made between the soul-man and the astral body, which then is for the time deprived of will, and is the sport of any suggestion coming in unopposed, and those may and do sometimes arise outside of the mind and intention of the operator. From this arises the sensitiveness to suggestion. The idea, or thought, or picture of an act is impressed by suggesting it on the astral body, and then the patient is waked. At the appointed time given by the suggestor a secondary sleep or hypnotic state arises automatically, and then, the disjunction between soul and astral body coming about of itself, the suggested act is per formed unless — as happens rarely — the soul-man resists sufficiently to prevent it. Hence we point to an element of danger in the fact that at the suggested moment the hypnotic state comes on secondarily by association. I do not know that hypnotizers have perceived this. It indicates that although the subject be dehypnotized the influence of the operator once thrown on the subject will remain until the day of the operator's death.
But how is it that the subject can see on a blank card the picture of an object which you have merely willed to be on it? This is because every thought of any one makes a picture; and a thought of a definite image makes a definite form in the astral light in which the astral body exists and functions, interpenetrating also every part of the physical body. Having thus imaged the picture on the card, it remains in the astral light or sphere surrounding the card, and is there objective to the astral sense of the hypnotized subject.
Body, soul, and astral man properly in relation give us a sane man; hypnotized, the relation is broken and we have a person who is not for the time wholly sane. Acute maniacs are those in whom the disjunction between astral man and soul is complete. Where the hypnotized one remains for months in that state, the astral man has become the slave of the body and its recollections, but as the soul is not concerned no real memory is present and no recollection of the period is retained.
The varied personalities assumed by some subjects brings up the doctrine of a former life on earth for all men, The division between soul and astral man releases the latter from some of the limitations of brain memory so that the inner memory may act, and we then have a case of a person reenacting some part of his former life or lives. But a second possibility also exists, — that by this process another and different entity may enter the body and brain and masquerade as the real person. Such entities do exist and are the astral shells of men and women out of the body. If they enter, the person becomes insane; and many a maniac is simply a body inhabited by an entity that does not belong to it.
The process of hypnotizing is as yet unknown in respect to what does happen to the molecules. We claim that those molecules are pressed from periphery to center instead of being expanded from the inside to the surface. This contraction is one of the symptoms of death, and therefore hypnotizing is a long step toward physical and moral death. The view expressed by Dr. Charcot that a subject is liable to fall under the influence at the hands of anyone should be admitted, as also that in the wake of the hypnotizer will be found a host of hysteriacs, and that it all should be regulated by law is unquestionable. I go still further and say that many persons are already in a half-hypnotized state, easily influenced by the unprincipled or the immoral; that the power to hypnotize and to be sensitive to it are both progressive states of our racial evolution; that it can and will be used for selfish, wicked, and degrading purposes unless the race, and especially the occidental portion of it, understands and practices true ethics based on the brotherhood of man. Ethics of the purest are found in the words of Jesus, but are universally negatived by Church, State, and individual. The Theosophical doctrines of man and nature give a true and necessary basis and enforcement to ethics, devoid of favoritism or illogical schemes of eternal damnation. And only through those doctrines can the dangers of hypnotism be averted, since legislation, while affixing penalties, will not alter or curtail private acts of selfishness and greed.
1. This article was originally written for the N.Y. World, at request. (return to text)
The PathTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE