This section is from the book "Applications of Psychology to the Problems of Personal and Business Efficiency", by Warren Hilton. Also available from Amazon: Psychology and Achievement - Applied Psychology 12 Volume Set.
THERE is one field which seems especially designed to illustrate the operation of the principle of mental control. It is a state of consciousness in which problems may be made and solved as if to order. This state is hypnosis. Hypnotism and hypnosis are topics concerning which the general public entertains delusions that are astonishingly numerous, extraordinary and at the same time inexcusable.
No class or condition of men has a monopoly of ignorance on this subject. It is not confined to the illiterate. Newspapers and magazines, even court proceedings, abound in references to hypnotism and hypnosis that are not merely inaccurate; they are grotesque.
The cause of these misconceptions may doubtless be traced in part to the surprising character of the phenomena themselves and in part to the original sources of our knowledge of these phenomena, which from the beginning have been under the prostituting influence of the charlatan and the mountebank.
The study of hypnotism must be said to have had its origin in the observations of Mesmer, for while, as an art, it has under various names been practiced by the sages of the East since time out of mind, yet it did not come under the analytical eye of Western civilization until within the last hundred years.
Mesmer was essentially unscientific. He unquestionably practiced hypnotism, aroused interest in the subject and gave to the world much valuable data; but instead of investigating his facts in a rational way he undertook to explain them by magical and miraculous agencies.
His assumption that the hypnotic influence was due to "fluidic emanations" from the operator to the patient was, at least in his day, nothing more nor less than an appeal to the "supernatural."
The general public has never got much beyond Mesmer's conception of weird power on the part of the operator, a conception fostered by the unscientific men of his time and kept alive in our day by the disgraceful shams of stage hypnotism.
If scientists had investigated these mental phenomena as promptly and thoroughly as they have taken up the physical facts of sound, magnetism and electricity, the public judgment in regard to hypnotism would have been intelligently directed, just as it has been in regard to electricity and electrical phenomena. Unfortunately the use made of hypnotism in the early days was such as to disgust men of scientific attainments and to surround the subject in the popular mind with an aura of magic that envelops it to this day.
It was Dr. James Braid, of Manchester, England, whose clear insight and painstaking labors first caused men of science to look upon hypnotic phenomena with respectful interest.
After the French Academy of Science had decided that the claims of the Mesmerists were unworthy of investigation, Braid undertook a careful study of the subject.
He proved that hypnosis was not the effect of any force transmitted from operator to subject, but was brought about by "suggestion."
He demonstrated that the cause was not external to the subject, but was a mental "setting or attitude" induced by the operator in the subject's own mind.
He rejected the term "mesmerism," so long associated with ideas of magic, and substituted the term hypnosis, derived from the Greek word for sleep.
In the main, Braid's conception of hypnosis, after enduring vicissitudes of rejection, neglect and doubt, has come to be generally adopted in the world of thought.
The popular idea of hypnosis, as something mystical, involving an uncanny influence on the part of the operator, is not unnatural. To have a few softly spoken words or a few passes over a man's face result in his passive acceptance of utter absurdities as if they were inspired truths, is certainly disconcerting.
Ordinarily, it takes either force or persuasion by one man to bring about action or belief on the part of another.
Man is a rational being, and his normal actions and beliefs are the result of reflection and judgment.
When hypnotized, however, he acts-without reflection. He sees with the eyes of another, and he passively accepts that other's judgment. His movements, even his thoughts, are directed by another, with seemingly mechanical control.
What more natural, therefore, than that the unenlightened should regard the hypnotist as possessed of occult power, and the subject as entirely at the mercy of the operator's will?
Here is an enumeration of some of the many popular delusions on this subject of hypnotism, to each of which we append a statement of the facts:
1. It is the general belief that the subject must lose consciousness when hypnotized. The fact is that in most cases the subject remains perfectly conscious. Brilliant practical results are achieved with subjects who scarcely become drowsy.
2. The belief prevails that only the weak-minded, or at least the weak-willed, can be effectually hypnotized. The truth is that persons of understanding and healthy independence of will, capable of intelligent co-operation, make the best subjects, while children, hysterics and insane persons are almost impossible.
3. It is a current opinion that the persons who can be hypnotized are comparatively few. As a matter of fact, the great majority of people can be hypnotized to an extent quite sufficient for the accomplishment of practical results.
4. Another wide-spread and mistaken notion is that the hypnotizer must be naturally endowed with some strange aptitude for influencing others. The only grain of truth in this is that intelligence, assurance, earnestness and an engaging address make for success in this field of endeavor as in any other.
5. Hypnosis is commonly ascribed to subtle emanations passing from operator to subject. The real explanation is the suggestion of a belief to a superconcentrated attention.
That the hypnotic state, or hypnosis, as it is called, results from the action of the subject's own mind, and not from "magnetic" or "fluidic" emanations or any other external agency, is proved by a much-quoted experiment of Braid's.
One of Mesmer's followers had claimed that he could bring about the hypnotic "trance" without the knowledge or consent of the subject. Braid did not believe this possible. To determine the question, he induced the mesmerist to visit him at his house. He then brought to the house the subject with whom the mesmerist had been working, though the subject knew nothing of the mesmerist's presence in the house. The subject sat a few feet from the mesmerist in another room with the door between slightly ajar. The mesmerist worked nearly an hour to induce hypnosis. His efforts were without any apparent effect. The subject was then informed of the presence of the mesmerist and of his efforts to hypnotize him. Immediately the subject went into the mesmeric sleep, thereby proving that his own mind was the chief instrument in the result.
Indeed, the operator is not even an absolutely essential factor in the induction of hypnosis. This is sufficiently proved by the phenomena of somnambulism, which is recognized as a form of hypnosis, and also by the fact that many persons have actually succeeded in deliberately hypnotizing themselves.
6. Most persons believe that in the hands of an unscrupulous person hypnotism may be used as an instrument for the commission of crime. All authorities on hypnotism are agreed, however, that to bring about the actual commission of an act offensive to the moral sense of the subject is practically impossible. The suggestion of such an act is either ignored by the subject or results in the subject's being immediately aroused.
Hypnosis is not produced by any miracle-working genius, but by the action of the subject's own mind.
Therefore, no man can be hypnotized without his consent.
Instances may occur, particularly after long practice in hypnosis, where the subject's consent seems to be lacking, but it must be borne in mind that the consent need not be a formal expression of the will. It may simply be an acquiescent consciousness of the fact that the operator is thinking of the desired result.
7. Another popular fallacy is that the frequent repetition of hypnosis will weaken or enslave the patient's will. The only reported instances of this kind have resulted from reckless and incessant practice of hypnotism for theatrical purposes, when the subject has been called upon for hire to act the part of a human bridge, a pincushion or a buffoon.
The cases of reported injury are few and complicated and difficult of determination. In any event, it is not the hypnosis itself, but the harmful character of the belief implanted during the hypnosis, that must be held responsible. Doubtless whatever is capable of use is capable also of abuse. Certain it is that contrary effects are possible, that diseases of immorality may be cured and the moral stamina increased and the will strengthened by appropriate ideas presented to the subject's mind during hypnosis.
8. Another delusion, prevalent fortunately only among the illiterate, seems to be that any compelling influence of one person over another, whereby the latter appears dependent on the other's will, is hypnotism. We often run across the assertion, particularly in newspaper accounts of lurid matters, when speaking of any person who has apparently been dominated by another, that he was "hypnotized." Such loose talk as this reveals a total misconception of hypnotism and hypnosis.