The next subject is duly hypnotized, and informed that he is a noted pickpocket. The guests are pointed out as a good crowd to work for "wipers," or whatever is thieves' slang for pocket-handkerchiefs. The subject accepts the suggestion at once, and, with much show of cunning, proceeds to relieve the guests of whatever is within his reach.
The next subject is advised that he is an accomplished burglar, and that a neighboring house is overflowing with plunder. He enters into the spirit of the suggestion with great alacrity, and a committee is duly appointed to accompany him to the scene of pillage. The neighbor is, meantime, apprised of the proposed burglary, and every facility is afforded, in the interest of "science." (The reader will remember that actual occurrences are being described.) The burglary is completed with great skill and promptitude, and a miscellaneous collection of valuables is brought away and equitably divided with the hypnotist.
The above are fair samples of the "scientific" experiments which are just now being largely indulged in, and which are believed to demonstrate the possibility of employing hypnotism as an instrument of crime. "If the average subject," it is argued, "in a state of profound hypnotic sleep, is so amenable to the power of suggestion as to plunge a paper dagger into an imaginary enemy at the bidding of a hypnotist, it follows that a criminal hypnotist possesses unlimited power to cause any one of his subjects to plunge a real dagger into any victim whom the hypnotist may select for slaughter." If the conclusions were correct, the power would be indeed formidable, and, in the hands of unscrupulous men, dangerous. Much has been written on the subject of the possibility of sexual outrage by means of hypnotism, and a few cases are reported in the books. None of them, however, bear the unmistakable stamp of genuineness, and most of them bear internal evidence of fraud. The best authorities on the subject are now free to confess to very grave doubts, at least, of the possibility of crime being instigated by this means.
Thus, Moll,1 one of the latest and certainly one of the ablest writers on the subject, has the following: -
"There are important differences of opinion about the offences which hypnotic subjects may be caused to commit. Liegeois, who has discussed the legal side of the question of hypnotism in a scientific manner, thinks this danger very great, while Gilles de la Tourette, Pierre Janet, Benedikt, and others, deny it altogether.
"There is no doubt that subjects may be induced to commit all sorts of imaginary crimes in one's study. I have made hardly any such suggestions, and have small experience on the point. In any case, a repetition of them is superfluous. If the conditions of the experiment are not changed, it is useless to repeat it merely to confirm what we already know. And these criminal suggestions are not altogether pleasant. I certainly do not believe that they injure the moral state of the subject, for the suggestion may be negatived and forgotten. But these laboratory experiments prove nothing, because some trace of consciousness always remains to tell the subject he is playing a comedy (Franck Delbceuf), consequently he will offer a slighter resistance. He will more readily try to commit a murder with a piece of paper than with a real dagger, because, as we have seen, he almost always dimly realizes his real situation. These experiments, carried out by Liegeois, Foreaux, and others in their studies do not, therefore, prove danger".
Such experiments prove nothing, simply because they are experiments. The subject knows that he is among his friends. He has confidence in the integrity of the hypnotist. He is most likely aware of the nature of the proposed experiments. He enters into the spirit of the occasion, resolved to accept every suggestion offered, and to carry out his part of the programme in the best style, knowing that no possible harm can befall him. Moreover, he knows that if he performs his part to the satisfaction of his auditors, he will receive their applause; and applause to the subjective mind is as sweet incense. For, be it known, the average hypnotic subject is inordinately vain of his accomplishments.
1 Hypnotism, p, 337.
All those considerations are, however, merely negative evidence against the supposition that the innocent hypnotic subject can be made the instrument of crime, or the victim of criminal assault against his will. These experiments prove nothing, that is all. Nor do they disprove anything. We must, therefore, look elsewhere for positive evidence to demonstrate the impossibility of making the innocent subject the instrument or the victim of crime. This evidence is not difficult to find.
It will be unnecessary to travel outside the domain of admitted, recorded, and demonstrated facts in order to prove the utter impossibility of victimizing virtue and innocence by means of hypnotism. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how any one who recognizes the law of suggestion, and its universal application to psychological phenomena, can believe for one moment that hypnotism can be made the instrument of crime. Yet we find disciples of the Nancy school who seem to imagine that to hold that it cannot be so employed is equivalent to an admission that the law of suggestion is not of universal application. The fact is that just the contrary is true. It is one of the strongest demonstrations of the universality of the law that hypnotism cannot be so employed.
The first proposition in the line of the argument is that when two contrary suggestions are offered to the hypnotic subject, the strongest must prevail. It needs no argument to sustain this proposition; it is self-evident.
The next proposition, almost equally plain, is that autosuggestion as a factor in hypnotism is equal in potency, other things being equal, with the suggestion of another.