This branch of the subject has been dwelt upon somewhat at length, not merely for the purpose of showing that the adherents of the Nancy school carry the doctrine of suggestion too far, but because it is an important point in the study of the subject, and throws a flood of light upon many important and perplexing problems, as will be seen hereafter. The principle to be borne in mind is this: hypnosis can be produced by Braid's method either with or without the aid of suggestion.
This does not militate in the slightest degree against the doctrine of suggestion when its powers and limitations are properly understood. It still remains true that all hypnotic phenomena subsequent to the induction of the condition are the result of suggestion in some form. This is the grand discovery of the Nancy school; and when it is once appreciated and understood, it will be found to constitute the master-key which will unlock the secrets of every psychological mystery. That it is unqualifiedly true no longer admits of serious doubt; it is acknowledged by nearly every scientist in the civilized world who has given the subject intelligent attention. It is true that the great name of Charcot has commanded a following; but however valuable may have been his observations in the infancy of the science, it has become obvious to most of his former followers that his fundamental hypothesis is defective, and that his conclusions are therefore necessarily unreliable.
The discussion of the merits of the Paris school will be brief, and will be chiefly confined to a statement of the reasons for considering its experiments and conclusions unreliable, and to pointing out a few of the more obvious sources of its errors.
The first source of error lies in the fact that the experiments of this school are made almost exclusively upon hysterical women. The assumption is that hypnotism is a nervous disease, and that the disease is found in its most pronounced form in hysterical subjects. That this proposition is unqualifiedly wrong is positively known to every - student of hypnotism outside the Paris school, and needs no further refutation than the bare statement that the experience of all other schools goes to demonstrate the fact that the best hypnotic subjects are perfectly healthy persons.
Another source of error lies in the fact that they ignore suggestion as a necessary factor in the production of hypnotic phenomena. Of course they are aware of the potency of suggestion when purposely and intelligently employed; but they hold that very many of the most important of the phenomena can be produced without its aid. These, however, are principally physical effects, such as causing any muscle of the body to contract by pressing upon the corresponding nerve, and then releasing the tension by exciting the antagonistic muscle. The condition necessary for the production of this phenomenon is called by Charcot, "neuromuscular hyperexcitability." In the able and interesting work by Binet and Fere, pupils of Charcot, a chapter is devoted to this branch of the subject. They record, with a scientific exactitude that is very edifying, many curious results in the way of causing contracture of various muscles by kneading, pressure, percussion, etc., releasing the tension by exciting the opposing muscles, and transferring the contractures from one muscle to another by the magnet.
Then, with an ingenuousness that is truly charming, they add, as a "singular fact," that "contractures can be easily produced in many hysterical patients in their waking state, either by kneading the muscles, by pressure on the nerves, or by striking the tendons. These contractures in the waking state are, indeed, of the same nature as those which occur during lethargy, since they yield to the excitement of the antagonistic muscles, and may be transferred by the magnet".
After this admission it seems superfluous to remark that this class of experiments prove nothing more than that the state of neuro-muscular hyperexcitability is a pathological symptom common to hysterical patients, whether in the waking state or in hypnotic lethargy. They certainly prove nothing which can be construed as characteristic of hypnotism; and the Nancy school wastes its time in demonstrating that the symptoms cannot be reproduced in healthy persons except by the aid of suggestion.
Another serious error into which the Charcot school has fallen in its effort to eliminate the effects of suggestion consists in the assumption that subjects in the lethargic state know nothing of what is passing around them, either objectively or subjectively. No greater mistake is possible. The subjective mind never sleeps. No matter how profound the lethargy, it is ever alert, and comprehends instantly, with preternatural acuteness, everything that occurs. Professor Bernheim, in the preface to "Suggestive Therapeutics," makes the same assertion. He says: -
"One should first be aware of the fact that in all degrees of hypnosis the subject hears and understands everything, even though he may appear inert and passive. Sometimes the senses are particularly sharp in this state of special concentration, as if all the nervous activity were accumulated in the organ of which the attention is solicited".
The state of lethargy is that in which Charcot supposes his subjects to be incapable of receiving a suggestion. Acting upon that hypothesis, it is not astonishing that he should deceive himself as well as the students and spectators attending his clinic. He believes that they hear nothing when they hear everything. It is easy to see how every suggested phenomenon is promptly produced under such conditions. But there is one phenomenon of which the learned professor fails to note the significance, and that is, that, no matter how profound the lethargy, his subject promptly awakens at the word of command.