Dangers in Being Hypnotized.--Condemnation of Public Performances.--A. Common Sense View.--Evidence Furnished by Lafontaine.--By Dr. Courmelles.--By. Dr. Hart.--By Dr. Cocke.--No Danger in Hypnotism if Rightly Used by Physicians or Scientists.
Having considered the dangers to society through criminal hypnotic suggestion, let us now consider what dangers there may be to the individual who is hypnotized.
Before citing evidence, let us consider the subject from a rational point of view. Several things have already been established. We know that hypnotism is akin to hysteria and other forms of insanity--it is, in short, a kind of experimental insanity. Really good hypnotic subjects have not a perfect mental balance. We have also seen that repetition of the process increases the susceptibility, and in some cases persons frequently hypnotized are thrown into the hypnotic state by very slight physical agencies, such as looking at a bright doorknob. Furthermore, we know that the hypnotic patient is in a very sensitive condition, easily impressed. Moreover, it is well known that exertions required of hypnotic subjects are nervously very exhausting, so much so that headache frequently follows.
From these facts any reasonable person may make a few clear deductions. First, repeated strain of excitement in hypnotic seances will wear out the constitution just as certainly as repeated strain of excitement in social life, or the like, which, as we know, frequently produces nervous exhaustion. Second, it is always dangerous to submit oneself to the influence of an inferior or untrustworthy person. This is just as true in hypnotism as it is in the moral realm. Bad companions corrupt. And since the hypnotic subject is in a condition especially susceptible, a little association of this kind, a little submission to the inferior or immoral, will produce correspondingly more detrimental consequences. Third, since hypnotism is an abnormal condition, just as drunkenness is, one should not allow a public hypnotizer to experiment upon one and make one do ridiculous things merely for amusement, any more than one would allow a really insane person to be exhibited for money; or than one would allow himself to be made drunk, merely that by his absurd antics he might amuse somebody. It takes little reflection to convince any one that hypnotism for amusement, either on the public stage or in the home, is highly obnoxious, even if it is not highly dangerous. If the hypnotizer is an honest man, and a man of character, little injury may follow. But we can never know that, and the risk of getting into bad hands should prevent every one from submitting to influence at all. The fact is, however, that we should strongly doubt the good character of any one who hypnotizes for amusement, regarding him in the same light as we would one who intoxicated people on the stage for amusement, or gave them chloroform, or went about with a troup of insane people that he might exhibit their idiosyncrasies. Honest, right-minded people do not do those things.
At the same time, there is nothing wiser that a man can do than to submit himself fully to a stronger and wiser nature than his own. A physician in whom you have confidence may do a thousand times more for you by hypnotism than by the use of drugs. It is a safe rule to place hypnotism in exactly the same category as drugs. Rightly used, drugs are invaluable; wrongly used, they become the instruments of the murderer. At all times should they be used with great caution. The same is true of hypnotism.
Now let us cite some evidence. Lafontaine, a professional hypnotist, gives some interesting facts. He says that public hypnotic entertainments usually induce a great many of the audience to become amateur hypnotists, and these experiments may cause suffocation. Fear often results in congestion, or a rush of blood to the brain. "If the digestion is not completed, more especially if the repast has been more abundant than usual, congestion may be produced and death be instantaneous. The most violent convulsions may result from too complete magnetization of the brain. A convulsive movement may be so powerful that the body will suddenly describe a circle, the head touching the heels and seem to adhere to them. In this latter case there is torpor without sleep. Sometimes it has been impossible to awake the subject."
A waiter at Nantes, who was magnetized by a commercial traveler, remained for two days in a state of lethargy, and for three hours Dr. Foure and numerous spectators were able to verify that "the extremities were icy cold, the pulse no longer throbbed, the heart had no pulsations, respiration had ceased, and there was not sufficient breath to dim a glass held before the mouth. Moreover, the patient was stiff, his eyes were dull and glassy." Nevertheless, Lafontaine was able to recall this man to life.
Dr. Courmelles says: "Paralysis of one or more members, or of the tongue, may follow the awakening. These are the effects of the contractions of the internal muscles, due often to almost imperceptible touches. The diaphragm--and therefore the respiration--may be stopped in the same manner. Catalepsy and more especially lethargy, produce these phenomena."
There are on record a number of cases of idiocy, madness, and epilepsy caused by the unskillful provoking of hypnotic sleep. One case is sufficiently interesting, for it is almost exactly similar to a case that occurred at one of the American colleges. The subject was a young professor at a boys' school. "One evening he was present at some public experiments that were being performed in a tavern; he was in no way upset at the sight, but the next day one of his pupils, looking at him fixedly, sent him to sleep. The boys soon got into the habit of amusing themselves by sending him to sleep, and the unhappy professor had to leave the school, and place himself under the care of a doctor."
Dr. Ernest Hart gives an experience of his own which carries with it its own warning. Says he:
"Staying at the well known country house in Kent of a distinguished London banker, formerly member of Parliament for Greenwich, I had been called upon to set to sleep, and to arrest a continuous barking cough from which a young lady who was staying in the house was suffering, and who, consequently, was a torment to herself and her friends. I thought this a good opportunity for a control experiment, and I sat her down in front of a lighted candle which I assured her that I had previously mesmerized. Presently her cough ceased and she fell into a profound sleep, which lasted until twelve o'clock the next day. When I returned from shooting, I was informed that she was still asleep and could not be awoke, and I had great difficulty in awaking her. That night there was a large dinner party, and, unluckily, I sat opposite to her. Presently she again became drowsy, and had to be led from the table, alleging, to my confusion, that I was again mesmerizing her. So susceptible did she become to my supposed mesmeric influence, which I vainly assured her, as was the case, that I was very far from exercising or attempting to exercise, that it was found expedient to take her up to London. I was out riding in the afternoon that she left, and as we passed the railway station, my host, who was riding with me, suggested that, as his friends were just leaving by that train, he would like to alight and take leave of them. I dismounted with him and went on to the platform, and avoided any leave-taking; but unfortunately in walking up and down it seems that I twice passed the window of the young lady's carriage. She was again self-mesmerized, and fell into a sleep which lasted throughout the journey, and recurred at intervals for some days afterward."
In commenting on this, Dr. Hart notes that in reality mesmerism is self- produced, and the will of the operator, even when exercised directly against it, has no effect if the subject believes that the will is being operated in favor of it. Says he: "So long as the person operated on believed that my will was that she should sleep, sleep followed. The most energetic willing in my internal consciousness that there should be no sleep, failed to prevent it, where the usual physical methods of hypnotization, stillness, repose, a fixed gaze, or the verbal expression of an order to sleep, were employed."
The dangers of hypnotism have been recognized by the law of every civilized country except the United States, where alone public performances are permitted.
Dr. Cocke says: "I have occasionally seen subjects who complained of headache, vertigo, nausea, and other similar symptoms after having been hypnotized, but these conditions were at a future hypnotic sitting easily remedied by suggestion." Speaking of the use of hypnotism by doctors under conditions of reasonable care, Dr. Cocke says further: "There is one contraindication greater than all the rest. It applies more to the physician than to the patient, more to the masses than to any single individual. It is not confined to hypnotism alone; it has blocked the wheels of human progress through the ages which have gone. It is undue enthusiasm. It is the danger that certain individuals will become so enamored with its charms that other equally valuable means of cure will be ignored. Mental therapeutics has come to stay. It is yet in its infancy and will grow, but, if it were possible to kill it, it would be strangled by the fanaticism and prejudice of its devotees. The whole field is fascinating and alluring. It promises so much that it is in danger of being missed by the ignorant to such an extent that great harm may result. This is true, not only of mental therapeutics and hypnotism, but of every other blessing we possess. Hypnotism has nothing to fear from the senseless skepticism and contempt of those who have no knowledge of the subject." He adds pertinently enough: "While hypnotism can be used in a greater or less degree by every one, it can only be used intelligently by those who understand, not only hypnotism itself, but disease as well."
Dr. Cocke is a firm believer that the right use of hypnotism by intelligent persons does not weaken the will. Says he: "I do not believe there is any danger whatever in this. I have no evidence (and I have studied a large number of hypnotized subjects) that hypnotism will render a subject less capable of exercising his will when he is relieved from the hypnotic trance. I do not believe that it increases in any way his susceptibility to ordinary suggestion."
However, in regard to the dangers of public performances by professional hypnotizers, Dr. Cocke is equally positive. Says he:
"The dangers of public exhibitions, made ludicrous as they are by the operators, should be condemned by all intelligent men and women, not from the danger of hypnotism itself so much as from the liability of the performers to disturb the mental poise of that large mass of ill- balanced individuals which makes up no inconsiderable part of society." In conclusion he says: "Patients have been injured by the misuse of hypnotism. * * * This is true of every remedial agent ever employed for the relief of man. Every article we eat, if wrongly prepared, if stale, or if too much is taken, will be harmful. Every act, every duty of our lives, may, if overdone, become an injury.
"Then, for the sake of clearness, let me state in closing that hypnotism is dangerous only when it is misused, or when it is applied to that large class of persons who are inherently unsound; especially if that mysterious thing we call credulity predominates to a very great extent over the reason and over other faculties of the mind."