As we mentioned earlier, the Marquis de Puysegur reported that some of his subjects demonstrated remarkable clairvoyance while under hypnosis. If that was really the case - if hypnotism could stimulate extrasensory perception - then why were his findings not confirmed by other cases?
One explanation may be that we see only what we want to see. A classic psychological exercise consists of describing an event to someone, and then having that person describe the same event to someone else, who in turn describes it to someone else, and so on down the line. Invariably, the event described by the last person is very different from the original. For example, a western subject is shown a photograph depicting a black person, dressed in traditional North African clothes, being attacked by a European carrying a knife in a subway station. The subject reports what he or she has seen to a second subject, and so on. By the time the story gets back to the psychologist, the roles have been reversed - the European is the one being attacked by the North African. Why? Because western subjects subconsciously found the initial situation - a black person being attacked by a white person - intolerable, and rejected it.
We can understand how difficult it is for so-called men of science to admit that they may not be seeing all the facts. A good example is the way the French Academy of Medicine reacted to a report submitted by Dr. Husson in 1832. Husson had been asked to head a commission to investigate paranor mal phenomena, and spent six years conducting experiments and gathering data before drawing up his report. The Academy reacted to his findings with consternation - the report was not at all what they had expected to hear:
"Husson, who had performed a series of spectacular experiments on clairvoyance and healing over distances, officially confirmed the existence of the hypnotic state, the ability to predict events, the ability to read while blindfolded, and so on."
Fearing ridicule, the Academy refused to publish Husson's report. A new study, led by Dr. Dubois, a virulent adversary of magnetism, was commissioned. Dubois refuted all of Husson's findings, including the existences of an induced state of hypnosis.
Was Husson's original report frivolous and unscientific? Not according to a study of hypnosis commissioned by the British Medical Association in 1953, which confirmed many of his findings, and went so far as to say that ... "the conclusions in (Dr. Husson's) report demonstrated remarkable foresight, and are, in large part, still valid today."
In 1850, an English professor of physiology, Dr. Mayo, himself a hypnotist, wrote:
"A hypnotized subject who has been deprived of his own sense of touch, taste or smell, will perceive everything that is felt, tasted or smelled by the hypnotist ."
Mayo's experiments confirmed the findings of another researcher, Dr. Azam, working in France fifteen years earlier. In 1875 Professor U.F. Barret, the great English physician, conducted a series of similar experiments:
"I took a few items out of my pantry and arranged them on a table next to me. Standing behind a young female subject whose eyes were carefully blindfolded, I put a bit of salt on my tongue. The girl spit some saliva and exclaimed, 'Why did you put salt in my mouth?' When I repeated the process with some sugar she said, 'Oh, that's much better.' When I asked her what the taste was, she said, 'It's sugar.' I went on to taste mustard, pepper, ginger, and so on. The girl named every one of these substances, and was apparently able to taste them herself when I put them in my mouth. Next, I brought my hand close to a lighted candle, slightly burning my skin. The girl, still sitting with her back to me and blindfolded, cried out in pain, and said that her hand was being burned."
Charcot, although guilty of some errors, also worked with subjects in a state of hypnotic trance, and would begin his lectures by saying, "We will stick to the simple facts, and set aside more complex phenomena like magnetic fluids and second sight, at least for the moment." On the other hand, he did not categorically deny them.
Members of the Nancy School were interested in similar phenomena. On January 9, 1886, Liebault and a colleague, Stanislas de Guaita, submitted a report of the following experiment:
"We, the undersigned, Ambroise Liebault, doctor of medicine, and Stanislas de Guaita, author, both residing in the city of Nancy, do hereby certify having obtained the following results:
1. Miss Louise L., in a state of magnetic sleep, was told that she would have to answer questions which would be communicated to her mentally, without the use of words or gestures. Dr. Liebault placed his hand on the woman's forehead and concentrated on the question 'When will you get better?' After a moment the woman's lips began trembling. 'Soon,' she said, quite distinctly. She was then asked, before all present, to repeat the question that had been mentally communicated to her. This she did, formulating the question exactly.
2. Mr. De Guaita, placing his hand on the woman's forehead, mentally formulated the following question, once again using no words or gestures: 'Will you come back here next week?'
'Perhaps,' the woman responded. When asked to tell the witnesses present what the question had been she replied, 'I wanted to know if you would be returning next week.' The way she phrased the question, reversing the pronouns 'I' and 'you,' is significant - an indication that she had literally entered the mind of the hypnotist.
3. Without saying a single word, Dr. Liebault then wrote the following statement on a sheet of paper: 'When Miss L. awakens, she will think her black hat has been transformed into a red hat.'
The sheet of paper was passed around to all the witnesses, after which Dr. Liebault and Mr. De Guaita, in complete silence, placed their hands on Miss L's forehead, concentrating on the message. Before being awakened, the young woman was told that she would see something unusual.
As soon as she was brought out of her trance she stared at her hat and burst out laughing. It wasn't her hat, she said, she didn't want it. Yes, it looked like her hat, but she knew they were just playing a joke on her. She wanted her own hat back.
"What's different about this hat?" someone asked.
"You can see for yourself! You have eyes, don't you?"
"Tell us what it is."
We had to insist for quite some time before she would actually tell us how her hat had changed - she thought we were making fun of her.
"You can see very well that it's red."
Since she absolutely refused to use the hat, we had to put her back into a trance to show her it really was her hat. Dr. Liebault picked it up and blew on it, having told her that it would revert to its original color when he did. Awakened once again, she picked up her hat as if nothing had happened.
We certify that this report is an accurate description of the results obtained during the hypnosis session, conducted without any prior preparation or knowledge on the part of the subject."
Such experiments left little doubt in the minds of enthusiasts that hypnosis would live up to its promise - the ancient age of mysticism and miracles was about to dawn once again. Others, however, were more than a little worried by the possibility. One powerful adversary was the Catholic Church, which accused La Fontaine of blasphemy for trying to imitate the miracles of Christ. This was no laughing matter. La Fontaine was actually imprisoned, then released after King Ferdinand of Naples intervened on his behalf, on condition that. "he cease restoring sight to the blind, and hearing to the deaf."
La Fontaine eventually managed to obtain a private audience with Pope Pius IX. After a long discussion, the Pope decreed that La Fontaine was not attempting to imitate the miracles of Christ, and encouraged him to continue with his work.
The dawn of the twentieth century saw a marked decline in the development of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool. No more Mesmer, no more Charcot, no more rivalries and scandals. One of Charcot's former students, Sigmund Freud, introduced a new form of treatment for mental disorders, which he called psychoanalysis. Emile Coue, a pharmacist and member of the Nancy School, developed a method of suggestion (the Coue Method) which used the waking rather than the hypnotic state to heal the sick. Since techniques of anesthesia were being perfected, hypnosis was no longer necessary in order to perform operations.
Public opinion did an about-face: people condemned what they had previously found fascinating. A host of detractors attacked practitioners of hypnosis, claiming they were all charlatans. A judge ordered one hypnotist to pay heavy damages for having caused a young woman to develop various problems during a theatrical demonstration. Such theatrical entertainments did much to tarnish the image of hypnotism in general. This is not surprising, considering the kinds of absurd antics subjects were instructed to perform: walking on all fours, howling like a dog, undressing in front of an audience, etc.
Because of the bad publicity directed at hypnotism in general, legitimate practitioners found it increasingly difficult to get subjects to cooperate. It of ten took a number of sessions before a subject was finally able to attain the trance state, and in many instances subjects remained resistant to the end.
Was this article helpful?
Hypnosis is a capital instrument for relaxation and alleviating stress. It helps calm down both the brain and body, giving a useful rest. All the same it can be rather costly to hire a clinical hypnotherapist, and we might not always want one around when we would like to destress.