AI-generated avatar

The Hidden Self
by William James (1842-1910)

“The great field for new discoveries,” said a scientific friend to me the other day, “is always the Unclassified Residuum.” Round about the accredited and orderly facts of every science there ever floats a sort of dust-cloud of exceptional observations, of occurrences minute and irregular, and seldom met with, which it always proves less easy to attend to than to ignore. The ideal of every science is that of a closed and completed system of truth. The charm of most sciences to their more passive disciples consists in their appearing, in fact, to wear just this ideal form. Each one of our various ologies seems to offer a definite head of classification for every possible phenomenon of the sort which it professes to cover; and, so far from free is most men’s fancy, that when a consistent and organized scheme of this sort has once been comprehended and assimilated, a different scheme is unimaginable. No alternative, whether to whole or parts, can any longer be conceived as possible. Phenomena unclassifiable within the system are therefore paradoxical absurdities, and must be held untrue. When, moreover, as so often happens, the reports of them are vague and indirect, when they come as mere marvels and oddities rather than as things of serious moment, one neglects or denies them with the best of scientific consciences. Only the born geniuses let themselves be worried and fascinated by these outstanding exceptions, and get no peace till they are brought within the fold. Your Galileos, Galvanis, Fresnels, Purkinjes, and Darwins are always getting confounded and troubled by insignificant things. Anyone will renovate his science who will steadily look after the irregular phenomena. And when the science is renewed, its new formulas often have more of the voice of the exceptions in them than of what were supposed to be the rules.

No part of the unclassed residuum has usually been treated with a more contemptuous scientific disregard than the mass of phenomena generally called mystical. Physiology will have nothing to do with them. Orthodox psychology turns its back upon them. Medicine sweeps them out; or, at most, when in an anecdotal vein, records a few of them as “effects of the imagination,” a phrase of mere dismissal whose meaning, in this connection, it is impossible to make precise. All the while, however, the phenomena are there, lying broadcast over the surface of history. No matter where you open its pages, you find things recorded under the name of divinations, inspirations, demoniacal possessions, apparitions, trances, ecstasies, miraculous healings and productions of disease, and occult powers possessed by peculiar individuals over persons and things in their neighborhood. We suppose that mediumship originated in Rochester, N. Y., and animal magnetism with Mesmer; but once look behind the pages of official history, in personal memoirs, legal documents, and popular narratives and books of anecdote, and you will find that there never was a time when these things were not reported just as abundantly as now. We college-bred gentry, who follow the stream of cosmopolitan culture exclusively, not infrequently stumble upon some old-established journal, or some voluminous native author, whose names are never heard of in our circle, but who number their readers by the quarter-million. It always gives us a little shock to find this mass of human beings not only living and ignoring us and all our gods, but actually reading and writing and cogitating without ever a thought of our canons, standards, and authorities. Well, a public no less large keeps and transmits from generation to generation the traditions and practices of the occult; but academic science cares as little for its beliefs and opinions as you, gentle subscriber to this MAGAZINE, care for those of the readers of the Waverley and the Fireside Companion. To no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of Truth. Something escapes the best of us, not accidentally, but systematically, and because we have a twist. The scientific-academic mind and the feminine-mystical mind shy from each other’s facts, just as they fly from each other’s temper and spirit. Facts are there only for those who have a mental affinity with them. When once they are indisputably ascertained and admitted, the academic and critical minds are by far the best fitted ones to interpret and discuss them—for surely to pass from mystical to scientific speculations is like passing from lunacy to sanity; but on the other hand if there is anything which human history demonstrates, it is the extreme slowness with which the ordinary academic and critical mind acknowledges facts to exist which present themselves as wild facts with no stall or pigeon-hole, or as facts which threaten to break up the accepted system. In psychology, physiology, and medicine, wherever a debate between the Mystics and the Scientifics has been once for all decided, it is the Mystics who have usually proved to be right about the facts, while the Scientifics had the better of it in respect to the theories. The most recent and flagrant example of this is “animal magnetism,” whose facts were stoutly dismissed as a pack of lies by academic medical science the world over, until the non-mystical theory of “hypnotic suggestion” was found for them, when they were admitted to be so excessively and dangerously common that special penal laws, forsooth, must be passed to keep all persons unequipped with medical diplomas from taking part in their production. Just so stigmatizations, invulnerabilities, instantaneous cures, inspired discourses, and demoniacal possessions, the records of which were shelved in our libraries but yesterday in the alcove headed “Superstitions,” now, under the brand-new title of “Cases of hystero-epilepsy,” are republished, reobserved, and reported with an even too credulous avidity.

Repugnant as the mystical style of philosophizing may be (especially when self-complacent), there is no sort of doubt that it goes with a gift for meeting with certain kinds of phenomenal experience. The writer has been forced in the past few years to this admission; and he now believes that he who will pay attention to facts of the sort dear to mystics, while reflecting upon them in academic-scientific ways, will be in the best possible position to help philosophy. It is a circumstance of good augury, that scientifically trained minds in all countries seem drifting to the same conclusion. Nowhere is this the case more than in France. France always was the home of the study of character. French literature is one long loving commentary on the variations of which individual human nature is capable. It seems fitting, therefore, that where minute and faithful observation of abnormal personal peculiarities is the order of the day, French science should take the lead. The work done at Paris and Nancy on the hypnotic trance is well known. Grant any amount of imperfection, still the essential thing remains, that here we have a mass of phenomena, hitherto outlawed, brought within the pale of sober investigation—the rest is only an affair of time. Last summer there appeared a record of observations made at Havre on certain hysterical somnambulists, by M. Pierre Janet, Professor of Philosophy in the Lycée of that town, and published in a volume of five hundred pages, entitled “De l’Automatisme Psychologique” (Paris, Alcan), which, serving as the author’s thesis for the Doctorate of Science in Paris, made quite a commotion in the world to which such things pertain.

The new light which this book throws on what has long been vaguely talked about as unconscious mental life seems so important that I propose to entertain the readers of SCRIBNER’S with some account of its contents, as an example of the sort of “psychical research” which a shrewd man with good opportunities may now achieve. The work bristles with facts, and is rather deficient in form. The author aims, moreover, at generalizing only where the phenomena force him to, and abstract statements are more embedded, and, as it were, interstitial, than is the case in most Gallic performances. In all this M. Janet’s mind has an English flavor about it which it is pleasant to meet with in one otherwise so good a Frenchman. I shall also quote some of the observations of M. Binet,[1] the most ingenious and original member of the Salpêtrière school, as these two gentlemen, working independently and with different subjects, come to conclusions which are strikingly in accord.

Both may be called contributors to the comparative science of trance-states. The “Subjects” studied by both are sufferers from the most aggravated forms of hysteria, and both authors, I fancy, are consequently led to exaggerate the dependence of the trance-conditions upon this kind of disease. M. Janet’s subjects, whom he calls Léonie, Lucie, Rose, Marie, etc., were patients at the Havre Hospital, in charge of doctors who were His friends, and who allowed him to make observations on them to his heart’s content. One of the most constant symptoms in persons suffering from hysteric disease in its extreme forms consists in alterations of the natural sensibility of various parts and organs of the body. Usually the alteration is in the direction of defect, or anæsthesia. One or both eyes are blind, or blind over one half of the field of vision, or the latter is extremely contracted, so that its margins appear dark, or else the patient has lost all sense for color. Hearing, taste, smell may similarly disappear, in part or in totality. Still more striking are the cutaneous anæsthesias. The old witch-finders, looking for the “devil’s seals,” well learned the existence of those insensible patches on the skin of their victims, to which the minute physical examinations of recent medicine have but lately attracted attention again. They may be scattered anywhere, but are very apt to affect one side of the body. Not infrequently they affect an entire lateral half, from head to foot, and the insensible skin of, say the left side, will then be found separated from the naturally sensitive skin of the right by a perfectly sharp line of demarcation down the middle of the front and back. Sometimes, most remarkable of all, the entire skin, hands, feet, face, everything, and the mucous membranes, muscles, and joints, so far as they can be explored, become completely insensible without the other vital functions being gravely disturbed. These anæsthesias and hemianæsthesias, in all their various grades, form the nucleus of M. Janet’s observations and hypotheses. And, first of all, he has an hypothesis about the anæsthesia itself, which, like all provisional hypotheses, may do excellent service while awaiting the day when a better one shall take its place.

The original sin of the hysteric mind, he thinks, is the contractions of the field of consciousness. The attention has not sufficient strength to take in the normal number of sensations or ideas at once. If an ordinary person can feel ten things at a time, an hysteric can feel but five. Our minds are all of them like vessels full of water, and taking in a new drop makes another drop fall out; only the hysteric mental vessel is preternaturally small. The unifying or synthetizing power which the Ego exerts over the manifold facts which are offered to it is insufficient to do its full amount of work, and an ingrained habit is formed of neglecting or overlooking certain determinate portions of the mass. Thus one eye will be ignored, one arm and hand, or one-half of the body. And apart from anæsthesia, hysterics are often extremely distraites, and unable to attend to two things at once. When talking with you they forget everything else. When Lucie stopped conversing directly with anyone, she ceased to be able to hear anyone else. You might stand behind her, call her by name, shout abuse into her ears, without making her turn round; or place yourself before her, show her objects, touch her, etc., without attracting her notice. When finally she becomes aware of you, she thinks you have just come into the room again, and greets you accordingly. This singular forgetfulness makes her liable to tell all her secrets aloud, unrestrained by the presence of unsuitable auditors. This contracted mental field (or state of monoideism, as it has been called) characterizes also the hypnotic state of normal persons, so that in this important respect a waking hysteric is like a well person in the hypnotic trance. Both are wholly lost in their present idea, its normal “reductives” and correctives having lapsed from view.

The anæsthesias of the class of patients we are considering can be made to disappear more or less completely by various odd processes. It has been recently found that magnets, plates of metal, the electrodes of a battery, placed against the skin, have this peculiar power. And when one side is relieved in this way, the anæsthesia is often found to have transferred itself to the opposite side, which, until then, was well. Whether these strange effects of magnets and metals be due to their direct physiological action, or to a prior effect on the patient’s mind (“expectant attention” or “suggestion”) is still a mooted question.[2] A still better awakener of sensibility in most of these subjects is the hypnotic state, which M. Janet seems to have most easily induced by the orthodox “magnetic” method of “passes” made over the face and body. It was in making these passes that he first stumbled on one of the most curious facts recorded in his volume. One day, when the subject named Lucie was in the hypnotic state, he made passes over her again for half an hour, just as if she were already “asleep.” The result was to throw her into a sort of syncope from which, after another half hour, she revived in a second somnambulic condition entirely unlike that which had characterized her hitherto—different sensibilities, a different memory, a different person, in short. In the waking state the poor young woman was anæsthetic all over, nearly deaf, and with a badly contracted field of vision. Bad as it was, however, sight was her best sense, and she used it as a guide in all her movements. With her eyes bandaged she was entirely helpless, and, like other persons of a similar sort whose cases have been recorded, she almost immediately fell asleep in consequence of the withdrawal of her last sensorial stimulus. M. Janet calls this waking or primary (one can hardly, in such a connection, say “normal”) state by the name of Lucie 1. In Lucie 2, her first sort of hypnotic trance, the anæsthesias were diminished but not removed. In the deeper trance, “Lucie 3,” brought about as just described, no trace of them remained. Her sensibility became perfect, and instead of being an extreme example of the “visual” type, she was transformed into what, in Professor Charcot’s terminology, is known as a motor. That is to say, that whereas, when awake, she had thought in visual terms exclusively, and could imagine things only by remembering how they looked, now, in this deeper trance, her thoughts and memories seemed largely composed of images of movement and of touch—of course I state summarily here what appears in the book as an induction from many facts.

Having discovered this deeper trance in Lucie, M. Janet naturally became eager to find it in his other subjects. He found it in Rose, in Marie, and in Léonie; and, best of all, his brother, Dr. Jules Janet, who was interne at the Salpêtrière Hospital, found it in the celebrated subject Witt . . . whose trances had been studied for years by the various doctors of that institution without any of them having happened to awaken this very peculiar modification of the personality.

With the return of all the sensibilities in the deeper trance, the subjects are transformed, as it were, into normal persons. Their memories, in particular, grow more extensive; and here comes in M. Janet’s first great theoretic generalization, which is this: When a certain kind of sensation is abolished in an hysteric patient, there is also abolished along with it all recollection of past sensations of that kind. If, for example, hearing be the anæsthetic sense, the patient becomes unable even to imagine sounds and voices, and has to speak, when speech is still possible, by means of motor or articulatory cues. If the motor sense be abolished, the patient must will the movements of his limbs by first defining them to his mind in visual terms, and must innervate his voice by premonitory ideas of the way in which the words are going to sound. The practical effects of this law of M. Janet’s upon the patient’s recollections would necessarily be great. Take things touched and handled, for example, and bodily movements. All memories of such things, all records of such experiences, being normally stored away in tactile terms, would have to be incontinently lost and forgotten so soon as the cutaneous and muscular sensibility should come to be cut out in the course of disease. Memory of them would be restored again, on the other hand, so soon as the sense of touch came back. Experiences, again, undergone during an anæsthetic condition of touch (and stored up consequently in visual or auditory terms exclusively), can have contracted no “associations” with tactile ideas, for such ideas are, for the time being, forgotten and practically non-existent. If, however, the touch-sensibilities ever are restored, and their ideas and memories with them, it may easily happen that they, with their clustered associations, may temporarily keep out of consciousness things like the visual and other experiences accumulated during the anæsthetic period which have no connections with them. If touch be the dominant sense in childhood, it would thus be explained why hysterical anæsthetics, whose tactile sensibilities and memories are brought back again by trance, so often assume a childlike deportment, and even call themselves by baby – names. Such, at least, is a suggestion of M. Janet’s to explain a not infrequent sort of observation. MM. Bourru and Burot found, for instance, in their extraordinary male somnambulist Louis V., that reviving by suggestion a certain condition of bodily feeling in him would invariably transport him back to the epoch of his life when that condition had prevailed. He forgot the later years, and resumed the character and sort of intellect which had characterized him at the earlier time.

M. Janet’s theory will provoke controversy and stimulate observation. You can ask little more than that of any theory. My own impression is that the law that anæsthesias carry “amnesias” with them, will not come out distinctly in every individual case. The intricacy of the associative processes, and the fact that comparatively few experiences are stored up in one form of sensibility alone, would be sufficient to prevent this. Perfect illustrations of the law will therefore be met with only in privileged subjects like M. Janet’s own. They indeed seem to have exemplified it beautifully. M. Janet says:

“It seems to me, that if I were to awake some morning with no muscular or tactile feelings, if, like Rose, I should suddenly lose my sense of color, and distinguish nothing in the universe but black and white, I should be terrified, and instantly appeal for help. These women, on the contrary, find their state so natural that they never even complain. When I, after some trials, proved to Rose that she could perceive no color, I found her ignorant of the fact. When I showed Lucie that she could feel neither pain nor contact, she answered, ‘All the better!’ When I made her conscious that she never knew where her arms were till she saw them, and that she lost her legs when in bed, she replied, ‘C’est tout naturel, as long as I don’t see them; everyone is like that.’ In a word, being incapable of comparing their present state of sensibility with a former one of which all memory is lost, they suffer no more than we do at not hearing the ‘music of the spheres.’”

M. Janet restored their tactile sense temporarily by means of electric currents, passes, etc., and then made them handle various objects, such as keys and pencils, or make particular movements, like the sign of the cross. The moment the anæsthesia returned, they found it impossible to recollect the objects or the acts. “They had had nothing in their hands, they had done nothing,” etc. The next day, however, sensibility being again restored by similar processes, they remembered perfectly the circumstance, and told what they had handled or had done.

It is in this way that M. Janet explains the general law that persons forget in the waking state what has happened to them in trance. There are differences of sensibility, and consequently breaches in the association of ideas. Certain of his hysterics (as we have seen) regained complete sensibility in their deeper trance. The result was such an enlargement of their power of recollecting that they could then go back and explain the origin of many of their peculiarities which would else be inexplicable. One stage in the great convulsive attack of hystero-epilepsy is what the French writers call la phase des attitudes passionnelles, in which the patient, without speaking or giving any account of herself, will go through the outward movements of fear, anger, or some other emotional state of mind. Usually this phase is, with each patient, a thing so stereotyped as to seem automatic, and doubts have even been expressed as to whether any consciousness exists while it lasts. When, however, the patient Lucie’s tactile sensibility came back in her state of Lucie 3, she explained the origin of her hysteric crises in a great fright which she had had when a child, on a day when certain men, hid behind the curtains, had jumped out upon her; she told how she went through this scene again in all her crises; she told of her sleep-walking fits through the house when a child, and how, for several months, she had been shut in a dark room because of a disorder of the eyes. All these were things of which she recollects nothing when awake, because they were records of experiences mainly of motion and of touch, and when awake her feelings of touch and movement disappeared.

But the case of Léonie is the most interesting, and shows beautifully how, with the sensibilities and motor impulses, the memories and character will change.

“This woman, whose life sounds more like an improbable romance than a genuine history, has had attacks of natural somnambulism since the age of three years. She has been hypnotized constantly, by all sorts of persons, from the age of sixteen upward, and she is now forty-five. While her normal life developed in one way in the midst of her poor country surroundings, her second life was passed in drawing-rooms and doctors’ offices, and naturally took an entirely different direction. To-day, when in her normal state, this poor peasant-woman is a serious and rather sad person, calm and slow, very mild with everyone, and extremely timid; to look at her one would never suspect the personage which she contains. But hardly is she put to sleep hypnotically than a metamorphosis occurs. Her face is no longer the same. She keeps her eyes closed, it is true, but the acuteness of her other senses supplies their place. She is gay, noisy, restless, sometimes insupportably so. She remains good-natured, but has acquired a singular tendency to irony and sharp jesting. Nothing is more curious than to hear her, after a sitting when she has received a visit from strangers who wished to see her asleep. She gives a word-portrait of them, apes their manners, pretends to know their little ridiculous aspects and passions, and for each invents a romance. To this character must be added the possession of an enormous number of recollections whose existence she does not even suspect when awake, for her amnesia is then complete. . . . She refuses the name of Léonie, and takes that of Léontine (Léonie 2), to which her first magnetizers had accustomed her. ‘That good woman is not myself,’ she says, ‘she is too stupid.’ To herself Léontine (or Léonie 2), she attributes all the sensations and all the actions; in a word, all the conscious experiences, which she has undergone in somnambulism and knits them together to make the history of her already long life. To Léonie 1, on the other hand, she exclusively ascribes the events lived through in waking hours. I was at first struck by an important exception to the rule, and was disposed to think that there might be something arbitrary in this partition of her recollections. In the normal state Léonie has a husband and children. But Léonie 2, the somnambulist, while acknowledging the children as her own, attributes the husband to ‘the other.’ This choice was perhaps explicable, but it followed no rule. It was not till later that I learned that her magnetizers in early days, as audacious as certain hypnotizers of recent date, had somnambulized her for her first accouchements, and that she had lapsed into that state spontaneously in the later ones. Léonie 2 was thus quite right in ascribing to herself the children—since it was she who had had them—and the rule that her first trance-state forms a different personality was not broken. But it is the same with her second state of trance. When after the renewed passes, syncope, etc., she reaches the condition which I have called Léonie 3, she is another person still. Serious and grave, instead of being a restless child, she speaks slowly and moves but little. Again she separates herself from the waking Léonie 1. ‘A good but rather stupid woman,’ she says, ‘and not me.’ And she also separates herself from Léonie 2. ‘How can you see anything of me in that crazy creature?’ she says. ‘Fortunately I am nothing for her!’”

Léonie 1 knows only of herself; Léonie 2 of herself and of Léonie 1; Léonie 3 knows of herself and of both the others. Léonie 1 has a visual consciousness; Léonie 2 has one both visual and auditory; in Léonie 3 it is at once visual, auditory, and tactile. Professor Janet thought at first that he was Léonie 3’s discoverer. But she told him that she had been frequently in that condition before. Dr. Perrier, a former magnetizer, had hit upon her just as M. Janet had, in seeking by means of passes to deepen the sleep of Léonie 2. “This resurrection of a somnambulic personage, who had been extinct for twenty years, is curious enough; and in speaking to Léonie 3 I naturally now adopt the name of Léonore, which was given her by her first master.”

The reader easily sees what surprises the trance-state may prepare, not only for the subject but for the operator. For the subject the surprises are often inconvenient enough, especially when the trance comes and goes spontaneously. Thus Léonie 1 is overwhelmed with embarrassment when, in the street, Léonie 2’s gentlemen-friends (who are not hers) accost her. Léonie 2 spontaneously writes letters, which Léonie 1, not understanding, destroys when she finds them. Léonie 2 proceeds to thereupon hide them in a photograph album, into which she knows Léonie 1 will never look, because it contains the portrait of her former magnetizer, the sight of whom may put her to sleep again, which she dislikes. Léonie 1 finds herself in places known only to Léonie 2, to which the latter has led her, and then taken flight, etc. One sees the possibility of a new kind of “Comedy of Errors,” to which it would take the skill of a Parisian vaudevilliste to do justice.

I fear that the reader unversed in this sort of lore will here let his growing impatience master him, and throw away my article as the work of either a mystifier or a dupe. These facts seem so silly and unreal, these “subjects” so contrary to all that our education has led us to expect our fellow-creatures to be! Well, our education has been too narrow, that is all. Let one but once become familiar with the behavior of that not very rare personage, a good hypnotic subject, and the entire class of phenomena which I am recording come to seem not only possible but probable. It is, after all, only the fulfilment of what Locke’s speculative genius suggested long ago, when, in that famous chapter on “Identity and Diversity” which occasioned such scandal in its day, after saying that personality extended no farther than consciousness, he went on to affirm that there would be two different selves or persons in one man, if the experiences undergone by that man should fall into two groups, each gathered into a distinct focus of recollection.

But still more remarkable things are to come, so I pray the reader to be patient and hear me a little longer, even if he means to give me up at last. These different personalities, admitted as possible by Locke, which we, under M. Janet’s guidance, have seen actually succeeding each other under the names of Lucie 1, 2, and 3; and under those of Léonie 1, 2, and 3 mutually disowning and despising each other; are proved by M. Janet not only to exist in the successive forms in which we have seen them, but to coexist, to exist simultaneously; in such wise that while Lucie 1, for example, is apparently the only Lucie, anæsthetic, helpless, yet absorbed in conversation, that other Lucie—Lucie 3—is all the time “alive and kicking” inside of the same woman, and fully sensible and wide awake, and occupied with her own quite different concerns. This simultaneous coexistence of the different personages into which one human being may be split is the great thesis of M. Janet’s book. Others, as Edmund Gurney, Bernheim, Binet, and more besides, have had the same idea, and proved it for certain cases; but M. Janet has emphasized and generalized it, and shown it to be true universally. He has been enabled to do this by tapping the submerged consciousness and making it respond in certain peculiar ways of which I now proceed to give a brief account. He found in several subjects, when the ordinary or primary consciousness was fully absorbed in conversation with a visitor (and the reader will remember how absolutely these hysterics then lapse into oblivion of surrounding things), that the submerged self would hear his voice if he came up and addressed the subject in a whisper; and would respond either by obeying such orders as he gave, or by gestures, or, finally, by pencil-writing on a sheet of paper placed under the hand. The ostensible consciousness, meanwhile, would go on with the conversation, entirely unaware of the gestures, acts, or writing performances of the hand. These latter, in turn, appeared quite as little disturbed by the upper consciousness’s concerns. This proof by automatic writing of the secondary consciousness’s existence is the most cogent and striking one; but a crowd of other facts prove the same thing. If I run through them all rapidly, the reader will probably be convinced.

The apparently anæsthetic hand of these subjects, for one thing, will often adapt itself discriminatingly to whatever object may be put into it. With a pencil it will make writing movements; into a pair of scissors it will put its fingers, and will open and shut them, etc. The primary consciousness, so to call it, is meanwhile unable to say whether or no anything is in the hand, if the latter be hidden from sight. “I put a pair of eye-glasses into Léonie’s anæsthetic hand; this hand opens it and raises it toward the nose, but half-way thither it enters the field of vision of Léonie, who sees it and stops stupefied. ‘Why,’ says she, ‘I have an eye-glass in my left hand!’” M. Binet found a very curious sort of connection between the apparently anæsthetic skin and the mind in some Salpêtrière subjects. Things placed in the hand were not felt, but thought of (apparently in visual terms), and in nowise referred by the subject to their starting-point in the hand’s sensation. A key, a knife, placed in the hand occasioned ideas of a key or a knife, but the hand felt nothing. Similarly the subject thought of the number 3, 6, etc., if the hand or finger was bent three or six times by the operator, or if he stroked it three, six, etc., times.

In certain individuals there was found a still odder phenomenon, which reminds one of that curious idiosyncrasy of colored hearing of which a few cases have been lately described with great care by foreign writers. These individuals, namely, saw the impression received by the hand, but could not feel it; and the things seen appeared by no means associated with the hand, but more like an independent vision, which usually interested and surprised the patient. Her hand being hidden by a screen, she was ordered to look at another screen and to tell of any visual image which might project itself thereon. Numbers would then come, corresponding to the number of times the insensible member was raised, touched, etc. Colored lines and figures would come, corresponding to similar ones traced on the palm; the hand itself, or its fingers, would come when manipulated; and, finally, objects placed in it would come; but on the hand itself nothing could ever be felt. Of course, simulation would not be hard here; but M. Binet disbelieves this (usually very shallow) explanation to be a probable one of the cases in question.[3]

The usual way in which doctors measure the delicacy of our touch is by the compass-points. Two points are normally felt as one whenever they are too close together for discrimination; but what is “too close” on one part of the skin may seem very far apart on another. In the middle of the back or on the thigh less than three inches maybe too close; on the finger-tip a tenth of an inch is far enough apart. Now, as tested in this way, with the appeal made to the primary consciousness, which talks through the mouth, and seems to hold the field alone, a certain person’s skin may be entirely anæsthetic and not feel the compass-points at all; and yet this same skin will prove to have a perfectly normal sensibility if the appeal be made to that other secondary or sub-consciousness which expresses itself automatically by writing or by movements of the hand. M. Binet, M. Pierre Janet, and M. Jules Janet have all found this. The subject, whenever touched, would signify “one point” or “two points,” as accurately as if she were a normal person. But she would signify it only by these movements; and of the movements themselves her primary self would be as unconscious as of the facts they signified, for what the submerged consciousness makes the hand do automatically is unknown to the upper consciousness, which uses the mouth.

Messrs. Bernheim and Pitres have also proved, by observations too complicated to be given here, that the hysterical blindness is no real blindness at all. The eye of an hysteric which is totally blind when the other, or seeing eye, is shut, will do its share of vision perfectly well when both eyes are open together. But even where both eyes are semi-blind from hysterical disease, the method of automatic writing proves that their perceptions exist, only cut off from communication with the upper consciousness. M. Binet has found the hand of his patients unconsciously writing down words which their eyes were vainly endeavoring to “see,” i.e., to bring to the upper consciousness. Their submerged consciousness was, of course, seeing them, or the hand couldn’t have written as it did. Similarly the sub-conscious self perfectly well perceives colors which the hysterically color-blind eyes cannot bring to the normal consciousness. Again, pricks, burns, and pinches on the anæsthetic skin, all unnoticed by the upper self, are recollected to have been suffered, and complained of, as soon as the under self gets a chance to express itself by the passage of the subject into hypnotic trance.

It must be admitted therefore that, in certain persons at least, the total possible consciousness may be split into parts which coexist, but mutually ignore each other and share the objects of knowledge between them, and—more remarkable still—are complementary. Give an object to one of the consciousnesses, and by that fact you remove it from the other or others. Barring a certain common fund of information, like the command of language, etc., what the upper self knows, the under self is ignorant of, and vice versa. M. Janet has proved this beautifully in his subject Lucie. The following experiment will serve as the type of the rest: In her trance he covered her lap with cards, each bearing a number. He then told her that on waking she should not see any card whose number was a multiple of three. This is the ordinary so-called “post-hypnotic suggestion,” now well known, and for which Lucie was a well-adapted subject. Accordingly, when she was awakened and asked about the papers on her lap, she counted and picked up only those whose number was not a multiple of 3. To the 12, 18, 9, etc., she was blind. But the hand, when the sub-conscious self was interrogated by the usual method of engrossing the upper self in another conversation, wrote that the only cards in Lucie’s lap were those numbered 12, 18, 9, etc., and on being asked to pick up all the cards which were there, picked up these and let the others lie. Similarly, when the sight of certain things was suggested to the sub-conscious Lucie, the normal Lucie suddenly became partially or totally blind. “What is the matter? I can’t see!” the normal personage suddenly cried out in the midst of her conversation, when M. Janet whispered to the secondary personage to make use of her eyes. The anæsthesias, paralyses, contractions, and other irregularities from which hysterics suffer seem, then, to be due to the fact that their secondary personage has enriched itself by robbing the primary one of a function which the latter ought to have retained. The curative indication is evident: Get at the secondary personage by hypnotization, or in whatever other way, and make her give up the eye, the skin, the arm, or whatever the affected part may be. The normal self thereupon regains possession, sees, feels, and is able to move again. In this way M. Jules Janet easily cured the subject Witt . . . of all sorts of afflictions which, until he had discovered the secret of her deeper trance, it had been difficult to subdue. “Cessez cette mauvaise plaisanterie,” he said to the secondary self, and the latter obeyed. The way in which the various personages share the stock of possible sensations between them seems to be amusingly illustrated in this young woman. When awake, her skin is insensible everywhere except on a zone about the arm where she habitually wears a gold bracelet. This zone has feeling; but in the deeper trance, when all the rest of her body feels, this particular zone becomes absolutely anæsthetic.

Sometimes the mutual ignorance of the selves leads to incidents which are strange enough. The acts and movements performed by the sub-conscious self are withdrawn from the conscious one, and the subject will do all sorts of incongruous, things, of which he remains quite unaware.

“I order Lucie [by the method of distraction] to make a pied de nez, and her hands go forthwith to the end of her nose. Asked what she is doing, she replies that she is doing nothing, and continues for a long time talking, with no apparent suspicion that her fingers are moving in front of her nose. I make her walk about the room, she continues to speak, and believes herself sitting down.”

M. Janet observed similar acts in a man in alcoholic delirium. While the doctor was questioning him, M. Janet made him, by whispered suggestion, walk, sit, kneel, and even lie down on his face on the floor, he all the while believing himself to be standing beside his bed. Such bizarreries sound incredible until one has seen their like. Long ago, without understanding it, I myself saw a small example of the way in which a person’s knowledge may be shared by the two selves. A young woman, who had been writing automatically, was sitting with a pencil in her hand, trying to recall, at my request, the name of a gentleman whom she had once seen. She could only recollect the first syllable. Her hand, meanwhile, without her knowledge, wrote down the last two syllables. In a perfectly healthy young man who can write with the planchette, I lately found the hand to be entirely anæsthetic during the writing act. I could prick it severely without the subject knowing the fact. The planchette, however, accused me in strong terms of hurting the hand. Pricks on the other (non-writing) hand, meanwhile, which awakened strong protest from the young man’s vocal organs, were denied to exist by the self which made the planchette go.

We get exactly similar results in post-hypnotic suggestion. It is a familiar fact that certain subjects, when told during a trance to perform an act or to experience an hallucination after waking, will, when the time comes, obey the command. How is the command registered? How is its performance so accurately timed? These problems were long a mystery, for the primary personality remembers nothing of the trance or the suggestion, and will often trump up an improvised pretext for yielding to the unaccountable impulse which comes over him so suddenly, and which he cannot resist. Edmund Gurney was the first to discover, by means of automatic writing, that the secondary self was awake, keeping its attention constantly fixed on the command and watching for the signal of its execution. Certain trance-subjects, who were also automatic writers, when roused from trance and put to the planchette—not knowing then what they wrote, and having their upper attention fully engrossed by reading aloud, talking, or solving problems in mental arithmetic—would inscribe the orders they had received, together with notes relative to the time elapsed and the time yet to run before the execution. It is therefore to no “automatism,” in the mechanical sense, that such acts are due: a self presides over them, a split-off, limited, and buried, but yet a fully conscious self. More than this, the buried self often comes to the surface and drives out the other self while the acts are performing. In other words, the subject lapses into trance again when the moment arrives for execution, and has no subsequent recollection of the act which he has done. Gurney and Beaunis established this fact, which has since been verified on a large scale; and Gurney also showed that the patient became suggestible again during the brief time of the performance. M. Janet’s observations, in their turn, well illustrate the phenomenon.

“I tell Lucie to keep her arms raised after she shall have awakened. Hardly is she in the normal state when up go her arms above her head, but she pays no attention to them. She goes, comes, converses, holding her arms high in the air. If asked what her arms are doing, she is surprised at such a question and says, very sincerely: ‘My hands are doing nothing they are just like yours.’ I command her to weep, and when awake she really sobs, but continues in the midst of her tears to talk of very gay matters. The sobbing over, there remains no trace of this grief, which seemed to have been quite sub-conscious.’

The primary self often has to invent an hallucination by which to mask and hide from its own view the deeds which the other self is enacting. Léonie 3 writes real letters, while Léonie 1 believes that she is knitting; or Lucie 3 really comes to the doctor’s office, while Lucie 1 believes herself to be at home. This is a sort of delirium. The alphabet, or the series of numbers, when handed over to the attention of the secondary personage, may, for the time being, be lost to the normal self. While the hand writes the alphabet, obediently to command, the “subject,” to her great stupefaction, finds herself unable to recall it, etc. Few things are more curious than these relations of mutual exclusion, of which all gradations exist, between the several partial consciousnesses.

How far this splitting up of the mind into separate consciousnesses may obtain in each one of us is a problem. M. Janet holds that it is only possible where there is abnormal weakness, and consequently a defect of unifying or coordinating power. An hysteric woman abandons part of her consciousness because she is too weak nervously to hold it all together. The abandoned part, meanwhile, may solidify into a secondary or sub-conscious self. In a perfectly sound subject, on the other hand, what is dropped out of mind at one moment keeps coming back at the next. The whole fund of experiences and knowledges remains integrated, and no split-off portions of it can get organized stably enough to form subordinate selves. The stability, monotony, and stupidity of these latter is often very striking. The post-hypnotic self-consciousness seems to think of nothing but the order which it last received; the cataleptic sub-consciousness, of nothing but the last position imprinted on the limb. M. Janet could cause definitely circumscribed reddening and tumefaction of the skin, on two of his subjects, by suggesting to them in hypnotism the hallucination of a mustard-poultice of any special shape. “J’ai tout le temps pensé à votre sinapisme,” says the subject, when put back into trance after the suggestion has taken effect. A man, N——, whom M. Janet operated on at long intervals, was between whiles tampered with by another operator, and when put to sleep again by M. Janet, said he was “too far away to receive orders, being in Algiers.” The other operator, having suggested that hallucination, had forgotten to remove it before waking the subject from his trance, and the poor, passive, trance-personality had stuck for weeks in the stagnant dream. Léonie’s sub-conscious performances having been illustrated to a caller by a pied de nez, executed with her left hand in the course of conversation, when, a year later, she meets him again up goes the same hand to her nose again, without Léonie 1 suspecting the fact.

And this leads me to what, after all, is the really important part of these investigations—I mean their possible application to the relief of human misery. Let one think and say what one will about the crudity and intellectual barbarism of much of the philosophizing of our contemporary nerve-doctors; let one dislike as much as one may please the thoroughly materialistic attitude of mind which many of them show; still, their work, as a whole, is sanctified by its positive, practical fertility. Theorems about the unity of the thinking principle will always be, as they always have been, barren; but observations of fact lead to new issues in infinitum. And when one reflects that nothing less than the cure of insanity—that direst of human afflictions—lies possibly at the end of such inquiries as those which M. Janet and his confrères are beginning, one feels as if the disdain which some spiritualistic psychologists exhibit for such researches were very poorly placed. The way to redeem people from barbarism is not to stand aloof and sneer at their awkward attempts, but to show them how to do the same things better. Ordinary hypnotic suggestion is proving itself immensely fertile in the therapeutic field; and the subtler knowledge of sub-conscious states which we are now gaining will certainly increase our powers in this direction many fold. Who knows how many pathological states (not simply nervous and functional ones, but organic ones too) may be due to the existence of some perverse buried fragment of consciousness obstinately nourishing its narrow memory or delusion, and thereby inhibiting the normal flow of life? A concrete case will best exhibit what I mean. On the whole, it is more deeply suggestive to me than anything in Janet’s book.

The story is that of a young girl of nineteen named Marie, who came to the hospital in an almost desperate condition, with monthly convulsive crises, chill, fever, delirium, attacks of terror, etc., lasting for days, together with various shifting anæsthesias and contractures all the time, and a fixed blindness of the left eye. At first M. Janet, divining no particular psychological factor in the case, took little interest in the patient, who remained in the hospital for seven months, and had all the usual courses of treatment applied, including water-cure and ordinary hypnotic suggestions, without the slightest good effect.

She then fell into a sort of despair, of which the result was to make M. Janet try to throw her into a deeper trance, so as to get, if possible, some knowledge of her remoter psychologic antecedents, and of the original causes of the disease, of which, in the waking state and in ordinary hypnotism, she could give no definite account. He succeeded even beyond his expectations; for both her early memories and the internal memory of her crises returned in the deep somnambulism, and she explained three things: Her periodical chill, fever, and delirium were due to a foolish immersion of herself in cold water at the age of thirteen. The chill, fever, etc., were consequences which then ensued; and now, years later, the experience then stamped in upon the brain for the first time was repeating itself at regular intervals in the form of an hallucination undergone by the sub-conscious self, and of which the primary personality only experienced the outer results. The attacks of terror were accounted for by another shocking experience. At the age of sixteen she had seen an old woman killed by falling from a height; and the sub-conscious self, for reasons best known to itself, saw fit to believe itself present at this experience also whenever the other crises came on. The hysterical blindness of her left eye had the same sort of origin, dating back to her sixth year, when she had been forced, in spite of her cries, to sleep in the same bed with another child, the left half of whose face bore a disgusting eruption. The result was an eruption on the same parts of her own face, which came back for several years before it disappeared entirely, and left behind it an anæsthesia of the skin and the blindness of the eye.

So much for the origin of the poor girl’s various afflictions. Now for the cure! The thing needed was, of course, to get the sub-conscious personality to leave off having these senseless hallucinations. But they had become so stereotyped and habitual that this proved no easy task to achieve. Simple commands were fruitless; but M. Janet at last hit upon an artifice, which shows how many resources the successful mind-doctor must possess. He carried the poor Marie back in imagination to the earlier dates. It proved as easy with her as with many others when entranced, to produce the hallucination that she was again a child, all that was needed being an impressive affirmation to that effect. Accordingly M. Janet, replacing her in this wise at the age of six, made her go through the bed-scene again, but gave it a different dénouement. He made her believe that the horrible child had no eruption and was charming, so that she was finally convinced, and caressed without fear this new object of her imagination. He made her re-enact the scene of the cold immersion, but gave it also an entirely different result. He made her live again through the old woman’s accident, but substituted a comical issue for the old tragical one which had made so deep an impression. The sub-conscious Marie, passive and docile as usual, adopted these new versions of the old tales; and was apparently either living in monotonous contemplation of them or had become extinct altogether when M. Janet wrote his book. For all morbid symptoms ceased as if by magic. “It is five months,” our author says, “since these experiments were performed. Marie shows no longer the slightest mark of hysteria. She is well; and, in particular, has grown quite stout. Her physical aspect has absolutely changed.” Finally, she is no longer hypnotizable, as often happens in these cases when the health returns.

The mind-curers and Christian scientists, of whom we have lately heard so much, unquestionably get, by widely different methods, results, in certain cases, no less remarkable than this. The ordinary medical man, if he believes the facts at all, dismisses them from his attention with the cut-and-dried remark that they are “only effects of the imagination.” It is the great merit of these French investigators, and of Messrs. Myers, Gurney, and the “psychical researchers,” that they are for the first time trying to read some sort of a definite meaning into this vaguest of phrases. Little by little the meaning will grow more precise. It seems to me a very great step to have ascertained that the secondary self, or selves, coexist with the primary one, the trance-personalities with the normal one, during the waking state. But just what these secondary selves may be, and what are their remoter relations and conditions of existence, are questions to which the answer is anything but clear. My own decided impression is that M. Janet’s generalizations are based on too limited a number of cases to cover the whole ground. He would have it that the secondary self is always a symptom of hysteria, and that the essential fact about hysteria is the lack of synthetizing power and consequent disintegration of the field of consciousness into mutually exclusive parts. The secondary and the primary consciousnesses added together can, on M. Janet’s theory, never exceed the normally total consciousness of the individual This theory certainly expresses pretty well the facts which have fallen under its author’s own observation, though even here, if this were a critical article, I might have something to say. But there are trances which obey another type. I know a non-hysterical woman who, in her trances, knows facts which altogether transcend her possible normal consciousness, facts about the lives of people whom she never saw or heard of before. I am well aware of all the liabilities to which this statement exposes me, and I make it deliberately, having practically no doubt whatever of its truth. My own impression is that the trance-condition is an immensely complex and fluctuating thing, into the understanding of which we have hardly begun to penetrate, and concerning which any very sweeping generalization is sure to be premature. A comparative study of trances and sub-conscious states is meanwhile of the most urgent importance for the comprehension of our nature. It often happens that scattered facts of a certain kind float around for a long time, but that nothing scientific or solid comes of them until some man writes just enough of a book to give them a possible body and meaning. Then they shoot together, as it were, from all directions, and that book becomes the centre of crystallization of a rapid accumulation of new knowledge. Such a book I am sure that M. Janet’s ought to be; and I confidently prophesy that anyone who may be induced by this article to follow the path of study in which it is so brilliant a pioneer will reap a rich reward.


  1. M. Binet has contributed some of his facts to the Chicago Open Court for 1559.
  2. M. Janet seems rather to incline to the former view, though suggestion may at times be exclusively responsible, as when he produced what was essentially the same phenomenon by pointing an orange-peel held out on the end of a long stick at the parts!
  3. This whole phenomenon shows how an idea which remains itself below the threshold of a certain conscious self may occasion associative effects therein. The skin-sensations, unfelt by the patient’s primary consciousness, awaken, nevertheless, their usual visual associates therein.