Certain hypnotic experiments throw light upon this difficulty, which also occurs in connection with some spiritualist phenomena. It has for long been disputed whether mental processes can produce bleeding into the skin or blisters upon it. Such bleedings were the ‘stigmata’ representing the marks of the Crucifixion, that have been described as appearing upon the bodies of religious devotees, and they have been thought to be real and due in some way to auto-suggestion.
Hysterical subjects often show the production of raised wheals if the skin is lightly stroked with the finger-nail or the head of a needle; one can write a word upon the skin and watch it become visible. This is purely a circulatory phenomenon, but experiments have been made under hypnosis in which the skin is touched with a pencil and the subject is told that he is being burnt and that a blister will follow. Success has been claimed for this experiment, but one source of error is hard to exclude. If a blister appears the next day, and the subject is known to be an honest man with no end to gain by cooking the experiment, an observer might be inclined to accept the result as due to the direct influence of suggestion; but the subject is, by the terms of the experiment, in a state of dissociation, and in the dissociated personality exists the suggestion that a blister should appear. In addition there exists the desire to carry out the wishes of the hypnotist, and since this is out of the control of the main personality whose honesty is accepted as sufficient guarantee against fraud he must nevertheless be regarded as willing and eager to produce a blister.
Milne Bramwell quotes a case in which suggestion, under stringent conditions, apparently produced blistering: the subject’s arm was then enveloped in bandages in which sheets of paper were incorporated, and after further suggestion and a night’s rest it was found that, although the subject had been watched continually, she had succeeded in penetrating the bandages with a hair-pin. A further experiment, in which the arm was enveloped in plaster of Paris bandage, gave a negative result. This experiment is very valuable; it does not disprove the possibility of producing blisters by suggestion, but it does prove that if we judge the Dissociate by ordinary standards we expose ourselves to victimisation. If I were the subject of such an experiment I should certainly require that every precaution should be taken to prevent me from producing a blister by mechanical means.
[Footnote 17: _Hypnotism_, 3rd ed., 1913. Wm. Rider & Son.]
Now let us consider the signs of the disease. In the chapter on suggestion I showed that in a limb paralysed by hysteria the loss of sensitiveness, the so-called hysterical anæsthesia, resulted from a desire on the part of the patient that the doctor should find what he was looking for, and this desire I called receptivity. The receptivity is at first necessary to keep up the deception, for the patient does not know the symptoms of the simulated disease, and must always be on the alert to pick up hints. When dissociation occurs, the receptivity finds its place in the split-off stream, forming part of the mechanism for keeping up the symptoms; but having passed out of the control of the main personality it tends to become exaggerated and misdirected.
Hence the hysteric becomes very suggestible and all kinds of fantastic symptoms may be produced. If the resistance to recovery is not great then suggestion may even remove symptoms, just as it created them; and if we now turn back to Babinski’s definition we shall find that it fits into our theories, although it concerns itself with only a restricted view of the subject.
Since one object of the dissociated stream is to maintain the symptoms, it follows that any method that will remove them may abolish the dissociation, though still leaving the patient with those desires and conflicts, conscious or unconscious, which preceded their appearance and which form the so-called ‘hysterical predisposition’. This explains the success which has followed the employment of exorcism, Christian Science, nasty drugs, cold water, electric shocks, persuasion, or rest cures; and to this list, I hasten to admit, some people would add treatment according to the method of bringing repressions into the light of consciousness.
I have tried to make clear the subject of hysteria for the following reasons: There is at the present day no school of believers desirous of attributing supernatural causes to the disease, and therefore I am spared the task of attacking a mass of credulity; and, further, the mental processes are identical with those shown in other phenomena concerning which credulity is still powerful. I can now proceed to show how the theory of dissociation explains the production of the spuriously supernatural by the apparently honest.