EXPERIMENTS, DOMESTIC AND OTHER
There are certain parlour tricks which have an attractive flavour of the occult and sometimes form an introduction to it. Most of us have seen children mystified by a thought-reading performance depending upon a more or less obvious code, but sometimes we are treated to one which is more genuine.
The procedure is something like this: One person goes out of the room and the others decide that on his return he shall perform an action such as unlacing a shoe or pushing on the hands of a clock to a certain hour. Then he returns and, according to arrangement, may be blindfolded or not, and one of the party may or may not place a hand upon his shoulder; the audience next ‘concentrate their minds’ upon what the performer is to do, whilst he ‘makes his mind a blank’.
Sometimes success follows, and the result is taken as proof of ‘thought-reading’.
Now let us examine the process in the light of what we have assumed in previous chapters. To make the mind a blank, if it means anything, means to cut off the stream of consciousness, and we straightway have our old friend a dissociation. The performer is then in a state resembling hypnosis, and, as we have seen before, in hypnosis the senses may be abnormally sharpened. This sharpness, together with the receptivity of the subject, makes him ready to pick up the faintest signs, and in the case where the hand of a second person, also concentrating his mind on the desired action and therefore to a certain extent dissociated, is placed upon his shoulder, there are easily conveyed enough pressure-signs to indicate when he is going right or wrong.
When there is no actual contact other indications than touch are not lacking. The passing expressions of pleasure or disappointment on the faces of the audience, the sigh of relief when a wrong step is retraced, the glances at the object to be handled, are all picked up by the dissociated stream whilst the main personality of the subject is for the time almost obliterated. We must bear in mind that all the audience are concentrating their minds, that concentration of mind upon an action is likely to be followed by movements corresponding to the action, and that no one is watching his neighbour or suspects any such unconscious indications.
The thought-reading is not performed without prolonged pauses, the subject making several halting steps before the right one is taken. It reminds one of the manner in which the medium feels his way to the thoughts of his victims.
Domestic blindfolding is not very efficient, and may be of use to the subject by allowing him to look without the direction of his glances being noticed.
So this thought-reading is reduced to the children’s game of ‘Hot and Cold’, but instead of fully conscious people producing and receiving sounds we have a group of ‘concentrated’ (that is, partly dissociated) streams sending out indications to be picked up by a hypersensitive dissociated stream.
The subject is often exhausted by his efforts, and the performance is not likely to be of benefit to any one who misinterprets it. The human mind contains enough errors without producing a voluntary dissociation further to deceive its owner.
There is one well-known experiment the significance of which is generally missed. If the reader is not familiar with it let him follow these directions and he will probably find that he is possessed of some amount of so-called hypnotic power. Having procured a weight fastened to a short cord (a heavy watch with its chain will serve), direct a friend to sit in a chair and, resting his elbows upon his knees, to hold the cord by the fingers of both hands so that the weight is suspended between his separated knees. Let him keep his eyes upon the weight and assure him that it will begin to swing from knee to knee. The weight, at first indecisively wobbling, will soon take on the swing you describe, which will gradually increase in amplitude. I have heard people ascribe this motion to ‘magnetic power’–blessed words that mean nothing, but serve to give an appearance of reason to an explanation that should satisfy no one.
The real cause of the motion is shown if you experiment with a fresh subject, who must know nothing of the first trial. Ask him to hold the weight in the same manner but, standing in front of him, tell him the weight will swing towards you (that is, at right angles to its swing in the first experiment). If you show sufficient assurance you will probably succeed in both experiments, but your chance of success is less than that of the man who has seen the trick and accepts the ‘magnetic’ explanation, for his belief in the physical cause of the phenomenon will give him a natural assurance which is lacking in one who realises that the weight swings in a certain direction because the agent is made to believe that it will.