Suggestion over distances

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Pierre Janet, a young doctor who would later become a Professor at the Medical College of France, assumed the role of defending the legitimacy of hypnosis as a therapeutic tool, emphasizing an approach which he called mental suggestion.

Invited by a colleague, Dr. Gilbert, to investigate the case of a young peasant woman named Leonie, who apparently could be hypnotized from a distance, Janet ended up performing over twenty-two experiments similar to the one described below:

"Here is a list of precautions taken to ensure the validity of the test:

1. The exact time of the intervention is to be drawn at random.

2. Dr. Gibert will be informed of the time only a few minutes beforehand, at which point members of the observing team will proceed to the subject's domicile.

3. Neither the subject or anyone residing within one kilometer of the subject's domicile will have any prior knowledge of the time or type of experiment that is to be carried out. In addition, neither myself nor any member of the observing team are to enter the subject's domicile in order to verify whether she is asleep or not.

"It was decided to repeat an experiment previously conducted by Cagliostro: hypnotize the subject from a distance and have her traverse the city in order to locate Dr. Gibert.

"At eight thirty in the evening, Dr. Gibert consented to perform the test. The exact hour was drawn from a hat: the mental intervention was to begin at five minutes to nine, and continue for fifteen minutes, i.e. until ten after nine. At that time no one was at the subject's domicile excepting Leonie and the cook, Madame B., who knew nothing whatsoever of our intentions. Being alone in the house, the two women had decided to get comfortable in the living room, where they amused themselves by playing the piano.

"We reached the vicinity of the subject's domicile shortly after nine o'clock. Outside all was quiet, the street deserted. Without causing any commotion, our party split up into two groups in order to survey the premises more effectively.

"At nine twenty-five I saw the silhouette of a person appear at the door leading to the garden. It was Leonie. I remained hidden in the shadows, where I could watch and hear without being seen. But there was nothing further, either to see or hear - after standing in the doorway for a moment the girl closed the door behind her and disappeared into the garden.

"(At this point Dr. Gibert gave up his efforts to communicate with the girl. Apparently, concentrating so hard for so long had caused him to fall into a faint. It was nine thirty-five when he regained consciousness.)

"At nine thirty the girl reappeared at the door. This time she marched straight out into the street, without any hesitation whatsoever. She appeared to be looking for someone, and seemed in a hurry, as if she were late for an appointment and absolutely had to reach her destination. The group watching from the street had no time to warn either myself or my partner, Dr. Myers. Hearing hurried footsteps approaching, we followed the girl, who seemed not to be aware of her surroundings. In any case, she made no sign of having recognized or even seen us.

"When she reached the rue du Bard she slowed down and seemed to falter. She stopped for a moment, swaying from side to side, as if she was about to fall over. Then she started walking again. The time was nine thirty-five (we learned later that it was precisely at nine thirty-five that Dr. Gibert had regained consciousness and resumed concentrating). The girl walked quickly, taking no notice of her surroundings, or of the group of observers following her.

"It took about ten minutes for us all to reach Dr. Gibert's house. Thinking the experiment had failed, and surprised that we had not yet returned, Dr. Gibert had just set out to find us when he encountered the sleepwalking girl. She seemed not to recognize him. Completely absorbed in her hypnotic trance, she entered the house and hurried up the stairs, followed closely by us all. Dr. Gibert was about to enter his examining room, but I took his arm and led him to another room across the hall.

"The girl, who now appeared very agitated, was looking everywhere, bumping into objects and observers, feeling nothing. She wandered into the examining room, stumbling into furniture, and repeating in a mournful tone, 'Where is he? Where is Dr. Gibert?'

"During this time Dr. Gibert remained seated in a chair in the room across the hall, without making the slightest movement. The girl entered the room and walked right past him, almost touching him, but in her excitement she did not recognize him. It then occurred to Dr. Gibert to resume his mental communication with her, in order to draw her to him. As soon as he did (this might have been pure coincidence) she turned around, seeming to recognize him all at once, and seized his hands. 'I found you!' she cried. 'Oh, I'm so happy I found you at last!' She was overcome with such joy that she actually jumped up and down on a couch and began clapping her hands."

This report, submitted by Professor Ochorowicz of the University of Lemberg (the excerpt is from his book 'Concerning Mental Suggestionpublished in 1889) concerns one of the first experiments in which Dr. Janet participated. Janet published his own account in 1885. Sixteen out of a total of twenty-two experiments were considered successful. Janet stated: "Can we believe that the results obtained during these sixteen experiments were due to pure coincidence? That would not be reasonable. Is it possible, then, that involuntary suggestions were made by witnesses or others directly or indirectly involved? All I can say, and this I declare in perfect sincerity, is that we took all possible precautions to prevent that from happening. Our conclusion, therefore, is the following: these phenomena should be reproduced and studied in greater depth."

And yet, after a couple of years of continued interest, no more was heard about the experiments. Janet himself became more involved in studying hypnosis as part of a larger field which he called 'psychological medicine,' an early attempt to understand and treat what have come to be known as psychosomatic disorders.

A celebrated physiologist and Nobel prize winner, Charles Richet, had been studying suggestion over distances since 1873. He pursued the experiments begun by Janet and Gibert on the young woman LĂ©onie, then abandoned this line of investigation when he developed what was to become the most important research tool in the study of psychology and parapsychology - the application of statistical data and probability curves to paranormal experiments conducted on subjects in a waking state.

Why did he abandon pure hypnosis? No doubt because of the vagaries of the procedure, and the fierce opposition he encountered among members of the medical profession and other men of science towards anything that had to do with the paranormal. This opposition, as John W. Campbell noted, was democratic in nature: society was refusing to admit that all men were, perhaps, not created equal, since only one subject out of a hundred seemed gifted with paranormal abilities while under hypnosis. By studying normal subjects in a waking state, he could avoid wrangling with detractors of hypnosis, and at the same time hopefully offer irrefutable proof of the existence of telepathy and other parapsychological faculties, at least in their latent state, in all individuals.

Richet himself had occasional premonitory dreams, and thought they might represent the first stage in some kind of gradual process of human evolution. With this in mind, he devoted all his efforts to the study of parapsychology.

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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.

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