Popular Science Monthly/Volume 10/February 1877/Physiology of Mind-Reading
|←Nature and Life in Lapland|| Popular Science Monthly Volume 10 February 1877 (1877)
Physiology of Mind-Reading
By George Miller Beard
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IN the history of science, and notably in the history of physiology and medicine, it has often happened that the ignorant and obscure have stumbled upon facts and phenomena which, though wrongly interpreted by themselves, yet, when investigated and explained, have proved to be of the highest interest. The phenomena of the emotional trance, for example, had been known for ages, but not until Mesmer forced them on the scientific world, by his public exhibitions and his ill-founded theory of animal magnetism, did they receive any serious and intelligent study. Similarly the general fact that mind may so act on body as to produce involuntary and unconscious muscular motion was by no means unrecognized by physiologists, and yet not until the "mind-reading" excitement two years ago was it demonstrated that this principle could be utilized for the finding of any object or limited locality on which a subject, with whom an operator is in physical connection, concentrates his mind.
Although, as I have since ascertained, experiments of this kind had been previously performed in a quiet, limited way in private circles, and mostly by ladies, yet very few had heard of or witnessed them; they were associated in the popular mind very naturally with "mesmerism" or "animal magnetism," and by some were called "mesmeric games." The physiological explanation had never been even suggested; hence the first public exhibitions of Brown, with his brilliantly successful demonstrations of his skill in this direction, were a new revelation to physiologists as well as to the scientific world in general.
The method of mind-reading introduced by Brown, which is but one of many methods that have been or may be used, is as follows:
The operator, usually blindfolded, firmly applies the back of the hand of the subject to be operated on against his own forehead, and with his other hand presses lightly upon the palm and fingers of the subject's hand. In this position he can detect, if sufficiently expert, the slightest movement, impulse, tremor, tension, or relaxation, in the arm of the subject. He then requests the subject to concentrate his mind on some locality in the room, or on some hidden object, or on some one of the letters of the alphabet suspended along the wall. The operator, blindfolded, marches sometimes very rapidly with the subject up and down the room or rooms, up and down stairways, or out-of-doors through the streets, and, when he comes near the locality on which the subject is concentrating his mind, a slight impulse or movement is communicated to his hand by the hand of the subject. This impulse is both involuntary and unconscious on the part of the subject. He is not aware, and is unwilling, at first, to believe, that he gives any such impulse; and yet it is sufficient to indicate to the expert and practised operator that he has arrived near the hidden object, and then, by a close study and careful trials in different directions, upward, downward, and at various points of the compass, he ascertains precisely the locality, and is, in many cases, as confident as though he had received verbal communication from the subject. Even though the article on which the subject concentrates his mind be very small, it can quite frequently be picked out from a large number, provided the subject be a good one, and the operator sufficiently skillful. The article is sometimes found at once, with scarcely any searching, the operator going to it directly, without hesitation, and with a celerity and precision that, at first sight, and until the physiological explanation is understood, justly astonish even the most thoughtful and skeptical. These experiments, it should be added, are performed in public or private, and on subjects of unquestioned integrity, in the presence of experts, and under a combination of circumstances and conditions for the elimination of sources of error that make it necessary to rule out at once the possibility of collusion.
The alternative is, therefore, between the actual transfer of thought from subject to operator, as has been claimed, and the theory of unconscious muscular motion and relaxation on the part of the subject, the truth of which I have demonstrated by numerous experiments.
One of the gentlemen with whom I have experimented, Judge Blydenberg, who began to test his powers directly after I first called public attention to the subject in New Haven, claims to succeed, even with the most intellectual persons, provided they fully comply with the conditions, and honestly and persistently concentrate their minds. One fact of interest, with regard to bis experiments, is the exceeding minuteness of the objects that he finds. A large number of the audience empty their pockets on the table, until it is covered with a medley of keys, knives, trinkets, and miscellaneous small objects. Out of them the subject selects a small seed a little larger than a pea, and even this the operator, after some searching, bits precisely.
One may take a large bunch of keys, throw them on the table, and he picks out the very one on which the subject concentrates his mind.
Another fact of interest in his experiments is that, if the subject thinks over a number of articles in different parts of the room, and, after some doubt and hesitation, finally selects some one, the operator will lead him, sometimes successively, to the different objects on which he has thought, and will wind up with the one that he finally selected. He also performs what is known as the "double test," which consists in taking the hand of a third party, who knows nothing of the hidden object, but who is connected with another party who does know, and who concentrates his mind upon it. The connection of these two persons is made at the wrist, and the motion is communicated from one to the other through the arms and hands. The "double test" has been regarded by some as an argument against the theory that this form of mind-reading was simply the utilizing of unconscious muscular motion on the part of the person operated upon.
This gentleman represents that the sensation of muscular thrill is very slight indeed, even with good subjects; and, in order to detect it, he directs his own mind as closely as possible to the hand of the subject.
In all these experiments, with all mind-readers the requirement for the subject to concentrate the mind on the locality agreed upon is absolute; if that condition is not fulfilled, nothing can be done, for the very excellent reason that, without such mental concentration, there will be no unconscious muscular tension or relaxation to guide the operator.
Experiments of the following kind I have made repeatedly with the above-named gentleman:
A dozen or more pins may be stuck about one inch or half an inch apart into the edge of a table: I concentrate my mind on any one of these pins, telling no one. The operator enters the room, gets the general direction of the object in the usual way (à la Brown), and, when he has come near to the row of pins, he will limit the physical connection to one of his index-fingers, pressing firmly against one of mine, and in this way he soon finds the head of the pin on which my mind has been concentrated. The only limitation of area in the that two objects should not be so near to each other that the finger of the operator strikes on both at once. When I began the study of this subject, I supposed, even after the true theory of the matter had become clear to me, that very small objects and narrow areas could not be found in this way. Subsequent experiments showed that this supposition was erroneous. In a wide hall, in the presence of a large audience, where the subject had the right to think of any object he chose, Brown once found, after considerable searching, so limited an area as a capital letter in the title of a newspaper pinned up on the wall and barely within reach. About an hour after, in the same place, he found a very small vial out of quite a large number ranged in a row. Although reasoning deductively from the known relations of mind to body, I had established conclusively to my own mind that the so-called mind-reading was really muscle-reading, yet I could not believe, until the above-named experiments had been made, and frequently repeated, that it was possible for even the most expert operator to find such small objects; and no physiologist, I am sure, would have believed such precision in these experiments conceivable until his general deductions had been many times verified, and supplemented by observations in which every source of error was guarded against.that can be found by a good mind-reader with a good subject is,
As already remarked, there are a variety of ways of making the physical connection between subject and operator. A lady with whom I am acquainted goes out of the room, and while she is absent an object is hidden. She returns, and two ladies, who know where the object is stand up beside her in the middle of the room and place both of their hands upon her body, one hand in front, the other behind; all three stand there for a moment, the two subjects who know where the object is, keeping their minds intensely concentrated on that locality. In a moment or so this lady who is to find the object moves off in the direction where it is, the other ladies with her still keeping their hands upon her, and in nearly all cases she finds it. This is accomplished by the unconscious muscular tension of the two ladies who know where the object is, acting upon the person of the lady who is seeking it.
This experiment I have repeated with a number of amateur performers, and in all cases with pretty uniform success. This method is easier, both to learn and to practise, than some of the others; it is also far less artistic, and is not at all adapted for the finding of very small localities. It illustrates, however, the general principle of mind acting on body producing muscular tension in the direction of the locality on which the thoughts are concentrated.
The relaxation, when the locality or its neighborhood is reached, is not so distinctly appreciated in this method of experimenting, which is sufficient, however, to enable the operator to get the right direction and to proceed until the corner or side of the room is reached; then, by a combination of manipulation and guess-work, she will, after a few trials, get hold of the precise object hidden, or locality thought of. When the operator and subject are connected by the methods practised by Brown, it is possible to detect also the relaxation when the locality is reached, and, guided by this, the master in the art knows just when and where to stop, and, in very many cases, feels absolutely sure that he is right, and with a good subject is no more liable to error than he would be to hear wrongly or imperfectly if directed by word of mouth.
The special methods of muscle-reading here described may be varied almost indefinitely, the only essential condition being, that the connection between the subject or subjects is of such a nature as to easily allow the sense of muscular tension or relaxation to be communicated. Instead of two subjects, there may be three, four, or half a dozen, or but one. With a number of subjects the chances of success are greater than with one, for the twofold reason that the united muscular tension of all will be more readily felt than that of but one, and because any single subject may be a bad one—that is one who is capable of muscular control—while among a number there will be very likely one or more good ones. For these two reasons, amateurs succeed in this latter method when they fail or succeed but imperfectly after the method of Brown.
A method frequently used, although it is not very artistic, consists in simply taking the hand of the subject and leading him directly, or, as is more likely to be the case, indirectly to the locality on which his mind is concentrated.
J. Stanley Grimes thus describes the performance of a mind-reader in Chicago: "I repeatedly witnessed similar performances with different experts in this branch and under circumstances where every element of error from intentional or unintentional collusion was rigidly excluded. At the request of the company the same young lady was again sent from the room and blindfolded, as on previous occasions. The gentleman requested the company to suggest anything they desired the subject should be willed to do, thus removing any possibility of a secret agreement to deceive between the parties. It was suggested that the young lady should be brought into the room and placed in a position with her face toward the north; that the gentleman should then place his fingers upon her shoulder, as before; that she should turn immediately to the right, facing the south, and proceed to a certain figure in the parlor-carpet; then turning to the west, she was to approach a sofa in a remote corner of the room, from which she should remove a small tidy, which she should take to the opposite side of the room, and place it upon the head of a certain young gentleman in the company; she was then to proceed to the extreme end of the parlor, and take a coin from the right vest-pocket of a gentleman, and return to the opposite side of the room, and place the coin in the left vest-pocket of another gentleman named; she was then to remove the tidy from the head of the gentleman upon whom it had been placed, and return it to the tête-à-tête where she originally found it.
"I must confess to no little surprise when I saw the young lady perform, with the most perfect precision, every minute detail, as above described, and with the most surprising alacrity; in fact, so quick were her motions that it was with the greatest difficulty that the gentleman could keep pace with the young lady's movements."
I have seen a performer—who, though one of the pioneers in this art, is far less skillful than many with whom I have experimented—take a hat from the head of a gentleman in a small private circle, and carry it across the room and put it on the head of another gentleman; take a book or any other object from one person to another; or go in succession to different pictures hanging on the wall, and perform other feats of a similar character, while simply taking hold of the wrist of the subject. In the experiment described by Mr. Grimes the subject placed three fingers of his right hand on the shoulder of the operator. Note the fact that in all these experiments direction and locality are all that the mind-reader finds; the quality of the object found, or indeed whether it be a movable object at all, or merely a limited locality, as a figure in the carpet or on the wall, is not known to the mind-reader until he picks it up or handles it: then if it be a small object, as a hat, a book, or coin, or tidy, he very naturally takes it and moves off with it in the direction indicated by the unconscious muscular tension of the subject, and leaves it where he is ordered by unconscious muscular relaxation. In the great excitement that attends these novel and most remarkable experiments the entranced audience fail to notice that the operator really finds nothing but direction and locality.
I have said that various errors of inference, as well as of observation, have been associated with these experiments. A young lady who had been quite successful as an amateur in this art was subjected by me to a critical analysis of her powers before a large private audience. She supposed that it was necessary for all the persons in the audience to concentrate their minds on the object as well as those whose hands were upon her. I proved by some decisive experiments, in which a comparison was made with what could be done by chance alone, that this was not necessary, and that the silent, unexpressed will of the audience had no effect on the operator, save certain nervous sensations created by the emotion of expectancy. Similarly, I proved that, when connected with the subjects by a wire, she could find nothing, although she experienced various subjective sensations, which she attributed to "magnetism," but which were familiar results of mind acting on body.
Another lady, who is quite successful in these experiments, thought it was necessary to hide keys, and supposed that "magnetism" had something to do with it. I told her that that was not probable, and tried another object, and found that it made no difference what the object was. She supposed that it was necessary that the object should be secreted on some person. I found that this also was not necessary. She does not always succeed in finding the exact locality at once, but in some cases she goes directly to it: she very rarely fails.
In order to settle the question beyond dispute whether unconscious muscular action was the sole cause of this success in finding objects, I made the following crucial experiments with this lady: Ten letters of the alphabet were placed on a piano, the letters being written on large pieces of paper. I directed her to see how many times she would get a letter which was in the mind of one of the observers in the room correctly by chance purely, without any physical touch. She tried ten times, and got it right twice. I then had her try ten experiments with the hand of the person operated on against the forehead of the operator, the hand of the operator lightly touching against the fingers of this hand, and the person operated on concentrating her mind all the while on the object, and looking at it. In ten experiments, tried this day, with the same letters, she was successful six times. I then tried the same number of experiments with a wire, one end being attached to the head or hand of the subject, and the other end to the head or hand of the operator. The wire was about ten feet long, and was so arranged—being made fast at the middle to a chair—that no unconscious muscular motion could be communicated through it from the person on whom she was operating. She was successful but once out of ten times. Thus we see that by pure chance she was successful twice out of ten times; by utilizing unconscious muscular action in the method of Brown she was successful six times out of ten. When connected by a wire she was less successful than when she depended on pure chance without any physical connection. In order still further to confirm this, I suggested to this lady to find objects with two persons touching her body in the manner we have above described. I told these two to deceive her, concentrating their minds on the object hidden, at the same time using conscious motion toward some other part of the room. These experiments, several times repeated, showed that it was possible to deceive her, just as we had found it possible to deceive other muscle-readers.
The question whether it is possible for one to be a good muscle reader and pretty uniformly successful, and yet not know just how the trick is done, must be answered in the affirmative. It is possible to become quite an adept in this art without suspecting, even remotely, the physiological explanation. The muscular tension necessary to guide the operator is but slight, and the sensation it produces may be very easily referred by credulous, uninformed operators to the passage of "magnetism;" and I am sure that with a number of operators on whom I have experimented this mistake is made. Some operators declare that they cannot tell how they find the locality, that their success is to them a mystery; these declarations are made by private, amateur performers who have no motive to deceive me, and whose whole conduct during the experiments confirms their statements. Other operators speak of thrills or vibrations which they feel, auras and all sorts of indefinable sensations. These manifold symptoms are purely subjective, the result of mind acting on the body, the emotions of wonder and expectancy developing various phenomena that are attributed to "animal magnetism," "mesmerism" or "electricity"—in short, to everything but the real cause. I have seen amateurs who declared that they experienced these sensations when trying without success to "read mind" through the wires, or perhaps without any connection with the subject whatever. Persons who are in the vicinity of galvanic batteries, even though not in the circuit, very often report similar experiences.
The facts which sustain the theory that the so-called mind-reading is really muscle-reading—that is, unconscious muscular tension and relaxation on the part of the subject—may be thus summarized:
1. Mind-readers are only able to find direction and locality, and, in order to find even these, they must be in physical connection with the subject, who must move his body or some portion of it—as the fingers, hand, or arm. If the subject sits perfectly still, and keeps his fingers, hand, and arm, perfectly quiet, so far as it is possible for him to do so by conscious effort, the mind-reader can never find even the locality on which the subject's mind is concentrated; he can only find the direction where the locality is. Mind-readers never tell what an object is, nor can they describe its color or appearance; locality, and nothing more definite than locality, is all they find. The object hidden may be a coin or a corn-cob, a pin or a pen-holder, an elephant's tusk or a diamond-pin—it is all the same. Again, where connection of the operator with the subject is made by a wire, so arranged that mass motion cannot be communicated, and the subject concentrates his mind ever so steadily, the operator does just what he would do by pure chance, and no more. This I have proved repeatedly with good subjects and expert performers.
2. The subject can successfully deceive the operator in various ways—first of all, by using muscular tension in the wrong direction, and muscular relaxation at the wrong locality, while at the same time the mind is concentrated in the right direction. To deceive a good operator in this way is not always easy, but after some practice the art can be acquired, and it is a perfectly fair test in all experiments of this nature.
Yet another way to deceive the mind-reader is, to think of some object or locality at a great distance from the room in which the experiments are made, and, if there be no ready means of exit, the performer will be entirely baffled. I am aware that some very surprising feats have been done in the way of finding distant out-of-door localities by muscle-readers, but in these cases there has usually been an implied understanding that the search was to be made out-of-doors; muscle readers have thus taken their subject up and down stairs or from one room or hall into another, and out-of-doors until the house or locality was reached.
Another way in which deception may by practised is for the subject to select some object or locality on the person of the muscle-reader. This object may be a watch, or a pocket-book, or a pencil-case, or any limited region of his clothing, as a button, a cravat, or wristband. If such a selection be made, and the method of physical connection above described be used, the experiment will be a failure, provided the muscle-reader does not know or suspect that an object on his own person is to be chosen. Similarly, if the subject selects a locality on his own person, as one of the fingers or finger-nails of the hand that connects with the muscle-reader. When such tests are used, there is not, so to speak, any leverage for the tension of the arm toward the locality on which the mind is concentrated, and the muscle-reader either gets no clew, or else one that misleads him.
3. When a subject, who has good control over his mental and muscular movements, keeps the arm connected with the operator perfectly stiff, even though his mind be well concentrated on the hidden object, the operator cannot find either the direction or the locality. This is a test which those who have the requisite physical qualifications can sometimes fulfill without difficulty.
Here I may remark that the requirement to concentrate the mind on the locality and direction sought for all the time the search is being made is one that few, if any, can perfectly fulfill. Any number of distracting thoughts will go through the best-trained mind of one who, in company with a blindfolded operator, is being led furiously up and down aisles, halls, streets, and stairways, fearful each moment of stumbling or striking his head, and followed, it may be, by astonished and eager investigators. And yet these mental distractions do not seem to interfere with the success of the experiment unless the arm is kept studiously rigid, in which case nothing is found save by pure chance. The best subjects would appear to be those who have moderate power of mental concentration and slight control over their muscular movements. Credulous, wonder-loving subjects are sometimes partially entranced through the emotions of reverence and expectation; with subjects in this state, operators are quite sure to succeed. 4. The uncertainty and capriciousness of these experiments, even with expert operators, harmonize with the explanation here given. Even with good subjects all mind-readers do not uniformly succeed; there is but little certainty or precision to the average results of experiments, however skillfully performed. An evening's exhibition may be a series of successes or a series of failures according to the character of the subjects; and even in the successful tests the operator usually must try various directions and many localities, sometimes for ten or fifteen minutes, before he finds the locality sought for; cases where the operator goes at once in the right direction, stops at the right locality, and knows when he has reached it, are exceptional.
5. Many of those who become expert in this art are aware that they succeed by detecting slight muscular tension and relaxation on the part of the subject.
Some operators have studied the subject scientifically, and are able to analyze with considerable precision the different steps in the process. In the minds of many this fact alone is evidence adequate to settle the question beyond doubt.
6. A theoretical and explanatory argument is derived from the recent discovery of motor centres in the cortex of the brain.
I was repeating the experiments of Fritsch and Hitzig at the time when my attention was first directed to the remarkable exhibitions of Brown, and the results of my studies in the electrical irritation of the brains of dogs and rabbits suggested to me the true explanation of mind-reading before any opportunity had been allowed for satisfactory experiments.
The motto "when we think we move," which I have sometimes used to illustrate the close and constant connection of mind and body, seems to be justified by these experiments on the brain, and may assist those who wish to obtain a condensed statement of the physiology of mind-reading. Taking into full consideration the fact that all physiologists are not in full accord as to the interpretation to be given to these experiments, whether, for example, the phenomena are due to direct or reflex action, still it must be allowed, by all who study this subject experimentally, that thought-centres and muscle centres are near neighbors, if not identical. In all these experiments it should be observed there is no one muscle, there is no single group of muscles, through which this tension and relaxation are developed; it is the finger, the hand, the arm, or the whole body, according to the method employed. Among the various methods of making connection between the subject and operator are the following:
1. The back of the subject's hand is held firmly against the forehead of the operator, who, with his other hand, lightly touches the fingers of the subject's hand. (Brown.)
This is, undoubtedly, the most artistic of all known methods.
2. The hand of the operator loosely grasps the wrist of the subject. This is a very inartistic method, and yet great success is oftentimes attained by it.
3. One finger of the operator is applied to one finger of the subject, papillæ touching papillæ.
This is a modification of the first method; by it exceedingly small objects or localities are found.
4. The operator is connected in the usual way with a third party who does not know the locality thought of by the subject, but is connected with the subject by the wrist ("double test").
In this experiment, which astounded even the best observers, the unconscious muscular motion was communicated from the subject to the arm of the third party, and through the arm of the third party to the operator.
5. Two, three, or more subjects, who agree on the locality to be thought of, apply their hands to the body of the operator in front and behind.
This method is excellent for beginners, and the direction is easily found by it; but it is obviously not adapted for the speedy finding of small objects; it is frequently used by ladies.
6. The hand of the subject lightly rests on the shoulder of the operator.
In all these methods the operator is usually blindfolded, so that he may get no assistance from any other source than the unconscious muscular action of the subject.
The movements of the operator in these experiments may be either very slow, cautious, and deliberate, or rapid and reckless. Brown, in his public exhibitions, was very careful about getting the physical connection right, and then moved off very rapidly, sometimes in the right direction, sometimes in the wrong one, but frequently with such speed as to inconvenience the subject on whom he was operating. These rapid movements give greater brilliancy to public experiments and serve to entrance audiences, but they are not essential to success. They serve, no doubt, in many cases, to bewilder or partially entrance the subject, and thus to render him far more likely to be unconscious of his own muscular tension and relaxation through which the operator is guided.
The power of muscle-reading depends mainly, if not entirely, on some phase of the sense of touch. Dr. Hanbury Smith tells me that a certain maker of lancets in London had acquired great reputation for the superiority of his workmanship. Suddenly, there was a falling off in the character of the instrument that he sent out, and it was found that his wife, on whom he had depended to test the sharpness of the edge on her finder or thumb, had recently died.
That the blind acquire great delicacy of touch has long been known; Laura Bridgman is a familiar illustration. Dr. Carpenter states (although there are always elements of error through the unconscious assistance of other senses in cases of this kind) that Miss Bridgman recognized his brother, whom she had not met for a year, by the touch of the hand alone.
Every physician recognizes the fact of this difference of susceptibility to touch; and, in the diagnosis of certain conditions of disease, much depends on the tactus eruditus. I am not sure whether this delicacy of perception, by which muscle-reading is accomplished, is the ordinary sense of touch, that of contact, or of some of the special modifications of this sense. It is to physiologists and students of diseases of the nervous system a well-known fact that there are several varieties of sensibility—to touch, to temperature, to pressure or weight, and to pain—which, possibly, represent different rates or modes of vibration of the nerve-force.
The proportion of persons who can succeed in muscle-reading, by the methods here described, is likewise a natural subject of inquiry. Judging from the fact that, out of the comparatively few who have made any efforts in this direction, a large number have succeeded after very little practice, and some few, who have given the matter close attention, have acquired great proficiency, it is probable that the majority of people of either sex, between the ages of fifteen and fifty, could attain, if they chose to labor for it, under suitable instruction, a certain grade of skill as muscle-readers, provided, of course, good subjects were experimented with. It is estimated that about one in five or ten persons can be put into the mesmeric trance by the ordinary processes; and, under extraordinary circumstances, while under great excitement, and by different causes, every one is liable to be thrown into certain stages or forms of trance; the capacity for the trance-state is not exceptional; it is not the peculiar property of a few individuals—it belongs to the human race; similarly with the capacity for muscle-reading. The age at which this delicacy of touch is most marked is an inquiry of interest; experience, up to date, would show that the very young or the very old are not good muscle-readers. I have never known of one under fifteen years of age to study this subject; although it is conceivable that bright children, younger than that age, might have sufficient power of attention to acquire the art, certainly if they had good instruction in it.
In these mind-reading experiments, as indeed in all similar or allied experiments with living human beings, there are six sources of error, all of which must be absolutely guarded against if the results are to have any precise and authoritative value in science.
1. The involuntary and unconscious action of brain and muscle, including trance, in which the subject becomes a pure automaton. I have used the phrase "involuntary life" to cover all these phenomena of the system that appear independently of the will. The majority of those who studied the subject of mind-reading—even physicians and physiologists—failed through want of a proper understanding or appreciation of this side of physiology.
2. Chance and coincidences. Neglect of this source of error was the main cause of the unfortunate results of the wire and chain experiments with mind-readers.
3. Intentional deception on the part of the subject.
4. Unintentional deception on the part of the subject.
5. Collusion of confederates. To guard against all the above sources of error it is necessary for the experimenter himself to use deception.
6. Unintentional assistance of audience or bystanders.
When the muscle-reader performs before an enthusiastic audience, he is likely to be loudly applauded after each success; and, if the excitement be great, the applause, with shuffling and rustling, may begin before he reaches the right locality, while he is approaching it; when, on the other hand, he is far away from the locality, the audience will inform him by ominous silence. The performance thus becomes like the hide-and-seek games of children, where they cry "Warm!" as the blindfolded operator approaches the hidden object; "Hot!" as he comes close to it; and "Cold!" when he wanders far from it. Some of the apparent successes with the wire-test may be thus explained.
In regard to all the public exhibitions of muscle-readers, it should be considered that the excitement and eclat of the occasion contribute not a little to the success of the operator; the subjects grow enthusiastic—are partly entranced, it may be—become partners in the cause of the performer—and unconsciously aid him far more than they would do in a similar entertainment that was purely private. In a private entertainment of muscle-reading at which I was present, one of the subjects, while standing still, with his hands on the operator, actually took a step forward toward the locality on which his mind was concentrated, thus illustrating in a visible manner the process by which muscle-reading is made possible.
The subject under discussion, it will be observed, is to be studied both inductively and deductively. The general claim of mind or thought reading is disproved not by any such experiments as are here detailed, no matter how accurate or numerous they may be, but by reasoning deductively from the broad principle of physiology, that no human being has or can have any qualities different in kind from those that belong to the race in general. The advantage which one human being has over another—not excepting the greatest geniuses and the greatest monsters—is, and must be, of degree only. Mind-reading, in the usual meaning of the term, is a faculty that in any degree does not belong—indeed, it is never claimed that it belongs—to the human race; it cannot, therefore, belong to any individual. For one person to read the thoughts of another would be as much a violation or apparent violation of the laws of Nature as the demonstration of perpetual motion, the turning of iron into gold, or the rising of the sun in the west. Experiments such as here recorded, if made for the purpose of ascertaining whether certain persons have the power of reading thoughts, would be more than unnecessary; they would be exceedingly unscientific. Reasoning deductively also from the known laws of the involuntary life, the power to read muscles, in the method here described, is not only possible and probable, but inevitable. Everybody is a muscle-reader, although all are not capable of attaining the highest degrees of skill in the art.
The one fact, the only fact brought out by these experiments that could not be predicted from known laws of physiology, is the exceeding refinement to which muscle-reading can be carried, the minuteness of the localities that are found, and the rapidity with which, oftentimes, the results are obtained. This fact is of permanent value to science, a new and positive addition to the physiology of the involuntary life, and of vast suggestion in relation to the general subject of the interactions of mind and body in health and in disease.
An incidental fact impressed on my mind during these researches was the prevalence and the power of the belief in animal magnetism. This delusion may well he regarded as the witchcraft of the nineteenth century; its hand is everywhere—on the press and the pulpit, on all our literature, on science itself, even on physiology, to which its phenomena rightly belong, and by which they can be and are fully explained. It is a tyrant that rules over the whole realm of the seemingly mysterious; the success of the orator on the platform, and of the physician at the bedside, is attributed to its aid, as of old superior learning and skill were attributed to the occult forces of magic. It may be doubted whether any other false belief of our time has had a more serious influence in retarding the progress of right reasoning than this, since it blocks the doors of investigation and prejudges the case when investigations are made, stimulates the too common habit of making the emotions do the work of the intellect, and becomes a sort of foster-mother to other and allied delusions.
It was the universality of this belief in animal magnetism that made mind-reading popular, since it furnished a basis as broad as the wildest theorizer could wish, on which could be erected a limitless variety of hypotheses; and many who rejected intuitively the claim of direct supernatural aid were made happy by the equally false and untenable claim of literal conveyance of thought from subject to operator through the agency of a supposed magnetic fluid.
- In New Haven I saw Brown, before a large audience, march off rapidly through the aisle and find at once the person on whom the subject was concentrating his mind, although there was the privilege of selecting any one out of a thousand or more present.
- "Mysteries of the Head and Heart," p. 297.
- In Danielsonville, Connecticut, Brown, after an evening's exhibition in which his failures had been greater than usual (the intelligent committee having the matter in charge being prepared by previous discussion of the theory of unconscious muscular motion), took a subject, and led him from the hotel in the darkness through the streets, to some rather out-of-the-way building on which the subject had fixed his mind. A somewhat similar exploit is recorded of Corey, a performer in Detroit.
- The popular theory to account for these failures is the weariness or exhaustion of the operator; but both in New York and in New Haven it was observed that Brown met with his most brilliant successes in the latter part of the evening, the reason being that he happened then to have better subjects.
- From an editorial in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal (September 23, 1875), referring to the mind-reading exhibitions, and accepting the explanation here given, I make the following extract:
"The whole performance seems to us to furnish good illustrations of one or two well-known principles of great physiological interest. Of these the most important is one that finds at once support and application in the modern doctrine of the nature of aphasia and kindred disorders; namely, that the thought, the conscious mental conception, of an act, differs from the voluntary impulse necessary to the performance of that act only in that it corresponds to a fainter excitation of nervous centres in the cortex cerebri, which in both cases are anatomically identical.
"Thus, in certain forms of aphasia the power to think in words is lost at the same time with the power of speech. Some persons think definitely only when they think aloud, and it would readily be believed in the case of children and uneducated persons that the ability to read would often be seriously interfered with if they were not permitted to read aloud. Similarly, a half-premeditated act of any kind slips often into performance before its author is aware of the fact. Further, there is reason to think, from the experiments of Hitzig, that these same centres may be excited by the stimulus of electricity so as to call out some of the simpler coordinated movements of the muscles on the opposite side of the body.
"Applying, now, this principle to the case in hand, it will be evident that for the person experimented with to avoid giving 'muscular hints,' of either a positive or a negative kind, would be nearly impossible."
- Every horse that is good for anything is a muscle-reader; he reads the mind of his driver through the pressure on the bit, and by detecting tension and relaxation knows when to go ahead, when to stop, and when and which way to turn, though not a word of command is uttered.