Popular Science Monthly/Volume 50/February 1897/Plural States of Being

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PLURAL STATES OF BEING.[1]
By ALFRED BINET.

THE variations of personality found in diseased subjects take on a great number of forms, of which, the phenomenon resembling the presence of two or more personalities in the same individual — or "multiple personality" — is the subject of our present special study. It is common in hysteria, and the hysterical cases are those which have been most adequately investigated. These cases are often described as cases of somnambulism. In popular usage somnambulism is the state of those who rise in the night and perform automatic and even intelligent acts without waking. They dress themselves, perhaps, resume their day's work, solve a problem to which they had vainly sought the solution before, then return to bed and to sleep again; the next morning they have no memory of having been up in the night. Indeed, they are often much surprised to see a piece of work now finished which had been unfinished the evening before. Or they walk on the roof or perform some other equally startling feat. Authors are not as yet entirely agreed upon the nature of this sleep-walking, but the general tendency of the day is to admit that it covers a mass of irregular phenomena which resemble one another in appearance only, being really quite distinct in nature. In these phenomena we may see an example of double personality. These noctambulists are two persons. The person who rises in the night is entirely distinct from the one who is awake during the day, since the latter has no knowledge or memory of anything that has happened during the night. But it is not possible to make an adequate analysis of this state; the elements are too obscure.

Another form of natural somnambulism is "daytime" somnambulism, or vigilambulism, and concerns hysterical patients who possess, besides their normal and regular life, another psychological existence or second state, so to speak, of which they retain no memory in their normal condition. The peculiar characteristic of this second state is that it constitutes a complete psychological existence; the subject lives the everyday life, his mind is alive to all ideas and perceptions, and he is not delirious. Uninformed persons would never know that the subject is in a state of somnambulism.

The best examples that can be cited of the somnambulism that we have just defined are found in observations, now old, made by Azam, Dufay, and other physicians. These observations are to-day well known and trite. They have been published and analyzed in a number of medical journals, and even in some literary ones.

The state of somnambulism is artificially induced in hypnotism, which may be brought about in a large variety of ways, in all of which there are reasons for supposing the psychological causes play the larger part. When one now comes to define somnambulism from the psychological point of view he sees at once that it constitutes a new mode of mental existence. The old mesmerists were quite right when they described it as a second personality.

Two fundamental elements constitute personality — memory and character. In the latter respect, as to character, induced somnambulism is not perhaps always clearly distinguishable from the waking state. It frequently happens that the somnambulist does not relinquish the character that he had before he was put to sleep. The reasons are manifold. This does not, however, hold for the second element of personality — memory. It has long been said that memory supplies the chief sign by which the new state may be distinguished from the normal state. The somnambulist shows, in fact, a curious modification in the range of his memory; the same regular phenomena of amnesia may be produced in him as occur in the spontaneous variations of personality.

Two propositions sum up the principal modifications of memory which accompany induced hypnotic somnambulism; first, the subject recalls during his waking state none of the events which happened during somnambulism; and second, on the other hand, when put in the somnambulistic state he may remember not only the previous somnambulistic states, but also events belonging to his waking state. It follows that memory attains its maximum extent in somnambulism, since it then embraces two psychological existences at once, as the normal memory never does. It may even be remarked that the somnambulist, when he endeavors to recollect certain particulars, has better memory than the same person awake. Gurney has shown, moreover, from studies of hysterical patients, that somnambulistic states may persist in the waking life; that the somnambulistic ego, the second condition, is not always completely effaced when the waking state returns, but survives, coexists with normal thought, and gives rise to complex phenomena of division of consciousness.

A second form of the phenomenon of double personality is the coexistence of the two egos, which is presented in two cases. The first is hysterical insensibility. If a part of a person's body is insensible, lie is not aware of what happens to it ; and, on the other hand, the nervous centers in relation with this insensible region may continue to act, as is the case in hysteria. The result is that certain actions, more often simple, but sometimes very complicated, can be performed subconsciously by a hysterical patient; further, these actions may have a psychical nature, and show intellectual processes distinct from those of the subject, thus constituting a second ego, which coexists with the first.

A second condition that may occasion the division of consciousness is the concentration of attention on a single thing. The result of this state of concentration is that the mind is absorbed to the exclusion of other things, and to such a degree insensible that the way is opened for automatic actions; and these actions, becoming more complicated, as in the preceding case, may assume a psychical nature and establish intelligences of a parasitic kind, existing side by side with the normal personality, which is not aware of them.

The real nature of hysterical anæsthesia has long been misapprehended, and it has been compared to common anæsthesia from organic causes, as, for example, from the interruption of the afferent nerve tracts. This way of considering it should be completely abandoned, for we now know that hysterical anæsthesia is not a real local insensibility, but an insensibility due to unconsciousness, to mental disintegration; in short, it is psychical insensibility, arising simply because the personality of the patient is impaired, or even entirely divided.

The existence of unconscious phenomena in the case of hysterical patients need not astonish us, for each one of us may, if we watch ourselves with sufficient care, detect in ourselves a series of automatic actions, performed involuntarily and unconsciously. To walk, to sit down, to turn the page of a book — these are actions which we perform without thinking of them. But it is difficult to study unconscious activity in a normal man, for this activity shows itself chiefly in routine, in formed habits, kept going by repetition: in general, it does little new. Sometimes it seems to judge and reason, but these are old judgments and reasons which it repeats. At all events, it seldom acquires any considerable development, and almost never, one might say, amounts to the dignity of an independent personality. The conditions of study are much more favorable when we apply ourselves to hysterical subjects.

Among these unconscious phenomena are those known as movements of repetition, and these are often provoked by suggestion — as when an order or suggestion is given to a person awake or in a somnambulistic state to imitate all movements that are performed before him, or to continue indefinitely the regular movement that is imparted to a part of his body. It is supposed, for the explanation of this phenomenon, that the continuation of a movement may occur, either from obedience or merely because an image has been conjured up in the mind of the patient, this image being the source of the movements. An aneesthetic hand is made to write a letter; the movement of this hand stimulates somewhere in the mind of the unconscious subject the motor images; these images are not inhibited by anything; they spend themselves in action, and the movement is repeated. This involves no obedience; it is a much more simple and elementary psychological phenomenon. These explanations may possibly both hold good, each for different persons and for different conditions of experiments.

The same effects as in anæsthesia may be produced in the state of distraction. Attention — an effort of the mind and of the entire organism which increases the intensity of certain states of consciousness — if brought to bear on a perception, makes it more swift, more exact, more detailed. This adaptation of all the available force of the organism converging in a single event, which may be a sensation, an image, a sentiment, etc., produces a temporary state of monöideism. It is accompanied by distraction. One can not pay attention to certain things without being distracted from others. The likeness of distraction and anæsthesia has been mentioned. A hysterical patient whose arm is insensible finds himself in very nearly the same state of mind as if he never thought of his arm, or if he were indifferent to it, or as if he had concentrated the power of his attention on other things. So we may try experiment with it: we may concentrate this hysterical patient's attention on a certain point and examine the special effects of the division of consciousness produced by distraction. The ease with which the attention of these patients can be distracted is almost incredible. Profiting by the state produced, one has only to approach from behind and pronounce some words in a low voice to place himself in relation with the unconscious person. The sentence is not heard by the principal personality, whose mind is elsewhere, but the unconscious person hears it and acts upon it. The identity of the secondary ego constituted during anæsthesia or distraction with the somnambulistic ego has been established in experiments by M. Paul Janet.

While the two consciousnesses are separate from a certain point of view, they may be reunited from another point of view and may retain both relations. The phenomena are very complicated and very interesting for psychology. The relations of two consciousnesses may take two distinct forms — those of antagonism and those of united action. When they are in collaboration we have the two fundamental facts of the representation of the movement before it is performed and the perception of the movement as it is performed, or the model and the copy states of consciousness. These are illustrated in a remarkable way in automatic handwriting or the performance of graphic movements which are unknown to the principal consciousness and in a great variety of other movements which are brought about in the secondary consciousness by sensations, ideas, and states of all kinds which may occur in the principal consciousness. A curious manifestation of this reunion of consciousnesses is that of suggestions from unconscious indications, as when the infliction of a certain number of pricks on an unconscious member gives rise to a suggestion of the number, or when the pressure of a coin or other design suggests a rude reproduction of the design more exact in detail than is made when the organism is in the normal condition. The connections of these consciousnesses are in fact capable of producing hallucinations of all the senses, fixed ideas, and emotional effects.

Among experiments cited in which the person is induced to perform unconscious movements is that of the exploring pendulum described by Chevreul, the oscillations of which depend on psychological movements in the mind of the performer of the experiment, it registering the unconscious movements of the hand and making them perceptible by increasing them. Automatic handwriting is a psychological action of a similar nature, but a little more delicate and more complex.

What are called unconscious movements of healthy subjects and the various reactions of the secondary personalities of hysterical patients are really identical, but differ in extent, in external circumstance, or in degree of development; and healthy subjects may present special conditions of mind that tend to bring on mental disintegration, as when attention is divided among a great many subjects or when it is intensely concentrated on one thing and distracted as to all others; but the unconsciousness thus produced does not reach the degree of development attained in hysterical persons and is not as brilliant. It will not spontaneously write letters and confessions, but is still something positively existing.

Recent researches have thrown new light upon phenomena of spiritism, or so-called "spiritualism," by showing that these phenomena are due largely to mental disaggregation or division. There is no essential difference between the experiments described upon hysterical patients and the more spontaneous experiments that the spiritists practice upon themselves. The principal differences lie in the minor, or, one might almost say, anecdotal conditions — i. e., in the medium, the terms employed, or the imagined explanations.

  1. From Alterations of Personality. By Alfred Binet. Translated by Helen Green Baldwin, with Notes and a Preface by J. Mark Baldwin. (International Scientific Series.) In press of D, Appleton & Co.