James Hyslop

Prof. James Hyslop

The Borderland of Psychical Research
Publisher: G. B. Putnam's Sons
Published: 1906
Pages: 425

Chapter 1: Introduction

 - James Hyslop -

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          THERE ARE several groups of mental phenomena which are more or less residual, and which, lying on the borderland of both normal and abnormal psychology, have also both a scientific and a popular interest. They have been as much neglected by the one as they have proved fascinating to the other of the two classes of mankind. It may be unfair to say that science has neglected them, for there has been much attention given to some of them and little to others. But I mean by neglect of them that the attention to them, as compared to that given to normal psychology, has been small. The popular mind, however, has been interested in them more than in normal phenomena, and has been much more deceived than benefited by that interest. I refer to the phenomena of dreams, illusions, hallucinations, hypnotic states, secondary personality, apparitions, trances, and various phenomena, like reverie, abstraction, and exaltation, or ecstasy. Dreams, illusions, and hallucinations in the past have received cursory attention by some psychologists, and more consideration from psychiatrists, or students of abnormal psychology. But by none of them have these phenomena been brought into the service of normal psychology. They have been the object of curious reflection, especially dreams, by many men and many ages, but instead of being appropriated for better and more intelligent views of normal mental action, they have appeared so exceptional as to fall outside the domain of consideration by normal psychology.

The reason for this is very simple. The views which had separated them from ordinary interest were due to a reaction against the more ancient conception of dreams. We are wont to suppose that men naturally distinguish between their dreams and normal experiences. This, however is not altogether true. The ancients gave an external or objective meaning to dreams, and savages still do so - a meaning that associates them very closely with normal experience. The causes of this may be the untutored neglect of ordinary for supposedly significant dreams, and then the consideration of only the latter, as there is some evidence that this was the case. It matters not what the reason for it was. The fact is indisputable that to many ancient people dreams were as much testimony to external influences or meaning as were normal sensory experiences. Illusions and hallucinations did not altogether escape the same interpretation. It is possible that the more intelligent views of these phenomena among the ancients were not recorded as were those of the ignorant and superstitious. But this does not alter the impression that we get of the natural man's ideas.

But when philosophy had gone far enough to distinguish between what was caused by the outside world and what was caused by internal agencies, a radical distinction could be drawn between dreams and ordinary sense-impressions. It was the psychology of the latter part of the middle ages that gave rise to the distinction. The controversy between what was called Nominalism and Realism resulted in the conclusion that the mind itself had something to do with some of its phenomena. Dreams especially were considered its creations, and the view of illusions and hallucinations was affected by the same theory. Nominalism had shown that even our normal experiences were affected by the mind's own action, but "common-sense" philosophy could not accept this idealistic tendency, and in whatever way it expressed itself, it referred normal sensory phenomena to external causes for their explanation and remained by the subjective view for dreams, illusions, and hallucinations. As soon as pathology took up the abnormal, it resorted to a materialistic explanation of it, and associated the explanation of dreams with cerebral agency in a manner that connected them with the materialistic theory, and so separated their interest from the spiritualistic view which had based itself upon the normal and the distinction between it and the abnormal.

It was during the last half-century that the interest on both sides of this controversy was awakened. Philosophy and education, following the prepossessions of a civilization which had based its views upon the moral and religious conception of Christian spiritualism, were so occupied with normal human experience that the abnormal appeared to offer no value for their problems. The influences which kept them to this aspect of psychology need not be detailed, but they are all summarized in the opposition between those two schools of thought which divided on the question whether the brain could account for mental action, or whether a soul was required to explain it. Those who thought the brain sufficed to explain mental phenomena emphasized the abnormal as proof of their view, since they found that correlation between cerebral disturbances and abnormal mental action which coincided with their view of a purely physical basis for them. The opposite school, appreciating the force of their antagonists' contention, emphasized the distinction between the normal and the abnormal, and rested its case upon retaining that position safe from criticism and refutation.

The consequence was that all residual phenomena received little attention in solving the problems of normal psychology. When these problems were limited to the meaning of experience for culture and ethics, that is, for practical life, the distinction and the evasion of the abnormal were justifiable. It was the explanation of the two types of phenomena, their ultimate causal source, that invoked the tendency to consider them together. But whatever their explanation, the distinction between them had to he maintained for the sake of their very different relation to our actions. The one could be taken as indicative of an external world which the other did not represent as it is. The only reason for recognizing the abnormal at all in this view was the necessity of protecting the mind against delusion. But when science, which is a search for causes, substituted its investigations for philosophy and ethics, it discovered that the explanation of both the normal and the abnormal in physiology and psychology must be the same: when it was found that important humanitarian methods and results depended upon a better knowledge of residual mental phenomena, and when it was suspected that the more fundamental problems of normal psychology might find a solution, as the materialist thought, in the abnormal, the student of these phenomena, abandoning his traditional prejudices about them, found a new interest attaching to them, and began to investigate them in a more scientific manner. This, however, is very recent, and we are simply in the dawn of that conception which is to link normal and abnormal psychology together for the solution of both scientific and metaphysical problems.

Let me dwell a little longer on the different interests associated with these phenomena, and one might say with all phenomena whatsoever. There are two problems for human reflection, which, however closely associated, are distinct and involve somewhat different methods for their solution. They are the explanation and value, or the cause and the meaning of facts. Explanation endeavors to find how events come to take place; to determine what it is that originates or causes them; to ascertain the conditions under which they do and will happen. In the pursuit of this end we do not stop to distinguish between their normal and abnormal, regular and irregular, true or false character. We take them as facts, whatever their character or relation to practical matters. But in considering their value or meaning we are concerned with their utility in our conduct and adjustment. In this suit we are more interested in what is normal, regular, true, as distinct from what is abnormal, irregular, false. We require to recognize and understand the latter as well as the former, but it is the normal and regular that constitute the facts which interest most of our life and conduct. These have the most value for our natural activities, and it may suffice simply to know what they are, and the distinction in kind from the abnormal, in order to regulate our behavior. In fact, we do not require always that we shall be able to state the cause of events, if we know their law, in order that we may adjust our conduct to the proper life. Hence the ethical interest is primarily in the character of phenomena, whatever their causes, and will be content with ascertaining their regularity or frequency; that is, their numerical relation to our natural and proper development. On the other hand, the scientific problem is concerned with the causes of all events without regard to this ethical value of a part of them. It may be the primary condition of determining what shall he ethical, and I shall not enter into any dispute against this claim, as it is not necessary to assert the independence of the ethical and scientific view of facts in order to retain the distinction between the causes and the character of events. It simply happens that we can often ascertain the character and value of facts before we know their explanation, and this character may suffice to determine the right course of action previous to our knowledge of causes, though the discovery of the latter may still further fortify us in the regulation of action.

It was the difference between the scientific and the ethical interest that kept the materialist and the spiritualist at odds with each other so long in the question of normal and abnormal phenomena. The one was seeking primarily an explanation of both types of facts, and he did not stop to consider their relation to the ideals which had been founded on normal facts. The moralist and spiritualist, besides an interest in the great speculative question of a soul, which he tried to solve by the distinction between the normal and abnormal, conceding physiological influences in the abnormal, took refuge in the ethical and practical aspect of the phenomena as a justification of his indifference to abnormal facts. We have arrived, however, at that point in human reflection at which we can no longer disregard the relation between normal and abnormal mental phenomena in the ethical and philosophical problem as well as in the scientific. However distinct the scientific and the ethical view of facts may be in common life, the deeper and higher view of them will not permit the discrediting of one interest for the other. The wider view of them will be conditioned by the explanation, whatever immediate importance attaches to their practical aspect. This is more particularly true of the controversy waged between the materialistic and the spiritualistic theories as to the causes of mental phenomena. The fact that abnormal mental phenomena have to be considered as mental by the man who wishes to escape the materialistic interpretation of their source, while he insists on denying the materialistic theory, places him in an embarrassing position, as he has to admit a character for them which shows that he may not have the right to base the integrity of his spiritualistic view upon the distinction between the normal and the abnormal. If abnormal mental phenomena could he characterized as purely physical in nature, like supposed molecular action of the nervous system, the matter might be different, as long as it was insisted that normal mental phenomena were not mechanical or molecular. But the moment that the two types of phenomena were considered as mental in nature, whatever consistency the distinction between them has with the spiritualistic theory, the way was open for the materialist to urge the simplicity of their explanation, and, finding that cerebral influences were conceded for the abnormal, he could hardly be blamed for advocating a similar explanation for the normal. In that process of unifying the causes of mental phenomena, materialism found its advance, and the consequence was to make the causal interpretation of mental phenomena prior to the determination of their ethical valuation. In this way, normal and abnormal psychology are brought together in mutual service, and there is reason to believe that they may sustain the same relation to each other that pathology has to physiology and medicine. Pathology, which is the study of the abnormal in physiology, revolutionized medicine, and in the same way psychopathology may revolutionize our ordinary and normal psychology, or, if not revolutionize it, way solve its problems where it was supposed to destroy them.

For this reason I propose to introduce the study of some abnormal phenomena by a brief consideration of the fundamental processes of normal psychology, assuming that the same laws govern both fields of mental events. We shall be better prepared in this way to understand the deviations from the normal which we find in dreams, illusions, and hallucinations. We may admit all the extraneous causes we please into the case; that is, causes extraneous to those affecting the normal field; we do not in that fact discredit the identity of the laws which govern the nature and contents of the abnormal as mental phenomena. This will be apparent when we come to consider the matter in detail. Here I can only announce my intention as a reason for outlining the normal laws of mental action.

It was as a practical means of studying and curing insanity that attention was called to the importance of abnormal psychology. Of course the scientific interest was awakened in the clinic and the asylum, and brain physiology appropriated the significance of the facts to its own purposes. But it was not long before the discovery was made that they were usable in the diagnosis of disease within the limits of mental disturbance. Then came an interest in hypnotic suggestion which reflected something like a causal relation of mental states to organic, and this was followed by phenomena which apparently suggest a causal nexus between mental states themselves parallel with the causal connection between different physical phenomena on the one hand and between physical and mental phenomena on the other. I shall not stand for a theory of causal nexus between different mental phenomena, as something to be sought for with perfect confidence. But the appearance of some causal agency of mental upon organic operations indicates that its nature is open to investigation and use. It seems so well assured that it is but a matter of larger and more accurate observations to determine the nature and limits of its application. But it is not so clear that any causal nexus exists between different mental states analogous to that between physical events. The suspicion or supposition of it is not so well supported as the influence of mental states upon the organism. But if it be a fact, or if there be reason to suspect it, this alone makes inquiry necessary. But the first step in any such investigation is to determine the relation between normal and abnormal mental states as connected with mental laws, and then to push further investigations as the phenomena demand them.

The physiological question may be held in abeyance. I mean the problem of organic explanation of mental phenomena. In the study of both normal and abnormal mental phenomena we are first interested in the coexistences and sequences of the phenomena themselves, and the question of their ultimate causality may be postponed. No doubt the study of causes must at last land us in the organic basis for their occurrence as we know them; for the body is the last fact in the series which we find connected with mental phenomena. It unquestionably has some causal relations to the facts. But there are additional questions to be settled which have to be determined before any final opportunity can be offered for determining the physiological problem. There are laws and associations which have to be studied before the autopsy is possible or before the dissecting-room can disclose any secrets. It is this course that is open to psychology before physiology can even approach its problem. The psychological meaning and connections of mental phenomena may be ascertained without waiting for the scalpel and physiological methods, and experience has shown that much can he determined which cannot be effected by physiological methods. The application of suggestion, normal and hypnotic, to therapeutics, though we know very little about it, nothing physiologically, is the most striking illustration and proof of this contention. The same thing is apparent in all education on a larger scale, and even in ordinary medical practice, where the physician relies quite as much on the influence of the patient's mind as he does on the use of medicine. He has consciously or unconsciously learned that mental balance, or perhaps better, the healthy mental state, is often necessary to the utility of therapeutic agents of a physical kind. Besides, there are all sorts of systematic relations and laws for mental phenomena that can be known only independently of physiological procedure. No amount of physiological investigation will throw any light upon the order of mental events or their contents. These have to be ascertained precisely in the way we ascertain the order of physical events, and, if metaphysical explanations are to be disregarded, as the Phenomenalist always tells us, we do not require more than the determination of the regularity and irregularity of phenomena to satisfy our curiosity.

However this may be, it is certain that the nature and importance of many of them are determined before their cause is known. Hence, while no abatement of Physiological study need be encouraged, and without disparaging its right to insist upon an organic basis for consciousness as sensibly manifested, there may first he that investigation of the uniformities of coexistence and sequence in mental events which makes physiological investigation interesting and important, and which will justify the assumption that residual mental phenomena have the same explanation as the normal. If we cannot connect the two types of facts, we cannot remove the conviction that the abnormal are so anomalous in character as to forfeit classification as mental. This must be settled before physiology attacks the issue. The consequence is that such study as will here be undertaken of the abnormal must be only that which determines its relation to the normal, and physiological theories may have a free field. In order to understand modern ideas on the matter, however, it may be necessary to outline the established conclusions of neurology, but I shall do nothing more, and shall not attempt to contravene any theory of the relation between the mind and the brain which physiology may defend.

There is a class of phenomena that is specially qualified to throw light on the relation between normal and abnormal psychology, as they probably lie on the border-line between them both. I refer to the phenomena of secondary personality. I shall define and discuss these at length in a separate chapter, and hence I only refer to them here for the purpose of indicating what I believe to be very important for bridging the wide chasm between normal and abnormal phenomena in their clearer manifestations. Secondary personality is not an abnormal phenomenon that suggests insanity of any such type as requires treatment, and as it is so common a phenomenon in those whose whole lives seem to be perfectly normal, we may even raise the question whether it is anything but a normal fact. I am not concerned at present with the solution of this problem, but only with the general fact that, being a name for subconscious phenomena that cannot be directly known by the normal consciousness, it defines a class of facts which are important for various interests affecting the problems related to the claims of the supernormal and especially for limiting those claims to some reasonable field of application. In any case, it defines a group of phenomena having a very great importance for the present problems of psychology, and must here receive an attention commensurate with that importance.

Secondary personality, however, must be preceded by the investigation of illusions, not because there is any connection whatever between illusions and secondary personality, but because illusions are so definitely related to normal mental states that, whatever suggestion of the abnormal they may contain, they are a departure from the normal in a much less degree than subliminal phenomena. Hallucinations will follow illusions because they represent phenomena nearer subconscious action than illusions. They may even merge into those of secondary personality, at least of a certain type, and so afford another link in the connection between one extreme of the normal and the other extreme of the abnormal. These considerations have influenced the choice of order in the discussion of the various topics.

With the view of studying the abnormal in the light of the mental laws which regulate normal action of the mind, and also of analyzing those laws more clearly, I have resolved to introduce the discussions of this work by a brief statement of the fundamental processes by which all our knowledge is gained and the circumstances which give rise to the problems suggested in abnormal psychology. I therefore begin with the problem of sense-perception, and follow it with that of the interpreting functions of the mind. In these we shall provide ourselves with the criteria which the scientific student uses for making phenomena intelligible and testing their claims to any particular character. The examination of memory will follow these two fields of elementary processes, and provision will be made for the problems that are apparent in certain phenomena of secondary personality and illusions of memory. In these three chapters the foundations will be laid for a better understanding of the skeptical attitude which scientific psychology takes toward much that claims to transcend ordinary knowledge.

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Contents | Preface | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13

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