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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.
Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.
THE NATURE OF FAMILIARITY
THE recognitive function of the representative element is possibly more clearly revealed in cases where previous perceptual experience of the object does not result in its subsequent recognition. Consider what happens, for instance, when we meet a person whom we do not seem to know, but who introduces himself as one who has had the pleasure of our acquaintance. We are told of the particular circumstances under which we have met, we are reminded of the events that have taken place during that time, of our mutual friends and acquaintances that have then been present, of the subjects we have conversed; and as we scrutinize the features of the stranger's face we try to bring up more images, more representations. With the growth of the accumulated representative elements the stranger’s face becomes to us more and more familiar, and finally the particular representation relating to the specific object, the stranger, shoots up, and we recognize in the stranger an old acquaintance. What again happens when we meet with a person who is strangely familiar to us. The “strange” familiarity consists in the arousal of a number of specific representations, many of which are recognized as incongruous and are rejected. Representations rise and revolve round that percept. The mind tingles with cognitive anxiety, with mental throes on the eve of giving birth to the specific associations, resulting in final recognition. This peculiar condition of subexcitement of representative elements started by the perception of an object constitutes the state which is termed the sense of familiarity. Familiarity is vague recognition, recognition not as yet made specific.
Familiarity implies former perception, it implies the presence in the subconscious of a corresponding representation attempting to rise above the threshold of personal consciousness. In psychopathic states of paramnesia we find conformation of our present view. An object, an event perceived for the first time, appears to the patient as familiar. His so-called sense of familiarity may range throughout all degrees of recognition, from the point of extreme vagueness to the point of full specific distinctness. This depends on the phenomena of dissociation. The partially dissociated subconscious systems first perceive and cognize the object in the corresponding formation of representation which give rise to a greater or lesser degree of familiarity, according to the extent of association immediately formed. In many instances this can be proven to be the case by putting the patient in a state of hypnosis. In some cases the patient may directly declare, “I have had a glance at it before, but I have forgotten, and that is why it seemed to me familiar.” The patient suffering from paramnesia, on being confronted with an object, may momentarily pass into a subconscious condition in which the object is perceived; on immediately recovering from his state and perceiving the object once more, a vague sense of recognition arises.
This view is still further confirmed and proved in an interesting case that has recently come to my notice. The patient is a proof-reader in a newspaper office. While reading his proofs it often seems to the patient that he has read all that before; he recognizes the news, although he knows that he reads the article or the news for the first time. An examination disclosed the fact that the patient, who had a tendency to the manifestation of phenomena of the subconscious order and who frequently passed into psychopathic subconscious states of short duration, formed the habit of putting the proofs on his desk and glancing them over cursorily before starting the proof-reading. By gazing at his proofs he occasionally falls into a subconscious state, and actually reads the article or the news, and when passing out of the subconscious state and rereading the proofs he recognizes, in a more or less vague form, all he had read during his state of dissociation; representation emerges, and complete recognition is effected. Sometimes such complete recognition is brought about by the patient’s own efforts.
The whole wealth of experimental work in hypnosis, as well as in psychopathology in general, may be brought in proof of the truth that recognition is not to be explained by familiarity, but, on the contrary, familiarity is to be explained by recognition. Familiarity is vague, incomplete recognition, it is recognition in a retrogressive state, so to say. To explain recognition by familiarity, and then reduce familiarity to a pleasant mood, to an agreeable feeling of at-homeness, is hardly justifiable, because the familiar may be indifferent and often even distinctly unpleasant and painful. The at-homeness theory of recognition is, moreover, inadequate, since it reduces the more known, the function of recognition, to the less known moods and feelings which, as such, are unanalyzable. To assert that these moods and feelings are due to organic sensations is hardly sufficient. The problem remains untouched, unanalyzed and unanswered, for not all organic sensations give rise to the sense of familiarity. The mood theory of familiarity is inadequate even on its own grounds.
Experiments in personality metamorphosis, experiments in formation of post-hypnotic states with the induction of complete or incomplete amnesia, experimental work in eases of psychopathic amnesia recurring in the so-called states of automatism, as in the states inaptly termed “Psychic epilepsy,”—all these can be adduced in an almost endless variety to demonstrate the fact that familiarity is based on recognition present in the subconscious.
A few examples taken from the great number o f experiments, for the sake of illustration, will suffice for our purpose. If we hypnotize a subject and suggest to him that on awakening he should quarrel, insult, and kick a person present whom he highly respects in his waking state, the subject on emerging from the hypnotic condition and passing into what I term the hypnonergic state will proceed to act out faithfully and earnestly all that is suggested to him in hypnosis. When afterward brought back into the state of hypnosis and suggested that on awaking he should not know anything that had transpired since the time of the first hypnotization up to the time of the second awaking, the subject, on finally emerging from the last state of hypnosis, knows nothing of what has taken place. A few days later, however, he may come and tell you with an air of great dissatisfaction, like that of a person who is trying to recall something that is familiar, but which nevertheless constantly escapes him, that he has had a very disagreeable quarrel with someone, but he does not know when it has taken place, what it has been about, nor who that person could have possibly been; in fact, the whole thing may have been nothing but a dream. The subject has simply a feeling of vague familiarity, of something disagreeable having occurred and nothing more. The whole experience may never come to full consciousness and recognition, although it is fully present in the subconscious, and can be revealed in many different ways—by automatic writing, by crystal gazing, by shell-hearing, by hypnoidization, by putting him into the hypnotic state, or by merely pronouncing the simple formula: “Now you can know everything.” In case this is not carried out, the “feeling of familiarity” gradually fades away, and the subject soon forgets all about it; it fades away like a distressing, but extremely vague dream. Similar experiments may be varied as to form and matter, but they all yield like results.
It is extremely instructive to watch the way memories from the hypnotic state struggle up into the waking consciousness. Bring the subject into deep hypnosis and tell him different things, news that should agitate him, such, for instance, that his parents are dead, that his brother is arrested for grand larceny, that he himself is a liar of the worst kind, tell him things that are calculated to impress him by their unpleasantness; then suggest profound amnesia and wake him up gradually, say by counting to fifteen or twenty. The subject, if his consciousness admits of complete dissociation, will know nothing at all of the disagreeable things you have told him during his state of hypnosis. If now you tell him: “Try hard, you can remember, you can know what has happened.” The subject tries hard. Something familiar seems to struggle up in his waking consciousness. “You have told me something disagreeable, but I do not know what it was about.” After another hard trial: “Oh, yes, something about my parents, but I do not know what; it is familiar to me, it seems within my grasp, but somehow it escapes me.” After another trial and suggestion from the experimenter the subject exclaims: “Oh, yes, you told me my parents died. That was rather disagreeable; you ought not to have said it.” Bit by bit does the hypnotic experience struggle up to the surface of the waking consciousness, first in the vague form of familiarity and then as complete recognition. The rising experience, fully recognized in the subconscious, coming to the periphery of the primary waking consciousness may remain in the arrested state of recognition—namely, familiarity, the fully and completely known experience, known to the subwaking consciousness, never protruding its head above the surface of the subconscious. In other words, representations of experience present in the subconscious, when emerging slowly into the light of the waking consciousness, struggle up not in a form of specific recognition, but in a condition of vague familiarity. Familiarity, then, cannot be regarded as the primary state out of which recognition develops, but, on the contrary, recognition is the primary state and familiarity is the derivative one. Of course, if by the term familiarity is meant not that psychic state observed in the adult consciousness, both normal and abnormal, but that primary state of recognition out of which more definite recognition develops, then the contention may be admitted, but at the same time it must be declared as trivial. For it is obvious that a higher, more complex, and more definite state of recognition arises from one that is lower, less complex, and less definite. The sense of familiarity implies previous perception now dissociated, but subconsciously present and struggling up toward the surface of the upper consciousness to gain recognition. The sense of familiarity depends on the condition of incomplete or of imperfect association. This may range through different shades and stages. Should now the dissociation be complete, the sense of familiarity will be completely absent. The object, though experienced, will be regarded as strange, as entirely new, and will be felt as something that has never been experienced before. The fault will lie here in the paucity of associations with representative elements. Where through some accident all the associations of representative elements are reduced to their minimum of functional relationship, the world of sensory experiences, the world of objects, will appear as to one newly born, a state found in the case of Mr. Hanna, an account of which is given farther on. Familiarity is a state of retrogressive, degenerative recognition, due to the presence of representative experiences background of consciousness, in the subconscious.
Cases of psychopathic amnesia give further evidence of the same fundamental truth. Experience passed through in a state of narcosis, and in regards to which there is profound amnesia, can be elicited either by hypnoidization or by hypnosis. The experiences present in the mind, dissociated by the action of the poison, begin to struggle up slowly and laboriously and always in the preliminary form of familiarity. The same holds true in other forms of psychopathic amnesia. In some of my cases of amnesia form of struggling up of subconsciously present experiences were specially well illustrated. The whole series of experiments carried out went to show forcibly and palpably that the sense of familiarity implies recognition. In other cases of amnesia under my experimentation the same relation was clearly revealed. The patient need not be hypnotized, but put simply into a state of hypnoidization.1 The chips and fragments of memories that struggled up to the surface of the primary waking consciousness were at first incoherent and unfamiliar in character and were not recognized by the patients, but as more of them gathered and had become synthetized, the sense of recognition began to appear. At first the sense of recognition was extremely vague, resembling the state of remembrance of a dream gone by, then the experience became more familiar; it appeared as something that had actually taken place some time ago in the patients’ lives; and finally the sense of recognition reached its full state of development, and the experiences became localized in place and time. In the meantime, during this long and difficult struggle toward full recognition, it could be shown that the lost experiences were subconsciously present.
Familiarity, then cannot be regarded as the primary state out of which recognition develops, but, on the contrary, recognition is the primary state and familiarity is the derivative one. Of course, if by the term familiarity is meant not that psychic state observed in the adult consciousness, both normal and abnormal, but that primary state of recognition out of which more definite recognition develops, then the contention may be admitted, but at the same time it must be declared as trivial. For it is obvious that a higher, more complex, and more definite state of recognition arises from one that is lower, less complex, and less definite. The sense of familiarity implies previous perception now dissociated, but subconsciously present and struggling up toward the surface of the upper consciousness to gain recognition.
The sense of familiarity depends on the condition of incomplete or of imperfect association. This may range through different shades and stages. Should now the dissociation be complete, the sense of familiarity will be completely absent. The object, though experienced, will be regarded as strange, as entirely new, and will be felt as something that has never been experienced before. The fault will lie here in the paucity of associations with representative elements. Where through some accident all the associations of representative elements are reduced to their minimum of functional relationship, the world of sensory experiences, the world of objects, will appear as to one newly born, a state found in the case of Mr. Hanna, an account of which is given further on.
1 See Sidis, Psychology of Suggestion; also Psychopathological Researches.
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