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NERVOUS ILLS
THEIR CAUSE AND CURE

Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

1922

CHAPTER XXVI

THE HYPNOIDAL STATE AND SUPERSTITIONS

        The hypnoidal state into which man is apt to fall so easily, is well adapted to fear suggestions, since the fear instinct and the impulse of self-preservation are preservation are present in the subconsciousness, exposed during trance states to all sorts of fear suggestions and superstitions. It is during these brief periods of primitive hypnoidal states that the animal is exposed to attacks of enemies whose senses become sharpened to detect the weak spots in the armor of their victims, immersed in the momentary rest of the hypnoidal state.

        During these periods of repose and passivity or of sleep stage, the animal can only protect itself by all kinds of subterfuges, such as hiding in various inaccessible places, or taking its rest-periods in shady nooks and corners, or in the darkness of the night. Each hypnoidal period closely corresponds to the larval stage of the insect, reposing in its cocoon,―the most critical time of the insect organism, most exposed to the depredations of its enemies. And still the hypnoidal state is requisite to the animal in order to restitute its living matter and energy which have been wasted during the active moments of its life activities. Hence the weakness of the animal depends on the very constitution of its organism.

        The hypnoidal state, although absolutely necessary in he process of metabolism, is also the moment of its greatest danger, and the fear instinct is specially intense at the onset of that hypnoidal moment, the lowest point of the weakness of the organism. The animal, after taking all precautions, is finally paralyzed into temporary immobility at the risk of its own existence.

        The fear instinct determines the nature and character of rest and sleep. The lower the animal, the scantier are its means of defense in the ceaseless struggle for its preservation. The simpler the animal, the greater and more numerous are the dangers menacing it with total extinction,―hence it must be constantly on its guard. A state of sleep such as found in the higher animals is rendered impossible. The sleep must be light, and in snatches, rapidly passing from rest into waking,―the characteristic of the hypnoidal state. The fear instinct is the controlling factor of sleep and rest. When we are in danger the sleep is light and in snatches, and we thus once more revert to an ancient form of rest and sleep.

        The insomnia found in cases of neurosis is a reversion to primitive rest-states, found in the lower animals. The insomnia is due to the fear instinct which keeps dominating the conscious and subconscious mental activities, a state which has prevailed in the early stages of animal life. That is why the sleep of neurotics is unrefreshing and full of dreams of dangers and accidents, and peopled with visions of a terrorizing nature. Hence the neurotic fear of insomnia which is itself the consequence of the obsession, conscious and subconscious, of the fear instinct.

        In my work on sleep I was greatly impressed with the place fear holds in animal life existence. From the lowest representative, such as the insect to the highest, such as man, fear rules with an iron hand. Every animal is subject to cataplexy of fear and to the hypnoidal state itself, the consequence of fear-adaptations to the external conditions of a hostile environment. Cataplexy and the consequent hypnoidal state which paralyze the animal, depriving it of all defense, are grounded in the imperfections of living protoplasm.

        Man is subject to the hypnoidal periods of primitive life. It is during those periods that the shafts of suggestion are most apt to strike his subconsciousness, divorced as it is during those moments from the nodding self conscious. During these nodding moments of his life he is exposed to harmful suggestions, since they are apt to arouse the fear instinct, the most sensitive of all human instincts. It seems as if the fear instinct is never fully asleep, and is the easiest to arouse. It seems to be watchful or semi-watchful during the most critical moments of man's helplessness.

        Fear of darkness and fear of invisible foes are specially strong in man, because of the deeply rooted fear instinct, but also because of his memories of accidents and dangers that have befallen him, and which may befall him. Man's fears hang round dark places, gloomy corners and nooks, caves and forests, and more especially during the darkness and shades of night, appearing as treacherous visions and specters of lurking dangers. And still from the very nature of his being man must rest and sleep, hence the association of terrors with night time. He can only overcome his night terrors by living and sleeping in more or less secure corners, in the neighborhood of his fellow-beings who by the mere fact of numbers multiply not only the means of defense, but actually increase susceptibility for the scent of danger and possible speedy defense. In the society of his fellows the sense organs of the individual are increased by the presence of others who are in various stages of vigilance, and hence there is greater protection against dangers and invisible foes that lurk in the darkness of night, foes if which primitive man is in terror of his life.

        The fear of the unknown, the mysterious, and the dark, peoples the mind of primitive man with all sorts of terrible spectres, ghosts, spirits, goblins, ghouls, shades, witches, and evil powers, all bent on mischief, destruction and death. Primitive man suffers from chronic demonophobia. Fear states are specially emphasized at night when the "demons" have the full power for evil, and man is helpless on account of darkness and sleep which paralyze him. Hence the terrors of the night, especially when man is alone or defenseless.

        The fear of solitude comes out strongly in the intense fear that obsesses man in the gloomy darkness of the night terrors. Fire and fellow-beings can alone relieve his night terrors. The fear of foes, of demons, of evil powers doe s not abate in the day, only it is relieved by reason of light, of association, and of wakefulness. Man, more than any other animals, is the victim of the fear instinct. Many tribes, many races of men perished, due to superstitions and fear obsessions.

        The Homo sapiens is rare. We may agree with Tarde that Homo somnambulis would be a proper definition of the true mental condition of most specimens of the human race. For the human race is still actuated by the principle of "Credo, quia absurdum est." I need not go far to substantiate the fact that this principle still guides the life of the average specimen of civilized humanity. Spiritualism, theosophy, telepathy, ghost hunting, astrology, oneiromancy, cheiromancy, Christian Science, psychoanalytic oneirosopy employed in events and situations of individual and social life, and many other magical practices whose name is legion, based on the mysteries of communication with ghosts, spirits, demons, and unknown fearsome powers, still haunt the credulous mind, obsessed with conscious and subconscious horrors of the terrible, invisible spirit world.

        Against the fears of diseases, the scares of the day and terrors of night, civilized man still used the magic arts and mysterious, miraculous powers of the magician, the wizard, the witch, the mental healer, the shaman, the medicine man, the miracle man, and the psychoanalyst. Just at present under my own eyes I witness the pitiful credulity of man, driven by the terrors and horrors of the fear instinct. In San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, and in many other Western "culture" centers mystic cults hold high carnival, swaying the minds of fearcrazed, deluded humanity. As typical specimens of superstitious fears and absurd beliefs, due to the fear instinct, we may take as illustrations the following occurrences in the centers of the far West, obsessed by the aberrations of the fear instinct (I quote from Los Angeles papers):

        "Faith Healer at Los Angeles, Venice, California, after several wonder cures, orders sun's rays to be darkened. 'Brother Isaiah,' called by thousands the 'Miracle Man,' claimed to have repeated the marvel of dimming the sun at Venice yesterday evening.

        "At 6 o'clock the disciple of healing by faith raised his hands and announced that as evidence of his power he would blot out the brilliant solar rays. He gazed at the dazzling red ball above the waters of the Pacific, and his lips moved in low murmurs.

        "'It is done,' he said. 'I have clouded the sun. All those who have seen this miracle raise your hands.' Hundreds of hands waved in the air.

        "The first time 'Brother Isaiah' claimed to have dimmed the sun's rays was at Miracle Hill, when he had been in Los Angeles but a few days.

        "Brother Isaiah stepped to one side of his wooden platform on the Venice Beach yesterday. He placed a silver police whistle to his lips and blew. The piercing crescendo sent a shiver through the tense mass of humanity which stretched from the sand back to the ocean walk." Similar miracles and cures were carried on by Mrs. Amy McPherson in San Diego, San Jose, and all along the Pacific coast.

        The self-impulse and the fear instinct, in their intensified forms, are the bane of deluded, neurotic humanity.

 

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