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NERVOUS ILLS
THEIR CAUSE AND CURE

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

1922

CHAPTER VIII

FEAR AND THE HYPNOIDAL STATE

        In my work on "Sleep" I report a series of interesting experiments carried out by me on guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, children, and adults.1 I discovered one of the most important states of animal life, a state which I termed hypnoidal.

         The study shows that in almost every animal, from the lowest to the highest, from frog to man, a somewhat sudden change of the usual environment deprives that animal of its activities and its functions. If the change is not too intense and prolonged, "the animal merges into the hypnoidal state in which the lost functions are restored. During this hypnoidal state the functions are weakened, the animal may be regarded in a state of invalidism, its reactions being enfeebled, practically speaking, paretic.

         Perhaps it is advisable to approach the phenomena from their more striking aspect. In seizing a triton, salamander, or frog, and stretching it on the table, one will observe with surprise that the  animal remains in the same position given it. The most uncomfortable and bizarre position may be given to the limbs, and still the animal will not move. Testing the extremities one finds them rigid and resisting. Something similar we find in the hypnotic condition, when under the suggestion that the extremities are rigid, and they cannot be moved by the subject. The same can be done with a lobster and other animals of the same type.

         Everyone has heard of the experimentum mirabile made by Kirchner in the seventeenth century. A rooster or hen is seized, the legs are tied with a string and the bird is put on the ground. A piece of chalk is passed over the beak,―the chalk tracing a line from beak to some distant point on the ground. When the bird is released, it remains in the same position. Some explain that the animal is kept prisoner, because it "imagines" that it is bound by the line of chalk. The chalk, however, is unnecessary. The animal may be seized, shouted in its ear, or kept down forcibly, and the same result will happen. This state has been termed by Preyer "cataplexy." The phenomenon can also be produced in insects, in mollusca.

        Many investigators have been interested in this phenomenon. I have devoted a good deal of work to this condition which is also found in mammals in which it is induced by the fear instinct. In mammals, however, the state of cataplexy is not necessary accompanied by rigidity, although it may be present, but there is a complete loss of voluntary activity. Horses tremble violently and become paralyzed at the sight of a beast of prey, such as a tiger or a lion. At the sight of a serpent, monkeys are known to be in such an intense state of fear that they are unable to move, and thus fall easy victims to the reptile.

        Under similar conditions birds are so paralyzed by fear that they are unable to fly away from the source of danger, and fall a prey to the threatening serpent. The birds resemble very much the hypnotized subject in a state of catalepsy. Although the gibbons are the most agile of all the simians, they are easily taken by surprise, and captured without any resistance,―they are paralyzed by fear. Seals when pursued on land become so frightened that they are unable to offer any opposition to their pursuers, and let themselves easily be captured and killed.

        In large cities one can often witness nervous people affected suddenly by the presence of danger; they remain immobile, in the middle of the street, becoming exposed to fatal accidents. The fear instinct paralyzes their activities, they are petrified with terror.

        I was told by people who have experienced the effects of earthquakes, that during the time of the earthquakes they were unable to move, and the condition was observed in animals, especially young dogs. It is hard to move cattle and horses from a burning stable, on account of the fear of fire which obsesses the animals, so that they become paralyzed, suffocated and burnt to death. So vital is the fear instinct that the least deviation from normal state is apt to play havoc with the safety of the individual.

        The fear instinct is the most primitive, the most fundamental, and the most powerful of all instincts. When the fear instinct is let loose, the animal succumbs. We should not wonder, therefore, that with the aberration of the fear instinct, the life guardian of the individual, all orientation is lost, the animal becomes demoralized, and the organism goes to destruction. No other instinct can surpass the fear instinct in its fatal effects.

        The more one studies the facts, the more one examines various psychopathic, functional maladies, without going into any speculations and without being blinded by foregone conclusions and pseudo-scientific hypotheses, the more one is driven to the conclusion that the fear instinct is at the bottom of all those nervous and mental aberrations, conscious and subconscious.

        The infinite varieties of functional psychopathic diseases are the consequences of some abnormal association with the fear instinct which alone gives rise to the infirmities characteristic of functional mental maladies.

        President Stanley Hall accepts my view of the subject. In a recent paper he writes: "If there be a vital principle, fear must be one of its close allies as one of the chief springs of the mind" . . . In spite of his former psychoanalytic inclinations President Hall asserts now that "Freud is wrong in interpreting this most generic form of fear as rooted in sex. Sex anxieties themselves are rooted in the larger fundamental impulse of self-preservation with its concomitant instinct of fear." This is precisely the factor and the teaching which I have been expounding in all my works on Psychopathology.

        So deeply convinced is Professor Stanley Hall of the primitive and fundamental character of the fear instinct, that he refers to the facts that "if the cerebrum is removed, animals, as Goltz and Bechterev have proved, manifest very intense symptoms of fear, and so do human monsters born without brains, of hemicephalic children, as Sternberg and Lotzko have demonstrated."

        The fear instinct is of such vital importance that it is found in animals after decerebration, and persists in animals after spino-vago-sympathetic section. Sherrington found the fear instinct present in dogs after section of the spinal cord and also after complete section of' the vago-sympathetic nerves, thus removing all sensations coming from the viscera, muscles, and skin, below the shoulder, leaving only the sensations from the front paws, head and cerebral activity. The dog was a sort of cerebral animal. The whole body below the shoulder, skin, muscle, viscera, were all anaesthetic. and yet the fear instinct remained intact.

           On the other hand, after complete ablation of the cerebral hemispheres of the dog, so that the animal became spinal, all cerebral functions being totally wiped out, Goltz invariably found that the fear instinct remained unimpaired. The fear instinct is inherent in animal lifeexistence. As long as there is life, there is fear.

        So potent, all embracing, and all pervading is the fear instinct, that the physician must reckon with it in his private office, in the hospital, and in the surgical operating room. In a number of my cases psychognosis, the study and examination of mental states, clearly reveals the fact that even where the neurosis has not originated in a surgical trauma, surgical operations reinforced, developed, and fixed psychopathic conditions.

        The fear instinct is one of the most primitive and most fundamental of all instincts. Neither hunger, nor sex, nor maternal instinct, nor social instinct can compare with the potency of the fear instinct, rooted as it is in the conditions of life primordial.

        When the instinct of fear is at its height it sweeps before it all other instincts. Nothing can withstand a panic. Functional psychosis in its full development is essentially a panic. A psychogenetic examination of every case of functional psychosis brings one invariably to the basic instinct of life, self preservation and the fear instinct.

        As Whittier puts it:

Still behind the tread I hear
Of my life companion, Fear,
Still a shadow, deep and vast
From my westering feet is cast;
Wavering, doubtful, undefined,
Never shapen, nor outlined.
From myself the Fear has grown,
And the shadow is my own.

                                

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1. The experimental work was carried on by me at the physiological laboratory, Harvard Medical School, and in my private laboratory, and published in my work on "Sleep."

 

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