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THE PSYCHOLOGY OF SUGGESTION

A RESEARCH INTO THE SUBCONSCIOUS NATURE OF MAN AND SOCIETY

Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

1898. New York, D. Appleton and Company.

 

INTRODUCTION BY WILLIAM JAMES

        I am glad to contribute to this book of Dr. Boris Sidis a few words of introduction, which may possibly gain for it a prompter recognition by the world of readers who are interested in the things of which it treats. Much of the experimental part of the work, although planned entirely by Dr. Sidis, was done in the Harvard Psychological Laboratory, and I have been more or less in his confidence while his theoretic conclusions, based on his later work in the Pathological Institute of the New York State Hospitals, were taking shape.

        The meaning of personality, with its limits and its laws, forms a problem which until quite recently had to be discussed almost exclusively by logical and metaphysical methods. Within the past dozen years, however, an immense amount of new empirical material had been injected into the question by the observations which the "recognition" by science of the hypnotic state set in motion. Many of these observations are pathological: fixed ideas, hysteric attacks, insane delusions, mediumistic phenomena, etc. And altogether, although they are far from having solved the problem of personality, they must be admitted to have transformed its outward shape. What are the limits of the consciousness of a human being? Is "self" consciousness only a part of the whole consciousness? Are there many "selves" dissociated from one another? What is the medium of synthesis in a group of associated ideas? How can certain systems of ideas be cut off and forgotten? Is personality a product, and not a principle? Such are the questions now being forced to the front―questions now asked for the first time with some sense of their concrete import, and questions which it will require a great amount of further work, both of observation and of analysis, to answer adequately.

        Meanwhile many writers are seeking to fill the gap, and several books have been published seeking to popularize the new observations and ideas and present them in connected form. Dr. Sidis' work distinguishes itself from some of these by its originality, and from others by the width of its scope.

        It is divided into three parts: Suggestibility; The Self; Man as One of a Crowd. Under all these heads the author is original. He tries by ingenious experiments to show that the suggestibility of waking persons follows an opposite law to that of hypnotic subjects. Suggestions must be veiled, in the former case, to be effective; in the latter case, the more direct and open they are the better. By other ingenious experiments Dr. Sidis tries to show that the" subliminal" or "ultra-marginal" portions of the mind may in normal persons distinguish objects which the attentive senses find it impossible to name. These latter experiments are incomplete, but they open the way to a highly important psychological investigation.

        In Part II, on "The Self," a very full account is given of "double personality," subliminal consciousness, etc. The author is led to adopt as an explanation of the dissociations which lie at the root of all these conditions the physiological theory of retraction of the processes of the brain cells, which in other quarters also seems coming to the front. He makes an elaborate classification of the different degrees of dissociation or amnesia, and, on the basis of a highly interesting and important pathological case, suggests definite methods of diagnosis and cure. This portion of the book well deserves the attention of neurologists.

         In Part III the very important matter of "crowd psychology" is discussed, almost for the first time in English. There is probably no more practically important topic to the student of public affairs. Dr. Sidis illustrates it by fresh examples, and his treatment is highly suggestive.

        I am not convinced of all of Dr. Sidis' positions, but I can cordially recommend the volume to all classes of readers as a treatise both interesting and instructive, and original in a high degree, on a branch of research whose importance is daily growing greater.
                                                         

WILLIAM JAMES
HARVARD UNIVERSITY,
November 1, 1897

 

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