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Boris Sidis, M. A., Ph.D.,
THE POWER OF ASSIMILATION OF THE DOMINANT SYSTEM
MOST remarkable was the curious fact that throughout these affective and emotional changes, throughout these subconscious upheavals, formations, transformations, and disappearances of personalities, the central delusion remained unshaken. New psychic material, however trivial, was immediately seized on and incorporated into this all-absorbing system. This highly organized system could possibly be best compared to an animal with a limitless appetite.
From the psychological and psychopathological standpoints of the theory of moment-consciousness this great power of assimilation is extremely interesting. As this is not a suitable place to discuss the subject of moment-consciousness, we limit ourselves to a bare mention of its important theoretical aspects, which are developed in a forthcoming work, The Principles of Psychology and Psychopathology.
What specially concerns us here is the experimental side showing the great assimilating power of this highly organized delusional system. Suggestions, motor and sensory, were given to the patient during his different subconscious states; they were taken and carried out only in so far as they could be assimilated by the dominating delusion, otherwise they were simply rejected. The suggestion developed gradually in proportion to its gradual absorption and incorporation into the guiding delusional system brought into relation to the "lumps" and "spots." Thus in one of the hypnotic states a post-hypnotic suggestion was given to the patient that on awaking he would see a black cat. One of the black weights which the patient used in the fatigue experiments was put opposite him so that the post-hypnotic hallucination should be easily realized, the false perception taking the character of an illusion, the black weight serving as a suggestion and nucleus for the realization of the suggested hallucination. When the patient awoke from his trance he remembered vaguely as if he had seen a black' cat in a dream and that he was to see a black cat, but he did not see what he looked for. Then the weight attracted his attention and he looked at it fixedly, and gradually the post-hypnotic hallucination developed, though in an abortive form. The patient smilingly took the weight in his hands, but it was no cat though it had the color of a black cat; then he began to pat the weight as if he were patting a cat, though he knew it was no cat. After patting the weight he looked at it for a long time with great attention and then began to perform exercises with it as in the fatigue experiments, though he did not know the reason why he was making these movements. He was going through this process with great zeal and satisfaction. When asked why he was doing all that he replied, looking intently at the weight, it was good for him, it helped draw off his lumps and spots. The suggestion thus became absorbed and assimilated by the focal delusion.
Another time a similar post-hypnotic suggestion was given to him, and with precisely the same results. The black weight was substituted for the hallucinatory black cat, but the patient did not realize the suggestion ; he did not see the cat, but after some time he seized the weight and began to perform exercises with it, though he could give no reason for his action; the only reason was that it did him good, it removed his lumps and spots. In short, he embodied the suggestion into his delusional system.
In one of his deep hypnotic states, when the patient seemed otherwise quite amenable, he was tried with a post-hypnotic suggestion of a snake. The element of fear, it was thought, might make it easier to have the suggestion realized freely without any reference to his delusional system. A suggestion was given to the patient that on coming out from his hypnotic condition he would see a snake; a rubber belt was put before him to serve as a point de repère, so to say. On awaking, the patient's eye was at once fixed on the belt, but the latter at first gave rise to no hallucination whatever; the mere word-suggestion emerged, and that in a purely negative form: "It is no snake," he kept on saying. His look, however, was constantly fixed on the belt, as if the eye was fascinated by this enchanting object. From the standpoint of gradual development and realization of a subconscious posthypnotic suggestion the experiment was extremely interesting, but more so was it from the psychological point of view of moment's power of assimilation, which will be discussed in its appropriate place.
The patient kept on looking fixedly at the suggested snake, and finally began to regard the object with great suspicion. "It looks like a snake, but it must be dead," he said. Gradually the dominating delusional system began to assimilate the percept, and on this basis the suggested hallucination began to develop, and finally became realized, but in a transformed condition fully in accord with the overmastering delusion. "It looks dead," he said, eyeing the belt suspiciously, "but my worms are alive; this is not alive; it is not my vein." The patient's attention became more and more fixed on the belt, as if his eye were riveted to it; his face assumed a puzzled questioning look of doubt and uncertainty; evidently he could not decide what in the world that fascinating object could possibly be. Finally a look of recognition, and also of terror, could be clearly seen coming over him; the percept was being gradually assimilated by the delusional system; and now the suggested hallucination began to develop rapidly. "I do not know what it is, but I am scared at it; when my vein came I was scared at it. That thing must have come from somebody, and I am scared at it now. I shall throw it away." He threw the belt away, but picked it up soon, and, looking fixedly at it, ended by becoming really frightened, and concluded: "Maybe it is mine; it is no snake, though; I have no snakes." The patient could not see the belt as a snake, because his delusion was that he was possessed by worms, not by snakes.
The following experiments are still more interesting with regard to the tendency towards systematization in the further development of the given suggestion brought in relation to the fundamental delusion.
A small chain of links and small plates were attached to the belt. This chain attracted the patient's attention. He looked at the links for some time and finally said: "I have in my body such pieces; the vein takes them up by signs from the soul and the spleen." The patient then looked intently at the flat pieces and evidently was puzzled by them and at first he said he had nothing like them. The experience evidently could not be assimilated. Soon, however, the negative aspect of this bit of psychic material with regard to the assimilating system changed, and the patient doubtfully and hesitatingly declared that the vein had a mouth not unlike this flat plate, though not just like it. As he spoke his face brightened up markedly and a contented look of recognition passed over his face, and he declared with an air of positive assurance that the vein did have a mouth very much like these flat pieces. The suggestion was partially realized, being first decomposed, digested, and modified by the assimilating power of the dominant delusion.
The overwhelming and systematizing power of this central delusional system, nourished by the delusional nucleus, was clearly brought out in the experiments made on the patient with the object of developing the phenomena of automatism. The patient for some reason or other took a great dislike to subconscious writing automatism. It was suggested that he would answer questions in subconscious automatic writing. The suggestion was not taken. As usual the patient modified the suggestion to fit the delusion,―he began to make dots with the pencil, claiming that these dots were his lumps and spots coming out from under his "mucous membrane" and flowing through the pencil on to the paper.
Whatever was possible was immediately pressed into the service of the delusion. The patient observed black spots under the nails of the toes. These black spots were immediately identified with the delusional lumps and spots. Another time, when the delusional system began to be broken up, its vitality was still clearly manifested by its remarkable power of assimilation. Thus when the patient was sitting and looking at his foot with the supposed delusional spots in the toes, he happened to feel the pulsations of an artery, he immediately adapted this experience to his delusion. These pulsations were due to the spots continually flowing and running off into the hole.
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