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Review of

Symptomatology, Psychognosis, and Diagnosis of Psychopathic Diseases

R. H. Steen

Journal of Mental Science, 1922, 68, 75-76.


Symptomatology, Psychognosis and Diagnosis of Psychopathic Diseases. By BORIS SIDIS, A.M., Ph.D., M.D. Edinburgh: E. & S. Livingstone, 1921 Pp. xix + 448. Large crown 8vo. Price 21s, net.

         The student of morbid psychology and psychotherapy is living in a difficult age. He is bombarded on all sides by books dealing these subjects, and the ammunition seems to be unending. Moreover, there are many different schools of thought, and each one claims that his is the only one to be relied upon. The arguments used in sustaining the rival claims are not always advanced with the sobriety one expects from a scientific discussion, and in many cases a certain of heat is engendered in the combatants. This we have grown accustomed to, but in the introduction to the volume under review we meet with language which is out of place in a scientific work, and the only parallel which suggests itself is the odium theologicum. The author in writing of Freud says that psychoanalysis is "sheer humbug," "Talmudic hair-splitting sophistry,” “a mental debauch,” “a form of medical bacchanalia,” better Christian Science than psychoanalysis.” These statements often appear in italics,―a form of letter-press which the author is very fond of―and are only a sample of many others. Through the greater part of nineteen pages of introduction, and occasionally in the remainder of the book, psychoanalysis, like King Charles’ head in the case of Mr. Dick, will obtrude itself, and when it comes it is execrated. It is a strange phenomenon, for, to an ordinary observer, Dr. Sidis would seem to follow in paths similar to those taken by his adversary. For example, the book is written to indicate the powerful influence of the subconscious on psychopathic states. The author believes that no diagnosis and treatment is possible without a complete history of the life of the patient and especially of his earliest years. He also attaches a considerable value to the study of dreams, and though he declaims against Freud's work in the sexual sphere he discusses a case at considerable length, recounting unsavory details of a sexual nature.

    It is a pity that Sidis has allowed his zeal to outrun his discretion, as it causes the reader to feel that one who is so intemperate in his language may not he a safe guide to knowledge, with the result that the remainder of his book is unread. This would be a matter for regret, for there is much therein to interest and to instruct.

    Psychognosis means "a working knowledge of the patient's soul," and this is to be attained "by all kinds of methods―hypnoidal, hypnotic, and especially by a close observation of the [sub]waking states.” Most readers will find the chief interest of the book in the account of the hypnoidal state, as this is a subject which the author has made particularly his own. It is a sub-waking state, in which the patient, though not asleep, is yet not fully awake, and is in that half-drowsy condition in which we hover between wakefulness and sleep. The hypnoidal state may lead to sleep or hypnosis. Details are given as to how the state may be induced, and these consist chiefly of quietness; darkness, the closure of the eyes, and some monotonous stimulus. When he is in this state it is more easy to tap the subconscious than in the ordinary waking state. An interesting account of hypnotic state and hypnoid states is given. The latter signifies the condition which exists in phenomena such as automatic writing, crystal-gazing; and double or multiple personality.

         It is impossible in a short review to give an account of the author’s views on hallucinations, aphasias, amnesias, etc., but it may be remarked that there is plenty of food for discussion under these headings. His classification of mental diseases is simplicity itself, and if it could be accepted, would save much time and trouble, but one wants further proof than the ipse dixit of the author. For example, general paralysis and dementia præcox are "organopathies" in which there is death of the neuron. "Neuropathies" are diseases in which the neuron is affected by toxic products, and include manic-depressive insanity and all the mental affections caused by poisons, such as chloral, etc.

         Two of the most interesting chapters are those in which actual cases are recorded, and in whom the "psychognosis" has been worked out by hypnosis or by hypnoidal states. One longs to know the method of treatment adopted by Dr. Sidis, but he is stern with us, and keeps strictly to the text of his title, namely "symptomatology, psychognosis and diagnosis."


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