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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.

© 1904





A MOMENT in passing from the centre of consciousness to the lower regions of the subconscious is usually effecting its course gradually through all degrees of intensity, ranging from maximum to minimum. In learning to play a violin, for instance, the movements of adjustments are at first effected with much strain and intensity of attention, but a long course of exercise, practice and repetitions slowly reduce the strain and intensity of attention until the act of playing and the necessary motor adjustments require the minimum of consciousness and the minimal amount of strain; in other words, the act becomes habitual, automatic. A habit is not formed suddenly. A series of repetitions are requisite, each repetition making the next one easier, thus reducing the strain and intensity of consciousness, until the minimum is reached. Of course, the minimum is relative for that particular moment consciousness. Some of them have a higher and some a lower minimum, although none of them may pass the absolute minimum. This largely depends on the complexity of the moment. The more complex the moment is, the higher the minimum, although they have all a tendency to reach ultimately the absolute limit. In other words, a more complex moment or aggregate of moments takes a larger time and a longer series of repetitions to reach the absolute minimum of consciousness. A simplification in the constitution of the moment makes the process of reduction more rapid, but the moment on its way to the minimum has nevertheless to pass through the different degrees of intensity. The passage through intermediate stages is a necessary condition of the reduction of a functioning moment to a minimum of consciousness.

            In the reverse process, however, in the process of a moment’s rise from the subconscious to the conscious, intermediary stages are not always requisite. The moment, buried in the obscure regions of the subconscious, may be illuminated by the intense focal light of consciousness without passing through any intermediary stages. The direct or fading process is like the dying away of light; the reverse process is like the blazing up of a torch or like the explosion of gunpowder. That intermediary stages of consciousness are not requisite in the reverse process, that is, in the process of the moment's rising from the subconscious to the conscious, we may clearly see from such a commonplace example as the recalling of a once familiar name. We look and search for the name; we try all kinds of clews; we strain our attention in the search after the lost link, but of no avail. In fact, the more we try, the more we feel barred from the place where that lost link is to be found; we feel lost and wandering, and finally give up the whole affair in great despair and turn to something else. In the middle of our work, when we have fully forgotten all about the search, the name suddenly shoots up. No intermediary stage is passed, the whole state flares up at once. Solutions of difficult and complicated problems, discoveries and inventions, are known to occur in this way. Similarly in the phenomena of the various forms of sensory and motor automatisms, the sensory images or the motor reactions expressive of the rising psychic state gush up suddenly from the depth of the subconscious self.

            In hypnosis, again, ideas and sensori-motor reactions, induced by post-hypnotic suggestion, may flash suddenly upon the mind of the subject. While in trance, the subject may be told a word, or a phrase, and suggested that he should be unable to remember it on awakening, but that when he will hear the word “now,” coming from the experimenter, he should be able to remember. On emerging from the trance state, the subject cannot remember that word or phrase, although it may just be, as some say, on the tip of his tongue; he may be in a condition similar to the one when searching after a familiar word, but which somehow constantly eludes his mental grasp. Generally, though, if the subject falls into deep hypnosis, his amnesia is complete and he cannot remember anything about the word, just as if it has been erased from his memory. No sooner, however, does the signal “now” reach him, than the forgotten word or phrase immediately and instantly flashes upon his mind.

            This sudden, “impulsive” rise of moments from the subconscious into the light of the central consciousness; can be even more clearly seen, more concretely realized, so to say, in the post-hypnotic suggestion of the motor character. During hypnosis it is suggested to the subject to do a certain act on perceiving a certain signal, but that he should not have the least memory of what he is going to do before the signal is given. On coming out from the hypnotic trance, if this be deep, he remembers nothing and may engage in something else; no sooner does he perceive the signal than he jumps up and carries out the suggested act with great impetuosity and lightning-like rapidity. The suggested psychomotor reaction, hidden subconsciously, appears in the light of consciousness as instantly as the discharge of the gun on the release of the trigger, or as the ring of the electric bell at the touch of the button.

            If we turn to psychopathological cases, we once more meet with evidence of the same truth, we find instances the very essence of which consists in the fact that intermediary stages of the moment's transition from the subconscious to the conscious are completely wanting. The sudden onset of uncontrollable impulses and imperative ideas are notorious. Many an asylum can point to patients in its wards, patients who have been quiet and listless for many months and even years, who rise suddenly, fell their attendant with one powerful blow and immediately after return to their previous listless state. The outburst is instantaneous. Suicidal and homicidal impulses, accompanying various forms of mental alienation, may have a sudden onset and vanish as abruptly as they came. Imperative ideas may also have the same flash-like appearance. The idea enters the mind suddenly, torments the patient by its insistency, and then somehow unaccountably vanishes. These impulses and ideas are like meteors, they appear lightning-like on the mind’s horizon and then drop out of sight. Thus all the adduced facts now verge to one truth that reverse procession of a moment from the subconscious region to the light of the upper consciousness need not be through intermediary stages.

            It may also be pointed out that intermediary stages are also absent when the subconscious moment which has emerged into the focus of the upper consciousness falls back again into the region whence it has come. In fact, we may say that this fit-like process is often even more characteristic of the returning of the moment into the subconscious than of its coming. We all have experienced the fact how some ideas, whether familiar or not, often flash across the mind, and the next moment disappear as mysteriously and as tracelessly as they came; they drop into the subconscious before the upper consciousness can seize on them, fixate them and have them assimilated. Hypnoidal states are of such a nature; they are sudden upheavals from the depth of the subconscious, but often disappear from consciousness as suddenly as they appear. The same we find in the case of uncontrollable impulses; they invade consciousness and get possession of it like an attack and then drop out of sight, sometimes not even leaving a trace or a vague memory.

            In the states of hypnosis, such coming and going of subconscious moments can be investigated more closely. During hypnosis, a story may be told to the subject and then a suggestion given that on awakening, when he perceives a signal, a sound, for instance, the story should occur to his mind, and that he should relate it, but that, immediately after, it should lapse from his consciousness. If the subject takes post-hypnotic suggestions, and can be put into that stage of hypnosis where amnesia can be induced, then the rise and fall of the subconscious moments are almost instantaneous, demonstrating the truth that the subconscious moment does not necessarily require to pass transitional stages in consciousness, whether forward or backward, whether it rises from the subconscious to the focus of consciousness or leaves the focus to sink into the subconscious.

            This want of intermediary stages in the history of the rise and fall of the subconscious moment is not uniformly the case. The subconscious moment may rise slowly, pass through intermediary stages of intensity of consciousness, and then enter the focus and may again, in departing, fade away slowly, passing by degrees through all grades of intensity in its backward course. This is especially frequent in cases when the given moment rises spontaneously from a great depth of the subconscious. The moment seems to struggle on its way with many obstacles, hence its many failures to rise to full intensity. The same thing occurs in the different forms of sensory and motor automatism. The moment buried in the depths of the subconscious does not appear at once, fully developed, but struggles up as a series of failures, blunders and errors. This fading away of the moment into the subconscious and then the rise of it, sudden or gradual, back to the focus of consciousness, constitutes the cyclical movement of the moment consciousness.


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