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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.

© 1904




To make clear to the reader the state of Mr. Hanna’s mind, we bring here verbatim answers to our questions put to him some six weeks after the accident, when his secondary personality became sufficiently trained and educated to give an account of what had taken place since the injury.

            We had frequently to simplify and elucidate our questions, as Mr. Hanna often failed to understand words and phrases. Mr. Hanna's talk is somewhat incoherent, due to scantiness of his mental content and of his newly acquired vocabulary.

            Q. We want to get from you an account of the very first things you remember of your life? A. That would be hard to do orderly. I told you before about that. I woke up, and it was at first only wonder how far anything could be. Of course, I did not move, and did not see; just in my mind measuring how far there could be room or space. And while I was thinking, I noticed this movement that I had when I breathe, and then, when I would think and notice that breathing, it would be more slow and irregular; and so I found when I would think and watch that it would change and that I could make it slow or fast and I began to breathe very fast. They have told me since that time that that was what frightened them first. But it was just to see how fast I could breathe, and I was breathing very fast to see how it would seem. And all at once my eyes opened. I don’t know how it came. I was breathing very fast, and my eyes just came open, and then I looked all around at everything, and found that my head would turn, too, when I would try to look.

            Q. When you opened your eyes, did you have an impression of any kind or was your mind a blank? A. I don’t know that there was anything. My eyes just were so confused by everything that I could not tell one thing from another.

            Q. Then everything looked alike to you? A. Just like one picture against my eyes. If now I could have a great picture against my eyes, it would look like that.

            Q. Did you see objects, or see colors? A. Colors. There was not anything like thickness; no distance; only colors.

            Q. Did you see straight lines, squares? A. It was only darkness and lightness and colors.

            Q. You can see the straightness of this pencil (placing a pencil at some distance from the patient)? A. Yes.

            Q. Did you see anything of that kind? A. No; they were just alike; all was one thing. I would not know whether the pencil was on your face or not. It was all one thing—close to my eyes—just like a painting.

            Q. What was next after you noticed that you could turn your head? A. When I would turn my eyes very far, and see all about this picture, I noticed my head would turn, too. Then I began to roll my head very fast, to see how hard I could turn it. Then I would turn that hand. Then I threw both hands. They say that was what frightened them worst of all. Everything in the room was all still and quiet. I wanted to see how much I could move my hand. Then there was something here that changed, that moved. Of course, I know now what it was. I thought it was something that my hand bad done that made it move. It was really Dr. St——n, near the door. I put out my hand and tried to move it, but found that I didn’t touch it—, I got up and went farther and farther to make it move. The movement surprised me. I thought my hand must have done it, but I did not move my hand any then. That was the first time I separated my movement from that of others, when he moved the first time without my moving him, it was all very strange. It was such an experience. The first I knew of external movement at all was when he moved, and then I didn't have it clear in my mind. The first that I was really sure that there was something beside me was when Dr. O. jumped on me. Then I was sure there was something against me.

            Q. But before you thought it was yourself? A. Yes. But I thought I didn't know it all. I thought there must be some part that I didn’t know; but it was very hard, because I was so much surprised at everything each second that I wanted to think all about that—what it could be and what it could not be; and then the next second there would be something else I wanted to think about, and it was very hard to get all these things in my mind, and to think of them orderly after they jumped at me.

            Q. Did you know why he jumped on you? A. No; I did not have time to think of those questions. I would now think of those things. I knew I was trying to reach out, and he was trying to push me back, and I saw that Dr. O. was the only one, and I could not really make out that there were many of them in the room. It seemed to me that after all it was all one thing that was against me, and that they were all like a part of me, and when he came at me all the others came, so that I could not make them separate. So I thought by holding him down it would stop everything. They had it very easy the first time to put me on the bed. I was close by the bed. I did not know how to use my legs or arms at all. They could put me down, because I could not use my arms. I very soon landed on the bed, with them on me.

            Q. How did you learn to use your arms? A. I could move around in different ways. I found when I had my knees and arms under me, I could get up then. I first pushed Dr. St——n back and then pushed Dr. O., and got him on the bed. Mr. Sh. I did not touch. He was pushing on my back. He was a very tall man. Mr. M., the other man, was a small man. He got on my head. That was afterward. We were lying still. There I was holding Dr. O. down, and almost afraid to move, because he might get up, and the other men were on me. And they did not try to do anything; they did not try to get me back to bed.

            Q. Just to hold you still? A. I suppose so. I was willing to be still. They got this other man, and as soon as they got him, they tried to push me off Dr. O., and they got me off. And I saw it was not any use to try to do anything, and so I went back to bed. But that was not enough. They tied my arms, even when I had gotten away from them. I was very much disappointed then; thought it was not any good to try to do anything. But this other man came—that I found out afterward was Mr. C.—he came late at night into the house and he came and saw that the rope was hurting one of my arms. It was very tight, and so he begged the doctors to take it off—, and they would not. At last, he said he was going to take it off himself; he was going to take the responsibility on himself. I remember those sentences. (The patient could remember the words, but did not at that time realize the significance of the sentences.)

            Q. Do you remember the sentences? A. Yes; I had seen that when one of them would make these noises (patient refers to speech) that another would know just what to do; so I saw by that they could understand each other and I thought it would be good for me to learn, and so I tried to learn. I knew then that they had some way of communication, of talking; and I knew that Mr. C. was very kind, and I thought these others were bad. And so I wanted to talk to him.

            Q. How do you know he was kind? A. He was trying to take these off, and the doctors would come and take his hand away, and at last, when they were out of the room, he took them (ropes) off.

            Q. That rope was painful? A. Oh, yes; I could not lie any way except with my face down. I could not turn over on either side. My arms were very tight behind me.

            Q. Afterward they took off the rope and let you free? A. Yes; then I could lie back. I was content to lie then. They had stuck a needle (for hypodermic injection) in my arm and injected in my arm. I was glad to lie still, if they would let me alone.

            Q. Did you feel any pain? A. No.

            Q. You felt that (hypodermic) needle? A. Oh, yes; I felt that was sharp.

            Q. What was the first thing you learned; do you remember? A. You mean the first words? The first thing I did was to repeat aloud whatever sentences I had heard people say, that I could remember; every one that I could remember. I did not know anything what they meant. I thought perhaps that I could learn to talk that way by saying what other people said.

            Q. You repeated what they said? A. Yes; I repeated them without understanding the sense. I would say the same as they did. Anywhere in the house that I could hear words I would say them afterward. But it did not do any good; I could not learn to talk at all. So Friday afternoon (the day after the accident) I stopped talking—saying those sentences—because I saw that I could not learn to talk any better that way. And I was feeling then very discouraged, because people laughed at me.

            Q. Why were you discouraged? A. Because it did not make any difference to them (to the people). Sometimes the sentences, I suppose, would happen to be suiting, and then they would be very much surprised at what I said; and again they would see that it was nonsense, I suppose, and they would not pap any attention to it, except to go and tell the doctors what I said. That was about all; and Friday afternoon I gave up.

            Q. Can you recall any sentences which you at that time repeated without knowing the meaning of the words? A. Mr. S. said words like these: “Do you want me to come?” That is the best I can remember. And Dr. O. said: “Course, you fool.”

            Q. But you did not understand what it meant? A. No; the accident, they tell me, happened Thursday night, and I began to learn to speak late Friday afternoon.

            Q. How many sentences had you repeated? A. I think as many as thirty or forty.

            Q. For how many days? A. For two days. Saturday before noon was the first time that I learned any word with its real meaning. Saturday—before dinner. I could only tell times by daylight and the lamplight, and by the three meals. That is all I knew about time then.

            Q. When you learned the meaning of the first word were you still repeating sentences? A. Oh, yes; I had begun to repeat sentences again Friday night and Saturday morning; but Friday afternoon and evening I had stopped, because it did not seem any good to me at all; and then I thought it was very foolish to lie there and do nothing, and not work at all, to have people understand me. And so I began again to repeat these sentences. And then Saturday morning I felt a great deal worse about it, and so I began to try to act as if I wanted to talk all I could, and that is the time that Miss A. saw what I wanted to do. She got an apple from the table, and held the yellow apple up to me, and said “apple” plainly three times.

            Q. And you repeated it? A. Yes; she made the motion very clearly with her mouth and I said it after her; and she showed me it was all right.

            Q. How did she show it? A. She smiled, and nodded her head.

            Q. Did you understand? A. Yes; I could tell by the motions people made to each other; the way they nodded and the way they would motion with their hands. I do not think it was later than about Friday afternoon or Friday noon when I could understand almost everything people could do when they would come, and I think I could after a long time have understood their language that way; but I think it would have taken a long time, because those people at that time seemed to use their hands and their face a great deal more than you do, or people do now. I don’t know why it was. (His attendants and visitors were under more than usual excitement.) Mr. Sh. more than all; his hands and his head would be going all the time.

            Q. How did you learn to know distance? A. A picture I saw across the room did not seem farther than a clock near by. So I thought I would reach out and feel it, but I could not reach it, and I reached farther and farther. I did not want to get up any more, because I had found they did not want me to get up; and so I thought I must not now. And so I just reached as far as I could. And even after I knew something about distance, I stretched out my hand to reach distant things. But the greatest surprise of all was the looking-glass which they gave me. That was just after I reached for the picture. It was very strange. I thought I must be able to feel it the same as I could feel my face, or anybody’s face—I thought I could feel in the looking-glass. It was all smooth, and that was what surprised me so much.

            Q. Did you look on the other side? A. No; but I put my hand back, back. Then I turned it around, and could not see it.         It was very strange to see it move when I would turn this. If I would turn it' this side, the face would look as if it were turning that way. It was very strange. That was the greatest surprise I had during that day—was to understand the looking-glass.

            Q. When was that? A. That was Saturday about noon.

            Q. Did you understand then what it was? A. No; I did not. I thought there must be some way of putting the picture here. I did not know it was my face. If I had known it was my face, it would have been different. Q. Did you reach any conclusion as to what the glass was? A. I thought it was some kind of a picture that could move.

            Q. How did you learn the difference between a picture and a living human being? A. Well, they could move, they had different shape, you know, from the picture. The picture was smooth, if you tried the picture.

            Q. How did you come to know of pictures? A. They gave me picture-books.


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