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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

Simon P. Goodhart, M.D.

© 1904




WE here reproduce almost verbatim some extracts from our notes made during our visit to Mr. Hanna at his home in Plantsville, Conn., May 26, 1897. He was at this time confined to his bed, suffering from injury to the spine in consequence of a fall from his horse. This occurred some weeks after the original accident of April 15. It produced, however, no psychic effect, leaving him in the same state of secondary personality.

            “Mr. Hanna is still in amnesic condition; he has absolutely no recollection of any life experience before the accident. He has memory only for such experiences of life as have occurred since the injury. He is as one newly born, just entering into life. His knowledge, bound up in his personal identity, dates only from the time of the accident.

            He will say ‘I know’ of certain events occurring since April 15. Of experiences previous to that time, he knows only as information acquired from others. He regards these events related to him as if having occurred in the life of quite another person. No memory of his previous life spontaneously occurs to him. The time of the accident may therefore be considered as the boundary-line between two distinct and separate lives of the same individual; what occurred in his former life, before the accident, is unknown to the personality formed after the accident. So that we may say two personalities dwell within the same individual. The one seems dead, crushed in the accident, and the other the living one, whose knowledge is but a few weeks old. This was the general mental condition in which we found Mr. Hanna when we visited him on May 26.

            The interest lies in the question whether any experiences of his former life still exist within the mind of Mr. Hanna of which he is not cognizant. In short, the interest now lies in the possibility of tapping the subconscious life which may perhaps contain memories of former experiences. In case such memories exist, their presence will prove that the injury is really not organic, but rather of a functional character. It will at the same time indicate the presence of two memories, neither of which is cognizant of the other’s existence.

            The problem now is, what shall be the method of investigation? How shall we tap the subconscious, so that it shall reveal the treasury of lost memories? There are many methods of carrying out this work, but the simplest and most feasible is the inquiry into the character of his dreams.

            Mr. Hanna was asked if he had any dreams, and the answer was that he had. “They are of two kinds,” he said. “One is unlike the other; in the one kind the pictures are weak, and I cannot easily bring them up before my mind clearly; the other kind I can easily see and feel clearly again, as though they were before me. The picture dreams,” he continued, “come in the morning; they are not like the other dreams; they are too strong and plain.” We reproduce Mr. Hanna’s words in order to make clear the difference between the two forms of dreams. The significance of the “picture dreams” is of vital importance.

            It turned out that the dreams characterized by Mr. Hanna as “clear picture dreams,” and which we may term vivid ones, were really experiences that had occurred in his former life. He, however, did not recognize them as such and considered them simply as strange dreams of his present life.

            In these vivid or “clear picture dreams,” incidents, names of persons, of objects, of places, were arising from the depths of Mr. Hanna’s subconscious life. They were not recognized by him; they seemed to him so strange, so totally unfamiliar. He mentioned names of persons, of objects, of places which to him in his waking state were perfectly meaningless, empty sounds. They were, however, understood by the parents, who were familiar with the son’s former life experiences. When Mr. Hanna began to relate his dreams and the experiences he was passing through in those peculiar, strong, vivid picture dreams, the parents, who had almost despaired of their son ever again regaining recollection of his past life, were most amazed and overjoyed at this first evidence of a resurrection of what they had feared were forever buried memories.

            To pass now to the dreams. The first dream described was the following: He saw a railroad with a shed on one side; he saw letters as if cut out with a knife (he probably referred to letters standing out in relief); then there was a yard with a fence around it, and in the yard were strange people, tall and with light hair; they were picking flowers.

            Then he says he finds himself on a white and soft road, “never [Mr. Hanna uses ‘never’ as meaning ‘since the accident,’ as he has no memory for what occurred before] saw anything like it." A man stood at his side, whom he called, although not knowing why, by the name of Bustler. The father afterward told us that Bustler was the name of a minister, a friend of Mr. Hanna’s. He could describe the man fully. He was tall, but not fat; he had a coat rounded in front and of a black color. They came up together to the railroad. Mr. Hanna carried with him a satchel, with a brown strap, held up in front of him. (The description was found to be correct.) The man whom he called Bustler then turned to him and said: “I thank you for helping me yesterday.” (Father thought that this remark was occasioned by the fact that his son probably assisted Rev. Mr. Bustler in conducting services the day before.) In his dreams he heard that the place was called “Cemetery”; he does not know whether cemetery is a name nor does he know what the word means. Then the man Bustler went away, leaving Mr. Hanna alone. Near the railroad he saw a square house, and upon it were the letters N-E-W-B-O-S-T-O-N-J-U-N-C. (Mr. Hanna did not pronounce the words, but spelled out the letters); he knows, he says, what “New” means, but does not understand the meaning of the rest. The railroad divides here into two parts, thus: V; he himself walked up on the left side of the road; he had a watch, he “never saw anything like it”; “it is of such a color,” and he pointed out a book, the covers of which were of a silver color. The watch he saw in the dream had the XII marked near the winder instead of being in the same position as on the face of the watch that was lying by his side upon the table. The dream watch had a cover; he “had never seen such a watch before.”

            As he walked along, he saw on the left side of the road a great black building with big black lumps like coal, although he had never, he said, seen such large pieces. (He had only seen stove coal since the accident.) He also saw a horse with long ears and “with a tail like a cow.” “Never saw anything like it.” The horse produced such queer sounds. (The animal he saw in the dream was evidently an ass; he had not seen one since the accident.) He called that black building “brakes.” (The reader’s attention must be called to the fact that Mr. Hanna lived in Pennsylvania in the extensive coal districts, and the scenes he passed through in his “vivid” dreams are those commonly seen in that section of the country.) Then there was another picture. There was no black building; there were ashes instead. Then he saw a brick house; he “never saw anything like it.” When asked how he knew it was a brick house, he replied that it was made up of the same material as a brick chimney, and he pointed to one seen through the window of his room. At this point Mr. Hanna said he became hungry; went into the building and bought gingerbread for five cents; also saw near by “horses with long ears and tails like cows.”

            Mr. Hanna described another picture, in which he had another companion, whom he called, for no known reason, Ray W. Schuyler. In his dream he heard that the name of the place was “Morea.” (We learned that Schuyler was the name of an old companion of Mr. Hanna’s school-days; that they had been together in Morea, a town in Pennsylvania.) Mr. Hanna found himself walking in fields of deep snow. “Never saw such deep snow.” He heard in the dream that the “white stuff” was called snow. He saw a pond; the pond was very deep, “up to the knees”; it was “awful work” to walk; he felt very warm from walking; then there was also another pond, and near it a house made of stone. He was now “walking up and down hill, and so without end.” (We learned later that these journeys and the scenes witnessed were actual experiences in Mr. Hanna’s former life.)

            The father, who was present when the dreams were related by the son, could identify the places spoken of as well as their names and also the persons mentioned. The description of the individuals in the dreams was found to be correct. When the father happened to mention the name “Martinoe,” Mr. Hanna at once said, “Oh, yes, that was the name of the place I passed through, but,” exclaimed he, “how do you know of it?” When the father interposed and described more fully what Mr. Hanna saw, the latter with great wonder and amazement exclaimed, “How can you know all this, it was only a dream!” There was indeed mutual surprise, as father and son gazed in wonder at each other. The father was surprised at the unexpected appearances of old but unrecognized experiences of the son; the latter was quite as much taken aback by what to him appeared to be his father’s supernatural intelligence.

            When Mr. Hanna was asked about the meaning of the inscription N-E-W-B-O-S-T-O-N-J-U-N-C., he could understand the meaning of the word “new”; he had learned it since the accident, but the other syllables were unintelligible to him; he could not even form them into words. He was then asked to guess as to the probable meaning of the letters B-O-S-T-O-N. He replied, “It might be the name of the building.” When asked to try again, he said, “It might be the name of a place,” but he could not comprehend why the term “New” should be prefixed to it. On second thought, however, he remembered that he had recently learned of the existence of such names as New London and New Haven, and he therefore concluded that Boston might be the name of a place.

            Mr. Hanna’s present retentiveness of memory was then tested. Ten numerals were given to him. The numerals were read at intervals of a second. Of these he remembered the first six and all of them in the order read. Ten “nonsense syllables” were read to him at intervals of a second, of which he remembered the first five correctly and in the order read to him. Greek sentences were read to him; the first one had fourteen words, of which he remembered five correctly and in the order read. Although Mr. Hanna had been a good Greek scholar, he had no recollection of the character or meaning of the words. Long Latin phrases were read to him and he repeated them almost exactly, though with no recognition of them.

            The Hebrew Bible was then taken, and as Mr. Hanna had once been well versed in Hebrew Scripture, the first sentence in Genesis was read to him. It was expected that possibly old memories would be brought up. The method of "hypnoidization"1 was used. This method is most effective in the diagnosis of cases of amnesia in general, and was found to be of great value in this case. Mr. Hanna was asked to close his eyes and put his hands to his forehead and listen with all possible effort and attention to the reading of the Hebrew phrase. The phrase was read to him and the experimenter stopped abruptly in the middle of the sentence. He suddenly exclaimed, “I remember!” and began at the beginning and ran through the entire paragraph, which had not been read to him. With the exception of a few stray words, he at once forgot everything he had just correctly recited. The flood of memories that had arisen to consciousness suddenly subsided again and fell into the depths of his subconscious life. It had come with such a force that he said, “It frightened me; it seemed as if another being was speaking through me.”

            When he was asked if he knew the meaning of the Hebrew phrase or if he had ever heard it before, he said he did not. In short, not only was the feeling of recognition of the phrase absent, but also that of familiarity; the words seemed to him bizarre, quite strange.



1 See Sidis, The Psychology of Suggestion, chap. xxii.


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