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Boris Sidis, Ph.D.

1898. New York, D. Appleton and Company.



             The study of the subconscious is becoming of more and more absorbing interest. The phenomena of hysteria and of hypnosis are now studied by the French psychologists with remarkable acumen and with an unrivalled fertility of ingenious devices, and the results obtained thus far form almost an epoch in the history of psychology. Although the French psychologists work independently of one another and disagree among themselves on many important points, still their method and general line of investigation are pretty nearly the same. They all care for clinical cases more than for minute, detailed laboratory experimentsthe present hobby of the Germansand their chief work falls within the domain of the subconscious. The French psychologists seem to be on the track of a rich gold vein. Without closely formulating their method, they have all, as if by a mutual tacit understanding, chosen the right way that leads to a better and deeper insight into the nature of mind. For the mechanism of consciousness is hidden deep down in the depths of the subconscious, and it is thither we have to descend in order to get a clear understanding of the phenomena that appear in the broad daylight of consciousness.

        The German school, with Wundt at its head, at first started out on similar lines, but they could not make any use of the subconscious, and their speculations ran wild in the fancies of Hartmann. The reason of this failure is due to the fact that the concept of the subconscious as conceived by the German school was extremely vague, and had rather the character of a mechanical than that of a psychical process. An unconscious consciousness that was their concept of the subconscious. In such a form as this the subconscious was certainly meaninglessmere nonsenseand had to be given up. The German psychological investigations are now confined to the content of consciousness in so far as the individual is immediately conscious of it. But as this form of consciousness is extremely narrow and circumscribed, the results arrived at, though remarkable for their thoroughness, are after all of a rather trivial nature. It is what Prof. James aptly characterizes "the elaboration of the obvious." We may therefore, with full right, assert that it was the French psychologists who made proper use of the subconscious and arrived at results that are of the utmost importance to psychology, although it were well if the French were to conduct their investigations with German thoroughness.

        It is not, however, the French alone who work along the lines of the subconscious, but the English and Americans, too, have a large share in the work. Gourney, James, Myers, and others, have done much toward the elucidation of the obscure phenomena of the subconscious. Psychology is especially indebted to the genius of Myers for his wide and comprehensive study of the phenomena of the subconscious, or of what he calls the manifestations of the subliminal self. The only drawback in Myers's concept of the subliminal self is that he conceives it as a metaphysical entity, as a kind of a cosmic self. Now, while Myers may be right in his belief, the phenomena under investigation do not warrant the hypothesis of metaphysical entities. I have therefore avoided the use of the term "subliminal self," however excellent it might be in itself, in order not to entangle the reader in the metaphysical considerations that cluster round that concept, and also because my point of view of the subconscious widely differs from that of Myers.

        The study of subconscious phenomena is of great interest from a purely practical standpoint, because of the use that call be made of it in the state of health and disease. A knowledge of the laws of the subconscious is of momentous import in education, in the reformation of juvenile criminals and offenders, and one can hardly realize the great benefit that suffering humanity will derive from a proper methodical use of the subconscious within the province of therapeutics.

        The study of the subconscious is especially of great value to sociology, because nowhere else does the subconscious work on such a grand, stupendous scale as it does in the popular mind; and the sociologist who ignores the subconscious lacks a deep insight into the nature of social forces. For the practical man who takes part in social affairs, in so far as they concern his own interests, the knowledge of the subconscious can hardly be overestimated; and this knowledge becomes an imperative necessity to him who lives in a democracy. The object of this book is the study of the subconscious, normal or abnormal, individual or social, in its relation to suggestion and suggestibility; and let me hope that the thoughtful reader will find my work not only interesting, but stimulating to thought and useful in practical life.


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