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Review of 

Symptomatology, Psychognosis, and Diagnosis of Psychopathic Diseases

Meyer Soloman, M. D.

Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 1916, 11, 137-141.


SYMPTOMATOLOGY, PSYCHOGNOSIS, AND DIAGNOSIS OF PSYCHOPATHIC DISEASES. By Boris Sidis, A. M., Ph. D, M. D., Medical Director of the Sidis Psychotherapeutic Institute. Boston: Richard G. Badger. Price $2.50 net. Pages XLX, 439 with index.

         This is the second of Sidis' recent series of works on psychopathic diseases, the previous one having been "The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology."

         This book is so full of excellent discussion and penetrating analysis that it is not easy to select from it without omitting much of great value. I shall, however, give a brief outline of what can be expected by the reader and student of this volume.

         In the introduction the author protests against and denounces the methods of the Freudian school of psychoanalysis with their conclusions. He does not mince words, but in free, forcible language says exactly what he feels and wants to say.

         Since psychognosis as a term was introduced by Sidis, we shall permit him to tell us what he means by it: "Psychognosis is not a special method. All that I wish to convey by it is what the term means, namely a study, an acquisition of a working knowledge of the patient's soul, so to say. The best way is to study all kinds of methods, hypnoidal, hypnotic, and especially by close observation of the waking states. In other words, we must learn to understand not only the patient's physical, nervous and mental condition, not only his history and the development of his present trouble, but we must learn his personality as a whole, his attitude to his external surroundings, his Weltenschaung so to say." "The knowledge thus obtained of the patient's psychic life is what I regard as Psychognosis."

         The work is divided into three parts subconscious states and borderland phenomena, psychopathic diseases, and psychognosis and diagnosis, and four appendices, with an index.

         Part I, dealing with subconscious states and borderline phenomena, consists of ten chapters. "By the ‘subconscious’ is meant all processes of intelligence which are subjectively known as conscious but which under special conditions fall outside the range of awareness, or of the knowledge of the individual. The subconscious is essentially a consciousness, a consciousness other than the personal consciousness." "The controlling consciousness may be characterized as the guardian consciousness of the species and of the individual." He describes the methods of working with the subconscious, especially as developed in his Psychology of Suggestion. The association method and graphic methods (sphygmograph, plethysmograph, pneumograph, galvanometer) are of no value clinically", he concludes. Introspection and observation, the study of dream states, the use of hypnotic and hypnoidal states and their methods of employment are given special attention. The role of suggestibility is stressed.

         Sidis' hypnoidal state is next thoroughly discussed. From his work with frogs, guinea pigs, kittens, dogs, infants and children he is enabled to describe the hypnoidal state as a variable, highly unstable, transitional, borderland, subwaking state, of varying depth and duration, a primitive rest-state or primordial sleep-state, the normal rest-state of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, a sort of passive waking state, still surviving in man, and out of which sleep later arose. Hypnosis and other trance states, also variations of the primary hypnoidal state, were discarded as useless or harmful to higher animals and are now produceable artificially in a portion of the human race. The waking, hypnoidal and sleep states are normal, hypnoidal and other trance states subnormal. He discusses the similarities of and differences between these states and shows how phylogenetically the hypnoidal state partakes of the qualities of the states of waking, sleep and hypnosis. It is as normal as the waking or sleep state.

         The hypnotic state is then discussed. Sidis discards the incest theory of the Freudians as applied to hypnosis, praises the value of hypnosis in psychognosis and therapeusis, and explains its characteristics. The hypnoid states are characterized by the presence of two or more fully independent complex mental systems, such as can be found in automatic writing, shell hearing, crystal gazing, co-existent double and multiple personalities. Their characteristics are given.

         The hypnoidic state is the "formation of a quasi-personality with a more or less definite character, a personality that is inaccessible to direct suggestion" but amenable to indirect suggestion, with resulting bi- or polymorphosis, mono- or polycyclical. Their nature is explained.

         Hypnolepsy is the intermediate state of drowsiness or unconsciousness, occurring in the passage from the primary to the secondary personality, but absent in the reverse direction. This is because hypnolepsy is a reproduction of the original attack which brought on the state of double or multiple personality.

         Part II, comprising sixteen chapters, deals with psychopathic diseases. The total energy of the neurone is classified into dynamic, reserve, static and organic energy. Nervous and mental diseases are thus classified into three main groups: (1) psychopathies; (2) neuropathies; and (3) organopathies or necropathies. These are clearly explained. A symptomatic classification, based on localization, is given. Then follow chapters devoted to the discussion of the various somatic and psychic symptoms. The discussion throughout this section is of great interest and very valuable. Here arc some illustrations: "The tendency to dissociation or anesthesia is in inverse ratio to its biological and social adaptation." "The major motor attacks (of hysteria) are hypnoidic in character, being reproductions of conditions that have induced the psychopathic state." ". . . a sensory state has motor and glandular accompaniments or reactions." ".  .  . different emotions are made up of various peripheral or organic sensations." "Conscious losses are subconscious gains."

         Approximately 110 pages are given up to an intensive analysis and illuminating consideration of the nature and structure of illusions, perception, hallucination, pseudo-hallucination, hypnotic hallucination, and the relationship to dreams, reality, functional psychosis, double thinking and dissociation, This is a most valuable portion of this work. Here are a few of the gems: "Hallucinations are of the nature of secondary perceptions." They are" essentially secondary percepts." He denies their central origin. "Normal perception, illusion and hallucination have the same underlying process and as such may be arranged in a continuous series, according to the presence or absence of the primary sensory elements. "The main conditions of hallucination are: (1) a peripheral process, often of a pathological nature; (2) a state of dissociation; and (3) the sub-excitement of secondary sensory and ideomotor elements. He lays emphasis upon the sensory character of and the sensory origin of dreams. "The dreamer dreams with his eyes closed, the insane dream with their eyes open," the difference being in the mode of intensity. "The dream consciousness works in images, in secondary sensory percepts, while in the insane mind the activity is largely representative." The sense of reality is given directly by sensory elements and their combinations and organizations. He protests against the Freudian theory of dreams. "Sensations and percepts cannot change in content or intensity without giving rise to illusions or hallucinations." He insists that the origin and structure of hallucinations (whether of the ordinary sort, dreams or the pseudo type) are the same as those of normal perceptionnot of central origin. "Double thinking "is of peripheral character, with central dissociation; for example, in "double hearing" there is "subconscious whispering which comes back to the patient as auditory hallucinations."

         "Hypnotic and post-hypnotic suggested hallucinations are not genuine, but are essentially spurious; hypnotic hallucinations, unlike actual hallucinations, are not really experiences; hypnotic suggested hallucinations are only forms of delusions."

        "We remember best what we eagerly wish to suppress or forget." "Remembering is a continuous forgetting."

         All fixed ideas, morbid impulses and emotions" can be traced by psychognosis to subconscious experiences, originated in early child life."

         Part III, with six chapters, is devoted to psychognosis and diagnosis. Psychopathic diseases are recurrent mental systems, originating in a disaggregated subconsciousness, and belonging to the type of recurrent moment consciousness as developed by Sidis in his previous work on The Foundations of Normal and Abnormal Psychology, and representing a reversion to lower forms of mental life. He lays great stress upon the fact that they are" adjustments to past conditions. They have no meaning in the present." They are "resurrected moments." "The system with the raised threshold is dissociated."

         "Psychopathic states are cases of atavism within the life history of the individual."

         Illustrative cases, well analyzed, of psychognosis by hypnosis and hypnoidization are given. A differentiation is made between somo or somatic psychosis or neurosis and psychoneurosis or neuropsychosis. The former has somatic symptoms predominating, the mental side being submerged, so that the victim is apt to fall a prey to quacks, healers and the like; the latter has mental symptoms predominant, with physical symptoms slight or absent. The clinical differences are presented.

         The two important etiological factors of psychopathic diseases are: (1) emotional shocks, affecting, owing to the patient's attitude, the central nucleus―interests and emotions―or the life existence of the personality or individuality; and (2) a predisposition to dissociative states. "Functional psychosis requires a long history of dissociated subconscious shocks given to a highly or lowly organized nervous system, dating back to childhood."

         Appendix I offers a scheme of examination, Appendix II is an address by T. W. Mitchell on "The Hypnoidal State of Sidis, " Appendix III gives us an abstract of T. Brailsford Robertson's valuable paper on "The Hypothesis of Physiological Traces and Hypnosis," and Appendix IV is a paper on "Unconscious Intelligence" by William James Sidis in which logic is invoked to prove that "subconscious processes are conscious."

         The above free quotation gives one an understanding of the value of this work. Sidis knows what he wants to say. He knows how to say it. He makes sure that you understand him. There is no ambiguity. He strikes straight out from the shoulder. He deals hammer blows. He pounds his ideas into you. For fear that you may fail to grasp his meaning, he beats his more important conclusions into you in italics. The reader can almost imagine him delivering his propositions in true Rooseveltian style.

         He is a clearheaded, rational, logical thinker. He is a keen analyst. He is aided by a broad, evolutionary viewpoint. There is no harum-scarum thinking to be found here.

         It is the sort of work one wishes to have near one, so that one may refer to it again and again, to reread a chapter here, and then another and another. It is a work that one does not wish to lose from one's bookshelf.

    Anyone who is interested in the problems of psychology and psychopathology should be in possession of the volume.

         It is the predecessor of Sidis’ next volume which takes up the causation and treatment of psychopathic diseases.


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