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Review of

Psychopathological Researches

Joseph Jastrow

Psychological Review, 1902, 9, 627-629.


Psychopathological Researches. By BORIS SIDIS. New York, G. E. Stechert. 1902. Large 8vo. Pp. 329 and ten plates.

        In the preface to this handsomely printed volume we are informed that the publication has been made possible by the Trustees of the New York Infirmary for Women and Children (and especially by Dr. Alexander Lambert). The Psychopathic Hospital and Laboratory established by them continues the work of the former Pathological Institute of the New York State Hospitals. Dr. Sidis is the director of the Psychopathic Laboratory and in presenting this first volume of studies, announces another work to be entitled 'Principles of Psychology and Psychopathology.' While this future volume will naturally be of more direct interest to psychologists, the present series of case-records presents many starting points for suggestive psychological thought. The central doctrine to which the several cases contribute is that of dissociation; and as a result of these experimental inquiries that conception acquires at once a more definite, a more comprehensive, and a more important significance. Unquestionably the psychology of the subconscious forms one of the notable problems of contemporary inquiry; and its illumination from the side of the abnormal has, up to the present, been the most distinctive aspect of the inquiry. Along with an appreciable volume of critical investigation and judicious generalization has been put forth a far greater mass of half-baked theories and conclusions, in which all sorts of discoveries of coexisting personalities, subliminal selfs, splintered egos, strata of the unconscious, run riot; while hypnotism is yielded as a potent weapon that opens out secrets of mind as easily as a blow with a hammer lets the milk flow out of a cocoanut. It is fortunate that Dr. Sidis has determined to take up this problem from the point of view of the psychological alienist; to apply to it the methods of inquiry suggested by psychological analysis, and to interpret the phenomena presented as extreme or aberrant forms of mental interrelations the analogues of which are to be found in normal mental functioning. Dr. Sidis's remarks upon the suggestiveness of the simpler forms of phenomena are particularly apt in the field of psychology. It appears, moreover, that this method of research reveals modes of successful treatment, where the ordinary methods have failed.

        The cases described belong to the vast area of functional psychoses; they include cases of hysteria, of amnesia resulting from an overdose of alcohol, of delusional states with variable emotional concomitants, of psychic epilepsy, or simulants of epilepsy, of motor disturbances, pseudo-paralysis, etc. In all an existing, more or less transitory (and sometimes recurrent) state of consciousness differs from and is seemingly unrelated to the normal, usual consciousness; the bridge between the two is in typical cases invisible, the transition abrupt, the habit of thought and conduct seriously altered. What Dr. Sidis and his associates have attempted in tile cases described, is to determine how far these abnormalities find their origin in subconscious experiences; when such are established, the subconscious storehouse is 'tapped' by aid of hypnosis, or of ingenious variations of hypnoidal condition. Thereupon, first, by means of proper suggestion the genesis of the psychopathological state, which the patient is unable to report upon in his present condition, is gradually brought to light; secondly, dissociated experiences are reconnected with the normal consciousness (synthesis of the dissociated states); thirdly, the abnormal factors in the composite are by the same means suggested away, and recovery takes place. This bare description seems both vague and theoretical; it needs to be applied to the special cases to ensure a realization of its significance. For this the reader must be referred to the original, as the cases can hardly be reproduced in outline; the thread of detail and the sequence of stages are needed to produce and intelligible and convincing narrative.

        The importance of this volume will depend upon the possible extension and corroboration of the methods and results therein presented. If, indeed, it can be established that in a large proportion of mental difficulties (the true psychopathies), the source of the aberration lies in the fact that the subconscious background slips away from the normal relation to the foreground, until by its emotional persistence or otherwise it usurps the place of the foreground; and if, further, restoration to normal conditions e possible through an appeal to the deranged mental products by hypnosis, then the value of the analytic psychological method will receive a most notable confirmation, and the term ‘psychotherapeutics’ acquire a more rational meaning and a valuable extension. How far such will prove to be the case the future will decide; and Dr. Sidis's attitude toward his data will probably be set forth in the promised volume.

        The psychological reader of this volume will find some presentations that do not command his full acquiescence; he will find details that seem to him superfluous or meaningless; he may have doubts as to the precise nature of the 'hypnoidal' states described and their possible production in normal individuals. He cannot fail, however, amid such diversity of opinion as he may discover, to find an unusual collection of psychological material, and of suggestive illustrations of established and tentative psychological principles. A volume having these characteristics is worthy of careful scrutiny.

Joseph Jastrow


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