In this week’s eSkeptic:
Less than 10 seats left for each tour!
If you are interested in either of the above geology tours, please call the Skeptics Society office at 1.626.794.3119 with your credit card number to reserve your seat now. A waiting list will be taken in the event that someone cancels.
Lecture at Caltech this Sunday
The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight,
Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse
with Jennifer Ouellette
Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 2 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall
JENNIFER OUELLETTE NEVER TOOK MATH in college, mostly because she — like most people — assumed that she wouldn’t need it in real life. But then the English-major-turned-award-winning-science-writer had a change of heart and decided to revisit the equations and formulas that had haunted her for years. The Calculus Diaries is the fun and fascinating account of her year spent confronting her math phobia head on. With wit and verve, Ouellette shows how she learned to apply calculus to everything from gas mileage to dieting, from the rides at Disneyland to shooting craps in Vegas — proving that even the mathematically challenged can learn the fundamentals of the universal language.
Tickets are first come first served at the door. Seating is limited. $8 for Skeptics Society members and the JPL/Caltech community, $10 for nonmembers. Your admission fee is a donation that pays for our lecture expenses.
Skepticality interviews Jennifer Ouellette
This week on Skepticality — the official podcast of Skeptic magazine — Swoopy talks with Jennifer about inspiring the math-phobic — and about how The Calculus Diaries explains complex concepts using simple, real world applications (like theme park rides, shopping for real estate, and even fortune-telling).
Erratum re: Sam Harris lecture time
Attention Sam Harris lecture ticket holders: a couple dozen tickets for the October 24th Sam Harris lecture, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, have the wrong time printed on them. The correct time is 2:00 pm, Sunday October 24, 2010, not 8:00 pm. There are still seats available for this lecture.
Tickets are $10 Skeptics Society members/Caltech/JPL community; $15 everyone else. Tickets may be purchased in advance through the Caltech ticket office at 626-395-4652 or at the door. Ordering tickets ahead of time is strongly recommended. The Caltech ticket office asks that you do not leave a message. Instead call between 12:00 and 5:00 Monday through Friday.
Dawkins’ Lecture Sold Out
Richard Dawkins’ October 6th lecture, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, is SOLD OUT. Please do not call the Caltech office for tickets.
In this week’s eSkeptic, we present the first-ever, 18th-century, scientific investigation of an extraordinary claim — mesmerism — commissioned by King Louis XVI of France, designed and conducted by scientific luminaries Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier and others, translated by Charles and Danielle Salas, with an introduction by Michael Shermer about its importance in the history of skepticism.
Gould called the report “an enduring testimony to the power and beauty of reason,” a “key document in the history of human reason,” and said that “it should be rescued from its current obscurity, translated into all languages, and reprinted by organizations dedicated to the unmasking of quackery and the defense of rational thought.” Well, here it is, from the archives of Skeptic magazine volume 4 number 3.
Testing the Claims of Mesmerism
The First Scientific Investigation
of the Paranormal Ever Conducted
with an introduction by Michael Shermer
In 1991, about the time we were creating and organizing the Skeptics Society and Skeptic magazine, I read an essay by Stephen Jay Gould entitled “The Chain of Reason Versus the Chain of Thumbs,” in Bully for Brontosaurus (1991, W. W. Norton). It is the story of an 18th-century scientific investigation of an extraordinary claim — mesmerism — commissioned by King Louis XVI of France and conducted by such scientific luminaries as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier. The result of that investigation was the Report of the Commissioners Charged by the King to Examine Animal Magnetism, “Printed on the King’s Order Number 4 in Paris From the Royal Printing House” in 1784, just five years before the demise of the ancien régime. Gould called the report “an enduring testimony to the power and beauty of reason,” a “key document in the history of human reason,” and said that “it should be rescued from its current obscurity, translated into all languages, and reprinted by organizations dedicated to the unmasking of quackery and the defense of rational thought” (pp. 188–189).
I kept that challenge in the back of my mind for the next five years, awaiting the time when we would have the space to allocate for the resurrection of this “key document” (it runs 18 pages, making it the third longest piece we have ever run). It is not a waste of space because the history of skepticism and the skeptical movement should be tracked and recorded as any field should be, and this is the first scientific investigation that we know of into what would today be considered a paranormal or pseudoscientific claim. No one else has taken up Gould’s challenge, so in the pages to come we present you with this delightful piece of science and reasoning, with thanks to Steve Gould for providing a copy from the original in Harvard’s Houghton Library, and to my friend and colleague Charles Salas and his wife Danielle for the translation; both write and speak fluent French (plus Charles is an intellectual historian of the period).
The historical context for the report is given in great detail by the renowned intellectual historian Robert Darnton, in his 1968 book Mesmerism and the End of the Enlightenment in France (Harvard University Press). The German physician Franz Anton Mesmer was the “discoverer” of animal magnetism, and he has ever since been remembered whenever we are “mesmerized” by something that seems to draw us to it like a magnet. The analogy is appropriate, for Mesmer reasoned that just as an invisible force of gravity binds the planets together, and an invisible force of electricity flows through various substances, and an invisible force of magnetism draws iron shavings to a loadstone, so an invisible force — animal magnetism — flows through living beings. To Mesmer these forces were actually manifestations of a single fluid flowing throughout the universe, the blockage of which can cause disease. Cure comes through releasing the blockage (similar to what is claimed for Chi power, acupuncture and acupressure, therapeutic touch, and other modern nostrums). Mesmer’s technique involved facing the patient, touching fingers, and staring for prolonged periods into her eyes. By most accounts Mesmer was, well, rather mesmerizing, especially to his female patients, who would shake, groan, scream, and even faint (is this beginning to sound familiar to those who have ever witnessed a faith healing?).
Group healings involved everyone surrounding a “baquet,” or vat, filled with “magnetized” water and placed in the center of the room. “Magnetized” rods protruding from the vat were grabbed by the patients who, with their other hand, held each other’s thumbs between their thumb and forefinger and squeezed at the appropriate time to allow the magnetism to flow evenly through the group. To ensure proper conductivity in this “mesmeric chain,” Mesmer looped a rope around them (without knots, for this might impede flow).
Mesmerism became all the rage, triggering a skeptical response by the medical establishment which, along with other concerned scientists, persuaded King Louis XVI to establish a Royal Commission to test Mesmer’s claims. (In the film Jefferson in Paris, the vat and rods are depicted, along with a skeptical Jefferson.) Franklin, the world’s leading authority on electricity, was in Paris as a U.S. representative; Lavoisier, one of the founders of modern chemistry, lived there. The others on the Commission were respected scientists and medical doctors, including Dr. Guillotin, inventor of the device that would cut off Lavoisier’s head, along with many others, over the course of the next decade of revolutionary mayhem.
The problem for the Commission, as the report reveals, is that animal magnetism is invisible. No problem, so is gravity. They would test its effects on objects, which was the basis for Mesmer’s claims of curative power. (James Randi is fond of stating that it doesn’t matter whether there is a scientific basis to astrology, ESP, and other psychic forces; the only thing that matters is if they actually work, which they don’t.) The problem was that “cures” take too long for an experiment and may be caused by other conditions anyway (Franklin suspected that Mesmer’s patients were cured by staying away from medical doctors!). Mesmer, therefore, begged off the test, so his top student, Charles Deslon, took his place (thus giving Mesmer his out when the tests failed — Deslon didn’t do it right). The experimenters began by trying to magnetize themselves — joined by rods, rope, and thumbs with Deslon giving proper instruction — to no effect. They then tried seven people from the lower classes and compared their results against seven people from the upper classes (recall the importance of class in pre-revolutionary France). Only three, all from the lower classes, experienced anything significant, so the Commission concluded it was due to the power of suggestion.
To test the null hypothesis that magnetism is really just a placebo effect, Franklin and Lavoisier devised a test whereby some subjects would be deceived into thinking they were receiving the experimental treatment (magnetism) when they really were not, while others did receive the treatment and were told that they had not. The results were clear: the effects were due to the power of suggestion only.
To reinforce this conclusion, Franklin had Deslon magnetize a tree in his garden. The experimental subject — allegedly “sensitive” to the magnetic effect but not told which tree was affected — then walked around the garden hugging trees until he declared he had sensed it. He collapsed in a fit in front of the fourth tree, but it was the fifth one that was “magnetized.” Undaunted, Deslon claimed that all trees carry some magnetism and therefore the test was invalid (not unlike the excuses of failed water dowsers and other modern mystics). In test after test, Deslon failed. One woman was blindfolded and told that Deslon was “influencing” her, causing her to collapse in a mesmeric “crisis.” He wasn’t. Another woman could supposedly sense “magnetized” water. Lavoisier filled several cups with water, only one of which was “magnetized.” After touching an unmagnetized cup she collapsed in a fit, upon which Lavoisier gave her the “magnetized” one, which “she drank quietly & said she felt relieved. Therefore the cup & magnetism missed their marks, because the crisis was quieted rather than exacerbated.” Q.E.D. The Commission concluded that “nothing proves the existence of Animal-magnetism fluid; that this fluid with no existence is therefore without utility; that the violent effects observed at the group treatment belong to touching, to the imagination set in action & to this involuntary imitation that brings us in spite of ourselves to repeat that which strikes our senses.” In other words, the effect is mental, not magnetic.
The control of intervening variables and the testing of specific claims, without resort to unnecessary hypothesizing about what is behind the “power,” is the lesson modern skeptics should take from this historical masterpiece. The other historical lesson is clear as well — true believers remain unaffected by contradictory evidence, in the 18th century as well as today. So why bother testing? Because the vast majority of people are neither true believers nor skeptics, but just intellectually curious and looking for a natural explanation for an apparently supernatural phenomenon.
Exposition of the Doctrine of Animal Magnetism
ON MARCH 12, 1784 THE KING appointed Physicians chosen from the Paris Faculté, Messieurs Borie, Sallin, d’Arcet, Guillotin, to examine & report on Animal magnetism practiced by Monsieur Deslon; & as requested by these four Physicians, His Majesty has appointed five of the Members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to conduct this examination with them: Messieurs Franklin, le Roy, Bailly, de Bory, Lavoisier. As M.Borie died at the beginning of the Commissioners’ work, His Majesty chose M. Majault, a Doctor from the Faculté, to replace him.
The agent that M. Mesmer claims to have discovered, which he has made known under the name Animal magnetism, is, as he characterizes it himself & according to his own words,
a universally spread fluid; it is the means of a mutual influence between celestial bodies, the earth, & living bodies; it is continuous so as not to permit any vacuum; it is incomparably subtle; it is capable of receiving, spreading, & communicating all the sensations of movement; it is sensitive to flux & reflux. The physical body feels the effects of this agent; &, when it insinuates itself into the substance of nerves, it affects them immediately. One recognizes particularly in the human body, properties similar to those of the magnet. One distinguishes two diverse & opposed poles. The action & property of Animal magnetism may be transmitted from one body to another, animate & inanimate: This action operates from a distance, without the help of any intermediary body; it is increased when reflected by mirrors, communicated, spread, & increased by sound; this property may be accumulated, concentrated, transported. Although this fluid is universal, all animated bodies are not equally susceptible. There are some, albeit few, in whom the polar property is so strong that their mere presence destroys all the effects of this fluid in other bodies.
Animal magnetism may itself cure nervous disorders & be a medium for curing others; it improves the action of medications; it induces & guides crises in such a way that disorders can be understood & mastered. In this way, the Physician knows the state of health of each individual & determines with certainty the origin, nature, & progress of even the most complicated of diseases; he prevents their spread & reaches a cure without ever exposing the patients to dangerous effects or unfortunate consequences, regardless of age, temperament & sex.1 Nature offers in Magnetism a universal means of healing and protecting people.2
Such is the agent that the Commissioners have been charged to examine & whose properties are attested to by M. Deslon, who endorses all of M. Mesmer’s principles. This theory is the basis of a paper read May 9 at the home of M. Deslon in the presence of the Lieutenant General of Police & the Commissioners. In the paper it is claimed that there is but one nature, one disease, one remedy; & this remedy is Animal magnetism. In instructing the Commissioners about the theory & action of magnetism, this Physician also taught them practical exercises, indicating where the poles are, how patients are to be touched & the manner in which this magnetic fluid is to be trained upon them.
Proposal of M. Deslon. Pledge that he makes with the Commissioners. Description of the treatment.
M. Deslon pledged with the Commissioners, 1. to ascertain the existence of Animal magnetism; 2. to make known their findings; 3. to prove the usefulness of these findings & of Animal magnetism in the cure of diseases.
Having been introduced to the theory & techniques of Animal magnetism, it was time to learn about the effects. The Commissioners visited (& all of them more than once) the place where M.Deslon had his practice. In the middle of a large room they saw a circular vat, made of oak & raised a foot or a foot & a half, called a baquet. The covering of this vat has many holes from which protrude bent, flexible metal rods. The patients are arranged in rows around this vat, one rod to a person which because it is bent may be applied directly to the afflicted area of the body; the patients are chained together by a rope looped around their bodies; sometimes a second chain is created by touching hands, which is to say, the thumb is pressed between a neighbor’s thumb & index finger, & squeezed; the sensation received from the left is sent through the right, & it circulates all around.
There is a pianoforte in the corner on which different tunes with various movements are played; sometimes the sounds of voice & singing are added.
All those who magnetize hold a metal rod ten to twelve inches long.
Explanation of these arrangements.
M. Deslon declared to the Commissioners, 1. that this rod conducts magnetism; this rod has the advantage of concentrating magnetism in the tip, & making the emanations more powerful. 2. Sound, in accordance with M. Mesmer’s principle, is also a conductor of magnetism, & to communicate the fluid to the pianoforte, it is enough to bring the metal rod closer; the person in contact with the instrument also provides some fluid, & magnetism is transmitted through sound to nearby patients. 3. The rope wrapped around the patients is intended, like the chain of thumbs to augment the effects through communication. 4. The inside of the vat is made so as to concentrate magnetism. It is a large basin from which magnetism is spread through the metal rods dipped within it.
The Commissioners used an electrometer & a non-magnetic, metal needle to check that the vat did not contain any electrical or charged matter; & upon the declaration of M. Deslon regarding the composition of the inside of the vat, they agreed that no physical agent capable of contributing to the reported effect of magnetism was present.
The manner in which to stimulate & direct magnetism.
A large number of patients arranged in several rings around the vat receive magnetism simultaneously therefore through these means: through the metal rods that transmit the magnetism from the vat; through the rope intertwined about the body, & by the union of thumbs communicating that of their neighbors; through the sound of the pianoforte, or through a pleasant voice that spreads it through the air. Patients are directly magnetized as well by passing the finger & the metal rod in front of the face, on top of or behind the head, & on afflicted areas, always maintaining the distinction of the poles; sight, staring at them, activates the effects. But above all patients are magnetized by the laying of hands & the pressure of fingers on the hypochondria & lower abdominal areas; the contact often maintained for a considerable time, sometimes a few hours.
Observed Effects on Patients.
Patients then display a variety of reactions depending on the different states they find themselves in. Some are calm, quiet, & feel nothing; others cough, spit, feel slight pain, a warmth either localized or all over, & perspire; others are agitated & tormented by convulsions. These convulsions are extraordinary in their number, duration, & strength. As soon as a convulsion begins, many others follow. The Commissioners have seen some lasting for more than three hours; convulsions are accompanied by murky & viscous expectorations drawn out by the violence of the exertions. Sometimes the expectorations contain streaks of blood; there is a young male patient, in particular, who spit out blood in abundance. These convulsions are characterized by quick, involuntary movements of limbs & the entire body, by a tightening of the throat, by the twitching of the hypochondria & epigastric area, by blurred & unfocused vision, by piercing shrieks, tears, hiccups & excessive laughter. They are preceded or followed by a state of languor & dreaminess, of a kind of prostration & even sleepiness. The slightest unexpected noise causes shivers; & it has been noticed that the change of tone & measure in the pieces played on the pianoforte had an influence on the patients — a faster movement, for example, agitated them more & renewed the intensity of their convulsions.
There is a padded room, intended primarily for patients racked by convulsions, a room named des Crises; but M. Deslon does not deem its usage necessary, & all patients, regardless of condition, are gathered together in the group treatment rooms. Nothing is more astonishing than the spectacle of these convulsions; without seeing it, it cannot be imagined: & in watching it, one is equally surprised by the profound repose of some of these patients & the agitation that animates others; the various reactions that are repeated, the fellow-feeling that sets in. One sees patients specifically searching for others & while rushing towards each other, smile, speak with affection & mutually soothe their crises. All submit to the magnetizer; even though they may appear to be asleep, his voice, a look, a signal pulls them out of it. Because of these constant effects, one cannot help but acknowledge the presence of a great power which moves & controls patients, & which resides in the magnetizer.
This convulsive state is improperly called Crisis in the theory of Animal magnetism: in this doctrine, the crisis is considered healthy, like those brought about by Nature or by the skillful physician to facilitate the cure of diseases. The Commissioners will adopt this term hence forward in this report, & when they make use of the word crisis, they will always mean the state of either the convulsions or the lethargy produced by the processes of Animal magnetism.
General observations on group treatments: the Commissioners are unable to conduct experiments in such conditions.
The Commissioners noticed that out of the number of patients in crisis, there were always many women & few men; that these crises took one to two hours to build; & that as soon as one was established, all the others would start successively soon after. This having been remarked upon, the Commissioners soon came to the conclusion that group treatment rooms could not be the setting for their experiments. The multiplicity of effects is a first obstacle; one sees too many things at once to see particular things clearly. Moreover, distinguished patients who come to the treatment for their health could be bothered by the questioning; being so carefully observed could inconvenience or displease them; the Commissioners themselves would be hindered by their concern for discretion. They then decided that their constant attendance not being necessary to the treatment, it sufficed that a few of them should come from time to time to confirm the preliminary general observations, to make new ones if necessary, & to report to the assembled commission.
These experiments must have as their first object to ascertain the existence of magnetism.
The effect of group treatment having been observed, the next task was to unravel the causes & to search for proofs of the existence & the utility of magnetism. The question of existence is primary; the question of utility is not to be addressed until the first has been fully resolved. Animal magnetism may well exist without being useful but it cannot be useful if it does not exist.
In dealing with the matter of existence, one should first set aside the idea of celestial influences.
In consequence, the principal purpose of the Commissioners’s examination & the essential goal of their first experiments had to be to make certain of that existence. This purpose was still very broad & needed to be simplified. Animal magnetism embraces the whole of Nature; it is said to be the means by which celestial bodies influence us; the Commissioners thought that they should first set aside this mighty influence, to consider only the part of this fluid diffused upon the earth without bothering with whence it comes, & to ascertain the action it has upon us, around us & before our eyes, before considering its relations with the Universe.
The magnetic fluid escapes detection by the senses. It is erroneous to believe that sight & touch could indicate its presence.
The most reliable way to ascertain the existence of Animal-magnetism fluid would be to make its presence tangible; but it did not take long for the Commissioners to recognize that this fluid escapes detection by all the senses. Unlike electricity, it is neither luminescent nor visible. Its action does not manifest itself visibly as does the attraction of a magnet; it is without taste or smell; it spreads noiselessly & envelops or penetrates you without your sense of touch warning you of its presence. Therefore, if it exists in us & around us, it does so in an absolutely undetectable manner. Among those who profess magnetism, there are some who claim that it may occasionally be seen emanating from the tips of fingers serving as conductors or who believe that they feel its passage when the finger is moved back & forth in front of the face & over the hand. In the first instance, the visible emanation is only that of perspiration which becomes easily visible when magnified under a solar microscope; in the second, the feeling of cold or coolness that one feels, a feeling more noticeable the warmer one is, is caused by the finger disturbing the air which is always colder than body temperature. On the other hand, if the finger is brought close to the skin of the face, which is colder than the finger, & left there, one is made to feel a sensation of heat, which is communicated body heat.
Nor can it be sensed by smell.
It is also claimed that this fluid has an odor & that it is detectable when the finger or conducting rod is held under the nose; it is even said that these sensations are different under the two nostrils depending on the polar positioning of the finger or rod. M. Deslon has experimented upon several Commissioners; the Commissioners have repeated the experiment upon several subjects; none has felt this difference in sensation between one nostril & the other: & if by paying close attention, some odor is recognized, it is in the case of the iron rod, that is of the rod itself warmed & rubbed, & in the case of the finger, that of the emanation of perspiration, an odor often mixed with that of iron with which the finger is imprinted. These effects have been mistakenly attributed to magnetism, they all belong to known, natural causes.
The existence of this fluid can only be ascertained by its action on animate bodies.
In addition, M. Deslon never emphasized these fleeting sensations; he didn’t think it necessary to have to produce them as proofs; &, on the contrary, he has expressly declared to the Commissioners that he could only prove the existence of magnetism through the action of this fluid, creating changes in animate bodies. This existence becomes even more difficult to ascertain through demonstrable effects whose causes are not unequivocal; through authenticated facts upon which mental circumstances have no influence; finally through proofs capable of impressing & convincing the mind, the only proofs that could satisfy enlightened Physicians.
Through the prolonged treatment of diseases or momentary effects on body economy.
The action of magnetism on animate bodies may be observed two different ways; either by prolonged action & its curative effects on the treatment of diseases, or by its temporary effects on the economy of the human body & by the observable changes it produces. M. Deslon insisted that the first of these methods be principally & almost exclusively used. The Commissioners did not believe they had to do so & here are their reasons:
Commissioners’ reasons for excluding the treatment of diseases. The effect of the remedy always has some uncertainty. First reason.
Most diseases are seated inside the body. The long experience of a great many centuries has made the symptoms that precede & characterize these diseases well-known. That same experience has indicated their method of treatment. What is it in this method that is the goal of the Physician’s effort? It is neither to oppose nor tame Nature, it is to help it in its operations. Nature heals the sick, said the Father of Medicine; but sometimes it meets obstacles that hinder its course, obstacles that needlessly consume its strength. The Physician is Nature’s Minister; attentive observer, he studies its course. If that course is steady, sure, level & without deviations, the Physician observes it in silence & is careful not to disturb it with remedies at best useless; if this course is hampered, he facilitates it; if it is too slow or too fast, he accelerates it or slows it down. He sometimes limits himself to regulating diet to fulfill his goal; sometimes he uses medications. The action of medication in the human body is a new force that combines with the great force that sustains life: if the remedy follows the same paths already opened by this force, it is salutary & useful in expelling disease; if it tends to open contrary paths & divert this inner action, it is harmful. However, it must be agreed that this very real effect, salutary or harmful, may often escape common observation. The physical history of mankind offers very peculiar phenomena in this regard. We see that the most different diets have not prevented the attainment of old age. We see men seemingly stricken by the same disease who are healed while following opposite diets, & while taking entirely different remedies; Nature is therefore powerful enough to maintain life in spite of a bad diet & to triumph over both the disease & the remedy. If it has this power to resist remedies, all the more reason that it has the power to operate without them. The experience of their effectiveness, therefore, always carries some degree of uncertainty; in the case of magnetism, there is an extra degree of uncertainty: the question of its existence. For, how can one ascertain, by the treatment of diseases, the action of an agent the existence of which is in dispute when one can doubt the effect of medications the existence of which is not in question?
Cure of diseases is no further proof. Second reason.
The cure cited the most in favor of the existence of magnetism is that of M. le Baron de ***, of which both the Court & the city have been informed. We will not enter herein to a discussion of the facts; we will not examine whether the remedies previously used may have contributed to that cure. On the other hand, we acknowledge that the state of the patient was grave &, on the other, the ineffectiveness of all the means of ordinary medicine; magnetism was used & M. le Baron de *** fully recovered. But could not a natural occurrence alone have been responsible for this recovery? A woman of the people & very poor, living at Groscaillou, was struck in 1779 by a malevolent fever of well known characteristics; she consistently refused any help, asking only that a water pitcher by her bedside be kept full. She stayed quietly on her bed of straw, drinking water all day & doing nothing else. The sickness progressed, passed successively through its different stages, & ended with complete recovery.3
Mademoiselle G *** living at the Petites-écuries of the King had two glands on the right breast that worried her very much; a surgeon advised her to use Painter’s water, an excellent dissolving agent, stating that, if the remedy did not succeed within a month, the glands would have to be removed. The frightened young lady consulted M. Sallin who deemed the glands treatable. M. Bouvart, consulted later, gave the same opinion. She was encouraged to seek entertainment & distractions before beginning treatment; fifteen days later, she suffered a violent coughing crisis at the Opera & expectorated so abundantly that she had to be brought back home; in four hours she spit out three pints of phlegm; one hour later M. Sallin examined the breast & could no longer find any trace of the glands. M. Bouvart, who was called the next day, verified the felicitous effect of this natural crisis. If Mlle.G *** had taken Painter’s water, then Painter’s water would have had to be credited for the cure.
Observations over the centuries proves & Physicians themselves recognize, that Nature alone & without the help of medical treatment cures a great number of patients. If magnetism were inefficacious, using it to treat patients would be to leave them in the hands of Nature. In trying to ascertain the existence of this agent, it would be absurd to choose a method that, in attributing to the agent all of Nature’s cures, would tend to prove that it has a useful & curative action, even though it would have none.
The Commissioners are in agreement on this with M.Mesmer. He rejected the cure of diseases when this way of proving magnetism was proposed to him by a Member of the Academié des Sciences: it is, said he, a mistake to believe that this kind of proof is irrefutable; nothing conclusively proves that the Physician or Medicine heals the sick.4
The Commissioners must confine themselves to physical proofs.
The treatment of diseases, therefore can only furnish results that are always uncertain & often misleading; this uncertainty could not be evaded, & all cause of illusion offset, except by an infinity of cures & perhaps the experience of a few centuries. The purpose & importance of the Commission require means more prompt. The Commissioners have had to confine themselves to purely physical proofs, that is, to the temporary effects of the fluid on the Animal body, by stripping these effects of all illusions possibly mixed up with them, & making sure that they cannot be due to any cause other than Animal magnetism.
Experiments by the Commissioners on different subjects.
They set out to experiment on isolated subjects, who were willing to participate in a variety of experiments imagined by the Commissioners; & who, some through their naivete, others through their intelligence, would be able to give a truthful & exact account of what they experienced. These experiments will not be presented here chronologically but in the order of the facts that they ought to clarify.
The Commissioners wish to do the first experiment upon themselves. Precaution they deemed necessary.
The Commissioners resolved to begin by experimenting upon themselves, & to submit themselves to the action of magnetism. They were very curious to experience through their own senses the reported effects of this agent. They therefore submitted themselves to these effects with the determination not to be angered by the injuries or upsets to their health known to be produced by magnetism, putting themselves in a position to resolve this important question on the spot by means of their own evidence. But in submitting themselves to magnetism in this way, the Commissioners had to take a necessary precaution. There is no individual, even in the best of health who, if he listened to himself attentively, would not feel within himself an infinity of the movements & variations of either warmth or very minor pain in various areas of the body; these variations which can occur at any time are independent from magnetism. It may not be inconsequential to bring & sustain attention upon oneself in this way. There are so many connections, by whatever means, between the will of the soul & body movements that it is impossible to gage the effect of attentiveness, which seems only to be a sequence of intentions directed towards the same object with perseverance & without interruption. When one considers that the will moves the arm at pleasure, how can one be certain that the attention focused upon an interior part of the body cannot excite slight movements there, bring warmth there, & make modifications so as to produce new sensations there? The first concern of the Commissioners was necessarily not to pay too much attention to what was happening inside themselves. If magnetism is a real & powerful agent, it does not require to be thought about to be manifest; it must, so to speak, force itself upon the attention & make itself noticeable even by a mind disturbed by design.
But in deciding to make experiments upon themselves, the Commissioners unanimously agreed to make them amongst themselves without allowing any stranger other than M. Deslon to magnetize them or other persons of their own choosing; they also promised each other not to magnetize in group treatment, so that they could freely discuss their observations, & be in all cases the only, or at least the first, judges of what they would be observing.
Experiment done on themselves once a week.
In consequence, a separate room & particular vat were set aside for them at M.Deslon’s, & once a week they sat there; they stayed for two to two & a half hours at a time, the iron rod resting on the left hypochondrium, & themselves surrounded by the rope of communication, & from time to time making the chain of thumbs. They were magnetized, either by M. Deslon or a disciple sent in his place, some for a longer time & more often than others, & these should have appeared to be the most sensitive; they were magnetized, sometimes with the finger & iron rod held & moved over various parts of the body, sometimes by applying hands & finger pressure to either the hypochondria or on the pit of the stomach.
They felt nothing.
None of them felt a thing, or at least, nothing that could be attributed to the action of magnetism. A few of the Commissioners have robust constitutions; others have weaker constitution & are subject to discomforts: one of these felt a slight pain in the pit of the stomach, following strong finger pressure there. This pain lasted all day & the next day, accompanied by a feeling of fatigue & uneasiness. A second felt a slight irritation of the nerves, which he is susceptible to, on the afternoon of one of the days he was touched. A third, endowed with a greater sensitivity, & especially an extreme instability in the nerves, felt more pain & more intense irritations; but these slight mishaps are the consequence of incessant & ordinary variations in the state of health &, consequently, foreign to magnetism, or they follow from the pressure exerted on the stomach. The Commissioners only mention these minor details out of a desire for scrupulous accuracy; they report them because they have imposed on themselves the rule of always telling the truth in all things.
Difference of effects between group treatment & private treatment.
The Commissioners could not help but be struck by the difference between group treatment & private treatment at the vat. Calm & silence in one, movement & agitation in the other; there, multiple effects, violent crises, the normal state of body & spirit interrupted & troubled, Nature overstrung; here the body without pain, the spirit without trouble, Nature conserving its equilibrium & natural course, in a word, the absence of all effects; one cannot find this great power so astonishing in the group treatment; magnetism without energy appeared to be devoid of all sensible action.
They go to the treatment several days in a row & feel nothing more.
The Commissioners, who at first went to the vat only once a week, wanted to test whether continuity might produce something; they went three days in a row, but their lack of sensibility was the same & they obtained no result whatsoever. This experiment, done & repeated on eight subjects at a time, a few of whom have habitual discomforts, suffices to conclude that magnetism has little or no effect on a state of health, & even on a state of slight infirmity. It was resolved to experiment on really sick subjects, & they were chosen from the class of commoners.
Seven patients were brought in Passy at the home of M.Franklin; they were magnetized in front of him & in front of the other Commissioners by M. Deslon.
Second experiment: commoners tested.
The widow Saint-Amand, an asthmatic with swollen abdomen, thighs & legs; & the woman Anseaume, who had a lump on her thigh, felt nothing; little Claude Renard, a child of six years, scrofulous, almost emaciated, with a swollen knee & a crooked leg with an almost unmovable joint, an interesting child & more reasonable than his age would dictate, also felt nothing, & also Geneviéve Leroux, nine years old, subject to convulsions & a disease somewhat similar to what is called chorea sancti Viti. François Grenet felt some effects; his eyes are diseased, especially the right one with which he can hardly see & where there is a large tumor. During the magnetization on the left eye, by bringing the thumb closer & moving it back & forth at close range & for a long time, he felt pain in the eyeball & tears appeared. When the right eye, the sicker of the two, was magnetized, he felt nothing; he felt the same pain in the left eye, & nothing elsewhere.
The woman Charpentier, knocked to the ground against a wooden beam by a cow two years ago, suffered various after effects: she lost her eyesight, then recovered it partially, but has stayed in a habitual state of infirmity; she claimed to have had two prolapses, & an abdomen of such sensitivity that she cannot bear to tie her skirt belts; this sensitivity is a matter of nerves being irritated and set into motion; the slightest pressure on the abdomen can get this motion underway &, by the correspondence of nerves, produce effects throughout the whole body.
This woman was magnetized like the others, by application & finger pressure; this pressure was painful to her; then as the finger was directed towards the area of prolapse, she complained of a headache; with the finger placed in front of her face, she said she was short of breath. With repeated movements of the finger from high to low, she had quick movements of the head & shoulders such as one has when feeling surprise mixed with fear, & similar to those of a person whose face has been splashed with drops of cold water. It seemed that she felt the same movements with her eyes closed. Fingers were placed under her nose while her eyes were closed & she said she thought that she was going to faint if that continued. The seventh patient, Joseph Ennuyé felt similar effects, but to a much lesser degree.
Divided effects. Some feel something, others nothing.
Out of these seven patients, four felt nothing & three felt some effects. These effects were worthy of the Commissioners’ attention & warranted a scrupulous exam.
Third experiment. Patients of a more distinguished class are tested.
To enlighten themselves & fix their ideas on this matter, the Commissioners decided to experiment with patients from other circumstances, patients chosen from high society who could not be suspected of ulterior motives & whose intelligence would permit them to discuss their own sensations & report on them. Mmes. de B** & de V**, Ms.M** & R** were admitted to the Commissioners’ private vat; they were asked to observe what they felt, but without giving it too much attention. M. M** & Mme. de V** were the only ones to feel something. M. M** has a cold tumor over the entire knee joint & his patella is painful. After having been magnetized, he declared he felt nothing anywhere in his body except when the finger was moved in front of the bad knee; he thought he then felt a slight warmth at the place where he usually has pain. Mme.de V**, suffering from a nervous condition, was many times on the point of falling asleep while being magnetized. Magnetized without interruption for one hour & nineteen minutes, most often by the laying of hands, she felt only some agitation & uneasiness. These two patients came only once to the vat. M. R** sick from an unresolved liver congestion, following from an obstruction improperly healed, came three times & felt nothing. Mme.de B** suffering obstructions sat constantly with the Commissioners, she felt nothing; & it must be said that she submitted to magnetism with perfect calm, which stemmed from a great incredulity.
Various patients were tested on other occasions but not around the vat. One of the Commissioners struck by migraine was magnetized by M. Deslon for half an hour; one of the symptoms of this migraine is excessive coldness in the feet. M. Deslon brought his foot close to that of the patient, the foot was not warmed, the migraine lasted its usual length, & the patient after sitting down by the fireplace felt the salutary effects that heat has always provided, without having felt during the day or the next night any of the effects of magnetism.
Even though inconveniences prevented M. Franklin from being in Paris & witnessing the experiments, he was himself magnetized by M. Deslon, who visited him at his home in Passy. The gathering there was numerous; all those present were magnetized. A few patients who had accompanied M. Deslon felt the effects of magnetism, as they usually did during group treatment, but Mme.de B**, M. Franklin, his two parents, his secretary, an American officer, felt nothing, even though one parent of M. Franklin was convalescing, & the American officer sick at the time with a low grade fever.
Comparison of the results of these three experiments.
These different experiments furnish facts worthy of being collected & compared, & from which the Commissioners have been able to draw conclusions. Out of fourteen patients, five seemed to have felt effects, & nine none at all. The Commissioner who had the migraine & ice cold feet felt no relief from magnetism, & his feet were not warmed. Therefore this agent does not have the property, attributed to it, of communicating heat to the feet. Magnetism is also heralded as indicating the type & especially the seat of disease through the pain that the action of this fluid inevitably brings there. This advantage would be precious; the fluid, indicator of disease, would be a great tool in the hands of the physician, often confounded by equivocal symptoms; but François Grenet only had sensation & some pain in the eye that was less sick. Had the other eye not been red & swollen, one would have believed it to be undamaged judging by the effect of magnetism. M.R** & Mme.de B**, both sick with obstructions, & Mme. de B** quite seriously, having felt nothing, would not have been made aware of either the seat or the type of their disease. & yet, obstructions are diseases claimed to be especially susceptible to the action of magnetism; because according to the new theory, free & fast circulation of this fluid through the nerves is a way to clear up channels & destroy obstacles, that is to say, the blockages that it meets. At the same time it is said that magnetism is the cornerstone of health. If M. R** & Mme. de B** had not felt discomforts & suffering inseparable from the obstructions, they would have firmly believed that they were in the best state of health in the world. The same should be said of the American officer: magnetism, heralded as an indicator of disease, has therefore entirely missed its mark.
The heat that M. M** felt on the patella is too subtle & too fleeting to lead to any conclusion. We may suspect that it comes from the cause described above, that is, from too much attention paid to observing oneself: the same attention would find similar feelings at any other moment when magnetism was not in use. The drowsiness felt by Mme.de V** probably comes from the invariability & boredom of the same situation; if she has had a certain light movement, we know that the nature of nervous conditions depends heavily on the attention paid to them; it is enough to think about them or to hear about them to regenerate them. It can be judged what will happen to a woman whose nerves are very jittery, & who is magnetized for an hour & nineteen minutes, during which time she has no other thought than that of her habitual ailments. It would have not been surprising had she suffered a more considerable nervous crisis.
A few patients from the lower class are the only ones to have felt effects. Reasons to doubt that these effects have to do with magnetism.
Of the effects that could appear to have to do with magnetism, only those on the woman Charpentier, on François Grenet & on Joseph Ennuyé remain. But then in comparing these three particular cases to all the others, the Commissioners were surprised that these three patients from the lower class were the only ones who had felt something, while those of a higher class, more enlightened, more able to give account of their feelings, felt nothing at all. No doubt François Grenet felt pain in his eye & cried because the thumb was brought so close to it; the woman Charpentier complained that when her stomach was touched, the pressure corresponded to the prolapse; & this pressure may have produced a part of the effects that this woman felt; but the Commissioners suspected that these effects had been augmented by mental circumstances.
Let us take the standpoint of a commoner, for that reason ignorant, struck by disease & desiring to get well, brought with great show before a large assembly composed in part of physicians, where a new treatment is administered which the patient is persuaded will produce amazing results. Let us add that the patient’s cooperation is paid for, & that he believes that it pleases us more when he says he feels effects, & we will have a natural explanation for these effects; at the least, we will have legitimate reasons to doubt that the real cause of these effects is magnetism.
Children who are not susceptible to prevention feel nothing.
Moreover, one can ask why magnetism had these effects on those people who knew what was done to them, who may have believed they had an interest in saying what they said, whereas it had no hold over little Claude Renard, over this delicate organization of childhood, so fickle & so sensitive! The reason & ingenuity of this child guarantees the truth of his testimony. Why did this agent produce no effect upon Geneviéve Leroux, who was in a perpetual state of convulsions? Her nerves were certainly jittery, why did magnetism not manifest itself, either by augmenting or diminishing her convulsions? Her indifference & impassibility lead to the conclusion that she felt nothing, because the lack of reason did not permit her to judge that she should have felt nothing.
It is suspected that the imagination plays a part in the effects produced. Experiments are proposed to disprove or confirm this suspicion.
These facts permitted the Commissioners to observe that magnetism has seemed to be worthless for those patients who submitted to it with a measure of incredulity; that the Commissioners, even when those with jittery nerves deliberately focused their attention elsewhere, having been armed with philosophical doubt that ought to accompany every examination, did in no way feel the impressions felt by the three lower-class patients, & they must have suspected that these impressions, even supposing them all to be real, followed from an anticipated conviction, & could have been an effect of the imagination. From this has resulted another plan of experiment. From now on, their research is going to be directed toward a new object; it is a question of disproving or confirming this suspicion, of determining up to what point the imagination can influence feelings & establishing whether it can be the cause of all or part of the effects attributed to magnetism.
M. Jumelin’s method of magnetizing, different from that of M. Mesmer & M. Deslon.
Next the Commissioners heard about the experiments done at the home of the Dean of the Faculté by M. Jumelin, Doctor of Medicine; they requested to see these experiments & they met with him at the home of one of the Commissioners, M. Majault. M. Jumelin declared that he was not a follower of M.Mesmer or of M. Deslon, that he had learned nothing from them about Animal magnetism; & from what he had heard said on the subject he conceived principles & carried out proceedings. His principles consist of regarding Magnetic Animal fluid as a fluid circulating in the body, & which emanates from it, but which is essentially the same as that which produces body heat; a fluid that like all others, tending toward equilibrium, passes from the body which has the most to the body which has the least. His methods are equally different from those of M. Mesmer & M. Deslon; he magnetizes as they do using the finger & the metal rod as conductors, & by the laying of hands, but without making any distinction between poles.
Fourth experiment; it proves that the same effects are produced by this method.
First, eight men & two women were magnetized & felt nothing; finally a woman who is the door-keeper at the home of M. Alphonse le Roy, Doctor of Medicine, having been magnetized on her forehead, but without contact, said she felt heat while M. Jumelin was moving his hand, & with the tips of his five fingers next to the woman’s face, she said she felt as if a moving flame were coming from it; magnetized on the stomach, she said she felt heat there; magnetized on the back, she said she felt the same heat there: she declared furthermore that she felt warm all over & had a headache.
The Commissioners, seeing that out of eleven persons subjected to the experiment only one was sensitive to the magnetism of M. Jumelin, thought that this person felt something only because she was doubtless more impressionable; the occasion was favorable for shedding light on the matter. The sensitivity of the woman being well established, it was only a question of protecting her from her imagination, or at least of getting it out of the way. The Commissioners proposed to blindfold her so that they could observe the nature of her sensations while experimenting without her knowledge. She was blindfolded & magnetized; whereupon the phenomena no longer corresponded to the places where the magnetism was directed. Magnetized successively over the stomach & the back, the woman felt heat in her head, pain in her right leg, her left eye & left ear.
The blindfold was removed, & M. Jumelin having applied his hands on the hypochondria, she said she felt heat; then after a few minutes she said she was going to faint &, in fact, did. When she recovered, she was again used as a subject, she was blindfolded, M. Jumelin was moved aside, the room was made silent & the woman was made to believe that she was magnetized. The results were the same, even though nothing was done to her from near or afar; she felt the same heat, the same pain in her eyes & ears; she also felt heat in her back & loins.
After a quarter of an hour, M. Jumelin was signaled to magnetize her over her stomach, she felt nothing, the same thing with her back. Sensations diminished instead of increasing. The headache remained, the heat in the back & loins came to an end.
It is concluded that the method plays no role, that the distinction between poles is chimerical.
One sees that there have been effects produced & that these effects are similar to those felt by the three patients mentioned above. But the former & the latter were obtained by different methods. It follows that the methods of proceeding play no role whatsoever. The method of Ms. Mesmer & Deslon & an opposite method give the same results. The distinction between the poles, therefore, is chimerical.
Marked effects on the imagination.
One can observe that when the woman could see, she placed her sensations precisely on the magnetized area; whereas when she could not see, she placed them haphazardly & in areas far from those being magnetized. It was natural to conclude that these sensations, true or false, were determined by the imagination. We became convinced of this when we saw that this woman, having rested, not feeling anything & being blindfolded, felt all the same effects even though she was not magnetized; but the demonstration was completed when, after a fifteen minute experiment and her imagination probably tired & cooled off, the effects diminished instead of increasing at the very moment she was really being magnetized.
If she fainted, that is a mishap that happens frequently to women when they are bothered by clothes that are too tight. The laying of hands on the hypochondria may have produced the same effect in an excessively sensitive woman; but this cause is not even needed to explain what happened. It was very hot, the woman no doubt felt strong emotions in those first moments as she prepared to submit to a new, unknown experiment, & after such a prolonged effort, it is not out of the ordinary to feel weak.
Fifth experiment, which gives the same results, & also shows the effect of the imagination.
This swooning, therefore, has a natural & known cause, but the sensations she experienced when not magnetized, can only be the effect of the imagination. The same results were obtained in similar experiments made by M. Jumelin at the same place, on the following day, in the presence of the Commissioners, on a blindfolded man & a woman with eyes uncovered; it was clear that their answers were determined by the questions that were posed. The question indicated where the sensation ought to be; instead of directing the magnetism towards them, it was only their imagination that was being heightened & directed. A child of five years, magnetized afterwards, felt only the heat generated beforehand in play.
These experiments appeared important enough to the Commissioners to be repeated in order to shed new light & M. Jumelin graciously agreed to participate. It would be pointless to object that M. Jumelin’s method is bad; for at this moment it was not magnetism being put to the test but the imagination.
Sixth experiment, which confirms & gives the same results.
The Commissioners agreed to blindfold the subjects being tested, to not magnetize them most of the time, & to skillfully question them in such a way as to lead them to answers. The point was not to induce error, only to mislead their imaginations. Indeed, when not being magnetized, the sole response ought to be that they feel nothing; & when they are being magnetized, it is the heartfelt sensation that ought to dictate their response, & not the manner in which they are questioned.
The Commissioners, having accordingly moved to the home of M. Jumelin, began by putting his servant to the test. A specially designed blindfold, the same that was used in all subsequent experiments, was placed over his eyes. This blindfold was composed of two rubber crowns, the concave side of which was filled with eiderdown; all this was enclosed in two pieces of cloth sewn into a round shape. These two pieces were attached to one another; they had cords that tied behind. Placed over the eyes, they left a gap for the nose so that the subject could breathe freely without being able to see a thing, not even daylight, through, above, or under the blindfold. These precautions having been taken to secure the comfort of the subjects & the certainty of the results, M. Jumelin’s servant was persuaded that he was magnetized. He then felt an almost overwhelming warmth, stirrings in his abdomen, his head became heavier; little by little he began to nod & appeared on the point of falling asleep. All of which proves, as we said earlier, that this effect is due to the situation, to boredom, & not to magnetism.
Magnetized next with eyes uncovered, he feels tingling in his forehead when the metal rod is brought close to it; blindfolded again, he feels no tingling when the rod is brought close; & when it is not, & he is questioned whether he does not feel something on his forehead, he declares he feels something there moving back & forth across it.
M. B**, an educated man, particularly in the field of medicine, blindfolded, offers the same spectacle; feeling effects when there is no action taking place, often feeling nothing when there is. These effects were such that even before being magnetized in any way, but believing he had been for ten minutes, he felt a warmth in his loins that he compared to the warmth of a stove. It is obvious that M. B** had a strong sensation because to describe it, he had to resort to such a comparison; & this sensation was entirely due to the imagination, which alone was acting upon him.
It is obvious that these effects are products of the imagination.
The Commissioners, especially the Physicians, conducted numerous experiments on different subjects whom they magnetized themselves, or whom they led to believe had been magnetized. The Commissioners magnetized randomly with opposite poles or like poles in either sense, & in every instance, they obtained the same results; there was not in all those experiments any variation other than that of the degree of imagination.5
They were therefore convinced by facts that the imagination on its own can produce various sensations & make one feel pain, heat, even a substantial amount of heat in all parts of the body, & they have concluded that for many the imagination plays a necessary role in the effects attributed to Animal magnetism. But one must agree that the practice of magnetism produces in animated bodies changes more pronounced & upsets more substantial than the ones which have just been reported. So far none of the subjects who believed that they were magnetized were moved to the point of having convulsions; it therefore was a new type of experiment to test, if by shaking the imagination alone, one could produce crises similar to the ones taking place at the group treatment.
It is proposed to test if the effects on the imagination could go so far as to produce crises. Seventh experiment upon a magnetized tree.
This idea then led to several experiments. When a tree has been touched following principles & methods of magnetism, anyone who stops beside it ought to feel the effect of this agent to some degree; there are some who even lose consciousness or feel convulsions. We spoke of this to M. Deslon who replied that the experiment ought to succeed so long as the subject was very sensitive, & we came to agreement with him to conduct this experiment in Passy, in the presence of M. Franklin. The necessity that the subject be sensitive made the Commissioners think that in order to make the experiment decisive & unquestionable, it must be made on a person chosen by M. Deslon, a person whose sensitivity to magnetism had already been proved. M. Deslon consequently brought with him a young man of about twelve; in the garden orchard, an isolated apricot tree, fit to conserve the magnetism that would be impressed upon it, was marked. M. Deslon was led to it by himself so he could magnetize it, the young man staying in the house in the presence of someone who did not leave his side. One would have wished that M. Deslon not be present during the experiment, but he declared that it could miss the mark if he did not direct his cane & his attention to that tree to amplify the action. It was reluctantly decided to keep M. Deslon as far away as possible & to place the Commissioners between him & the young man in order to ensure that he could make no signals & attest to the fact that no information was exchanged. These precautions, in an experiment that is to be authentic, are necessary without being offensive.
The young man was then brought in, blindfolded & made to stand in front of four trees that had not been magnetized, & asked to hug them each for two minutes as prescribed by M. Deslon himself.
M. Deslon, present & at some distance, pointed the cane at the tree that was really magnetized. At the first tree, the young man, questioned after one minute, declared that he was perspiring profusely; he coughed, spit & said he felt a slight pain on the head; the distance to the magnetized tree was approximately twenty-seven feet.
At the second tree, he felt giddy with the same pain on the head; the distance was thirty-six feet. At the third tree, the dizziness increases & the headache as well; he says he thinks he is getting closer to the magnetized tree; it was then about thirty-eight feet away.
The patient has a crisis under a tree that is not magnetized.
Finally, at the fourth non-magnetized tree, & at about twenty-four feet from the magnetized one, the young man had a crisis; he lost consciousness, his limbs stiffened & he was carried to a nearby lawn where M. Deslon gave him first aid & revived him.
Therefore, the imagination produced this crisis.
The result of this experiment is totally contrary to magnetism. M. Deslon tried to explain what happened by saying that all trees are naturally magnetized & that their own magnetism was strengthened by his presence. But in that case, anyone sensitive to magnetism could not chance going into a garden without incurring the risk of convulsions, an assertion contradicted by everyday experience. M. Deslon’s presence did nothing more than it had in the coach in which he arrived with the young man, who sat across from him & felt nothing. Had the young man not felt anything, even under the magnetized tree, it could have been said that he was not sensitive enough, at least on that day: but the young man fell into a crisis under a non-magnetized tree; consequently, it is an effect which has no physical cause whatsoever, no outside cause, & which can have no cause other than the imagination. The experiment is therefore absolutely conclusive: the young man knew he was being led to a magnetized tree, his imagination was struck, successively heightened, & at the fourth tree it rose to the degree necessary to produce the crisis.
Other experiments support this one, & yield the same result. One day the Commissioners met in Passy at M. Franklin’s with M. Deslon, having requested the latter to bring some patients with him & choose from amongst the poor being treated those who would be the most sensitive to magnetism. M. Deslon brought two women; & while he was busy magnetizing M. Franklin & several people in another apartment, these two women were separated & placed in two different rooms.
Eighth experiment that gives the same result. A woman believing she is magnetized has a crisis.
One of them, the woman P**, has leukoma; but as she is able to see a little, her eyes were covered with the blindfold described above. She was persuaded that M. Deslon had been brought in to magnetize her; silence was insisted upon, three Commissioners were present, one to question her, the other to take notes, the third to represent M. Deslon. They acted as if they were addressing M. Deslon, asking him to begin, but the woman was not magnetized at all; the three Commissioners remained quiet, occupied only in observing what was going to happen. After three minutes, the patient started to feel a nervous shiver; then in succession she felt pain in the back of her head, in her arms, pins & needles in her hands, that’s the expression she used; she stiffened, clapped her hands, got up from her chair, tapped her feet: the crisis was well defined. Two other Commissioners in the next room with the door closed heard the clapping of hands & tapping of feet &, without seeing anything, were witnesses to this loud affair.
Ninth experiment giving the same result. A woman who believes she is being magnetized through a door has a crisis.
Those two Commissioners were with the other patient, a Mlle. B**, suffering from a nervous ailment. With her eyes left uncovered, her sight was unimpeded; she was seated in front of a closed door & persuaded that M. Deslon was on the other side in the process of magnetizing her. It was barely a minute of sitting there in front of that door before she began to feel shivers. A minute after that she started to chatter even though she felt generally warm; finally, after the third minute, she fell into a complete crisis. Her breathing was racing, she stretched both arms behind her back, twisting them strongly & bending her body forward; her whole body shook. The chatter of teeth was so loud that it could be heard from outside; she bit her hand hard enough to leave teeth marks.
It is well to observe that these two patients were not touched in any way; not even their pulses were felt so that it could not be said that magnetism had been communicated to them, & nonetheless the crises were full blown. The Commissioners, who wanted to know the effect of the workings of the imagination & appreciate what role it could have in the crises of magnetism, obtained all that they had wanted. It is impossible to see the effect of these workings more overtly or in a more evident way than in these two experiments. If the patients have claimed that their crises are stronger during treatment, it is because the shaking of nerves is catching & in general everyone’s own individual emotion is increased by the spectacle of similar emotions.
We had an opportunity to test the woman P** a second time & to realize the extent to which she was ruled by her imagination. We wished to conduct the experiment of the magnetized cups: this experiment consists of choosing from amongst a number of cups one that is magnetized. The cups are presented one after the other to a patient sensitive to magnetism; he ought to have a crisis or at least sense some effect when the magnetized cup is presented; he ought to be indifferent to all the others that are not. It is only necessary that, as recommended by M. Deslon, the direct pole be presented so that the person handling the cup does not magnetize the patient, & that no effect other than the cup’s magnetism be involved. The woman P** was summoned to M.Lavoisier’s Arsenal where M.Deslon was present; she started falling into shock in the anteroom, before having seen either M. Deslon or the Commissioners; but she knew she should be seeing him, & that is a striking effect of the imagination.
Tenth experiment of the magnetized cup: same result.
After the crisis had abated, the woman was led to the site of the experiment. Several cups not at all magnetized were presented to her; the second cup started to affect her, & at the fourth, she fell completely into a crisis. It can be said that her actual state was that of a nervous crisis that had begun in the anteroom & began again on its own; but what is crucial is that having asked for a drink, it was to given her in the cup magnetized by M. Deslon himself; she drank quietly & said she felt relieved. Therefore the cup & magnetism missed their marks, because the crisis was quieted rather than exacerbated.
Eleventh experiment with this cup; same result.
Sometime later, while M. Majault was examining her leukoma, the magnetized cup was brought close to the back of her head & held there for twelve minutes; she noticed nothing & felt no effect whatsoever, she was even calmer than at any other time because her imagination was distracted & occupied by the eye examination being made.
Marked effect on the imagination & of prevention.
The Commissioners were told that this woman, left alone in the anteroom, suffered renewed convulsions when approached by several persons who had nothing to do with magnetism. It was pointed out to her that she was not being magnetized; but her imagination was so excited that she replied: if you were not doing anything to me, I would not be in the state I am in. She knew she had come to be the subject of experiment; someone’s approach, the least noise drew her attention, awakening the idea of magnetism & renewing the convulsions.
Twelfth experiment; this effect goes so far as to cause the loss of speech.
In order to act powerfully, the imagination often needs to be stimulated in different ways simultaneously. The imagination responds to all the senses; its reaction must be proportional to the number of senses that move it & the feelings received: this is what the Commissioners realized following an experiment that they are about to describe. M. Jumelin had told them of a young lady, age 20, whose speech he had removed by the power of magnetism; the Commissioners repeated this experiment at his house, and the young lady agreed to it & agreed to be blindfolded.
First we tried to obtain the same result without magnetizing her; but whether she felt or believed she felt the effects of magnetism, we were unable to stimulate her imagination enough for the experiment to succeed. When she was really magnetized with eyes blindfolded, we were not more successful. The blindfold was removed; then the imagination was stimulated by sight as well as by hearing, the effects were more noticeable; but even though her head began to droop, even though she felt pressure at the base of the nose & many of the symptoms that she had felt the first time, she did not however lose her ability to speak. What she asked for was done, & in three fourths of a minute she became mute; only a few inarticulate sounds could be heard despite the visible efforts of the throat to push out sounds & those of the tongue & lips to enunciate. This state lasted only a minute: one can see that finding itself in precisely the same circumstances, the seduction of the mind & its effects on the organs of speech were the same. But it was not enough that the spoken word alerted her to the fact that she had been magnetized, it was necessary that the sense of sight make a stronger impression capable of stirring the imagination; it was necessary also that it be a known gesture to revive her ideas. It seems that this experiment shows wonderfully how the imagination works, being heightened by degree & requiring extra outside help in order to be stimulated more effectively.
Sight is used to strike the imagination. Thirteenth experiment that proves the effect of sight.
This power that sight has over the imagination explains the effects that the doctrine of magnetism attributes to it. It is preeminently sight that has the power to magnetize; signs & gestures employed are ordinarily useless, the Commissioners were told, unless the subject has already been taken hold of by being glanced upon. The reason is simple; it is in the eyes where the most expressive traits of the passions are, & it is there that all that is most important & most seductive in character is unfolded. Therefore, the eyes must have a great power over us; but they have this power because they stir the imagination, & in a manner more or less exaggerated according to the strength of that imagination. It is therefore sight that gets all the work of magnetism underway; & the effect is so powerful, its origins so deep, that a woman newly arrived at M. Deslon’s, coming out of a crisis & meeting the gaze of the disciple of Deslon who magnetized her, stared at him for three quarters of an hour. For a long time she was hounded by this look; she kept seeing before her that same eye intent on watching her; & she constantly carried it in her imagination for three days, whether asleep or awake. One sees all that can be produced by an imagination able to preserve the same impression for such a long time, the same impression, that is to say, able to revive by its own power the same feeling for three days.
Those experiments are consistent & decisive; they prove that imagination is sufficient to produce the effects attributed to magnetism.
The experiments just reported are consistent & also decisive; they authorize the conclusion that the imagination is the real cause of the effects attributed to magnetism. But the supporters of this new agent will perhaps reply that the identity of the effects does not always prove the identity of the causes. They will allow that the imagination may excite these impressions without magnetism; but they will maintain that magnetism can also excite them without the help of the imagination. The Commissioners could easily destroy this assertion by using reason & the principles of Physics: first & foremost, new causes are not to be postulated unless absolutely necessary. When the effects observed can have been produced by an existing cause, already manifested in other phenomena, sound Physics teaches that the effect observed must be attributed to it; & when one announces the discovery of a cause hither-to unknown, sound Physics also demands that it be established, demonstrated by effects that cannot be attributed to any known cause, & that can only be explained by the new cause. It would thus be up to the followers of magnetism to present other proofs & to look for effects that were entirely stripped of the illusion of the imagination. But as facts are more conclusive than reasoning & provide more striking evidence, the Commissioners wanted to put to the test what magnetism would be when the imagination was not at work.
Fourteenth experiment, which proves that magnetism produces nothing without the imagination.
An apartment with adjacent rooms & a communicating door was prepared. The door was removed & replaced by a frame, covered with two layers of paper. In one of these rooms was one of the Commissioners there to write down all that would happen, & a lady introduced as being from the provinces & in need of a seamstress. Mlle. B**, a seamstress who had already been used during the experiments in Passy & whose sensitivity to magnetism was known, was asked to come over. When she arrived, all was arranged so that there was only one chair where she could sit & this chair was situated in the embrasure of the communicating door where she found herself as in a nook.
The Commissioners were in the other room, & one of them, a Physician trained to magnetize & having already produced effects, was put in charge of magnetizing Mlle. B** through the paper frame. It is a principle of the theory of magnetism that this agent passes through wooden doors, walls, etc. A paper frame could not be an obstacle; moreover, M. Deslon has positively established that magnetism passes through paper; & Mlle. B** was magnetized as if she had been in the open & in his presence.
For a half-hour, from a distance of a foot & a half, she was magnetized with opposite poles, following all the procedures which had been taught by M. Deslon, & which the Commissioners saw practiced at his home. During all this time, Mlle.B** was conversing cheerfully; asked about her health, she answered freely that she felt quite well: in Passy she had fallen into a crisis after three minutes; here she endured magnetism for thirty minutes without any effect. It is just that here she did not know she was magnetized, & in Passy she believed that she was. One sees therefore that the imagination alone produces all the effects attributed to magnetism; & when the imagination does not act, there are no more effects.
Fifteenth experiment, which proves that the imagination acts so as to produce crises.
But one objection can be made to this experiment; that Mlle. B** could have been ill disposed & found herself less sensitive at that time to magnetism. The Commissioners anticipated the objection & consequently conducted the following experiment. As soon as one ceased to magnetize through the paper, the same Physician-Commissioner moved to the other room; it was easy to induce Mlle.B** to be magnetized. He then commenced magnetizing her, being careful, as in the preceding experiment, to stand at a distance of one & a half feet from her, to use only the gestures & movements of the index finger & the metal rod, for had he applied his hands & touched her hypochondria, it could have been said that magnetism had acted through this closer contact. The only difference between these two experiments is that in the first, he magnetized with opposite poles, following the rules, whereas in the second, he magnetized with direct poles & backwards. Acting in this way, by the theory of magnetism, no effect at all should have been produced.
However after three minutes, Mlle. B** felt ill at ease & short of breath; then followed interspersed hiccups, chattering of the teeth, a tightening of the throat & a bad headache; she anxiously stirred on her chair; she complained about lower back pain; she occasionally tapped her feet rapidly on the floor; she then stretched her arms behind her back, twisting them strongly as in Passy; in a word, a complete & perfectly characteristic convulsive crisis. She suffered all this in twelve minutes whereas the same treatment employed for thirty minutes found her insensitive. The only thing added here is the imagination; it is therefore to it that these effects are due.
Sixteenth experiment, which proves that the imagination acts also to stop the crises.
If the imagination started the crisis, it is also the imagination that made it stop. The Commissioner who magnetized her said it was time to finish; crossing his two index fingers, he presented them to her; & it is well to observe that by this he was magnetizing her with direct poles as he had done so far; nothing therefore had changed, the same treatment should have continued the same impressions. But the intention was enough to calm the crisis; the heat & headache dissipated. The areas that hurt were attended to one after the other, while announcing that the pain would disappear. In this way, the voice, by directing the imagination, caused the pain in the neck to stop, then in succession the irregularities in the chest, stomach & arms. It took only three minutes; after which Mlle. B** declared that she no longer felt anything & was absolutely back in her natural state.
Imagination does everything, magnetism is worthless.
These last experiments along with several done at the home of M. Jumelin have the double advantage of simultaneously demonstrating the power of the imagination & the nullity of magnetism in the effects produced.
Concurrence of several causes to augment the crises at the group treatment.
If the effects are even more marked & crises seemingly more violent during group treatment, it is because several causes concur with the imagination to multiply & magnify the effects. The process begins with staring to take hold of the mind; touching & applying hands soon follow; & it is appropriate here to develop an exposition of the physical effects.
Effects resulting from touching & pressure.
These effects are more or less substantial; the lesser are the hiccups, stomach upsets, purges; the more substantial are convulsions which are called crises. The place where touching occurs is the hypochondria, at the pit of the stomach, & sometimes on the ovaries when it is women who are touched. Hands, fingers press & more or less squeeze these different areas.
On the colon.
The colon, one of the large intestines, runs across both regions of the hypochondria & the epigastric area that separates them. It is placed directly under the tegument. It is therefore on this intestine that touching takes place, on this sensitive & very irritable intestine. Movement alone, repeated movements without any other agent, excite the muscular action of the intestine & sometimes results in evacuations. Nature seems to indicate, as by instinct, this maneuvering to hypochondriacs. The practice of magnetism is nothing more than this very maneuvering; & the purges which it can produce are facilitated further in the magnetic treatment by the frequent & almost habitual use of a real purgative, diluted cream of tartar.
But when this movement principally excites the irritability of the colon, this intestine presents other phenomena. It swells more or less, & sometimes to a considerable volume. It then communicates to the diaphragm such an irritation that this organ enters more or less into convulsions & this is what we call crisis in the treatment of Animal magnetism. One of the Commissioners has seen a lady subject to a kind of spasmodic vomiting repeated several times a day. The efforts produced only a cloudy & viscous fluid similar to that vomited by patients in crisis during the practice of magnetism. The convulsion had its seat in the diaphragm; & the region of the colon was so sensitive that the slightest touching of that area, a strong disturbance of the air, the surprise caused by an unexpected noise, sufficed to stimulate the convulsion. Thus this woman had crises without magnetism due solely to the irritability of the colon & the diaphragm, & women who are magnetized have their crises due to the same cause & by this irritability.
On the stomach.
The laying of hands on the stomach has physical effects equally remarkable. The application is made directly upon this organ. Sometimes compression there is strong & continuous, sometimes light & repeated; sometimes vibrations are transmitted to this part by rotating the metal rod; lastly, thumbs are sometimes passed along there quickly & successively one after the other. These maneuvers quickly bring to the stomach an irritation strong & more or less lasting depending on whether the subject is more or less sensitive & irritable. Compressing the stomach predisposes it to this irritation. This compression allows it to act on the diaphragm, & to communicate to it the impressions it receives. It cannot become irritated unless the diaphragm is irritated, & from there, as by the action of the colon, result the nervous symptoms we have just talked about.
With sensitive women, if one has put pressure on the two hypochondria without making any movement, the stomach tightens & these women faint. This is what happened to the woman magnetized by M. Jumelin; & what often happens without any other cause when the clothes of women are too tight; there is then no crisis, because the stomach is squeezed without being irritated, & because the diaphragm remains in its natural state. These same maneuvers practiced on the ovaries, aside from the effects that are particular to them, produce the same symptoms even more powerfully. The influence & the power of the uterus on animal economy is well known.
Nervous center that establishes a general correspondence.
The intimate relation between the colon, the stomach & the uterus with the diaphragm is one of the causes of the effects attributed to magnetism. The lower abdominal regions, subjected to various touches, respond to a different plexus that constitutes a veritable nervous center, by means of which, aside from all other systems, it very likely excites a sympathy, a communication, a correspondence between all parts of the body, an action & a reaction such that the sensations excited in this center shake the other parts of the body; & vice versa such that a sensation felt in one part gets the nervous system going, which often transmits this impression to all the other parts.
Effects of the imagination on this nervous center.
This explains not only the effects of magnetic touching but also the physical effects of the imagination. It has always been observed that the affections of the soul make their first impression on this nervous center, which leads to the common saying that one has a weight on the stomach & that one feels suffocated. The diaphragm joins in, from which come sighs, tears & laughter. Next a reaction is felt on the viscera of the lower abdomen; & that is how we can make sense of physical disorders produced by the imagination. A sudden chill occasions colic, fear causes diarrhea, sadness gives rise to jaundice. The history of Medicine contains infinite examples of the power of the imagination & the influence of the soul. The fear of fire, a violent desire, a strong & lasting hope, a crisis of anger return the use of legs to a man crippled by gout, to a paralytic; an intense & unexpected joy dissipates a quartan fever two months old; a strong attentiveness brings a halt to hiccups; accidental mutes recover speech following a strong emotion of the soul. History shows that this emotion suffices to recover speech, & the Commissioners saw that striking the imagination was enough to cause its loss. The action & the reaction of the physical upon the mental & of the mental upon the physical have been demonstrated since observation has been part of Medicine, that is, from its origin. Crises arise from touching & from the imagination.
The imagination displays effects largely in group treatments because of the spread of impressions & movements.
Tears, laughter, coughs, hiccups, & in general all the effects observed during what are called the crises of the group treatment arise therefore from either the functions of the diaphragm disturbed by physical means, such as touching & pressure, or from the power of the imagination so gifted for acting upon this organ & disturbing its functions.
If it were objected that touching is not always necessary for these effects, the reply would be that the imagination may posses enough resources to manufacture everything by itself — especially the imagination acting in a group treatment, doubly excited therefore by its own movement & that of the surrounding imaginations. We have seen what it produced in the experiments made by the Commissioners on isolated subjects; one can judge of its multiplied effects on patients brought together in the group treatment. These patients are assembled in a tight place, relative to their number: the air is warm, although care is taken to renew it; & it is always more or less laden with mephitic gas the action of which particularly affects the head & the nervous system. If there is music, it is another means of acting upon nerves & of stimulating them.
Effects of the imagination & of imitation in large gatherings.
Several women are magnetized simultaneously & at first feel only effects similar to those noted by the Commissioners in several of their experiments. They have recognized that even during the group treatment, it is more often only after two hours that the crises begin. Little by little, impressions are communicated & reinforce each other, as one may notice at theatrical spectacles where the impressions are greater when there are many spectators, & especially in the places where one is at liberty to applaud. This indication of particular emotions establishes a general emotion which each shares to the extent to which he is susceptible. It is this that one observes also in armies on the day of battle, when the enthusiasm of courage as well as the panic of terror spread with so much rapidity. The sound of the drum & of the military music, the noise of the cannon, the musket fire, the cries, the disorder rattle the organs, give to the mind the same movement & heighten imaginations to the same degree. In this drunken unity, one impression manifested becomes universal; it encourages a charge or determines flight. The same cause gives birth to revolts; the imagination governs the multitude: men gathered in numbers are more taken by their senses, reason has less hold on them; & when fanaticism presides over these assemblies, it gives rise to the Tremblers of the Cevennes.6
It is in order to stop such disturbances which can spread so easily that gatherings are forbidden in seditious towns. The mind is everywhere influenced by example. Mechanical imitation brings the physical into play: by isolating individuals, one can quiet their minds; by separating them, one can stop convulsions, naturally always contagious: we have a recent example of this in the young girls of Saint-Roch, who when separated were healed of the convulsions they suffered from when together.7
Thus we meet again with magnetism, or rather with the theatrical play of the imagination, in the army, in large gatherings like that around the vat, acting by different means, but producing the same effects. The vat is surrounded by a new crowd of patients: sensations are continuously communicated & returned; in the end the exercise wears out the nerves; they become irritated & the woman who is most sensitive gives the signal. At that point the cords, all pulled to the same degree & in unison, respond, & the crises multiply; they mutually reinforce each other; they become violent. At the same time, the men witnessing these emotions share them to the degree of their nervous sensibility, & those whose sensibility is greater & more easily affected fall into a crisis themselves. This great affectability, in part natural & in part acquired, in men as well as women, becomes habitual. Having felt these sensations once or several times, it is only a question of recalling their memory to stimulate the imagination to the degree necessary to create the same effects. This is something always easy to do by placing the subject in the same circumstances. Then there is no need for group treatment, one has only to touch the hypochondria, to pass the finger & the metal rod in front of the face; the gestures are known. It is not even necessary that they be employed, it suffices that patients, eyes blindfolded, believe that the gestures are being repeated, that they are persuaded they are being magnetized; the ideas awake, the sensations reproduce themselves, the imagination employing familiar means, & taking the same paths, makes the same phenomena reappear. It is this that happens to the patients of M. Deslon, who fall into crisis without a vat, & without being excited by the spectacle of group treatment.
Touching, imagination, imitation, are the real causes of the effects attributed to magnetism.
Touching, imagination, imitation, these then are the real causes of the effects attributed to this new agent, known under the name Animal magnetism, to this fluid said to circulate in the body & to spread from individual to individual; such is the result of the experiments by the Commissioners, & the observations that they made on the methods employed, & on the effects produced. This agent, this fluid does not exist, but as chimerical as it is, the idea of it is not new. A few authors, a few physicians from the last century have expressly dealt with it in several works. The curious & interesting researches of M. Thouret prove to the group that the theory, the processes, the effects of Animal magnetism, proposed in the last century, closely resembled those being taken up again in this one. Magnetism therefore is only an old error. This theory is being presented today with a more impressive apparatus, necessary in a more enlightened century; but it is not for that reason less false. Man seizes, abandons, takes up again the error that gratifies him. There are errors which will be eternally dear to humanity. How many times has astrology not reappeared upon the earth! Magnetism draws us to return to it. The desire has been to link it to celestial influences so as to make it more captivating & attract men with the double hopes that touch them most, the hope of knowing their futures, & the hope of prolonging their days.
The imagination appears the strongest; touching is used to unsettle it & imitation spreads the sensations.
There is reason to believe that the imagination is the most important of the three causes that we have just assigned to magnetism. We have seen by the experiments cited that it suffices on its own to produce crises. Pressure, touching appear therefore to serve it as preparations; it is through touching that the nerves are unsettled, imitation communicates & spreads the sensations. But the imagination is this terrible, active power that produces the great effects one observes with astonishment in the group treatment. These effects are astonishing in the eyes of everyone, while the cause is obscure & hidden. When it is considered that in the last centuries these effects have captivated men esteemed for their merit, their knowledge, & even genius, such as Paracelsus, Vanhelmont, Kirker, etc., it should not be surprising if today, persons who are educated, enlightened, if even a great number of Physicians have been taken in. The Commissioners admitted only to the group treatment where there is neither time nor the ability to conduct decisive experiments could themselves have been led into error. The freedom to isolate the effects was necessary in order to distinguish the causes; one must like them have seen the imagination work, partially in some way, to produce its effects separately & in detail, so as to conceive of the accumulation of these effects, to get an idea of its total power & take account of its wonders. But such examination requires a sacrifice of time, & much follow-up research which one does not always have the leisure to pursue for the purpose of instruction or satisfying one’s own curiosity, or which one does not have even the right to undertake unless one is like the Commissioners charged by the King’s orders, & honored with the group trust.
M. Deslon does not stray from his principles & he believes it useful to utilize the power of the imagination in the practice of Medicine.
M. Deslon does not stray from his principles. He declared at the committee meeting held at the home of M. Franklin on June 19 that he believed he could in fact lay down the principle that the imagination had the greatest part in the effects of Animal magnetism; he said that this new agent may be only the imagination itself, the power of which is so great that it is little understood: at the same time he certifies that he has constantly been cognizant of this power in the treatment of his patients, & he certifies also that several have been healed or remarkably relieved. He has remarked to the Commissioners that the imagination directed in this way toward the relief of human suffering, would be a great blessing in the practice of Medicine;8 & persuaded of the truth of the imagination’s power, he invited them to study its workings & effects at his home. If M. Deslon is still attached to the first idea that these effects are due to the action of a fluid that is communicated from person to person through touching or under the direction of a conducting agent, it will not take him long to recognize with the Commissioners that all that is needed is one cause for one effect, & that because the imagination is sufficient, the fluid is useless. No doubt we are surrounded by a fluid that belongs to us, imperceptible perspiration forms around us an atmosphere of vapors equally imperceptible; but this fluid acts only like the atmospheres, can only be communicated in infinitely small quantities through touching, is not directed either by conductors, or by sight, or by intention, is not at all spread by sound, nor reflected in mirrors, & is in no way admitting of the effects attributed to it.
Imagination is almost always harmful when it produces violent effects & convulsions.
It remains to examine whether the crises or the convulsions produced by the processes of this so-called magnetism, in the gathering around the vat, can be useful in healing or relieving the sick. No doubt the imagination of patients often has an influence upon the cure of their maladies. The effect is only known through a general experiment & was not determined by positive experiments but it does not appear that we can doubt it. It is a well-known adage that in medicine faith saves; this faith is the product of the imagination: the imagination therefore acts only through gentle means; through spreading calm through the senses, through reestablishing order in functions, in reanimating everything through hope. Hope is the life of man; what can give him the one contributes to him the other. But when the imagination produces convulsions, it acts through violent means; these means are almost always destructive. In a few very rare cases, they can be useful; there are some desperate cases where all must be disturbed in order to be put in order anew. These dangerous upsets may only be used in Medicine the way poisons are. It must be necessity that dictates their use & economy that controls it. This need is momentary, the upset must be unique. Far from repeating it, the wise physician busies himself with repairing the damage it has necessarily produced; but at the group treatment of magnetism, crises repeat themselves everyday, they are long, violent; the situation of these crises being harmful, making a habit of them can only be disastrous. How can one conceive that a woman whose chest is affected may without danger have bouts of convulsive coughing, of forced expectorations; & by violent & repeated efforts, tire & perhaps tear the lung where one has so much difficulty bringing balm & soothing? How can one imagine that a man, whatever his disease, in order to cure it must fall into crises where sight appears to be lost, where limbs stiffen, where with furious & involuntary movements he batters his own chest; crises that end with an abundant spitting up of mucus & blood! This blood is neither polluted nor corrupted; this blood comes from vessels torn by the efforts & from whence it comes contrary to the wish of Nature. These effects therefore are real afflictions & not curative ones; they are maladies added to the disease whatever it may be.
These convulsions may become habitual, may spread in towns & be communicated to children.
These crises still have another danger. Man is constantly controlled by habit; habit modifies Nature by successive degrees, but it disposes it so strongly that it often changes it entirely & makes it unrecognizable. Who can tell whether that crisis-state, at first impressed upon the will, will not become habitual? Whether this habit, thus acquired, would often reproduce the same incidents against one’s will, & almost without the help of the imagination, which would be the lot of an individual subjected to these violent crises, physically & morally tormented by their unhappy impression, whose days would be divided between apprehensiveness & pain, & whose life would be only a lasting torture? These afflictions of the nerves, when they are natural, are the scourge of Physicians; it should not be the place of art to produce them. This art is disastrous, disturbing the functions of animal economy, pushing Nature to deviate, & multiplying the victims of its disordering. This art is especially dangerous in that not only does it aggravate nervous disorders by bringing the accidents back to mind, by making them degenerate into habits, but if this malady is contagious, as one may suspect, the practice of provoking nervous convulsions, & exciting them publicly during the treatments, is a means of spreading them in large cities; & even of afflicting the generations to come because the ills & habits of parents are transmitted to their posterity.
Conclusion. The magnetic fluid does not exist, & the means used to activate it are dangerous.
The Commissioners, having recognized that this Animal-magnetism fluid cannot be perceived by any of our senses, that it had no action whatsoever, neither on themselves, nor on patients submitted to it; having certified that pressure & touching occasion changes rarely favorable to animal economy & perturbations always distressing in the imagination; having finally demonstrated by decisive experiments that the imagination without magnetism produces convulsions, & that magnetism without imagination produces nothing; they have unanimously concluded, on the question of the existence & utility of magnetism, that nothing proves the existence of Animal-magnetism fluid; that this fluid with no existence is therefore without utility; that the violent effects observed at the group treatment belong to touching, to the imagination set in action & to this involuntary imitation that brings us in spite of ourselves to repeat that which strikes our senses, & at the same time, they feel obliged to add, as an important observation, that the touchings, the repeated action of the imagination in producing crises can be dangerous; that the witnessing of these crises is equally dangerous because of this imitation which Nature seems to have made a law; & that, consequently, all group treatment in which the means of magnetism will be used, can in the long run have only disastrous effects.9
In Paris, this August eleven one thousand seven hundred & eighty four. Signed B. FRANKLIN, MAJAULT, LE ROY, SALLIN, BAILLY, D’ARCET, DEBORY, GUILLOTIN, LAVOISIER
- Memoir of M. Mesmer on the discovery of Animal magnetism pages 74 & seq.
- Ibid. Notice to the Reader, page vi.
- This detailed observation was given to the Faculty of Medicine of Paris to an assembly of prima mensis by M. Bourdois de la Motte, charitable Physician of Saint-Sulpice, who faithfully visited the patient everyday.
- M. Mesmer. Précis Historique pages 35, 37
M. Sigault, a Doctor of Medicine from the Faculté of Paris, known for his speculations on the operation of the symphysis, has conducted several experiments proving that magnetism is only the result of the imagination. Here is what he said in detail in a letter dated July 30 & addressed to one of the Commissioners:
In a mansion of the Marais district, I produced various effects in a lady whom I had led to believe that I was a follower of M. Mesmer’s. My tone of voice, the serious demeanor I affected, together with my gestures, made a very strong impression on her that at first she wished to hide from me; but holding my hand over the heart, I felt it was beating fast. Its condition indicated moreover a tightening in the chest. To these symptoms were soon added others; the face became convulsive, the eyes glazed over, finally she fainted, then vomited her dinner, changed clothes a few times & found herself in a state of weakness & unbelievable prostration. I used the same stratagem on several persons, with more or less success according to the degree of their belief & sensitivity. A famous artist who gives drawing lessons to the children of one of our Princes had been complaining for several days of a severe migraine; he confided to me on the Pont-royal; having persuaded him that I was initiated into M. Mesmer’s mysteries, almost immediately, with a few gestures, I relieved him of his pain, to his great astonishment. I produced the same effects on a young hatter also suffering from a migraine; but as this one felt nothing following my first gestures, I put my hand on his floating ribs, telling him to watch me. From then on, he felt a tightening of the chest, palpitations, yawns & a great discomfort. From that moment on he no longer doubted the great power I had over him. Consequently, having put my finger on the affected part, I questioned him about what he felt. He answered that the pain was going down. I assured him that I was going to lead it towards the arm & have it come out through the thumb that I was holding tightly. He took me at my word & was relieved of pain for two hours. Around that time, he stopped me in the street to tell me that the pain had returned. The effect is, it seems to me, the same as that produced by the dentist on the mentality of those who come to have a tooth extracted. Again, recently, in the visiting room of a convent, on Colombier street, F. S. G. a young woman told me; you go to M. Mesmer’s? Yes, I said, & through the gate I can magnetize you. I simultaneously pointed my finger: she became frightened, felt distressed & begged me by the grace of God to stop. She was so moved that had I insisted further, she would without a doubt have fallen into convulsions.
M. Sigault recounted that he himself had felt the power of the imagination. The day he was to be magnetized to be convinced of its power, as he was about to be touched, he felt a tightening of the chest & heart palpitations. But once he had set his mind at rest, all the gestures & methods of magnetism were employed in vain & had no effect on him whatsoever.
- The Maréchal de Villars, who brought an end to the troubles in the Cevennes, says: “I saw things of this kind that I would not have believed had they not happened right before my eyes; an entire town whose women & girls without exception appeared to be possessed by the devil. They trembled & prophesied publicly in the streets… One had the audacity to shake & make prophetic utterances for an hour in front of me. But out of all those lunacies, the most surprising was that recounted to me by the Bishop of Alais, & that which I described in a letter to M. de Cham illard, as follows. A gentleman from Mandagors, lord of the domain of that name, mayor of Alais, possessing highest ranking offices in the city & county, having actually been for a while Subdélégué to M. de Bˆaville, has just done something extraordinary. This is a man of sixty years, wisein his manners, of much intellect. having composed & printed several works. I have read a few of them, before knowing what I just learned about him, wherein I found a quite lively imagination. A prophetess, between the ages of 27 & 28, was arrested about eighteen months ago, & brought before M. d’Alais. He questioned her in the presence of several Clergymen. This creature, after listening to him, answers with an air of modesty & exhorts him not to torment the true Children of God any longer & then speaks to him for an hour in a foreign tongue of which he understood not a word; as we have seen at other times the Duke of la Ferté, after a little to drink, speak English in front of Englishmen. I saw some react: I am told he speaks English but I don’t understand a word of what he is saying. What would also have made him difficult to understand was the fact that he had never known a word of English. This girl spoke Greek, as well as Hebrew. You can well believe that M. d’Alais had the Prophetess put in jail. After a few months, this girl, looking as if she was back from her wanderings following the care & advice of the aforesaid M. Mandagors, who consorted with her, was given her liberty; & from this liberty & the liberty taken with her by M. Mandagors, the result was pregnancy for the Prophetess. But the present situation is that the said Mandagors relinquished all responsibility, put them in the care of his son & told a few persons & the Bishop himself that it was the commandment of God that he came to know this Prophetess, & that the child to be born will be the true Savior of the World. On the basis of all this, & even in a country other than this one, there would be nothing else to do but send Mayor & Prophetess to the little Houses. The Bishop asked me to have him arrested. I wanted to have a conference with M.de Bˆaville beforehand, in the meantime ordering that he be observed & the Prophetess as well in such a way that they could not escape: my thought being that in the middle of the insane, whoever observes a madman of this importance should make as little commotion as possible; that, consequently, it was necessary to try to quietly remove him from his usual surroundings & then seize him. For you can well judge that to publicly take to be a prophet, a mayor of Alais, a lord of fairly considerable property, ex Subdélégué of the Intendant, author & until then reputed sage, amongst the people used to holding him in high esteem & giving him respect, was likely to make the situation worse rather than better. Doubtly so because apart from the insanity of believing that God commanded him to know this woman, he is quite wise in his words, as wise as Don Quixote was, except in the matter of chivalry. The opinion of M. de Bˆaville was like mine, not to rush things. His children took him without making a fuss to one of his castles where he was held, & the Prophetess was jailed.” Life of Maréchal Duke of Villars, page 325 & following.
- A few years ago (1780), after the evening service, on the day of the first communion ceremony in the Saint-Roch parish, there was an outdoors procession as is customary. No sooner had the children reentered the church & returned to their places than a young girl felt faint & had convulsions. This affection spread with such speed that in a space of half an hour, 50 or 60 young girls, ages 12 to 19, fell into the same convulsions; that is to say. a tightening of the throat, bulging of the stomach, a feeling of suffocation, hiccups & convulsions of various severity. These events reappeared in a few of them during the week; but the following Sunday, being assembled at the Dames of Saint-Anne, an institution for the teaching of young girls, twelve fell back into the same convulsions, & more would have succumbed if care had not been taken to return them immediately to the care of their parents. The number of schools had to be increased. By separating children this way, & assembling them only in small numbers, three weeks were sufficient to entirely dissipate this epidemic of convulsiveness. For further similar examples, see the Naturalism of Convulsions by M. Hecquet.
- M. Deslon had said already in 1780: “If M. Mesmer had no other secret than how to put the imagination into motion effectively, for health purposes, would not that still be a marvelous blessing? For if the Medicine of imagination were the best, why would not we be doing the Medicine of imagination?’’ Observation on Animal magnetism, pages 46 & 47.
- If it is objected to the Commissioners that this conclusion regards magnetism in general, instead of only the magnetism practiced by M. Deslon, the Commissioners would reply that the King’s intention was to have their opinion on Animal magnetism; consequently they have not exceeded the boundaries of their commission. They would reply also that M. Deslon appeared to them to be well versed in what are called the principles of magnetism, & that he certainly possesses the means of producing effects & exciting crises. These principles of M. Deslon are the same as those in the twenty-seven propositions that M. Mesmer made public through publication in 1779. If M. Mesmer announces today a more encompassing theory, there is no need whatsoever for the Commissioners to know this theory to decide on the existence & utility of magnetism. They had only to consider the effects. It is by the effects that the existence of a cause manifests itself; it is by the same effects that its utility may be demonstrated. Phenomena are known through observation a long time before one can reach the theory that links them & which explains them. The theory of the magnet does yet not exist, & its phenomena have been established by the test of several centuries. The theory of M. Mesmer is immaterial & superfluous here; the practice, the effects, it has been a question of examining these. Now it is easy to prove that the essential practices of magnetism are known to M.Deslon. M. Deslon was for several years the disciple of M. Mesmer. During that time, he constantly saw the employment of the practices of Animal magnetism & the means of exciting it & directing it. M. Deslon himself has treated patients in front of M. Mesmer; elsewhere, he has brought about the same effects as at M. Mesmer’s. Then, united, the one & the other combined their patients & treated them without distinction, & consequently following the same procedures. The method followed today by M.Deslon can therefore be no other than that of M.Mesmer. The effects correspond as well. There are crises as violent, as multiplied & as pronounced by similar symptoms at M. Deslon’s as at M.Mesmer’s; these effects therefore do not belong to a particular practice, but to the practice of magnetism in general. The experiments of the Commissioners demonstrate that the effects obtained by M.Deslon are due to touching, to imagination, to imitation. These causes are thus the causes of magnetism in general. The observations of the Commissioners have convinced them that these convulsions & violent effects can be useful in Medicine only in the way poisons are; they have judged, independently of any theory, that in the future, wherever one seeks to excite convulsions, they will be able to become habitual & injurious; they will be able to spread epidemically, & possibly extend to future generations. The Commissioners have therefore concluded that not only the processes of a particular practice but the processes of magnetism in general could in the long run become disastrous.
Skeptical perspectives on testing psychic claimants, lie detection and the psychology of the paranormal
- Luck, ESP and Magic: How Science Tests the Unusual
(DVD $23.95) with Dr. Richard Wiseman
- Guidelines for Testing Psychic Claimants
(hardcover $24.00) with Dr.Richard Wiseman & Robert Morris
- James Randi’s Solved Mysteries Workshop
(a one-day workshop on 3 DVDs)
(DVDs $23.95 each) with James “the Amazing” Randi
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Skeptics as Model Train Lovers (Part I and II)
In this week’s Skepticblog, Daniel Loxton considers the value of community as it pertains to skepticism. In the followup post, he expounds on the distinction between ‘the skeptical community’ and ‘traditional scientific skepticism’ and defends the discussion of best practices.
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God 2.0: Is the deity a nonlocal quantum mind?
In this week’s Skepticblog, Michael Shermer compares the Biblical concept of God to Deepak Chopra’s Middle Ages-inspired, scientistic-sounding, nonlocal, spooky-action-at-a-distance quantum force, New Age version. Let’s call it God 2.0.