Dr William Sargant – On the dangers of spiritual experience
Type of Spiritual Experience
Dr William Sargant was born in Highgate, London, in 1907 and educated at Leys School and St John's College, Cambridge. Up to 1972 he was Physician in Charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine at St Thomas's Hospital, London. He was Associate Secretary of the World Psychiatric Association and on the staff of the Maudsley Hospital, London for many years, He was also Registrar of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association, Rockefeller Fellow at Harvard University and Visiting Professor at Duke University. He was also the author of Battle for the Mind, and The Unquiet Mind.
A description of the experience
The Mind Possessed - Dr William Sargant
When a man's nervous system is subjected to such a degree of strain that his brain can no longer respond normally -whether this strain is imposed by some single experience or by stresses of less intensity but longer duration - he begins to behave abnormally, in ways which Pavlov and others have charted. He will become very much more suggestible than in his normal state of mind, far more open to ideas and people in his immediate environment and far less able to respond to them with caution, doubt, criticism and scepticism. He may be driven into a condition in which his brain activity, or sometimes one isolated area of it, becomes paradoxical, so that his accustomed outlook and values are reversed. He may reach a condition in which he is as meekly obedient to commands and suggestions as someone under hypnosis, who can be made to behave in ways which, when in command of himself, he would reject as foolish or immoral: and, by post-hypnotic suggestion, he can be made to act in these ways even after he has been brought out of trance and apparently restored to normal waking consciousness. In exactly the same way, psychiatric patients may become so suggestible that they produce in all sincerity the symptoms which suit their psychiatrist's theories: and if they change psychiatrists, they change symptoms.
All this is particularly true, not of the insane, but of the sane, not of the severely mentally ill but of normal, ordinary, average people, who make the best possible material for moulding by those, in religion or out of it, who create faith in themselves and their doctrines by methods which involve the imposition of stress and the working of states of intense emotional excitement (especially, but not limited to, group excitement). Suggestibility is, in fact, one of the essential characteristics of being 'normal'. A normal person is responsive to other people around him, cares about what they think of him and is reasonably open to their influence.
If the great majority of people were not normally suggestible, we could not live together in society at all, we could not collaborate in any undertaking, we could not marry and bring up families happily, we could never have in any given society a generally accepted set of values and standards. But if normal people are subjected to the techniques described in this book, it is they who most easily become hysterically suggestible and open to the uncritical and enthusiastic adoption of ideas which may or may not be sensible.
From the Stone Age to Hitler, the Beatles and the modern 'pop culture', the brain of man has been constantly swayed by the same physiological techniques. Reason is dethroned, the normal brain computer is temporarily put out of action, and new ideas and beliefs are uncritically accepted.
The mechanism is so powerful that while conducting this research into possession, trance and faith-healing in various parts of the world, I myself was sometimes affected by the techniques I was observing, even though I was on my guard against them. A knowledge of the mechanism at work may be no safeguard once emotion is aroused and the brain begins to function abnormally.