Lhermitte, Professor Jean - Visual Hallucination of The Self – 01 With the Eyes of the Mind
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL LONDON SATURDAY MARCH 3 1951 - VISUAL HALLUCINATION OF THE SELF BY JEAN LHERMITTE, M.D. Honorary Professor, Faculty of Medicine, Paris
From remote times, philosophers have been struck by a most unusual phenomenon which until recently remained unexplained and almost unbelievable: the vision of one's double, the visual hallucination of the self. This experience is a sensation the patient has of seeing his body image as reflected in a mirror.
As you know, this strange phenomenon has been interpreted in many different ways and has also brought forth many literary works, particularly in Germany during the Romantic period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thanks to the knowledge we have acquired about our body image and its distortions through diseases, deep research work on this phenomenon has become possible. That is why I have chosen the visual hallucination of the self, or autoscopy, as the theme of this lecture.
Let me first remind you of the meaning to be given to this word "hallucination." For the founder of psychiatry, Esquirol, hallucination means a perception without object. Any man who believes he can see his own image appear in front of him when there is no mirror to reflect it is therefore subject to a visual hallucination of an autoscopic character. A great number of strange and quaint features go to make up this phenomenon of autoscopy.
"With the Eyes of the Mind"
First, the suddenness with which it appears. The vision comes unexpectedly while the patient is wide awake, more often when he is lost in thought or when he is drowsy. This was the case with Goethe, who wrote just after he had left his fiancee: " I saw myself, not with the eyes of the body, but with the eyes of the mind," and he added: " When I shook my head at the sight of this delusion it disappeared."
A young girl, a case of Selliers', had been walking in Paris at dusk in a dreamy state, when she suddenly saw in front of her her own image. Another young girl, also a case of Selliers', who seemed quite normal although there were slight signs of hysteria, one evening saw her own image as though in a looking-glass. " I would even have drawn back," she said, " if I had not realized that there was no mirror."
There is also the case of a young girl who was sitting lost in thought, half dreaming, near a lamp-lit table, and who suddenly saw her own image appear several times in front of her.
An Austrian author who has done remarkable work on autoscopy relates that one evening, as he was walking home half-asleep, he saw in a window the appearance of a man of his own age looking at him. He wondered whose this expressionless face watching him could be, and gradually he became convinced it might be himself. Indeed, he felt that he was emotionally linked to this strange apparition.