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Observations placeholder

Richet, Charles Robert - Popular Science Monthly Volume 17 July 1880 – Hypnosis and the effects of somnambulism



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Popular Science Monthly/Volume 17/July 1880/Hysteria And Demonism III - A Study In Morbid Psychology. - By Charles Richet.

The first sign observed is a kind of torpor. The countenance loses its mobility, and becomes dull and inexpressive. The subject feels a heaviness in the limbs, and a singular torpidity which prevents him from making the least exertion. He has vague sensations of heat, cold, pricklings, and, while his hands continue motionless, he suffers jerkings of the tendons and fibrillar contractions in the muscles.

His eyelids become heavy and close. With many efforts he vainly opens them, only to shut them again; the time comes at last when it is impossible to make them move. A curious spectacle is then presented of a struggle between sleepiness and the will to resist it. The will has to yield at last; the head falls stupidly on the chair; the arms become motionless, keeping the attitude they had; the face is fixed as a lifeless mask, expressing no internal feeling; the closed eyelids are moved by a few convulsive tremors; the breathing is quiet; the heart beats slowly and regularly.

We might at first believe that this induced sleep is identical with ordinary sleep, but it is nothing like it, and is characterized by very different symptoms.

The fact that insensibility exists in both permits us to liken induced somnambulism in a certain degree with the demoniac attack.

We may prick the skin of magnetized persons with a needle, tickle their nostrils and lips with a feather, without provoking any sign from them. Unfortunately, while anæsthesia is complete in some subjects, it is wholly wanting in others, so that we can not perceive in it a single essential characteristic symptom which will permit us to judge whether the sleep of the subject is real or assumed.

For this reason, some of the physicians who have employed this criterion have been led to deny the reality of somnambulism; for, instead of finding insensibility, as they had expected, they have perceived that each pricking excited a painful feeling. In certain cases even, sensibility, instead of being diminished, is exaggerated to such a point that the slightest contact excites pain.

 In a word, individual differences forbid us to adduce an absolute law, and there are so many exceptions that we can not speak of a rule.

The person who is put to sleep is conscious of his condition, and we may be sure that he is really asleep if he says that he is when we ask him about it. If we then inquire as to the sensations he experiences, we will generally be assured that this sleep is quite pleasant.

Many of the patients whom I have put to sleep at the Hospital B—— assured me that their pains had disappeared.

They also wished to remain asleep for a long time, knowing that the wakening to their normal life would be at the same time a wakening to pain.

I add that, if the condition of somnambulism is not disagreeable, it is also without danger. I do not know that any accidents, either grave or light, have been noticed as consequences of it; and it is even possible that in certain cases it appeases the over-excited nervous system; but on this matter it is necessary to speak with much reserve, for decisive facts bearing on it have not yet been collected.

The source of the experience

Richet, Charles Robert

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps



Extreme pain