Vasiliev, Professor L L - Experiments in mental suggestion – Inducing and measuring subconscious body sway
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Experiments in mental suggestion – Professor L L Vasiliev
…… we decided to forego the use of the cephalograph and adopt instead, for the purpose of measuring subconscious body sway, the use of a pneumatic platform, designed by A. I. Bronstein. We will now describe Dr. Bronstein's methods as applied by us.
A wooden equilateral triangle is placed on the floor. The triangle has three recesses, one in each corner. In two of the recesses we placed a small wooden cube, in the third a thick-walled rubber squirt. Another similar triangle was placed on top of the first, and the subject stood on this platform for the purpose of the experiment. A thick-walled rubber tube was connected at one end with the rubber squirt, and at the other to a hermetically sealed container, connected by means of another tube with a registering device the point of which touched the soot-covered surface of a slowly revolving kymograph. Air could be pumped into the rubber squirt and air-transmission system by means of a bicycle pump.
The experiments were carried out as follows. The subject was standing on the platform facing the wall, with his eyes closed, in Joire’s "passive state," and was requested to stand still during the entire experiment. He was so placed on the platform as to have the corner with the rubber squirt in front of him. In this position his slightest backward swaying movement, even if not detectable by eye, caused a lowering of the water level, and hence a lowering of the curve which was traced on the revolving drum of the kymograph. A slight forward swaying resulted in a raising of the lever and the curve.
It is known that every standing person is subject to a certain amount of forward and backward sway, and the kymograph tracing for any given person has a characteristic pattern.
The more he sways, the greater the range and the sharper the peaks of the curve. In our experiments the kymograph and the controller working it (Dr. G. U. Belitzky) stood on the right of the subject, at a distance of a few metres, and were concealed from the subject by a curtain. The experimenter (Vasiliev) was on a stool behind the subject at a distance of 2 to 3 metres.
Having thus satisfied ourselves of the adequate sensitivity of our technique and apparatus we then proceeded to similar experiments with the subject I. M., already known to readers, who had given us reasonable results of response to mental suggestion when we employed the Joire method.
As was to be expected, the standing position of this subject was far less firm and stable than that of previous subjects, none of whom was subject to any mental disorders: the curve level indicated very pronounced swaying even when no suggestions were made to this subject, particularly at the beginning of every experiment.
Before every experiment a "passive state" (in Joire’s sense) was induced in her, and she was then requested to mount the platform and to stand still during the experiment: that was the full extent of the verbal instructions she was given.
With this subject experiments of mental suggestion only were carried out. All experimental conditions and the contents of mental suggestion were the same as those in the case of the three healthy subjects. The result, however, was strikingly different and was distinctly positive.
At the beginning of the experiment (prior to the onset of suggestion) it was possible to discern fluctuations considerable in range, but slow and smooth, indicating the unsteady standing position characteristic of nervous patients. After some time the experimenter proceeded to make mental suggestions, e.g. "sway backwards, sway backwards." This triggered off a number of sharp swaying movements, successive swings almost merging into one another. After the termination of mental suggestion the previous more stable pattern re-established itself.
During a second mental suggestion to the same effect the same reaction took place as before, but was somewhat less extreme: we noted once more a series of rapid fluctuations, but not quite so extensive as in response to the first suggestion. During the third bout of mental suggestions, however, the subject manifested the most extreme and rapid swayings of all, indicating that she had, in the course of the experiment, so to speak lost her balance.
We were thus in a position to conclude that, in the above experiment the characteristics and intensity of the involuntary swaying movements of the subject definitely changed three times in succession, at times coinciding with the periods of mental suggestion.
Questioning the subject after the experiment showed that she herself had not noticed the increased bouts of swaying which were kymographically registered during mental suggestion. To the question: "What did you feel during the experiment?" she would reply: "I did not feel anything." All signals that might have given the subject any clue as to the beginning and ending of mental suggestion were avoided. The subject had no knowledge of the purpose of the apparatus or what the experimenter was recording or what she was supposed to do. It would seem that all possible methodological errors were avoided in these experiments, and that the results have to be attributed to the mental reaction of mental suggestion.