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By J. CYRIL FLOWER.
The confusion which exists in psychological theories of Suggestion is due, no doubt, to a number of causes, chief among which is the fact that there is no common agreement as to the principle upon which definition is to be made. One method is to lump together certain kinds of reaction which are obviously similar, and to refer them without more ado to the capacious pigeon-hole labelled 'Suggestion. This method is the carrying over of the rough and ready classifications of common sense into the field of psychology. What we mean in ordinary speech by suggestion is actually a group of mental operations and reactions which appear, as effects, to resemble one another. Thus if A in perplexity asks the advice of B, his question probably is, “What can you suggest?” And B is regarded as having made a suggestion, good, bad or indifferent, either (1) if he offers definite ideas, or (2) if by gesture, silence or other means, he insinuates something, vaguely or definitely. So a book or a play is said to be 'suggestive either because it communicates fresh ideas and stimulates the thought and imagination of the public, or because it hints in veiled language at things which are more attractive in the disguise of innuendo than in the everyday garb of direct expression. The common element in these phenomena which are thus classed together as suggestion is the influence by one person or group of persons upon another person or group of persons which is exercised without recourse to physical force. Obviously if everything which comes under this broad heading is included under one term, the term will be so general as to bave little or no value. A word that means too much may serve in common speech, where it can always be more nicely defined by its context, but it can only lead to hopeless confusion in science. If, therefore, the term is to survive in psychology, it must be defined by something which penetrates deeper than mere external resemblance. Accordingly there is a second method which proceeds by psychological analysis, and which aims at defining suggestion by reference to the psychological mechanism or mechanisms involved. But although psychologists are commonly agreed on the necessity of this exacter method, they are by no means agreed that its application leads to one precise and adequate definition of Suggestion. Nor is the reason for this far to seek. Psychology is not a science of phenomena which can be isolated and studied as a selfcontained group of interacting elements. Psychology has to deal with mind and its manifestations, and mind cannot be temporarily detached from the world while it submits to analysis and experiment but has to be studied in relation to the world upon which it acts, and which acts upon it. Thus psychological analysis depends for its results upon
the point of view from which it is made. The academic psychology which largely held the field till recently was primarily interested in mental processes so far as they could be described and formulated by the methods of introspection and observation, the assumption being that what appears to be the character of a mental process for an intelligent observer, is its character. This whole assumption, however, was challenged by the application of the idea of evolution to mind, and profounder results were at once obtained by the comparative method, which substituted for the mere personal approach, the biological approach to the problems of psychology. A further contribution of vast importance bas come from the study of mental disease and irregularity. The situation, therefore, is that psychology can hardly be looked upon as an independent science, but rather as a handmaid to the sciences. 'Pure' psychology is an abstraction; real psychology is as various as are the fields of experience in which mind is involved. Every psychologist must, that is to say, deal with mind in the concrete, in relation to some definite situation or set of conditions, and the point of view from which he approaches the subject will necessarily influence all his conclusions. Thus the philosopher who studies man as a 'rational animal,' the biologist who studies him as the most recent phase of an evolutionary process, and the mental specialist who studies him as a complex of forces which may easily get out of order and have to be set right again, will inevitably analyse the psyche and draw inferences concerning it from points of view so different and with interests so diverse, that it is not surprising that the resulting ‘psychology' is not always coherent. The whole topic of suggestion is hedged around with precisely these difficulties. Rationalistic psychology does not much relish the facts of suggestion, and accordingly it dismisses such facts as it cannot otherwise dispose of to the realm of 'the abnormal'-one of those vague terms which covers a multitude of ignorances. Biological psychology welcomes suggestion, because it likes to discover how very irrational man is, and how nearly related therefore he is to the ape, the dog, the tiger and the jackal, and accordingly it gives the widest possible scope to the operation
of suggestion as a non-rational process. Psychotherapy knows the practical value of suggestion as a method of mental healing, and accustomed to the relation between physician and patient it tends to regard the essence of suggestion as being the conscious and intentional communication, with some measure of authority, of an idea or ideas by someone possessing prestige to a subject capable of being thrown into a receptive state by this means. When the systematic psychologist comes along and tries to present a synthetic view by combining the particular contributions of these various schools the result is practically a return to the common sense usage which is too vague to be helpful-what Dr Rivers described as “a tendency to make the scope of suggestion so wide as to include nearly every process by which one mind is acted upon by another mind, by an object of the environment, or even by itself (autosuggestion)."
It is obvious that the facts of suggestion are far older than any psychological account of them; the existence of the word in common speech is sufficient evidence that they were at least in some measure recognised. In his contribution to the Symposium? on “The Relations of Complex and Sentiment” prepared for the Meeting of The British Psychological Society in Manchester, July 1922, Dr Myers wrote: “In order to reach greater precision, psychologists have attempted to change the meaning of these and other words in common use, but without paying enough attention to their current meaning or to the route by which they have come to acquire that meaning. It is too generally assumed that popular usage annihilates meaning. This is an error: it is always possible to define the words of common parlance, and it is of considerable psychological interest to study their significance." To rediscover what may be called the nuclear meaning of the term suggestion in common speech would probably put us on the way to discovering what is the real and essential meaning of the word, which is what psychology as a science seeks. A deeper analysis of the common usage reveals at once the fact that the more intelligent or rational signification is secondary, and that the primary element refers to something surreptitious. The veiled hint, the ambiguous phrase or gesture, the tone of voice and manner of address vaguely intimating something behind the obvious, the symbolic act or representation—these and similar indirect modes of conveying influence are commonly regarded as the characteristic vehicles through which suggestion operates. And the result of successful suggestion in this sense is the stirring up in the recipient of activities or tendencies which are not rationally conditioned. The influence is carried in under the walls of the citadel and escapes the watchful eye of the sentry. Religious ritual, for example, does not make its appeal to reason, but to what is sometimes called “the aesthetic sense” which means that it is suggestion acting through the senses directly upon organised conative tendencies built out of primitive instinctive material. This evasion of the critical reason is the outstanding mark of suggestion. How then does it come about that at the same time the word is used in common speech for processes which are of a definitely rational character? Why do we, when asked for an opinion, frequently call the ideas we elaborate a “suggestion'? Why is almost any contribution, short of an authoritative enunciation of a truth which is by common consent beyond dispute, nearly always offered as a suggestion? The value of the term in these and similar contexts is in its tentative nature. We 'suggest' possibilities; while we issue instructions, and we declare demonstrated truths. Thus however sure we may be in our own minds that what we have to offer is right and true we frequently do not wish to give the impression that we are too sure. “I tell you this that you may read, mark, learn and inwardly digest it” is the attitude of the self-assured teacher to the disciple. “I suggest this to you...take it for what it is worth, and let it influence you as much as it may have power to do” is the attitude of the more tentative adviser or fellow inquirer; and the fact is that the more tentative communication often has the bigger effect, and it is probably popular insight into this fact that has led to the common use of the word in what seems at first sight to be so different a meaning. There is something more involved, in other words, than is obvious in the form in which the communication is made. We may roughly sum this up by saying that the popular use of suggestion implies that it is the method by which indirect mental influence is exerted. Direct mental influence is aimed at in the endeavour to convince through reason, and is successful when conviction is logically implanted. Indirect influence means that which passes through channels other than or additional to the channel of
1 W. H. R. Rivers, Article "Psycho-therapeutics,” Hastings' Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics.
2 British Journal of Psychology, xII. 2.
Most psychological discussions of suggestion start from this general conception, but very different conclusions are reached regarding such questions as the extent of the phenomena which may rightly be subsumed under the general heading, and what exactly are the mechanisms involved in the process. It was chiefly through the therapeutic application of hypnotism, first by Braid, and still more by Liébeault, that suggestion became a matter of serious scientific investigation. Sir Francis R. Cruisel records the fact that Liébeault told him that as a young practitioner he had been greatly impressed by the influence upon patients of the expression of a very decided opinion by the physician, and he set about to discover how this influence might be exercised more directly and specifically. In the course of investigation and trial he discovered that in artificially provoked sleep, or hypnotism, the suggestibility of a patient was immensely increased. Accordingly Liébeault made use of hypnotism in order to facilitate treatment by suggestion; and this process was of course, the deliberate passing into the mind of the patient of beneficial ideas by the physican. These ideas, passing into the mind of a hypnotised person without reference to his rational volition, undoubtedly operate in a manner wholly different from that in which they behave if merely presented to and accepted by the logical reason of a person in the normal state. The idea of being better from some pain, when lodged in the mind of a person in a hypnotic state tends to bring about, more or less permanently, the condition of being better, just as the idea of inability to move a certain limb or of insensibility in a given region brings about the corresponding functional disability. From these and similar facts, combined with the theory of ideo-motor action, it was a natural conclusion for the therapeutic school that suggestion consists essentially in lodging in the mind of a patient an idea or ideas which shall be free from interference and inhibition by other ideas. Thus Janet says: “In suggestion, each idea seems to develop to the maximum, to give all it contains in the way of images, muscular movements, and visceral phenomena. This complete development of all the elements contained in an idea is an essential characteristic of the phenomenon.” For a normal person the development of his ideas depends on the exercise of attention and personality, but “In order that there may be suggestion, it is precisely necessary that all these normal causes of development should be wanting, and that the idea should seem to develop to the extreme, without any participation of the will or of the personal consciousness of the subject.” On this view we get a sort of penny-in-the-slot theory of suggestion. We put a penny into the machine, and if it is in good working order, and not already choked by