Another important peculiarity of the subjective mind is that it is
incapable of controversial argument. This subject has been briefly
alluded to in a former chapter; but it is of so much importance that a
more extended consideration of it is demanded, inasmuch as it affords
a clear explanation of various phenomena which have never yet been
satisfactorily accounted for. It is well known among hypnotists that it
is very difficult, if not impossible, to make satisfactory experiments
with a subject in the presence of a sceptical audience. Especially
is this true if the scepticism is open, avowed, and aggressive.
It is also well known that, when a subject is in a state of lucid
somnambulism, no satisfactory results can be obtained if any one
disputes him, or attempts an argument, or accuses him of shamming, or
of a want of good faith. Such a course always results in great distress
of mind on the part of the subject, and generally in restoring him
to normal consciousness. In the higher phases of hypnotic phenomena
this peculiarity is still more marked. In exhibiting the phenomena of
clairvoyance and thought-transference, or mind-reading, it is next to
impossible to obtain good results in the presence of an avowed sceptic.
The controversy between Washington Irving Bishop and Mr. Labouchere is
fresh in the minds of most readers. Mr. Bishop was giving successful
exhibitions of his wonderful powers in public assemblies and in private
circles in London. He had demonstrated again and again his power to
read the thoughts of others and to decipher the contents of sealed
envelopes under the strictest test conditions, in the presence of many
competent and trustworthy observers. In the height of his success Mr.
Labouchere came out in his paper and denounced the whole thing as a
humbug. To prove his sincerity he placed a Bank of England note for a
large amount in a sealed envelope, and offered to give it to Mr. Bishop
if he should correctly read the number. Repeated trials to do so ended
in dismal failure. It was a feat that he had successfully performed a
thousand times before, and many times afterwards. But the number on
that particular bank-note he never could decipher.

In 1831 the Royal Academy of Medicine of France appointed a commission
to investigate the subject of animal magnetism. The commission was
composed of some of the ablest scientists of the Academy, and it
prosecuted its investigations until 1837, when it made its report.
Amongst other things it announced that it had demonstrated the fact
that some mesmeric subjects possessed clairvoyant power; that such
subjects could, with their eyes “exactly closed by the fingers,”
distinguish objects, tell the color and number of cards, and read lines
of a book opened at a chance page. Without entering into the details
of the controversy that followed this report, it is sufficient to say
that a standing offer of a large sum of money was made to any one who
should demonstrate the reality of clairvoyant power in the presence of
a committee appointed for the purpose. It is said that many attempts
have been made by good clairvoyants to earn this money, but every
attempt has ended in total failure. Volumes might be written detailing
such tests and such failures.

Exhibitions of the phenomena of spiritism are constantly liable to
utter failure in the presence of avowed sceptics. Every one who has
attended a “spiritual” séance is aware of the strict regard paid
to securing “harmonious conditions;” and all know how dismal is
the failure when such conditions cannot be obtained. It frequently
happens that some one will inadvertently remark that “spirits never
come when I am around;” and in nine such cases out of ten the séance
will end in failure when such a remark is made. Any argument against
spiritism, especially if addressed to the medium, or any controversy on
the subject in his presence, will destroy all chance of a successful
exhibition. Investigating committees nearly always fail to observe the
promised phenomena when the character and objects of the committee
are known to the medium. Thus, the Seybert Commission, a majority of
whose members were pronounced sceptics, utterly failed to witness any
phenomena which might not be produced by legerdemain. In their report
they take occasion to say:–

“Our experience has been … that as soon as an investigation,
worthy of the name, begins, all manifestations of spiritist power
cease…. Even the very spirit of investigation, or of incredulity,
seems to exercise a chilling effect and prevents a successful

It will be observed that the last sentence betrays the fact that
the writer regards “the spirit of investigation” and “the spirit of
incredulity” as synonymous terms. It is certain that the Seybert
Commission as a body did so regard them, and made no effort to conceal
the fact from the mediums who submitted to be examined. Every medium
whom they examined was made fully aware of the incredulity of the
majority of the Commission, and thus every effort to produce the
phenomena failed.

The same peculiarity is observed in trance-speaking mediums, especially
in those who speak in a purely subjective condition. No matter how
great is their flow of eloquence, or how perfect their command of
their subject, they utterly break down when confronted by an adverse
argument. So well is this peculiarity known that their friends never
suffer them to be interrupted.

It would be useless to multiply instances of this character. It is
sufficiently evident from what has been said that one invariable result
follows the one condition. In the investigation of physical phenomena
the scientific observer would not hesitate to concede that where a
marked result invariably follows a given condition, the two must
sustain towards each other the relation of cause and effect. It will
not be difficult to establish that relation in this case; and that,
too, on principles consistent with the supposition of the absolute
integrity of all concerned.

It is, in fact, but another striking illustration of the fundamental
principles laid down in preceding chapters of this book. It
demonstrates more completely than almost any other phenomenon the
absolute amenability of the subjective mind to the power of suggestion.
It will not be gainsaid that all the phenomena mentioned–clairvoyance,
thought-transference, hypnotism, and mediumship–are embraced under the
one generic title, subjective or hypnotic; they are therefore governed
by the same general laws.

The hypnotic subject who is in the presence of an openly sceptical
audience, and who hears some one declare that the subject is shamming,
instantly seizes upon the declaration; and it is to him a suggestion
that is as potent as the one which induced the hypnotic condition.
The suggestion of the operator is thus neutralized, so to speak, by a
counter-suggestion, which reduces the subject at once to his normal
condition. In such a case the subject cannot be again hypnotized
so long as the sceptic is present; his very presence is a standing
suggestion of the unreality of the hypnotic condition which cannot be
overcome by the operator.

In the case of Bishop, the mind-reader, the same principle applies with
equal force. The mental state which enabled him to read the contents
of a sealed envelope was self-induced. It was a partially hypnotic
condition, induced by auto-suggestion. When Labouchere’s envelope
was presented to him, the very manner of presenting it–the offer of
its contents as a gift if he would read the number of the bank-note
within–was a defiance of his power. It was a suggestion of the most
emphatic character and potency that, do what he would, he could not
read the contents of that envelope. Again, the anxiety engendered in
the mind of the clairvoyant was another factor which added force to the
suggestion. The offer was not only defiant, it was even public. The
whole civilized world was apprised of the controversy. The professional
reputation of the man was at stake. His future career depended upon his
success; and every dollar of value in that note not only added to his
anxiety to win the prize, but contributed its force to the suggestion
that he could not succeed.

There is, however, another factor which should be considered in
Bishop’s case, and which may account for his failure on other grounds
than adverse suggestion. Bishop was a professional mind-reader, and,
as I understand it, did not profess to have independent clairvoyant
powers. If, therefore, no one knew the number of the bank-note, it
is obvious that failure was inevitable, for the reason that the
fundamental conditions of success were absent. There was no mind in
possession of the number, and there was no mind to read. It was,
therefore, not a fair test of his professed powers in any view of the
case. But if Labouchere did know the number of the note, the failure
was easily accounted for, as before remarked, on the principle of
adverse suggestion.

It is obvious that the principle of adverse suggestion applies to all
phases and conditions of subjective mental activity; and the necessity
for harmonious conditions, so constantly insisted upon by spiritists
as a condition precedent to the production of their peculiar forms of
hypnotic phenomena, is seen to be a scientific fact of immense value
and significance, and not a mere subterfuge to enable them to practice
a fraud and impose on the credulity of their auditors.