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Erwin Straus: Suggestion and Hypnosis

In: Journal of Phenomenological Psychology
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Abstract

Despite his major contributions to phenomenology, the writings on suggestion and hypnosis by Erwin Straus (1891–1975) have been underappreciated. In his German language publications of 1925 and 1927, Straus argues that we cannot elucidate the phenomenon of suggestion solely or even primarily through experimental design, a narrow natural scientific viewpoint, or an emphasis on abnormal or special states of dissociation. In contrast, a phenomenological study that begins with everyday experience demonstrates that suggestion is part of normal experience, and its understanding must include the possibility both of acceptance and of rejection. Straus’s arguments in these essays are enhanced by his later books and articles developing the I-Allon relationship, the process of we-formation, and the distinction of pathic and gnostic moments of sensation and perception. By fully situating the phenomenon within the Lebenswelt, Straus’s analysis of suggestion is a major contribution to phenomenology.

Abstract

Despite his major contributions to phenomenology, the writings on suggestion and hypnosis by Erwin Straus (1891–1975) have been underappreciated. In his German language publications of 1925 and 1927, Straus argues that we cannot elucidate the phenomenon of suggestion solely or even primarily through experimental design, a narrow natural scientific viewpoint, or an emphasis on abnormal or special states of dissociation. In contrast, a phenomenological study that begins with everyday experience demonstrates that suggestion is part of normal experience, and its understanding must include the possibility both of acceptance and of rejection. Straus’s arguments in these essays are enhanced by his later books and articles developing the I-Allon relationship, the process of we-formation, and the distinction of pathic and gnostic moments of sensation and perception. By fully situating the phenomenon within the Lebenswelt, Straus’s analysis of suggestion is a major contribution to phenomenology.

In a series of two German-language publications, Erwin Straus (1891–1975), distinguished psychiatrist and phenomenologist, and later professor of both psychology and of philosophy as well as a clinical psychiatrist, demonstrated that the phenomena of suggestion and hypnosis can only be fully understood from the relational perspective between the recipient and the suggestor or hypnotist. Straus published “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion” [“Nature and Process of Suggestion”] in 1925. On November 28, 1926 he presented “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität” [“Concerning Suggestion and Suggestibility”] as an address to the 70th Convention of the Schweizer Verein für Psychiatrie, in Zurich, Switzerland, publishing it in 1927. In these two essays, Straus emphasizes that we can comprehend suggestion and suggestibility only through examining interpersonal relationships and how both the recipient and the suggestor understand the suggestion, including the recipient’s intimative grasp of the sense-endowing act which animates the suggestion. In so doing he makes a major contribution, heretofore underappreciated, to the phenomenological understanding of suggestion and suggestibility. Although scholars have drafted translations of these two papers, no English version has yet been published.1 This paper will examine Straus’s insights with particular attention to Straus’s emphasis on normality and everyday experience, and with attention to his later writings, including his formulation of the I-Allon relationship, his utilization of the pathic/gnostic distinction, and his exploration of “bad faith” and the “double bind.”

Although pioneers in phenomenological psychiatry and psychology, such as Ludwig Binswanger (1966: 1–4), Eugène Minkowski (1966: 241–154), and Herbert Spiegelberg (1972: 261–279), have highly praised many of the contributions to phenomenology by Erwin Straus, scholars have not given comparable attention to Straus’s writings on suggestion and suggestibility. Part of the difficulty may lie in the fact that his two primary essays on this topic are available only in German in relatively difficult-to-obtain scholarly journals. The monograph “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion” constitutes a separate issue, Heft 28, of Monatsschrift für Psychiatrie und Neurologie (1925), and “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität” appeared in a Swiss journal, Schweizer Archiv für Neurologie und Psychiatrie. Only one of these essays (“Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion”) has been reprinted in the collection of Straus’s papers in their original languages of publication, mostly German, (Straus 1960). This essay is an attempt to remedy this situation by examining Straus’s thinking on suggestion and hypnosis in these two German publications, while situating his insights in the context of his other writings and within the phenomenological movement.

Straus argues emphatically that we cannot elucidate the phenomenon of suggestion solely or even primarily through experimental design, a narrow natural scientific viewpoint, or an emphasis on abnormal or special states of dissociation. Moreover he argues that suggestion is not primarily a pathological process, something absent from normal experience. Examining suggestion and suggestibility from the starting point of the hypnotic phenomenon of hypnotic induction of deceptive or fallacious interpretations of sensations (Trugwahrnehmungen) creates a bias from the very beginning (1927: 25). Instead of using pathological or extreme cases to explicate normal experiences, phenomenologists, according to Straus, should first study everyday behavior, and only then apply the findings to abnormal conditions.

The common translation of Trugwahrnehmungen is “deceptive perceptions” or “fallacious perceptions,” but a more nuanced translation is indicated for Straus’s usage. Der Trug means “deception.” While die Wahrnehmung can mean “perception,” it can also denote “cognition,” “sensing,” “awareness,” etc. For Straus, perception and sensing are never deceptive or fallacious per se. “In sensory experience,” he writes, “reality is given without reflection” (1963: 356). The deception occurs in how the recipient reports the sensory experience to the suggestor. In hallucinations, for example, the perceptions of the patient may not differ from a normal perception, but the I-Allon relation, to be described below, is deficient in the absence of an object or stimulus, a deficiency unnoticed by the individual, and the I-Allon relation is also problematic because of the thwarting of a rational analysis of the circumstances (1966: 282–284). Similarly, in hypnotic suggestion, sensation itself is not deceptive, but there is a disturbance in interpersonal relationships, analogous to what occurs in hallucinations, and a similar thwarting of rational analysis. We can add that the Trug of Trugwahrnehmungen is in some sense a “self-deception in the interpretation of sensing,” an act of bad faith.

In contrast to a pathological origin invoked by an emphasis on deceptions in sensing, Straus argues that “suggestion stretches widely into the realm of the normal” (1927: 5).2 Without disregarding any pathological elements of a hypnotic suggestion that gives rise to a fallacious interpretation of perception, the study of suggestion and suggestibility, for Straus, must begin with an examination of normal perception and sensation, interpersonal relationships and the phenomenology of everyday human experience (1927: 25).

In “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion,” Straus writes: “The acceptance or rejection of a suggestion is in both cases not solely dependent on the meaning of the statement.” Rather, “it is always at the same time a response to the other person” (1925: 29).3 Straus elucidates this interpersonal basis of suggestion by following Edmund Husserl in making a distinction between the logical content of a speech act (the expressive function) and the intimative grasp of sense-endowing acts conveyed not only by the words used but also through the tone of voice, inflections, speech pattern, vocal hesitations, etc. (the indicational function). Husserl and Straus call this intimative grasp of sense-endowing acts die Kundgabe, usually translated in English as “intimation” (Husserl, Logical Investigations I, § 7, 1900/1970: 189–190). While Kundgabe ordinarily means “announcement” or “proclamation,” most English translators have followed J. N. Findlay in using “intimation” as the English equivalent for this connotation of the German term. Dorion Cairns, however, in his Guide for Translating Husserl rendered Kundgabe as “giving cognizance of, (making known)” (1973: 78), and Goodwin has suggested “profession” or “expression” (Goodwin 1990:2).

Describing intimation, Husserl writes that intimation can loosely be considered as a perception, but strictly speaking it is not a perception, and does not carry with it apodictic certainty. Husserl writes:

An articulated complex of sound becomes a spoken word, a communicative discourse, only if the speaker produces the sounds with the intention to ‘express himself about something,’ that is, only if he, in certain psychic acts, endows the sounds with a meaning, one he wants to share with the hearer. This sharing becomes possible, however, only if the hearer understands the speaker’s intention. And he does so inasmuch as he apprehends the speaker as a person, someone who is not producing mere sounds but is speaking to him, who therefore along with the sounds is carrying out certain sense-endowing acts while wishing to intimate these acts to the hearer and share their meaning with him…. The hearer perceives the intimation [Kundgabe] in the same sense in which he perceives the intimating person, although of course the psychic phenomena which make the person a person cannot as such be intuited by another…. The other does not himself have a lived experience of them; he has not an ‘inner’ perception of them, but only an ‘outer’ perception (1913, § 7, pp. 32–34).4

For Husserl and for Straus, therefore, intimation (die Kundgabe) is an experience in which words intimate to someone else that the speaker has some feelings about the subject matter of his speech. Intimation does not always result in a change in the listener’s behavior, status, or worldview. The listener may reject the speaker or ignore the speech. In this way, intimation differs from illocutionary acts, as described by Paul Ricoeur, J. L. Austin, or John R. Searle. Although various authors use slightly different meanings for the term (e.g., Searle 1976), an illocutionary act represents performing something through the act of saying it (Austin 1975: 8). For some linguists, an illocutionary act represents a speech that is the only way of accomplishing a particular result; e.g., a marriage occurs if and only if the individuals involved state, “I take you for my wife/husband,” or similar words. Intimation must also be distinguished from persuasion through the rhetorical presentation of the arguments. Paul Ricoeur, for example, sees all philosophical discourse as illocutionary, but the performative element does not occur through intimation of the writer’s feelings, but by means of rhetorical strategies. Ricoeur writes: “Because philosophical discourse is a discourse, it is ultimately addressed by someone to someone else; this illocutionary character entails strategies of persuasion inseparable from the demonstrative strategies of the system considered as a monologue” (cited by Scott-Baumann 2013: 42, quoting Ricoeur, 1985: 316.). There is a fundamental connection, however, between Straus’s concept of intimation and Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s writings on language. Intimation can only occur because speech and gesture allow some window into the speaker’s interior life. Merleau-Ponty quotes Kurt Goldstein in Phénoménologie de la perception that “language … is a manifestation, a revelation of our innermost being and of the psychological connection which unites us to the world and to our fellow creatures” (Merleau-Ponty 1945: 229).5

1 Straus’s Key Concepts

Developing the importance of the “intimation” aspect of expression in suggestion, and thus of the role of interpersonal relationships in suggestion, Straus begins Part II of “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion” with a section devoted to “Das Moment der Kundgabe.” He writes: “Every statement is first of all intimation; it must be understood as such to have, in general, the sense of communication” (1925: 13).6 The relationship of the hearer to the person making the verbal expression is paramount, because “every sentence stands forth as if spoken by a human being not only as a matter-of-fact statement, but also as a personal remark” (1925: 15).7

Straus characterizes the conditions under which the intimation aspect of suggestion is strongest, emphasizing that the highest achievement of suggestion occurs not in an abnormal state but in normal, everyday experience, and that analysis of the normal phenomenon is the way to understand any pathological deviations. In “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität” Straus writes that “the most perfect suggestion is achieved when, on the highest levels of We-formation, the individual statement is genuine and meaningful for the one making the statement, and when this genuineness and meaningfulness are clearly understood by the recipient.”8 When these conditions do not hold, for example when the suggestor is placing the receiver in a double-bind situation, or when the hypnotic suggestions are ambiguous or contradictory, the interpersonal relationship is inauthentic, the inner coherence (der Zusammenhang) and motivating context are distorted, and deception can occur.

To understand suggestion, including hypnotic suggestion, as a response to the other person, and to clarify the phenomenon of a deception that might occur through hypnosis, it is necessary to explore Straus’s later formulation of the I-Allon (the accent in Allon occurs on the first syllable, “ALL-on”) relationship, and his distinction of pathic/gnostic moments in sensation and perception.

Some elucidation of Straus’s terminology is warranted. Although Straus had a comprehensive classical education in Greek and Latin, not all of his current readers have been so gifted and may miss the nuances and creativity of his word choices. In providing the classical etymology and discussion of grammatical cases in reference to Straus’s writings we are following in his footsteps, since he often cited Greek, Latin, and even Sanskrit roots to explicate his use of certain phrases (for example, 1952: 529–561; 1958: 159; and 1966a: 143), and he utilized the analysis of classical grammatical cases of nouns to illustrate a landmark in child development, when the vocative case is replaced by the nominative (1966a: 184).

One important example is the I-Allon relationship, a nuanced elucidation of the unique nature of intersubjectivity. For Straus, “Allon” refers “what is visible to you and me in common,” what he calls “in relation to each one of us, the Other.” To distinguish this broad understanding of the Other from a specific other, “this or that fellow man, or that particular thing,” Straus uses the term “Allon” (1969: 24–25). It is incomplete, however, to state, as von Maltzahn does, and as is commonly understood, that for Straus “Allon” is the Greek word for “other” (1994: 48). Grammatically, ἄλλος (allos) is the Greek word for “other” in the nominative case, masculine, singular, while ἄλλον (allon) is the accusative case of that pronoun, usually signifying that the word is the direct object of a verb or of certain prepositions, or in Straus’s usage, the object of a relationship with the “I” or the “We.” The I-Allon relationship inherently indicates in its grammatical ending a relationship to someone or something else in the world. Allon and allos are personal, whereas the neuter grammatical form, in both nominative and accusative cases, is ἄλλο (allo), the word for “other thing.” While the I-Allon relationship does includes the relationship to things, the emphasis on persons, for Straus, is primary. “Borrowing from Husserl,” Straus writes, “I call the relation of the Allon a relation of intentionality” (1966b: 281). I-Allon implies the human being-in-the-world, in the Lebenswelt. By extension, Straus often uses I-Allon to refer to an I-World relationship.

Here are the first two points in Straus’s summary of the fundamental features of the I-Allon relationship:

  1. In rising up against gravity motile beings, man or animal, effectuate the I-Allon relationship. The expression “Allon” indicates the unique character of this relationship: that of being together in contraposition. I belong to the Allon, and yet detach myself from it. Within the world we counter the world.

  2. Sensory experience is embedded within this relation to the Allon (1969: 76).

Similarly, Straus’s discussion of perception, sensation, and experience distinguishes between gnostic and pathic moments. For Straus, perception and the understanding of suggestion involve a dual intentionality: the pathic and gnostic aspects of a judgment within a relation between two human beings in a historical context. Straus writes in his 1930 work, Geschehnis und Erlebnis (English translation, Event and Experience, 1982) that “every sensation possesses both a gnostic and a pathic moment. In the lower senses, particularly in the sense of smell, the pathic predominates, while in the higher senses, particularly the sense of sight, the pathic recedes ever more behind the gnostic factor” (1930/1982: 58). These terms, pathic and gnostic, can be easily misunderstood. They are alternating aspects of an experience, not mutually exclusive or always strictly separate. As summarized by Hoeller (1975–1976), “by pathic, Straus means an immediate, sensually vivid communication with tones, colours, odours, and tactile materials. Gnostic is the distant and neutral awareness of the constant properties of things” (pp. 94–107).

The emphasis given to the linguistic origin of the “pathic” has often been in error. Csepregi, for example, states that the “term ‘pathic”’ derives from pathos, meaning ‘suffering, and also passion and diseases or the quality that arouses pity or sorrow’” (2006: 27). It is misleading, however, to overemphasize the connotation of “pathic” as “suffering” or “disease.” According to the standard Liddell-Scott Greek-English Lexicon, pathos, πάθος, has the primary meaning of “that which happens to a person or thing,” and a second meaning of “what one has experienced, good or bad.” When used “of the soul,” it can denote “emotion, passion.” “Misfortune, calamity” is meaning I.2.b. in this lexicon (Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1996: 1285). While pathos can mean “suffering” or “passion,” its primary sense is “that which happens,” or “what one has experienced.” The noun pathos derives from the Greek verb πάσχο (paschō). While paschō does mean to “suffer,” it also has the significance of “to be affected in a certain way” and “to experience” (Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1996: 1346–1347). Similarly, the cognate Latin verb, patior, has as its first dictionary meaning “to experience,” and as its second meaning, “to suffer, undergo” (Glare, 2006: 1309). For Straus, the pathic is an immediate experience, not always related to suffering. As Csepregi also states, the pathic is always “situated, relational, embodied, enactive” (Csepregi, 2006: 27).

The term “gnostic” derives from the Greek verb γιγνώσκω, gignōskō, “to come to know” or “to know” (Liddell-Scott-Jones, 1996: 350). While gignōskō can also mean “to perceive,” Straus uses it to emphasize the experience of knowing as a meaningful interpretation, often requiring a process of reflection following a sense perception. In his paper “Aesthesiology and Hallucinations,” for example, Straus writes: “In sensory experience something happens to me. When I open my eyes the bright sunlight impinges upon me. I am forced to see, to hear, to smell this and that … I do not act as a detached, impartial observer who merely takes cognizance of the occurrence of things” (1958: 155). Straus is here describing the pathic aspect of a sensory experience. He adds, “Only a later reflection may reveal something as unreal, a mirage, an illusion” (Ibid.). This latter statement is one example of the gnostic aspect of an experience.

Straus considers the deception (Trugwahrnehmung) that may come from a hypnotic suggestion as the pathic moment of a sensing, not the gnostic moment of a perception. As Hoeller summarizes Straus’s general distinction between sensing and perception, “Sensing, the pathic, gives us reality without reflection. It is a direct, non-conceptual living-with.” In Straus’s “distinction between sensing and perceiving, between the pathic and the gnostic, we find the phenomenological distinction between the Lebenswelt and reflection upon the Lebenswelt” (1975–1976: 100).

Straus also argues that the phenomenon of suggestion, including any deception through suggestion or hypnosis, must be considered through an examination of interpersonal relations, and of the I-Allon relationship. The subject and the hypnotist are engaged in communication via the expressed content of the suggestion and the intimation, the intimative grasp of the suggestor’s inner experience, which is based on the interpersonal relationship between the two. If the expressed content (e.g., that the subject will experience freezing water as hot) contradicts the subject’s own experience, a double bind is created.

As elucidated by Beshai, the subject’s response is not an automatic response to stimulation of sensory receptors, but a judgment call involving deference to the experimenter/hypnotist, even including the subject’s lying about her or his own sensations (2004: 649–654). When the hypnotist tells a subject that freezing water is hot, for example, the pathic and gnostic moments of sensing on the part of the subject become confused and contradictory, so that the subject reports, without full conviction, that the water is indeed hot. The subject, alternatively, may offer a partial compromise: when told that freezing water is hot, the hypnotized subject may indicate that the cold water is lukewarm even though the pathic aspect of his perception attests otherwise. In these two possibilities, full or partial acceptance of a suggestion contradicting the subject’s own experience, the hypnotist and the subject are engaged in a mutual self-deception about the external world, to which they are willing to attest before the public. As Beshai argues, both the hypnotist and the subject are engaging in bad faith—the hypnotist acts as if he is causing the subject to have specific sensations in violation of the rules of biology and physics, and the subject responds as if she or he has relinquished personal responsibility for the report of her or his sensations (1974: 221). In addition, both subject and hypnotist are willing to attest to the false report before the public.

For Straus, however, one must never ignore a third possibility: the subject, noticing the hypnotist’s doubts through intimation, may reject the suggestion, reporting that the water is not hot, but freezing cold. Straus is emphatic that an understanding of the acceptance of suggestion must also include an understanding of the possibility of rejection of suggestion (1925: 29).

In order to keep an existential understanding (Verstehen) of the dialogue between hypnotist and subject, the investigator needs to combine an empirical scientific explanation of hypnosis with an understanding of how the hypnotized subject makes a judgment relative to the appropriateness of the intention of the hypnosis. Straus (1927) takes a detour from pathic to gnostic moments of sensing and vice versa, and from outward behavior to the meaning of the experience and back to behavior, in order to reach an understanding of the relationship between the suggestor and the recipient and how this relationship can be understood by both participants. Behavioral scientists like Brian Vandenberg (2010) explain hypnosis as an “altered state of consciousness,” focusing on how the hypnotist is able to change the perception of the world in the subject by virtue of his verbal induction procedures. Phenomenology, on the other hand goes several steps further by examining the shared we-experience of hypnosis as suggestibility, and the intersubjective understanding of how a subject can use imagination to mediate between the pathic aspect of an experience and the gnostic meaning.

For Straus, the hypnotized report of a Trugwahrnehmung [a deception in the interpretation of sensing; e.g, that freezing water is hot] is both a verbal affirmation of what the subject was asked to affirm, and an example of participation in the shared We-experience or We-formation in which the subject enters the world of the hypnotist, a world in which the freezing water is hot. We will first examine the subject’s verbal report, then the shared world of subject and hypnotist. The contract, spoken or unspoken, between hypnotist and subject is to select an already agreed upon perception of reality that is contrary to the world of the senses. Thus when the hypnotized subject is instructed to say that she or he senses the water to be cold although scientific instruments would measure the water’s temperature as being hot, or vice versa, the subject is not reporting her or his sensation of the temperature of the water but is affirming what he was asked to affirm by the hypnotist. An observer of the behavioral report of the hypnotized subject is not justified in generalizing that this report by the subject demonstrates that hypnosis is “an altered state of consciousness.” What is altered is not the state of consciousness, but the shared we-experience of subject and hypnotist, and the subject’s verbal behavior. The reports by subjects are not contrary to their perception. By choosing to focus on verbal reports the hypnotist avoids making the sensing of hot and cold water the main focus. Hypnotic images serve as a link between the spoken instructions and the verbal expression and affirmation made by the hypnotized subject. Empirical research on hypnosis seems to rely on selected images of experience that are observable on a public level even though they may be expressed subjectively by the hypnotized subject. Thus, there is a focus on objective observation of behavior rather than intersubjective experience as a “we” (the hypnotist and the subject together) agree to report this response.

To clarify further the phenomenon of suggestibility through hypnosis, Straus investigates the We-Formation. Suggestion and hypnosis need to be understood from a relational perspective of the shared we-experience of hypnosis as suggestibility. As Straus states in “Wesen und Vorhang der Suggestion,” “the We-formation always precedes/leads the way for suggestion” (1925: 55).9 Developing the concept of the We-Formation (die Wirbildung) in his 1927 “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität,” Straus comments that linguistically the word “We” is more than the summation of an “I” plus a “Thou” or a “You.” The concept “We-Formation” instead represents an articulated unity in which the relevant individuals face a common surrounding world. The subject of hypnosis has entered into the world of the hypnotist. Pithily, Straus summarizes this concept in identical terms in his 1925 and 1927 monographs: “In the We-experience the other person is affirmed, his world becomes ours” (1925: 54; 1927: 40).10

Although Straus’s paper on “Suggestion and Suggestibility” refers to the Husserl of Ideas I (1913/1982), Straus’s phenomenology of hypnosis is consistent with the Husserl of Ideas III (1952/1980). The later Husserl of the Crisis and the Sixth Cartesian Meditation as recorded by Eugen Fink (1938/1995) marks the point of departure from “I” to “we,” from transcendental subjectivity to transcendental intersubjectivity. Straus, in agreement with Husserl, emphasizes that the “we” stretches from “I”; that is, from a first person, singular perspective to that of the first person plural, a “we” (1926). In the process of hypnosis there is a stretching from the ego of the subject onwards to the simultaneous, past and future Others.

Straus provides existential insights to explain the meaningful relation between hypnotist and subject. There is a difference between the hypnotist’s words intending “a desired performance” by the subject, and altered perception by the hypnotized subject of what the hypnotist intimates. There is a double bind between shared meanings of a pathic and gnostic experience, and what a third person observer or behavioral scientist witnesses. Straus resolves the discrepancy between the logical content and intimation of the suggestor’s utterance by introducing the role of the imagination in “role playing” and interpreting the discrepancy between sensing and perceiving hot and cold water by a hypnotized subject.11 Straus’s interpretation of hypnosis gives priority to experience over observation, but does not ignore the empirical scientific explanation such as the one rendered by empirical investigations of hypnosis.

2 Neuropsychology or Neurophenomenology of Suggestion and Hypnosis

In contrast to Straus’s phenomenological approach, an examination of B. R. Vandenberg’s (2010) review of empirical research shows the limitations of focusing primarily on empirical data, which gives rise to a partial, and distorted, view of suggestion and hypnosis. Such an empirical emphasis creates an artificial separation between sensing and perceiving; to arrive at meaning, Straus’s elucidation of the pathic and gnostic dimensions of our relation to the world and his discussion of “bad faith” are required.

Vandenberg ignores the role of philosophical assumptions in bringing about conflicts of interpretation on account of the double bind that could occur in altered states of consciousness. An individual normally moves from the individual’s experience to meaning, while in the deceptive interpretation of sensation the hypnotist first suggests the meaning, and then the subject tries to make sense of her or his sensation under these abnormal conditions. Under hypnosis the subject is groping for a valid meaning in a haze where contradictory meanings are present. Epistemology is entangled with ontology by suggesting a performance instead of a report on perception. The temporal sequence needs to be clarified. Straus provides such a sequence in terms of Husserl’s distinction between the logical content of a hypnotist’s verbal suggestion as the source of meaning and the process of intimation.

The hypnotist is engaged with the subject in a mutual self-deception about the external world, to which they are willing to attest before the public. A phenomenology of hypnosis, therefore, needs to examine three perspectives: the hypnotist, the subject, and a third person observer. Vandenberg’s (2010) review of the empirical literature on hypnosis attempts to explain hypnosis from a third person (hypothetical) observer without taking account of the intrinsic and historical relation between hypnotist and subject. Straus’s 1925 and 1927 papers maintain that such a hypothetical position is neither subjective nor objective, and can be misleading or contradictory. A rigidly natural scientific position loses sight of the intersubjective meaning of the relation between hypnotist and subject in each individual case, and generalizes on what seems to be happening rather than the experience itself. The hypnotist is excluded in this narrowly natural scientific approach, with the focus primarily being on the hypnotized subject who performs an act he agreed to do in collusion with the hypnotist. In contrast, Straus shows that perception involves a dual intentionality: gnostic and pathic, and occurs within a relation between two human beings in a historical context.

The theories of hypnosis reviewed by Vandenberg (2010), therefore, emphasize explanation of the effects of hypnosis based on “external” physical signs that were historically explained as “animal magnetism.” More recent empirical psychology has moved from psychological to neuropsychological intervening variables, but most empirical research continues to focus on the linear causal nature of hypnosis under abnormal conditions such as amnesia, hysteria, hysteria, and trance logic.

Vandenberg points out how “empirical evidence is but one facet in the advancement of psychological science” (2010: 51). Empirical methods produce some conflicts and solve others. “The sterility of the current debate,” writes Vandenberg, “does not lie in the inability to generate data, but the impossibility of empirical resolution” (2010: 62). One example cited is that identifying neuro-physiological features of attention in hypnosis and how prefrontal cortical functioning may reflect dissociated cognitive processes do not add new knowledge relative to the nature and structure of hypnosis. In contrast, Straus’s approach addresses the hidden presuppositions of the individuals’ thinking. One might use the post-modern title of “Neurophenomenology” that led Straus to say there are two brains, not one, operating at the same time in neuropsychological studies of perception: “Neurophysiology especially is confronted with a real dilemma, since in every neurophysiological study at least two brains are involved: one brain as object of observation and another brain as an organ serving the observer in his studies” (Straus and Natanson 1969: vi). Scientific explanation has to be enriched by phenomenological analysis, an examination of what goes on by way of mutual understanding or empathy between two orders of reality, the order of behavior, and the order of the intersubjective relation between the hypnotist and the subject.

Straus’s 1927 German paper also addresses theories by Janet (1925) and his contemporaries. Words uttered by the hypnotist in inducing the hypnotic trance function meaningfully and indicatively for the subject. There are two complementary operations, one cognitive, from the meaning of words used to describe the experience, and the other pathic, based on the intimative grasp by the recipient of what the suggestor is conveying through tone of voice or other non-verbal aspects of her or his speech. There are two movements from “I” to “We” and vice versa. One must also acknowledge the role of empathy.12 The hypnotized subject is put in a position of a conflicted empathy where she or he cannot accurately explain the import of his “double bind” experience to a third person observer who questions him or her about the sensory contradiction in her or his report.

To do justice to Straus’s thinking on the phenomenon of suggestion, modern phenomenology should call out for comparisons and critiques with reference to contemporary psychologists, philosophers, hypnotism experimenters, and linguists. At a minimum, English translations of “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion” and “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität” should be published. We hope that this paper is the start of an exploration of the continuing relevance and importance of Straus’s contributions on suggestion, suggestibility, and hypnosis.

3 Summary

While commentators have valued many of Straus’s writings on phenomenology, these scholars have not yet given comparable attention to his writings on suggestion and suggestibility. To remedy this oversight, this essay explicates Straus’s 1925 and 1927 essays, written in German and not published in English translation. For Straus, the understanding of suggestion and suggestibility has to start with the study of everyday experience and of interpersonal relationships, not with pathology or a narrow natural scientific viewpoint. Suggestion is part of normality, and includes both the possibility of acceptance as well as rejection. This acceptance or rejection of a suggestion, for Straus, is not solely dependent on the content of the statement, but is always at the same time a response to the other person. Straus’s arguments in these essays are enhanced by his later books and articles describing the I-Allon relationship, the process of we-formation, and the distinction of pathic and gnostic moments of sensation and perception. Straus considers the deception (Trugwahrnehmung, e.g, that freezing water is hot) that may come from a hypnotic suggestion as the pathic moment of a sensing, not the gnostic moment of a perception. He also argues that the phenomenon of suggestion, including any deception through suggestion or hypnosis, must be considered through an examination of interpersonal relations, and of the I-Allon relationship. As elucidated by Beshai, the subject’s response is thus not an automatic response to stimulation of sensory receptors, but involves a judgment call with deference to the experimenter/hypnotist. For Straus, the hypnotized report of a Trugwahrnehmung is both a verbal affirmation of what the subject was asked to affirm, and an example of participation in the shared We-experience or We-formation in which the subject enters the world of the hypnotist. Brian Vandenberg’s (2010) review of empirical research on hypnotic suggestion emphasizes a narrow natural scientific view that focuses primarily on empirical data, giving rise to a partial, and distorted, view of suggestion and suggestibility. In contrast, Straus’s analysis of suggestion, by fully situating the phenomenon within the Lebenswelt, is a major contribution to phenomenology.

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1

Straus read an English version of “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität,” probably in translation by Erling Eng, at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, circa 1974; this version is unpublished. We are grateful to Donald Moss for providing his unpublished translations of “Wesen und Vorgang der Suggestion” as “Nature and Process of Suggestion” (1983), and “Über Suggestion und Suggestibilität” as “Concerning Suggestion and Suggestibility” (1998). The English versions of all direct quotations from these two essays, however, are our own, with the original German provided in footnotes.

2

“… die Suggestion sich weithin in den Bereich des Normalen erstreckt” (1925: 5).

3

“Die Annahme oder Verwerfung ist in beiden Fällen nicht allein von der Bedeutung der Äußerung abhängig … Sie ist stets zugleich Reaktion auf die andere Person.”

4

We are very grateful to Richard Rojcewicz for the English translation of this passage from Husserl.

5

“le langage … est une manifestation, une révélation de l’être intime et du lien psychique qui nous unit au monde et à nos semblables.” Merleau-Ponty is here quoting a Kurt Goldstein (1933).

6

“Jede Äußerung ist zunächt Kundgabe; als solche muß sie aufgefaßt werden um überhaupt der Sinn den Mitteilung zu haben.”

7

“Denn ein jeder Satz stellt sich als von einem Menschen gesprochen dar, nicht nur als eine sachliche Aussage, sondern als ein persönlicher Ausspruch.”

8

“die vollkommenste Suggestion dann erreicht wird, wenn auf den höchsten Stufen der Wirbildung die einzelne Äusserung echt und für den Äussernden bedeutsam ist, und wenn diese Echtheit und Bedeutsamkeit von dem Empfänger klar verstanden wird.”

9

“Immer geht die Wir-Bildung der Suggestion voraus.”

10

“In dem Wir-Erleben wird die fremde Person bejaht, wird ihre Welt zur unseren.”

11

For an analysis of imagination in hypnosis see Beshai (1974).

12

See the Ph.D. dissertation by Husserl’s student, Edith Stein, for which Straus wrote the Foreword (1964: v–vi), and especially Stein’s section on “Deceptions of Empathy” (1964: 80).

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