Monday, August 27, 2012
Chapter Seven, sc. 1, 'The Art of Murder.'
Hypnotism had been around since the early 1700s. They had looked it up before coming here. Now the author of The Art and Science of Hypnotism sat before them, expounding on his craft.
“Three forms of hypnotic somnambulism are distinguished clinically. These include classical somnambulism in patients with hysterical neurosis on a juvenile-unstable basis, sensual-lucid somnambulism in patients with hysterical neurosis on a primitive personality basis, and sensual-split somnambulism in patients with pseudo-neurotic schizophrenia with a hysteroid clinical picture. The differential diagnostic importance of such forms of somnambulism is stressed in all the literature.”
Without any idea of what to expect, it was a letdown but also revealing that the office was decorated and furnished like any other professional’s, whether doctor, lawyer, or some other type of consultant.
“And you say that hypnosis really doesn’t involve mental illness, nor cause any lasting chemical or structural changes to the brain? It is a phenomena completely unrelated?” Gilles listened carefully, wondering if he was even competent to ask a proper question. “Well, I can see why you wrote the book on it.”
“Essentially, that is correct.” The Great Swami, an American whose real name, Edward Cole, was all over the passport and professional documents he had provided, was a showman but also a scientist in his own way.
He had to thoroughly understand the medium, which involved heavy audience participation in terms of individual but also group consciousness, and he had to understand his art, which Gilles took to be one of misdirection.
“The trance state is primarily a physiological state, which alters the state of consciousness, rather than a transcendental state, where I sort of impose my will upon yours. In purely psychological terms, most subjects actually do resist the trance, at least at first. It is not a magical spell, not in any sense of the word. The fact that popular ignorance often prefers this view is no concern of mine. It actually makes my job easier. The public performance is a show, after all. The subjects participate by choice, at some conscious level, for the practitioner has made them comfortable, relaxed, and they feel safe enough in letting go. They often believe the audience will keep them safe enough, at least in a public performance.”
“So you’re like a real doctor, then?” Levain stumbled as he tried to make notes, knowing he would never be able to reconstruct all of this later from the squiggles in his notebook.
“Oh, absolutely, I am a doctor, yes. But I am so much more than that.” The Great Swami nodded complacently. “I am also an avatar of Shiva, but that is beside the point.”
Gilles coughed politely, sure it was a joke. He was as stumped as Levain.
“Totally off the record, none of your subjects are plants?”
“Never, although that is a common misconception.”
Gilles wondered whether to believe him or not.
“So you liked my book?” Gilles wondered at the insecurity of the vain, or was it just the writers.
“Yes, I couldn’t put it down. I stayed up all Saturday night to read it.”
The Great Swami beamed at the statement.
“I’d be happy to sign it for you.”
“No, that’s quite all right, besides, it’s actually evidence in a homicide. But you may have misunderstood my question.”
“Not at all, Inspector, but there are no easy answers. The classical feeling, the belief among professionals, is that it is impossible to induce a person through a hypnotic trance, to do or perform some act of which they are fundamentally incapable, or which they have no real need to do. They must be predisposed to it, and even then I believe, and many experts believe, that to over-ride a person’s natural sense of caution, or consequence if you will, the basic instinct for self-preservation at all costs, makes the task impossible. The organism would react where the whole was threatened.”
“You mean it is impossible to over-rule the subconscious mind?” This was the meat Gilles was looking for.
“Something like that.” The Swami, who looked like a perfectly ordinary person in the quiet comfort of his office, was trying to be helpful, but unfortunately they could only tell him so much. “There is perhaps one exception, which I deal with in chapter nineteen.”
“Oh…oh, ah...” Gilles thought furiously. “Yes—group consciousness. With a large enough sample you believe anything is possible?”
The sound of Andre’s pencil overwhelmed the brief silence as The Great Swami gave him a look. They were serious.
“I believe that crowd psychology, and a kind of mass hypnotism, is likely more effective than attempting to suborn a single individual, considering the mass media and its reach and influence in modern society.”
Gilles wondered if the Great Swami had ever been consulted by the government, but he didn’t think so or the man would have mentioned it. Also, he was unlikely to say anything that was too controversial, or likely to be contradicted by any other competent practitioner. That much was self-evident.
“What about quitting tobacco?” Levain’s shrugged at Gilles’ inquiring glance. “Why not, Inspector? We might as well ask, now that we have him.”
A feeble grin escaped Maintenon. He had been expecting a fast-talking charlatan, a real shyster, and the man was nothing like they had expected.
“I might be able to help you quit smoking. It’s a long process, and it is by no means certain. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. It’s a hard habit to break, and that’s just the truth. As far as convincing someone to commit a serious crime, let alone murder, again, in my opinion, it cannot be done. It would be harder, or at least take more time, than getting them to quit smoking.”
“And how do you feel about your book being found at a crime scene?” Gilles was floundering and he knew it.
“It sold hundreds of copies world-wide. I suppose I should be pleased, or something.” He settled back in the deeply-padded leather chair and crossed his fingers on his belly. “I’m flattered, really.”
There was an air of resignation in this statement. He must have had high hopes for it.
“Yes, I see your point. Well, thank you for your time.” They all rose for the obligatory round of hand-shaking and back-slapping.
Doctors were all the same in his opinion, although the fact that the Great Swami was a real doctor, with all kinds of degrees hung up on the wall, was of some anecdotal interest. The thing was that now he’d have to put a man on verifying the degrees were real. He probably made more money from all the quackery or perhaps the richer or more foolish people were more willing to pay good money for it. Judging by the house, he seemed to be doing all right, and had never heard of Theo Duval other than maybe reading something about him in the paper.
His game seemed to consist of a lot of listening and a lot of talking, in about equal amounts. Perhaps their jobs had more in common than he realized.