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JAMA Revisited
November 5, 2014

Popular Beliefs and Scientific Facts

JAMA. 2014;312(17):1807. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.279818

Popular beliefs on scientific subjects apparently run in waves. Many of our readers remember the interest in hypnotism which followed the publication of “Trilby.” Svengali with his “hypnotic eye” at once became a real and possible personage in the public imagination. The newspapers were full of stories of girls and women who had suddenly been fixed and paralyzed by the hypnotic gaze of some mysterious stranger with piercing black eyes and who had been compelled by his will to fantastic acts which they were powerless to prevent. Fiction writers took up the idea, and stories centering around hypnotic influence became common. It was used as a plea in criminal cases, various culprits alleging that they had been hypnotized and compelled against their will to perform unlawful acts. All this occurred in spite of the fact, frequently stated and known by every scientific man, that the limitations of hypnotism are definite and well recognized, that no person can be hypnotized unknowingly or against his will, and that few persons are so susceptible as to be capable of being compelled to perform acts beyond their own volition and knowledge.

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