Somnambulism is another state of mind as laid down by different philosophers. It is only another condition of excited mind, by which all the impressions are received by another process than that of the bodily organs; by which the subject is induced to walk and perform bodily and mental labor.
This condition of mind is really the dreaming or excited state and explainable upon the same principles as other dreams. But the difficulty in explanations given by those who have written upon the subject is the misconception of its cause; mixing up the action of the mind under such excitement with its action through the bodily senses.
I do not intend to convey the idea that the mind may not act partly from one cause or condition and partly from the other. It does so act; and this, no doubt, is the cause of many impressions which the mind, in its dreaming state, is constantly receiving.
Their confusion in explanations arises from the argument being drawn from the knowledge received through the bodily senses alone; not mentioning to explain the phenomena arising from an independent state. If facts alone, subject to the laws which govern mind, were to furnish a basis, it is not possible to explain these two conditions - natural and excited, on other principles than those which have governed us throughout this work.
Somnambulism is, then, a species of mesmerism, and a subject may be so controlled as to perform the same experiments we shall give, selected from different works.
"A young nobleman," says Dr. Abercrombie, "living in the citadel of Breslau, was observed by his brother, who occupied the same room, to rise in his sleep, wrap himself in a cloak and escape by a window to the roof of a building. He then tore in pieces a magpie's nest, wrapped the young birds in his cloak, returned to his apartment and went to bed. In the morning he mentioned the circumstances as having occurred in a dream and could not be persuaded that there had been anything more than a dream, till he was shown the magpies in his cloak.”
"A farmer in one of the counties of Massachusetts had employed himself, some weeks in winter, threshing his grain. One night as he was about closing his labors, he ascended a ladder to the top of the great beams in the barn, where the rye which he was threshing was deposited, to ascertain what number of bundles remained unthreshed, which he determined to finish the next day.
The ensuing night, about two o'clock, he was heard by one of the family to rise and go out. He repaired to his barn, being sound asleep and unconscious of what he was doing, set open his barn doors, ascended the great beams of the barn, where his rye was deposited, threw down a flooring and commenced threshing it. When he had completed it, he raked off the straw and shoved the rye to one side of the floor and then again ascended the ladder with the straw and deposited it on some rails that lay across the great beams. He then threw down another flooring of rye, which he threshed and finished, as before.
Thus he continued his labors, until he had threshed five floorings; and on returning from throwing down the sixth and last, in passing over part of the haymow, he fell off where the hay had been cut down about six feet, on the lower part of it, which awoke him. He at first imagined himself in his neighbor's barn, but after groping about in the dark for a long time, ascertained that he was in his own; and at length found the ladder on which he descended to the floor, closed his barn doors which he found open and returned to his house. On coming to the light, he found himself in such a profuse perspiration that his clothes were literally wet through.
The next morning on going to his barn, he found that he had threshed during the night five bushels of rye, had raked the straw off in good order and deposited it on the great beams and carefully shoved the grain to one side of the floor, without the least consciousness of what he was doing, until he fell from the hay."
[Elements of Intellectual Philosophy, Upham]
We recollect of reading an account of a clergyman who had been long contemplating the writing of a sermon upon a certain passage of the Scripture, which required deep thought. He arose from his sleep during the night and entirely wrote out the whole discourse in a most lucid and convincing reasoning and language and returned to rest. On the following day, he could recollect nothing of the transaction but the different heads of the subject connected with dreaming. Upon going to his study, he was surprised to find the whole discourse in writing, neatly executed in his usual form of writing sermons.
Another instance came under our own observation, in the western part of Maine, of the gentleman farmer who, during the month of August, in one of his night walks, arose and taking his scythe, went into his field and actually mowed down a half acre of his best wheat, returned the scythe to its usual place and returned to bed. He awoke the next morning and recollected nothing of the transaction but remarked that he had a singular dream of taking his scythe and mowing an acre of his wheat, instead of reaping it, as was his usual method. He was loath to believe what he witnessed with his own eyes - the grain in the swath and that it had been done by his own hand. It no doubt would have been charged upon some of his good neighbors, had not some of his own household witnessed the whole transaction.
Philosophers have confessed their inability to explain satisfactorily these strange phenomena; and then, by undertaking to show in what possible manner it might all happen, mystify what was before mysterious. We do not learn from them how it is possible for one to see at all under any circumstances, without the bodily organ of sight; and much less have they proved to us the power of seeing without eyes and in Egyptian darkness.
"There is," says Professor Upham, "a set of nerves which are understood to be particularly connected with respiration and appear to have nothing to do with sensation and muscular action. There is another set which one knows to possess a direct and important connection with sensation and the muscles. These last are separable into distinct filaments, having separate functions; some being connected with sensation merely and others with volition and muscular action.
In sensation, the impression made by some external body exists, at first, in the external part of the organs of sense and is propagated along one class of filaments to the brain. In volition and voluntary muscular movement, the origin of action, as far as the body is concerned, seems to be the reverse; commencing in the brain and being propagated along other and appropriate nervous filaments to the different parts of the system.
Hence it sometimes happens that, in diseases of the nervous system, the power of sensation is, in a great measure lost, while that of motion fully remains; or on the contrary, the power of motion is lost, while that of sensation remains.
These views help to throw light upon the subject of somnambulism. Causes, at present unknown to us, may operate through their appropriate nervous filaments to keep the muscles awake, without disturbing the repose and inactivity of the senses. A man may be asleep as to all the powers of external perception and yet be awake in respect to the capabilities of muscular motion and aided by the trains of association which make a part of his dreams, may be able to walk about and to do many things, without the aid of the sight or hearing."
It cannot be possible that the explanation given by the professor was satisfactory to himself. For it would be one of the greatest experiments of chance ever known or thought of for a man to rise from his sleep and go to his barn and climb to the great beams, throw down his bundles of grain, thrash them and rake up the straw etc., etc., and follow up this course of business without seeing or without the power of sight.
But the explanation given above admits that such transactions might happen without sight or hearing. No one has ever undertaken to explain them upon the supposition that they do really see and perform all these muscular actions by the aid of the visual powers of mind.
There is another experiment referred to by the professor as not having been reached by any of his previous statements and explanations, and he considers that they may form an exception to the usual appearances in somnambulists, but of a marked and extraordinary character.
"There are few cases," he says — the recent instance of Jane Rider in this country is one:
“where persons in the condition of somnambulism have not only possessed slight visual power but perceptions of sight increased much above the common degree.
In the extraordinary narrative of Jane Rider, the author informs us that he took two large wads of cotton and placed them directly on the closed eyelids and then bound them on with a black, silk handkerchief. The cotton filled the cavity under the eyebrows and reached down to the middle of the cheek, and various experiments were tried to ascertain whether she could see.
In one of them, a watch enclosed in a case was handed to her, and she was requested to tell what o'clock it was by it; upon which, after examining both sides of the watch, she opened the case and then answered the question. She also read, without hesitation, the name of a gentleman written in characters so fine that no one else could distinguish it at the usual distance from the eye. In another paroxysm, the lights were removed from her room and the windows so secured that no object was discernible, and two books were presented to her; when she immediately told the titles of both, though one of them was a book which she had never before seen.
In other experiments, while the room was so darkened that it was impossible with the ordinary powers of vision to distinguish the colors of the carpet, her eyes were also bandaged. She pointed out the different colors in the hearth rug, took up and read several cards lying on the table, threaded a needle and performed several other things, which could not have been done without the aid of the vision.
Of extraordinary cases of this kind, it would seem that no satisfactory explanation, at least no explanation which is unattended with difficulties, has as yet been given."
This last case, with the remarks, is extracted from Upham's Mental Philosophy, Vol. 1, page 214. He expresses no difficulty in explaining how the farmer of Massachusetts could do his thrashing in the midst of darkness and without the power of sight but is willing to acknowledge his inability to explain the method of seeing, in the case of Jane Rider.
To us, it appears that they may both be explained upon the same principle; that they are nearly parallel cases and can be accounted for in no other way than by the principles we have laid down; namely, that in the excited, dreaming or somnambulistic subject, impressions are conveyed to the mind, without the aid of the bodily organs and that the faculties of the mind are acting in direct communication with objects; that the mind sees, hears, tastes, smells and feels, without the eyes, ears, tongue, nose and hands. And that precisely the same impressions may be conveyed to the mind directly, without these organs, as could be with them.
A case of somnambulism is related by Dr. Gillett of Connecticut. The subject was a lady of Wapping, near East Windsor, Conn., who was, while in this state, able to thread her needle, perform her domestic labors, read a book upside down with great fluency, tell the time by a watch held near her head and know what her friends were doing in any part of the room, at any moment, etc., etc.
This condition of mind was supposed to result from her weakness and ill health. She was afterwards cured of these spasms by the influence of mesmeric operations.
The case of Yarnell, a lad born in Buck's County, Pennsylvania, is a striking instance of somnambulism (or excited state of mind). He could perceive persons and their conduct, however remote, by simply resting his hands upon his knees and his head upon his hands. He was frequently questioned by wives, whose husbands were gone to sea and had been absent a long time, and would give the correct information as to their place and conduct. He would often direct where stolen goods were found and describe the persons who had taken them.
Other instances might be named of the same class, proving the most extraordinary power of the mind while in this excited state.
One remark, before we close this part of our subject. The cases of somnambulism which we have referred to are conditions of mind, precisely like those in the mesmeric state. Every action which transpired in the accounts above may be produced by a subject under the mesmeric influence.
This places the question, beyond a doubt, that the different conditions of the mind are all governed by similar laws and explainable upon such principles as we have laid down.
We have taken for examples such anecdotes and incidents as are familiar to almost every individual who has paid close attention to the philosophy of the mind, such as are found in various authors who have explained these phenomena, according to their ideas of mind; but we have endeavored to explain them upon other principles.
We proceed now to a further illustration of our position upon the theory of mesmerism.