Telemnesia

10 Oct

Dr. Hans Steg was unfamiliar with the Schwabing sector around the University of Munich when he entered it for the first time in the spring of 1927. Sounds of automobiles and electric streetcars filled the crowded streets. Horns blew without stop all day long. This was a busy sector of the Bavarian capital.

If it were not for the study he had conceived he would not be walking through this Bohemian quarter, searching for the alley where Paul Galgen lived. Grime covered the cobles beneath the shoes of the tall, skinny mental therapist as he looked for the right address. In a short while, though, Hans found the cement building and entered it. He rang the button that would summon the man he was there to meet.

The sound of steps grew louder as someone descended the steep flight of stairs.

“Dr. Steg?” asked the short, slight individual with blond crew-cut hair and hazel eyes who approached.

Hans offered his hand, which the other man shook with energy and enthusiasm.

“So glad to see you, Doctor. Will you follow me up to my place? We can talk in private there.”

Soon the pair were in the fourth-floor apartment where Galgen lived. The front room looked threadbare and spare. He invited Steg to take the black satin sofa while he sat down on a plain kitchen chair.

Eager to begin, Hans spoke first.

“You have been recommended to me by several colleagues. Tell me, how did you become a professional hypnotiseur?”

Paul smiled. “I come from the Alps of Upper Bavaria, where that talent is prized and developed. It showed up in me at a very early age and became my central interest in life.”

Hans went directly to the purpose that had brought him there.

“I myself am a Berliner and I studied medicine in the capital. My present aim is to attempt the alleviation of a certain mental disorder through the use of the mesmeric method of suggestion.”

“And what is the specific malady you are interested in, sir?”

Steg answered with a question of his own.

“Have you heard of the mental condition of paramnesia?”

Galgen furrowed his brow. “No, I am not familiar with that term, Doctor.”

“It refers to severe distortion of memory, to the point of falsification  and invention. The patient comes to possess apparent remembrance of events never experienced, of things never seen.”

“What you describe is new to me. Does it result in insanity?”

“I fear that it can if left untreated and unresolved. What is imagined in fantasy or dreams evolves into hallucination. The condition can become deeply painful.”

“You wish, then, to find out whether hypnotic intervention can clear up this problem of false memory in those who suffer it?”

Hans Steg nodded his long, thin head. “I want you to come to my office on Kaufingerstrasse tomorrow morning. More can be outlined there, and I shall pay you for your time.”

The psychiatrist gave him his card, then quickly departed.

Bruno Dreck was unable to relate his true life story to anyone else.

His memory contained books he had read, plays he had seen, and tales he had heard. Many items taken from elsewhere became components of his personal biography. He absorbed whatever touched or entered his conscious mind as if it were his own. His mind was a mental sponge.

Most of the real, genuine events he had lived were now gone from his store of memory.

An overweight giant, Bruno had been going for treatment from Dr. Hans Steg for several months.

His condition was a frustrating riddle for the therapist, who was becoming increasingly desperate.

“I want you to stop reading novels and attending the theater,” the psychiatrist told his patient at every session they had together.

The confused Bruno continued to suffer false memories that complicated his life.

Hans described their nature to Galgen when the hypnotist came to his office.

“Bruno believes he was severely beaten by schoolmates in fights that I can prove never occurred. He imagines that in his teenage years he experienced romantic episodes with young women whom he never even met. His vision of himself is highly distorted by this flood of false memories and the result is what I call paramnesia.”

“What is there that I can do for the young man, though?” eagerly asked Galgen.

The doctor rose from the large mahogany desk behind which he sat.

“I wish you to carry out a most difficult task,” he explained. “You are to put him in deep trance so that you can make subtle suggestions to Bruno Dreck.

“What I want you to do is place in his mind true, accurate memories to replace the imagined fictions he believes are real. In other words, my goal is to liberate his mind from the fancies that have entered his unconscious. I wish to see the man become a practical realist able to separate the true from the false.”

Paul Galgen rose from the chair he sat on. “Is all that possible?” he asked.

“I think it is,” murmured the psychiatrist. “We must try what we can to help him.”

The huge, weighty patient consented to mesmeric treatment for his illness, though the doctor did not reveal that what they were going to do was completely experimental.

Hans took Bruno into an examination room where Galgen waited, introducing the two to each other. The patient was told to take a chair, while the hypnotist stood in front of him, gazing into his eyes.

Paul made several passing movements with both hands in front of the face of the subject, who rapidly and easily fell into a state of trance. He was neither fully asleep nor awake, but in a totally different condition of mind.

Hans stood quietly in the background, near the closed door. When Paul glanced at him, he gave the successful mesmerist a nod of the head, signaling that he was to proceed as previously instructed.

“I am now going to tell you the truth concerning your experiences as a child, then as a boy,” said Galgen to the patient. “Do not be afraid. You shall now drop many untrue ideas you hold and find the genuine path of remembrance. Only the truth will be left in your mind to recall, nothing else.”

It was several minutes before this process of erasure was finished. The memories of Bruno Dreck were cleansed and reconstructed.

In a week, the hypnotist returned to the office to find out the results of the experiment with memory. From the start the doctor appeared to be troubled by something.

“Did anything go wrong, sir?” asked Galgen with trepidation.

“We have a situation that was unanticipated,” said Hans.”Many of the unreal memories have been replaced by true, real ones. But the entire structure of his thought about the past has been transformed in a radical way. I am afraid that his mind has swerved into another, different path.”

“What can that be?” inquired Paul with alarm in his voice.

“The hypnosis had an unforeseen, probably unforeseeable effect. Bruno’s memory has been sharpened and refined, in a sense infinitely improved, so that much that was buried in the depths of the unconscious has now popped up into the awakened mind. His present memory is in a perfected state of operation in which recall is exceptionally exact and vivid. This is something that can occur in the seriously psychotic and in what are termed idiot savants. It is the opposite of amnesia, a condition of unforgetting rather than forgetting. The earliest, the most forgotten and repressed incidents of life are brought to light. The conscious, waking mind is overwhelmed with minor details and minute items from out of the past. There is an overabundance of material. Some psychiatrists call this excessive memory, a surplus supply of content, hypermnesia. It can cause much pain and mental conflict. Not only does Bruno recall the names of all his teachers, but also those of all the fellow students in all of his school classes. He can even remember the exact content of every lesson and class through all his lifetime.

“The unfortunate man recalls every unkind word, admonition, and insult that was ever directed at him. Everything said to him by anyone is fully fresh and present in complete, accurate detail. Every event, even the smallest, is recorded and can be called up.

“The effect upon his mind and behavior is uncanny.

“The danger is one of extreme confabulation. Let me explain what that is. Fabrications and inventions are woven together with the myriad of true memories. A fabric of imagination is combined with the actual. The two parts of his mind are indivisible and indistinguishable. It is impossible today for Bruno to tell the one from the other, for both have expanded to incredible dimensions. Everything has been thrown together into a gigantic mass.

“We are facing the mental condition called catastrophic hypermnesia.”

The hypnotist looked troubled. “What is to be done about this horrible situation?” he nervously asked the doctor.

Hans pursed his lips, then began to speak in a serious tone. “Do you think it is possible to wipe out the effects of the earlier session and do away with this hypermnesia of his? Can he return to how he was before the mesmeric treatment?”

“I can only try to do so,” promised Galgen. “It is clear to me, though, that something must be done to correct these bad effects.”

“Indeed,” agreed the psychiatrist. “We have to accomplish something at once, without delay.”

Bruno again sat in a chair while Paul stood in front of him.

Across the room, beside the door, Hans watched what was happening between the two others.

The hypnotist made initial hand passes and soon had the subject in a mesmeric trance. Hans was able to hear the words pronounced by Galgen to the somnolent patient.

“Your memory has become a problem for you because it is now too wide and extensive. There is too much contained in it. This is complicating your thought and existence. No memory can be permitted to become unlimited, as yours now is. So, in order to alleviate your grave situation, I shall help lead you to a better, more practical correspondence between what is in your unconscious memory and what your conscious, awakened mind can recall…”

The voice of the hypnotist became faint and soft. Hans had difficulty making out what was being said to Bruno. There seemed to be a wall going up on the other side of the room.

At last, Paul snapped his fingers in order to awaken the subject out of his trance.

As soon as the heavy man’s dark eyes were back to normal, he rose slowly to his feet.

“Doctor Steg,” called out the patient loudly. “Save me from this man who is making my brain spin like a top. I am recalling happenings that were never mine, but someone else’s. It is as if a ghost of some kind has entered my thoughts. Outside forces seem to control my mind. I cannot stand any more what is going on inside me. Stop this flood of memories not my own that has taken possession of me. I beg you for a remedy.”

Hans rose and hurried forward, placing himself between the two, his face pointed at Galgen.”What have you done to him? Why is he reacting this way? Explain his condition and why it is so difficult to modify.”

The hypnotist started to retreat toward the door.

“I have heard of such incidents, but they have never been scientifically studied,” said Paul with difficulty. “It appears that psychic transference and communication can occur when the one mind is extremely strong and overwhelms a weaker one, such as Bruno’s. That, perhaps, is what has happened in our case. That is the only explanation left.”

“I do not understand at all,” shouted Hans in anger. “Please tell me what you mean.”

Galgen reached for the knob on the door.

“Mesmer in his early years taught that hypnotism and telepathy were closely tied together. Psychic messages are sent and received when both persons are in the state of trance. For him, whenever there is deep hypnosis, the caster of the trance is also put in that condition through self-hypnosis. That interpretation was later omitted and dropped because of its unacceptability before the public. But in my mind, the principle remains still valid.

“Unintentionally, I have transmitted portions of my personal memory to this person whom I hypnotized. His unconscious mind contains all that resides in my own shadowy memory. He knows all of my personal history and buried memories as if they had been experienced by him. My own memory has become his possession as well as mine.”

Paul opened the door and swiftly rushed out.

The psychiatrist and his patient exchanged looks of confusion and desperation.

“We shall have to start over again, Bruno,” said Hans Steg. “I am gravely sorry at how the mesmeric treatment came out. It apparently worsened your suffering about the problem of memories. I did not foresee the telepathic danger that was involved.”

The patient, unable to think of anything to say, remained silent.

His doctor realized that they had witnessed an incident of memory transfer or telemnesia.

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