483. What is the cause of the physical insensitivity sometimes observed in convulsionaries, and even in other people, when subjected to the most brutal torture?
“In some cases it is simply an exclusively magnetic effect, which acts upon the nervous system as certain substances do. In other cases, mental excitement stifes the sensitivity of the body, with life seeming to withdraw from the body to concentrate on the spirit. Have you not observed that when the spirit is intensely concerned with any matter, the body neither feels, nor sees nor hears?”
The excitement of fanaticism and enthusiasm often offer, by individuals subjected to tortures, examples of a tranquility that could hardly trump excruciating pain unless the sensitivity of the patient was defused by some kind of anesthetic effect. In the heat of battle, a severe wound is often obtained without being noticed, while a mere scratch is intensely felt under ordinary circumstances.
Since these phenomena are due to both the action of physical causes and that of spirits, one may wonder how public authorities, in some cases, were able to stop them. The answer is very simple. The action of spirits is only secondary. They do nothing more than take advantage of a natural predisposition. Public authorities did not overcome this predisposition, but rather the cause that stimulated it, reducing it from an active state to a latent one. They were right in doing this because this phenomenon was the impetus of exploitation and scandal. This interference, however, is ineffective when the action of spirits is direct and spontaneous.