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7\. The New Psychology in Detective Stories

  • All of the stories of Craig Kennedy published under the title of "The Silent
  • Bullet" are based upon the various chapters of Professor Hugo Münsterberg's
  • delightful book called "On The Witness Stand." It is hoped and believed by
  • Professor Münsterberg that these psychological experiments will yet become a
  • practical means of the conviction of criminals.
  • They have not as yet obtained official sanction, but as Professor Münsterberg
  • writes in a personal letter,
  • > "I myself did not expect such changes to come very soon, as on the one side
  • there is still too much difference of opinion and of interpretation among the
  • psychologists, and on the other side the whole problem of the experts before
  • court is still in too confused a condition. An amateurish introduction of
  • fancy experiments by lawyers who are dilettantists in psychology would
  • certainly bring more confusion than help. All that has been gained is that
  • evidently the lawyers and judges have become more conscious of the
  • responsibilities which are involved wherever psychical functions are in play.
  • I also think that the use of the brutal methods of extorting confessions and
  • so on has been diminished."
  • A series of stories called "The Achievements of Luther Trant," by Edwin Balmer
  • and William MacHarg, details the experiments of a detective who follows even
  • more closely the experiments described in Professor Münsterberg's book. The
  • Foreword of this series tells its own story:
  • > "Except for its characters and plot, this book is not a work of the
  • imagination.
  • >
  • > "The methods which the fictitious Trant—one-time assistant in a
  • psychological laboratory, now turned detective—here uses to solve the
  • mysteries which present themselves to him, are real methods; the tests he
  • employs are real tests.
  • >
  • > "Though little known to the general public, they are precisely such as are
  • being used daily in the psychological laboratories of the great
  • universities—both in America and Europe—by means of which modern men of
  • science are at last disclosing and defining the workings of that oldest of
  • world mysteries—the human mind.
  • >
  • > "The facts which Trant uses are in no way debatable facts; nor do they rest
  • on evidence of untrained, imaginative observers. Innumerable experiments in
  • our university laboratories have established beyond question that, for
  • instance, the resistance of the human body to a weak electric current varies
  • when the subject is frightened or undergoes emotion; and the consequent
  • variation in the strength of the current depending directly upon the amount of
  • emotional disturbance, can be registered by the galvanometer for all to see.
  • The hand resting upon an automatograph will travel toward an object which
  • excites emotion, however capable its possessor may be of restraining all other
  • evidence of what he feels.
  • >
  • > "If these facts are not used as yet except in the academic experiments of
  • the psychological laboratories and the very real and useful purpose to which
  • they have been put in the diagnosis of insanities, it is not because they are
  • incapable of wider use. The results of the 'new psychology' are coming every
  • day closer to an exact interpretation. The hour is close at hand when they
  • will be used not merely in the determination of guilt and innocence, but to
  • establish in the courts the credibility of witnesses and the impartiality of
  • jurors, and by employers to ascertain the fitness and particular abilities of
  • their employees.
  • >
  • > "Luther Trant, therefore, nowhere in this book needs to invent or devise an
  • experiment or an instrument for any of the results he here attains; he has
  • merely to adopt a part of the tried and accepted experiments of modern,
  • scientific psychology. He himself is a character of fiction; but his methods
  • are matters of fact."
  • A similar method is hinted at in "The Thinking Machine" stories. Mr. Futrelle
  • says:
  • > "Finally, with my hand on her pulse—which was normal—I told her as brutally
  • as I could that her husband had been murdered. Her pulse jumped frightfully
  • and as I told her the cause of death it wavered, weakened and she fainted. Now
  • if she had known her husband were dead—even if she had killed him—a mere
  • statement of his death would not have caused that pulse."