Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich

Nicolai, Christoph Friedrich
   A German scholar, author, and bookseller who published an influential account of his own hallucinatory experiences in 1803. As Nicolai relates, in February 1791, after having experienced a series of life-events, he had a * visual hallucination of a deceased person lying on the floor, which lasted for about 8 min. It reappeared the same day, this time in an upright position, appearing and disappearing at irregular intervals, and was soon accompanied by several walking figures which had no apparent relation to the initial figure. In the days that followed, Nicolai began to see and hear a multitude ofhallucinated individuals (i.e. *personifications), some of which represented acquaintances, but the majority of which were unknown to him. As he observed, the presence and physical characteristics of these personifications were not under his voluntary control. Although they were highly realistic in appearance, he found that he was quite able to distinguish between them and actual persons in his environment. The phantasms were perceived by him day and night, usually inside his home, and less frequently in other people's houses or in the street. Sometimes they disappeared when he closed his eyes, but this was not always the case. In addition to human forms, Nicolai also perceived hallucinated animals, such as birds and dogs (i.e. *zoopsia), and people riding on horseback. The visual and * compound hallucinations endured for 2 months, after which he underwent blood-letting with the aid of leeches, a treatment prescribed to him before for different reasons. As recounted by Nicolai, "At last it was agreed that leeches should be again applied to me, as formerly; which was actually done, April 20th 1791, at eleven o'clock in the morning. No person was with me besides the surgeon; but during the operation my chamber was crowded with human phantasms of all descriptions. This continued uninterruptedly till about half an hour after four o'clock, just when my digestion commenced. I then perceived that they began to move more slowly. Soon after, their colour began to fade, and at seven o'clock they were entirely white. But they moved very little, though the forms were as distinct as before: growing however by degrees more obscure; yet not fewer in number as had generally been the case. The phantoms did not withdraw, nor did they vanish; which previous to that time had frequently happened. They now seemed to dissolve in the air; while fragments of some of them continued visible a considerable time. About eight o'clock the room was entirely cleared of my fantastic visions." According to Nicolai, after that day he never again experienced hallucinations. Although the cause of this hallucinatory episode was never elucidated, phenomenologically it would seem to fit in with the characteristics of * Charles Bonnet syndrome, more specifically, the type of Charles Bonnet syndrome in which visual hallucinations are experienced in the presence of preserved insight. The import of Nicolai's work for hallucinations research lies in the combination of his first-hand acquaintance with hallucinatory phenomena and his exceptional talent for verbalizing and analyzing them. This combination places him in a league with other hallucinating intellectuals, such as Daniel Paul Schreber (1842-1911), Victor Kandinsky (1849-1889), John Thomas Perceval (1803-1876), Vaslav Nijinsky (1889-1950), Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893), Fjodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), and Ludwig Staudenmaier (1865-1933).
   Ferriar, J. (1813). An essay towards a theory of apparitions. London: Cadell and Davies.
   Nicolai, C.F. (1803). Amemoir onthe appearance ofspectres or phantoms occasioned by disease, with psychological remarks. Nicholson's Journal ofNatural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts, VI, 161-179.

Dictionary of Hallucinations. . 2010.

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