Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Confounding World: Hypnosis

On Hypnosis  
(Visual Cues taken from the film The Manchurian Candidate, 1962, directed by John Frankenheimer)
Here I start a new series (we'll see how long it lasts) in which I intend to raise questions about those things in this God ordained world of which I just can't quite wrangle my mind around. 

A family tradition within my family clan was to annually visit the Hypnotist show at the San Diego County Fair. Every year we'd go, and every year members plucked from the crowd would answer the phone in their shoe, or discover that they happened to be a singer in Destiny's Child. The shows were always uproariously fun to observe. Uproarious, I say.

The show was always G-rated, but the hypnotist told of a nightclub where performances were done for adult crowds only. I never ventured to such a show, but my mind has wandered... what things would he suggest to the hypnosees? What acts did they do under the cover of an adult show?

I never volunteered to go onstage. I was always too scared. I am still scared. What would it mean if it worked? What does that say about me? Could I crumble under the power of suggestion? Would I do things that my inner flesh desires, but my moral soul denies? Would I do acts against God? Could I steal, rape, kill?

Remember the glitch in The Matrix -- the black cat that shows up twice? If deja vu is the glitch in The Matrix, then perhaps hypnosis is the glitch of our brain circuitry. Wikipedia's article on the subject quotes ol' Ivan Pavlov:
Speech, on account of the whole preceding life of the adult, is connected up with all the internal and external stimuli which can reach the cortex, signaling all of them and replacing all of them, and therefore it can call forth all those reactions of the organism which are normally determined by the actual stimuli themselves. We can, therefore, regard ‘suggestion’ as the most simple form of a typical reflex in man.
There's the rub: words. What are they? Signals. Symbols. Not essence; no, not that. The things behind the words -- those unquantifiable essences -- the things that words point to -- those are the hidden units of control. Perhaps hypnosis simply momentarily hotwires our brains to action rather than to signals. Maybe it forgoes the interpretation of symbols and signals. Perhaps the symbol becomes the essence.

Let's get scarier. 

Do you control yourself? To a degree, of course. But I don't regulate my heartbeat. I can control my breathing if I will myself to, but if I fill my brain with thoughts, my body knows enough to breathe on its own. A thousand wars are being fought inside of me as I write this; white blood cells slay foreign enemies from abroad. My autonomic nervous system -- it itself is a creature I can't control. 

Ernest Hilgard was an American Psychologist who taught at Stanford. He spoke of a theory that sounds like something out of Dexter or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. He believed in a, "Hidden Observer." 
Who is this dark companion? According to Hilgard's experiments, he is our dissociated self. Hilgard suggested to a hypnotized blind man that he could no longer hear. The patient remembers ceasing to hear anything at that point, so he began working out a statistical problem in his head to fill in the void. The next thing the patient recalls is his finger involuntarily lifting. This frightens the man and he asks to be freed. When he awakes from this realm of cognitive dissonance, he asks Hilgard what happened. Although he supposedly couldn't hear anything, Hilgard questioned the patient, asking that if any part of the brain still could hear, that the body was to raise his finger. In another instance, patients that were taking a bath in ice under hypnosis, when asked if they were cold, cheerfully said they felt fine, but when told to raise their finger if any part of their body felt coldness, the involuntary finger arose once more. I ask again, who is this inner puppeteer?

If the subconscious of every individual has its own understanding, its own ability to interpret and respond to its surroundings, if in fact we accept this theory, where does that leave us? For the Christian soul, can we say this is the keen eye of the Holy Ghost? That suggestion feels off-kilter to me, as if to proclaim that it is the third member of the Trinity that is actively orchestrating each heart pump and palpitation. Do we also really make claim as such that when we use the nomenclature of God coming into our hearts, that this, in some manner, is anatomically accurate? Furthermore, what is to be said of the inner being within the constructs of the man who has not asked for God to enter into his life? Who is the inner master there? Nevertheless, we do see in Scripture that a position of the Holy Spirit is to transcend the symbols of language -- to speak in essences rather than signals;
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. Romans 8:26-27 NIV
All this is talk of hypnosis within the sole person, the lone dualist. What of the masses? People are capable of horrendous acts of villainy. In the thirties, how was it possible for an entire nation to blindly follow such a lunatic as Hitler. Yes, the German people were coming out of an awful twenty years since the end of WWI. Yes, they were vulnerable. Yes, they needed hope. But how could such evil be so seductive? Is there something to be said for a form of mass-hypnosis? 

David Redles, in his book "Hitler's Millenial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation" delved into the issue of Hitler and hypnosis. He quotes Kurt Ludecke's account of his first time intaking a Hitler speech:
Presently my critical faculty was swept away. Leaning from the tribune as if he were trying to impel his inner self into the consciousness of all these thousands he was holding the masses and me with them, under a hypnotic spell... His appeal to German manhood was like a call to arms, the gospel he preached a sacred truth. He seemed another Luther... I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to religious conversion... I had found myself, my leader, and my cause. 
Ludecke seems to be suggesting that Hitler's words were crossing the realm of mere symbol and signal. He was speaking through feeling, through some brand of osmosis even. He was able to roam around in the German mind in such an authentic matter that there could be no question as to his moral authority. This creature of rhetoric somehow kept his turpitude an unexposable secret beneath the construct of his hypnotic pulse.  Another intaker of Hitler's power quoted in Redles' book remarked,
The susceptibility of the Chancellor's mind to psychic influences is shown in his public oratory. At the outset of a speech his delivery is sometimes slow and halting. Only as the spiritual atmosphere engendered by a great audience takes possession of his mind does he develop that eloquence which acts on the German nation like a spell. For he responds to this metaphysical contact in such a way that each member of the multitude feels bound to him by an individual link of sympathy.

What is this power that breaks down our internal security system? What is physically happening in the mind amidst such a cacophony? Reading these interviews of the myriads that were led astray by Hitler causes me to wonder: is this all feeling and instinct that controls people in such circumstances? What part of the brain takes hold of the steering wheel in such cases? Could this happen to me? Has it already? 

There seems to me to be ample evidence that hypnotism is something greater than merely a great placebo. I've seen too many Fair-Goers turn into clucking chickens to doubt its reality. What bothers me is not just its existence in our reality, and the questions that raises as to how our minds really work, but that it is a topic that very few folks seem interested in. Who amongst the Christian intellectia is focused on understanding hypnotism, and its ramifications on history and perhaps theology? 

Hypnosis: that really creepy thing that unnerves me whenever I think about, but really know nothing about... if you have any wisdom on the subject, lend me your knowledge, so as to ease my unsettledness. 
Made to commit acts too unspeakable to be cited here by an enemy who had captured his mind and his soul. He freed himself at last and in the end, heroically and unhesitatingly gave his life to save his country. Raymond Shaw... Hell... Hell.


  1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6nLNC2s16M&feature=player_embedded

  2. I am excited to read your entry on demons and or ghosts. If I may, a bit of reading/watching material for you to ponder...




    Thats a start, I may throw a few more up later my friend.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AABPXvwevVA&feature=player_embedded#

  4. Dude, you just sent me down a whole echelon of rabbit holes. I don't know whether to thank you or strangle you.

    That Puma Punka place is gnarly!

    Of the links you sent, I like thinking about the possible answers to the BLOOP most of all. Those theories that attach the Bloop to Lovecraft's Cthulhu are just dandy!

    But really, thanks for the links -- they stretch the limits of our understanding, which is always good, I think. It keeps us humble. It reminds us that we are not masters of the cosmos. Not by a long shot.

  5. Story time....
    I have been hypnotized. And I must agree... uproarious is the word for it. I was aware that I was doing completely ridiculous things on stage; I even chuckled at myself. I knew that I had the power to stop. But I didn't want to. Pretending to be a crow was the most appealing thing to do in that moment. It felt so good. It was like fighting off sleep as a child... you get to the point where you just don't fight anymore, it feels so good to just sleep. (the hypnotist later said that 30 minutes of hypnosis is equal to 5 hours of sleep or something like that... and it did feel great! ...probably the most relaxed I've ever been) I was completely aware of what I was doing, but I didn't want to stop. (that was a strange feeling... but also kind of nice. Not caring that I'm making a fool out of myself... it's an enjoyable thought).

    Fascinating thoughts on Hitler. Most would simply use him as an example of effective charisma.

    And finally, a rabbit I always chase when this subject comes up...
    I've also heard it said that hypnotism is wrong... spiritually, you're completely opening your mind up, to whatever wants to come and control you; believers should only be that open to the Holy Spirit.
    I read a very convincing argument on it, but I am never entirely convinced. (simply on the grounds of... "it didn't feel wrong"... which is a horrible argument, and could argue that it is indeed sin...)
    I always just leave myself with the thought... If only I COULD have that, constantly, with the Holy Spirit.
    I trusted the hypnotist entirely. I felt silly, but didn't mind. More than anything, I just wanted to do what he asked, so I could stay in the moment, because it felt good. I guess that is blind faith.
    (Sub-rabbit: does God indeed desire for us to be mindless, completely obedient chickens as we follow his leading?)

    You've reminded me of several good questions. Thanks, friend.