Hypn07, Day 8: A day of parlor trickery (or, "Scott Adams on why we go under")

dilbert This covers day 8 of 30 for the Hypnotherapy Project, which I'm collaborating on with Los Angeles-based hypnotist hypnotherapist Greg Beckett. You can read more about this experiment, what motivated it and what we hope to accomplish here.

While Greg and I spend time each session on the actual hypnosis, most days we speak at least as much about the actual process of hypnotherapy, what my experience is with it and because of it, and why it works or doesn't.

As I've mentioned, the last couple of days we'd decided to "play" a little bit: Greg hypnotized me, and during the hypnosis also gave me permission to forget everything that happened during the session.

This is a critical component of hypnosis: a willing subject, and the understanding that the subject is choosing to do all of what the hypnotist is suggesting. So the "best" subjects are people who are really willing, and the "best" hypnotists are the ones who are really good at suggesting.

I realize that sounds stupidly simplistic, but it's the crux of hypnosis: all you're doing is uncovering what's actually there, whether it's a desire to do something, to change something or to think about something.

In the comments of my last post in the series, Curtis Sawyer pointed me to a fascinating post by Scott Adams, best known as the creator of the comic strip Dilbert, less known as a practitioner of hypnosis (well, less-known by dilettante geeks like myself). In it, he does a better job than I ever will of defining what hypnosis is (and isn't) and what it can (and can't) dol. So just go there. But for the lazy, here's the crux of it:

We talk of people “going under” hypnosis, or “going to sleep.” Both are misleading. A subject under hypnosis is fully aware of his environment. He's awake, for all practical purposes, and can ignore any suggestion that might be objectionable. In the history of hypnosis, there's no reliable record of anyone following a suggestion he thought would be harmful to himself or someone else. The subject doesn't lose control.

So what does happen?

I describe the state of hypnosis as acquiring a power. The subject has all of his regular faculties operating plus he gains some more, if he has no objection to those new powers. For example, a subject under hypnosis would get a little extra power in one or more of these areas:

1. Extra relaxation 2. Extra imagination 3. Extra focus

As Adams points out elsewhere in his post, a small slice of the population seems really able to tap into the superpower thing; they're the ones who end up on stage, barking like dogs and seeing people naked. On the other end, all but a few diehards can benefit from the relaxing effects of hypnosis; I've been listening to my recording at night and it puts me under before it's over, which, if you know me and Monkey Brain, is pretty impressive.

I am willing, even eager, to experience some of the parlor trickery, far-out aspects of hypno, too. So Greg and I tried that on Friday. It was an experiment for both of us, since he really uses hypnosis as a therapeutic goal-setting tool, not for stage purposes.

We tried:

  1. making me cluck like a chicken in the middle of singing the Star Spangled Banner
  2. having me see both of us naked (when, just to be clear, we were not)
  3. having me hear him speak in Spanish (he speaks it, I don't)

Numbers 1 and 2 worked pretty well. Though as I said to Greg, I'm perfectly willing to cluck like a chicken under most any circumstances, I've done far, far more embarrassing things on stage, for free, with less prodding. (No one ever asked me to get naked on stage; interesting, that.) So I knew as I was clucking, that I was clucking. And I didn't want to "help", but I did want to let whatever was going to happen, happen.

The best way I can describe what happened with the clucking is that it floated up on a bubble. I knew I could stop it, but I had a mischievous impulse to cluck, like burping or farting in church on a dare.

Similarly, with seeing us naked, I didn't see us naked, but I found myself giggling as if we were naked, like we had a goofy secret between us no one else knew about.

I wish I could say I heard every word he spoke in English as though it were in incomprehensible-to-me Spanish; all that did happen was it was ridiculously hard to grok what he was saying in English: like my comprehension skills took a nosedive, or the way it's harder to read a complex book when you're tired or tipsy.

So it seems I'm gifted with middling powers as a hypnosis subject. And hey, I'll take it! Just being able to relax, or to turn off the buzzing and focus, or to give my pretty gigantic imagination a chance to strut its stuff, is pretty wonderful.

But like Adams, I'm wildly jealous of the one-in-five "who can give birth without pain, or see an elephant in the room, or eat an onion and think it's an orange, or have multiple orgasms on suggestion. My name for that group is “lucky bastards.” For them, hypnosis can fix a lot of problems."

And quickly.

Lucky bastards...

xxx c Image by Scott Adams and © United Feature Syndicate, Inc. "Borrowed" w/o permission; hopefully, the nice people at Megolopolis, Inc., will let it slide.