Hypnosis - Chapter 2
The mind as we know it
"Doctors can have hallucinations too. The mind is a strange and wonderful thing. I'm not sure that it will ever be able to figure itself out, everything else, maybe. From the atom to the universe, everything, except itself." — Dr. Dan 'Danny' Kauffman (psychiatrist) played by Larry Gates in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).
The mind is one of the fields that we have learned more about in the last few years than in all human history combined. It has also been attributed to functions that we previously thought worked elsewhere; until recently we attributed our feeling to our heart, today we also know far more as to how it operates and it is indeed fascinating.
It is beyond the scope of this book to cover the subject of the human mind extensively. The information that we present will be directly related to hypnosis and related subjects, if possible indicating ways for you to go deep into the issues presented.
The brain is the organ that represents the focal point of the central nervous system and controls the peripheral nervous system. While what we describe as the thinking mind resides and depends primarily the brain, today we know that neurons exist across the human body. So while cognition seem extremely centralized not all thinking occurs on the brain itself. It functions as the head-quarters for a myriad of very interconnected functions, that by themselves have had a huge impact on the evolution of its physical morphology. In addition the brain centralizes the control of "lower", involuntary, or primarily autonomic activities such as respiration and digestion, it is also the locus of "higher" order functioning such as thought, reasoning, and abstraction. These cognitive processes constitute the mind, and, along with their behavioral consequences, are studied in the field of psychology.
The brain, an organ, can be somewhat compared to a computer. It is a biological system, a biological super-computer that takes information, processes it and stores part of it by making split second decisions, it has evolved in a harsh world and we all depend on it for our survival. It can perform more that 200 million billion calculations per second. But the brain as any biologic system and indeed any organ has not been always as it is today and in fact it is an amalgamation of subsystems that started to form and be refined in more primitive brains of ancestor lifeforms. The system we have today is a layered system, primitive functions, reason and drives are handled by the more archaic parts, it is still under debate how certain functions are shared or interact between each of the subsystems, the plasticity of the brain is still a very hot topic. Some defend that hypnosis depends on some of those older sections, that in fact, to a degree we are all born into a quasi hypnotic state, the inborn capacity for focused attention allied with basic perception and high reactivity stimuli is shared with a peaceful state of docility and calm contentment that decreases as the brain grows into its full capacity.
Today we know that the brain only reaches full maturity after adolescence. That its capacity and function is extremely dependent in prenatal and early age nutrition, that a rich environment boosts brain development. The emotional chaos seen in adolescents is the result of the body establishing its hormonal balance in preparation for the reproductive cycle of life, that a minor change also occurs after the first offspring is born and yet another in women as the reproductive cycle ends with menopause. There is also an important change in the middle of life (~41-45) that shapes the way memory are formed and accessed (reducing the capacity of acquiring new ones and increasing the capacity for correlation and accesses). Form the age of ~45 there will be a cognitive decline, similar to the rest of the body, this is not uniform and depends on genetics and maintenance efforts, especially activity and nutrition.
The brain is also the human organ with the higher metabolic costs, it consumes at least 37% of the oxygen intake. The brain is not a muscle but without constant exercise/use it will not develop to its full potential. This is of extreme importance until the end of adolescence and later on to prevent mental decline with age. New evidence has also demonstrated that there is a great level of plasticity (functional restructuring) in this organ, that is not limited by age, this demonstrates that when dealing with capabilities and functionalities not all is yet understood.
Psychiatry, a specialized field of medicine, devoted to the study and treatment of mental disorders, provided the first theoretical models of the workings of the mind, which are of extreme importance to most medical uses of hypnosis.
Psychiatry, allied with neurophysiology, deals with the biological psycho-dynamic systems of the brain. It has not only provided some insights into the biological events of hypnosis, but has also helped to provide a clear model to understand the chemical workings of the brain and even to some degree, replicate hypnotic or trance states using drugs. So far these drug-induced states have no direct relation to complex hypnotic phenomena, beyond a superficial similitude.
Psychosis, a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a "loss of contact with reality" is clearly related to what we find on hypnosis, there are many examples of psychosis events that closely resemble a hypnotic experience, for example in the case of Folie à deux symptoms of a delusional belief are transmitted from one individual to another, similarly to what occurs in a hypnotic session. It would be acceptable to describe hypnosis as the induction a light psychotic event, light because contact with reality is not fully lost and so it can be a controlled and directed by the voluntary participation of the subject.
Psychiatry can be divided into a multitude of sub-disciplines. When we presented the history of hypnosis we refrained to go deeply into parallelism and interconnections, but in this section, that is directed into the shared subject of the human mind, it seems proper to make clear to the reader that hypnosis as a tool for mental illnesses predates psychiatry. Psychiatry by the 1900s was generally composed by asylum superintendents, asylums were patients received no medical care for their still undiagnosed mental illnesses. Only by 1912, Emil Kraepelin can be said to have laid the foundations to modern scientific psychiatry.
In the movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956, that starts by laying a plot based on the premise of the sanity of the hero, Dr. Miles Bennell a general practitioner played by Kevin McCarthy is a good example of its times, There, in an interesting dialog between the hero and Dr. Dan 'Danny' Kauffman a psychiatrist, that he refers as a "Witch doctor" (and later on, the psychiatrist to himself) and directly mentions his dabbling into hypnosis. Taking in consideration the time it is interesting that so little has changed.
Psychotherapy on the other hand is at the fringe of what we would define as a science and is very close to hypnosis itself, it attempts to extrapolate from factual data mental processes that guide human behavior and paths to resolve them, note that psychotherapy practitioners can have a number of different qualifications, including psychiatry, clinical psychology, counseling psychology, clinical or psychiatric social work, mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, rehabilitation counseling, school counseling, play therapy, music therapy, art therapy, drama therapy, dance/movement therapy, occupational therapy, psychiatric nursing, psychoanalysis and those from other psychotherapies. It may be legally regulated, voluntarily regulated or unregulated, depending on the jurisdiction and even on the relation between the partitioner and the patient. Requirements of these professions vary, but often require graduate school and supervised clinical experience. Psychotherapy in Europe is increasingly being seen as an independent profession, rather than being restricted to being practiced only by psychologists and psychiatrists as is stipulated in some countries.
Hypnotic phenomena is clearly interlinked with our understanding of mental processes, and it has points of contact with many fields of incipience but it is this extremely complex intermix of science and the power of belief that makes it a very complex subject one that science not only has a hard time to come to consensus but even in establishing an interconnection. The extremely fragmented field of psychology also does not help. To a degree the area of pure scientific knowledge (testable experience in place other non-fully empirical modeling) that seems to have more points of contact with the now more popular field of hypnosis, hypnotherapy, is psychoneuroimmunology, itself a interdisciplinary approach that was stated in 1975 focused in how emotional experiences affect the immune system.
Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system. Traditionally it has been seen as a branch of biology. However, it is currently an interdisciplinary science that collaborates with other fields such as psychology, mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, computer science, philosophy, and medicine. The term neurobiology is usually interchangeable with the term neuroscience, although the former refers specifically to the biology of the nervous system, whereas the latter refers to the entire science of the nervous system.
Most of the knowledge on the inner working of the brain comes from a fantastic invention, by Hans Berger, whose first practical application is dated as early as 1920. This was the brain sensor apparatus that evolved into the electroencephalography (EEG), and is in common use in neuroscience laboratories around the world, and is a non-invasive procedure, comfortable and using passive technology (sensors to capture the minute electrical signals that brainwave activity produces). We owe much of what we know about the brain activity to this technology, and the ability to measure the electrical activity in the brain in real time as thoughts occur.
Hypnotists are now using this method to determine the state of the subject's brain during sessions. It helps to dynamically shape sessions as to increase their effectiveness, before this type of technology was available only physical cues or direct verbal responses could be used but these only work on lower trance states.
The brain's electrical activity is maintained by billions of neurons. Neurons are electrically charged (or "polarized") by membrane transport proteins that pump ions across their membranes. When a neuron receives a signal from its neighbor via an action potential, it responds by releasing ions into the space outside the cell. Ions of like charge repel each other, and when many ions are pushed out of many neurons at the same time, they can push their neighbors, which in turn push their neighbors, and so on, in a wave. This process is known as volume conduction. When the wave of ions reaches the electrodes on the scalp, they can push or pull electrons on the metal on the electrodes. Since metal conducts the push and pull of electrons easily, the difference in push, or voltage, between any two electrodes can be measured by a voltmeter. Recording these voltages over time gives us the EEG.
Scalp EEG activity shows oscillations at a variety of frequencies. Several of these oscillations have characteristic frequency ranges, spatial distributions and are associated with different states of brain functioning (e.g., waking and the various sleep stages). These oscillations represent synchronized activity over a network of neurons.
These brain waves (cerebral vibrations), range from 0 to 30 Hz per cycle. Variation depend on the level of work being performed by the brain, lower levels indicate more relaxation.
- 0-4 Hz unconsciousness, sleep in long repetitive tasks.
- 4-7 Hz near sleep, drowsiness, or light sleep state, idle mind and has also been associated with inhibition of elicited responses (has been found to spike in situations where a person is actively trying to repress a response or action)
- Relaxed/reflecting state of mind, closing the eyes, 8-12 Hz.
- Alert/working or active, busy or anxious thinking, active concentration, 12-30 Hz.
There are other two wave patterns Gamma and Mu but they do not seem relevant to hypnosis.
Biometrics represents the application of statistics to methods for uniquely recognizing humans based upon one or more intrinsic physical or behavioral traits. In computer science, it has a somewhat different meaning that deals with identity verification and recognition.
Biometric characteristics can be divided in two main classes:
- Physiological are related to the measurement of physiological responses in the body, like heart and respiration rates, eye movements, blinking, galvanic skin response (GSR), facial muscle movement, and body movements.
- Behavioral are related to the behavior of a person. Examples include, but are not limited to typing rhythm, gait, and voice.
Biometrics does not serve to delineate and test specialized brain responses, due to the lag time between the brain decisions and the physiological responses. Not all decisions will result in a detectable physiological response, but biometrics can be useful to differentiate states of mind, to conﬁrm that the brain has already registered and responded to something. For instance monitoring an increased electrical conductivity of the skin, as used in lie detectors, to show an increased mental stress level.
This will become important to the hypnotist as to determine the state of relaxation and compliance to
the inductions. As we have seen there are several instruments that can report the biometrics of a subject, but it common for experienced hypnotists to be able to deduce the trance state of a subject by monitoring the only the facial muscles, the heart rate and voice, with practice this can remove the need for the normal trance testing.
Left brain, right brain
Many areas of the brain are responsible for several functions. The brain also shows great plasticity and some areas even if shared by all humans do have individual characteristics.
linear reasoning and language functions such as grammar and vocabulary often are lateralized to the left hemisphere of the brain. Dyscalculia a neurological syndrome associated with damage to the left temporo-parietal junction is associated with poor numeric manipulation, poor mental arithmetic skill, and the inability to either understand or apply mathematical concepts.
In contrast, prosodic language functions, such as intonation and accentuation, often are lateralized to the right hemisphere of the brain. The processing of visual and audiological stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception, and artistic ability seem to be functions of the right hemisphere.
There is some evidence that the right hemisphere is more involved in processing novel situations, while the left hemisphere is most involved when routine or well rehearsed processing is called for.
Other integrative functions, including arithmetic, binaural sound localization, and emotions (lateralization of emotion), seem more bilaterally controlled.
|Left hemisphere functions||Right hemisphere functions|
|numerical computation (exact calculation, numerical comparison, estimation)
left hemisphere only: direct fact retrieval
|numerical computation (approximate calculation, numerical comparison, estimation)|
|language: grammar/vocabulary, literal||language: intonation/accentuation, prosody, pragmatic, contextual|
Self and reality
Humans are one of only nine species known to pass the mirror test—which tests whether an animal recognizes its reflection as an image of itself—along with all the great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos), Bottlenose dolphins, Asian elephants, European Magpies, and Orcas. However, the usefulness of this test as a true test of consciousness has been disputed, and this may be a matter of degree rather than a sharp divide. Monkeys have been trained to apply abstract rules in tasks.
In any case the mirror test example above is useful to introduce a new term. The term cognition (Latin: cognoscere, "to know", "to conceptualize" or "to recognize") refers to a faculty for the processing of information, it is the scientific term for some mental processes. It refers to information-processing abilities of humans, including perception, learning, remembering, judging, and problem-solving, applying knowledge, and changing preferences. Cognition, or cognitive processes, can be natural or artificial, conscious or unconscious. These processes are analyzed from different perspectives within different contexts, notably in the fields of linguistics, anesthesia, neurology and psychiatry, psychology, philosophy, anthropology, systemics, computer science and creed.
Usage of the term varies in different disciplines; for example in psychology and cognitive science, it usually refers to an information processing view of an individual's psychological functions, but it meaning is distinct when used in a branch of social psychology called social cognition to explain attitudes, attribution and groups dynamics.
Within psychology or philosophy, the concept of cognition is closely related to abstract concepts such as mind, intelligence. In any case, generally cognition is used to refer to the mental functions, mental processes (thoughts) and states of intelligent entities (humans, human organizations and even highly autonomous machines and artificial intelligences).
Perception is an extremely personal faculty. Personal because it is distinct from observer to observer and also because it requires the use of the individual internal references.
The internal references, rely on previous leaned patterns or even evolutionary ones. The capacity for inference, extrapolation or even the expectation will help to determine what is observed. Our brain has a limited capacity to recognize and process changes, if something is not expected it will probably not be noticed unless attention is called to it.
There is also the stroop effect used as a demonstration of the cognitive reaction time of a task. An example of the Stroop effect can be observed on the fact that naming the color of the first set of words is easier and quicker than the second.
On the day to day we rely more not on what we perceive but on the mental construct of reality that is sporadicly updated by what we perceive on a strictly need to refresh and understand basis. We will cover time in detail but how we understand the passing of time it is an easy example, since we can not see time pass (unless we look into a clock), the sense of time passing is highly influenced by other inputs, like the perception of light for example and time measurements will certainly very not only from person to person but from distinct activities, recent studies have also found that environmental colors will affect the perception of time.
For instance humans are wired not for patterns recognition especially faces, both evolutionary and by learning experience. This also creates the inclination most humans have to see faces where one was not intentional depicted. Studies also have shown that the capacity to identify individual across racial traits is diminished if no previous information was learned, proving that we generate internally a mind model of the general human face, this is also a factor to how humans evaluate each other, people tend to do comparisons to what they know and have experienced. We preferentially gravitate toward the known and away from the unknown.
The paper "Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces" Perception 40(5) 628 – 630 by Tangen J M, Murphy S C, Thompson M B, 2011, based on an accidental find in 2011 by a psychology student at the University of Queensland in St Lucia, Australia, seems to indicate that if similar faces are aligned for instance at the eye level, any difference are perceptually accentuated to the point of making the faces appear distorted. This seems to be the same phenomenon that makes us gravitate to and accept things that we are familiar and accustomed to.
Recent studies have demonstrate several evolutionary gender disparities on perceptive capability. That males are more visual oriented and females more emotional oriented is something that was already understood but it shows that males also have more difficulties in processing female emotions by facial queues and are more attuned to specific female vocal ranges.
It is also important to remark on one other consideration, that we also act and react in accordance not only to what is observed or our background factual knowledge of the object or event but also in accordance to a larger context, for instance how we think others will expect us to. That is to say that as a social animal we are bound not by what we ourselves define as an appropriate response but what we expect other to, this of course depends on the familiarity to the input and options and time available for any required response. We also prefer to mimic others when no obvious solution is present. Mimicry (Monkey see, monkey do) is one of the preferred methods humans use learn, we will look into this later on when we address behavior. We will also see later on that this is extremely important in the induction of trance and establishing a proper mind frame for hypnotic phenomena. As a quick example one can provide the very impressive image most of one may have seen one time or another, people collapsing after a person of perceived authority slightly touches them in the head, mostly in a religious context, this response in not a direct result of the touch itself, but of the expectation and mental framework about the proper reaction to that touch.
Other variables are important for perception, like focus or time of exposure. In hypnosis all this factors are important, controlling perception to shape expectations, direct focus and to establish a common knowledge base that ultimately reduces the need to infer intention and execute critical analysis.
Focus and attention
In regards to focus it should be clear to all that we only perceive what we notice, and things that catch our focus are better perceived. Examples of this are for instance on how we respond to colors, or using other senses, like in certain regions TV commercials sound level is increased above the general programs and similar marketing strategies, that permanently demand our attention as a way to be noticed.
Focus can be described as heightened attention to something, we can focus to some degree every sense we have but the most versatile in this regard are vision and sound. Concentration is often connected with focus, concentration is the capacity to exclude all non task relevant perceptual inputs, we can focus without exerting concentration, but using concentration we will permit to process the remaining input faster and better.
The capacity for concentration relies on the fact that even if our brain has dedicated areas most of the conscious thought and attention is task sequential, we can only do one task that requires attention at a time. Multiple tasks can be executed but there will be a degradation of performance.
- Visual queues
So now that we covered that focus and attention are primary directed by the conscious thought (that is how we notice details). It is also important to understand that we are capable of seeing more than what we are consciously aware, and most of what we think we see is not only imagined but at times unconsciously discarded as irrelevant.
Evolution has shaped our visual system, especially how the brain processes visual information to optimize survivability in the environments we inhabit. Colors, movement and pattern repetition and recognition dominates most of the visual functions priorities. This also explains why we as a social animal have an inapt facility to "read" faces, expressions, looks and gestures, it in fact has become of primarily importance to out success as a species. This is what is commonly referred as body language, being aware and understanding this will permit the hypnotist to anticipate conscious thoughts and strengthen control over a subject's focus. This will be important to remember when we introduce the pacing methodology or the importance of the hypnotic session setup.
Suspension of disbelief
Seemingly exclusive to humans, the capacity for the suspension of disbelief, being able to believe something that is known to be false or an illusion, the game of make believe, is extremely important to hypnosis and most types of art, especially those involving fiction and abstraction. This capacity seems to be stronger in children, that is also one of the reasons why hypnosis is easier to perform at earlier ages were the barrier between the imaginary and the real is smaller (the other important factors is the confidence/deference toward adults and lack of experience in dealing with lies).
Consider entering one of those displays in a fair called "haunted house" or similar rides. You know that no harm will come to you, that it all is make believe, but you will cringe and even feel real fear. This is similar to the capacity to ignore small plot holes or factual errors in books, video games, movies or theater plays. You are left with two choices: ignore them or drop out. This is also how hypnosis works. You accept the presentation or exit out, all depending on the value the complete package has to offer you, along with the reward and allure factors, (especially strong when activating emotions), shaping your perceptions to please yourself.
Time perception is also extremely interesting, since the perception of time passing is mostly a subjective thing, we all live in our own personal time. Another interesting thing is that time perception changes with age, more or less in a ratio that is approximately similar to the square root of ones age. The older we get the faster time seems to move. For a detailed look see "The Logarithmic Time Perception Hypothesis" by James Main Kenney (http://www.kafalas.com/Logtime.html).
Since one's time, is a biologic and physiologic state, one is in time or out of time. Time depends on the reality one is experiencing. Biologically speaking we are always in the past, since events in reality are perceived with a biologically imposed delay (of milliseconds). When in a dream, there is rarely the perception of time, in fact dreams happen extremely quickly in "real time", even if we remember them as normal flow of events in accordance with one's personal time. Memory time is also different, time itself does not seem to be a remembered variable but an assumption based on personal general time referential experiences. That is, one does not remember the time it took, but is able to make a good guess, based not specifically to the remembered events but on experience.
In relation to hypnosis time perception is also open to change. Hypnosis can alter time's perception, even as a post-hypnotic suggestion. One amazing factor is that the internal timekeeping can be improved with hypnosis, that it the accuracy of guessing elapsed time.
Expectancy and conditioning
Most of us are aware that expectations can color one's experiences, that the shape and measure of the present is the result of a contrast to a mental plan of the future to come. As we have seen our knowledge base influences what we perceive and how we prioritize attention. Our attention is more limited than we are aware of oftentimes and senses are not only time delayed (we do not strictly sense the present) but can also be barriers between what we understand as reality and what may in fact be reality.
As one matures, one becomes conditioned to expect a consistency in experimental results, this is how we create our mental representation of reality; imagination and beliefs serve to complement what we do not comprehend, are not able to understand or refuse to. We crave stability and security so we tend to conform even when our mind models fail.
As we have seen historically hypnotic phenomena is intrinsically linked with non-factual expectancy, even if it is physiological in nature. This is easy to note from the historical link it has with superstition, mysticism and altered states of consciousness. Even when we look at the claims made by Maximilian Hell in regards to magnet therapy, something that was already claimed by Paracelsus (1493-1541) we can easily find contemporaneous examples of the same set of beliefs, from astrology, to crystal therapy, to nose applications, Hypnopedia (Sleep-learning), magnetic foot-ware or bracelets all seem to work around the simple fact that we have an internal capacity to internalize and even externalize effects that are not based on a physical reality but a believed reality, this has become what medical science identifies as the placebo effect.
The word 'placebo' comes from the Latin for "I will please". It was first used in a medicinal context in the 18th century. In 1785 it was defined as a "commonplace method or medicine" and in 1811 it was defined as "any medicine adapted more to please than to benefit the patient", sometimes with a derogatory implication but not with the implication of no effect.
Placebos drugs and procedures were widespread, constituting the majority of drugs in medicine until the 20th century, and they were sometimes endorsed as necessary deceptions. Beginning in the 1960s, the placebo effect became widely recognized and placebo controlled trials became the norm in the approval of new medications.
In medical research, placebos are given as control treatments and depend on the use of measured deception. This distinction is important because the effects of the test medication (of medical practices) are not contrasted with their in-existence, as modeling the "with" and "without" results, but as "with" or the "believe of with". This of course has several implications even intersecting the subject of faith.
Even in todays medical practice the placebo is well in use. Recent studies demonstrate that prescribing placebo treatments seems to be common and is viewed as ethically permissible. The issue is that often the physicians will prescribe vitamins, over the counter analgesics, sedatives and even antibiotics. Now consider that in the light that for a placebo to be effective the physicians must not tell their patients about the fact.
As of late, researchers have became even more interested in understanding the placebo effect, rather than just controlling for its effects. Archie Cochrane suggested in 1972 "It is important to distinguish the very respectable, conscious use of placebos. The effect of placebos has been shown by randomized controlled trials to be very large. Their use in the correct place is to be encouraged […]".
The basic mechanisms of placebo effects have been investigated since 1978, when it was found that the opioid antagonist naloxone could block placebo painkillers, suggesting that endogenous opioids are involved, and so the notion of mind over body become a scientific fact.
In medicine the placebo effect phenomenon is restricted in its definition, to the intake of a inert substance's resulting in a patient's medical improvement. It is related to the perception and expectation that the patient has; if the substance is viewed as helpful, it can heal, but, if it is viewed as harmful, it can cause negative effects, which is known as the nocebo effect. By the effect, a clear hypnotic phenomena can be leveraged and detected in many other fields for instance in the functioning of the polygraph (apparatus for lie detection via biofeedback) there is a large dependency in the management of expectancy and the conditioning toward its effectiveness, and other hypnotic methodology. This is done as to potentiate and can probably even direct the biologic feedback, eroding self confidence. Even shaping the sequence of questioning will activate emotional connections and responses. In fact in this particular case we can even say there is a symbiosis. This becomes even more clear as hypnosis can also be utilized to subvert the results.
"Recent research by Corcoran, Lewis, and Garver (42) has examined the effects of biofeedback training on suppressing EDR. They found that both hypnosis and biofeedback groups were able to reduce detectability after training as compared to a control group. In another study, Rovner, Raskin, and Kircher (143) reported that subjects who received extensive information about the nature of lie detection and practiced using countermeasures were detected significantly less than subjects without such training. It seems clear that if hypnosis or biofeedback operate as countermeasures, especially with commonly used tests such as CQT, that extensive training would have to accompany their use." - quoted from: Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing: A Research Review and Evaluation Factors Affecting Polygraph Examination Validity. 1983, Chapter 6 (freely available here)
The term that has been used to refer to a variety of aspects of the relationship between the mind and the world with which it interacts. Consciousness has been defined, at one time or another, as: subjective experience; awareness; the ability to experience feelings; wakefulness; having a sense of selfhood; or as the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty of definition, many philosophers believe that there is a basic underlying intuition about consciousness that is shared by nearly all people.
Some of the work done by our brains, day and night, occurs below the conscious awareness threshold, without cognitive thought. For instance, examine closely the work being done in your mind as you read this paragraph, from the mere processing of the visual data before it is transformed into useful information to keeping you erect and breathing.
- The guardian or the critical factor
Conscious thought is therefore the ability to perform a critical analysis over the input we receive from our senses. It is this critical factor that is depressed when under trance and hypnosis, that permits a state of heightened suggestibility and differentiates it from simple conscious autosuggestion as defined by Émile Coué. The deeper you are in trance the less influence the critical factor has to differentiate what is the external reality and mind models of it.
A more in-depth view of coverage of this field is available in the Cognitive Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience wikibook.
As seen before, hypnosis depends exclusively on the power of suggestion, especially in the internalization of those suggestions in the form of acceptance that transforms those external suggestions into self suggestion. This can be achieved at different states of consciousness, but works best if the subject reaches and maintains a hypnogogic state, by entering and deepening a trance. There is a close relation, if not even a equality, between a trance state and an hypnogogic state, the distinction may be a matter of degrees in consciousness awareness or even on how consciousness is directed. Because of this it is not uncommon for the subject to fall into a deep sleep during a hypnosis session.
The hypnogogic state is the transitional state between wakefulness and sleep (i.e., the onset of sleep), originally coined in adjectival form as "hypnagogic" by Alfred Maury. Since the subject is working toward the state from full consciousness it is possible to frame and direct the experience, this distinction is easy to verify when examining the similar hypnopompic state (from sleep to wakefulness), that is for instance at the core of lucid dreaming and the phenomenon of night terrors.
Emotions are an essential part of our mental state, our perception and non-verbal communication. They are triggered by external and internal stimuli, such as one's thoughts or events happening to oneself. Emotions are the brain reaction to stimuli and are usually accompanied by slight or otherwise changes in body language. Emotions are contagious in groups.
Imagine entering a room full of people you have never met. They are casually talking in a relaxed atmosphere, milling about themselves. Look at their faces: some are drawn back, some are smiling, some are polite. All of them gives clues about the conversation they are having and what they are thinking. While you have no connection to them, no understanding of them, their emotions are still easy to tell, because most of us have the capacity to empathize each-others feelings and motivations.
Emotions have a special relationship with the brain regions. The four important parts are: limbic, hypothalamus, the amygdala, and hippocampuses.
- The role of limbic system is very important; it is a set of structures in the brain comprised of the hypothalamus/hippocampus, as well as the amygdala. Actions such as hunger, thirst, and response to pain are controlled by the hypothalamus. It oversees bodily changes like breathing, blood pressure and arousal.
- The hypothalamus receives data input and sends out instructions to the rest of the body through the hypothalamus. It carries it's change of body function through the blood stream; a goose bump is one of the examples of hypothalamus at work.
- The amaygdala is a mass of neurons in either half of the brain in the shape of an almond. When animals have their amygdala stimulated electronically they get very aggressive. When, on the other hand the amygdala is removed, they become very tame and no longer respond to stimuli that would have previously angered them.
- The hyppocampus resembles two horns that curve back from the amygdala. The hippocampus is very important for making, maintaining, and storing memories. It receives information from the senses.
Emotions are the product of millions of years of evolution. They are an important part of our lives, they help us in decision-making as well as survival and reproduction, for the tens of thousands of years in our history. Emotions are also contagious and exponentiated in groups of people (a soccer game, a religious aggregation, a concert or a army) will tend to come together at an emotional state level not only because of the shared experience but by mirroring and empathizing with the persons next to them.
In Chapter 1, we have already established that trance, a state of mind, is the basis of hypnosis. It occurs naturally and it is also present in other animals. Trance states can then be natural or artificially induced and at different degrees, the sensation is similar to being somewhere between sleep and wake states. Trance is not a loss of consciousness, or sleep, but a different state of consciousness, a state where the mind abstracts itself from most external inputs into a state of high concentration (focus) and relaxation.
For example, during the day to day life everybody enters states of trances and most trance states occur organically and without conscious volition. This is especially recognizable for instance when the level of abstraction to the real world becomes evident to oneself, as when reading a book or watching a movie, these all represent low trance states, when the attentions is so focused on a limited array of inputs that conscious mind abstracts itself from outside reality. One can even notice the experiencing of induced emotional states. This is also evident, but not exactly the same as for instance when you misplace your key, become unsure if you locked your door, turned something off as in what is normally refereed as an being in autopilot mode, where you perform actions but later are not aware of them, in that case it is your subconscious that has taken over as it deemed the actions not significant for you to be fully consciously aware of them.
Trance states also seem to increase brain plasticity (neuroplasticity), the intense mind simulation can, especially if repeated, reshape, even optimize, brain functions in a parallel to how physical exercises like lifting weights helps to increase muscle mass. Buddhist practitioners have over the time been examined by neuroscientist to explore what happens and the long terms effects of trance states. The University of Wisconsin researchers led by Richard J. Davidson in 2012 after a 12 years research on hundreds of advanced practitioners of meditation, declared Tibetan monk, confidant of the Dalai Lama and molecular geneticist Matthieu Ricard, 66-year-old, the happiest man in the world. His brain when meditating on compassion can produce levels of gamma waves (that have a link to learning, memorization, attention and consciousness) that broke previous records. The scans showed an overabundant activity in the left prefrontal cortex of his brain that was drastically distinct to its right counterpart, making researches believe that he possess an extraordinary capacity for happiness and a reduced propensity towards negativity.
- Trance levels
- Stage 1
- 90% to 95% of the people can easily reach this Alpha state.
- Stage 2
- 60% to 75% of the people can easily reach this Deep Alpha state.
- Stage 3
- 30% of the people can easily reach this Theta state.
- Stage 4
- 5% to 10% of the people can easily reach this Deep Theta state also refereed in hypnosis as somnambulism.
Sub-levels can be used, but determining trance level, not brain wave activity, is extremely subjective. In the above list deep means the lower half of the relevant brain wave frequency. Trance capacity is genetic and environmental (emotional states and personal history). Experience and repetitions of trances can increase susceptibility.
- Trance induction and sensory modality
Trance-like states are often interpreted as religious ecstasy or visions and can be deliberately induced using a variety of techniques, including prayer, religious rituals, meditation, pranayama (breathwork or breathing exercises), physical exercise, coitus (and/or sex), music, dancing, sweating (e.g. sweat lodge), fasting, thirsting, and the consumption of psychotropic drugs such as cannabis. Sensory modality is the channel or conduit for the induction of the trance. Sometimes an ecstatic experience takes place in occasion of contact with something or somebody perceived as extremely beautiful or holy. It may also happen without any known reason. The particular technique that an individual uses to induce ecstasy is usually one that is associated with that individual's particular religious and cultural traditions. As a result, an ecstatic experience is usually interpreted within the context of a particular individual's religious and cultural traditions. These interpretations often include statements about contact with supernatural or spiritual beings, about receiving new information as a revelation, also religion-related explanations of subsequent change of values, attitudes and behavior (e.g. in case of religious conversion).
Trance states can may be induced or even occur spontaneously by the utilization of different methods: (not an complete listing)
- Auditory: driving through the sense of hearing by chanting, auditory story telling, mantra, overtone singing, drumming and music (especially logarithmic), etc.;,
- Kinesthetic: driving through the sense of feeling and movement through the kinesphere by dance, story telling by movement, mudra, embodying rituals, yoga, breathwork, oxygen deprivation, sexual stimulation etc.;
- Visual: driving through the sense of sight by yantra, visual story telling, mandala, cinema, theater, art, architecture, beauty, strobe lights, form constants, symmetry;
- Olfactory: driving via scent through the sense of smell by perfume, pheromones, incense, flowers, pollen, indeed any scent for which we have an association or memory, etc.;
- Gustatory: driving through the sense of taste and indigestion; including: starvation, herbs, hallucinogens and drugs. As the intake of food and beverage entails intra-bodily chemical reactions through digestion, some infer that all food may be considered medicine or drugs and therefore contribute to the induction of discernible psycho-physical states (see Ancient Medicine). It can be attained through the ingestion of psychoactive drugs such as alcohol and opiates, or psychoactive plants and chemicals such as LSD, 2C-I, peyote, marijuana, mescaline, Salvia Divinorum, MDMA, psychedelic mushrooms, or datura (Jimson weed).
- Disciplines: Yoga, Sufism, meditation;
- Miscellaneously: traumatic accident, sleep deprivation, nitrogen narcosis (deep diving), fever, by the use of a sensory deprivation tank or mind-control techniques, hypnosis, meditation, prayer;
- Naturally occurring: dreams, lucid dreams, euphoria, ecstasy, psychosis as well as purported premonitions, out-of-body experiences, and channeling.
- A quick note about trance and religion
Although religion has been the subject of serious scientific study since at least the late nineteenth century, the study of religion as a cognitive phenomenon is relatively recent. While it often relies upon earlier research within anthropology of religion and sociology of religion, cognitive science of religion considers the results of that work within the context of evolutionary and cognitive theories, transforming what had been seen as moribund disciplines. As such, cognitive science of religion was only made possible by the cognitive revolution of the 1950s and the development, starting in the 1970s, of sociobiology and other approaches explaining human behavior in evolutionary terms, especially evolutionary psychology.
As stated before being in trance can be highly spiritual experience, it is not by chance that several cultures have evolved rites and practices that target this altered state of consciousness, generally referred as transcendence (a trance-like condition or state of being that surpasses physical existence).
If one excludes the religious cultural context we will find hypnotism in most religions and religious practices. Most of this practices are ancestral, and have something to teach in regards to the power of the hypnotic state and what can be achieved in it. There is in fact a very close relation between hypnosis and religion. At the core suggestibility and faith go hand-to-hand as to the possibilities both offer.
Buddhism is one of the major religions that use trance in its practices, in most of its aspects. Curiously enough it is one of the few religions that goes beyond simple moral considerations and worship to focus in self growth, the examination of the self and personal fulfillment, this is more evident in some schools than others, for instance when looking at Tantrism, we can clearly identify hypnotic phenomena. This of course also opens the practices like chants, use of mantras and prays or even faith healing and exorcisms to be analyzed for another view point.
Euphoric states can also produce trance states, especially common, but not exclusively, in African, Aboriginal and Native American cultural practices or derived, most of this practices are also linked with religious rites, for instance in Vodou, Candomblé, Umbanda and many others.
These states of trance are often reached by, in a specific setting, the use of quick repetitive rhythmic movements and percussion sounds. It is also not without cause that trance music is so named.
Relaxation is the preferred method to induce hypnotic states, it is the safest path for the hypnotists since it permits greater consistency and helps establish rapport with the subject.
Relaxation will often, but not as obligatory requirement, involving the closing of eyes, a sitting or laying down comfortable position and general relaxing environment or a mixture of those. Alternatives will require obtaining a heightened focus that permits ignoring unwanted inputs and monitoring so the subject does not collapse unattended since deep trance states will always result in mental and muscular relaxation.
Mantras (Devanāgarī मन्त्र) originated in the Vedic tradition of India, later becoming an essential part of the Hindu tradition and a customary practice within Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. The use of mantras is now widespread throughout various spiritual movements which are based on, or off-shoots of, the practices in the earlier Eastern traditions and religions.
A mantra is constituted by a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation" (reality disassociation and focus). Its use and type varies according to the school and philosophy associated with the mantra. The goal is the induction and deepening of a trance state.
Meditation is a specific outcome of a trance state, it is self induced. After reaching the trance state the mind will become focused on the absent of any conscientious thought, in a higher state of body and mental calm. The base of meditation is concentration, concentrating on a point, a feeling or a sound, but always toward a calmer mindstate, an emptying of thoughts.
Of course that meditation even if absent of conscious thought can bring about, after the practice or even as introspected realization, new clarity and this is for example the objective of Zen practices, the attainment of enlightenment.
Meditation is a self created mental state of trance, there is often mentions of guided meditation, this of course is not the same in cases that the external guidance results in the induction of trance in place of teaching others how to create the state of meditation by themselves, then in becomes an hypnotic session where the subject is simply fallowing instructions and not creating, building and benefiting form an experience created by themselves.
- Spontaneous Amnesia
Deep trance can lead to spontaneous amnesia, where the subject loses all conscious recollection of the time he was under, these memories can also be reactivated by a new suggestion.
Tonic immobility even if common and replicable, is still a very badly understood phenomena, especially in humans. It seems to be triggered by a basic defense strategy, and it can be a probable explanation to the biologic origin of hypnosis and trance. It occurs in a large variety of animals, like birds and sharks, as some sort of subconscious defense strategy.
In chickens, tonic immobility is easily achieved by holding the chicken to the ground and drawing a straight line in front of their beak. Another more complex method is to add to a small plank/board something that simulates two eyes and show it to the bird. Rodents like rabbits and guinea-pigs seems to enter tonic immobility if rapidly rolled over and vigorously stroked (this is for instance observable when cats capture a mouse). The effect can even be induced in a lobster by turning it head down and stroking it's back.
Looking back into the history of hypnosis it seems that early cultures discovered that if a person is lead to sensorial overload by the multitude of methods already covered as trance inducing, the generated stress will create a state of mental confusion that results in a trance but not in the tonic immobility that we observe in other animals. A state that much more similar to what is obtained when using instant inductions, that we will cover later.
There is data that suggest that it may be a relatively frequent phenomenon in victims of sexual abuse, but that is a lack of information to restrict it only to those types of situation. This is covered in more depth in an article from The Spanish Journal of Psychology 2008, Vol. 11, No. 2, 516-521, PDF.
Lucid dreaming is archived by during the normal dream cycle getting to a similar-to-trance state, where you can semi-consciously operate on your dreams at will. The feeling is similar to that of being under hypnosis, and hypnosis should be capable of increasing the probability to have lucid dreams. Exiting a lucid dream tends not to only be dependent on desire, since most people would prefer that the experience lasted longer, it seems dependent on the level of control that is exerted, too much control and one awakes from it. The sensation can be the same under self hypnosis but if one is being hypnotized by someone else the direction of the experience becomes external and can be more rich in details and creativity.
Sleep paralysis occurs when exiting from the sleep state, it is customary to be a simple (not as elaborated as like lucid dream permits) semi-conscious experience. Like the sensation that someone is observing you, that you are falling or being pushed in some form, were any bodily movement by your part is impossible, even if the dream sequence involves some action. Mental framing, similar to that of lucid dreaming can be exerted, and the experience is therefore open to be analyzed and even enjoyment. Note however that there seems not to be any wait to willing exit out, it ends on its own accord, the realization that it is a sleep paralysis event seems to haste the end, if one feeds the belief of what is being experienced, it seems to increase the duration. Most people report the experience as frightening, mostly because the event is unexpected and represents a loss of control (some people enter the event in the middle of an adrenaline rush, almost as the event was already running when one realizes the situation). Sleep paralysis events tend to be repetitious.
The feeling of being restricted can be simulated under hypnosis, as the sensation of movement. As for the level of control you have it depends on the how deep one is under hypnosis, but you can always will your way out of hypnosis, something that is not as simple during sleep paralysis.
Out of body experiences (OBEs)
In general terms out-of-body experience are nothing more than vivid hallucinatory experiences. Similar to a lucid dream, out of body experiences can be created under hypnosis but the phenomena that falls under the OBE label are extremely varied in origin, the only similitudes seems to be restricted to the perceptual experience and all start from a trance level.
OBEs can occur even without a guided induction it seems that some people are predisposed to them. A study by researchers at from the Behavioural Brain Sciences Centre, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, directed by Dr. Jason Braithwaite, have shown in healthy people, that when experiencing OBEs they displayed elevated scores, specifically on measures of neural instability (temporal-lobe) and distortions in the processing of their own bodily information that result in a biased processing of specific information relating, at least in part, to 'the self' in space.
The study also found that that those prone to OBEs find it harder to carry out tasks that involve a transformation of their own body position in space.
Near-death experiences (NDEs)
Near-death experience are vivid hallucinatory experiences, probably resulting from the brain restricted access to needed resources. Similar to when fighter pilots experience high gravitational pressures, that restricts the level blood to the brain, that results in tunnel vision and overall decreased processing of sensory inputs this allied with increased levels of glandular and neural transmissions due to the stress of the situation generates a state like the one experience by a natural occurring OBE.
Hypnosis can, probably from the coma-like state, be used to replicate a similar perceptual experience.
We have so far covered the history of hypnotism and examined related sciences that have helped explore the phenomena. That clinical studies have proven not only the existence but its subjectivity. That we know some of the characteristics of an hypnotic state but not fully its limitations or potentials. That some of the methodologies like that of passes and playing upon the imagination in various ways, used by Mesmer, and that of physical means, such as looking at a bright object, used by Braid are still in use while others have fallen in disuse due to verified inefficacy and the evolution of scientifically understanding but we still do not have a complete theory of the mind that fully explains hypnosis.
The word hypnotism means sleep, the definition of hypnotism implies the artificially production of a trance, and so we can define hypnosis as the highly suggestible cognitive state somewhere between awareness and sleeping, being in a trance. These trance states exist at different and distinct levels. Hence, the distinctive terms like deep hypnosis or awake hypnosis, depend on the level of trance that is archived, since so far no depth limit has been demonstrated. That trance states are easier to reach by a deep mental and muscular relaxation but can also be achieved through a high level of excitement or mental confusion directed toward the promotion of increased mental focus, and so the speculations of Braid seem correct, regarding the key of hypnosis to be the narrowing of subconscious attention thought a high concentrated focus. Hypnotic techniques can and have been used over a vast field of activities, from music and sales to political discourse.
Most people have the idea that has been extensively been popularized that only those that are willing can be hypnotized. This is of course wrong. One must not look no further to how trance states can happen to those that do not actively pursue them (as we already discussed, for instance while driving, reading a book, etc.). The distinction is that there must not be an active resistance, be it conscious or subconscious, to being hypnotized and no one can be hypnotized unless made or directed (even if not consciously aware) to concentrate one's attention for a reasonable length of time, with the exception of re-inductions (once the process of trance is experienced and recognized it becomes easier to return to it in the right context). Concentration of attention, whatever the method of producing hypnotism is an absolutely necessity. Even if trance is the beginning it is not the end.
Hypnotic susceptibility is the degree of responsiveness that one can have to hypnosis, the ease that one has to enter a trance state and avoid resisting the experience. Sometimes in testing hypnotic susceptibility, operators execute tests of acquiescence to directing as to determine resistance and willingness to follow commands to engage in the "role-play", as these are the characteristics that potentiate a good hypnotic subject. There are also other steps to promote susceptibility, but we will cover them in detail later.
To a point hypnosis is a lot easier to understand than one may realize, its a state anyone is already familiar with without necessarily even being aware. In a hypnotic trance people are typically very focused on one stimulus to the exclusion of others, what can be define as a high degree of concentration. It does depend on personal or mental characteristics, experience and expectations of the subject. Some people are more susceptible to some stimulus over others and some are not easily hypnotized as they have created in themselves a high mental resistance to the induction. Repetition, using different approaches can break some of that resistance, like anything else relating to the brain, successful practice will strengthen the mental pathways and streamline the experience.
It is certainly reasonable to expect that people that are forced, unwilling or afraid to experience hypnosis to be harder to hypnotize. Since normally the experience requires mental relaxation and focus, under those types of circumstances achieving this goal becomes unrealistic. One other aspect is the mental frame work of the subject. People that are passive or submissive will be easier to hypnotize than someone that will attempt to take control of the situation. This is why people in a perceived position of authority or confidence will have a leg-up when guiding hypnosis in others. Other factors are the age and sex of the subject and the operator. Age relates to confidence and experience, and it is expected that psychologically a man will be more prone to be guided by a women and vice versa, this falls in the field of expectation and social acceptance due to indoctrination, the cultural context. This will be also something that we will exami9ne in detail later on.
Mental relaxation in hypnosis is a tricky definition. Mental relaxation in general has nothing to do with physical relaxation (even if one that is experiencing physical relaxation is more prone to be also mentally relaxed). In hypnosis, and as said previously, it is akin to a transient focused state of meditation. It start by focusing on a very limited set of inputs and then proceed with the sublimation of those to the utmost minimum, before entering a mindless state (deep meditative state). To the outsider it will seem a deep sleep, almost a coma like state and to the person experiencing it a very pleasurable feeling that is all mentality and introspection, no physical presence at all. This description covers all the ranges of experience of mental relaxation under hypnosis, what is generally defined as the deepening process, but it does not define all the hypnotic states. Experiences show that different phenomena only occurs at different states (or levels) of mental relaxation.
One particular reference must be made about hypnosis and kids. Kids, until a certain age, will always assume that an adult is an authority figure. This fact, allied with their predisposition to use imagination and their lower capacity to make distinction between the real and the imaginary, makes them easier to hypnotize.
So, not only normal mental predispositions but also training and life experiences and the capability to use imagination or what in literary works is defined as suspension of disbelief will be of extreme significance.
People in a hypnotic state are suggestible, meaning that they may be easily influenced. Hypnosis is therefore nothing more than suggestion, the creation of a directed delusion. It is still debatable whether a hypnotized person is fully responsible for their actions, or if they can be influenced to take actions against their will. The question is whether, under the influence of an experienced and intelligent operator, some of the natural barriers that depend only on the subject's character and moral restrictions can be overturned.
Hypnosis can serve as a trigger for psychotic behaviors and suggestions can unintentionally reinforce phobias. It is important to know the subject before doing any hypnotic work, not only to prevent aversion but to increase the acceptance of suggestions.
In a hypothetical situation, taken from a literary source, a hypnotist makes a subject go into a room that has a pistol on a table and fire it at some other person. The subject has been given the information that the pistol is empty (or has blanks), he may even already have performed the action several times as to insure that the suggestion will not be challenged, but under the hypnotic trance, since his critical thinking abilities are depressed, the subject fails to consider the possibility that the pistol has been loaded with live ammunition outside of his view.
As in normal life, there are many ways to influence, or take advantage of someone. Under hypnosis it is then also possible to make one act against his best interests or judgment. Hypnosis even include subliminal suggestions that will accumulate as to shape the subject mindset in the long term. As we will see later re-enforcing (that includes anchoring) is a normal requirement for long lasting effects.
Hypnosis can also result in partial amnesia, that may occur by its own at deeper levels of trance or be induced. Later we will cover some trance testing exercises that can be used to determine not only amnesia but if the subject is/was in fact asleep.
Another fact that should be understood is that hypnosis is not a static field or set of techniques, it will be hard for anyone to validate any new find as a breakthrough or a complete innovation. Change does occur especially from better understanding our brain, from cultural shifts and globalization of available information all contributing to the refinement of methodologies. This is somewhat expected, the human brain (and body) has remained mostly the same since the first Homo sapiens appeared about 200,000 years ago. Except from culture and knowledge, our biologic tool box remains mostly the same.