Hypnosis and the Power of the Mind

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“The hypnotized person will treat every hallucination with great reality.” –G. H. Estabrooks

The human mind is responsible for all of our perceptions of reality. We can talk of an external world, self-existing, “out there.” However, all we really have access to are the perceptions created by the mind after some complex and intricate processing occurs in the brain. What the hypnotic trance shows us is that the mind has incredible power to shape not only the world within, but also the world we see and experience outside of us.

I am lucky to be in possession of one of the seminal works ever written on hypnosis, the book “Hypnotism” by psychologist G. H. Estabrooks. It has long been out of print and used copies carry a hefty price tag. His book covers a wide range of uses of hypnotism from changing ones personality to possible military and intelligence applications. He covers a wide swath of phenomena able to be elicited with a subject in trance and also offers useful theories as a framework to understand what’s going on. My focus here, though, is to ask and start to answer the question: What do these phenomena teach us about the mind and its power to shape our reality? Let us begin!

It’s important to note at the outset that not everyone is a good hypnotic subject. Furthermore, even among good subjects there are variances on what phenomena can be elicited from them. For instance, later we will talk about the contested phenomena of thought transference (telepathy) and community of sensation, whereby a subject can sense anything the hypnotist senses. Apparently, it is only a very few gifted subjects who are capable of such feats. That and, as I will explain later, the beliefs of the hypnotist also play a role in whether or not the subject will obey the command or elicit the phenomenon in question.

Changing Personality

It’s hard to decide where to start this conversation about what the hypnotic trance teaches us about the nature of the mind. However, let’s start with the personality. We like to think our personality has been shaped by years of experience and possibly genetics. But experiments in hypnotism teach us that the personality is a creation of the mind and, therefore, malleable to the effects of hypnotic suggestion. Estabrooks describes a case in which 10 graduating students were interviewed by a company scout to find potential recruits. This initial interview would be followed two weeks later by a secondary interview by regular personnel men at the company.

After interviewing each student, the scout said that his company would probably hire about half of them and he listed the candidates in order of preference. At the bottom of the list was a Mr. Smith, who he said lacked confidence and aggressiveness—two qualities needed in the competitive business world. Estabrooks took this as an opportunity to try an experiment involving hypnotic manipulation of Smith’s personality. For the next two weeks he was hypnotized and given suggestions “to the effect that he would develop complete confidence in his own ability, that he would not hesitate to exercise his initiative and, finally, would work hard and ignore time clocks.”

Two weeks after the scout had come, men from the company showed up and interviewed each 10 applicants again. They agreed with the scout that they would probably hire half of them, but of course they would need to check applicants from other colleges first. However, one applicant could not wait for confirmation. He was top priority and they made him a job offer immediately. That man was Mr. Smith. He was simply too good to pass up, and surely would receive many more offers by other companies.

The scout, Mr. Jones, was puzzled. He asked for another interview with Smith and finally concluded that he or Mr. Smith must have had an off day on their first interview, for he was clearly a perfect fit for the job. Of course, in reality, he was clearly unfit for the job until hypnotic suggestions changed his personality to suit the job. He took the job and Estabrooks reports that he did very well at the company.1

 The historian Brian Inglis wrote about another case of dramatic personality change in his book Trance: A Natural History of Altered States of Mind. A patient at the Salpêtrière hospital in 1884 named Jeanne S was a criminal, violent, and chronic thief. Dr. August Voisin used hypnosis on her, and at first used it to suggest that she perform simple chores like cleaning up her room. When this was successful, he went further and made suggestions that she give up her criminal ways. Two years later, she was a nurse at another hospital and her behavior was irreproachable.2 Indeed, to take this point to the next level, Estabrooks claims that multiple personality disorder can be produced by a kind of hypnotism—that of emotional shock–and, although requiring much time and effort, that multiple personalities can be cultivated under hypnosis.3

Physiological Changes

So if you can drastically change a person’s personality via hypnosis, what else is possible? Well, a hell of a lot more to be sure. You can change a person’s perceptions to an incredible degree.  Not only that, but apparently their physiology also changes to correspond with the belief imparted by the hypnotist, regardless of what the actual objective reality is. For instance, Inglis reports that if the subject is told he has lost his sense of smell and then asked to sniff a bottle of ammonia, the subject will take a deep whiff but have no reaction and no tears will form in his eyes.4 Then there is the case of Professor of Physiology Rudolf Heidenhain who arranged for his brother to be put into trance. Under trance he was given a bottle of ink and told it was beer. He drank it with relish!5

What I’m curious about is how far you could take an experiment like the ink experiment. My intuition is that the ink acted upon his body as if it were actually beer. In other words, his belief created the reality of his experience (both mental in that he tasted beer, but also in his body’s physiological reaction) regardless of what the objective facts were. It would be interesting, although unethical, to push such an experiment to its limits. What I’m thinking here is of giving someone a substance that is toxic in large doses, but telling them in trance that it’s a delicious cup of tea. If my interpretation is correct, they would be able to drink copious amounts of the tea without ill effect. Indeed, they should be energized by it! Of course, if I’m not right or anything goes wrong—like the subject not fully taking the suggestion or picking up on doubts in the hypnotist’s mind—it could end in disaster. So a better experiment along these lines would be to use alcohol and tell the subject that it is water. Then proceed to give him copious amounts of Vodka and, if he can drink it without showing signs of drunkenness then we can conclude that the Vodka is acting upon his body as if it were actually water. Estabrooks, incidentally, reports that such an experiment has been done successfully, but I’d like to see it replicated for good measure.

We know from other experiments that the body reacts based upon the belief imparted to them and not by the objective reality of the phenomenon. The psychologist Joseph Delboeuf used a red hot iron bar to brand a woman on both arms. Before he did this, he suggested that she would feel pain only in her left arm. Afterwards, he bandaged both arms. The following day he removed the bandages to discover that only the left arm was blistered. The right arm showed the outline of the iron bar, but was not blistered by the heat as it should have been.6

Indeed, immunity to pain and burning have been reported effects of trance. For instance, hot coals have been held in the entranced person’s hands, lit matches held under their fingers, or cigarettes put out on their skin without any pain nor effects of burning. Surgery has been performed without pain as well.7

The power of the mind over the body is quite remarkable. A suggestion to an alcoholic that any time he takes a drink of alcohol it will taste vile and he will be sick to his stomach will result in him vomiting when he tries to drink again. All kinds of physical ailments have been cured through hypnotic suggestion as well. The doctor Richard Willard was successful in using hypnosis and imagery techniques to enlarge the breasts of women. 85% of the women in his experiment had a significant enlargement of their breasts, and 46% had to buy a larger brassiere.8

So, in essence, the mind and its beliefs shape not only your mental world of thoughts, but also shape the physical reality of your body itself. If you want to go really far out in the borderlands, you may even suggest that the mind is capable of shaping the objective (we’ll get to subjective hallucinations in a minute) external world outside of the body. Physical mediums have been known to go into trance and hold séances where objects levitate in the air, objects are apported or materialized in the room, and all sorts of other interesting physical phenomena occur. The predominant theory among practitioners is that “spirits” working through the medium are responsible, but it may in fact be due to a psychokinetic ability of the mind.9

Hallucinations

Let us now turn our attention to the fascinating topic of hallucinations induced by hypnotic suggestion. Both positive and negative hallucinations are possible. A positive hallucination implies seeing or perceiving objects that are not really there, and a negative one implies failure to see or perceive objects or people that are really there. It’s important to note, too, that these hallucinations don’t have to be confined to the trance state. Any hallucination you can induce in the trance state can also be produced via post-hypnotic suggestion. This is simply telling the person that they will see something after awakening from trance—and you can even specify the time the hallucination is to occur; it could be in an hour or a week later.

You can tell someone, for instance, that when they awaken and see a certain object, like the ace of spades, they will see a friendly dog come in through the door. Upon awakening from hypnosis and shown the ace of spades, they will indeed see a dog come in through the door and proceed to pat the phantom dog as if it is really there. Indeed, they experience it as really being there and the illusion can affect all sensory modalities.

On the negative side, things get a little more interesting. That’s because it seems as if to render an object or person invisible, the subject has to be able to distinguish the object from other objects. In other words, they must first perceive the object that is supposed to be invisible in order to exclude it from perceptual awareness. Albert Moll showed this curious fact in an ingenious experiment:

“I took a match and marked its end with a spot of ink. I then suggested that the match was invisible. I took twenty-nine other matches and put the whole thirty on the table in such a manner that X. [the subject] could see the ink spot. To my question X. replied that there were only twenty-nine matches on the table. I then, while X.’s eyes were turned away, moved the marked match so that X. could not see the spot. He looked at the matches and said there were thirty of them. Thus the marked match was only invisible as long as X. could distinguish it from the others.”10

In essence, your brain must filter out the object that is supposed to be invisible. However, if your brain cannot distinguish that object among the objects in your field of view, then it cannot render it invisible to conscious awareness. Alan Gauld has remarked astutely on his observations of people undergoing negative hallucinations and notes that their reactions are not all the same. He says,

“Some have appeared most realistically frightened and bewildered on seeing an object carried through the air by an “invisible” person. Others have very noticeably kept their eyes averted from the invisible person, looking anywhere but at him or near him. They certainly in some sense knew where he was.”11

Suffice it to say, on the positive hallucination side, the subject will act in every way as if he is really seeing, hearing, and touching what it is you suggested would be there. If you tell him that when he opens his eyes there will be a friendly cat on the table, then he will see it, pet it, play with it etc… However, if you tell him a mean dog is there he will appear frightened and attempt to retreat. Tell him that the president of the United States is there and they will act accordingly. Estabrooks actually carried out such an experiment.

He gave two friends of his who were good hypnotic subjects the post-hypnotic suggestion that the Prime Minister would show up to a party they were all invited to at a specified time. Later while attending the party, at the appointed time, one of the friends went to the door and welcomed in the Prime Minister. The friends were obviously honored by his presence. They served him drinks and the two friends questioned him on all sorts of political issues. The prime minister must have had some good responses because Estabrooks says they were occasionally thrown into bouts of laughter at his witty remarks.

Estabrooks describes how uncanny it is to watch someone having a conversation with an empty chair. Apparently they really saw the Prime Minister sitting there and heard his responses to their questions. They acted in every way as if the hallucination were absolutely and completely real.

What this shows us is that what we see ‘out there’ in reality is really just a projection of the mind which we hope corresponds to an objective self-existing reality outside of ourselves. Normally we can ascertain this based on the agreement of others with our own perceptions. What hypnosis shows us is that this perception of external reality can change in a heartbeat if a powerful enough belief is instilled in the deeper reaches of the mind. On the fringes of this thought line, one might ask whether or not this reality that we all experience is nothing but a collective hallucination of the mind. Then the question becomes who or what programmed the belief in this world into all living minds. 

The positive and negative hallucinations induced by hypnotic suggestion raises many intriguing questions which I hope some practicing hypnotists can answer. I wonder what would happen if you made someone believe there was a dog on the table, and then ran your hand through the space where the subject is perceiving the dog. Would the subject see your hand passing through the seemingly solid matter of the dog? Or would he see the dog being pushed aside (knocked off the table) by your hand? Would you be able to remove the hallucination without putting him back into trance and telling him there is no dog? What if everyone in the room insisted there was no dog there. Would he then realize it was a hallucination himself?

On the negative hallucination end, what if you told a subject that a certain person in the room was invisible and then put a clock behind the invisible person’s back. Would they be able to ‘see through’, as it were, the man’s body and tell you the time on the clock? What if you had the invisible person standing right in front of the only doorway into the room, and then told the subject to exit the room. Would they bump into the person and be completely bewildered as to why they were ‘bumping into’ thin air?

The Power of Post-Hypnotic Suggestion

The next part of our discussion brings up the question of free-will. A post-hypnotic suggestion seems to be overwhelmingly strong. For instance, you can tell the subject under hypnosis that when you tap three times on the table with your pencil, the subject will have an irresistible desire to take off his shoe. Then he is awakened to a normal state of mind and the hypnotist taps three times with his pencil on the table. The subject, then, has a strong desire to remove his shoe. He may consciously fight this desire, unsure of why he feels this compulsion and maybe realizing that it’s a strange thing to do. However, he will inevitably do it. He may walk back and forth, run his hands through his hair and such, but eventually he capitulates and takes off his shoe—so strong is the unconscious desire.

Indeed, so strong can these posthypnotic suggestions be that even if the person is aware that what he wants to do is the result of a posthypnotic suggestion, he cannot resist. Estabrooks describes a case in which a subject was hypnotized and told that when the hypnotist lighted his cigarette, the subject would take the ace of spades from the pack of cards on the table and hand it to the hypnotist. After awakening the subject, the hypnotist lit up a cigarette. The subject reached over for the pack of cards. However, the subject was familiar with hypnosis and rightly guessed that his inclination to give the hypnotist the ace of spades was a hypnotic suggestion. The hypnotist informed him that he was correct. The subject said that he would not do it and accepted a bet from the hypnotist for fifty cents that he, in fact, would. The subject became restless and wondered around the room, obviously struggling with an innate desire. After an hour and a half of frustrating resistance, he collected his fifty cents. However, afterwards, he found that he was unable to work and was haunted by the ace of spades. He finally went back to the office, got in and got the ace of spades with the help of the janitor, and handed over the card plus a one dollar bill to the hypnotist at his home.

A similar case reported by Estabrooks is that of a subject who in a deep trance was told to drink a glass of whiskey. The subject not only wasn’t a drinker, but was a prohibitionist and so disapproved of drinking alcohol. He refused the command. However, the next day he came back to the hypnotist because all day long he had felt an urge to visit every saloon he passed and have a glass of whiskey. This seemed crazy to him, obviously. Fortunately, the hypnotist wasted no time in rehypnotizing him and removing the suggestion.

Another funny example Estabrooks gives is the posthypnotic suggestion that on awakening the subject was to go over and insist upon sitting in Brown’s chair. The subject and Brown hardly knew each other. When the subject awakened, he paused for a moment before walking over to Brown and politely asking if he could sit in his chair. When Brown refused this request the subject, without saying a word, took Brown by the shoulders and literally threw him out of the chair! “Then he sat down muttering savagely that if Brown so much as opened his mouth he’d send him through the window as well.”12 Well, he did say to insist upon sitting in Brown’s chair. Give him some credit; at least he tried to give Brown a chance do things the easy way. But one thing’s for sure—he was going to sit in that fucking chair no matter what!

If these subconscious commands given by the hypnotist are that powerful to the point where resistance is futile, it makes you wonder how much of our lives and actions are not really under our conscious control, but under the control of deep-seated beliefs and ideas that have been imprinted on our minds. How much of our actions are driven by compulsions to act from the subconscious mind? After all, ideas and thoughts just pop into our minds. You don’t know what you’re going to think next. Any minute you could get the urge to do something. Are you consciously choosing these ideas and urgings?

Another interesting aspect of post-hypnotic suggestions is the excuses subjects will give for performing seemingly illogical, or odd, actions. Estabrooks gives the example of a subject who was told that after awakening, when the hypnotist (Estabrooks) sat at the piano the subject was to go to the bookshelf and select the third book from the left hand side of the second row from the top and turn to page 127 and read the first paragraph. Although the subject did not remember what had been told to him under hypnosis, he duly picked up the correct book and started reading after the hypnotist sat at the piano. The book was a textbook on biology. When questioned by the hypnotist as to why he was reading to him, the subject replied that he had had an argument the day before with a professor about the action of chromosomes in reduction-division and thought Estabrooks could help him out. Upon investigation, it was clear that this was quite untrue. He had had no argument the day before with his professor about the action of chromosomes. This was just an excuse to justify his actions. Indeed, the subject acting upon posthypnotic suggestions will always conjure up a rational explanation for their actions—even if positively untrue. As another example, the psychiatrist Jule Eisenbud said that he had been successful in getting patients to perform a post-hypnotic suggestion to call him at late hours of the night. Consciously, they knew they shouldn’t be disturbing him at such hours. However, they would make the call and produce “obviously trumped-up pretexts for making their calls.”13

One wonders in such cases if the subject actually believes the reasons they give, or if they know they are lying but give the excuse anyway to not look stupid?  

And this sort of rationalization and justification doesn’t just work in the case of actions, but also false beliefs or false memories imparted by the hypnotist. Estabrooks describes a subject who was only 25 at the time being told under hypnosis that he served in WWII as Captain G. N. Smith. After awakening and the subject of war being brought up, he volunteered the information given above that he was in the war. When told that he would have to be older to have served as a captain in the war, he maintained that he was older and continued to defend his belief (imposed memory) with a beautiful series of lies even when pointed out how ridiculous it was.

Speaking of implanting false beliefs, Estabrooks really liked to fuck with people using hypnosis. He tells a story of having put a friend of his, let’s call him Steve, in trance. He gave Steve two posthypnotic suggestions. One was that upon awakening from trance he would think Brown, who they would meet up with later, was a delusional mental patient who had been released for the day. The other was that Steve would remember having been in another city that afternoon playing bridge with another friend, Black. He then took Steve (still in trance, but acting normally as he had been coached to do) to meet Brown. The three of them spent the afternoon together in Oxford and at a certain point Estabrooks told Steve to wake up. So he snapped out of trance and, after regaining his composure and bearings, carried on a conversation about sports. Estabrooks then asked where Steve had been that afternoon. He replied, of course, that he had been playing bridge with his friend Black in London. Of course, Brown rightly shot back that he had been with them in Oxford all afternoon. But you can see where this is going. Steve now thinks Brown is a delusional mental patient and really gives him a delightful ragging. Later, they drove to Black’s house and Black had also been coached by Estabrooks under trance to be in on the plot. I won’t go through all the details of the event, but let’s just say that Estabrooks really took Brown through a Mind-fuck that day. 

Another fascinating part of this is that you can train a hypnotic subject to go back into trance on cue—such as when the hypnotist touches his right earlobe or when he taps his pencil on a desk three times. Not only that, but through suggestion you can remove all knowledge of ever having been hypnotized and make it impossible for anyone else to hypnotize him. Estabrooks gives a fascinating example of sitting down with a subject and talking about a boxing match. Then he taps three times with a pencil on the table and the subject immediately goes into trance. After experimenting with the trance state for, let’s say half an hour, the hypnotist wakes him up and he immediately starts talking about the boxing match right where he left off before being put into trance. He has no memory of being in trance. He has, in fact, lost time. If asked what he knows about hypnotism he will look surprised and say he knows nothing of the subject. If asked whether he has ever been hypnotized he will say that he hasn’t. But if the operator again taps three times with his pencil, the subject will immediately go into trance. You can even coach the subject to behave in trance just as they would in the normal waking state. So convincing is this that even a trained psychologist would be unable to tell if he was “awake” or “asleep.”14

Will a Person Do Anything They Are Asked Under Hypnosis?

Before we move on to the psychic phenomena of trance, we must deal with the idea propounded by some modern hypnotists that a person would not do anything in the hypnotic trance state that they wouldn’t do in their normal waking state of consciousness. Estabrooks calls this sheer nonsense, for he has seen respected members of the community make complete fools of themselves on stage during public demonstrations of hypnotism. On at least three of these occasions that he is aware of, the person even tried to beat up the hypnotist afterwards for making them act in such embarrassing ways. He goes on to cite instances where deeply private information was shared under hypnosis, like secret love affairs or fraternity secrets. There is also the case of Professor of Physiology Rudolf Heidenhain, who arranged for his brother to be put into trance. While in trance the suggestion was given to him to cut off his beard which “he had assiduously cultivated for a year.” He did so with a pair of scissors and, suffice it to say, he was not happy when he awakened!

However, this is not always the case. According to the psychiatrist Auguste Forel, sometimes subjects unexpectedly wake up if asked to behave in a way they do not approve of.15 If the hypnotist is ingenious enough in his suggestions, though, he may be able to elicit the action that he wants. The psychologist Hans Eysenck reported a case in which the hypnotist suggested to a woman that she take her clothes off. She immediately came out of trance and slapped him in his face. However, Eysenck suggested that if he had been craftier in his suggestions, then he could have gotten the desired result. He should have gone about it by first suggesting and getting her to hallucinate that he was a woman friend of the girl. Then he could have said it was getting late and, as they had to get up early, they had better take their clothes off and go to bed.16

In getting a subject to undertake a certain action, or perform a certain feat, there’s also the curious aspect of the hypnotist’s own belief in the matter. If a hypnotist himself believes that the phenomenon can be produced then the subject will comply, but if he doesn’t believe then the subject will not comply. Estabrooks, citing Sidis’s Psychology of Suggestion, puts it more succinctly, “the subject will resist a suggestion if he has the least idea that the operator does not fully expect him to comply. If the hypnotist makes his suggestions in a firm voice which does not express the slightest doubt as to their acceptance, the order will be obeyed.”17 He points out, for instance, that some hypnotists have been successful in attempts to have their subjects carry out criminal or dangerous acts, whereas other hypnotist have had negative results. As far as Estabrooks is concerned, this has to do with operator attitude regarding the matter. If the hypnotist doesn’t fully believe the subject will do it, then the subject realizes this and behaves accordingly.

This may be intimately related to the experimenter effect in parapsychological studies. The most famous example is that of Marilyn Schlitz and Richard Wiseman in their identical experiments to test whether or not subjects had a ‘sense’ that they were being stared at. They conducted their experiments in the same location, using the same method and equipment, and used participants from the same population (mostly undergraduate psychology students). A subject would sit in a room with a camera situated in front of them transmitting a live video feed to a TV monitor in another room. After being taken to the room by the experimenter and hooked up with electrodes to measure Electrodermal activity of the skin, at randomly determined times the experimenter—either Schlitz or Wiseman—would stare at them via the TV monitor. Electrodermal activity of the skin was measured throughout the trial to determine if their body somehow “sensed” they were being stared at. Heightened electrodermal activity when the experimenter was staring at them via the video feed vs when they were not staring would indicate an effect. It was found that subjects who were stared at by Schlitz, who believes in psychic phenomena, showed a statistically significant effect for heightened electrodermal activity during periods of staring vs non-staring periods. However, subjects stared at by Richard Wiseman, a renowned sceptic of psychic phenomena, did not show any statistical difference between staring and non-staring periods.18

One more point of interest is that Estabrooks points out that strong emotion can make people suggestible and can be a form of hypnosis itself. For example, someone frightened by a cat as a child later develops a phobia of cats, but forgets the original experience which led to the phobia. This is similar to a post-hypnotic suggestion. The strong emotion generated by that event as a child imprints the fear of cats on the child’s brain. Estabrooks also relates strong emotion to the power of dictators over populations. He says, “You are much more suggestible when your emotions are aroused, when you are really angry or really afraid.”19 That is why dictators often appeal to the baser emotions of fear and anger—in Hitler’s case hatred of the Jews.

Psychic Phenomena

As far as feats of the mind are concerned, we’ve only skimmed the surface. Oh, I wish I had time to cover it all, but we will skip past such fascinating topics as the incredible recall of memory in trance that one cannot consciously remember, and the ability to be age regressed so that you speak, act, and have the intelligence of a younger you. Let us now turn our attention to psychic phenomena demonstrated in the trance state.

First, there is the finding that subjects will sometimes respond to commands that are not spoken, but thought. There are reports in the literature of hypnotists who give commands mentally which are obeyed by the subject. So, William Scoresby reported that when he mentally commanded his subject not to get out of her chair, she would be surprised to find that she could not leave it.20 A related phenomenon is the ability of the hypnotist to put a subject into hypnotic trance at a distance. Gauld reports that Pierre Janet and Dr. Gibert of Le Havre ran a series of experiments involving 25 trials, of which 18 were successful. The subject was a patient of Gibert’s named Léonie (Mme. B.). A success was recorded if within a few minutes of the hypnotist willing her to do so, she fell into a state of hypnotic sleep. The hypnotist’s distance from her ranged from a quarter of a mile to a mile away. Upon successfully being willed into hypnotic sleep, she would sometimes even obey a subsequent willed command to come to the hypnotist’s house.21

Now, the details of the experiment are not clearly spelled out in the works that I have consulted on the matter. However, I assume that one of them mentally concentrated on an image of her going to sleep at Gibert’s house (the location reported by Inglis), while the other, or maybe a collaborator, watched her in another building up to a mile away and noted the time she fell into trance. For this to be methodologically sound, whoever was keeping an eye on her in the other building must not have had any idea when the hypnotist would begin his willing. Gauld does say that additional successful experiments were conducted with the help of Paul Janet, Jules Janet, F.W.H. Myers, and others who, Gauld says, were gentlemen “well aware of the need to make trials at irregular intervals and to beware of the possibility that Mme. B. might pick up cues from their own behavior.”22

Besides the astounding finding that some subjects can respond to mental unspoken commands, there is also the curious phenomenon of “community of sensation.” Through some suggestion or another, the subject can be made to believe that they will sense whatever the hypnotist senses. The famed naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace tried such an experiment. He made a “chain of several persons” with himself at one end and the subject at the other end. Wallace describes how,

“When, in perfect silence, I was pinched or pricked, he would immediately put his hand to the corresponding part of his own body, and complain of being pinched or pricked too. If I put a lump of sugar or salt in my mouth, he immediately went through the action of sucking, and soon showed by gestures and words of the most expressive nature what it was I was tasting. I have never to this day been satisfied with any of the explanations given of this fact by our physiologists for they resolve themselves into this, that the boy neither felt nor tasted anything, but acquired a knowledge of what I was feeling and tasting by a preternatural acuteness of hearing. That he had any such preternatural acuteness was, however, contrary to all my experience, and the experiment was tried so as expressly to prevent his gaining any knowledge of what I felt or touched by means of the ordinary senses.”23

Of course, due to the inherent flaw in his experiment—being in the same room as the subject—the sceptics have a point. It would be far better for the hypnotist to completely conceal himself from the sensory awareness of the subject. For instance, the explorer William Scoresby did the tasting on the other side of a partition. A little better, but still not perfect. Then there’s the case, reported by Inglis, of Rev. Andrew Gilmour. He had a servant girl who was a good mesmeric (hypnotic) subject. Upon establishing “community of sensation” between himself and the girl, he could go into another room and the girl could tell him what he was tasting in the other room or where he was pinching himself. The Reverend also found this girl to be adept at clairvoyance. He asked friends to record their activities for a day. Then he had his servant girl put into a trance and asked her to look in on these friends and describe what they were doing. The reverend then wrote what the girl had ‘seen’ in a letter to a friend and they reported back confirming its accuracy.24

If ‘traveling clairvoyance’ isn’t enough to pop a blood vessel, how about a little precognition…just for kicks, cause we’re havin’ fun right? I’ll quote the following case from Gauld’s A History of Hypnotism:

“In 1849, Becht and an older medical colleague, Dr. W. H. M., undertook the case of a young lady, Miss M., who was seriously ill with pulmonary tuberculosis. Becht began to magnetize her and she became somnambulic. On 10th April 1850, the patient, being in the somnambulic state, suddenly produced a detailed account of her own forthcoming death-bed and its surroundings (which were quite different from her present surroundings). She dated her death to the 17th January 1851. She also stated that Dr. M. would die in precisely a year. Both deaths occurred as predicted, her own in the circumstances which she had foreseen. According to Zorab both deaths are recorded in the town’s register of deaths.”25

If such tales are to be believed then the mind must extend throughout space and time, and what we experience as our waking consciousness is but a localized spec of this extended mind. One problem is that most of these reports of psychic phenomena date back to the early days of mesmerism, and later, hypnotism. It seems as if these experiments fell out of favor as time went by.

It is my hope that hypnotists will reinvestigate such claims with renewed vigor and better methodology. So important is it to understand the nature and power of the mind, that we must conduct such research. If any hypnotists are interested, I would be glad to critique any of their research methodologies and offer my suggestions as to experiments that could be done to answer some of the questions I have posed in this article. And if any hypnotists have already answered those questions, I hope to hear from them. I can be contacted at danneiman@gmail.com or through my website, https://mysticdan.com

What is quite evident from the collected research is that the mind is incredibly powerful at shaping our experience of reality. In essence if the mind, at a deep level such as in trance, thinks it’s real then it is. This doesn’t just extend to hallucinations and false beliefs, but also impinges on physical reality itself—the physiology of the body. Furthermore there is compelling evidence, which I only mentioned in passing, to suppose that the mind is capable of affecting physical matter beyond the body.

Notes:

  1. Estabrooks pgs. 19-21
  2. Inglis (1989) pg. 88
  3. Estabrooks pgs. 110, 200-204
  4. Inglis (1989) pg. 179
  5. Inglis (1989) pg. 74
  6. Inglis (1989) pg. 80
  7. Inglis (1989), Inglis (2012), Estabrooks, Gauld
  8. Richard
  9. Inglis (2012)
  10. Moll pg. 185
  11. Gauld pg. 447
  12. Estabrooks pg. 139
  13. Inglis (1989) pg. 177
  14. Estabrooks pg. 197
  15. Inglis (1989) pg. 112
  16. Inglis (1989) pg. 173
  17. Estabrooks pgs. 84-85
  18. Wiseman & Schlitz
  19. Estabrooks pg. 215
  20. Inglis (1989) pg. 65
  21. Gauld pgs. 465-466, Inglis (1989) pgs. 106-107
  22. Gauld pg. 466
  23. Wallace pg. 121
  24. Inglis (2012)
  25. Gauld pg. 170

Sources:

Estabrooks, G. H. Hypnotism. New York: Dutton, 1957.

Gauld, A. A History of Hypnotism. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Inglis, B. Natural and Supernatural: A History of the Paranormal from the Earliest Times to 1914. White Crow Books, 2012.

Inglis, B. Trance: A Natural History of Altered States of Mind. London: Grafton Books, 1989.

Moll, A. Hypnotism. London: Walter Scott, 1890

Richard D. Willard M.D. (1977) Breast Enlargement through Visual Imagery and Hypnosis, American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 19:4, 195-200

Wallace, A. R. On Miracles and Modern Spiritualism. London: James Burns, 1875.

Wiseman, R., & Schlitz, M. (1997). Experimenter effects and the remote detection of staring. Journal of Parapsychology, 61(3), 197–208.

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