Psychic phenomena under hypnosis

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There are a number of links between the sorts of situations commonly ssociated with hypnosis, and the experience of what are often called 'psychic phenomena,' (herein primarily meaning apparent extrasensory perceptions, nd psychokinesis, but also such related experiences as apparitions mediumistic phenomena, and such strange occurrances as the apparent uspension of death).

psychology, and modern parapsychology, and the study of 'psychic phenomena' in general. The reason for quoting that term here is to emphasize hat the term originally meant such subtleties of mental life as what we today often think of as the'subconscious' or 'unconscious' mind, rather than specifically and exclusively such things as ESP, hauntings, or poltergeists. At he time, it seems there had been less of a feeling that there was a distinct difference in plausibility between 'unconscious processes' and those today generally considered paranormal. Because of this, the term may tend to be mbiguous when used in a discussion where a wide variety of experiences are being included.

Early (circa late 19th century, early 20th century) psychology was largely a philosophical endeavor, which included a wide range of areas of nvestigations that were grouped in ways that might seem a little strange today. For example, the American Society of Psychical Research (ASPR), oday probably thought of mostly as having been a pioneering organization in he study of the paranormal, devoted a great deal of its early efforts (and an xplicit section of its charter) to studying what we today usually consider mundane aspects of hypnosis.

Hypnosis has thus long had a popular traditional association with such controversial psychic phenomena as ESP, PK, poltergeist activity, and lairvoyance, as well as various forms of occultism and some kinds of eligious healing rituals.

Of particular pertinence here, there is also a tenuous but persistent xperimental link between hypnotic processes and laboratory psi. The link is particularly prominent in anecdotal evidence, but this is often of questionable eliability, for reasons that will be described here. It is in the more controlled aboratory psi data that the more truly demonstrable anomalous results appear hat give us cause for further investigation.

First, the difficulty with this sort of experiment, and the kinds of protocols and controls required should be recognized. While the open-minded esearcher of anomalies might not wish to reject the useful subjective verbal eports of hypnotic subjects, they also have to contend with the remarkable ubtlety of non-paranormal (conventional sensory) human perception and ommunication.

Milton Erickson, for example, described an experiment with hearing impaired lip readers.' He discovered that they actually read a much richer panorama of ues than simply the moving lips. The lip reading subjects would sit with their backs to a blackboard on which there were various geometric designs. The designs were then covered with sheets of paper. In front of the lip readers sat a group of non-hearing-impaired participants, who were instructed to look at he blackboard and say and do nothing. Someone else removed the paper overing the geometric symbols, one at a time. The lip readers were instructed to write down anything that they read from the participants in front of them who were observing the geometric figures.

L---1---------Q---------------->------1-------------"O I--------------J '

Erickson applied this insight to his hypnotic technique, by recognizing the significance of messages he himself didn't realize he was giving. A similar nalysis has frequently been applied to anecdotal reports of cases of apparent elepathy, but where 'cold reading', or the skill of gathering information urreptitiously through subtle but conventional sensory clues, appears to be a ikely factor.

Someone might actually suggest that the paranoid psychotic patient in this particular experiment, and some or all of the other hearing-impaired patients, were actually employing some telepathic faculty to some degree. But most nterpretations would probably focus on the use of subtle clues that the participants observing the blackboard were unaware of providing. The nature 3f hypnotic communication ('rapport') is such that the participants are particularly well attuned to the nuances of each other's movement, speech and xpression. This, combined with the lip readers' existing capacity for ttending to subtle body language, contributes to the appearance of an even more extraordinary, even paranormal, information transfer, and makes it more difficult to sort out the precise mechanisms of information transfer involved.

Modern psychological reviews might also focus on the hypothesis that the paranoid psychotic subject was likely dissociating their perception of what hey were reading from their awareness of its source (rather than the obvious ppearance of receiving it from an extrasensory source). This resembles the dissociation theory of how trance mediumistic (trance channelling) behaviors nd some religious experiences (such as hearing the voice of God) may occur, at least in some cases. The concept of cognitive dissociation is a central one to many modern psychological descriptions of hypnotic and peripheral phenomena, as we will see in more detail later. In particular, we will see that dissociation provides an extremely useful description, but not neccessarily an dequate explanation of all of the data.

Today, most psychologists, and virtually all of those investigators known as parapsychologists, are aware of the complexity of human perception under ven conventional circumstances. They would generally tend not to consider a psi hypothesis to be demonstrated in this sort of situation, given the pparently demonstrated correlation of exceptional body language reading kills and high hit rates. This is of course entirely different from demonstrating that a psi faculty is not operating. Just that the experimental ituation in this particular case does not provide evidence of psi.

But there are other experimental results, with protocols more specifically designed to rule out subtle conventional sensory communication. These give us reason to at least consider and test a psi hypothesis, with an eye toward uling out subtle body reading effects, in hypnotic situations. It appears from ome results that under certain kinds of conditions hypnosis may at least be lightly conducive to anomalous information transfer, even when subtle cues re eliminated.

hypnosis as an altered state in which paranormal capacities are provided or nhanced may not be the best or only explanation, even if the psi hypothesis tself were to receive growing experimental support. There is also the rucially important matter of just exactly what it is about the process of hypnotic induction and its effects on the subject that changes hit rates in ertain laboratory psi tests.

[n another section, we briefly review T.X. Barber's work demonstrating that most if not all of the unusual phenomena reported during hypnosis are also een under other conditions. He and his colleague Sheryl Wilson in their work 3n the theory of the 'Fantasy Prone Personality' also provide us with another ink between psi and hypnosis, the observation that there are distinct imilarities in personality variables between people who are excellent hypnotic subjects, and those who report large numbers of psychic xperiences.

[t should be emphasized here that this theory does not support the once popular notion that good hypnotic subjects are simply gullible or neurotic, or otherwise mentally ill; as no correlation with any of these personality variables has ever been determined. Rather, the FPP theory paints a picture of natural visionary individuals with a rich inner life and often extraordinary psychosomatic responses, but who are perfectly well able to distinguish their vivid fantasy life from reality, just as most of us can distinguish a dream from a memory of actual events, most of the time.

[n other words, among the factors that the FPP does NOT correlate with well at all is any diminished capacity for reality testing. This should be born in mind particularly because of the popular connotations of the term 'fantasy-prone,' and the questionable veracity of recollections occurring under hypnotic procedures. A report from an FPP subject is not inherently either more or less reliable than one from other subjects, in or out of hypnosis. Their ich mental life does not neccessarily intrude on their external perceptions, xcept under various very unususal kinds of conditions, such as spontaneous hallucination triggered by hypnotic suggestion.

Additionally, there is the complex psychological question of whether the individual interprets their experience as 'real' or 'imagined.' When an LSD user comes down from their trip, they don't generally continue to believe that heir face was melting or that the sky actually changed to flourescent green during their experience, they distinguish it as an 'altered state.' However, during the trip, the altered perception may be quite convincing.

n hypnotic extraordinary experiences, we find both cases where the ndividual believes that their perceptions were due to an altered state, even hough it seemed real at the time, and those where they believe something quite bizarre actually happened, not the result of an unusual perceptual state. And the two types of cases are not at all easy to distinguish by any means 3ther than relying on the report of the subject.

The particular conditions under which spontaneous hallucination can occur, nd under which they can be confused with external perceptual experiences re not well known, nor is there any known method of distinguishing a spontaneous hallucination from an external sensory perception. Even theories 3f how drug action (e.g. LSD) causes hallucinations are highly speculative, nd spontaneous hallucinations are much more slippery.

Two current theories of spontaneous hallucination concern changes in the hemical environment of endogenous neurotransmitters or neuromodulators which influence perception (endorphins and serotonin being the most ommonly cited); and possibly some unique mode of function of temporal or temporolimbic brain pathways, perhaps influenced by electromagnetic fields.

How these unusual brain conditions relate to psychic phenomena and to other observations related to hypnosis in general is not yet well established.

Article by Todd I. Stark

From the FAQ regarding the scientific study of hypnosis by Todd I. Stark © 1993.

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