Friday, 8 November 2013

What's Wrong With Hypnosis?

Last week I re-evaluated my attitude towards Halloween.  It was my opinion that Halloween shouldn't exist.   You know what?  It's still my opinion that Halloween shouldn't exist, but I'm less opposed to it than I was.  Halloween is not the same thing as it was when the celebration originated.  Just as Easter isn't about Jesus to some people, Halloween isn't about evil spirits to the present culture surrounding me.  I believe with the right input, Halloween can be a good holiday to learn about giving, sharing, and self control.

Transitioning into this week, I continued to wonder how much other things presented to me as "evil" as a child are actually innocent?  Enter hypnosis.

Hypnosis is something I don't fully understand.  It's bizarre, almost magical, but real, which makes it intriguing.   Even though I grew up believing that hypnosis was wrong, I'm still entertained when people are hypnotized into thinking that they can't move, or into thinking that they are someone else or an animal.  Cool, I thought, hypnosis is like a present day Jedi-mind-control.  Anyone else with me?

So I watched a few videos on how hypnosis works, only to learn what I should have guessed from the start.

There are different kinds of hypnosis, some more extreme than others.  I'm going to share with you a couple of hypnosis scenarios.  A lot in these scenarios I'm just making up as I go along, however they are just in place to give you some loose reference to what goes on.  If you are aware of anything in these scenarios that are not only false, but would affect the conclusions I'm going to draw afterwards, let me know (I'm a lazy researcher). 

As these scenarios are rather lengthy, feel free to skip them and go on reading with the rest of the article.

Scenario #1:  A patient is visiting a hypnotist to help her quit smoking.

The hypnotist tells the patient to sit down in a nice and comfortable sofa chair.

"Lean back into the chair," says the hypnotist, "and relax.  I want you to be aware that during this process, you will be fully conscious, and you will be able to stop at any time.  However, if this is going to work, you will have to want it to work, you will have to want me to be able to hypnotize you.  Do you understand?"

The patient nods yes, so the hypnotist continues, "I want you to close your eyes, and relax.  Relax.  Breathe deeply.  Relax.  Try to rid your mind of any distractions and focus only on my words.

"Raise your arms in front of you.  Your arms will slowly come together on their own.  Don't fight it, don't help it, just let it.  Your arms are like two giant magnets.  Closer and closer they get, closer and closer.  They are strongly pulling together.  Closer and closer, until they are finally touching.  You may now put down your arms.

"I want you to imagine the feeling you get when you want a cigarette.  Feel the craving, the longing for it.  Imagine that you are holding a cigarette in your hand, but not a lighter.  Do you see the cigarette?"

The patient nods yes.  "Good, now imagine that the cigarette isn't a tube, but a rolled up sheet of paper, and you see the end of the paper.  Imagine that you take the end of the paper and slowly, very slowly, start to unravel the sheet of paper.  You see nothing inside of the cigarette as you unroll it, just more paper.  However, your cigarette isn't getting smaller as you unroll it.  Keep on unrolling it, faster and faster.  The cigarette isn't shrinking, but you have unrolled a long strip of paper.  Now imagine the paper that you have unravelled stretches out into a giant sheet of paper in front of you.  The cigarette goes out of your hand, up, up into the air, paper falling out of it.  Up the cigarette goes, larger and larger the paper grows.  Gradually, the cigarette rises up, up, up, until it's out of sight, the white paper so large it's surrounding you.  You are now inside of the cigarette, and surrounding you is an enormous screen.  

"Imagine on the screen there is a beautiful green forest in front of a magnificent mountain range.  You can feel a nice warm breeze surrounding you.  Smell the nice fresh air.  Breathe in deep.  Focus on that smell.  Keep looking at the mountains in front of you.  Let your sight of the mountains, the smell of the fresh air, the feeling of the warm breeze relax you.  Let it satisfy you.

"Keep on relaxing, breath it all in.  Look around you, focus on your surroundings, memorize it.  Look at the large mountains, now lower your gaze to the tiny pine needles that make up the branch of a nearby tree.  Take it all in, try to remember all of the details.  You are so relaxed, so satisfied in this place.  Now I want you to come to this place whenever you are craving a cigarette.  Let the fresh air remove from you any desire for a cigarette.  Let your subconscious desire this place instead of a cigarette."

Scenario #2:  A street hypnotist is performing in front of a crowd of people.

A circle of people surrounds the hypnotist.  The hypnotist looks around him, undaunted by the large numbers around him.  His voice and body language shows confidence and charisma as he speaks, "I'm looking for a volunteer.  Who here wants to be hypnotized?"

A number of people in the crowd raise their hands.  The hypnotist picks one of the less vocal:  a shy looking young man.

"You sir, could you step forward please?  What's your name sir?"


"Okay Kevin, do you have a good imagination?"

Kevin nods yes.  "Good.  I want you to use your imagination for a while, alright?  I want you to picture yourself as a puppet, and I'm holding the other side of the strings.  Can you do that for me, Kevin?"

Another nod from Kevin.  "Excellent.  Right now the strings are loose, on the ground, can you imagine them there?  Do you see them?  Good.  Now turn around and face away from me, I'm going to tighten these strings.  Okay, hmm... it seems like your body is too big for me to control all at once.  I'm just going to try to control your right arm.  I'll just need to set it in place."

The hypnotist takes Kevin's arm and raises it outwards to the side.  "Alright, okay, now I have my strings in place.  Now I'm going to very slowly raise your right arm with my string.  Very slowly, don't fight it, don't help it, just let it rise with the string."

The hypnotist dramatically raises his own right arm behind Kevin, pretending to hold on to a string.  Some chuckling goes on as Kevin's arm is finally completely over his head.  "Okay good, now attached to your arm is a switch, that I built into you as a puppet.  When I press that switch, my string will loosen and your arm will fall to your side.  Are you ready?"

Kevin nods.  The hypnotist taps Kevin on his right shoulder and Kevin's arm falls to his side, getting some more response from the crowd.  "Okay Kevin, I'm transferring all control of your body back to you.  I no longer hold the strings.  I want you to stand in a relaxed position.  Feet further apart... there you go.  Now I have another switch installed on your body.  It's called the sleep button.  When I tap it, you will fall asleep standing up.  Remember, focus on my voice.  You don't notice the noises around you, only my voice.  Now I want you to relax your body.  Relax your muscles.  There you go.  And sleep!"

The hypnotist taps Kevin on the forehead, which immediately falls to his chin with its eyes closed.  A number of cheers of excitement and surprise come from the crowd.  They are getting noisy, but the hypnotist goes on, confidently and undeterred, "you are drifting down into sleep.  Down, down, down.  Further down you fall into sleep, you can hear nothing but the sound of my voice.  When I snap my fingers like this," the hypnotist snaps his fingers, "you will wake up.  Everything I say, no matter how stupid it may sound, will be true, for I am able to be a puppeteer without strings.  But for now you are sleeping....

"And wake up!"  The hypnotist snaps his fingers and Kevin's eyes open, and his head lifts up groggily.  "Alright Kevin, while you were sleeping I installed voice command over your body, so that I would be able to control more than just one arm.  When I clap my hands you will find that you will not be able to raise your arms."

The hypnotist claps his hands.  "Okay Kevin, try to raise your arms."  A look of frustration comes over Kevin as he is unable to raise his arms.  "Kevin, when I clap my hands, you will be able to raise your arms, but you will forget your first name."

Again the hypnotist claps his hands.  "Now raise your arms."  Kevin raises his arms. "Good, now can you tell me your name?  ...what's your name?"  As if he's searching for a word that is on the tip of his tongue but inaccessible, Kevin finds he doesn't know what his name is.

Needless to say, the second hypnosis was much more intense and creepier than the first one.  I don't know exactly how it works, but here's my attempt at covering the basics in an effort to see what is wrong with hypnosis, if anything.

Correct me if I'm wrong (again, I'm a lazy researcher) but there's essentially three parts to thought:

1.  Conscious thought:  the part of thinking that you have a substantial amount of control over.  It's the foreground of your mind, the thoughts that you can identify.  Right now I am thinking about how to best word the rest of this sentence.

2.  Subconscious thought:  the part of thinking that you have limited control over.  It's the background to your mind, the culmination of beliefs, values, passions, prejudices, etc.

3.  Critical thought.  According to my very little research, critical thought is the part of your thinking that allows your mind to filter acceptable data from unacceptable data.  For instance, if I told you I was actually a really smart and well disguised llama, your critical thinking would filter this data and interpret it as false, and your conscious thought would think that it was funny of me to use "llama" as an example, while subconsciously you are getting bored (okay, maybe that's not how it works, whatever, you get the picture).  Personally, I believe there really isn't too much of a difference between critical thought and conscious thought.

Conscious thought is different than subconscious thought, and they operate on different brainwaves.  That being said, different things affect your conscious than your subconscious.  Your conscious deals with things like logic and reason, while your subconscious deals with things like emotion and images.

Did you catch that last part?  Images.  In my first scenario I had the hypnotist try to install into the patient's subconscious images that would help her quit smoking.  Is there anything wrong with this?

I sure hope not, here is why.  When you get lost in a good book, or a good movie, what are you doing?  Are you not letting your imagination run wild?  It doesn't matter if logic tells you that nobody can survive a fall twelve stories tall and being able to walk away moments later with only a temporary limp.  You accept it as something that's possible in the make-belief world and you are entertained by it.

Or let's say you are nervous about making a speech in front of a large crowd of people.  So you picture the cheers, applause, that you could get from the end, and get courage from it.  People who want to lose weight fantasize about the stuff they will be able to do when thinner as motivation to help them lose weight.  Personally, I see nothing wrong with seeing a person that helps you focus on things, images, to help you fulfill goals.

For those of you who read my scenarios, you recall how even the first, less creepy hypnotist said a few words causing the patients arms to pull together until they were touching.

Do you remember the third part of thought that I mentioned earlier?  Critical thinking.  The patient at this point trusts the hypnotist, so their critical thinking is more accepting of the hypnotist's words as fact.  When the mind can be convinced, to a certain extent, the rest of the body will follow.  This is why placebos work.  Are placebos wrong?

Placebos are often associated with deception (but not always) and it's wrong to deceive, however the patient in the first scenario was not deceived, was she?

I'll let you be the judge of this kind of hypnotherapy is wrong.  However, at this point, until I am given more evidence, I say innocent until proven guilty, and it looks innocent to me.  But that's not the end of my opinion on this matter, I'll come back to it later.

For now, let's take a look at the second scenario I've presented.

The street performing hypnotist had his volunteer go to an altered state of consciousness.  He called it "sleep," but the person wasn't actually sleeping.  This is the creepy and confusing part.  In the first scenario, the patient was completely conscious.  In this example, not only is the patient not completely conscious, but the part of his mind involved with critical thinking is close to completely turned off.

The street hypnotist was able to implant anything into the patient's subconscious, bypassing conscious thought and critical thinking.  The volunteer was in a state of mind that allowed suggestions and statements to enter his mind unhindered.

Okay, so what's wrong with that?  As long as the hypnotist isn't taking advantage of the volunteer, it's all in good fun, right?  That perhaps would be the case, except for the fact that the supernatural exists.  If you don't believe that the supernatural exists, I won't be able to convince you that hypnosis is wrong in any way.

For those of you who accept or are willing to accept that the supernatural is real, here's the deal.  From what I can gather, the more shut off from the physical world one is, the more open they are to the spiritual world.  This can be a good thing.  This is why Christians should go to a quiet place without distractions to pray and talk with God.  This is also why temptations are harder to resist the more out-of-it we are, such as while intoxicated or half-asleep.  Yes, it does go back to how well the critical thinking part of our brain is operating, but there's more to it than that.

If, in the altered state of conscious, the words of a human can enter into one's mind, bypassing conscious thought and critical thinking, so could the influence of the supernatural.  As a Christian, I believe that demons exist.  Demons come in various sizes and strengths.  Some are able to only whisper lies into your subconscious, some have the ability to fully posses a person.  I don't believe a Christian can be fully possessed as the Holy Spirit indwells us.  However, that's not to say demons can't influence us:  they most certainly can, proficiently.

This is one reason why not only hypnosis (as presented in the second scenario), but drunkenness and being intoxicated by certain drugs are wrong.  God wants us to stand against evil, and by letting ourselves fall into an altered state of consciousness we are giving evil spirits licence to wreck havoc in our minds.

Like I said earlier, if our minds could be convinced of something, so follows the body.  Have you ever had a dream in which you injured a certain body part, and felt pain, only to wake up and find that you still have pain in that area?  The pain goes away soon enough because your mind fully conscious is able to discern that it shouldn't be there.  You don't want demons that close the controls that affect your entire body.  I have seen first-hand the effects of demonic possession, and it's not pretty.

"But Stephen," some of you may argue, "demonic possessions have been scientifically explained.  Things that were attributed to demonic possessions are now explained by epilepsy and various disorders."  

Some demonic possessions have been scientifically explained, but take a look at this verse:

Mark 1:34 - and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

If demons were just something along the lines of mental disorders, Jesus wouldn't have had to silence them.  If you discount the existence of the supernatural world, people with mental disorders shouldn't have any special knowledge about someone else, like the fact Jesus was exactly who he said he was:  the Holy One of God.

Luke 4:33-35 - In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
“Be quiet!” Jesus said sternly. “Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down before them all and came out without injuring him.

Even if you still can't be convinced that demonic possessions are real, know this:  Jesus is more powerful than anything in either the physical or spiritual realm, and you want to be on HIS team.

Anyways, back to my original topic:  hypnosis.  Is hypnosis wrong?  Do you remember what I said about how the hypnosis in the first scenario seemed innocent enough?  I stand by that.  However, the first drink of beer is also innocent enough.  There's nothing wrong with having a glass of wine.  Yet, there is a line that is crossed when a person relinquishes control of their ability to maintain clear, conscious thought.  There may not be anything wrong with imagining a mountain and forest to help one get over their smoking habit, but it may lead to doing things that are wrong.

Knowing the power of hypnotists have, are you afraid of being hypnotized?  Well there's good news and there's bad news.  The good news is that generally hypnotists cannot hypnotize the unwilling, the resistant (as far as my research goes, anyway).  To some extent, the person being hypnotized has to co-operate with the hypnotist.  So if you don't want to be hypnotized, don't volunteer, don't play along.  It's generally quite easy to stay away from.

Here's the bad news.  Lies are being fed to your subconscious whether you like it or not throughout the day.  Sometimes it's through subliminal messages, sometimes it's through blatantly accepting what different forms of media are feeding you.  This is why it's important to grow closer to God.

Philippians 4:8 - Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Notice how this verse begins with "whatever is true."

John 14:6 - Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

The best way to battle being mind controlled is to constantly feed on truth.  Read the bible, pray to God.  The closer you get to Jesus, the closer you get to the truth, the better your critical thinking and conscious thinking will be able to discern the truth from lies and protect your subconscious.

Like hypnosis, many Christians are uneasy around the topic of yoga.  They believe it's wrong.  Personally, I see nothing wrong with doing a few stretching and breathing exercises that yoga consists of.  However, yoga, depending on which class you go to, also consists of entering altered mind states.  Sometimes this is done through meditation.

Meditation often involves emptying one's mind of everything, or everything except one thing.  This can be dangerous, and the more empty one's mind is, the more open space demons have to get in.
Yet, meditation can be a good thing as well.  A different sort of mediation is presented in the bible.  

Psalm 145:3 - Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts.
They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
They tell of the power of your awesome works—
    and I will proclaim your great deeds.
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

Meditation is alright when it's on God and the wonderful things he has done.  After all, by doing so, you are (by Philippians 4:8's standards) focusing on the true, noble, right, pure, and lovely.

That being said, it is my personal opinion that we shouldn't need to visit a hypnotist for any reason.  Have a bad/sinful habit?  Focus on Jesus.  We should want to obey him out of appreciation for what he has done for us.  The best way to stop sinning is to rely on Jesus for strength to stop.  

If a person never talks to Jesus, it's possible for them to be a healthy, clear headed, intelligent person getting exactly what they want out of life.  However, there's more to life than just the period of time you are spending on this planet right now.  Jesus provides the way for us to spend eternity with God in paradise.  Without Jesus people will spend eternity in Hell.  Perhaps your critical thinking is filtering my last statement as false.  However, a warm fresh breeze is better than cigarette smoke for your body, the decision to choose Heaven over Hell should be an easy one for you to make.  I may not be a hypnotist, but that won't stop me from trying to present appealing (and true) images to your subconscious.

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