3.4. Hypnosis

IF I ASK YOU to taste vinegar as champagne, to feel pleasure when I jab a pin in your arm, or to stare into darkness and contract the pupils of your eyes to an imagined light, or to willfully and really believe something you do not ordinarily believe, just anything, you would find these tasks difficult if not impossible. But if I first put you through the induction procedures of hypnosis, you could accomplish all these things at my asking without any effort whatever.

Why? How can such supererogatory enabling even exist?

It seems a very different company we enter when we go from the familiarity of poetry to the strangeness of hypnosis. For hypnosis is the black sheep of the family of problems which constitute psychology. It wanders in and out of laboratories and carnivals and clinics and village halls like an unwanted anomaly. It never seems to straighten up and resolve itself into the firmer proprieties of scientific theory. Indeed, its very possibility seems a denial of our immediate ideas about conscious self-control on the one hand, and our scientific idea about personality on the other. Yet it should be conspicuous that any theory of consciousness and its origin, if it is to be responsible, must face the difficulty of this deviant type of behavioral control.

I think my answer to the opening question is obvious: hypnosis can cause this extra enabling because it engages the general bicameral paradigm which allows a more absolute control over behavior than is possible with consciousness

In this chapter, I shall even go so far as to maintain that no theory other than the present one makes sense of the basic problem. For if our contemporary mentality is, as most people suppose, an immutable genetically determined characteristic evolved back somewhere in mammalian evolution or before, how can it be so altered as in hypnosis? And that alteration merely at some rather ridiculous ministrations of another person? It is only by rejecting the genetic hypothesis and treating consciousness as a learned cultural ability over the vestigial substrate of an earlier more authoritarian type of behavioral control that such alterations of mind can begin to seem orderly.

The central structure of this chapter, obviously, will be to show how well hypnosis fits the four aspects of the bicameral paradigm. But before I do so, I wish to bring out clearly a most important feature of how hypnosis began in the first place. This is what I have emphasized in I.2 and II.5, the generative force of metaphor in creating new mentality. 

The Paraphrands of Newtonian Forces

Hypnosis, like consciousness, begins at a particular point in history in the paraphrands of a few new metaphors. The first of these metaphors followed Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of the laws of universal gravitation and his use of them to explain the ocean tides under the attraction of the moon. The mysterious attractions and influences and controls between people were then compared to Newtonian gravitational influences. And the comparison resulted in a new (and ridiculous) hypothesis, that there are tides of attraction between all bodies, living and material, that can be called animal gravitation, of which Newton’s gravitation is a special case.1

This is all very explicit in the romantic and turbid writings of a wanton admirer of Newton’s called Anton Mesmer, who began it all. And then came another metaphor, or rather two. Gravitational attraction is similar to magnetic attraction. Therefore, since (in Mesmer’s rhetorical thought) two things similar to a third thing are similar to each other, animal gravitation is like magnetic attraction, and so changes its name to animal magnetism.

Now at last the theory was testable in a scientific way. To demonstrate the existence of these vibrant magnetic tides in and through living things similar to celestial gravitation, Mesmer applied magnets to various hysterical patients, even prefeeding the patients with medicines containing iron so that the magnetism might work better. And it did! The result could not be doubted with the knowledge of his day. Convulsive attacks were produced by the magnets, creating in Mesmer’s words “an artificial ebb and flow” in the body and correcting with its magnetic attraction “the unequal distribution of the nervous fluids confused movement,” thus producing a “harmony of the nerves.” He had “proved” that there are flows of forces between persons as mighty as those that hold the planets in their orbits.

Of course he hadn’t proved anything about any kind of magnetism whatever. He had discovered what Sir James Braid on the metaphier of sleep later called hypnosis. The cures were effective because he had explained his exotic theory to his patients with vigorous conviction. The violent seizures and peculiar twists of sensations at the application of magnets were all due to a cognitive imperative that these things would happen, which they did, constituting a kind of self-perpetuating escalating “proof” that the magnets were working and could effect a cure. We should remember here that just as in ancient Assyria there was no concept of chance and so the casting of lots ‘had’ to be controlled by the gods, so in the eighteenth century there was no concept of suggestion and the result had to be due to the magnets.

Then when it was found that not only magnets, but cups, bread, wood, human beings, and animals to which a magnet had been touched were also efficacious (how false beliefs breed upon each other!), the whole matter jumped over into another metaphor (this is the fourth), that of static electricity, which ? Benjamin Franklin’s kite and all ? was being so much studied at the time. Thus Mesmer thought there was a “magnetic material” that could be transferred to a countless array of objects, just as static electricity can. Human beings in particular could store up and absorb magnetism, particularly Mesmer himself. Just as a carbon rod stroked with fur produces static electricity, so patients were to be stroked by Mesmer. He could now dispense with actual magnets and use his own animal magnetism. By stroking or making passes over the bodies of his patients, as if they were carbon rods, he produced the same results: convulsions, coiling twists of peculiar sensations, and the cure of what later were called hysterical illnesses.

Now it is critical here to realize and to understand what we might call the paraphrandic changes which were going on in the people involved, due to these metaphors. A paraphrand, you will remember, is the projection into a metaphrand of the associations or paraphiers of a metaphier. The metaphrand here is the influences between people. The metaphiers, or what these influences are being compared to, are the inexorable forces of gravitation, magnetism, and electricity. And their paraphiers of absolute compulsions between heavenly bodies, of unstoppable currents from masses of Ley den jars, or of irresistible oceanic tides of magnetism, all these projected back into the metaphrand of interpersonal relationships, actually changing them, changing the psychological nature of the persons involved, immersing them in a sea of uncontrollable control that emanated from the ‘magnetic fluids’ in the doctor’s body, or in objects which had ‘absorbed’ such from him.

It is at least conceivable that what Mesmer was discovering was a different kind of mentality that, given a proper locale, a special education in childhood, a surrounding belief system, and isolation from the rest of us, possibly could have sustained itself as a society not based on ordinary consciousness, where metaphors of energy and irresistible control would assume some of the functions of consciousness. 

How is this even possible? As I have mentioned already, I think Mesmer was clumsily stumbling into a new way of engaging that neurological patterning I have called the general bicameral paradigm with its four aspects: collective cognitive imperative, induction, trance, and archaic authorization. I shall take up each in turn.

The Changing Nature of Hypnotic Man

That the phenomenon of hypnosis is under the control of a collective cognitive imperative or group belief system is clearly demonstrated by its continual changing in history. As beliefs about hypnosis changed, so also its very nature. A few decades after Mesmer, subjects no longer twisted with strange sensations and convulsions. Instead they began spontaneously to speak and reply to questions during their trance state. Nothing like this had happened before. Then, early in the nineteenth century, patients spontaneously began to forget what had happened during the trance,2 something never reported previously. Around 1825, for some unknown reason, persons under hypnosis started to spontaneously diagnose their own illnesses. In the middle of the century, phrenology, the mistaken idea that conformations of the skull indicate mental faculties, became so popular that it actually engulfed hypnosis for a time. Pressure on the scalp over a phrenological area during hypnosis caused the subject to express the faculty controlled by that area (yes, this actually happened), a phenomenon never seen before or since. When the scalp area over the part of the brain supposedly responsible for “veneration” was pressed, the hypnotized subject sunk to his knees in prayer!3 This was so because it was believed to be so.

A little later, Charcot, the greatest psychiatrist of his time, demonstrated to large professional audiences at the Salpetriere that hypnosis was again quite different! Now it had three successive stages: catalepsy, lethargy, and somnambulism. These “physical states” could be changed from one to another by manipulating muscles, or various pressures, or friction on the top of the head. Even rubbing the head over Broca’s area produced aphasia! And then Binet, arriving at the Salpetriere to check on the findings of Charcot, promptly compounded the problem by returning to Mesmer’s magnets and discovering even more bizarre behavior.4 Placing magnets on one side or the other of the body of a hypnotized person, he could flip-flop perceptions, hysterical paralyses, supposed hallucinations, and movements from one side to the other, as if such phenomena were so many iron filings. None of these absurd results was ever found before or since.

It is not simply that the operator, Mesmer or Charcot or whoever, was suggesting to the pliant patient what the operator believed hypnosis to be. Rather, there had been developed within the group in which he worked a cognitive imperative as to what the phenomenon was ‘known’ to be. Such historical changes then clearly show that hypnosis is not a stable response to given stimuli, but changes as do the expectations and preconceptions of a particular age.

What is obvious in history can be shown in a more experimentally controlled way. Previously unheard-of manifestations of hypnosis can be found by simply informing subjects beforehand that such manifestations are expected in hypnosis, that is, are a part of the collective cognitive imperative about the matter. For example, an introductory psychology class was casually told that under hypnosis a subject’s dominant hand cannot be moved. This had never occurred in hypnosis in any era. It was a lie. Nevertheless, when members of the class at a later time were hypnotized, the majority, without any coaching or further suggestion, were unable to move their dominant hand. Out of such studies has come the notion of the “demand characteristics” of the hypnotic situation, that the hypnotized subject exhibits the phenomena which he thinks the hypnotist expects.5 But that expresses it too personally. It is rather what he thinks hypnosis is. And such “demand characteristics,” taken in this way, are of precisely the same nature as what I am calling the collective cognitive imperative.

Another way of seeing the force of the collective imperative is to note its strengthening by crowds. Just as religious feeling and belief is enhanced by crowds in churches, or in oracles by the throngs that attended them, so hypnosis in theaters. It is well known that stage hypnotists with an audience packed to the rafters, reinforcing the collective imperative or expectancy of hypnosis, can produce far more exotic hypnotic phenomena than are found in the isolation of laboratory or clinic.

The Induction

Secondly, the place of an induction procedure in hypnosis is obvious.6 And needs little comment. The variety of techniques in contemporary practice is enormous, but they all share the same narrowing of consciousness, similar to the induction procedures for oracles, or the relationship between a pelestike and a katochos which we looked at in the previous chapters. The subject may be seated or standing or lying down, may be stroked or not, stared at or not, asked to look at a small light or flame or gem, or perhaps a thumbtack on the wall, or at the thumbnail of his own clasped hands, or not ? there are hundreds of variations. But always the operator is trying to confine the subject’; attention to his own voice. “All you hear is my voice and you are getting sleepier and sleepier, etc.” is a common pattern, repeated until the subject, if hypnotized, is unable to open his clasped hands if the operator says he can’t, for example, or cannot move his relaxed arm if the operator so suggests, or cannot remember his name if that is suggested. Such simple suggestions are often used as indications of the success of the hypnosis in its beginning stages.

If the subject is not able to narrow his consciousness in this fashion, if he cannot forget the situation as a whole, if he remains in a state of consciousness of other considerations, such as the room and his relationship to the operator, if he is still narratizing with his analog ‘I’ or ‘seeing’ his metaphor ‘me’ being hypnotized, hypnosis will be unsuccessful. But repeated attempts with such subjects often succeed, showing that the “narrowing” of consciousness in hypnotic induction is partly a learned ability, learned, I should add, on the basis of the aptic structure I have called the general bicameral paradigm. As we saw earlier that the ease with which a katochos can enter an hallucinatory trance improves with practice, so also in hypnosis: even in the most susceptible, the length of the induction and its substances can be radically reduced with repeated sessions.

Trance and Paralogic Compliance

Thirdly, the hypnotic trance is called just that. It is of course usually different from the kind of trance that goes on in other vestiges of the bicameral mind. Individuals do not have true auditory hallucinations, as in the trances of oracles or mediums. That place in the paradigm is taken over by the operator. But there is the same diminution and then absence of normal consciousness. Narratization is severely restricted. The analog ‘P is more or less effaced. The hypnotized subject is not living in a subjective world. He does not introspect as we do, does not know he is hypnotized, and is not constantly monitoring himself as, in an unhypnotized state, he does.  

In recent times, the metaphor of submersion in water is almost invariably used to talk about the trance. Thus there are references to “going under” and to “deep” or “shallow” trances. The hypnotist often tells a subject he is going “deeper and deeper.” It is indeed possible that without the submersion metaphier, the whole phenomenon would be different, particularly in regard to post-hypnotic amnesia. The paraphiers of above and below the surface of water, with its different visual and tactual fields, could be creating a kind of two-world-ness resulting in something similar to state-dependent memory. And the sudden appearance of spontaneous post-hypnotic amnesia in the early nineteenth century may be due to this change from gravitational to submersion metaphors. In other words, spontaneous posthypnotic amnesia may have been a paraphrand of the submersion metaphor. (It is interesting to note that such spontaneous amnesia is presently disappearing from hypnotic phenomena. Possibly, hypnosis has become so familiar as to become a thing in itself, its metaphorical basis wearing away with use, reducing the power of its paraphrands.)

It is in the “deeper” stages of the trance that the most interesting phenomena can be elicited. These are extremely important for any theory of mind to explain. Unless otherwise suggested, the subject is ‘deaf’ to all but the operator’s voice; he does not ‘hear’ other people. Pain can be ‘blocked’ off, or enhanced above normal. So can sensory experience. Emotions can be totally structured by suggestion: told he is about to hear a funny joke, the subject will laugh uproariously at “grass is green.” The subject can somehow control certain automatic responses better than in the normal state at the suggestion of the operator. His sense of identity can be radically changed. He can be made to act as if he were an animal, or an old man, or a child. 

But it is an as-if with a suppression of an it-isn’t. Some extremists in hypnosis have sometimes claimed that when a subject in a trance is told he is now only five or six years old, that an actual regression to that age of childhood occurs. This is clearly untrue. Let me cite one example. The subject had been born in Germany, and emigrated with his family to an English-speaking country at about age eight, at which time he learned English, forgetting most of his German. When the operator suggested to him under ‘deep’ hypnosis that he was only six years old, he displayed all kinds of childish mannerisms, even writing in childish print on a blackboard. Asked in English if he understood English, he childishly explained in English that he could not understand or speak English but only German! He even printed on the blackboard in English that he could not understand a word of English!7 The phenomenon is thus like play acting, not a true regression. It is an uncritical and illogical obedience to the operator and his expectations that is similar to the obedience of a bicameral man to a god.

Another common error made about hypnosis, even in the best modern textbooks, is to suppose that the operator can induce true hallucinations. Some unpublished observations of my own bear to the contrary. After a subject was in deep hypnosis, I went through the motions of giving him a nonexistent vase and asked him to place nonexistent flowers from a table into the vase, saying out loud the color of each one. This was easily done. It was playacting. But giving him a nonexistent book, and asking him to hold it in his hands, to turn to page one and begin reading was a different matter. It could not be play-acted without more creativity than most of us can muster. The subject would readily go through the suggested motions of holding such a book, might stumble through some cliche first phrase or possibly a sentence, but then would complain that the print was blurry, or too difficult to read, or some similar rationalization. Or when asked to describe a picture (nonexistent) on a blank piece of paper, the subject would reply in a halting way if at all, giving only short answers when prodded by questions as to what he saw. If this had been a true hallucination, his eyes would have roamed over the paper and a full description would have been a simple matter ? as it is when schizophrenics describe their visual hallucinations. There were great individual differences here, as might be expected, but the behavior is much more consistent with an as-if hesitant role-taking than with the effortless givenness with which true hallucinations are experienced. 

This point is brought out by another experiment. If a hypnotized person is told to walk across the room, and a chair has been placed in his path, and he is told that there is no chair there, he does not hallucinate the chair out of existence. He simply walks around it. He behaves as if he did not notice it ? which of course he did, since he walked around it. It is interesting here that if unhypnotized subjects are asked to simulate hypnosis in this particular situation, they promptly crash into the chair,8 since they are trying to be consistent with the erroneous view that hypnosis actually changes perceptions.

Hence the important concept of trance logic which has been brought forward to denote this difference.9 This is simply the bland response to absurd logical contradictions. But it is not any kind of logic really, nor simply a trance phenomenon. It is rather what I would prefer to dress up as paralogical compliance to verbally mediated reality. It is paralogic because the rules of logic (which we remember are an external standard of truth, not the way the mind works) are put aside to comply with assertions about reality that are not concretely true. It is a type of behavior found everywhere in the human condition from contemporary religious litanies to various superstitions of tribal societies. But it is particularly pronounced in and centrally characteristic of the mental state of hypnosis. 

It is paralogic compliance that a subject walks around a chair he has been told is not there, rather than crashing into it (logical compliance), and finds nothing illogical in his actions. It is paralogical compliance when a subject says in English that he knows no English and finds nothing amiss in saying so. If our German subject had been simulating hypnosis, he would have shown logical compliance by talking only in what German he could remember or being mute. 

It is paralogic compliance when a subject can accept that the same person is in two locations at the same time. If a hypnotized subject is told that person X is person Y, he will behave accordingly. Then if the real person Y walks into the room, the subject finds it perfectly acceptable that both are person Y. This is similar to the paralogic compliance found today in another vestige of the bicameral mind, schizophrenia. Two patients in a ward may both believe themselves to be the same important or divine person without any feelings of illogicality.10 I suggest that a similar paralogic compliance was also evident in the bicameral era itself, as in treating unmoving idols as living and eating, or the same god as being in several places at one time, or in the multiples of jewel-eyed effigies of the same god-king found side-by-side in the pyramids. Like a bicameral man, the hypnotized subject does not recognize any peculiarities and inconsistencies in his behavior. He cannot ‘see’ contradictions because he cannot introspect in a completely conscious way.

The sense of time in a trance is also diminished, as we have seen it was in the bicameral mind. This is particularly evident in post-hypnotic amnesia. We, in our normal states, use the spatialized succession of conscious time as a substrate for successions of memories. Asked what we have done since breakfast, we commonly narratize a row of happenings that are what we can call “time-tagged.” But the subject in a hypnotic trance, like the schizophrenic patient or the bicameral man, has not such a schema of time in which events can be time-tagged. The beforeand afterness of spatialized time is missing. Such events as can be remembered from the trance by a subject in post-hypnotic amnesia are vague isolated fragments, cuing off the self, rather than spatialized time as in normal remembering. Amnesic subjects can only report, if anything, “I clasped my hands, I sat in a chair,” with no detail or sequencing, in a way that to me is reminiscent of Hammurabi or Achilles.11 What is significantly different about the contemporary hypnotic subject, however, is the fact that at the suggestion of the operator, the narratized sequential memories can often be brought back to the subject, showing that there has been some kind of parallel processing by consciousness outside of the trance.

Such facts make the hypnotic trance a fascinating complexity. Parallel processing! While a subject is doing and saying one thing, his brain is processing his situation in at least two different ways, one more inclusive than the other. This conclusion can be demonstrated even more dramatically by the recent discovery that has been dubbed “the hidden observer.” A hypnotized subject, after the suggestion that he will feel nothing when keeping his hand in a bucket of ice-cold water for a minute (a really painful, but benign experience!), may show no discomfort and say he felt nothing; but if it has previously been suggested that when and only when the operator touches his shoulder, he will say in another voice exactly what he really felt, that is what happens. At such a touch, the subject, often in a low guttural voice, may give full expression to his discomfiture, yet return immediately to his ordinary voice and to the anesthetized state when the operator’s hand is lifted.12 

Such evidence returns us to a once rejected notion of hypnosis known as dissociation that emerged from studies of multiple personality at the beginning of this century.13 The idea is that in hypnosis the totality of mind or reactivity is being separated into concurrent streams which can function independently of each other. What this means for the theory of consciousness and its origin as described in Book I is not immediately apparent. But such dissociated processing is certainly reminiscent of the bicameral organization of mind itself, as well as the kind of nonconscious problem solving discussed in I.1.

Perhaps the least discussed aspect of hypnosis is the difference in the nature of the trance among persons who have never seen or known much about hypnosis before. Usually, of course, the trance is in our time a passive and suggestible state. But some subjects really do go to sleep. Others are always partly conscious and yet peculiarly suggestible until who can judge between acting and reality? Others tremble so severely that the subject has to be ‘awakened’. And so on. 

That such individual differences are due to differences in the belief or collective cognitive imperative of the individual is suggested by a recent study. Subjects were asked to describe in writing what happens in hypnosis. They were later hypnotized, and the results compared with their expectation. One ‘awoke’ from the trance each time she was given a task for which she had to see. A later perusal of her paper showed she had written, “A person’s eyes must be closed in order to be in a hypnotic trance.” Another could only be hypnotized on a second attempt. He had written, “Most people cannot be hypnotized the first time.” And another could not perform tasks under hypnosis when standing. She had written, “The subject has to be reclining or sitting.”14 But the more hypnosis is talked about, even as on these pages, the more standardized the cognitive imperative and hence the trance becomes.

The Hypnotist as Authorization

And so, fourthly, a very particular kind of archaic authorization which also determines in part the different nature of the trance. For here, instead of the authorization being an hallucinated or possessing god, it is the operator himself. He is manifestly an authority figure to the subject. And if he is not, the subject will be less hypnotizable, or will require a much longer induction or a much greater belief in the phenomenon to begin with (a stronger cognitive imperative).

Indeed, most students of the subject insist that there must be developed a special kind of trust relationship between the subject and the operator.15 One common test of the susceptibility to hypnosis is to stand behind the prospective subject and ask him to permit himself to fall voluntarily to see what it feels like to ‘let go’. If the subject steps back to break his fall, some part of him lacking confidence that he will be caught, he almost invariably turns out to be a poor hypnotic subject for that particular operator.16 

Such trust explains the difference between hypnosis in the clinic and in the laboratory. The hypnotic phenomena found in a medical psychiatric setting are commonly more profound, because, I suggest, a psychiatrist is a more godlike figure to his patient than is an investigator to his subject. And a similar explanation can be made for the age at which hypnosis is most easily done. Hypnotic susceptibility is at its peak between the ages of eight and ten.17 Children look up to adults with a vastly greater sense of adult omnipotence and omniscience, and this thus increases the potentiality of the operator in fulfilling the fourth element of the paradigm. The more godlike the operator is to the subject, the more easily is the bicameral paradigm activated.

Evidence for the Bicameral Theory of Hypnosis 

If it is true that the relationship of subject to operator in hypnosis is a vestige of an earlier relationship to a bicameral voice, several interesting questions arise. If the neurological model outlined in I.5 is in the right direction, then we might expect some kind of laterality phenomenon in hypnosis. Our theory predicts that in EEG’s of a subject under hypnosis, the ratio of brain activity in the right hemisphere would be increased over that of the left, although this is complicated by the fact that it is the left hemisphere that to some extent must understand the operator. But at least we would expect proportionally more right hemisphere involvement than in ordinary consciousness. 

At the present time we have no clear idea about even a usual E E G under hypnosis, such the conflicting findings of researchers. But there are other lines of evidence, even if they are unfortunately more correlational and indirect. They are:

  • Individuals can be categorized by whether they use the right or left hemisphere relatively more than others. A simple way of doing this is to face a person and ask questions and note which way his eyes move as he thinks of an answer. (As in 1.5, we are speaking only of right-handed people.) If to his right, he is using his left hemisphere relatively more, and if to the left, his right hemisphere ? since activation of the frontal eye fields of either hemisphere turns the eyes to the contralateral side. It has been recently reported that people who, in answering questions face to face, turn their eyes to the left, who are thus using their right hemisphere more than most others, are much more susceptible to  hypnosis.18 This can be interpreted as indicating that hypnosis may involve the right hemisphere in very special ways, that the more easily hypnotized person is the one who can “listen to’ and ‘rely on’ the right hemisphere more than others.
  • As we saw in I.5, the right hemisphere, which we have presumed to have been the source of divine hallucinations in earlier millennia, is presently considered to be the more creative, spatial, and responsible for vivid imagery. Several recent studies have found that individuals who manifest these characteristics more than others are indeed more susceptible to hypnosis.19 These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that hypnosis is a reliance on right hemisphere categories, just as a bicameral man relied on his divine guidance. 
  • If calling hypnosis a vestige of the bicameral mind is valid, we might also expect that those most susceptible to being hypnotized would be those most susceptible to other instances of the general bicameral paradigm. In regard to religious involvement, this appears to be true. Persons who have attended church regularly since childhood are more susceptible to hypnosis, while those who have had less religious involvement tend to be less susceptible. At least some investigators of hypnosis that I know seek their subjects in theological colleges because they have found such students to be more susceptible. 
  • The phenomenon of imaginary companions in childhood is something I shall have more to say about in a future work. But it too can be regarded as another vestige of the bicameral mind. At least half of those whom I have interviewed remembered distinctly that hearing their companions speak was the same quality of experience as hearing the question as I asked it. True hallucination. The incidence of imaginary companions occurs mostly between the ages of three and seven, just preceding what I would regard as the full development of consciousness in children. My thinking here is that, either by some innate or environmental predisposition to have imaginary companions, the neurological structure of the general bicameral paradigm is (to use a metaphor) exercised. If the hypothesis of this chapter is correct, we might then expect such persons to be more susceptible to the engagement of that paradigm later in life ? as in hypnosis. And they are. Those who have had imaginary companions in childhood are easier to hypnotize than those who have not. Again it is a case where hypnotizability is correlated with another vestige of the bicameral mind.
  • If we can regard punishment in childhood as a way of instilling an enhanced relationship to authority, hence training some of those neurological relationships that were once the bicameral mind, we might expect this to increase hypnotic susceptibility. And this is true. Careful studies show that those who have experienced severe punishment in childhood and come from a disciplined home are more easily hypnotized, while those who were rarely punished or not punished at all tend to be less susceptible to hypnosis. 

These laboratory findings are only suggestive, and there are quite different ways of understanding them, for which I refer the reader to the original reports. But together they do form a pattern which lends support to the hypothesis that hypnosis is in part a vestige of a preconscious mentality. Placing the phenomena of hypnosis against the broad historical background of mankind in this way gives them certain contours that they would not otherwise have. If one has a very definite biological notion of consciousness and that its origin is back in the evolution of mammalian nervous systems, I cannot see how the phenomenon of hypnosis can be understood at all, not one speck of it. But if we fully realize that consciousness is a culturally learned event, balanced over the suppressed vestiges of an earlier mentality, then we can see that consciousness, in part, can be culturally unlearned or arrested. Learned features, such as analog ‘I,’ can under the proper cultural imperative be taken over by a different initiative, and one such instance is what we call hypnosis. The reason that that different initiative works in conjunction with the other factors of the diminishing consciousness of the induction and trance is that in some way it engages a paradigm of an older mentality than subjective consciousness.

Objection: Does Hypnosis Exist? 

Finally, I should briefly refer to possible alternative interpretations. But presently there are not so much theories of hypnosis as points of view, each correct as far as it goes. One view insists that imagination and concentration on what the hypnotist suggests, and the tendency of such an imagination to result in conforming action, are important.20 They are. Another, that it is condition of monomotivation that counts.21 Of course, that is a description. Another states that the basic phenomenon is simply the ability to enact different roles, the as-if nature of most hypnotic performances.22 This certainly is true. Another correctly stresses the dissociation.23 Another that hypnosis is a regression to a childlike relation to a parent.24 And indeed this is often how any vestige of the bicameral mind appears, since the bicameral mind itself is based on such admonitory experience.

But the main theoretical controversy ? and it is a continuing one, and the one that is most important for us here ? is whether or not hypnosis is really anything different from what happens every day in the normal state. For if this view is final, my interpretation in this chapter of a different mentality is utterly wrong. Hypnosis cannot be a vestige of anything since it does not really exist. All the manifestations of hypnosis, this position insists, can be shown to be simply exaggerations of normal phenomena. We can tick them off: 

As for the kind of obedience to the operator, all of us do the same thing without thinking in situations that are so definedy as with a teacher or a traffic policeman, or perhaps the caller at a square dance.

As to such phenomena as suggested deafness, everyone has had the experience of ‘listening’ carefully to another person and yet not hearing a word. And so the mother who sleeps through a thunderstorm and yet hears and wakes to the cry of her baby is not engaging a different mechanism from that of the hypnotized subject who hears only the hypnotist’s voice and is asleep to all else.

As for the induced amnesia which so astonishes an observer, who can remember what he was thinking five minutes ago? You must suggest to yourself a set or struction to remember at the time. And this the operator of the present day can do or not do, negating or enhancing the paraphrand of submersion, so that the subject does or does not remember.

As for the suggested paralysis under hypnosis, who has not been in discussion with a friend during a walk until, becoming more and more absorbed, both walk more slowly until you are standing still? Concentrated attention has meant arrest of movement.

As for hypnotic anesthesia, that most remarkable of hypnotic phenomena, who has not seen a hurt child distracted by a toy until the crying stops and the pain is forgotten? Or known of victims of accidents bleeding from unfelt wounds? And acupuncture may indeed be a related phenomenon.

And as for the “hidden observer,” this kind of parallel processing goes on all the time. In ordinary conversation, we listen to someone and plan what we are going to say at the same time. And actors do this constantly, always acting as their own hidden observers; Stanislavski to the contrary, they are always able to criticize their performances. And many of the examples of nonconscious thought in I.1, or my description of driving a car and conversing which opened I.4, are further instances.

And as for the startling success of post-hypnotic suggestion, we all sometimes decide to react to some event in a certain way and then do so, even forgetting our prior reason. It is really not different from ‘pre-hypnotic suggestion’, as in the supposed paralysis of the dominant hand a few pages ago. It is a structuring of the collective cognitive imperative that can predetermine our reactions in very specific ways.

And so for other remarkable feats performed under hypnosis j all are exaggerations of everyday phenomena. Hypnosis, the argument runs, just seems different to an observer. The trance behavior is simply intense concentration as in the proverbial “absent-minded professor.” Indeed a host of recent experiments have been aimed at showing that all hypnotic phenomena can be duplicated in waking subjects by simple suggestion.25

My reply, and it is the reply of others as well, is that this is not explaining hypnosis. It is explaining it away. Even though all of the phenomena of hypnosis can be duplicated in ordinary life (and I do not think they can), hypnosis can still be defined by distinct procedures, distinct susceptibilities which correlate with other experiences as well as other vestiges of the bicameral mind, and by huge differences in the ease with which hypnotic phenomena can be reproduced with and without hypnotic induction. In any speculation about possible future changes in our mentality, this latter difference is extremely important. That is why I began this chapter as I did. If we are asked to be animals, five-year-olds, painless when pricked, color-blind, cataleptic, or show nystagmus to imagined whirlings of the visual field,26 or to taste vinegar as champagne ? it is enormously more difficult to do in our normal state of consciousness than when ordinary consciousness is absent under hypnosis. Such feats without rapport with an operator require grotesque efforts of persuasion and massive burdens of concentration. The full consciousness of the waking state seems itself like a huge wilderness of distracting closenesses that cannot easily be crossed to catch into such immediate control. Try looking out the window and pretending to be red-green colorblind to such an extent that those colors really do look like shades of gray.27 It can be done to a certain extent, but it is much easier under hypnosis. Or get up now from where you are sitting and act like a bird, flapping your arms and emitting strange calls for for the next fifteen minutes, something easy to do under hypnosis. But there is not one reader of that last sentence who can do it ? if he is alone. Whatever those sweaty feelings of foolishness or silliness are, the why-should-I5s and the this-is-absurd’s, they crowd in like careful tyrants jealous as a god of such a performance; you need the permission of a group, the authorization of a collective imperative as well as the command of an operator ? or a god ? to achieve such obedience. Or put your hands on the table in front of you and make one of them distinctly redder; possible for you to do now, but much easier under hypnosis. Or raise both your hands for fifteen minutes without feeling any discomfort, a simple task under hypnosis but onerous without it.

What is it then that hypnosis supplies that does this extraordinary enabling, that allows us to do things we cannot ordinarily do except with great difficulty? Or is it ‘we’ that do them? Indeed, in hypnosis it is as if someone else were doing things through us. And why is this so? And why is this easier? Is it that we have to lose our conscious selves to gain such control, which cannot then be by us

On another level, why is it that in our daily lives we cannot get up above ourselves to authorize ourselves into being what we really wish to be? If under hypnosis we can be changed in identity and action, why not in and by ourselves so that behavior flows from decision with as absolute a connection, so that whatever in us it is that we refer to as will stands master and captain over action with as sovereign a hand as the operator over a subject?

The answer here is partly in the limitations of our learned consciousness in this present millennium. We need some vestige of the bicameral mind, our former method of control, to help us. With consciousness we have given up those simpler more absolute methods of control of behavior which characterized the bicameral mind. We live in a buzzing cloud of whys and wherefores, the purposes and reasonings of our narratizations, the many-routed adventures of our analog ‘I’. And this constant spinning out of possibilities is precisely what is necessary to save us from behavior of too impulsive a sort. The analog ‘I’ and the metaphor ‘me’ are always resting at the confluence of many collective cognitive imperatives. We know too much to command ourselves very far.

Those who through what theologians call the “gift of faith” can center and surround their lives in religious belief do indeed have different collective cognitive imperatives. They can indeed change themselves through prayer and its expectancies much as in post-hypnotic suggestion. It is a fact that belief, political or religious, or simply belief in oneself through some earlier cognitive imperative, works in wondrous ways. Anyone who has experienced the sufferings of prisons or detention camps knows that both mental and physical survival is often held carefully in such untouchable hands.

But for the rest of us, who must scuttle along on conscious models and skeptical ethics, we have to accept our lessened control. We are learned in self-doubt, scholars of our very failures, geniuses at excuse and tomorrowing our resolves. And so we become practiced in powerless resolution until hope gets undone and dies in the unattempted. At least that happens to some of us. And then to rise above this noise of knowings and really change ourselves, we need an authorization that ‘we’ do not have.

Hypnosis does not work for everyone. There are many reasons why. But in one particular group who find hypnosis difficult, the reason is neurological and partly genetic. In such people, I think that the inherited neurological basis of the general bicameral paradigm is organized slightly differently. It is as if they cannot readily accept the external authorization of an operator because that part of the bicameral paradigm is already occupied. Indeed, they often seem to the rest of us as if they were already hypnotized, particularly when confined in hospitals as they commonly are from time to time. Some theorists have even speculated that that is precisely their condition ? a continuous state of self hypnosis. But I think such a position is a dreadful misuse of the term hypnosis, and that the behavior of schizophrenics, as we call them, should be looked at in another way ? which is what we shall do in the next chapter.