What is Hypnosis Part 2, De-constructing Heap

Michael Heap has written a wonderful article on hypnosis. You can find it here.

I think that it’s a wonderful article. Heap comes very very close to understanding hypnosis.

In light of my recent understandings I’ll now show where he’s wrong.

Read the Heap article first. Without it you won’t quite understand what I’m talking about here.


Heap talks about the importance of automaticity. And thats great. However he struggles to understand how that automaticity is created. Here is a quote

“There appears to be a consensus amongst academic psychologists who study hypnosis that any theory of hypnosis must account for the subjective experiences of involuntariness and realism that the suggestible subject finds so powerful.

One line of approach that is now popular is to consider that when responding to suggestion, the highly suggestible person is able to exclude from conscious awareness elements of the experience that would normally be available to consciousness. For example, when I raise my arm I am conscious of my arm lifting up and my intention to lift my arm. If however I am able to exclude from conscious representation my intention to lift my arm, it will seem to me that my arm is “lifting on its own”, i.e. involuntarily.

Similarly, if I am given the suggestion that my best friend is standing in front of me, I may make the effort to imagine him, to think of his voice, to imagine my feelings on seeing him, and so on. If I can remove from consciousness awareness the effort and intention that I make in creating this experience, then it will seem more like my friend is really there. To develop these ideas we can and indeed must – use models and theories from mainstream cognitive psychology and neuroscience.”

So Heaps solution to automaticity is the exclusion from awareness that I am choosing to do the act.

I find this absurd.

Classic conditioning has long ago proven that we can condition a reflex. And so if I hit your knee with a hammer a few times and at the same time I ring a bell, and then I only ring the bell, it will automatically and involuntarily twitch (Twitmyer, E. B. (1905). Knee jerks without simulation of the patellar tendon. Psychological Bulletin2, 43.)! In that case you don’t postulate that the person has decided to twitch the knee but has excluded that knowledge from awareness. Salter (1941) talks about using classical conditioning to condition pupil dilation. Would Heap argue that this is also voluntary but excluded from conscious awareness?!

And so once we have shown true automaticity, let me give you another example. One which Heap brings earlier in the paper.

The lemon test. If you imagine a lemon vividly enough you start to salivate.

I once again ask, is the secretion of saliva a voluntary act which you excluding from conscious awareness?!

Now of course you voluntarily imagined the lemon which then led to the saliva, but the saliva itself is involuntary. Salivating is something you can’t do it voluntarily and on command!

And so we have proven a key key point. And that is “If I imagine a context for which there is an appropriate response, that response will involuntarily be elicited”. And so you can’t vividly imagine the lemon without salivating. And therefore, so long as you imagine the lemon, the saliva is involuntary.

With that in mind, explaining an arm lift that happens without effort is rather simple. So long as you imagine a context in which that response is appropriate (helium balloons), the arm will respond with true automaticity.

Now lets take it further. Let’s say you imagine a context in which every response happens. Like the idea that the hypnotists is in full control. In that case, so long as you continued to imagine that, then responding to the hypnotist would be genuine, automatic, and involuntary. The only solution you would have would be to stop imagining that the hypnotist was in control.

And so here is the final step. Lets say you imagined that the hypnotist is in control, and you also imagined that you have no control over any of your imagining. In that case, there would be an automatic response of being unable to stop imagining this reality! And so you are genuinely and truly stuck! We have closed the door or stopping to imagine via imagination! We have closed the loop!

THAT is what hypnosis is. True honest automaticity.

Lets move on in Heaps words.

“Let me now describe three experiments and challenge you to think about the possible explanations in terms similar to those I have just described.

Hypnotically suggestible subjects when given the suggestion that they cannot see a chair in front of them may report convincingly that they cannot see anything. Yet when asked to walk across to the other side of the room they walk around the chair. People who are told that they must only ‘pretend to be hypnotised’ usually bump into the chair (Orne, 1962).

Secondly we suggest to some very suggestible subjects that they can no longer hear their own voices. In the case of those who respond to this suggestion we then ask them to speak into a microphone that is connected to an amplifier and a pair of headphones that the subject wears. The amplifier causes a delay of say half a second in the subject’s speech that he hears through the headphones. This is called ‘delayed auditory feedback’ and it is very difficult for people to speak coherently when at the same time they are hearing their voices delayed for a fraction of a second

What happens to those subjects who insist that they cannot hear their voice? With delayed auditory feedback their speech is disrupted as under normal conditions (Barber & Calverley, 1964)!

Finally, subjects learn a list of words and are then told that they cannot remember any of these words until a signal is given. Some very suggestible subjects may report complete or almost complete amnesia for the words. However they still show a characteristic electroencephalographic response when presented with words that appeared on the list Allen, Iacono, Laravuso, & Dunn, 1995; Schnyer & Allen, 1995) and this material still interferes with the subjects’ recall of another list of words that was not included in the amnesia suggestion (Coe, Basden, Basden & Graham, 1976).

Some people think that the results of these experiments indicate that these very suggestible subjects are simply pretending. With no other evidence this is the best explanation. However, the further evidence that has accumulated has led most researchers to reject this explanation, although it is still entirely possible that some subjects may be pretending.

What seems to be happening in each of these experiments is that very suggestible subjects have the ability to exclude from consciousness awareness the explicit representation of the stimulus – hearing their voice, seeing the chair, or recalling the list of words. However, these stimuli are still implicitly registered in their behaviour and thinking in the usual way – their speech is affected by delayed auditory feedback, they avoid bumping into the chair, and the ‘forgotten’ material still interferes with new learning. This is a plausible way of understanding what is happening.”

Powerful stuff!

But there is a solution…

Here it is.

In every example he gives a suggestion presupposes awareness that contradicts the suggestion itself. If you tell me not to see a specific chair, then at some level I need to be aware of the chair in order not to see it! If I wasn’t aware of the chair at all, then how would I know what not to see? It’s like most of my clients who want their problem gone. But so long as that is their goal, they presuppose having the problem for eternity! You can’t know something is gone unless it exists at a minimum as an idea.

The same is true in the other 2 examples. In order for the subjects mind to process the suggestion, it has to be aware of what it’s supposed to be unaware of. Hence the ‘hidden observer’. The suggestion itself builds in that hidden observer!!

Here is how to really test it. Suggest that a subject is completely blind. Then see what happens.

Salter (1941 “What is Hypnosis”) talks about suggesting deafness and then firing a gun next to the subjects ear. The subject didn’t flinch.

Now if I’m correct (as the lemon test proves without doubt), that means we simply need to imagine a context vividly and the resulting response will be a hypnotic one.

This depends on 2 things.
1. A subject with a good imagination.
2. A hypnotist who gives good suggestions. Most hypnotists say ‘your arm is stuck’. Thats a bad suggestion (unless the subject has responded to that type of suggestion already). In that suggestion you hope the subject imagines your command to be true and therefore you get the result.
A good suggestion is one where you tell the subject to imagine the context “Imagine I’m in control of your reality”, and then ‘closes the door’ via imagination “imagine you are unable to control your imaginings, even this one”.

The rest is simple. The more we are dissociated from external reality, the better we imagine. As in a sensory deprivation tank, as in REM sleep. In hypnosis the subject is dissociated from external reality and very strongly associated to the reality of the hypnotist creating reality. Hence the zombie look you often see. It’s dissociation from external reality (excluding the hypnotist and what he suggests). And so an as I proved in Part 1.

Your thoughts?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *