Tuesday, July 5, 2011

On Hypnosis (5/20)

Variations in Depth and Type of Trance

Both Hilgard and Erickson believe that there are definite, varying levels of hypnotic trance. For example, there is a stuporous trance – a state in which, according to Hilgard, spontaneous thinking stops and the self becomes "meaningless." In Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain, Hilgard maintains that the notion of depth in hypnosis cannot really be measured and can only be described by the person experiencing it. Still, he gives this description of a person in an hypnotic stupor:

Relaxation of the body increased for a time, but he [the subject] eventually no longer felt identified with his body. It was as though it was a "thing" left behind, so that it no longer made sense to ask him further about body relaxation. Relaxation of the body was succeeded by a peacefulness of the self, but beyond a certain depth this concept also became meaningless, because the self was no longer present. The environment also faded progressively, until finally a state was reached in which the only part of the environment that remained present was the hypnotist's voice. Time passed more and more slowly, finally reaching a point at which it ceased to be a meaningful concept. Spontaneous mental activity declined until it finally reached zero.[1]

Another kind of trance is a somnambulistic one, in which mental and physical capacities apparently remain normal. Erickson made frequent use of the somnambulistic trance both for demonstration and for therapeutic purposes. I’ll now describe an example where Erickson had called upon one individual to demonstrate the somnambulistic state. He then pretended to conclude the demonstration and dismiss the subject. But he continued, hoping to observe genuine "hypnotic behavior" rather than behavior designed to please the hypnotist.

Knowing about the subject's fondness for sweets, Erickson told her that as a reward for her performance she could choose from a platter of homemade candy. With the subject “still in the somnambulistic state," she was asked to name her favorite candy, and "expressed a marked preference for divinity fudge, and even as she spoke she was noted to salivate freely in anticipation." The hypnotist went into another room, called back with satisfaction that there was indeed some divinity fudge, and asked her whether she wanted to help herself to it at once or later. "So far as divinity fudge is concerned, immediately is scarcely soon enough," she reportedly replied. Erickson then returned to the room bringing napkins, pretending that he had a platter of candy in his hands, and saying that the platter contained a variety of candies in case those present had different preferences. Next he approached the subject and told her to go ahead and select the largest pieces of divinity fudge.

With the juvenile directness, earnestness, and simplicity so characteristic of behavior in the somnambulistic state, she replied she would. After scrutinizing the imaginary platter carefully, she made her choice of a piece and, upon urging, a second and a third, but she explained that she was taking only a small piece for the third.

The imaginary platter was passed among the group. Each person pretended to take a piece of candy and eat it. The subject then became restless, wandered around the room, and finally sat in a chair next to the table where the imaginary platter had been placed. Subsequently, "in the manner of a small child who wishes another helping of candy," she looked furtively back and forth between the imaginary platter and the hypnotist, until:

...with a slight gesture of resolution she learned forward, scrutinized the platter carefully, and proceeded to go through a performance of selecting carefully and eating several pieces of candy, now and then glancing in a hesitant manner.

The platter was passed around again. When it was her turn, the subject again selected and ate imaginary pieces of candy. Erickson notes that, throughout the performance, two "medically-trained members unobtrusively watched the subject" and independently observed her "increased salivation and swallowing," as well as her use of the napkin to wipe her fingers. Then Erickson concluded the demonstration and awakened the subject.[2]

Thus, we have stuporous trances in which the environment, the body, and the self become meaningless concepts, and we have somnambulistic trances in which hallucinatory fudge is merrily eaten with the context of normal group interaction. How can these states be possible? Are these reports mere fantasy or actual descriptions of altered neurological functioning? And if the latter is true, which brain structures mediate hypnotic trance states?

[1]Ernest R. Hilgard and Josephine R. Hilgard, Hypnosis in the Relief of Pain (Los Altos, CA: William Kaufmann, 1975), p. 21.
[2]Milton H. Erickson, "Experimentally Elicited Salivary and Related Responses to Hypnotic Visual Hallucinations Confirmed by Personality Reactions," Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson on Hypnosis, Vol. 2, Edited by Ernest L. Rossi (New York: Irvington, 1980), pp. 176-177. Originally published in Psychosomatic Medicine, April, 1943,5, 185-187.


  1. Hi,

    The state of "meaninglessness of self". Ok this is not just words but I feel like that sometimes; it's not necessarily a depressed or dissociated event or weird. Other times it's connected to value judgements (that feel bad)I put on myself and seems to play out like an old recording.

    But they say y'know, of old that the true self emerges from the void.

    Pooh Pooh that mysterious sounding bite you may but I feel it's true.

    Rumi wrote poetry that touches on meaningless states and to dip into a certain type of "quasi-conscious state" can remove the personality defences and reveal that void.

    I know it's a hackneyed question but "who am I"?

    The more one asks this question the more one can find out. Crying helps and laughing too.

    Paul G.

  2. I am becoming very intrigued by this subject. It is nice to review it since it was used in the Primal Scream 1970. The suggestions of not much difference between hypnotic and regular states also leave me wondering. Science is often non-scientific or untested and unproven. Nothing new there.

    But the possibility of people being somewhat vulnerable to suggestion or direction in a waking state has grabbed me. I know there are times when I am really not too aware of what I am doing. Autopilot and habit may take me and my car in a commonly traveled direction when that is not where I want to go. Paying attention and focusing seem to be things one can not take for granted. They take some effort and sometimes I can read a whole page and have no idea what I read. I have to focus very hard or give it a rest and come back later.

    And there are so many factors which can strengthen or weaken focus, concentration, etc. Being, tired, distracted, thinking of other things, being overloaded mentally or emotionally maybe. Being hungry or sick. Bored or too excited. Primal pain asserting it self in subtle ways. Stress or anxiety.

    As well, a good boost is always aided by a reasonable level of excitement without being too much. Selected music can be a great boost to alertness and concentration. Something of keen interest will heighten my focus and attention. Sometimes I am just there in the zone without trying.

    It has been noted that most people who watch movies or TV are in a sort of trance and easily suggestible and that their critical thinking abilities are turned off. I usually do not have that problem but it is possible to zone out and vegetate while relaxing to the TV. Sometimes, one needs to relax and give it a break. I find moderate and even peak exercise can do wonders for mental function.

    I recall a time working at night in say 1985, when I would get so depressed and wished I was dead. Have a glass of water and I was fine. Soon, when I felt it come on, I would grab a glass of water for a cure. Dehydration is a Bastard! The right food can help. Wrong food can hurt. Pollutants, irritants, etc, make for interference.

    Now I think of the typical school environment today and marvel that anyone can learn anything. Then throw in the primal pain caused unknowingly by parents, the world and you got more interference. TV is interesting.

    I have been watching old TV shows. What I marvel at is the simplicity and unrealistic portrayals of people and life. Yet most probably take it as being somewhat “real.” Critical thinking would reveal otherwise but few have that turned on. TV can seem to make us believe almost anything. As well, we marvel at celebrities, only because we see them in arenas, so to speak, that we know everyone else sees, too. And we give them elevated status and respect, when they have done nothing to deserve it. But being seen often and prominently, we view them as authorities. An endorsement from a celebrity is guaranteed to boost sales. Their opinions can influence elections.

    A teacher inherits great authority since he/she is the center of attention and has backing from the greater authorities and parents, too.

    So I wonder how much society and the world are programmed or “hypnotized,” if you will. It is not hard for me to do. Surely it is even easier when many do not exercise any critical thinking.

  3. I would like to withhold sources on this but it was on YouTube.com. I was wondering if you would be willing to comment ever so briefly on the following:

    "Fritz Springmeier says that if you experience an event that becomes a trauma, then the mind protects itself by building amnesia walls around that trauma in memory. The bigger the trauma, the stronger the wall."

    This is about what PT says, is it not?

    “they sexually abuse their children generation after generation to produce the trauma which causes multiple personality disorder. In this traumatized condition the mind splinters into many compartments. Victims exhibit extraordinary powers of recollection and endurance and can be easily programmed to do anything.”

    1st, would multiple and repeated traumas cause multiple personality disorder? You have mentioned in in the past books.

    2nd, would it be possible to use certain personalities of fractured people to program something? This so it cold be kept out of sight, so to speak?

  4. On television I have once seen something like this but then with lemons pretending to be sweets.
    People just ate the lemons without any problems.

  5. Art,

    How do I know that I am under hypnotic state when I am under hypnotic state in order not to experience the reason for being in a hypnotic state? Is there no electro-chemical evidence for this?


  6. Apollo: This is too complicated for a brief comment. I will write on this later. art janov

  7. Frank: I think that many of us walk around in a hypnotic state and do not know it. We are partially unconscious, of those incredible realties inside of us. AJ


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