When in Vegas I was hypnotized by some of the world’s best bleeding edge hypnosis researchers: Ant, Kev, and Marcus of Head Hacking.com.
Hypnosis is imagination that becomes subjectively real. It is very, very powerful.
Marcus hypnotized me to imagine a small bottle of tabasco sauce as everclear, a pure liquor. He also did name amnesia. It was mind-blowing and has changed my life. I no longer feel trapped by my experience because I learned I can imagine it differently. It’s a superpower.
What follows are thoughts on my experience and hypnosis.
I’ve done a bit of deep mindfulness meditation and read a lot of science on how the mind could work. (Recently, I Am A Strange Loop and The Ego Tunnel.) I am totally on board with the hypothesis that consciousness (i.e., self-awareness) is a bottom-up phenomena that arises with specific patterns of neural networks and activity. It might be a representation of the body as part of an environmental map and/or a global storage place of recent memory.
When I’ve meditated deeply and focused on existing, rather than the thoughts that bubble into my awareness, I’ve realized there are all kinds of levels and places that conceptually and physiologically those patterns can emerge from.
By watching a TED Talk of a neuroscientist describing his visual perceptions of a grid when his retina was damaged and literally experiencing it as a distortion in the same shape as the physical malformation, I realized with some clarity that this could actually work. You could really be a system of neural networks experiencing reality and also have a subjective experience of having an ego, a thing that is separate from the physical body. I’ve gone to many neuroscience lectures at Stanford and realized that the math and logic and biology of the mind could work and be understood.
I do feel like there are “levels” or “areas” of being more and less aware of a thoughts. It’s not black and white but a gradient. One example is the feeling of having a name on the tip of your tongue. It’s not simply aware or unaware, but parts of you aware and parts unaware.
When I drank the tabasco while imagining it was everclear I had many senses and memories feeding my imagination to control my perceptions and actions. I may want to be able to imagine it fully while also having sensory perceptions of the tabasco not having the same viscosity of everclear or smell of everclear. I fully believe it is possible to imagine away or alter each of those sensory inputs, but it probably takes precise wording by the hypnotist to invoke the imagination in the right directions.
Jeff Hawkins has a TED talk on a theory of the human mind. The idea is that the inventive and conscious brain sits above the unconscious and predicts the future using imagination. If you can trick the unconscious into imagining not being aware of imagining you can rewrite the rules of your reality.
Another interesting part of the tabasco/everclear experiment was the physiological difference I felt when I imagined a drop of tabasco as tabasco. I started becoming nervous, my heart beat faster, I felt sweatier. It wasn’t a pleasant sensation. I realize now I am permeable to this effect. Then when I imagined the tabasco as everclear again, there was very little discomfort.
It was as if the first imagined time had a pleasure level of 6, the second as 2, and the last as 4. Yet during that same time when I was told to imagine name amnesia and imagine not being aware of imagining, I did not have as strong of an effect. It was similar to the sensory interrupts to the imagined everclear. I would see something that reminded me of my name, such as seeing my hand or reflection, and I would again subtly remember my name.
I feel that being more specific and detailed when hypnotizing someone with automatic imagination but simultaneously being permissive might increase the depths of hypnosis or at least control more variables and have a more intense sensory perception. Each leg of a belief can be removed and the belief will collapse. More testing is needed.
When I didn’t say my name when I was asked, I felt like I didn’t want to remember. So apparently I imagined that part well. I wanted to have fun, and it’s fun to shift your consciousness. I felt if I said my name it would deeply anchor it again in my memory, like what happened a few days earlier with card amnesia and the three of clubs. Once stated it takes a while to fade.
I fully subscribe to the AI model, I’m just trying to understand my subjective experiences and how to control them.
For instance, had I been instructed to imagine the tabasco as everclear by going back to my memories and reimagining them with more tabasco-like sensory experiences of the texture of the drink and the smell, the color, I very likely could have intensified the subjective effect. This is why hypnosis is art. Every angle that thoughts bubble up from could have been dealt with.
Maybe the actual metaphors would be less or more effective for different people, but there very likely are deep metaphors that will have a high probability of success. Imaginations are different but the way they work is probably very similar. One human probably imagines using a similar structural process to another human.
When I didn’t want to say what the drink tasted like or what my name was there was also a degree of social compliance and pressure. If everybody is telling you it tastes a certain way, it feels odd to disagree. You don’t want to let down the hypnotist or audience or yourself. You want to be able to imagine yourself unaware of imagining. It’s not hard, but it is a bit meta.
Imagination is a skill. Perhaps if you begin the imagination process by imagining you have a very deep and wide imagination, one that can easily focus on ideas and let everything else fall away, you could imagine yourself automatically imagining more easily.
From my experience there are no clean breaks between memories. Therefore you want to alter how you’re remembering. You are imagining reality right now. The art of hypnosis is how to direct the imagination in specific ways to produce the desired outcome.
People have different memories and therefore different imaginations. You can only play within that imagination. If someone asks you to imagine Martian language and you don’t even understand what’s being asked, I feel it probably won’t work. Another example is hypnotizing people to respond to the question “Have you ever seen the Manchurian Candidate?” with “You mean the black and white one?” If you don’t clearly say what you want them to say, e.g. you mumble or say it too fast, it probably is harder to imagine or integrate into their reality. So hypnosis is definitely an art-form.
It will probably work to some extent, but the phenomena may be enhanced by using only what already exists in people’s imaginations. I believe it’s possible to imagine and visualize a fourth spacial dimension. It just takes practice. The short story Mimsy Were the Borogoves is a fun explanation of different spacial understandings. It’s a great story, email me if you’d like it.
Another thing especially revealed by this automatic imagination model of hypnosis is how important it is to understand your own self-talk and the influence it has on your subjective experience. If it’s cold outside and you comment on it being chilly you focus more on the cold than if you didn’t comment or said you were comfortable. Much pain is self-induced.
Another thing that helped me when I was practicing hypnosis was the idea of it being more comfortable to lean into discomfort and enjoy and accept it as growth rather than recoiling into trying to fix the discomfort ASAP. I tried to keep a Zen-like attitude of being rather than thinking. Just let things flow: this too shall pass. Imagine enjoying the unavoidable pain. You can imagine creating your own reality.
Another thing to mention about my feelings of the workings of the mind is the distaste with which it accepts reversed statements like “do not.” It seems easier to imagine doing something than not doing something because saying, “don’t think of a white elephant” puts a higher level thought of “try not to remember this” which can interfere with actually imagining. “Imagine your mind is like still water” may be more effective.
There are always better ways to imagine, but it’s exciting, so very exciting.