Hypnosis: The Cognitive and Metaphysical Model

As promised, we will now open the flood gates to the empirical field of psychology, allowing the oceans of data, observations, and theories that permeate that entire academic universe to come pouring into our discussion, which has hitherto been purely philosophical.  Our best and most celebrated source is the outstanding research of one Ernest R. Hilgard.  Of course, we need always be mindful of the way we use this information; after all, we have yet done little to address the actual morality of hypnosis in itself—which is a very complicated subject, to be dealt with in a later post—and so the study of such must be approached with a similar note of caution, for the actual data of the study is taken from direct experience; that is, psychologists run tests by actually hypnotising people.  So it is relevant to ask whether hypnosis is moral in a clinical context and, if not, whether at least the study of the scholarship that comes out of such sciences is permissible.

I am led to believe that the latter of these is true.  My reasoning is simple: I could never answer the former question if I were not allowed to study it.  The world is full of all sorts of crazy ideas about hypnosis and meditation formulated, mostly, by people who have not given the subject a moment’s worth of critical, academic exploration.  Many Christians are inclined to write entire articles about the matter without having picked up a single book.  And I sincerely sympathise with such people.  It is very tempting to simply let the matter be, or address it without studying it, for the mere sake of condemning the highly elusive and frightening practice; however, that I should be required to reject something as an immorality before I know so much as the first thing about it seems, to me, entirely unreasonable, and even itself an immoral practice.  It is a part of our duty as human beings to understand the nature of things and observe the world around us.  In my own undertaking of this task, a study of hypnosis has become a relevant and even an integral part.  We ought to follow the example of St. Paul in such matters, understanding the ideas of a pagan world and transforming them into something useful to our cause.  If you disagree with me on this point, then I urge to to stop reading now.

As I have mentioned, in this brief exploration, we will be relying heavily on Hilgard and his theory of ‘the divided consciousness’ and ‘the hidden observer’ active in hypnosis.  Hilgard begins his argument by pointing out that in normal psychology, it is possible for a motive to be dissociated from a task.  He writes, “the acceptability of central controls, in the form of executive and monitoring functions, does not mean that all behaviour and experience must be referred to them.  What happens is that once an activity is under way it becomes relatively self-sustaining” (Fromm 47).  Next, he mentions what J. R. Hodge called ‘the hypnotic contract’ (Hodge), which refers to the agreement that occurs between the hypnotist and the subject before an induction—the agreement to comply with whatever the hypnotist instructs him or her to do.  When the subject agrees to this, he or she does so for a particular end, whether that be therapy, study, or entertainment.  But the process of induction is a method of dissociating this motive from the actual suggestibility so that the process becomes ‘self-sustaining’, forgoing any reference to the monitoring functions.

Hilgard gives several examples of how this might be accomplished in a typical induction, one of them being an eye-closure device, in which the subject is told to fixate on an object, only later to receive the suggestion that his or her eyes are closing.  This creates, as Hilgard writes, a dissociative situation in which subjects feel as though they are trying to keep their eyes open, but their eyes are closing of their own accord; the fact that they are the ones actively closing their own eyes has been dissociated from consciousness (Fromm 49).  Hilgard offers the following explanation: “The details of [an] actuated experience, [i.e. the fact that the subject is closing his or her own eyes,] are reported accurately by the monitor [(the part of the mind that monitors input)].  The activated subsystem, [i.e. the dissociated act of closing one’s eyes] does not use all the information about how the [process] was suggested, … and the monitoring functions do not offer any correction for this omission.  This lack of normal criticism was called ‘trance logic’ by Orne” (Fromm 51, Orne).

This basic cognitive model is very well supported by a number of experiments that Hilgard references, many of which include the concept of a ‘hidden observer’.  One example is a study involving hypnotically induced temporary deafness.  In the experiment, the subject was temporarily made deaf through hypnotic suggestion, but told that, when the hypnotist places his arm on the subject’s shoulder, “there would be contact with a concealed part of himself, unknown to the hypnotised part, that could describe what had gone on while he was deaf” (Fromm 57).  Something was then said to the deaf subject, after which, the hypnotist put his arm on the subject’s shoulder, allowing the subject to repeat what he had heard when deaf, of which he had no recollection either before the arm was there placed or after it was removed.  This phenomenon evidences Hilgard’s ‘divided consciousness’: a part of the subject is in a normal state of consciousness, aware of everything that goes on around him or her, but that part is dissociated from the subject, such that he or she is only aware of whatever the hypnotist allows.

These findings are supported by many other studies and other authors on the matter, the reading of which I recommend to anyone seeking a more complete study.  However, for our purpose at present, we need only acknowledge that this cognitive model seems quite well supported and is the basic structure of current psychological theory.  Hence we may turn to the task of relating this to our metaphysical model.

It is a rather brief task: in my last post, I concluded that dissociated functioning is made possible by the introduction of a species of contradiction declarative—we will hereafter call it ‘the dissociation declarative’—which states, “all that follows needn’t be in noncontradiction with the primal premise”.  This is the essential nature of ‘the hypnotic contract’.  Hypnotic induction is a process of reducing the criticality of one’s consciousness to mere trance logic and increasing the gravity of the hypnotic contract (here seen as a declarative) until it crosses a threshold, where it becomes the dissociation declarative.

Works that I Cited:

Fromm, Erika, and Ronald E. Shor. Hypnosis: Developments in Research and New Perspectives. New York: Aldine Pub., 1979. Print.

Hodges, J. R. “The Contractual Aspects of Hypnosis.” International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis 24 (1976): 391-99. Print.

Orne, M. T. “The Nature of Hypnosis: Artifact and Essence.” The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 58 (1959): 277-99. Print.

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