Knowledge is an unending adventure at the edge of uncertainty.
Our adventure begins with a prima fascia look at how we might acquire some, if not all, of our beliefs. I might ask, “Are you hypnotized?”
Not long ago I met a business associate from Germany in Las Vegas. He loves magic so we decided to take in a magic show while there. I was asked to assist the magician by pretending to have lost my watch, a watch that he would find. I wondered, how many tricks are really not tricks but rather staged events? Now, I have studied and used hypnosis for over thirty years and I know of certain hypnotic tricks that are absolutely not staged. Maybe next time we will take in a hypnosis act.
Speaking of hypnosis, and now the segue, this past week I gave a lot of thought to an idea suggested by Richard Bach in his book, “Hypnotizing Maria.” Imagine that a stage hypnotist has hypnotized you. The experience will seem quite real even if it is a pure hallucination, negative or positive in nature. (A negative hallucination occurs when you fail to see what is there and a positive when you see what is not there). So imagine that you have been imprisoned in a room without doors. Further, imagine that the room is made of solid concrete like a bomb shelter or bunker and that the walls, floor and ceiling are several feet thick. You’re trapped inside this room without exits.
Okay—think about this for a moment. Perhaps you circle on the stage floor walking around the room that only you can see. The audience has been told that you believe that you are trapped in a solid concrete room. You touch the cold walls when the hypnotist suggests that you try to find a way out. They are hard. You push on them and find that they are not just cold and hard, but the surface is rough like a sidewalk. You kick the wall and hurt your foot. When prompted to by the hypnotist, you search for seams and find none. You begin to worry—how will you get out? What if the light disappears? Where is the light coming from? Fear begins to crawl over you.
Okay—now imagine that you are in the audience. You are witnessing a hypnotized individual trapped in an imaginary room. That is, the barrier perceived as a concrete wall does not actually exist. The walled in subject is trapped only by their beliefs. From your perspective in the audience, it seems almost ridiculous that this self-imposed belief, this hallucination, this state of mind in hypnosis, could possibly be real. You laugh at the antics of the hypnotized as they become frantic to escape. Their antics grow ever more panicked. You laugh louder and harder.
Okay—now imagine that you are living in a world full of your own self imposed limitations and you’re doing so right now—right this very minute as you read this article. How many of these self-imposed walls have you been hypnotized to believe are real? Isn’t that what accepting a suggestion is—a state of hypnosis? How many suggestions have you accepted by the world around you, your peers, the media, etc. that have become your walls, your barriers?
I want to stretch this idea some by suggesting that what we think is our direct experience of ourselves may indeed be a confabulation. What do I mean by that?
Imagine that you had been hypnotized and given a few post hypnotic suggestions. Let’s say that one such suggestion was for aphasia (the loss or impairment of the power to use or comprehend words). As such, the hypnotist informed you that when you awoke you would not remember the number 6. (Now we actually do things of this nature to demonstrate hypnosis). So, you are told that until the hypnotist does something like snap their fingers, you will not know of the number six. Now, when you’re awakened from hypnosis the post hypnotic suggestion is still in place. The hypnotist asks you to count to ten and you do so skipping the number six. The hypnotist shows you a dinner bill for 65.05 and you are prepared to pay 5.05. To you, there is no number six.
Now suppose you were born on June 6th of 1966, how old are you? Let’s take this a step further. Suppose the post hypnotic suggestion included something like this, “You will be able to watch television and listen to the radio but you will not consciously acknowledge the promptings from them that urge you to do something; you will do this and when I ask why, you will make up a reason for acting in such a way but you will not be aware that you are making up this reason.” Okay, now you see a TV commercial that informs you to buy ABC Magic Cold Remedy because you will get a cold. You buy the remedy and when I ask why, you inform me that it is preventative, just in case you get a cold. You get the cold, of course, and later use your remedy.
Now does any of this sound familiar. Are you aware that studies have shown that people do just this sort of thing? For example, when exposed to a subliminal prime, a negative word matched with the picture of a person, when you are asked to rate this person on a positive scale, you will not only rate them negatively but you will have a reason for doing so despite the fact that you are totally unaware of the subliminal stimuli. This kind of research has led many serious researchers to believe that we all have “confabulators” just for making sense of some of the things we do and believe.
There are many areas of our lives where we fail to be “aware” of ourselves. Studies have shown that projecting subliminal cues that represent the characteristics of a significant other onto a target person leads to the transference of feelings about the significant other to the target person. One really interesting study showed that men on a somewhat dangerous bridge, when approached with a questionnaire by a pretty researcher who left them her phone number in case they wanted to know about the study she was conducting, were much more likely to phone and request a date than men who were relaxing on a park bench. Apparently, the risk, the danger, the level of arousal that resulted from this risk, was transferred to the female researcher causing her to appear more attractive and all of this decision stuff was again, outside of conscious awareness. In the words of researcher Jonathan Miller, “Human beings owe a surprisingly large proportion of their cognitive and behavioral capacities to the existence of an ‘automatic self’ of which they have no conscious knowledge and over which they have little voluntary control.”
I am particularly fond of the adage, “To thy own self be true.” One of the reasons this is true for me is the pure fact that knowing oneself is truly a journey—an exploration—and one which demands that we risk being wrong about everything we think we know or believe.
The hypnotic effect, the propaganda, the media bombardment and so forth, all influence us in both seen and unforeseen ways. The violence actually trains, or begets, violence. The constant stimuli systematically desensitizes our levels of arousal and the result, it takes more, and more and more sex, violence, gore, etc. to meet our stimulus/response requirement. Becoming “dehypnotized” takes much more effort than the snap of someone’s fingers. It is incumbent upon each of us to become aware of all the ways we are managed, manipulated and even ushered into a sort of hive consciousness if we truly wish to know who we are and why we are here.
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