Hypnosis

[Martin Taylor 921002 19:00]
(Clark McPhail 921001)

Then I discovered with work of Theodore X. Barber, a
psychologist who is now retired but who examined the phenomenon of hypnosis
across a forty year span of time. Simply stated, Barber rejects the
"trance state" theory of hypnosis and has generated a considerable body of
empirical evidence supporting his critique. Further, Barber has advanced
an alternative interpretation which turns the commonsense view of hypnosis
on its head. Instead of the subject-as-passive receptacle of the
hypnotist's suggestions, Barber construes subjects as exercising variable
degrees of imagination; that is, they are variably capable of imagining
the outcome the hypnotist "suggests" and then carrying out the actions
require to fulfill what they have imagined.

I have no PCT approach to hypnosis, but I will support the claim that the
skill to be hypnotized is in the subject, rather than the skill to hypnotize
being in the hypnotist. Here's a reference: Hypnosis for the Seriously
Curious, K. S. Bowers, Monterey: Brooks/Cole, 1976.

Around the time this book was published, I had a summer student whose graduate
work was with Bowers on hypnosis, and I helped them with the analysis of some
data. The task, as I remember it (somewhat vaguely over this remove in time),
was for the subject to shadow vocal material presented through an earphone
to one ear, and to push a button when some target pattern appeared in vocal
material presented to the other ear. Of course there were control conditions
when only one task was to be done, and all of it was done with highly skilled
hypnotic subjects under hypnosis or not. Without going into the forgotten
details of the analysis, the result was that without hypnosis the tasks
interfered with each other, but under hypnosis they did not. It was as if
the hypnosis could modularize the whole perceptual feedback loop so that
they did not use any common paths (in PCT terms, as if there were, for that
purpose, two separable hierarchies that in a normal state were in some
conflict).

This experiment convinced me that hypnosis is a real phenomenon. The lack
of conflict does tie in with the notion of "variable degrees of imagination,"
since conflicts can be omitted in imagination even though they would arise
in "real life." In the experiment, there was no intrinsic reason for conflict
between the two loops, except possibly that both ears could hear the subject's
own voice. But in the non-hypnotic situation, there was conflict, perhaps
because in the usual real world one does not get indpendent information being
presented to the two ears.

Speculation, guesswork, non-science. But fun.

Martin