The Hypnosis Fallacy
What do you think of when someone mentions hypnosis? Do you think of a gaunt
figure with long limbs, a cloak, and polarizing eyes that beckon submission? For many, the mere
utterance of hypnosis is all it takes to see a sinister figure with captivating eyes, a mysterious
wand, and the ability to turn people into slaves with the telling phrase, "Look deep into my eyes."
In all actuality, this mystical pocket-watch wielding creature is nothing more than a false
stereotype. This representation bears no real resemblance to hypnotism. In fact, what some refer
to as hypnosis is actually an amalgamation of its genesis, Animal Magnetism, combined with what
some foolishly refer to as the mythical modern aspects of hypnosis.
Hypnosis has taken on many meanings over the past two centuries. Its roots
stretch deep into the culture of the ancient Greeks and their worship of Hypnos, the god of sleep.
In the 18th century, Franz Anton Mesmer captured popular culture by injecting his concept of
Animal Magnetism, a process involving magnets, into society by proving successfully--most of the
time, that his theory enhanced the body by ridding it of paralysis, toothache, depression, and urine
Furthermore, Mesmer's influence on hypnosis did not end with the introduction of his treatments.
In 1778, Mesmer left Vienna for Paris where he was afforded more freedom to develop his
theories that evolved into a form of musical stage-bound theatrics, which were quite popular and
garnered him large crowds. Mesmer dressed in flowing robes and would touch people with his
wand "urging them to yield themselves up to the magnetic fluids that surrounded them. He
exhorted them that they would be cured if only they could focus on the heavenly powers within
their sick bodies."
A couple centuries later, George Kresge changed how many would view
hypnosis. Kresge, who is known too many as The Amazing Kreskin is a mentalist,an entertainer, a
practical psychologist, and a student of hypnosis. Kreskin added cohesion to Mesmer's premise,
which relied on belief coupled with the use of magnets to cure various ailments.
Through a myriad of stage performances, television interviews, and published
works, Kreskin explained the power of suggestion and autosuggestion as the real means behind
what many refer to as hypnosis. Moreover, Kreskin believes everyone is prone to suggestion
without the semblance of a trance. An excerpt from his book reflects this thought, "What I believed
to be so-called 'hypnosis', and ardently fostered the trance concept. I now tell the audience that
my references to 'hypnosis', both historically and as I practiced it, are in the framework of the past.
This is also why I use quotation marks
when dealing with the subject."
The power of suggestion is demonstrated through Kreskin's stage performances. He starts by
inviting fifty to sixty volunteers on stage with only twenty or so chairs for them to sit. With the
psychological conditioning already seeded,and the participants strength in numbers alleviated, he
fills the chairs with workable subjects while leaving the remainder of the volunteers on stage.
Now,most hypnotists believe their subjects need to be relaxed in order to respond to suggestion,
Kreskin displays the contrary.
With a wave of his hand in front of the subject's face, Kreskin begins by asking questions, such as,
"Are you awake?" Or "Are you in a trance?" After Kreskin has asked a reasonable amount of
identifying questions, he turns to the audience and announces that he can make people not under
a hypnotic trance even forget their name. He does this by asking a series of interrelated questions
along the lines of, "Where do you live?" And,
"Where do you work?" After a few carefully chosen questions, he changes inflection as he
proposes, "What is your name?" Mysteriously, the subject has no answer.
In the early 1970s, Kreskin went on record claiming, "I am convinced that no
person under 'hypnosis' has ever been asleep unless sent to that non-trance
happy state by the lullaby drone of the guide. I am convinced that there is no such thing as a
specific state, condition, trance--call it anything with any twist of semantics--that can be considered
Kreskin backed up his claim by offering $25,000 to whosoever could disprove his theory and
illustrate the existence of the 'hypnotic trance'. Utilizing the EEG and the polygraph to prove the
subjects purported to be in a hypnotic trancecompared to those in an awakened state presented
no change in brain waves, Kreskin refuted all who sought to take up his challenge.
In the 1980s, Kreskin upped the offer to $50,000. He was unsuccessfully
challenged in 1983 and then in 1985. The latter resulted in a court proceeding, which was
eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence. The following year, Kreskin raised his offer to
$100,000 and so followed a second court appearance, which was soon dismissed for lack of
The following is Kreskin's challenge verbatim:
"I now offer $100,000.00 to any Psychologist, Psychiatrist or Hypnotist who can conclusively prove
under scientific conditions, that I shall clearly outline and define a specific condition, trance or state
Secondly, the challenger must clearly demonstrate that what can be done in the so-called state
cannot be reproduced without that state. Yours truly knows of no such special phenomenon.
After going through legal ramifications of what was a pending trial, it is only justice that in the
future, aside from the claimant meeting the conditions that I
shall specify, they will also agree to sign a statement that should they fail to prove, and fail to win
the $100,000 they must pay all expenses incurred by me in the legal preparation of such a
challenge. This, I feel, is only justice."
If Kreskin managed to prove hypnosis' healing qualities have nothing to do with a trance induced
state, what then are the healing qualities so ardently attached to hypnosis?
The answer is autosuggestion. Kreskin illustrates the use of autosuggestion in his book The
Amazing World of Kreskin. He refers to Autosuggestion as something that should be preceded by
auto conditioning, which are a series of mental relaxation exercises.
After getting yourself in a passive frame of mind, you mentally melt and give your imagination free
The following sequence will aid in relaxation:
1. Sitting in a deep chair, or lying down, make yourself comfortable.
2. Reflect for a few seconds on some time and place where you were very deeply relaxed--a quiet
afternoon on a beach, falling asleep in front of a fireplace after a walk in the snow, lying in deep
shade on a river bank. Recall as vividly as you can the total experience.
3. Close your eyes and think of a soft, mellow color like blue or green, or the pink hues of roses.
4. After a few seconds take three deep breaths; hold the third and the deepest, and mentally
repeat the color image three times.
5. Exhale and let your entire body go limp. Make no effort to move a muscle.
Simply stay relaxed and count backwards, mentally, from fifty to zero--very
slowly. When you reach zero, count forward from one to three. Then open your
This routine consumes about five minutes and relaxes the body for autosuggestion. Obviously
similar to the process of meditation, Kreskin does not take credit for this process. He emphasizes
this procedure as one that if practiced a few times a day over the course of a couple of weeks an
individual will recognize the change in which they command, such as, an ability to overcome
smoking habits, dietary issues, or stress-related pressures.
One last point, although some look at hypnosis as a kind of special state of consciousness in
which a trance is induced so one can redress previous wrongs,relieve pain, or overcome
obnoxious habits, those who do not want to be hypnotized will not be hypnotized. The 'hypnotist'
does not hold any special powers such as an ability to move mountains and they cannot get
people to do anything against their will, in the words of B. Richard Bugelski and A.M. Graziano:
"When hypnosis is defined as a heightened state of suggestibility, it implies that we are in a
special state. Actually, we can be no more suggestible than we are, once we have let down the
safeguards that might normally prevent us from doing whatever anyone tells us to do. If we have
agreed to let someone hypnotize us, we have agreed to cooperate and follow instructions. We are
not in any different state of suggestibility; we are merely less critical. Those who worry about all
the harm that hypnotists might cause are misplacing their worries.
There are enough persuaders around to cause all the trouble we need. Popular leaders such as
Hitler could get others to do all sorts of horrible things without relaxing them and telling them that
they are falling asleep. All they had to do was to promise to satisfy strong yearnings of their
followers. The followers wanted to believe, and so they believed. Similarly, the hypnotized subject
wants to believe; he or she does not dispute or argue, and does what he or she is told to do. He or
she cannot do, however, anything that he or she cannot do without the help of hypnosis. If
someone wants to quit smoking, for example, he or she can quit.
If the subject does not want to quit, a hypnotist might be able to make him or her believe what is
essentially true and what no one can deny: that smoking is a filthy habit, disease promoting, a
public nuisance, and so on. The additional support to the belief may help the subject quit."
Those who claim to have lost track of time because they have sat in front of a television set or
been engrossed by a novel have not experienced a mind altering hypnotic trance anymore than
those who bring nicotine into their bodies are held captive by the cigarette. The purpose of
hypnosis is to gain control over one's thoughts, emotions, and the physical properties of the body
controlled by the mind.
Although a hypnotist can act like a guide by directing the subject through the trance-like-state,
commonly referred to as hypnosis, it is a fallacy because we already have the answers to the
questions the body seeks without having to be put into a trance--all we have to do is seek the right
question to the answers we already possess.
Sifting fallacies from fodder until next time..