Wednesday, July 20, 2011

YES!!! A show with vomiting(?) hypnotized people!!!

Note: The following post contains ideas I have collected from researchers in pyschology and my own personal understanding of that research. I do not claim to be an expert in the field of pyschology. I am not any more than a "hobbyist."

Tonight, ABC will have a Nightline special - Beyond Belief: Battle with the Devil at 10 PM, EST. I am tempted to watch out of pure pschological interest. It is amazing (and scary at the same time) what the mind can do when it is manipulated emotionally to the point that hypnosis is induced. And that is what not only I find to be true, but former ministers like Rich Lyons, who claim to have performed exercisms, essentially say that is what it is - induced hypnosis. Let's first be clear on what hypnosis is. As Wikipedia states, "contemporary research suggests that hypnotic subjects are fully awake and are focusing attention, with a corresponding decrease in their peripheral awareness." It's not limited to this "you're getting sleepy...very sleepy" while watching a pendulum (usually a round pocket watch) swing by stuff that used to be portrayed in media.

I have had some experience with hypnosis. In my freshman year of college, a hypnotist put on a show on campus. I actually volunteered to go on stage to be hypnotiszed (OK, am I British now?). The procedure had us close our eyes to relax1 and then start accepting suggestions like, "Your arms are SOOOO heavy, it is impossible to lift them." This is what Wikipedia says is the induction technique. I like to think of this as a "warm-up," where the hypnotist is getting the subject loose and ready for more "powerful" (for lack of a better word) suggestions. I was about the second person kicked off the stage, though, as I wasn't really playing along well during that warm-up. They perhaps noticed that my response to the question, "What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?" was not as enthusiastic as those of the other participants. (On a side note, the most enthusiastic answer probably came from my old friend, Jory, who answered "Beer flavored!" Update: Actually, now that I think of it, I'm quite sure I laughed at that, though tried hard to cover it up. That might be where they noticed I was not fully entranced.) Yet, when they asked me to get off stage, the hypnotist was suggesting that the ice cream was melting and dripping on our arms. As I was walking off, he suggested that everyone like off the ice cream. Even though I was not hypnotiszed enough to remain on the stage, I did catch myself sticking my toung out and raising my right forearm up toward it. Even though I was not playing along very well, I still had fallen slightly into a hypnotic trance. Imagine if I had played along during the warm-up. I may have remained up on stage and been riding imaginary horses, or whatever else the hypnotist had people doing.
1 I suspect, as this was done in front of the audience, this was done so as to not hypnotize the audience by keeping them from following along with the suggestions intended only for those on stage.

Now, how does hypnosis come into play in exercism? The first and most important key is getting people to believe in demon possession, as suggestions will be much less effective without such belief, much like I could not be easily hypnotiszed as I was not going along with the idea that my arms were so heavy I could not lift them. This belief is developed and reinforced over time, though, and not in just one session, as in the case of my hypnotic experience. The suggestion does not necessarily come from the exorcist (hypnotist), either, though it will come from somewhere in the Christian church. After this point, a person then needs to believe they are possessed by demons, but this is an easy step to take. And this is the second important thing to realize: those people getting exercized already believe they are demon possessed, whether they convinced themselves of it or were convinced by family, friends, or the exercist. They already believe their arms are too heavy to lift.

Another important part should be to stir up an emotional response. For this, I'm not entirely sure how the emotions might be built up, which is a reason for me to watch the show. When it comes to the actual exorcism, I have heard that there can be a lot of screaming, some of which comes from the exorcist, and crying, coming from the audience. There is also another emotion that I had not before considered. As the reporter's notebook points out, "there is a triumph unfolding before our cameras -- a triumph over Satan." Need I explain how people tend to act when they are stirred up emotionally? Behavior is typically anything but rational. If I had not been thinking rationally during my hypnotic experience, I may have been more likely to buy into the suggestion that my arms were too heavy to lift.

Perhaps the last important part (unless I forgot anything) is the response from the hypnotic subject. This is where someone might not recognize exercism as hypnotism because the subject is not clearly being fed verbal suggestions. Well, like that key belief in demonic possession, the response is suggested prior to the hypnosis. People like Rich Lyons, who I mentioned earlier, who have performed exercisms believe the responses come from what they expect demon extraction to look like. If they expect it to involve seizuring, then they'll flop and shake on the floor. If they expect it to involve vomitting, then they'll vomit. These ideas can come from many sources, including literature, Hollywood, and other believers in demonic possession. The exercist does play a role, though. It is their job to trigger when these responses occur with non-verbal suggestions. Such an action may be placing their hand on the head of the subject, and then slowly pulling their hand away from the subject as though they had a hold of the demon, or even pretending to push the demon out. Just take Benny Hinn for an example. If Benny Hinn tries to heal you, what do you do???

...You fall to the floor. Why? Because that is what you are expected to do! Sometimes seizures are involved, as you can see.

Let's now dig deeper into the reporter's notebook. There are some other ideas that are important to the hypnotic suggestion:
  1. "People have to humble themselves..." - This is part of the induction technique in which people prepare themselves for further suggestion; it is similar to the very start of my experience where I was told to close my eyes.
  2. " looks foolish. But there's a verse in the Bible where Paul the apostle says that God uses the foolish things of the world, things that look foolish, to confound the wise." - This is another part of the induction technique to surrender rational thought. Let's change this quote up a bit and consider how it might have impacted my situation: "[The idea that you cannot lift your arms sounds] foolish. But there's a verse in the Bible where Paul the apostle says that God uses the foolish things of the world, things that [sound] foolish, to confound the wise." Of course, since I don't believe in the god of the Bible, this still would not have worked on me, but hopefully you get the idea.
  3. Believers like to quote the old line that the devil's greatest trick was convincing people that he does not exist. - This is a way to rationalize that primary key belief in demon possession. It is a defense mechanism against skeptics/doubters who threaten this induction step.

In closing, the important thing to realize is that most of the induction techniques have already been completed prior to the subject arriving at the location. For example, someone who has never heard of Benny Hinn before will not be taken up on stage, or, if that somehow did happen, that person will not fall down like they are supposed to. Likewise, a person who has heard of him, but is certain he is a fraud, will likewise not fall down. A doubter, however, may very well fall down. Why? Because they will get caught up by the emotional part of the induction, which is the component that completes the induction. They have accepted enough of the other parts of the induction technique that they will give in completely once their rationality is subdued. And, being familiar with Benny Hinn, they know what to do when he gives them the non-verbal suggestion. I expect something similar out of this show - the people who go to these exercists already know the routine!

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