Why does hypnosis work? Although hypnotic suggestion is not very different from any other human communication, it can have tremendously different consequences. How can the hypnotist possibly make you behave differently than you expect yourself to do? A hypnotic suggestion is nothing more than a statement requiring you to do something.
For example, lets’ suppose that someone is hypnotized to quit smoking. The hypnotist induces the feeling of nausea in him whenever he attempts to light up a cigarette. Why does this suggestion succeed where that person’s free will or the advice of friends and family failed?
The first visible effect of that suggestion is that the smoker no longer feels any pleasure in smoking; on the contrary, smoking is now repugnant to him. This aversion can sometimes be so deep that the inveterate smoker can no longer tolerate the smoke from other smokers around him.
If we consider that the aversion started immediately after a hypnotic seance, we can suppose that it cannot have an organic cause, like a disease or something similar. Instead, we see a physical repulsion induced by a psychological suggestion, or rather by a simple succession of words .
Physical reactions are often due to psychological reasons. A great fear can paralyze you, whereas big expectations can make your heart beat very quickly. You cannot consciously produce such effects in your body because you cannot control the unconscious processes taking place in your body. You can control your body only very superficially, in that you can accomplish the bodily movements you intend, but you cannot enter deeper into your body and control its organs’ activities.
It seems that the number of internal processes is so large that it cannot be encompassed by our consciousness. Bodily motions are units of behavior that, as such, seem simple, being devoid of any internal complexity.
In other words, when we reach out our hand to take a mug and lift it to our mouth to drink from it, this movement represents a unity in our conscious mind. We cannot go beyond that movement’s representation, feeling and intention to see what determines it within our body and brain. All chemical and neurological processes happening inside our body are entirely foreign to us.
There are stories that yogis, after a long training, can control such processes to a certain extent. We also can see on YouTube all kinds of fakirs who walk on glowing coals, endure very low temperatures for a long time, or eat much less than ordinary people need to survive.
Certainly, that training consists of more than constantly being exposed to those conditions. It also has a mental component. Although need can teach you a lot, those achievements are said to be more than what need can accomplish in your body.
It is obvious that if those stories are true, we are very ignorant concerning our minds and their relationships to our bodies. This happens because we pay very little attention to our interiority and mental and bodily processes. As a result of their reclusion, those yogis also manage to have a much deeper knowledge and understanding of the interaction between mind and body.
Certainly, not even they have immediate access to all levels of their bodily chemical processes. In this respect, we can suppose that they cannot control the reactions of an isolated cell in their body. Instead, perhaps, they have a much finer feeling than most people about what takes place in their bodies.
For example, they might feel the energy being released in their body after a meal, which we also vaguely feel. Or, they can stop feeling the sensation of the cold affecting their body, which, for a very short time, we also can do.
There are many more unbelievable stories saying they can travel in time or show up simultaneously in different locations. All these stories start from the premise that these yogis have entirely given up their ordinary human lives with all their common components.
We assume that someone who has completely renounced his social identity and expectations is not very much different from people continuing to live inside of society and that the human mind continues to work similarly in those conditions to the way it habitually does for an ordinary social individual. The latter’s mind is constantly moved by his desires, expectations, memories, fears, and so forth.
Unlike this individual, the anchorite strives to remove all ordinary desires, expectations, memories, and fears. Yes, those psychological processes do not disappear completely from his mind, but their fundamental object is what is being replaced, especially with the thirst for unio mystica, the complete unification with God.
But imagining God is not the same as imagining a human person. This is why their mind must act differently when aiming at unification with God.
How does a mind structured like an anchorite’s mind work? Is it legitimate to project our knowledge about ordinary human persons onto them? Does that mind have the same relationship with its body and material environment as our social minds?
Psychology is a very young science. Its knowledge base is still very limited. Moreover, this knowledge base rarely considers psychological aspects related to individuals who have entirely given up the ordinary way of being human without falling into depression or other psychological maladies.
Hypnosis is a procedure that achieves results that are surprising to our common expectations. What gives it credibility is that such results can be verified inside of society and, therefore, they are familiar to us. But hypnosis shows us that when the mind is forced to work in different psychological conditions, it can achieve startling outcomes related to the human body.
From a certain point of view, hypnosis is similar to what happens in the mind of those anchorites: it cuts off the ordinary way the mind works in an individual. When the hypnotist suggests to a smoker that he shall feel nausea when lighting a cigarette, the suggestion overlaps and removes the ordinary pleasure of inhaling the cigarette’s smoke. The suggestion manages to interrupt a psychological mechanism, replacing it with something else. And this suggestion then has a bodily effect.
They say that not all suggestions under hypnosis work. For a suggestion to work, it must be considered acceptable and credible by the hypnotized person.
We might then conjecture that if what is considered acceptable and credible by someone like an anchorite is far beyond anything we are accustomed to – not in the sense of a simple play of imagination, but of his deepest understanding of reality – the achievements of that mind could also be very different from anything we know.