Look Into My Eyes: The Science of Hypnosis

The fantastical history, mysterious healing power, and emergent neuroscience of hypnosis.

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It’s surprising how stressful the first time can be. For months I had been researching the history of hypnosis for a book on the power of suggestion. But no study of hypnosis would be complete without trying it myself. Which is what led me to the door of my friend, the photographer Meghan Dhaliwal, with butterflies in my stomach. At a dinner party a few nights before, I’d mentioned my plan to learn hypnosis. Meghan piped up immediately: “Oh! I want to get hypnotized! Can you hypnotize me?”

A hypnosis researcher had pointed me to a script — or induction — that I was to read in order to hypnotize Meghan, but I’d never even seen someone hypnotized before, let alone been the one doing it.

My only prior experience with hypnosis was on screen. I knew that certain people can make others drop into a trance by looking or talking at them. Sometimes, a pocket watch would be involved. In the movie Now You See Me (2013), a stage magician hypnotizes a guy in the audience to rob his own bank. In The Manchurian Candidate (1962), a man is programmed to kill the president. But if you screw up — as happened in Office Space (1999) — the victim might be permanently altered or harmed.

But these movies were simultaneously underestimating and overestimating the power of hypnosis. While hypnosis isn’t the key to mind control, it remains a potent means of healing some kinds of illness, easing depression, and overcoming pain — hardly magic.

 

This article was originally published by Aeon Media, a digital magazine for ideas and culture. Follow them on Twitter at @aeonmag.

 

Read the entire article in the September/October 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post.

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