Monday, October 31, 2011

Why haven't people gotten this shit all figured out yet?

There are a lot of ways that people tend to fail when trying to figure out hypnosis. I'm going to describe some of the more important ones.

For something to be worth calling "hypnosis", it has to be an area where we can't model people as coherent agents. Since people are fond of anthropomorphizing non people, you better bet they like to anthropomorphize people. They'll even do it twice if they have to.

The fact that understanding hypnosis requires breaking your model down into multiple subhuman pieces seems to weed out the majority.

The fragile and malleable concept of conscious locus of control is an example where anthropomorphizing can go wrong. The subject has to be seen as a mechanistic that you're trying to get certain outputs from. Even if "they're resisting" or "they're not following instructions" is an accurate description, that just makes your job harder. Blaming the subject (in cases that doesn't actually fix their attitude) is just a mistake that 1) leads to failure, and 2) can make you blind to what you're missing. It's tempting to narrow down the problem, but you lose power when you do so. "Be hypnotized!"..."you didnt follow instructions. My success rate is 100% for those who follow instructions." :P

Understanding hypnosis also requires being able to think on multiple levels, which is another thing that most people are no good at. If you can't see that thoughts are implemented in neurology, you're done. If it's not intuitively obvious that free will is reducible to neurons firing, you're done. If you can't realize that complex thought patterns can be broken down into simple associations, you lose.

You also have to be able to see things from different 'angles'. More specifically, you need to be able to make predictions from multiple sources of evidence. It is a different thing to say "she's angry because photons from the environment triggered these specific cones which made this pattern of activation in the primary visual cortex..." and explain a detailed model of her neurology than it is to say "she's angry because the dude dropped her baby". The latter explanation has the advantage of not needing all the unobtainable details, but the disadvantage of not knowing enough to be able to hack it. They can both be good explanations, and being able to attack the problem from several angles simultaneously seems to be necessary to avoid confusion.

Having multiple models is common. Everyone wants to hear about the latest fad model, or to have their own.  Actually trying to make them fit together is not common.

On top of these specific issues, there's a ton of other things that people screw up. Many are covered in A Human's Guide to Words. Others in making beliefs pay rent, dissolving wrong questions.  People argue over different non mutually exclusive theories of hypnosis that explain different phenomena, are explanations at different levels/from different angles, or both can be true depending on how the suggestion is worded. It's like they're blind men with an elephant.  There are really way too many common failures to cover them all. In short, the whole community needs to read the god damn sequences.

Another set of fuck ups comes when academia tries to do their thing with silly nonsense like spending a lot of money to get precise results to an imprecise question when the right thing to do is many cheap experiments to help get a framework that tells you which questions to ask. On top of that, they tend to not know how to even interpret it after they get the result. You cant just find correlations between two observables and expect it to mean anything, especially if you don't know which things are important to hold constant.

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