Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Speaking with "the subconscious"

People often talk about the mind as if there are two people living inside - the conscious guy and the subconscious guy. And while you can make it functionally true if you want (or if you don't know what the fuck you're doing), there's nothing fundamental in the divide. It's just a bunch of shit that interacts more or less coherently, and we do better when it is more.

So how do I know? Well for one, its the simpler hypothesis and there's no evidence for anything like hard conscious subconscious divide. It falls right out of the building blocks we're made of, and empirically matches the flexibility we find - both in interpersonal variations and the shit you can do with hypnosis. Not only is the locus of conscious control variable between people, its variable within people, and between circumstances, and effect size, and a ton of things. And people might call it "cheating" to do anything with describable steps. Body temperature isn't normally considered voluntarily controllable, but I managed 0.6deg with nothing but mentally changing my thermostat - no increased movement or putting clothes on. But hell, when you get a fever, you sure as hell put blankets on. And if you care about the outcome, where's the rule that says running is cheating?

I have a subject who, if I told her to run a fever, she would certainly tell me that she couldn't - it's clearly not in her control. Yet, when I told her "subconscious", she did so easily. By the time she found a thermometer (after the peak effect), she still had a fever of 37.7C (~100F). So her mind is clearly capable of doing it - she just doesn't know where the handle is. What made me succeed where Yvain failed is that I knew a bit about how to find the handles. I know I've had fevers before, so I tried to remember what that was like. I have memories to that, so I can pull on those associations until I find something that is associated directly with a fever. He calls visualization "cheating" because he's consciously aware of it, even though I doubt he would have about bringing back the other associations. In the end, I can make an association directly from deciding to have a fever and having a fever. At that point, it's no different than any other "consciously controlled" behavior - after all we're a hierarchical control system anyway, and anything we do is done most proximately by low level circuits

The point of this is that people aren't even aware of what they can do or how to do it. A huge part of hypnosis is just getting them to mentally shut the fuck up so they do what you tell them to instead of hitting "I'm feeling lucky" which always returns the cached thought "I can't". I can't stress this enough. In the past couple days, I've fixed a girls depression issue and a gay guys attraction to his straight friend - neither of them thought it could ever go away. I did this in a couple minutes by doing the equivalent of "shut the fuck up and listen. you have a problem, yeah? you know what to do to fix it, yeah? Ok, now do it, and when you're done you can talk again". It's awesome.

Since "the subconscious" isn't really a well defined thing, I'm a bit uneasy about suggesting things with it. However, people seem to have a useful model of what to do when I ask to speak with it (I take precautions of course).

It seems to by synonymous with a deep and wide trance with the unfortunate additions of a one way amnesic barrier. If you allow them to talk in full words (as opposed to single keystroke binary answers), they can come up with all sorts of good stuff that they couldn't do before hypnosis. It's like they already know exactly what to do, but then put some filter over it that screws everything up. One of the things on my to do list is remove this damn filter from people.

Another recent example is a guy who hadn't slept in 2 days, and had no idea why. After asking to speak with his 'subconscious', it was just like I was talking to someone with much better introspection. He was nervous about screwing up something important in a few days. And once I pointed out the obvious solution - take it seriously and get some damn sleep - he was capable of just doing it. Easy. It's almost like how people should work... Of course, since it was his "subconscious" rather than just "stop filtering your damn responses you fool", he had spontaneous amnesia for the experience.

I've played with giving post hypnotic suggestions to somnambulists that they can just talk to their subconscious and have it do whatever they say. Just giving them a simple handle to doing anything based on their abstract thought. As expected, this lasted about a day - they're not smart enough to behave in a coherent way that doesn't get a lower level refusal to play by the stupid new rules. It becomes conditioned against, and you lose your privileges.

The right way to have it implemented is to have the new abilities simply added to your locus of control. You shouldn't have to click your heels three times or visualize fire to raise your body temperature. It should be as easy as moving your hand. And if you don't do it, you should take the same lesson you take when you don't touch the hot stove that you said you'd touch - "I won't [because deep down, I know it's a bad idea, despite agreeing to it earlier]", not "I can't". And so I've tried this, and unsurprisingly, it works. I taught a girl to do this (same girl that had the other method wear off after a day), and a week later, she said that she used the abilities for a few days, kinda forgot about it, but they still work. So far, so good. Perhaps I'll script it and start mass production?

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