Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How real is it anyway?

So how "real" is hypnosis to the subject? There's a whole spectrum of what the experience can be like for the subject - from "I know what's going on, and I am deciding to lie in order to play along. And I'm aware of this and it doesn't even feel real to me" to just being 100.000% entirely genuine. It is easy to get small tweaks on reality to be 100% genuine. There's already noise there, and you're just shifting the estimate a tad. But what about for name amnesia? What about when they forget the whole experience? What about invisible parentheses? What exactly does it even mean to be "real" or "fake"?

Let's consider name amnesia. I've had it almost work on me. It was a fascinating experience, actually. I in no way expected it to work - and I was laughing at my girlfriend's bumbling attempts to play hypnotist - but I knew a bit about being a good subject, and was trying to make it work anyway - trying to really get into the mindset where my name just didn't want to come up.
Eyes open wide awake!
I opened my eyes. "What is your name?" I noticed myself saying "....uh.... I dunno". From the outside, it certainly looked like she had success. But was it "real"? I mean, inside my head, I thought "well, it looks like I decided to play along". Was I just playing along? Well, I'm not much of an actor, and it looked real. So there's that. Maybe that's just a rationalization though. Well, of course it's a rationalization in the sense that I'm trying to predict the output of a black box inside my head - that's how introspection works. And I did decide to play along. So let's switch to a question that pays rent: Could I find my way out?
"No seriously, what's your name?"
"Uh...." Hmm.... I guess I really decided to play along - you know what? Screw it. I'm done playing along.
"What was it? it's just gone, huh?"
"It's......" Oh wow... "...It's Jimmy". Huh... I got it, of course, but not right away. I could feel it pulling against me when I went to pull it up. So if Omega came in and said "tell me your name or the world ends!", I would have realized its important and cut the shit. Yet it felt real. It wasn't "My name is Jimmy and I'm unimpressed, but I'm going to say that I don't know." It was "I know that I know... and I can probably pull it back up if I rethink how to remember my name... But it's not really here."
I tend to measure "realness" by which situations cause it to collapse. And that's determined by what you are aware of on the meta-level and the strength of that awareness. Funny enough, it's not binary. We're not like computers that either execute the line of code or don't. Some suggestions might work in one situation and not in another. Or they might just half-work.
If you suggest that your hand turns slightly redder, well, shoot. I don't know the exact hue of my hand, so maybe it really is a bit redder. The reminders are weak and it's just genuine. If you're suggesting an entire alternate reality, there will be reminders that it's not real. If you hallucinate an elephant in the room, there's reminders coming from your rod and cones that no, you can see the wall and there's no freaking elephant.
They have these two simultaneous "realities" (i.e. experience level maps of reality). You're painting this semi transparent picture on top of the territory, and the territory is so different that it's obvious when they look for it. Yet, when you do it right, there's a winner-take-all mechanism - so they just act like its totally real even though the other reality is represented. It just isn't strong enough to take over at the time. It's the non-elephant of an elephant in the room.
I got into a really fun (and devious) mood one night and started hypnotizing people online. I hypnotized my engineer friend and had some fun messing with him. At one point, after doing a lot things that went perfectly (including stuck leg, name amnesia, weak hallucinations, and "invisible parentheses"), I suggested amnesia for the experience and started talking about engineering stuff again. After a minute of that, I asked "You don't even remember being hypnotized, do you?" He responded "Oh! well, now I do. Bummer, I was hoping it was going to work."
Um.... Hahahaha! Excuse me? Your leg was stuck to the floor and you couldn't remember your name, and you just forgot about all that weird stuff we were doing until I reminded you. How is that not it "working"?
Well, the whole time he was responding perfectly to the suggestions. In his peripheral vision he could see the elephant in the room - in this case, the writing in parentheses. If you pointed to it, he could see it, yet he just wasn't responding to it. Once I pointed him at "the elephant", he responded in essence "oh yeah? I see the elephant. It's been there all along." "Invisible parentheses" function like they're real and genuine, which makes them useful, but they are remarkably susceptible to backwards rationalization after the fact.
So this is the kind of thing that is going on when hypnosis "can't get people to do things against their will". If that other node is lit up almost to the take over place, then when shit gets real, they'll switch. Voila! Protection from evil! Case closed, right?
Yet... Since he wasn't attending to it, its gone when you backwards mask it - or otherwise distract until he naturally forgets. And by that point... Well...

A week or so later, I ended hypnotizing a stranger on Omegle. I'm sorta done with that now, but I got sucked into it while investigating some captcha issues. Anyway, she had never been hypnotized by a live 'tist before, though she had experience with "self hypnosis" relaxation videos. A few suggestions into the process, she was "unable to remember" that she had been hypnotized.
Right after that type of suggestion is given, the subject tends to be confused. If you just tell them something at that point, they're like "oh... yeah". Nothing surprises them because they're too confused to have any priors at all. It's like you do highway hypnosis and someone mentions the sign you just passed - you still have experiential memory you can look back on and it's kinda right there. But if you keep going...It's gone.
If you wait for them to find their footing again, then they can start to solidly think they've never been hypnotized. And the cool thing is, it happens so fast - with no label map available - that they don't have time to update on the possibility. It was still inconceivable that hypnosis could even do that. And then I reminded her :)
So I was able to get the stranger on Omegle to forget that she had been hypnotized...but how "real" was that? Sure, she brought her labels map back to the table and still "believed" that she hadn't been hypnotized, but maybe the reality that she had been hypnotized was almost strong enough to "take all." Well, I asked her. She said "It is like there was a tiny hand waving in the back and i was just ignoring it - and i didn't even think about ignoring it". The way she said it made it sound like it wasn't that salient at all. But if you know how her experience differs from reality, and you want it to be more real, then suggest the difference away (remember that heuristic?).
So I did.
This time She got very defensive about it. She got pissed and almost disconnected with me, but I reminded her again. I was gonna go for round three or more until I got indistinguishable from before, but she was freaked out so I took it easy on her. On the second go, it was clear to me that there was a 'not wanting to admit it' going on, yet she would never have found it. People don't visit their ugh fields. After that, she took it a lot more seriously. If it were a "kinda playing along" level of not very real (e.g. like me and name amnesia), she wouldn't be so scared after the "wake up". It would be like "yeah, but I kinda knew it was there and I wouldn't have -" no, it was "I'm scared to engage this conversation any further lol"  and "Even now I have no way of knowing if you've done anything else to me".

So what if you minimize reminders? What if you really drive it down - far enough that its not bulging into awareness - further down, and they really have to look for it - then so far down that even when they look, its a struggle to find. What if you suggest that they suck at finding things? What if you suggest that they're the kind of person that doesn't just switch based on nagging feelings? What if you suggest that they're really averse to it coming up? What if you anticipate their moves and preemptively head them off?

Well... You get the idea. If you know what you're doing, you can get it real enough.

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