Yesterday evening, I got hypnotized. Well, not really. It happened like this.
This week, Madison put on several of events in order to welcome new students - not that there are likely to be many at semester, but it was nice entertainment for the rest of us. One of those events was a hypnotist's performance. I had heard claims that hypnosis was not a special mental state, and decided to go get hypnotized myself. My plan was simple: follow all instructions for getting into the "hypnotic state," but do something contrary to given commands. Pretend to be Weird Al when I'm told I'm Fran Sanatra. Whatever.
The hypnotist, "Magic Mike," began by telling us about awards he had won for comedy and doing a stage magic routine. It was a rope trick I had done myself, but with several different variations such that I couldn't always keep track of what was happing. This introductory phase was peppered with bad jokes, and Magic Mike's own observations about how bad his jokes were.
When the hypnosis part began, he had people who wanted to be hypnotized stand up, clasp their hands, and point their index fingers up. On his command, he said, they would become like magnets, impossible to take appart. Knowing full well this was a test of suggestibilty, I kept my fingers together. Then he got us on state: 20, 30 college students sitting in an arc of chairs going from one end of the stage to another. Before the full hypnosis, he did one further test: had us clamp our hands together, and told us that when he counted to five, we'd be unable to pull them apart, and the harder we tried, the harder they'd be stuck together. As he counted slowly, he told us to squeeze hard. I didn't make a real effort to pull them apart, though it felt weird to do so when he said we could - likely from squeezing for so long, an effect that probably set in with some people after 10 seconds of hard squeezing.
Then came the full hypnotism. In They Call It Hypnosis, which I had begun reading earlier this week, Robert Baker mentions the similarity between relaxation techniques and some hypnotic proceedures. The instructions we got was essentially the same as those on some relaxation tapes my high school psych teacher had the class listen to one day: you're going deeper, waves of relaxation spreading through your body, etc. At the end of the proceedure, I was no more or less hypnotized than I had been after listening to the relaxation tapes, though I was less relaxed, as I had to sit back in an uncomfotable chair.
In general, the peformance wasn't all that different than a typical improve comedy routine, just with less improve and more outright silliness. At first, I thought I'd wait on big antics until singled out for some performance, though I never was. When he told us we were all children in a classroom who would make faces at him, the teacher, when he had his back turned. I stuck out my tongue and kept it out whether or not he was looking at me. Eventually, he came to me and asked what I was doing. I replied that I was pickinig my nose. In another part, he informed a few subjects (not including me) that they would be unable to remember their names. He asked others for their names for comparison, when he got to me, my name was George Bush. Then he told us we were all in a beach in Cancun, and there were birds that would sit on our fingers if we held out our hands. He went around asking us what kinds of birds we had; I declared I had a penguin. After that, one girl - following my example? - revealed that she was petting an ostrich.
I wasn't the only one who showed signs of not being fully in trance. One guy kept cracking smiles and the things he was being told to do, though he followed quite mindlessly. In an incident at the end of the show, the hypnotist told one guy he was from Jupiter, and another that he was an interpreter, able to speak both English and Jupinese. The hynposits asked several questions of the "alien visitor," then let other subjects asks questions. One girl asked if she could touch him. The interpreter rendered the response as "depends where."
When I got back, the people I had been sitting next to felt the need to inform me that I had said I was George Bush, which I remembered quite well. Other people were more suspicious. Walking back, I heard someone say "I think one or two of the guys were faking it," and a girl I went to highschool with told me via facebook she thought I had been faking.
Overall, it was not an experience that left me thinking much of hypnosis. And yet, as I was walking back, I heard some girls telling a guy about the pictures they had gotten of him.
"You didn't remember it?" I asked. I got an equivocal "not really" in reply. I asked for specifics, and he said he just remembered hearing the hypnotist's voice, not what he, the subject, had done. I don't know what research has been done on hypnotic amnesia. Baker mentions briefly that it's a myth. I suppose I should have given the guy my e-mail adress and asked him to sit down and try to remember a few days later.
So in the end, I'm not impressed, but that few sentences of conversation makes me wonder. Who knows, in the end.