It’s a fun thing to watch a bored smartphone addict. Maybe they’re standing around, waiting for a bus. Every minute or so, they whip out their phone, glance at it and put it away, like a rat pulling a lever. What if they got a message in that time? What if something goes viral?
Then again, would you even notice this pocket dance? Or would your eyes be glued to your own screen?
Now, I love my smartphone. It’s a convenient education tool, research assistant and, yes, social media interface. My life would be a challenge if I gave it up. That’s because it’s a useful device that I use often.
But do you own your smartphone? Or does it own you?
There are those who smoke and are happy. Hey, we all have our vices. Then there are people who don’t want to smoke but can’t manage to quit. They walk around with bad odours, empty wallets, crippled lungs and an aura of failure.
All of which is unnecessary.
If you smoke and want to quit, you’ve probably tried patches or gum. Or maybe you kept it simple and quit cold turkey. Both strategies have similar succeed rates, which is a polite way of saying they don’t work. Nicotine supplements assume the problem is chemical. It’s not.
As for relying on willpower…
Your brain exists outside your skull. Clusters of nerves are everywhere throughout your body. They speed up reactions, enhance motor control and even process emotions. The enteric nervous system lines the walls of your gut, playing a role in your daily experience and the hypnotic process.
This gut brain is a fascinating piece of your puzzle. How many common experiences come from here, from gut instincts to butterflies in the stomach? Our language is spot on here. It turns out that the enteric nervous system handles a lot of our unconscious thinking.
The question is: what kind of thinking goes on in the gut?
A curious thing about your body is that your brain is everywhere. I don’t mean nerve cells – that’s not surprising. I’m talking about structures that process information and analyse stimuli. A lot of thinking happens outside your skull, which means a lot of hypnosis happens there too.
I was amazed when I first learned that the heart has its own, small brain. I knew about the nerve clusters (“ganglions”) that make tiny adjustments to your muscles. Even so, it never occurred to me that organs might have something similar – or that the heart’s would be so sophisticated.
When I thought about it, though, it seemed obvious. The heart has to operate perfectly for decades, even centuries. It needs to respond instantly to dangers, then calm down soon after. The brain is too remote. Evolution decided that it needs command and control a little closer to the equipment.
If you’d like to be more confident, charismatic and extraverted, then I have great news. Your personality stems from your brain and that’s a flexible thing. You’re not ‘shy’ – you have a set of learned habits and reactions to certain situations. And what you learn, you can unlearn. There’s nothing in the rulebook that says you can’t learn to be more outgoing.
There’s a reason why you aren’t as socially daring as you might like. It boils down to a fascinating property of the human brain:
Brains are funny.
And by funny, I mean stupid.
The triune model describes the human brain as like an onion. The earliest part to evolve lies at the centre, with new layers emerging around it. The features that many animals share – fear, perception, memory and learning – rest at the core. More specialised adaptations, like social instincts, sit in the newer layers. All of these are relevant to hypnosis, as it influences and relies on them.
This brings us to the neocortex. This isn’t the part that makes us, us. So much of our mental processing happens outside the neocortex. And even outside the brain – the nerves in our body do more than just relay instructions, as it turns out. But the neocortex provides some uniquely human experiences. Its size in humans, relative to the rest of the brain, is enormous. It must do something important.
Is it possible to activate new senses? That depends on what you mean by it. If you dream of developing X-ray vision… well, I don’t know what the upper limits of hypnosis are. That seems unlikely, though. What is possible, though, is using hypnosis to enhance the way you experience the world.
I don’t blame you if you’re sceptical. The truth is that you already have ‘extra’ senses. If you think of vision as faithfully recording visual input, you’re overlooking a few things (if you pardon the pun). You see things that aren’t there. What you see is beyond what bouncing photons tell you.
In the triune model, the reptilian brain (the basal ganglia) makes up the physical core of the human brain. Layered around that is the later-to-evolve mammalian cortices. Since hypnosis influences the subject’s entire mind, it pays to know how the mammalian brain (the limbic system) helps and hinders the trance process.
Like the basal ganglia, this is not one system but a series of related lobes. They enable a huge range of functions, all of which we’d consider as part of what it means to be human.
Hypnosis is an ancient practice that spans the globe. Neuroscience is a recent field. For a lot of our history, we didn’t even know what the brain did. Until recently, the only way to examine a living brain was to study people with head injuries.
For millennia, hypnotists managed just fine without knowing any neuroscience. Those days are behind us. What changed?
The triune model divides the human brain into reptilian, mammalian and human components. The theory is that as we grew smarter over our evolutionary history, we bolted on new structures to the brain. As such, all mammals have a simpler, more reptilian brain at the centre. Humans have extra features on top of that, creating three separate layers.
As with all of neuroscience, the truth is much more complicated than this. Even so, this simple model helps you be a better hypnotist.
The reptilian brain consists of the basal ganglia, the structures that sit on top of the spinal column. It controls involuntary actions, whether they are ingrained (such as regulating temperature and heart-rate) or learned (such as habits). It also has a role in motivation, decision-making and memory.
Any hypnotist will find this intriguing. Stage hypnotists know all about temperature – a popular opening for a routine involves hypnotising subjects to feel hot, then cold, then hot again. Then there are classic trance phenomena like arm levitations and eye locks. In other words, involuntary actions. And hypnosis is excellent for treating decision-making issues, whether they are bad habits, addictions or even depression.