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Most people will tell you that hypnotism is not part of the paranormal. It is a real phenomenon, accepted by science. But it has been very neglected by science.

Most people don’t know that in the great age of hypnotism, the 19th century, it was known to be intimately connected with paranormal phenomena.

Are you aware that most family doctors in the 19th century were trained in hypnotism, and some used it extensively? They treated depression, hysteria, and, above all, chronic pain with it.

Ask any doctor today what he or she thinks of the current state of medicine vis à vis chronic pain and they will likely shake their heads in dismay. That’s what my GP did when I mentioned to him that during my 40 yr career handling personal injury claims I became something of a specialist in chronic pain, the ailment that causes more long term disability than anything else other than simple aging. Most of the time no cause for it is ever determined.

Painkilling drugs have little effect on chronic pain, and mood-enhancers (Prozac etc), over the long-term, have been ineffectual in countering the depression that usually accompanies it. But the hypnotists of the 19th century considered the control of chronic pain to be their greatest achievement.

It seems to have been the arrival of prescription drugs in the 20th century that convinced doctors to abandon hypnotism. Prescribing drugs is easier I suppose.

In his 1903 book, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death, Fred W. H. Myers, a self-taught psychologist who became one of the leaders in the Society of Psychical Research, devoted a full chapter to hypnotism.

Myers demonstrated that the mental states created in hypnotic trances are of many kinds.

Experiments showed that multiple hypnotic states can be created in a hypnotized person, where the memory available in each one is separate from the memory in the others. As many as 8 of these ‘levels’, as Myers calls them, were created in one individual, with a separate memory track in each one. Myers speculated that further research could be done to explore whether this is related to the phenomena of multiple personalities.

Unfortunately, that research, as far as I have been able to determine, has never been done.

Other experiments documented the ability of some subjects to be hypnotized from a distance, sometimes a mile or more, which Myers considered to be another confirmation of telepathy (Myers coined the term ‘telepathy’). He proposed that this was an obvious avenue for long-term research on telepathy, yet little was done that way either.

It was discovered that some individuals in a hypnotic state demonstrate clairvoyance (what is now more often called ‘remote viewing’). One doctor in Australia had found among approximately 500 patients who had undergone hypnosis with him, a few that exhibited clairvoyance. He sent Myers a detailed account of a search by two young sisters for a missing gold cufflink, a story that is alone worth the price of a copy of Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death.

The phrase ‘human personality’, by the way, is 19th century terminology. If Myers was writing today, he might use “mind” instead.

Myers came to the conclusion that normal dreaming and hypnosis are closely related.

Hypnosis included self hypnosis, which he preferred to call self-suggestion. The shamans of other cultures were often accomplished at self-suggestion, easily entering altered psychological states.

The use of ‘small unfamiliar objects’ – charms – for curing and/or preventing disease he also considered to be self-suggestion. Experiments showed them to have real effect. Myers considered the ‘miracles’ from the water at Lourdes to be of this nature too, another form of self-hypnotism.

When so much was learned in the 19th century with hypnosis, why did the 20th century turn its back on it? Prescription drugs were a factor, but that doesn’t seem to have been enough for research to have been abandoned.

Some dismiss the Society of Psychical Research’s work today simply because it is 19th century. They don’t realize that the accumulation of knowledge is not a one way street. Knowledge acquired is often lost again, and this is an example.

How many practitioners of hypnosis are there today? Between 1994 and 2012 I handled at least 500 long-term chronic pain files, and in all of those I encountered the use of hypnotism only once.

Why are we so convinced that we always know more than the people of the past?

 

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