SLEEP-WALKING AND HYPNOTISM
by Robert Anton Wilson
[1987 Natural Law book p62-68]
All that we are is the result of all that we have thought. It is founded on thought. It is created by thought.
Gotama Buddha, The Dammapada
I stated at the beginning that this booklet concerns hypnosis and self-hypnosis; I shall now explicate that remark.
If you are arguing for racial equality with a man who keeps using the word "nigger," you will eventually discover that you are making headway and that some barrier prevents clear communication. If you are discussing censorship laws with a lady who keeps using the word "smut," you will experience that same sense of banging your head against a brick wall. If you attempt to reason with a Marxist, the word "bourgeoise" will eventually be invoked to banish any coherence or logic in what you have been saying.
It is a truism in social science that human beings can be defined as the language-using class of life. Buddhists, semanticists and hypnotists know that we not only use words but are also easily mesmerized by them. Hypnotists in real life seldom have to use glittering jewels or shining mirrors as they do in films; the ordinary domesticated primate can be hypnotized quite quickly and easily with words alone, spoken in proper cadence and with abundant repetition. Advertisers try to hypnotize us all the time, and judging by the fees they collect from satisfied clients, they are doing very well at it. Having used hypnosis in my psychological seminars for nearly 20 years now, I am-quite prepared to agree with G.I. Gurdjieff and Colin Wilson that most people can be said to be hypnotized most of the time, and that the professional hypnotist only switches them from their habitual trance to a different trance.
In fact, when I first started using hypnotism I was astounded that so many people went into deep trance quickly when I was only attempting to induce light trance. It was many years before I understood fully Gurdjieffs insistence that most people are sleep-walking in a deep trance state most of their lives. Now I am only astounded that many people actually come out of their trance often enough to remember, occasionally, what they intended to buy at the supermarket.
If you have to deal with neurotics regularly, you will eventually observe that most of them say aloud once or twice a week something to the effect, "They won't give us a chance," "You can't win," "The smart boys have it all sewed up," etc. The odds are that such a neurotic is silently repeating these sentences sub-vocally in the "interior monologue" of ordinary consciousness many, many times a day. This form of self-hypnosis is known as a Loser Script in the language of Transactional Analysis.
Other people hypnotize themselves into other reality-tunnels by endless repetition of such mantras as "I like everybody, and everybody likes me" (the successful Salesman script), "All niggers are treacherous" (the Racist script), "All men are bastards" (the reverse sexist or Radical Lesbian script), "I deserve a drink after a morning like that" (the apprentice Alcoholic script), "I can't control my temper" (the Go Directly to Jail Do Not Collect $200 script), "Cancer is only mortal mind. Divine mind has no cancer. I am Divine Mind" (the Christian Science script), etc.
Self-hypnosis need not be destructive, obviously. Like "faith," it can be a releaser of energy, a spur to creativity and a tool of self-improvement (metaprogramming the human biocomputer) as long as you're not a damned fool about it, to quote the immortal W.C. Fields again.
Uncovering the sentences that perpetuate self-hypnosis is a major goal in some forms of psychotherapy such as Rational-Emotional Therapy, Reality Therapy and Transactional Analysis and is acknowledged as important in most other forms of psychotherapy. Many accelerated forms of therapy now in vogue rely largely on teaching people to abandon negative self-hypnosis and begin using the powers of positive self-hypnosis.
Count Korzybski, the pioneer semanticist, said that humans are the symbol-using species and therefore those who control symbols control human destiny. Stokely Carmichael, a Black civil rights leader of the 1960s, said it this way: "The power to define is the power to control."
Hypnotism can induce people to shut off pain at the synapse, and surgeons can operate on them as if they were anesthetized. Hypnotism can stop bleeding. Hypnotism can even induce hallucinations: "In five minutes," the hypnotist says, "you will see a clown stick his head in the window." In five minutes, the subject looks startled and giggles, then reports that he saw a clown at the window. Advertisers have learned this trick, also. Most men have a favorite brand of beer which they insist tastes better than others, but when blindfolded, as Packard documented in The Hidden Persuaders, these men cannot identify their favorite brand from a selection of five. The superior taste they ordinarily experience must be considered a hypnotically induced hallucination.
I have always dreaded both Ideology and Theology, because they make people cruel. It now appears to me that ordinary men and occasionally ordinary women do monstrous things for their Ideologies and Theologies only because politics and religion function largely, like advertising, through hypnotism and self-hypnotism. This is the opinion also of Colin Wilson in his extraordinary and terrifying Criminal History of Mankind. Examining the blood-curdling acts of both those who have always been called criminals (the free-lance marauders) and those government officials who have only been identified as criminals (that is, as "war criminals") in the last generation, Colin Wilson concludes that in each case there is abundant evidence that the perpetrators of atrocities were, not metaphorically but literally, hypnotized or self-hypnotized. That is, they had learned how to make hypnotic words and sentences more real to their brains than the ordinary testimony of the senses and feelings.
This seems hard to believe at first, as it is hard to believe that most people are hypnotized most of the time. But consider two of the outstanding forms of Ideology in the world racism and sexism. If you have observed a racist or sexist in action, you will note that they do not see or observe the concrete human being before them; they "see" only the hallucination triggered by the hypnotic words of their internal racist or sexist script, which they have been repeating, both aloud and sub-vocally, for many, many years. This, of course, is easiest to observe when you are the victim of racism or sexism, but, fortunately for our species' education there is enough reverse racism and reverse sexism around these days that I can confidently expect all readers have had a few experiences with deeply hypnotized subjects of the type I am describing. Even if you are white, you have encountered black racism and observed that it doesn't react to your sensory-sensual activity in space-time at all: it is a robot program that reacts only to your skin color. You might have learned from that what it is like for black people to try to deal with thoroughly hypnotized white racists. And if you are male, you have undoubtedly met a few deeply hypnotized Radical Feminists by now, and have some clue as to how women feel in dealing with male sexism.
Every Theology and every Ideology, it seems to me, is an endeavor in hypnotism and self-hypnotism. If there is one thing that everybody knows in common sense when they are in "their right minds" and not hypnotized it is that "all generalizations are hazardous" and that individual cases are each unique. The function of Theological and Ideological hypnosis is to forget this common sense and follow a robot-program that evades the responsibility of thinking and feeling anew in each unique situation. It is not just the other gang's Theology or Ideology that is nefarious: all Theology and Ideology is nefarious. It is a form of sleep-walking in which we can do monstrous things because we are not alive, awake and aware of who we are, where we are and what is going on around us.
In hypnosis, we "live in our heads" i.e., in the "magic" verbalisms that induce and perpetuate our trance. In hypnotism, if we believe pain does not exist, pain goes away, and if we believe a disciplined German officer should not have normal human feelings, normal human feelings go away and we can perform atrocities. In hypnotism, any verbal formula can become as "real" as or even more "real" than the sensory-sensual manifold of space-time. In hypnosis, a verbal abstraction such as Racial Purity or Class War or God's Will becomes more "real" and more "important" to the brain than the sense-data reporting a bottle of beer and a ham sandwich on the table or a bleeding victim of the Ideology lying in the street.
The Ideology of Natural Law, I submit, must be classed as a form of self-hypnosis. I have argued, throughout, that the Platonic world of Natural Law and other abstractions does not interface at any point with the space-time continuum of ordinary sensual-sensory experience, the bottle of beer or the victim's body. For this reason, which they know, the more intelligent Natural Law theorists attribute Natural Law to some other, allegedly "higher" world. I suggest that where Natural Law exists where gods and demons and faery-folk and pookahs exist is in the hypnotized brains of those who have invoked these ghostly entities by repeating hypnotic chants to themselves, over and over, until this made-up world is more real to them than the world of experience.
That the Ideologist "lives in his head" is familiar folk wisdom, but it contains terrifying implications.
I have argued that morality derives from human experience, human reason, human feeling, human intuition and human creative energy generally. Other animals do not have "morality" for the same reason they do not have art or science: their brains do not abstract higher-order information from sensory information, as ours do, and hence they do not perform creative acts with information. If this analysis has any truth, then morality, like art and science, is not a finished product but almost an evolving organism, to which each of us can contribute if we "live with integrity" in Bucky Fuller's sense of that phrase namely, if we come out of our heads, out of our abstractions, and look concretely at our concrete individual experiences in space-time as processed by our individual reason and feelings and intuitions. Living with integrity in that sense was once defined by Confucius as "respecting one's own nose." To me, this is what individualism and libertarianism are all about. "Smash, smash, smash the old tablets of law and wake from the myths that all generations have believed!"
If we do not wake up in that concrete sense if we are still hypnotized by spooks and abstractions no manner of talk and chatter about individualism and liberty has any concrete existential meaning, because we are still walking around in a trance: zombies programmed by whatever verbalism in our head stands between us and the thunderous astonishment of every unpredictable moment in waking life.
These ideas can be made more concrete with a parable, which I borrow from John Fowles's wonderful novel, The Magus.
Conchis, the principle character in the novel, finds himself Mayor of his home town in Greece when the Nazi occupation begins. One day, three Communist partisans who recently killed some German soldiers are caught. The Nazi commandant gives Conchis, as Mayor, a choice either Conchis will execute the three partisans himself to set an example of loyalty to the new regime, or the Nazis will execute every male in the town.
Should Conchis act as a collaborator with the Nazis and take on himself the direct guilt of killing three men? Or should he refuse and, by default, be responsible for the killing of over 300 men?
I often use this moral riddle to determine the degree to which people are hypnotized by Ideology. The totally hypnotized, of course, have an answer at once; they know beyond doubt what is correct, because they have memorized the Rule Book. It doesn't matter whose Rule Book they rely on Ayn Rand's or Joan Baez's or the Pope's or Lenin's or Elephant Doody Comix the hypnosis is indicated by lack of pause for thought, feeling and evaluation. The response is immediate because mechanical. Those who are not totally hypnotized those who have some awareness of concrete events of sensory space-time, outside their heads find the problem terrible and terrifying and admit they don't know any "correct" answer.
I don't know the "correct" answer either, and I doubt that there is one. The universe may not contain "right" and "wrong" answers to everything just because Ideologists want to have "right" and "wrong" answers in all cases, anymore than it provides hot and cold running water before humans start tinkering with it. I feel sure that, for those awakened from hypnosis, every hour of every day presents choices that are just as puzzling (although fortunately not as monstrous) as this parable. That is why it appears a terrible burden to be aware of who you are, where you are, and what is going on around you, and why most people would prefer to retreat into Ideology, abstraction, myth and self-hypnosis.
To come out of our heads, then, also means to come to our senses, literally to live with awareness of the bottle of beer on the table and the bleeding body in the street. Without polemic intent, I think this involves waking from hypnosis in a very literal sense. Only one individual can do it at a time, and nobody else can do it for you. You have to do it all alone.