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Hypnotism : Science Or Stunt? By A. L. Lloyd (1947)

A. L. Lloyd worked for a number of years as a journalist for the famous British magazine The Picture Post. His article about hypnotism was re-published in Australia by the Launceston newspaper the Examiner.

The Examiner Saturday 6 September 1947.

It has been with us from time immemorial. Some see it as a fake, others as a miracle. To many, it is the work of the devil. Medical men know it as a valuable aid in the treatment of many nervous illnesses.

IN THE GOBI DESERT a snake looked at a hare and paralysed it. At Memphis on the Nile a soothsayer correctly foretold that the king would see his long-dead mother at lunch time a week hence. Vespasian and later, Francis the First of France, healed by touch. In New Guinea a witch doctor pointed a bone, and his victim died. Mesmer, the friend of Mozart, put on a long purple robe and threw These are, genuine picture, of a girl in four stages of hypnosis. the aristocracy of pre-Revolutionary France into a rare flutter; but when he got busy with his magnets, many sick people said they felt better. A blind man ran through the bath-house at Lourdes shouting: "I can see!"; and he could. Some see such things as miracles; some see them as fakes. Be that as it may, all these examples are differing manifestations of one and the same phenomenon--the mysterious but by no means miraculous process called hypnotism. In the past no profession was decorated with humbug and shot through with downright villainy, as the hypnotist's. From before the time of Cagliostro to long after the days of Svengali, people have shrunk from the evil eye; and though many, like Mesmer, only sought to use their power for the effect of good, that power was con- sidered either too satanic, or else too suspect, for the scientific world to recognise.

"Master Hypnotist"

The newest arrival on the hypnotic horizon, the young man who caused all the uproar at Alexandra Palace, is 24-year-old Peter Casson, from Bridlington, Yorkshire, who is making quite a name on the music halls as "The Master Hypnotist." As an elementary schoolboy in Bridlington there was nothing special about Peter Casson; but he was always a serious character, with an enquiring mind, and after he left school he went to night classes. Professor Baggot, from Hull University, was giving a psychology course. Fifteen-year-old Casson took the course, and he was never the same boy again. He got more and more interested in the workings of the mind, and especially in the phenomena of suggestion and hypnotism; and what he couldn't learn from books and lectures he tried to find out by direct practice. While he was still fifteen, he hypnotised his first "patient." a girl about his own age. During the war Casson spent four years or so in the Marines, serving some while in the Middle East. "Mostly," he says, "I had time on my hands, when there wasn't much to do except hypnotise people." He had plenty of willing patients. In the Marines he got so much practice that, by the time he was demobilised last spring, he had reached a very high level of proficiency as a hypnotist. He had given successful stage shows to the Forces, and saw a chance to make something of a livelihood by working up a music hall act. As a turn he quickly caught on, and some token of his success was the B.B.C.'s offer to test him for a television programme. The results of the test were almost scandalously successful, and the B.B.C. had hurriedly to call the whole thing off, lest a high proportion of worthy television-set-owners should be

put into an undignified state of clownish somnabulism at young Mr. Casson's word of command. Casson says that anyone can be a hypnotist. and that anyone can be hypnotised. There is no trickery in it; it is a strictly subjective affair. Mostly what happens is that one person influences the other merely by putting ideas before them, and getting them to accept those ideas. That is, the hypnotist first suggests the idea of sleep, and once the subject has taken to the idea and passed off into a hypnotic sleep, thent, with a certain amount of perseverence, the hypno- tist can get his patient to act on pretty well any suggestion he cares to make.

Differing Subjects

All people are suggestible, so all are hypnotisable. But some are more difficult to hypnotlse than others. Most difficult of all, it seems, are lunatics. If a man is obsessed by the idea that he is Napoleon, he will be so fixed on that single thought that he is very difficult for a hypnotist to shake. And even when he is at last hypnotised, he may be open to suggestions about quietening down (if he is rowdy), or eating (if he is on hunger strike) but if the operator tries to tell him that he is not Napoleon but is plain Mr. Grigsby, of Mudcombe Regis, the chances are the patient's only reaction will be a dreamy but firm shake of the head. Other folk difficult to hypnotise are those who are too keen, too eager perhaps for the healing results which they know hypnosis can give in certain cases. Their attention is so focused on being hypnotised that they can't allow their mind the necessary degree of dis- sociation for the suggestion easily to take effect. On this point of resistance to hypnotism. Casson is interesting. His original intention with the B.B.C. had been, as he quaintly puts it "to hypnotise the nation," over the Home or Light service. The B.B.C. offered him a television test instead. Asked if he thought television-set owners would be a different proposition from ordinary listeners, he said he thought they certainly would. It seems a man on the income level which would allow him to own a television set is the kind of fellow who has to put a bold front on the world. He can't stand for anything that might depreciate his person- ality; he just can't afford it. Accordingly, such a man would put up preliminary resistances far greater than would be raised by one with nothing to lose (a member of the forces, for instance, whose personality, when among his mates, is to some extent neutralised by relative absence of responsibility and by lack of necessity for putting on a "front"). Accordingly, Casson says, with the light kind of hyp- notism he would have practised over the air, he would have "caught" a lower percentage of the television audience than of the ordinary listening public. Besides simple tricks like those Casson uses in his stage show (catalepsy, anaesthesia, and the like), blindness, deafness, loss of taste, can all be readily suggested.


It is hard to imagine that such suggestions are often worth while,

but hyperesthesia can be suggested too, and a kind of super sight which enables patients to read tiny letters reflected in the hypnotist's eyes, or a fantastically-quickened sense of hearing which allows them to pick up sounds normally inaudible. And then there are hallucinations; hypnotists have in the past had some rare old fun with suggested hallucinations. You can tell a subject, "When you wake you will see me dressed in a union suit and a top hat," and sure enough the patient wakes in fits of laughter. Or you can delude him that the door has disappeared and is covered with wallpaper and panelling, and then when he wakes he cannot find his way out of the room. Or you can try post-hypnotic suggestion, and say: "You will wake now, but on Friday at 4.30 you will come back to see me and you will find I have grown antlers," and the hypnotists swear that if you have a truly suggestible subject, it will all a happen just as you've said. The subject will return at the appointed hour, and will have exactly the hallucination you have suggested.

Pain Reliever

The old magic workers were mosly concerned with the sensa- tional tricks of hypnotism. The serious modern hypnotist is con- cerned with its more practical benefits. While some are inclined to over-estimate the medical virtues of hypnosis, it is certain that these virtues are many. Suggested anaesthesia can often be induced where it is dangerous to give the patient an ordinary anaesthetic, on account of a weak heart, for instance. In operations where it is useful if the patient can move (certain eye operations, perhaps, or childbirth) a light and localised hypnotic anaesthesia, which leaves the patient otherwise free, may easily be advantageous. As a pain reliever, hypnotism is almost as powerful as a sleep-inducer. Hypnotists usually have little difficulty with insomnia cases. Casson says he could make a record which sleepless folk could dial in like TIM, and he would guarantee it would send them to sleep. In the Provincial Lunatic Asylum at Zurich, old August Forel used to hypnotise his own attendants so that they would sleep through all the loud maniacal noises and wake up only at the unusual ones; in that way, he says, the attendants' nerves were improved, and he got better service out of them. Hypnotism was iused a great deal with battle-shock cases during the war, and many doctors believe it is often efficacious in "lack of con fidence" disturbances such as stammering, seasickness and sexual impotence. Casson says he believes in it for disorders like asthma and hay-fever also. To scientists, hypnotism is an everyday affair, and they will assure us that its possible dangers are exaggerated. But somehow the common man can't help feel ing uneasy about another fellow's ability, given suitable conditions and a modicum of co-operation, to make people love or hate at will, or to cause them to believe they are all dogs or angels or victims of an international Jewish conspiracy.


australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory