Tips for Rhetoric from Hypnosis

When I was in highschool, I found a little red book on hypnosis in my school library. I flipped through the pages, saw a section on inducing sleep states, and read it. When I was a kid I always struggled to sleep. The method in the book, though it was meant for trained psychiatrists to utilize on patients worked swimmingly. I used to have very few good nights of sleep. After reading those few short paragraphs, I found myself having few nights of bad sleep. The change was remarkable.

Anyway, I was at a used book store Monday night and happened upon the exact same book. Out of nostalgia I bought it. I actually read it this time. It’s a neat primer on the state of hypnosis in therapy and for public performance at the time of its writing.

One of the chapter titles is “Rules of Thought.” It’s a compelling chapter and remarkably similar to William James’ remarks on hypnosis in his magnum opus Principles of Psychology. Anyway, I think of hypnosis as just individualized rhetoric for therapy purposes so I thought I would show the “rules of thought” from the chapter and give brief thoughts on how they can be used to the art and science of persuasion:1

  1. Every thought or idea causes a physical reaction.

    On the face of it this is true as our brains do things when we think. Not only so, but our thoughts often come from sensations, all of which are physical in nature. Even further, though, if you think thoughts about previous experiences, emotions associated with them will often occur. With those emotions, the associated physical symptoms will happen. I can think of specific times I have felt great anger and my heartrate increases. This is important for rhetoric for several reasons, but mostly just that our anthropology typically functions as a data based system: I give people facts, they process them, then their minds make their bodies act accordingly. Aristotle knew this didn’t work. In reality, advertising is so effective precisely because advertisers know that, whether our minds are immaterial or not, our bodies are physical and the needs and experiences of the body typically determine human action.

  2. The expected sensation tends to be realized.

    When I was a Greek student, we were told that “the fog” would occur. This is some time period wherein everything is confusing and everybody is confused. I was only in the fog until I memorized my verb endings. But many people who did this felt confused about easy to understand concepts. Why? I think they were told to expect it. I’ve taught Greek to high school students using the same college text books. I never mention “the fog” and nobody ever complains of confusion beyond their own failure to study or coming across a particularly difficult sentence. Indeed, a friend who works as a draftsman learned Greek with no fog whatsoever.

  3. Imagination is more potent than knowledge when dealing with the mind of another; or: Imagination of the audience is more potent than his knowledge…Imagination is more powerful than reason.

    Jesus used loads of images to insult the Pharisee’s way of life. If he had just said, “they do bad things.” Nobody would have remembered and the Pharisees themselves would have just ignored him. The visceral reactions to Jesus’ teachings seemed to stem from not only their obvious truth but the imagery used to grip people.

  4. Only one idea can be entertained in the mind at the same time. Corollary: Conflicting ideas cannot be held at one and the same time.

    Moving from idea to idea in a speech before people grasp what was said can be very damaging to your persuasiveness. Also, people may become nervous and uncomfortable hearing things that don’t match up with their accepted worldview. We don’t “entertain” our worldview, so much as base our lives upon it. But when people try to entertain a new idea for the purpose of possibly believing it, great anxiety can occur if it conflicts with the beliefs upon which they base their lives or imagine they base their lives. Because of this, great gentleness is necessary in a speech or conversation when helping somebody see a truth which they have yet to grasp personally. This might be why scientific consensus seems to change as a previous generation of scientists dies.

  5. An idea, once accepted, tends to remain until replaced by another idea or is forgotten. And: Once an idea has been accepted, there is opposition to replacing it with a new idea.

    This is relatively similar to what came before.

  6. An imagined condition tends to become real if persisted in long enough. Or: A mental attitude tends to reflect itself in the body structure and the physical condition.

    The Greek fog above? This is it. But it goes further. I’m not sure if you can convince people to become well of physical problems. Although, John Sorno’s book on back pain uses psychotherpeutic methods to alleviate back pain and the book has a tremendously positive reception on Amazon. I’ve had power-lifters with physical back damage recommend it to me because they said after doing what it said, they stopped having back pain. The book of Psalms does mention a similar reality as well, “Psa 16:8-9 ESV I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. (9) Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure.” The Psalmist’s personal experience is feeling physically well in response to practicing God’s presence. Obviously, “mind over matter” is not always true. Perhaps it isn’t ever true. But there is an element of persuasion that involves observing people’s outer posture and attitudes in order to see if a different form of verbiage is necessary to convince them of an idea due to their positive/negative frames of mind.

  7. A suggestion once followed tends to create less and less opposition to successive suggestions. (halo effect).

    In persuasion you build ethos/credibility with people after you persuade them of something. This is just true. I’ve heard it called, though I don’t remember where, the halo effect. This is dangerous for pastors or radio hosts because your research can get sloppy in direct response to the level of trust people put in you. I suppose it can also happen with parents. Authorty carries great responsibility, especially if that authority includes, of necessity, persuasion.

 

References

1  James T McBrayer, The Key to Hypnotism Simplified. (New York: Bell Pub. Co., 1956), 113-136

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