Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Lemme get your mind right about hypnosis.

  • First of all, it's a real thing -- but it's probably not what you think it is.

  • All kinds of hypnosis-esque practices have been around for centuries, but the Western

  • version of it -- including the kind that you probably associate with people being made

  • to cluck like chickens on stage -- cropped up around the 18th century, that's when

  • German physician Franz Mesmer started treating all manner of medical problems by putting

  • patients into a trance-like state, during which he claimed to align theirinternal

  • magnetic forces,” which he calledanimal magnetism.”

  • And many of these mesmerized patients did feel better, but not because of any magnetism

  • or whatever. Mesmer was inadvertently using the healing power of suggestion.

  • In addition to his magnetic quackery, other physicians didn't appreciate Mesmer's

  • kitschy penchant for wearing capes and playing ethereal music on a glass harmonica, and eventually

  • he was discredited.

  • So were his patients just gullible idiots, or was there something else going on?

  • Well, we've previously defined consciousness as our awareness of ourselves and our environment,

  • and consciousness is at work pretty much whenever we're awake, but also while we're asleep

  • and dreaming.

  • So hypnosis is a good example of an altered state of consciousness -- when you're fully

  • conscious in the clinical sense, but also not in what you'd consider a normal waking

  • state. As a person who considers himself only the product of one of several states of consciousness,

  • this one that I am currently in right now, it's worth pointing out how TREMENDOUSLY

  • WEIRD THIS IS! My brain has these other gears that it occasionally drops into during which,

  • in a sense, I become not me any more. Altered states can also include things like

  • hallucinations, and the effects of psychoactive drugs. But these states aren't as uncommon

  • as you might think. In fact, you've probably experienced an altered state yourselfeven

  • if you've never taken an illicit drug or been to a cheesy dinner-theater where the

  • main act wore a glittering turban. [INTRO]

  • So, personal opinions of Mesmer aside, here are some facts and fallacies worth knowing

  • about hypnosis.

  • First off, let's define hypnosis simply as a calm, trance-like state during which

  • you tend to have heightened concentration and focus, and in which you're typically

  • more open to suggestion. The phenomenon has been observed in lots of

  • empirically rigorous studies, and it's been used effectively in treatments for stress

  • and anxiety, weight loss, and chronic pain.

  • BUT! It's important to understand that even though you're more open to suggestion when

  • hypnotized, you do NOT lose control over your behavior.

  • So, contrary to what you might see in The Manchurian Candidate or Zoolander, hypnosis

  • can't make you act totally against your will and, say, jump off a building, rob a

  • donut shop, or commit a murder most foul.

  • Nor is hypnosis a reliable way to enhance the recall of deeply buried memories. We don't

  • file away every single one of our experiences. We only permanently store some of them, and

  • even they tend to mutate over time. We'll be talking all about memory in an upcoming

  • lesson. Finally, only about 20 percent of us are thought

  • to be highly hypnotizable. Those are the folks whom a hypnotist could get to smile at the

  • smell of sour milk just by suggesting it was rosewater.

  • And even though we know hypnosis can increase your suggestibility, there's still some

  • disagreement about what exactly constitutes a hypnotic state, or how it's achieved.

  • Remember, just because we observe a phenomenon doesn't mean that we have a clue about its

  • mechanisms of action, or whether it works the way we think it works.

  • One popular theory looks at hypnosis as phenomenon of social influence. This camp suggests that,

  • like actors caught up in an intense role, hypnotized subjects may begin to feel and

  • act likegood hypnotic subjectsif they just trust their hypnotist to sort of act

  • like a director and focus their attention. Other researchers suggest that it has more

  • to do with a special dual-processing state of split-consciousness called dissociation.

  • Dissociation is a sort of detachment from your surroundings, which can range from mild

  • spacing out all the way up to a total loss of your sense of yourself. It's something

  • we all do to some degree or another, and we're often quite aware that we're doing it. It's

  • not hard to think of instances where dissociation might even help us, like when we're faced

  • with a dangerous situation that requires quick, reflexive action and not a ton of focus on

  • our own thoughts and feelings. In this way, hypnosis may ease pain, not by

  • magically blocking pain receptors, but by helping us selectively not attend to that

  • pain. Clinicians can do this by basically guiding the patient into a very relaxed, but

  • voluntary state, sort of spaced-out, and then further guiding them through a series of positive

  • thoughts and suggestions. So, in legitimate clinical hypnosis, people

  • aren't being made to dissociate. Instead, think of them as being asked to dissociate

  • - and some people are better at this than others, which is essentially what beinghighly

  • hypnotizablemeans. So, clearly there's a lot going on in our

  • two-track brains at any given time, and hypnosis -- as researchers understand it -- seems to

  • help us tap into some of that adaptive dissociative capacity that we all seem to have.

  • But say you're not so into the idea of someone feeding you suggestions.

  • Probably the most classic way to voluntarily enter an altered state of consciousness is

  • by using drugs.

  • Most of us have used some kind of legal drugyour morning coffee, a beer at lunch, some

  • Tylenol PM to put you the bedand lots and lots of folks responsibly use prescription

  • and nonprescription drugs.

  • But of course, some people develop problems. The more you use a substance, legal or illegal,

  • the less you feel its effects as your tolerance grows. And soon enough, a two-beer buzz turns

  • into a four-beer buzz or a case-of-beer buzz. That's your brain chemistry adapting to

  • offset the drug effect in a process called neuroadaptation.

  • Keep on that road and soon you'll risk a physical and/or psychological addiction to

  • the substance you choose, or the substance that chose you. And that's not even to mention

  • serious physiological and neurological damage, as happens with severe and long-term alcohol

  • abuse. We'll be delving more deeply into the science

  • of addiction in an upcoming episode, but for now, let's take a look at some of these

  • drug families and how they jack you up, knock you out, make you do dumb things, see imaginary

  • stuff, and generally alter your consciousness. Psychoactive drugs are chemical substances

  • that alter your mood and perception. They're the ones that go right to your brain's synapses,

  • mimicking the functions of neurotransmitters. They also work by tapping into the psychological

  • component - in other words, the user's expectations about what substance use might mean. Like

  • if you really believe that drinking tequila makes you more aggressive, and I give you

  • a virgin margarita, your mere expectation of getting all surly and aggro may actually

  • lead you to punch someone in the neck. That's also called the placebo effect.

  • Whether smoked, snorted, ingested, or injected, we'll put all of them into three general

  • categories: depressants, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Depressants, like alcohol, tranquilizers,

  • and opiates, do exactly what you'd expect--they bring the mellow, slow body functions, and

  • suppress neural activity. Historically, the world's favorite depressant

  • is alcohol. Beat writer William S. Burroughs even called itour national drug.” A

  • little bit of hooch may get the party started, but not because it's stimulating anyone.

  • Rather, it's acting as a disinhibitor, impairing your brain's judgement areas, while reducing

  • your self-awareness and self-control.

  • And then because alcohol disrupts memory formations you may wake up wondering where one of your

  • eyebrows went. Similar to booze, tranquilizers, or barbiturates,

  • depress nervous system activity and may be prescribed to ease anxiety or insomnia, though

  • high doses can negatively affect memory and judgement. And really high doses, or bad interactions

  • with other substances like alcohol, can kill you.

  • Opiates, like poppy-flower superstar opium and its derivatives morphine and heroin, work

  • in a similar way, depressing neural activity and enveloping the brain in a fog of no-pain

  • bliss. The thing is, if a brain keeps getting flooded with outside opiates, it will eventually

  • stop brewing its own natural pain killing neurotransmitters, endorphins. The resulting

  • withdrawal is particularly nasty. Stimulants, obviously, excite rather than

  • suppress neural activity, and speed up body functions, bringing up your energy, self-confidence,

  • and changing your mood. On the legal end of the spectrum here, we've got caffeine, nicotine,

  • and prescription amphetamines, building up to the more serious illegal stuff like street

  • amphetamines, meth, Ecstasy, and cocaine. And you know who loved his coke? Freud. He

  • loved i—t so muchit cheered him up when we was feeling down, opened up his mind, and

  • turned him into chatty Kathy. He even wrote his first big publication, “Über Coca

  • in 1884 about it. During his famous coke years in his late 20s and 30s, he believed that

  • the drug was a viable cure for morphine addiction. Whichnot so much.

  • Luckily he gave his nose a rest and finally dropped the habit by his 40s to focus full-time

  • on his cigar addiction. Which is the thing that ultimately killed him.

  • Cocaine hits the bloodstream in a flash of energetic euphoria that quickly taxes the

  • brain's supply of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. Methamphetamine also triggers

  • the release of dopamine. You'll remember from our lesson on neurotransmitters how these

  • chemical messengers affect our moods, emotions, attention, and alertness. So when those neurotransmitters

  • are excessively activated, they can become temporarily depleted, which is what causes

  • that agitated, depressive crash that users often feel.

  • If you drink coffee every morning, and then you skip a day, you'll likely be tired and

  • cranky with a pounding headache. Now multiply that awful feeling by like thousands and you'll

  • see why people with coke and meth addictions might keep chasing that high while their bodies

  • and lives fall apart around them. In addition to depressants and stimulants,

  • we've got hallucinogens, which come in a variety of plant and fungal forms, as well

  • as synthetic forms like LSD or lysergic acid diethylamide. Also called psychedelics, these

  • drugs distort perceptions and evoke sensory images in the absence of actual sensory input.

  • Which means you could end up seeing, hearing, smelling, or feeling things that are not real.

  • This could be quite nice, if you're like, petting baby dolphins or something, but it

  • could also be panic-inducing and generally messed up, if you think you've got a bunch

  • of centipedes crawling under your skin. The thing is, there are lots of ways to involuntarily

  • hallucinate without the use of drugs. Seizures, brain injuries, diseases, sensory deprivation,

  • fever, stress, or even extreme grief or depression can all cause neurological disturbances that

  • spur hallucinations of one kind or another. Many healthy people have reported experiencing

  • vivid auditory hallucinations when in emergencies, like, you broke your knee skiing and you wanted

  • to just fall asleep forever in that blanket of soft snow, but a strong, seemingly audible

  • voice ordered you to KEEP MOVING. And bizarrely, it isn't uncommon for people

  • who lose the use of one senselike vision or smell--to perceive sights and odors they

  • are no longer capable of sensing as their brains pull from old memories to produce hallucinations

  • as a way to compensate for that loss. All this just goes to show that whether you're

  • a psychologist, neuroscientist, or philosopher, our various states of consciousness provide

  • a rich, complex world of inquiry to contemplate, showing yet again, just what a messy and marvelous

  • thing the human mind is. If your consciousness wasn't too altered

  • today, you learned what hypnosis is and what it can and can't do; how psychoactive depressant,

  • stimulant, and hallucinogenic drugs work on the brain; and how non-drug induced hallucinations

  • can happen to anyone.

  • Thanks for watching, especially to all of our Subbable subscribers, who make this whole

  • channel possible. If you'd like to sponsor an episode of Crash Course, get a special

  • laptop decal, or even be animated into an upcoming episode, just go to Subbable.com

  • to find out how.

  • This episode was written by Kathleen Yale, edited by Blake de Pastino, and our consultant

  • is Dr. Ranjit Bhagwat. Our director and editor is Nicholas Jenkins, Michael Aranda is our

  • sound designer, and our graphics team is Thought Café.

Lemme get your mind right about hypnosis.