Straddling the Science/Pseudoscience Border

Hypnosis is a strange field.

Some folks think it isn’t real. Honestly, I pity them – partly because they’re missing out on all it can do for them, partly because that level of ignorance must be painful.

I mean, imagine you heard that simple words could do anything from sharpen your mind to improve your health to even influence others in ways that seem impossible. You hear it from dozens of people and you see it in movies all the time. Performers demonstrate this technique on stage in every city and town… on volunteers from the crowd.

I get being sceptical…

But who wouldn’t take ten minutes to look into the science of it?

(And for anyone who has looked into the science and isn’t convinced… well, there’s no helping them.)

I’ve said it many times before – science doubted hypnosis for a long time. The consensus was hypnosis doesn’t do what it claims. Now, scientists don’t ask if hypnosis is real – they ask what it can do and how it works.

It won over scientists in the usual way – through an irresistible, undeniable flood of evidence over decades.

I’m sure you’ve heard the adage: extreme claims demand extreme proof. Hypnosis made extreme claims… then followed through by proving them.

Having said that…

There’s a lot about hypnosis that seems like pseudoscience. It seems ‘impossible’ that simple words can drastically alter someone else’s state of mind – let alone some of the more interesting things, like boost your immune system.

Yes, hypnosis can boost your immune system. Anything that relaxes you does the same, though hypnosis goes even further – it can change your immune system. Studies show it doing everything from removing warts to clearing allergies to even resolving some autoimmune conditions in some people…

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But like I say, it looks impossible. And it looks the same as, say, crystal healing. Crystal healing also claims to work by strange, subtle, non-chemical and non-surgical means. It also claims to resolve any problem you face, from money woes to terminal illness. And it also defies conventional Western medicine – something practitioners spin as a positive.

These are superficial similarities, though. The real differences run deep.

For one thing, follow the evidence. Crystal healing doesn’t beat a placebo, where hypnosis routinely trounces it.

Also, we’re starting to unravel the mechanisms behind how hypnosis works. Going back to the immune system stuff – we now know the immune system and nervous system interact. Each strongly influences the other. If you’re interested, check out the field of psychoneuroimmunology.

So, yes, your thoughts can change your immune system, therefore hypnosis can too.

But we have more questions than answers.

And some practitioners fill those gaps in our understanding with their own views.

Some align nicely with conventional Western science.

Some… shall we say, don’t.

At all.

Some hypnotists talk about auras, quantum energy and spirit animals.

Here’s what would be foolish:

It would be foolish to paint all hypnotists with the pseudoscience brush. Most hypnotists don’t think in these terms.

It would be foolish to dismiss hypnosis because no one understands how it works. You can prove something works before you learn how – in fact, try doing it the other way around, I dare you.


This means some folks have wacky theories around it. I’m sure plenty of hypnotists insist it works via your own guardian angels. That’s fine, in a way – you can be wrong about how something works, but right that it works.

Science does that all the time. How many people do you know take antidepressants? There are many theories on how they work, none of which explain everything. That doesn’t stop them from working.

It would be foolish to insist you know a certain theory of hypnosis is wrong or right, unless there’s evidence to back it up. Some folks insist it works using quantum physics and multiple timelines. Maybe it does, maybe not. The evidence isn’t there either way.

And it would be foolish to weigh all theories equally. The spirit animal / guardian angel theory is less likely than the idea that brains are just really, really weird sometimes.

There’s a lot of uncertainty here. We don’t know how it works or why. But we do know that it works. Gravity might still be a mystery but, hey, no one thinks they can flap their wings instead of take the elevator.

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by William T Batten