Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hypnosis Is Just Like Programming

I studied hypnosis seriously for a few years, and considered giving up programming entirely to become a hypnotherapist. Along the way I frequently had conversations with people who said things like "I don't believe in hypnosis." Hypnosis is like evolution or gravity; whether you believe in it or not has absolutely no effect on anything else, except perhaps the opinions of other, equally ignorant people. However, the attitude of not believing in hypnosis is nonetheless understandable, because plenty of people who call themselves hypnotists aren't, and plenty of people who say they can perform hypnosis can't.

The field of NLP, while brilliant and full of truly staggering innovations over pre-NLP hypnosis, has made this problem much, much worse, by filling the world with people who are certain they can hypnotize you just by poking you at unexpected moments. I'm not exaggerating; the NLPers trivialized a genuine hypnotic phenomenon called anchoring, whereby people respond to unusual sensations by triggering memories, and turned it into this idea that all you need to do to hypnotize somebody is give them an instruction, poke them, and later when you poke them the second time they'll remember the instruction. Consequently you can go to a so-called NLP practitioner looking to solve a problem, and they can charge you money for poking you at annoying times for no good reason. That is not a good deal.

The funny thing about "not believing in hypnosis" and hypnosis's bizarre status as something which rests on research and unchanging truths of human psychology, like a science, yet depends entirely on how well the hypnotist does it, like an art, is that programmers are basically the only people in the world who are totally prepared to understand what hypnosis is, in that sense. Hypnosis is somewhere between an art and a science in exactly the same way programming is; the best innovations in programming may have in fact occurred in the late 60s and early 70s, when Lisp was invented and then disregarded in favor of C++, and the best hypnotist who ever lived is very probably the late, great Milton Erickson, whose techniques have been carefully documented, thoroughly explained, and widely not emulated. It's easy to become a great programmer if you work at it, but nobody does. The same is true of hypnosis; excellent schools exist, excellent books exist, and all you have to do to get good is go to the schools, read the books, and practice, yet very few people do. In the same way that most "programmers" just copy and paste code they found on the Internet somewhere and then hope it works without bothering to figure out what it does, most hypnotists cargo-cult hypnosis scripts and run through them without any analysis or consideration, assuming they'll get the same result as the person who created the script, never realizing that what drove the result was not the words the person chose but the understanding that drove their choices. In both these fields, the number of people who do it well is much, much smaller than the number of people who do it; the number of people who know the history of the field and work with the best techniques available is much, much smaller than the number of people with degrees or certifications; and people can debate whether the field is an art or a science, because it rests on firm logical foundations, yet the results vary wildly based almost entirely on who is doing it, and how.

We don't really have a word for this type of thing, which both hypnosis and programming are; or rather, we do have a word - craft - but it's loaded with all kinds of distracting associations which prevent people from using it in this context, and implies an approach to work, and to status in the workplace, which fits better the Rennaissance concept of masters and apprentices than it does the modern idea of man-hours and so-called "scientific management", where workers are taken to be interchangeable cogs in a giant machine, and where programmers are, for some insane goddamn reason, considered to be workers in the first place, as opposed to skilled professionals or knowledgeable experts.

Another similarity is that regulating hypnosis is very difficult for the same reason regulating programming is; most lawmakers have no idea how to distinguish bad hypnosis from good, any more than they can distinguish bad programming from good. (Consider how the Supreme Court asked lawyers what the difference was between an e-mail and a pager.) The laws on hypnosis are as crazy as the laws on technology which keep the EFF so busy and Reddit so amused. Advertizing medical benefits of hypnosis is illegal, for instance, and since I am considering launching some hypnosis products, I probably shouldn't tell you that I've experienced medical benefits of hypnosis, but since I have not actually made the leap yet, I'll go ahead and tell you: I have. I banished my allergies for about two years with hypnosis, and this is a common result which cannot be legally advertized in many US states. Likewise, I've seen pictures of a woman who received painful dental work with no anaesthetic other than a hypnotist hypnotizing her to not feel pain until the work was complete, and I knew the hypnotist in the picture personally.

Long story short, hypnosis is a craft incomprehensible to outsiders, in the same way programming is. It faces the same legislative issues and has some of the same advertizing problems; which means of course that it is also amenable to many of the same advertizing solutions. The best way to get a great rate as a programmer is to make a name for yourself, meet the right people, and charge them prices which would seem insane on the open market; the same is probably true for hypnotists. Consequently, if I do go into hypnosis, I probably will make products available but won't be available for one-on-one hypnosis for less than $500 or $1000 per hour.

However, I'm thinking out loud here. I mostly wrote this because I bought a fairly good hypnosis product which has deeply annoyed me by advertizing a specific technique but then doing it wrong. I spent all this money to get this technique and I'd have been better off just writing my own script and recording it myself. This is also (again) very probably a familiar experience to any programmer who has ever hired another programmer to do a specific task but been disappointed by the way in which they performed the task. Hypnosis may need a Fizzbuzz.