after the sleeping comes the waking up.

Hypnotism, Scientology, and cults

Posted by c. wagner on November 20, 2009

Inside Scientology by Robert Kaufman is one of the earliest books about what Scientology teaches and how it does it. Written by someone who joined the–dare I say it–cult in the early days and followed its teachings for years in the hopes of self-improvement (and profit, of course). One of the more interesting phenomena he describes is how Scientologists, like many cults (and, honestly, other groups) put the initiate into a suggestible state that allows the more bizarre teachings to go down more easily.

It had been so ingrained on our minds at orgs and franchises that auditing was specifically geared to dispelling the hypnoid state we were in, that any Scientologist would scoff at the idea he was being methodically hypnotized from the moment he picked up the cans [part of the ubiquitous Scientology E-meter]. Yet there it was, on paper, in my own hand writing: “This is the session,” at the beginning of each audit; the unyielding stare; the repeated command, always in the same tone of voice; and “That’s it!” to end session, the equivalent of the hypnotist’s snap of his fingers. Felicia had had no more notion of what she was really doing than her preclears; it had been done to her first. It was such a good thing, a beneficial thing, that she would teach it to others. I recalled the Dianetics class and TRs with Margo. That people were being taught to hypnotize each other without realizing it would have seemed too bizarre for this world. Later, on the Clearing Course, we were given an imaginary light to spot, an approximation of the candle a hypnotist holds in front of his subject’s face. There was no end to it. [page 254]

Kaufman also points out how the initiate’s own desire to improve him- or herself and his or her need for approval intensifies the effect.

A very general type of question is repeated several times. At first the preclear does not see a cut-and-dry answer. Nonetheless he tries to answer the question to the best of his ability (although he will usually try to qualify his answer). He feels pressured, coerced, trapped in a minor way; but his next reaction is a greater desire to answer the repeated question, because he gets a small prize every time he opens his mouth, in the form of an acknowledgment. Finally, he wants to feel that he can answer any question so that he may receive as many prizes as he can, and to that end is willing to fabricate answers. If he hesitates in answering (a comm lag), the question is automatically repeated again, so he begins to answer more quickly. He is now behaving.

After all, he does wish to get better. After a while it ceases to make any difference to him what he says. His mind is treated as a computer, and what he says is a computation registered on the E-meter. The invariable acknowledgment and the non-evaluation of his responses by the auditor imprint this tellingly on his mind. He is never actually told what to believe during processing, but it a surprisingly small step from stating what one may never have intended to state to believing in one’s own statement. To begin with, the preclear wants to believe that what is happening is helping him. An auditing session is precisely geared to capitalizing on his desire. [page 17]

If this sounds silly and far-fetched, I’ve got some videos for you. In a couple of (probably shortened and heavily edited) clips, Derren Brown exploits human suggestibility and desire to please to make some fairly strange things happen. First, he convinces a woman that certain colors aren’t what she thought just by talking to her in a very specific and skilled way and by using the prolonged eye contact Scientologists are known for. Second, and probably more frightening, he uses little more than stage hypnotism tricks, excellent salesmanship, and a bit of good acting (He’s a committed atheist and skeptic) to cause a roomful of people to reconsider their ideas of the existence of God. (He sets the people back the way they were after the filming finished.)

Brown is very good at what he does, but, as he’ll freely admit, he’s an entertainer. He doesn’t believe that what he’s doing is going to save the world. He doesn’t have the sincerity of a true believer, such as the average Scientology auditor, that what he’s doing reflects the truth about the world, nor are his targets necessarily looking (or desperate) to make the changes he suggests. Nor is there a group of people making a hard sell to the target. Yet, he gets striking results. If he can pull this off with just his skills and the reinforcement of  a couple of cameras, think of what an organized network with books, tapes, machines, techniques, peer pressure, celebrity support, and a target desperate for help could do.


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