Psychological studies have repeatedly shown how easily rational thinking is bypassed. Our perceptions are limited, and we interpret the meaning of those perceptions automatically. We “fill in” reasons for events that are hard to understand. We focus on what we expect to see, or what we are prepared to see.
This opens the door to sleight of hand tricks by magicians, hypnotists and street con artists, as well as the hocus-pocus of demagogues, whether political or religious in their claims, and recruiters for authoritarian groups who have been manipulated to be true-believers.
In one celebrated experiment, participants are asked to count the number of passes made in a basketball video. Focused on the passes, the majority – about 80% of participants – fail to notice the man in a gorilla suit who walks across the court. This phenomenon is dubbed “inattentional blindness.” It shows how highly selective our normal perception can be.
There is a boundary between what we actually see and what we fill in. If a red card is held at the periphery of vision – the back of an ordinary playing card will do – people are generally surprised that they cannot discern its color, because color vision does not extend to the edge of the visual field. The card can be clearly seen, and once its color is known it will then be seen in the right color.
It is a surprising truth that we all live in a world that is partially imagined. Some part of every perceived reality is actually virtual. This is well-known to stage magicians, whose art depends upon directing the imaginative power of an audience.
Police in Moscow were baffled by a new crime where a grifter requested directions from a stranger before asking for his wallet. About two thirds of people handed over their wallet without reflection. The problem for the police is whether a crime has been committed.
The problem for us all is our inborn compliance with authority: Derren Brown demonstrated this behavior in one of his TV shows (http://derrenbrown.co.uk/). He walked up to a stranger and asked for directions, at the same time urging the stranger to take a bottle of water from him. Brown created confusion by splitting the stranger’s attention. Into that moment of confusion, Brown slipped the request for the subject’s wallet, keys and phone. The victim of this hoax took several steps before the penny dropped. Our attention is far more controllable than we like to believe.
The dream state which exists in the background of the mind is vital to understanding different states of consciousness. In dreams, we do not question the accuracy of our perception, even though objects can change from one moment to the next. A baby becomes a briefcase, with no perplexity on the part of the dreamer.
The sense of judgment is suspended, and we do not even question our nonsensical imaginings. This innocent belief can carry over into the waking state, so that beliefs are asserted as “knowledge” without any need for evidence.
We are bombarded by a constant flow of data, from our environment and from within our own bodies and minds. We can only focus on a fraction of it, so we are never fully aware of everything that does register. This is the simple basis for positive suggestion.
Confusion, repetition, fixation and mimicry will all bring about hypnotic-like states. The professional hypnotist uses these techniques to control attention and brings about a collaboration where the subject “fills in” the context. This can create experiences that are every bit as believable as dreams. And we live in a world where people are eager to suspend belief.
An interesting video and test to see how the brain works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo&feature=youtu.be
This post is an excerpt from Jon’s new book, Opening Minds – A Primer on Undue Influence, scheduled for release in the fall of 2019