Millions of people around the world have enjoyed experiencing hypnotic trance.  The interesting thing (and the part that makes it so hard to quantify) is that by its very nature, the experience is subjective.  The way you experience trance may be different to the way that those other millions of people have experienced trance, purely by virtue of the fact that it is a subjective experience.

I appreciate that thinking about the meaning and potential implications surrounding subjective experiences as opposed to objective experiences can at times appear to be overly complicated, but as a lover of philosophy I have spent many hours mulling over just what it means.  After all, subjectivity is defined as the opposite of objectivity, is it not?  Well, what if I told you that the term “objective” originally meant “in the mind”?  After all, the object of one’s hopes, fears, desires, etc, lie in the mind rather than reality, don’t they?  Nowadays, however, use of the term “objective” usually refers to facts relating to the physical, material world and “subjectivity” refers to perceptions “in the mind of the subject”.  A subject is the thinker of thoughts, the haver of experiences, if you will.

You can then break down truth’s in to both objective and subjective (for those who are avid lovers of philosophy, I recommend delving into the works of Locke, Descartes and Galileo among others for more in-depth information on this subject).  Objective truths are defined as external – those truths that exist regardless of whether there is any conscious mind around to perceive them.  For example, the world existed for millions of years before its existence was consciously appreciated.  Objective truths exist and are true irrespective of what is considered by any subject who is thinking about the truth.

Just to complicate matters, however, philosophers have identified a second category…that there are truths relating to particular phenomena which in some way require perception and depend on subjects being able to perceive and think about the things which these truths are about.  Some truths have both objective and subjective (more formally known as primary and secondary) qualities.  Objective/primary qualities could refer to the size or shape of a particular object – these would exist regardless of whether there was a conscious mind to observe/think about them.  Subjective/secondary qualities such as colours, smells, tastes, etc would not exist if our conscious minds were not there to experience them.

How does this relate to hypnotic trance?  Well, as trance is a subjective state you can only truly know that it exists once you have experienced it for yourself.  This doesn’t mean that the phenomena doesn’t exist until you have experienced it – it simply means that you cannot be sure of its existence (in the same way you would be able to with an objective truth, which is obvious for all to see) until you have personally experienced it.  In other words the only way you can know trance is to consciously experience it yourself.

Frank Jackson, an Australian philosopher designed a “knowledge argument” which illustrates the idea well.  It presupposes the existence of a woman called Mary, who understands all the physical facts – including those relating to the neural basis of human colour vision – without ever having seen the colour red.  If Mary saw the colour red, then she couldn’t help but be surprised because it is only at this point that she can actually learn to see the colour red.  Since she already knew all about all the physical facts before understanding what it is like to see the colour red, this must mean that knowing what it is like to see it must be knowing something that is non-physical.   If we translate this to hypnosis, you can read all you want about hypnosis, the theories and techniques, however you won’t truly know what trance feels like until you actually experience it for yourself.

Exploring this field further, you can dive down the rabbit hole into neurophilosophy of consciousness and what it means to be conscious, but I think I will save that particular mental journey for another day!

My intention with this article was simply to get you thinking…to think about how we know what we know, how can we learn what we know and what are the implications?  It’s a brief and condensed introduction intended to allow your mind to embrace abstract thoughts and begin to toy with interesting philosophical questions relating to the journey and experience of hypnosis.

I would love to hear your thoughts.