Ernest Ropiequet “Jack” Hilgard was an American psychologist who proposed that a subject under hypnosis might witness a source of pain without actually feeling it.
In other words, let’s say you were bitten by a snake and the people helping you need to cut your arm for the poison to leave your body.
Understandably you are in a state of shock, so they hypnotize you to calm you down, and while hypnotized, you can see them cut, but you feel no pain during or afterward.
Such a phenomenon became known as “the hidden observer,” a theory that was the object of great discussion and controversy. This is something I’ve been reading about recently and thought it was fascinating and decided to share – The very concept is mind-blowing.
The Case For The Hidden Observer
At the core of Ernest’s theory lies the idea that we share our lives and memories with a secondary being inside us, that would be the hidden observer.
He sought to prove the participation of this being in our conscience by relating the case of a blind subject that while hypnotized was convinced that he was also deaf, the suggestion was compelling enough that he became unable to respond to external sound stimuli – not even when people shouted in his ear.
Unfortunately, that also meant he would be unable to respond to any further suggestions. Hence, Ernst quietly proposed to the student, “Perhaps there is some part of you hearing my voice and processing it. If there is, I should like the index finger of your right hand to rise as a sign that this is the case.” Enough, the finger of the student rose – mind blown.
With this indication, Ernst required that his student breakout of his state of induced deafness, after which he was awakened.
After waking up, the student inquired about what had made his finger rise, as it was neither a spontaneous movement nor twitch, leading him to believe it was the professor himself who had moved it.
When asked about what he remembered, the student answered that he remained conscious throughout the session and that to deal with the boredom of becoming both blind and deaf, he decided to work out statistical problems on his head, occupation during which he felt his finger move.
The strangeness of the situation is apparent, while his conscious was occupied with a task, somehow he was still able to move his finger without consciously trying to do so.
Something inside him was able to respond to an obvious suggestion without the self-being even aware of it.
This plays into the idea of pain reduction. This influence of the hidden observer over the body could create the circumstances for your body to experience a painful experience without any actual suffering.
The Case Against The Hidden Observer
The Hidden Observer theory is still highly regarded as an experimental hypnosis technique, and many scholars have launched counter-arguments for Ernst Hilgard.
Against the Observer: As we have stated before, Hilgard proposed that your body is inhabited by a secondary conscious separate from yourself, something that the psychological community has had trouble accepting.
After all, observation of brain activity has indicated that when in a state of hypnosis, the conscious takes a step back for the subconscious to come forward, inducing the subject into a dream-like state.
The possibility of this hidden observer to be nothing more than a manifestation of the subconscious, in which there is a disassociation between the part of you that is “awake” and your body.
A Matter of Consent: The ethics of using the “hidden observer” in hypnosis sections is that as reported by Hillgard’s student, every action triggered by this supposed entity is voluntary on the part of the subject, violating his free will.
This creates a complicated ethical situation where, if Hilgard’s theory is correct, the hypnotist provokes action from the patient’s body through an immaterial third party, without the subject’s willingness.
Even if his theory is wrong and the hidden observer is just a subconscious part of you that is not associated with your body, this poses some delicate questions about this technique’s morality.
There are also claims that state the whole phenomenon of the hidden observer could be manufactured by suggestion to create a temporary case of multiple personality disorder.
The Personality Duality
The idea of our personality is divided into a more profound and superficial self that are separate entities also finds resonance on the mythology of cultures around the world.
Ancient Chinese tradition called them Hun and Po; Hun would be the ethereal soul that leaves the body after death, and Po would be a mortal soul that remains on a corpse after death.
Similar concepts may be found on the Egyptian Ka and Ba, and on the Greek Daemon and Eidolon, the latter added to this the idea that Eidolon would act as a form of guardian angel that would look after Eidolon.
From all of this, we can conclude that there is more to the human mind that we understand, a more profound aspect that has been observed and theorized upon for millennia.
Be it second personality, a manifestation of the sub-conscious, or a guardian angel, we cannot deny there is something within ourselves that enables us to disassociate our consciousness from our body and avoid the feeling of pain – something that escapes our comprehension at the moment.