I have this week had the opportunity to watch a 1950s black and white film of William S. Kroger performing a thyroidectomy using only hypnosis as anaesthesia… It is enthralling stuff. I joked on Facebook that the production values of the film footage are still amazing, but when you consider the date they were recorded, they are incredible; when the opening credits rolled, I was expecting Citizen Kane to begin…
The reason that I refer to this today is because within the film footage Kroger briefly refers to an ‘immobilisation theory’ that is thought to be an atavism.
If you look up atavism in any good dictionary, it’ll define the term something along the lines of:
“recurrence in an organism of a trait or character typical of an ancestral form and usually due to genetic recombination.”
So this immobilisation theory of hypnosis suggests that hypnosis is something developed from a time in humankind’s history when we needed the protective defensive mechanism to deal with dangerous situations, similar to the way many consider the ‘fight or flight response’ to be borne out of the time we were faced with sabre toothed tigers.
This immobilisation theory though, was developed by the observations of Ivan Pavlov. He noticed that under certain circumstances, an animal in the wild can only survive by being immobile and totally still so that it is not spotted by those seeking prey. This is noted in Pavlov’s 1957 work Experimental Psychology.
This theory was then built upon and developed in the 1960 work by Meares A System of Medical Hypnosis who referred to hypnosis as being something created by a similar need in humans that manifests itself today as what we know as hypnosis.
This immobility reflex as it is often referred to in academic literature is of course different in animals than humans, but is suggested to be brought on instinctively and intuitively when there is a physical need of some kind. This might include any powerful types of emotional stimulus such as being scared or highly anxious that leads to someone ‘freezing’ and is thus rendered immobile.
Those the have ever supported this kind of theory, though it was never very dominant and is certainly hardly ever considered today, still do not really come up with ways in which this shows how hypnosis occurs within individuals.
That said, back in the 50s when this theory seemed to be at its strongest, in a 1953 edition of the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, Guze described hypnosis as the following:
“A state of readiness for emotional action increasingly subordinated to cortical influence as one ascends phylogeny, but nonetheless consistently present in animal organisms in a variety of forms.”
Which tends to draw some parallels of the immobilisation theory of the day.
Just a short entry today, but that is the aged notion of immobilisation as a means of explaining hypnosis… It is not a million miles away from those ideas of people becoming animated, controlled beings and you can see how it relates to some of the older theories…
Having worked all last weekend, I finish early now and am off to run along the sea front as part of my marathon training schedule on this Remembrance Day… Have a wonderful weekend.