by Tim Brunson PhD
There is a superhero obsession in Eastern and Western culture. Just look at the Hollywood box office hits for the past several years. Titles like Spiderman, Batman Returns, Daredevil, X-Men and even the Harry Potter series are just a handful of an army of such movies. Add to this a steady fare of similar fictional stories that find there way into our homes via our cable television provider. Yes, even hit series like Heroes and 4400 continue satisfying our craving for stories about magical human potential. Other than importing these movies and shows to their theaters, our Eastern cousins have always had their martial arts heroes, which they have often exported back to us in the forms of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan.
The remarkable feature of all of these stories has always been the transformation of an ordinary person (often who is flawed and mild mannered bordering on poor self-esteem) into a person with unusual abilities. While it may have taken a radioactive spider bite, an unfortunately sudden blindness (of course, again caused by radioactivity), and/or seeing their parent or parents murdered in front of their eyes, the fact is that they have always symbolized the potential that we all may have within us.
Is such superhuman potential only fiction? Some researchers don't think so. Several months ago I came across a series of articles by Darrel Treffert, M.D., a Wisconsin psychiatrist who has studied idiot savants (also called the "savant syndrome") since his first day on the job back in 1955. He quickly noticed that about one out of ten autistic people had some increased mental ability in conjunction with their otherwise poor IQ. What intrigued me was his exploration of what he calls the "accidental savant", who is someone afflicted with savantism due to an accident or an illness. Dr. Treffert's most recent writings have explored the possibility that phenomenal savant traits may be stimulated in normal people. Could it really be possible for an ordinary person to achieve savant-like abilities in the areas of mathematics, music, or memory? If not, can these skills be vastly improved?
Dr. Treffert is not alone in seeing the average person's potential. Alvaro Pascual Leone, MD, of the Harvard Medical School and Allan Snyder, PhD, of the University of Sydney (Australia) are just two of the many researchers who are systematically looking into neural reorganization, which is a standard feature of the newly handicapped and recovering stroke survivors, and brain sector inhibition as a way of functional enhancement.
Although the savant syndrome is not fully understood by either psychologists or neurologists, Treffert has found that all savants have a commonality in that parts of their brains are either not functioning or not communicating properly. Like the studies in inhibition through transcranial magnetic stimulation (TCM) or through volitional brain sector reorganization, the lack of competition among brain sectors often allows selected sectors to increase performance. The key discussion here is whether inhibition and/or reorganization stimulate such enhancements or if they merely free up pre-existing dormant potential.
So where does hypnosis come in? If you understand the mind altering similarities between hypnosis and meditation, you may see the obvious answer. In Why God Won't Go Away Andrew Newberg, MD, and Eugene D'Aquili, PhD, pointed out that an experienced meditator has the capability to inhibit brain function. Specifically, by inhibiting left front lobe function and reducing the hyperactivity of the anterior cingulate gyrus, the brain is freed of what Treffert calls the "tyranny of the left brain." (Note that this is extremely similar to the 1950's comment by David Elman that a state of hypnosis requires a by-pass of the critical faculty.) This then allows more energy to flow to less used areas like the right temporal lobe, which is a very important sector related to religious experiences. (According to Dr. Snyder, TCM inhibition of the left temporal lobe has also produced enhanced memories and artistic abilities.) Other research has shown that extensive meditation will produce thicker neo-cortices and results in increased Gamma wave activity. (Recently Gamma waves have been linked to the ability of certain "energy healers" such as Joyce Hawkes, PhD, a once skeptical research biologist who transformed into a healer.)
Hypnosis has the ability of enhancing brain functioning as trance induction by default inhibits left frontal lobe activity. (This is why time and space distortion is experienced during trance work.) The increased perceptual clarity during guided imagery should therefore be no surprise. However, we could logically go much further. As Tibetan Buddhists sometimes talk about the deep meditation occurrences of extra-sensory experiences (siddhis) and frequently tell of the miraculous feats of their historical masters, it should be no surprise to the hypnotist when ordinary people experience extraordinary abilities while in trance.
This leads me to believe that there is a major possibility that professional hypnotherapists and the lay hypnosis practitioners in the licensed professions have the opportunity to understand why hypnosis has the potential to unleash phenomenal mental abilities to include a vastly improved relationship between the mind and physical healing. However, while recent neurological and epigenetic research are uncovering very interesting realizations about the brain and body, there must be an increasing involvement of the mental therapeutic professions if all the dots are to be connected. Will we uncover fantastic potentials in the mind and body? Will we redefine what it is to be human? Will we again link science and spirituality? If we uncover the superhero deep within each of us, will be use it to improve the world? As Peter Parker's (a.k.a. Spiderman) uncle said, "With great power, comes great responsibility." What will a world of superheroes be like? Of course, if everyone had these powers, we would redefine mediocrity at new levels.
The International Hypnosis Research Institute is a member supported project involving integrative health care specialists from around the world. We provide information and educational resources to clinicians. Dr. Brunson is the author of over 150 self-help and clinical CD's and MP3's.