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I have had a theory to explain what hypnosis is for many years. The explanation is overly structured for the purpose of analysis. It does explain things I knew about hypnosis and it has explained or predicted other things – additional, unplanned outputs.

When I was first taught about hypnosis by a teacher/hypnotist, he described the behavior of people responding to experimenters and stage hypnotists. I also saw hypnotist shows. I had the shock of immediate recognition. When I have seen people hypnotized and read of many examples I was struck by what a willing dupe they are and the similarity to my memory and questioning as a dreamer.

I remember my dreams and moments of questioning inconsistencies. I habitually analyze everything. In order for the dream to continue past obvious inconsistencies such as  – the dead-end by my house is now ocean front – in the middle of Queens, NY – miles from the ocean. The doubt is immediately suppressed, glossed over, as in Star Wars: “These are not the droids you are looking for” the suggestion appears that “there has been a lot of rain lately” – and I buy it!

The hypnotized in a session or show are similarly compelled to muddle through a proposed or implied scenario and they ignore an audience that may be laughing at them sometimes mockingly and not supportively. The relationship to the hypnotists is dominantly important and certainly is unique – no other person present has this directive power. As a start, I recognized the dreaming dupe as the same dupe in the hypnotic subject.

Bing searches find hits on both dreaming and hypnosis identifying the same areas. “Reduced self-monitoring in dreams may be related to the deactivation of brain regions such as posterior cingulate cortex, inferior parietal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.”


I started posting this theory to HypnosisOnline in the Forum – “Hypnosis Theory”. I proposed at that time (2005) that this will only be scientifically verified when brain function mapping provided by dynamic PET/CT scans clarify specific-purpose functional areas in dreaming and hypnosis. 

– I have received concurrence. You can see the response from Gil Boyne (died 2010) a pre-eminent American Hypno-therapist and teacher in many seminars. This site has deleted the Theory sub-section in Forums. I found it in a backup I had saved:


Posted – 10/08/2005 :  9:40:12 PM  

Hello JT. Sullivan, Your theory of hypnosis is absolutely brilliant!
It is unique, original and comprehensive. I read it several times to savor the full meaning and impact. I could never have come up with such a theory, but different minds work in different ways. God Bless you for such an important contribution. Please post more of your thinking.
With Respect, Gil Boyne

Gil Boyne
[Gil Passed Away May 5, 2010]”




I then had to identify the key parameters that would identify differences in the Usual State of Consciousness (USC) vs Dreaming vs Hypnosis. The emergent view of dreaming concurs with my experience and the writings of others on dream and hypnosis experiences.

For the 3 states that are input:

  1. Awake or the Usual State of Consciousness (USC)
  2. Dreaming
  3. Hypnosis

This is where I am going: here are the permutations:

State Physiological State Consciousness


USC Awake USC Consciousness USC-Control
Dreaming Asleep Dream Observer Dream Director
Hypnosis Awake Dream Observer Hypnotist as Dream Director

Here are the three parameters necessary to differentiate the three states: USC, Dreaming and Hypnosis:

 Physiological State:

What is the comparison of the USC (Usual State of Consciousness) to Dreaming? The first parameter must be physiological state (awake or asleep). The USC and Hypnotism are physiologically awake and dreaming occurs while we are physiologically asleep.


What are the similarities in consciousness in these three states? Consciousness is self aware experience of our identity, our awareness of self and our perceived command of mental resources especially decisions. It is a subjective sense of our span of internal control as opposed to the external Not-I of all other reality. Any other perception beside our body and our mind is perceived as the Not-I. Consciousness is an overall coordinating function that brings together many internal inputs and outputs many mental resource elements and functions. e.g. I will try to remember. I will try to manipulate another person. I will overcome fear of an external factor.  How am I perceived by others. etc

What differentiates the USC from Dreaming? The high-level answer is we are cut off from the physical world and are immersed in a Dream World. In the dream world there is an obvious  parallelism to our awake world. In dreaming there is a different but familiar experience of the internal I and a familiar sense of all other dream reality (place, people, time, mood, etc.) as the familiar Not-I.

In the dream state the Not-I, of course, is technically us but analyzed by perception we perceive a separate I and a Not-I. This is, by perception. It feels the same as when we are awake – in dreaming it is an illusion, of course.

How much access to critical thinking?

The dream world has its own logic. I can open the side of a fish tank like a door and the water stays but the fish may drift out. Gravity mechanics are so weak that I sometimes question 40 ft jumps and have the option of becoming lucid (realizing and embracing that you are dreaming).  In order for the dream world to persist with all the illogic and shifting reality the Dream Observer must be a dupe with limited access to critical judgement.

When we dream, we do not control the monster chasing us. It is a Not-I element along with many other Not-I elements. The mood, the time-frame, the theme, external events, surprises. The Dream consciousness interacts with many other person-entities. Those other entities – dream people – interact with each other as I watch. These entities and a whole world are all generated and designed by a Not-I element! This is utterly spectacular and should not be glossed over because it happens every night. By this definition, the dream state Not-I elements have to be separated to define the dream sense of I.  I call the dream sense of I the Dream Observer as do others (Stephen Labarge). (I call the   Not-I elements the Dream Director – more detail below.)

The Dream Observer, as I have so far described it, sounds wholly passive, but; it is really a participant like an overwhelmed improvisational actor swept along by external direction, setting and expectation but still a partner in determining the story line. For this reason I include in the Dream Observer the concept of this dominated but participating improv-actor and a contributor to the story. Dominated, but with a second level of inhibition stops. Some dreams have a media form of stream of consciousness and others have a more pointed message and/or impressive insight and/or a story. Some people do not remember dreams or only remember a stream of consciousness. We are behaviorally variegated by genetics just as we are physically variegated.

Consciousness – Hypnotic State and Dream State 

As I stated in my overview above the hypnotized in a session or show are similarly compelled to muddle through a proposed or implied scenario and they ignore an audience that may be laughing at them, sometimes mockingly and not supportively. I saw a show in which the hypnotist’s scenario involved telling people they were having babies and they complied in a cartoonish fashion as best they could under the circumstances. Yes – some of them could have been faking. For this discussion, the only important thing is if some of them were not. This and many other descriptions of hypnotized persons compels me to recognize them as the same Dream Observer that I am very familiar with.  Especially when I was younger – I remembered all of several dreams through the night in detail and because I analyze compulsively I remember discrepancies and being forced to ignore them. Sometimes I become lucid because the reach is too far. This locks in the sense of “What a dupe!”. This is the basis of my recognition of the hypnotic subject as the Dream Observer.

Control – Dream Director

In dreaming – I call the Not-I Control element the Dream Director. I am not talking about a light switch on/off mechanism but a relative shift in priority and dominance. When I am the dreaming, I have a lot less control and access to critical judgment. Another center of control has shifted to a higher level of dominance compared to the USC. I have perceived this shift some times as I became lucid when analyzing events such as a long jump a block long. I remember everything experienced in the shift. The metaphor of a film director conducting an improv lesson is right on because we are given an entire world, people, mood, story line, surprises. Think of an overpowering director using improv to teach actors who are overwhelmed and eager to follow any direction without any critical thinking. This is close.

The Dream Observer Consciousness also accepts the illogical dream world as a matter of course. Compared to the dream state, in the USC I have a relatively much higher level access to critical judgement and I have the choice to persist in using it. This control element is intrinsic to the USC, so lets call the USC control element simply “USC-Control“.

The Dream Not-I – The Dream Director (DD) – What are the characteristics of the dream Not-I? The not-I determines that we have a nightmare when I do not want to. It creates other people entities and monsters in our dreams that are not-I. Why am I dreaming about my basement that is changed in incongruous ways. Why have I gone back in time? Where did the theme, feeling and mood come from? Why do I agree to false memories? What compels me to go down the basement when there is a foreboding sense and I don’t want to. It tweaks the story line by turning the stairs into various fun house stairs when we are fleeing from some threatening presence and I do not want this to happen. To me, all of this is clearly Not-I. The forceful introduction into the dream is a significant, other center of control. What is the  more dominant control element in dreaming? I call this dream control element the Dream Director. In this view of dreaming, the control element is not absolute but relatively more to the Dream Director. I am only taking about the default when we add up all the not-I. I am not saying that the Dream Director is another person with all the functions of a person, but; there is some coordination especially in a message dream as opposed to a stream-of-consciousness dream. The former is rare.

In dreaming there is a shift in the control element to the “Dream Director” and it is the relative higher control element in the dream state. Relatively, the degree of this control, is not the same as in the USC. In the USC the Dream Director is probably a part of the the hidden observer facility that can connect with past associations and emotional triggers – the instinct that may give us a tap on the shoulder when we are awake. It will feed inputs into the next nights dreaming after sifting through the remains of the day and assigning its own importance. Associations are deepened according to the Dream Directors priorities and this is a survival trait. See my write up on Why We Dream attached.

Where does hypnotism that is somewhat dominating come from? There is an economy in evolution that does not develop extra body part or extra behavior wasting scarce resources. I am not talking about a person referred to as being “hypnotized as they read a book”. Nor am I denying these partial states. I am talking about those instances of a dominating state in which, for instance, a stage hypnotist (or experimenter) can tell a person that mathematics is funny and a person that is usually too inhibited and has no innate acting ability will play the role with conviction. More significantly they will ignore derisive laughter of everyone else in the audience. The hypnotic subject ignores the significance of a large audience laughing at him as directed. He overcomes previous lifetime patterns of sensitivity and inhibition. He is compelled to go along unless a lower level of inhibition is triggered or he finds a way to resist such as sleeping, coming out or ab-reacting. This, to me, is a distinct state from the Usual State of Consciousness. A completely honest and sober person who is directed by the hypnotist, or knowledge of what is expected, will confabulate a story of satanic abuse (so convincingly that the FBI investigated for all the murdered sacrificed babies /other evidence/participants and nothing came of the investigation) or past lives or alien abduction. These effects are spectacular and needs to be explained. The expectation, hint or leads from the hypnotist are accepted as part of the direction as well as the subjects cultural information about hypnosis. The relationship to the hypnotists is dominantly important and certainly is unique – no other person present has this directive power.

I am saying that in considering the economy of evolution, we must consider where it came from. It did not evolve so experimenters could use it for studies or stage hypnotist amuse people. The basic evolutionary ratification is in the dream mechanism and hypnotism is a reordering of parts of mechanisms in dreaming both positive behavior and  behavior inhibiting mechanisms present in dreaming.

My theory is simply this: The hypnotized person, without changing physiological state, gives up their USC Consciousness sense of self to the Dream Observer consciousness and allows the control element to shift from USC-control to the control element of the hypnotist acting in the role of the Dream Director. One obvious induction method is relaxation, suggestion and related techniques that “bore” the left brain into giving up control just as we do every night! As we fall asleep, before we go into a later prolonged dream state. We can fall into immediate reverie that is dream-like. I do not have an explanation for other induction methods but they must result in the giving up of left brain control element, “I”, of the USC. In dreaming we switch control to the right brain control function of the Dream Director – “Hypnotist as Dream Director“. That is why its unique messages are often in the visual form of a verbal pun. The right brain is normally verbally challenged when it is driving the point.

Here are the permutations:

State Physiological State Consciousness

Control shift

USC Awake USC Consciousness USC-Control
Dreaming Asleep Dream Observer Dream Director
Hypnosis Awake Dream Observer Hypnotist as Dream Director

-Other outputs not anticipated until I extended combinations

State Awake Consciousness Control Shift
Lucid Dreaming Asleep shift to more USC Consciousness USC-Control 
Corridor Dream Asleep Dream Observer Dream Director not active
Transcendental Meditation Awake Dream Observer Prior Intention/meditation
Fugue Awake? Dream Observer Dream Director

From this chart we can see the shift in mechanisms I described above.

This theory also explains why honest persons who are hypnotized will tell convincing stories of satanic abuse, past lives or alien abduction wholly according to the specialty of the hypnotist. The same type of thing happens every night. The dream observer is compelled to go along with the theme and direction. It explains the dangers of false memories. I have supported dream absurdities with false memories many times and this is a lingering effect when I am waking.

Note the other outputs that I did not anticipate when I related the three elements to Dreaming, USC and Hypnosis. They emerged and helped to give me the feeling that this theory clicks.

If we become Lucid, become aware, that we are dreaming and decide to take control, we shift toward USC-Consciousness and realize we can take control but if we decide to dismiss the dream world we wake up. If we decide to stay in the dream world then we decide what to shift and change. I have done this many times but not regularly. As we become Lucid, we shift from the passive, submissive Dream Observer to a state approaching USC-Control. When we are lucid, we can change the not-I elements, the mood, the entire dream world. We can choose to continue to interact with other dream entities (our dream people created by the not-I Dream Director) or choose to interact differently or dismiss them and our surroundings or change our surroundings. The Dream Director as control element shifts down inversely as our USC-control increases. I have experienced this many times as do thousands of others. Many people do not even remember their dreams. We are behaviorally variable.

Dreaming and hypnosis share a shift in access to critical judgment, inhibition suppressed to a lower level, amnesia, false memories, resistance, lucidity, time-shift, ability to tune out external stimulus (but hypnosis is not physiological sleep). Why do honest people confabulate both when they are dreaming and when they are hypnotized? This is why the the hypnotized person is the worst experimental subject imaginable. The hypnotized subject will remember a valid reality better than in the USC but if there is no reality matching expectation then the hypnotized subject or dreamer must confabulate a false memory. He is being directed to either remember or to conform by confabulating.

Deconstructionist point out that there are many partial effects and shared elements. This is true. Why does the sharing and mixing of mental functions in other states invalidate hypnosis as a separate state? Partial hypnosis effects or long term effects from therapists (another route to the same transaction?) does not invalidate hypnosis any more than all the partial or shared effects of sleep in rest, momentary reverie etc. invalidate the state of sleep. If we insisted that we address sleep as all or nothing (it can be deconstructed) and we addressed partial effects such a momentary reverie, automatic driving a car to establish a continuum then the state of sleep could be denied with as much logic as deconstructionist use to deny hypnosis as a distinct state. Both have partial elements that may be present in continuums and present in various combinations and degrees.

Let me put it more positively. There are certain states that have been ratified by behavioral evolution: the usual state of consciousness – Awake, and Dreaming (see Why We Dream in this blog). There are other states that are combinations of behavioral functions – that is portions of these mechanisms and combinations. Lucid dreaming, Fugue and sleep walking are recombination of behavioral functions that seem to be in the wrong physiological state and are probably not ratified to support survival by evolution. Hypnotism is another recombination but I do not know if hypnosis is ratified.

As an Analyst, I constructed the first table for 3 states with the 3 factors necessary to differentiate them:

The table of additional outputs is an unanticipated output of the first analysis. Consider the symmetry and recombination in the process of becoming a lucid dreamer compared to my suggestion about hypnosis. The fact that these factors yield some insight into other states is an indication of concurrence.

In changing from dreaming to Lucid Dreaming we shift our Dream Observer Consciousness from the dominated Dream Observer to the I of the Usual State of Consciousness and Control from the Dream Director to USC-Control while not changing our physiological state.

In changing from the USC – awake to Hypnotism we shift our consciousness from the I of the Usual State of Consciousness to the Dream Observer Consciousness and the Control Element from USC-Control to the the Hypnotist as Dream Director Control while not changing our physiological state.

Can we see these patterns?

These shifts and Fugue and Sleep walking and Transcendental Mediation show that such recombinations exist usual or unusual, evolution-ratified or emergent.

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