Oh Young, Beautiful and Charismatic One!

“Why Nothing Works” is a mind-bending headline in a recent and fascinating article on the placebo effect in The New York Times Sunday Magazine by Gary Greenberg.  It is focused on the biochemical basis of placebos.

Placebos are pills with biochemically inert ingredients such as sugar. And yet, these sugar pills — “nothing” — really do work.

Understanding why placebos work has been the focus of hundreds of researchers recently, most influentially Ted Kaptchuk, head of Harvard Medical School’s Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter. Prof. Kaptchuk’s “own pet theory … holds that the placebo effect is a result of the complex conscious and nonconscious processes embedded in the practitioner-patient relationship….”

We, too, have a theory. It is consistent with Prof. Kaptchuk’s.

It’s called hypnosis.  And it works.

Gary Greenberg, the journalist who wrote “Why Nothing Works,” seems sympathetic to that view. Greenberg:

“In a way, the placebo effect owes its poor reputation to the same man who cast aspersions on going to bed late and sleeping in. Benjamin Franklin was, in 1784, the ambassador of the fledgling United States to King Louis XVI’s court. Also in Paris at the time was a Viennese physician named Franz Anton Mesmer. Mesmer fled Vienna a few years earlier when the local medical establishment determined that his claim to have cured a young woman’s blindness by putting her into a trance was false, and that, even worse, there was something unseemly about his relationship with her. By the time he arrived in Paris and hung out his shingle, Mesmer had acquired what he lacked in Vienna: a theory to account for his ability to use trance states to heal people. There was, he claimed, a force pervading the universe called animal magnetism that could cause illness when perturbed. Conveniently enough for Mesmer, the magnetism could be perceived and de-perturbed only by him and people he had trained.

“… Enough people reported good results that patients were continually lined up at Mesmer’s door waiting for the next session.

“It was the kind of success likely to arouse envy among doctors, but more was at stake than professional turf. Mesmer’s claim that a force existed that could only be perceived and manipulated by the elect few was a direct challenge to an idea central to the Enlightenment: that the truth could be determined by anyone with senses informed by skepticism, that Scripture could be supplanted by facts and priests by a democracy of people who possessed them. So, when the complaints about Mesmer came to Louis, it was to the scientists that the king — at pains to show himself an enlightened man — turned. He appointed, among others, Lavoisier the chemist, Bailly the astronomer and Guillotin the physician to investigate Mesmer’s claims, and he installed Franklin at the head of their commission.

“To the Franklin commission, the question wasn’t whether Mesmer was a fraud and his patients were dupes. Everyone could be acting in good faith, but belief alone did not prove that the magnetism was at work. To settle this question, they designed a series of trials that ruled out possible causes of the observed effects other than animal magnetism. The most likely confounding variable, they thought, was some faculty of mind that made people behave as they did under Mesmer’s ministrations. To rule this out, the panel settled upon a simple method: a blindfold. Over a period of a few months, they ran a series of experiments that tested whether people experienced the effects of animal magnetism even when they couldn’t see.

“When the panel gave d’Eslon a preview of its findings, he took it with equanimity. Given the results of the treatment (as opposed to the experiment), he opined, the imagination, “directed to the relief of suffering humanity, would be a most valuable means in the hands of the medical profession” — a subject to which these august scientists might wish to apply their methods. But events intervened. Franklin was called back to America in 1785; Louis XVI had bigger trouble on his hands and, along with Lavoisier and Bailly, eventually met with the short, sharp shock of the device named for Guillotin.”

The imagination, ‘directed to the relief of suffering humanity, would be a most valuable means in the hands of the medical profession….”  The report of the Royal Commission he cites uses the word “imagination” around a hundred times.  One of the titans of hypnosis research of the 20th century, Stanford University Professor Ernest Hilgard, in a private conversation with Dr. Michael Yapko, defined hypnosis as “believed-in imagination.”

What is the hypnotic state? We never use the word “trance” to describe that state because trance suggests diminished awareness.  Hypnosis is a state of heightened awareness. We call it “reverie” — a daydreamy state where the mind’s logical faculty is relaxed but not so critical as is usual.  “Believed-in imagination.”

The essence of the New York Times Magazine article:

“Science is “designed to get rid of the husks and find the kernels,”( Kaptchuk) told me. Much can be lost in the threshing — in particular, Kaptchuk sometimes worries, the rituals embedded in the doctor-patient encounter that he thinks are fundamental to the placebo effect, and that he believes embody an aspect of medicine that has disappeared as scientists and doctors pursue the course laid by Franklin’s commission. “Medical care is a moral act,” he says, in which a suffering person puts his or her fate in the hands of a trusted healer.”

Neither hypnosis nor the placebo effect are based in “animal magnetism” as Mesmer hypothesized.  That said, let’s not be overly harsh on Dr. Mesmer. As Prof. Hilgard and his psychiatrist wife Dr. Josephine Hilgard wrote in chapter 1 of their book Hypnosis and the Relief of Pain (page 3),

“Mesmer was obviously wrong in his theory, but two things may be said in his defense.  In the first place, he was attempting to use modern physical science to replace some of the superstition of his day. It may be remembered that this was the Age of Enlightenment in France, the time when Diderot’s famous Encyclopedia was appearing. Second, even though the results were produced by imagination, they were indeed being produced; we shall note later how important imagination has become in the interpretation of hypnosis.”

The self-hypnosis audiotapes and scripts provided by HypnoticBeauty.com and HypnoticCharisma.com are not therapeutic in nature.  They are aesthetic, helping to develop a person’s youthfulness, attractiveness, and ability to inspire devotion in others.

Our words enter the imagination of the client and have a noteworthy impact.  Call the mechanism that generates beneficial physiological changes a “complex conscious and nonconscious processes embedded in the practitioner-patient relationship….”

Or call it hypnosis.

Do let the power of “Nothing” work for you.

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