The Potential Neurological Effects of Hypnosis
James Tigert, C.H.
For Publication in the Journal of Hypnotism
19 July 2016
Many have wondered what changes occur within the brain during and after hypnotic states. Some consider hypnosis to be a placebo but new research in neurology and physics may indicate a measurable and physical change to neurons and synapses. Various researchers from different fields of expertise have discovered the existence of “microtubules” as an integral component of the human neuron. These microtubules have the ability to carry both chemical and electrical information throughout the neuron. The transfer and change that occurs within the neuron, as a result of these transmissions, is theorized to affect the perception of reality and one’s understanding of consciousness. This paper is intended to spur further research into the subject.
The Potential Neurological Effects of Hypnosis
For years, research has been conducted to determine the effects that hypnosis has on the human mind. Some antagonists to the practice of hypnosis consider it a placebo and assert that those who experience success with hypnosis might have had such success without it (Van Dyck and Hoogduin, 1990). However, proponents of its practice have long held that the efficacious successes of hypnosis are apparent in the lives of those who have underdone it. One mystery rests with the state of mind that hypnosis causes and what is happening within the brain. Researchers have used various methods to determine how the brain and body react to hypnotic states in an effort to define hypnosis, in terms of physiology (Graham, 2005).
Practitioners and participants have long testified as to the efficacy of hypnotic techniques and one could argue that regardless of placebo or factual change, the results speak for themselves. However, to further promote the use of hypnosis, one must be willing to engage in and advocate research so as to reveal the hidden reasons hypnotic techniques work; and perhaps why or how they do not. Simply accepting the status quo is not only unscientific, it is irresponsible.
According to Cojan, Waber, Schwartz, Rossier, Forster, Vuilleumier (2009), the mechanisms within the brain associated with hypnosis are “not well known”. Their research indicated “fascinating alterations of mental functions induced by hypnosis...[involving] distributed changes in brain networks supporting conscious will and self awareness”. They further state, “recent theoretical accounts [propose] that hypnosis might entail either active inhibition or disconnection of some mental processes from executive control systems” but “these hypotheses have never been directly tested” [words alteredfor grammar and emphasis](Cojan, et al., 2009). The results, though very enlightening, remain inconclusive as to the mechanisms involved and the physical changes occurring within the brain.
Newer Research, Better Theories
New research in various fields indicates fascinating discoveries at not only a biological level but a molecular/atomic level. According to Sahu, S. Ghosh, B. Ghosh, Aswani, Hirata, Fujita, Bandyopadhyay (2013), “microtubule nanotubes are found in every living eukaryotic cell; these are formed by reversible polymerization of the tubulin protein, and their hollow fibers are filled with uniquely arranged water molecules” (p. 141). These microtubule nanotubes allow for the transmission of electro-chemical components and signals within neurons. The interest is in how these microtubules function.
The “uniquely arranged water molecules” consist of a cylindrical lattice that allow for electricity to pass through each microtubule in multiple directions (Hameroff, 2010). The direction at which the electrical input flows is dependent upon the configuration of these water molecules within the microtubule. Each configuration allows for a different electrical potential with variances that can exist outside the standard positive/negative range (Hameroff, 2010). Also known as a quantum state, these shifts of polarity or electron flow affect the overall potential within the microtubule, inevitably the neuron, on to the synapse and finally the brain (Cojan, et al., 2013). The key is that these molecular lattices and microtubules are in a constant state of flux (Hameroff and Penrose, 2014). It is this state of flux that has led some researchers to postulate an interesting theory.
Hameroff and Penrose (2014) assert that human consciousness is a result of the continuous recombination or reconfiguration of these lattices. As the lattices align to form differing combinations dependent upon environmental and internal stimuli, the flow of electrical impulse changes in potential within the neuron and inevitably the brain. According to Hameroff and Penrose (2014),
“The nature of consciousness, the mechanism by which it occurs in
the brain, and its ultimate place in the universe are unknown. We
proposed in the mid 1990's that consciousness depends on biologically
'orchestrated' coherent quantum processes in collections of microtubules
within brain neurons, that these quantum processes correlate with, and
regulate, neuronal synaptic and membrane activity, and that the
continuous Schrödinger evolution of each such process terminates in
accordance with the specific Diósi-Penrose (DP) scheme of 'objective
reduction' ('OR') of the quantum state. This orchestrated OR activity
('Orch OR') is taken to result in moments of conscious awareness and/or
choice” (pg. 39, para. 1).
Sahu, et al. (2013) theorize that these microtubules act as “musical strings” and “vibrate” in response to or to induce change within the neuron. The resulting frequencies engender an overall affect on neural activity thus producing differing states of consciousness or perception. As frequencies change, the resulting state of conscious or perception changes to suit. These “orchestrated changes” occur at a constant, rapid pace, and the result is choice, awareness and the perception of reality (Hameroff and Penrose, 2014).
It is well known that hypnosis induces change in consciousness. Many studies have been performed to determine the effects of hypnosis on the brain using various methods (e.g. MRI, fMRI, EEG, etc.). In each case, researchers have been unable to completely understand what is happening within the brain and none have been able to define why hypnosis works. The result of each study calls for further study. Perhaps the tools used for the study of hypnosis are not as effective as needed or the parameters of the research are misplaced. Granted, much has been gleaned from said research but as technology is improved and new tools are developed, should not research mirror that progress?
Research into hypnosis and its affects on the human brain could take a new and profound direction based on the research performed by Sahu, Hameroff, Penrose, and others. Perhaps these aforementioned changes are the result of the mind attempting to reconcile the constructs created during hypnosis; with varying concepts, ideas and symbols. As the mind is undergoing these changes and attempting to build constructs to define new information presented by the hypnotist, the neurological functions are a result of constant recombination of molecules within the microtubules in each neuron. Hameroff and Penrose (2014) mention that the recombination results in the brain attempting to define consciousness and engender choice. It is possible that the brain is attempting to discern a perceived reality as manifest in the phenomena of somnambulism, amnesia and other symptoms of deep hypnosis. When it cannot, it creates an abstract to define perceived events and stimuli; as may be evidenced by clients changing the imagery or narrative to suit their understanding.
As clients emerge from hypnotic states, new behaviors are manifest. The repetition of said behavior acts to reinforce the thought processes that engender them. Perhaps as synaptic connections are made and circuits created within the brain are established, these microtubules are capable of communication between one another. These new connections change the client’s perception of reality, changing the psychological constructs and paradigms, resulting in the desired behavior.
As hypnotists, it is helpful to understand the neurological functions occurring within the brain and use methods that engender successful change in each client. Better understanding of research only serves to help the hypnotist and his or her client to be successful. As research sheds more light on the subject of hypnosis, it is important to use the proper tools to measure data. Newer, better and more complete theories regarding hypnosis are dependent on better data. When all the sciences work together to produce better research, data collection and theory, all parties experience success.
Cojan, Y., Waber, L., Schwartz, S., Rossier, L., Forster, A. & Vuilleumier, P. (2009). The brain under self-control: modulation of inhibitory and monitoring cortical networks during hypnotic paralysis. Neuron, 2009 Jun 25; 62(6): 862-75. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.05.021
Fournier, A. (2016). Thunderbolts Project. Electric Resonance in Microtubules | Electricity of Life [Video File]. Retrieved 16 July 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiLplTc8rQY
Graham, S. (2005). Scans Show How Hypnosis Affects Brain Activity. Retrieved 21 July 2016, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scans-show-how-hypnosis-a/
Hameroff, S. (2010). Google Tech Talks. 28 Oct 2010. Clarifying the Tubulin bit/qubit - Defending the Penrose-Hameroff Orch OR Model (Quantum Biology) [Video File]. Retrieved 16 July 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LXFFbxoHp3s
Hameroff, S. & Penrose, R. (2014). Consciousness in the universe -A review of the ‘Orch OR’ theory. Physics of Life Reviews, 11 (2014) 39–78. Retrieved 16 July 2016, from
Sahu, S., Ghosh, S., Ghosh, B., Aswani, K., Hirata, K., Fujita, D. & Bandyopadhyay, A. (2013). Atomic water channel controlling remarkable properties of a single brain microtubule:
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