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An up-to-date (and regularly updated) account of what laboratory research tells us about the nature of hypnosis and how this differs from hypnosis in the clinic and in therapy.
Mainly about what happens when hypnosis enters the legal arena and thereby provides us with a convincing case that there are no limits to human absurdity. (A lot of people who have read the article don't seem to have realised that this is what it is about.)
Can a thief hypnotise someone and persuade them to hand over their money?
Dr H.B. Gibson ('Tony') was a psychologist who specialised in and wrote about a range of subjects, hypnosis being one of them. He was also a sceptic and notoriously outspoken: he never suffered fools gladly and had a keen sense of the absurd. His article describes his unlikely encounter with a man who (famously as it happens) believed he had once been taken onto an alien spaceship and whom he was asked to hypnotise, with hilarious consequences. Preceding his paper is an obituary I wrote when Tony died in 2001. His face was once one of the most famous in Britain. But why?
More on human absurdity
A brief discussion of hypnotic past life regression
A conjuror offers his service (with no fee) to find the missing Ben Needham. But can hypnosis be of any assistance?
An explanation of dowsing or water divining using metal rods. The information provided will enable the reader, with practice, to become a dowser
Following the above article on dowsing, further exploration of the manifestations of ideomotor suggestion
This paper explores the largely flawed enterprise of putting diagnostic labels on an increasing range of human problems, failings and eccentricities, with particular reference to AD/HD and dyslexia. The paper also criticises research purporting to demonstrate that children diagnosed with AD/HD have a 'genetic disease'.
Systems, organisations, groups, and individuals, to which society grants some form of power and responsibility, almost invariably attempt to over-reach the compass of their legitimate influence.
There is no such thing as the unconscious mind; there is brain activity that is not represented in consciousness or only partially so. This account is based on lectures I have given on this theme and includes directions on the accompanying choreography.
This article is largely about the early claims of NLP, including some of the most astonishing. It includes access to my reviews of the experimental evidence in the late 1980s (please note I did no experiments myself).
Comparing and contrasting eye surgery and psychotherapy.
Can we repress memories of quite extensive traumatic experiences and later have them 'recovered' during psychotherapy? In this article I ruminate on my own professional experiences of 'repressed memories'.
Despite all the glossy books on the symbolic content of dreams they are usually pretty meaningless. I describe a technique that in some cases will allow you to understand the significance of your dream.
This article presents my musings on the differences and similarities between the beliefs of people with mental health problems and beliefs in unusual phenomena held by people generally.
There is much about human nature that can be found in the life's absurdities, as this article shows.
Human absurdity is one bridge that links scepticism and humour.
Is science about discovering the truth about the world - i.e. 'reality' - or presenting just one of many equally valid versions of reality? Popular scepticism supports a 'yes' response to the former question, but classical or radical sceptics, including post-modernists, would argue in support of the latter.
'The rules of science are simple in theory but deceptively difficult in practice because so much else intrudes into the thought process.'
Scientists our powerful but they are ultimately accountable. Many people who are opposed by sceptics crave power without accountability.
'How did he/she do that?' We know that magicians are using trickery to create the illusion that they are performing paranormal feats. Some modern mentalists like to make it clear that they have no paranormal abilities either. But should we take them seriously when they claim to be using psychological techniques such as suggestion, hypnosis, subliminal communication, and reading body language and no-verbal cues?
On the follies of teaching children creationsim in biology lessons.
On 'evidence-based' medicine, homeopaths making fools of themselves, the excuses offered for exempting alternative medicine from scientific testing, and the dangers of wearing an anorak.
This article provides a template for devising your own system of complementary medicine, setting up as a practitioner, and earning a lot of money.
In 2004 the Office of Fair Trading announced that it was clamping down on 'fake psychics, peddlers of "miracle cures" and potions, and lottery scam operators'. But how can you tell a fake psychic or quack from a genuine one?
A hypnotherapist in Colwyn Bay is exposed in a televised investigation into his claim to be able to cure cancer by hypnosis and NLP.
About the terms 'pomster' and 'gripe's egg'.
This short story by Thomas Hardy provides rich material for skeptics to get their teeth into.
Newspapers and popular magazines often contain accounts of unusual alternative therapies for which extraordinary claims are made. This article provides a template for journalists preparing such an article.
This is a very sad and cautionary tale of a woman with cancer who eschewed conventional treatment and opted for 'alternative' medicine. She died just prior to a sensational newspaper report appeared in which her therapist, who was also her husband, announced that the treatment had been extraordinarily effective.
Although skeptics often cite 'the placebo effect' as the explanation for a successful outcome to psychotherapy, in practice it rarely makes its presence felt.
Trials of drugs and other treatment practices often yield positive results that are clinically highly significant. But once the treatment becomes mainstream practice the effects seem to diminish and even disappear. This paper examines this phenomenon and asks if this will be the fate of the NHS's 'Personal Health Budget' scheme.
Periodically an expert or pseudo-expert makes some ambitious claims about diet being the cause of mental health problems.
The patients and clients of doctors, therapists, healers and so on are driven to accept the authenticity of the practitioner and his or her methods and behaviour. This gives the latter considerable power and may render the former remarkably passive and obedient, even when the methods are blatantly inauthentic, exploitative and even abusive. A similar situation arises in the case of trainers and trainees in various types of therapeutic methods.
Many 'mysteries' are never resolved, simply because they are not really 'mysteries' at all; but the rational explanations that are offered for them are unacceptable to people who for one reason or another need the 'mystery' to be perpetuated. This is illustrated by the phenomenon of epidemics of 'mystery illnesses' which may be examples of mass hysteria.
The purpose of any therapy is to authenticate the therapist. Much else follows from this, including reasons for the prevalence and persistence of treatments that have no value beyond placebo including, but not exclusively, alternative or complementary medicine.
This article follows on from the above and concerns the relentless trend to 'pathologise' or 'medicalise' everyday difficulties and misfortunes and the 'colonising' of these areas of life by presumed experts from the healing industries. I suggest that this is inevitable, given the greater expectations that people have for a long and carefree life that comes with increasing affluence.
This brief commentary is linked to the above two papers. In it I suggest that the two phenomena in the title are an inevitable consequences of increasing affluence and greater expectations about the quality of our lives.
The Office of Fair Trading announce they are cracking down on fraudulent claims by mediums, clairvoyants, purveyors of health and beauty treatments, etc. Why, then, not homeopaths, reflexologists, crystal healers, and the like?
How professionals (in this case those in the mental health services) use language to protect their perceived authenticity when it is under threat.
A sceptical take on a newspaper article reporting Dr Rupert Sheldrake's study of a supposedly psychic dog.
There is a long history of sightings in various parts of the world of creatures that shouldn't be there and sometimes shouldn't be anywhere at all. This paper pays particular attention to the many reported sightings of big cats such as pumas, lynxes, panthers and even lions in the UK, even though there is little evidence to suggest they actually exist.
More on the above topic.
Three salutary examples of modern myths that have been shown to be untrue - the psychological barrier of the four-minute mile, the original compilation of London's A-Z book of maps, and foxes running wild on the island of Tasmania.
Personal reflections on writing psychological reports, most specifically for the courts as an expert witness, and reading the reports of other psychologists.
This is based on my professional experience of over 400 people pursuing claims for compensation after being involved as a driver or passenger in a road traffic accident. Incidentally I am looking for a good statistician to help me analyse my data and co-author a paper on this topic.
On my failure to find any reasonable evidence to support the theory that adding flouride to the water supply, supposedly to prevent tooth decay in children, is a government conspiracy to subdue the population, first devised in Stalinist Russia, then adopted by Nazi Germany and, later, 1950s communists in the American government, and even later still by Margaret Thatcher in Northern Ireland (Phew!).
By the majority opinion of his countryman, the greatest ever Englishman. But had he not been our leader in World War II what would be the verdict on Sir Winston Churchill? Much of what he believed in and espoused was not to his credit, as this short essay reveals.
Some recollections of the first Moon landing in July 1969.
Try out this interesting thought experiment on personal identity and compare your answers to the questions posed with those of others who have responded, as well as those of the author.
An account of a man, with no mental health problems, who reported seeing vivid faces in his visual field despite being almost totally blind.
We all know someone, or know someone who knew someone, whose hair turned white overnight through shock. But is this really possible?
What is meant when it is said, for example, that there is an 80%; probability that a released prisoner will commit a violent offence, and how is this estimate arrived at?