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Hypnosis: the modern scientific perspective

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.

Some stories about hypnosis

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.)

Persuading people to part with their money

Can a thief hypnotise someone and persuade them to hand over their money?

Hypnosis and flying saucers (by H.B. Gibson)

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?

Assuming Randi's Mantle: Peter Casson appearing at Sheffield City Hall, Feb 14, 1988

More on human absurdity

Past life regression

A brief discussion of hypnotic past life regression

Conjuror offers his skills to find missing child

A conjuror offers his service (with no fee) to find the missing Ben Needham. But can hypnosis be of any assistance?

Oh to be a dowser!

An explanation of dowsing or water divining using metal rods. The information provided will enable the reader, with practice, to become a dowser

More on ideomotor suggestion

Following the above article on dowsing, further exploration of the manifestations of ideomotor suggestion

Meanderings on the theme of psychiatric diagnoses and related matters

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'.

The over-extension of power and responsibility

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.

Let's wave goodbye to the unconscious mind

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.

Neuro-linguistic programming

My papers on NLP are largely about early claims, including some of the most astonishing (please note I did no experiments myself).

When vision is blurred

Comparing and contrasting eye surgery and psychotherapy.

Reflections on recovered memories

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'.

Understanding your dreams: A simple technique

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.

Pathological beliefs and anomalous phenomena

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.

Yet more on human absurdity

There is much about human nature that can be found in the life's absurdities, as this article shows.

Scepticism and humour

Human absurdity is one bridge that links scepticism and humour.

Science, reality and everyday life

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.

When we should be skeptical about science

'The rules of science are simple in theory but deceptively difficult in practice because so much else intrudes into the thought process.'

Science, power and religion

Scientists our powerful but they are ultimately accountable. Many people who are opposed by skeptics crave power without accountability.

Magicians and mentalists

'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?

Creationism and evolution

On the follies of teaching children creationsim in biology lessons.

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine

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.

Placebo therapy: How to develop an effective and ethical quack treatment

This article provides a template for devising your own system of complementary medicine, setting up as a practitioner, and earning a lot of money.

Distinguishing genuine from fake quacks

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?

Quack cancer treatment exposed, thanks to ASKE member

A hypnotherapist in Colwyn Bay is exposed in a televised investigation into his claim to be able to cure cancer by hypnosis and NLP.

Quackery of old

About the terms 'pomster' and 'gripe's egg'.

'The Withered Arm' by Thomas Hardy: A skeptic's analysis

This short story by Thomas Hardy provides rich material for skeptics to get their teeth into.

How to write a newspaper article on an unconventional treatment

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.

The story of Mrs L

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 (in the Rossendale Free Press) in which her therapist, who was also her husband, announced that the treatment had been extraordinarily effective.


Another uncritical feature on quack medicine by the Rossendale Free Press.

The placebo effect: If only it were so simple

Although skeptics often cite 'the placebo effect' as the explanation for a successful outcome to psychotherapy, in practice it rarely makes its presence felt.

Don't get too excited: The effect may wear off!

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.

Of food and mental health

Periodically an expert or pseudo-expert makes some ambitious claims about diet being the cause of mental health problems.

Power and obedience: Of healers and hoaxers

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.

Mysteries and 'mass hysteria'

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.

Healing and therapy in the age of mass affluence

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.

The medicalisation of misfortune

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.

The 'compensation culture' and 'NIMBYism'

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.

Cracking down on fraud

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?

'They told me I'm unsuitable': The language of responsibility in the mental health services

How professionals (in this case those in the mental health services) use language to protect their perceived authenticity when it is under threat.

The need to tell a good story

A sceptical take on a newspaper article reporting Dr Rupert Sheldrake's study of a supposedly psychic dog.

Reported sightings of unusual creatures

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.

Sightings of big cats in the UK

More on the above topic.

Three myths recently debunked

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.

Some thoughts on preparing psychological reports for the courts and other agencies

Personal reflections on writing psychological reports, most specifically for the courts as an expert witness, and reading the reports of other psychologists.

The psychological assessment of claimants in road traffic accidents

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.

Flouridation and the Nazis

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!).

Sir Winston and eugenics

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.

Reminiscences on the first Moon landing and what it meant for the people of Lancashire

Some recollections of the first Moon landing in July 1969.

'The replicated brain' thought experiment'

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.

The blind man who saw faces

An account of a man, with no mental health problems, who reported seeing vivid faces in his visual field despite being almost totally blind.

Can one's hair really turn white overnight?

We all know someone, or know someone who knew someone, whose hair turned white overnight through shock. But is this really possible?

Probability, risk and violence

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?