While driving on a trip from New York City to the Catskills, which I had taken numerous times, I noticed a tree was missing in a spot along the route. I was surprised that I recognized one tree among many miles of scenery. I knew that I could not have paid attention to every single tree or house or any other item on the route. How could my mind keep track of such things when I wasn’t even paying attention to any of these things? Somehow, a part of my mind must have seen these things and kept track of them and only let me become aware of it when it became important or noteworthy.
Some years ago, there was a test done at a major university to find out if patients heard anything while they were undergoing surgery and were under general anesthesia. While they were under, they were told that they would be interviewed later and when interviewed they would rub their ear. All of the subjects rubbed their ears when they were questioned. When asked why they rubbed their ears each one answered, “Because it itches.”
We all know the brain or mind has different parts to it. Sometimes we wear different hats, such as when talking to a spouse or a child or a boss or a teacher or a colleague. We adopt different roles, speech patterns, etc.
Sometimes we turn off certain parts of our brain, yet leave other parts in charge to protect us. A perfect example would be when you go to sleep at night and your spouse is walking around or going to the bathroom — you remain asleep. But if you hear a strange or unexpected sound, you would immediately wake up. Some part of your unconscious or subconscious tells you there is danger.
Last piece of the puzzle. We all know that 2 + 2 = 4 because we learned it in first grade, and because we can figure it out by adding two apples in our mind to two other apples. Just as well, we realize that 9 X 9 = 83.
Wait! Your mind says, “No, it’s 81.” You certainly didn’t verify it by mentally counting nine pieces of something nine times. When we were younger, we learned something over and over and saw how these things were true until we accepted them, first in our conscious and then on a deeper level, where we put them in our mental storage so that they became part of us without us having to verify them each time.
Our minds work in a very systematic and organized way. The autonomic system, which regulates bodily functions like heartbeat and blood pressure, is not usually available to our conscious. The conscious part is the part you are using to read this.
And there is the subconscious, also sometimes called the unconscious.
When a vision or thought enters the brain it goes into the cerebrum, which is divided into four lobes. The frontal contains the dopamine system, which is associated with long-term memory, planning and drive. Thoughts that enter are parsed out to appropriate areas necessary for memory, function or movement and filed in different parts of the brain.
Hypnosis is a method of bypassing the conscious part of the brain and addressing the unconscious. When the frontal lobe of the cerebrum is diverted or distracted — either accidentally or on purpose — someone or something can speak to or address the unconscious areas of the brain. The cerebrum’s frontal lobe acts as a filter or a protector of what we allow to become part of our mental makeup. When we learn how to drive, we have to pay attention to each foot and hand movement. It would be impossible to function if we had to concentrate on so many things in our daily lives, so when we want to go forward we just press our foot down on the gas without thinking, “Push your foot down.”
Once this information is repeated often enough, it goes into our subconscious and becomes part of our makeup. This makes for an efficient way of functioning. On most information, the cerebrum acts as a filter to protect us from harm before it allows something into an area of the brain specific to the information. Many items are in multiple areas that overlap — hypothalamus for emotions and behavior; other lobes of the cerebrum for emotions, behavior and intellect; the limbic system, including the hippocampus and amygdala, which support long-term memory as well as behavior and some emotions.
The Scottish surgeon James Braid coined the term “neuro-hypnotism” around 1841, from which the terms “hypnosis” and “hypnotism” are derived. Nowadays, hypnosis can be used in psychiatry and psychology to help reach some cures or alleviate symptoms. It is used in criminology to uncover deep thoughts not available to the conscious.