Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Trance: From Magic to Technology

Trance: From Magic to Technology By Dennis R. Weir (1996)

I actually started this book last year and got a little bored with it although that was perhaps my own hang-up. The author tries to develop a new working model for trance analysis based on computer systems theory. I think he develops a great model for a difficult to model subject but he just needs to convey it better to ditzes like me. I felt in a trance at times reading it.

He correctly (I think) describes lots of our normal mundane activities as trance-states. One easy to convey is the trance of watching a movie/TV - our attention is narrowed to a point where some of our cognitive functions are disabled (disengaged) and so we get intentionally caught up in our movie.

Here are some introductory quotes:

“Trance is a special type of dissociation that helps us to organize and process information automatically.”

He notes that trances vary in intensity and time - some can be life-long.

“…… where common trances can be found: hypnosis, music, TV, meditation, addictions, religions, and work.”

Interestingly, he mentions that “many relationships with people seem to have trance-like qualities: love relationships, power relationships, relationships with gurus, shamans, and so on.” He also identifies the state of certain charismatic people as a centric trance that can be extended to others. This can become a pathological trance as in the case of cult brainwashing and religious fanaticism. He describes addiction as a common form of pathological trance.

Trance states have long been associated with seers, diviners, and parapsychological abilities.

There are sections on thoughts, thought objects, brain waves, brain wave synchronization experiments, current scientific approaches to measuring thoughts, energy conservation and awareness, thought sequences, and of course, dissociation. Dissociation was defined by Hilgard 1977, 1992 as “ the splitting off of certain mental processes from the main body of consciousness with various degrees of autonomy.”

His theory begins with these definitions. The basis of trance is the dissociation caused by what he defines as ‘trance generating loops’ (TGL). Examples are a hypnotist’s suggestive repeating words, a shaman’s drum beat, or cracking open the next beer. Next he defines the ‘dissociated trance plane’ (DTP) as a state of awareness that splits off from the TGL in order to conserve energy (by disengaging or automating certain cognitive functions). Typically a DTP is unstable as when we are transfixed for a moment then ‘snap out of it’. A DTP becomes stable when there is what he defines as a secondary order TGL made up of the DTP and the original TGL. There are certain ‘triggers’ hypnotists use to direct a suggestive person into a more stable DTP. Chanting, drumming, marching, and dancing are activities where it is common to dissociate as the repetitive activities become automated. A good example of the model is given in reference to a Buddhist-style meditation technique where one simply focuses on one’s breath - placing and re-placing the attention there:

“… the trance generating loop is the breath itself. …The dissociated trance plane occurs when you forget to watch your breath. Then (as instructed) you should remember to watch your breath. This will establish the secondary trance generating loop.”

He also defines something called ‘trance force’ or ‘weirdness’ - as the energy required to sustain an awareness state. In hypnosis what is called a ‘deep trance’ implies a strong trance force. A strong trance force …“gives the sense of weirdness, or other-worldly quality to deep trance.

He describes four main types of trances: meditation trances, hypnotic trances, addictive trances, and centric trances. Meditation trances where someone begins to speak can become hypnotic trances. Hypnotic trances can be abused by taking advantage of those in a suggestive state (think advertisements). Addictive trances are notoriously difficult to break. Using affirmations or reciting aspirations and prayers and some types of spells can be thought of as a kind of self-hypnosis. A centric trance implies strong trance force. Highly driven people, charismatic people, certain intense people, eccentrics, artists, gurus, stars - all may have some degree of this type. He describes this type as a kind of self-hypnosis where the ego is strongly involved and the complexity can lead to selfish and psychotic behavior.

There are other sections on designing trance, improving trance for healing and magick. He seems to be pro-magic and acknowledge that the energy of trance can cause physically measurable effects(as in ESP) - Overall a good book - just the mathematical type explanations kept biting me.

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