Reports coming from the UK suggest three stage hypnosis subjects could have remained in a trance even after the hypnotist who put them in a trance fell over and was rendered unconscious by the accident. But is this report accurate? How does hypnosis really work, and could someone remain in a hypnotic trance either by accident or design? And if hypnosis is so powerful, just how long could a hypnotized person remain in that stupefied state?
The hypnotist, David Days fell when he tripped over one of the subject’s feet and landed face first on the stage. At first the audience, who thought the move may have been part of the show applauded the unusual occurrence, but soon realized the stunt had not been a joke. It must have been a terrifying experience for the loved ones of those on stage as they realized they remained in a trance, not reacting either to help Days or themselves get to safety. Shortly after that the lights in the studio came on and the audience was cleared out. Soon afterward the hypnotist was brought back to full consciousness, and in turn he was able to bring the hypnosis subjects back to wakefulness as well.
It’s a strange story with an element of the absurd to it. The idea of someone being left in a hypnotic trance permanently for the rest of their lives is the sort of thing fiction is made of. But while the subjects may have been in a particularly heavy trance, the chances of them remaining in such a state for the rest of their lives is actually near impossible. Hypnosis works in a very specific way.
As with many things, the interest in hypnosis entered Hollywood when public perception of the phenomenon was still in its early stages. People didn’t truly understand how hypnosis worked, and as a result several myths arose from it – partially due to the plethora of films that came about on the subject. Among the depictions was the notion that someone could be hypnotized to do something that was not normally in their nature and that hypnosis could remain in a person long after the session ended if they were unable to come out of the trance in the pre-agreed upon way. This is one of the premises of the 2001 film Office Space. In the film a hypnotist dies in the middle of a hypnosis session and the protagonist undergoes a major lifestyle change as a result. But the reality is quite different. Even if a hypnotist dies in the middle of hypnosis and is unable to bring a test subject out of even a particularly deep trance, eventually they will come out of that state independently. Furthermore, if a person even while in a trance perceives they are in danger they will immediately snap out of it and go about attempting to get to safety.
And so this story is particularly interesting. Whether it’s because the hypnotic test subjects were under the impression that nothing had gone wrong or simply because they had been primed to react this way even if the hypnotist had been knocked unconscious is not currently known. But one thing is for sure, if they had ever perceived themselves to be in any danger they would have reacted accordingly and shortly recovered completely from their altered state of consciousness. Still, this is a particularly interesting case because it does show how blind a test subject might be if they find themselves under the influence of a particularly deep hypnosis session.