Brave New World Revisited

Page 24


For a would-be dictator, the moral of all this is plain. Under proper conditions, hypnopaedia actually works — works, it would seem, about as well as hyp­nosis. Most of the things that can be done with and to a person in hypnotic trance can be done with and to a person in light sleep. Verbal suggestions can be passed through the somnolent cortex to the midbrain, the brain stem and the autonomic nervous system. If these suggestions are well conceived and frequently re­peated, the bodily functions of the sleeper can be improved or interfered with, new patterns of feeling can be installed and old ones modified, posthypnotic commands can be given, slogans, formulas and trigger words deeply ingrained in the memory. Children are better hypnopaedic subjects than adults, and the would-be dictator will take full advantage of the fact. Children of nursery-school and kindergarten age will be treated to hypnopaedic suggestions during their afternoon nap. For older children and particularly the children of party members — the boys and girls who will grow up to be leaders, administrators and teachers — there will be boarding schools, in which an excellent day-time education will be supplemented by nightly sleep-teaching. In the case of adults, special attention will be paid to the sick. As Pavlov demonstrated many years ago, strong-minded and resistant dogs become completely suggestible after an operation or when suffering from some debilitating illness. Our dictator will therefore see that every hospital ward is wired for sound. An appendectomy, an accouchement, a bout of pneumonia or hepatitis, can be made the occasion for an intensive course in loyalty and the true faith, a refresher in the principles of the local ideology. Other captive audiences can be found in prisons, in labor camps, in military barracks, on ships at sea, on trains and airplanes in the night, in the dismal waiting rooms of bus terminals and railway stations. Even if the hypnopaedic suggestions given to these captive au­diences were no more than 10 per cent effective, the results would still be impressive and, for a dictator, highly desirable.
From the heightened suggestibility associated with light sleep and hypnosis let us pass to the normal sug­gestibility of those who are awake — or at least who think they are awake. (In fact, as the Buddhists insist, most of us are half asleep all the time and go through life as somnambulists obeying somebody else's suggestions. Enlightenment is total awakeness. The word "Buddha" can be translated as "The Wake.")
Genetically, every human being is unique and in many ways unlike every other human being. The range of individual variation from the statistical norm is amazingly wide. And the statistical norm, let us remember, is useful only in actuarial calculations, not in real life. In real life there is no such person as the average man. There are only particular men, women and children, each with his or her inborn idiosyncra­sies of mind and body, and all trying (or being com­pelled) to squeeze their biological diversities into the uniformity of some cultural mold.
Suggestibility is one of the qualities that vary significantly from individual to individual. Environ­mental factors certainly play their part in making one person more responsive to suggestion than another; but there are also, no less certainly, constitutional differences in the suggestibility of individuals. Ex­treme resistance to suggestion is rather rare. Fortu­nately so. For if everyone were as unsuggestible as some people are, social life would be impossible. Socie­ties can function with a reasonable degree of efficiency because, in varying degrees, most people are fairly sug­gestible. Extreme suggestibility is probably about as rare as extreme unsuggestibility. And this also is fortunate. For if most people were as responsive to out­side suggestions as the men and women at the extreme limits of suggestibility, free, rational choice would be­come, for the majority of the electorate, virtually im­possible, and democratic institutions could not survive, or even come into existence.
A few years ago, at the Massachusetts General Hos­pital, a group of researchers carried out a most illumi­nating experiment on the pain-relieving effects of placebos. (A placebo is anything which the patient be­lieves to be an active drug, but which in fact is phar­macologically inactive.) In this experiment the sub­jects were one hundred and sixty-two patients who had just come out of surgery and were all in considera­ble pain. Whenever a patient asked for medication to relieve pain, he or she was given an injection, either of morphine or of distilled water. All the patients re­ceived some injections of morphine and some of the placebo. About 30 per cent of the patients never ob­tained relief from the placebo. On the other hand 14 per cent obtained relief after every injection of dis­tilled water. The remaining 55 per cent of the group were relieved by the placebo on some occasions, but not on others.
In what respects did the suggestible reactors differ from the unsuggestible non-reactors? Careful study and testing revealed that neither age nor sex was a significant factor. Men reacted to placebo as fre­quently as did women, and young people as often as old ones. Nor did intelligence, as measured by the standard tests, seem to be important. The average IQ of the two groups was about the same. It was above all in temperament, in the way they felt about themselves and other people that the members of the two groups were significantly different. The reactors were more co-operative than the non-reactors, less critical and suspicious. They gave the nurses no trouble and thought that the care they were receiving in the hospi­tal was simply "wonderful." But though less un­friendly toward others than the non-reactors, the reac­tors were generally much more anxious about them­selves. Under stress, this anxiety tended to translate itself into various psychosomatic symptoms, such as stomach upsets, diarrhea and headaches. In spite of or because of their anxiety, most of the reactors were more uninhibited in the display of emotion than were the non-reactors, and more voluble. They were also much more religious, much more active in the affairs of their church and much more preoccupied, on a subconscious level, with their pelvic and abdominal organs.