Don't forget to rate this post down below!


Sat, Sep 11, 1999 at 21:47:09 (EDT)







The Illusion of surrendered control
(or 'belching in the name of the Lord'.)

Hi gang. Armchair theory time again. Just an idea based on some hypnosis research I am involved in, but which also relates to paranormal belief studies - not to mention one gallant investigator's nine year experience of cult membership. (Hmm, what a price for first-hand raw data...)

A few years ago the psychologist Susan Blackmore suggested a framework for investigating allegedly paranormal experience which were, in fact, no more than normal experiences interpreted as paranormal. She called them 'Illusions of causality', and identified five types: illusions of memory; illusions of form; illusions of connectness; illusions of pattern and randomness and the illusion of control.

(email me if you'd like further references)

['The illusion of control' describes a person's perceived internal control over external phenomena where personal control is impossible. In one study, office workers were sold lottery tickets in two experimental conditions: in one they chose their own ticket, in the other they had the ticket allocated to them. It was found that in the 'choice' condition, people were significantly less willing to resell the ticket - the implication here being that the act of choosing was felt by the purchaser to improve the chances of winning. Paranormal believers are more prone to this illusion than non-believers. Susan Blackmore ran an experiment using a computerised coin-tossing game, designed such that the outcome of a series of coin-flips was sometimes - unknown to the player - in their control, and sometimes beyond their control. Believers had a more pronounced tendency to feel they were in control of purely random outcomes.]

You don't have to be a paranormal believer to experience the illusion of control. Whenever I watch a televised football match involving the world's most talented football team (MUFC), I am reluctant to leave the room to fetch a celebratory vintage from the cellar - not because I might miss something, but because I have this feeling that without my personal willpower psyching things along and keeping the ball in the opponents' half of the field, the lads might fall apart and start letting goals in...

Blackmore's five categories between them provide alternative explanations for just about every reported paranormal effect (IMO). Except she has left one out:

The Illusion of Surrendered Control.

This is the inverse of the Illusion of Control. The believer experiences the outcomes of their own actions as being the work of a mysterious external force or higher power.

If you ever took part in a seance where messages came through, you will know this is a compelling effect. Although the assembled parties are collectively responsible for moving the wine glass around the table, and for even selecting letters to spell out words, each person feels they are merely following the glass rather than pushing it.

Or take the popularity of pendulums among dowsers and other new-age practitioners. Notice how the weight is always small and the thread is short, enabling dramatic movements in the weight to occur through the slightest twitch of a finger. Not only will the witness be impressed but the practioner is also convinced there must be an outside force at work.

In the classic hypnotic setting, 'susceptible' people act out the role of surrendering their willpower to the hypnotist. There is no evidence for believing that the hypnotic subject at any point genuinely loses personal volition - though many subjects believe this to be the case simply through imagining this to be the case. The illusion of surrendered control again.

Does any of this ring any bells?

Remember the oft-repeated message: 'Surrender to that Grace' - usually combined with 'Just make that effort..!' I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that every one of the Living Perfect Fraudster's satsangs from the super-devotional, late seventies period included both injunctions repeated often in various forms of words. You make the effort; the Guru supplies the experience. Take one step towards Guru Maharaj Ji, and Guru Maharaj Ji will take a hundred steps in your direction... This was (is?) the central, absurd paradoxical law of the cult: you do the work, the guru delivers the goods and gets the credit. If the goods fail to appear, it is your fault for not doing enough work (and the guru's conscience is as clean as new shirt on Sunday).

Maharaji's kind of meditation is an illusion of surrendered control. Not in the sense that your experience is illusory, but in the sense of your being transported somewhere - Maharaji's World probably - by an external power. (Ok, the 'Knowledge' experience is said to be 'internal', but what I mean here is external to your control). This is precisely analogous to the susceptible hypnotic subject who does for him- or herself everything necessary to achieve the sensation of automatism, then attributes the experience to the power of the hypnotist...

As a premie - and long before you may even become a premie - you have learned off by heart that (a) you must focus on the techniques, and (b) the experience is not elicited by those techniques, but is a gift of Grace.

But at a more damaging level, the illusion of surrendered control occurs in all areas of cult involvement, as well as everyday life. You can't afford the fare to travel to a festival, so you take your remaining furniture to an auction. By His Grace, someone buys it just in time for you to purchase a ticket. (Wow, I mean, that is so amazing... I just took that one step and...Thank you, Lord...)

In most cases, the illusion of surrendered control occurs in situations where we have limited control of our nervous systems. We cannot, for example, make ourselves hiccup or belch but we can engineer circumstances to improve the probability of those events happening (by, say, opening a few bottles of the aforementioned special vintage...) Similarly, practicing the Knowledge techniques does not guarantee that we will see light, hear music etc., but increases the likelihood of their occurring. We are easily persuaded that experiences beyond our obvious control are not of our own making.

[My late brother Peter had a party trick as a teenager. He would ingest three teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda. The alkali reacted with the hydrochloric acid in his stomach to produce a surfeit of carbon dioxide. He would then exhale said gas in a machine-gun volley of belches. Better still, he could talk in belches, sounding like Kermit, or that actor Jack whatsisname after the voice-box implant. Fixty-six syllables was his record. Set to music this would give you one full verse of 'Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord' (plus 'Glory, glory, halle...')

Peter never saw the glory of the coming of the Lord - though I tried my best. The last time I spoke to him in a hospital ward with family gathered around the bed, I slipped some useful satsang into the conversation. It seemed important at the time. Having a premie in the family confers a blessing for five generations in either direction - didn't you know? Thought it might help Peter on his way to understand that a living, perfect, alcoholic, mutlimillionaire cult leader in Malibu was the main reason he had walked the planet for twenty-two years...]

Back to the illusion of surrendered control... Can we test the theory? There are certainly testable hypotheses here: we might expect premies to be more susceptible to the illusion than non-premies. Thus, premies will be more susceptible to both the new-age pendulum and ouija board effects, as well as being more likely to report loss of volition during hypnosis than non-premies.

The trouble is, I need some research volunteers, but am only acquainted with non-premies nowadays. Perhaps URL or Mel would like to step forward...

Or should I advertise for particpants on the ELK site?

5 Brighter than 1000 suns as seen through night vision goggles
4 As bright as the lights on Maharaji's jet
3 As bright as a 60 watt light bulb
2 As bright as a pile of burning ghi on a swinging arti tray
1 As bright as the inner light as seen by the third eye