This past Friday, comedic hypnotist Frederick Winters entranced scores of Swarthmore students in a packed Pearson-Hall Theater as a part of Welcome Weekend.
Winters, who was originally trained to perform hypnosis clinically, is now a veteran of over 2,000 shows began the evening with an explanation of how hypnosis works. According to Winters, hypnosis is nothing but an “altered state of consciousness”. In this state, “the subconscious mind becomes more alert, while the conscious mind becomes more subdued”. This allows subjects to become susceptible to the suggestions the hypnotist makes-even if these suggestions counteract the “laws” of logic. And Winters made many such suggestions–at different points during the show he convinced the volunteers that the audience was in fact a petting zoo, that the shoes the volunteers had on were actually telephones, that the LPAC stage was actually a beach, that a microphone on stage was an attractive woman, and that Winters himself was invisible.
Winters emphasized that the students on stage were fully aware of the situation the entire time and could not be forced to do anything against their will. Cyrus Stoller ’10, one of the eighteen volunteers, said, “I was aware of things, but didn’t question anything he said. For instance, I knew that I was talking to a shoe, but I believed it was a phone until he told me it wasn’t.”
G. Patrick ’10, another volunteer, added, “I think that if I had been in any danger, I could have stopped myself. But while I was on the stage, it was like I was telling myself that I didn’t need to stop anything because it all made sense. Everything was all right.” In addition, he said, “I had been hoping for a call from one of my friends back home. I think that this element of myself is what truly made the experience work. With the [microphone], I am always dreaming of the ‘perfect woman’ and, being at a new place, it was fairly easy to believe that I had found her. With the phone call, because I have been hoping that he [my friend] might call, it was easy to get excited at the notion that it might be him.” At one point, Winter hypnotized the volunteers to believe that the audience was naked. Stoller commented, “I thought they were naked, but I knew they weren’t–I could see they had clothes on. But perception won out over reality.”
The subjects have a spotty memory of what actually occurred while they were under hypnosis. Patrick said, “There are lapses in my memory where I would suddenly realize that I was holding a shoe, or a microphone stand, or had a person on my lap.” Stoller explained that he only remembers what happened “when other students probe [him] and trigger the memory”. They do, however, clearly remember portions of the show in which the other volunteers were hypnotized. “The other people looked ridiculous. I looked at the one guy holding the other guy and jumping around and thought they looked like fools,” said Patrick. They often couldn’t understand why the others on stage were acting irrationally. “I was confused as to why G kept on going up to that mic stand. I thought he was mental,” said Stoller, delicately.
Overall, both the audience and the stars of the show thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Katie Love-Cooksey 10 felt the show exceeded her expectations. It was more then just entertainment, it was also very informative,” she noted. Though Stoller says he felt “dazed and confused” as he walked off the stage, he loved the experience and would do it all over again. Patrick felt similarly “unnerved” but had a great time.
And for those of you shouting “RED!” everywhere you go-no, the cues don’t work anymore. “Saying ‘red’ just brings back the memory of what happened and how the woman looked in my mind,” commented Patrick, “It doesn’t make me want to find the nearest microphone stand and start making out with it, which is apparently what I did upon hearing ‘red’. But other then that, I feel great. I seriously came off the stage and just felt…euphoric.”