PSYCH: Fooling yourself

Hal Finney (
Sun, 19 Jan 1997 17:42:34 -0800

> From: "S.J. Van Sickle" <>
> The danger and difficulty with "Don't let it bother you" is that it
> is very easy to fool yourself into into to believing that is doesn't
> bother you when it actually does. This can lead to no end of
> trouble.

I agree very much with this, and more generally with the problems that
arise with other ways of fooling yourself. In fact, in my case I find it
very easy to fool myself. I used to experiment with self hypnosis, and
I could convince myself through concentration that my arm was becoming
stiff and rising into the air, and that I could not consciously bend
or move it. And it seemed that I did indeed lose control over my arm.
No matter how I tried, I could not move it. Then one time someone
walked in on me when I was practicing this. I snatched my arm down fast,
embarrassed to be seen in such a peculiar position.

The point is, I was just fooling myself in thinking I couldn't move my arm.
Somehow I wasn't really trying to move it, I was just pretending to try to
move it, and doing so in such a way that I could pretend that I wasn't
pretending. It's an odd phenomenon but I think this is how hypnosis works.

When I was a boy I played with these ideas a lot. In sixth grade I
convinced myself that I could jump my consciousness forward in time
to skip across an unpleasant experience, a test or dentist visit.
I "leaped" forward before the event, and "caught" my consciousness once
on the other side of the event, as though I had split into two parts,
only one having to experience it.

In college, I found a book called "Passages: A Guide to Pilgrims of the
Mind", which had a lot of self-hypnosis tricks, including ways to fool
yourself into thinking that you weren't feeling pain.

However, I later came to believe that these stunts were not of genuine
value. Was I really not feeling pain? Or was I feeling it, but denying
it so thoroughly to myself that I wouldn't admit it? Could I move that
arm, or couldn't I? It seemed like going down this path was just leading
to a state where I had confused myself so much that I didn't know what I
knew any longer.

I chose to abandon this direction and focus on ordinary, simple living.
I would try to accept my feelings, validate them, pay attention to them.
It is a less ambitious way of life but I felt the other was ultimately
too difficult for me, and even dangerous in some ways.