Dissociation and hallucinations in dyads engaged through
interpersonal gazing | Giovanni B. Caputo| Psychiatry Research 228 (2015) 659-663 Download Full Text as .pdf
In plain language, this scientific paper describes a series of experiments which investigate the psychological consequences of two people (a dyad) staring at each other for a period of time (in this case, no longer than 10 minutes).
The author concludes that this can bring about visual hallucinations and a dissociated state, including a feeling of being disconnected from your body.
This is highly relevant to the ‘Training Routines’ (TR’s) taught to beginners in Scientology and Narconon – especially “TR0 Confronting“which is described on the linked page. During this exercise participants (who stare at each other for two hours or more) commonly recruit strange hallucinations and a feeling of leaving their body.
Note: page numbers given are from the .pdf reader software, not the article itself.
The Psychological Effects of Simply Staring
This work builds on the author’s previous work to develop a technique that would induce temporary and harmless dissociation in volunteers, so that psychologists could study a mental state which is otherwise difficult to observe.
Dissociation takes place when mental processes no longer work together, leading to a feeling of detachment from reality. Sometimes this results in false perceptions, because the dissociated mind cannot properly process what its senses are telling it.
Caputo’s first experiments involved subjects who stared into a mirror for 10 minutes. This successfully produced feelings of dissociation. The induced symptoms went away after about 15 minutes and had no lasting effects (but don’t try it at home).
During this work, Caputo found that “mirror gazing” produced some strange mental effects including,
[…] hallucination-like illusions. Strange-face apparitions are both hallucination-like and temporary phenomena, with a frequency of about 2 illusions per minute and their duration of about 4–7 s per illusion (pg 1).
In the experiment described in this paper, 20 healthy young individuals were asked to stare at each other for the same period (10 minutes).
In the experimental group, the pair of participants sat in two chairs positioned one in front of the other. A distance of about a metre separated the heads of the dyad. After a few minutes of light adaptation, they receive the following (dissociation) instructions: “You should maintain a neutral facial expression. Your task is to look at the other participant; you should keep staring into the eyes of the other participant. The session will last10 min.” (pg2)
This is very similar to the positions adopted by Scientologists during the second Scientology Training Routine (“TR0 confronting”) .
Caputo administered standardised tests measuring dissociation to the participants, and found that the dissociative effect of staring at another person was significantly greater than that obtained by staring into a mirror (pg4).
‘Strange Face Apparitions’ in Scientology
Caputo asked his healthy volunteers to stare at each other for 10 minutes, and monitored them carefully for signs of distress (at which point the experiment would be immediately terminated).
Scientologists are required to stare at each other for at least two hours before they can pass ‘TR0 Confronting’. If they experience distress they are likely to be strongly encouraged to continue, possibly quoting L R Hubbard’s advice that, “The way out is the way through”.
These apparitions are also described by the sociologist William Simms Bainbridge. He was taking a beginner’s Scientology course as part of his research in a the Process Church (a group which split from L Ron Hubbard). In the resultant book, “Satan’s Power: A Deviant Psychotherapy Cult” (1992) Bainbridge observes that,
TR-0 could also produce an altered state of consciousness. One time I did it with a young man from Kentucky, an English teacher I happened to like. We sat staring at each other for two hours, which is 120 minutes, which is 7,200 seconds. A long time to stare into someone’s face, allowed to breathe and blink occasionally, but never look away, never smile or fidget.
Afterward my partner exclaimed excitedly that he had seen me change before his very eyes! I had become different persons — a savage with a bone through my nose, then a decayed corpse covered with filth and cobwebs. He was sure these were glimpses of my previous incarnations. Everyone in the [Scientology] center was pleased and complimented him on his perceptions. His interpretations fitted the cult’s ideology exactly. (pp204-206)
People who took part in Caputo’s experiment had similar experiences. They reported a number of ‘strange face illusions’ which Caputo categorised as: own face, dark face, spiritual face, animal face, monster face, deformed face, stranger face, luminous face, different race face and hero face (pg1). The similarities with Bainbridge’s account are striking.
Dissociation and Exteriorization
Some participants say they “exteriorize” while in TR-0. When a person exteriorizes, his spirit leaves his body temporarily, perhaps hovering a short distance from his head. The concept is akin to “astral projection.” […] In psychiatric terms, this seems to be a state of general dissociation. (pp206 – 207).
The Importance of Interpretation
The illusions experienced by Caputo’s subjects were both powerful and new to them.
Participants belonging to the dissociation group described that they had a compelling experience that they never had before. (pg 2)
Bainbridge also experienced some strange things when he did TR0, but noting as strange as his teacher friend, because he interpreted his experience in psychological term.
I did not tell him what I had seen. He, too, had changed. A halo of light had grown around his face. He had become pale and two-dimensional, shimmering, covered with dark spots. Of course, I interpreted what I saw as simple eye fatigue. He and I had experienced the same stimuli but understood them differently. (pp204-206)
Like Bainbridge, Caputo’s subjects likely interpreted their altered states of consciousness as an interesting altered state of consciousness – but what about people with no specialised knowledge who take a Scientology course and also have “compelling” experiences?
Some people taking their first steps in Scientology find the hallucinations they experience in TR0 frightening. Others may have a profound, even numinous, experience that appears to give them great insight into life and their place in the universe. Like Bainbridge’s friend (the teacher from Kentucky) they will then have their experience framed in terms of Scientology, not psychology.
As Bainbridge pointed out,
Unusual experiences[…], perceived within the definitions provided by the cult, are powerful conversion mechanisms. (pp 204-206).
In other words, some people might conclude that ‘there must be something in it’ because Scientology had given them a new and extraordinary experience. They may also go on to accept the explanations given to them by Scientologists.
For example Bainbridge noted above that some people felt that they had left their body during TR0 and observed that “In psychiatric terms, this seems to be a state of general dissociation.” Scientologists are taught to believe that they actually do leave their bodies. They not only have an handy name for this (‘exteriorization’) but also a doctrine which ‘explains’ what is happening – Scientology training is enabling your immortal, incorporeal essence (or ‘Thetan’) to leave your body and roam at will.
The will also disapprove of alternative explanations.
Other Scientologists will treat potential recruits as if they have just done something of great significance, and offer encouragement and support as long as they accept Scientology’s teachings.
Soon, the recruit starts to think of himself as a member of this social group, and does not want to disappoint his new friends. He or she may, gradually, come to think of themselves as a Scientologist and, once that happens, the process of ‘conversion’ is complete.
Dissociation and Auditing
If a recruit masters the TRs they will be required to practice them throughout the career in Scientology. Eventually, they will move on the central practice of Scientology, which is Auditing (using the e-meter). During auditing, Scientologists are encouraged to ‘experience’ previous lives – and commonly claim to have done so.
In the Scientific paper discussed here, Caputo found a way to induce a dissociated state so that psychologists could study it. His method is, for all intents and purposes, identical to ‘TR0 confronting’. It’s feasible that Scientologists, after regularly practising TR0 and a number of similar TRs, can induce a dissociated state in themselves, almost at will.
Caputo notes on pg1 that depersonalisation is associated with dissociation, and this state of mind would certainly help them to achieve the expected result from auditing – the ‘experience’ of previous lives. On page 1 Caputo states that,
Depersonalization is an experience in which the individual feels a sense of unreality and detachment from
themselves. This is often accompanied by the symptom of derealisation in which the external world also appears unfamiliar. Patients describe their experiences of unreality as if they are living in a dream, and their sense of detachment from the world as though they are viewing life from behind a glass.
In such a state, a directed flight of fancy might easily be mistaken for remembrance of past events in an unfamiliar life. Also, the praise and approval provided by peers after this ‘success’ makes the subject more likely to take it seriously, leading to the creation of a false memory.
Why Does Staring Bring About Dissociation?
Humans are used to complex and constantly changing sensory input, so when this suddenly ceases strange things can happen. Starved of input, your brain picks up on its own internal electrical noise and tries to interpret it – a process similar to dreaming.
Staring at another person for long periods or time is equivalent to sensory deprivation – which is well known to produce strange hallucinations. You may be experiencing sensory input – you can see your partner’s face – but this input does not change. This is such an unnatural experience that your mind tries to fit it in to previous experience by supplying movement and variety in the form of dream-like illusions.
The other symptoms (e.g.) depersonalisation are due to the loss of coordination between mental processes that comes about the mind can no longer make sense of its experience.
Caputo’s experiment is incredibly similar to the experience of Scientology ‘students’ undergoing ‘TR0 confronting’. It demonstrates that the strange and compelling hallucinations that both groups have are the result of natural processes which would happen to just about anybody, when they are placed in this odd situation.
Scientologists exploit these experiences by claiming that:
- Scientology training is uniquely responsible for them
- They provide evidence of the truth of Scientology doctrine
The interpretation is crucial. If you have these experiences in a Scientology environment, you will be led to interpret them in terms of Scientology and this may result in ‘conversion’ to Scientology.