Nice To Meet You
So the other day I was out on my morning walk, (so I guess I should say the other morning) when I bumped into this old guy that I hadn’t seen before. He was some old guy that I see downtown sometimes. At first I didn’t recognize him, because he wasn’t wearing his downtown clothes. So I had to go through that momentary transderivational search when the brain pretty much freezes all forward progress and searches it’s database for the relevant information.
I was once on this university campus when me and a friend were having fun seeing how long of a transderivational search we could induce in people. The brain is incredibly fast when coming up with information, but sometimes it gets stuck momentarily.
For example, if you grab a bottle of clear liquid, that you think is water, from the fridge after a hard workout, and upon taking a huge gulp find out that it’s vodka, your brain will spend maybe half a second freezing and trying to figure out what in the hell is going on. Opening up the fridge is automatic. Drinking water when you are thirsty is automatic. Your whole mind/body system is in pure automatic water drinking mode, so when you chug down the vodka, your brain has to momentarily stop all processes until it figures out what in the world is going on. It may even take you a few seconds to realize it’s vodka, and not gasoline or battery acid.
Compare that to sitting in a bar and ordering a shot of vodka. You see it coming, so naturally there is no disruption. This actually happened to me once. I was in a restaurant, and I ordered a scotch on the rocks. My girlfriend got some kind of mixed drink or something. The waitress brought us each a glass of ice water. Or what I thought was ice water. I took a big gulp of what I thought was ice water, and almost upchucked on the table. She had mixed up my order, and brought me a glass of straight gin on the rocks.
So at this university, I borrowed a stapler from some girl working in the student center. A friend and I were putting up some flyers. When I returned the stapler, I gave her a ballpoint pen instead. But when I gave it to her, I said, “Thanks, here’s your stapler,” and handed her the pen. Her face froze for about half a second until she realized what had been going on. It’s pretty interesting when you do this to somebody on purpose. Their face immediately loses all expression, and their pupils dilate briefly as their brain diverts thinking resources to try and make sense of what is going on. The brain loves to run on autopilot whenever possible, so throwing a monkey wrench in there tends to mess things up.
There was this guy named Milton Erickson. He invented a kind of conversational hypnosis that he used in therapy on people. The cool thing about Dr. Erickson was that he would go out and experiment on people. Not conk them on the head the take out their organs experiment, but what up to them and do goofy things like giving them pens instead of staplers and see how they’d respond.
One of the things he invented was called a double bind. You give somebody two choices, so they think they are retaining their free will (this is important to humans) but in reality the choice is pretty much the same. He would say things like “Do you want to shake hands with your left or your right hand?” People would think and say “right hand.” They would realize that he was pretty much forcing them to shake hands. Of course, you can go too far with this. He would walk up to people and say, “Do you want to give me five dollars or ten?” In which case people would laugh and walk away.
Another thing he invented was the handshake interrupt. Maybe you’ve heard of this. A handshake is one of those things that is automatic, and takes up a significant portion of brain processing power. The physical part about shaking somebody’s hand is automatic, but at the same time you are gearing up to hear a person’s name for the first time, and give yours. There is actually a lot involved.
So you have this automatic process that involves receiving information, usually without question, from the other person. You are not likely to question another person’s name, but at the same time, it is new information, so it puts the brain in a particularly vulnerable position. Which Dr. Erickson learned to exploit.
He would walk up to somebody, stick out his hand and say “Hi, I’m Milton, nice to meetâ€¦.” And then he would suddenly change into a completely unexpected behavior, right at the point when the other person’s brain was open. He would take their hand, and quickly turn it around so the person was looking at their own palm. Then he would give them a few simple commands that would slip into their open to receive brains.
Now, when he started, he was nervous and unsure, which other people picked up on, and so it didn’t work so well. But when he practiced it and got better, he would do the hand in the face part just as natural as the handshake part, and people would go along with it.
So he’d walk up to somebody, say “Hi my name is Dr. Erickson, nice toâ€¦.(put the other guys palm facing him)â€¦ and as you look at this you can think of all those things that make you feel that certain way…ways that make you wonder how many different things you can discover, now, that will allow you to feel those really good feelings, standing, there, thinking those thoughtsâ€¦” And then he would simply walk away, leaving the guy looking at his hand. Usually about ten or fifteen seconds later, the guy would snap out of it, and look around, wondering what in the world just happened.
And when I finally realized who the old guy was, I greeted him accordingly. I asked him what he was doing in this neck of the woods, and not downtown where he is supposed to be. He said that he was visiting his grandkids, who live two houses down from mine. He had enough of their screaming and was out trying to clear his head. It’s good to do that sometimes.