Mesmeric and other stage performances changed their names to “stage hypnotist” in the 19th century. They had originally claimed to produce the same effects by means of telepathy and animal magnetism, and only later began to explain their shows in terms of hypnotic trance and suggestion. Hence, many of the precursors of stage hypnosis did not employ hypnotic induction techniques. Moreover, several modern stage performers have themselves published criticisms which suggest that stage hypnosis is largely the result of sleight of hand, ordinary suggestion, and social compliance, etc., rather than hypnotic trance. Most notably, the well-known American magician and performer, Kreskin, has frequently carried out typical stage hypnosis demonstrations without using any hypnotic induction. After working as a stage hypnotist and magician for nearly two decades, Kreskin became a skeptic and a whistleblower from within the stage hypnosis field.
For nineteen years I had believed in … the sleeplike “hypnotic trance,” practicing it constantly. Though I had nagging doubts at times, I wanted to believe in it. There was an overpowering mystique about putting someone to sleep, something that set me and all other “hypnotists” apart. We were marvellous Svengalis or Dr. Mesmers, engaged in a supernatural practice of sorts. Then it all collapsed. For me anyway.
After experimenting with his own subjects for several years until he was satisfied he could perform “stage hypnosis” without any hypnotic induction or trance, he concluded, “The battle of semantics may be waged for years, but I firmly believe that what is termed ‘hypnosis’ is, again, a completely normal, not abnormal, response to simple suggestion.” An outspoken skeptic regarding stage hypnosis, Kreskin not only actively debunked stage hypnotists’ claims, but went so far as to offer a substantial monetary reward, $25,000, to anyone who could prove the existence of hypnotic trance. The reward has been unsuccessfully challenged three times. While debunking the “sleep-trance” concept, Kreskin, like other skeptics adopting the nonstate position, was keen to emphasise that he felt the value of hypnotic suggestion had been frequently underestimated.
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