MANILA, Philippines?A front page news item in the September 26 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer that criminals may now be using hypnosis to rob people, caught my attention.
The article, written by Alcuin Papa, quoted an anticrime group that it has received stories from three victims who were believed to be hypnotized into giving up their cash and valuables.
According to the news item, "one victim related she was walking when one of the women approached her purportedly to ask for help. The suspect held on to her arm and looked her in the eye. Another suspect then appeared and whispered something into her.
"Falling under some spell, the hypnotized victim then went to her bank to open her safe deposit boxes.
"Another victim was hypnotized the same way into going back to her home in Quezon City to retrieve her cash and valuables. She then returned to Binondo to turn the cash over to the suspects.
"Another victim was not robbed... but felt weak after the suspects tapped her three times on the shoulder. She went home, took her valuables from her cabinet and fortunately fell asleep.
"Waking up refreshed, she was puzzled why she had consented to give up her valuables."
The use of hypnosis to commit crimes is not really new in the Philippines. We've long heard many stories of store cashiers voluntarily handing over the cash in the register to a stranger, usually described as Indian-looking, after being hypnotized into doing so. When the stranger leaves the store with the cash, the cashier awakens from her trance wondering what had happened to her.
Almost any one can become a victim of hypnosis, no matter how well educated or intelligent a person is. In fact, according to one well-known clinical psychologist, "the more intelligent a person is, the more easily it is to hypnotize him or her."
That's why I beg to disagree with the opinion of a retired justice, whom I know, whose wife was victimized into withdrawing a large sum of money from her bank and giving it to a total stranger, who talked to her and tapped her on her arm. He said, "My wife is too intelligent and skeptical to be a victim of hypnosis." He believed that the suspect must have applied on her arm a chemical that could make a person do another's bidding. He said the chemical is easily absorbed by the skin and blurs one's critical judgment or weakens one's will power. I do not know whether such a chemical substance really exists.
But maybe that's why the third victim in the above story fell asleep before she could hand over her valuables to the criminal who tapped her shoulder three times. He must have applied too strong a dosage of that chemical, if indeed it exists.
The above stories bring to mind the great debate in France in the 19th century, on whether a person can be made to commit a crime against his or her will.
There were two contrasting schools of thought involving precisely this question. One opinion, espoused by the famous neurologist, Jean Martin Charcot, said, "One cannot be hypnotized to do something against his will or moral principles." Drs. Liebeault and Bernheim, on the other hand, believed it is possible to hypnotize another to do his bidding.
A criminal case actually took place and was brought to a French court to answer this question. A woman was accused of murdering a man and was caught. In her defense, she said she was innocent because she committed the crime under a hypnotic spell done to her by her lover.
The two hypnotic experts were called in to testify, one for the defense and the other for the prosecution. Despite the contrasting opinions of the two experts, the judged found the lover guilty and had him executed. The woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison but was freed after 13 years' sentence.
A well-known story of the use of hypnosis to rob a bank is told by parapsychologist Colin Wilson in "Mysterious Powers" published by Danburry Press in London in 1975. Joseph Stalin in 1940 tested the telepathic powers of a Polish psychic, Wolf Messing, by asking Messing to withdraw 100,000 rubles from a bank in which he did not have an account.
"Two official witnesses went with Messing," according to Wilson. "They saw Messing show a note to the cashier who then took bank notes out of a safe and handed them over to Messing. Messing put them in a briefcase and left. Then, with the two witnesses, he re-entered the bank, and handed back the money and the note which was in fact a blank paper. The clerk looked at it, suddenly realized what he had done-and collapsed with a heart attack."
Experts say 70 percent of people are hypnotizable and only about 30 percent cannot be hypnotized. So it pays to be very vigilant when talking to strangers or you can become the next victim.
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