Exorcism, the Human Stun Gun, and Suggestion

Pope Exorcism

When the world ended last year, I pointed out the there is a certain degree of relativism to the apocalypse. That is, you, the reader, must have been impervious to the apocalypse. Why? It’s simple – you never believed it. And therefore, it didn’t happen. Unfortunately, many people do believe in things for which there is no evidence, including the end of the world. In the Vatican City, new Pope Francis has nothing to say about the end of the world, but he may have just performed his first exorcism as Pope, which is yet another phenomenon for which there is no evidence. And it reminds me of the “Human Stun Gun.”

When it comes to exorcism, most of the world thinks of the West, because of its historical ties to Christianity. But this isn’t only a problem in the West. A 13-year-old girl was killed by repeated exorcisms in 2011, here in Japan. She probably needed psychiatric help instead, but she was essentially tortured to death with exorcisms. Skeptical science investigator Benjamin Radford wrote the following in 2005:

Most often, exorcisms are done on people of strong religious faith. To the extent that exorcisms “work,” it is primarily due to the power of suggestion and the placebo effect. If you believe you are possessed, and that a given ritual will cleanse you, then it just might. [. . .]

A 2001 book on the topic, Michael Cuneo’s American Exorcism: Expelling Demons in the Land of Plenty found no reason to think that anything supernatural occurs during exorcisms. After attending fifty exorcisms, Cuneo is unequivocal about the fact that he saw nothing supernatural–and certainly nothing remotely resembling the events depicted in the 1974 blockbuster film The Exorcist. No spinning heads, levitation, or poltergeists were seen, though many involved some cursing, spitting, or vomiting. As far as science is concerned, possession is a mental health issue.

He’s right. And exorcisms are especially easier and more rampant now that there are several movies that portray what behavior is expected to occur during them. The same is a large problem with UFO sightings – aliens and flying saucers seen in movies influence the type of experiences people report. This suggests that it is the popular culture that mixes in with the thoughts and perceptions to create an experience for an individual.

Therefore, the exorcized individuals aren’t “acting” (except for Borat) because they truly believe that they are having demons expelled. That’s what makes exorcism different from any old scam from a purveyor of pseudoscience – everyone involved probably truly believes this is real.

But the fact that the exorcized individuals have a vested interest in getting better (i.e., to get rid of “demons,” which could just be a religious term for a psychological phenomenon) makes them more suggestible. In fact, this is why stage hypnotists are able to get random people from the audience to come up on stage and do wacky antics in front of strangers – because the audience wants to have fun and do silly stuff. I discussed at length the limitations and surprising science of hypnosis before.

The main thing that I want you to take away from this, though, is that the people aren’t actively acting, or “faking” anything. This is a good time to meet the Human Stun Gun.

His name is Tom Cameron, and he is a martial arts teacher who became famous after American freak-show and talent program “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” featured him on TV. He purported to be able to knock someone out without touching them. There have been so many exposés on him that it’s hard to select which is the most damning. On one hand, you have to give him credit for actually agreeing to be on these TV appearances; but on the other hand, it’s exposure, and therefore basically an advertisement. And I’m no fan of false advertising.

You can see in every video demonstration he has that he starts his techniques on his own pupils. In the video above, he refused to use the contact-less knock-out technique, but he used it on a man in a different video, which you can see here.

As you can imagine, it didn’t work. In the video embedded above, they mention that Cameron says that only 40% can be knocked out by that technique. That’s a random, arbitrary, and made-up number. I’m sure in his dojo, the number is more like 99%. Outside, it’s probably more like 5 or 10 – which is also a made-up number.

But the point is, if you believe it, it will probably work. If you don’t believe it, it probably won’t. His students were mostly likely very sincere in their beliefs, but the fact that you can’t even knock out an opponent like that leads me to believe that it’s basically useless. Unless a random mugger off the street is one of his students, trying to knock him out without touching him is going to be a bad idea.

The touchless-knockout is just as stunning as a Papal exorcism – it works if you believe it. Such is the power of psychology.

Pope post-prayer Mexican man

This entry was posted in Abnormal & Clinical Psych, Biographical, Culture, Japan, Psychology, Science, Skepticism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Exorcism, the Human Stun Gun, and Suggestion

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