Suppose you were a skilled hypnotist, and so charismatic that you knew you could change the opinion of an average person simply by your choice of words. Would it be ethical to be that persuasive?

To make it interesting, let's say you believe in the rightness of your own views, and you are talking to someone who firmly believes the opposite. You both have the same information at your disposal, so it is simply a case of different opinions. If you knew you could sway that person with your words, without adding any new information to the mix, would it be ethical to do so?

I encountered this dilemma after learning hypnosis. You can extend the methods of hypnosis into normal conversation, the way a trial lawyer, politician, or top salesperson would. You can't turn anyone into a zombie slave, but obviously a skilled salesperson can close more deals than an unskilled one. Your choice of words has a huge impact on how other people form their so-called opinions. Where do you draw the line between a normal exchange of views and an outright manipulation of another person's brain?

Long time readers of this blog know that I view humans as moist robots who have no free will, and therefore morality is an irrational concept. But most of you disagree with that view, so for you this is a fair question.

Allow me to put it into concrete terms. Suppose I knew that I could use my powers of hypnotic persuasion, in the form of common words in this blog, to cause some portion of you to change your vote in the upcoming election. And suppose I believed I was helping the country by doing so. Would it be ethical to change people's opinions without adding any data to the process?
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Oct 23, 2008
If some is either naturally persuasive, or has spent some time getting a decent education and is capable of presenting an argument in a persuasive manner, is it immoral if they use this skill to their advantage?

How is learning to hypnotize someone any different that improving your debating skills, or salesman skills?

I think it is impossible to change someone else's mind about anything. They will either agree with you or disagree. If they say that they've changed their mind and now agree with you, it was because they simply didn't care one way or the other.
Oct 23, 2008
Since I don't believe hypnosis is "real", I say go ahead and try it. Since my political and philosophic beliefs distill down to the fact that it is wrong to initiate force, I think it would be hard for you to change that belief.
But, really, people can't be any more irrational about their voting choices than they already are, so what harm could there be in trying your experiment?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
I think any method of changing someone's vote is unethical if it involves any kind of misinformation or coercion. Using some subtle hypnosis, in my opinion, is a type of mental coercion. You're causing something to happen by manipulation the thought process.

Would it be ethical to drug someone into voting your way? I'm guessing most people wouldn't think so. Your description of using hypnosis isn't all that much different from drugging. If it did actually work, you're using some weird mind trick, and no real facts or data, to cause a few people to do something they normally wouldn't do.

For what it's worth, I believe most politicians and many of their supporters regularly use misinformation to try to change people's minds. Many of them think they're doing the right thing, that somehow their interpretation of the "true" facts is more insightful than anyone who might disagree. That's just plain wrong and totally unethical. The difference between their lies and your hypnosis is that most of the lies are out in the open, where they can at least be defended. It still sucks that they do that, but hypnosis is more of a dirty trick.
Oct 23, 2008
Describing McCain as an old guy who wants to let you keep more of your money is cheerleading for Obama? Guess I'm hypnotized. I'm impressed by how many posts this has generated. Maybe more than 60% of Americans will turn out to vote. And finally, I agree with all positive comments about today's steaming pile logo.
Oct 23, 2008
I believe Mr. Adams has it exactly backwards. 'Hypnotists' extend the methods of ordinary psychology to simulate unnatural power over another person's will. That is why no hypnotist can make a person harm himself. But throughout history demagogues have used ordinary psychology to cause large numbers of people to harm themselves and others. Think the Holocaust and Kamikazes.

See "They Call It Hypnosis" by Robert Allen Baker:
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Oct 23, 2008
Of course...either that's the right answer or the question is irrelevant.

Just like it is ethical for the athlete who does not work as hard but who won the genetic lottery to WIN.

Just like it is ethical for the firefighter in the burning building and out of options, to toss the terrified victim out of the building rather than letting her fear of heights cause them both to die.

Just like it is ethical for for the doctor to acknowledge that "informed consent" is impossible and take the expeditious route to consent.

As a side note...pile of steaming !$%* just may be FUNNIEST CARTOON EVER!
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
It's immoral, but it's common, all politicans do it, to a larger or smaller extent.

The more money a candidate spends on ads and campaign stuff, the more immoral he/she is.

It used to be that republicans raised and spent a lot more money on campaign than democrats.

Now it's Obama who tops all that. Why? because he can talk (it's not the same as what he can do).

Oct 23, 2008
Well, if hypnosis only works on the weak minds, then they are probably already voting for the candidate you are going to suggest anyway. Go ahead and put them under. While you're at it, tell them to take a flying leap after they vote. After all, you don't want sheeple reading your blog and mindlessly misquoting you afterwards anyway. Whichever candidate wins, they are in for a rough 4 years. Barring any major scandals of course (I can picture Cindy McCain putting in a pool by the helicopter pad just so she can hire a team of pool boys.)
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
I see no ethical dilemma in using every “hypnotic skill” available to attempt to persuade others to agree with your own opinions…with the exception of being deceitful, of course. That’s because I believe that mankind is unique in that we can override our “instinctual impulses” (those generated by “hypnotic suggestion” for example) and choose to act contrary to those impulses. Therefore, use whatever tactics you deem most appropriate to persuade me, and I will make up my own mind.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
[Would it be ethical to change people's opinions without adding any data to the process?]


People make decisions based on emotion, not on data. (See also: cognitive dissonance)
Oct 23, 2008
It all depends on your reference point:
- A libertarian framework would tell you that influencing someone's decision is infringing upon their rights to choose on their own and therefore immoral.
- A utilitarian framework would tell you that if your influencing someone's vote would cause the greatest good,then you can ignore any moral wrong done to the individual.
- Kant would tell you that its all about "intent" and that if your intent were good, then your actions would necessarily be as well.
- Aristotle would tell you that hypnotizing too many people too often is a vice, and you should only do it in moderation.
- A communitarian framework (like most American live by) would tell you that since most people aren't hypnotizing others and influencing their votes through mind powers, you shouldn't do it either.
- The egoist would tell you to do whatever is best for you in the long run, since everyone is looking out for themselves, the actions average out, and we all win.
- I say good luck.
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Oct 23, 2008
Um....You can't hypnotise someone into something that isn't right with their moral alignment.
Sure, this person might not vote for the absolutely fabulous Obama (ahem...) but it isn't immoral to vote for him.

Oct 23, 2008
Funny, I've always wondered if you hypnotize us with every post . . .

The only way to really know if your actions were "ethical" would be to go 4 (or 8) years into the future and see how things turned out.

By the way, where did you get your hypnosis training? I've always been curious.
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Oct 23, 2008
I don't think you have to, according to this pdf, Obama's speeches contain hypnotic techniques and he's brainwashing you.

Oct 23, 2008
Tell you what.

Form the Dilbert Party and run as an independent party.

Then it's perfectly okay as long as you convince people to vote for you.

-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
RayKremer: "I've always been with you on the moist robot/no free will thing, but I'm not sure how it follows that morality is an irrational concept."

Assume no free will then.

Believing there is no free will doesn't stop us from making choices as though we actually had a choice. That is how it feels to us, although outside of our referential we may be regarded as moist robots who were merely computing a choice which would always have been that one and only that one. So in the task of decision-making we have the illusion of free will.

Likewise, within your decision-making referential, you may consider morality in the process. However, from the outside, morality is basically a set of rules which are another input to your computation. The specific set of rules will differ according to your past stimuli and experiences, but nonetheless morality has no meaning outside of the human mind, which is an exact parallel to the "no-free-will" train of thought.
Oct 23, 2008

Hypnotism is not special or bizarrely different from any other skill.

You would as soon tell a good arguer that he isn't allowed to use his clever argument tools (like logic) in a conversation.

When you are trying to convince someone of something, you should use every tool you have. If their tools are better, they win. If your tools are better, you win. And whoever wins has lots of babies and spreads their methods to others and we all get smarter. Yay!

Mild Tangent: I would like to believe that short term wins, based on misdirection, lies, and bad logic are not nearly as successful and would lead to fewer babies and that over the years we are getting better at truth, because I like science and I want to go to Mars and I think I'll need truth to get me there. But maybe not. Maybe lies are okay, too. And I'll NEVER get to Mars.

Purple giraffe!
Oct 23, 2008
Must . . . vote . . . for . . . McCain . . .
Oct 23, 2008
I think that a person who has done their reading and informed themselves about the issues that matter to them and picked the appropriate candidate based on that would not be very susceptible to hypnosis techniques swaying them. They would always be able to come back to hard data (like how a salesman's pitch doesn't work as well versus someone with a stack of consumer reports). However, anyone who doesn't inform themselves is just borrowing someone else's opinion anyway, and in that case I figure it's better for them to have my opinion since I get more votes that way.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Oct 23, 2008
I believe the media does this everyday. We should stop all media coverage once people are able to vote and not report any voting related information until after the votes have been counted.
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