Welcome to my home page

And this is my E-Mail address – ahouston@netspace.net.au

Hypnotists live in a bizarre world where subjective reality is not real, where narrative truth is not true and where repressed memory does not come from memory. We tell subjects that they are walking on a beach and can feel the sand in their feet, while all the time they are sitting on a couch. We lie to our subjects then worry about whether or not they are telling us the truth! Only we’re not lying – just pretending, in the childlike sense of the word. Anyone who is seriously curious about hypnosis from an anthropological, sociological, cultural or religious perspective might like to read my Home Page. Things get more interesting further down

This article first appeared in the Australian Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis Vol. 21, No.2, 1993, pp.65 – 68


Hypnosis, Religion and Play – A study of Illusion. Based on the above paper, was presented at the 1996 Australian Congress of Hypnosis.

Below is an Address by the founder of the Cultural Environment Movement which deals beautifully with the effect that stories have on us. The URL for the CEM is on this page and you may find their Home Page interesting

Why the Cultural Environment Movement?

Margaret Meek Spencer has written about words and stories as Play. Here is the text of a talk she gave on the Australian ABC: Language Play – Play for Real

Quote: “You can understand it if you ask yourself, ‘When I read a story, where am I?’ I am not in the novel, not in a space ship, nor in the town where the author has set the story. But I am not in the real world either, for all that I am sitting in a chair. We agree to the illusion of being somewhere else. Successful early readers discover that the story happens like play. They enjoy a story and feel quite safe even with giants and witches because they know that a story is a game with rules.

Language Play – Play for Real

Were I a better academic or researcher, I would have been more generous with my references. Unfortunately I have source amnesia for much of it. To make amends I have added a list of some books which have greatly influenced me. My own thinking has followed that outlined in Anthony Storr’s book “Feet of Clay” – 12 years of Preparation and Incubation, followed by Inspiration ( the above Two Papers). All it needs now is Verification.

Background Reading

This next page consists of snippets of correspondence, notes made to a hypnosis listserver by me and also contributions made by others with acknowledgements. It further makes the case for play as being the correct model for hypnotic and religious experience and concludes with this definition of hypnosis:

“Hypnosis is a game, not usually recognised as such, which is culturally determined, wherein one player (the hypnotist) seeks to delude the other player (the patient or subject) using all the phenomena of play at their disposal. The hypnotist too is deluded if he believes that it is real.”

This could serve also as a definition of religious experience. For hypnosis substitute religious experience. For hypnotist substitute priest, mullah, rabbi or minister. For patient or subject substitute parishoner.


Recently Prof. Richard Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion” has sought an explanation for religion based on evolution. His idea is that, since religion is widespread and present in all cultures it must confer some competitive advantage on those who are religious. The problem with this line of argument is that religion is man made and so it can hardly have natural selection as its basis. No, as Johan Huizinga pointed out long ago, culture consists largely of play and religion forms part of culture. Play is often competitive and it is competition between cultures that forms the “survival of the fittest” aspect which Richard seeks. This idea was new to me till I read Roy Baumeister’s address “Is There Anything Good About Men?”

In part he says:

“Culture is relatively new in evolution. It continues the line of evolution that made animals social. I understand culture as a kind of system that enables the human group to work together effectively, using information. Culture is a new, improved way of being social.

Feminism has taught us to see culture as men against women. Instead, I think the evidence indicates that culture emerged mainly with men and women working together, but working against other groups of men and women. Often the most intense and productive competitions were groups of men against other groups of men, though both groups depended on support from women.

Culture enables the group to be more than the sum of its parts (its members). Culture can be seen as a biological strategy. Twenty people who work together, in a cultural system, sharing information and dividing up tasks and so forth, will all live better – survive and reproduce better – than if those same twenty people lived in the same forest but did everything individually.”

The full text of Roy’s wonderful address is here.

Is There Anything Good About Men?

This essay started out as a talk I gave to the Queensland Humanist Society, titled “Religion as Play.”  I have expanded it to include Hypnotic experience.

The Value of Studying Hypnosis.  Hypnosis and Religious Experience as Play

Dr Graham Wagstaff in his book Hypnosis, Compliance and Belief, (1981) pp 214 -220, in a section titled THE BIGGEST MYSTERY, describes how multiple odd behaviours have come, over the years to be known as “Hypnosis”. These are artefacts which have come about largely for cultural reasons and through historical accident. 


Peter Field in  “Humanistic Aspects of Hypnotic Communication in “Hypnosis: Research Developments and Perspectives“. Ed. Fromm and Shor. London. Paul Elek. pp481-493 (1973), related hypnosis to the humanities and in particular to theatre and “ becoming”.

Hypnotic communication and experience

I have recently come across six essays about Play, by Peter Gray, which give general insights to the nature of play and it’s influence on our lives. They are all excellent but No. III in particular is relevant.

Play Makes Us Human

Peter Gray on Religion as Play

Explanation of Religion

Another interesting article about group selection, by David Sloan Wilson, could be titled

What’s evolution got to do with it? (broken link)