Why is the conscious mind unable to absorb facts as quickly as the subconscious? How can we explain the case related by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, of the twenty-five-year-old woman who could not read or write but who, during a seizure of what was then known as brain fever, spoke Latin, Greek and Hebrew incessantly and in very pompous tones—even knowing she had been a servant to a Protestant pastor for many years?
She had subconsciously absorbed the passages he read aloud to himself as he walked up and down a hallway adjoining the kitchen. Notes taken during her delirium coincided with passages in books which the pastor owned.
Authorities on hypnotism have pointed out that most of our thinking is done subconsciously. Our conscious minds are aware only of the results of this thinking. This is what happens when we give up trying to remember a particular thing and then find the answer the next day.
Repetition of acts, which are learned consciously and, with difficulty, are executed very slowly at first (walking for instance), makes these acts easier to perform, until finally the effort involved becomes less than the minimum necessary for consciousness.
The rapidity and dexterity with which we perform many actions, make us unconscious of these actions. This same ease and speed, the sleep-learning people feel, is attainable in many areas of mental training.
Much of our knowledge lies beneath the surface of our consciousness, ready to be recalled when the need arises. It would be impossible for us to function if everything in the mind were always present in our awareness. Selectivity and concentration would be seriously hampered by the distraction of too many ideas, for our brains record every impression, every thought we ever had, every action we have performed.
This record is permanent, and affects us all our lives. It remains in the subconscious, ready to be associated with a conscious idea, in a process of which we are completely unaware.
Consciously we may forget a great deal, but all the memories, all the ideational and imaginative capacities, are there in our subconscious. They flash into our conscious minds suddenly and without effort or we are able to remember them consciously by association.
This subconscious selectivity of material for our conscious minds is the key to concentration of attention, during which we absorb consciously that which we have focused on, but exclude all other impressions of our senses.
We exclude them, that is, from our consciousness, but the subconscious will notice and absorb them. The subconscious is able to supply the information when it is needed, if the necessary conditions of relaxation and receptivity are present.
Relaxation and receptivity to suggestion are the principles behind sleep-learning. They make it possible for subjects to perform feats impossible for them during conditions of consciousness.
The retentive power of the subconscious accounts for people carrying out post-hypnotic suggestions. It is these same principles of relaxation and receptivity to suggestion (suggestion concentrates the attention of the subconscious), on which sleep-learning is based.
The reticular theory of consciousness, a new explanation of how the brain works, puts forth the hypothesis that the nerve cells performing the highest level of integration are deep within the brain, not in the outer layer, or cortex.
This inner system is known as the reticular system, and the theory is that the cortex gives meaning to the incoming stimuli and stores these meanings for future reference.
The cortex also condenses, edits and transmits the sense stimuli to the reticular system for final integration into meaning. Then the reticular system sends out impulses to sensori-motor regions of the cortex which will induce a muscular response.
According to this theory it is not only the cortex, but also the midbrain (subconscious) which can store patterns of learned behavior.
The cortex plays an important role in the learning of motor activity, but in time this is bypassed and the reticular system and the subcortical motor centers take over most of the work.
The electro-encephalograph, a machine which records brain activity, has shown us that the subconscious is receptive and alert twenty-four hours a day, and has established proof that the subconscious mind can absorb for that full period.
Proceeding from this knowledge, sleep-learning authorities base their approach on the fact that the subconscious receives and retains all stimuli regardless of whether the subject is awake or asleep.
Similarities have been noted between some stages of hypnosis and normal sleep, in that the same influences can bring about either state.
Elimination of strong stimuli, a position of rest, gentle, monotonous stimulation of the sense organs, dismissal of disturbing thoughts—all these, added to the subjects' passivity, have been accepted as proven methods for putting people to sleep, either naturally or hypnotically.
The influence of suggestion has operated not only on people in a hypnotic state, but on people in light sleep as well. In dreams, we accept without question many things which our conscious minds would reject, as do people under hypnosis.
It has been found that the subject remembers more of the suggestions made to him in light hypnotic sleep; it has also been found that the dreams we remember are those that occur during light sleep, during which people have been known to converse logically without being conscious of their participation. This is referred to as the 'Reverie Period’ and is of particular importance in sleep-learning.
Most people are susceptible to suggestion in their waking hours, susceptible to a much higher degree than they realize. In every life situation, we are exposed to many subtle suggestions, all of which influence us.
We catch moods, we yawn involuntarily when we see another yawn, we pick up rhythms, we respond to ideas under the influence of charm, affection, and numerous other feelings, we accept much on faith in fields other than our own, we are influenced by books, clothing, atmosphere, words. We are educated by suggestion, to a great extent, and receive moral and religious instruction in the same way. In time we develop a large body of autosuggestions.
It is because of our suggestibility that we respond to the arts, that we buy what we buy, responding to the advertiser's repetitions. Suggestibility in the voter becomes evident at the polls. Broad social movements and mob action could never occur if it were not for the fact that most human beings are highly suggestible.
It is in a relaxed state—or any other state in which the reasoning function is less active, that we are most amenable to suggestion, and this fact appears to be responsible for the efficiency in learning that is claimed by adherents of the sleep-study school.
Relaxation increases with sleep, and so the subconscious is even more easily reached by suggestion than it is during waking hours, and is taught more effectively. "Suggestion," says Professor Bechterev, "enters into the understanding by the back stairs, while logical persuasion knocks at the front door."
Sleep-learning, then, since it is predicated on suggestion, avoids the necessity of waiting for the conscious mind to open the door for the desired information. It slips in more easily, unhindered, because the door to the subconscious is always open.
During sleep, during periods of relaxation, during hypnosis, mental stress is at a minimum. Since learning is most easily absorbed under favorable emotional conditions, and since the mind is so receptive to suggestions under these conditions, sleep-learning reflects the benefits of many advantages not always possible during waking hours.
It is no longer necessary to make a conscious effort to concentrate, to eliminate distracting thoughts, or to call up the will to learn. The procedure, as described, is to begin listening to the recording before falling asleep, during the beginning stages of Reverie (the light sleep period).
The first thing heard is "relaxation affirmations," designed to help prepare the subconscious for the proper degree of receptivity after falling asleep.
This pre-sleep relaxation is considered especially important during the first few weeks of sleep-study sessions, for the new student must often overcome the tension and nervousness attendant on a novel and exciting experience.
For some, there is no difficulty at any time, but many beginners, eager for success and keyed up in anticipation and foreknowledge of what is to happen, awake at the sound of the recorded voice— in many cases even a moment ahead of time. This problem is usually overcome in a few nights.
The next stage is described as the most trying period, the period during which the 'original barrier* must be overcome. This is the resistance to sleep-learning, which can be eliminated by gradual conditioning of the subconscious to be receptive to audible directed sound.
Once this is achieved, the barrier had never been known to reappear, and material can be easily learned in a few nights, in many cases in a few hours.
The length of time it takes to overcome the barrier varies from student to student, but tests have proven that complete reception begins within fifteen to thirty nights after the initial attempt.
If this does not happen, the barrier must then be overcome by using a tape with a positive affirmation for sleep-learning in order to remove the psychological block.
The importance of relaxation affirmations is stressed because of the tensions and frustrations that are a part of our life, and which can be at work even during sleep.
Other recommendations for getting through the barrier stage include:
If the barrier appears to be impenetrable, special sleep-therapy tapes are available.
It is strongly recommended that, at the beginning, only the Reverie Periods should be used for sleep-learning. Reverie is described as the state of drowsiness between waking and dreaming which begins just before falling asleep, and which recurs about one hour before awakening. It is during this state, psychologists have found, that the subconscious is most receptive.
Once reception has been definitely established, the student may start using the Transitional Sleep Period, which usually begins three hours and forty minutes after falling asleep.
This is the transition between the third and fourth (the deepest) stage of sleep, and material received by the subconscious during this transitional period is remembered most rapidly of all. The explanation for this is not known.
Specialists in sleep-learning are unable to state with certainty how long it will take to absorb a message in sleep-study.
They do know that for most people the number of impressions (repetitions) necessary to memorize material during sleep is most certainly a great deal less than the number needed while awake.
The experiments of Dr. Wilder Penfield of the Montreal Neurological Institute established that the natural tape recorders in our heads require only one impression for retention—possibly lifelong. Dr. Penfield discovered this during surgery on patients under local anesthesia.
He stimulated certain brain cells with gentle electric current and the patients, who were conscious, reported perfect playbacks of conversations, songs, and other experiences as far back as childhood.
This is considered by sleep-learning researchers to be potentially meaningful in yielding explanations of reports that students awakened between two and five o'clock in the morning received an entirely different message from the one they had put on tape.
Despite the knowledge that one impression is sufficient to register permanently on our brain, repetition appears to be necessary to memorize material.
The reason for this is not yet known. It is thought that there may be some relationship between the time the impression is made and the ability to recall it when awake.
Sleep-learning psychologists hope to discover a means of triggering off recall of material, possibly an associational symbol which will stimulate the recall much as the electric current did in Dr. Penfield's experiments. Meanwhile, sleep-memorization is based on repetition and free-association.
Certain things have been found to be helpful in aiding retention of material. Motivation is important, as, for instance, thinking of the reward that will be enjoyed as a result of learning.
Material that is understood is retained better than material learned by rote alone; repetition alone will affect memorization, but retention for any length of time requires the use of intelligence.
Writing the material after learning it tends to shorten the time necessary for permanent learning, and repetition a few times after the material is learned aids in retention. New forms of presentation are no more effective than repetition of identical material; the latter is recommended to refresh the memory.
The order of presentation seems to be important: the beginning and end of a lengthy sleep-study period are often better remembered than the middle parts, which seems an emphasis that the student should not attempt absorbing too much material in one night's sleep-study.
In learning a language it appears more effective to place the English word ahead of the foreign word. New, challenging, interesting material is easier to retain than dull, static, or uninteresting data.
Frequently something that seems unavailable for recall (like every one of 1000 new words), will be recognized and understood when the student is confronted with the necessity for recognition.
It is not advisable to try to learn two unrelated subjects in one night; the second subject can diminish or cancel out the first in what sleep-learning psychologists call retroactive inhibition. Good results in sleep-learning lead to still better results in sleep-learning.
It is not surprising that this discovery has also been channeled into the do-it-yourself movement so popular today.
Sleep-therapy can now be purchased on a self-development basis. Recordings leading to 'complete mind power' and 'personality integration’ are on the market.
A radio and TV psychologist, offers a course of ten nocturnal messages for success, and finds that subconscious acceptance of suggestions of positive ideas outdistances positive thinking on a conscious level by far.
He says the fundamental concept is that you are what you think you are, and sleep-suggestion can make you think of yourself as you would really like to be; then you awake and act accordingly, having, through sleep-therapy, changed your idea of yourself.
He offers a great deal of evidence, among which is a case history of an unhappy draftsman who, after years of dissatisfaction, switched to selling and earned more in a week than in three months at his former job. Another example is the case of the woman whose shyness amounted to terror, but subsequently became chairman of an important organization.
Self-development recordings for weight reduction, deep relaxation, physical well-being, memory power, will power, magnetic personality, self-confidence, vitality, elimination of insomnia, financial success, self-mastery and creative inspiration; these are but a sample.
Also available is an excellent series of 'Self-improvement Through Hypnosis' recordings. The basis of them all is the sincere conviction that you are what you think you are.
Positive thinking subconsciously impressed into your mind is the same method used to impress technical information, poetry or any other material.
Following is a sample taken from one of these self-help recordings, spoken slowly and with a minimum of inflection by a deep, sonorous voice:
Suggestion is the golden key which unlocks the hidden depths of my subconscious mind and releases its strength and power. I am determined to use this strength wisely to produce only beneficial results.
Consequently, from this moment forward, I positively will think positively and act positively, so that all my thoughts and feelings will press my subconscious mind to greater and greater positive results. I visualize myself as a dynamic positive person. I feel life within me, vital, sure and strong.
My reaction to my environment is natural and positive. Dynamic life courses through me and manifests itself in my optimism.
My life is a stimulating challenge. A joyous, golden opportunity to live greatly, live abundantly, and to achieve magnificently
The power of suggestion on these recordings has worked repeatedly, judging from the numerous testimonials.
People write that they have been conditioned to give up smoking, overcome irrational dislikes which hampered them, converse more effectively (and make more money), relax, make decisions, eliminate worry and tensions, sleep better, develop placidity and optimism, enthusiasm, faith and energy.
Nonetheless, users are warned that the Voice in the night' recordings are not intended to be a substitute for psychiatric or psychological assistance or medical treatment.
One such statement goes on to say: "They are designed to help the man and woman in our society whose schedule is so exacting that little time is left for relaxation of study.
It is intended to assist the individual in his quest for inner tranquility and peace of mind. It is designed for the person who seeks to gain confidence in himself and in his love for life's adventures."
Parents, it appears, can be aided in raising their children by the use of recordings especially designed for them—recordings which will teach the children self-confidence, memory power, personality development, the desire to learn, the ability to read, obedience, unselfishness, neatness, good manners; recordings which will help cure them of bed-wetting, nail biting, fears and apprehensions, eating problems, stealing and lying.
"Your fingernails taste bitter. Your fingernails taste bitter," the recording repeats. Apparently many of the sleeping children become convinced, find their fingernails do taste bitter, and drop the habit.
A California pediatrician reports success in as high as 70% of cases in the last twelve years where he has had parents talk to children with bed-wetting problems while they were asleep—and this after only two or three nights' repetition. Today's electronic equipment, of course, saves the lung power of the parent while achieving the same results.
Therapy combined with sleep has been reported effective in connection with special problems and social betterment. Dr. James Odell, Coordinator of Adjunctive Therapies at the Parsons, Kansas, training school, conducted an experiment with retarded and mentally disturbed children.
He selected two young girls with an I.Q. of twenty-five and forty respectively, who had difficulty pronouncing the letter "R." He played a sleep-tape for them on which were various words containing the letter "R." This, combined with speech therapy sessions, resulted in the children using the letter "R" correctly after twenty-one days.
Adults whose problems have landed them in prison have voluntarily participated in a sleep-therapy experiment in the Woodlake Road Camp near Visalia, California, in Tulare County.
The tape message is based on the belief that a desire for self-punishment is the main reason for crime, and is intended to overcome this desire.
A recording played at specific intervals during the night drones, "Sleep, sleep, you are now completely in sleep. Listen, my inner self. Remember and obey this creed of life. Live. Relax. Completely and utterly relax. Heal my soul. Unite my subconscious with my conscious life. Life is worth living, worth living wholeheartedly. Love rule my life. Love God, family, others. Do to others what I want them to do to me…”
Another report of this experiment substitutes "you" for the first person, and continues, "You shall have a major goal in life. You shall plan, carry out and attain that goal. You shall work and share with others. You shall grow in mind and spirit. You will attain self-respect and maturity because you are good . . . you will live without alcohol. Alcohol is poison. You do not need alcohol. You can abstain from alcohol. Alcohol is repulsive to you…"
John Locke, public defender of Tulare County, feels that there has been about 50% effectiveness so far, but adds that the test should continue for four or five years before fully assessing results. Some of the prisoners reported benefits.
One said he always dreamed of liquor, but after sleep-therapy liquor made him sick to his stomach. Another announced a new belief that people were not "down on him." A third said he could now go to sleep with a clear mind. The Tulare County Board of Supervisors have made "Operation Sleep" a permanent fixture.
Aldous Huxley objects, not to the principle of filling people with love and compassion, but to the principle of sleep-teaching by government agencies. He questions whether the treatment would always be on a voluntary basis, and whether the intentions would always be as good as they are in Tulare County.
Despite his concern over possible abuse of power and the resultant threat to freedom, he willingly attests to having seen some remarkable results and concludes that hypnopaedia, or sleep-learning actually works.
The period of sleep during which the actual study best reached the mind still eludes him, since there may be a technical question as to whether the learning takes place during sleep or during a special kind of waking state which the subject does not remember. (This probably is what the sleep-learning psychologists refer to as Reverie.)
What Mr. Huxley is concerned about is the would-be dictators and mind manipulators.
Undoubtedly caution should be exercised. The Federal Trade Commission is keeping close watch. However, most sleep-learning people are sincere in their claims, with honest stipulations as to the actual merits of sleep-study and therapy.
Certainly, it is to be understood that the ability to learn, either consciously or through sleep-study varies from person to person.
Age is no barrier to sleep-learning, if the student is conscientious in application, and in reasonably good health (in order that the mental block of bad health should not interfere with the processes of learning). There have been many tests that determine positively that people of any age can learn by this method.
It should also be logically assumed that using sleep-therapy for the removal of pain should not be attempted without the advice of a competent medical authority.
The practice of sleep-study has not, as far as is known, produced any harmful effects and, when proper instruction procedures are followed, it is extremely unlikely that any harm could develop.
The method is used widely in secondary schools in Soviet Russia, as well as in the treatment of the mentally ill, and even more extensively in other fields of medicine.
There, the treatment is based on Pavlov's discoveries. Most certainly the progress of sleep-learning can be raised, because everyone possesses an infinite capacity to learn; this, combined with sleep-learning will produce this result, just as a relatively high I.Q. can fall if the brain stagnates through inactivity.
In this country, interest has been growing steadily, as are sales among manufacturers of equipment and recordings. It is fairly safe to assume that both will continue to grow. Certainly great strides have been made since the psychophone was marketed in 1920 for sleep-teaching. (This was a spring driven device that required winding by hand and was soon shown to be ineffective for extensive research.)
The advances made by the electronic industry offer advanced equipment and recordings, noiseless and trouble free, that will further the actions and develop to an increasingly greater degree, the technique of sleep learning.
Certainly the science of making useful the third of our lives normally spent in sleep, is worth investigating.