[First published in PhotoStatic #32, September, 1988.]
Those familiar with memory-improvement techniques know that a mnemonic device is meant to trigger particular memory-responses. A string tied around the finger is one such device. In more advanced memory systems, a mentally-imagined picture can be used as a mnemonic device. Trying to remember the name Kowalski, for example, you might visualize a cow with an awl on a ski slop--cow-awl-ski, Kowalski. The picture reminds you of the proper memory.
In like manner, a hypnotist who gives his subject a post-hypnotic command to bark like a dog when he hears a bell is also involved in using a symbol to trigger a particular response.
All symbols--and here I mean primarily graphic symbols, though it applies to others as well--operate in a manner similar to that of a mnemonic device or a post-hypnotic command. They serve as catalysts for particular responses in the audience. We see a swastika, for instance, and think of nazis, war, and tyranny. This in spite of the fact that a swastika in and of itself means nothing. It is neutral. But we have been mass-programmed--in a way very much like one who is trying to remember something with a mnemonic device, or like a hypnotic subject reacting to a post-hypnotic command?to respond to the swastika in a certain negative way.
Society is filled with symbols which are meant to trigger responses. A cross, the Star of David, the familiar logo of a corporation?all of these spark memories in us. Say "the golden arches" and we all think of the same restaurant chain.
This Pavlovian process occurs constantly. No human society could survive without it. I, for one, WANT the fellow driving the opposite way at the intersection to react to the red light symbol as we all have been programmed to do.
Yet, because we respond to common symbols in common ways, all of us are under a form of mass hypnosis. To be aware of the process is to wake a bit from the trance, to pause a moment before barking at the sound of the bell.
When we can reset our symbol-reactions in ways that benefit us, then we can take control of this powerful process. We can turn the mass hypnosis in which we are caught into our own self-directed self-hypnosis. At that point, the golden arches which now trigger thoughts of a corporation marketing fast food could be set to trigger feelings of god-like power. The cross could be set to provoke self-confidence; the swastika, peace of mind; the Star of David, intense awareness. Everywhere we'd look would be symbols able to trigger off reactions beneficial to us. A stroll through a shopping mall would be an invigorating experience as the myriad of symbols encountered along the way set off wave after wave of pleasant emotion and enlightened thought.
Gaining personal control over our reactions to symbols is not all fantasy. Certain occultists are already at work on a similar project. These psychic experimenters visualize a symbol?a blue star, for example?and program themselves to experience a particular emotion in association with that symbol?say, serenity. Then, when they find themselves in a tense situation, they visualize a blue star and instantly relax.
With some determined effort, this technique can liberate us from the tyranny of symbols, allowing us to control our memories and emotions to our best advantage.