QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 266 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

Returns Wednesday 23rd December at 9pm. Episode Guide
Series J, Christmas Special is repeated on Dave tomorrow at 1am.

Series H, Episode 15 - Hypnotism, Hallucinations And Hysteria

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Robert Webb, Stephen Fry, Ronni Ancona, Phill Jupitus. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


- If you hypnotised someone and then cut off their leg the chances are they would not make a fuss, unless they did not want their leg to be cut off in the first place. Some people have a strong resistance to anaesthetics so for some patients it is better to be hypnotised than to be put under in case you wake up during an operation. Hypnosis has been used for this since in the 1830s, before ether. The reason for using hypnosis is that most pain we feel is actually caused by the anxiety of it which is in the brain, so hypnosis helps you relax. Pain itself is created by the brain. Other than hypnosis, you can also take Valium to calm yourself down.

- XL Tangent: In the 1830s a Scottish doctor called Esdaile working in India used hypnosis on patients suffering from filariasis, which causes hydroceles of the scrotum. This causes large tumours in the testicles, and the operation was so uncomfortable that sufferers would not see a doctor for many years. As a result, one sufferer had a scrotum weighing 46kg. One man had a scrotum so big he was using it as a writing desk.

- XL Tangent: Robert tried hypnosis to stop smoking but found that he could not be hypnotised so he pretended to faint in order to prevent the hypnotherapist from being embarrassed. Robert eventually gave up smoking, but using prescription drugs.

- The best way to hypnotise an alligator or a tiger shark is to turn it upside down. Whales tip sharks over to hypnotise them, which causes them to suffocate and die. Frogs, lizards and crocodiles can also be hypnotised this way. To hypnotise chickens, you hold them down and then draw a line from their beak along the ground. Another way to do it to chickens is to take a stick or paddle and fix fake eyes to it. However, the producer of the show tried it on his chickens and it did not work. Rabbits and guinea pigs can be hypnotised if you stroke them or roll them over a few times first. They are woken up by blowing on their noses. Stephen once hypnotised a lobster when doing his documentary Stephen Fry in America and does so again in the studio, which is done by stroking the top of the head, bottom to top. They wake up by lifting them up. In animals, hypnosis is called "tonic immobility".

- Tangent: There was a dog in Edinburgh called Oscar who was able to hypnotise humans. He was trained by one Hugh Lennon. He went missing and people trying to find him were warned not to look into Oscar's eyes. Snakes can also hypnotise rabbits by staring at them.

- XL: The most likely reason that your life flashes before your eyes is because you brain is trying to find a similar situation which has happened previously in order to find a way to save your life. Life flashing before your eyes can be dated back to Rear-Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort (who invented the Beaufort wind scale) who wrote in a letter claiming that it happened to him once when he nearly drowned in Portsmouth Harbour in 1795. In one much more recent case, a man was being attacked by a great white shark and remembered a DVD his son was watching years ago which said to fend of an attack shark you should put your hands down the gills, which he did and survived. Phrases for life passing before your eyes exist in Persian, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, German, Norwegian, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Arabian, Dutch and French.

- You should not consult Dr. Zoe D. Katze Ph.D., C.Ht., DAPA because she is a cat with bogus qualifications including hypnotherapy. Academic Steve Eichel wanted to prove just how easy it was to get qualifications over the internet. Once you get one then you can use the others to parlay until you get a whole list of them. Zoe has a doctorate in counselling psychology from a mail-order university, she has a C.Ht. meaning she is a certified hypnotherapist, she is in the National Guild of Hypnotists, and is a Diplomat of the American Psychotherapy Association. Zoe also has qualifications that allow her to be an energy therapist, a past-life regression therapist and an alien abduction therapist. There are "diploma mills" and "degree mills" which give either fake diplomas from a real university or a real diploma from a fake university. Stephen then gives the panel a fake diploma each in "Advanced Banter". The whole business of fake degrees is called "pseudo-credentialing".

- You could not persuade the audience to elect Stephen pope without them noticing that they have done it. This is because subliminal advertising does not work (although messages saying "Stephen Fry for Pope" do appear quickly during this discussion). Although it is banned by most broadcasters, including the FCC in the United States, it has never been shown to work. The person who invented was a man called Vicary in 1957, but in 1962 he admitted that he faked the evidence. (Forfeit: Subliminal advertising)

- Tangent: The most famous stories of audio subliminal messages are stories of satanic messages in heavy metal tracks when played backwards (known as "backward masking"); the most famous messages being supposedly made by Judas Priest. The band went to court after two teenagers attempted suicide after listening to a message in one track which supposedly said: "Do it. Do it now." The band defended themselves by playing loads of albums and showing that most have things you can claim to be messages when played backwards. Frontman Rob Halford also said in court: "I don't wish to paint myself as greedy, but if we were going to put a message in it would be: 'By more of our records.'" Halford also said that "Do it", does not mean "kill yourself", but Phill points out the track was called "Suicide Solution".

- XL Tangent: Hypnopaedia is when you play music tracks which contain subliminal messages in order to help you learn things. You can even buy pillows with speakers in them. However, there is no real evidence to suggest hypnopaedia actually works in terms of what is being taught. However, if you sell someone some classical music and tell them it contains subliminal messages to increase your self-confidence, it works, even if it is just the music.

- XL Tangent: Another form of self-hypnosis is banging your head on the pillow so many times and then you wake up on the number of bangs on the hour. For example, if you bang your head four times, you wake up at four o'clock. Stephen claimed it worked for him at prep school when the pupils raided the kitchens.

- Tangent: Another supposed subliminal message is the face of Lenin appearing in the Labour Party rose logo.

- The kind of behaviour you would get from a superstitious pigeon would be repetitive. American psychiatrist B. F. Skinner found out that if you feed pigeons at predetermined intervals, the pigeons registered what they did before they got fed, so they do what they did previously to try and get food. It is rather similar to people doing things such as wearing a certain piece of clothing when there favourite football team scored a goal. This is known as "magical thinking", when you think you can effect the world by doing such things. It is also hard to find any definition of superstition that does not cover religion. Also, other religions tend to treat each other as superstitions, but claim that they are real. In the Catholic Church it is a sin to be superstitious.

- The thing which is hysterical about wondering womb trouble is that in Ancient Greece many medical complaints given by women including madness were blamed on the "fact" that their wombs moved around the body. The word "hysterical" comes from the same root as "hysterectomy". The Greek for "uterus" is "hystera". Freud said that for every real condition there is a hysterical one which is created in the mind. You can have hysterical blindness or dumbness which means you cannot see or speak even if there is nothing wrong with your eyes or mouth.

- XL Tangent: Adolf Hitler suffered from hysterical blindness and dumbness after suffering from a gas attack during World War One. Unfortunately it was during this time when he was recovering in hospital he decided then that he would lead the German people. American psychologist Walter Langer wrote a report on Hitler during the war which made some interesting observations and predictions using Freudian analysis. Langer wrote that in Hitler's symbolic vision Austria was his father in 1914, old, dying and exhausted, and Germany was his symbolic mother who was about to be violated. Hitler, unlike most Germans at the time, referred to Germany as the Motherland (Mutterland) rather than the Fatherland (Vaterland). Langer also went onto say that Hitler would most likely commit suicide in a symbolic womb.

- The panel are shown a clip of the sun setting and are asked to buzz in when they think it has dropped blow the horizon. However they are too late when they buzz because what we see in the sky is a mirage. The sun has actually dropped below the horizon when the bottom of it just touches the horizon. This is because of the way the light bends when it shines through to the bottom of the atmosphere which has a different air pressure. Other examples of mirages include what we think of as water evaporating off roads. (Forfeit: Too late!)

- Tangent: In New Zealand motorists suffer from sun strike. This occurs because New Zealand is so far down on the planet, so the sun has to pass through a lot of atmosphere to get to the surface. So at that angle when the sun shines down on the road the light gets reflected back up making it hard to see the road.

General Ignorance

- Spiral staircases are not spiral in shape. They are helical. Spirals get wider and wider as they go up. Helixes stay the shame width all the way. (Forfeit: Spiral)

- XL Tangent: DNA is a double helix in shape. If you took out your DNA and stretched it out it would be a tenth of a light year long, so it would stretch beyond the Solar System. There are 50 trillion cells, 23 chromosomes per cell, 220 million base pairs per chromosome.

- XL Tangent: The Argentine blue bill duck or Argentine lake duck has a penis the shape of a corkscrew. It also has the longest penis relative to its body size of any vertebrate. It is the length of its whole body. It also has a brush on the end of penis to wipe away the sperm of other males. The female's vagina is also corkscrew shaped, but in the opposite direction.

- There are so many lavatories in the Pentagon because originally there were going be toilets just for white people and toilets just for black people. The Pentagon is in Virginia, a southern state were segregation was common. However, when it was built President Franklin D. Roosevelt banned all segregation in federal buildings. He was furious when he learned about this situation and so prevented the segregation, but the lavatories (at least 284 in total) were still built. The Pentagon has 23,000 people working in it; the centre open area is five acres in size, there are 17.5 miles of corridor, and it has six ZIP codes. However, it only takes seven minutes to walk from one place to the other.

- XL Tangent: During the Second World War American army camps in Britain were racially segregated, but the British were opposed to it. When the Americans insisted on segregated pubs the British refused. When white Americans came in and saw black Americans drinking in a bar they would start fights and the British fought alongside the black Americans. Ronni then talks about US propaganda films showing a white US soldier and a black US soldier meeting an old British lady and invites both of them around for tea, so the film prepared soldiers for the non-racist treatment the British gave to American soldiers.

- Vyacheslav Molotov did not invent anything apart from some death lists and the Molotov Line system of defences. Molotov was the foreign minister under Stalin and lived until 1986. In 1939 the Soviet Union was at war with Finland and Molotov claimed that the Soviets were dropping food parcels into the country, but they were actually cluster bombs. The Finns nicknamed them "Molotov's breadbaskets", and Finns fought back with petrol bombs against Soviet tanks, and the bombs were Molotov cocktails to go with the breadbaskets. The Finns eventually defeated the Soviets. (Forfeit: The Molotov cocktail)


- Phill Jupitus: -2 points
- Alan Davies: -8 points
- Ronni Ancona: -17 points
- Robert Webb: -32 points

Broadcast details

Friday 7th January 2011
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Phill Jupitus Guest
Ronni Ancona Guest
Robert Webb Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Arron Ferster Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


Spot when the Sun sets

Stephen Fry asks his guests to spot when the Sun sets.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Phill Jupitus, Ronni Ancona, Robert Webb.


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