Is Mind Control Possible?
An essay on mind control, hypnosis and brainwashing from a Christian perspective.
“For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” ~ Proverbs 23:7a
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” ~ Romans 12:2a
Conceptions and Misconceptions of Mind Control
There are many misconceptions about mind control. Some people consider mind control to include the efforts of parents to raise their children according to social, cultural, moral and personal standards. Some think it is mind control to use behavior modification techniques to change one’s own behavior, whether by self-discipline and autosuggestion or through workshops and clinics. Others think that advertising and sexual seduction are examples of mind control. Still others consider it mind control to give debilitating drugs to a woman in order to take advantage of her while she is drugged. Some consider it mind control when the military or prison officers use techniques that belittle or dehumanize recruits or inmates in their attempt to break down individuals and make them more compliant. Some might consider it mind control for coaches or drill instructors to threaten, belittle, physically punish, or physically fatigue by excessive physical exercises their subjects in the effort to break down their egos and build team spirit or group identification.
Some of the tactics of some recruiters for religious, spiritual, or New Age human potential groups are called mind control tactics. Many believe that a terrorist kidnap victim who converts to or becomes sympathetic to her kidnapper’s ideology is a victim of mind control (the so-called Stockholm syndrome). Similarly, a woman who stays with an abusive man is often seen as a victim of mind control. Many consider subliminal messaging in “mood music” and other media, such as background music played in retail stores and other venues, advertising, or on self-help tapes to be a form of mind control. Many also believe that it is mind control to use laser weapons, isotropic radiators, infrasound, non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generators, or high-power microwave emitters to confuse or debilitate people. Many consider the “brainwashing” tactics (torture, sensory deprivation, etc.) of the Chinese during the Korean War and the alleged creation of zombies in Voodoo as attempts at mind control.
Finally, no one would doubt that it would be a clear case of mind control to be able to hypnotize or electronically program a person so that he or she would carry out your commands without being aware that you are controlling his or her behavior.
Fictional Mind Control
Some of the more popular misconceptions of mind control originated in fiction, such as “The Manchurian Candidate.” In that film, an assassin is programmed so that he will respond to a post-hypnotic trigger, commit a murder, and not remember it later. Other books and films portray hypnosis as a powerful tool, allowing the hypnotist to have his sexual way with a beautiful woman or to program her to become a robotic courier, assassin, etc. But to be able to use hypnosis in this powerful way is little more than wishful thinking.
Other fictional fantasies have been created that show drugs or electronic devices, including brain implants, being used to control the behavior of people. It has, of course, been established that brain damage, hypnosis, drugs or electric stimulation to the brain or neural network can have a causal effect on thought, bodily movement, and behavior. However, the state of human knowledge on the effects of chemical or electrical stimulation to the brain is so impoverished that it would be impossible using today’s knowledge and technology to do anything approaching the kind of mind control accomplished in fantasy. We can do things that are predictable, such as cause loss of a specific memory or arousal of a specific desire, but we cannot do this in a way which is non-intrusive or which would have the significance of being able to control a large array of thoughts, movements, or actions. It is certainly conceivable that someday we may be able to build a device which, if implanted in the brain, would allow us to control thoughts and actions by controlling specific chemical or electrical stimuli. Such a device does not now exist nor could it exist given today’s state of knowledge in the neurosciences. (However, two Emory University neuroscientists, Dr. Roy Bakay and Dr. Philip Kennedy, have developed an electronic brain implant that can be activated by thoughts and in turn can move a computer cursor.)
The Government and Mind Control
I always thought that “MKULTRA” was a fictional CIA ‘mind-control’ program invented by ‘conspiracy theorists’ only to find out, after doing research for this paper, that it was a very real government funded program which existed in the 1960s and 70s. There also seems to be a growing belief that the U.S. government, through its military branches or agencies such as the CIA, is using a number of horrible devices aimed at disrupting the brain. Laser weapons, isotropic radiators, infrasound, non-nuclear electromagnetic pulse generators, and high-power microwave emitters have been mentioned. It is known that government agencies have experimented on humans in mind control studies with and without the knowledge of their subjects since the 1950s. The claims of those who believe they have been unwilling victims of “mind control” experiments should not be dismissed as impossible or even as improbable. Given past practice and the amoral nature of our military and intelligence agencies, such experiments are not implausible. However, these experimental weapons, which are aimed at disrupting brain processes, should not be considered mind control weapons. To confuse, disorient or otherwise debilitate a person through chemicals or electronically is not to control that person. To make a person lose control of himself is not the same as gaining control over him. It is a near certainty that our government is not capable of controlling anyone’s mind, though it is clear that many people in many governments lust after such power.
In any case, some of the claims made by those who believe they are being controlled by these electronic weapons do not seem plausible. For example, the belief that radio waves or microwaves can be used to cause a person to hear voices transmitted to him seems unlikely. We know that radio waves and waves of all kinds of frequencies are constantly going through our bodies. The reason we have to turn on the radio or TV to hear the sounds or see the pictures being transmitted through the air is that those devices have receivers which “translate” the waves into forms we can hear and see. What we know about hearing and vision makes it very unlikely that simply sending a signal to the brain that can be “translated” into sounds or pictures would cause a person to hear or see anything. Someday it may be possible to stimulate electronically or chemically a specific network of neurons to cause specific sounds or sights of the experimenter’s choosing to emerge in a person’s consciousness. But this is not possible today. Even if it were possible, it would not necessarily follow that a person would obey a command to assassinate the president just because he heard a voice telling him to do so. Hearing voices is one thing. Feeling compelled to obey them is quite another. Not everyone has the faith of Abraham.
There seem to be a number of parallels between those who think they have been abducted by aliens and those who believe their minds are being controlled by CIA implants. So far, however, the “mind-controlled group” has not been able to find their John Mack, the Harvard psychiatrist who claims that the best explanation for alien abduction claims is that they are based on alien abduction experiences, not fantasies or delusions. A common complaint from the mind-controlled is that they can’t get therapists to take them seriously. That is, they say they can only find therapists who want to treat them for their delusions, not help them prove they’re being controlled by their government. Thus, it is not likely that the “mind-controlled CIA zombies” will be accused of having delusions planted in them by therapists, as alien abductees have, since they claim they cannot get therapists to take their delusions seriously. In fact, many of them are convinced that their treatment as deluded persons is part of a conspiracy to cover up the mind control experiments done on them. Some even believe that False Memory Syndrome is part of the conspiracy. They claim that the idea of false memories is a plot to keep people from taking seriously the claims of those who are now remembering that they were victims of mind control experiments at some time in the past. It is hard to believe that they cannot find a wide array of incompetent New Age therapists willing to take their claims seriously, if not willing to claim they have been victims of such experiments themselves.
Clarification of the Term ‘Mind Control’
Mind control, if possible in real life, could be defined as ‘the successful control of the thoughts and actions of another without his or her consent’. Generally, the term implies that the victim has given up some basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes, and has been made to accept contrasting ideas.
In narrowing down whether ‘Mind control’ is possible, the first thing to do is eliminate as examples of mind control those activities where a person freely chooses to engage in the behavior.
Controlling one’s thoughts and actions, whether by self-discipline or with the help of others, is an interesting and important topic, but it is not the same as brainwashing or programming people without their consent.
Using fear or force to manipulate or coerce people into doing what you want them to do should not be considered to be mind control. Inquisitions do not succeed in capturing the minds of their victims. As soon as the threat of punishment is lifted, the extorted beliefs vanish. You do not control the mind of someone who will escape from you the moment you turn your back.
To render a woman helpless by drugs so you can rape her is not mind control. Using a frequency generator to give people headaches or to disorient them is not the same as controlling them. You do not have control over a person’s thoughts or actions just because you can do what you want to them or render them incapable of doing as they will. An essential component of mind control is that it involves controlling another person, not just putting them out of control or doing things to them over which they have no control.
Coercion and Harassment are not Mind Control
The above considerations should make it clear that what many people consider mind control would best be described by some other term, such as behavior modification, thought disruption, brain disabling, behavior manipulation, mind-coercion or electronic harassment. People are not now being turned into robots by hypnosis or brain implants. Furthermore, it should be obvious that given the state of knowledge in the neurosciences, the techniques for effective mind control are likely to be crude and their mechanisms imperfectly understood.
Thus, if we restrict the term ‘mind control’ to those cases where a person successfully controls another person’s thoughts or actions without their consent, our initial list of examples of what people consider to be mind control will be pared down to just five items: the tactics of religious, spiritual, and other New Age recruiters; the tactics of husbands who control their wives; the Stockholm syndrome; the so-called brainwashing tactics of the Chinese inquisitors of American prisoners during the Korean War; and the alleged creation of zombies in Voodoo. The last, however, can be dismissed as based either on fraud or on the use of drugs to render people helpless.
A person who is terrorized by his or her spouse or lover is not a victim of mind control, but of fear and violence. Still, there seem to be many cases where a battered person genuinely loves her or his mate and genuinely believes the batterer reciprocates that love. The victim stays, beating after beating, not because the victim fears what the abuser will do if he or she leaves, but because the victim really doesn’t want to leave. Perhaps. But perhaps the victim doesn’t leave because she or he is completely dependent on the lover/batterer. The abused doesn’t stay just because she or he has nowhere to go. The abused needs the abuser and stays because the abused is completely dependent on the abuser. If a man can reduce a woman to a state of total dependency, he can control her. But is it true to say that he has controlled her mind? To what extent, if any, can a batterer take away the free will of his victim? He can reduce her choices so that staying with him is the only option she knows. What is the likelihood of this happening? It seems more likely that she will reduce her own choices by rationalizing his behavior and convincing herself that things will get better or that they really aren’t that bad. If a man is not using brute force or the fear of violence to keep a woman around, then if she stays, it may be because of choices she has made in the past. Each time she was abused, she chose to stay. He may have used sweet and seductive talk to persuade her not to leave, but at some time in the relationship she was free to reject him. Otherwise, the relationship is based on fear and violence and mind control does not enter the picture. A woman who appears to be under the spell of a batterer is not a victim of mind control. She is a victim of her own bad choices. This is not to say that we should not sympathize with her plight or extend aid to her should she ask. She is where she is through bad luck and a series of bad choices, not because of mind control, assuming, of course, that the woman is not mentally ill. In that case, it is nature, not her man, that has reduced her capacity for free choice. The abuser takes advantage of the situation, but he does not create it.
Biblically, Mind Control is not Possible
From a biblical perspective, ‘mind control’ is not possible because God has not granted such powers to created beings. Even the fallen archangel Lucifer, now known as Satan or, the devil, needs God’s permission to test or tempt God’s people (cf. Job 2:1-6). If ‘Mind Control’ were possible, surely Satan would have been the first creature to make use of it. According to Scripture, however, he can only ‘tempt’ and/or ‘deceive’ a person to make the wrong choice or decision. And according to the Bible, everyone has the ability to ‘resist’ temptation and the devil (cf. James 4:7).
‘Temptation’ itself is nothing more than ‘suggestion’, similar to that used in hypnotic-suggestion and commercial advertising.
Hypnosis is not Mind Control
Hypnosis is not ‘Mind control’ because the success of hypnotism is dependent on the following prerequisites:
- The subject must be willing to be hypnotized.
- The subject must believe he or she can be hypnotized.
- The subject must feel comfortable and relaxed about being hypnotized.
When you hear the word hypnosis, you may picture the mysterious hypnotist figure popularized in movies, comic books and television. This ominous, goateed man waves a pocket watch back and forth, guiding his subject into a semi-sleep, zombie-like state. Once hypnotized, the subject is compelled to obey, no matter how strange or immoral the request. Muttering “Yes, master,” the subject does the hypnotist’s evil bidding.
This popular representation bears little resemblance to actual hypnotism, of course. In fact, modern understanding of hypnosis contradicts this conception on several key points. Subjects in a hypnotic trance are not slaves to their “masters” — they have absolute free will. And they’re not really in a semi-sleep state — they’re actually hyperattentive.
Our understanding of hypnosis has advanced a great deal in the past century, but the phenomenon is still a mystery of sorts. In this article, we’ll look at some popular theories of hypnosis and explore the various ways hypnotists put their art to work.
What is Hypnosis?
People have been pondering and arguing over hypnosis for more than 200 years, but science has yet to fully explain how it actually happens. We see what a person does under hypnosis, but it isn’t clear why he or she does it. This puzzle is really a small piece in a much bigger puzzle: how the human mind works. It’s unlikely that scientists will arrive at a definitive explanation of the mind in the foreseeable future, so it’s a good bet hypnosis will remain something of a mystery as well.
But psychiatrists do understand the general characteristics of hypnosis, and they have some model of how it works. It is a trance state characterized by extreme suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It’s not really like sleep, because the subject is alert the whole time. It is most often compared to daydreaming, or the feeling of “losing yourself” in a book or movie. You are fully conscious, but you tune out most of the stimuli around you. You focus intently on the subject at hand, to the near exclusion of any other thought.
In the everyday trance of a daydream or movie, an imaginary world seems somewhat real to you, in the sense that it fully engages your emotions. Imaginary events can cause real fear, sadness or happiness, and you may even jolt in your seat if you are surprised by something (a monster leaping from the shadows, for example). Some researchers categorize all such trances as forms of self-hypnosis. Milton Erickson, the premier hypnotism expert of the 20th century, contended that people hypnotize themselves on a daily basis. But most psychiatrists focus on the trance state brought on by intentional relaxation and focusing exercises. This deep hypnosis is often compared to the relaxed mental state between wakefulness and sleep.
People have been entering hypnotic-type trances for thousands and thousands of years; various forms of meditation play an important role in many cultures’ religions. But the scientific conception of hypnotism wasn’t born until the late 1700s.
The father of modern hypnotism is Franz Mesmer, an Austrian physician. Mesmer believed hypnosis to be a mystical force flowing from the hypnotist into the subject (he called it “animal magnetism”). Although critics quickly dismissed the magical element of his theory, Mesmer’s assumption, that the power behind hypnosis came from the hypnotist and was in some way inflicted upon the subject, took hold for some time. Hypnosis was originally known as mesmerism, after Mesmer, and we still use its derivative, “mesmerize,” today.
In conventional hypnosis, you approach the suggestions of the hypnotist, or your own ideas, as if they were reality. If the hypnotist suggests that your tongue has swollen up to twice its size, you’ll feel a sensation in your mouth and you may have trouble talking. If the hypnotist suggests that you are drinking a chocolate milkshake, you’ll taste the milkshake and feel it cooling your mouth and throat. If the hypnotist suggests that you are afraid, you may feel panicky or start to sweat. But the entire time, you are aware that it’s all imaginary. Essentially, you’re “playing pretend” on an intense level, as kids do.
In this special mental state, people feel uninhibited and relaxed. Presumably, this is because they tune out the worries and doubts that normally keep their actions in check. You might experience the same feeling while watching a movie: As you get engrossed in the plot, worries about your job, family, etc. fade away, until all you’re thinking about is what’s up on the screen.
In this state, you are also highly suggestible. That is, when the hypnotist tells you do something, you’ll probably embrace the idea completely. This is what makes stage hypnotist shows so entertaining. Normally reserved, sensible adults are suddenly walking around the stage clucking like chickens or singing at the top of their lungs. Fear of embarrassment seems to fly out the window. The subject’s sense of safety and morality remain entrenched throughout the experience, however. A hypnotist can’t get you to do anything you don’t want to do.
Now let’s look at the most widely accepted theory of what’s going on when you become hypnotized.
What Lies Beneath: The Subconscious Mind
The predominant school of thought on hypnosis is that it is a way to access a person’s subconscious mind directly. Normally, you are only aware of the thought processes in your conscious mind. You consciously think over the problems that are right in front of you, consciously choose words as you speak, consciously try to remember where you left your keys.
But in doing all these things, your conscious mind is working hand-in-hand with your subconscious mind, the unconscious part of your mind that does your “behind the scenes” thinking. Your subconscious mind accesses the vast reservoir of information that lets you solve problems, construct sentences or locate your keys. It puts together plans and ideas and runs them by your conscious mind. When a new idea comes to you out of the blue, it’s because you already thought through the process unconsciously.
Your subconscious also takes care of all the stuff you do automatically. You don’t actively work through the steps of breathing minute to minute — your subconscious mind does that. You don’t think through every little thing you do while driving a car — a lot of the small stuff is thought out in your subconscious mind. Your subconscious also processes the physical information your body receives.
In short, your subconscious mind is the real brains behind the operation — it does most of your thinking, and it decides a lot of what you do. When you’re awake, your conscious mind works to evaluate a lot of these thoughts, make decisions and put certain ideas into action. It also processes new information and relays it to the subconscious mind. But when you’re asleep, the conscious mind gets out of the way, and your subconscious has free reign.
Psychiatrists theorize that the deep relaxation and focusing exercises of hypnotism work to calm and subdue the conscious mind so that it takes a less active role in your thinking process. In this state, you’re still aware of what’s going on, but your conscious mind takes a backseat to your subconscious mind. Effectively, this allows you and the hypnotist to work directly with the subconscious. It’s as if the hypnotism process pops open a control panel inside your brain – the idea that hypnosis puts your conscious mind in the backseat, so you and the hypnotist can communicate directly with your subconscious. This theory has gained wide acceptance in the psychiatric community, mostly because it explains all the major characteristics of the hypnotic state so nicely.
Understanding Hypnotic Suggestion
Hypnotists say that subjects under hypnosis are a lot like little kids: playful and imaginative, fully embracing bizarre suggestions.
It provides an especially convincing explanation for the playfulness and uninhibitedness of hypnotic subjects. The conscious mind is the main inhibitive component in your makeup — it’s in charge of putting on the brakes — while the subconscious mind is the seat of imagination and impulse. When your subconscious mind is in control, you feel much freer and may be more creative. Your conscious mind doesn’t have to filter through everything.
Hypnotized people do such bizarre things so willingly, this theory holds, because the conscious mind is not filtering and relaying the information they take in. It seems like the hypnotist’s suggestions are coming directly from the subconscious, rather than from another person. You react automatically to these impulses and suggestions, just as you would to your own thoughts. Of course, your subconscious mind does have a conscience, a survival instinct and its own ideas, so there are a lot of things it won’t agree to.
The subconscious regulates your bodily sensations, such as taste, touch and sight, as well as your emotional feelings. When the access door is open, and the hypnotist can speak to your subconscious directly, he or she can trigger all these feelings, so you experience the taste of a chocolate milkshake, the satisfaction of contentment and any number of other feelings.
Additionally, the subconscious is the storehouse for all your memories. While under hypnosis, subjects may be able to access past events that they have completely forgotten. Psychiatrists may use hypnotism to bring up these memories so that a related personal problem can finally be resolved. Since the subject’s mind is in such a suggestible state, it is also possible to create false memories. For this reason, psychiatrists must be extremely careful when exploring a hypnotic subject’s past.
This theory of hypnosis is based mostly on logical reasoning, but there is some physiological evidence that supports it. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the physical data researchers have gathered on hypnosis.
Waves and Hemispheres
In numerous studies, researchers have compared the physical “body signs” of hypnotic subjects with those of unhypnotized people. In most of these studies, the researchers found no significant physical change associated with the trance state of hypnosis. The subject’s heart rate and respiration may slow down, but this is due to the relaxation involved in the hypnotism process, not the hypnotic state itself.
Some hypnotism experts hold that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. Whether a trance state is brought on by a long, boring drive down the highway or by a skilled psychiatrist, the subject is always the one who initiates the trance. In this view, the hypnotist is only a guide who facilitates the process.
There does seem to be changed activity in the brain, however. The most notable data comes from electroencephalographs (EEGs), measurements of the electrical activity of the brain. Extensive EEG research has demonstrated that brains produce different brain waves, rhythms of electrical voltage, depending on their mental state. Deep sleep has a different rhythm than dreaming, for example, and full alertness has a different rhythm than relaxation.
In some studies, EEGs from subjects under hypnosis showed a boost in the lower frequency waves associated with dreaming and sleep, and a drop in the higher frequency waves associated with full wakefulness. Brain-wave information is not a definitive indicator of how the mind is operating, but this pattern does fit the hypothesis that the conscious mind backs off during hypnosis and the subconscious mind takes a more active role.
Researchers have also studied patterns in the brain’s cerebral cortex that occur during hypnosis. In these studies, hypnotic subjects showed reduced activity in the left hemisphere of the cerebral cortex, while activity in the right hemisphere often increased. Neurologists believe that the left hemisphere of the cortex is the logical control center of the brain; it operates on deduction, reasoning and convention. The right hemisphere, in contrast, controls imagination and creativity. A decrease in left-hemisphere activity fits with the hypothesis that hypnosis subdues the conscious mind’s inhibitory influence. Conversely, an increase in right-brain activity supports the idea that the creative, impulsive subconscious mind takes the reigns. This is by no means conclusive evidence, but it does lend credence to the idea that hypnotism opens up the subconscious mind.
Whether or not hypnosis is actually a physiological phenomenon, millions of people do practice hypnotism regularly, and millions of subjects report that it has worked on them. In the next section, we’ll look at the most common methods of inducing a hypnotic trance.
The Hypnotist’s Methods
Hypnotists’ methods vary, but they all depend on a few basic prerequisites:
- The subject must be willing to be hypnotized.
- The subject must believe he or she can be hypnotized.
- The subject must feel comfortable and relaxed about being hypnotized.
If these criteria are met, the hypnotist can guide the subject into a hypnotic trance using a variety of methods. The most common hypnotic techniques are:
- Fixed-gaze induction or eye fixation – This is the method you often see in movies, when the hypnotist waves a pocket watch in front of the subject.
The basic idea is to get the subject to focus on an object so intently that he or she tunes out any other stimuli. As the subject focuses, the hypnotist talks to him or her in a low tone, lulling the subject into relaxation. This method was very popular in the early days of hypnotism, but it isn’t used much today because it doesn’t work on a large proportion of the population.
- Rapid – The idea of this method is to overload the mind with sudden, firm commands.
If the commands are forceful, and the hypnotist is convincing enough, the subject will surrender his or her conscious control over the situation. This method works well for a stage hypnotist because the novel circumstance of being up in front of an audience puts subjects on edge, making them more susceptible to the hypnotist’s commands.
- Progressive relaxation and imagery – This is the hypnosis method most commonly employed by psychiatrists.
By speaking to the subject in a slow, soothing voice, the hypnotist gradually brings on complete relaxation and focus, easing the subject into full hypnosis. Typically, self-hypnosis training, as well as relaxation and meditation audio tapes, use the progressive relaxation method.
- Loss of balance – This method creates a loss of equilibrium using slow, rhythmic rocking.
Parents have been putting babies to sleep with this method for thousands of years.
Before hypnotists bring a subject into a full trance, they generally test his or her willingness and capacity to be hypnotized. The typical testing method is to make several simple suggestions, such as “Relax your arms completely,” and work up to suggestions that ask the subject to suspend disbelief or distort normal thoughts, such as “Pretend you are weightless.”
Depending on the person’s mental state and personality, the entire hypnotism process can take anywhere from a few minutes to more than a half hour. Hypnotists and hypnotism proponents see the peculiar mental state as a powerful tool with a wide range of applications. In the next section, we’ll look at some of the more common uses of hypnotism.
The use of Hypnosis in Behavioral Modification
The most widespread example of this hypnotic behavioral modification is habit-control hypnotic treatment. In this application, a hypnotist focuses on one particular habit that is embedded in your unconscious (smoking or overeating, for example). With the “control panel” to your mind open, the hypnotist may be able to reprogram your subconscious to reverse the behavior. Some hypnotists do this by connecting a negative response with the bad habit. For example, the hypnotist might suggest to your subconscious that smoking will cause nausea. If this association is programmed effectively, you will feel sick every time you think about smoking a cigarette. Alternatively, the hypnotist may build up your willpower, suggesting to your subconscious that you don’t need cigarettes, and you don’t want them.
Habit-control hypnotism is commonly practiced on a mass scale, in day-long seminars held in hotel suites, or through audio tapes or CDs. Since the treatment is not specifically tailored to each subject, and the treatment is rapid, these programs are often ineffective. Even if the treatment does yield positive results in the short term, there’s a good chance that the subject will relapse eventually.
Directed, one-on-one hypnotism sessions tend to yield better results.
In a therapy session, a psychiatrist may hypnotize his or her subject in order to work with deep, entrenched personal problems. The therapy may take the form of breaking negative patterns of behavior, as with mass habit-control programs. This can be particularly effective in addressing phobias, unreasonable fears of particular objects or situations. Another form of psychiatric hypnotherapy involves bringing underlying psychiatric problems up to the conscious level. Accessing fears, memories and repressed emotions can help to clarify difficult issues and bring resolution to persistent problems.
Hypnotists may also tap dormant memories to aid in law enforcement. In this practice, called forensic hypnotism, investigators access a subject’s deep, repressed memories of a past crime to help identify a suspect or fill in details of the case. Since hypnotists may lead subjects to form false memories, this technique is still very controversial in the forensics world.
Another controversial form of hypnotism is medical hypnotherapy. Doctors and spiritual leaders all over the world claim that hypnotic suggestion can ease pain and even cure illness in some patients. The underlying idea behind this is that the mind and body are inextricably intertwined. When you suggest to the subconscious that the body does not feel pain, or that the body is free of disease, the subconscious may actually bring about the change.
There is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to support this idea. Using only hypnotic suggestion as an anesthetic, thousands of women have made it through childbirth with minimal pain and discomfort. Countless cancer patients swear by hypnosis, claiming that it helps to manage the pain of chemotherapy, and some former patients credit their recovery to hypnotherapy.
The success of hypnotherapy is undeniable, but many doctors argue that the hypnotic trance is not actually responsible for the positive results. In the next section, we’ll see how many skeptics explain hypnotic phenomena.
Skeptics of Hypnotherapy
In the relatively short history of modern hypnotism, there have been dozens of hypnotic techniques and a wide range of explanations of the phenomenon. The only constant through all of this has been the hypnotic subjects themselves. No matter how you view the art of the hypnotist, it is undeniable that people do enter a special state in which they are abnormally suggestible and uninhibited.
Modern skeptics have a sound and convincing explanation of this unusual state. Hypnotic subjects aren’t actually in a trance state, they argue, they only think they are. Social pressure and the influence of the hypnotist are often enough to convince people that they should act a certain way. When they find themselves heeding the suggestions, they think they must be in a hypnotic trance. Proponents of this theory contend that this belief alone may be powerful enough to bring about remarkable changes in a person. If you think someone is compelling you to act a certain way, you will act that way. If you think hypnotic suggestion will ease your pain, your mind will bring about this feeling.
In this view, an effective hypnotist isn’t one that can probe the hidden reaches of your mind, but one with strong enough authority and charisma to convince you to go along.
In the general sense, this phenomenon is known as the placebo effect. In numerous studies, people who were given ordinary sugar pills behaved and felt differently only because they thought they should. It’s clear that the mind can influence all aspects of the physical body, so it makes sense that a firmly held belief can reduce pain or even help treat a disease.
But in the end, this explanation of hypnosis amounts to pretty much the same thing as the trance theory. When you absolutely convince somebody that you’ve brought about a change in their subconscious, they register this information as a fact. Like any fact, this information will take root in the subconscious mind. So, even if the hypnotic state is nothing more than a figment of the subject’s imagination, hypnotic suggestions can still reform their deeply held beliefs. Historically, this has been called ‘Brainwashing’.
What is ‘Brainwashing’?
‘Brainwashing’ is often used loosely to refer to being persuaded by propaganda. Brainwashing could be defined as ‘Hypnotic suggestion enforced by coercion methods’. In other words, ‘Brainwashing’ is ‘suggestion’ enforced by coercion. Brainwashing involves re-programing a person’s value system through thought and behavioral-modification techniques enforced by coercion (a punishment and reward system, quite similar to training a K-9 or circus animals. This kind of ‘Brainwashing’ is real and has occurred repeatedly throughout history, especially during times of war.
Brainwashing is not Mind Control
Brainwashing, however, is not ‘Mind control’ because it does not involve controlling a person’s choices and decisions against their own will. The subject being brainwashed usually ‘cooperates’ with his captors by choosing the options that will cause him less pain and suffering. This method has been used repeatedly on prisoners of war held in communist countries. However, in the majority of cases, once the subject is released from captivity and freed from coercion he usually returns to his long-held political and religious convictions.
Fictional Brainwashing Concepts Popularized by the Media
Modern literature and film use the brainwashing scenario pretty liberally. It gets to the very nature of humanity: Are we all ultimately reducible to puppets? The protagonist in George Orwell’s “1984” undergoes a classic case of brainwashing that ends with the famous concession to his tormentors: “two plus two equals five.” In 1962’s “The Manchurian Candidate,” brainwashing produces a robot-like assassin incapable of overriding the control commands he’s been programmed with. “A Clockwork Orange” (1971) positions institutional brainwashing as an option for violent convicts looking to shorten their sentences, and in 1997’s “Conspiracy Theory,” a mentally unstable, government-brainwashed assassin seeks to prove that some very powerful people have been tampering with his mind.
The Historical Reality of Brainwashing
World War II began when Adolf Hitler brainwashed an entire nation with the ideal of a world ruled by the Aryan race of Nazi Germany. At the same time, the Emperor of Japan declared his vision of a “new world order” led by the Imperial Empire.
Brainwashing methods were used on the entire populations of Communist countries such as, China, Russia and North Vietnam.
During the Korean War, Korean and Chinese captors reportedly brainwashed American POWs held in prison camps. Several prisoners ultimately confessed to waging germ warfare — which they hadn’t — and pledged allegiance to communism by the end of their captivity. At least 21 soldiers refused to come back to the United States when they were set free. It sounds impressive, but skeptics point out that it was 21 out of more than 20,000 prisoners in communist countries. Does brainwashing really work in any reliable way?
In psychology, the study of brainwashing, often referred to as thought reform, falls into the sphere of “social influence.” Social influence happens every minute of every day. It’s the collection of ways in which people can change other people’s attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. For instance, the compliance method aims to produce a change in a person’s behavior and is not concerned with his attitudes or beliefs. It’s the “Just do it” approach. Persuasion, on the other hand, aims for a change in attitude, or “Do it because it’ll make you feel good/happy/healthy/successful.” The education method (which is called the “propaganda method” when you don’t believe in what’s being taught) goes for the social-influence gold, trying to affect a change in the person’s beliefs, along the lines of “Do it because you know it’s the right thing to do.” Brainwashing is a severe form of social influence that combines all of these approaches to cause changes in someone’s way of thinking without that person’s consent and often against his will.
Because brainwashing is such an invasive form of influence, it requires the complete isolation and dependency of the subject, which is why you mostly hear of brainwashing occurring in prison camps or totalistic cults. The agent (the brainwasher) must have complete control over the target (the brainwashed subject) so that sleep patterns, eating, using the bathroom and the fulfillment of other basic human needs depend on the will of the agent. In the brainwashing process, the agent systematically breaks down the target’s identity to the point that it doesn’t work anymore. The agent then replaces it with another set of behaviors, attitudes and beliefs that work in the target’s current environment.
While most psychologists believe that brainwashing is possible under the right conditions, some see it as improbable or at least as a less severe form of influence than the media portrays it to be. Some definitions of brainwashing require the presence of the threat of physical harm, and under these definitions most extremist cults do not practice true brainwashing since they typically do not physically abuse recruits. Other definitions rely on “nonphysical coercion and control” as an equally effective means of asserting influence. Regardless of which definition you use, many experts believe that even under ideal brainwashing conditions, the effects of the process are most often short-term — the brainwashing victim’s old identity is not in fact eradicated by the process, but instead is in hiding, and once the “new identity” stops being reinforced the person’s old attitudes and beliefs will start to return.
There are psychologists who say the apparent conversion of American POWs during the Korean War was the result of plain-old torture, not “brainwashing.” And in fact, most POWs in the Korean War were not converted to communism at all, which leads to the question of reliability: Is brainwashing a system that produces similar results across cultures and personality types, or does it hinge primarily on the target’s susceptibility to influence? In the next section, we’ll examine one expert’s description of the brainwashing process and find out what makes an easy target.
- Targeted subjects are usually in a weak and vulnerable situation or circumstance.
- The targeted subjects are isolated.
- The subjects’ self-esteem and ideals are constantly attacked.
- Subjects are constantly reminded that their ideals and values are wrong.
- The subjects’ resistance is broken down through coercion and intimidation.
- The brainwashing agents make ‘submission’ seem attractive by offering possible rewards or relief from punishment.
- The brainwashing agents look for signs of submission in the subjects’ thinking and behavior.
Recognizing the Brainwashed
- A combination of fanaticism and dependency.
- An unreasonable and unquestioning loyalty.
- A withdrawal from normal life-long held activities, interests, and ideals.
Coercive Methods used Historically in Brainwashing
In the late 1950s, psychologist Robert Jay Lifton studied former prisoners of Korean War and Chinese war camps. He determined that they’d undergone a multistep process that began with attacks on the prisoner’s sense of self and ended with what appeared to be a change in beliefs. Lifton ultimately defined a set of steps involved in the brainwashing cases he studied:
- Assault on identity
- Breaking point
- Compulsion to confess
- Channeling of guilt
- Releasing of guilt
- Progress and harmony
- Final confession and rebirth
Each of these stages takes place in an environment of isolation, meaning all “normal” social reference points are unavailable, and mind-clouding techniques like sleep deprivation and malnutrition are typically part of the process. There is often the presence or constant threat of physical harm, which adds to the target’s difficulty in thinking critically and independently.
We can roughly divide the process Lifton identified into three stages: breaking down the self, introducing the possibility of salvation, and rebuilding the self.
Breaking down the Subject’s ‘Self’ or Identity
- Assault on identity: “You are not who you think/say/believe you are.” This is a systematic attack on a target’s sense of self (also called his identity or ego) and his core belief system. The agent denies everything that makes the target who he is: “You are not a soldier.” “You are not a man.” “You are not defending freedom.” The target is under constant attack for days, weeks or months, to the point that he becomes exhausted, confused and disoriented. In this state, his beliefs seem less solid.
- Guilt: “You are bad/wrong.” While the identity crisis is setting in, the agent is simultaneously creating an overwhelming sense of guilt in the target. He repeatedly and mercilessly attacks the subject for any “sin” the target has committed, large or small. He may criticize the target for everything from the “evilness” of his beliefs to the way he eats too slowly. The target begins to feel a general sense of shame, that everything he does is wrong.
- Self-betrayal: “Agree with me/us that you are bad/wrong.” Once the subject is disoriented and drowning in guilt, the agent forces him (either with the threat of physical harm or of continuance of the mental attack) to denounce his family, friends and peers who share the same “wrong” belief system that he holds. This betrayal of his own beliefs and of people he feels a sense of loyalty to increases the shame and loss of identity the target is already experiencing.
- Breaking point: Subject- “Who am I, where am I and what am I supposed to do?” With his identity in crisis, experiencing deep shame and having betrayed what he has always believed in, the target may undergo what in the lay community is referred to as a “nervous breakdown.” In psychology, “nervous breakdown” is really just a collection of severe symptoms that can indicate any number of psychological disturbances. It may involve uncontrollable sobbing, deep depression and general disorientation. The target may have lost his grip on reality and have the feeling of being completely lost and alone. When the target reaches his breaking point, his sense of self is pretty much up for grabs — he has no clear understanding of who he is or what is happening to him. At this point, the agent sets up the temptation to convert to another belief system that will save the target from his misery.
Offering the Possibility of Relief from Coercion through Compliance
- Leniency: “I can help you.” With ¬the target in a state of crisis, the agent offers some small kindness or reprieve from the abuse. He may offer the target a drink of water, or take a moment to ask the target what he misses about home. In a state of breakdown resulting from an endless psychological attack, the small kindness seems huge, and the target may experience a sense of relief and gratitude completely out of proportion to the offering, as if the agent has saved his life.
- Compulsion to confession: “You can help yourself.” For the first time in the brainwashing process, the target is faced with the contrast between the guilt and pain of identity assault and the sudden relief of leniency. The target may feel a desire to reciprocate the kindness offered to him, and at this point, the agent may present the possibility of confession as a means to relieving guilt and pain.
- Channeling of guilt: “This is why [i.e. your non-compliance] you’re in pain.” After weeks or months of assault, confusion, breakdown and moments of leniency, the target’s guilt has lost all meaning — he’s not sure what he has done wrong, he just knows he is wrong. This creates something of a blank slate that lets the agent fill in the blanks: He can attach that guilt, that sense of “wrongness,” to whatever he wants. The agent attaches the target’s guilt to the belief system the agent is trying to replace. The target comes to believe it is his belief system that is the cause of his shame. The contrast between old and new has been established: The old belief system is associated with psychological (and usually physical) agony; and the new belief system is associated with the possibility of escaping that agony.
- Releasing of guilt: Subject – “It’s not me; it’s my beliefs/actions.” The embattled target is relieved to learn there is an external cause of his wrongness, that it is not he himself that is inescapably bad — this means he can escape his wrongness by escaping the wrong belief system. All he has to do is denounce the people and institutions associated with that belief system, and he won’t be in pain anymore. The target has the power to release himself from wrongness by confessing to acts associated with his old belief system. With his full confessions, the target has completed his psychological rejection of his former identity. It is now up to the agent to offer the target a new one.
Rebuilding the Subject’s ‘Self’
- Progress and harmony: “If you want, you can choose good/us/our view.” The agent introduces a new belief system as the path to “good.” At this stage, the agent stops the abuse, offering the target physical comfort and mental calm in conjunction with the new belief system. The target is made to feel that it is he who must choose between old and new, giving the target the sense that his fate is in his own hands. The target has already denounced his old belief system in response to leniency and to¬rment, and making a “conscious choice” in favor of the contrasting belief system helps to further relieve his guilt: If he truly believes, then he really didn’t betray anyone. The choice is not a difficult one: The new identity is safe and desirable because it is nothing like the one that led to his breakdown.
- Final confession and ‘rebirth’ or ‘indoctrination’: Subject – “I choose good/you/your views.” Contrasting the agony of the old with the peacefulness of the new, the target chooses the new identity, clinging to it like a life preserver. He rejects his old belief system and pledges allegiance to the new one that is going to make his life better. At this final stage, there are often rituals or ceremonies to induct the converted target into his new community. This stage has been described by some brainwashing victims as a feeling of “rebirth.”
A brainwashing process like the one discussed above has not been tested in a modern laboratory setting, because it’s damaging to the target and would therefore be an unethical scientific experiment. Lifton created this description from first-hand accounts of the techniques used by captors in the Korean War and other instances of “brainwashing” around the same time. Since Lifton and other psychologists have identified variations on what appears to be a distinct set of steps leading to a profound state of suggestibility, an interesting question is why some people end up brainwashed and others don’t.
Certain personality traits of the brainwashing targets can determine the effectiveness of the process. People who commonly experience great self doubt, have a weak sense of identity, and show a tendency toward guilt and absolutism (black-and-white thinking) are more likely to be successfully brainwashed, while a strong sense of identity and self-confidence can make a target more resistant to brainwashing. Some accounts show that faith in a higher power can assist a target in mentally detaching from the process. Mental detachment is one of the POW-survival techniques now taught to soldiers as part of their training. It involves the target psychologically removing himself from his actual surroundings through visualization, the constant repetition of a mantra and various other meditative techniques. The military also teaches soldiers about the methods used in brainwashing, because a target’s knowledge of the process tends to make it less effective.
While the U.S. consciousness was turned to brainwashing in the 1950s in the aftermath of the Korean War, brainwashing has been around for longer than that. Scholars have traced the roots of systematic thought reform to the prison camps of communist Russia in the early 1900s, when political prisoners were routinely “re-educated” to the communist view of the world. But it was when the practice spread to China and the writings of Chairman Mao Tse-tung (“The Little Red Book”) that the world started to take notice.
Brainwashing Then and Now
In 1929, Mao Tse-tung, who would later lead the Chinese Communist Party, used the phrase ssu-hsiang tou-cheng (translated as “thought struggle”) to describe a process of brainwashing. Political prisoners in China and Korea were reportedly subjected to communist-conversion techniques as a matter of course. The modern concept and the term “brainwashing” was first used by journalist Edward Hunter in 1951 to describe what had happened to American POWs during the Korean War. Hunter introduced the concept at a time when Americans were already afraid: It was the Cold War, and America panicked at the idea of mass communist indoctrination through “brainwashing” — they might be converted and not even know it!
U.S. Government Experiments with Brainwashing
In the wake of the Korean War revelations, the U.S. government seemed to fear it was falling behind in the weapons race, because it began its own mind-control research. In 1953, the CIA began a program called MKULTRA. In one study, the CIA supposedly gave subjects (including the famed Timothy Leary) LSD in order to study the effects of mind-altering drugs and gauge the effectiveness of psychedelics at inducing a brainwashing-friendly state of mind. The results were not that encouraging, and subjects were supposedly harmed by the experiments. Drug experimentation by the CIA was officially cancelled by Congress in the 1970s, although some claim it still happens under the radar. Public interest in brainwashing briefly subsided after the Cold War but resurfaced in the 1960s and 1970s with the emergence of countless non-mainstream political and religious groups during that era. Parents who were horrified by their children’s new beliefs and activities were sure they’d been brainwashed by a “cult.” The mass suicides and killing sprees committed by a small percentage of those cults seemed to validate the brainwashing fears, and some parents went so far as to have their children kidnapped by “deprogrammers” to remove them from the influence of cult leaders.
The Patty Hearst Case
One supposed victim of brainwashing at that time was Patty Hearst, heiress to the Hearst publishing fortune, who would later use a brainwashing defense when she was on trial for bank robbery. Hearst became famous in the early 1970s after she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (the SLA, which some deem a “political cult”) and ended up joining the group. Hearst reports that she was locked in a dark closet for several days after her kidnapping and was kept hungry, tired, brutalized and afraid for her life while SLA members bombarded her with their anti-capitalist political ideology. Within two months of her kidnapping, Patty had changed her name, issued a statement in which she referred to her family as the “pig-Hearsts” and appeared on a security tape robbing a bank with her kidnappers.
Patty Hearst stood trial for bank robbery in 1976, defended by the famous F. Lee Bailey. The defense claimed that Hearst was brainwashed by the SLA and would not have committed the crime otherwise. In her mental state, she could not tell right from wrong. Hearst was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in prison. She only served two — in 1979, President Carter commuted her sentence.
The Lee Boyd Malvo Case
Another “insanity by brainwashing” defense hit the courtroom 30 years later, when Lee Boyd Malvo stood trial for his role in the 2002 sniper attacks in and around Washington, D.C. The 17-year-old Malvo and 42-year-old John Allen Muhammad killed 10 people and wounded three in a killing spree. The defense claimed that the teenaged Malvo was brainwashed by Muhammad into committing the crimes, which he would not have committed if he weren’t under Muhammad’s control. According to “The Brainwashing Defense” in Psychology Today:
Muhammad plucked 15-year-old Malvo from the Caribbean island of Antigua, where his mother had abandoned him, and brought him to the U.S. in 2001. An army veteran, Muhammad filled the teen’s head with visions of an impending race war and trained Malvo in marksmanship. He isolated Malvo, steeped him to his own idiosyncratic, vitriolic brand of Islam and imposed a strict diet and exercise regimen on his “adopted” son.
The argument was that Malvo was brainwashed, and because he was brainwashed he could not tell right from wrong. Malvo was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Muhammad was sentenced to death in a separate trial.)
There seems to be a contrast between an underlying fear of brainwashing in modern society, as seen in contemporary films and literature, and the apparent belief of many people who sit on juries that brainwashing is hogwash. Maybe it’s the “it could never happen to me” reaction, or maybe it’s just a general reluctance to absolve a criminal of responsibility for his or her crime. Whatever the cause, people seem to distinguish between brainwashing now and brainwashing in the future, the latter of which appears to be the more fearsome of the two. The future of brainwashing, if Hollywood and the conspiracy theorists are to be trusted, involves much more high-tech approaches. And yes, brain implants are arguably a lot scarier than verbal or physical “assaults on identity.” If some evil branch of neurosurgery can get it right, we’re all doomed to be puppets of the state. Combined with hypnosis techniques, a brain implant might be all that’s needed to control a human being’s thoughts, actions and beliefs. But most scientists agree that the field of neurology is nowhere close to that level of understanding of the human brain. Likewise, many psychologists believe that large-scale brainwashing — via the mass media and subliminal messages, for instance — is not possible, because the thought-reform process requires isolation and absolute dependence of the subject in order to be effective. It’s just not that easy to change a person’s core personality and belief system.
Cult Recruiters, Kidnappers and Inquisitors
That leaves recruiters for spiritual, religious, or personal growth groups; kidnappers; and inquisitors. First, the tactics of the recruiters differ substantially from those of kidnappers or inquisitors. Recruiters generally do not kidnap or capture their recruits, and they are not known to use torture as a typical conversion method. This raises the question of whether their victims are controlled without their consent. Some recruits are not truly victims of mind control and are willing members of their communities. Similarly, many recruits into mainstream religions should not be considered victims of mind control. To change a person’s basic personality and character, to get them to behave in contradictory ways to lifelong patterns of behavior, to get them to alter their basic beliefs and values, would not necessarily count as mind control. It depends on how actively a person participates in their own transformation. You and I might think that a person is out of his mind for joining Scientology, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Jim Roberts’ The Brethren, but their “crazy beliefs and behaviors” are no wilder than the ones that millions of mainstream religious believers have chosen to accept and engage in.
Some recruits into non-mainstream religions seem to be brainwashed and controlled to the point that they will do great evil to themselves or others at the behest of their leader, including murder and suicide. Some of these recruits are in a state of extreme vulnerability when they are recruited and their recruiter takes advantage of that vulnerability. Such recruits may be confused or rootless due to ordinary transition difficulties (such as new college students), difficult life circumstances (such as failing in college or at a new job), or even tragic personal events (such as death of close friends or loved ones) or world events (such as war or terrorism). Some may be mentally ill or emotionally disturbed, greatly depressed, traumatized by self-abuse with drugs or abuse at the hands of others, etc. But it would not be to the advantage of the cult to actively recruit the emotionally disturbed. As one cult recruiter told me
Cults have complicated ideologies and practices that mentally or emotionally upset people have difficulty grasping. These structures are what allow the cult to control the person. Cults do not want people who are difficult to control.
Thus, while some recruits might be very vulnerable to those who would like to control their thoughts and actions, recruiters look for people they can make vulnerable. The recruiter quoted above also said
Cults seek out strong, intelligent, idealistic people. They also seek out the rich, no matter what their mental status is.
The goal is make the recruits vulnerable, to get them to give up whatever control over their thoughts and actions they might have. The goal is to make the cult members feel like passengers on a rudderless ship on a stormy sea. The recruiter or cult leader has a rudder and only he can guide the ship to safety.
The techniques available to manipulate the vulnerable are legion. One technique is to give them the love they feel they do not get elsewhere. Convince them that through you and your community they can find what they’re looking for, even if they don’t have a clue that they’re looking for anything. Convince them that they need faith in you and that you have faith in them. Convince them that their friends and family outside the group are hindrances to their salvation. Isolate them. Only you can give them what they need. You love them. You alone love them. You would die for them. So why wouldn’t they die for you? But, love alone can only get you so far in winning them over. Fear is a great motivator. Fear that if they leave they’ll be destroyed. Fear that if they don’t cooperate they’ll be condemned. Fear that they can’t make it in this miserable world alone. The manipulator must make the recruit paranoid.
Love and fear may not be enough, however; so guilt must be used, too. Fill them with so much guilt that they will want to police their own thoughts. Remind them that they are nothing alone, but with you and a god (or some power or technique) they are Everything. Fill them with contempt for themselves, so that they will want to be egoless, selfless, One with You and Yours. You not only strip them of any sense of self, you convince them that the ideal is be without a self. Keep up the pressure. Be relentless. Humiliate them from time to time. Soon they will consider it their duty to humiliate themselves. Control what they read, hear, see. Repeat the messages for eyes and ears. Gradually get them to make commitments, small ones at first, then work your way up until you own their property, their bodies, their souls. And don’t forget to give them drugs, starve them, or have them meditate or dance or chant for hours at a time until they think they’ve had some sort of mystical experience. Make them think, “It was you, Lord, who made me feel so good.” They won’t want to give it up. They have never felt so good. Though they look as if they are in Hell to those of us on the outside, from the inside it looks like Heaven.
What religion doesn’t use guilt and fear to get people to police their own thoughts? Even some therapists use similar methods to control their patients. They prey on the vulnerable. They demand total loyalty and trust as a price for hope and healing. They often isolate their prey from loved ones and friends. They try to own and control their clients. The methods of recruiters are not much different. Are the recruits, the converts to the faith, and the patients willing victims? How would we tell the difference between a willing victim and an unwilling victim? If we cannot do that, then we can’t distinguish any true cases of mind control.
Recruiters and other manipulators are not using mind control unless they are depriving their victims of their free will. A person can be said to be deprived of his free will by another only if that other has introduced a causal agent which is irresistible. How could we ever demonstrate that a person’s behavior is the result of irresistible commands given by a religious, spiritual, or personal growth leader? It is not enough to say that irrational behavior proves a person’s free will has been taken from them. It may be irrational to give away all one’s property, or to devote all one’s time and powers to satisfying the desires of one’s divine leader, or to commit suicide or plant poison bombs in subways because ordered to do so, but how can we justify claiming such irrational acts are the acts of mindless robots? For all we know, the most bizarre, inhumane, and irrational acts done by the recruits are done freely, knowingly and joyfully. Perhaps they are done by brain damaged or insane people. In either case, such people would not be victims of mind control.
That leaves for consideration the acts of kidnappers and inquisitors: the acts of systematic isolation, control of sensory input, and torture. Do these methods allow us to wipe the cortical slate clean and write our own messages to it? That is, can we delete the old and implant new patterns of thought and behavior in our victims? First, it should be noted that not everybody who has been kidnapped comes to feel love or affection for their kidnappers. It may be that some kidnapped or captured people are reduced to a state of total dependency by their tormentors. They are put in a position similar to that of infancy and begin to bond with their tormentors much as an infant does with the one who feeds and comforts it. There is also the strange fascination most of us have with bullies. We fear them, even hate them, but often want to join their gang and be protected by them. It does not seem likely that people who fall in love with their kidnappers, or who turn against their country under torture, are victims of mind control. There is certainly some explanation why some people act as Patricia Hearst did and why others under similar circumstances would not have become “Tanya”. It is doubtful that mind control should play much of a role in the explanation. Some women are attracted to gangsters but have few opportunities to interact with them. We do not need to revert to mind control to explain why Hearst became intimate with one of her terrorist captors. She may have thought she had to in order to survive. She may have been genuinely attracted to him. Who knows? Mind control is a better defense than “changed my mind about a life of crime” when facing bank robbery and murder charges.
Brainwashing and Biblical Eschatology
If the Dispensational, Pre-millennial view of Eschatology is the correct one, then, according to biblical ‘end-times’ prophecy, a world leader the Bible calls “Antichrist” will soon appear on the scene just before a seven-year period of tribulation. This evil person will control a majority of the world’s nations and be worshipped as a ‘god’ and ‘savior’ of the world’s collapsed economy (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
If this prophetic event is to take place in the near future, we would be naïve to think his followers are not already making preparations for his reign before he actually comes to power. Experimenting with ways to persuade and control the masses would probably be one of the first steps needed before establishing a ‘one world’ government.