Robert Todd Carroll
Mind control is the successful control of the thoughts and actions of another without his or her consent. 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 ones own behavior, whether by self-discipline and auto-suggestion 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.
The tactics of religious cult recruiters are called mind control tactics. Many believe
that terrorist kidnap victims who convert to or become sympathetic to their kidnapper's
ideology are victims of mind control (the so-called Stockholm syndrome). Similarly, women
who stay with abusive men are often seen as victim's of mind control. Many consider subliminal messaging in muzak, 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, and high-power microwave emitters to confuse or debilitate people.
A term with such slack in its denotation is nearly useless. In narrowing down the denotation 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 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 involve controlling another person, not just putting them out of control or doing things to them over which they have no control.
fiction and 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 becomes a zombie who will respond to a post-hypnotic trigger, commit his 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 beautiful women or program her to become a zombie courier, assassin, etc. To be able to use hypnosis in this powerful way is little more than wishful thinking.
Other fictional fantasies have been created which 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 of the effects of various 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 some day 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.
the government and mind-control
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 has already been established that agencies of our government have experimented on humans without their knowledge, in radiation experiments and in drug experiments. 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.
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 because 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 which 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 experimenters 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 therapists willing to take their claims seriously, if not willing to claim they have been victims of such experiments themselves.
subliminal advertising and mind-control
On a lighter note, one of the lesser myths about mind control is the notion that subliminal messages are effective controllers of behavior. Despite widespread belief in the power of subliminal advertising and messaging, the evidence of its significant effectiveness is based on anecdotes and unscientific studies by interested parties. You will search in vain for the scientific control studies which demonstrate conclusively to a reasonable person that playing inaudible messages such as "do not steal" or "put that back" in muzak significantly reduces employee or customer theft.
The above considerations should make it clear that what many people consider to be mind
control would best be described by some other terms, such as behavior modification,
thought disruption, brain disabling, behavior manipulation, mind-coercion and electronic
harassment. People are not now being turned into zombies by hypnosis or brain implants.
Furthermore, it should be obvious that given the state of neuroscientific knowledge, the
techniques for effective mind control are likely to be crude, and their mechanisms
Wives who are terrorized by their husbands or boyfriends are not victims of mind control, but of fear and violence. Still, there seem to be many cases where a battered woman genuinely loves her man and genuinely believes he loves her. She stays beating after beating, not because she fears what he will do to her if she leaves, but because she really doesn't want to leave. Perhaps. But perhaps she doesn't leave because she is completely dependent on her lover/batterer. She doesnt stay just because she has nowhere to go. She needs him and stays because she is completely dependent on him. 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 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.
cults, kidnappings and inquisitions
That leaves cultists, kidnappers and inquisitors. First, the tactics of the cults differ substantially from those of kidnappers or inquisitors. Cults 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 cult 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 a religious cult, but their delusions are no grander than the ones which millions of mainstream religious believers have chosen to accept.
Some cult recruits 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. These recruits are often 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 tragic life circumstances. They may be people who are mentally ill or brain damaged, emotionally disturbed, greatly depressed, traumatized by self-abuse with drugs or abuse at the hands of others, etc. Such people are very vulnerable to those who would like to control their thoughts and actions. They are vulnerable because they do not have much control over their thoughts and actions. They are like passengers on a rudderless ship on a stormy sea. The cult recruiter has a rudder and he knows it. He also knows that the passenger knows he can only reach safety with a rudder. The trick is to get the passenger to want 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 haven't got 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 cult 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? 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. Make them paranoid.
But love and fear may not be enough, 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 God 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.
Cult 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 cult leader? It is not enough to say that behavior that is irrational 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 zombies? For all we know, the most bizarre, inhumane, and irrational acts done in the name of the cult or the cult god 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. And very few, if any, of those tortured by the Chinese went over to the other side. 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". But I doubt very much that mind control plays much of a role in the explanation. Likewise for the differences between those who succumbed to the Chinese brainwashing tactics and those who did not. There may be a fascinating psychological story there, but I doubt if mind control will play much of a part in understanding it.
It seems then, that if we define mind control as the successful control of the thoughts and actions of another without his or her consent, mind control exists only in fantasy. Unfortunately, that does not mean that it will always be thus.
Becker, Robert O., M.D.and Gary Selden. The Body Electric - Electromagnetism and the Foundation of Life (New York: Wm. Morr
Churchland, Patricia Smith. Neurophilosophy - Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986).
Delgado, Jose M. R. M.D. Physical Control of the Mind, Toward a Psychocivilized Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1969).
Sargant, William. Battle for the Mind - A Physiology of Conversion and Brainwashing (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press., 1957).
Weinstein, Harvey. Psychiatry and the CIA: Victims of Mind Control (Washington, DC : American Psychiatric Press, 1990).
Robert Todd Carroll